Month: November 2015

I’m Not a Player, I Just Crush A Lot

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There is no denying that I have not done everything perfectly in my departure from the life of active alcoholism.  On the softer side, I classify as supporting evidence for the expression, “He put down the bottle, but picked up the fork”.  I’ll probably spend the next six months re-losing the weight I’ve gained since I signed myself into treatment back in March of 2015.  It’s time to turn this ship around; I really can’t handle going through another wardrobe change.   I’m relatively certain this stems from still experiencing that emotional hole from time to time; that void I’ve always tried to fill with things or people outside of myself.  This is a long process and its hard work to permanently change a lifetime of bad habits, but as the old saying goes – “its progress, not perfection”.  I’m still working the steps and I haven’t yet had a distinct “spiritual awakening”.  I’ve had a few moments of clarity, but step twelve irrefutably states: “Having had a spiritual awakening as a RESULT of these steps…”.  I do look forward to what that experience will be like for me when the time comes.  In the meantime, it’s nice being free from the shackles and obsession of the drink.  Unfortunately, though, indulging in food has not been my major malfunction in these attempts to keep filling the void.

I have been married for a while (now separated/divorcing) and in a long relationship before that with a couple short flings in between.  The world of dating or now as it seems, casual encounters, has changed a bit while I was out of the mix.  I really didn’t know what to expect re-entering the world of meeting new people and putting myself back out there.  I can’t safely go to bars and I already tried the church girl thing so I decided to explore a path I’ve never traveled before.  Enter sites like Tinder, MeetMe, and a myriad of others out there on the internet and in an app store near you.  I can scroll through hundreds of women from a device in my pocket and based merely off a profile picture, decide whether I would or would not give them a chance.  It’s highly addictive, especially for somebody with a pre-disposition to such an affliction like myself.  It also seems rather shallow to me, but in the current state of my life, it became surprisingly appealing.  Get in, fulfill my needs, and get out.  No attachment; no obligation to build trust; no worry or jealousy – no feelings involved.  Period.  But in my experience so far, that’s not always how it goes down, and relations aren’t sustainable thanks to my actual lack of desire for romantic connection.

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I’ve never considered myself as being of “player” status.  I’m not the “hit and quit it” type of guy, but lately, I’ve been teetering on the fence of that realm, in my own way, and I’m not exactly sure where this behavior is coming from; although I have a few hypotheses.  I find myself leading women on with false intentions – stating my desire for a relationship so I can get what I want, then abruptly cutting them out of my life with no real valid explanation as to why.  These women had started to developed feelings for me, yet I can’t seem to ever feel anything significant for them – except for lust.  It’s practically effortless to be whoever I want on the internet.  It’s easy to come across as appealing and genuine, smart and charming.  I never use fake profile pictures or write anything untrue about myself, but I can embellish a little in the way I come across in conversation; transforming into a chameleon and blending into whatever they’re looking for in a man.  After all, when you boil it down, I am still a combined addict, master manipulator – and I know how to get what I want.

I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that this is unhealthy behavior for a guy in my situation; a guy that wants to incorporate integrity, morality, and class into a life mostly devoid of such things.  Although I don’t always feel the effects when leading these women on, I understand that I have compromised a few on my quest to perpetrate selfish desires.  The most recent woman opened my eyes to the innocence I was taking full advantage of.  She was fairly younger than me and naïve and I finally started to feel guilty about what I had been doing – so I stopped myself before things went too far; before I caused too much damage in yet another life that unsuspectingly crossed my poor-intentioned path.

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Let’s explore my hypotheses of why I have been acting this way.  I’m going through a lot of change right now which is ultimately out of my comfort zone.  Almost instinctually, I want to grasp onto anything that temporarily gets me out of myself and with alcohol not being an option, women are the next best avenue.  For the most part, I have kept the focus on my recovery and sidelined my need for female attention or validation.  However, I have not totally been able to control it just yet.  My marriage fell apart most likely due to my alcoholism and distant behavior.  I pushed my wife away into the arms of another man, and even though it was presumably a result of not providing her with what she needed, it inevitably took its toll on me and my view of women altogether.  I lack trust.  I have major rejection and abandonment issues circulating in my head.  I feel temporarily better when I am the one with the authority to dictate how things are going to play out; to have the power to reject or abandon somebody else, instead of being on the receiving end of such situations.  The problem is, once again it’s just a temporary fix with no long-lasting implications.  It’s not right for me to feel better about myself at the expense of someone else.  It’s not the life I want for myself and it’s not the model I want to set for my children as they grow up.  Identifying this new problem is the first step in righting the wrong; taking personal ownership and knowing that I will have to make amends to those I have hurt along the way – and, most importantly, not continue the trend.

