Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Keep On Rolling!

I've been told by some people that I'm a very angry person. I'll admit that I'm pretty good at getting upset. I'm one of those people who is not assertive. I smile and nod and slowly get angrier and angrier until I snap. Not 'going postal' snapping; more like 'that kid forgot to take his medicine' snapping. I notice more people with raised eyebrows when I lose my temper than people running for cover. I also have an exaggerated sense of fairness. If I feel that something is not fair, I am more likely to go from sweet kid to unbalanced lunatic in no time flat. So to sum things up, I know that I'm good at being angry.

What I'm even better at than BEING angry, though, is manipulating other people into becoming angry at me. I'm sure I've developed this skill throughout my life, but I'm so good at it I think I was just born with the ability to royally piss people off. I don't even have to bring up religion or politics. For that matter, I don't even have to say that many words. I just have an invisible sign that says 'Angry people apply here'. An aura, if you will. With all of this in mind, I want to tell you a story....

It was the fourth of July last year. Katie and I were going to be lighting fireworks with her brother Nate, his girlfriend Nicole, Nicole's mom, and my mother in law. We were over at Nicole's mom's house. We showed up while it was still light. We ate some burgers and dogs, enjoyed some good conversation, and eventually it was time for the light show. Katie and I had stopped by a local fireworks stand on our way over, but not Nate. No, Nate was not satisfied with roman candles that merely flung sparks while laying on the ground or flowers spinning centimeters from the ground. He wanted the real deal. In order to buy the Real McCoy, though, it required that he go out of state. This was in the days when gas was not $4.15 a gallon, so Nate thought nothing of driving to Wyoming to purchase the illicit pyrotechnics. He would have made any adolescent boy proud with his ambition.

As we gathered in the street, we could hear the hullabaloo of nearby families happily enjoying the fireworks and each other's company. We started small. We lit some of the lesser fizgigs purchased by Katie and I. Soon, though, the desire for flames soaring through the sky overcame us and we started lighting Nate's contributions. If you've ever seen the lighting of the Christmas tree on the Garfield Christmas Special, you would know how we appeared as we stared into the sky with glee. And so it was, that staring into the sky I heard a low methodical humming noise. It took me a while to register, but eventually it grew louder. When I realized the noise was getting closer, I looked around. And like a cowboy slowly meandering into the light of a fire, a vision slowly became apparent. That vision was a 75 year old man in a wheelchair. And not just any 75 year old man riding a Jazzy. This handicap parker had taken upon himself a noble goal. His goal was to rid his neighborhood of the riff raff and criminal activity that had plagued it for too long. So coming into the light, he firmly told us that we were done lighting our illicit goods. As I started to light one of our ground locked firecrackers, I told the good sir not to worry; we were almost done firing off our wares. On the side of righteousness, he told me that he didn't care if we were almost done or not. We, he told us, were done firing firecrackers.

As he was talking, he was slowly moving towards me. I had a firecracker in one hand and a lit match in the other. I warned him that I was lighting a 100% legal firecracker. Seeing that I was telling the truth and he had saved his suburb from lawlessness, he turned to go. Then it was that I uttered the words that have haunted me each and every day from that one to this: 'That's right. Keep on rolling, old man."

The mechanical whirring stopped then started again as he slowly maneuvered the Jazzy back towards me. I realized that I had made a grievous error. My intrinsic ability to cause anger in others had struck again. As Katie told me 'Troy, stop!' and my mother-in-law reminded me to 'Respect your elders', I stood my ground against the aggrieved neighborhood watchman. By now the match I had lit to start my firework was out. I stood there with an extinguished match in one hand and a lifeless flower in the other. Captain Jazzy came to a stop inches from me and asked me a thought provoking question. 'Do you want to fight?' he asked. But before I could answer or even ponder the invitation, he followed the offer with 'Just because I'm in a wheelchair, don't think I won't fight you.' Considering his first offer withdrawn, I felt it impolite not to say anything. 'I'm not going to fight you' I said. We were like gunslingers standing (except that one of us was sitting). Each waiting for the other to make a move. Eventually, my non walking friend put his wheelchair back into motion. The threat having passed, I lit another match and started my firework. Since that incident, nary a day goes by without my battle cry being thrown back at me by a friend or family member: 'Keep On Rolling'

Sunday, July 27, 2008

1 Year! - Disclaimer

Today I celebrated 1 year sober. It only took me five and a half years to get here!

Over the last couple of months I've taken the time to write about some of my experiences in getting sober. When I started out, I was going to stay completely anonymous. I didn't want to make anyone around me uncomfortable by knowing some of the sordid details of my past. The feedback that I was getting was pretty positive, though, and I slowly moved away from being anonymous. Eventually I posted a picture and with that ended the question of anonymity. I even told my mom that I was writing about what happened in a public forum. I sent her the link and waited anxiously for her to give feedback. I heard from her last Thursday and she surprised me. She said that she was proud of me for staying sober and sharing my experience. My mom has been clean for over 3 years now. She said that she felt ashamed reading the parts that she was in, but that she has come to terms with what happened. My mom is a really cool woman. I said it before, but I'll say it again: My mom has always tried to take care of me the best way that she knows how. I'm proud of her that she can acknowledge that she feels badly for what happened, but accept that it is in the past and move on. She is a strong woman and I'm grateful to have her be a part of my life.

