Category: Musings of my Mind

Heartbreaker

heart_break_001Bona fide metamorphosis; I persistently mulled over the invented elements featured in that newest round of transformation; convincing myself in a desperate, self-soothing manner that I had thoroughly evolved that time around; besides, authentically believing in the fabrication myself was of crucial importance to ensure that all those around me bought into the act as well – the new me that is; proclamation of a wholehearted oath secured through the blood-soaked signature of sincere intentions and paramount promises – this time I recognized the remedy; this time I was cognizant of the solution; I predicted a warm embrace; I felt I had undeniably earned it; anticipating a warranted welcome with open arms; presuming all infractions would be expunged from my inadequate record – a clean slate; I had, in fact, led any questionable culmination to be in tune with the blatant fact that I was cured; that I had no control whatsoever over my thoughts or actions prior to this conclusion, citing, as any good alcoholic would, that my illness had made me that way – why should I suffer for it after the fact? 

stock-illustration-22467839-captian-at-wheel-of-shipI had diligently worked at making it come across as if my life finally rerouted back on track; a quintessential illusion; my master-minded manipulations continuously cultivated their effectiveness with every booming beat of a heart pounding on borrowed time.  My primary purpose became exclusively pursuing a hunger for that recognition; the validation of anybody noticing a job well done with me at the helm – whether or not it was “real” plays no significant role in conjunction with my ill-fated agenda; it was the obligatory recipe, fueling operation of the subsequent pride filled ego-trip that inundated my consciousness and generated sensational feelings of invincibility – like I got one over on everyone again; I had outsmarted and outplayed everybody once more; I, in all my glory, had engineered a masterpiece; let me reap the rewards of such tiresome work and let everybody else settle in with the idea that a new and improved Chris had arrived back in town – obviously that was the case.

fists-vector-3705Then reality steadily forced its way back up to the surface; and in succession with every time before that, defective words launched from my lips vanished and faded in the distance, getting lost in the background and swiftly becoming virtually valueless due to a lack of physical effort to fortify their fidelity.  The only real illusion was what I had erroneously convinced myself of in attempt to soften the relentless and never-ending, self-inflicted fists of life beating me into submission; the masterpiece I thought I had skillfully constructed around me wasn’t that at all, but no more than counterfeit concoctions of an ill-minded imagination; travesties of my sickness; corruptions of my curse – when all was said and done, I assuredly found myself further down the rabbit hole than where I had begun.

Common sense might offer up reasonable rationalizations as to the benefits of cutting out this way of living altogether, but when it comes to alcoholics and alcoholic behaviors, common sense is non-existent – on a side note, when I really get wrapped up in my analytical state and dissect it, I’m not all that sure I can even buy into the ideology of common sense being an entity at all; what is common to me may not be all that common to you; it’s a blurry line, at best; I don’t see the sense in any of it really.  Regardless of whatever sense it makes to cut it out, it’s imperative to remember that we are sick people; connections in our brains are, for lack of a better term, not entirely connected; it’s also imperative to remember that we cannot use that as an excuse or justification to continue on down a calamitous passageway, writing off any and all options that offer us the solution to our malady.  As with any of the countless other illnesses that live and thrive, we too must be treated, despite our awareness that no cure currently exists (“We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” – Big Book, pg. 85) – it is our responsibility to seek that solution; to be honest and truthful with ourselves first and foremost; if we ever expect to break the cycle of continuously trying to fool everybody, including ourselves, to no avail, that is what our predecessors have found to be required – in the end, no matter which way you slice it, it’s simply wasted time and energy not to give recovery a genuine, full-fledged effort. 

We are men and women, young and old; we are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers; we are somebody’s friend, we are someone else’s enemy; we are praised professionals running multi-million dollar businesses; we are homeless and forgotten, finding shelter in an alley behind the dumpster we scourged for our last meal; we are immensely intelligent and stunningly creative; we are charming, fun, and easily loveable; we are dark and lonely lost souls, never truly able to find a place where we fit or a setting where we feel comfortable; we are full of potential, yet time and time again we are left with more to be desired; we offer up bright and promising lives, although we are not always proficient in keeping true to our promises; we break hearts over and over again, hoping someday we can peel away from the perpetually poisonous pattern of building up expectations, just to become a major let down one more time.  Many times our intentions are good, but our outcomes are not; throw caution to the wind until we meet again, heartbreaker.

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.

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.