Continued from previous post…

You began acting callously and with impunity. Courting the trade press, you would say whatever came first, seeking credit and taking it. You then collected these stories in a shoebox, like scalps. The more awards you won the more you took winning for granted. You expected victory. When you got a substantial raise you asked for stock in the agency. You demanded monster bonuses. And got them. No title was big enough. Executive Chairman? You weren’t even sure what that meant. Put it on the fucking business card.

Sure, you created bridges but you began burning them as well. Whoever could help you was a loyalist. Everyone else was simply in the way. Always a competitive field now became ruthless. You made enemies, inside and outside your company. They were just jealous, you thought. And did it matter? Tables turned they would treat you the same as an opponent. Or so you believed.

In the eye of this storm a moral compass was useless. Drugs and alcohol became your closet allies. Feeding your ego. Telling you full speed ahead. Cunning, baffling and powerful! They would deliver you to the Promised Land. Back to that feeling you once experienced by the elevators. But of course it was all an illusion, their siren song leading you out to sea alone in a tempest. You would not be the first captain to have crashed upon the rocks.

Your hands trembled in a meeting. So you folded them under the table, hoping no one would notice. You perspired so you brought an extra shirt to the office. You ran for miles along Lake Michigan. At the gym, you tried to work out what was wrong. In the steam room you couldn’t see what was happening. Fear crept in where confidence once reigned. You took Valium and Xanax, along with the drinking.

The wheels were coming off.

For all your hubris it was this obsession with work that would save your life. When you realized your job was at stake, then and only then, you decided to quit. Not for your marriage or your family or even your health. Those lines you’d crossed a long time ago. You’d mortgaged most of your relationships. Your wife was in denial. Your father had written one of his letters. None of that mattered. The great copywriter and rainmaker you were not willing to lose.

In rehab, the group leader, himself a former addict, told you that maybe an advertising career wasn’t in your best interest. That it threatened your sobriety. He warned its venal culture would only suck you back in. You spitefully replied that you made more money in one week than he did all year. Quit your job? Unthinkable. Keeping it was why you’d stopped drinking in the first place! Sick as you were, this had been the most lucrative time of your life. You’d made over a million dollars. Losing all that for something as ephemeral as serenity? Please. What you did not tell the social worker was that you feared he was right.

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.”

The Flicker Inside (5)

March 23, 2020



It was the tiny burning ember that never died out, no matter how much booze you poured on it. Lord knows you tried.

Then came the big jobs, fancy homes, a wife and baby. And you: the functioning alcoholic. Holed up in your den, full of vodka and opiates, bluntly staring at the computer screen, the white-blue of it, the useless words you had written. Even then you knew it was there: the flicker inside.

God given or not, you kept having this thought: Your purpose had to be more than just seeking oblivion. You knew what you were doing was wrong. Yet, you kept doing it. Later, you would call this Step Zero. You worked it for years.

An artist staring at the truth...

Johnking1956, The Man who would be King is a new blog worthy of our attention. Without breaking his anonymity, John King is the pseudonym of an AD/Creative Director, who used to work at a big ad agency in Chicago before getting laid off and moving to Reno to ply his trade at a resort casino. That alone makes for an interesting tale, right? I mean the creative department of a casino sounds more like the set a reality TV show than a job.

But then the recession hit, clobbering the real estate and gaming industry, nowhere worse than second tier markets like Reno. King found himself out of work. Again. Adding injury to insult, severe back problems, first encountered while working in Hong Kong, came back with a vengeance, filling King’s days with debilitating pain and copious amounts of morphine. He wears a plastic girdle-like brace to keep his spine true and may have to install a morphine pump into his body.

It’s not pretty or easy being King. However, he is still determined to find work. His blog is about that journey, a journey that begins each morning with more pain than you and I, God forbid, will ever know. What makes the story utterly compelling in the man’s bracing optimism in the face of these hardships.

This is one of those stories that breaks your heart but can lift your spirit as well. King’s tale reminds me of Mickey Rourke’s Oscar winning turn in The Wrestler. It’s that painful. That poignant. That good. You cringe but endlessly root for him.

King is talented and deserves another shot. But he is a hard hit man in a hard hit industry and place. Recovery for him or it is far from certain.

And yet, he’s chosen to blog about it.

Not to sound like a film trailer, but if you need to be reminded of the strength of the human spirit this holiday season, consider The Man who would be King: