Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How Do You Know If You're An Alcoholic?

Now that I've started blogging about recovery, I'm starting to get questions from friends about how I came to realize I was ... well, a drunk! Or they're concerned about people they know or their own family members. There are all kinds of little "tests" online that purport to assess one's likeliness to be alcoholic, but the problem is, sometimes those simply say: "If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, you are in danger of being an alcoholic!" I used to roll my eyes at those because anybody can probably answer "yes" to at least one of the questions. The average college student might even answer "yes" to several of them, but they're not necessarily alcoholics. They're just in a kind of occasional binge-drinking stage that they'll eventually grow out of.

An alcoholic is somebody who doesn't grow out of it.

But, for whatever it's worth, here's one test that isn't too bad of an indicator, if you answer the questions honestly: Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test. For the alcoholic who may be trying to "prove" he's not, though, that's a big if.

True, there are some people whose problem is pretty obvious. They're the ones who can't hold down a job because they can't put the booze down long enough to work, or they get bad hangovers so often they're constantly calling in sick and getting fired. Or, they show up at work, but they're so bad-tempered (because they feel like crap) that they constantly pop off at the mouth and they wind up fired. They can't stay in a stable relationship because of the constant fighting. They're generally happy drunks at first who get argumentative when they've had too much. Consequently they may have been in and out of jail (having periods of sobriety when incarcerated) for assault or for petty crimes or for other, illegal, drug use. They may go on the wagon every now and then but somehow always seem to fall back off. They tend to hang out in bars a lot, and their friends are heavy drinkers.

Harder to spot are the "higher functioning" alcoholics. I was one of those, and it took until I was 47 before I finally had to admit I was more than just "a problem drinker." Never had a DUI, never lost a job, never had a relationship break up solely due to my drinking (though it played a part, you bet), never was in jail, and not all of my friends are drinkers. I was, rather, a closet drinker and good enough at it that many people were surprised to find out I had an alcohol problem. (Others weren't surprised at all.) I did a lot of drinking alone. I was pretty good about tossing empties in the trash and getting them down to the recycling before Chelle got home. I was a big liar about how much I actually consumed. (For the curious: on average, I'd have about 15 drinks per drinking episode. And I mixed 'em up. I'd start with a couple cocktails, switch to beer, have wine with dinner, then a few more cocktails or port afterwards. Sometimes if I didn't feel drunk enough, I'd sneak a quick shot or two of vodka or of Chelle's bourbon.) What I would admit to was having maybe...oh, four or five.

So, how do you tell if you're not really sure, and when it seems as if everybody on the planet is way too quick to diagnose you just because you overdo it every now and then (the bastards)?

One sign is blackouts. If you regularly "lose" your memory of a drinking episode, or part of your memory of the night before (a "brownout"), that's a pretty solid sign.

Problem is, not all alcoholics have blackouts. I met several in rehab who'd never had a blackout in their lives. (But I never met anyone who has regular blackouts who isn't an alcoholic.)

Other signs you may be developing, or have developed, a physical dependency on alcohol: Does your blood pressure run a little high? Do you get morning or night sweats? Do you shake a little (even just a little tremor) in the mornings after a drinking episode? If you're really, really addicted, then you might have a seizure after suddenly stopping drinking, and that can be dangerous. Hallucinations, too. Anyone who is physically dependent needs to detox in a hospital because this intense a withdrawal can make you die. There was a guy in rehab who had a seizure and had to be rushed to the hospital. A few months ago, I came out of an AA meeting, and a heavy drinker who'd tried stopping on his own was down on the sidewalk in the middle of a seizure.

As for me, I was not so addicted I needed a medical detox. The most that happened for me was severe hangovers (a hangover, after all, is withdrawal from alcohol), occasional morning tremors, and sweats. (I used to write the sweats off as perimenopause and the tremors as low blood sugar. I was kidding myself.)

I've mentioned sneaking drinks, drinking alone, lying about how much you drink, hiding bottles. Other things to look for: is there alcoholism in your family? Have you tried controlling or managing your alcohol consumption by doing things like switching to beer only or wine only, or drinking only on weekends, or only after 5pm? When you start drinking, does it make you anxious or uncomfortable if you have to stop after only two or three? Do you plan when you can have an opportunity to drink? Have other people expressed concern about your drinking? In short, are there numerous signs that there's a problem, but you have some "excuse" to explain away each of them?

Then there's the issue of, are you a problem drinker, or are you an alcoholic? Any alcoholic is probably going to first argue he or she merely has a problem that they can get under control. Various theories exist about problem drinkers learning to moderate their drinking. My Dad did it. He had lost his driver's license for a DUI, and then his job as a consequence because he couldn't drive (impossible for a salesman). That was enough to shake some sense into him, and he was able to stop for a while and then took to drinking on Saturday nights only. He did get drunk every now and then, but it wasn't enough to be a big deal. However, he did "check out" of living a full life... he spent the week with his head in a book or watching TV after dinner every night and never interacted with his own kids. So he didn't really treat the underlying psychological issues that led to his abuse of alcohol to begin with. He became what we call a "mostly dry drunk." He still thought and acted like an alcoholic in many ways by being emotionally unavailable; he just didn't drink all that much any more.

Some psychiatrists will say that some heavy drinkers, if they haven't been abusing so long that they're addicted to the booze, can "re-teach" themselves to drink in moderation. That's the path I certainly tried to follow for a while, but it just never worked for me. Inevitably I'd spiral out of control and step up the pace again and return to drinking pretty much every other day and all weekend long. (My drunkalogue is here.)

If you're not convinced you're an alcoholic or think you can control your drinking--you just need to truly put your mind to it--then the only thing you can do is give it a whirl. If you succeed, great! If you don't, though, and after a time you keep slipping and overindulging, then it may be time to admit defeat and stop altogether.

If you can reach that conclusion without having to hit the bottom of rock bottoms, you're lucky. Some never do. It takes cirrhosis or something life-threatening to get them there. But I'll close this with a couple thoughts. When was the last time you had a drink? An alcoholic always knows. A normal drinker will have to think about it. Normal drinkers never wonder if they have a problem. If you've been really concerned that you might be an alcoholic, chances are pretty good that you are.

Monday, March 29, 2010

'Hand Integration' ~ for daily energy balancing

This is a really short (3 minutes) but effective meditation for balancing your chakras. Meditation has become a part of my daily practice (some guided, some totally impromptu, depending on my mood) and this is a good one when you're pressed for time but need a few minutes to recharge. If you use stones, it's easy enough to have them laid out in order next to you to use as you balance each energy center.

Stinking Thinking

I'm still pondering the idea of the prison of the mind. This morning on the way to work it occurred to me that projection is one way we imprison ourselves. It can have its place if it makes us brave, but most of the times it's poisonous thinking. When I was a drinker, I was absolutely convinced people were judging me left and right, so I continually took offense at things (why do you think drunks get in fights all the time? We take imagined slights and blow them way out of proportion.)

Someone looks at you the wrong way? That's personal. I'm either going to strike out at you in some way, or I'm going to internalize that and beat myself up about it. What did I do? What could I have done differently? Is it my clothes, my hair, my weight? Is it because I'm gay? I'd build an entire mythology around a single glance--and it is more than likely the "look" that I got had nothing to do with me whatsoever. All of that was just projection.

Projection works by taking an inner feeling and projecting it elsewhere, outside of ourselves, on to something or someone else.

It's no wonder I have had problems with anxiety. And I mean serious problems. I have a psychiatric diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, I take Cymbalta for it, and I also have prescriptions for a beta blocker (propranolol) and ativan (a benzo in the valium family). Now that I've been sober for almost seven months, I realize I hardly take the ativan and propranolol at all. The Cymbalta is another matter; I have to take that every morning because it's a drug you can't just stop taking. You have to step down off of it under medical supervision.

