FeaturedLack Of Power: Surrendering to Win

Lack Of Power: Surrendering to Win

“Finding a Power greater than me, and working to submit myself to that Power are the most important priorities in my life – without which I’ll gain little, lose much, and hurt a lot more people along the way.”

A week ago, a good friend of mine left me with a question, on which, I’m still chewing: “Do you still think that if you took care of the mental and emotional issues in your life, and got on the right med, that you could, then, drink normally?”

The question stopped me dead in my tracks for all the right reasons, and I’ve spent the last two weeks reconciling – with all the self honesty I can muster – where I’m really at with it. It was asked in the context of finding a spiritual solution to a problem that science has determined as both physiological and psychological. Furthermore, addiction science has shown multiple paths toward addressing the twin problems of substance abuse and addiction. For many, a spiritual solution has proven effective, though it is hardly the only pathway to addressing the problem.

The Need

It is the spiritual solution that seems to work best for me. So, his question made me ask myself: “Have I conceded that neither my own willpower, nor the power of someone else, is strong enough for me to recover from my addictive behaviors?  Have I surrendered the long-held idea that I could drink without consequence if only I could get my mental and emotional mess in order?”

As of this writing, I can’t say with certainty that I’ve completely jettisoned that falsehood. I only know that this particular lie is where my diseased brain will take me, when the thought of a drink crosses my mind. So, at the very least, I better be prepared to shut that crap down. And, for that alone, I’m going to need Divine Intervention. Left to my own devices, and without an effective mental defense, that tempting thought will take me toward the next relapse – from which, I’m not so sure I’ll recover. Decades of on-and-off drinking, poor decisions, and not dealing with the mental-health issues – both related to my addiction and apart from it – have put me in a seriously vulnerable spot, which truly means that going back to a life of substance abuse is the worst possible option I can exercise.

A couple of nights ago, this same friend and I had coffee at a favorite spot near his house. Our work at hand involved learning how to believe in a spiritual solution, and addressing the many roadblocks that keep such a thing possible.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that both finding a Power greater than me, and working to submit myself to that Power are the most important priorities in my life – without which I’ll gain little, lose much, and hurt a lot more people along the way. Getting here has taken decades – a few good years, and many bad ones, whole periods of my life colored by depression, some instances of spiritual abuse by past mentors, and years of reticence to get close to anyone in that position, ever again – lest that individual place themselves in an authoritative position in my life. This, unfortunately, is part of the cult-like behavior that can happen within a group of people, when truly sick people attempt to guide other truly sick people through the process of recovery. Or, as an old friend used to put it, “we’re all here, because we’re not all there.”

My last mentor, a man I continue to love and deeply respect, hammered two things into my consciousness: 1) I alone am ultimately responsible for my recovery; 2) The whole point of the spiritual path to recovery is to find a Power greater than oneself, which can solve the problem of addictive enslavement. By existential definition, that power cannot be another human being. Yet, so many of us give other people that kind of power all the time. Otherwise known as codependency, it is, too often, the residual characteristic of family members impacted by alcoholism.

Such was the case for me, as I was incapable of any real partnership with another human being. Simply put, it was a part of my baggage that I had yet to fully face, much less address. Sadly, there’s still truth to that; hence the rigorous spiritual housecleaning that my friend and I are undertaking.

Which Power?

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On my dad’s desk, in his home office, at the family farm. This compass was given to him, as the past Commodore of Duck Club Yacht Club, in St. Charles, MO – along the North Shore of the Mississippi river.

My experience has shown that I can stay sober for long periods of time, but being happy during those periods has – until recently – proven elusive. During one of those early stints of long-term sobriety, I got hung up on finding the right Higher Power – the one conception of God that would work for me. How I landed where I did is pretty typical of how God works in my life – using my weakest points to draw me into taking the actions that work best.

It always starts with a woman.

I became really interested in a female coworker, while at a radio station in West Texas. She was going to a non-denominational church – one that I, later, discovered to have Charismatic roots (Texas is, after all, a very Southern state). Aside from some of the doctrinal weirdness – of which, I would become fully aware later – I heard a pastor who was able to communicate The Bible and Christianity in plain English, and it was there that I began to see the relevancy of Christ in my life.

To this day, I consider myself a professed Christian, having committed to the continual process of submitting both will and life to Christ. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though the process of getting there warrants its own separate post.

The thing with the woman didn’t work out the way I wanted it to (It never does, though she and I are friendly toward one another, today). The slow march toward surrender, however, is what stuck with me. That was in late 2000, and there would be five different relapses into active addiction, over the next 18 years – taking with them a marriage, a job, my financial future, the trust of family and friends, my overall integrity, my mental health, and my hope for a meaningful, rewarding life.

During that period of time, I became increasingly, gradually, more honest with myself, regarding my part in my life’s troubles, the impact that alcoholism has on the family – and how my growing up with a lot of drinking around me affected me – the mental health issues that have always worked in concert with my addictive behavior, and the childhood traumas that drove my need to escape reality, from an early age.

That last part – that particular set of demons – is the one holding me back. And, I’m tired of it. While I know better than to believe such things can be healed in one fell swoop, my experience shows that facing the crap head on – with the help of professionals, a spiritual pathway…and, frankly, Divine Providence – will allow the greatest progress in this last dark corner of my life.

How In the World?

So, how, exactly, does one surrender, in order to win? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The very concept brings about existential conflict not unlike an internal, civil war. Winners don’t surrender, don’t shrink, don’t give up – or so we’re told. Ask a veteran what he or she thinks of surrendering, and you’re likely to be told off. The idea that we surrender anything – much less, doing so in order to win in the long run – is counter-cultural.

Once, I heard somebody frame it this way, and it’s stuck with me, ever since:

In the throes of my addictive behavior, or during periods of sobriety when I was still hellbent on running the show, I surrendered a lot: my academic goals, a good GPA, my financial health, genuine relationships with friends and loved ones, and a clearer-headed path toward growing into the kind of person God wants me to be. Those were the things I gave up, when I insisted on doing things my way – drunk or sober.

While actively drinking, I surrendered my credit rating, a house, my marriage, a job that – while increasingly stressful within a changing political environment – remained rewarding and provided a career pathway to really making a difference in the realm of local government policy. I surrendered the trust of my family and friends, and for several months I surrendered my dog, because I was incapable of caring for her. I surrendered my integrity, and along with that, what little bit of love I had for myself.

I had become someone that I totally despised, completing the subconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy of self hatred. This alone – for the amount of turmoil this attitude toward myself has created, both within and around me – deserves its own post, as well.

So, what would it hurt to surrender to a God concept that loves me? Since the evidence of my life’s experiences proves I do a horrible job of running the show, what would it hurt to give that job to Someone Else?

