Category: Character Defects

On with the Side Show…

circus-sideshowWhispers of doubt echo throughout the chambers of a mind infested by darkness.  It’s not a pitch black however – not a complete absence of light.  It’s an intrinsic black that manifests when tired eyelids give way and collapse under a vibrant, cloudless sky; a ghostly ambiance of gleaming desperation committed to break through the delicate barrier of flesh severing opposite worlds.  Perhaps that’s why the whispers remain whispers and haven’t yet materialized into screams; they still perceive the presence of light – a glow which hosts a breeding ground for hope; a dingy darkness draped overhead birthing seeds of suspicion – an apprehension that perpetually recycles itself into a tenaciously dull roar and emerges again, sentenced to remain incarcerated within the mind of a mad man.

c8a0c0174beb3d18cedea00e823e605fNevertheless, the show carries on despite a seemingly inexhaustible search for authentic purpose or meaning, despite the mental barriers and personal trust issues; emotional traumas, wide-ranging mood swings and impulsive personalities, despite being thrust into the Southern California culture which heavily highlights human beings at a mere surface deep level; every heartbeat delivering confusion about who’s real and who’s only prerogative is to win the popularity contest; fueling self-worth based on the amount of people willing to jump under the sheets for a night of meaningless, sexual escape – deciphering between who’s willing to get dirty and actually fight in the trenches instead of breathing in an existence which is evidently based upon personal appearance, money, power or prestige – it’s high school revisited; this clique inundated, horror-drama that permeates throughout the soul of recovery communities like an epidemic.

To some this suffices, rendering enough sustenance to be considered living in “recovery” from a life shattering addiction, almost unaware of the side show sickness slipping subtly in to infiltrate weakened defenses; a disease, magnificently mutating; cunning enough to distract the mind from its primary purpose – gaining personal freedom from the bondage and throws of chronic self-destruction via the aid of whichever poison we fancy;  it’s hiding patiently in the shadows, waiting and striking out, unsuspectingly, at the next obtainable weakness in hopes to commence the cycle all over once more – whatever vulnerability that turns out to be; to keep us at bay from discovering the deep-seeded purposes behind an overwhelming desire to escape and numb out a life we never truly desired or could determine how to fit into in the first place; from unveiling the secrets to filling the void and creating some self-worth without substituting one unhealthy behavior for another. It’s an exhausting path to remain tirelessly trudging along for a group of the highly emotional.  Is it realistic or more along the lines of a far-fetched fantasy that people of such nature can ever fully see past these distractions and prevent them from occurring within a society in search of serenity?

toddler411.pngAs my children began to enter the realm of somewhere between full on baby and tiny human being, I thumbed through a manual at a local book joint entitled, Toddler 411.  Essentially, it’s the low-down on how to survive anything and everything you might encounter during those vital yet challenging, early years – as it turns out, most of the advice and strategies suggested for dealing with a growing toddler can be easily interchanged and wielded to maneuver through a community recovering from substance abuse – especially when these personalities are all residing under the same roof; so in essence, having children of my own bridged the gap, serving as a strong pre-requisite course in living amongst a society of the behaviorally challenged – myself included.  Similarities that are actually quite astounding when broken down with the primary exception, of course, being a substantial difference in age.  Regardless, we all need each other; we all learn from each other – no one person holds the coveted secret of life, but we do know the importance of sticking together – conflicts, personality clashes and all, so we can continue our pursuit for the greater good.

Answers – answers to questions that may not have set answers are my kryptonite and by far the biggest hurdle to leap on this arduous quest in search of uncovering the purpose for my existence; I just want answers; I yearn for understanding; cursed to traverse the world with a mind that automatically internalizes, processes, and analyzes every little detail – I crave to gain a conscious awareness of what the point to all of this is – do we simply exist going through the motions, engaging in the obligated mundane because it’s required for survival; what are we surviving for? What is the endgame?  Is there an end game?  I had attained all the goals I set for myself by the age of twenty-eight and subsequently lost it all by the time I turned twenty-nine; materialism and obsessively constructing an image to be admired from the outside looking in was just not cutting it; I was still miserable; I was still dead inside; a shriveled soul with a rock hard heart; I numbed it all out and pushed it away, and finally one day I came to – it was all gone for real. 