The thing is, I always thought my problems with anxiety could be traced back to my stepmother. I've written about her before: she was the kind of parent who, if I brought home all A's on a report card and one B, would punish me for the B. When I was reading about the Stanford Prison Experiment yesterday, I was intrigued to discover that one way the guards exerted control and got compliance was by being impossible to please; they devised a string of petty, meaningless, and sometimes inconsistent or contradictory, rules for the prisoners to follow. If a prisoner duly followed one rule, it might inadvertently mean he was breaking another, so no matter what he did, it would be wrong. Or they'd just find another, new reason to be displeased. My stepmother had mastered that art. For instance, she forbade us to watch television because it was bad for us and we weren't "old enough" to watch, yet she thought I spent way too much time with my nose in a book. I was directed to find something else to do with my time. So, once I colored a picture. You know, the kind where you fill the page with different blocks of color, then cover the whole thing with black crayon? Then you etch out a drawing on top of the black, with surprises of color coming through? I was pretty pleased with my effort and, when it was finished, brought it downstairs to show her.

Her response: "What a waste of your crayons!"

That's a rather trivial example, and I couldn't have been more than eight or nine. But this kind of stuff happened all the time, with less trivial examples. By the time I was a teenager, it had gotten to the point that I felt no matter what I did, it would never be good enough, if good at all. There would always be some little thing I'd overlooked that would open me to criticism, punishment, and withdrawal of affection (not that I ever got any, but I did cling to that hope at least for a while). Finally I gave up and just turned into a robot-person with no feelings at all except for a gnawing anxiety that at any moment I might be sent outside to pick my own switch off the forsythia bush for some violation I could not have foreseen. I would stand there and take the beating and then agree, "Yes, ma'am, I won't forget to rinse out the cat bowl before filling it with water," or whatever crime I'd committed.

I think perhaps I started drinking at the outset because it relieved the constant anxiety. That strategy worked for some years. But then the assuaging alcohol turned on me in that sneaky, heinous way it has. I never did learn to cope with anything in a healthy way. I developed a toolbag of coping mechanisms that at some point stopped serving me well. Projecting my uncomfortable feelings onto others so I don't have to look at them is just one of them.

Here's how it works (aside from the imagined dirty look slight already mentioned.) Say you're afraid that, on the job, you're a bit of a fraud. You're pretty sure your coworkers have a leg up because they've been there longer, or they've got an extra training certificate you don't have, or because you stretched the truth a little bit on your resume. But everybody does that; it's practically expected. You know you're perfectly competent and can do the work just fine; but you feel a teensy bit like a fraud anyway. (This is a common feeling for women, by the way.) One day an idea of yours gets challenged at work in a meeting. You get defensive and dig in. You feel insulted. Your idea is just as good as anybody else's, maybe even better. They're just afraid of you. That's it. They're afraid of your power. They're afraid you're going to snap up the next promotion that comes up. By going after your idea, they are trying to make you look like a fraud. You start listing all your qualifications and they look at you, bemused. "What's that got to do with anything?" their expressions say.

Oops. You've just projected all your feelings onto them. And in so doing, you also just showed any canny person in your group that you secretly feel insecure about yourself.

So, you go home and rail at your coworkers, rail at your boss, and rail at yourself, and a big margarita starts to look pretty damn good. You don't resolve the real problem, which is the inner feeling of fraud and what healthy steps you can take to resolve that, and instead you come to hate your judgmental, competitive coworkers, and the situation is set up to start snowballing at work every time someone disagrees with you about any little thing.

Projection is powerful stuff. Poison thinking. Stinking thinking. If you think somebody is pointing fingers of blame at you, pause for a moment. Do you know for a fact they are? If they haven't outright told you so, consider that the blame is, in actuality, guilt you're feeling about something that you haven't allowed yourself to acknowledge. Look at it. You can do that without attaching a judgment to it. Embrace it, own it, and let it go. Only then can you let it go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fear and the Prison of the Mind

In Basic Composition right now, we're reading a section on "Obedience to Authority" in our textbook, so we've boned up on Milgram's shock experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. If you aren't familiar with these, they're psychological/sociological studies (one at Yale, one at Stanford) conducted that looked at how people respond to stress situations in which their own morals and values are challenged. In Milgram's experiment, the subjects were instructed to "shock," with increasing voltage, learners who answered incorrectly. To the surprise of the researchers, the subjects overwhelmingly were willing to blindly follow orders and shock people with (they thought) as many as 450 volts, despite the learners' screaming, thrashing, and pleading to be let go. In the Stanford experiment, a group of volunteers was arbitrarily divided into prisoners and guards in order to study the effects of loss of liberty (prisoners) and the effects of gaining social power (guards). A two-week study had to be cut short after only six days when the guards turned into sadists and several prisoners had to be excused because they were cracking under the strain.

What lessons we can glean from these experiments differs with your viewpoint, your opinions about how the experiments were conducted, and other factors, but one thing remains: given certain environmental conditions, people will act in ways contrary to how they think they might act. And often those ways are horribly destructive. Then we have to learn to live with ourselves.

I'm thinking about all of this because the end of the write-up of the Stanford Prison Experiment connects the results to the "prison of our own minds." Readers are asked to consider to what extent their own thinking might keep them in a prison of their own making. Milton said this too, when he wrote in Paradise Lost that the mind can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell. And in Alcoholics Anonymous, we read about the fear-based thinking that results constantly in our being frustrated, angry, and resentful--the things that drive us to drink.

What horrible things have you done in your life that were born of fear, of selfishness, of rationalizations?

I think, for example, of lies I've told. There are the little ones: "Yes, that's a great haircut!" when it does you no justice whatsoever. Am I being kind, or am I just afraid I'll hurt your feelings and I'll wind up feeling uncomfortable? There are bigger ones: "I won't tell anyone that you cheated on that paper." What am I afraid of? Losing your friendship? Coming off as a tattletale? And bigger ones. A company I once worked for published and distributed a nationally standardized test in which some test items had been altered after the norming so the items would "perform better," instead of tossing them and going to the expense and time of re-norming new items. Why didn't I blow the whistle? What was I afraid of? Losing my job, losing my income, getting other people in trouble, bringing the company bad press. Or a yet bigger lie, some time ago: "Yes, it's okay if I have an extramarital affair without telling my partner." What am I afraid of? She might not say it's all right. She might leave me. Or, she might leave me anyway. I'm afraid I'll be alone.

But the most destructive lies here weren't just the lies, but the lies I told myself. "Eh, it's just a term paper. She knows the material, but so much is going on in her life right now. English lit isn't her major. She doesn't need to know Macbeth inside out. What's the big deal?" Or, "It's only an admissions test. They consider other indicators for admissions decisions beyond test scores. A few items on a test is not going to make a difference." Or, "She said when we first got together that it would be an open relationship, as long as the other woman doesn't represent a threat to ours." (Yet there she was, clearly having a big problem with this idea.) "But that's her fault! She can't just go changing the rules on me! That's not fair."

Yeah. It's rationalizing the lies that are the real brain-killer. Fear = rationalization = acting out, blaming others, self-loathing, the whole she-bang. Out comes the bottle of tequila. Some part of yourself, deep down, even though you think your conscious mind is persuaded by your rationalizing, knows better. You know you've made some kind of selfish or fear-based choice to justify behaving badly. You've constructed for yourself a mental prison. There's no way out. You're trapped. Out comes the tequila bottle again, so you don't have to think about it.

I used to make fun of the simple-minded people who see the world in black and white. There are bad things and there are good things, and never the twain shall meet. Oh yeah? I thought that was ridiculous; the ethics of a situation depend on the situation. I still believe that, but I also have come to believe that yes, despite that, you can still have rules that can be prioritized. What's the greatest good for the greatest number of people? How do you know this? What are your motives here? Are they selfish or fear-based? So rules are less obstacles now and more of a roadmap, a kind of moral checklist. If you're going to break one, you'd better be sure you're doing it for a good and selfless reason. And it's probably a good idea to run it by others to make sure, because we're not always conscious of our own agendas.

