Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012


"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." Boy, how many times when I was drinking did I keep driving right at that dead end, hoping for the outcome to be magically altered?

Switching to wine only, switching to beer only, switching to drinking on weekends only, switching to two drinks only: every tactic failed in the long run, yet I doggedly kept drinking when what needed to change was switching to not drinking at all.

But it wasn't just the alcohol. Getting sober enabled me to see that I was doing the same thing--driving straight at dead ends--in virtually all aspects of my life. (Alcoholics are famous for their emotional immaturity; we stay drunk too much to ever bother growing up and learning to think things through like adults.) But it's not just alcoholics who do this. Just about anything can get in the way of somebody's ability to stop acting like a bratty child. Some people have to control everything around them. Some people have out-of-control tempers. Some people pout and drown in self-pity. Some people feel entitled. Some people act out by lying, cheating, or seeking revenge.

The thing they all have in common is this: they are able to rationalize their behaviors by convincing themselves they had little choice in a matter, are pretty much in the right, and everybody else is wrong. If they admit to fault at all, it's usually a benign kind of fault, such as pleading ignorance or being too trusting or their heart being in the right place or that they intended to do well or they picked what they thought was the lesser of two evils.

Example: "Well, yes, I cheated on her, but only because our sex life has gotten really boring. I figured a little fling on the side that didn't mean anything would be less hurtful than breaking up with her and hurting her that way."

As if sitting down together and talking about that boring sex life simply wasn't an option. As if breaching trust weren't a worse thing than the actual sex itself.

The funny thing is, when I was myself a using alcoholic and accustomed to this kind of murky thinking and rationalizing, I truly did feel like I had very little choice in most matters and that things just kind of happened to me.  I simply could not see that what was really ruling me was fear.

Why do we lie, after all? We fear the consequences of the truth. Why do we try to control other people or situations? We fear what might happen if we're not running the show. Why do we cheat? We fear what might happen if we're honest about what we need, what we're not getting. Why do we put on facades or wear a false persona? We fear people won't like the real us. Why do we act selfishly? We fear life has short-changed us. Why do people stay in bad relationships? They fear being alone. They look at a balance sheet and figure the pros outweigh the cons. Or they harbor the expectation that the other person will change. Or, they figure they'll end it when the cons start outweighing the pros--or hang on until somebody better comes along. Reasonable enough, I suppose. Only I would hate to be the person they're with, knowing that's the future my partner is envisioning for us.

If something in your life looks like a dead end, by all means test it a couple-three times, making sure it's a dead end. Try some different tactics to see if something can be different. But if nothing changes, it may be time to face up to the fact that the roadblock outside yourself is not going to change. What's left is you.

You're the thing that needs to change.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

One Big Disconnect

Funny thing happened this morning--I opened the fridge to grab a can of Diet Coke to take to work and my eye fell on a 12-pack of Miller Lite. I blinked, looked again, and realized it was Sprite. For a second there, I'd thought Chelle had bought a 12-pack of beer (we do have a Kentucky Derby Day party coming up and are starting to stock the fridge for that, so I understand why I thought I saw what I saw).

But for a fraction of a second, my former life (so to speak) flashed before my eyes. How I used to drink Lite beer like it was water. How I'd go with the crappy diet beer because all I wanted was the buzz, not the calories or carbs, though when you blow through a 12-pack of that stuff, you're getting too many of those things anyway. How my life was structured around episodes of drinking. Drink one day; be hungover the next; drink the next day; be hungover the next. It was probably a blessing that for most of my drinking life I didn't develop the habit of drinking every day or drinking to cure hangovers. No, that didn't go on until the very end, when I would go on weekend-long benders if it happened to be a weekend I didn't have any papers to grade.

Looking back, I don't know how I did it. But when I really think about it, it's clear how I did it. I was simply good at managing negative consequences. If I had to teach the next morning, I simply didn't drink as much and I'd pound a lot of water before I went to bed. I'd still feel like crap, but I could get up and get going and get out of the house. After my classes, I would come home and nap. Then I'd do some work and go to bed early. The next day, when I felt well, I wouldn't start drinking until about 3:00 in the afternoon. I'd be good for the first hour or two and get work and lesson plans done while I was sober. Then it'd be off to the kitchen to make dinner and drink an entire bottle of red wine doing it. After dinner, I'd be worthless.