Not Foes or Enemies, Just Strangers With Memories

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The musty, stale air fills my lungs; it’s less than desirable and mixed with the aroma of laundry detergent and full litter boxes. Pesky little flies buzz around me and periodically touch down on my head – a real nuisance in an already miserable, lonely environment; yet in the moment they are my only living companions. I stare coldly up at the pipes, wires, and vents on the ceiling that serve as the cardiovascular system of my once happy home. I’m wide awake on a mattress stuffed in the corner of my basement like a dog that couldn’t behave; the defiant and untrainable type. Sleep is out of the question once again as my mind races with the thoughts of what’s unfolding here before my very eyes; no one to blame but myself although thoroughly convinced I am within my rights to start pointing fingers – as any professional, self-centered alcoholic should. If things weren’t bad enough, I once again smuggled in airplane sized bottles of booze to comfort me in my time of distress – you know, because it’s still all about me and what I’m going through. Why should I go through this without my ever-loving, always there for me sidekick? I can see no reason why not and eventually the drinks take over as the world fades out. Before I know it, the maddening sound of my alarm clock is screaming about how it’s time wake up and head off to work.

Approximately two years earlier, my wife and I had worked hard to purchase a home of our own and provide an environment suitable for our children to thrive in – a play room with all their toys, bedrooms of their own, and a backyard with plenty of room to run around in, complete with a swing set and trampoline. We had great neighbors and things appeared to be falling into place as we were growing as a family and moving forward into the next phase of our lives. Taking on the responsibility of home ownership would change the dynamics and responsibility a bit, as now my salary alone would not keep us afloat; but we knew this ahead of time and agreed that we would make it work.   After all, we really were a good team as long as my alcoholism was in check. Problem was – I couldn’t keep it in check. Essentially, I was living a double life; splitting the love between my wife and kids with the love for my bottle. I wanted the best of both worlds and it turned into a love affair that would ultimately lead to the destruction of a family that had great potential for everlasting love, joy, and happiness.

Hindsight is 20/20. I hate being the Monday morning quarterback, but I’ve had to come to terms and take ownership of my part in the series of events that took place. It’s the only way to learn from it and pick myself up to move forward. Being sober for a time and removing the blindfold has enabled me to see things in a very different light. Although it has been a long, daunting road full of personal heartache and struggle, I have worked diligently at putting myself in the position of what it must have been like living with…well…me. I imagine it went a little something like this:

  1. UNPREDICTABILITY: Because of the battle constantly fought in my head and a complete lack of emotional regulation, it was merely impossible to speculate which Chris was going to show up on any given day. A result of my choice to continue living in untreated active addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders. With stability being non-existent, I had created the, “walk on eggshells”, environment and rocking the boat always led to me getting defensive or shutting down altogether. I didn’t have the ability to let my wife into my world or my struggle which led to the breakdown of our connection on that deeper level we once shared. With no reliable communication, our growth as a couple and a family became stagnant, disheartening and imminently lifeless.
  2. UNTRUSTWORTHY: Trust was out of the question. I became so entangled in my lies that I even started to believe them myself. My reality was so far out of whack. I would say or do anything to preserve my ability to drink undetected – or so I thought. The biggest hurdle to this was coming up with untraceable money. To solve this problem, I would ask my grandmother for money to “buy breakfast” at work, steal a dollar or two out of my wife’s purse in the morning, get cash back from the convenient store, pawn items from my house, and even take coins out of my children’s piggy banks. There was no level I wouldn’t stoop to in order to feed my habit. I’m sickened and disgusted to even think about how I could behave in such a manner. It absolutely supports the idea of this disease being cunning, baffling, and powerful – it’s no joke or something that should be taken lightly.
  3. MANIPULATION: In my case, this is probably where most of the long-lasting damage was caused. By and large, the people in my life became mere objects or pawns in my twisted game; turning them against each other to protect myself and my agenda. I manipulated my parents, complaining about how bad it was being stuck in my home situation. I manipulated my wife by telling her the things my parents did were out of line. I consistently played both sides to appear like I was the good guy in a tough spot. The relationship between them is strained to this day, likely because of my selfish desires. This same pattern played out with friends, other family members, in-laws, and co-workers; all to coerce people to feel bad for me and be on my side when it came time to choose, and more importantly, take the focus off the real problem at hand – my undeniable lack of self-control.
  4. IMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR: Simply – I acted before thinking of effects or consequences of said action. This was most prevalent when it came to money management and our financial situation. As an addict, when I want something, I want it now. I can’t wait, that would be silly. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and die so I might as well live today. And I’m certainly not going to run the idea by my wife, because I know she would not be in agreement with what I want. I’ll just do it and deal with the consequences later. Not the healthiest of mentalities – especially when the bills don’t get paid on time or we struggle to even put gas in the car as a result.
  5. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS: I used up all my, “I’m sorry, I’ll stop that – I promise”, talk. The well ran dry. It meant nothing; I never changed. After a while, the words I spoke were meaningless because there was always false hope tied to them. I know my wife, family, and in-law’s wanted to believe what I was saying, that I would change and become the man I needed to be, but I took the validity out of those promises because although I loved talking the talk, I just couldn’t walk the walk. The grasp of my alcoholism was wrapped around me too tight.

