Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peter Gabriel: "Mercy Street"

This is Peter Gabriel's tribute to poet Anne Sexton, who suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1974. I actually took a writing class with Sexton's daughter, Linda Gray, through Berkeley Extension when I first moved out here to the Bay Area. Her memoir about her mother is honest, intense, and, at times, painful to read--maybe because I remember bits and pieces myself of what it was like to have a mentally ill mother who chose to end her own life. It's been one of those days, I guess, in which I've been thinking about why we do the things we do, how it is we inadvertently hurt each other, why it is we sometimes do self-destructive things.

Today My Life Is ...


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Navigating Rough Seas

I learned some important things about myself yesterday. The main one is a reminder that I'm only human. So, sometimes I am going to feel things that, really, if I had any say about it, I just would rather not feel.

It all started on Sunday, on the way back from the family reunion, when I got some news (in a text message, which is sort of an "ouch" in itself) from a dear friend. It wasn't anything I was happy to hear. In all fairness, it was news I knew I would be getting at some point; I just wasn't expecting it so soon. Think bombshell, and you've got the idea. No forewarning, no time to duck into a bomb shelter, no time to even put on a sturdy helmet to lighten the blow.

You know that feeling--the one where all the air gets sucked out of you and your mind goes blank and you feel a bit disembodied as this big wave cascades down your body? That was the first thing I felt. Then I just kind of went numb. Then I sort of went into "bridal blackout"--so much adrenaline in my system that honestly I can't remember the next hour or so. I know I answered graciously. I know I didn't lash out in anger.

I had fitful sleep that night, and I stumbled through Monday, still sort of numbed out. Thankfully, I had a long shift at work in the afternoon, so there wasn't much time for living in my head. I continued numbing out a bit, letting things sort of internally settle, by spending Monday night watching a movie. I had trouble sleeping again and finally resorted to taking an extra tablet of melatonin, putting in my earbuds, and closing my eyes while I let some documentary about Sacco and Vanzetti drone in my head, just to shut up the voices that were beginning to nag at me.

Went for a run on the treadmill yesterday morning when I got up. It's a good way to purge myself of hateful emotions. At the end of my run, as I was cooling down, I even shed a few tears. I decided to write to my friend telling her how I was feeling. (I'm open that way. I'm not one of those persons to keep others guessing. At times this is both a blessing and a curse to those poor souls who befriend me.) But I measured my language. I was careful to state that I wasn't angry (because I'm not). And I even said I wasn't hurt (because I'm not, at least not in the sense of "oh my god, you've fucked me up and I will never be the same!") I did say I was sad. And I did say I was disappointed at being blindsided.

I've written here before about how one key thing sobriety has taught me is to not have expectations of other people. This is because most expectations are completely unrealistic--human nature being what it is--and, as the saying goes, "Expectations are just premeditated resentments." The degree of how hurt you can get is directly proportionate to how high your expectations are. Nowadays I try to have only two expectations of those I hold dear: don't lie to me (and this includes lies of omission) and treat me as you would yourself like to be treated (ie, with some measure of caring, respect, and regard). This last thing can be pretty muddy at times; there's lots of wiggle room I give people and myself, so this becomes: "Do the best you can." If a person's intentions are at least in the right place and they're not acting from a place of utter selfishness or malice, I can pretty much forgive anything. Sometimes I, too, can be pretty self-centered and not think through as well as I could have how my actions or words might impact another. That's true of anybody.

And I tried to get on with my day, figuring that my friend and I would talk all this out at some point and I'd reach an understanding of why things shook out the way they did, and then I'd get over it.

And as my morning unfolded, the emotions I'd numbed out on the day before starting rolling in. Hurt, first; for having my feelings so disregarded. Then anger (doesn't most anger come from hurt?) My thoughts went something like this: "What a deceitful, selfish bitch! Telling me this in a text message! What kind of coward is she? Loser." You get the picture. I was working myself up into a frenzy and then it hit me.

Fuck. I need a drink.

I wanted a drink so bad I started clenching my jaw.

