Here I am being intimate with a device again, like feeding numbers to a machine, data entry for future retrieval. Interesting how synthetic it is, and is the human mind really like a computer or more organic and warmhearted than cold circuitry and binary code? We only socialize with machines for the convenience. With technology and a lot of alcohol, you can build yourself your own Xanadu paradise, an impossible dreamworld that never has to end as long as your body holds up. A comparison might be the Hoffmann tale of “The Golden Flowerpot,” just without the element of machinery. The young student has two lovers, one real and the other a complete fantasy. When he has to make a choice between them, he finally picks the fantasy girl and goes to dwell in Lotusland forever. But there’s something very dark about this story that may not be obvious at first. It’s like the perdition of his soul… Such is alcoholism. Sooner or later you have to reckon with reality and the community around you, however poor in spirit or intellect it may be. This is a sermon to myself more than to anyone else, but hopefully with a didactic message to take home.
The question of what is real shouldn’t be a perplex. And if you were the student in the Hoffmann tale, would you know what to do?
The third day of not taking the Vraylar is beginning to tell on me. In my journal during the wee hours I wrote some very strange gobbledygook ideas on religion that assumed the Bible is historical and true, God is real, and a lot of stuff that doesn’t sound like me at all. So I’m going to take the drug again starting in a few minutes. Later I have to call my sister but I hate to do it because she’s a devout Christian and this aggravates my illness so badly.
Now I’ve fed the dog and taken the Vraylar. I remember a person many years ago at my workplace whose name was Uriah and whose parents were religious fanatics from what we could determine. A coworker swore within his earshot, “Holy mother of God,” and that was the breaking point where he decided not to work for us. On the wall of our cubicle hung a little figure of a devil which, Sandy told me, had frightened another day laborer for our area. There are lots of examples like this, but you see such things in the workplace everywhere, and most people just shrug and are insensitive to them. Of course, the times two decades ago were very different from today, when the spiritual life was booming, to the detriment of the mentally ill people just trying to live. And that’s how I feel whenever I have to call my sister for a conversation each week. As for having joined a church, it was a mistake based on a misunderstanding about recovery from alcoholism. It seemed like the only game in town other than AA.
It always seems I’m between the frying pan and the fire, a sea monster and a whirlpool. Sometimes it’s good to let it go and look at tangible things alone: simple matter.
I was reflecting on my workaday life 15 years in the past, with a supervisor I really didn’t care for although I stayed there 4.5 years because I thought I had to. What impresses me now is how innocent I was when I first started the job, and how corrupted by the time I left. After that, I had an alcohol addiction that grew much worse for the next nine years, while my brother discouraged me from trying to recover. My supervisor also had been an alcoholic.
At the bookstore once I saw a title in the philosophy section by a British author, a book on the phenomenon of evil. I understand that one of its concerns was alcoholism, not as a disease, but as something purely wicked. But I haven’t read the book and I can’t say anything more about it, though it sounds interesting. I do know that other writers might disagree with that opinion; for example, Iris Murdoch was a moral philosopher writing fiction, and her books are full of alcohol abuse as a matter of course. The norms change in only a short period of time, and the author of On Evil probably never read Murdoch.
Personally I don’t think some of these newer publications are worth my time or my money. I made the mistake of buying a new book in the fantasy genre that just sits there unread: people are not versed the way they ought to be anymore, so their writing isn’t very good. People want their information fast and easy and they don’t take the time to really let a book digest— if anyone reads entire books at all. And those who aspire to erudition are usually just dilettantes and dabblers. The world doesn’t have time for the things that matter the most. We pluck a quote here and there and hurry off to work. Someday it’ll catch up to us, sometime after I’m probably dead.
One thirty AM.
I’m not sure why I got out of bed in the dead of night. Vaguely I remember drooling on my pillow when it was 75 degrees in the house and a bit out of my comfort zone. But by now I’ve forgotten the things on my mind as I’ve woken up and shaken off the slumber… My journal is nearly full of my drivel since the beginning of April. After reading it back, I gave it the title, Future, Past, & the Imperfect. The most noteworthy thing about it is the departure in style and content from the sermons I used to hear at the Lutheran church. A voice of my own begins to assert itself, though the observations are often regretful and remorseful for a big decision I made five and a half years ago. It’s almost like leaving the Old World to explore the New on this adventure of recovery. Something about my progress is one step up and two steps back, and I frequently look back on the familiar past and wish I could have it both ways. It’s a little like having a foot in both places at once before the old Atlantis finally sinks below the ocean waves forevermore. What happens next is totally up to me.
Quarter of eight.
There are so many books I want to read or finish reading, and one of them is Sense and Sensibility because I really like the character Elinor. But it’s as if the Jane Austen fad of two decades ago was suited to that time and by now has run its course, the same way that cognitive therapy has lost its popularity. We really needed a remedy for the mass psychosis that gripped most Americans and some people worldwide. Today it appears that the only ideology is greed. But despite all this, I might still read my Austen and go living in the past, like the old song by Jethro Tull.