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So what is the best thing for families to do when dealing with a person who exhibits these behaviors? First and foremost, you need to take care of yourself; try to understand the three C’s of addiction: You didn’t CAUSE the addiction, you can’t CONTROL the addiction, and you can’t CURE the addiction. If warranted, seek professional help for yourself such as therapy or twelve step groups like Al-Anon. There is only so much a family member can do for the addict or alcoholic. You also need time and space to recover – the family is sick too. Remove yourself from any abusive situations – mental, emotional, or physical. If at all possible, try and stand by in support of the addict or alcoholic – even if that needs to be done from a safe distance. In the event that kids are involved, it is virtually necessary to remove them and yourself from the situation, but still state your support. Alcohol and drugs have made the addict feel inadequate and valueless already so any support for recovery will increase the chances of growth. There is a difference between helping and enabling. Support your loved one, but don’t bail them out of situations they end up in. It’s important that people like me understand the consequences of our decisions; it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, catapulting us into the overwhelming desire to change and seek a better life.

I know these things not by studying statistics, researching, or taking a college course on the topic. I know this because it’s what happened to me. This is what addiction is capable of; what it has the power to do and how it affects families in such a destructive and negative way – but all that can be reversed in time. It takes a lot of work, open-mindedness, and willingness – but I don’t think anything is unfixable. I’m sober today and the obsession to continue on in active alcoholism has been lifted. I spend my days working towards recovery instead of working towards yet another relapse. These are things I thought were impossible and I truly believed I was the rare case of the un-helpable; destined for a dark and miserable existence. I don’t think that anymore. The struggle is real, don’t get me wrong – it’s the most difficult battle I’ll ever face, but a new solution to my problems is also just as real, and it’s playing itself out in my life one day at a time.

A family is fragile – it truly needs constant nurturing and attention to flourish.

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My Underground, Grungy Oasis

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This heart beats rapidly in my chest; It’s a chore to breathe. I feel the room shaking; an earthquake of my soul and the walls disintegrate around me as the familiar darkness closes in. Rationality is hijacked and replaced with impulse. Reason is extinct. The panic is overwhelming and eventually, I’ll break – I incessantly do. I resort to what I know works; what’s comfortable; what feels safe – that destructive dance with unpredictability. I yearn to be absent from self. It’s too much to handle in the moment. Instinctually, I grab my bottle and head underground. The basement of my now empty home, devoid of love or happiness – and furniture for that matter, provides the environment I prefer to escape in. I sit still, a broken man; distant memories painted on all the toys around me; now motionless, scattered about and seemingly lifeless. Dwelling on what could have been; what should have been, I think how my children will grow up in a way I never wanted them to – how I modeled a life I don’t want them to live or endure; or suffer through. I can’t bear the thought of it so I take bigger gulps of my mind-numbing potion. Ultimately, the tragedies of my life start floating away and a warm, heaven-like peace washes over me – temporarily relieving the guilt, shame and failure of a life that’s being wasted and destroyed by a liquid demon. The same demon that has authority over me and decimated everything I’ve come to know, also provides the peace and escape I crave – if that’s not evil, twisted stuff – I don’t know what is.

Fear is the driving force behind everything I do, although I don’t like to claim ownership of that. It’s an incredibly powerful energy that manifests itself inside my head. I’m afraid of change, but scared that outcomes will always be the same. I’m intimidated by the thought of success, yet I’m panic-stricken to fail or be rejected. I find comfort in the chaos as well as in the order of things. Essentially, I’m a walking and talking hypocrite; stuck in the nonsensical with no means to an end. Alcohol makes that disappear and it becomes bearable to sit comfortably with myself, at least for a short while; at least until my next self-destructive episode takes place and I start the cycle all over again. How do I break the cycle? My active alcoholic status was always my excuse; my go-to when blame needed to be appointed. If and when I failed or was rejected, I could always point to that as the culprit or reason why. It provided a sense of comfort and essentially became my defense mechanism against futility. The biggest fear of sobriety is all my failures or rejection being placed solely on me. I have nothing or no one to blame but myself and in my egotistical, narcissistic world that’s a hard pill to swallow. Personal responsibility in its purest form – no sugar coating, no scapegoat.

The fact that I am an alcoholic comes with certain personality traits and characteristics that I must learn to cope with in a healthy way, rather than how I have dealt with them in the past. Resorting to the bottle is never going to make life better – this I know, but still it consistently whispers sweet nothings in my ear; promises to ease my contrition, and provide a euphoric experience. The thought of being defeated over and over by anything does not sit well in my stomach, let alone something so presumably unsubstantial. I like control. I like to dictate how things are going to be and for the most part I can. With alcohol, I can’t – and the involuntary battle to beat it has put me and those around me through perpetual tribulation and heartbreak – not to mention being the catalyst for an inability to manage everything else in my life. Almost unconsciously, I try again and again to drink with success; to prove to myself once and for all that I can do it like other people.

