. . . maybe

“Let it begin with me. When anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of Al-Anon and Al-Ateen to always be there, and for that I am responsible.” – – Al-Anon/Alateen declaration.

 

There is an old riddle that asks the question, “What kind of insurance does a co-dependent person buy, and the answer is “my fault insurance.” Translation: co-dependent types can sometimes take on more responsibility for situations than they really are responsible for.  I was involved in a minor car accident last night, hopped out of my car and (at least internally) claimed full responsibility for it.  Ironically, I was on the way to my Al-Anon meeting.  After the meeting was over I chatted with a gentleman who suggested that I make sure to tell my insurance agent all details of the accident.  After I basically told him “Why would I NOT do that?”  he advised me that in his experience he has friends who have had car accidents who have taken on more responsibility than needed.   “We’re wired that way,” he said. After I started re-playing the accident as I remembered it, I began to question if my original perception may have a chink or two in its dented armor.

I feel awful. I’m doing my best to combat shame spirals.  I’ve taken the day off work to try to sort everything out.  The young lady driving the van I collided with told me she just got her vehicle.  Ouch.  Not only that, it may be time for me to do a 4th step around driving.  I just had an at-fault accident three years ago which just got dropped from my insurance policy.  And I have had one in the not too distant past.  I do believe I’ve set a pattern in motion.  It has not yet been determined whether or not I’m entirely at fault. So I may be jumping the gun, but a 4th step may be a good idea regardless of the outcome of this accident.

12-Step groups provide an amazing (and free) program for self-scrutiny.  But as stated earlier, co-dependents (I’m a member in good standing of that club) can often take on too much.  I remember an author I really liked named Jess Lair, a former psychology professor at the University of Minnesota. I don’t remember a whole lot from his books other than the titles (“I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got,” “Ain’t I A Wonder, And Aint You A Wonder Too”) and a recurrent phrase in both books of his that I read: “If it’s wrong, I did it.” I don’t remember what context it was used in, but today it describes a pretty dysfunctional place I sometimes visit.  Gratefully, a fellow Al-Anon member pulled me out of it last night.

I was the five minute speaker for my Al-Anon group last night.  I was still a bit shaken as I talked on the 11th step, and probably gave out way more personal information than I needed to.  Our stories disclose in a general way, y’know? I think what I’m feeling currently is embarrassment from what I said in addition to useless shame garbage that is flaring up.

The inner storm is gently subsiding. I had a calm conversation with the other driver this morning, and  I just talked with my insurance agent who will file a claim.  While the guilty party can’t be determined by him, he did provide some interesting insight.  I told him I was trying to enter the right lane from where I was at last night, definitely had my blinker on, and then felt that sickening “crunch” of metal on metal.  Right after I said that, my agent countered with “Yeah, people are really hard-pressed to let you into a lane these days.”  That didn’t make me feel like a million bucks, but he got me closer to $50. Maybe $75. I’ve done my part other than talking to an adjuster so the result of our little fender-bender is out of my hands.  And I am okay with any outcome.  And I am eternally grateful to my friend last night who kind of reminded me of Robin Williams at the end of “Good Will Hunting,” when he tells the lead character “It’s not your fault.”  So maybe it’s our fault.  We shall see.

My attendance at Al-Anon meetings over the years has been sporadic, thus I don’t know a whole lot of people very well.  A former sponsor challenged me on my unavailability. We soon parted ways (What did he expect me to do? Become healthy?) but for various reasons. When I was speaking last night I felt really vulnerable as I opened up.  Without question, this is about as non-judgemental a group of people there ever was or will be.  I still felt like I was under a microscope. And it didn’t help that several of my attempts at humor were greeted by crickets.  Even so, I’ve long been an advocate of people taking a step or telling their story while in the midst of a storm.  To me, that truly is testament to a person working their program.   And their courage. So there’s that.

On the latter topic, I was at an Al-Anon event two Saturdays ago and was in the process of asking a gentleman to be a speaker at an upcoming Uptown Pin Night, when a friend of his walked by.  She asked “How is your wife?” The gentleman casually answered “Oh, she passed.”  I had no idea.  I asked him when she passed and he said “Last night.”  Good lord.  He had tears in his eyes as he added the date to his calendar.  He had no problem saying yes.  His wife was well known in St.Paul recovery circles, and she was very loved as well as revered for her wisdom.   So is he.  I’m very much looking forward to hearing his story, as I have not up til now.  And to comfort a peer, and tell him how much he has impacted my life.  And to offer consolation.  And for that I am responsible.

 

Peace

 

This One’s For You

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . not a creature was stirring.  Nothin.’ No action.  Dullsville.” – – Margie McDougall in “The Apartment”

 

I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve not been alone in isolating for the Holidays (or holidays, I guess depending on how you feel) over the years.  I recall the old joke about someone going to an Isolators Anonymous meeting and being disappointed because nobody was there.  I have been a non-attendee in good standing many times over.  I have adhered to the rudimentary mechanics of interacting with family until the pain hurt so much I couldn’t stand it, then going into the pain of isolation and staying there until it hurt so much I couldn’t stand it.  The isolationists ping-pong game.  Over and over again.  I did this since youth, so the stage was set long before holidays began to have any significance.

