Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ninety Days

It's late and I'm tired. But I'm going to try something that I've not really tried before: Structure.

Since it "works if you work it" and I used again yesterday, I think it's time to work it.

To the four or five people who read this blog and know me personally, I haven't told everyone yet that I'm starting over, again. Tonight I told my Friday night group and my sponsor. And now I'm telling you. That's all I can handle for today.

So without fanfare or drama or swearing or crying, this is my plan, based on the suggestions of those wiser than me:

Ninety meetings in ninety days.
A phone call a day, to my sponsor or another friend in recovery.
Continued service in my Tuesday and Friday meetings.
Daily quiet time that includes each of these things: reading from my recovery bible, reading from recovery literature, written step-work, prayer, and my daily inventory.

These are the things I am going to do whether I feel like it or not. (What a concept!) I must do them because I can't stay sober without them, and if I don't learn to stay sober, I am going to lose my family and my job. I am going to lose Linsey, and I adore Linsey. She is the joy of my life.

Of course, there are many other pieces that I need to fit into my life. It helps me to be here in blogland most days, either posting or reading your blogs. I am overwhelmed at your kind and helpful comments and your encouragement. So I'd like to try to post most days for the next few months. (To do this, I probably need to post slightly shorter, less cerebral posts.) I want to spend more time with my kids. I need to eat better and get off the couch more. These are all important, but not as important as the non-negotiables listed above.

I'm not just an addict. I know there's something here worth saving.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unreachable Pie

I'm in that familiar post-relapse conundrum. A poisonous emotional mixture that's usually buried is now very accessible. I know for a fact that these emotions were already bubbling up; my inability to handle them contributed to my relapse in the first place. And once I start using, everything I've been suppressing comes spilling out in an orgy of self-pity and resentment. So it is with the alcoholic. The Big Book nails it on this point.

When I'm healthy and sober, I sometimes find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I'm angry about. That is not my problem this week.

On the other hand, I'm pretty much in the doghouse, for lack of a better phrase. I screwed up. Right now seems like the absolute least appropriate time to bring up the things in my marriage that I'm mad about. I mean, what kind of a jackass complains about his sex life after relapsing for the umpteenth time?

I broke the trust of someone who has some pretty serious trust issues to begin with: an incest-survivor. For Linsey, the “survivor” part meant becoming a full-fledged adult somewhere around the age of eleven, and building walls that are tall and strong and impenetrable enough that no one would hurt her again, ever. As I've said before, look at us: The untrusting and the untrust-worthy. What a pair.

And yet, here we are. And once she says “I miss you and I want you again,” we get back to work. “Work” is the right word. I used to think about how awesome it would be to go to sex therapy, and come home with sex assignments. That's the kind of homework that you can look forward to, right? Not so much. Turns out it's mind-games, tedious conversations, passionless high-effort encounters, and triggers upon triggers, like walking through a mine-field. And once in a while, if the stars align just so, when we least expect to find nirvana, we stumble into a tenderness that is mutual and full of warmth and excitement. Just often enough to remind us that it's possible, that we're not chasing after a mirage. Just often enough to whet my appetite for more, and to make me realize how truly hungry I am for her.

Restaurants sometimes display your dessert choices using artificial models of apple pie a-la-mode and Boston cream pie behind a glass counter. They know how it works: You might be planning on saving that extra money or avoiding a few calories, but a convincing enough vision of a decadent hot fudge cake just might change your mind. Of course, when you order, you're not served a foam rubber, plastic and spray-paint concoction, but the real thing. At this point, only an actual dessert would satisfy your appetite.

I am married to a woman who is beautiful and charming. She makes me laugh like no one else. I am also married to an incest survivor. I'm tired of staring through the glass at my dessert.

[Photo by DigiDi under C.C.License]
This post also at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One More Do-Over

Been sailing some choppy seas of late. Despite my failure to post here, I've stayed well connected in my recovery circles. I've had to – the beast came back.

I'm not looking for pity or shame. You poured out compassion and good advice when I slipped last month. I can't tell you how much I appreciated your words. I guess I just wasn't really ready to listen. Even though I stopped using, I spiraled down further, into depression and self-destruction. Then I used for a week. Then I asked for help and stopped it again.

I scared people who care about me. Their focus shifted from “How can we keep Eli from using?” to “How can we keep Eli alive?” At this moment, I don't have a clear picture of what the hell happened. From where I stand, it's a blur of DXM and lies, razor blades and adrenaline, porn and cigarettes. But no tears or screaming. Just a muted and futile and desperate attempt to run far away from home, only to end up right back in my living room, dizzy and afraid.

I'm alive and breathing, and I'm facing the right direction. I've spoken to the people who know me best and I'm listening to their counsel. I'm taking it one day at a time, and trying to rebuild from where I left off. I have a few basics that I'm holding on to. One of these is that I'm not going to kill myself. I'm just not. My dad asked me to stave off any self-destructive thoughts by picturing my own funeral, and my kids crying. That seems to be working for now.

As far as my addictions, I'm spending my time working my program and enjoying the good things that are in my life. (Mainly my chihuahua.) I have this complicated mess of marital problems, psychiatric loose ends, and addictive coping mechanisms – and I'm trying not to think too hard about any of it. Today, I see it basically like this: My marriage has improved, but like any journey of the human heart, there are wounds that run deeper than I can bear. These are my triggers. I have a right to call it like it is: we've got a long ways to go. At the same time, I must develop the tools and resources necessary to respond to these triggers without self-medicating. That's my job, my side of the street.

Today my wife and I kissed again. We aired our feelings, gave them the space they needed, and owned up to our shit. And I know that my story, especially this month's events, makes a mess of the lines we are supposed to draw in the addict-codependent relationship. I've read your posts. I've read of those who are staying, those who are leaving, those who are in agony as they try to find the right path. All I can relay is where my road has taken me. My Linsey is here, and I am here, and today we chose again to walk in the same direction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Drugs - The Good Kind

This is not what I thought it would feel like to be 35, I told Linsey. She asked what I meant: Did I think I'd be the Composer in Residence for some college orchestra? More successful, career-wise? A better dad?

Not really more of anything, actually. The only way I knew to say it was, I thought I would be less lost.

The weeks after a relapse, even a quickly aborted one, are inevitably brutal. I've screwed up my brain chemistry: things that should feel good feel bland, things that should feel bad feel excruciatingly painful. Food for thought next time I get a “bright idea.”

But this one goes deeper. In this chapter of my life I find myself haunted by some of my more tenacious demons. Sometimes my sobriety feels like a game of Jenga. I think all of the pieces are there, that my stability is secure, and by a mistake of omission I pull a cornerstone. Each time the tower falls, I relearn the importance of vigilance.

I can learn much during this post-relapse period, as I tear away the band-aids that my addiction has plastered over my wounds. When I manage these hurts in healthy ways, I am prone to forget they are there. (I guess that's called healing.) But when I wake up from my addiction, there's a unique opportunity to look at whatever I was running from. What void was I filling with all the wrong things?

So I'm realizing that I've been a little sloppy in treating my depression. First, the usual caveats: depression is not an excuse for my relapse. And I'm not suggesting psychiatric treatment as a substitute for a rigorous 12-step program - depression and addiction are not the same thing. But, in my life at least, they feed into each other, in a wickedly symbiotic manner that leaves me no option but to face them both down, unflinchingly and relentlessly.

A week after I used, I left one of my regular meetings feeling supported and encouraged. I don't know what happened on the way home that night, but the bottom dropped out of my world. I took off my seat belt and took my van past 110 mph, praying to be killed in an accident. I'm either too chicken-shit or too grounded to ever follow through, so I talked myself down from the ledge and went home and called someone. I'm proud that I picked up the phone that night. People came over, we talked, I felt loved. After they left I carved myself up with a razor blade. I've been doing this for years and I never talk about it, because to talk about it seems self-important, like a “cry for help.” The silence has not served me well, so I'm ending it.

Obviously there are pieces of my relapse in that night, shards of guilt and shame and self-loathing that are achingly familiar. There is also a kind of narcissism in any self-destructive act. But I know that there is also a component of under-treated major depressive disorder-recurrent that I cannot afford to minimize. I know this for a fact. I know it because I've been on and off medication for all of my adult life, and I know what the “brain chemistry” part of depression feels like. I know what if feels like to be properly medicated, and this isn't it.

Towards the end of my college years, I gave a composition recital. I also tried to kill myself. My acceptance at that point of the inescapable roll of prescribed psychotropic medications in my life was tinged with sadness. I feared that if I medicated the blackest parts of my mind, the colors would fade as well. They did not. During this time, I fell in love with a child and lost her, and every shade of compassion and heartbreak I experienced was vivid, sharp, saturated. I composed the most honest and moving pieces of my career, all while under the treatment of a psychiatrist.

I guess the “recurrent” in my depression diagnosis was true. I guess it's time to put in some more work on that front.