2231744073_babdf84c8c_bIt’s hard to accept the side show circus surrounding the recovery community, but somewhere deep down I understand that it’s my personal responsibility to make a choice – either get sucked into it or don’t; learn to live and let live; keep fresh the memories of how I got to this juncture in my life and what I’m really trying to accomplish as I carry forth on the journey – to find the balance for a better way to live.  So, on with the side show, for with every side show there comes a featured act – let us remember to exercise patience and stick around long enough for it to take place.

“Just Hear Me Out”, Me

canstock3161281Justification and rationalization aplenty.  When referring to a life that lacked many things, these two were, by no means, on that list; my muzzle could rattle off scenario after scenario for days on end as to why I did this or how I need to do that – and that’s coming from a pretty quiet, reserved gentleman.  So, what’s the problem?  Contrary to popular belief about addicts and alcoholics, the problematic justifying and rationalizing as a person living with the disease does not refer nor pertain to physically picking up and taking that first drink or drug.  It does, however, start to set a series of events in motion that will eventually lead directly to it.  This is why you will hear so many in recovery refer to the relapse happening far before the actual drink or drug is taken.  My head defaults to a system that has been in power and control for years; governing my life in a single-minded and tyrannical manner.  The system, which is not absent in many normal people as well, is basically this: a thought or behavior with subsequent punishment or a thought or behavior with subsequent reward – it became the basis for every decision that I made; whether or not it was a completely sound and conscious decision at the time really had no effect or influence on what I perceived as the final outcome; at least that’s how I see it when I look back on the life patterns in myself. 

I do not claim that the physical act of taking the first drink was not justified or rationalized in the process – it certainly was – but it was not the primary means of such deliberate action.  When I do something positive in my life, my head automatically starts to formulate a reward – it’s how I am wired and I am justifying said reward, whether it be food, an impulsive purchase, or any other life pleasure that provide instant gratification, because I did something virtuous and noble rather than simply conducting myself in a positive or productive demeanor because it was the right thing to do; a fundamental lack of integrity – whether or not it was to directly benefit me or not should play no part in the thought process – but it always does; human nature?  Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean I cannot or should not try harder to stay conscious of these underlying intentions or motives as to why I am thinking or behaving in any particular fashion. 

When the roles are reversed, which is far more existent in my particular situation, my mind defaults to formulating a proper punishment that must be inflicted upon myself; I view myself as unfit and unworthy; I deserve pain and suffering to the maximum degree.  So on and so forth; but the problem was this – I justified taking a drink as both a punishment and a reward – I did something good, lets celebrate! I did something bad, lets numb and escape that unwanted feeling. This cycle, or system, of reward and punishment that plagues me continues to produce the menacing and treacherous symptoms like irritability, restlessness, and discontentment – in other words, the kryptonite of the alcoholic, leaving no chance for long-term recovery. entitlement

Then the shift starts to take over and the entitlement rears its ugliness; I stay sober for a period of time and now the world owes me something? All of a sudden everybody should just welcome me back into their lives with open arms? Look at me! Over here! Do you see me? Look at what I’m doing! Trying to find work again, preparing for schooling, attempting to pay my bills instead of avoiding them, getting out of bed in the morning and contributing to my life and the life of others.  Don’t you see?  Commend me; tell me how good I am; I deserve it god dammit!  I’m doing exactly what an adult should be doing and I demand recognition!  I’m special, aren’t I? 

untitledWow – what completely absurd and irrational thinking; talk about self-centered; talk about egotistical and pride filled jibber jabber.  What type of raving lunatic cannot see that as being an irrefutably unjustifiable and foolish view point? – that nutcase is me; it’s exactly how my mind sees it.  I will start to rationalize my return to active addiction by feeling a lack of support or understanding.  I’ll start to tell myself lies like, “even when I’m sober, my friends and family don’t get me, my drinking was never the problem all along; these other people were the problem; I’m just sober and alone now; I might as well go back out and try this drinking thing again; at least it’s dependable – it really wasn’t that bad anyway.”  The lies only escalate from that point into, “I’ve already lost everything; I cannot have contact with my children; my career is gone; my divorce is final with totally unfair and unreasonable conditions; my house had to be sold, leaving me legally homeless three-thousand miles away from everything I once knew – what’s the use? It’s already too late.”  These I can now recognize as critical red flags; that my mind and disease are in a very bad place – attack mode; and although these are true scenarios I have to deal with, it is by no means the end of the world – and that, I must always, always remember.     