To put it plainly, my dad cheated on my mom for years and years.  Since I was about six, I recall that his mistress would toss him aside annually for the holidays.  I guess she got the Christmas spirit and went back to her kids once a year.  What that left my family with was a sullen, raging dad at home going through the paces of getting drunk, phoning his mistress repeatedly to call her a few names, and generally  putting a pretty miserable atmosphere in place.  Once in recovery, I read a book (I don’t remember the author) that described in one chapter “dad falling over the Christmas tree.”  I got an electric shock of identification.  And thought this writer had perhaps been peering into our windows at home when I was a kid.  The Christmas tree maneuver was one I remember dad pulling more than once.  Holidays became a curse to endure.

I do however, have a fond memory.  We weren’t poor.  Dad just had a remarkable propensity for “losing” his paycheck about half the year.  Being the capitalist youngster that I was, this often put the kibosh on the presents I was salivating for.  So one year my mom went to a Walgreen’s and found a used record player/radio for me, I think for $1.50.  It didn’t look like much, and I remember receiving it with a kind of blah attitude, and at the same time being appreciative that mom would take the time to make sure her kids got at least something in the spirit of the commercial season.  As the family fought one night that year, I turned on the radio and found it to be so soothing – a comfort of a backdrop that seemed to lessen the impact of what was going on in front of me.  So a night later I did the same as the scrapes began.  I was 13 and surely not averse to crying myself to sleep.   But this night was different.  What I heard shortly after I turned on the radio was what I still consider the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.  It was the newly released “Your Song” by Elton John.  A rather unusual (at the time) blend of lush orchestration, gorgeous piano, and that marvelously silky voice of a young Elton.  Not only did this episode inspire me to be a piano player, it was a panacea for chaos I never dreamed could possibly exist.  Music really doth have charms?  You betcha.  While the memory of hearing that song for the first time doesn’t necessarily erase the rest of what was happening around me, it does in fact transport me to an entirely different, safe, and even magical place.  And it all exists within the mind.  And the heart.  It took chaos as a catalyst to point the way for me.  I recall a scene where a shiatsu practitioner tells Michael Keaton in so many words in the movie “My Life,”  “I did not tell you to back to your old home.  Where you need to be is your heart.  Go there often.”  Hallelujah.

Over the years I’ve had at least two break-ups around holiday time.  I’ve spent most holidays alone, with an unconscious memory looming large as an advisor that people contact = pain.  Here and there I went to friend’s houses on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but in no case was it a replacement for the practiced loneliness I felt at those times of year.  I needed a Self-connection I had no idea how to find, even in my first years of recovery.  In recent years especially I have come to be quite comfortable in my own skin.  I certainly haven’t entirely abolished isolation from my being, but I know how to tell the difference between enjoying alone time and not wanting to wallow in perceived separation.  Loneliness can be a necessary evil, an unwitting catalyst for better things to come.  As Eckhart Tolle says, “pain can be a great catalyst for awakening.”

As trite as it may sound, home is indeed where the heart is.  I somehow grew a family this year. It’s when I stopped pining away for things to be different, (I don’t know when that was exactly) and being “here and now” if you will, and underneath my illusory “self,” that things began to change.  I had a wonderful Thanksgiving at my sister’s house two days ago.  I suspect I will be spending Christmas with she and the clan (again) this year.  Somehow the blatant dysfunction and harsh boundary violations that used to bother me so much and cause me to stay away don’t seem to be there any more.  How did they change so much?  I’m being tongue-in-cheek:  I know they may have done nothing at all.  It’s not perfect between my family and I these days, but the real difference maker is that I no longer need it to be.  Like any human I fluctuate between my ego and Spirit on a daily basis.  But mostly, everything’s okay.

If you’re reading this I wish you Happy Holidays (or . . . holidays).  While healing has it’s own timetable for everyone, it is my wish that you do not deprive yourself of the joy your family and friends can bring you.  More importantly, I hope you come to know the joy that you can bring into other lives.  The joy that has always been there.  In your heart.  As Bernie Taupin wrote so many years ago in a song that symbolized a liberation I didn’t yet know existed, “My gift is my song, and this one’s for you.”

Happy Holidays

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost On State Street

“There’s something you don’t see every day.” – – Peter Venkman/Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters.”

 

If I remember correctly, I was only four years old at the time of the incident, and it took a recounting or two for me to really cement down what now feel like details.  Granted, it happened 54 years ago, so my memory may not be 100% accurate.  Also, some siblings now have access to my site, so if corrections or different versions need to be made, feel free to fire away.

It was not the proverbial dark and stormy night, but it was indeed dark and I remember a bit of a nasty breeze.  Mom sent us to the corner store which was, I think, about four blocks away from our house.  So merrily my sister and brother and I went to what we used to refer to as “the milk store,” passing many of the decrepit and sometimes abandoned houses.  The neighborhood was ripe with stories about ghosts and warnings not to enter this or that house, and to certainly stay out of the woods.  The populace was almost exclusively Mexicans and Jews.  In later years, not with my family, but with friends, I used to joke that if you went by the right house you could hear a mixed breed ghost saying something along the lines of “Si – – I am feeling poquito meshugana today.”  I had no idea if what I was about to experience was ethnic specific, all I know is that I was pretty scared.