There are other members of my family that perhaps will not react as well as my mother to me 'putting it all out there'. If I have offended anyone or offend anyone in the future, I hope that they can forgive me. It isn't my intention to embarrass anyone or to be any more vulgar than necessary. I can only explain it like this: in the book that the 12 step fellowships are based on, it says 'we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it'. Everything that I've done and gone through in my life has lead me to the point where I am now. The good times and the bad. If I hadn't smoked crack with my mother or gone through tough times with my wife, I would not be the person that I am today. And like it or not, I am who I am. I wanted to write this stuff down so I could remember who I am and where I've been. Time has a way of changing my memories so that small things become bigger and big things become smaller. I want to remember how I got here. Because if I ever forget, I am doomed to go back. As far as doing it in such a public manner, maybe I have a little exhibitionist in me. I've always been the guy to show you the new song I learned on the guitar. Look at this as my new song. In a selfish note, I was reminded of a lot of things in trying to get most of the details. It wasn't always easy to write. In fact, sometimes it was painful and humiliating. It has been helpful to me, though. I find that I am quicker to share my experience with a friend in recovery. I'm more comfortable with who I am. In that way, I am a better asset to those friends of mine trudging the road of sobriety. I hope that readers will be willing to sacrifice a certain comfort level with me in exchange for my improved assistance with other alcoholics. And work with other alcoholics will help keep me sober.

So Thank You to anyone reading. Thank you for taking the time to read. Even if it was only because you enjoyed reading this like you enjoy a good train wreck: you just can't look away. (I'm not too proud. Attention is attention, right?) I hope you'll check back from time to time to hear the new song I'm working on.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Full Circle (Requiem 23)

In March, after being sober for nearly 7 months, Katie and I went on another cruise. We looked forward to the 12 step meetings on the ship. That first day we showed up for a meeting, only to find nobody around. After consulting the agenda provided by the cruise company, we realized we were in the wrong part of the boat. Getting to where we were supposed to be, we found just 2 people around. It turns out they were a couple from Kansas City (Don and Leah). Despite the fact that Katie was not an alcoholic, Don and Leah allowed her to sit in the meetings we had. During the whole cruise, nobody else showed up to the meetings. The four of us wound up sitting by each other at dinner and spending a lot of time together.They had 2 kids with them on the cruise, a high school aged son and a junior high school aged daughter. One night, the son was out partying on the ship. His newly found friends brought him back to his cabin wasted and passed out in a wheelchair. Don was having a hard time the next day. Although he was about 19 years sober, he was powerless to help his son. He asked me if I wouldn't mind talking to his son as an alcoholic '12th stepping' a potential alcoholic.

In recovery, there are a few simple things that are suggested in order to maintain continuous sobriety. Getting a sponsor, going to meetings, and working the 12 steps are a few of these suggestions. The steps can be broken down into this: after getting honest with ourselves, we trust God, clean house, and help others. Most people know that the first step is admitting you have a problem. This is partially true. The second part of the first step is that we have lost power managing our own lives. Essentially, we have a problem and we can no longer manage our problem or any other part of our lives. Steps 2 and 3 are where we realize that something outside of ourselves can keep us sober and help us get a little sanity back. We then ask that entity to keep us sober. Most people call this being a Higher Power or God, although not everybody believes in God. Nor is it necessary to believe in God to stay sober. Steps 4 through 9 are about cleaning house. We take a look at ourselves honestly. We write down our faults and tell another person. We then become willing to move past these faults and ask God to help us. From there we list the people we have harmed and make amends to them. This doesn't mean apologize to them. Most alcoholics have made a career out of apologizing for things we've done when drunk. Amends is about making things right. Once we have attempted to make things right from our pasts, we continue looking at ourselves on a daily basis to make sure that we aren't making the same mistakes over and over like we used to. We continue to try to get closer to God, as we understand him. The last step is to help other alcoholics stay sober. Some people like to view the steps as more circular than linear. In other words, once we get done with the 12th step, we start over again at one. It's a continual process. You never 'graduate'. You don't regain the ability to drink like a normal person. This is a simplified version of the steps, but hopefully you get the gist of the program.

A '12th step call' or '12 stepping' someone is basically just talking to an alcoholic (or potential alcoholic) to find out if they want help and if they want help then offering it to them. Don was asking me to talk to his son about whether or not he had a problem. Typically when someone asks us to talk to a friend or relative, the main question is 'Do they want to get sober'. Through my experiences I've learned quite well that you really have to want to be sober in order to stay sober. I can't get or keep someone else sober. So when someone asks me to call on a friend or relative of theirs to help them, I typically offer my phone number. If that person truly wants help, they will call. And from experience, I've never had someone call me in that situation. Being stuck on a ship was a little out of the norm, though, so I decided I would at least take an hour and talk to Don's son (Justin).

After dinner that night, I took a walk around the ship with Justin. I could tell right away that he wasn't interested in sobering up. We finished the walk and called it a night. The rest of the cruise was a good time. Although I wasn't able to help Justin, it got me thinking about how good it felt trying to help someone else. Even if Justin didn't stay sober, I did. When I got back from the cruise, I spoke to Kim about my experience. I had been questioning whether or not I said the right thing or what. He reminded me that when someone really wants to get sober, you can't say the wrong thing.

About a month later after a meeting, I was talking to some friends when Kim called me over. He was talking to a guy. He asked me if I knew the guy. I said I did. He said to the guy, 'This is your sponsor' signalling me. He looked me and said 'talk to him a little bit' and walked off. And with that I found myself someone else's sponsor. I was pretty nervous about the whole situation, but if my sponsor was asking me to do something I wasn't going to say no. Here was a newcomer to recovery. If anybody knew something about being a newcomer in recovery, it was me. I had spent the previous 5 years getting drunk and sobering up, ad nauseum. If there was one thing I could help this guy with, it was introducing him around in meetings and helping him feel comfortable. We would get together once a week and hang out for an hour before going to meetings as we slowly got comfortable around one another. 3 months later, and the guy has been sober for over 90 days.