And, what, exactly, would that mean? Another astronomically expensive question, I suppose, and one, for which, I don’t have a pat answer. There is none. Different spiritual pathways teach different things on the concept of prayer, Divine Guidance and working out one’s “stuff,” (known in Christianity as Sanctification).

As a practical matter, and because my personal demons involve various addictions, I follow a 12-step pathway in this process of working out one’s issues. This is totally compatible with professing the Christian faith, as all I’ve done is define the Power greater than myself, in a way that works for me.

Regarding my recovery process, I’ve kept everything vague, intentionally, since all 12-step-based recovery fellowships are anonymous. By its intended nature, this blog is a public forum, and that means I have a responsibility to treat it as such. The steps themselves have been featured prominently in all forms of media, and you can find them online. I would encourage you to do so. My linking them would give the appearance of breaking anonymity. And, that I simply will not do.

Suffice it to say, the decision to surrender to a Power greater than one’s self is the crux of Step Three. The action implicit in that decision is to work the rest of the steps – which involve serious personal housecleaning, paired with an even greater dependence on The Divine, in a way that makes more and more sense, as we reach Step Twelve. This isn’t a one-and-done deal, either, but rather, a process – one that will take a lifetime to finish, while in the meantime, providing a clear pathway toward a rich and meaningful life – the details of which are as unique as the people who trudge this particular pathway.

Doing so has made me a better son, friend, co-worker, leader, volunteer, congregant, Christian, human being. I’m only beginning, and have much more work ahead of me. But, I am ready. Finally.

When the dream dies

When the dream dies

While I was researching for this, I looked up “midlife crisis,” and what I found was pretty astounding.

It’s not a real thing.

We hear about it a lot in popular culture. Often, we joke about it, when referring to those of us who have reached middle age. But, it’s a far from guaranteed psychological phenomenon.

“One study found that 23% of participants had what they called a “midlife crisis,” but in digging deeper, only one-third of those—8% of the total—said the crisis was associated with realizations about aging.[4]

The balance (15% of those surveyed) had experienced major life experiences or transitions such as divorce or loss of a job in middle age and described them as “midlife crisis.” While there is no doubt these events can be traumatic—the associated grief reactions can be indistinguishable from depression.[4]”

The footnotes are from this study, published in 2009. It goes on to say that while midlife is often seen as a period of re-evaluation in adulthood, it only becomes emotionally problematic in a small percentage of adults – many of whom also experienced a traumatic event in midlife.

So, I guess that means I can’t joke about my post-divorce, midlife crisis vehicle, anymore.

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And, what’s really cool? This is a convertible. German engineering. Lovely to drive. Expensive as hell to maintain.

 

According to two additional cited studies, “the condition may occur from the ages of 45–64.[1][2] Mid-life crises last about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women. A mid-life crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:

  • work or career (or lack thereof) (check)
  • spousal relationships (or lack thereof) (also check)
  • maturation of children (or lack of children) (yep, this too)
  • aging or death of parents (not death, thank God)
  • physical changes associated with aging (not reall…okay, check)

Individuals experiencing a mid-life crisis may feel:[10]

  • a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished (check)
  • a fear of humiliation among more successful colleagues (raises hand in agreement)
  • longing to achieve a feeling of youthfulness (more than I may want to admit)
  • need to spend more time alone or with certain peers (check)
  • a heightened sense of their sexuality or lack thereof (Sure. Why not?)
  • ennui, confusion, resentment or anger due to their discontent with their marital, work, health, economic, or social status (Absolutely, every bit of this)
  • ambitious to right the missteps they feel they have taken early in life[11] 

And, yes, the last one would logically follow…until one realizes the colossal waste of time and energy, and the emotional toll that failure brings to such ambitions.

So, what do we do when certain dreams die?

Example: it had long been a dream of mine to have a family of my own. I put it off, when I was in my 20s for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t about to pass along all of my attendant neuroses to my kids. I wanted to make sure I had a modicum of my sh*t together; and 2) I remain the most ill-equipped person I know to navigate the dating/relationship world. And, I certainly wasn’t relationship material during most – if not all – of that time.

Looking back, it seems as though I settled when I married my ex. I’m not sure I would have described it that way, at the time. We were set to make a life together, and quickly realized how ill equipped either one of us was to do such a thing – financially, emotionally, relationally…all of it. And, while I’m glad we didn’t have kids, given the demise of our marriage, the biggest regret is the waste of time. She needed a better partner than I was capable of being. And, so did I.

That window is all but closed. Having kids at 47 isn’t impossible for a guy. But, raising them at 57…67…different story. I’m not sure that’s even fair to the potential kid involved. Also, that would involve marrying someone 15-20 years younger than me. And, as much as it might be nice to take the stereotypical divorced-guy route: 1) I’m not all that; and 2) much more importantly, that would require dealing with a level of immaturity…the likes of which might drive me to total insanity. I don’t want kids that badly, thank you very much.

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Stewie Griffin. Enough said.

So, given all of that, the next best thing would be to land a partner in crime closer to my age, with kids of her own. And, well, being a grandparent is a pretty sweet gig. All the fun and nowhere near the effort. So, there’s that.

One problem: I’m still one of the most ill-equipped people I know to handle the whole scene. I attach too quickly, and – in the past – have overlooked unacceptable behaviors, because: 1) No relationship is perfect; and 2) Being alone sucks. And, just when I think I’ve moved past some of my struggles in this area, I get reminded that, well, no. Not really. They just involve a different set of details.

I’ve spent most of my life as a dreamer – always with some grandiose vision of how my life will eventually turn out. Sometimes, I’ve managed to put those dreams into some sort of action. Such was the case when I pursued a journalism degree and ended up interning at the local alternative weekly – even though I had been denied admission to the School of Journalism, only months before. Such was the case when I became a commercial production director for a group of radio stations – fulfilling a childhood dream of being on the radio, and nurturing both a gift and passion for creating interesting things with audio…something borne out of my very first “escape” from reality, which was music. And, such was the case when I went to work for the City of St. Louis – fulfilling a more recent dream of using my passion for community engagement and neighborhood improvement to address problems in our most challenged parts of the city.

And, in each of those cases, it was self-sabotage that destroyed each of those dreams. I drank my way out of admission to the Journalism school, and allowed the clumsiness and distractions of early sobriety to keep me from focusing on the goal at hand. I allowed myself to plateau, as a radio production professional, during a time when it was becoming increasingly harder to break into the larger markets, and do some of the “bigger” stuff that was part of the dream. And, I allowed addiction and obsession, alcoholism and workaholism, to drive me to the point of complete emptiness, when I lost my job with the City – in addition to losing my marriage, house, financial stability, and what little credibility I had among friends and family.

