Monday, October 19, 2009

Easy answers....hard tests....

I wrote a few months ago about my week of beginnings and all the new things I was about to start and then I wrote about the week in August that marked many accomplishments, and this week was a week of endings.

First of all, I ended the education component of my program. In December I’ll get some certificate at some ceremony in the city in front of thousands of guests that will mark my completion of the Lifestyles, Education, and Career section of rehab.

I am not really sure how I feel about this. It seems silly for me to go up and accept a certificate that says I completed a class that was to instruct me on how to live a ‘new’ life – one I should have learned how to live the past three decades by just living – on the other hand, few of my recent accomplishments have been worthy of a ceremony – in fact, its been so long since I even completed something, this would be a departure from the most recent normal and back into the past normal I have been trying to reach.

Even when I found out that I was part of an Emmy Award winning team for a documentary I helped produce over 10 years ago, I didn’t go to the ceremony, hell, I didn’t even know it until a year later we had won. In fact, I didn’t even know that we were nominated! Can you imagine being so caught up into your addiction that I can be a part of an honor like the Emmy for my ability and not even know we were recognized? The statue still sits in the Executive Producer’s office, I’ve always been too humiliated to ask about it.

I spent the day of my sister’s graduation from high school puking in the bathroom because I was so hung over, I only caught a glimpse of her even grabbing her diploma and only by pure luck in the timing between dry heaves – I even was a pallbearer for my grandfathers funeral, showed up to help lift his casket into the hearse, still slightly buzzed from the night before and probably smelling worse than he did at that moment. I was certainly not living a great life.

I don’t think I will attend the ceremony, but I will probably consider the certificate one of the better things I have accomplished in my lifetime. Its a milestone in my rehabilitation.

I also ended the Addictions 1 module. I didn’t think I would ever end this, and this comes as bitter sweet. I really enjoyed learning about addiction and the behavior patterns that I could recognize in myself – things I can do to maintain sobriety and things I can do in order to see when my behavior may lead somewhere dangerous.

This class also gave me a lot of answers as to why I am the way I am. I don’t view alcoholism as a regular illness. This would imply that there is a cure, a pill, some way to‘fix it.’ It isn’t – its more complex than that, its a biochemical situation triggered by emotional situations resulting in physical and spiritual situations that will eventually kill you. In a nut shell, it basically sucks.

I also don’t look at it as something that I knew enough about to prevent it. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back at all the things I might have done differently is an exercise in futility. It is what it is, I did the best I knew how with what I knew best – as misguided as it may have been. I never intentionally set out to be a drunk. I didn’t go to career day at school and head to the “loser alcoholic booth” and grab a bunch of pamphlets. But hindsight is also very revealing, I wasn’t living a great life.

But this class was great, and I have become much more body conscious and mind conscious when it comes to addiction and I have been given opportunity to examine my brain and my emotions and my mentality and physical responses and symptoms in order to keep my spirit in check and this is a wonderful skill to develop – not just to avoid alcohol, but in order to live a good life no matter what you do.

I am also ending one spiritual rehab component- the study each week of the ‘Gospel of John’ which is part of the spiritual module in the rehab. This Gospel is different because it is less of a report on what Jesus did on the earth, but more of an account of what he SAID.... so we look at it as part of our welcome mat back into the comfort of a relationship with a benevolent God, or whatever higher power.

I am also getting ready to move to another dorm – a more comfortable place to live, so I am ending my days in the building I have fondly called ‘home’ since May. And my leisure days of work on the ranch are ending as I am gearing up to phase and with that, I will be required to get a real job off the ranch – I am being forced from the nest back into the real world – they transition us back in to reality in slow deliberate steps so we don’t advance or go too far just in case we need to slide back for a minute and rethink sobriety, catch our breath, and head on back out.

My days of training the horse on my free time are ending, and I am moving on to a mule as a part of therapy. A mule is a hybrid – a donkey father and horse mother. It has the grace and elegance and size and speed of a horse, but it has the intelligence and ability to reason and test boundaries like a donkey. Its a remarkable animal and quite a challenge. In equine language, the mule even has a sophisticated way to flip me off when I make her do something she doesn’t entirely want to do. She’s beautiful, very smart, she calculates what I am doing and we keep each other guessing. But, I miss the horse – my days with her have ended.

