Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mother Goose vs Grimm

I have a couple of really good friends on the ranch who are fairly new – guys who count their time on the farm in weeks, not months- or as guys at my stage count, in days left (I have 110 by the way). I love to speak to these guys, and listen to their perspectives on what is happening to them because it reminds me of what I was feeling and thinking when I entered the program.

I like to be reminded of this because when I entered, I was told by everyone about all of these wonderful changes which I would be making, changes in my attitude, in my demeanor, in my way of thinking – unimaginable changes that would begin to happen to me as I stumbled through the program. I remember listening to program residents, chaplains, house managers, each with a different, almost contrived vision; they would tell me these wonderous tales of the new person I would become.

Don’t get me wrong, this new me was inspiring to say the least – heck I could hardly wait to meet this fine fellow. They were certainly the kinds of things I would like to have happened to me, but without knowing me, these people were just shooting in the dark, and it is likely the only thing about me that would change throughout this ‘ordeal’ as I called it back then, would be my reaction and attitude to alcohol.

And so I allowed them to indulge themselves in their fruitless fairy tales of hope and a bunch of blah blah, and I listened to them with the kind of suspicion and cynicism that you might expect from a person who knew better, knew more, confident in what would happen to me. It is the kind of cynicism and suspicion that I am met with now when I speak to the new guys. So, I don’t tell them about the great new guys they will probably become, instead, I smugly sit back and just know it. I see it in them, I can see attitudes changing right before my eyes, all in response to a renewed self awareness and the forced confrontation of emotions that we, as addicts, sought to hide from.

When I am in the weight room, many guys are motivated to open up to me. I’ve always had a bizarre quality where perfect strangers look at me and think it is OK to tell me really personal stuff about themselves. A nun once told me that it is because I have a very old soul and they can sense it. I had forgotten that she told me that until recently, but I now consider this a gift.

Anyway, Matt told me the other day that he was leaving our work-out early to help a dorm-mate with chores because they were involved in a spirited debate in their LEC class about helping out your brothers on the farm. The following day, he told me that he had to cancel plans with me on Saturday because he made plans with Chris earlier and he was trying to live up to his obligations, even the seemingly small ones.

Mike has a very biting sense of humor – he can seem almost mean, but he is hilarious. He is consciously trying hard to stop insulting people with his comments. He has recognized the power of his words and he is trying to use them to encourage and not discourage. Its hard to avoid the pitfall of good natured humor, a good natured ribbing among ‘the guys’, but I explained to him that everyone in the early stages of sobriety is an emotional mess, when your brain begins to dry up, and you begin to feel things again, its alarming to say the least and so his funny comments are like spears to some guys. You might recall my sappy blogs about ‘joy’ and ‘the beauty in the little things’ that I wrote in the early days – the romantic vision of life I had adopted was only in response to the chemical painkillers that were flooding my head in a natural, mental, attempt to dull all the emotions my neocortex was suddenly trying to sort out.

The differences between the kinds of men these guys are and the kinds of guys they will be is really telling when you get them in the same conversation with a higher phase guy – like Lane.

So, Lane and Matt and I were all talking about the program and about how sobriety has made a difference to us. Matt was listening to Lane and me speak, hanging on our explanations, asking question after question. It is scary when you just begin the program, there is the uncertainty of whether or not we will succeed, of whether or not sobriety will work for us, the unnerving feeling of ‘is this the right thing for me, and will this work?’ My God, that sucks. How can I stand failing at one more thing because of addiction?

And Lane and I recognized right away what he was really asking in each question, and the fact that Lane and I both had many of the same doubts and worries was comforting to Matt. I think this is because he sees who we are now and how our lives are where we want them to be – or at least headed that way. It’s our direction, not merely our intention, that is determining our path and our destination and that’s a powerful tool to have working for us now. Where we want to be is actually where we are heading.

Lane made the astute observation that every alcoholic has an identity issue. There is so much wrapped up in identity issues for us. How are we perceived, how do we perceive others, what do we really think about ourselves. There are so many self esteem issues that only compound the more you are swallowed by your addiction. In my opinion, self esteem, one way or another, is the keystone to addictive behavior. Not a bolstered self esteem that you get from being told you did well… but the real true self esteem of knowing you ARE well, the kind of belief in yourself that can only come from within. Despite all my outward successes, somewhere I got hung up on the idea that I didn’t measure up. Situations like not passing the 10th grade because I was in the hospital for four months and couldn’t catch up despite my parents’ insistence that it could be done – failure like that – well it has long lasting implications. Interestingly enough, the summer after that colossal failure is also the summer I began drinking.

You may recall, Lane and I used to have long conversations when we were in the lower phase dorms – emotional commiserations about how unfair the world was to us, how we failed people, how people failed us, how we were alone in this, it was real at the time to us. One time in September I was writing in my journal and I read some of the entries to Lane about those conversations that we had back in June and he seemed embarrassed and said, “I think I was still drunk for the first three months I was here,” and this was probably true. The effects of alcohol, then the new effects of the brains attempt to sort out this new emotional overload, well, to say that we weren’t in our right minds is an understatement.