[Photo by size8jeans under C.C.License]

This post is also at The Second Road.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Restore Me To Sanity

What is your definition of “sanity”?

Last night's step study ended before we got to this question in our Celebrate Recovery workbooks. I didn't get to share my answer. So here ya go...

Sanity is stopping this relapse before the demon in my head possessed me again. Thank God I'm not in my addiction today.

Sanity is having friends like you, that I've never met, who encourage me and pour out heartfelt empathy and solid advice when I'm at my worst. I appreciated every one of your comments last week.

Sanity is leaving the most uncomfortable counseling appointment I've ever had, and knowing what to do next. I talked about it with people I trust. He's a therapist, but he's also a human. Some of his advice was good, some of it wasn't.

Sanity is looking at my depression and seeing it for what it is. I don't have to decide whether an upswing in my depression contributed to (not excused!) my relapse, or my relapse agitated my depression. There's a false dichotomy in that chicken-and-egg question. I'll keep working with my (wonderful) rehab psychiatrist on the depression, and I'll keep working my program for my addiction. It's all for the same goal.

Lots and lots of stuff in the last week. My head is spinning. I thought it couldn't get much worse, but yesterday the shit hit the fan at work. We're going through some growing pains, and the pastor and I have hit a pretty fundamental disagreement. But again, here's sanity: I have been (mostly) calm and appropriate, and I know that things will be okay. We respect each other. He's the boss, and while I'm here, I'll work within that framework. Heck, give it a couple days to settle, and I'll work with that framework and whistle while I do it. I just know in my heart that it's time to start looking around. There's probably something else on the horizon for me. Again, that's okay. I find good friends and good advice in the program and in my family, and I haven't really felt tempted to use over this.

I'm beginning to know who I am, and what I have to offer. As I face this dissonance at work, I'm discovering new boundaries that I didn't even know were there. I think that's sanity.

[Photo by Mark Grealish under C.C.License]

Monday, August 17, 2009

One Stupid Night

I lost my way.

I used last night. I don't know why. I'm still coming down so I'm not thinking very clearly.

During the darkest hours of the night, I thought about how my brain works. I knew that if I waited for morning, I would try to hide my mistake, and would find myself caught up in the machinery of addiction. I would think that I could stop it all through prayer and willpower and work, sidestepping disclosure. I've been there with embarrassing frequency, in that cycle of swearing off, planning, acting out, then starting over again and again.

So I woke up Linsey at 4:00 and told her what I'd done. I don't want to get caught in a week or a month, wandering the house while the world is sleeping. I need to stop now, I said. I'll reset my sobriety date (I had seven months) and get back to living. And I knew that whatever shame I felt today or tomorrow wouldn't be worse than the nightmare of living in my addictions.

My addictions. I've been a little vague because, frankly, I'm kind of embarrassed. But what the hell, here ya go: I'm addicted to DXM and internet porn. DXM is dextromethorphan, or cough syrup. Yes, over-the-counter cough syrup in “recreational” quantities. The reason I feel stupid is that being addicted to Robitussin is very high-schoolish, and a real sex addict is supposed to be visiting massage parlors, right? I'm such a fucking teenager when it comes to my vices. I throw in abusive doses of a couple other prescriptions as well, and I find nirvana. My rehab psychiatrist once said, “we become chemists.”

I am the luckiest man in the world. I have beautiful, intriguing children. I get to sing and make music for a living. My wife is generous and kind and diligent in her own recovery, and we are finding the way together. I have been reading through your past comments and I am humbled to be here with you. I ask that you forgive my selfishness. I'm getting back to work.

Image credit: nervousgravity @

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Turn Around

We're in an RV park just outside of Yosemite. The kids get into little screamy fights a few times a day because of the close quarters, (James says, "I just need my personal space!") but other than that we're having a great time. I'm still struggling, as I wrote in my last post. I spoke to my wife just a little bit ago, so that she knows what's going on, and I'm hoping if I keep doing the right things I can turn around.

Turn around is exactly the right phrase. The problem isn't as much what I'm doing, as where I'm heading. My gray-area, middle circle activities haven't taken me into to a relapse, but if they continue, they will. Even if I am "good" for a significant period of time, what I notice is that I am still heading the wrong direction. I'm in that cycle of obsession/anticipation/adrenaline/release, and it feels just like it does when I'm full-on in my addiction. This is what's so frightening. I relapsed during our vacation last year, and for months, Linsey said she never wanted to plan a vacation for us again.

So even if my activities don't look significantly different (I haven't really been able to act out in the crowded space of the RV), I am ready to be different inside, on a spiritual level. I'm glad I've been in recovery long enough to know when something is wrong spiritually, even if things aren't falling apart yet on the outside.

Back to recovery for me. Reading, prayer, talking to the right people, and gratitude. I will remember to see what's really happening: My addict tells me that by being honest I'm giving up the ability to get away with a few marginally exciting sketchy activities. What's really happening is I'm choosing to be present and sober on this vacation. Instead of being distracted by plans in the back of my mind for the selfish things I can do when I get home, I want to breathe deeply of the mountain air, and quietly take in all the beauty that defines this amazing and spiritual place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Man in the Mirror

Lately I feel like an addict. It's a sucky feeling.

I find myself dancing on the cliff's edge, where there is neither serenity nor escape. I'm looking for something I can't have. Linsey was right: you can't have an ass-kicking experience every single day of your life that's better than the day before. For example, you only get one virgin viewing of Fight Club. Every time after that you're just re-watching it.

My addict is moving in, rearranging my furniture and hanging posters on my walls. He has the tactical advantage of knowing my weaknesses. He can match my debating skills and my powers of persuasion. His will is as great as mine. He has at his disposal my finely tuned ability to nonchalantly lie, and my tendency to passive-aggressively avoid healthy habits. He's got my charm and wit. Like the addicts we meet in real life, he's not a one-dimensional storybook bad guy, but a complex and confused human being, who will fight and deceive and cajole to get his needs met. He is all these things because he is me.

It's like those childless people who give you parenting advice: “You just take away the pacifier and hide it, and don't give it back no matter how much they cry.” Well shoot-howdy, if only I'd known this sooner! I must admit: I take far too much perverse pleasure in watching know-it-all couples get broken by their first baby. Children don't gradually learn to manipulate and control their parents, they shock you from day one with their infinitely varied bag of tricks. If you're a Star Trek fan, they're like the Borg: your shields only work once or twice before the rotating harmonics of their phasers find a new way to penetrate your defenses. By the time you've become an effective parent to today's child, it's tomorrow.

And so it is with my addict. I feel like I'm playing chess against myself. Or poker. In The Man Who Folded Himself, a time traveler repeatedly visits an ongoing poker game where he plays against multiple copies of himself, from different time lines and points in his life. How can you bluff someone who lives inside your own mind? I guess that's why I can't stay sober by myself. I need my Higher Power and the people in my program. Armed with the combined wisdom and literature of past addicts, we work together to outwit my opponent.

So I turn today to those who walk beside me, and to my God, because I am afraid. When I look in the mirror at the man who would so thoughtlessly murder me, I see a formidable and subtle enemy. He's cunning, baffling, and powerful. He's too much for me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cup O' Crap

Green taco sauce was poured into the glass's clear water, representing envy. Yellow mustard was fear, vinegar was bitterness, beer represented addictions. We'd started with a glass of pure water, a symbol of the way we begin our lives. As the speaker added one contaminant after another, the demonstration resonated with each of us in the audience: We all start with good intentions. But life gets complicated, and poison is everywhere.

At the time, I was full of vinegar. “Resentment is the 'number one' offender,” says the Big Book [p64]. Bitterness, resentment, anger – these consumed me so I drowned them nightly in vodka. What was I so angry and resentful about? Does it matter? Not if I drink, it doesn't. Whether somebody's offense is “fancied or real,” when I respond to it with unbridled resentment, “the insanity of alcohol returns and I drink again. And with me, to drink is to die.” [p66]

The speaker held up the glass, and its sludgy contents, as an example of an irredeemable life. He produced a pitcher of water and poured it into the already-full glass. Condiments and sauces and tainted water flowed over the sides. When we ask God “to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be,” [p68] we gradually begin to replace the filth with purity. And when one pitcher of God's grace is not enough, we find that it is endless. The speaker revealed another pitcher, and another, and poured them in turn into the glass in his hand. As he finished, he drank what had become a glass of clean water.

For as long as I can remember, I have owned other people's problems. My therapist has helped me see the “Little Eli” who slaps himself on the forehead when dad yells – if only I'd behaved better, I could have kept everybody happy. And I understand it, and recognize it, but it's wicked hard to actually change an emotional habit. So over the last few weeks as our church's Office Manager Diane has crossed new lines in her selfish battle to keep our church from being healthy, I have consciously and deliberately repeated to myself that this is not my problem.

