Free Agency

Quarter of nine.

I’m stuck with having to go see my hematologist tomorrow. I feel a little nervous about it because I don’t know what to expect. But they did tell me that I don’t need a phlebotomy this time… It’s almost time for Aesop’s breakfast, and he’s letting me know he’s hungry.

Quarter of ten. Sometimes I recall what it was like to be on a soaring drunk. During 2013 and 2014 I was a mile high every day, but now I don’t understand why, or how I could justify doing that. Maybe I just didn’t feel equal to my responsibility for myself, or strong enough to tackle it sober. It could have been just a guilty conscience, something instilled by my working class family that believed there was nothing wrong with me; the schizophrenia was a phony excuse to be lazy and selfish, etc etc. I think most of my family still believes that. When I decided to stop drinking, I was prepared to give up my family and take care of myself in spite of the guilt and shame they imposed on me. My brother gave me the hardest time for being unemployed, and he begrudged me every service I took advantage of as a disabled person. He tried to argue that I didn’t have schizophrenia once when he was drunk on the phone. He behaved like a complete jerk to me, but I say he can screw himself.

I don’t deny that I made my own decision to quit the office job I had 15 years ago. The CEO of the agency wrote that she knew I’d given it a lot of thought. I deliberated it for a whole year, in fact. I concluded that the poverty was worth the free time I would have to think and read whatever I wanted.

Eleven o’clock. I’m not a Nietzsche nut, but in Zarathustra he says it’s desirable to say you willed your past, that everything was an intentional decision. This is part of his idea of the will to power, and I think it’s a good idea. Feeling empowered is a way to abolish addiction. Leaving it up to a Higher Power, a power greater than yourself, didn’t work for me. Nor did the injunction of self abnegation really help me to overcome alcoholism. What works best for me is taking responsibility, the flip side of freedom. It’s a great thing to be an autonomous agent, and such a pity to be a pawn in someone else’s game. Even if free will is an illusion, it makes you feel better and gets good results. 

Tempted

Nine thirty.

Here in the south of the Valley, we were charmed; no snow or freezing rain, and today the temperature is 48 degrees. The forecast says rain for the next week. Like every day, I walked to the market for my daily groceries. I saw nothing extraordinary. My thoughts are still occupied with realism versus Romanticism, and the possibility of transcendence by means of poetry and music. Can art unite us with the sublime like the nightingale’s song, or is it just an illusion? It was long ago when I read “Endymion” by John Keats. Vaguely I remember how he dreams that he makes love to Diana, the goddess of the moon. The poem takes you from the mundane to the beyond and back again. He awoke and found it truth… But why is the imagination important to human life? I regret that my medication puts the brakes on my capacity to dream and create poetry… I haven’t gone to Grocery Outlet in a very long time. Being there again is like bursting a time capsule, and I feel tempted to buy a half rack of beer or a gallon of wine. Life without alcohol is gray and prosaic, and yet the stuff is so toxic and lethal if you overdo it. That store is rather slippery for me, though I can get away with a trip to Bi Mart…

Ten thirty five. Maybe I confuse imagination with intoxication? And maybe it’s a fine line between them. Mallarme wrote that drunkenness is a foretaste of the real bliss of heaven. I suppose that’s what makes alcohol hard to resist in earthly existence. But heaven has to wait, however insipid each day is. What else affords us a glimpse of heaven in the meantime? 

Twelve Steps and Romanticism

Quarter after two. As I was just about to read my book, I got a call from Heidi. She made me an appointment to talk on the phone for next Tuesday at two. I look forward to this very eagerly. Then I settled down to read Goethe. It’s interesting that Faust, as Gretchen says, is not a Christian per se, but rather a Romantic. In turn, this distinction makes me think of certain people in Twelve Step programs, and how this situation must have come about. The AA’s I hung out with were the Romantic type, with a nebulous concept of God rather than strictly Christian. Their God contained a little of both light and dark, and there were no angels or demons or anything biblical… The first part of Faust was published in 1808, a little before the major poetry of Percy Shelley… Another word that comes to mind besides Romantic is “mystic” for what the AA’s I knew stood for. Mysticism is the direct experience of God, with no props like the church or even like Jesus Christ. God could be immediately apprehended by the devotee. The approach was intuitive, sort of like Zen Buddhism… Now I’m wondering if maybe AA would suit me better than the Lutheran church, and why didn’t I do that earlier? You don’t have to be a Christian to be an AA. I suppose it’s about time I made my peace with AA and the members I knew in the past. Usually AA is a great networking tool for sober musicians, as I discovered long ago. It’s worth considering. 

Advice or Abuse?

Wee hours.