I did all my serious drinking at home or at the racetrack (Chelle always drove), so I never drove drunk.

I would tell myself, "I'm not an alcoholic--I can hold down a job, I've never had a DUI..." but seriously, if I'd been able to be honest with myself: who can't hold down a part-time job and not get a DUI if they don't drive when under the influence?

My world was a small one.

It is so different being sober. It's so much better being sober. In terms of time, I have much more of it: I work, but also paint, play guitar, blog, read more than I did, and spend much more time engaging people. I do still live a lot in my head (that's just natural to an introvert), but the next day I can remember what I was processing and thinking about. I was evaluated this semester--my first one since getting sober. I never actually got any bad evaluations even when drinking, but this was the first time I've ever had both, much less one, classes in which every last student wrote that they would recommend me. I mean, usually there's at least ONE kid who is vastly displeased with something I said or did. The President of the College poked his head in my office yesterday to say hello and we even joked about that--how that one dissatisfied student would always nibble at the back of your brain like a gnawing mouse.

I spent much of my life feeling a little like a fraud in the classroom, and I suspect it's because I knew damn well I wasn't doing my absolute best job. I'm not at my best if I'm hungover once or twice a week. I wonder how many kids figured out that my headaches were actually just hangovers, or if it took me a while to get graded essays back not because I was thorough but because I was using up too much of my time drinking or recovering from drinking. I wore a facade that I don't wear anymore. I no longer feel like a sham. I actually feel connected to my students.

I feel more connected, period. Connected to people, connected to the real me, connected to my own thoughts, connected to God.

Alcoholism is one big disconnect, a purposeful one. We unplug from life. What a blessing to get plugged back in.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Strange Familiar: "Redemption"

For everyone lost in the silence
For every one missing piece
For every will that is broken
No matter how dark it may be
There is redemption.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Mr. Churchill's Secretary ★★★★

Let me take a moment to recommend a book I've just finished reading: Mr. Churchill's Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal. (You can find it here at, or since it's just now released, it's probably at your local bookstore under Mystery/Thriller or New Fiction.)

Though this isn't a literary novel--it's a mystery novel, through and through, and fits nicely into that genre--it's still well-written, with some fine descriptive passages, and MacNeal truly has a keen eye for period details. The novel takes place in 1940s England, just before the Blitz, when the bombs start dropping over London. Our heroine is Maggie Hope, British born but American raised by an aunt who lived the better part of her life in a good old-fashioned Boston Marriage. Maggie is very much American in temperament, is whip-smart in math, is feminist and open-minded (like, she has gay friends). The literary world definitely needs more feminist heroines and fewer homophobes.

As the novel opens, Maggie is in London, there to oversee the selling of her grandmother's house (Grandmother has died). Her own parents died long ago in a car accident, or so she has been led to believe. One mystery in the book is--whatever happened to her father? That gets solved by the end.

The major mystery, though, centers around a joint Nazi/IRA plot to assassinate Winston Churchill, blow up St. Paul's Cathedral, and kidnap the Brits' star codebreaker. Working as a secretary at 10 Downing Street (it's a war, after all, and everyone must do their bit), Maggie gets drawn into the plot when the usual secretary is out sick, so Maggie must take dictation from Churchill himself. (And think about the writer's steel ovaries here. To have the guts to make Winston Churchill a character in a book is a pretty brave move, especially for a debut novelist.) Yet he's totally believable. You even come to be fond of him and his Romeo y Julieta cigars, and of another character, David, who hilariously yells out alliterative epithets in all the right moments.

I don't want to include any spoilers, so suffice it to say that all puzzles are solved, Maggie breaks a code, helps defuse a bomb, and saves the day; the bad guys (and girl) get their due; and even a kiss is shared at the end.