“This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.” [p66] I am remembering today that recovery is a spiritual program. I can't disarm my resentments with therapeutic and cognitive work alone. God, fill me with your unending grace. Wash away today's supply of anger and bitterness.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Serenity Tonight

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Diane is driving me mad. I cannot change Diane. Under a sheen of civility, her attitude is increasingly negative and adversarial. I know that on an even deeper level, she is motivated by fear. Fear that she'll look like an incompetent mother when her adult children make poor decisions. Fear of our church changing around her. Fear of the world changing around her. Even though I'm a bridge-builder, a deliberate friend to Diane and her family and her children, I'm still a threat, because I'm the guy who understands computers. I will always be another representative of all that is happening that eats away at her security. I can be kind, inclusive, patient and deferential. I can make jokes that I don't understand it all either. It won't change the fact that Diane is at war with her neighbors, the Beuna Park police, the city council, and the “foreigners” who are filling up her world. I cannot change Diane.

Courage to change the things I can.

God's given me the courage to face my character defects. In a moment of weakness, I typed Elena's name into Facebook and discovered that she does have a profile. I spent 24 hours obsessed with the idea of writing her a quick note. “Your new baby is adorable. Congrats! -Eli.” If you're not an addict, I don't think you can understand the multiple-personality-disorder feeling of hearing the two sides of your brain argue. How could it hurt to write something so light and innocent? How on earth could I even consider opening this door again? And on and on. But this I can change. I immediately talked to a friend in my 12 step study, to my home group, to my wife, to my sponsor. Help me avoid this path. They did, and I have.

And wisdom to know the difference.

I realized Tuesday that I am terrified of approaching six months of sobriety. Terrified of fucking up again and hurting those who love me and have faith in me. My addict was telling me that a relapse was inevitable. My addict was making me feel obsessed with energy drinks to feel slightly buzzy and antihistamines to fall asleep. But instead of crossing the line, and slipping down that slippery slope from pill to pills to PILLS, I asked for help. Again. And the obsession was lifted. Again. And I saw the difference between what I can't change and what I can.

God thank you for serenity, just for tonight.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lilly's Letter

Lilly had a crush on me in high school. She thought I was innocent and wholesome – good father/husband material – which I was. Her friend Linsey also liked me, but promised to stay away for Lilly's sake.

Linsey honored her promise by sticking her tongue down my throat and her hand in my pants. I guess she was excited by the lure of something she couldn't have. She's still like this today. She's most interested in fucking when I give up, stop trying or caring, and decide to become a kindly and celibate monk. Then she's on fire.

A few years later, Lilly was the Maid of Honor in our wedding. Yeah, it was a little strange. She went on to become Linsey's confidant when I would disappear down the rabbit hole of drugs and porn. Knowing that Lilly knows all my shit makes me uncomfortable around her, but I'm happy Linsey has her as a friend.

Lilly sent me an email a couple of days ago, opening up about her own food addiction and her fears of hurting the man she's in love with. Writing her back this afternoon was a good experience for me:

Hi Lilly-

What a sweet and honest letter this is. I'm honored you would share so much with me. All I've really known is that you've struggled with food. There's been times when I screw up and Linsey heads off to see you, and I feel so ashamed, and Linsey just tells me that you understand me better than I think.

As hard as it's been for me at times, I really do support your loyalty to Linsey. God knows she needs somebody she can talk to about me, and you and her friend Claire are pretty much all she has (outside of her support groups.) Your friendship and support have helped her to stick around and work things out, and for that I'm very thankful.

I definitely do understand the way that addiction is there every single day. I get angry sometimes when I hear people share that God has taken away the desires they used to fight. I just sit there and think, "it must be nice..." But then when I'm honest with myself and look at the big picture, I realize God has taken away much of the constant drives that used to plague me all the time. I guess I offer that to give you hope - with enough time and work, I think any addiction does become easier.

As far as how it affects your boyfriend, I don't think the answers are as easy. I can tell you that what I wanted (prayed for, begged for, cried for) was to be healed from all this crap, to be fixed. I wanted to be able to go to my pastor and say, "I used to have this problem..." I wanted to be able to completely remove the pain and discomfort that my issues have brought into my family.

But I think I'm learning it doesn't work that way. I finally figured out that I had to go to my pastor and say, "I have this problem, now, still, ... and I'm working on it, every day." I had to find the strength to tell Linsey, "I have this problem, I will always have this problem, and because I love you, I want to work on it so we can have a marriage."

And I had to ask for her help. Things didn't really get better for me until she was willing to accept that she couldn't bring home a prescription for codeine and keep it in our medicine cabinet. I've sat through so many family support groups and heard spouses that were angry they couldn't keep alcohol in the house anymore. And this is what it comes down to for me: Real recovery isn't saying "I will have enough willpower to walk past the liquor cabinet every day and ignore it." Real recovery IS having the courage to say: "will you help me by moving the liquor somewhere else?"

I guess I'm just trying to share what I've had to learn, over and over and over, the hard way - that the more isolated I am, the more control the addictions have over me. Of course much of my openness is with recovery friends and groups. But it's unavoidable that some of it has to happen with Linsey. You mentioned the times when you fudge the truth with your boyfriend. Boy does that sound familiar. I still struggle with this, and I know that it wouldn't really be productive for Linsey to hear every little thing that I share with my groups, or therapists, or whoever else helps me out. But the key is, I can't protect her from it completely. I wish so much that she didn't have to look at it, to see this ugly shameful part of me. But the only way to kill the beast (or at least keep it out of my yard) is to have a certain amount of transparency with her. And to let her see how helpless I am against all this without the help of God and recovery people.

I am also sad that a distance has grown between us. But I can live with you being angry at me sometimes. I'm angry at me sometimes. I don't know where you are in terms of recovery "stuff" – you know, groups and books and steps. But I can tell you that for me, trying to fight by myself was an exercise in frustration and disappointment. As busy and exhausted as Linsey and I are, I just started back into a weekly step-study group, because I need other people to stay sober. I hope that it makes you happy to know that your letter, and the time I've spent reading and answering it, were just what I needed right now. You helped me today, and I am grateful for that and for your friendship.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fate of Our Fathers

Tonight I cuddled with James on our hammock under a spider-man blanket. On a clear night you can see a few stars from my back yard; tonight there was a cloud cover reflecting the lights of the city. In years past, I spent many nights on that hammock. I was high, smoking cigarettes and imagining the aliens who lived on planets circling the stars above me. A few times I woke up Ashley so she could join me. She thought I was being a good dad, and begged me later to wake her up more often for midnight snuggles.

I've been researching videos for our Father's Day service. I found this one that struck me with its honesty. It begins by recognizing dads who balance work and family – pretty standard fare. What touched me was that it goes on to honor dads who try not to repeat their fathers' mistakes, and dads whose fathers were absent completely. I began to think of the men in my church, and the messes and heartache they struggle to leave behind.

Last weekend I broke one of my rules. I returned a phone call when I was angry. When my coworker answered, I was condescending and sarcastic. I hung up the phone and that feeling came back: I am my dad. My dad, who has tantrums at work, until he's not working there anymore. People only put up with this for so long, then he moves on to another job. This tendency to ruin relationships with fits of ego-centric rage feels like a legacy I can't escape, no matter how much therapy I pay for, or how many 12 step groups I join. It suffocates and terrifies me. It feels like fate.

Tonight Linsey read to James from a journal she kept when he was a baby. Unlike the journal for his older sister Ashley, James' journal is sparse and incomplete, reflecting the brokenness of our lives at that time. We were discovering that while one kid had been fun, two kids were exhausting. I laughed when Linsey read aloud what James said after he hid the spanking-spoon: “daddy no pow-pow me!” I cringed when she read about his preschool teacher, the woman I thought would save me from my miserable marriage.

That was an awful time. We moved to a new house and I was overwhelmed at my new job as a church music director, afraid that I would cave in under the pressure of dealing with people. Like my father had when I was a child. We had left our church back then when he yelled and stormed out of a board meeting. I didn't come back until they hired me twenty years later.

I am still here. I have not been fired or shamed, and I've weathered the conflicts with relative grace, because I am not my father, I am me. There is no fate. Instead there are choices – innumerable choices and opportunities to surrender my future to the grace of God.

After I hung up the phone last weekend, I called my coworker back. I ate humble pie and asked her to forgive me for being a jerk. I think she did. I think we're okay.

Tonight I showed my family the Father's Day video and I cried. Because we are an army of broken men who have imperfect or non-existent examples of what it means to be a father. Because we fight to stand on the shoulders of the men who raised us and we curse our own mistakes. Because the man in the video with the abusive father was not me, but my dad, who escaped a legacy of divorce and abuse to give me a stable home filled with love. He wasn't fated to repeat his dad's mistakes. Neither am I.

