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.
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.
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.
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.
I wish I only had to introduce you to ME: dad, husband, songwriter, pastor. That’s the guy I see in the mirror. I love my kids, I’m good at fixing things, I love to read or chase my dogs around the house. But I lose track of myself sometimes when I’m hurting. That’s when my addict comes around, the bastard who would throw it all away for a moment alone with his drugs and his porn. He cuts me with a razor and he steals things just for the rush. He’s even tried to kill me. But there’s a huge difference between us, and I’ll tell you what it is: He’s a coward. And I’m not. I won’t let him have my kids, my beautiful wife, my job or my home. And since he hates exposure, I’m going to tell you all about him. I’m Eli, and I’m an addict.