As we passed an abandoned house with one of the many neighborhood legends attached to it, my brother or my sister, maybe both, advised me to pick up the pace and not to look into the house if I didn’t have to.  After all these years I still remember a chill running up and down my spine as if being afraid on demand.  I do also recall an inexplicably creepy feeling about the place we were passing.  But a four year old has a short memory, and by the time we reached the well-lit store a couple of blocks beyond the abandoned house, I was looking hard to see what kind of toys or candy I could manipulate my brother and sister into buying.  I believe I struck out, and we stuck to the purchase of whatever items mom had requested that we pick up.  So off we went back home, and after a block or so of walking we noticed someone down the street waving at us, a distinctly female figure with flowing hair and pacing back and forth in front of the abandoned house.  Cool. Mom is meeting us halfway home, we thought.  I also remember us wondering out loud about when Mom got an all white coat.  It also seemed odd that her hair looked white, but I think we chalked it up to the weird lighting in the soon to be torn down neighborhood.  As we approached we noticed “mom” duck into the abandoned house, a move that puzzled us.  As we got closer to the place, we were torn between looking for mom and not looking into the possibly haunted place as we had been instructed as kids.  We opted for door number two and rushed the rest of the way home to mom, hoping for an explanation of where she got the white coat from.  I remember that as we got about a half a block away from our house, mom did in fact appear: in totally different garb than she had been wearing while in front of the abandoned house.  How had she changed so quickly – – and how did she beat us home if we had passed her back at the abandoned house? I was the first to instinctively look back toward the abandoned house.  I remember tugging on the sleeve of either my brother or sister, and starting to cry as I looked back at the woman in white waving to us again, and then returning my frightened attention to mom in front of our house.  No tears were shed when we moved out of that neighborhood about a year later.  I never wanted to go back in that direction again.

Our address was 271 State Street in St Paul, not far from 253, where the Recovery Church now stands.  It strikes me as ironic that a center that promotes spirituality now stands where “spirits” used to have their way.  Just about the entire neighborhood was torn down after we moved, most of the houses being a breath away from condemned.  For the most part I feel perfectly safe and at peace when I drive toward the church for an event, but every now and then I still get a little chill up my spine in memory of my Lady In White, and whenever I hear somebody laugh at idea of ghosts existing,  I feel tempted to take them aside and say, “Let me tell you about something that happened to me when I was about four years old . . . ”

Peace

Or maybe “Boo!”

Happy Halloween

Self Sabotage, Anyone?

“The mind suffers and the body cries out.” – – Cardinal Lamberto in Godfather III

In the final game of the 2012 Minnesota Vikings season, they defeated the Green Bay Packers in a game which saw quarterback Christian Ponder play uncharacteristically . . . okay. He hit wide open receivers all night long, and the local media wrote the next day of his fabulous performance. My own view was that a high school quarterback could have hit such open wide outs. Other than this game, Ponder often didn’t. Also, Christian to me still had that “deer in the headlights” look all night just as he did the rest of his career. I do believe the writers made some mention of Adrian Peterson running for 199 yards in the same game in pursuit of the NFL record. That might have had a little to do with the win. The victory put the Vikings in position to play the same Packers in the playoffs the very next weekend. Then Mr Ponder made what I felt was a curious statement of his mindset. Not verbally, but through his body.

During the game Mr. Ponder had suffered a bruised bicep on his throwing arm, an injury that didn’t seem to bother him much while he threw the ball. But during the week after the game it worsened to the point where coach Leslie Frazier announced that Ponder would not be playing in the upcoming playoff tilt. A pair of sports psychologists ventured a guess that possibly Ponder had manufactured a way out of the high pressure game by pulling up lame. A local broadcaster cried bloody murder as Ponder was after all, a Minnesota Viking. Apparently guys who wear the purple and gold are immune to the egoic shenanigans that can befall ordinary mortals. I didn’t buy it. While I certainly can’t get into Christian Ponder’s heart and head, my experience of him was that he always seemed to play afraid. The timing of the bicep injury struck me as strangely coincidental.

For years hall of famer and former Brewer and Twin Paul Molitor just could not stay off the disabled list. It always seemed to me that it was not until he matured some emotionally and physically that he was able to play a full season. The Vikings had a brilliant running back named Robert Smith who had the same history his first few seasons. Once he got a little maturity under his belt, he was his brilliant self. Amidst many legal woes in the 1980’s, former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson developed a propensity for single vehicle accidents. The product of a chaotic mind? When David Letterman asked him for an explanation, Tyson’s response was “I guess trees just like me.” Currently the Twins have a brilliant young outfielder named Byron Buxton who has been on the disabled list multiple times in each year of his young career in the major leagues. (He even got hurt in the minors this year.) He has yet to wean himself off his habit of running full blast into outfield walls. Like Tyson, I guess outfield walls just like Mr. Buxton.