Tonight I am thankful for my dad, and for who he is today. I'm thankful that even though he had temper problems, he never abused drugs or alcohol, and he never abused me. I'm thankful that I get to be sober for the rest of my years as a father. And I'm thankful that I could talk about electricity and superheroes with my son while we laid in a back yard hammock.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Charlie Brown's Football

Who's the fool, Charlie Brown or Lucy?

My therapist Heidi wants me to stop kicking myself when Lucy pulls the football away. She says we're making progress. That each of us is working through our “stuff” and that I should go ahead and let myself get aroused. That I should jump in, sink or swim, then journal about what happens.

But how many times do you feel sorry for Charlie Brown before you think, why did he believe her again? Why did he run for that football again, only to fall on his ass when Lucy pulled it away?

You codies have to help me here. I hate being on this end of the equation. I'm more comfortable writing about the times when it's me screwing up. Linsey and I like this arrangement. I'm the sick one. I'm introspective and self-critical. I'm good at apologizing.

Linsey's not good at apologizing. She only has two modes: 1) “It's your fault Eli,” and 2) “I don't feel like talking about it.” Our therapist helps with this, if she can shut me up for long enough.

So things seem okay, even good, and I love my Linsey, and I look at her curves and feel her softness and fall in love with her raspy voice. And I tell her I adore her, and help out with the house, and take Ashley to buy boots and to her horseback riding lesson. And it's noisy and busy and there's a bunch of little boys swimming in my pool for the J-man's seventh birthday party, but it's alright. Because we love each other, and we'll have our time tonight.

We'll have our time tonight. I keep checking. Carefully rationing my excitement. Making sure the lane next to me is clear so I can make a quick escape if things slow down too fast. And my neural computer starts to believe it's solved the equation, that I've finally cataloged all the warning signs.

Those warning signs aren't here this time. None of them. She's happy and reciprocally tender. We talk and narrate. We're therapy veterans who know that you have to say what you're feeling, and kill your paranoia with supportive verbal cues.

So Charlie Brown is thinking it's a good day to kick that football. He straightens up the bedroom and turns down the bed. He brushes his teeth and sets the alarm. But when he locks the door, Lucy becomes quiet and withdrawn because she remembers an argument from earlier in the day. She pulls up the ball. And it's too late, because Charlie Brown's already running.

It wasn't some misunderstanding, or some crazy over-reactive trigger, like last time. It was: I know I said things were good and I wanted you, but now I don't, so leave me alone.

So I don't know what to say. I really like this person. I care about her and we have a million things in common, plus there's these kids, and I'm not going to flake on them. And I made vows when we got married. So I'm not going to leave, or cheat, or get high, or stop breathing.

It feels like the only option is to play those tapes in my head again, the ones that tell me: It's gonna be okay - we can be friends but not lovers. I don't get everything I want. Some people have incurable diseases or crushing poverty, I will have a sexless marriage. I will find a way to live with that.

Years of cognitive therapy tells me I'm engaging in “black and white thinking.” At least I've learned to recognize that. And I've learned in recovery that I don't have to do anything stupid. So God, I'm powerless and my life is unmanageable, and I can't fix this.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Saturday night, when it happened, the shame was crippling, and I couldn't breathe or think. Everything was a muted wash of gray.

Until the waves of rage and nausea, and the fantasies – beating holes in the wall with a microphone stand, slicing my wrists open, shrieking obscenities into the night. Then the addict, slamming me with euphoric recall. Escape this body, plunge into ecstasy, get what you deserve, Eli. I'm a strong swimmer – I've trained in these waters for years – so why the fuck was I drowning again? I was fighting for breath, but my cognitive and recovery tools were failing me.

I got through the night and slept (eventually), but at 5:00 Sunday morning I was begging Linsey for help. I'm so depressed I can't get out of bed, I told her. I can't do this today. Somehow I found myself leading a worship rehearsal three hours later, and I did fine, because when I'm behind a piano I know what I'm doing. I cried in between lyrics, and thanked my God for this moment of competence and peace. For deliverance.

But all of life is not a song. I went home and curled into the fetal position under my covers, and hated my body for convincing me again to approach her with my guard down. One of the ways I cope when I'm triggered is I step back, out of the moment, and imagine retelling the events at some later time. This way I get some distance and perspective. It usually helps, but not this time. Because it sounded so stupid when it came out like this:

“Saturday night everything was right for sex. We'd flirted and hinted, the kids were in bed, the chores were done. I allowed myself to feel desire. I thought I could handle the risk of being vulnerable. I came up behind her at the table and loved on her with a back rub and gentle kisses. She closed her eyes and sighed. Then she jumped up and started turning off lights and putting things away, and disappeared into the bathroom. I tried to hold on to the moment, but I went numb. We never recovered.”

I told our therapist Heidi what happened, that I was emotionally broken and unsalvageable. You shouldn't descend into despair when your wife has to go to the bathroom. But with work, we isolated this part of the story: I had asked Linsey, “Don't worry about the lights, just come to the bedroom with me. I'm coming back out here later and I'll close up.” But she can't do this. The abused and frightened little girl inside my wife still freaks out when an excited man starts touching her, so she looks for ways to stop the flow of intimacy, and to regain control.

And then I'm triggered.

And I tell myself, she's just turning off the lights, just kissing the kids goodnight, just making a quick phone call, just washing her face, but it's a lie, because these silly little games echo all the way back to our honeymoon. And someday, I'll be strong enough to say “IT'S NOT MY FAULT” instead of “what the hell is wrong with you, Eli?”

Someday I'll say It's not my fault.

It's not my fault.

[Photo by whisperwolf under C.C.License]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Boring Technical Post

I've retitled my blog from "Eli's Addict" to "Eli Hornby." Basically, I was tired of seeing "Eli & # 39 ;s Addict" in places where the HTML was not rendered correctly. (It doesn't seem like an apostrophe should be that big of a deal, but whatever.)

If you've been directed here from my old feed, you can re-subscribe using the "Subscribe in a reader" button in the right column. Google "Followers" should see no change.

If I missed anything or if something's not working right, feel free to comment below or email me at with questions or notes.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forbidden Grief

I think I loved her.

There, I said it.

I want to put some kind of warning at the top of posts about Elena (the emotional affair) so that Linsey (the wife) won't have to read them. But why bother? Linsey knows everything anyway. I call her Sherlock Holmes because she's so freakin' hyper-vigilant. Over the years she's become a better and better detective, while I've become a better and better liar. The codependent vs. addict arms race.

Back to Elena. It's hard enough for me to express the officially sanctioned emotions, like gratitude or joy or excitement. So I guess I should go easy on myself for avoiding the grief I feel over ending a relationship with someone else's wife. But feel it I must, as I've been told many times by my therapist brigade.

Elena was a sexual abuse survivor, just like my wife. She was hard on the outside, desperate and scared on the inside. Like all the girls I've been drawn to, she was maddeningly hot and cold. One day she'd flirt, enticing me past my boundaries with warmth and danger, the next day she'd pretend she didn't know me. Women like this get under my skin, and I become obsessed with getting through their defenses. I've lived for this buzz since middle school. I've come to view it as my earliest addiction.

I can honestly say the prize I'm after is their trust. I want permission to tease and talk intimately with the most intriguing girl in the room, while other guys chase after the skirts. Yeah, I'm that guy. The one you can't complain about because he's been a friend to your wife, and you know he's not necessarily trying to get into her pants, but you keep tabs on him all the same. Except Elena's husband didn't know, or care, because he was too busy flirting with the girls at his work.

What made Elena different than all the rest? I'd been drawing bull's eyes on women for years, in classes, in choirs, at work. Basically, she was the first one who truly reciprocated. The rest had flirted back, then moved on. They knew that if you let a guy flirt for too long, he begins to feel entitled, possessive. Elena didn't mind. I was always trying to figure out exactly what was going on, what each of us was getting out of the relationship. My answer was: She likes that I pay attention to her. I like that she lets me.

You must understand where I was at that point. I had long given up on my marriage, and more significantly, me. I'd read the books I was supposed to read and tried the stuff I was supposed to do, and none of it fucking mattered. Each time Linsey tensed up when I touched her, every urgent phone call she remembered just as we headed to the bedroom, each little rejection left me feeling more and more repulsive. I must have been a pretty sick person to take all of her shit and conclude it was entirely my fault. Today, when I get paranoid about what she talks about in her support groups, Linsey likes to say “it's not all about you, Eli.” Oh how I wish somebody had told me that back then.

So it was a big deal when the Starbucks girl flirted with me, while I was buying hot chocolate for my son's preschool teacher, who happened to be Elena. (Who didn't like coffee, hence the hot chocolate.) And each day when I dropped off my son, the Starbucks was payment for Elena's affection and attention. And I ate it up. She was tiny (Linsey says “elfish”), Latina, a little psycho, and had poor boundaries – all the things that turn me on. We texted and talked on the phone, instant messaged, MySpaced. Then we each carefully covered our tracks, erasing our call logs and internet histories, so our spouses wouldn't find out.