Maggie will be staying in London to work officially as a spy in MI-5 (they snap up talent when they see it), so we readers can expect a follow-up novel soon, then a third, and hopefully others to come. It's an impressive debut effort, and I look forward to the next installment.

(Disclosure: I kinda, sorta know the author. She's a friend of a friend. But I swear I have not overstated my enjoyment of the book. I wouldn't recommend it if I didn't truly like it.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Just the Way You Are

So what if you're overweight, have a few scars, and have some crooked lower teeth?

So what if you struggle with math, can't seem to find a decent romantic partner, and take forever to complete a task?

So what if you're getting gray hair, didn't have time to shave your legs this morning, have a hole in your sock, and don't have the money to pay a contractor to fix the fence, so you grabbed a hammer and fixed it yourself?

Here's how I see you: You have delicious curves, you've lived a life and have survived to tell the tale, you're desirable, your talents are hidden but numerable, you're not insufferably vain, you're methodical, you're creative, you're independent, and you're not a high maintainance prima donna. You are YOU.

And you are special, just the way you are.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sheila Chandra: "Ever So Lonely"

A meditation on the Lover and the Beloved, the human yearning for the Divine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Expectations Are Premeditated Resentments

Honestly, of all the valuable things I learned a couple years ago when I was in rehab, the above is the most important of them all.

Examining my expectations and then letting go of any that weren't reality based was the first step in removing a lot of stress from my life. I was never satisfied. I always felt that things weren't up to par, that I was settling for less, that I deserved better but my unique specialness was going unrecognized. I sabotaged perfectly good relationships once the honeymoon glow wore off because I had this crazy idea that True Love (tm) always meant feeling madly infatuated every day for the remainder of your days. I thought happiness meant feeling constantly on top of the world.

Nothing ever measured up. At size 6, with my abs showing, a flat belly and a breast lift, working out religiously six days a week, I still thought I was fat.

I published a book, a short story, interviews, articles, and I still thought I was unappreciated and undiscovered as a writer.

I'd receive student evaluations at work, and everybody in my classes would have great things to say about me, except for one student who had a problem. I would obsess over that one student.

My own expectations made me continually resentful and feeling shortchanged by life.

One thing we often did in rehab was to go around the table and announce something we could be grateful for that day. Hokey, I know. But if you do it enough times, the message starts to sink in. Way more things are right than wrong. Count your blessings. Relish them. Learn to be content.

Now, nothing is wrong with expectations as long as you keep them realistic and are aware you are harboring them. Me, I've learned to do a subtle shift that has made a lot of difference: turn expectations into hopes. That way I'm not dashed if they don't come to fruition.

It has done wonders for my peace of mind and for my ability to accept things--and even to appreciate them--just the way they are.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Any Hitchcock Fans Out There?

I recorded this with one hand holding my iPhone and the other hand tossing pieces of bread to the gulls. It looks like I'm under attack!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Break!

I'm visiting a friend in Texas over Spring Break this year, so I flew into Houston yesterday and this morning we drove the hour to Galveston. Here is the view from our hotel room.

Last night we had dinner at the Kemah Boardwalk, and afterwards, Di showed me how "tame" the seagulls are there. Yup, they will swoop down and eat right out of your hand! Of course, half the time they just knocked the food out of your hand and then dove down to the water to retrieve it, but I tried it myself and sure enough, their aim is pretty good. There was also an aquarium exhibit in which we got to feed stingrays little sardines. The stingrays don't have teeth so it felt a lot like being gummed by a slithery creature as they'd crane out of the water to take the fish from your fingers.

Since it was sprinklng and overcast, today we visited Moody Gardens in Galveston, which is a gigantic indoor rainforest terrarium and aquarium. I was most charmed by the baby sea turtles and the penguins. We also saw a 4D film on tornado storm chasers, which wound up being ironic because two big tornadoes touched down in northern Texas today. Funny, for all the time I lived in Iowa and Illinois, I never saw a tornado--sort of like, so far, out of fifteen years in San Francisco, the only earthquakes I've ever felt have been small ones. Knock on wood.