June 16, 2020


You‘re different around people, seldom for the better. For the longest time you believed it was you alone who’d suffered this way: the flutter in your stomach, the faint patina of sweat on your brow and, regrettably, the overcompensation of self. Make men laugh. Turn women on. You had to create an impression… or else.

You had ludicrously sensitive radar, capable of detecting and amplifying all manner of human behavior. The way bats and sharks sense their prey or a dog’s keen sense of hearing. You too were so blessed. Beyond just moods and personality, people brought energy into a room and you’d sense it. Hand gestures, the way a husband touched his wife at a party, or didn’t. Eye movements, when a pretty woman glanced over your shoulder at someone else in the room. Her perfume, his aftershave, and the perspiration it hid. The argument they had before coming to the party… or to work…or to your house. Anywhere. Anyone. You could feel all of it, or so it seemed.

Hating this feeling, you assumed a couple pops might loosen you up, make you more comfortable, more social. A common strategy for others for you it never worked. Liquor didn’t quiet your nerves as much as gave them somewhere to hide. Temporarily. Inevitably, they would erupt from your mind like the roaches in that storage unit. Then you said cruel things or acted out, alarming friends and infuriating loved ones. Booze did not quash the radar. Instead of simply being nervous you became drunk and nervous. Why this had taken so long for you to comprehend was a mystery of alcoholism. You smoked weed for over 20 years, even though it made you uneasy and paranoid. It was the same with Cocaine. In the end, you chose the bottle over people. Alcohol wasn’t the problem, they were. Alcohol wanted you alone. So, that’s where it took you.


“What’s the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?” You ask Mia, upon sitting down.

“Is this a joke?” she replies.

“I was wondering the whole ride up,” you say. “On a lark, I even tried asking Siri. She told me where the nearest bike path was.”

You take off your skullcap tossing it beside you on the couch. Rub your shaved head. This is what a psychopath looks like. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Shining.

“Well, first of all, we don’t use those terms anymore,” Mia says. “Not clinically. We prefer calling it antisocial personality disorder.” 

“Well, I definitely have that going on.” You smile. The topic actually has no bearing on your mood, which is upbeat.

“Basically,” Mia continues, “a psychopath does not have a conscience while a sociopath has a glimmer of one, albeit damaged.”

“So,” you wonder aloud, “a sociopath knows he’s doing something wrong but does it anyway. And the psychopath has no moral compass whatever?”

Mia nods. “Do you think you’re a sociopath?” she picks up her coffee mug, keeping her eyes on you while taking a sip.

“Compared to a psychopath!” You lean forward. “I know when I’m doing bad things but yet I do them anyway. The drinking. Infidelity. Driving by myself in the carpool lane.”

Mia laughs. The reaction you were looking for. You think this is how a patient flirts with his shrink. Playing cat and mouse around a dicey topic. But Mia’s too smart for that. She won’t abide such banter unless it’s leading somewhere relevant. She calls it deflecting.

“Addictions are different than psychosis,” she says. “The disease overrides morality. You know that. Besides, you have a moral compass and you’re working on fixing it. What you do here, in AA, a sociopath wouldn’t bother doing.”

“I suppose you’re right, Mia. But sometimes I wonder…”

To be continued…


The storage locker was a decrepit cell housing your family’s holiday decorations and misfit furniture. Each unit in your fancy Chicago apartment building had one, in the catacomb hidden behind the gilded lobby, with its uniformed doormen and polished brass.

There, was the liter of warm vodka, waiting in an old urn that you had once used for plants. There, you fell into an old loveseat, and drank, grimly watching the cockroaches as they emerged from their nest under the boxes of ornaments, beneath the ruptured concrete. The fancy people in your building called them water bugs. But you’d studied insects in school, collected them as a child, and you knew an American Cockroach when you saw one. The adults could grow two inches, especially in warm and fetid places with ancient plumbing and moldering plaster. You no longer tried to kill them. What was the point? Like you, they would always return.

You do not share this story at group level. Not because it’s too painful, it wasn’t. The memory of that storage locker, you collapsed in your chair, the Lord of the Cockroaches. Ugly as that picture was there were lower places you might have gone, and did. The descent from drink always picks up where it left off. And it begins with forgetting.


Like many introverts, you find serenity in nature. Retreating into the woods, the hills or simply out on the lake fishing. Leaving the company of people. Entering a better place.

Drugs and alcohol once took you away from people. False prophets, malicious guides into dangerous places, they drew you inward. Left you there. Isolated. Like they say in AA, your brain is a very dangerous neighborhood.

So you go outside. Marin County has so many trails. Within minutes you are free. In nature means you’re never alone, even by yourself. It’s both hard to explain yet obvious. Solitude is company. You hike. You walk. You stand perfectly still. You can feel yourself breathe. No more waiting to exhale. Not here. The monumental redwoods and fragrant cypress are profound company. Called “The Sleeping Giant” by locals, Mt. Tamalpais lords over you like a sentinel.

Exaltation. Elevation. No matter the circumstances, if you open the door you will always feel better. It never fails. Misery comes when you forget that it’s here.

To be continued…


March 31, 2020


Sheldon raised his hand as a newcomer but you’ve seen him before. Fresh out of a treatment center, he was back from another bender. “I know where this ends,” he said, sobbing. “Dead in some motel on the 101.” Sheldon was scared but not enough to stop drinking. The alcoholic drinks to oblivion knowing he might not wake up; or because he just might. Here he was, head in hands, crying in a meeting.

This you fear. That what befell Sheldon could happen to you. It already had. A year into not drinking you finally owned up to an opioid addiction. Ha! How you had wanted to believe otherwise, that you could have sobriety but get high too. But then came the obsession, the stealing of pills, the lying and reckless behavior. Falling into the abyss all over again. The chickens had come home to roost and a ravenous fox was awaiting them. In some ways, withdrawing from pills eviscerated you more than quitting the drink. Those first days even death seemed a pleasant alternative. When the withdrawals finally subsided, you became awash in humiliation, bearing witness to the bewildering fear in your family’s eyes.

You are often accused of not caring about right things. About doing wrong things. Especially regarding your family. An argument can be made. And has been, over and over again.