Anti-Sobriety Myths

At this writing, I’ve been sober 16 years.

Getting sober  takes time.

I’ve seen a few myths derail more than one person’s chance at getting sober.

One myth says: “I am sober when I stop drinking.”

Wrong. Not, somewhat wrong, or a little wrong. Wrong. Dead wrong. You’re clean, as it were, when you stop drinking, not sober.

Here’s the reality (fact) that replaces the myth. You have to stop drinking in order to get sober. Getting sober takes time. Trust me.  If you’re fortunate enough to be in your early strides of the experience, you don’t yet realize how unwell you are.

Another myth says: “I can do it alone” and yet another is some family member or loved one thinking that they can save the alcoholic-addict.

Reality says: “Not only are you wrong, but don’t you think it’s nice to find out there is at least one massive life challenge you don’t have to face alone?”

I do.

There is another unflinching fact. Being an active alcoholic results in one of three endings: jails, institutions, or death. This is fact.

One other thing, another expression I learned. You’re not allowed to kill yourself in your first three years of sobriety because you’ll be killing the wrong person.

 

 

A matter of allegiance

There is little I value more in someone than kindness. Few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness.

Kind is defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.” The definition is incomplete. Kind is also having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help yourself by being kind to yourself; wanting and liking to do good things and bring happiness to your life as well as to the lives of others.

I was in the sauna  at my local YMCA recently when I heard a conversation going on just outside the door. One person was offering a helpful suggestion to another person who’d been dealing with a painful condition for some time. Hearing the kindness and compassion in the voice of the one offering support coupled with the heartfelt emotional tones of appreciation in the voice of the one receiving the support brought me to tears. There are many things I love about life, moments like these are among my favorites.

Like you, I’ve witnessed acts of kindness and cruelty. Never too much of the former, always too much of the latter. As a writer I instinctively pay close attention to the world I live in. One component of that world is the interaction between people, their patterns of thought and emotion, the multitude of ways in which they interact with and treat each other, as well as the ways in which they interact with and treat themselves. It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with life absent a healthy relationship with self.  It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with self without an allegiance to honesty.

Now, if I told you I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my life my nose would respond with a vigorous Pinocchio response and make a sizeable hole in the monitor’s screen. So, I won’t lie to you. I won’t lie to you because, one, I am committed to living an honest life, and, two, I’m rather fond of my monitor.

It would be understandable if you’re wondering how an essay that starts off talking about kindness has somehow meandered its way to honesty and dishonesty. It’s done so because I believe when dishonesty is one of life’s underpinnings, acts of kindness are often self-serving, designed to make an impression or illicit a particular response. There are times apparent acts of kindness are rooted in unhealthy antecedents which, by their nature, are destructive. To the person offering the “kindness” and to the person receiving it.

This brings me back to allegiance. Is it healthy or misplaced? That’s the question.  For years dishonesty was an underpinning of my life because my allegiance was to alcohol and drugs. In short, to addiction. When anyone is caught in the addiction web – a web that can include addiction to food, work, sex, shopping, etc. – life becomes about protecting the addiction rather than protecting the life. A lifestyle like this leaves nothing  in its wake but carnage.  A carnage that includes the destruction of relationships, friendships, families, children, jobs, careers, education, hopes, dreams, and, life. I could name many – some of whom I loved and love still – who are dead because of  addiction. I know some today who will no doubt add to these numbers unless they shift allegiance from addiction to self.

Stepping out from behind the dishonesty mask is a scary. It is also the first step in reclaiming – or for the first time claiming – the right to one’s self. For me, the thought of reaching the end of my life still entrenched in the addiction web and hidden behind the dishonesty mask was far scarier – it also made me blisteringly angry. First, I would die without ever  fully living life as myself, and, second, those that wounded me would’ve had control of my choices right up to the moment of my death.  They don’t deserve that kind of power.

And then there is this: I know no kindness greater than saving a life, including one’s own. As I said, there is little I value more in someone than kindness and few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness, including those that are self-inflicted.

Beware the distance makers

You reach a point in life, I have, where you just say straight out what it is you have to say, response be damned.  I do know what I want to say here, I only hope I am able to say it.  Let me start with this. When life inflicts pain on me to the point it buckles my emotional-knees and takes air from the room it is not lost on me that I have the power to leave this life if and when I choose. It is not a top-of-the-list choice for me, but it’s one I’m acutely aware of and, at times hold fast to. Sometimes enough  is really enough.

Some years ago a close friend of mine, a woman who faced a challenge with weight, told me some of those who put on too much weight do so to protect themselves, to keep others at a distance. Over the years I’ve recognized a plethora of habits and behavioral idiosyncrasies in people, behaviors, that do exactly that.  I call them distance makers.

It is unlikely I am saying something you don’t already know when I say intimacy can be scary. It can feel, for very real reasons were one privy to the details of someone’s history, life threatening. So, believe me, it is not as if I don’t understand the existence and need for distance makers. I have enormous compassion for those whose distance makers protect them (or so they believe) on the one hand, yet rob them of much of the life experience they deserve to have on the other. A closer examination reveals yet another prevalent pattern when it comes to distance makers. The distance makers that  applied yesterday may not apply today. In fact, what once protected you in life may now pulverize your life and, not at all incidentally, pulverize the lives of others. In one of his letters John Steinbeck wrote, “We’re creatures of habit, a very senseless species.” He was right.