The mere fact that I need to try and prove this to myself should be red flag number one. “Normal” people don’t even consider needing to prove they can drink only one beer or knock back only one shot – it never crosses their mind. But like a good alcoholic, I don’t give up, which is both a curse and a blessing I suppose. I want to drink successfully. I must beat this unbeatable disease. The fact that I can’t and never will is something I don’t want to come to grips with. It’s incredibly difficult for me to concede, admit defeat, and throw in the towel – but really winning means doing just that. Addiction will always be lurking in the shadows of my life and it’s my job to make it stay there; to hold it at bay; keep it in check. Today I have that choice. Not too long ago, I didn’t. Like so many others who suffer the same circumstances, my personality traits are described quite accurately in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This particular passage convinced me to acknowledge and embrace my alcoholism and start down the path of recovery:

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“Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk. His disposition while drinking resembles his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously anti-social. He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes, and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts to build up a bright outlook for his family and himself, and then pulls the structure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees. He is the fellow that goes to bed so intoxicated he ought to sleep the clock around. Yet early next morning he searches madly for the bottle he misplaced the night before. If he can afford it, he may have liquor concealed all over his house to be certain no one gets his entire supply away from him to throw down the wastepipe.”  

-Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 21-22

Crusader for a Lost Spark – AM

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7:00AM: Wake up. My neck is stiff and my back aches; the side of my body is in distress from the rugged, rocklike slab I spent siesta on all night. At this juncture, I’ve become relatively immune to the initial aches and pains of waking up on the cheap mattresses provided. I slowly climb down from my top bunk, which was absolutely not intended nor built to be used by anybody over the age of eight, and stumble towards the Med Office where I wait in line for my first daily dose of “keep me sane” medications. These consist of two different anti-depressants, an anti-anxiety medication, a slew of vitamins from A to Z, and my acid reducer – all in all they practically spill out of the medicine cup like a heaping bowl of popcorn at the movie theater. It is what it is – I might as well be a senior citizen; at least I’d get a discount on the popcorn.

Following my rendezvous in the office, I head straight for the kitchen, desperately hoping to see a coffee pot that has not perished and still contains the life of that premium potion my body craves. If I’m lucky, there is still enough piping hot, wake-up juice to pour myself a cup; if not, at least I can resort to the emergency bottle of instant Folger’s kept hidden amongst the contents of my underwear drawer. It’s an off-kilter, but essential exercise to achieve solace in a house full of leeches and vultures. This leads me to the coffee creamer conundrum. Creamer is worth its weight in gold around these parts and I’m fairly confident any one of us would sell our soul to the devil for merely a tablespoon of the stuff to complement our morning beverage. It’s a doleful yet veritable reality in the world of recovery homes, so I’ve learned it’s better to just accept it for what it is.

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7:45AM: The mad dash for occupancy of the bathroom begins. Apparently, everybody needs to take a shower and get ready at the exact same time. God forbid there is any semblance of order to this. Whether I’m first, somewhere in the middle, or last, there is no winning in regards to the order in which I get to use the bathroom. If I am “lucky” enough to be the first one in, somebody is maliciously pounding on the door every ten seconds and screaming about how I’m taking forever, when in all reality it has only been maybe five minutes. Because of this irrational and random pounding on the door, I become startled and consequently slice my face open with the cheap razor the facility has been nice enough to provide me with. If I’m last to the showers, I walk into a hot and humid, Amazonian like state with sopping wet floors, and chaos everywhere. It’s a disgusting scene, with no shortage of hair shavings, a pissed on toilet seat, wet, crumpled up towels, and toothpaste smeared all over the sink. I mean, it was just used by at least four or five other grown men one after another, so I imagine these conditions are to be expected.

To make things worse, I have no idea what took place in there before me (although I can make a few educated guesses) and I feel filthier than when I walked in there in the first place. In addition, the last person is the most rushed because the chance of missing your ride to group therapy is lingering over your head, which adds an extra element of stress. If you get caught up somewhere in the middle, the guys before you are carrying on about how they weren’t done and they still haven’t fixed their hair, blah blah blah – while the guys still waiting continue to hit the door and complain about how its taking forever. It’s a fairly stressful way to kick off the day and I feel like I need to be re-medicated when all is said and done.

8:45AM: We all cram into a large, white van like a boxcar headed towards Auschwitz. Certain mornings, it feels as though we will be suffering the same fate – some days it’s almost welcomed. It can start feeling quite repetitive day in and day out – sitting through the same groups, listening to the same facilitators, and hearing the same material over and over again. It’s easy to become complacent and forget why I’m here; it’s easy to forget how bad my life was just a short time ago now that I’m nestled snuggly inside this cozy safety bubble. It takes all my energy just to stay here and be present.

The drive to our destination is short and I can’t help but notice the living reminders of where my disease leads, scattered haphazardly all over the streets. It helps me remember why I am here and fighting every day for my life. They sleep in alleyways and under bus stop benches. Their nutrition comes mostly from scavenging garbage cans and dumpsters. All their belongings are hauled around town with them in makeshift wagons, bicycle trailers or shopping carts. Society, for the most part, has turned its back on these less fortunate souls. We have found it easier and more convenient to blame the individual for putting themselves in the position they’re in rather than considering that they didn’t receive the opportunity for medical insurance, they have no family for support, and they’re at the point of giving up because there is no place left to turn to for help; there is no fight left in them and now, they just physically exist with no real purpose or direction. Most importantly, they have lost all hope or have become so mentally ill that they can no longer recognize what having hope even looks like. It’s a sad reality of how fragile life is and at the very least, it puts fighting over the bathroom every morning into a much healthier perspective.