Much to the tune of self-deception for a lengthy period of time, I was not drinking to tolerate the world around me or what was taking place in it like I so often preferred to believe; I was drinking because I always managed to reach that pivotal point where my only option became drinking in order to tolerate myself.  That was my ultimate justification, whether or not I chose to see or accept that is debatable, but thankfully, my eyes have been opened to embracing that as being the case.  I hated myself; loathing and detestation of my mere existence; I couldn’t stand to be around me, but rather than address the problem head on, I backed down from that confrontation of myself in attempt to ignore the problem altogether; secretly praying that it would magically disappear; a truly unrealistic expectation.  So every time problems didn’t disappear, I already found my solution drowning in a bottle of liquid escape – and it worked, that is, until it didn’t. 

foggy-mirror-rectify-it-with-petrolium-jellyI took extreme measures to avoid myself, which did not solely involve indulgence directly in that anesthetizing solution.  For instance, before I would even consider walking in front of the bathroom mirror in my home, I turned on scalding hot water in the shower so the steam would fog out my reflection – I couldn’t look at myself, staring into my own eyes was too painful; the occasional tears streaking down my cheeks when it got to be too much; tears of shame, guilt and remorse; I chose not to feel them and I didn’t want to see them either – but I still couldn’t stop being that miserable excuse for a human being.  I was always qualified to justify self-destruction, but under no circumstances prepared to warrant self-improvement – all because I didn’t love or accept myself – I didn’t know how; I didn’t think it was possible, so I never tried.  Today things are a little different.  I don’t love the things I once did, but I don’t hate myself anymore – I can look in that mirror and know that I am at least giving it my all; doing the best I can, and learning to trust in the process.

Chris, Reservation For One…

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I can sense in myself that this is it; game over; I can’t explain why, but I finally feel finished this time, with “feel” being the keyword as well as the most frightening one in my vocabulary – but King Alcohol has beaten the living shit out of me, stolen everything, and left me overwhelmingly convinced of its mastery and sheer ability to remain undefeated; that no matter what I do, that will never change; much respect; no more rematches; I concede that I will never hold the coveted Championship Belt.  My condition was, to say the least, grim upon arrival; physically ill, mentally wrecked, and spiritually more dead than ever as I dragged myself through the doors of the admissions office in the treatment center I’ve come to know as home.  They mercifully granted me a pass to embark on the fourth attempt of rehabilitation through their program; like they had taken me in and adopted me as a child of their own – it’s been nearly an entire year since I first touched down in California and the majority of that time has been spent within a residential treatment home, a sober living home, or a cheap, trashy motel room – I can’t count out a night or two spent seeking shelter inside my Jetta either; I might as well just be honest and throw that into the sad mix of situations I’ve encountered over the course of my west coast adventure.

A foreign desperation has set in; a rock-bottom I haven’t known; new depths have been reached, again – it’s now becoming quite convincing that an alcoholic of my condition can always manage to dig a deeper pit, that in all reality, my true bottom is most likely six feet under in a wooden box – you know, a forever nap in the dirt.  I was lost and completely confused – I could not figure out for the life of me why or how I had picked up that first drink – things were starting to turn around; life was, for all intents and purposes, gradually getting better.  I merely stopped in at a gas station to pick up a cold, refreshing Coca-Cola, which in fact I did buy, in addition to one shooter of Jack Daniel’s that jumped off the shelf from across the store and into my brown paper bag – very acrobatic stuff for a tiny little, plastic bottle.  The insane thinking that one measly drink could do me no harm took over; that it would calm me down and take a very satisfying edge off – a tiny taste, that’s all.  My disease in its baffling, sinister power overthrew all logic and reason; it noticed I was off-guard and took full advantage of the situation – I came to a week later, in the middle of the desert, somewhere between Los Angeles and Las Vegas – that’s how I roll when I hand over control – that is, when I hand over control to the wrong higher power.