I was sailing right along about six weeks ago in my training for this Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon. I ran a 15 miler with no issue, followed by a 10 just a few days after. No pain. I then started noticing a nagging pain in my right hamstring that later spread to my right glute. After putting two and two together, I traced it back to driving. Until late July I had a 3 mile commute to work. My office moved to Coon Rapids (a move I grudgingly accepted)and a drive that used to take me 10 minutes or so has become a happy little jaunt of 30-50 minutes depending on traffic. Cruise control is out of the question due to the stop and go nature of my voyage. Could it be my leg is not used to such a long drive? Or my mind is giving me pause for thought? Maybe it could be called a non-christian ponder.

I like my job. A lot. But quite honestly, 30 years of call center work sometimes feels like its really taking a toll. At this point it has literally become a pain in the ass. After getting completely honest with myself I’m finally fessing up that the drive is really not worth it. Luckily for me, there are plenty of local opportunities to check out in my organization. It seems to me that my body is chiming in (maybe with church bell sized chimes) that its time to move on. I love running marathons and have trained really hard for this one, only to pull up lame with just a few weeks to go, and now only a few days. The impact my drive may be having on possibly needing to bail out on something I love so much has gotten my attention.

My bottom line for all of this is that since my brother’s passing a few months ago, I have gradually approached and entered a deeper spiritual dimension. It feels very nice in here. Like anyone else, my ego is not fond of spiritual growth, and will flex its muscle sometimes as a distraction. In response, my attention is staying firmly on my ethereal body. My spirit can’t run a marathon but I value it just a teensy weensy bit more than anything that happens in my outside world.

I have done acupuncture every day this week, and will go in again on Friday and Saturday. I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. In addition, I have over $200 invested in registration fees and that amount is even before running shoes and various paraphernalia. I would love to do this race, but am open to discretion being the better part of valor. It may not happen. And yes, I am aware of and open to miracles. We shall see. And there’s more to me than running marathons. In the meantime the plan is to steer clear of outfield walls and trees.

Peace

Pandora’s Box

“Death has a cruel way of giving regrets more attention than they deserve.” – – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 

My brother Joe passed away on Monday, July 8th.  I got the news as I logged into my computer at work at seven a.m. and gave Facebook a quick glance.  After the proverbial double-take at my sisters post saying farewell to him, I messaged her.  He had indeed died just a few hours earlier after a years long bout with colon cancer.  I was stunned.

I was not particularly close to Joe, just as there is distance between myself and my other siblings, but I have fond memories of us as kids.  He was the one who got me interested in writing, as I published a one page neighborhood newspaper at his cue.  It was also a nice way to earn five cents.  It was Joe who got me interested in drawing cartoons.  And it was definitely Joe who inspired my interest in music, the less mainstream the better.  I had forgotten the depth of his influence on me until the day he died.  Still, there was more going on inside me that I couldn’t quite put a finger on.

Irritability has been my companion for much of my days since his death.  Considering that I work in a call center and take over one hundred inbound calls a day, irritability and my work make crappy bedfellows. Even with an awareness of my unease, it wasn’t until this past Friday that the full brunt of grief hit me.  A few of my calls were recorded and played back to me during a coaching session.  I was only a little surprised that I sounded as enthusiastic as Eeyore while talking with my patients.  I miss Joe.  And his passing was the trigger that made me release the hold button on all of the losses I’ve not fully grieved.  There is a heaviness inside that takes very few breaks.  I feel like doing little more than sitting in a chair all day once I get home.  Or moving around just to move around. Depression rules.

There was the possibility of a reconciliation with someone that I flat out slammed the door on a few years ago.  We had gone our separate ways, and in our absence from each other I did little to dissipate my accumulated anger from our cat vs. dog last few months.  All I saw was rage when I thought of her.  When I had finally worked though a large portion of it, she was nowhere in sight. She is among my incessantly repeated “what if” scenarios.  I also really miss her, and yet she too is a symbol.  A symbol of my history of short-lived relationships or those that never got off the ground, several of them in the last ten years.  It speaks as much to my fear of intimacy, but that’s another article for another day.

My best friend ever, Paul McGee died in 1983.  My dad passed in 1991, and mom followed in 1993.  In between, my sweet friend Susan died in 1992.  I dated my first sober love in 1991, and in 2004 she committed suicide.  In 2005 my sister Rose died, largely from liver failure.  Her husband followed two years later.  Throw in middle-age and still never having really pursued writing as a career, and I echo Henry Blake’s sentiment on a M*A*S*H* episode after someone stole his beloved desk from his office: “I’m sitting right inside the middle of a great big empty.”  But I’m not in a sitcom.  Or am I?

There have been frequent periods the last few days when I’m unable to focus on any single thing for more than a few seconds at a time.  While I’m taking brief comfort here and there reading up on Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages Of Grief,” my apartment looks like a cyclone just hit.  Laundry is undone.  There is no pile of dirty dishes, probably because I’ve been eating so little.  And my primary mood is fluctuating between anger, sadness, loneliness, and just plain feeling afraid.  My friend David used to be a fire chief.  I remember him telling me how he counseled one of his firefighters, including telling him “sometimes you just stack the bodies.”  Indeed.  Losses in whatever form do add up.