9:00AM: On a good day, this is when we arrive at the facility where the next six hours will be spent sitting through group therapy sessions. These sessions range in topic anywhere from the widely practiced, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to the less popular, “science and addiction”. The names and faces within these groups change, but the problems we all face consistently stay the same – and people from all walks of life are affected with this affliction. The disease does not care where you’re from, if you are black or white, straight or gay, male or female, rich or poor – you can safely bet that there is no discrimination in the world of addiction – in our world, it wants us all dead, and that’s all there is to it.

It’s fairly easy to spot the people that wish to be in treatment to better themselves and the folks that attend because their parents, wife, or family gave them no other alternatives or the court system said, “Go to prison, or go to treatment – your choice.” Its suggested when you arrive that you should stick with the winners and there is absolute validity to that suggestion. The group mentality does have a significant effect on how much any person feels comfortable opening up and making an honest effort to process the situations, events and consequences of their choices from a life that didn’t work out so well when trying to run the show themselves. Positive energy tends to yield positive results and negative energy yields negative results. We make it through the first three hours of group and finally, it’s time for lunch.

My Mealy-Mouthed Melon

 Brain Lies

Traffic crept along the 405 freeway just north of Costa Mesa, California; everybody in a hurry going nowhere fast.  I wore my ear buds in hopes to drown out and escape the thoughts in my head – even if only for a short time. Apparently I’ve done this to no avail, for my brain started operating – at first in a subtle manner; innocent and unconsciously in fact – then it was off to the races, rapidly gaining speed.  As I peered out the window of the large white van that was transporting me, I noticed a middle-aged woman driving a mini-van. Her elbow rested on the driver side door, just below the window – her head being held up by her hand; leaning slightly off to the left.  The expression on her face was catatonic; almost vacant, like somebody had programmed her to complete this mission – which most likely was escaping her place of work only to be greeted at home by dirty, tired and hungry children with a side of grumpy, ungrateful husband.  

For a minute I sat back and empathized with her. I felt like I was behind the wheel of that mini-van devoid of any emotion or facial expression; neither wanting to move forward nor slide my way back; like we were together in this state of limbo that, much like quicksand, the harder we fought, the further we became stuck.  We have found it easier to conform and submit to this melancholy mediocrity, rather than strive for something anomalous or extraordinary.  And as she drove off beyond my line of vision, I panned around the freeway almost desperately searching for anybody with a smiling face; anything to counter what I had just experienced – but not one. We were a vast, sluggish entity seemingly lifeless and robotic; an ample army of the mentally tired, emotionally drained and spiritually dead, all marching in the same direction; all to the same tune of submission; like we had no other choice and we surrendered to the belief that this is just how it is.

I’m exhausted from this fight; I want to give up.  It’s like the ground I walk on will decompose under my every step; a transient sauntering aimlessly through this stretch of unearned time with no real emphasis spent formulating a final destination, let alone these vain attempts to awaken a castaway spirit and revere the experiences or lessons learned along the way.  This victim mentality that I can’t seem to shake is paralyzing; ripping endlessly into my core and plunging steadily; it’s progress is alarming, yet I’m holding on imperviously to a life preserver; struggling to keep my head above water; pleading for every granule of air I can suck into my lungs.  How can I be so miserable; so lost and so broken, yet still wish to cling on for dear life?  I keep hitting this wall; I obsess to burst through it – maybe it’s my adamant, stubborn, addictive personality that keeps me in the battle, craving still more – refusal to give up; never waiving that immaculate white flag.  Perhaps my greatest weakness has also been my greatest strength; secluded and trapped – petitioning to wield its opposition to my self-diagnosed, contemptible condition.

Over the years of battling against myself and the reoccurring trips to detoxes, treatment centers, psych wards and episodes in and out of the rooms of AA, I have come to a few conclusions – some of which are generally known and scientifically proven traits of most addicts; some of which might be more particular to my individual personality type.  In any case, they are the characteristics that make up a portion of who I am and I’d better start learning how to handle them.

MY BRAIN LIES TO ME.  This can make life rather difficult to navigate because, generally speaking, my brain is my operating system.  For example, simply imagine looking up at a clear blue sky, but you perceive the sky as being red – and in a pretty convincing manner because it is literally what your brain is communicating to your eyes.  If your brain tells you the color you see is red, but everybody else sees the color blue, confusion and frustration can quickly set in – this is a small scale example to provide insight as to how my brain works when it comes to my internal process, life decisions, and everyday choices as a human living with the disease of addiction.  Things can get dicey quite rapidly.

