Why Are You Here?

December 11, 2020

He was “a piece of shit junkie.” His words. Clean almost a year Jake begins a harrowing lead. His entire family are addicts (active or dead) and, not surprisingly, he had started using early in life, in the 5th grade, whatever he could get his hands on: weed, booze, cocaine, meth… Then he tried heroin. And like so many others before him, junk quickly became the apex predator of his body and soul. The warm embrace was a python. It did not let go. He tried to free himself from its grip; spent nine months in rehab, only to get loaded within days of his release. “It was the same as ever,” he said, “only worse.” Jake’s mother, a methadone addict, gave him a piece of advice based on her experience: “Just stop trying, son. It ain’t worth it.”

Remarkably, he did not listen to her. Instead, he took the “rock star cure” and spent a brutal week detoxing at the Four Points Sheraton. Luckily, Jake had some friends left in the world. From the hotel, they drove him to a rehab and this time it stuck – so far anyway, one day at a time. Jake credits the facility’s emphasis on AA for getting him this far.

As is custom, he must now choose a topic for the group’s discussion. “Why are you here?” He asks.

Great fucking question, capturing the long-term implications of sobriety as well as its immediacy. This meeting. This evening. When you share you typically respond to the speaker’s lead rather than the suggested topic. This time you answer the question:

“It was 7:40 pm, the sun was setting, my family was out doing their thing, the dogs were asleep on the floor. I was alone. I had a few hundred dollars, a car, my laptop, and my phone. I had everything I needed to get into all kinds of trouble. I didn’t want to drink or get high but I wanted something. Desperately. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was… I never can.”

The Big Book calls it being “restless, irritable and discontent.” Yearning caused by the hole in your soul; something you used to fill with vodka and pills. Sober a long time now, there is still a cavity with a drain at the bottom and its pull is intense. You reckon with yearning every day and especially at night. AA suggests you ask God to remove its power, its gravitational pull, to fill yourself up with Him. God released you from the bondage of drugs and alcohol. Therefore, he can release you from the bondage of self.

“Alas, I’m not the praying kind,” you tell the group. “When the yearning washes over me I need to do something tangible. I need a safe place to go, a lifeboat. I need this group. That is why I am here.”

Addicts All

December 1, 2020

Everyone, you think, is some kind of addict. Be they active, recovering, or on the brink. Passions which are good become obsessions which are bad. People are self-seeking. This is the human condition, the result of Original Sin. Yearning. Craving. Lusting. Demanding. Wanting. Needing. Soothing. The seeds of addiction are there, have always been there. Many are able to temper these urges, denying the seeds what they need to flourish. But they’re still there. Waiting for a deluge, a perfect storm of misery or even joy… or just another shitty day. Then boom! Out comes the Hagen Das. The lonely housewife turns on the TV and never turns it off. An old man retreats to the garage for a smoke. Some concede to only a few addictions. Maybe they are harmless ones – a gardening obsession, collecting figurines. Or weird: like hoarding. Hidden from the world. In others the seeds erupt as soon as they touch a nerve, like weeds in a vacant lot. Out of control. You’ve met no one who has not succumbed to something. Drugs and alcohol are the poster children for addiction. But plenty else is out there.

Most of the jobs people do are motivated by addiction. The salesman would like nothing more than for everyone to be addicted to his wares. Many are called dealers. They give out samples. The chef wants you to crave his cooking, the barista her coffee. And so on. If one deconstructs any vocation creating and/or satisfying needs and wants were at its core. Your job in particular was culpable. In more than a poetic sense advertising worked every one of the seven deadly sins. The theme for your advertising blog: We make you want what you don’t need. Indeed. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a litany of demands that must be met.

You suppose teaching is not inherently linked to a type of addiction. Considered noble and selfless, teaching gets a pass. Undoubtedly, there are other clean human activities. But you are not trying to win an argument; you are merely making an observation. As an addict of many things you are wont to rationalize your behavior. This theory of yours is likely an example.

Solitude & Devotion.

November 28, 2020

It could be worse…

Soft and feminine, you adore it. It has become your companion. Palpable. Serene. Lovely. You have a long-term relationship with solitude, which almost never gets old. So many people abhor solitude, likening it to loneliness, depression and even madness. Especially women, who feel others in ways you’ll never understand.

Like many parents, Sarah fears the impending emptiness of her nest. She’s not sure you’ll be in it. And neither are you. But that was the least of it. The girls. They are her everything. And soon they will be gone. Remy was in college and the other two right behind her. The girls. Sarah answered to their endless chirping like a calling. She lived deeply in their experiences, feeling every bruise, celebrating all victories, and worrying herself sick. How would she ever replace that? With you? Please.

For you, it would not be an empty nest. It was solitude.

There will always be a wall between you and devotion. You built it for protection against cruelties, both real and phantom. Over time, the mortar hardened. Now, it was virtually impenetrable. Like your father, you eventually surrendered to the fact that intimacy would never come to you the way it did for others. And like your dad you found a way to compensate. You became an underwriter. Enabling your family to have deep and fantastic experiences, even if you couldn’t.

My philosophy as it relates to diagnosis and treatment has evolved since I first became clean and sober in 2003. While I began (and continue) my path to recovery as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have never completely accepted a number of its foundational tenants. For example, I remain uncomfortable ascribing to the disease model espoused by AA (and elsewhere). I believe every person with a substance use disorder played a major role in creating their problem (routinizing bad decisions), and they will need to do the same in recovery (changing the behavior). I recognize the usefulness in calling alcoholism a disease in terms of framing the therapeutic aspects of 12-step recovery models and in determining healthcare policies, qualifying for insurance, etc. Like with any disease, I also believe that alcoholism and drug addiction are progressive in nature.