In a sense, I have come full circle. Once doomed to a life of drinking and drugs, I now am sober and helping other people stay sober. As I learn to deal with the day to day struggles in my own life, I am constantly amazed by the realization of how far I have come. I'm a kid who wasn't supposed to live to see 2. My family life is untraditional to say the least. I've seen the inside of more rehabs and psych wards than most people I have ever heard of. During one 3 and a half year stretch, I spend a total of 6 months inpatient. That doesn't include the 5 plus months of being in a recovery home. I am not supposed to be here. I have a wife who has stuck by me even at times when she couldn't stand me. People used to tell me how lucky I was to be alive. I'm starting to believe them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

And I stayed Sober (Requiem 22)

One of the most important things to happen to me in recovery was being thrown out of my house after 2 weeks of being sober. It reiterated to me a basic understanding that I had been forgetting: my problem was not alcohol. My problem was living life. I was and am ill equipped to deal with the day to day events in an ordinary life. Once I realized alcohol could alleviate the various pains (anger, heartache, disappointment, boredom etc...) associated with growing up and being an adult, I only resorted to actually dealing with them when I had no other choice. To put it another way: alcohol had allowed me not to have to grow up. I was emotionally immature. With no alcohol to deal with these pains, I was in desperate need of finding something to replace it.

Back at my grandma's I found myself. Right from the start I knew that I was going to have to stay sober. There was no other way. I focused on working and meetings. I was rarely home. Weekends came and I went to band practice and met with Kim. I was buying a lot of books and reading with my down time. I spoke to Katie pretty frequently, but a funny thing happened. After a couple of weeks, I was nervous that we might move back in together. Being out of the house seemed to take some of the stress out of my life. I was worried that moving back in would see that stress put back in place. After almost a month, Katie and I decided I would spend a night or two back at the house to see how things went. The first night was pretty tense. We were polite to each other and careful choosing our words. It was not unlike being on a first date. We were both waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. I kept going to meetings and pretty soon I had 60 days sober. Then 90 days. We were getting along better than we had in a year and things seemed to keep improving.

I started reading the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' with Kim. Which is to say that Kim read the book to me and I listened. Every once in a while he would give me an assignment. One such assignment was to name the traits and qualities that I would choose in a God. I put some thought into it, but in classic alcoholic fashion forgot to write them down until 30 minutes before I was supposed to meet with Kim. I scrambled to list things like forgiving, loving, kind, father, brother, friend. Kim told me that my higher power was all of those things. Another time we kneeled and said a prayer; turning myself over to God. And I stayed sober.

Kim had lived in a few places since he had sobered up. When I had been sober about 60 days we took a trip to Atlanta to visit his friends there. Along with Kim and I were my friends JM, Tony, and Steve. We were all sponsees of Kim's. We visited the meetings he used to attend and met the people we had heard stories about. I sat across the table from two men at dinner one night. One man used to sponsor the other. He had given the other guy advice to give his wife some space. He had then used that space to have an affair with the wife. The woman was long gone from either of their lives and they were no longer sponsor/sponsee, but they remained friends in recovery! We had a good trip and I got to experience what meetings were like in Georgia.

A month after we got back from Atlanta, we had a mens' retreat at Kim's house. About 20 guys came over one Saturday from 8 in the morning to 8 at night to talk about recovery. The camaradarie I felt after that was unmatched. When I would run into one of those guys in a meeting during the next few weeks we would just look at each other and nod. We knew. And I stayed sober.

Katie and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary by going to Logan. I had lived there for a few months back in '99. Katie had gone to school there in '98. We had a great time. Our relationship was getting stronger and stronger. We were not arguing that much. When we did disagree, the disagreements weren't lasting as long and were nowhere near as intense. The old wounds were healing. We began to talk about kids again.

For the third time, my wrist began to swell again and I knew I was looking at surgery. I decided to go to a different doctor and took Katie with me to help me avoid pain pills. A few days before Christmas I went and had a 3rd surgery. They had given Katie the pain pills, although I did ask them to only give her a few. Something happened, though. When I got home after the surgery, I got very sick and couldn't hold anything down for a few days. It was 2 days before I could even think about my wrist. God was looking out for me. Those first two days are the worst as far as pain goes. I had survived those without pills. When my wrist ached during the next week, I took a pill or two and never experienced the craving that I usually did. New Years, 2008, came and found us playing poker at Kim's house. We had a good time, and I stayed sober. January found me picking up a 6 month chip. I was still meeting with Kim on Saturdays, working the steps. I was chairing meetings and helping set up other meetings. When I turned 28 in February, I thought a lot about addiction. By turning 28, I had outlived a lot of my musical heroes. Musical heroes who also happened to be addicts. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Jim Morrison. All 27. There was a time in my life when I didn't think I'd live to be 20. Then 25. At 28, I was beginning to imagine a life that didn't evolve around alcohol and drugs. At my sponsors urging, I was praying daily and life was comfortable for me. Was it to last?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tricked Into Staying Sober (Requiem 21)

I can imagine there are some people who are asking themselves 'What makes this time any different than the last 10?'. To them, I say that I can't really say. Leaving Wendover that day, I didn't think it was any different than any other time I'd drank (other than the fact that I stayed out there rather than getting an ambulance ride back). For the first few months of sobriety, I played along not really thinking I was going to stay sober. At some point in the last year, though, I realized that my desire to stay sober is a lot stronger than my desire to drink.

The day after my painful drive back from Wendover, I showed up at Kim's house to play the guitar. We jammed for an hour or so and started packing up again. As I was leaving, he asked me how I was doing. Reflexively, I told him I was good. Things were fine. As he looked at me (seemingly through me), I realized that I wasn't fine at all. I clarified and said that I had relapsed during the week, but that I was fine.