Distance makers are like anything else, there are healthy and unhealthy ones. Principles come to mind. People espousing racism and other forms of bigotry are not going to be found in my personal life. Nor are those who are active alcoholics, addicts, people who are violent (emotionally or physically), and so forth.  But then there are the unhealthy distance makers rooted so deep in the fear of loss or fear of being hurt – physically abused, raped, shot, stabbed, assaulted – again! that we miss the mark and drive off the very people who love us the most.

I’ve seen friendships, relationships, and marriages shattered to pieces by distance makers. Like anyone my age, I’m 60, I’ve experienced my fair share of loss. Losing someone I love from my life immobilizes me more than anything else I think. Takes the air out of the day. When someone I love dies, I swear to God there is less sun in the sky for a time. Sometimes I think the sun itself is mourning. Losing someone I love as a result of unhealthy distance makers is brutal; the word pain doesn’t come close to covering it.

Beware the distance makers, they may rob you of the life you want and deserve to have. Getting back up gets harder not easier over time, at least it gets harder for me.

Call me sinner, call me man

Call me sinner. Call me man. Call me a human being doing best he can. Nothing always easy about the lifting veil to change. New beginnings, new muscles, or old ones long unused being called on again. It’s down to the pen from here on out. Words against violence I must write, many of them. Violence. Been done to me and I done to others, men and women; this crazy sickness besetting so many, all only getting sicker in their silence.

I ask no favors. I ask no sympathy. Will any of this be easy? No. But easier than living nothing, of that you can be sure. Men and women, boys and girls, all walks of life need to know that there is no difference between the alcoholic-addict clinging to the porcelain throne swearing he or she will never use again and the wrenched-up sobbing man or woman swearing they’ll never strike their family member again. In both moments both people are being honest, both can pass a polygraph with flying colors (never known flying colors to do shit for anyone). But both are wrong. Without treatment there will be more using and more violence. The diseases of both are bigger and stronger than anyone’s will power. Will power is not enough. We are talking about two real diseases, addiction and violence; I know this to be true because I’ve had both.

There is no healthy reason on planet earth to surrender decision making to addiction and there is no healthy reason on planet earth to be violent to another person, family or stranger, not unless you are defending your life.

I don’t know how many years I have left in life. I am two strides from 60. I do know that I can’t undo my past and undo the wounds I’ve inflicted on others, particularly my first wife, a woman who will always live full length in my heart and soul. I do know that I can, even with just the written word, maybe, just maybe, help others.

For those on the out-of-control addiction and out-of-control violence fronts it is time to surrender to the reality you are grappling with and get help. You are not responsible for the sickness, you are for those you hurt while you are sick and you are responsible for your recovery. You need and, more importantly, deserve help – professional help. It took me years of treatment to get well on the violence and addiction fronts. It will likely take you years to get well too. But, it is time well spent. It is a blessing, a tears of joy blessing, to be forever freed of the urge to use and the urge to strike.

For those on the receiving end of these behaviors…there is no healthy reason for you to stay around. I’d go through getting shot in the head 10 times over to both spare my wife the hell I put her through and the hell of losing her I put me through. But here’s the thing, her leaving me on February 12, 1981 was her last gift to me. It was my bottom on that front. It is what sent me into therapy where I worked with all my might for years, where I held no one but me accountable for my behavior.

When my time comes, if I know it is coming, I’d like to be able to close my eyes that last time knowing I did all I could to make amends, help others, breathe love and kindness into the world, add some peace.

Now soon I move and the focus will be writing, and doing so honestly,  and as courageously as I can.

Peace.

No Bigotry in Addiction

I was in a conversation about the insanity of the disease of addiction which, of course, includes alcoholism. The conversation was with a group of friends who, like me, are in recovery. One fellow said, “Oh yeah. I remember driving drunk one time and crashing into all these trees.  I immediately realized I needed to cut back on my driving.” We all laughed because we all recognized how severely the disease of addiction mangles our thinking. The same holds true for Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen and the far too many like them, including me. When we are using we are tenaciously insistent that the responsibility for the problems and tragedies in our lives are the fault of anyone and anything other than us. Not true.

The reality of addiction guarantees that unless someone gets sober, in other words, gets well, their story never ends with the words, and they lived happily ever after.

Recent reports say Lindsay Lohan feels she is being picked on (Note to Lindsay: Don’t steal necklaces and when you are wrong, promptly admit it) and Charlie Sheen’s life continues to disintegrate.

The truth is there is no bigotry in addiction. Addiction doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether you’re rich and famous, poor, employed or unemployed, tall, short, fat, skinny; it doesn’t give a rat’s ass what your skin color is or what religion you are or what country you’re from. It has only one goal, to kill everyone it sinks its teeth into and, while it’s doing the killing, destroy and mangle every component of the person’s life.

Lohan’s enemy is not the system and Sheen’s enemy is not CBS; their enemy is addiction and as long as addiction – too often helped by its enabler-elves – can keep them blaming everyone but addiction, their stories along with stories of far too many like them will not end and they lived happily ever after.