Friday, February 20, 2009


Day 46

I'm awake.

Not buzzy awake – Monster drinks and nicotine, porn and adrenaline. Handfuls of meds and empty bottles of cough syrup. Midnight hammock with the porch light off. Euphoric cognitive dissonance: “I will write the most beautiful poem” when I can't even string together words.

I mean sure, I had my triple-venti-nonfat-no-whip-mocha. My friend said that Starbucks is too strong for her – she drank it yesterday and it made her sick. Well, duh silly. It's like heroin: you can't shoot up right out of the gate. We have to build to that.

But I'm awake and alert and picking up the pieces in my den, one book or cable or CD at a time. These sediment layers are an archaeological record of the last several years of my life, and my spectacular failure to follow through on all the projects I started. I tried to explain to my nine-year-old: I'm not just untangling cables, I'm having to look at all the things that I wanted to do, but never finished. Ashley responded, “Why don't you just do them now?”

And that's what each day is like right now. I'm feeling the warming rays of the sun after days and months of rain.

Part of it's familiar. When I make that excruciating call, “Mom, I'm using again” and the cycle breaks – and I feel the freedom from the tyranny of my addict. I don't have to stockpile internet porn or hide chemicals under the bathroom sink during every free moment. That much I've been thankful for, many times. Until it starts again.

Part of it is unfamiliar. And terrifyingly real. Because this time in sobriety, I'm not curled up under the covers. I added to the endless list of recovery slogans my own little mantra: “Get out of bed, stupid.” Because once I'm up, I can think about my goals and spend time with the people I love. I can even dig through my shit when I'm feeling brave, exposing it to the healing light of my program friends, my therapists, my sponsor, you.

It's not that I haven't wanted to be awake before now, but that I simply couldn't. I know that “change in sleeping patterns” is on that check list for clinical depression. How many times have I sat and answered those questions: Change in appetite? Yes. Loss of interest in daily activities? Yes. Feelings of hopelessness? Yes. Thoughts of suicide? Yes.

Yes, yes, yes...

If you're on meds, don't get me wrong. They've saved my life, more than once. And I'm still on them now. But last summer (three relapses ago) I asked my shrink for less, not more. I was tired of being numb all the time. Because life isn't just about not feeling awful all the time, but about feeling warmth and joy and excitement, and maybe even crying when I'm watching Wall-e with my kids.

The recovery lesson for me is this: I didn't wake up because I found the right meds. I didn't wake up because I exercised or juiced carrots and apples and parsley. It's the step work. Answering questions about the shadowy parts of my landscape, and sharing with other people. Coming out of isolation and answering my phone.

It isn't all ecstacy. (The feeling not the drug.) I spent so many years trying desperately every day to top the previous day. I'm and addict; that's how we roll. I'm still learning and struggling with the concept that every day isn't Christmas morning. (This last December 25th, Ashley burst through the door and asked, “Do you know how hard it was to wait 'til 7:09 to wake you up?” We asked what time she had woken up. Answer: “7:06.”) But this moment, I can look out my window, and see the silhouettes of the trees across the street against the blue and gray of the sunset, and I can experience it. In the moment, with a deep breath of oxygen. And my neck hurts a little, and James keeps asking me Nintendo questions, but it's all OK, because I'm here.

And tomorrow, I'll “get out of bed, stupid” and I'll call my sponsor and read my Big Book. These banal things that stave off the nightmare for one more day, and allow me to take in all the beauty and grace that have been poured into my life, before I even knew to ask for them, before I ever deserved them.

And I won't be dreaming, but awake.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bad Math

Day 33

Does it make any difference? If I do the things that good dads and good husbands are supposed to do?

I'm realizing something today. And no, it doesn't make me look any better. Actually I think it makes me look worse – more selfish, or shallow, or...whatever. But I can't ignore it now that I can see it clearly. We have this complex codependent dance that we've been sharing all these years, and we're working hard to pick it apart. We look at each piece, turn it over in our hands, and try to figure out whether it's helping or hurting. So when one of those pieces falls in my lap, I have to at least examine it. Here's the piece:

I do all these things (dad things, husband things, pastor things, artist things) so that you'll let me touch you.

Somewhere I picked up an interpersonal mathematics full of false equations. (Or “fucking lies” when I'm feeling angry.) Some book or movie worked its way into the relationship center of my brain, and actually convinced me that “if x then y”.

If I make that trip to the store (in the rain) to pick up something for dinner, you'll let me kiss your face.
If I drive home, and let you sleep on the way, you'll actually want to put your arms around me in bed.
If I break up my work day to pick up the kids. If I make them a healthy snack. If their homework gets done.
If I respond to their fights with that perfect balance of authority, fairness, and loving instruction.
If I'm productive and efficient at work.
If I clean up all the rabbit shit.
If I sing the most heart-breakingly beautiful song.
If I write the most heart-breakingly beautiful song.
Then you'll want me to touch you. You might sigh or even moan softly.
Instead of being ticklish. Everywhere. Or too cold. Or overwhelmed by narcolepsy.

I see it on the screen in front of me and it looks so stupid.