This is one of those mysterious lines that people in meetings always laugh out loud at. I was 1 day sober and trying to bring myself across as fine. To a guy that can spot a lying alcoholic from across the room. It was the equivalent of pretending that you know all about medicine - to a doctor.

To Kim's credit, he didn't call my bluff. He just asked me if I would be interested in reading from the book that our fellowship is based on with him after band practice each week. I told him that I was absolutely interested. In retrospect, I realize he must have had something like this in mind all along. The guy invites me over to his house to play guitar during the time he meets with sponsees. He knows I've been bouncing in and out of sobriety for years. I like to tell people that I was tricked into staying sober. Thank God for that.

The next Saturday I showed up. We jammed for an hour downstairs at his house. Then we came upstairs and I was introduced into his Serenity Room. It was a study just off of the front door of his house. It was a smallish room that could have doubled as a shrink's office. There was a couch and a chair in it. There were two end tables on either side of each piece of furniture and a coffee table in front of them. On one side of the room was two bookshelves filled with different kinds of books: classics, popular modern fiction, and different books of recovery. On the wall were various antiquated bar signs. "Free Beer (tomorrow only)" "Sober Up" There were books lying on the coffee table and the chair. This was a room that was used frequently. I sat down on the couch, he sat down in the chair, and then he changed into a different person altogether. Gone was the laid back drummer. In his place was a no nonsense, take charge version of Kim. He told me how it was. He said that he had helped hundreds of men get and stay sober the way he was shown by his sponsor. He said that of all the men he had taken through the book, he knew of only one or two that were not currently sober. He said that he didn't want me to waste his time. He wanted me to make a commitment to show up each week on time and if I did he would help me to stay sober. Of everything he told me, the thing that stuck with me the most was that he had taken hundreds of guys through the book and almost all of them were sober. Hope slowly leaked back into my life.

That's not to say that my life got any better right away. I was still the same angry person I had been. Katie was still at the end of her rope with me. I was somewhat surprised she didn't throw me out after my last drink. Things were tense between us and came to a head about 2 weeks after I sobered up. We went camping with one of her brothers and his girlfriend. From the start I was belligerent. I was upset that she picked an awful campsite. I wanted to go back home. I didn't go with them to the lake when they went. We went for one night, but in that time I managed to embarrass Katie severely. During the drive home the next day I was angry and driving like a maniac. If the camping didn't make up her mind, the driving the next day sealed the deal. I was out. I stayed the night home that night, but the next day I packed a couple of bags and made my way back over to my grandmas house.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Humble Beginnings (Requiem 20)

Vegas. Sin City. Not exactly the place you'd expect a bunch of sober people to go to have a conference. But there we went. And the timing couldn't have been better. I had been running out of the pills the doctors had me on for a while. I had weaned myself down to make quitting them easier. In Vegas I finally ran out. Since then, I haven't had to take any antidepressants.

Getting sober feels physically similar to quitting antidepressants. When you quit too fast after having either in your system for too long, you get this weird sensation of being on a boat in rough seas. Except that you're not on a boat. It's a very swimmy, swishy feeling. One minute you're fine and the next, your equilibrium is off and you feel like you might tip over or throw up. With acute alcoholism, throw into that mix the shakes and sometimes hallucinations. Either way, it's enough to keep some people drinking or taking antidepressants for much longer than they ordinarily would. Also like quitting booze, when I quit taking antidepressants I had a strong desire to drink at times. Being around other sober guys really helped.

While we were down there, I spent time with JM's sponsor, Kim. He was a guy who had been sober for 22 years at the time. When we talk about wanting what someone has in recovery, I wanted what this guy had. Not his house or car or money, but his state of mind. He seemed to be very serene. He handled situations a lot better than I did. He could comfortably talk about his experience getting sober. More than that, though, I just related to the guy. He was a cancer survivor as well as an alcoholic. He talked about how he used to be angry a lot and it was like he was telling my story. He was a musician. We bonded a little bit over this and agreed that we would get together and play. Unlike most times I made tentative plans with people I barely knew in recovery, I really wanted to follow through with these plans.

The trip was a success. Not financially (this was Vegas, after all), but we all stayed sober and had a good time. I got to meet one of my hero's in recovery. A guy whose speaker tapes I had been listening to for years. I was shocked by how normal he was. I guess I was expecting him to don a cape and tights or something. It made me respect him all the more, though. When we got back, I really felt connected to recovery. I went to meetings regularly for a few months. I ran into Kim at a meeting and we set a date for me to come over and play. It was for the coming Saturday. I had heard that Kim had sponsees over on Saturdays to read from the book. That he was giving me a Saturday 'slot' didn't connect. When I went over that Saturday, we set up the drums and guitar and started looking for common musical ground. It didn't take long. While we were probably painful to listen to, we had a good time and agreed to keep playing.

After a few months of bliss following the conference, I started falling into my old patterns. I was missing meetings and slipping towards another relapse. It finally happened on the 24th of July, 2007. I snuck a couple of beers home while Katie was at work. I drank them, fell asleep and woke up when Katie got home. She was none the wiser. The next night I tried the same thing because Katie was going to be gone to a meeting. I went and got the beers. As I got home, Katie called me and said she was coming back because she wasn't feeling well. I scrambled to hide the beers under the socks in my dresser before she walked through the door. The next day I went to work. I got off work and went home. I drank the now warm tall boys (24 ounce cans of beer) that were hidden in my dresser as I was watching poker on TV. I decided I wanted to go to Wendover to play in a poker tournament. I jumped in my car and took off. I called Katie on the way. She knew right away that I was drinking or planning on getting drunk. I was driving fast, probably 95 miles per hour. As I zipped through Tooele, I saw lights in my rear view mirror. I stayed calm, pulling over. I tried every trick I knew to show the officer that I was sober. (Hands on the steering wheel at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, car turned off, no sudden movements) The officer took my information, went back to his car, then came back with a ticket for 11 miles over the limit. Somehow I had avoided the DUI I most surely deserved. It should have stopped me in my tracks to get pulled over drunk. As it was, though, I continued on to Wendover to finish my last debacle.