I'm sure each and every prison camp guard in Nazi Germany had talked himself into believing he was doing right by standing by as Jews were executed, just like the bureaucrats rubber-stamping policies in their "banality of evil."

Interestingly, Stanley Milgram's experiment was recently recreated in France, except the laboratory setting was replaced. Instead of a researcher directing the subject to shock learners, the subject was placed in a television game show setting and was directed by the host and audience to shock the learner. The 60% percent compliance rate in the original Milgram experiment turned into a whopping 80% in this context. One thing's for sure. When we don't learn from our mistakes, we're doomed to repeat them.

A Note to Lurkers Who Regularly Read This Blog

I know you're there because I hear from some of you on occasion. And I don't mind people reading this anonymously and never saying a word. I do it myself at other blogs I follow.

But if you would, if you have a free gmail, blogger, yahoo, etc, account, would you mind registering as a "follower" of this blog? (Just scroll through the sidebar to the right; you'll find where to do this. You can make up some random name if you wish.) The reason is, once I get twenty followers, whenever there's a blog post it will automatically be fed to Networkedblogs, and my readership will broaden. Not everyone reads this blog for the recovery posts, but those are being forwarded around and some folks are finding them useful. I consider those posts to be part of my 12th step work, and, honestly? If my experiences can help other folks out there struggling with addiction, I'm all for it.

Thanks, y'all.

Back to my regularly scheduled Spring Cleaning...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Step Four Work: Enabling vs. Helping

I've been working on my 4th step, which is slogging along at a slow pace. Originally I'd thought I'd commence with the beginning and work my way up through my alcoholic life to the present. But actually I've started with the present. My sponsor suggested to me today that it's recent stuff (i.e., the past few years) that is the most relevant for me at this juncture. I added, "Yeah, I think I need to figure out the acting out things I've done first, own my part of things, and then I think looking at the old stuff will probably offer the reasons for how I got here in the first place."

But there's one other part to the step she suggested I do, something I hadn't yet heard or understood. And that, she said, was to also figure out other people's part in things. I wondered to what end. That's their stuff; and they may never own their part. "But that's not the point," she said. The point is that nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Very seldom is anybody 100% responsible for a mistake when it involves more than one person. Takes two to tango, as the saying goes. We figure this out not to point fingers of blame but to resist pointing too many fingers at ourselves, resisting the urge to just say, "It's all my fault!" and feel like total pond scum.

So, for instance, the other day I owned my part of my "false martyrdom complex" and how that was destructive in my relationship with Chelle. I drank and drank. What could Chelle have done? Well, the thing that most readily leapt to mind was the issue of enabling. There I was, drinking myself to death, and she was letting it happen under her nose. But of course, she can't control me. Her attempts to get me to stop after one or two, her willingness to drive when I was too drunk to drive, were attempts on her part to be helpful. (Under no circumstances should she have ever allowed me to drive drunk, so don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that's a bad thing.) But I also did see her attempts to, say, tell a bartender to not serve me anymore as controlling. That led me to react by going off to a different bar on a different level of the grandstand and order a drink there. And, since she wasn't there to watch, well, hell, I'd just make it a double. Aware of it or not, at times she was complicit in my abuse of alcohol. (Now remember: this isn't blaming. It's just a statement of fact.)

Maybe that's not the best example. A better one would be going to the liquor store to get bourbon for herself and then bringing home a bottle of vodka for me because she saw that a brand I liked happened to be on sale. THAT is a more clear example of enabling. So she did play a part in my addiction. Of course there are tons of reasons why she didn't see that as enabling. For one, she had no idea I was an alcoholic. She knew I had a drinking problem. But she's what we call in AA a "normie." She drinks like a normal person can: she can have one or two and then stop with no agitation or needing to quelch the desire for a third. She simply is done, like I'm done when I finish a glass of iced tea. I don't need to get right up and go get another one. So she thought my not stopping was just a lack of self-will and self-control. I can't count how many times she asked me, "Why can't you just have two? Catch a pleasant buzz and then ride that out, be relaxed, and have that be enough?" She had no idea that handing me the first one was a matter of pushing my "START" button and then there'd be no going back. Hence I say again: I'm not judging or blaming her, but it is a FACT that she enabled me.

It's confusing. When is it "enabling" and when is it "helping?" In rehab, the difference was explained. When you enable someone, you do something for somebody that actually doesn't serve them well, or is ultimately bad for them. When you help somebody, you're doing something that's good for them. (Driving the car when I was drunk was good for me; it kept me alive, her alive, and kept me from killing somebody else. So that is more helping than enabling. But! Another option would've been to take my car keys, call me a cab, and make me face the consequences by having to pay for the cab and the trip the next day to pick up my car. That's tough love, but it's helping.) On the other hand, since we were usually in her car and going to the same place, a cab made no sense, so that's an easy one to shrug off. But here's a more solid example of enabling: calling in sick for me to my place of employment. I usually tried to do this myself, but there were a couple of times when my head throbbed so much and my stomach churned so badly, that even lifting an eyelid caused horrible spins. So she'd call in sick for me and make some excuse, trying to be helpful. That got me off the hook with my employer, so I didn't have to face the consequences of my drinking (beyond feeling like crap), and that didn't help me. It allowed me to continue my bad behavior.

Consequences to actions. You have to consider them, along with the rationalizations we use to avoid things like blame. Otherwise you're doomed to repeat your mistakes. Chelle has even taken the step of apologizing to me (she didn't need to, but she did) for not understanding my disease, for being in equal denial about it, and for the role she played in enabling me. We both understand our roles, own our roles in the great drama, and now we've moved on. With the grace of God, we will not repeat those mistakes. A great weight has been lifted from both our shoulders. We are moving forward, light as feathers.


Here's a nice short film of Zenyatta right after winning the Santa Margarita Handicap. Recall that she won easily even though she spotted as many as 12 pounds to other horses in the race. Mike Smith never even had to go to the whip; she just took off like lightning like she always does and barely broke a sweat getting across the wire first. She will go down in history as one of the greatest racehorses ever...up there with Secretariat and Seabiscuit. Here she is dancing for the crowd right after the race. Having now seen her race in person, I can honestly say that you can count me as one of her adoring fans.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Signs of the Times

I happened to notice my own blog archive in the sidebar over there just a few moments ago. It's funny. I started this blog shortly after moving to Spokane, Washington, because I was unable to find a job at the time and needed to do something with my time. My first year of blogging, I was pretty devoted to it, as you can see:

* ► 2007 (425)
o ► December (17)
o ► November (21)
o ► October (30)
o ► September (26)
o ► August (17)
o ► July (44)
o ► June (37)
o ► May (45)
o ► April (46)
o ► March (72)
o ► February (48)
o ► January (22)

Then we moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and the number of posts began dropping off. One reason is that I got my old teaching job back and that ate up some of my time. The other reason is that the alcohol problem that, well, let's just say "re-reared its ugly head" in Spokane took off in earnest, as can be seen here:

* ► 2008 (106)
o ► December (13)
o ► November (22)
o ► October (14)
o ► August (3)
o ► July (11)
o ► June (5)
o ► May (7)
o ► April (9)
o ► March (4)
o ► February (9)
o ► January (9)

Last year, I had essentially given up and barely posted at all because I was so busy belting 'em back. See?

* ► 2009 (42)
o ► November (4)
o ► October (5)
o ► August (5)
o ► July (5)
o ► June (4)
o ► May (1)
o ► April (2)
o ► March (4)
o ► February (4)
o ► January (8)

There are no posts in September because that's the month I was in rehab. They didn't allow us computer access.