Years ago, I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's actually a really great book. But I just happened to have it in my hands during the first few years of our marriage. When I was trying to figure out why you didn't love me back, any more than a benevolent, platonic roommate. And I over applied habit #1: Be Proactive. (buzzword apology) The basic idea is that we are amazingly more productive when we take action rather than simply respond. Don't sit around and worry that you're going to get fired – observe your boss's weak spots and fill them in. Become indispensable. Take action. Make your own luck. And that's what I tried to do. Rather than trying to fix your problems, I thought I could win you over by out-loving you. It didn't work. Again, I see it on the screen and it looks so fucking stupid.

I now see that book as the beginning of a disaster. Of course it wasn't Steven Covey's fault. The concepts in his book are sound. They were just wrong for me at that point in time. What I needed was someone to teach me how to say, “Don't treat me like that. You're being unkind and it hurts me. Get some help.”

Not that it would have made any difference. I don't think there was any shortcut through those dark years. I love you, Linsey, and you're a wonderful person, but I don't think anything short of our marriage imploding was going to get you into counseling. So we did that. Then we picked up the pieces. Now it's counseling, 12-step groups, books.

But I still have that math in my head: If I stay sober, then you'll like sex. And it just doesn't work that way. I know how foolish it looks for me to say all this when I just “celebrated” thirty days, again. So in the interest of being a team player, from a place of humility (humiliation?) can I just ask that you stay willing to work on your stuff? I just need to know that if I pour myself into this task, if I stay away from all my vices, that you'll stay committed to helping that abused little girl inside of you. Because I know you, Linsey. You don't like to be together in the dark. And me being sober isn't all it's going to take to change that. And there's a nineteen-year-old virgin boy in me, still standing at the altar, dreaming of having a lover. Not just a friend, or a partner, but a lover. You.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Black Hole

Day 32

After tucking him in, Linsey laid down with my six-year old. James started talking, rather openly, about girls he had known.

James: Arianna was so mean to me in kindergarten. Yeah, inside, there's like a black hole and I wanna throw her inside. Jalene is so sassy. And she said she likes Christian in my class. She's a little bit nice and a lot sassy. Why is she so sassy?
Linsey: God just made girls more sassy.
James: Daphne is not so sassy, but she's a lot weird.
Linsey: If I were in first grade I'd like you.
James:'re my mom!
Linsey: If I weren't your mom and I were six years old I'd have a crush on you.
James: Yeah......good times, good times.

He really said that. The conversation was a big deal for James. Like his mother, he doesn't like to talk about his feelings. When I tuck in Ashley, she'll bear her soul to keep me there. “Why were my friends so mean today?” she'll ask. What does “catty” mean? How's your addiction going, Dad? Where's Andrew now? Did he molest anybody else?

It gets really deep really fast.

Of course, James also tries to delay bedtime. But it looks more like this:
Me: Good night little buddy. I'll see you in the morning.
James: (frantically looking around) Dad, how do they make walls?

I'm glad he opens up to Linsey. And, frankly, a little afraid of when he needs to talk to a man. Because I don't think I'll know what to say. Specifically, about women, sex, affection. That whole mess. I mean, I was fed the standard evangelical Christian party line all through my teen years. God's plan for sex is that it happens inside the loving commitment of marriage. That I can deal with. It's just the way they sold it to me: Trust us – if you wait, it will be SO MUCH better. So instead of spending my high school and college years learning about what sex really is, I spent them waiting for paradise. And then when I married, I walked into a pretty sucky situation.

It helped that we were best friends. That we shared everything with each other, dreamed about traveling together, laughed hysterically together. We were closer as newlyweds than any couple I've ever met. And our mansion of a relationship was beautiful, except for that one room we kept locked. We learned quickly to never open that door. Our physical relationship was tentative, careful, scary, and emotionally distant. All the things that add up to passionate love-making, to be sure.

What's it like to be married to an incest survivor? A while back I joined an online discussion group for partners of survivors. I stopped reading because it was too depressing and hopeless, and too close to home. Some quotes I kept:

"There isn't a lot more comfort I can offer to those whose relationships are falling apart other than to say: The rest of the world isn't like this."

"I exist. I am tired of being isolated and anonymous. I am 35 years old. I have a wife who will not talk to me and a little girl...who is 23 months so she can barely use words. I share your pain."

"Most of the time, our sexual relationship feels like a task to be completed less than a passionate act we both want to participate in. It's very methodical. I know she loves me and she says she's attracted to me but I never seem to see the passion she says she feels."

"I just thought she didn't want me or was no longer attracted to me. I began pulling away from her and wasn't flirty with her and didn't touch her, kiss her as much as I'd always done. I was tired of rejection."

"I have been told that L has no physical or emotional love for me, only a companionship love, or in other words "FRIENDS", I feel like I have been kicked in the chest, I have slipped into my own depression, its all I can do to go into work each day."

"She made it sound like I was the entire problem in the relationship."

"When we first began having sexual problems, I sulked, threw tantrums, got mad, withdrew, and made demands. In short, I did everything wrong; it seemed like an appropriate, and natural, response at the time…It's hard not to "take it personally." I tried to talk to her about it, tried to explain what it was doing to my self-esteem."


James said, “Yeah, inside, there's like a black hole.” Sometimes, I don't know what to tell you, little buddy.