As a counselor, I adhere to the five ethical principles: Autonomy, Beneficence, Fidelity, Justice and Nonmaleficence.  Realizing that while each has specificities all are beholden to the other. Indeed, one may be in conflict with another, such as confidentiality and the potential for imminent harm. Untangling a sticky ball requires a measured hand. In a given situation, if right and wrong are not crystal clear, my intent will be to discuss options and scenarios with my peers before acting. One of the most important words booming from your lesson plan: CONSULT! I look forward to that collaboration.

The first thing I learned in Journalism school there is always two sides to a story. Likewise there are multiple stories for every individual who suffers from alcohol or chemical dependency. A person’s drug narrative is often shaped by their genealogy as well as environment. Things like family structure (or lack thereof), social groups, ethnic and cultural norms and other issues almost always play a role in the formation of a substance use disorder. How could they not? Therefore, a counselor worth his or her salt must be culturally competent beyond what passes for acceptable in today’s divisive political climate. Working in the field I know this is an area I must continue to develop, letting go preconceived notions I may be harboring.

 Specifically, regarding your class, I very much appreciated the flow, tone and manner of each session. Given the myriad technology issues and the upside-down nature of 2020, I found this course almost therapeutic! Yes, it was a lot of work but the curriculum was such that I could immerse myself in it, whether absorbing content or creating it. So… thank you!

Like many of my classmates reported I also enjoyed and appreciated the role-playing activity. “Practice” like that is always appreciated. Yet, my favorite part of the course was/is the active discussion concurrent to your lectures. Spirited discussion with peers and professor works for me; I like learning this way!

Creating my presentation piece was, dare I say, fun. Immersing myself into the content was of course beneficial from a learning perspective. But the assignment was stimulating from a creative perspective as well. Making slides. Creating graphics. Presenting to the team. Giving and receiving these presentations was time well spent.

Finally, thank you Dr. ——- for your efforts in trying to keep the Certification Program going. Whatever happens, I appreciate knowing my commitment to this coursework is valued beyond its profit margins or lack thereof.

The Acorn

November 16, 2020

On the last day of your senior year in high school you broke a rule by wearing shorts. The Principal called you out for the infraction, stopping you in the hallway. The details of your exchange are lost in time but you most certainly had been disrespectful. Whatever the case, he ended up banning you from the graduation ceremony. A harsh blow, but hardly the first one the school had dealt you during your tenure. Thankfully, it would be the last. Good riddance. Your mother was upset by the news. Maybe she cried. Maybe she took your side. You don’t remember. It was a long time ago. However, you do recall your father’s reaction. “Good,” he had said. “Now I don’t have to go.” You were relieved that he hadn’t gotten mad. But was it also possible that you’d been hurt by his indifference to your banishment (and by proxy his). After all, had you not been banned from the ceremony your father would have been forced to attend. At the time you viewed it as a win: neither of you sitting in the hot sun waiting for a piece of paper. But shouldn’t a father want to go to his son’s graduation?

The acorn does not fall far from the tree. Having three children, you too are put off by the myriad events you were made to attend. Parent-teacher conferences. Recitals. Soccer matches. Graduations. You were ambivalent about going to any and all of them. Sarah hated this about you. “Why must you only think of yourself?” She asked a million times. As time wore on, she would become even more direct: “You’re going, whether you like it or not.”

And go you did. Sometimes grumbling, rarely happy about it, always happy when it was over. You have wondered about this attitude. Many times. It’s not that you didn’t want your children doing these things you just didn’t want to do it with them. It was nerve wracking watching Remy hammering away at the piano or Callie being bested on the soccer field. Worse was enduring the other children. That was the opposite of entertaining. What did Oscar Wilde once say? Hell is other people’s children. They bored you to annoyance.

But you went. Dutifully. You have Sarah to thank for this.

After joining AA, you learned to name your character defects and that your principal sin was one of self-centeredness. Early on, you recall a member’s lamentation about drinking in his car while his daughter played the cello. How low can one go? He asked the group. Join the club you wanted to say. It went without saying.

Your upbringing demanded that you become self-sufficient. Your difficult surroundings forced you ever deeper into your head, where you created fantasies to offset the growing fears and frustrations of the outside world. You became introverted and built your life around it – it being you. Reading, writing, collecting butterflies, drawing comics, even masturbating; by the time you started using drugs and drinking the die had been cast. You put yourself first because in your mind no one else ever would. You had ample evidence to support this view. Your parents abandoned you. Friends betrayed you. Girls were beyond you.

You have covered this territory before: in therapy, in AA, in your writing, in your head, ad nausea. Even during your darkest hours, you knew better. That’s why you intervened on yourself, joined AA. What you hadn’t counted on was “better” meaning selfless. You desired to be a better husband and father but you couldn’t let go of your will. Despite everything, you admired your wits and what they had wrought. In AA, you heard people attack such pretenses over and over but… There was always but. Needless to say, untangling yourself from your self has proven to be tricky. A lot more tricky.

Even so, there is much to celebrate. You are not so angry anymore. You are responsible, law-abiding, and paid your taxes. You do not feel cheated by the world or anyone in it. Though you know the world is unfair you also realize that this is why you are still alive and not a drunken statistic. If life were fair you’d be dead. You are grateful for what you have. You are sober.

Every day you do something physical, something spiritual and something for your brain. You have your set of unwise and unhealthy behaviors but it soothes you. It could be worse.

But the calm always seems conspicuous. Can you maintain it? Will another front arrive? The questions buzz like mosquitos, disturbing the peace. What now?