The dawn is coming up very rosy outside. I need to get Aesop some canned food this morning. We finished off the ice cream in one day. Recently, I went searching for the word origin of “church” and could find nothing… Okay, it derives from the Greek that means “Lord’s house.” I’d expected something different, like a collective of people, a community maybe. Interesting how embedded in the human psyche is the idea of God, but also the way it skips over some people… Another thought is the nature of schizophrenia, whether it can be considered a willful nonconformity or instead just a biological disease. Opinions will always be divided on mental illness. I suppose that religious indoctrination is not harmful for a person with schizophrenia, although I’ve resisted Christianity for almost twenty years… I guess I’ll go to the store now.
Nine o five. I finally learned that Vicki was let go from her job. It took two years for them to make this decision, and Deb sat in on the meeting. Now Michelle will be working five days a week at the market. I’m sort of glad, because I never knew what Vicki might say from one day to the next. Hurtful things, sometimes. Overall it looks like the little store is becoming more professional and conscientious about customer service. And that’s kind of a relief to me… I may or may not go sing carols with the church tomorrow afternoon. I’ll probably pass on the Christmas spirit this year. The hoopla of the season is not for me. As long as it’s optional, I will opt out. I don’t get the feeling that the church has ever understood schizophrenia, so maybe it’s time to reevaluate my situation. I don’t feel particularly guilty or ashamed for anything anymore, and I believe that consciousness is being raised in general regarding the mentally ill. I imagine time will tell.
Noon hour. November is packed with memories for me. Sobriety is hard to keep up, but I think about what my financial situation would be like if I drank daily. A 12 pack of good beer goes for about $15 or more. I don’t think my liver can metabolize alcohol anymore. It’s the worst thing for my health. Addiction is a steamroller, and it doesn’t care whom it crushes. This afternoon I might go buy my usual Snapples… Suzanne had to delay writing to me this morning. People are preparing for the holiday, everyone except me. But my book of Sophocles is coming tomorrow.
Quarter of two. I’m at physical therapy right now. My mind is a blank…
Quarter of four. The idea of sociology returns to tease my brain again. Maybe it’s a higher function of human minds to obey the unwritten rules, to conform and cooperate with the group. On the other hand, there are always square pegs and misfits, and these people help to make life a diverse experience. The unity of a given culture is one thing, but diversity from individual to individual is also inevitable. Rousseau: “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” The social contract is not something that comes naturally to us. And yet I put on a face mask in public like everybody else. I suppose the most antisocial behavior is substance abuse, when you isolate yourself and get high. You disconnect with culture and create your own reality, totally out of touch with people. Maybe people constitute the common denominator, the bottom line. Thus sociology has a point. But I think I’ll re-examine Rousseau’s political philosophy, though I know he concludes with the necessity of the general will. We sacrifice our native freedoms in order to have a civilization. We go at the green signal and stop on the red. Or perhaps we do something different when no one else is around?
Eight thirty. I know that nine years ago was a long time, but I have a hard time letting it go. I loved Kate, simply enough. Yet the simplicity was complicated by other circumstances, including my alcoholism when I knew her. I guess what I need is to be patient with the process of recovery. In some ways I feel quite lost, while in others I’m very confident. For a while, I have to content myself with smaller pleasures before I’m ready for a relationship. But I have no regrets for what happened in the fall nine years ago, and hold those memories sacred.
Nine thirty five. I wore my new Duck mask on my trip to the store. Michelle was very nice, as always. Sometimes my thinking is clearer when I’m walking around. I realized that what I really miss is not my Scottish friend but rather the alcohol! Booze is a great facilitator of daydreams, and truly I lived in a fantasy years ago. I had a wonderful time when I drank, yet nothing short of heaven is permanent bliss. And then I speculated on the necessity for fantasy in all our lives. Dreams keep us going. If the frigate can’t be alcohol, then give me a good book. Today I’ll probably read more in Victor Hugo. The sky is overcast, though not as dark as yesterday morning. I think I love November. Music by Stewart Copeland runs in my mind, a souvenir of old times when I believed I was happy. Is all happiness just an illusion? Whatever your bliss, nothing in life is forever. Sobriety is to experience the roller coaster of real life. And these ups and downs are what I have to accept.
Quarter after eight.