And, yet, at times, I still envision a life, in which, I’m able to write, produce, create – and that, perhaps, I might be lucky enough that my work reaches a wide audience. These days, I dream of having a home/recording studio/writing and performance space on the family farm. And, I envision having a partner who gets me – who would be 100 percent supportive of even the most outlandish of these endeavors…as I would hope to be of hers.

But, time is short. And, while failure is a part of life, I have very little time to waste in shooting for something that may never happen. I have retirement to consider. And, if I accomplish nothing else, I’d like to be able to walk away from the work world, and do a few of the things that haven’t been possible, right now. That’s gonna take a focused career effort on making as much money as possible within a short period of time. That calls for a slim margin of error.

And, so, once again, I find myself at a place where it seems best to just let certain other dreams die. I’ve long given up on being a rock star. Or, being the kind of journalist who gets to hang with rock stars. Or, even being the kind of producer who gets to work with rock stars. I’ve given up on writing the great investigative story. Or, the great American novel. This, here, is the closest I get to writing every day. And, who really wants to read about me, all the damn time?

And, as far as wanting to share what’s left of my life with someone else? Probably a good idea to let that one go, too. At least, the professional world follows a sense of rules and logic that are easy to navigate – and, therefore, succeed. There is absolutely no logic in matters of the heart. Not a single shred. I don’t have the emotional makeup to withstand it.

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They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Whoever “they” is…

And, so it goes.

Yet, if this is as good as it gets, I’ll still take it, because even a life of lonely mediocrity is better than where I came from, eleven months ago. I still get the chance to help others who are trying to get sober learn how to not drink over every. Single. Thing. That happens in their lives. I still get a chance to contribute to the health and well being of that particular fellowship – one that has saved my life, however unremarkable that life may be. I still have the love of my family, and that’s more important than any achievement I could ever amass, or any material good I could ever possess…or any outside relationship I could ever attain. Family is forever.

I’m rebuilding a sense of integrity, which is something that was never 100 percent solid, in the first place. And, I get to serve in an area of my church that allows me to develop certain creative gifts and talents in the service of something much, much greater than me.

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This Allen and Heath digital console is a thing of beauty, and incredible function.

So, sure, it feels defeatist of me to say I’m going to let the rest of these ambitions die. And, I haven’t exactly been thrilled with that prospect. I’ve wound my way through the Five Stages of Grief multiple times, and fast enough to make a hummingbird’s head spin.

But, the alternative is to sit in despair, resentment, bitterness and anxiety, over what could have been, or what should be. Not worth it. Ever.

And, I’m not totally alone. I have my dog. Who never judges me. And, that’s more than I can say for 98 percent of the people I encounter on this planet.

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I’m one of those dog parents. Deal with it.

So, even in the midst of this, I remain grateful. And, that means I won’t drink. And, that makes all the difference.

Nine Nine

FeaturedNine Nine

Steady repetition is a compulsion mutually reinforced
Now what does that mean?
Is there a just contradiction?
Nothing much
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord, hesitate

J. Michael Stipe, 1983

Two years ago, yesterday, my then wife and I struggled to find a parking spot, during a rainy September Friday night downtown, our voices ever raising in frustration. We were going to meet up with my friend, former co-worker and drinking buddy at Kilroy’s bar, after the Cardinals game. He ran an expanding side business shuttling people back and forth to the game. Home base for his service was the garage behind the bar. She was irritated that I kept passing up the bar, while trying to find a parking spot, and I was irritated – plainly and simply – with her.

“Don’t you know where this is?” She snapped.

“Of course I do,” I growled, “I just can’t get to it.”

Kilroy’s is just south of I-64 (still Highway 40, to the locals). It’s the furthest away of all the sports bars near Busch Stadium, plopped in a sea of railroad tracks and parking lots. It was an auto shop, before the owners converted part of that property into a bar, in 2006.

The parking lot is at 7th and Cerre, but getting to it involves traveling south on 8th, turning left on Gratiot, and keeping an eye out for the entrance, before hitting Broadway, which is one-way south. I’d had a couple of large beers to drink, over the evening, but don’t particularly remember being drunk. Also, I was high on pot, all day – much to my then wife’s dismay.

“I asked you not to have any, today, and you couldn’t even do that!,” she screamed, while I was trying to find the damned parking lot entrance in the damned rain, with all the damned parking lot traffic. Damned wife…

The truth is, I couldn’t imagine very many waking hours without it. Cannabis was my anti-anxiety drug, at the time, and it really sucked that weed became a $400/month habit. We had dodged foreclosure, thanks to my dad and stepmom bailing me out one. More. Time. The Wife hated how much I smoked; technically, I was vaping it, thanks to this nifty device. She hated how much time I spent doing it, how much it cost, and how using it opened the door to smoking cigarettes, again. I’d quit those, the day we got married. Which was ten years ago, this evening.

When we set our sights on spending the rest of our lives together, we intended on having a long engagement – ten months, to be exact. Given the fact that we got engaged in June – on my birthday…the logistics of which is another story in and of itself – that would have put us into April. The amount of time was somewhat arbitrary. To me, it seemed long enough that we could thoughtfully consider our next steps. It was suggested that we really use this time to review the strengths and weaknesses of our pairing – and be prepared to walk away, if necessary. Of course, no one wants to face that option. But, I’ve always believed that if more people did, then we’d have less divorces.

My ex wife wasn’t having any of it. And, that should have been my first clue. We had what I would consider surface-level premarital counseling. Even then, we were warned by the pastor who married us, that we would spend considerable time fighting our way through conflicting ways of approaching things, because we were moving so quickly.

Give me a couple
Don’t give me a couple of pointers
Turn to lies and conversation fear

J. Michael Stipe, 1983

After five years, I had concluded it was too quickly. After five years, we realized we had nothing in common. And, we couldn’t communicate without conflict or resentment. Too often, “compromise” meant giving up pieces of myself, one people-pleasing move at a time. To be fair, it also meant she acquiesced on some major decisions – one of which, our home purchase, would haunt us for eight years, and contribute significantly to our marriage’s undoing.

Still, we wanted to make it work. We attempted counseling, although much of it was stuck in mutual contempt, by the five-year mark. I had allowed addictive behaviors to get in the way of loving her properly, she complained. She knew I no longer found her attractive. Looking back, it was much more than physical beauty. I’d come to realize that her chief goal in life had been to find a man who would take care of her, so she could live worry-free as a full-time mom. Individual identity seemed severely lacking. All of her hope and grounding was dependent on me. And, I was increasingly convinced I wouldn’t achieve my own form of self actualization.