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I’m scared; petrified really, although I loathe admitting it and intuitively go to extraordinary lengths not to show it – even though I’m working more intensely than ever to prevent another disastrous bender or spree.  It’s that hair raised on the back of my neck type of fear; where cold blood courses through my veins and tender, blue eyes roll over black in automatic defense of such unpleasant feelings or emotions – “drown it out!”, my mind screams at me, “you know how to make it stop!”.  Reservations that I may one day take another drink cannot possibly still find places to squat or hide-out in patient existence within me – not after living through hell on Earth; not after pleading for and welcoming death as a far more appealing option than continuing to sit still, trapped in a nightmare too devastating even for Stephen King to think up; not after finally coming to terms with and accepting the reality that my soul is only further and more emphatically tortured by the diabolical aid of a drink.  No – surely no person, thing, event, or situation could ever cause me to retreat back to that horrific place where the unfortunate living must lay amongst the dead – or then again, could such a thing or situation really exist?

A large part of getting and, more importantly, STAYING sober is identifying these reservations, not hiding from them or pretending they are magical, false figments of my imagination like I’d much rather do – and it doesn’t matter how insane or far-fetched the reservation is or seems, if it would cause me to take that first drink, the sheer prevalence and power of that alone needs to be acknowledged, understood, processed, and dealt with.  “Why?” my head asks me.  Why do I need to do this seemingly unnecessary work?  Work that feels like wasted effort; time that could be spent doing something far more important or productive.  The likelihood that I will be around to experience an apocalyptic event is pretty low on the totem pole, so who cares if I would drink over the impending demise of our planet?  Right off the bat, entertaining, nevertheless, responding to the questions or ideas formulated in my head is never, ever all that smart of an idea; the great lie is my fantastic ideas being reasonable or well-grounded.  I’d be much better off following the direction of my heart, but somewhere along the pathway from my ticker to my noggin is a disconnect that I haven’t yet been able to fully bridge – perhaps I never will, who knows.  Secondly – contrary action – do things differently than I have always done them and reap different results that I have always ended up with; pretty damn simple, but so fucking hard.

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So, in the unfathomable event that something truly horrendous were to happen to my son or daughter like the development of a terminal disease, passing away in a tragic accident, somebody hurting them, violating them, or even taking their life; how could I possibly handle that rationally without resorting directly to the drink for instant numbing and escape?  What if by some miracle I hit the lottery rendering me financially set for life?  I’d never have to live on the streets or beg for help; I could buy all worldly pleasures, pay problems away, and enjoy any other comfort or desires when and where I want.  What’s to stop the drink then?  These are two unlikely, but possible scenarios which could arise one day – and at the heart of these reservations, which I didn’t think I had or at the very least chose to ignore, lives selfishness and self-centeredness.  Yes, the ugly root to nearly all of my issues rises to the surface again – frankly, I’m pretty sick of finding selfishness mixed up and wrapped around every facet of my life.  Is it selfish that I’m sick of my own selfishness?  I’m just going to leave that one alone… 

If in that unthinkable scenario of losing one of my children, I run off and drown in a bottle of oblivion, I’ve completely turned it into a situation all about ME and how it effects ME and why not pour another glass of ME, ME, ME!  It completely turns the attention away from the value of their life and what it meant, making it instead, all about – you guessed it, ME!  There is no honor or respect in that – it’s simply selfish, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it; by doing that I choose my own selfishness over a healthy grieving process with family and friends where we have the love and support of each other in honoring a beautiful, innocent life lost far too soon – as difficult and completely life-shattering as it would be, that’s the best case reaction in a genuine tragedy.  I would love to think I could be strong enough to handle it, but I’m not so convinced – and I don’t ever want to test the theory.  Now, obviously I pray I never have to face such a horrifying event, but I should acknowledge that the reservation does exist within me; ignoring it will never increase the chances for long term sobriety.

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And so once again I’m faced with more challenges than I anticipated along this journey where danger lurks around every turn, but that’s the funny thing about anticipation and why it’s irrelevant to so many aspects of recovery – through acknowledgment I can work past it; working past it supports growth; growth breeds change – and change ultimately leads me further away from taking that first drink, in all its misery and unavoidable company, rather than falling one step back towards it.

Perfekt’s Problem

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I have no qualms observing my surroundings and pointing out everything that I see wrong which can range from the dishes being put away incorrectly or mowing the yard in a pattern I don’t see fit; the organization of pantry’s and refrigerators to the bed not being made the way I think it should be. I can sense the lunacy in this reality even as I type these words. I have issues with perfectionism, and contrary to what I thought about striving to be perfect, it is not a good personality trait to live with. Perfect is unattainable so when I fail to reach my desire for it, I become extremely critical of myself and sometimes even lash out in critical rants about those around me. But, I’m coming to grips with understanding I am my own worst enemy and I cannot start playing the “blame game” when things don’t go how I think they should.