MY REALITY, IS NOT NECESSARILY ACTUALITY.  This, for all intents and purposes, sort of parallels the realization that my head is a master liar and manipulator.  It even fools me.  As soon as a mood altering substance enters into my body, a shift takes place within my mind.  Actuality quickly resorts to my false reality.  Any normal person who takes a few drinks or experiments with drugs here and there will experience lowered inhibitions – but for the addict or alcoholic, this happens at an extreme level and starts to formulate into what we actually perceive to be real and normal.

NO PURPOSE OR PASSION = SLIM CHANCE TO RECOVER.  A strong starting point on my journey to recovery is having a purposeful reason to get out of bed in the morning – a passion for something that drives me to be a better human being; motivation to love and pursue happiness and meaning in the short time we are granted on this earth.  In the late 1970’s, a study was conducted by Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. This is a commonly known as the “Rat Park Experiment”.  Alexander’s hypothesis was that drugs do not cause addiction, but rather the living conditions and circumstances of any particular individual.  Hence, Rat Park was built.  There were 16-20 rats of both sexes in the residence, a ton of food, balls, wheels and enough space for mating and raising litters.  They were given the option to drink water laced with morphine or plain tap water; most chose the plain water.  Rats in a separate and isolated environment were given the option to drink plain tap water or water laced with morphine for 57 consecutive days.  After this period of time, virtually all the rats were partaking in the morphine laced water and were then brought into Rat Park.  They were given the same option to drink plain tap water or the water laced with the morphine.  For the most part, the rats always chose the plain tap water.  He attributed this to the rats being housed in a reasonably normal environment and stimulated, rather than isolated in smaller cages. They had found a purpose.

FINDING A BALANCE IN EMOTIONAL AWARENESS AND REGULATION.  This may seem odd, but any given emotion only lasts for approximately 90 seconds. After that, we have a choice whether or not we wish to move out of or stay in the emotion that we have experienced; I know–easier said than done. We will certainly face obstacles while attempting to regulate our emotions, especially when the environment we keep ourselves in reinforces dysfunction. The most important step in regulation of the emotion is naming it and describing it in its proper context.  This requires at least some sense of self-awareness and I have found that regularly practicing different varieties of meditation helps in achieving this better sense of self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dance With the Devil

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The air was crisp and leaves were falling; changing into orange and yellow ornaments as their life expired. I envied them as they floated down and rested peacefully on the ground below. I wanted to feel their serenity; that I finally don’t have to fight anymore; that my battle is over – I’ve flown the white flag and I’m off to a better place. It was as if I was in a dreamlike state, and these thoughts continued to fill my head as I took gulp after gulp from the bottle of Grey Goose I had just stolen from my parent’s house. In reality, this, on top of the bottle of Xanax I had eaten, was brewing up quite the recipe for disaster – because in my distorted state of mind,  I was manifesting the courage to join the tranquility of the leaves.

It was 5am the following day when I came to.  My head was throbbing and showcased a deep, bloody wound; my hands were cut up and virtually unusable without intense pain – the rest of my body scraped and bruised, like I had been a gladiator who just fought in the great colosseum.  I was wearing a hospital gown and feeling very confused when a nurse walked over and asked me how I was doing.  My only response was, “how did I get here, what happened?”  She hesitantly and briefly explained to me what had transpired and welcomed me to the Psych Ward at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, NJ.

The rest of the story of how I ended up there I cannot easily recall myself and I can mostly describe what took place based on what was told to me from third parties involved. Although, over the years since this event took place, certain memories have surfaced and I can put together bits and pieces of what happened. It went something like this.

I hopped out of the car and placed my work badge on the hood in my drunken and drug fueled stupor. I assume I did this so they would be able to at least identify my body. I left the driver door open with keys still in the ignition. I was at the park where I had spent a lot of my childhood playing tennis, basketball and fishing off the dock. I could vividly remember what it felt like back then; to have no worries; no stress; no responsibilities. Life was simple – now it was complicated. I had recently married a girl I had only known for a matter of months and became a husband and father virtually overnight. I was young and newly exposed to the world of recovery where I was warned not to make any major life changes within the first year of sobriety. I did not take that suggestion and in hindsight, I can see why I probably should have.

Stretched across the river was a bridge for the NJ Transit train crossing – I perceived that bridge as my out; my ticket to the other side – freedom at last. As it was told to me, I made goodbye phone calls to my boss at work and my father. By the time I talked to my dad, I was standing on the bridge staring down the oncoming train. Horns and whistles were blowing as the conductors pleaded for me to remove myself from the tracks; my father hearing everything that was transpiring as I was saying goodbye incoherently. The train was within yards of me now and there was one last attempt at blasting the horn as my phone simultaneously cut out into silence. In that moment my dad believed he had lost his first born son – and there was nothing he could do about it. After that, time seemed to proceed in slow motion as the whole experience continued to unfold.