Eventually it all came crashing down, but I'll have to tell that story another day. I'm exhausted emotionally, because despite my resolve, Elena still pulls strings in my heart. Don't tell me the difference between “love” (the mature commitment) and “love” (the high school feeling) because you know as well as I do that every human being yearns for both. Elena and I both grew during those years, and for what it's worth, she was a beautiful person. We laughed endlessly and she was kind to me when I was heartbroken.

I remember crying to Elena on the phone over a mess I'd made by relapsing. I understand it cost her nothing to comfort me, to tell me I was going to make it. I understand she didn't have to live with me. I understand our feelings for each other were illicit, addictive, destructive, selfish, reckless, and short-sighted. But they were real, and I miss them. I miss her, her voice and her eyes. Most of all I miss her friendship.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Magic Trees

On my porch there are two potted trees (not just one!), waiting to be planted. But don't tell anybody.

Our Palm Sunday musical featured Tree #1, which represented the branches placed at the feet of Christ a week before Easter. But really I just wanted to grab people's attention with a giant tree in the middle of the sanctuary.

Tree #2 was a sneaky replacement prop for Good Friday. We bought this tree larger, and trimmed it to match the first tree's shape. Then we cut off every single leaf. It stood stark and bare for our Friday evening service, a symbol of death and the cross.

Tree #1, bushy and green, returned for Easter morning, newly filled with blooms to symbolize the resurrection.

This illusion involved me carrying trees back and forth to a hiding place in the back yard of an associate who lives next door to the church. Yes, I carried my tree-cross over my shoulder just hours before we commemorated the crucifixion. It was painful, thought-provoking, and I'm sorry, but darkly comical.

There's your back story, so let me get to the point. After Easter, this wiped-out music director went on a week's vacation and forgot all about the Easter Tree. It sat unwatered for days in a dark sanctuary until I rescued it, along with the “dead” tree hidden next door to the church. They're now on my porch. Tonight they gave me a handle on the mess that's in my head.

You see, the Easter Tree looks awful. It was cared for and made beautiful for one special day, then discarded and forgotten as a stage prop. And that's what I do – like a magician – I show you something evocative and poignant, and make you cry while I sing you an Easter song. Meanwhile the ugliness of my Good Friday tree is hiding somewhere behind a fence, because it's messy and unsightly and I'm ashamed that I can't really make it come back to life. But I'm an artist and a shaman, and that's what you pay me to do, isn't it?

So I find myself tonight recognizing a shade of a Madonna-Whore complex in my feelings towards Linsey. (Maybe the limited intimacy in our relationship wasn't just her idea after all.) I present her with a carefully edited version of my needs, a simple and wholesome package of easily palatable human desires. Then I take whatever's left, and hide it in the darker, grimier corners of my life, where no one will see these more shameful needs spilling over, soiling my dignity.

But in sobriety I've learned this doesn't work. I can't meet my needs (for affection, intimacy, play) with images and intrigue. Nor can I destroy them through anger and will. Either path leads, inevitably, to relapse. Instead, I have to look at my needs, which for some reason involves self-loathing and disgust, and what's worse, I have to show them to Linsey. And until this last year, the process generally ended there, with me cursing my vulnerability. But things have changed. Significantly. When I expose my needs to Linsey, when I allow myself to adore and be adored, I find I'm no longer alone.

This mutuality in our love has been unfamiliar, satisfying, even occasionally transcendent. But I can never say, “Good job, Eli – You chose to connect rather than isolate.” Instead, I usually spend the morning after feeling sick that I exposed my needs and desires rather than shrouding them in composure and reserve.

And here's where the tree comes in. Not the Easter Tree that withered from neglect, but the Good Friday tree. The one we we almost killed by stripping its branches of all color and dignity. Though painful, the exposure left it pruned for growth, and vibrant green buds now fill every twig and branch.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Good Grief

There's something about grieving that's...mysterious.

That's what he said. And that's what I needed to hear.

Of course we'd also hit the basics. The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It's funny how you can hear this stuff over and over, think you're so emotionally intelligent, and then completely miss what's going on in your own life. Until your therapist points it out. So part of recovery is facing the grief of loss, even when the losing is intentional, as in letting go of your addictions and the people who've dragged you down.

Not that this is anything new for me. Losing Lita, now that was grief. Linsey and I were young, and naïve, and idealistic. Somehow we got the idea in our heads that we were supposed to adopt Lita, a seven-year-old foster child in my wife's classroom. It didn't work out. And I still don't really understand what happened there. She was never mine to lose in the first place, so why did it hurt so bad? The last day we ever saw Lita, I ran to the store to buy her a gift. Maybe no one noticed the grown man weeping as he looked for a “goodbye” card in the aisles of Food 4 Less, but I know I wasn't alone. Because for some reason that day every angel and muse of longing and heartbreak ascended on me to play me a song, and instead of background muzak I heard these words:

There are roads that can take you to places that you've never been.
There are people, when you meet them it's like they have lived inside your skin.
There are souls you connect with so strong, a bond that's so deep and so true.
And that's the way I feel about you.

There are times, like a magnet you're drawn into some body's life.
You don't know what you're doing or why you are there, but you know it's right.
There's a sense that the piece that was missing has suddenly come into view.
And that's the way I feel about you.

I believe in this world there is nothing that happens by chance.
There's a reason that at just this particular moment you came into my hands.
Like a gift that you never expected you treasure your whole life through.
And that's the way I feel about you.

Lita's ghost haunts my River Isis. I'm not afraid of her, nor am I ashamed of her presence. Because loving Lita was a good and beautiful thing, something that Linsey and I did together, with nothing but good intentions. And that kind of grieving I'm OK with. My struggle is in allowing myself to grieve those things that I'm ashamed of.

[Photo by tavopp under C.C.License]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nothing More Than Feelings

Day 105

Early in my crazy-person career, I visited my college's medical center because I was so depressed I wanted to kill myself. This was a problem.

I was grabbing life by the throat. I got out of bed most days at sunrise and jogged. Then came the black vinyl planner, filled with lists. Lists of things to do and people to call, lists of goals and mission statements, lists of errands, lists of lists. I had been ad-libbing for too long, and was determined to eradicate every piece of procrastination from my life. If it could be organized and prioritized I filed it neatly into my white rectangular Ikea shelves. Everything else was put on a list. After sitting at a white rectangular Ikea desk, I sat at a piano, by myself, for hours. Then I set my alarm clock and napped. The second part of my day was filled with rehearsals and classes and work. Piano students paraded in and out my door.

My first therapist was prematurely balding, gentle, and had a self-deprecating sense of humor. In a particularly illuminating session, he told me this: I was trying to put all my ducks in a row so that I could avoid emotions. He was right. I had a list of approved emotions: sadness (in proper amounts), excitement (on Christmas morning), and compassion (for poor people.) Everything else was to be avoided, if at all possible. At that point, I believed that if I were organized enough, I could avoid the shame and embarrassment of ever being unprepared. With enough work, anger, disappointment, regret, anxiety - all of these were avoidable.

As you may know, this is not how life works. So I radically altered my approach and began to experience real life. I'm proud of me, and the progress I've made. But old habits die hard, and to my surprise I recently found myself sitting in the same therapy session with a different counselor, more than fifteen years after the first. This time I'm an addict. And instead of working a black vinyl notebook planner, I'm working a program of recovery based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. And somehow, I got the idea in my brain that if I work hard enough I can avoid certain emotions. Not the normal ones – I've accepted those of course – but the messy and unsightly ones, like despair and rage. So I cried as told of a night when I had crashed emotionally, tears of frustration and shame at my lack of progress. Shouldn't I be past this by now? I wanted to know. Does feeling this bad mean I'm not working hard enough?

I learned that this is what matters: When I was feeling shitty I didn't act out sexually. No porn. No illicit conversations or emotional affairs. I didn't put chemicals into my body to numb the pain. Instead I went to sleep. We talked about other options: call a program friend, read something helpful, journal, pray, take a walk. Even the lazy stuff is better than relapsing: sleep, eat, watch TV. None of these is harmful in moderation. What's important for me to remember is that I don't have to solve the problem immediately. I don't have to fix the emotion. And let's face it, when all I can think about is suicide, I'm probably not in a real constructive place anyway.

In review:
1) seemingly unsolvable situation leads to outrageous emotion
2) feel emotion = OK
3) relapse because of emotion = not OK
4) immediately analyze and solve problem = not necessary
5) immediately purge and eliminate emotion = not necessary (or possible)
6) bide time in constructive (or possibly not so constructive) manner
7) revisit situation when thinking clearly
8) gratefully continue sober life

Works for me.

[Photo by Cayusa under C.C.License]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Do You Know the Real Me?