It’s another beautiful day, and I feel rather restless. My thoughts are a jumble, concerned mostly with individual freedom. I was educated in the ‘80s, and now my schemas are challenged by a time that refutes them. I’m not sure how to characterize these times, but to me it seems that we’re all lip locked to a great extent. Our eyes are open, but our mouths are sewn shut. I wonder why that is? Perhaps social media is just a fickle thing, and ultimately silly and useless. It’s especially dumb if you can’t say what you mean. On this note of frustration, I guess I’ll call my sister… No good. She has other things to do. One of her dogs needs to see the vet… Funny how I still believe in Freud while the world has gone exclusively Christian.
Nine forty. By now my maple tree has turned completely golden. It’s very pretty outside. My thoughts dwell on conformity and this thing called society. It bugs me a little. Attitudes toward individuality have changed over the years, unless it’s only my own attitude that has changed. Benjamin Franklin made a drawing of a cut up snake with the caption, “Join, or die.” The way of the world is going religious, so I suppose surrender to this is all right. Then again, a famous drummer said that when no schools for jazz exist, you form one. The same is true of all disciplines… I feel like Rip Van Winkle, asleep for thirty years, then suddenly awoken and returned to his village. Didn’t he drink a potent brew as well? All the more appropriate. Alcohol can do that to you: cut you off from your culture, sever you from society. In the past, I kept the front drapes always closed. At this point, the social rays of sunshine are just beginning to reach me.
Quarter after eleven. I had a superstitious dream of writing about my fourth sober Halloween. An evil spirit caused the content to disappear, as if being sober were not the reality. Now, consciously I recall those old Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Freddy Krueger the slasher could only kill you in dreams, so you dared not fall asleep. The films were played on cable television all the time, so right now I wonder if they might’ve been toxic to the viewer. I hadn’t thought of Freddy in years, maybe since the last one I saw, in fall of 1989. Wes Craven movies were such a juvenile thing, but I watched them like everybody else. You were not cool unless you did so. In turn, I think of my old friends from around that time, who all had secular beliefs and values. A lot of them drank like fishes. I’ve lost contact with all of them since my decision to stop drinking; they vanished as if by a magic trick. As if they’d been erased by Freddy from the screenplay of the life we once shared… When I told M— the guitarist I had stopped drinking and joined a church, he replied that I was a “good American,” and after that I never heard from him again. His friend on drums was a mutual friend of some other friends I’d known, hence word must’ve spread through the grapevine. Closed social systems are very strange things. Alcohol and cannabis had run rampant in my old scene. Towards the end of my drinking career, marijuana was everywhere I looked. I was getting deeper and deeper into a bad bunch. Each new rock band was a step lower into hell. But today, the “good American” sticks out to the old scene like a sore thumb and the effect is like magic: everybody from that loop disappears.
One forty. The quote I ascribed to Montaigne was really Erasmus, found in Google Books, a biography of Martin Luther. It must have been a source I used for my term paper in fall 1989. Kind of amazing how I remembered the passage all this time. It isn’t clear that Erasmus actually said that; there were no quotation marks around the sentence. I would guess that Rousseau was the first to seriously proclaim the wisdom of children, and later Wordsworth took up the torch and elaborated on it. So I guess Google does know everything…
Two forty. The year 1989 is significant for me somehow. That was the last period when I fully possessed my faculties before the onset of the illness. My Vraylar has restored me to my old sanity at age 22. So my life now begins again from that point, it seems to me. I hear more songs by Pat Metheny. My parents sold their manufactured home in Florence in the summer of the same year because Mom couldn’t afford two houses. I feel sick about that. My brother helped them sell the property to a Californian who had the lot next door. It was such a defeat for poor Mom, who had wanted to retire in luxury. I recall the day when they brought home their purchase of a motor home. Unfortunately it turned out to be a lemon. Something was wrong with the battery. So, their retirement plans came to nothing, and they got rid of the lemon as well. What happened to my mental health after that I don’t know. I fell into a depression at first, and then I partially lost my ability to concentrate on schoolwork. Eventually I didn’t register for fall term 1991, and continued seeing a psychologist. Finally in November I began to have bizarre delusions, culminating in a full blown episode and the diagnosis in December. But the question is why, and was there a situational reason for the breakdown?
Quarter of nine.