I had moved myself onto the other track where trains traveled in the opposite direction and I can still remember the feeling and sheer force of its might speeding past me; a foot away from my body. It was intense, yet liberating – I was actually feeling something. As the train continued past and sped off out of view, I walked to the edge of the bridge and peered down at the water and rocks below. I looked up at the sky one last time before letting go – a type of freedom I had never experienced before – a split second of, “It’s finally over”. About halfway down my mind went dark; I don’t remember hitting the bottom or being rescued and dragged out of the marsh by a co-worker who was in the area. I don’t remember the blood streaming down my face or the EMT’s desperately trying to get me in the ambulance. I don’t recall the ride to the hospital, trying to fight security guards, or the belief that I had demons living in my head. I don’t recall being pinned down into a four-point restraint and sedated to stop my out-of-control behavior. I came to at 5am – that’s what I remember.

So how did I get in this mess? I had reached a point where I felt cornered, trapped, and saw no other way out. My disease of addiction; my depression; my anxiety – they had all become stronger than my desire to keep living; to keep fighting or breathing oxygen into my lungs. I had succumbed to my tunnel vision and the idea that it would never get better; I was completely out of options. Yet, in all reality, I did have options – I simply chose not to acknowledge them. I desired the easy way out, surrender; to give up, but it wasn’t my time yet – I still had unfinished business.

5 Things I Didn’t Consider in My Time of Despair:

  1. Making mistakes and enduring failure is inevitable – everybody fails because nobody is perfect.  It’s how we react to our failures that determines our perspective.  Learn from it, don’t repeat it, and move on.  Leave the past in the past.  Every time you fail, you have discovered a new way that something doesn’t work – and it means you are trying which says somewhere inside; you still have hope-and hope is all you need.
  2. Remember that feelings of discomfort, awkwardness and the slew of other emotions we go through are only temporary; they don’t last forever and life will go on.  See the bigger picture, the positive aspects of the seemingly difficult situations we deal with.  For example, I had no idea how to be a dad, yet I had instantly become one.  I was scared that I would mess up or not be good enough.  But what I didn’t see was that his biological father wanted no part of the situation at all and I had the opportunity to give this little boy a dad that he otherwise might not have had.  Today, I’m grateful and privileged to be a part of his life.
  3. Negative emotions will produce negative outcomes and positive emotions will yield positive outcomes.  Get up and do something productive – it will get you out of your head and give you a sense of accomplishment.  Change your way of thinking; if you tell yourself you can’t do it, then you won’t be able to do it.  If you tell yourself you CAN do it, then you can do anything you set your mind to –  it’s the self-fulfilling prophecy effect and it’s never too late.  You need to persevere and follow through with what you’ve started.  No giving up.
  4. Stop worrying about the things that are out of your control.  There is literally nothing you can do about it.  There will always be people and situations that we have no control over so take a deep breath and say the Serenity Prayer to yourself, “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  It’s simple, yet helpful if you understand and apply it to your life.
  5. If you even sense the tiniest bit of hope inside, you can climb out of any hole or any pit, no matter how deep, and work towards giving yourself a happy and fulfilling life.  I believe we are here for a reason and we should enjoy the pursuit of our purpose – not dwell in what “could have” or “should have” been.

Ending my life was not the answer to my insecurities, my fears, or the responsibilities that come with being an adult.  It would have been selfish should I have been successful in my attempt and I would have affected the lives of my family, friends, and colleagues forever – just as anybody who carries out the act of suicide does.  Today, I have a daughter because I survived this ordeal, who otherwise would not exist in my life or the lives of the families that love her.  My step-son still has a dad that loves him and will be there for him through and through.  My mom and dad still have their son and my brother still has his brother.  I didn’t consider the possibilities of the future because I was so stuck in my selfishness and self-pity; I couldn’t even humble myself enough to enjoy or see what I had right in front of me.  I wasn’t seeing the ride for what it was and I could only notice the negative side in everything.  There will be bad days of course, but bad day’s end and new day’s begin – and with every new day there is new opportunity.   There is nothing that can’t be fixed or made better in our lives if we work for it, granted we embrace some open-mindedness and willingness to catapult ourselves to heights we never thought we’d see or believed were possible.

Yes, I Tend to Co-Depend

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The misery I found within me was continuous and unbearable; a never ending cycle of looking for pleasure outside of myself to fill the emotional hole in me – that void where something always felt missing. The need for female validation; the substance abuse; the chronic over-spending or impulsive buying, the over-eating, the obsessive quick fix-juice diet to drop weight; I could go on and on with the list of “if I get this, then I’ll be happy.” scenarios, but I never really achieved that happiness I was searching for no matter what I accomplished. All these things would create a temporary relief, yet never solved the bigger problem at hand and I would soon be searching for relief again, right back to where I started or most likely, worse. All these behaviors, it turns out, were the solution to a co-dependency issue. On the surface, I thought all I was dealing with was a drinking problem and I had lived in the problem for so long that it’s what my normal had become. It then became imperative that I pick myself up to start finding and living in the solution.

Recently, in a group therapy session, I heard something so simple, yet so truthful. A friend and fellow addict stated, “We used and abused our substances to escape our lives – what we need to do is build a life we don’t want to escape.” – (Dillon Garcia) There it was; plain and simple and making complete sense, thus the puzzle pieces started fitting into place and I could see the patterns of my life unfolding before my very eyes.