It's inevitable, I guess. Eventually someone I know will stumble across this blog. So if you're that person, I'm writing this to you. I want to answer the questions that you may not feel comfortable asking.

First of all, how big of a deal is this secret you've found? That depends. We're not talking Men In Black, or Watergate tapes, or the Sacred Feminine and Knights Templar. I have no power or money to speak of, and I'm not running for office. In one sense you've just walked into a recovery meeting of sorts, where the basic rules of anonymity and confidentiality are tacitly assumed, if not always followed. Most of what you read here I've shared with complete strangers in 12-step groups for years. That takes guts, and I'm proud of it.

Here's where I stand today: Most of my family knows I'm an addict. (Even my grandparents – I had to sit in their living room a few years back and apologize for stealing a bottle of Vicodin.) And as for the burning question on the table, yes, my pastor knows. That day a year ago, when I sat in his office sobbing, parents at my side for support, was a turning point. I've worked here six years as your full time employee, I told him. People look up to me. Whether I feel like one or not, they see me as their pastor. All this time, as I've made myself available to God in the best way I know how, I've had a plan: Someday, I'll sit you down and tell you that I used to be an alcoholic/addict. I lied for a while, but now I'm done. And everything is fixed. But now I understand that it doesn't work that way. I'm an alcoholic. I'll always be an alcoholic. This will never go away. I can't lie anymore, so I'm pouring myself into recovery, and I'm ready to face whatever this means for my work here in the church.

If you indeed know me, you might also know my pastor. How do you think he reacted? Gracefully, wisely. He said that as an employer, he was not obligated by our church laws to fire me, bring me before the church board, or anything else of that nature. He said that as a friend and mentor, he was proud of me and excited for what God could do in my life now that I had come to the end of myself. We set up accountability checks, we prayed and hugged, and I went on with my life.

So on a professional level, the information in this blog probably wouldn't cost me my career, but it could seriously mess up the time line I've been following for “going public” with my addictions. You know, the one that says I'm just not ready yet to “go public” with my addictions.

I guess this is what I'd ask of you at this point. First, let me know you're “in.” Email me, call me, know that I've done the disclosure thing before, and I'll do it again. Many times. Chances are, you knowing about my addictions will ultimately be beneficial to both you and me.

Second, make a decision about this blog. If it's just not your thing, if the language is too course or the stories too raw, let it go. If you find it helpful or thought-provoking, then by all means, read and comment. Either way, if you're connected to other people who know me, help me keep it a secret. If (and when?) I lose my anonymity here, writing these posts will stop being helpful to me. At least in the way they've been helpful so far – in digging through emotions and details that are hard to talk about face to face. I haven't invited my pastor to read. He doesn't know that I relapsed in December, only that I am working my program and giving my all to find sobriety through God and the program.

Many of my fellow bloggers have written this post. One of my favorites is MPJ's, whose front page states: “Click the links below if you have realized you are My Mother, My Father, Anyone else who knows the real life me.” Cute. And profound and touching if you follow the links. I figured it was time for me to write my entry in the “what to do if you know me” genre.

So if you're my bass player, and you noticed that my Gmail account was open to a certain “Eli Hornby” when you used my computer this morning, welcome to my world. I think we need to spend some time over coffee soon. I'm free most days this week.

That goes for anyone else as well.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Staying on the Path

Day 87

I knew they kept the hard liquors in the back of the cupboard, and no one was looking, so I checked. Rum and some kind of liqueur. No thanks. Whiskey would have been tempting, maybe vodka. Never was interested in beer or wine either. By the time I suck down enough to do the job I'm ready to puke. So why the hell did I find myself drinking a beer? Half of one to be exact. Not enough to feel a damn thing except gut wrenching shame, regret, guilt. Waves of nausea came over me as I imagined telling Linsey I'd slipped again. Then the nightmare ended and that's how I started my day.

Ninety days is looming on the horizon and it shouldn't be so ominous but it is. I still maintain that I'm not afraid of the number, that there must be some three-month psychological cycle that comes around, working its way into the cracks in my program. Maybe even a syzygy of mental and physical and emotional rhythms, sympathetically amplifying each other. Knocking me on my newly sober ass every three months with a tsunami of doubt and resentment and agitated recklessness.

Here's the symptoms: Obviously, the nightmare. And the way that young women have burned holes in my retinas for the last few days. The way they've activated that hot dizzy place in my brain that bleeds over and obscures my other senses, like feedback in a sound system. Also, the exhaustion that turns bed into an irresistible magnet every hour I'm awake. And the nagging drive to escape rather than to live.

Here's the causes: I haven't called my sponsor in too many days. I haven't blogged in too many days. My reading and step-work have been patchy. I've become comfortable in sobriety rather than actively and intentionally pursuing it. Mostly, I've allowed myself to get too busy and distracted by life to focus on my sobriety. With it, I can be of use to God and others. I can be a part of the limitless and varied beauty all around me that beckons with mystery and possibility. Without it, nothing matters; all is darkness and loss.

Here's the cure:First of all, listen. To those who know. I am not alone, and the many voices in my circle of sobriety recently came to a consensus: In this disease of body, mind, and spirit, it's my spirit which has dragged me down too many times. I've committed to meetings, to reading and step-work, to phone calls. But to really transform and strengthen my spirit, the two pieces I must emphasize are helping others and daily conscious contact with my creator. Service and prayer.

Second, I must remember that neglecting my sobriety is never okay, and it's always deadly. I have a daily reprieve from insanity and death that doesn't care if I'm a church music director and it's the week before Easter. If my efforts take me away from the work of my sobriety (the routines and phone calls and quiet time) then they are a waste. Because once I'm in my addiction, my art and spirit are muted.

Tomorrow I will post practice mp3's online, score a few more songs for the band and choir, call the piano tuner and a million other people. I'll make detailed notes for the tech crew about lighting, audio, power point and video cues. I'll rearrange the amps, music stands, and microphones on the platform and label each channel on the mixer. I need to adjust a bunch of the stage lights. I need to actually practice the songs.

But first I will do my recovery stuff: call, read, write, pray. Practice the principles throughout the day, and make time to go to my Friday night meeting. Then, even if I do wake up from a nightmare, I can take a deep breath and remember that today is a gift, because today I'm sober.

[Photo by cleverdame107 under C.C.License]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do Not Disturb

Day 78

Nothing sends me spiraling off into crazy-land faster than the phrases “do not disturb” and “all night long.” I wrote about “all night long” here. Now for the classic hotel door knob hanger.

Early on there was the sickeningly-sweet anticipation, the arousal, the mystique. As a teen, watching couples check in at the front desk made my heart thump in my chest - someday that would be me. Someday I would drag my luggage down a mauve hallway and into a room smelling faintly of bleach, hang out the Do Not Disturb sign, then triple-lock the door. My lover and I wouldn't be listening nervously for my parents' bedroom door. There wouldn't be a keep-your-underwear-on rule. We'd get lost in a cozy nest of pillows and sheets and blankets, and kiss for hours. Later, in the darkness, warmth and exploration would melt into embrace and ecstasy. I knew that it would be about us, not me, and that I'd need to to balance my desires with attention to hers. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't have desires.

Yesterday we slept an hour past noon. This way we could avoid Sexday, sometimes called “Monday.” The church office takes Mondays off (since every Sunday is like college finals.) On Sexday Linsey's home with me and both kids are in school. We slept because I was all pissy about a little verbal brawl the night before. It's an old argument for us. I have a much easier time breaking for a recharge. When I'm spent, I know I'm not good for much until I take care of my needs. For food, sleep, intimacy, distraction. Then when I get back to work, I'm a focused and efficient dynamo. She can't hang the Do Not Disturb sign until the dishwasher's fixed and we refinance the house. Nothing new for us here. If she ran the world, we'd die on the inside, but we'd look damn sharp while we did it. If I ran things, love would be king, but we'd die of starvation when we ran out of cheez-its.

Don't assume I'm not OK with post-crisis love. In recovery, I'm chipping away at the fantasy, and building something beautiful and tender with the pieces I pick up. We used to understand each other's tastes, in music and movies. Now we understand each other. We're giving to each other the most vulnerable and child-like places in our hearts, like those little macaroni-covered gifts your kids make for you in kindergarten. And it's amazing on that front.

But when it comes to sex, we're still driving a used car that makes lots of disconcerting rattles and might need a tow at any moment. And I don't understand this burning need to know I'm not alone in this. I don't understand why my deepest sighs of relief happen while reading about people with similar problems. Check this one out. First, get this picture in your head: Childhood scars make her reject me sexually, I codependently conclude I'm repulsive and try harder to be attractive and loving, the increased affection intensifies her discomfort and defenses, I crash harder and find stupider ways to get numb; we do this dance for a decade or so. Now read this post at Discovering Recovering. Cool, right?