We were nowhere near whole enough to partner together. And, we hated each other for it, though we would bury that hatred in myriad distractions: dinners out, expensive vacations, endless TV watching, and a small zoo of animals that we accumulated, once we bought our house. All of that took money we didn’t have, and so cycles of financial insecurity were ad infinitum. We’d get behind, and I’d take on an extra job. She’d get miserable in her work, but struggled to take the necessary steps to find a better path for herself. I stumbled into a rewarding volunteer gig that led to a solid, well-paying career path, and she was fired from her job. Just before that happened, she told me that she struggled with feeling jealous because I’d found something fulfilling. She couldn’t just be happy for me, and as such, was a horrible cheerleader – resentful at the time my new job took.

During a period of sobriety, in which I wanted to give our failing marriage a fair shot, she was resentful that, instead of spending time at the bar away from her, I was spending time at meetings…away from her. When I pointed out that I was a better husband because of those efforts, she was dismissive. This was probably around the eight year mark. And, the more she nagged, the more I wanted to spend time away. So, that by the time I relapsed…again (that was number six, I think), I had checked out completely.

Such was the backdrop that colored what should have been a happy milestone – ten years of living our lives together. Instead, my inability to find a damned bar in the damned rain, with a damned wife nagging me about it while driving, became the perfect fuse.

We exploded on one another in a parking lot, not far from Kilroy’s. Everything I mentioned above, I hurled at her, in catalogue format.

“This has been ten years of nothing but misery,” I shouted, both of us sitting in our car’s front seats. “And, you have to be the least supportive person I know!”

“You think this has been great for me?!,” she screamed, the rain pounding on the windshield as the wipers keep wiping away water, so as not to notice our voluble argument. “You’ve done nothing but lie to me the whole time, and I am NOT a better person for having married you!”

The next part’s a bit hazy, but at some point before this verbal disaster began, I’d let her drive, so that she’d quit bitching. I think that’s why we were parked.

“Fine, then! I’m walking to Kilroy’s,” I yelled.

“You do that,” she yelled back, “and, stay at (name redacted to protect the innocent bystander)’s house, tonight! We’re done!”

As I got out of the car, she started to take off. I yelled at her to stop and threatened to call the police on her, and I quote, “crazy ass.” I slammed the car door, and she took off, tires squealing. The Honda had excellent anti-slip control, so there was no fishtailing involved. But, she would have, if she could.

Wherein September 9, 2006 was a celebration of two people starting their lives together, 9-9-2016 was the firing shot of that futile journey’s tragic end.

We picked that date, after it was clear to both of us that we were going to kill each other before the wedding, if we didn’t stop arguing about its execution. She wanted a Fall wedding, anyway, and 9-9 was repetitive enough that neither of us would forget. Me being me, I thought of how 9-9-06 is divisible by 3, and 9-9 is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. My ex got amusement out of my first thought. She didn’t get the second one. Is it wrong that sometimes, I think that should have been my second clue?

I suppose it’s a bit shallow to place such a premium on musical tastes. She called me “weird,” and “a snob.” I took those intended epithets as compliments.

books-matter-high-fidelity
I know women who hate High Fidelity, because John Cusack’s character is, in their words, the archetypal, psychopathic nice guy. Totally agree with their assessment. I look at his actions as a primer on what not to do. The music snob in me still loves this film.

So, what did we have in common? Our spirituality…our strong spiritual side, as the pastor who married us put it. She wasn’t wrong about that. It was, in fact, one of the things that attracted me to my ex. Thing is, that strong spirituality had been severely damaged by hurtful acts within her former place of employment, which I will only name as a large church in the St. Louis region. In fact, I had seen enough of that church’s seamy underbelly, that after Christmas 2006, I was all about us finding another place to worship, while she looked for another job…a job hunt that took over four years, and only moved forward after her former employer got strict about enforcing their personnel rules about staff being church members in good standing.

She went to work at a small church that was just rebooting, about three blocks from our house. It was the worst church plant either of us had ever been involved with. While not going into details, the position was a bad fit, budget woes aside. The budget woes only became worse when a former staff member muscled his way into a full-time position, while equally crowding her out of her limited hours. And, the way they handled it only made her emotionally sicker. It was so bad that *I* demanded a meeting with leadership and called them out. We left two weeks later, and she eventually got a job with a large hospital group.

Because of her work history, and my two relapses within our marriage, financial crises were a running theme. In fact, crisis itself was a running theme.

One would think that parting ways and ending such a tumultuous union would bring signs of relief and closure, as well as the necessary motivation to put this mess to bed.

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That was only true of one of us. My ex absolved herself of responsibility, regarding getting the house ready for sale, then hired an attorney who went after everything he could. I pointed out these facts, the afternoon she should up on our doorstep – months after having moved out – crying that I was killing myself. This was October 24, 2017. My five-month flameout involved a heavy dose of alcohol and weed, along with occasional grams of coke and meth. None of it was working. And, I thought her the worst of all hypocrites for pretending to care about me.

My phone had been stolen days before, while I was wrapping up a late-night-to-morning jag on the metro area’s East Side – the Illinois part of our metro, for the uninitiated. I had been robbed, and was so ashamed by what had happened, and too drunk to make my way to work on time (I passed out on an Eastbound train, and ended up near Scott Air Force Base, while I was supposed to be in the office). Knowing that this would be Strike Three, and too ashamed to face the consequences, I holed up in my room, and drank. A former supervisor and that same former coworker knocked on my door, four days later, and took me to Barnes ER. The next day, my dad and sister showed up. Dad put me in his truck, and we went to my work’s EAP, to start the process of getting me back into treatment.

I stayed with my mom and stepdad for over six months, while dad and I worked diligently to get my house ready for sale, put it on the market, and navigated the sickeningly complicated closing process. Selling a jointly-owned house when the court has ruled your marriage “irretrievably broken,” and creditors have judgments against you…well…sucks.

And, what should have been the lifting of a Sisyphean burden became simply a shifting of Sisyphean tasks, as I moved out, struggled to pay living expenses, faced a major repair on a car I had just bought, and strained to find joy in a job that didn’t pay enough, and certainly didn’t justify the daily maelstrom I encountered, every time I clocked in. Yet, I was unemployable in my former field – having been shut out of a hiring process conducted by a friend, with nothing more than a generic rejection letter.

Sleep became my only way of coping. Slowly, I began to isolate – as I usually do in times of strife. Late May through early August were among the darkest months I’ve ever weathered. I fought the urge to drink, as well as the temptation to end it all. But, I knew this stuff was beyond the scope of my recovery program, and despite the completely unprofessional way my psychiatric referral was handled by the medical group, I kept calling. And, calling. And, calling. Until I got someone willing to break through the bureaucracy and just schedule a damned appointment for the next day – which resulted in a med change for the absolute better.