Then nothing in Dec and only one in Jan because of Christmas break and because I was focusing on staying sober over the holidays (my first really big challenge). Now I'm better and so my yackitty-yak-yak self is re-emerging from her shell. In three months, I've already exceeded the number of posts for ALL of last year:

* ▼ 2010 (46)
o ▼ March (25)
o ► February (20)
o ► January (1)

I'm posting pretty much something every day nowadays, even if it's just a video of music I enjoy. I find this interesting. The moral of the story, I suppose, is this: if you see me dropping out of sight again, please check in with me. I may sound good nowadays, but I can never take my sobriety for granted.

Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover) on iTunes

A really good acoustic cover of an excellent song, played on a sweet Taylor cutaway.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How I Changed My Life in 200 Days

This morning I surprised Chelle with her favorite, a bakery apple danish. Her response? "You must really love me."

I do. And, she shows me every morning, too. My alarm goes off; I hit the snooze. When it goes off a second time, I sit up, and she's in bed next to me, handing me a mug of coffee. I don't even have to get out of bed until I've got some caffeine in me.

It's the little things.

Of course, we all know that. Seldom do you hear of a relationship ending over some one huge thing--unless it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. It's always the accumulation of little things gone wrong that causes that straw to float down and land on just that spot in the first place, the thing that makes the whole house of cards topple. So take good care of the little things. It's easy to forget them six years into a relationship.

When I was drinking, I was convinced I had mastered the little things. If you had asked me then, I'd spin off an entire list of all the things I took care of to make our house a home. I cleaned. I did the laundry. I did the shopping. I often cooked elaborate meals. I was sexually available. I indulged Chelle in her love of horse racing. I'd taken one for our team by agreeing to move with her to Spokane for a year while she worked on a degree. I even helped her out at games sometimes, for free, by tending the cash bar and preparing plates of hors d'oeuvres.

Yet tension between us heightened, and I started getting resentful.

I was convinced that Chelle was the problem. I was the perfect little wife. And why was our sex life in the toilet?

Two hundred sober days later, I look at it all with clearer eyes. It's true I cleaned, did the laundry, shopping, and cooking. But these were all things I used as a reason to drink. Every trip to the grocery store included buying a bottle of wine or two to share with that fancy dinner, and I'd consume one of them during the process of preparing it. By the time Chelle got home from school and work, tired and hungry, I'd greet her sloshed. She didn't need a shrimp appetizer, pistachio-encrusted halibut, and homemade cheesecake for dessert. She needed me, but I wasn't there. Drunk Joyce was there.

It wasn't altruistic of me to offer to help out at games. It was the selfish desire for the big haul afterwards. We'd bring home leftover beer or Mike's Hard Lemonade, so my "paycheck" was the booze. Next thing she knew, there was Drunk Joyce.

Often it wasn't Chelle's idea to go to the racetrack or the OTB facility; it was mine. The first thing I'd do upon arriving was belly up to the bar and order a Bloody Mary. When the bartender knows you by name, knows your brand of vodka, knows when you're done with one kind of drink and ready to switch to a margarita or Mai Tai and when you're ready for a "sobering beer," you're not just a regular. You're a drunk. Going to the track was a reason to drink. Chelle was just Drunk Joyce's chauffeur.

And our sex life? I ranted over our "lesbian bed death." I cried and insisted to Chelle she must not love me anymore. It never once occurred to me that the least attractive thing on the planet is a slurring, stumbling drunk or a hungover partner reeking of metabolizing booze first thing in the morning. Not to mention the pounds of flab I'd added to my once very fit frame, the bloodshot eyes, the freshly burst capillaries all over my face. Yummy! Not.

I look back over my martyrdom and realize what a jackass I truly was. The signs that Chelle really did love me are stamped all over my three-year bender. She stayed with me. She tried, in the only ways she knew how, to help me rein in my addiction. (I, of course, read that as her trying to control me.) She still brought me coffee in bed. She was 100% supportive of my decision to go to rehab and paid for my treatment in full with her own credit card, not knowing or caring whether our insurance would actually pay for it. (We're still fighting with Blue Cross over that one.) And she still maintains that, even if they don't pay us back one thin dime, that this was a nine thousand dollars well spent.

Chelle calls the last two hundred days the best days of her life. She's got her Joyce back. And now we both understand how alcoholic brains operate, by twisting, distorting, creating an alternate version of reality to justify feeding itself. She has forgiven me. "It's history."

So I'm back to the little things, the apple danish. This time it was given for one reason and one reason only. I love her and wanted to do something that would make her happy. It's such a relief and a blessing to live life so simply, free of hidden or unconscious agendas.

Oh, and our sex life? That constant smile on my face isn't for nothing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Top Ten Book List

Other blogs are doing it, so I may as well join the fray. The idea is to pick the top ten books that have most impacted you and to explain why. Narrowing the list down to ten has proven to be a challenge, but here goes (in no particular order):

1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Here was the first book of literary quality that gripped my attention right from the opening sentence. I was young at the time, 20 years old, and my idea of a good writer back then was Stephen King. The books I read for English classes were good, but they certainly weren't popular novels. Reading them was work. Celie's voice was real to me; her experiences were all too real for me; and though now as a more mature reader I find parts of the book strike me as contrived, it's still a good read, and I often teach the novel because Celie speaks powerfully to so many female students.

2. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. You simply aren't well read unless you've read most of the plays and the sonnets. Though getting all the nuances requires spending just as much time reading the footnotes as the actual text, the payoff is tremendous and Shakespeare is also, well, a really funny guy. Shakespeare captures the human condition like no other. If I had to pick a single play, it would be King Lear. It's the most tragic of the tragedies because Lear's flaw is so forgiveable: immaturity. His development into a grieving, compassionate human being who has lost everything to childish impulses moves me still.

3. The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich. I'm not a fan of poetry. So much of it is inaccessible, but in this book, Rich wields her craft like a weapon.

4. The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. This massive tome is in its 6th edition, and though the earliest parts were written in the 1930s (and read like it!), the message for alcoholics is clear, effective, and was radical for the time. We have a disease that no amount of willpower can overcome. It is only by relying on something--some force outside of ourselves, something greater than our own egos--that dependency on a substance can be licked. It doesn't have to be God--Group of Drunks, a Good Orderly Direction, or even Nature or a tree--can be your Higher Power, but if you put your life and care in the hands of something bigger than you, life will start making sense.

5. Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. This isn't Smiley's most famous or best work. But, anyone who knows me knows I have an affinity for horses and horse racing. Smiley tackles that subject here, with biting satire yet genuine love for the animals. It's not a Black Beauty story--this is a book for adults and is positively x-rated in parts--but you will find yourself rooting for the horses Epic Steam, Justa Bob, Froney's Sis, and the others. Oh, and Smiley understands the racing industry.

6. The Liar's Club by Mary Karr. Mary Karr has mastered the art of memoir (don't miss her latest, Lit, either). Talk about your tough childhood. A crazy, artistic mother, a drunk of a father you still grow to love, a rape ... it would be easy to fall clumsily into sentimentality, but in Karr's hands, the story is gripping, funny, and never once does she feel sorry for herself. The bright, witty scrapper of a child grows up to lock horns with the best of 'em, and wins.

7. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Finally, a book about the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. The structure of the novel, loosely set up like a game of mahjong, also makes the interweaving narratives easy to follow. Just think: the stories of eight women, and sometimes the same story is told several times, only by a different voice. It's not a totally original idea, but Tan pulls it off without seeming like she was deliberately setting out to wow the literary critics. The scene with Lindo in the fortune cookie factory, trying to make sense of the fortunes, is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

8. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. One of the best books about the Vietnam War you could ever read. "Things," the selection of items, can reveal so much about a character and situation. O'Brien proves that the devil, and the truth, is in the details. Fiction, or the telling of lies, often reveals the truth better than, well, the truth.

9. The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I love Virginia Woolf. I loved Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham's book is the best tribute novel ever written. He apes Woolf's style of interior monologue (I prefer it to Joyce's stream of consciousness) yet modernizes the stories, all while making Woolf herself one of the characters and saluting her as the legend she is. The film version of his book is also brilliant.

10. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. A seminal (ovunal?) feminist text. It was actually originally a series of lectures in which Woolf asks the question, What if Shakespeare had had an equally brilliant sister? Her life would've been very different from his. With characteristic wit, she chastises the universities--and society in general--for closing doors to women and drives home the point that artists, yes, even women artists, need the freedom to make art.

There are, of course, plenty of other books that belong here, but this ten probably reflects my sensibilities pretty well. What are your favorites?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Confessions of an Online Stalker

I am an online stalker.

Oh, it's nothing to feel creeped out about. I'm just a silent stalker (that sounds like a good name for a racehorse). By this, I mean I google a certain name every now and then. If I find a new photograph posted of him, I download it and save it on my desktop. I saw he visited Australia once with a People to People educational group. I see that he wrestles on his high school team. I wonder how he's doing, whether his mom ever got involved in a new relationship and if he has a new mom (or even a dad) as a consequence.

He's my son.

I don't know if he still thinks of me as a mom. But, he'll always be my son to me. I helped select the donor that contributed half of his genes. I was the first to hold him when he was born. For the first week he was home, I was pretty much the one who changed his diapers and showed his biological mom how to do it. It was my job to make up his next day's bottles every night. His mom and I took turns feeding him at night until, finally, blissfully, he started sleeping through the night around six months old. It was Mama Joyce who used to rock him to sleep every night by singing him "The Twelve Days of Christmas," even in the middle of July. I participated in every aspect of his life for his first three and a half years.

Then his mom and I broke up, as it happens sometimes. I fully intended to remain a part of his life, and at first so did his mother. But then, for whatever reason (she's never actually disclosed it to me), she changed her mind. No doubt there is some reason she decided that was the best thing for them; she just would never tell me what it was, only that I should leave them alone.

At first, baffled, I called only to be told she wouldn't get him to come to the phone. Finally she just stopped answering the phone. So I wrote him letters, mailing some (never returned, never answered) and keeping others, thinking as soon as his mom got her senses back, I'd send them along. I mailed Christmas and birthday presents. To this day I have no idea if she ever gave them to him. I wrote impassioned pleas to his mother to not shut him out of my life. I apologized for the awful things I'd done and shouldered the blame for things that weren't all my fault. Friends counseled me to sue for visitation. But the fact was that I, living in California, had no legal footing since I'd been advised, upon his birth, to wait until the political climate in Ohio was better before I applied for a second parent adoption. Having no money as a graduate student and no legal status to sue in a conservative state, I had to settle for waiting it out, hoping, ever hoping, his mother would have a change of heart.

It's never happened. He's sixteen now, and if it weren't for me being a silent stalker, I'd have no idea what he even looks like, have no idea his nickname is "Big D." And I wonder if he mistrusts adults, thinking his Mama Joyce abandoned him and broke her promise to come back and visit and take him to the zoo. Does he ever think of me? Or has he just shrugged me off, believing me to be the asshole who fought with his mother and was a lost, alcoholic soul who dropped her life to go find herself in California? And who never came back?

There is no happy ending to this story. I've made myself pretty easy to find online should he ever go hunting. I know he's on Facebook, but he's ignored my "friend" request. I know I don't want to cause strife or unrest in his household. So, I sit quietly and wait. It may remain this way forever.

But David, if you're listening, this door is always open.

Thinking It Through to the End...

What a gorgeous day today! Leaving work, I put the top down on the convertible and blasted out of the parking lot blaring music from "Wicked." Defying gravity, indeed!

But alcoholism is such an insidious disease. Sunshine, blue skies, low 70s...what pops into my head? You know. You're outside watering the plants, pulling a few weeds, breaking a small sweat, and there it is. The thought. "Damn, wouldn't an ice cold beer be perfect right about now?" And you start craving the smell, the taste of it hitting the back of your throat, even the sound of the top being popped with that "phssht!" sound. Like the can opener to a cat. I want to run into the kitchen, pull open the fridge, see if Chelle has forgotten and left an Anchor Steam in there.

In rehab, we were warned about moments like this. The sudden urge when you see the waves lapping the shore in the Corona commercial. The unexpected impulse when the sun breaks from behind the clouds. The party people on the sailboat, all laughing and drinking in their bathing suits and god, why can't I live like that?

It's only a beer, for crying out loud.

And this is the part that so many people--who aren't alcoholics--don't understand, because they're right. They're absolutely right. It is only a beer. They can enjoy one, or even two, and then that's it. They're done; they stop.

Me? I don't have a stop button. The moment I start to feel the tiniest buzz, I'm gone. My brain shifts into overdrive and I simply have got to have more. It's painful, maddening, frustrating to NOT have more. I'm craving it; I need it. The discomfort is excruciating. I am twitchy, antsy, anxious; I've got to have another one.

It's a million times easier to just not even take the first drink than it is to have a little and then stop.

If this describes you, welcome to the club. You're hooked! You may not know it yet; you may be able to tolerate the discomfort now; but one of these days you're going to realize this disease has been sneaking up on you, spreading like a bloodstain through your being, and the discomfort of stopping will have become something bigger than you are. You couldn't stop even if someone paid you to.

So, we get the urge to drink, and we pause, and we take the time to think the drink through to the end. It's an easy thing to remember fondly how much fun drinking was when we'd had only a couple or a few. It's not so easy to remember what happens after that. We keep taking "just one more" until we've lost count. Until we're in a blackout. Until we're slurring, stumbling, staggering, and being a nuisance. Until we get sick or pass out. Until we wake up the next morning, head splitting, breath sour, mouth dry as a desert. THAT end.

Oh, yeah, right. THAT end.

No thanks, I'll pass on that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gay Marriage: All for It

If you're liberal or libertarian, this one's a no-brainer. What two consenting adults do is their own business, and as long as you're not hurting anybody else, the government has no business interfering or discriminating against anyone in the matter.

But the arguments against gay marriage are many and varied. By far the biggest one is a matter of religious belief, or of definition. We hear over and over that marriage has traditionally "always been between a man and a woman." But actually, that isn't so. There is no such thing as a "traditional" definition of marriage. Marriage has meant different things to different cultures for thousands of years. To illustrate, in some cultures, marriage between a man and several women has been the norm. Or arranged marriages, in which the bride and groom have hardly met, are highly valued. The ancient Greeks valued the love between men as being superior to that between a man and wife. Until fairly recently, historically speaking, women were viewed as chattel--the property of a husband. Even the Mormon church, until somewhat recently, viewed polygamy as acceptable. In some countries, what we would term incest (marrying cousins) is normal. And so on. Books have been written on the subject. Refer to, for instance, the research and writings of Stephanie Coontz.

What people really mean when they say that marriage between a man and a woman is "traditional" is that "this is the arrangement I'm comfortable with because it's what I know, and what my parents knew, and what their parents knew."

But let's not forget, when interracial marriage became legal in the United States, that, too, was considered untraditional and abnormal. When our own President was born, the marriage between his own parents was considered illegal in some states in our great country. The thinking was, "God created the races separately, so they ought not intermingle." Nowadays we laugh at that as backwards thinking. We've grown out of, evolved past, that biased way of thinking. We shake our heads in dismay upon hearing that the Cain and Abel story was routinely used by Christians to justify black slavery in this country, until we adjusted our Biblical interpretation.

Likewise, we can adjust our Biblical interpretation of those few passages in the Bible that call homosexuality a sin. Most are in the Old Testament law (and we've tossed out so many of those rules--we don't consider someone sinful if they wear clothing of mixed fabrics, or eat shellfish, or make love while a female is menstruating; we don't put to death children who curse their parents, nor do we cajole a brother to marry his brother's wife should his brother die). And those in the New Testament are from Paul, who was also a product of his time (let's not forget he advised not even bothering to marry since Jesus was coming right back--but, he relented, go ahead and marry if you would fornicate otherwise). He also thought women shouldn't sit with men in church and should cover their heads. The bottom line is, we change our adherence to Biblical passages all the time; our understanding of the Bible evolves as our own social consciousness evolves. Jesus taught that it's the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter of the law. Thus He would heal on the Sabbath.

