Last night I was drowning in resentment. The timing was strange, or fortunate, I’m not sure which, since last night was the three-year anniversary of the Celebrate Recovery group I attend. Everything was great – the music, the food, and I couldn’t stop the tears as I listened to one person after another share their stories. If you’ve ever wanted to know what the whole 12-step thing is about, this would have been a good introduction. You won’t find it in a book or a video, or in one person’s experience, but in a room full of people who are all over the map. There’s 24-years-sober-guy, the girl who just lost her kids after a DUI, the guy who went back to the bottle after 25 years when his wife died of cancer. And what we all share is humility. We’ve come to the end of ourselves and asked for help in our brokenness. It’s beautiful.
And thank God everyone doesn’t have it all figured out. I can handle the success stories because they’re bookended by guys I know, guys I’ve cried with, who are still fighting through it. They hurt every day, and rely on God, friends and groups to survive. Every night they remember the Big Book’s advice to search for “selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear,” [p84] and immediately ask God to remove them. (How did “fear” get into this list? That’s a question for another post.)
One day at a time, one word at a time. Resentment. It haunts me and poisons me, it permeates my speech, my thoughts, my sleep. How many times have I sung about bringing my stuff to the “foot of the cross?” How many times have I done it?
Linsey, these are my resentments towards you today. Can I pour them out without prefacing each with my own apologies, my own failures? If I write them here, can I begin to heal? At next year’s celebration, will I be able to put my arms around you when others share about their healed marriages?
I resent the way you drift off to sleep after you’ve hurt me or we’ve argued. Since I am not a survivor of abuse, I do not know how to turn off my feelings of betrayal, anger, sadness, arousal, and most often loneliness. These feelings intensify and fill the darkness like the sound of your snoring. And then I am struck by that odd sense of indignity when someone doesn’t confront you or even avoid you, but rather simply ignores you. I hear: You’re not even worth the time it would take to argue. I resent the way you responded when I gave you the flyer for a “sexual abuse survivor group.” That night seems like so long ago, when we attended our first Celebrate Recovery. I was broken and hurting, and nervous sick to walk into a church full of addicts, and yet was feeling some hope for our marriage. We had finally put the basic pieces together: I’m an addict and you’re a survivor, and we were going to do this together! Last night, Gerri shared about her first night at CR. She had come to see exactly what it was her fiance (my cousin Jack) did on Friday nights. She decided on that first night that she would be a part of this, every Friday, with Jack at her side. I waited four years for you to come with me. I hear: I’ll get better when I feel like it, but don’t you dare screw up again.
I resent what you said Thursday night after we made love. You had asked me earlier why I had been burying myself in hobbies, why I’d been unavailable. Because you’re dangerous, I said. Opening up my daily life to you costs me, and sometimes I can’t pay. I’m emotionally broke. Trust me, you said. Then, like normal people, we ate and talked, watched TV and went to bed. It wasn’t perfect or awful, just good. (“She didn't make me miserable, or anxious, or ill at ease. You know, it sounds boring, but it wasn't. It wasn't spectacular either. It was just good. But really good.” –Rob, High Fidelty) And when we finished, I let down my guard and felt joy. Those fucking orgasm hormones, they make me love you so deeply, and life turns OK – everything turns OK. And when I told you how I felt, you rolled away and said you wished it didn’t mean so much to me. You wished you didn’t have that much power over my feelings, that much responsibility.
You know, when I got married, the James Dobsons of the world had me convinced that if I just WAITED until I got married, we’d both feel that good. I gave up on that pretty fast. Then I read some other Christian book on marriage, and it said that it’s OK when the woman just finds joy in giving. She doesn’t need or even want "her turn" every time. So I learned, I accepted, that you won’t enjoy sex like I will, and we agreed to find meaning and legitimacy in the nights when I needed you like oxygen, and you let me breathe. But Thursday night, even that was too much. I heard: I can’t tolerate you feeling that happy.
I resent that your recovery is so different from mine. At CR last night, I heard all these women get up and share that they were in recovery for COSA (Codependents of Sex Addicts?), which more often than not means that they are abuse survivors. (I'll never forget when a counselor at Kaiser rehab said, "and we all know that the codependents are worse than us 'cause they do their shit sober.") Some took chips “for various lengths of recovery” which is an interesting variation on the AA phrase “for various lengths of sobriety.” What does it mean when a COSA person takes a 90-day chip? That she didn’t clam up and make her husband feel like a rapist for the last three months? And that’s what pisses me off. I have an addiction – “cunning, baffling, powerful.” [p58] I’ve spent years of my life getting up before sunrise to go to morning meetings of AA, SAA, NA, CR, rehab. I try, read and read and read, fight, surrender, write. There’s this line of people stretching back into the past that I’ve sat down with, one by one, and told that I’m helpless and sick, that I use drugs, look at pornography, steal things. I beg and beg, weeping on my knees in front of God, for release from the constant, maddening drive towards the substances that will put out the fires in my mind and body. They haunt me every single day. And I can do this without fail, for days and weeks and months, then blow it all in a moment of weakness when a handful of pills seems like a more responsible release than suicide, and I have to fucking start all the way back at zero. And tell everybody who loves me that I’m a failure. Again.