So I sat down, took deep breaths, and thought it through. What would a drink do? The first one or two would lighten the intensity of my emotions, chill me out, make me laugh at the humor in the situation. I would feel better. So I'd go for the third, the fourth, the fifth. And then I'd find myself right back where I was at the start, hurt and angry, only this time minus any inhibitions or "self sanity" checks. My inner ranting would have continued, gotten worse, and--and HERE is the key thing I realized, the thing that hit me--I would have started to believe my own ranting.

Sober, I am perfectly willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and not believe that she's a cowardly, selfish liar. I'm willing to get the story first. I sincerely believe that, once I get the whole story, I'll understand why things happened the way they happened and no longer have any use for all these nutty psychological defense mechanisms that are presently working overtime to assuage my ego and comfort hurt feelings.

If I drank, I would no longer care if I got the whole story and in fact I'd just prefer the version I made up in my own head. And like a fish story, every time I drank henceforth, her evils would grow bigger and bigger and I'd just write her off as a total cruel jackass who'd used me.

This realization nailed down for me exactly how it is that a using alcoholic or addict comes to live in a world of illusion, what I've been trying to explain in this blog about how we just make shit up.

The desire to drink was gone, but I called my sponsor anyway. We chatted; I don't think I even mentioned that I'd had a bad few minutes of cravings, because they were gone.

I understand my disease a lot better today. I hope writing about this helps someone else understand.

Back to the situation with my friend: who knows? I've asked for the opportunity to talk but so far there hasn't been a convenient time for her. So clearly I'm not up there on the list of priorities. Does this hurt? Yes. Should I take it personally? No. I reckon she's in a bad, mixed up place right now and perhaps isn't thinking straight. Been there, done that. I'll wait a few more days and see what happens.

A caveat: if I find myself craving a drink again, I may need to put a lot of space between the two of us for a time. And to Chelle, my sponsor, and my BFINMs (you know who you are), if you're reading this, thanks for the support yesterday. You helped me more than you may realize. You've given me gratefulness, something that's hard to find when the sea is rough and sailing isn't smooth.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Impermanence

Oh, only for so short a while you

have loaned us to each other,

because we take form in your act of drawing us,

and we take life in your painting us,

and we breathe in your singing us.

But only for so short a while

have you loaned us to each other.

Because even a drawing cut in obsidian fades,

and the green feathers, the crown feathers,

of the Quetzal bird lose their color,

and even the sounds of the waterfall

die out in the dry season.

So, we too, because only for a short while

have you loaned us to each other.

--Aztec Indian Prayer

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chasin' the Red Dot

Who says you can't have fun with a couple of cats in an RV? Around and around and around she goes, where she'll stop, nobody knows ...

And don't miss Jerry (the white cat) get a poofy tail.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Camping at the In-Laws'

So far, so good. No family fights, no embarrassing moments, nothing but rest and relaxation and good conversation. Of course, that's because only about a dozen of us are here yet. Most of the crowd is expected to roll in today, with the rest arriving on Saturday.

This video shows basically where we're parked and maybe a quarter of the property. You'll see the lava rocks (the black bumpy rock piles) that cover the property--part of the property is actually lava beds. One edge of the land is bordered by Hat Creek, famous for its trout fishing. Some of you might remember last year's Memorial Day weekend when I had my famous "Falls With a Fish" episode that kept us entertained on Facebook for several days. So far (knock on wood) I haven't tumbled, stumbled, or injured myself in any way, but things are just getting going.

Last night I watched Shakespeare in Love for the second time, and I'm thinking tonight I may watch Into the Wild. It seems fitting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yes, Brain, I'm Talking to You: And I'm Not Listening

I've been dreading this upcoming weekend. There's a family reunion we are attending (Chelle's Dad's side of the family), and though I know a handful of them, most of them will be new to me. In fact, some of them even Chelle hasn't seen since she was a child. Usually when we hang out with Chelle's family, it's really Chelle's mom's side of the family that we're with--largely because most of them are still here in California. This one is different; there will be about fifty people, screaming kids, adults I don't know, and my introverted side is kicking in already. We're not even there yet.