Can you really see Jesus telling a committed gay couple that has been together in a monogamous, stable relationship for years and years that their love is something less than, say, a convicted killer's love for his wife? Where's the justice in that? A child rapist can get married in this country as long as he marries a woman. But a law-abiding, tax-paying, upstanding citizen of this country cannot marry the person he chooses if he happens to be homosexual.

We understand so much more about sexuality now than the writers of the Bible did. We're discovering that being gay isn't a choice (the only real choice resides in whether or not the person will be whom they really are or attempt to live a lie); that being gay is not a sexual perversion or a mental defect; that gay people are not all pedophiles (some are, but the majority of pedophiles are straight men); indeed, science is uncovering some evidence that homosexuality might even be gene-determined. It does appear naturally in the animal kingdom, so why not among human beings?

And one thing's for sure, a gay person can't "convert" a heterosexual person to gayness. Think about that. When did YOU ever make the conscious decision to be attracted to the sex you're attracted to? You just ARE. Think about it. My parents didn't raise me to be gay. I was out and out indoctrinated, just like everybody else, to be straight. I even tried to be straight. Sorry. Just didn't work out. I can't MAKE MYSELF be attracted to somebody, any more than I can make anybody else be attracted to somebody. Gay people don't try to convert others--because we can't.

Then people will say, well, why call it marriage? Marriage is a religious institution, performed in a church. If we legalize gay marriages, then churches will be forced to perform them or be sued, even though homosexuality flies in the face of their beliefs. Well, that's just not so. Because of our Constitutional separation of Church and State, the government cannot compel churches to marry gay people (although some are happy to do so). The Church already has the right to refuse to marry whomever they like. But actually, no one is saying the Church has to perform gay marriages. We are simply saying that the government has no right to discriminate against gay citizens in the matter of marriage. Just as some straight people choose to not get married in a church, gay people may or may not choose to marry in a church. But the government, or the State, may not legally deny us. Because in so doing, the State is offering rights, protections, and benefits to one class of citizens and not to another. It's that simple.

Okay, fine, some will say. But if we do that, what's to stop some lamebrain from demanding that he be able to marry his sister, or his horse, or some child? My easy answer to that is, no one is agitating for that. If that ever even came up, we can hash it out then. But of course, no one is satisfied with that answer. So we have to consider incest taboos and the danger inherent in marrying a child (who is not a consenting adult capable of making a marriage contract) or the absurdity of marrying a horse (who is also incapable of consent), etc., etc. Go ahead and draw a line if you must, I say, but draw it AFTER gay marriage, for I just don't see how gay marriage--between two unrelated, consenting adults--hurts anybody.

Another objection I hear has to do with the "sanctity" of heterosexual marriage and how gay marriage cheapens the idea of marriage further. I honestly don't see why MY gay marriage should have any impact on YOUR straight marriage--I would think you'd be more concerned by the fact that two drunk people who just met in Las Vegas can get married legally. I think about Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who were together for over 50 years and about as devoted to each other as two people can possibly be, who were finally able to legally marry shortly before Del passed away. Which couple cheapens the idea of marriage more? Del and Phyllis are examples of what marriage should be--true love, devotion, sticking together through thick and thin, life partners. If you really think gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, you'd do better to get rid of no-fault divorces. And as for not being able to procreate (isn't that a purpose of marriage?), don't be ridiculous. There are plenty of heterosexual couples who marry who don't have children, either by choice or because they're unable. We wouldn't think of telling them they have no right to marry.

The last reason I hear is children, the children, how will legitimizing gay marriage impact our children? Well, for all those kids out there who are gay and are afraid to come out or be themselves because of society's bigotry against them, I say gay marriage will help them look forward to a happier future, full of acceptance and free of homophobia and its attendant hate crimes. As for kids who are straight, so what? Parents are still free to teach their children whatever values they may hold. You can't shield them forever from the real world. In fact, kids amazingly have no problem with the idea of someone being gay until the world tells them they should. Just as society eventually came to realize that mixing the races wasn't going to be the end of the world, so will society realize that gay marriages won't be the end of society, either. There is no reason to believe that exposing children to homosexuality will make them more likely to be homosexual or bisexual (in fact, plenty of studies exist that show otherwise). There are plenty of kids now being raised by gay parents who are turning out just fine and whose only problem lies with dealing with the bigotry of others. This doesn't mean we're forcing on them a greater burden--instead, shoulder some responsibility yourself and stop making it harder for these kids by discriminating against their parents. There's room in the world for all of us.

In Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote that all animals are created equal; some animals are just more equal than others. It's high time gay Americans stopped being treated as "less than," or like the second-class animals. Our love is just as strong, just as precious, just as holy. Stop insulting us with the blithe claim that "domestic partnerships" and "civil unions" are the same as, or equal to, marriage. They're not. I'm married legally in California; but if I moved to, say, Indiana, that state would not see me as married. I still have to file an individual federal tax return. I still have my health insurance (I'm on my spouse's policy) taxed because it's considered income, for goodness' sake, because my marriage doesn't carry the same status as that of my straight brothers and sisters.

There is no good, decent, kind reason to be against gay marriage. Not if you open your heart and mind and educate yourself on the issue.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back Home In One Piece

Whew! What a weekend!

We left San Jose on Thursday afternoon and got into Burbank about an hour later, picked up our rental car, and bolted to the Doubletree in Monrovia. Chelle surprised me by having booked a room with an Infinity Tub, so we had a great time ordering room service and relaxing in the whirlpool. Early to bed.

The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn to drive to Santa Anita racetrack and catch morning works. We had breakfast at Clocker's Corner with Sharla of the Second Race and her friend Deidre, who is part-owner of a horse trained by Doug O'Neill, Diplo, who was to run a good race later on in the day. Afterwards, we toured the backside and swung by Julio Canani's barn to pay homage in treats to The Pamplemousse (a Derby hopeful last year, until he was injured), whom we renamed "Hoover" because that horse will eat whatever you offer to him. Seriously, The Pamplemousse suctioned up carrots better than any Dyson.

We also stopped briefly to say hello to trainer Bob Baffert, who was keeping his fingers crossed for his horse Lookin At Lucky (who was to try dirt at Oaklawn in the Rebel Stakes the next day--and he won! Way to go, Lucky!) I should also add that Baffert's dog came over, wagging his tail, and got right down to business sniffing in places I didn't want him to be sniffing...but hey, it's not everybody who can say that Bob Baffert's wife apologized to her because their dog had its muzzle where dogs sometimes stuff them.

Later on that day, we caught Zenyatta schooling in the paddock before the third race at Santa Anita, getting ready for her race in the Santa Margarita the next day. Scroll down the page for a short video of that.

Saturday was a great racing day, excepting the fact that both Chelle and I were fighting off colds. But that wasn't going to keep us away from the track! On a 10-race card, I hit 3 legs of both Pick 4s, so it was one of those days where I had correctly picked 6 right out of 8, yet won no money. Where I did win money was by betting against Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies. The horse I chose was John Shirreff's Zardana (solely because he also trains Zenyatta), and she beat Rachel! Paid $21, having gone off at 9-1.

And then came Zenyatta's race, which she won, making her record 15-for-15. What can I say? It was exhilarating to see her in person and to see her split horses to surge to the front, all without Mike Smith even having to ask her. She has a way of going that simply makes running look effortless. Once she kicks into full stride, she swallows up the track and picks the other horses off easily, one by one. I have posted video of her below, and of her winning the race, but here she is, prancing in the paddock before the race:

Finally, today, we were up early again to head over to Hollywood Park to check that track out (before it's torn down like Bay Meadows). We had the great pleasure of meeting Doug O'Neill, who was completely accommodating in our wish to visit with racing's most profitable claimer, Lava Man. Retired now, but gelded long ago, he's being retrained as a pony horse. He had just come in from working and we got to pat him, feed him a carrot, and watch him get a bath, Mr. Millionaire himself:

Chelle's got some great photos, but they're presently in her camera, so as soon as she's downloaded those, I'll try to post a few. And now I'm exhausted, and I have an 8:00 class to teach tomorrow morning, so it's early to bed for me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zenyatta Winning Santa Margarita Handicap

Hard to see, but that's her zipping easily to the front and crossing the wire first. The guy next to me with the cigarette was obnoxious.

Zenyatta Prances Before Her Race

Here is video I shot on my iPhone of Zenyatta pawing the ground in the saddling ring prior to the Santa Margarita Handicap. She pranced around and preened for us all, then went on to clobber the field without barely breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, Rachel Alexandra lost her prep race, coming in 2nd in the New Orleans Ladies to Zardana (trainer John Shirreffs, who also trains Zenyatta). Look out, Rachel Alexandra!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Zenyatta Schooling in the Paddock Today

Zenyatta was brought out to school in the paddock today before the 3rd race at Santa Anita. A good many people didn't even seem to realize she was there. She was her usual regal self, posing for cameras and pawing the ground to let us all know she's ready to run tomorrow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2009 Breeders' Cup Classic

Zenyatta comes off a layoff since the Breeder's Cup Classic for a prep race this Saturday at Santa Anita. She'll face Rachel Alexandra next month at the Apple Blossom. I post this to whet our appetites....and will be blogging trackside this weekend.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Gift of Being Clean and Sober

Corey Haim's dead at 38 due to a drug overdose. There goes another child star. And naturally there are people on Twitter bemoaning the fact they didn't put him in their "Dead Pools" this year.

I suppose I used to be pretty cavalier about drug abusers too; who didn't make fun of Anna Nicole Smith slurring and slobbering into the camera on her show? And I wonder how many people watch Intervention less for the help someone gets at the end but more for the stunts they pull when they're under the influence? That's worthy of great laughter; I'll admit even I laughed at the Duster Lady cackling from her sofa: "Here comes the po-po!"

Nowadays these things tend to just make me sad, though, because, of course, it takes one to know one. We think those fucked up people are having a great time partying. What most people don't realize is that it's not fun at all. We poke fun at those people because we think they are choosing to use their substance because they have tossed care and self-control into the wind and are selfish. But trust me, when they're at that stage of their addiction, the drug is the thing that has control. No amount of self-will can get you to stop. We are disdainful of addicted people because they drive around drunk or stoned; they hurt their friends and families; they're a burden on the health care system; they can't hold steady jobs; they're pathetic. And all of those things are true (or can be). Thinking that way kept me from getting help for the longest time. I wasn't as bad as them. I might lose my temper and get mad at Chelle, or I might be inappopriate with other women, or I might call in sick sometimes because I had a bad hangover, but I wasn't one of those guys.

Not me.

Yet, I am. It's funny: when I first started telling people I'd just gotten out of rehab for alcohol addiction, one of the most common questions I got was, "What made you drink?" People seem to think there has to be some overwhelming reason, and there isn't one. I drank because I didn't know how to live without alcohol. I needed it to get motivated to cook, to clean, even to exercise. (That was a sight: me on the recumbent bike with a bottle of Corona in the water bottle holder!) Going to the racetrack wasn't about the horses: it was about sitting at the bar. Going on vacation wasn't about relaxing and sightseeing: it was about how many margaritas or mai tais I could put away, and the next day was about how many I needed before the morning shakes went away. There was no reason. I existed for booze.

Oh, sure, when I first started drinking, there were reasons. It made me feel better, witty, more relaxed, comfortable in my own skin. But there comes a point for alcoholics and addicts that we don't feel like ourselves unless we're under the influence. And then we're off and running. We become the addiction; we lose ourselves. We start perceiving things around us through the lens of our substance. We may be occupying space in the real world, but we're living in a substance-induced delusion. At my worst, I believed my wife was a control freak living with me more as a matter of convenience than actual love. I raged at her. I had convinced myself I drank the way I did because I felt trapped.

Now that I'm sober, I realize I felt trapped because I drank.

So, instead of judging people like Corey Haim, count your blessings. There but for the grace of God go you. Or me once again. Don't make fun of addicts. Instead, pray that they get help. Because really, alcoholics and addicts--if they don't get help and stop feeding their disease--will wind up in one of two places: in an institution, or dead.

I am 187 days sober today, and each day is a gift.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fitzwilliam's Wish

If you haven't caught Fitzwilliam on the Big Gay Sketch Show on Logo, you're missing a treat. He's a little British boy (played by Kate McKinnon) who desperately wants to be a girl...with a vagina!

It's Very True....

...that tigers LOVE female cops on motorcycles. Makes us purr.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What is WRONG with this dude?!

Over at Pam's House Blend, she's posted the following email she got from a commissioner in Charlotte-Mecklenberg County, NC, who ran unopposed in his district; it was his response to an email she sent him inviting him to discuss his anti-gay stance:

From: Commissioner Bill James
To: =emails deleted=
Sent: Friday, April 29, 2005 8:56 AM
Subject: Perversity is not diversity

You really think that a pool of people (homosexuals) where 45% of them eat feces from the rear end of another male is "normal"? If you do, you are frankly nuts.

A lifestyle where one of their past times is buying gerbils and hamsters from the pet store and cramming them up their rears in an activity called feltching? A group of people who like to urinate on their partners and call them "golden showers"? Where one of the honored members of the Gay Alliance is an organization called the "Man-Boy Love Association" that promotes sex with underage boys?

That behavior is worthy of protection? That behavior is worthy to be taught in our schools? to our children? You are one sick "Independent, white, married-heterosexual, presbyterian" if you do.

The stat's below are unimpeachable. I intend on talking about each and every one of these "behaviors" if this sorted subject comes up. I am lining up speakers including Doctors and Nurses to talk about these in gruesome detail. And these are the behaviors that Parks Helms wants to "insure"?

Attached is a wav file with a Charlotte news account of one of those "feltching" accounts gone wrong. I will play it from the BOCC dais if this comes up.

Why is it these people always latch onto the most bizarre extreme weird behavior of some (very few) homosexual men as being typical of the gay community? (And the gerbilling stuff isn't even true; it's an urban legend.) I mean, seriously. Charles Manson and Ted Bundy are two heterosexual men but even I have enough sense than to go around saying that they typify straight male behavior.

And seriously, this guy knows way more about sexual perversions than I do. Like, he doth protest too much. He sure seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time researching this stuff. I didn't even know the word "feltching" 'til I read his fascinating missive.

Why are his constituents allowing this nutjob to run unopposed?

ps: and he can't spell "sordid"

Friday, March 5, 2010

PMS and Snarky Days

Dear God:

I know I've been created perfect, in your image, yet as a human being I'm fallible because...well, because of that Eve chick you made from Adam's rib. (Adam was just the rough draft, right?) And then, as the Bible tells us, you punished us gals by making childbirth painful.

I suppose you've also punished everyone else by giving us PMS.

Okay, okay. I'm sorry, God. I just hate being perimenopausal.

So, God. I've been cross all day, no pun intended. Sarah Palin annoys me, that closeted gay representative in Sacramento who has been voting against gay rights annoys me, and then a mentally ill man takes on the Pentagon in an anti-government rage. What is the world coming to? They're also talking about privatizing education in California to help us out with budget cuts, but I'm afraid that's a horrible mistake. Education is all about academic freedom, an exchange of ideas, teaching students to think for themselves. If corporations--which exist to make a profit--are running our schools, what will it benefit them to produce independent thinkers? I fear that we'll become a nation of sheep.