I have so far been spared anyone telling me to “cheer up.” For that I am very grateful.  Grief has its own life, and I’m not about to tell it to leave prematurely.  I have been in Al-Anon meetings and listened to someone talk out their own Pandora’s Box of grief, only to have the next person start off their share with, “if it makes you feel any better . . . ”  Fact of the matter is that person is not being compassionate.  They’re trying to shut down the person in grief so they don’t have to feel their own reaction.  It is not only much more civil (and much more boundary-respecting in a meeting setting), but also more loving to let a person have their own grief space.  Expressing condolences can be done without the knee jerk reaction of caretaking that is the norm.

My boss took me aside for a chat after we went over my calls on Friday, and I brought up Joe, explaining that I was not trying to make excuses.  She wanted an explanation for why my conversations  with patients, some of them in dire need of help, seemed so lifeless.  She had forgotten about my brothers death.  I had not forgotten it, but had slipped into a deeper and deeper denial, somehow knowing there were many things to grieve behind the door.  My emotions are in charge much of my days, and are often erratic.  Grief can be a very unpredictable, dark tunnel. I will continue to do the things that keep me upright – going to Al-Anon and AA meetings, using my phone, writing.  And while doing them I will remember the statement I forgot to tell my boss during our chat: I’m exactly where I need to be.

Peace

magicianstouch.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Rather Be Right Or Happy?

“They say that as you get older you gradually lose your mind. What they don’t tell you is that you probably won’t miss it very much.” – – unknown

I had a dream a few months ago in which I was clutching a copy of A Course In Miracles. I suspected I knew what it meant but took no action on my hunch for a few weeks. It was then that I started reading the text and doing the lessons. It is a lifetime process, comparable to the twelve step groups that saved my life. Indeed I have often said that A Course In Miracles is the Big Book on steroids so, I think it’s content can be summed up in one line: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”

Step three suggests that we made “a” decision, not “the” decision. I read an estimate years ago that the average human has approximately eighty thousand thoughts per day. To me that’s eighty thousand opportunities to work step three. When I think of will it is not in the vein of “What does God want me to do? I honestly don’t think my actions play a large part of what I’m seeking with this step. What I think the step is telling me is to focus my attention on God, or ask to see something through God’s lens, then the proper action will follow. As St Augustine put it, “Love and do what you will.”

A Course In Miracles says that everything is either an expression of love or a call for love. What I’d like to tie this to is Eckhart Tolle suggesting that the need to be right is a form of murder. Throughout any given day I can be prone to a number of upsets – a rude customer on the phone, getting cut off in traffic, etc. In each of those cases I more often that not perceive an attack on me. It is precisely at this point that I choose between looking at this “attack” as an expression of love or somebody asking for love. I’m an infant to this concept. I’d rather be right.

Recognizing that I’m projecting my anger (most common emotion for example) onto someone else is actually step one of the ACIM forgiveness process. You’re attacking me. I’m pissed. What I can do at that point is the dynamic of the forgiveness process – bring my attention from outside of me (from the object of my ire) back inside, and ask for help in looking at my own projected anger differently. That’s step two. At that time God can step in and ease or erase whatever my dominant emotion was. That’s step three, in which I have no hand. This at least temporarily stops the “attack/defense” cycle I work every day. Most of this is subtle. I can coolly say “No, I’m not upset – I’m just making my point” as a response to a social media post for example, then add a lengthy addendum to explain what I was saying. That I’m right and you’re wrong. To my credit I have refrained from this lately. But even citing my non-participation is an attack. I’m basically saying I’m not like the people who do so. I’m better than them. Plus I’m right. They’re wrong.

My ego, like anyone else’s can be pretty clever. I have begun working the forgiveness process and it may be the most difficult mind exercise I’ve ever attempted. I have no clue how anyone can say out loud “Oh, I did this step” in referencing step three. To me it is hardly a one and done. But to each their own. A Course In Miracles says that the forgiveness practice is all-inclusive, and that any kind of upset is grist for the mill, because as it also says, a small annoyance is actually “a veil for intense fury.” Most of us aren’t aware of the mountain of anger we sit on. My need to be right is insidious. The amount of healing my mind needs is beyond comprehension.

There is one insane example that I’m embarrassed to say I still put into play even after thirty years in AA/Al-Anon. I take my turn and state confidently that “God’s will” has nothing to do with my actions, that in fact God will is something I align with, or as in step eleven I marinate in for awhile, and afterward intuitively my course of action. God does not want anything from me, as want implies lack and God already IS everything. So how can God “want” anything? Thus God will not be happier if I’m a fireman or flipping cheeseburgers for a living. Then the next person takes their turn and goes on and on about how they don’t know what God wants them to do about their car, or which job to take, or how to discipline their child and when will they get a sign. So I sit and stew because they did’t let me brow-beat them into my viewpoint. Don’t you know I’m right, dammit? That may or may not be true. But I’m sure not happy.