Perfectionism: A doctrine holding that religious, political, social or moral perfection is attainable, especially the theory that human moral or spiritual perfection should be or is attainable.

For the perfectionist, everything and every aspect of life is dependent upon achievement and being noticed for that achievement. All self-worth is reliant upon the need for everything to be or appear to be perfect. Ultimately, it’s a safety mechanism that protects from controversy or conflict.  The unfortunate side effect of this is being extremely judgmental of self and highly critical of others; the need for things to be perfect trumps everything else and ultimately promotes a state of dysfunction, rather than the higher quality of life being pursued. Being perfect is humanly impossible, which means setting standards that cannot be attained will only lead to anger and frustration – then loneliness and regret.

If I look back on my life, I can start to notice the patterns forming when I was a child and into my early teenage years. If I behaved or did something well, I was rewarded for that. If I didn’t reach my potential or performed poorly, I was not rewarded, thus triggering feelings of failure, depression and a desire to give up altogether. So, I began to formulate the conclusion that as long as I do everything perfectly, my life will work out and everything will be ok. I can recall the way I organized baseball cards, the need to have all of anything I was collecting such as old coins or action figures. Whatever it was, I wanted the best and I wanted it all – anything short was unacceptable in my eyes.

Another twist is perfectionists often have difficulty opening up to others out of extreme fear of rejection or being exposed to vulnerability. They do not bounce back from challenges or mistakes well because in their mind it solidifies their worst fears which is that they are not good enough – in turn this can cause long bouts of depression, and in my case, it was coupled with substance abuse, which sent the perfect life that I desired spiraling out of control. I was on a quest to numb out all the imperfections of my life, and subsequently, I numbed out everything else.

There was a large void in me that I could not seem to fill no matter how desperately I tried – and I certainly tried, albeit not in the healthiest of fashions. For me, it came in many forms like compulsive spending, over-eating or under-eating, sex, and alcohol abuse. Deep down, I felt so disorganized and unsure of myself that if everything around me was or seemed perfect, I felt safer and just maybe everything would be okay; maybe I’d skate through another day.

Another problem in my life of perfectionism was that I spent so much time and energy future tripping; I failed to stay in the moment at hand. I always thought if I had the perfect house with the perfect yard and the perfect family – then everything would be okay. That would make me feel happy and fulfilled. I repeatedly found this was not the case, yet I still craved to stay the course. I focused all my efforts on trying to make it better and better, but in the process I ignored things that were way more crucial like spending valuable time with my children or being grateful for what I already had right under my nose. To me and my skewed mind, it wasn’t perfect – so I had to keep chasing. What I ultimately ended up doing was chase everything and everybody out of my life and fall deeper into my depression and alcoholism.

I genuinely thought that all the things I did, provided, and helped with was showing my love and affection for my family and those around me. Achieving the next great thing is what drove me – it made me feel needed and important; like, “look at me, look what I did”. I was so focused on achieving that great life for my kids, progressing in my career and building a happy home. But I wasn’t connecting on any level other than I did “stuff” – and doing “stuff”, it turns out, is not the most proficient way to build meaningful connection with anything other than sorrow, regret and loneliness – let alone trying to maintain perfection in a house with two young children. My expectations were unrealistic and everybody suffered because of it. It left me in a house, empty of my kids, my wife and all the “stuff” I put before them.

So what did I have to do to escape the cycle of my pursuit for perfect? I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I had to make some major life decisions. Since I was also suffering from depression, anxiety and substance abuse – treatment seemed to be my best option. So I boarded a plane destined for Southern California and started yet another stint in rehabilitation. The first step was clearing my foggy mind and coming to terms with exactly where I was in life – nearly thirty years old and starting over; accepting my part of why I was in the position I was in, and starting to develop an overwhelming desire for change. I had to leave my comfort zone and take some risks – listen to some direction and trust in the process; give it a fair chance to work. My life has since improved and the number of good days are becoming far more regular. I still have bad days, but I know that I have some new skills and tools to use and one day at a time – the sky is the limit.