We're renting an RV for the weekend because there is no way 50 people can fit themselves into a single house. So people are bringing tents and pop-up trailers and RVs and camping all over her parents' forty acres. I've said jokingly, half seriously, numerous times: "I'm just going to hide in the RV!"

I've downloaded four movies to iTunes to spend watching in case the wifi isn't working and I need to get away. There are some big drinkers in this crowd (there's at least one or two in every crowd; I don't care who your family is; and that's not a judgment, just a statement of fact). There is also, I'm told, a born-again Christian and a bet going on which of the family fights with another family member first. Chelle is taking some money. I say this half proudly, because I know that if anyone were to have the audacity to tell us we're going to hell because we're gay, or that our marriage isn't real because we're gay, or that my tits can't be real because I'm gay--you get the idea--Chelle is not going to take that sitting down.

But conflict and confrontation have always been trouble spots for me. It's not so much the actual conflict as it my fear of the conflict, or my fear of what MIGHT happen if there's a conflict. (See how we alcoholics live in our heads?) No conflict has killed me yet, but the way I try to avoid them, you'd think I'd at least have lost an eye or a limb at some point. Me, in a strange situation, surrounded by drinking people: pass me the booze. Let me tune out. Let me not care.

Well, that way of coping with anxiety is no longer an option.

And then I came across a quotation today that puts it all in perspective. It's something overheard at an AA meeting:

"It took me a long time to understand that saying, 'What you think of me is none of my business.' Now I get it. And when I'm kind of getting worked up over somebody or what I think somebody thinks I just say that to myself and it kind of brings me up short: What they think of me is none of my business."

It's true. What is it, when you boil away all the bullshit, about a confrontation with another that I actually fear? I fear they may judge me harshly. I fear they may judge me unfairly. I fear they won't like me.

That takes all the power away. I have to chuckle at how inane it really is. Why would I care what anybody else thinks, as long as I'm okay with myself? (Which I finally am.) What they think of me has nothing to do with me. If they like me, fine; if they don't like me, fine; and if they don't, that has everything to do with them and not me. It's their business.

There are so many constructive ways to just smile nicely, say, "I disagree, but you're entitled to your opinion," and just walk away. If it even comes to that. Chances are good that every last bit of fear I'm feeling can just be chalked up to the lies my brain likes to tell me. Well, brain. I'm not listening to you anymore. Chances are excellent that they will all find me completely loveable and nobody is going to be spoiling for a fight at all. Why not proceed with the assumption that everything will be just fine?

To end on a sillier note, I snapped a quick photo inside the RV today. That's my pillow, for resting my hapless head.

Train: "Save Me San Francisco"

"I've been rock and roll and disco, won't you save me San Francisco?" A nice live acoustic version.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another Strike Against the Working Class

Of course there's no discrimination at Wal-Mart. Corporate policy says so.

Of course, what actually happens, over and over again at stores all over the country, is a corporate culture that enables the above to happen repeatedly, but you know, Wal-Mart is just too big to fail.

There is no union at Wal-Mart, and certainly any woman who works at Wal-Mart doesn't make nearly enough money to be able to afford to hire an attorney just for herself.

But they knew that. Take away the ability to unionize and then take away the ability to sue, and they can get away with whatever the hell they want.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Growing Up

I swear, I think I'm becoming the poster child for recovering alcoholics, or perhaps with summertime and the cold-beer-swillin' season upon us, more people are emailing me with questions. That's okay, I really don't mind sharing my experiences. I will say that my experiences are just that--they're MINE--so others' mileage may vary, but really, since most alcoholics act in amazingly predictable ways (we're all just variations on a theme), often I've found in retelling my experiences, they strike a chord of recognition in others.

I've written before here about how a chronic alcoholic eventually comes to live in an unreal world of distortions and exaggerations, perceived slights and paranoia. Getting sober becomes a process of figuring out what, precisely, was real and what was total bullshit, or what parts of a thing were real and what parts were the phantoms of the alcoholic's sick brain.