And maybe this is more of what was going on last night than I know. Because a couple of weeks ago, I compulsively swallowed a handful of medicine that I knew contained my “drug-of-choice”, and I told Heidi in our counseling session, like I promised I would. And that was it. It’s out. I didn’t hide it like so many times before, the times when I rationalized that I hadn’t gone to the store to buy (or steal) the real stuff, I hadn’t laundered money for some porn site, I hadn’t called that girl from the emotional affair. The last time I relapsed, I did the real thing (except contact that girl) and I laid in bed next to you multiple nights, high for hours, looking at porn on my phone. Yeah I know, it hurts to say it out loud. This time, if it even was a relapse, I took some pills that made me sleepy.
Since I began recovery two markers have gradually moved up a scale which charts my progress. At the bottom of this scale is my addict, at the top is the perfect creation God intended. One marker represents my behavior. It has moved up! I am getting better, I am accepting the strength of my higher power. But higher up the scale is a marker for my standards, my definition of sobriety. It continues to be a few steps beyond my behavior. I had months and months of sobriety in those earlier years that didn’t contain a week of sobriety by the standards I hold today. Through much work and agonizing, I’ve gradually expanded my “inner circle” of behaviors that I choose to abstain from. I’ve come to see that many things that seemed harmless, or maybe just wasteful, have repeatedly led me back to “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” [p30] (In other areas, I’ve relaxed, and grown to accept imperfections and weaknesses.) Today, I choose honesty, disclosure, vulnerability. As an addict, I cannot wait until the world falls apart to declare a new sobriety date. I took a step, a small step, back into substance abuse, and even though I didn’t give into other addictive behaviors, I must start over. I’ll write it in my Big Book, below the other crossed out dates, like my first sponsor told me. September 15, 2008.
Day 38 So Teitur has this song called Let’s Go Dancing. I figure he probably sat in a restaurant with his (troubled) lover and then came home and wrote it.
Our minds run in circles Racing 'round the restaurant Searching for what more to say To say what we really want
I wish I wrote more songs like this one. Some time back, I stopped writing songs to deal with life. What the life of an artist is supposed to look like: the incredible pressure of chaos and pain and beauty creating diamond-like paintings/poems/songs, like that process underground. What the life of this artist looks like: diffused angry frustration simmering under a smothering blanket of sedatives, overeating, antidepressants and fatigue. Just get me to sleep so I can survive until tomorrow. For years, crafting my pain into a redemptive “thing of beauty” has looked unappealing and phony, not to mention difficult. Dumping my problems into a password-protected journal is easy. I sat in that restaurant once. I came home and wrote this:
Then we went out to eat last night and she was bitchy the whole time. I’m sick of it. All I ever do is apologize for anything I ever do wrong, and try to console her when she’s unhappy, which is most of the time. March 8, 2004
Let's leave it like it is And stop staring at these walls Let's not go headlong to that distance Where you can't come back at all
Have we already gone there? Is it too late to come back? Those walls. God knows we’ve lived there so long it feels like home. Even though I lived my journals, it still surprises me to read them.
She’s so fucking psycho sometimes. I feel like I can’t live with her anymore. All the time, I just want to get out. The happiest parts of my day are when she’s not around. Sex is pretty much always better without her. What does that mean? Making love to my wife is some kind of duty, or the thing I do when I’m being good. In general, she’s probably just kind of a lousy lover, but I guess you can learn. October 20, 2005
She’s really not a lousy lover. I guess it’s not too big of a surprise that sex is better by yourself when you’re pissed off all the time. Talk about anger being a barrier to intimacy.
Lets go dancing Waltz around the rumor mill In your faded dress with the daffodils Let's go dancing Let time stand still
Sometimes I take off my seatbelt when I feel like I did tonight, driving home from our marriage counseling session. I don’t think they have a name for that feeling. It’s anger and restlessness, entitlement, a drive towards destruction and “risk-taking behavior.” I played this song on the way home. I cried, a lot. I want that – to turn everything down and just dance for a while, to the music in our heads. To let time stand still for me and her, without the noise of our past or the anxiety of our future.
Once your name was but a whisper A simple wish upon my tongue And staring at your shadow Is like staring at the sun
Eventually I was sobbing. And I put back on my seatbelt, because I have something worth living for. Linsey, you are unspeakably beautiful. And the places in you that are darkest are simply those that cannot accept this beauty, cannot bear to own it and share it with me. It is my hope that you can forgive me for what I’ve quoted here from my old journals, and here’s why: I don’t think it’s possible to get a sense of how much I love you without knowing where I’ve been. Yes, I wrote those things. Yes, there are pages of that vitriol. I drowned in rage for years, and I threw every dysfunctional coping mechanism at it that I possible could. I tried to numb my passion for you, I pointed it at other women, I fought it off like some kind of animal. And I could never make it go away.
And in this dark, dark hour You still illuminate a room Oh God give us the power Got to keep ourselves in tune
Could Heidi (our counselor) be right? Instead of being a couple about to fall apart, are we a a loving couple in the middle of a dark hour? Can my journals from 2008 be about when we got better?
Lets go dancing Waltz around the rumor mill In your faded dress with the daffodils Let's go dancing Let time stand sill
I wish I only had to introduce you to ME: dad, husband, songwriter, pastor. That’s the guy I see in the mirror. I love my kids, I’m good at fixing things, I love to read or chase my dogs around the house. But I lose track of myself sometimes when I’m hurting. That’s when my addict comes around, the bastard who would throw it all away for a moment alone with his drugs and his porn. He cuts me with a razor and he steals things just for the rush. He’s even tried to kill me. But there’s a huge difference between us, and I’ll tell you what it is: He’s a coward. And I’m not. I won’t let him have my kids, my beautiful wife, my job or my home. And since he hates exposure, I’m going to tell you all about him. I’m Eli, and I’m an addict.