And then, God, something else pissed me off today. I felt my privacy being invaded. This made me want to lash out--and then, angry at myself for reacting that way, I wanted to collapse into myself and bar the world away. Six months ago I would have tried to drink this feeling away. Thank you, God, that I didn't.

And look at me: how ridiculous I am. I'm sitting here blogging, blaming you for my PMS.

Yet...yet, just when I was deciding to hang it up for today, eat a quick supper, crawl into bed with a good book and start all over again tomorrow, I read something about gratitude that made me feel better. My friends shared it. A man tells the story of how he taught his complainer of a mom to add "and my life is really blessed" to the end of every complaint she utters. After some time had passed, her whole attitude was different and people began to remark upon the glorious change.

It is all about attitude, isn't it, God?

It's not quite 6:00pm; there are hours left to give to this day. I don't want to be nasty anymore, so:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
as to console;
to be understood,
as to understand;
to be loved,
as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."

Thanks, God. I feel better now. Check in with you later on tonight.

Your loving,

Jerry snoozing

Jerry and I go through this ritual every morning. I'm barely awake myself.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Attack of the Ex-Presidents!

Letting Go of Resentments

"Expectations are premeditated resentments." This saying brought laughter to quite a number of us in rehab. We have this idea that rehabs are full of a lot of skid-row losers, but my experience was the opposite. We had managers, a couple of lawyers, professors, coaches, a doctor, a realtor, and just about every profession you can name in there, all working (except for a few students and a retired millionaire). As working adults with quite a bit of living under our belts, you can imagine how many of us harbored resentments--and one thing to know about an alcoholic is, resentment is one of our biggest triggers.

So we learn to not have expectations (or to at least base them in reality) and we learn to be at peace with the fact that we can't control any outcome. Sure, go ahead and have high hopes, but don't hang your happiness on them. Otherwise, your life will always come crashing down like a house of cards. And you'll pick up again with the false expectation that this will make you feel better.

The Fourth Step asks us to do a searching moral inventory, and this includes looking at all those resentments we hold, the purpose being to let them go. How do you do that? I haven't sat down with my sponsor yet to go through mine, but I've been starting at the beginning and looking at my childhood, and I've been finding it helpful to acknowledge my part in things that happened to me, and to realize that a great many of those childhood injuries were nothing more than blows to my ego.

Here is, perhaps, a silly example, but I still remember it, clear as day, so it must have made some kind of impact on me. It was maybe seventh grade? My best friend at the time, someone who knew my situation at home (another story), actually laughed along with the crowd once when my stepmother made me wear these horrendous bright yellow polyester pants to school three days in a row. The betrayal! God, that hurt.

But, considering it now, what did I expect her to do? Take up for me? She was faced with the same thing I was facing: getting along with everyone else and not being ostracized. Had she taken up for me, they would've made fun of her, too. She chose to protect her own "standing" in the crowd. So what? Is it really reasonable to expect selfless loyalty from an eleven year-old?

Besides, if I hadn't gotten so upset about being picked on, the situation would've ended there--it's no fun to pick on somebody if it rolls off them, right?--but no, I had to get all bent out of shape, which made them hoot and holler at me all the more.

I felt betrayed and humiliated and never quite trusted my friend any more after that because I held on to that resentment as if my life depended on it. Being accepted in the world is the sum total of a child's existence. Back then, it seemed like such an enormously unfair thing to have happened to me. Wearing those pants wasn't MY fault. My friend knew that. How could she join in on the assault?

Yet when all was said and done, it was really only my ego that was wounded. And actually they weren't making fun of ME; they were making fun of the pants. But I didn't want to see that, so I let it stay personal, and so I stayed wounded, and I stayed resentful.

When enough resentments like that pile up and you wind up feeling shitty and scared of life and people and then you discover alcohol....which suddenly makes you feel good! And clever! And cool! And like you fit in with the crowd! out. Already underway were the makings of an alcoholic.

Of course, this is a trivial childhood example, but you get the point. The same holds true for any old thing you get resentful about. Nine times out of ten, there's some kind of expectation you held that got shattered. And the type of injury is almost always related to (1) your self-esteem; (2) your sense of security; (3) a threatened personal relationship; or (4) your own ambitions. And nine times out of ten, there was something you could've done in the situation to also make it better. Once you tease everything out of the situation, take whatever lesson from it that you can, and then you're able to put it down and let it go.

I think my Fourth Step is going to be hundreds of pages long.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You're Only as Sick as Your Secrets

"You're only as sick as your secrets." This applies to everybody, not just to people in recovery. Secrets eat at your conscience. My sponsor said to me just last week that if you really think about it, most of the time if you're feeling guilty about something, it's because there's something that needs to be said that isn't being voiced.

Yesterday in a meeting, I saw something that bears this out. The woman giving the share hadn't planned to blurt this out to the group (most of whom were perfect strangers to her), but she did. She admitted that she carried a lot of shame and self-loathing because she used to be a prostitute. She relied on men to keep afloat because (she thought then) they were the only thing that brought her self-esteem. And, of course, the opposite was true. In actuality, she hated herself for what she was doing. But she couldn't look at that and tried to drink it away.

The worst secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.

And I could almost see the guilt about holding on to that secret for so long peel away from her face, and her shoulders straightened as that burden was lifted.

The truth is precious. Tell your truth, live your truth, whatever it may be.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Timbaland - Apologize (feat. One Republic)

The song says it all.

Ethical Question of the Day, or Why People Drive Me Crazy

We were talking over dinner last night with a friend who had recently ditched a friend of hers who had revealed a bad trait (let's just say it was something racist). The friend had apologized for what he'd said, but because our friend chose at that point to not accept the apology (he'd said something nasty to two of her friends), the friend got angry at her for being the intolerant one. It's funny to me how sometimes our perfectly reasonable choices can be judged negatively by others because the choice doesn't suit them. This woman was protecting her own sense of self and sanity and choosing to not invite a certain kind of energy into her life. The fact that he'd blurted out what he said indicates a nastiness in his nature, one that he didn't really apologize for or say he'd try to change. He merely apologized for joking in poor taste. But it's hard to forgive someone when they really don't accept their full responsibility in a matter. You have to own what you do and say before people can move past it.


Here's another situation (hypothetical, so please don't think I'm pointing fingers at anybody). Let's say Jenny and Joey have been dallying around online for several months, but Jenny is already in a relationship, a fact that Joey knows. Eventually Jenny cuts the dalliance off when realizing the situation is getting serious.

So Joey commences a new online relationship with a second person, Mary.

Jenny tries to be supportive because it's the "right thing" to do, but eventually Jenny can't stand it and wants to reconcile with Joey, who is only too happy to do so.

Mary is sent packing but not told the real reason why.

Jenny and Joey commence an affair that lasts roughly about half a year.

Jenny comes to her senses and realizes that what she's doing is wrong. So she breaks things off with Joey, seeks counseling, and repairs the relationship with her partner.

Joey gets back together with Mary but still does not tell her the real reason he broke things off with her before. Jenny asks Joey if he's been honest about what happened. Joey says no, because he doesn't want Mary to be mad at Jenny. Jenny shrugs that off and figures it's not her business.

Then Mary innocently asks Jenny to be her friend.

Jenny can't do it. It would involve pretending to Mary that nothing ever happened. Jenny doesn't want to entangle herself anymore in webs of deception. But now Mary's feelings are hurt because she doesn't know why Jenny won't be her friend. It's not personal, but of course she cannot know that.

Everybody in this situation is or has been an utter asshole at some point except for poor Mary, who has been left in the dark because people keep making decisions for her about what she ought and ought not to know.

What should:
Jenny do?
Joey do?
Mary do?

What's required for this situation to be corrected? Can or should it even be corrected? (Saying they all should just go to hell, don't pass go, don't collect $200 is not an acceptable answer.) Discuss amongst yourselves. I'll go get the java and pastries for our coffee klatch.