A neighbor is pressure washing his house as I write. The air is motionless and it’s partly cloudy. The sunshine you can see is a deep mellow orange on earthly objects. It’s still very early. It is forecast to be in the lower 80s later today: probably why this person is getting his business out of the way. I can remember a lot of things that took place in May or June in years past. But do the same things make the same sense to a sober mind as to a pickled one? It’s like having another person’s memories. It’s a wonder that I remember them at all. There is still one year that defies my recollection: 2015 is almost a total blackout…
To some extent, my mental events are subconscious arithmetic, though very elementary and somewhat like numerology. I’m quite loopy for anniversaries, especially in multiples of ten years. I recall that I was in IOP treatment for alcoholism this month twenty years in the past. The main therapies used were based on intuitive psychology rather than evidence, as with cognitive therapy. It all boils down to the same dichotomy of reason versus romance, and which one would you stake your life on? I’ve seen a lot of bad logic go with the Twelve Steps, and a flawed method means inaccuracy. This in turn means a failure to accord with reality. But there may be something to be said for “the language of the heart.” I only know what works for me, and it’s not the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” I could never see the relevance of this to recovery. You either care about factual truth or you don’t. Followers of Jamesian pragmatism value results of a belief over what is actually true. People used to talk about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and other ridiculous stuff, but if the belief helped you, it was somehow valid. I don’t hear that kind of talk today. And people still recover from addiction or they don’t, irrespective of their thoughts. Maybe instead of abolishing the DSM, we should do away with the Big Book. Either way, you’re going to upset somebody. So I stay away from the whole field of recovery. Or perhaps they stay away from me?
For twenty years I’ve been a political and religious shuttlecock and by now I’m really sick of it. My brother has alcohol and drug problems, but I don’t want to believe it’s due to his ideas on religion and morality. When I was a kid, he was the coolest guy, and very funny and fun to be around… Well anyway, this afternoon is going pretty good for me and I don’t plan on church in the morning. If I wanted Dark Age thinking then I’d ride a time machine back to the 17th Century and watch them burn witches. I don’t want to be jerked around anymore, and those who do the jerking have no excuse. As usual I’ll probably get a poor sleep tonight. In the end, something’s gotta give, and we either move forward or we completely tube it and revert to barbarism for the rest of our existence. I doubt if we can have it both ways. Or at least, I can’t do that.
It’ll be light outside until eight o’clock. It reminds you that the planet we’re on is not static, but moves in space, and things are not totally stable. It’s hard to hold this view when I was indoctrinated so thoroughly with religion after my mother passed away. It’s as though I’d done some crime that deserved punishment. It was never fair. And I guess it never will be fair, no matter how we protest it. Our solution to things like madness and alcoholism is to “church” those people, for the lack of a more scientific and humane treatment. We throw a bible at what we don’t understand rationally— a practice that is itself irrational. It only shows the extent of human ignorance and how far we have to go.
I’m a huge advocate of psychiatry, by the way; but even this has a long way to go to reach the goal of understanding and humane care of people with behavioral health issues.
I imagine we’re all doing what we can. It’d be nice if we could go just a bit faster.
(Never mind me. I’m full of crap.)
Quarter of midnight.
I think I should get myself off of Maxwell Road, at least for a while. I compare my imagination to that of the governess in The Turn of the Screw: the whole drama turns upon her hysteria, but for me, the problem is ambivalence on alcohol. I keep resenting the church, but the prohibition is all in my head. The layout of the road around the corner from me is really an expression of my own mind. In itself, the place is indifferent, and it’s my mind that gives it its essence. Thus, maybe I would benefit from a change of scene. And then again, maybe the scene is always passive, a blank canvas for my personal brushstrokes, so wherever I go, it’s the same thing.
Then I need to rearrange a few things in my mind…
Nine thirty at night.
I resolved not to overindulge in caffeine again at least very soon. I think I can philosophize myself out of it. The real underlying desire is for alcohol, and everything I do is a mask for this innate impulse. It’s like a weed that grows with you: you can whack it down to a crack in the floorboards, but it’s impossible to uproot it. Moreover it’s a thing that my family understands; all the males have the heredity for alcoholism… I just had a flashback to an old trip to the Coast with my brother. When we got to Florence we always stopped to buy a case of beer and some food before winding north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Yachats and Waldport. Now he is 70 and still acting like a 21 year old rebel, though it’s hard to say if he’s very dumb or very smart. I don’t know if alcoholism is a disease, especially with its historical roots reaching back to the ancient cult of Dionysus. Our culture of today sticks a pejorative label on drunken behavior. And maybe it’s an excuse to glorify it with mythic precedents and words like “Bacchic” and “Dionysian,” etc. Whatever it really is, my brother took the wager and went with Mr Hyde, when Dr Jekyll might have been able to invent the “reverse nuclear bomb.” And perhaps when you ponder it deeply, his fate has been a damn shame. The only question is, is “fate” the right word?
I anticipate seeing Gloria a couple of hours later. It’s a cloudy and wet day again. I catch myself holding my breath and tensing my abdomen instead of relaxing and just being. Is everyone so unhappy with their life today? Maybe the illusion of happiness is as good as the real thing. You can find it in a bottle or aluminum can. A professional used to tell me I was pissing my life away. It’s a difficult question. Why is sobriety undesirable to some people, and why is escape so appealing? Probably everyone would like to live in a world under their control. I guess that’s what writing is for. “Haven’t you heard, it’s a battle of words…” And if a person had the freedom he desires, how would he use it? AA members say he would drink it. Their solution is to throw yourself into doing altruistic deeds and forget your own desires.
If you were John Carter, telepathically shuttled to Mars, a whole world to conquer, what would you do with your power? Perhaps a wizard would say destroy the power; live and let live. It leaves me feeling rather unsettled. At the same time, the sun comes out and there’s blue sky in the west.
Let the day take care of itself, and of you and me.
Why is trust so hard? Everyone is a critic. We all see ways that life can be better. The art of acceptance gets more and more difficult as things go more and more haywire. If we’re all in the same boat, then why can’t we steer it in a better direction?
Sometimes I could opt to be John Carter…