What we are dealing with now, they keep telling us here, is a new life. But when you step back, my new life is just regular life to most people. It’s unbelievably pathetic to think that I am now, at my age, just learning the secrets of how to live like millions of Americans live each day. A sober person, with a job that you actually do when you get there, with plans that don’t require any special attention to ‘how will I get home,’ with goals, a strategy, with friendships that are built on companionship and not how much drama we survived together. I am not embarrassed to be myself these days, in fact, I quite like it.

But the changes happen. The changes start from the day we arrive. They begin the day before when we ready ourselves for this year long ‘ordeal’. Once we’re here we realize that these crazy rehab people don’t know a thing about us, that we will do this program but doubtful anything significant about us will change – or NEEDS to change for that matter.

And, secretly, we change. Our routines change, our values change, our duty to other people begins to change. We begin to see ourselves in the mirror as we truly are and not as we think others see us. It is very empowering to look back and see yourself without the distraction of a hundred opinions, it is a quiet victory when we look at ourselves that first time in the mirror and say “I am probably going to be OK after all.”

There is also another change that I noticed about guys who have been in recovery for a while versus the guys who just begin. The guys in the beginning are all really preoccupied with maintaining sobriety. This seems like a noble goal, like a decent plan, like the whole point of being here.

But after a while, sobriety moves lower and lower on our list of priorities, until it eventually drops right off.

Now, before that freaks you out, let me explain. When you live a sober life, when you live the ‘new life/ (regular life)’ you begin to see sobriety not as the goal but the byproduct of a happy life. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier that it works like this but it does. You see, in the beginning, being drunk wasn’t the problem. Being drunk helped me AVOID problems. Not solve them, but avoid them. Then they came back – more of them, and I drank more. Then I had more problems, more sadness, and now loneliness. So I drank more. And before you knew it, I had this laundry list of issues I had created and only one solution – Sangria and Gin!
The biochemical compulsions of addiction are pretty minimal after 6-9 months, and they continue to reduce as time progresses - and so the triggers we need to be mindful are emotional and memory triggers. This is why it pays to keep a positive mind.

I explained about the employment of the reality window, when your belief window changes, that changes the result. Now, in this new life, Lane and I meet problems, but we have been given some skills on how to deal with them and the ‘need’ to drink is never triggered. People ask me all the time how I am going to remain sober and I think the answer is wrapped up in my ability to see things as they truly are, through my new beliefs- that includes my self. Have I improved my self esteem? You bet.

And with that comes all sorts of benefits – things like the need to build a romantic relationship with someone who wants to share in my aspirations and on my terms, sober ones; the ability to shrug off the kinds of pains that everyone (yes even you) feels when they get around their families; the ability to accept that we deserve to be happy as much as the next guy whether we failed the 10th grade or not!

I had dinner on Saturday night with Matt and he relayed this thought to me. We went roller skating earlier in the day with a bunch of guys. He said to me that he had a ‘moment’ at the rink because he thought about the fact that he was roller skating for the first time since the one time he went as a kid – with a bunch of friends – and there was no booze or drama. He thought about how the next day we would all get dressed up and go to church. He decided that he deserved this bit of happiness, that he deserved to do nice things. This small happiness will not prevent him from drinking, but it will prevent him from the ‘need’ to drink – at least for that one day.

So let me explain the sobriety as a priority thought again – I am just saying that living sober isn’t the priority to me, staying happy with myself is my priority, and I have a lot of tools to stay that way. Sobriety is the benefit of not 'needing' to drink.

I will never be happy trying to stay sober – that’s like white knuckling it on a daily basis – maybe this is why I don’t like AA because, to me at least, (and ONLY to me) it seems like there everyone is living to stay sober, not living sober to stay happy.

There are really new guys on the ranch as well. Some are counting their time on the farm in days not even weeks. One of these guys just came in last Friday – and I asked him how its going. When he came he hadn’t shaved, he looked tired and worn out. He looked like a drunk. I know that he had a rough couple of weeks before he arrived. Yesterday, he told me he is beginning to enjoy himself and that there were some things that he needed. A bike was one, and the other was a nice shirt to wear to church. If you remember my blog from the beginning, my appearance was pretty important to me. Its how I was perceived, how I felt like I should perceive myself, through the eyes of people perceiving me.

I thought it was great, though, that he asked for a good shirt to wear to church because that shows growth from the way he looked when he first arrived – his perception and awareness is already changing – and beginning with how we present ourselves to the rest of the world is the beginning of a change that will eventually progress into the perception to how we see ourselves. This eventually leads to a sorting out of issues and the eventual acceptance of self, then the cool part – when we like to be who we are. And this is when we stop living to be sober, and start living as someone who is again happy. I hate to burst your bubble, but there isn't such thing as a 'happy drunk.'

That’s what I call recovery. As for the wonderous fairy tales I was told in the beginning about all the great changes I would be making…well… if I could go back to May and start this blog with ‘Once Upon A Time’ I would because, sleeping beauty is up and kickin, Rapunzel has let down her hair, and Humpty Dumpty, well, he's sittin pretty with only a few cracks to speak of. And me, well, these days I find myself recounting these same fairy tales to the new guys, but I will say, I am definitely more Mother Goose, less Grimm.

Have a great week all

1 comment:

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