A Series of Todays

Noon.

Well I’m just stuck. Church wasn’t much fun; my heart wasn’t in it. It’s hard to be enthusiastic for something you don’t believe. I thought it would be nice to mingle with some real people but it didn’t make that much difference. I don’t know what I want… The mail carrier just put a package in my mailbox: a couple of books that I ordered Friday… I believe I’m cranky because I crave beer or something for a sugar fix, so I might go buy a sweet treat at the store. The sugar is bad for you but it beats doing alcohol. My dad acquired a sweet tooth after he quit smoking; he kept a bowl of lemon drops in the family room and he’d take a handful once in a while in the evening. Who am I to be better than my dad? The truth is that sobriety is very difficult. The first few years were pretty easy but it’s getting worse with time.

Dr Pepper sounds good right now. Fully leaded, with all the sugar, caffeine, and fizz. I won’t be happy until I get one.

Or if it’s a test, maybe can stick it out for today… and do the same thing tomorrow… 

Only You

Quarter after one.

When I was a poor drunkard in 2009, there was a clerk at the store who told me he chose not to drink, and the matter was as simple as choosing to drink or not drink. At the time, I think I disagreed with him, saying that alcoholism is a genetic disease and not a matter of choice at all. Now I don’t know. Opinions on it vary. There was a huge controversy over alcoholism when I had my problems. A few quacks wrote books on the subject just for the money. A counselor told me that if I could solve the riddle of why some people recover and others don’t, I’d be a rich man, but I’m skeptical of that today. There will always be quacks to ride the gravy train, cash in on something big, but I’m not one of them. If there’s a secret to staying sober, then it is obscure even to me: even I don’t know how I’m doing it. I am definitely cynical of treatment facilities and other things where the research is phony and they only want to make a lot of money, and control patients into the bargain. If you are an intelligent person, I expect that you’ll discover a way to stop drinking without the gimmicks and false information that you see everywhere. Looking back, I see nothing but a huge racket made of addiction and recovery. If you’re smart, you will care enough for yourself to make the best decisions, not for anyone else, but for you alone. 

Doorways

Quarter after eleven.

I just took my medication after a missed dose last night. This should make a difference in my thinking and judgment. I played my G&L bass this afternoon and it sounded pretty good, though I had doubts in my mind about ever using it with other musicians. I put my foot in my mouth with Mark in my last email to him, so now it’s dangling until after the holidays. There’s another musician I’d like to touch base with, though it’s been three years since I spoke with him. There’s such a diversity of people in the business, and I wish we could all be perfectly harmonious together. Or maybe I’m more discriminating than I’d like to admit. The last real public gig I played was with Doug and Marc at the Volcan in May 2003. This was just after I started treatment for addiction and before I got a job with the agency. I didn’t realize at the time how free I was to decide my own fate, and perhaps I made the wrong choice. In either case I would have battled with addiction until I hit my rock bottom. It’s always so hard to know what is the right thing to do. “Do you get what you’re hoping for / When you look behind you there’s no open doors / What are you hoping for / Do you know?” It’s really crucial to keep in mind that we are absolutely free to make our own choices. It is determinism that is the illusion. 

The Gollum Effect

Quarter of two.

It is significantly cooler today than yesterday, the sky a lot bluer and the sun yellower. I can hear kids playing in the street. I feel the temptation to walk back to the store for something sweet to eat or drink, and a treat for Aesop. I had a long phone conversation with my sister a little while ago. All good. During the heatwave I might’ve done some things I’ll regret later. It’s hard to make decisions when your brain is baking in the sun. It’ll be even more plain to me when the summer is over with: roughly one more month!

Three o’clock. I went back to the market and saw Deb, Brandi, and Cathy, and got a tub of ice cream and two dog snacks. Deb had a deep dark suntan and wore an orange scarf on her face. Sometimes going there in the afternoon gives me flashbacks to my drinking days many years ago. Things haven’t changed much since then: the same bunch of addicts come in all afternoon long and into the night. The scene isn’t very pretty when morning changes to noon. And now I think of my brother. He’s not the same person he was when he had a career as a college professor. I keep thinking of how Gollum was deformed by the power of the Ring. Alcohol and drugs are the same sort of thing, seductive and destructive… Four children were playing baseball in their front yard when I walked by on my street. The other morning, Kat waved hello from her living room couch next to the window. But through it all I get the feeling of something missing from my life. Today is not like the 1990’s with my parents and all my friends in the music trade. Being sober is to be stranded on a solitary island. It takes a long time to build new connections with other people— and with yourself. 

Morning Soliloquy

Eight o’clock.

It’ll be another 90 degree day today, so I plan on staying inside the house where there’s air conditioning. Yesterday I noticed how bad my voices are when I hear white noise from a source like a fan or an ac unit. Remove the noise and the voices stop immediately. While they are speaking, fortunately I can’t make out what they say. Even if I could, I would know they were unreal, just a byproduct of my brain function. The scariest experience is to have visual hallucinations, stuff made out of thin air. And of course paranoid delusions are no fun at all. Often I stop and ask myself what causes the symptoms, but the simplest explanation is genetic heredity. I disagree with the spiritual account, ie that of demonic possession of the sufferer. I think that would be awfully bizarre if it were true, although a common thread of darkness seems to run through many people with addiction and mental health issues. Perhaps in a parallel way of metaphysics, both perspectives hold true at once… I’m not going to church this morning; trying to stay away from Christianity for a while. Occasionally the thought of oblivion appeals to me; to just forget everything sounds really good. My poor mind tends to be too much of a radio for sociopolitical signals. The month of June I thought was particularly brutal, a severe trial and test of strength. But in two months I’ll have four years free of alcohol, which should make a good milestone. Right now it’s time to feed my dog. I hope the can opener doesn’t break, or something stupid like that. 