I just don't know what's “normal” for pre-sex cues. I've accepted that she won't want me like I want her; she's not a guy. I have a responsibility to woo and romance her, to make her feel appreciated and adored. She needs to feel safe and I need to earn her trust by being a trustworthy person. She speaks a “love language” that gets turned-on when she smells Pine-Sol. OK, so I'll clean the kitchen and take out the trash.

But I'm like a chick. I need to talk first, to caress and be caressed. I need her to really love me, and at least kinda want me. Otherwise, I'm not up for the job. Affection=Erection. I keep reading in marriage books that it's a myth that men are always ready to go. When she's verbally dismissive of me, emotionally distant, and flinches when I touch her, the night's pretty much over for me. Then if she asks me when I'm gonna be done “sulking” I start thinking about how fast I'd have to go to punch my van through the guard rails on the 91 East to 57 North overpass. Then I'm really not in the mood. Whatever. We talk a lot in therapy about diffusing our building-up-to-sex booby traps.

I'm angry, I know, and I'm exaggerating and being one-sided and unfair. And yes, I'm sulking. I just wanna hang that sign on my doorknob.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My River Isis

[Photo by ippei+janine under a Creative Commons License]

Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach for hands that are not there.
-Otomo No Yakamochi

Day 75

Somewhere in the shadows of my emotional landscape, obscured by dense and long-forgotten trees and grasses, there's a hidden stream. Deep and clear and dark, it runs with forbidden and frighteningly powerful emotions. Tenderness and sorrow spill over its banks. I can place my hand here in the moist earth and feel the cool slip between my fingers, and I can bare it. I've written songs here, sang the songs of others. It's the deeper waters that are swift and dangerous. There are pieces of my life down there, visible in the flashes of sunlight that occasionally stab through the ferns and vine-draped branches. I'm afraid of these pieces and I fiercely protect them. If the undercurrent sweeps them away, some remembered part of me will wither and die. This glade is pungent with the aroma of poetry. Prose is impotent here, as the rational has no power.

This river of memories is where I must go to sort through the lost women in my life. Those I've left behind. One of the things I did when I used (chemicals) and acted out (pornography) was allow myself to bathe in these waters. With my inhibitions artificially lowered, I could breathe life into those buried memories, and re-animate them. The tangled cascade of sensations that make up first love (or forbidden love) would come flooding back. This is no longer an option for me. It wasn't real and it wasn't healing, and it blinded me to life. Authentic experiences are a washed-out gray when you're using. You can't see the earth after staring at the sun.

So as I do my fearless moral inventory, I'm slowly plumbing my River Isis to discover its true nature. I'm trying to fish out the memories, dry them off, honor them, set them aside, and move on. I ran across one today. It was a brief online exchange with Elena. Much of the River Isis belongs to her, and I may never purge it of the scattered pieces of her presence. But I'm trying. Because to linger over the illusion of imagined and immoral love is an artificial experience. It contains none of the risk and effort and sacrifice of real love, and it can never embrace me back with grace and acceptance. This is what I share with the real, flesh-and-blood woman who sleeps in my bed.

I must leave the river for today, walk away and back into my life. If I stay I will drown. But I'll come back because I must. I've avoided this place for too long, and its power over me is incongruent with serenity. I often find myself lost here unexpectedly, and knowing the way out is essential. Most recently, I was whisked here when reading Cat's post on first love. I saw this place from my wife's point of view in a post by Willow. These words (and others) have helped me to pull back the branches and take away the mystique that fills the darkness. Maybe this landscape can be tamed after all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Intimate Anatomy

Day 74

I found an unfamiliar lump couple of days ago. Somewhere that I don't really want to mention. But being that this is an anonymous blog, what the hey, I'll go ahead and use it as a launching point. Proceed at your own risk. You've been warned.

First of all, the lump. I finally broke down and googled “lump in p*n*s” and found this article about Peyronie's disease. It's not required reading. Basically, it turns out to be a relatively common, not terribly awful, embarrassing nuisance. While testicular cancer is a significant problem, cancer in this area is pretty rare. Gonna get it checked out anyway. Definitely will need a male physician. Feels kinda like I should leave the money on the nightstand.

I do this freak-out thing with medical stuff. First time was at Linsey's lamaze classes. Each time words like “colostrum”, “episiotomy”, or “mucous plug” were used, I had a little mini panic-attack. The attacks began to get closer together, and when they were about 5 minutes apart and lasted for 45 seconds each, I think my water broke or something because I started sweating profusely and hyperventilating. Focused breathing techniques and self-calming talk didn't seem to help much. I had to get up and leave the room. (Still sorry bout that, Linsey.)

This is pretty much what happened in my googling the other night. There more I read about it, the more I started nervously kneading the blankets. Just typing about it, I'm having to stop every few words and do my own little compulsive nervous habit-thingy: kneading the fabric of my jeans between my fingers. Despite my excellent poker face, my fingers are my “tell.”

You may be wondering what all this is doing in a recovery blog. Here's what: It just brings up the intensely uncomfortable fact that so very much of my sanity and insanity revolves around that particular part of my anatomy. It's been comforting in SAA to hear other guys talk about the adversarial relationship they have with it. I spent years alone on the couch at night, gulping vodka and handfuls of Benadryls, desperately trying to drown my rage at it.

About that time I happened to read a book about W. C. Minor, a Civil War vet who contributed to the first Oxford English Dictionary from a "criminal lunatic asylum." He also performed an autopeotomy. (Figure it out.) I was insanely jealous. I learned that monks sometimes use powdered licorice to dampen their sex drive. I ordered a phytoestrogen supplement from a health food store. It was for post-menopausal women, but I had read somewhere it might lower my sex drive. I fantasized about stealing my dad's gun and shooting off the offending parts. This movie played over and over in my head. It still does, like an echo.

You see, Linsey and I were best friends. Still are. I told her last weekend how nice it is to have somebody around who “gets it.” Gets my jokes, my likes, my pet peeves. She's intelligent and witty and quirky. We cry together at movies and passionately discuss books. We laugh together at the idiots on TV. But that damned sex thing kept fucking it all up, making me needy and vulnerable, and her cold and defended. We had not yet unearthed her sexual abuse. I just figured a man's sex drive was some cruel joke made up by God. I thought that everything would be manageable if I could just make it go away. My addict, spiteful and bitter, is still sulking in the corner, hoping that a cancer will come and rot away this anatomical liability. Then I could say to Linsey, You did this to me. You made it die. Are you happy now?

Enter sobriety. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Hating my junk for being horny is like hating my throat for being thirsty. Where I used to feel hopelessly alone, there is now a circle of men, ready to talk at any moment. Many of them are addicted to pornography and chemicals and married to sexual abuse survivors.

Let me say that again.

I used to think that no one, anywhere, would ever understand my own little private hell. I now have several friends I see on a regular basis who are turning over their crap to a Higher Power, cleaning up their own mess, and learning how to love and cherish the women they've married. And I get to be one of them.

We'll get through the sex thing, Linsey. Together. It's just not the Everest I made it out to be.

I performed at Starbucks this week. I sang Ben Folds' “The Luckiest.” I don't know how to say it any better than this:

I love you more than I have
ever found a way to say
to you

That pretty much sums it up.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Falling and Not Falling

Day 68

Ashley fell off a horse last night and broke her arm. Actually, the horse stumbled and dumped her. (She made sure everybody knew this, from Grandma to the X-ray technician.) She takes weekly horseback riding lessons at a little stables. It's crammed between the freeway, some car dealerships, and the Santa Ana “River.” A little hay-lined hole in my asphalt-lined county.

At one point I kind of freaked out, realizing that the grown-up here was me, not my wife or my mom. I called our HMO and eventually got connected to the emergency room. The lady told me that I sounded pretty excited and anxious, and to be sure to drive carefully. I had to laugh. Calm down, me.

What mattered through all this was: I got to be her dad. I had the privilege of running out to her little crumpled body and putting my arm around her. I got to help her stand, wipe her eyes, and tell her that everything was gonna be OK. I got to sit next to her in the emergency room. We watched "Prince Caspian" without any sound on the little TV hanging from the ceiling. She made me cover her eyes when Susan shot the bad guys, because she couldn't stand to watch them fall off their horses. That's the kind of stuff you remember.

There is nothing in my life like hearing her call me “daddy.” Nothing. It's one of the first things on my gratitude list. Ashley's “daddy.”

When I was first getting high, I took both the kids into the pool in the middle of the night. It was freezing. James was only a few years old, and couldn't swim. They thought I was fun. I've driven them to school when I couldn't stand up straight. I've stolen DVD's with them sitting in my shopping cart. James once saw the pornography on my monitor. Mostly, I've been distracted while I made my evil plans.

I remember Ashley crying because her babysitter's daughter had been mean to her. Could she please never go back to that house? What she didn't know was that the only reason I took her there was to see that babysitter. She was the one who paid attention to me during the bad years. What if it had gone further? What if I'd slept with her? Then how much would Ashley pay for my selfishness?