It can be tough to explain to someone who doesn't have an addiction problem because most of us have had a few drinks too many at some point, and we know how we acted. Our tongues loosen; we lose inhibitions. I know, way back when I was in grad school at Penn State, apologizing to a friend once over getting teary about something on one occasion when I'd been drinking, and she pooh-poohed that: "Sometimes the truth slips out when we're under the influence." And that is a true statement. At least, it's a true statement for someone who doesn't have a drinking problem.

For someone who has a drinking problem, the opposite is true. You can't trust anything we say when we're drinking. It's because we out-and-out make shit up. We may temporarily believe it while we're under the influence, but believing it doesn't make it true. We may even still believe it when we're sober, between binges. But seriously, somebody who drinks every day or every other day or even every third day ceases living in the real world at some point. Our lives become a muddle of distortion.

Everybody is out to get us: our bosses, our spouses, our friends, the government, the bartender who cuts us off, the therapist who tells us our drinking is out of control. Sometimes when what we say or believe is convenient for someone else to believe, they join us in the conspiracy of untruths. We sober up, and suddenly they've lost an ally. There is at least one drug addict I know who adamantly refuses to believe that I'm alcoholic. To accept that would mean she might have to accept she's got a problem herself. She liked me better when I was drinking and agreeing with her all the time! There is another who, because when I was drinking I was more than willing to collude with her in feeling victimized by certain persons, prefers to believe I was saner when I was drunk and that now, sober, I'm living in some kind of weird denial or living an act.

The truth is, I simply got sober and the person we see before us is the real me, and she honestly had no idea who I really am.

Well, people always believe what they want to believe. Sometimes we think we stand to gain something by keeping the blinders on. Alcoholics usually like their blinders because wearing them enables them to continue their addiction.

All I can say is that nobody should really trust a using addict or alcoholic. They might have good hearts and they might mean well. They might be loveable (in moments) and they might even believe half the shit they tell you. Some of it may carry a grain of truth. But the bottom line is, a using addict is not in their right mind. They see the world through hazy goggles. You can fully expect an alcoholic or addict who cleans up and gets sober to turn into a completely different person. HOW different depends on how bad off they were to begin with, how far along in their addiction they were.

Thankfully, for the vast majority of people, the sea change is an awesome, wonderful thing. For me, I've learned exactly how much I used to make assumptions, believe they were true, and then act out based on those beliefs. The arrogance! I was willing to believe half-stories and take action before getting the whole story. Nowadays I am willing to patiently get the whole picture, or at least as complete a picture as I can, and I'm not so quick to judgment--and even if I make a judgment, it's seldom done with any kind of blaming. It's done with understanding. I may disagree, but I don't feel the need to punish or persecute. People are who they are. I love them anyway.

It's a much better personal space to reside in rather than feeling angry and misunderstood all the time. I no longer have any expectations of anyone, beyond desiring them to be honest with me and to do the best they can. Consequently, people hurt me much less, and I don't take disappointments personally, because very seldom is something personal. And if it is, it reflects more on them than it does on me. These all seem to me to be healthier methods of coping with all the infinite varieties of human experience. It's much, much better than drinking and blowing up and living in a fictional world most of the time.

A sober colleague of mine once put it this way: stopping drinking, he said, was simply learning to grow up.

Weird Al Yankovich: "Perform This Way"

"I'm always deviating from the norm, I say; Baby I perform this way." Fabulous spoof of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," complete with a cameo of a mock Madonna who manages to slip in the line: "Express yourself."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Point Lobos State Reserve

We're home again after our long weekend in Carmel. We didn't make it to Point Lobos yesterday after all, so we swung by there and then had brunch in Big Sur before heading back to the Bay Area. In the photo to the left, that's Chelle scampering along the rocks coastside, peering into the tide pools. Alas, we saw no starfish, but we did see many baby crabs. There's one in the photo below. He's kind of resting on end with his claws up. We also saw lots of pelicans and could hear a sea lion barking, though we never were able to catch a glimpse of him.