I should also mention that one incredibly positive development that helped keep me going was my growing engagement with The Gathering – a United Methodist Church with multiple sites in the St. Louis area. I remember when I first heard my pastor utter words he has since said multiple times: “If you’re new with us, and you show up at one of our services, or at an event like this (a get-to-know-the-church forum, then hosted at a local microbrewery) we want you to feel as though we’ve been expectantly waiting for you. Because, we have.”

I went to a recovery meeting a day, plugged into a “home group,” where I hold a service position, made myself available to sponsor other men, and found a new sponsor, after mine left the country for a job opportunity in Beijing.

The job that formerly seemed like a daily exercise in futility (and, still doesn’t pay nearly enough), became a challenge to be surmounted. And, I acted like the leader I’m training to become. The current financial failures became an exercise in failing with integrity, and holding my head up high in the process.

My immediate family wouldn’t let me drift too far away from their contact, and I didn’t want that anyway. So much has healed over a relatively short period of time.

Two months ago, I made a formal amends to my ex wife, and admitted with full contrition all of my wrongdoing in our marriage – with intention to make right all that I could. We now talk, occasionally, as friends who still love one another with the history that only a divorced couple can share. I know that our cats are in good hands, and I know she could watch our dog (of whom, I have custody) in a pinch. For that matter, she knows she can ask for the dog whenever she wants, to get her bonding time in, with no complaint or resentment on my end.

Because, it’s not about me.

I’ve learned that the most important person, with whom I can be honest, today, is myself. I’ve learned that success isn’t so much living the best version of myself, but the most honest.

In the midst of last year’s insanity, I managed to get a pretty clear picture of my ideal partner – the sucker punch being that I need to be that person, as well.

Last night, I told the woman I’ve just started dating that this post was in process. She was in pretty strong agreement that this was a story worth telling. Time will tell if I’m the partner that I seek, but so far, I’ve been happy with my progress – even if it’s meant revisiting painfully old insecurities, in order that I might put them in their rightful place, with the help of a Power much greater than me. In fact, that she’s around at all is testament to God doing for me what I haven’t been so capable of doing for myself.

9-9-18…life’s far from perfect, but I’ll take it. Gladly.

 

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Seven and Forty

This morning, I woke up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed.

Ever since my car’s transmission decided to go belly-up, 25 days after I bought it as-is, with no recourse or grace from one of the St. Louis Area’s top 20 privately-held companies, with revenue in the mid nine figures – getting to work takes me four times as long, and involves a particularly inconvenient ordeal. Our transit system has some real bright spots, and my new apartment is close to several of them. My work, on the other hand, has limited transit access, exacerbated by system planning, which doesn’t favor westward commutes.

Not exactly how I envisioned my life at 47: broke, divorced, childless, and working in a job that takes every bit of my energy, along with a schedule that requires insane amounts of caffeine, in order to keep up.

When I was younger, and would find myself in situations like this, I would often think to myself, “there has to be more to life than this.” Today, I know better. This is life. This is how it is. This is as good as it gets. The sooner I accept it, the happier I am.

These are the consequences of my actions and decisions.

The last six months have been a constant tumult of movement, followed by roadblock. I lost a job, due to performance issues directly related to drinking and drug use – otherwise known as Relapse Number Seven. It was a job I was increasingly growing to hate, given the increased toxicity. Working for the government can be rewarding – until it isn’t. And, when the budget runs constant deficits, and your agency is a perpetual, political football, it ain’t fun.

Relapse Number Six cost me my marriage and house. Number Seven cost me my job and any hope of financial solvency. With every relapse, over the last 25 years, the will to recover becomes more difficult to muster, the faith in recovery that much harder to grasp. The hope of a better life fades even farther from view.

And, every. Single. Obstacle. Every messed up transmission, every discouraging meeting with an attorney, every stressful e-mail from a realtor, every hard conversation with a  family member, every time I have to chase down a non-responsive car dealer, every impossible customer or selfish co-worker, every damned time the key-card to my building doesn’t work, and I have to wait an hour for a maintenance guy – who knows nothing about key-cards – to show up without the proper tools (the fault of his employer, not him), so that his best course of action is to hammer the hell out of my lock, and tear the damned thing off (scaring my dog in the process)….

Every. Single. Obstacle. Becomes another punch I take. And, take. And, take. The gloves some down, arms slack and sore with each blow, leaving me vulnerable to the next one  – the inevitable take-down.

Depression is like that for me.

Life is hard enough without a bunch of extra BS getting in the way – both the external circumstances, and my inability to accept them. Add those elements to the equation, and life becomes damned near impossible.

For most of my life, I’ve thought that money, success, status and a partner in crime would help mitigate most of this difficulty. That’s a lie.

I’ve never had much money, but I keep reading about high-profile suicides of wealthy people. So, that can’t be only solution.

I’ve had success and status, and aside from a sense of self importance, those things come with their own stress.

I’m not the greatest at being a partner, which helps explain why I’ve never been able to attract a good partner.

These latest suicides – that of fashion icon Kate Spade, and Chef/Writer Anthony Bourdain – prove that “having it all” can leave a person wanting. I mean, here I am, mourning the death of all my dreams, only to realize that achieving those dreams isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

I don’t know much about Kate Spade, however, I was a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. He’d be a guy I could drink with, if I could drink with impunity. Sometimes crass, often irreverent, he was – at the same time – deeply insightful. When he launched his new show on CNN, it felt to me like he found the perfect fit – a channel that would allow him to go as deeply into global perspectives as he did food – to really draw out the relationship between food and the community it serves, and to place some favorite dishes within sociopolitical context. As a viewer, Parts Unknown was a perfect fit for me, too – a beautifully complicated tale, as told by a thoughtful but tortured soul.

Anthony was never shy about discussing his past with heroin or cocaine. And, so much of No Reservations was the crew rolling film on “drunk Anthony.” Prolonged use of those substances will re-wire brain chemistry – and, alcohol is a depressant. That doesn’t even get into the life circumstances that cause trauma for so many. For me, it was growing up the target of grade-school, and junior-high bullies, weathering my parents’ divorce, feeling so acutely different, because of how I walked and talked, and because I had little to no social skills, among my peers.

More likely than not, I’ve suffered from some form of depression since childhood, but it was easy to mask by making myself busy, or distracted. As I got older, I learned about drugs and alcohol. Then, in periods of sobriety, I would throw myself into busyness. And, when recovery left me wanting, then work became the escape. Once work was the problem, I got married. Then, bought a house, then…

Thing is, take away the busyness, the substances, the distractions – both good and bad – and I’m left with nothing but anxiety and depression – which was what hit me square, this morning, as I struggled to get out of bed and go to work.

During my darkest nights of the soul, before I would get sober (One. More. Time.), I would have this routine conversation with myself. It was a simple question that my inner dialogue would ask, upon my awakening, each morning:

“You gonna kill yourself, today?”