In the pharmacy, I saw my drugs. The demons peaked over the wall. I heard their voices. They call it “euphoric recall.” The overwhelming warmth, the ecstasy in every nerve ending, the surrender. When I'm high I don't just forget my problems. My mind believes it's solved them all. I stop being anxious because nothing looks broken. But I “played the tape all the way through.” The lying and the loneliness, the knots in my stomach. Linsey, taking care of a broken child by herself. And Ashley, hurting and afraid.

I ignored the voices, like John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind.” Did they stop talking to me?

No, they did not.

They followed me around for a while. But that's OK. Because so did James – my bored little six-year old, tired of the emergency room. And I was sober, and I wasn't afraid.

On the way home I asked him how much he weighed. Sixty-four pounds, he said. He's proud to be over sixty pounds – this means he doesn't have to ride in a car seat. I asked him if he knew about the "chocolate bar law." I told him that he hasn't reached the eighty pound minimum for eating chocolate while riding in a car. If he didn't want to get a ticket, he'd better give me his candy bar. For some reason he wouldn't believe me, so no chocolate for me.

But I was thankful to be his dad.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Another Weekend, Another Wedding

Day 62

Feel awful. Nervous pit in my stomach, plummeting emotionally. Basically, I got all riled up because it was 9:30 and the kids still weren't in bed. I muttered something about Linsey being a permissive-indulgent parent, and locked myself in the den for some quiet. She asked me if I needed to go to my mom's, which really means “stop being a cranky asshole.” I came out when it was quiet again and she was sitting on the couch rigidly typing into her journal, which means she'll be distant and curt for a few hours. Quiet isn't really her default state – her childhood report cards commented “too interested in her neighbor's affairs.” Linsey likes to dig, just not in her own stuff. I apologized; I should move on and give her space. Codependent, codependent, codependent.

Weekend update. Saturday, my cousin Jack married his fiancé Gerri. Let me do that “I statement” thing here: I have a tough time at weddings. And in the last year, there's been about ten of them. Close family, distant family, friends, church people. The church ones included a few that were basically rentals of our facilities; I was just the “sound guy” in the booth, starting the syrupy sweet slide show and playing Celine Dione.

Most of the time, the ceremonies aren't too terribly triggering. I've actually tried to listen, to be teachable and open. I think what hit me the hardest several months back was really hearing the phrase “for better or for worse.” Leaving isn't an option. Using or suicide or checking out isn't an option. Just a good reminder to have on the table.

It's the receptions that kill me. Over the years, I've been in this panic-attack vicious cycle of nervously anticipating that I will feel upset at the reception, then feeling upset at the reception, then remembering feeling upset at the reception and feeling nervous about feeling upset at the next reception, and feeling upset about feeling nervous about feeling upset at the next reception. Whatever.

Our cultural formula is to move from sacred-ish stuff at the ceremony to increasingly sexual stuff at the reception. And each of those sexy little traditions – clinking glasses for kisses, the garter belt toss – is another tripped land mine for me. I have typically responded by remembering what I didn't have (closeness and intimacy and warmth) and concluding that I'll never have it. Then I've watched my body react to the nausea by shutting down my systems, one by one. I stop hearing people talking, I stop tasting my food. I stop being upset or nervous or excited. I stop remembering, and I sever my connection to the room I'm in. The romantic lighting and the dance floor go away, and I stop smelling the catered food and the alcohol. I'm ready to go, now, I tell Linsey. Drive me home and let me sleep.

Some song says “all night long,” again, and I am sick, again, that we never had “all night long.” There's a reason for “all night long,” you know. Endorphins and hormones are released in early courtship that give you boundless energy, that make you invincible. I read it in a book. A book that I had to bury, with the rest, because it triggered me. I had those hormones, that energy, and she didn't. They don't come back, it said. Not like that.

But I made a decision, an act of volition, that I would be Linsey's partner this weekend. Not her sulky, helpless man-child. I wasn't perfect. I screamed at her on the phone that I was going to kill myself on the way to the rehearsal. I was mad because it made her feel uncomfortable that I never made it into the office Friday. I was running endless errands and doing wedding-stuff, I told her. Not using, hallucinating, floating in a delirium of porn, like I used to do. Don't you trust me after 60 days??!? Silly Linsey.

But aside from that little detour into crazy-land, I did a good job. I apologized for being impossible, took a deep breath, and moved on. I took it one moment at a time, and filled a mental scrapbook with memories of being a groomsman, a cousin, and a friend. It helped that Jack has been in recovery with me, and that we were surrounded by program people from the rehearsal to the alcohol-free reception.

Jack's mom asked me to write a song for their mother-son dance. I sang it live, while they danced, and people loved it. Everybody cried. They were speechless and wide-eyed and breathless. They wanted to know if they could buy it for their weddings. Of course, that wasn't enough for me. I felt insecure and stupid and sick. What if I sounded amateur? Or if my dedication beforehand wasn't funny? There's some big bag of psychological crap there, and I'm just starting to tear into it.

Most importantly, I danced with Linsey. Just two songs. But I held her and kissed her. I enjoyed it and experienced it. And I'm still here, writing about it. No drama, no crisis, just a lot of gear to shlep out to the car and an uneventful ride home. What a blessing. That's serenity.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Out of Isolation

Day 58

I can't hide anymore. And I don't know if I'm cool with this.

A few years back I jumped on the MySpace bandwagon. (Basically, to flirt with someone else's wife, but that's a story for another post.) I quickly learned how rigid the walls were between my carefully separated circles of friends.

I mean, I'm a pretty nice, easy-going guy, and a people-pleaser to boot. So basically, I will get along with you. Maybe you think the earth is 6,000 years old, and you don't drink or smoke, and you voted for McCain. Let's get coffee! Maybe you use a Mac, love Jon Stewart, and shop at Trader Joe's. Fine, we'll get tea! (Maybe you're a brilliant anarchist alcoholic who composes subversive post-modern music – In that case, sorry I never came back for my Master's Degree...) The point is, I get along with many crowds, but they don't necessarily get along with each other.

So with the MySpace thing, I had to pick one single version of me that everyone would see. I chose to see it as a growing experience, a chance to be more honest with all my friends, whether they drive a Prius or a Suburban. It was a really big deal for me. I don't think I knew how much of a chameleon I'd been.

Fast forward a few years: Myspace is out, FaceBook is in, the economy's crashed, Britney's back on tour, my grandma still doesn't have email. My personality is much healthier. More publicly integrated. I'm a Christian, I'm a composer, I'm a political moderate. I like Chocodiles. Pretty much the only schism left is the one between my sober self and my addict. But it's been a big one. If you read what I write here, you know my addict. If you also know my real name, then you're in a pretty small crowd. And that's where the madness comes in. Trying to be a musician/encourager/father on the outside, and hiding in desperate hopelessness in my living room at night. This is where all those years playing piano recitals actually hurt me. I learned to smile for you, perform for you, look competent for you, no matter what was going on inside.

And I learned it well. What I've heard, over and over and over, is that I never make mistakes. Well, I do. I'm just really really good at looking like I know what I'm doing. One example should cover it. I played for my friend Claire's wedding a while back. I was deathly ill, disorganized, late, unprepared etc. Classic Eli. I couldn't find my music the day of the wedding. I eventually realized I'd left it at the church, which was in totally the wrong direction. I was so late that I pushed my Chevy Astro to 100 mph several times on the way there. This is simply too fast.

I sang and played live for their first dance at the reception. I had never practiced the song all the way through, and was reading some of it for the first time. Everything turned out beautifully. I'm not bragging, I'm ashamed. I literally risked my life on the freeway that day. It was stupid.

Oh wow, is it uncomfortable to let people in on that flaky, insecure, afraid-of-failure me. Every step away from isolation and towards disclosure has been a little battle. I will never forget walking into my first few AA meetings. That kind of honesty, that vulnerability, was contrary to everything I'd ever learned about survival. Linsey sometimes points out my continued (unintentional?) efforts to keep the details of my personal life slippery. I show my therapist one part of the picture, my sponsor another, my 12-step groups another. But I'm trying to get past this. I'm trying, a little at a time, to look at all the pieces in my mosaic - what I'm proud of, thankful for, ashamed of, afraid of. And it hurts. It really does. With a kind of searing heat that I didn't know existed. There's just no way around it. But the miracle is that even if I pass out from the pain, I wake up again, and life's a little bit better.

On a practical level, it all comes down to a few silly things: I don't like to talk on the phone. I don't like to be noticed. I don't like it when program people ask me how I'm doing. So when a couple of people checked in on me this week, and I felt happy, I knew that something good is happening in my life. I'm and addict, and I'm struggling, and you still cared enough to ask me where I'd been, and remind me to keep at it. I'm here, I will, and most of all, thanks.