It was a glorious day (finally!), sunny and not too windy.

We got home just in time to see the A's sweep the Giants. What's up with that?? Seems as if all the Giants' bats are in a slump.

The summer session begins tomorrow, so it's back in the saddle for me.

Find the baby crab.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hanging Out in Carmel

We've been hanging out in Carmel this weekend, enjoying the smell of the sea and walking along the ocean. It's been brisk and windy and we've seen very little of the sun. Still, we've been sleeping in and getting lots of R & R in and yesterday had a fabulous walk, not to mention doing a little shopping and lots of sampling of tasty gourmet dishes.

Yesterday we took the 17-Mile Drive to get photos of the Lone Cypress, that iconographic tree that appears on everything Pebble Beach or Carmel-by-the-Sea-related. It's 250 years old and now clings to the rock stabilized by guide wires. For me, it's a symbol of steadfastness.

Today we're off to Point Lobos, just south of Carmel. Miles of trails and lots of tide pools. I'm hoping to see a live starfish. Seeing them in aquariums just isn't quite the same. More later ...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Chelle!

I know everybody on Facebook has seen this photo, but I thought since it's actually Chelle's birthday today, I'd share it on my blog. This scoreboard message was my birthday gift to her this year. We went to a Giants game on June 10th, and the message appeared at the end of the 5th inning. (We beat the Reds, too, yeehaw!)

Since I knew when the message would appear, I was more or less ready with my iPhone to catch at least some of it (at the very beginning) and of Chelle's reaction.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Keenan and the Giants sing "Dynamite"

The child in this video is not really that young; he's 16. That's Keenan Cahill, who has made a name for himself lip-synching to various songs. He has Maroteaux-Lamy Syndrome, which is what gives him the dwarf-like appearance. That's Brian "Fear the Beard" Wilson and Cody "Ross the Boss" Ross singing along with him and Giants mascot Lou Seal. The video supported a fundraiser to raise money for causes near and dear to both Keenan and Cody Ross.

Go Giants! They're also the only Major League Baseball team to do a "It Gets Better" video to get the message out about anti-gay bullying.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Big Lie

I had an interesting conversation with an old friend this morning about alcoholics in denial. There's someone she knows who exhibits all the tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse: hiding bottles from his wife, sneaking drinks, drinking way more than a normal person drinks, is in a foul mood when he isn't able to drink, and so on. He refuses to believe he has a problem and thinks his wife is just being controlling.

In AA, it's a blessed event when an alcoholic is able to figure out they have a problem before something bad happens that forces them to admit they have a problem (such as a lost job, a spouse who walks away, or a drunk driving accident.) Unfortunately, it's all too often that there has to be some bad consequence before someone with a problem can objectively look at themselves and confess there is one. We call that "hitting bottom."

If someone is a high functioning alcoholic (meaning, they can still do their job acceptably and are good at controlling negative outcomes--for example, they drink at home so they never get a DUI), often that person never really does admit they have a problem, until they develop cirrhosis or esophageal varices or wetbrain or whatnot. In a way, an early stage alcoholic who gets in a bar fight, lands in jail for assault and battery, and has the kind of low bottom that gets him to sober up early in life, is a lucky person.

I was one of those high functioning alcoholics because--for a long, long time--I was good at managing negative consequences. It took two things to get me to see I was rapidly plunging towards bottom. One, I was having an affair outside my relationship (it was more emotional than physical since she lived in another state), and that relationship was reaching a head; and two, I began to be hungover so often that I was calling in sick to work a lot. It's a fuzzy time period in my own head for the obvious reason, but here's what I was thinking at the time (with the caveat that my perceptions may have been way, way off): the other woman was pushing me to end my relationship with Chelle. They were gentle pushes, but pushes nonetheless. She had nothing good to say about Chelle and whenever I tried to defend Chelle, she would get frustrated with me. It's true I went back and forth a lot because I was drunk and confused. I blamed Chelle for a lot of things that were "wrong" with our relationship (because I sure as hell didn't want to blame the booze!) I think I had this other woman fooled largely because I had myself pretty fooled. But then push came to shove, and I was bleating drunkenly one night about leaving Chelle and maybe moving out there to be with her, and I can't say I can recall her saying no to that.