It was a nonchalant question, along the lines of “What’s for breakfast?” or “Did you let the dog out?” Every morning, I would answer back with a litany of responses as to why I wasn’t going to do it, that day: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem; or, suicide doesn’t make your problems go away – it only passes them on to those left behind. The last one is what has kept me going. With as much grief as my family has dealt with, regarding my behavior, I can’t bear the thought of how they would react or respond. I can’t bear the possibility that those I love would struggle with the question of what they could have done differently – when I know damned well it wouldn’t have been their fault.

Problem is, nothing would quiet the dialogue.

Over the last seven months, I’ve found myself occasionally in the midst of this dialogue. It’s not as strong. The question isn’t as loud. But, the fact that it even comes to mind is concerning. Here’s what I know, however.

Over the last seven months, the thought of drinking over my problems no longer sounds like a great option. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. It only means I’m better able to think it through.

More importantly, the driving force seems to be that, no matter how bad I feel, no matter how dark it seems, it’s important that I learn to keep going – to press on – not by simply finding some other thing to buy or achieve – thereby masking whatever feelings exist. It’s critical that I remain as honest with myself as possible. And, doing so means I need to recognize that there are days when life feels insurmountable. When I feel like the Universe just hurled a big “I-Told-You-So” in my face. When it feels like God is punishing me for wanting what I want.

I don’t have a pat answer for this, and I sure as hell don’t trust anyone who claims to have one. And, I don’t trust anyone who can’t understand the depths of depression or mental illness. Recently, I read the status of someone I don’t know all that well, who – in a way that was meant to be non-hurtful – admitted as much. And, while I appreciate the sentiment, it makes me want to run away from that acquaintance. As fast as I can. I don’t need a lack of empathy in my life.

I can only talk about what’s working. And, what’s working is continued efforts within a program of recovery, that allows me to uncover more and more hard truths about myself. And, in so doing, I’m able to change how I react and respond to life. I have a family that loves me more than I could ever appreciate. I have a dog that means the world to me. I have coworkers who love having me around, even when I can be really difficult.

I have one or two good friends who can give it to me straight, doing so with a necessary level of kindness.

One bad decision could ruin all of that. And, my addiction has already taken enough from me. It doesn’t get any more of my dreams.

If you find yourself in one of those lost nights, with endless dialogue, reach out. I know it’s easier said than done, because it’s the last thing I want to do. But, for the love of God, do it. Know that you’re loved. Valued. Appreciated. You will be missed. It will get better. But, most importantly, know that you are worthy of living.

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Fare you well, my honey. Fare you well, my only true one. All the birds that were singing, are flown, except you alone. (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)

If my brother-in-law ever reads this, he would find it rather amusing that I’ve referenced what was once one of his favorite bands. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Deadhead. One of my favorite stories he told me was about running into Jerry at The Grind. Some of us are old enough to remember the place, in its original Maryland Plaza location. These days, Maryland Plaza is the picture-perfect representation of gentrification. Back then, it was still a bit bohemian, a little rough around some of the edges as you got east of Newstead, but a wonderful place for a bunch of crazy college kids to hang out and escape suburbia.

Back then, I was “too cool” for The Dead – largely due to the caricatured representation of its fans – especially during their high point in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when people started to deify Jerry – something that really frustrated the band.

One of our greatest flaws as humans, is that we allow our prejudices to close us off – whether that’s artistic elitism or the fear of people who don’t look, act, or worship like we do.

Bob Weir has become one of my top five favorite guitarists. The man plays rhythm guitar like a jazz pianist – and that was very intentional, as he studied Bill Evans (Miles Davis’s pianist) and McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist). He had me there. The Cool period of Jazz is my absolute favorite. His fans include Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth and the members of The National.

From a technical standpoint, their Wall Of Sound remains one of most innovative PA systems created, and was the model for current line-array systems – allowing the music to sound GOOD and LOUD.

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One of their tech crew went on to head up audio post-production for Skywalker Sound. Dennis “Wizard” Leonard has made many of your favorite movies sound as phenomenal as they look. He was in charge of the live-to-recording mix of Europe ’72.

As per usual, I’ve gone fanboy and digressed.

Lately, I’ve found such great comfort and catharsis in the lyrics – and so much damned respect for each of the band members as musicians (all without the assistance of psychedelics).

“A lot of Garcia’s music was about death. That’s an appeal of the man that you have to discover over time. You don’t see it, immediately, because of the way he presents – historically – as this sort of big, happy hippie icon. You get to know, as you listen to the music, that actually, he’s a deliverer of dark news, you know. And, that’s when you begin to really take him seriously.”Nick Paumgarten from the docu-series Long Strange Trip

As I’ve said before, many people listen to music simply for background noise, or to keep the party going, etc. And, there’s a place for that – one, of which, I need to be mindful. But, my relationship to music has been so much deeper. I’m told that obsession was such for me, long before I could remember it.

My earliest memory is crawling and bumping into one of my dad’s Bose 901 Series II speakers – part of his own elaborate sound system. When I was eight, he began to trust me with the big-boy toys. He taught me how to set recording levels, and I learned my first lesson about being careful with high-end gear, when I damaged the diamond stylus on his Technics SL-1100 turntable – released the year of my birth and predecessor to the legendary SL-1200 series, which became the professional standard for radio and club DJ’s alike. It was recently resurrected by Technics and costs thousands, today.

And, because he has an engineer’s mind about EVERYTHING, my dad taught his eight-year-old about signal paths. Which switch did what. Which cable connected to which device. I became a natural troubleshooter, so it should be no surprise that I spent several years producing commercials and running live sound. I owe you for that, Pop.

In short, music was my first escape mechanism, my first love, a career path, and my current therapist. My favorite artists tend to have a bit of a dark side to their writing, and as such, I’ve been able to jump into the fire, so to speak (inadvertent Harry Nilsson reference, but I’ll leave it). So, whether it’s an obsession with Radiohead‘s discography, starting with Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, The Dead’s version of Morning Dew from Europe ’72, just about anything from Nine Inch Nails, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall – all of it has served a purpose. It’s been a way for me to face my own demons, grieve them, and move on, one step at a time.

For any Pink Floyd fans, I highly recommend Roger Waters’ recent documentary on his three-year tour performing The Wall. The man is 72 years old, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, even after four divorces, and he is still grieving the death of his father in WWII. Call it the universal human condition, if you will.