We're told to never say never, but it seems fitting to me that I took my last drink the way I began my journey into recovery. Wendover seems to have bookended four of the most difficult years of my life.

So this is how I began my sobriety: My eyes slowly roll open. I feel like my eyelids have been glued shut with superglue. As the small amount of light hits my eyes, I feel an explosion of pain in my brain. I crawl out of the bed and over to the toilet in the next room. My stomach is cramping as I wretch and heave vile. After a few minutes, the cramps subside. I take the opportunity to pull myself up to stand in front of the mirror. I'm wearing nothing but boxers. I start wracking my mind for memories of what happened the night before. All that comes to mind are various snapshots. I'm playing a table game. I'm on the phone with Katie. I'm being dragged by security to the front desk. I must have got a room and gone to pass out. Coming back to reality, I grab the glass on the counter and fill it up with water from the tap. I take a short drink, testing my stomach. I seem to be fine, so I take a bigger drink. Hopefully this stays down. I put the half finished glass back down and start shuffling into the other room to lay back down.

I notice my clothes in a pile by the bed. I reach down for them to get my shirt on. I'm a little chilly. As I pick up the pile of clothes, I realize they are wet. I know before I even pull the clothes to my face to smell them. I've been here before. This isn't the first time I've done it. I must have thrown up all over myself. Repeatedly. I notice the clock on the night stand says it's 10:30. I don't even have time to dry these clothes or lay down for an hour before I have to be out. Just then my stomach starts cramping. I manage to just make it over to the toilet before I'm sick again. A few minutes later, I get back up and turn the shower on. I'm hoping a shower will help me feel human again. After the shower, I'm forced to get back into my clothes covered in vomit. Just the smell is turning my stomach. I grab my phone and call in sick to work. My boss seems to be cool with it. A few minutes later his wife calls and lays into me. I realize I'm about to be canned. I keep waiting for her to say it, but the words never come. Maybe they'll do it when I come in on Monday.

I smell so badly, I know I won't make it home without getting sick. I gather up my stuff and decide to try to find a gift shop to buy a new shirt. As I walk, I try to keep the wet shirt on my back from touching me too much. I'm pinching the shirt in two places trying to keep it off of my skin. In the gift shop, I don't find a single shirt. I'm afraid people are going to start looking at me. What a sight I must be. I decide to try a gas station on my way out of town. As I open the door to the outside of the casino, I'm hit with sun. It's paralyzing. I can barely see and my head is exploding in agony. And the heat. It's July in the desert. I've got no sunglasses, I smell like puke, and for a minute I don't recognize anything. My stomach is starting to cramp and I'm hating life. I start walking around and eventually find my car. I drive over to the gas station on my way out of town. I had been hoping it would be empty, but for some reason at 11:00 am on a Friday it's packed. As I come through the door, the bell rings and everybody turns to look at me. I walk in, look around, and I realize there are no shirts for sale here. I am defeated. I buy a water and some aspirin as people stare at me and cringe. Getting in my car, my head is throbbing. The sun seems brighter than it ever has before and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make it back without getting sick. I pull the wet shirt off my back, and start driving. Humble beginnings, eh?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Night Is Darkest... (Requiem 19)

There is a saying in recovery that says 'While you can never be too dumb to get sober, it's possible to be too smart'. People had been telling me this since my first relapse. Everything I needed to stay sober was right in front of me. My friends were staying sober. They were going to meetings, hanging out with other kids in recovery and working the steps. My buddy JM is a good example. Since I had met him, he had stayed sober. I had gone in and out, but JM had over 3 years of sobriety. He had steadily gotten better, but I had slowly gotten worse. This isn't to say that I was smarter than JM and, therefore, couldn't stay sober. Quite the opposite, really. JM realized that he could not kick the drugs and alcohol on his own. He was smart enough to rely on other people to help him. I couldn't get this for the longest time. And as I stayed drunk, I was slowly driving people out of my life. The thing is, though, I WANTED to be left alone. All I wanted to do was drink and if Katie or anybody else was going to stop me, I would rather not be around them. That was my state of mind when I moved into my grandma's house.

My grandma and mother lived together in my grandma's house. I was the third person in the house and I felt like the proverbial wheel. I would go to work during the days, then come home and try to drink without getting caught. Sometimes I smuggled bottles of vodka downstairs into the room I was staying in. Other times I would keep the bottle in the trunk of my car outside. Not going to meetings, I had plenty of spare time. I read a lot, watched a lot of TV, and accomplished very little. My tolerance for booze was coming back pretty quick. I was drinking a bottle every two days. When you go through bottles like this, access to booze is pretty important to you. My worst fear was to get caught on a Sunday with no booze. I was starting to measure how much I was drinking in glugs. As in tipping the bottle of vodka upside down and drinking. 'Glug, Glug, Glug' would be 3 glugs. A whole bottle might have 12 or 15 glugs to it. With a smile on my face and feeling the booze rise to my head, I would mentally pat myself on the back for being so funny. Then I would black out and come to at the sound of the alarm going off. Time for work again.