Another ending happened this week. My friend Curtis was pulled out from the last education class by his case manager and encouraged to call his father. Curtis has been trying hard to get financial aid for next semester and it is not uncommon for him to get calls from home with news on the status. You may remember Curtis from the blog about his grandfather and the post-death name plate.

As Curtis casually listened to his father on the phone, his stunned silence was broken with an awkward, ‘No shit. Well.... hmmmm... OK, thanks for telling me. Um, can I call you back in a little bit?’

With that, he hung up the receiver, and went to bed. I followed him into his room about 5 minutes later and asked if he was going to go work out with me (as we usually do on Wednesday afternoons) – he said no. He sat up, hugged me, and calmly said, ‘My older brother was found hanging from a tree, dead, this morning, I don’t feel much like working out, can I take a rain check?” His brother had hung himself.

In the days that followed and as he digested it, he spoke to me about it and mentioned that he doesn’t really know how to react to this news. He said that he is really glad he is in rehab because he knows if he wasn’t here he would probably be completely tore up with drugs and alcohol at this moment, and his parents would have to be worrying about what HE is up to as well as grieving for the dead brother. He also said that he feels good that he is lucid and ‘with it’ enough to handle this for his parents – he is available for them. The first time in his life HE has been able to support THEM.

And I was reminded about someone very dear to me, right about this time last year, who also killed herself. It was that situation that started my brain thinking about getting help- it was then that I began to create a plan where I wouldn’t only conquer addiction, but submit to life – to living MY life.

I saw how an early death devastated the people around her, the people closest to her. I saw how people grieved at the loss, the line of cars for her funeral procession was at least 2 miles long; I lamented at what it was like to be helpless. During her funeral, I witnessed a most amazing demonstration of grief, I saw my uncle Al, my Godfather – a man as emotionally stoic as most men of his generation – openly weep. His heart had broken as if the niece he was burying was his own daughter. He may not know it but I feel incredibly close to him these days because I watched a part of him stay with his dead niece as she was lowered into the ground, and just knowing that he loved his niece that much makes me feel equally as loved by him because I am his nephew. His grief said, “I love you, dearly, ” to all of us.

During that death, I also was spoon fed a lesson on the frailty of human life. The Sunday that I went to my moms for dinner with an uncle I had not seen in several decades, the night we received the call that my cousin had taken her life will always be marked in my memory as the first night I would spend in the company of a long lost relative, and the last day I would ever spend on the same earth as my cousin, sadly, in her heart, also lost.

And when I look at the composite of all that’s happened, the beginnings begin to emerge again. The education component ended but now I can begin to look for work, to move on save money, get on with living. I am moving dorms but I am beginning a new chapter in cozy digs with private bathrooms! My days with the horse have ended but I am beginning a more satisfying course in dealing with a more challenging animal to teach. Gospel of John ended, but now I have a free hour to NOT study the bible (ha ha, had to throw that in). My addictions 1 module ended but I am beginning Addictions 2 which is a series of lessons on how to incorporate addiction into my daily life, so this should be interesting.

Curtis’s brother’s life has ended, but Curtis will be given the same lessons I was given about how important it is to LIVE life, and he said to me that his commitment to sobriety is renewed because he doesn’t want his mother to have to bury TWO sons. A new relationship with his parents, with his own life, is beginning.

I look back on this time last year – all that ended; I was laid off from my job, my relationship tanked, heck, even my lease was up. I remember that period as a dark dismal period that was ushered in with the end of a precious life. But in that death, I was awakened to the necessity of living. It’s as if her death breathed the spirit back into me and filled my lungs, her death filled the void I had dug out in my soul – its as if she was up there in Heaven orchestrating the situations that would unfold in unplanned and wildly coincidental rapid succession that took away all my excuses for not going into rehab – for not fixing myself – for not living, and going into this rehab facility – at the time I entered – with who the people I entered it with were all incredible blessings. And so, at least to me, in order to make sense of her death, I decided that it must have marked a beginning. My beginning. And I’m going to do my best to honor her life by living a VERY long time, living VERY fully engaged in each moment, and VERY healthy.

You don’t need a certificate in order to start living a good life. You just start living a good life. It’s a simple solution. Life is crazy though, it gives you the worst test before it gives you the easy answer.

Have a great week all,

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