Band practice yesterday afternoon went very well. Mike bought us an ambient microphone for smartphone so now we can record our sessions. It works great. Listening again to our opening jam in D minor, I thought to myself that the bass alone wouldn’t sound like much, but in the context of the drums and keyboards it makes sense… At three thirty I left the house with my kit bass in my grip. It was 48 degrees outside so I didn’t wear a jacket. I tried to clear my mental windscreen and just go and play music with the fellas. I encountered a few neighbors on the street, but kept on walking. When I got to B— Lane, Mike passed me in his truck and offered me a lift, but it was only a few minutes to his house so I declined…

Most of the clutter in my mind stems from guilt received from my case manager at Laurel Hill. It does me a lot more harm than good to feel so burdened by health professionals who do nothing but criticize me. It takes all the joy out of life to be browbeaten. I think I’ll start looking for an alternative to the agency because quite frankly I despise it. I only need someone to prescribe my medication— that’s all. They can keep their stupid advice.

Bucket of Ashes

Seven thirty.

It is just now sunrise. Another four days have gone by, which means I have to buy dog food again. At eight o’clock I’ll head out. As I said before, I no longer need a disguise. I’m a decent bass player but I’m not a rockstar; just a guy who has a skill. For our next practice I’ll use my kit bass, the one I built myself.

Eight forty. It’s super cold outside. A few other customers were ahead of me in line at checkout. I thought a little ruefully about the past, before the market became more sophisticated and mass production. It seems less personal this way, with computerized registers and the surveillance system, and the staff having to watch what they say. Less personal and less romantic. More regimented, like an assembly line or part of a vast factory, industrial and soulless. But I cleaned my mental slate, thinking on the adventure of the present and future. I began my sobriety with the attitude that “the past is a bucket of ashes,” and accordingly a kind of indeterminism that refutes Freud. This got my recovery underway. On Sunday morning we’re having church again, at a capacity for 26 people. In spite of everything, we must plow our way ahead with what is important to us. Nothing is more important to me than sobriety. On this, everything else stands or falls.

Nine forty. Each new day wears a different aspect, and no two days are alike. When you erase the past, anything in the future is possible, and determinism collapses like a house of cards. That is the meaning of freedom and positive change. 

Candy

Quarter of eight.

The song in my head: “Message of Love” by The Pretenders. The turn of the eighties makes me think of cherry Bubble Yum and Pop Rocks and Lemon Pepsi. Trashy Edgar Rice Burroughs books. The occasional rendezvouses with my nephews where they lived on Morningside Drive, with the church right next door. We played Space Invaders and Pac-Man and frisbee golf. I always bought a book when I had any money. It was such a pleasure to find The Warlord of Mars at the Waldenbooks in the Valley River Center. At the same time, these memories bring me pain.

Quarter after nine. At the end of my street I met with a crow in a treetop of Colin’s house. “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore!’” Then on N. Park a young man was walking his pointer dog, heading south. I followed behind him past Randy’s lot of ruined cars. I didn’t notice much of anything else, feeling a nebulous ache in my body and mind. Maybe I don’t want to go to church tonight. The thought flits across my awareness here and there. Out of a black sky beams a ray of sunshine, outwardly and inwardly. Except for my music, my life is going nowhere. Where would somewhere be? A life of satisfaction and pleasure, along the lines of my parents. I suppose I’m feeling like a dry drunk, a person irritable without his alcohol. And again I remember the consolation of freedom and responsibility, of philosophy in general. It is good just knowing that I am empowered in word and deed. Certain social ties I wish I could cut, and I believe I’m free to do that, but also responsible for the outcome. I could brush up my French and reread Les Jeux Sont Faits. There’s a lot of things I could do with my time, with the end purpose of a little pleasure. Any task is like eating a Tootsie Pop: you lick the sucker to get to the chocolate center. Everything is candy. 

Self reliant

Eleven thirty. It’s nice when I get likes from European readers. There aren’t enough of them. Kate, as I recall, was very literal and realistic, and she disliked extremism in any form. She was not religious or even Romantic. She thought I was crazy when I joined the church and the American way, which I can understand now. I really miss her and her sophistication, so different from my own country. It was this foreignness that attracted me to her. It seemed like a healthy way out of my illness. The problem was that I couldn’t stop drinking all during that time. Today I’m just kind of in suspense to see what happens next. Everybody is. The light of the sun is bright again like yesterday. Is psychology an overrated science? Sometimes I could do without it. I think it’s an American concern, more so than across the Atlantic, from what I’ve experienced.