Work was a problem too. Even though I consistently got good evaluations from my Dean and peers and good reviews from my students, I was sick a good part of the time. Then fall semester started two years ago, and within the first three weeks, I'd already called in sick twice. Chelle was about to lay down the law when she called in sick for me the third time because I was too nauseated to sit up and make a phone call.

Rehab was the solution. I was too fucked up to make any decisions about anything; I'd blathered on in tears with the other woman about rehab the night before; the rest is a blackout. All I knew was that it would be stupid to make any decisions about anything without first being sober when I decided. What remained was for me to pull the trigger... to make the call, to do it.

Chelle talked to the folks at Mountain Vista Farm; then I talked to the folks at Mountain Vista Farm; I could still back out. So I pulled the trigger. Honestly, I felt like there was nothing to lose. I contacted my Dean and told her I would be going into rehab for alcohol addiction. There was no going back once I pressed "send" on that email.

It was the best decision I've ever made in my life, but at the time it felt like I was throwing myself over a cliff.

The next few weeks were a blur. I got sober without that bad of a detox. Chelle wrote me every day and visited me every Sunday. The other woman had been looking into rehabs in her state, but I'd already picked MVF, so I sobered up in California. The other woman also sent me mail almost every day and at one point sent me a picture of a ring she wanted to buy me. I felt like shit looking at it but never responded to whether I liked it or not; deep down inside I knew I needed to extricate myself from that relationship because it wasn't healthy, nor grounded in anything real on my part (as my counselor got me to see), and I knew there was no way I would be leaving Chelle. At least not now. I honestly didn't know what the future would bring. Rehab made it really clear that I was unable to trust anything that I'd been doing the past few years. My alcoholic brain had distorted all sorts of perceptions and feelings, and the truth about everything was muddied.

And, of course, I was appalled by my own behaviors: acting out, lying, doing things completely opposite of my own values, or values I'd thought I'd had. I had some really dark nights of the soul.

Recovery is a long, slow process. First, you bring everything to a screeching halt. You figure out who you are, who you want to be. You then start bringing your words and your behaviors into alignment with your values. That's not too easy for someone who is used to rationalizing, blaming, and feeling victimized. There's also a lot of damage that needs to be repaired, and some of it isn't fixable. Sometimes apologies aren't enough; there's too much anger and hurt. Then you have to learn to live with the consequences of the crappy shit you did while you were using.

But it's worth it. The payoff is a return to sanity, a return to a place in which you're painstakingly honest with everyone, your slate is wiped clean, and serenity enters your life. Impulses become a thing of the past. You learn that feelings aren't FACTS and just because you have feeling, it isn't anything more than that unless you make it so. The friendships that you keep become richer and deeper. My marriage with Chelle has never been better. All those "problems" we had were phantoms of my own sick mind. In truth, she is one of the kindest, most loving, most upstanding individuals I know. And certainly the most forgiving.

The moral to the story is this: I don't think high functioning alcoholics know what they're missing. They think alcohol brings them pleasure--at least pleasure that outweighs any bad stuff. They think if it weren't for alcohol, their lives would totally suck. That's the big lie.

Without alcohol, their lives would totally blossom and bloom.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Belmont Stakes Pick 4

This is a $22.50 bet; you can double it if you want to make it a dollar instead of fifty cents.

Race 8: 5,1,2
Race 9: 3,1,2,6,9
Race 10: 4
Race 11: 1,6,9

I went with Gio Ponti as the most likely single. Good luck!

Belmont Stakes Picks

Well, the Belmont Stakes is a tough race to handicap because the distance is so significant (a mile and a half) and none of them has gone that far yet in a race. By far the best horse in the field who is bred for the distance is Animal Kingdom, who won the Kentucky Derby, and was gaining on Shackleford in the Preakness. He's my top pick, but you won't get a price on him.