Within my mind lies a right minded Self (leaning toward forgiveness) and a wrong minded self (pure ego). In the middle lies my decision maker, often symbolized by the late Ken Wapnick as a tiny dot dwarfed by both sides. Every moment of every day I’m making a decision for either side. Inspiration or memory. Past or present. Looking at the sum of self forgiveness I need to do (through others)is staggering beyond comprehension. I prefer to think of it as job security for being human. And I truly have come to believe that someone with “good self esteem” still is in the same boat as the rest of us. Self esteem fluctuates. I believe there is a massive untold story of self loathing lurking in all of us unconsciously, just waiting for daily projection onto others.

I have a visual of the aforementioned forgiveness process. I see a miles high stack of paper detailing the contents of my mind, and each time I practice forgiveness a single sheet is removed. I feel more peaceful when it happens, and I feel hopeful every time I can conjure that image. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’d rather be happy.

Peace

Diamonds On The Water

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers.  The original meal has never been found.”- – Calvin Trillin

I have a rather fond recurrent memory of my Mom, one that stands out among all of the others.  I was thirty years old, visiting her, and she decided to lay this absolute bombshell on me.  I’m the youngest of 7 kids, 6 of us born in consecutive years, then “poof” – – I showed up four years after my sister Barb was born.  Mom tried in her gentlest tone to advise me that I was unplanned.  I honestly tried my darndest to keep a straight face, but given the stand-up material that was just delivered I started giggling and had to leave the room.  Such was the mark of the level of innocence my Mom managed to maintain throughout all of her years, though: she honestly thought she was unveiling a profoundly deep and shameful secret on me.  The good news was that since I obviously took it all as a great big joke, Mom considered herself forgiven.

There was much unintentional comic relief in my home that for whatever reasons (being active in an addiction might be one) I never really grew to appreciate til Mom was gone. I remember hearing about the version of forced marriage that her soon-to-be husband was brought into when my uncle Joe, Mom’s brother picked up the man who was to be my Dad, started driving, and as the story goes within seconds said, “Well, are you going to marry her, or what?”  So I guess technically since no weapon was produced, this wasn’t a shotgun wedding: let’s just call it a “threat-wedding.”

So my folks followed the good Mexican Catholic old school rules and cranked out one kid after another, until apparently Dad got tired of the whole deal and started seeing his mistress, an alliance that went on for years and years.  Mom also played the dutiful long-suffering stay-at-home mom role to the hilt, a role her genuine meekness made her a natural for.  And truly, what person needs to be subjected to cheating for years?  The huge difference between then and now in Mexican culture is that it is now looked upon with a little more favor to leave the cheating party after telling them in no uncertain terms where to go.  Mexican culture as I know it, still has a long way to go in this arena, at least to my knowledge of my extended family.

Mom really was quite uneducated, unscholared, and socially extremely awkward and shy.  I believe she made it up to fourth grade reading level when America called, offering her the opportunity to diss her education in favor of working in beet fields for slave wages in order to help support her family.  One of my saddest memories of her is her unabashedly announcing every now and then to anyone who would listen, “I’m stupid.”  I’m not sure what purpose this served to her, but I know it made me really uncomfortable to hear her talk about her self in such an abusive way, although I didn’t have the terminology to place on what I was feeling at the time.

There is no question in my mind that Mom felt trapped her entire married life.  Dad had a habit of picking places to live that were absolute dumps, effectively ending any dreams that Mom had of living in the palatial style that she would sometimes try to describe.  Luxury to her would have been a dishwasher: she was certainly not asking for the moon. Dad in turn validated her “stupid” status frequently while heaping on other abuse whenever the spirit moved him.

And so Mom resorted to whatever she could to make herself feel good.  She was a huge fan of soap operas.  Heaven forbid my getting hungry at 12:30 in the afternoon, because quite frankly, for Mom, the whole world stopped for “As The World Turns,” a show she got a belly laugh out of any time she heard Carol Burnett refer to it as “As The Stomach Turns” in her evening show parody.  After her first viewing of the Burnett show, Mom took to referring to her favorite soap very simply as “Stomach,” as in, “I can’t do that right now I gotta watch ‘Stomach.'”

One area that I continue to view with considerably less humor is the fact that mom had a number of JFK pictures strategically placed throughout the house, I’m assuming so as not to be without her fantasy partner if she could at all help it. I also believe that Mom was really quite lonely during her married life.  Parenting skills were obviously not there, and when I got into various recovery groups in the early nineties, I began hearing phrases like “they did their best, and their best wasn’t very good,” or things like “they were never ready to be parents.”  While those phrases were definitely fuel for recovery in those days, my question today is whoever is ready to be a parent? Nobody gets a manual.  I’ve yet to hear a single person say that parenting is a piece of cake. Not much of her life lived up to any of her fantasies as far as I could see.  I don’t think she had any idea what effective parenting might entail.  She could only know what she was taught.

I never considered myself particularly close to either parent.  Still, as I got sober I drifted further and further from mom, really beginning to resent a symbiotic relationship that had been enforced on me due to my Mom’s need for the proverbial “little husband.”  It’s not like Mom was the first person to ever do such a thing.  I remember a friend once telling me she had a tarot card reading in which the reader advised her that her mom was having an affair with a much younger man, something my friend protested because she knew her mom to hardly ever leave the house.  She then put two and two together to figure out that mom was “married” to her little brother.