Quarter after two. The sunshine goes on, with the sky mingled blue and wisps of white. There’s a tree frog screeching in my front yard, but otherwise it’s quiet as a deserted church. Only one other sound: an air conditioning unit next door or somewhere close by. Seems odd for January. Now a prop plane overhead. I just finished playing my Dean bass for today. Saturday afternoon I’m taking my blue Fender to practice again. It’s my favorite instrument and my main axe. It feels unreal that I don’t drink anymore. Certainly if I did, I couldn’t do music with other people, and my life would be useless even to me. Drinking beer is extremely expensive and it takes a huge toll on your quality of life. I still have dreams about alcohol at night sometimes, usually connected with my mother and my brother. My brother is still alive, yet I doubt if I’ll ever see him again. He seems to think that you can’t have a good time without alcohol. Even if he called me one day, I’d probably have to keep him at arm’s length. We’re not in the same situation together, and we have nothing in common anymore. I used to crave his approval so desperately, but now I don’t see why. I used to need my sister’s approval too, but since being sober for three years, family is expendable. I’ve discovered that I can think for myself and solve my own problems without depending on other people. I’m not anybody’s perfect poster boy, but still I hold my own… Sunlight filters through the kitchen window and shadows glow a little green. Except for a bit of a hum outside, the room is silent. I like myself. 

On the Rails

Quarter of eleven.

It was about eight thirty when I made my trip to the store today. I don’t remember seeing much of anything; things were just sort of blah. Michelle was busy putting bags of ice in the freezer. Right now I’m trying to relax and breathe and be okay with myself. Before the dawn I read a bit of Les Miserables. Hugo’s narrative voice is pompous, but that’s what I love about it. Brash, heroic, overstated, and larger than life. It’s just the opposite of a poet like Carlos Williams, whose maxim is to be inconspicuous… I feel as if there were something missing from my life. The garbage man just came by and took my trash in the blue, gray, and yellow truck. My mind flashes back to band practice on Saturday, when we figured out the chords to the Nirvana song. It sounds cool on Ron’s keyboard. We’ve had three sessions since Covid, and the third one was the best. I believe that this project can really go somewhere when the venues reopen around here… There’s a mourning dove cooing nearby, and a touch of sunlight temporarily. Supposed to rain again this evening and into the next couple of days.

Noon hour. Once in a while I feel the compulsion to drink and enjoy myself thoughtlessly, but then I would lose my grip on reality and nothing would get done. My music is more important to me than getting wasted on alcohol. I am the engineer of this train, and I won’t let it be derailed again. I’ve drunk away the majority of my life. Because of this, I missed some great opportunities to be successful and happy. In my experience, alcohol has been an evil thing. Even when the news is tragic on television, it’s still better to be aware of the world and take responsibility for my part in it. I no longer have a need to drink myself to oblivion. Sobriety is to be empowered, and on this point I disagree with AA. Powerlessness over alcohol is no answer. 

Non judgment

Three o’clock in the morning.

I felt uncomfortable lying in bed trying to sleep, so I got up. It’s another very long night, and the rhythm of the rain keeps me company. Rain is one more “R” word. As for the psychology of addiction, I think you either kick it or you don’t. Maybe it’s as simple as the desire to stop drinking; if you want it, then it will happen. A counselor told me I’d be a rich man if I could solve the mystery of why some addicts quit and others don’t. It seems to be independent of all the psychology and religion that professionals throw at it. It has to be a biological mechanism, but no one has figured it out yet. But observe the distinction between not quitting and the inability to quit, or the disinclination to quit drinking. Simply not drinking carries no moral baggage. When we say a person can’t or won’t stop, we apply a moral label of either weakness or willfulness, respectively. Not surprisingly, the science of psychology derived from ethics, the whole field of prescriptive statements. The hard sciences are only descriptive. There is no should or ought about behavior. Things just happen, like the random rainfall on the roof. 

By the Roots

One thirty. I feel myself flashing back to ninth grade, still the happiest year of my life. I think it was happy because of Rush, such a joy and inspiration to me for many years to follow. I had a minor crush on Gail W— in ninth grade pre algebra. Junior high school was weird, the beginning of a strange odyssey to college. It began and ended with egoism, the very antithesis to the churchgoing mentality I’ve since learned. Then why did I say that ninth grade was a happy time? The egoism led me inevitably to alcohol abuse three years later. Wasn’t my formal education instead a mistake? The soundtrack to the whole mad pursuit was Rush. And the basic text for Rush?: Ayn Rand. So now it’s nearly Christmas, 39 years after ninth grade egomania. Have I learned anything? No, but I’ve gained perspective enough to make an important distinction between school indoctrination and that of the Church. Perhaps Rush as a “soundtrack” is disposable. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

Quarter of three. It may be better to keep a critical distance from Ayn Rand, but then, the seeds of egoism were sown in me forty years ago. Better to acquaint myself with the enemy in order to weed it out by the roots. In my experience, alcoholism naturally follows from “reason, egoism, and capitalism.” Thus, the precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous are not far from the mark.