Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Switching Addictions

I'm addicted to Snus. Stupid little tobacco-ish pouches being pushed by 7-11's for people like me, who want the zing of nicotine without the social stigma of smoking or spitting. Reviews talk about them tasting more like candy than tobacco, but they'll give you mouth cancer all the same. I recently discovered that my (sober) alcoholic cousin shared my interest in the little pouches, so I told him how I like to stuff two or three in my mouth at the same time. After all, the American version contains only 6g of tobacco versus the Swedish 24g.

Pretty clear indication that I need to amp up my efforts. I'm looking for comfort in the wrong places, leaning on chemicals instead of truth, people, program, and my Higher Power. When my cousin quit, cold turkey, a couple of weeks ago I thought I should do the same. I later found myself digging the discarded little tin out of a trash can full of, among other things, dog shit. I thought of Charlie in the first season of “Lost” digging through an airplane toilet where he'd hidden packets of heroin. I also thought of this video by 80's sketch comedy troupe “Kids in the Hall.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Charlie

The hardest thing about losing Charlie was handing him over to the receptionist in the pet emergency room. He was cold and unresponsive, wrapped in a towel in my arms, and didn't even look back at me as he was whisked away through a door marked “Employees Only.” I was wet and cold from the rain, but he wasn't. I'd been rubbing his little body in the car, driving with one hand, and telling him, “it's okay little buddy, just stay with me for few more minutes. We're almost to the doctor's.” It was midnight. I never saw him again.

Charlie was a “replacement dog.” Just before Christmas we lost our beagle of eleven years. (I'm still not ready to post about that one.) We rescued Charlie from the pound shortly after. He was a spindly tan chihuahua, with dark eyes and a head too small for his body and ears too big for his head. He lived in our home for only eighteen days. He felt it was his right to sleep on top of my head, so I learned to push him aside and let him burrow into the crook of my neck.

He was sick the last couple of days, and James yelled at him when Charlie threw up in his lap. Charlie ran into my bedroom where I was resting, hopped up next to me crying, and nuzzled under my chin. He'd already been in trouble for his house-training mistakes, and this reprimand was just one too many. Despite the messes, that was a good day.

Wrapped in a white towel, Charlie looked helpless and even smaller than he really was, like some kind of Eastern European war orphan, pale and worn and quiet. The x-rays were inconclusive, but the vet knew something was seriously wrong with his abdomen. He was in excruciating pain. I signed papers and left him overnight for a series of x-rays as barium was passed through his system.

What is it about crisis that wakes all my demons? Driving home in the early morning hours was an exercise in choosing to stay on the narrow path. The streetlights and the rain colluded to excite my senses and I felt those familiar tingles of the illicit in that forbidden hour. It is good to know that ultimately I chose not to add the sickening lost-ness of relapse into the unavoidable chaos of that night.

I was deep in a confusing dream or nightmare when the phone woke me up at 4:30. Charlie had “coded” three times, and did I want to continue with life saving measures? “Well, yeah, I guess” was all I could come up with. What do you say to that? Ten minutes later I was finally off of hold. The vet, who had been mostly positive and very competent, was now hoarse and breathy. Charlie's heart had started, but his brain was probably gone. It was time to let go.

I spoke with a friend in recovery the day before Charlie died. We discovered a mutual secret: that during the rocky chapters of our marriage, when affection was running dry, our dogs helped fill in the gap. Sometimes meetings and books and phone calls just can't measure up to that warm furry snuggle, to hearing another soul breathing in the darkness. If you're not a dog person, I'm sorry if that's weird for you, that's just the way it is.

Charlie died of a a perforated bowel. Despite his penchant for chewing, there was nothing detectable in his intestines, and I was told it was probably from a defect that existed before we even adopted him. All I heard was this: there wasn't much else we could have done. It was just his time. He was a gift and a joy. Thanks, my little friend. I really do miss you.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Day, Delayed

Linsey got mad when I told her. I think I need to be home tomorrow. I promise we'll find another day to go to the snow. I could have just kept my mouth shut – been a good dad, a good husband. We were driving home from the office Christmas party, where I'd been a good employee and a good pastor, so why quit now?

On the other hand, a couple of days ago I was melting into the couch, summoning just enough energy to operate the mouse so I could play Chuzzle on PopCap.com. (Don't worry, I'm not getting any endor$ement kickback.) Pretty much being a sloth, you know? And Linsey's buzzing around the house, doing laundry and bills and dishes, and she says, “I'm glad you're listening to your body.” Which means “I'm glad you're relaxing.” And she was serious! At least I think she was...sometimes our conversations sound like that episode of The Simpsons:

Disaffected youth #1: Here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool.
Disaffected youth #2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Disaffected youth #1: I don't even know anymore.

Hyper-irony rules!

We did find another day to go to the snow. It's become a tradition: We drive to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and ride it up the mountain for a few hours of snow and breathtaking nighttime views of the surrounding desert. No mountain driving, no snow chains, and a chocolate shake from Bakers Drive-Thru on the way home. (Again, no endorsement kickback, just an attempt at local color.) Every year I tell James not to worry because they've fixed the cables and none of the aerial trams have fallen out of the sky for at least a month. He always says, “You're lying, dad. You're just making that up.” But I know that somewhere deep inside, I've made him just a teeny, tiny bit nervous, and this is the fun of being a dad, right?

So I followed through on my promise to reschedule the family snow day, which makes me feel even better about “listening to my body” the first time around, and insisting on down time. I relapsed during Christmas of 2008, because I did the good pastor/dad/husband thing until I was dead inside, resentful of everyone and everything. I'm committed to taking care of myself during these times that I tend to blow it – namely Christmas, Easter and vacation. After the snow thing Linsey just asked me to try and tell her earlier next time, so she wouldn't feel so disappointed. I'll try. But sometimes you don't know you're wiped out until you're in the middle of things.

Which is, I guess, what happened here on my blog. I just needed a break, and I took it. A heart-felt thank you to all of you who checked in on me and made sure I was okay. I am, I think. I'm sober, doing things one day at a time, trying my best to balance crazy-Christmas-program-times with chuzzle-on-the-couch times. And I'm grateful for both.

This post is also at TheSecondRoad.org