After a couple of weeks I had a resurgence of the desire to get sober. I got in touch with Katie and told her that I was going to try to stay sober. She agreed to let me stay home if I would stay sober. Thanksgiving and Christmas that year were really tough. Mixed in with the sadness that my father in law was gone was the guilt that I stole from him. While Katie's family seemed to come together through this, I felt like an outsider. The wrist I had surgery on a year before started hurting again and I was headed towards another surgery. I saw the doctor and got pain pills before I had the surgery. I was abusing them before too long. For one of Katie's brothers' birthday that year, we went to dinner at his favorite restaurant. Both her brothers and their families were there as well as my mother in law and Katie and I. I had lied to Katie about having took some pills and was nodding off from the opiates. There were my young nieces and nephews staring at me as I quite literally put my head into my plate. Katie would kick me or elbow me and I'd slowly raise my head, wiping the drool and food off of my face. At that age they couldn't have known exactly what was going on, but they knew something was up.

There are people in recovery who will say that they are only an addict or only an alcoholic. While I readily admit that I am both, it was really easy to believe 'at least I'm not drinking' when I was getting high on prescribed medicine. After all, hadn't the doctor prescribed them for me. And I'd had surgery, right? That's one thing about recovery that kind of makes me laugh. It's like some type of a sick reverse caste system. The joke goes: The people who inject cocaine and heroin (H) look down on people who smoke coke and H. The smokers look down on the sniffers. The sniffers look down on the alcoholics and EVERYBODY looks down on paint huffers.

In my mind I could justify using these pills. I had told Katie that I wouldn't drink, and so as long as I didn't drink I was keeping my word.

One day I got my hands on a couple of sleeping pills. I took one, blacked out and came to a day later. Katie was afraid when I wouldn't really talk and just stared, zombie like. She took me to the emergency room. I don't really remember going there, but they said I was fine and if there were any problems to come back. My stomach started hurting pretty badly a day or two later and I was unable to go to the bathroom. (I wasn't aware of it, but this is a fairly common problem among opiate users) We went back to the emergency room. They took me back and were starting an IV, but the unfortunate nurse couldn't get one going on me. I wasn't helpful. I was shouting at him each time he drove the needle in, missing the vein. Eventually I told him that I would suffer rather than wait for him to hit a vein on me. I got up and left. A few days later Katie was out with her friends. I had taken quite a few pills and was nodding off. I was having a hard time breathing and I panicked. I called the ambulance to come get me. What it comes down to is that I was playing a game with life or death consequences. There was no glamour in what I was doing. I was acting like I wanted to die, but every time I got close to that I had an overwhelming desire to stay alive.

I started going to meetings regularly after months of not going at all, or only going sporadically. I was about 30 days sober when I started seeing a psychologist thinking it couldn't hurt. She referred me to a psychiatrist. She met me once and said that I may be suffering from ADHD as well as being bipolar. I disagreed with her wholeheartedly on both counts, but didn't speak up. She prescribed me some medicine for the ADHD. I knew from what I'd heard in meetings and from my own experience that I should stay away from the stuff. I didn't, though. I filled the prescription. I took a couple of pills. Then I took a couple more. We went to see a scary movie and my heart was beating like crazy from the legal speed I was on. Later that night I was back in the emergency room. I told the doctors what I had taken, but not how much.

Katie was nearing the end of her rope with me. We started talking about splitting up for good. I kept going to meetings and picked up a 60 day chip, despite abusing the medicine. I was invited to go to a 12 step mens' conference in Las Vegas with my friend JM, his sponsor, and another guy. I decided to go. It was scheduled for March 29th-April 1st, 2007. My life was about to change in ways I never imagined.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hope Lost (Requiem 18)

One of the biggest things that recovery has to offer to the alcoholic is hope. Hope that one day life won't be like it is when we got here. In meetings, we are told to share our 'experience, strength, and hope' when we speak to newcomers. Without hope that things will get better, why would we come back? Every time I went back to drinking, I lost a little more hope that one day I would learn to stay sober. When I left the recovery house, I made a decision that I was not going to try to get sober any more. I was sick of failing. Then things got serious with Katie and I decided that I would keep trying not to drink. After my father in law died and I stole his pills, I felt awful. Finding out I couldn't have kids so soon afterwards was a knockout punch of sorts. I didn't make a decision that I wouldn't try to stay sober like before, but I had lost hope that things would get better and gave into that self pity. I gave up trying at that point. I had been sober for about 2 months when our trip to Washington D.C. came around. Not because I wanted to stay sober as much as because I didn't want to cause any more disruption to an already chaotic and painful first year of marriage.

A lot of my family is from Minnesota, so for the first 25 years of my life I was a Vikings fan. One of the unspoken stipulations to my joining my wife's family was that I support the Washington Redskins. I hadn't followed football for years by this point, so it was an easy transition. This trip was, in part, to prove my allegiance to the right team. The season opener that year was the Vikings versus the Redskins. We managed to get some great seats in the first 10 rows or so at about the 40 yard line. To the non football fans, we were close to the action in the middle of the rectangle shaped field. After the first quarter I starting really wanting a drink. My brothers-in-law both knew that I was an alcoholic, so if I was going to have a drink, I was going to have to sneak away to buy a beer and chug it. All without raising suspicions. Throughout the game I kept disappearing to 'go to the bathroom'. At one point, I grabbed my camera and asked the guy across the aisle from me to take a picture of us. So here we are:

My brothers behind me enjoying the game, I pretending like I was enjoying the game more than I was. The truth is that I was focused on getting the maximum number of drinks in me while raising the minimum level of suspicion. On the bus ride back to our car, a guy had a bottle of whiskey and was filling up the cups of anyone who wanted a drink. I found a used cup and had him fill it up. I chugged the drink without regard to where the cup may have been. The next day we were due to fly back. I had booked my flight later than my brothers in law, so I was on a different flight. When we got to the airport we separated. And then it was on. I had 3 hours to kill, so I parked myself at the bar in the sports bar and set about killing that time. By the time I got off the plane that night, my wife could see that I was drunk from 20 yards away in the airport. She was furious with me. I tried to play it off and act as though I had nothing wrong, but she wasn't buying it. She had been watching me for a year and knew there was no reason to justify me drinking.