Today, I face the prospect of losing everything – as if losing my wife to divorce wasn’t enough. I’ll be involved in some practical measures to put me back on a path to healthy coping skills, but to be honest, I don’t hold much hope of gaining any kind of meaningful life back. Much of that is the consequence of my own bad decisions, and unhealthy behavior. And, while it’s important to own that, the consequences aren’t any easier. And, the hope of rebuilding isn’t there. I’m leaning on the only people in this world that I have ever been able to trust – my family. I’m leaning on their hope for me, because it’s all I can do, right now. And, in the meantime, I grieve. And, I trust the music to be there for me.

“Going to leave this brokedown palace, On my hand and knees, i will roll, roll, roll. Make myself a bed in the waterside, In my time, i will roll, roll roll.” (Garcia/Hunter)

Koan Of Shame

FeaturedKoan Of Shame

I’m a morning person. Sort of. I’ll wake up early, without an alarm, and – once I’ve shaken off the cobwebs I’m moving along. Sometimes, the dog is my alarm clock, and I’m on her bathroom schedule. Either way, I’m up. So, I might as well do something.

Lately, I’ve been working on making the best use of that time. Mostly by being still. Quiet. Doing what I can to get the internal dialogue that’s so often a part of my day to shut the hell up. Sometimes, I’m successful, and other times…well…take recently.

Much of my internal dialogue, the last few weeks, has centered around wanting to throw in the towel – to undo all of the hard work I’ve undergone in the last six months. And, when that dialogue becomes a shouting match, the impact ripples into every facet of my life.

Maybe not shouting, per se. Maybe loud and insistent. Like an intense family meeting, or my dog, when she sees a random creature she doesn’t like. Which is all the time.

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The dog. This is why I could never stay mad at her.

I like to think this isn’t my normal resting place – this deep level of negativity and despair. But, really, it’s the undercurrent that has subconsciously driven much of my life. To sum up…

Calling divorce a humbling experience is like calling being struck with a sword slightly painful.

flesh wound
The only time I’ll get away with mixing Star Wars with Monty Python. Deal, purists.

I loathe failure. Which puts me in good company. I don’t know too many people who like it. I see all sorts of motivational quotes from famous people who talk about how they learned the most from their failures, and used those incidents to become successful, later on. That sounds peachy.

I wish I could say I look at failure the same way it’s pictured in those shiny motivational posters. Someone screws up, misses the big shot, doesn’t achieve the business goal, fails in relationships – repeatedly, loses their run for the Presidency, because the Electoral College favors less populated states, and 50% of the electorate decided to sit this one out.

Pick one. They all suck.

The posters would have you believe that all those people simply brushed off the dust, got back up, and did it again. And, it’s a lie.

I’m fortunate to be close to some amazingly successful people, and can tell you that, with each failure, was a period of grief. Anger. Bitterness. Self pity. Perhaps to lesser degrees, and for smaller periods of time, but no one is immune from being human.

Feelings may not be facts, but they are, in fact, real.

Lately, it’s become important to trace the feeling back to the internal dialogue that may be causing it. And, that takes a certain amount of internal quietness. Which leads me to mindfulness. And, the study of Zen. And, it hit me that my long-standing internal drama functions as its own koan – and, not in a good way.


The reason I hate failure so much is that I’m rarely kind to me. As much as I want to think I have this instant likability, I don’t like myself too much. If at all. Success becomes the fix that blunts the inner pain, quiets the negative koan. Laughs in its face and flips it the bird. It’s fleeting, temporary, and then, it’s off to the next thing.

Failure is not an option. Which is, to use the vernacular, bullshit.

My hatred of failure, and ultimately, of myself, leads me to make rash choices, react quickly, keep moving. Do not sit. Do not feel. Do not acknowledge how much it hurts. Just. Keep. Going. Dodge the demons. Fake-throw and run.

Watch closely for the fakeout

The thing about demons is they’re persistent. Patient. Crafty little bastards. And, when they finally catch up to me, they’re pissed. I guess if I was part of a pack of howling, shiftless, spawn of Satan, running after some dodgy asshole, I’d be a little miffed, too.

So, there I am, face to face with a child of Beezelbub. I’ve just laughed in his face, given him the finger and made him chase my ass. It’s not much different from when I experienced this in grade school, with real-live bullies. Except, then, I usually got my ass kicked.

This chase scene is rather Benny Hill-ish – except not bawdy or humorous.  So, maybe, not at all like Benny Hill (I just wanted to get Yakety Sax stuck in your head. Have I succeeded? Good.).

And, it’s an illusion.

First off, the wiry little fucker is only in my head. A figment of my overactive imagination. The culmination of years and years of bad thinking, picked up from a multitude of sources – each with their own set of broken agendas.

This particular lying asshole demon wants me to believe I’ll never succeed. Never get what I want. Or, it would have me believe that I’m an impostor. That any success is fake. Ready to be snatched from me at any instant.

Any screw up is merely confirmation.


The first time I confronted this, in any healthy way, my therapist told me I needed to re-frame my concept of failure. Instead, I needed to look at what I learned in the experience. And, I needed to practice self compassion. He challenged me to call out the negative thoughts as harsh. Because, they are. And, he challenged me to ask the question about the source of the thought. From where, exactly, is it coming? Why would I possibly think such a thing?

In so doing, I have just made the unconscious conscious. I’m staring that son-of-a-bitch demon in his beady eyes, ready to throw the first punch.*

Jung

Right now, I’m scratching the surface – becoming aware of tiny acts of self-sabotage, in which I engage almost daily. I’m realizing that, when such a thing happens, my subconscious is screaming for help. And, this time, it’s a true scream.

Which gets me back to my study of Zen and mindfulness. A true koan forces us to examine our perception of things, abandon ultimate dependence on reason, and connect to intuitive enlightenment. I’m nowhere near there. I’m still learning how to be – to breathe in and out, and let the waterfall of thoughts simply be. Don’t try to control them, stop them or force them out. Let them be.**

Lately, that’s been more difficult. The thoughts and the feelings are strong. Fierce self hatred is so ingrained, and people fail my expectations regularly. But, every time I breathe in and out, every time I sit down and articulate things, I’m throwing a punch at that scaly, worthless demon. With enough practice, I connect. Connect enough times, and the bastard goes down. He might get up again, but I’ll be ready.

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Mama said, “Knock you out!”

*Most modern-day therapists would say the unconscious mind is not the enemy. This is a departure from Freud, who called it a storehouse of repressed thought. And, it’s a shift from those would treat the unconscious mind as a superhighway to achievement – then wonder why the constant barrage of positive affirmations aren’t working. The above links are to the same article, which gives the unconscious mind the proper respect it’s due.

**I identify as Christian, which I may discuss in later postings. The concept of Zen meditation does not conflict, at all, with the teachings of Christ. For more on this, I highly recommend Christian Zen, by William Johnston – a Jesuit priest, serving in Japan on the heels of the Second Vatican Council. Also, this app has been immensely helpful.

