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]