Now that she knew I was drinking, I figured there was no reason to try to hide it. For the next few days I drank openly around Katie. She was absolutely unhappy about it, but was as powerless as me to stop it. After a few days of drinking, I knew I was getting worse and fast.

* * *

People say that alcoholism is a progressive disease. What they mean is that over any substantial period of time, it will always get worse. Even though I had only been drinking for a few days, I was quickly in as bad of shape as I'd been in right before going to detox before we were married. The first night I had 2 or 3 glasses of beer and half a glass of whiskey. The next day I had drink after drink in the bar. Within 3 or 4 days, I was buying a bottle of vodka and drinking it in 2 or 3 days. So within a week I would go from sober to drinking all night or until I blacked out. It would only be a matter of time before I lost my job and started drinking during the day.

I didn't drink as much as some people. I had friends who could power down 2 fifths of Jack Daniels a day. That doesn't change the fact that I could completely lose myself to chasing the drink within a week of drinking. And once I had been sober for a little while, I couldn't lie to myself any more. I knew that it could only go downhill from there. In a moment of clarity, I decided that I needed to go somewhere to be away from the booze. I needed to get the heat off of me long enough to figure out what I was going to do next. That was how I ended up going to detox at the same facility I had been to four previous times. This time there would be no rock stars. This was going to be my last shot at any type of a detox or a rehab. I was only at my new job for a couple of months. I think the only reason I wasn't let go then and there was that my brother in law was a part owner.

When I was in the hospital, I spent about two weeks with them putting me on large doses of some of the same types of pills I had been on before. After two weeks they let me out. I went back to work and started getting violently sick. I had to have my brother in law take me to an emergency room one day. I went back to the detox ward for another couple weeks for them to adjust the doses on my medication. I got out about a week before our first wedding anniversary. I had put on about 35 pounds in the 4 weeks due to the meds they had me on. I started drinking again right away. I had learned nothing in the 3 or 4 weeks in the hospital. Katie demanded that I stay sober through our anniversary, so I spent that day sober. The next day, though, I came home drunk. Katie was done with me. She'd had enough. She threw me out. I packed up a bag of stuff and headed off to live with my mother and grandmother.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Real Men Don't Feel Sorry For Themselves (Requiem 17)

Around the time when my father in law was losing his battle with cancer, I was getting a lot of pressure from Katie and my mom to get a certain test done. I had been holding this test off for years because deep down I knew the answer. It was the uncertainty of my knowledge that kept me from giving me up at times and falling completely into self pity. As long as there was the slightest doubt in my mind, I could keep trudging through life with a certain innocence. Mothers being mothers and wives being wives, though, they convinced me to go have this test done. So after I had the test done and found out that I couldn't have kids, I was furious with Katie, with my mother and with God.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was diagnosed as a stage 5. That is the highest level and it is nearly always fatal. I was optimistically given a 1 in 5 chance to survive. At the time, the priority was on keeping me alive. The doctor pulled my mother aside and told her of the side effects. He said that if I were to survive, I would be smaller than average, I would most likely have diminished kidney function that may require dialysis or a transplant in the future, and due to the chemotherapy I probably wouldn't be able to have children. All that mattered to my mother was that I stay alive. She didn't care if I would only have part of one kidney remaining or that I might not be able to have children. She just wanted me alive.

When I pulled through the cancer and then surprised everyone by functioning normally, everybody was quick to tell me how lucky I was. My whole life I'd had people tell me that I was lucky to be alive. Perhaps. All I saw, though, was that I was smaller than everyone else. I have no real memory of surviving the cancer and the treatment, so it was hard to be grateful. When I found out that I couldn't have kids, it made things worse. That day I hated God for the first time since I had come to believe in him. When some privileged father of four children who never had to go through cancer and it's effects or had to deal with alcoholism told me how lucky I WAS, I wanted to go through the roof. In fairness, they were trying to be kind and helpful. To me, though, that type of ignorant patronizing was unforgivable. And it was worse to hear from people that 'You can adopt. DNA doesn't make you a father'. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. Katie wanted to have children. Even if it meant going to a sperm bank. To me, that was the epitome of not being understood. I was dying inside and here was my wife saying to me: my desire to bear children is so strong that I don't care if I bear somebody else's children.

A huge part of my pain in all of this was my ego. Real men get their wives pregnant. Real men do not have to have their wives go buy sperm to have kids. I could even have dealt with adoption, but that's not what Katie wanted. If I was to keep from living in self pity, I was going to have to redefine what a real man was to me. It would be nice to say that I went off into the woods and came back a man with an understanding of what a real man was. It would be more truthful to say that I stayed angry at God and Katie and my mother. I wallowed in self pity for months as my understanding slowly changed. I may never know what a real man is, but I know some things that a real man does or does not do: A real man accepts his limitations, however painful they may be. A real man does what's right for his family, even if it causes him pain. A real man makes mistakes, but learns from them; and a real man doesn't feel sorry for himself.

While I was slowly coming to an understanding of how the test results would affect my life, I managed to stay sober for a few weeks. One long 4th of July weekend I stayed home while Katie visited her sister in Sacramento. She was barely out the door when I left to go buy beer. I got home and was pretty drunk when I thought it would be a good idea to play some poker and blackjack online. I lost quite a bit of money and started drinking more and more. The rest of that day is pretty much a blur, but I remember the hangover well. It lasted the better part of 2 days. When Katie got back she was understandably upset. I set about getting sober again and went back to meetings. About two weeks later I interviewed at her brother's company. I'd been at the same job since the first time I sobered up, but was looking for a change. They gave me the job and I gave notice at my company.