It’s a gray and wet autumnal morning, the normalcy of which is promising. Aesop grows older and mellower all the time. Tomorrow I have physical therapy to go to. I know that Ridesource will get me there ridiculously early. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. I love October, especially now that I’m on a medication that works. I can remember how I felt 18 years ago, always scared that I would go to hell. The delusions arose from who knows where in my brain. They leaked into consciousness through a hole in the floor. Today, my brain chemistry is totally rearranged. There is no floor, no above and below. This model makes little sense to me now. It’s just a theory on paper, and equally flat and two dimensional. Outside, the blueness within the gray emits a glow, and there is a wind blowing. Aesop gets Blue Buffalo Santa Stew for breakfast. Three minutes and counting.
Quarter of ten. I watched him eat every bite: I think he liked it. Funny how the wildfires robbed us of a normal September. Rarely did we see a blue sky. Now I’m thinking about my family, and who really trespassed against whom. It seems to have gone both ways, so the way for us to heal is to forgive all around. I believe I understand my sister better than I did before: there was never any guile in her heart. Alcohol and madness kept things complicated from my end, but I wasn’t the only one who drank. It’s good to see it all more clearly, and forget about those wasted years. Or instead, understand them and take away a lesson. Our conversation yesterday was a bit of a minefield, but we got through it without blowing off a leg. And to some degree, time itself is a healer of all wounds.
Quarter after five. Thomas Mann assumes that sickness has moral underpinnings. I’ve always struggled with that opinion, but there’s such a consensus that agrees with him. What we don’t understand we treat with religion. I’m not even sure how to define mental illness anymore, having heard so many perspectives, and none of them superior to another. When was the last time I heard the DSM5 referred to? At least in America, talk therapy has monopolized the field of behavioral health. I never hear anything about psychiatry anymore, maybe because mental illness is too expensive for society to afford. While this is going on, people with schizophrenia and bipolar still self medicate with illicit drugs on the street. Some of them even refuse medication, and we tell them that’s okay. Honestly, I haven’t spoken with another person who has schizophrenia in many months. It’s as though they were running around undiagnosed and unmedicated. Mental illness has become a big gray area, and all because we’ve done away with psychiatry and diagnostic labels. Or is this only my own experience in the past three years? What do we do with our severely mentally ill people these days? Where have they gone? Why don’t I see them anymore? Perhaps they’re all homeless and sleeping under the Washington Jefferson Street Bridge? They seem to have been assimilated into the mainstream, their symptoms ignored and untreated. Is this a good thing or a terrible miscarriage of justice? I only think of the suffering of people with psychosis who don’t get the relief they deserve. There’s something wrong with this picture. But of course, I would have to see some statistics on recovery rates to really know what is happening…
Quarter of ten.
I feel pretty good this morning. It helps that it’s raining here today. It’s a sign that Nature is not damaged beyond repair, and the seasons continue in spite of human abuse. I sent my poem to Pastor; he replied that he really liked it. I guess what I need to do is let go my memories of my Scottish friend and my psychiatrist, those unromantic people from the old country. Of course I miss them, but they happened years ago. Suddenly I remember Christmas Eve 2017, a big event in church because of the non regulars who came for mass. One of them was an exquisitely beautiful Croatian girl who sat in the pew behind me with her two boys. Her eyes were black and shining and the children were almost as big as she was. Also I remember how Pastor was really in his element for Christmas; he led us through the ritual without a bobble… I checked the forecast: rain for the next three days, thank goodness. The chance of rain goes down at around noon, so then I’ll go to the store.
Quarter after eleven. Well now I’m going to just be myself. I am not Wordsworth, let alone Shakespeare, so why pretend? And yet Romanticism is a lot of fun to play with. That’s just it: we’re being irresponsible, like children playing a game. Our job is to save the ecology before it’s too late. There’s only us and nature, so we’d better realize the fact and act responsibly.
Noon hour. The rain stopped, so I went and bought a loaf of bread and two Snapples. I saw Melissa there, who used to work in the deli. On the street I met Harry. He commented that there was no rain. Then he queried, “One day at a time?” I told him I wasn’t drinking anymore. Afterwards I smiled inwardly at his reference to AA practice. Now the sun comes out here and there in chinks between the clouds. In the home stretch on the return trip, it occurred to me how light everything was, how clear and plain. One home was modestly decorated for Halloween: skull and crossbones on the front door, and a row of gothic headstones before the house. As Harry had observed, there was no rain.
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.