As I began to find my own internal resolution to my patterns, I gradually let Mom back in.  It became a juggling act when I began dating someone, and Laura won out with my time.  When Laura and I broke up, however, I began to be a bit more dilligent in attempting to resolve our differences, and I do believe I made much headway.  The humor re-entered.  I used to absolutely love it when my sisters took Mom out to a movie and then after she would struggle to tell me the title of what she saw.  Mom was still heavily accented, and when she tried to tell me she had just finished seeing “Beaches,”  per her phonetic capability it naturally came out “Bitches.”  I think my all-time favorite was when the girls took her to see “Poltergeist” and she excitedly told me a few days later that they took her to see this really scary flick called “Pocket Full of Guys.”  The conversation usually ended with Mom snorting a “shut up,” as I laughed hysterically.  She was indeed a card, and miraculously, through all the misery that was visited upon her during her years, she somehow managed to hang on to and nurture her innate ability to laugh at herself.

On December 9th, 1991, I stopped off at Mom’s to deliver a care package and visit for awhile.  Mom had suffered a stroke earlier in the year, lived alone,and absolutely refused being moved into a nursing home. As I got into recovery and found my voice and boundaries, clashes with my siblings ensued over what I considered to be unhealthy behavior, situations they obviously didn’t see anything at all wrong with.  Still, at the thought of possibly running into me and being called on some covertly abusive behavior, they began staying away from her house.  Mom was lonely again.  On this visit, at about 7:30 at night, I literally pounded on the door for her to come and help relieve me of some heavy grocery bags I was carrying. We had all pleaded with her to make her bedroom downstairs so she wouldn’t have to climb a flight of steps repeatedly, but she resisted as she did moving.  She finally made it to the door, parted the curtain, and gave me an extremely confused look before she fell backward.   The door was locked, so I sprinted for the liquor store across the street, grabbed their phone and dialed 911.  The paramedics were just around the block, so they broke in through the locked back door of Mom’s house and carted her away in an ambulance.  She was still conscious and reasonably alert. I still remember the doctor at the hospital very patiently trying to get out of me the list of medications and supplements that Mom was taking, occasionally telling me “you’re dolng just fine.”    She had just had stroke number two.

Mom died that night.  Then was brought back and we were told that she was alive but would need some extreme care going forward.  The next morning I got a call from the hospital saying that Mom had suffered a major heart attack,and might not live very long.  I remember the jolt, then straggling, quickly slipping into denial that I was now going to be totally without parents, and slowly made my way to the hospital.  By the time I got there she was gone again.  The doctor told me she had “a massive coronary right at the bottom of her heart.”  Though unintentional, he couldn’t have painted a more morbid, guilt-inducing description.  I immediately began running over and over in my head how long it took me to get to her, and to this day still the the look of what was obviously excrutiating pain that was frozen on her face haunts me.  With no one there to hold her hand.  Like I did for my Dad.  Like I did for my sister Rose.  Today is the first time I’m talking about the guilt that still hasn’t gone away completely.

Not long after Mom passed I saw the movie “Jacob’s Ladder” and considered that my “aha” moment around death.  Dad had also died on the table, was revived, and died again the next day.  I truly believe that they were both given an opportunity to see what lay ahead if they decided to stick around, and opted for what was behind door number two. I’ve tried on several occasions since 1993 to describe the sense of absolute desolation at losing my second parent, and coming to the realization that I won’t be issued any more of these, and have never even come close to putting those feelings of holy terror into words.  And I wasn’t even close to my folks.  I don’t envy anyone who is close to theirs what they have to go through. Just writing out some of this is relieving some of the guilt I’ve carried all of these years, guilt that I’m sure Mom wouldn’t want me carrying.  Guilt at driving the rest of her family away from her because I had become the perceived enemy.  Because I was learning to stand up for myself.  Guilt at not being there to comfort her as she died.  It really overwhelmed me today as I was talking to some friends.  Unlike Mom, I had the good fortune to not be alone at the time.

During the weekend that Mom died, I attended an angel workshop at a church in Woodbury,a workshop in which we were all asked to request angelic signs.  My obvious request was to know that Mom was ok.  Throughout the course of the weekend, not a sign in sight.  I had moved into Mom’s house and was sitting and reading (ironically) A Course In Miracles in preparation for that Monday night’s class at the same church.  It was really very windy outside, and I was sitting alongside a picture window that was taking a beating as I sat and read.  To my right was a  sort of trophy case where my mom used to put her collectibles, including a large Opus doll I had given her, as Opus was her favorite cartoon character.  All of the items were behind glass.  At one point during my reading, I heard this loud “whoosh,” and assumed it was the window taking another blast of the icy wind.  After finishing a page, I looked up and noticed the 12-inch Opus doll standing there.  Outside the trophy case.  I could’ve sworn it was behind the glass.  I had gotten my sign.