At the end of July, 2006 I started working with Katie's brother. Football season was coming up soon, and we were looking forward to Redskins games. We bought tickets to see them play in a Monday night game to open the season. The game was scheduled for September 11th, 2006. 5 years after the towers came down. Security was heightened as we got on a plane the morning of Saturday the 9th. Just Katie's two brothers and me out to catch a little game of football....

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Two Thieves In The Night (Requiem 16)

One of the biggest dangers in trying to stay sober is not being honest with yourself. My sponsor tells me 'You can lie to other people, you can even lie to me, but DON'T lie to yourself'. There is a tendency to sugarcoat the truth. I'm not 'drinking', I'm 'relaxing'. I'm not 'lying', I'm just 'leaving things out'. At the same time, there is this idea that our pasts go from our biggest liability to our biggest asset. For example, I went in and out of rehab facilities for years. I felt ashamed and embarassed about this. When I finally sobered up, though, I turned into an example for others in the same boat: "I, too, went in and out of hospitals for years. I managed to get through it, and I'm sober now." I am uniquely qualified to help certain people that others might not be able to simply because of what I've done and been through.

In the vein of being honest with myself and my past can become my biggest asset, I have to look honestly at the things I did and my motive for doing them. It would be easy to say that I did what I did because I was in pain and wanted to get out of feeling that pain. If I said that, though, it would be dishonest and I wouldn't be taking responsibility for my actions. The fact is that no matter what was going on around me at the time, I saw an opportunity and took advantage of that fact.

While we were on our cruise, my father in law had some tests done to find out about some persistant back pain. The results came back and they pointed towards cancer. (A few days after we got back, he got a call confirming that he had cancer. A few minutes later he got a call telling him they had made a mistake. I'm not sure if it was a lab mix up or if someone misread the results, but they told him they had made a mistake and that he did not have cancer. A few days later they called him back a third time and said that once again they had made a mistake and he indeed had cancer. Whatever happened in that doctors office, it seems cruel to put a man through that series of ups and downs) Everyone in the family was really upset, but they tried to stay optimistic. Me more than any of them because I had been through cancer and lived to tell about it. They worked out a treatment plan of weekly radiation with periodic chemotherapy treatments. They put him on some vitamins and medications to help his body offset the effects of the cancer and it's treatment. During the next month and especially after his first dose of chemo, he grew progressively weaker and weaker. With the stuff they had him on, he was more emotional than Katie or I had ever seen him. It was really hard to watch. Still, though, I maintained my stubborn optimism. It was as though I couldn't even consider that he might not get better. Katie was worried sick, so I wanted to show her that she didn't need to be afraid.

Around the middle of April, he was so weak they decided to put him in the hospital to build his strength back up. One day I was over at my in laws' house and saw his bottles of medicine sitting there. Without thinking, I popped open a couple of the bottles of pain pills and took a few. My father in law was in the hospital and wasn't using THESE pills, I reasoned. We visited her father in the hospital about that time. He was obviously feeling the effects of what was going on with his body, but he maintained his sense of humor. Even though he was running a pretty high fever one day, he still managed to smile at Katie and say 'It's hot'. This was an inside joke between them. A few days later I went back for more pills. Then one day at work, Katie got a call from her mom saying they had moved her dad to ICU. We left work that day and went to the hospital. They had sedated her dad and had inserted a breathing tube. It was a tough thing to see. While we were visiting him, one of Katie's cousins who was a nurse showed up. She said that she thought it was the end, so we should call up Katie's siblings to come home. I made the call to Katie's sister. I was a mess and could barely speak. I told her she needed to come home and quick. She flew in a few hours later. Since I had first started taking them, I was high on Katie's dad's pills pretty much all the time. That day was no exception.

Katie stayed at the hospital with her mom and sister until pretty late. She got back and we prepared to go to bed. We got a call saying it was the end, so come back. We got to the hospital and spent the next two hours at his bedside. When the end came, there were doctors all over. Doctors doing CPR, doctors doing emergency dialysis, doctors watching. They had pulled a curtain, but Katie's mom and I were at one end looking in on all of this going on. When they called the time of death, it was surreal. I kept thinking 'what just happened?'. Then one by one, the doctors went away until there was just family. Katie had a panic attack for a moment, but the rest of us were mainly just silent. We were just waiting for someone to come claim the body. In the midst of this, it occurred to me that he wasn't going to need those pain pills now. So I left before everyone else, went back to his house, and stole most of the pills he had remaining. That was April 26th, 2006. One year to the day from when I checked into Journey.

* * *

A week or two after the funeral, Katie and I were at her mom's house. Katie was talking to her mom and I was reading a newspaper. Katie's mom says to Katie 'Somebody stole all your dad's pills. I think it was your brothers' friend ******'. I tried to remain calm. I had only a day or two before told Katie that I had taken the pills.

When I am in active addiction, I will do and say things that I never would do or say while sober. I had stolen medicine from a dying man. My wife's father. Neither was this the first time I had stolen pills from a dying relative. I looked at the person my mother in law was accusing. This was a person that I hadn't met. I only knew this person as someone that had a history with Katie and was a friend of her brother. I had the chance to let him take the blame. But Katie would have known, and more importantly I would have known. And for all of my failings, I couldn't let that happen.

I waited a few days and then went and talked to Katie's mom. She listened to me, asked a few questions, and then thanked me for telling her. I wished she would yell at me or throw things. That would have been easier than the kindness she treated me with. It is one of the low spots of my life. That day, I went emotionally and spiritually bankrupt.