Other horses I like: Master of Hounds. He should be able to handle the distance and seems to be improving on the switch to dirt.

Nehro is also improving and might just get there. There's endurance on his daddy's side.

Mucho Macho Man is the kind of horse that grinds along and grinds along, so I think he'll finish, and I like the positive jockey switch to Dominguez.

Shackleford will take an early easy lead. The question is, can he hold on to it until the end? I'm doubtful, although that horse has the kind of heart to pull off a miracle. Still, as the Preakness winner, his odds won't be good, so I'm thinking he may just hang on for a piece. (Update: actually his present odds are 9-1. And the sloppy track might favor him.)

Santiva and Brilliant Speed may also be on the board somewhere, but not first.

The rest I'm tossing out.

I'll post a Pick 4 later. Good luck!

May they all come home safe and sound.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Robbin Thompson: "Sweet Virginia Breeze"

I don't know why this song is in my head. But I couldn't stop singing it in the shower this morning. Takes me back ...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Did I Miss Anything Important?

If you're a teacher and a student who has missed your class asks you this (and we get asked this quite a bit), you will appreciate the poem at this link.

Forward freely.

Sarah Palin, Paul Revere, and the Truth

This Sarah Palin and Paul Revere story has gotten everybody's panties in a wad. So let's just tell the truth here.

Every American child, in grade school, as part of learning about the Revolution, learns the story of Paul Revere. Here are the salient facts that most people know (because this is what's taught): Revere set out on a night ride to warn the colonists that the redcoats were coming. You know, so we'd be ready for them. He needed to get the word out, so stealth was the key word: the lanterns in the North Tower would be lit to indicate which way the redcoats were arriving by: one light by land, two by sea. Most of us were also treated to the version of the story told in Longfellow's poem. I can recall that "belfry" was one of our vocabulary words.

That's it. That's all I knew; and admit it, that's all YOU knew of the story (unless you have a PhD in Revolutionary History), until this news story broke.

Now, Sarah Palin has been tooling around the East Coast in her Sarah Mobile visiting historical sights like the Liberty Bell and such, so after visiting New England, a tv reporter in Boston asked her this question: “What have you seen so far today and what are you going to take away from your visit?” In answer, she launched into her now famous story about Paul Revere's midnight ride, saying, "He who warned, uh, the ... the British that they weren't gonna be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells and, um, by making sure that as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free ... and we were gonna be armed."

Now, anybody who is an honest person is going to say Sarah Palin messed up the story. And that's how most people saw it: she botched the historical lesson; some saw it as a forgivable gaffe; others (like me) saw it as a botching of history, forgivable in others but not so forgivable in someone who might make a run for President and who claims to know her history.

It should have dropped there, end of story. But no. First off, Palin said on Fox News that the question had been a "gotcha" question. (That's her favorite defense when she gets asked something she doesn't know the answer to. But I'm sorry, the above question is no "gotcha" question. Then again, neither was "what do you read?" Yet I digress.)

Then Palin actually defended her answer. Now, pay attention. AFTER THE FACT, after she or her people had time to go do some background research perhaps, and after her apologists attempted to change the Paul Revere entry on Wikipedia to match Palin's version of events, lo and behold! A very obscure (as in known to very few, including me and I'll bet you too) letter written by Revere in 1789 and held by the Massachusetts Historical Society reveals that Revere was captured! Oh my God! That wasn't in my textbook in third grade. (Or maybe it was fourth or fifth. I don't remember.)

Yes, indeed, Revere was intercepted by the British and questioned. And here's what he said, according to his letter:

I observed a Wood at a Small distance, & made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back,and orderd me to dismount;-one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from,& what my Name Was? I told him. it was Revere, he asked if it was Paul? I told him yes He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.

Based on this, Palin is trying to tell us that she was right, that Revere had warned the British. (And a nice bluff, too, I might add, on Revere's part; for certainly there were not as many as five hundred armed militia. But I see this as less "talking big" to the British and more an attempt to protect his countrymen.)