Defeating the Myth

Four twenty five.

I just ordered the Hackett one volume of Plato from Amazon. Free one day shipping. It ought to be a thing of beauty when it arrives in the mail tomorrow night. Around the time I left my job I used my work earnings to buy the Princeton edition of Plato, which I later sold to Tsunami Books— and kicked myself. I had still another copy of it, but the one I bought with my own labor was special, and I sacrificed it to my addiction to alcohol. Plato said that the three most characteristic results of tyranny in the individual are drunkenness, lust, and madness. Therefore it’s significant that I overturned the self discipline of Plato for the tyranny of addiction. I was 41 years old the last time I purchased a one volume Plato, so much younger and more foolish than today. 

How does addiction take hold of a person, and how does it go away? It could be a matter of claiming freedom and responsibility in your life; first realizing that you are free, and then taking action. And this revolution happens by dissolving your misconception of determinism, the idea that you are in bondage to nature and natural laws. It actually is to defeat the myth of Freud’s unconscious mind, this thing that drives behavior in spite of your conscious will. Overcome this myth and liberate yourself to endless potential.

It additionally is to overrule the paradigm of Plato’s psychology in the Republic. Maybe there is no “many headed beast” in the human soul. As long as you believe it, you will be a slave to it. Realize your freedom by making the beast unreal. Simply deny it reality and it goes away… 

Excellent Foppery

Four twenty five in the morning.

Yesterday, Michelle said that the peppermint candy ice cream would still be available through the holiday, so that gives me an idea. The store opens at six o’clock, but it won’t become light out until almost eight. Still I might take my chances with the darkness on my little mission. My mind is beginning to juggle the possibilities for a New Year’s resolution. How about finishing up reading Les Miserables in 2021? It’s such a literary monument, and very French… The dudes and I have set a time for our jam this Saturday: three o’clock. There may be a 53 percent chance of showers, but I think I can hoof it. Bass guitar in my left hand, umbrella in my right. We were going to fart around with the John McLaughlin song. No worries.

Nine o’clock. Been to the store for ice cream and a Snapple tea. Aesop just ate. Michelle wore Snoopy and Woodstock this morning. She thought another customer looked shady, so she kept her eye on him. Moving north of the building, my eye caught the beer cooler, but I realized that I do have the power to say no. Choice is a conscious thing, no mystery about it, no psychodynamic forces beyond our control. Right now, I reject Freud and Jung, and maybe the subconscious too. Everyone has the right to be eclectic, to pick the beliefs that benefit them. We can assign responsibility to entities outside of ourselves, but does that really help our situation? In my opinion, it doesn’t. Therefore I put the responsibility where it belongs: with myself. Anything else is the “excellent foppery of the world,” to quote Shakespeare. 

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. 

Moksha

Eleven o’clock. I see a glimmer of sunlight on the magnolia. My dreams at night are usually about family, particularly with respect to their alcoholism. Mom and my brother refused to consider ever quitting drinking. I wonder what they were afraid of? They were my favorite relatives growing up. My brother could do anything in the world— except stay sober… Consciously I am almost at peace with the situation. I can live without a biological family.

Noon hour. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my mother’s death. Every year it gets easier. My mind is trying to purify itself of her. Being born is to be thrown into a situation you didn’t choose, unless you believe the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As soon as you’re conscious, you look around and find yourself dependent on a family that may be dysfunctional, and then you bury your identity until the time is right for self assertion. It can take many years to disengage the hooks that family sinks into you. It’s kind of like the process of spiritual liberation, or moksha, where you burn off all the matter that is not self in order to be self realized. Addiction is an extreme form of attachment to earthly things, to material stuff. Hinduism teaches that the world is an illusion called maya, and only the spirit world is true. But I think these religious ideas are metaphors for a general psychological truth that every individual can feel who has overcome addiction… I still haven’t completely done this, for I’ve traded alcohol for caffeine, yet I’m getting closer to “moksha” a little more all the time. What is it like when every attachment suddenly drops away? Is it like the zen satori? Are you then truly free? Or is your mind still conditioned by cause and effect? It would be interesting if the notion of maya were absolutely true, and the soul is totally autonomous and pure. 

Recapitulation

Three twenty five. During my friendship with Kate, I drank a lot of alcohol. The fact is that I never met her in person, so it was kind of like a dream, something that didn’t happen in reality. Somehow I have to ground myself again. Put my feet back on the earth. Every day seven years ago I was higher than a kite and couldn’t use good judgment. It’s extremely painful to remember those times now. I very easily could have died of my addiction. Dr Fitzharris said I looked like I wouldn’t live much longer. I had edema in my ankles because my liver was malfunctioning. I had iron overload for the same reason. I had gastritis a number of times. And then I had DTs and neuropathy and other neurological issues. What was fun about that?… I can’t figure out how I fell into such a cycle of addiction. If I could, then I would write a book about it to help other people who still struggle. My sister saw it happening to me from the outside and felt helpless to intervene. The edema started in the summer of 2013, I think. Joann the nurse caught it, but I never did anything about it… I’m three years sober and now I wonder how I ever got so addicted. Was it because I wanted my brother to approve of me? He always said I should drink even more. I finally cut the cord with him almost two years ago. Now I don’t think of him very much. When I joined the church in 2017, my brother made fun of me, but I should have the last laugh. I know now that religion is simply another perspective on human life, and not necessarily the opposite of science. I did the things I did for good reasons, and Kate was another person I left behind… Today, there is still this terrible ambivalence between religion and skepticism. I don’t know how it will resolve itself. But, I know that my sister is honest and ethical while my brother just isn’t. And then there are my friends on WordPress…