Dear Mom: In a practical sense, you came up a bit short in parenting skills.  In a more Universal view, you gave birth to me into a life and conditions that were perfect for setting me onto a path that has never been easy, but more often than not has been rewarding beyond my wildest dreams.  I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you to help you cross over.  My fear got the better of me.  I know you forgave me long ago, but please pardon me if I hang onto my feelings of inadequacy  for just a bit longer – – they’ve just become too familiar for me to let go of all at once.  You know how it works.  I remember the dream I had of you the day after your Opus doll shenanigans: I remember asking you if you were ok, and you giving me that exasperated look of yours and saying, “Oh sure – – they’ve got me walking and walking.”  Yeah, I kinda figured you were busy. I only regret not asking you what movie you had seen up there recently.  Just to hear you laugh one more time.

A friend of mine has said a few times that as her Mom was dying, she told my friend that going forward she was to “Just think of me as the sunlight on the lake.  Just think of me as the diamonds on the water.”   That’s you too, Mom.  In this shadow life I know you thought little of yourself.  From your current vantage point I hope you see yourself reflected on the water often.  You are indeed a whole cache of diamonds of eternity.  I loved you more than I ever said.  And I’m so sorry I didn’t say it more often.  Please know that in my heart I miss you so very much.  Happy Mothers’ Day.

Peace

A Tale From The Darkside

“The past is never where you think you left it.” – – Katherine Anne Porter

Another Cinco de Mayo celebration has come and gone in St. Paul and elsewhere, with my body and unconscious mind conspiring to prevent me from being there for yet another year – plantar fasciitis rules out going very far on foot, and I managed to spend myself broke this week.  It’s no secret to those close to me that I’ve had difficulty reconciling my Mexican heritage with the contamination it combined with in my youth – a huge dose of alcoholic dysfunction and insanity. But that’s another story for another article. I didn’t go largely due to the memory of my last time there over twenty years ago. I remember walking around by myself for awhile and then feeling as though someone was watching me. I turned after a while to look and saw the person who had been sitting at a table a block or so away from me, staring at me for who knows how long. It felt sick, and my whole youth seemed to relive itself within a few seconds at my recognition of the man at the table. It was my oldest brother Paul.

Let me say right off that the being an untreated paranoid-schizophrenic, alcoholic, body-builder can make for a very intimidating combination in an older brother. Somehow, I managed to defend myself rather admirably if I may say so myself, during some truly crazy episodes with my brother Paul. As the years went on and the two of us went in and out of living in my mom’s house periodically due to our various successes/failures, we both managed to survive each other til I was in my early thirties. And then came a turning point.

At four years of sobriety I was in a vastly different place emotionally and boundary-wise than I was during the years of my brother’s constant abuse. I was not alone – he terrorized the entire family. Including my mom. And in an old-school Mexican family, you don’t get help – you just deny what’s going on. And so it happened one day while visiting mom that I found out he had been making visits at two or three in the morning to her house (he would come seven miles or so on foot), waking her up and then laying into her with verbal abuse for whatever reason struck his fancy. I felt my blood boiling as I listened to yet another episode played out by my mom, and coincidentally the phone rang about ten minutes after she got done. It was Paul. I listened quietly as he told me how he and his wife were hit with hard times again and thus they had decided they were moving into my mom’s house. They didn’t ask if it was ok, they had just made up their minds. In retrospect, as I was fresh off hearing my mom vent about him for a half an hour or so, I’m quite surprised at how calmly (albeit feeling just a tad angry) I replied slowly and calculatedly, “the fuck you are.” After a couple minutes of calling me names and denying he ever mistreated my mom in his life, I heard him hang up the phone. I then found my mom and told her I’d had one too many years of hearing complaining and that with or without her, I was heading down to city hall the next day to get a restraining order.

My brother’s retaliatory gesture was hardly unexpected. And the impact of how nauseated I felt after hearing about it has dissipated, but not so much to the point where I’ll be inviting him out for lunch any time soon. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of years later when one of my sisters relayed to me what he had done.  Paul placed a lewd call to my middle-sister, disguised his voice and said it was me. Like I said, his behavior was hardly surprising. And considering my family history I could have been a little less surprised by the response I got from not only the victim of his little prank, but from all three of my sisters. They all believed it was me.

My sister Rose didn’t speak to me for the last twelve years of her life. My sister Barb told me just a year ago the specifics of what my brother said on the phone. I was still dumbfounded, but had matured into recovery enough to know that 1) my family is nuts and nothing is out of the question regarding insanity and 2) it’s really not my business what anyone thinks about me. I’m the only member of what was once a nine person family in recovery. Setting boundaries with my brood is a lot like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. So I don’t go there. Things have truly improved between my youngest sister and I, but I still am wary enough to remind myself it’s perfectly ok in the name of self care to make a quick getaway if I need to. I see my sister and her boys only occasionally.

My sister Rose died in 2005. She had contracted Steven’s Johnson’s Syndrome, a skin disease so little was known about at the time that when I googled it all I came up with was a slew of pages about law suits. She died in terrible pain. As she was taking her last few breaths I was asked to administer Reiki, which I gladly did. And then right or wrong, I took the opportunity to lean over and whisper in her ear, “It wasn’t me.”

As I said earlier, the whole story of my turning my back on my heritage is for another day, another article. Or two. Or three. I’m writing more lately, and while I only get about fifteen or twenty hits each on my articles, I’m all for the healing power of “putting it out there.” Maybe I’m just channeling my inner David Carr (see “Night Of The Gun”). