A Labor Day Letter

This holiday is a particular milestone for me every year, starting with 2003, when the musician named JP called me on the phone out of the blue. Months earlier, he had seen my newspaper ad for sober musicians and kept it. His friend Dave was already there at his house, so I packed up my 83 Fender bass and headed over to W Second Avenue off of Chambers Street. I remember that it was a beautiful day, and I was still an outpatient at Serenity Lane. I’d had nearly five months without alcohol… The next Labor Day weekend, 2004, I relapsed into active alcoholism while employed at Laurel Hill as a document scanner. Thirteen years later, I went to the emergency room on Labor Day and was given a brutal “rectal exam” by a Black woman doctor. And 2017 was also the year I finally decided that drinking wasn’t feasible. In five more days it’ll be three years. Now, it doesn’t sound like a significant amount of time, but I can remember when I couldn’t stay sober more than 11 days. I would always rationalize myself back to drinking again. The only person better at rationalization than myself is my brother. I truly wish that he could find life without alcohol worth living. Polly might forgive him if he quits drinking and lying. But maybe his destiny is different from mine. Mainly, I just hate to think of him living alone in misery.


To a great extent, my recovery has been a self evolution by means of language. I broke away from my family and the mother tongue and developed a language of my own with the help of blogging and journaling. I sort of wrote myself into existence. The language center of my brain has always been very articulate. Not even a severe episode of psychosis could wipe it out, which is atypical of people with schizophrenia. Many lower functioning schizophrenic people have difficulty with communication. I reckon that my verbal gifts are a blessing to me, because whatever happens, my logos doesn’t fail me. This reminds me of a character from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series for children, a big, furry, simian creature named Gurgi. Gurgi was forever hungry and begging people for “crunchings and munchings” all the time. At the end of the second book, a kind and powerful king rewards Gurgi with a magic food pouch that is inexhaustible. You can eat and eat and eat and the pouch never runs out. The food pouch came to be used by all the characters associated with Gurgi on their adventures. Anyhow, I remembered this because my word generator seems similarly endless.


That was a great series, btw, but I think geared more toward boys than girls. My favorite installment is the fourth book, Taran Wanderer, where the young hero goes out on his own to learn the truth about his parentage. Besides many other people, he meets a blacksmith who helps him forge his own sword. The end product is not particularly pretty to look at; it’s a bit misshapen and imperfect in a word. However, the steel is extremely strong, and it symbolizes the identity of Taran himself.

Cowbird Analogy

Ten twenty five. I found out that the party is not until noon today. So I went ahead to the store and got a root beer and some food. Cathy was cashiering and Supertramp was on the radio. After ten o’clock, business picks up really well for the market. I saw quite a few people there. The weather is cooler today, much more temperate and agreeable. My root beer tastes fab…

It’s nice to see that life goes on, much the same as before. Part of me craves beer, the taste and the feel of a cool Foster’s Lager. But I know that one beer multiplies to a 12 pack before I even know what happened. It’s a perfect day for a bacchanal, a drunken spree, but I have to forget about that. I can’t judge by what other people do. Some can afford to drink, but I remember how my account used to be overdrawn from spending on beer. And I didn’t care at the time; I could only think about having more to drink. It was a kind of mania with me, occluding my perception of everything else. Alcoholism takes over your whole life if you allow it to. Thus I won’t go back to drinking in any capacity. If I could make a political cartoon of alcoholism, it would look like this:

A bird’s nest full of eggs. A cowbird comes along and lays an egg in the middle of the nest, except this egg resembles a 750 ml can of Foster’s Lager. Before the other eggs can be hatched, the can of beer nudges them all out of the nest, becoming the sole occupant while the legitimate lives ultimately perish. The mother bird feeds the Foster’s bird until it grows to the size of a dodo…

Blue Tuesday

Eight twenty.

I’m going to try to make today a better day. Think happy thoughts. Yesterday was ridiculous. A downward spiral straight to hell. I used to think reading Sartre was fun, but now it’s too real and gruesome to enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with Romanticism, the beautiful and true. We need something to lift us up from the pits. It may not exist already, but we can create happiness by means of music and poetry.

Nine forty. W— sent me a letter saying it’s unlikely that I have hemochromatosis, but she didn’t tell me what I should do. So, I called the institute and asked about it. I will get a call back later today. It seems to me that W— is trying to be a diagnostic hero or something. Looking for a feather in her cap. The decision is up to the hematologist, not her. Why did she send me the letter? It just seems confrontational on her part. Whatever, I’m getting to the bottom of it. She’s probably right, but still, the doctor is the one to say… People do crazy things in the summertime. The heat gets to everyone, messing up our judgment… Aesop is begging me for his breakfast, due in one minute…

Well, all I have to go by is the note W— wrote. Maybe my reaction was paranoid. I’ve been in a bad frame of mind since yesterday. Perhaps she didn’t think it through to the same conclusion that I did. And my conclusion was, Why be seen for a condition I don’t have? Why waste my insurance money on unnecessary visits and labs? Indeed, I probably did jump to a conclusion that W— hadn’t thought of. Anyway, getting that letter in the mail puzzled me and got my day off to a rather bad start. I’m having a very hard time staying positive. I’m looking for evil motives in people where none exist.

I should burn the Sartre book.

Quarter of ten. I wonder if I should take a gabapentin? Maybe it would help my mood. But this would be psychological dependence on the drug. My cranky mood probably has to do with stopping the med. It is definitely addictive. I think I’m in a mess, a vicious circle of addiction.

Gabapentin

Quarter of three. I appear to be physically dependent on gabapentin. I looked up the withdrawals on the internet and not only do they exist, but I could identify with several of them. So I started taking it again just to get rid of the withdrawals. Then I left a message for Darcy at Laurel Hill. I hadn’t realized that gabapentin is potentially addictive. People had said such good things about it. But by now it is well documented on the web that the withdrawals are similar to alcohol and benzodiazepines, which for me is deja vu all over again. I bet my old psychiatrist would have known the risks of prescribing gabapentin. Worst of all, while experiencing the anxiety symptom, I wanted to drink alcohol to make it stop… Therefore I would warn people about this drug before agreeing to have it prescribed for you. In some ways it’s as bad as alcohol and Xanax.

Baby Steps

Quarter after three. I don’t know why I need parent figures here and there in my life. Someone to depend on. And my alcoholism was a kind of dependency as well: chemical. Well, Vicki has been rather parental for me, but not in a healthy way. I attach myself to people and places that feel safe to me. If I stop going to Community Market and shop elsewhere, then I will feel a little insecure for a bit. But I wish I didn’t need parents anymore. The thing with Vicki has been indeed an emotional attachment, as strange as it was. I really don’t know her at all. She was the person who used to sell me beer in the morning, when the addiction was out of hand. My dependence on alcohol was itself an emotional investment. The beer was soothing to me like a mother. And indirectly, Vicki came to signify motherhood to me also. I wonder why the maternity thing is important to me? I’d like to get over it and be independent. At least I can weed out the unhealthy parents and cultivate better relationships with people. Alcoholism is a very odd behavior, because you depend on something that isn’t even human. Alcohol is only a drug, nothing to have a relationship with. When I drank, I felt like I was in the mother’s womb, safe and protected from all harm… And what if I do go to a different store every day now? How will it feel?

Mental Healthcare: a Letter

It’s been an inauspicious day for my writing today. It was a dud. Well I had my one liter of Coke and suffered no ill effects except for a little hypertension. Okay, and a twinge of conscience for being reckless. I did enjoy the taste of the Coke, but was it worth the self scourging? Probably I was flirting with disaster, knowing as I do that my motive for having a Coke was submerged alcoholism. Tomorrow I’ll have a decision to make: repeat this behavior or force myself to leave it. Before long I could be addicted to caffeine again. The way this works is quite mysterious, but everybody with an addictive personality understands it. My brother has been addicted to Vicodin at least twice and kicked it, but he always returns to alcohol. My sister had a good start on quitting smoking when all of her teeth were pulled— and went back to it again. The thing about alcohol that makes it so maligned by culture is the way it alters behavior. I don’t believe that God and Satan have anything to do with it, although I’ve been indoctrinated with this nonsense so that I know it far too well. But the real mechanism of addiction is poorly understood, and whoever solves the puzzle will be a very rich individual. It is because no one understands it that people resort to religion for treatment of it. My sincere hope is that, someday, reason and science can expose the workings of addiction to the light of day, bringing us out of the Dark Ages and ending the blame and shame that addicts unfortunately have to go through. It was never a fair situation for people with this problem to browbeat them with a guilty conscience. Some healthcare professionals are downright sadistic toward alcoholics. I’ve witnessed this at the emergency room and even been a firsthand victim of it. I despise PeaceHealth and the RiverBend hospital for demeaning people with alcoholism. They also suck at helping people with schizophrenia. And as I write about this and ponder it, I think there must be something I can do to improve these conditions. The days of chaining schizophrenic people in dungeons are not over, yet in the name of decency they ought to be. The dungeons just have been given a facelift. Strangely, where healthcare professionals have failed, I find that a random cross section of people can be quite progressive and accepting of the mentally ill and addicts. So that all hope is not lost for humanity as far as keeping an open mind.

Control Again

Seven o’clock. I took a risk on Coca-Cola because I really wanted to drink beer or something else with alcohol. But I wonder why I picked now for a time to do this. I don’t feel very clever at this time. I feel disappointed in myself for being stupid. What was the stress that pushed me to do this? I shouldn’t be feeling any pressure at all, yet something has been bugging me since the heatwave hit us. Life seems out of control, or rather out of my own control, and maybe by drinking I believe that I could seize some power over events. At least, this is what makes sense to me. It used to be that drinking was one of the freedoms available to me, and by doing so I could assert my control over my life. In the face of everyone who said I mustn’t drink, I stubbornly persisted in doing it in order to be independent and free. Rebellion is absurd sometimes. We go to self destructive extremes in the name of freedom and power over our own lives. What is the contrary of rebellion— obedience? But what is it that we must obey? And this line of inquiry will lead me to Milton’s Paradise Lost. I never bothered to read the whole poem, but perhaps I should.

Thursday

Eleven ten. S— is late getting back to me. I hope nothing went wrong. Someone apparently tried to burgle the market again last night. They only succeeded in splintering the glass of the front door. The other possibility is that it was the vandalizing kind of protesters who use Black Lives Matter for a rationale. But I’m seeing more and more of that sort of thing in the neighborhood… The show will go on tomorrow, though. Pastor is seeing about getting me a ride… I feel kind of hopeless for the future. Now I’m curious about the poetry of Apollinaire. Was it about sexual liberation?

Currently, the flesh is at war with the spirit— and the spirit may not win. But if the flesh wins, then I will probably drink again. This makes sense. It is said that if your mind is on the flesh, you are not with Christ.

Three o’clock. Suddenly I feel a little better. I gave Aesop some dry food and tightened the screws in the pantry door knob. There’s definitely truth to the arguments about carnality in the letters of Paul the Apostle. I’m not sure how it works, but it does. This morning I dreamed that I poured beer into a glass and then went away, leaving it on the kitchen counter. While I was away, my mother picked up the beer and drank it. She inadvertently saved my sobriety. Next I found myself in the main part of Fred Meyer, and I wondered how I was going to get home. I decided I would walk home along River Road. In a gazebo in the middle of the street I ran across my dad selling some product (jewelry?). His coworker was a younger girl, and we had a conversation about the vanity of both women and men… The fan keeps it reasonably cool in here. My green Dean bass sounded great again today, so I really anticipate getting those new flatwounds next week. But it’s all a journey, not a destination, and noodling on my Dean was a good moment. Being content in the present is an important skill to learn.

Afternoon

Quarter after two. I played my green Dean bass for a while and fell into a very cool groove, doing Zeppelin’s “In the Light” transposed to E minor. I even tried it tuned down to D. I figured that the La Bella flatwound strings make a huge difference in tone, so I ordered another set of them from back East. Expensive, but I enjoy the sound so much. Flatwounds last a long time too. There’s also the Leo Quan bass bridge I still haven’t installed. Put it on the turquoise Precision with flatwounds and I’ll have the bass from hell. Maybe I’ll save the bridge for another time. I don’t want to sound too much like Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. His tone is unique and distinctively himself. I enjoy experimenting with different tonalities, however.

Three ten. The heat is a bit excessive, but I’m still functional in spite of it. I’ll give Aesop a bone at four o’clock. Last one in the package of six. I just thought of the old Ems Civic Stadium that burned to the ground some years back. I was so out of it that I didn’t hear the news until three years ago. I was at a dinner at Katie’s house that October. A lot of the congregation showed up. I was seated next to Sandi and across from Doug and Shirley. He felt kind of crummy because he was having a couple of beers in front of me.

Quarter after four. I closed the blinds in here to keep it a little cooler… It’s curious how people have different values and priorities. If I couldn’t have fun and think for myself then I’d go nuts. Some people are instilled with a strong work ethic and don’t mind it so much. Other people don’t like to think at all. To each their own. For me, thinking is as essential as breathing… Many images from the distant past come back to me, times when I still had Henry and Mom had just passed away. The dog was registered with Santa Clara Animal Hospital up until the year I left my job. I don’t remember exactly why I switched us over to the other place. Henry used to be terrified for visits to the vet, and would quake all over like a jellyfish. I guess I reckoned the shorter the drive, the better. My own nerves were in pretty bad shape all the time. It took me a long while to finally shake the shit off and figure out what was important and what wasn’t. The paramount thing is sobriety, any way this is possible.

The Priority

Quarter of four. I played my turquoise bass for a while and it felt good. I picked out three parts from the old Yes album Time and a Word, enjoying “Sweet Dreams” the best. Things fell into place harmonically for me when I played some actual tunes… I almost rationalized my way into drinking beer last night and again this morning. I was ready to throw it in with religion and go back to my old ways, which would have been suicide but I nearly didn’t care. I wonder what stopped me from going back? It might have been the thought that in September I will complete three years of sobriety, a tremendous milestone for me. Also that my brother has never been able to stay sober for that long. It is better to keep my distance from him and the family. Perhaps they leave me alone because they know I’m sober? I’ve had the same thing from certain musicians who do alcohol and weed. I guess that’s the different drummer element of recovery. The point is that what I’ve been doing has worked for me in keeping me sober. And sobriety is the priority. Everything else can go to hell, but not sobriety.