So what is this co-dependency problem that I have and why am I just putting two and two together at this stage of my life? I was under the impression that all this time I only had a drinking problem, when in reality – it’s much more than that. Drinking was my solution; It was all I knew that worked, quieting my mind, easing my anxiety and making life go numb. Under the surface though, these are some of the things I was really dealing with or had experienced:

    • Not feeling happy, content, or peaceful with myself.
    • Letting the feelings and actions of others affect me to the point that I felt like I had lost control of my life.
    • Feeling trapped in relationships, but would endure the abuse or dysfunction to keep someone validating me.
    • Enabling – exhibited by a significant other, family member or friend to ease relationship tension caused by my problematic or addictive behavior.
    • Looking to relationships or other outside things to provide all my happiness and good feelings.
    • Feeling threatened by the potential loss of people or things that provide me happiness.

From the start of my relational life, co-dependency had always been a factor; I just wasn’t aware of it, nor did I know what co-dependency was for that matter. But now understanding what it is and looking back, I can see it clear as day

In 2004, I graduated from high school and was moving quickly into adulthood and all the responsibilities that go with it. Almost immediately I was offered a job working for the local power company as a meter reader and I jumped at the opportunity in lieu of going off to college. My girlfriend’s father was a supervisor for the company so I was basically a shoe in. Right off the bat, I was making decent money which led to my girlfriend, (who I’ll call Sophia for the sake of this story), and I renting an apartment together. At first things were okay; we had been through our struggles in the past, but with high school behind us, we thought we were ready to move on and tackle the world together. As nineteen or twenty year olds, fresh out of high school, and already having a shaky relationship at best, this was quite egotistical, naïve thinking. The fairy tale quickly turned into a nightmare and things were escalating rapidly – specifically my drinking and Sophia’s constant paranoia and need for attention. It wasn’t long before neighbors were disturbed by the yelling, fighting, and sound of objects being heaved back and forth into the walls of our residence on a seemingly nightly basis. It was chaotic and extremely dysfunctional, but we had both become so desensitized and used to that way of life that we sustained it way longer than we should have.

Trust was non-existent for Sophia. I was constantly accused of being unfaithful to her, which I never was, unless you consider cheating to be plastered at the pool hall every night or opting to spend more and more time with my buddies. Nevertheless, I put up with the madness because I liked the power she gave me over her. Sophia was a child of divorce and the product of a fairly dysfunctional childhood. Her father spent most nights at the bar, while she was stuck at home looking after and caring for her two younger sisters. Major emotional and psychological issues were obvious and present because of this and I knowingly took advantage of them – using her for what I wanted and ignoring everything else as best I could. She provided me with the female validation I craved and I could do whatever I wanted knowing she would never leave me. Her fear of being alone far outweighed putting up with me or what I was doing, and she was more than willing to endure the insanity if it meant she would receive my affection from time to time. Essentially, she was the perfect enabler and, at the time, that’s all I wanted – someone to co-sign my bullshit.

This toxic relationship of fighting, police visits, breaking up and making up lasted for seven years of my life. From age fifteen to twenty-two I lived in this vicious reality and when I finally took the initiative to break away for good in hopes that my life would get better, I plummeted further down the rabbit hole into darkness and depression. What tiny sliver of accountability I had was now gone and I was left completely to my own vices – a recipe for disaster to the alcoholic in full blown, active addiction.

My co-dependency shifted entirely from dysfunctional relationship to drowning myself in the bottom of bottle after bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I looked to it for providing me happiness and I couldn’t imagine a life without it by my side. Going a day without was unfathomable and I submitted to the probability that this was what my life was going to be like until I was six feet under. It was a hopeless and helpless cycle of drinking to cope, drinking to stop shaking and even drinking to numb out or forget what I did or said when I was drinking. That’s the true insanity of the disease in full control.

This pattern has played out in virtually all aspects of my life and relationships to date; maybe not to the extreme of that particular example, but some variation of co-dependent dysfunction always seemed to show up – whether it was a romantic relationship, relationships with family members, or relationships with friends. I’ve always looked to something or somebody else to make me feel good, because I could not seem to do it for myself.

So rather than continuing to live in the problem, my solution has been daily awareness of the patterns in my life and conscious recognition of when I may be falling back into old ways and habits. I need to stop and check myself; check my motives – why am I doing this? Is this behavior conducive to the life I want to live as a recovering alcoholic? Is this moving me forward or pulling me back? I have discovered ways to be comfortable in my own skin and provide happiness for myself, whether it be through having a healthy connection with other people, finding new hobbies, reading a book or just taking a meditation break to re-ground myself. The point is – I can sit in a room by myself without the need to abuse some mind-altering substance or constantly look at my phone or television, or listen to music, or be entertained by something, someway. I can just sit in peace because I know that I’m doing the best I can and attempting the next right thing; that everything is going to work out the way it’s supposed to – that everything is going to be okay. Life is a continual learning experience which, in my opinion, needs to be examined thoroughly – not just on the surface; for me what lies underneath is the most effective place to start exploring the improvements and adjustments needed for a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life.