But even if you believe that Palin had read Revere's obscure letter (which I don't), telling the redcoats a fib after being captured is not quite the same thing as Revere riding through town basically yelling at the British that they weren't going to take our arms and that we was gonna kick us some red-coated booty.

So here's the truth: Palin botched the story. Then somebody else found out there was a grain of truth to her botched story. After the fact, she latched onto that grain of truth as evidence that she knew what she was talking about and had known it all along.

I call bullshit on that. I don't buy it. If that obscure footnote to the story was what she was originally referring to, why didn't she say that clearly at the outset? Instead of telling us Paul Revere rode through town warning the British and firing warning shots and ringing bells? Which is most assuredly untrue.

If you believe Palin on this one, I have a nice oasis in the Mohave Desert that I want to sell to you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sobriety, Cross-Addictions, and Relapse

When I was a teenager, I smoked weed. I also drank. In fact, if anybody had a drug to give me, I'd try it. So, I've done acid, mushrooms, cocaine, meth, and speed. I also smoked cigarettes.

I grew out of every substance but the booze. I never really was a big fan of anything that sped me up because I am anxious enough as it is. Pot stopped being fun because it ceased relaxing me and instead started making me paranoid. I ceased everything but drinking, and on my 30th birthday, I quit smoking. Nicotine was harder to kick, but after a few months I was fine; cravings subsided, and now it's been almost 19 years since I've had a cigarette.

Now for a while, back when I was bodybuilding in my early 40s, I did abuse painkillers (Vicodin), but not really for the buzz. I genuinely took them for pain--either to nurse a hangover or to get me through a workout. But it was getting expensive, so I stopped taking them. No problem. I had no physical addiction. I would take only one pill at a time; I say I abused them because I didn't have a prescription and bought them off a friend.

Looking back over this, it's weird to me that I tried all these substances and never had a problem with any of them EXCEPT for alcohol. That was the one thing I couldn't kick by myself.

This is on my mind because last night on Facebook I saw that an old friend of mine--an addict, not an alcoholic--had posted that she was out drinking. That, to me, is a relapse. But why? If someone offered me a bong hit and I took it, would that be a relapse for me?

I think it would.

Yet I take 30mgs of Cymbalta every morning and on some occasions, I'll take a half mg of Ativan (a benzo that is highly addictive). Why aren't these considered a relapse? Indeed, some people in AA would say I'm NOT clean and sober because of this.

But I differ there. Something like alcohol or weed impairs your judgement, alters your perceptions, makes you high. The anti-anxiety medication I'm on doesn't do any of these things. (Well, maybe they would if I took them in high doses, but I don't.) They are prescribed to me for a medical condition; my doctor knows I'm a recovering alcoholic; my doctor keeps an eye on how much of both I take. I have never abused either of them.

So, for my friend, the addict who is drinking, you might say alcohol is legal and as long as she isn't abusing it, then what's the problem? Well, the drug alcohol, even when used moderately, STILL impairs your judgment, alters your perception, and makes you high.

Look at it this way. If I were a surgeon and took a Cymbalta in the morning like I always do and then performed surgery on you, would you be concerned? Probably not. But if I were a surgeon and took a couple bong hits or had a few drinks before performing surgery on you, would you be comfortable with that? Yeah, I thought so.

That's the difference.

The problem with us alcoholics and addicts is that we use substances that make us high to cope, to "fix" problems in our lives or in ourselves, and those substances don't do any of that but merely make things worse. It's not okay to substitute one mind-altering substance for another.

That's a relapse.

One caveat: say you're an alcoholic and you break your leg and your doctor puts you on painkillers. Those things do alter your thinking. I wouldn't call that a relapse, though. But I'd say to be damned careful with those things. Once your physical pain is gone, don't go begging your doctor for a refill. And if your doctor doesn't know you're in recovery, you're keeping something important from her.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We Are Not Broke

The Fox News ticker in New York City gets hacked with a "wake up, America" message.