Isn’t this where we came in?

Isn’t this where we came in?

The difficulties of extenuating life circumstances, a need to process deep-seated pain, a comment thread on a Facebook post, and a several-weeks-long obsession with Roger Waters’s recent documentary on his three-year world tour.

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can connect. A quick preface…

The last six months have been full of both upheaval and stasis – none of which is happening at the most opportune times. When I want things to stay static for a moment, they change. When I want things to move forward, I get another roadblock. Rinse, repeat.

My wife of ten years and I are getting divorced. I won’t comment on details, as the legal proceedings are – for better or worse – still pending. It’s in the attorneys’ hands, now, so let the continuances…well…continue.

And, we still have a house to sell.

In that time, I’ve gone through the five stages of grief numerous times. And, I’ve gone from committing to turning the ship around to just wanting to set fire to the damned thing and jump.

The first is impossible. It’s among the most humbling of moments to read a legal document, in which a standard line states that “the marriage is irretrievably broken.” Sadly, no truer words have ever been written, concerning our predicament. It’s probably the one thing, on which, both of us agree.

The second is irresponsible and unhealthy. Which, leaves the third option: do what’s in front of me, in as much time as it takes.

I could get into all sorts of reasons why this frustrates the living shit out of me, but it wouldn’t be prudent, right now.

All I know is, recently, I found myself at a point of despair similar to where I was, emotionally, when all Hell broke loose in September. The ninth, actually – our ten-year anniversary. Thus, my several-week obsession with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and specifically, the role bassist and songwriter Roger Waters played in its conception.

 When Syd Barrett went schizophrenic and was unable to continue as front man for Pink Floyd, Waters stepped in as chief songwriter. He was the band’s intellectual – a tortured soul, who channeled that angst into broader commentary on mental illness, politics, the music industry, authoritarianism, and – finally – his own damn demons.

Some people look to music to get them out of a specific mood, make them feel better, etc. I don’t. I’m in it for the catharsis, and it was clear I had some of my own damn demons to exorcise.

In the midst of this phase, I posted an article on Facebook, concerning a young, incendiary, conservative host who was suspended from her job.

What stayed with me was an off-tangent conversation I ended up having, related to the comment I wrote along with the post. I wrote, “Be nice to people on your way up. You may need them on your way down.” An old classmate – someone, with whom, I don’t interact regularly – responded. He agreed with the sentiment, then apologized for an incident that took place in 7th grade. He had tripped me, apparently, while I was holding a huge stack of books and supplies. I say “apparently,” because I don’t remember it. I assured him there were no hard feelings. And, truly, there weren’t. Kids are mean and stupid. Myself included. Most of us outgrow our childish behavior, and some don’t. Or, don’t outgrow all of it. Again, myself included.

But, because I am the kind of person that can over-analyze a plate of food, I asked myself why. Why didn’t I remember the incident? The likeliest reason: 7th grade was part of a year that included other deeply traumatic events. It was bad enough that I was in a new school, with new people to make fun of me, because of how I walked (the product of a mild form of Cerebral Palsy) or talked (the product of a precocious childhood, surrounded by adults, and a well-above-average reading comprehension level). It was even worse that I was one of the working-class kids from Rock Hill, all of a sudden surrounded by the old money of South Webster Groves. Money and status were important to me, at the time, and dad had made it clear that we were on our way up…until October 1983.

That was when my parents announced their divorce. My dad was both my hero and champion; home was safe. Irrational as it was, I was afraid I wouldn’t see him again. Also, he was the sole breadwinner. I’m sure you can figure out the very real impact that had on my day-to-day life. Really, though, this isn’t about a decision my parents made, especially now that I find myself in a similar boat. This is about how I coped with it – or didn’t. How I internalized horrible beliefs and attitudes about myself, and the world around me.

At the time, I convinced myself and others that, really, I was fine. I wish I had been more honest.

I responded, in part, by comparing myself to others who I thought were worse off – so that I could feel better. I became less invested in studies and more invested in being liked. Or, at least, not hated. And, I built my own wall – only to have it become my eventual, and repeated undoing.

After decades of unhealthy coping mechanisms, followed by occasional fits of growth, I realized that I was capable of being that right combination of witty, charming, intelligent, personable.

I learned that I was capable of casting vision, coming up with a plan, and sticking to it – while allowing some of that plan to change, if needed.

I learned that I could persevere, no matter how bad it felt, and how many times I wanted to throw in the towel.

I learned to do what I love and love what I do. And, I learned that there are any number of things I can do – both vocationally and as hobbies – that fulfill my core passions of art and activism.

Slowly, I am learning to be okay with me.

Every once in a while, however, I get hit with a curve ball. Someone says or does something critical of me – especially in a public or semi-public forum – and immediately, I’m that kid who would get humiliated in public on a daily basis. It’s confirmation of my worst fear: that I am not worthy of being valued, liked, accepted, loved. That I am an impostor, and my success can be snatched up at any given moment.

And, while those new incidents take me back to a familiar place, the lessons to learn are new. The first having to do with holding seemingly contradictory beliefs in tension. It’s possible for an incident to feel very familiar, and in parallel, recognize that it is not the same. At least, that’s what my therapist said. I’m told that this tension of beliefs is a critical first step to breaking the familiar narrative – one that keeps me in the role of victim and justifies any number of bad decisions.

The second lesson deals with my unconscious beliefs about safety, security and trust. They developed before my parents’ marriage blew apart, and shaped my reaction. Today, those unconscious beliefs continue to shape decisions – good and bad. The more I’m able to make the unconscious behavior conscious, however, the better off I am in the long run.

As part of my quest for safety, security and contentment, I still look for hope in the external. And, that isn’t necessarily bad. But, externals can change in an instant. Frankly, it pisses me off that these things come from within. Historically, I haven’t had the faith that I could pull off such a feat.

Every once in a while, any number of my well-meaning friends who share the same faith as me point out that I should seek hope in the eternal. While those individuals are correct, I still want to punch them.

I’m overdue for another reading of the book of Job.

What I do know is that the last 40-something years of operating the same way haven’t worked.

Six months ago, I came up with a plan – much of which is on hold until the divorce is final. But, this – writing – is part of that plan. I have no expectation as to where it would take me. Only the goal that I would improve over time. For me, that’s huge.

And, it’s confirmation that the best thing I can do, today, is stick to the plan, do what’s in front of me, and keep things moving – at whatever pace I can. To never sacrifice direction for speed ever again.

I’ll never slay my demons – not permanently. I don’t think that’s really possible. But, I can rise above them, day by day. And, sometimes, it’s important to protect myself from their intrusion.

I just need to be careful that the wall I build doesn’t close me in or swallow me whole, so I can still deal with the difficulties of extenuating life circumstances…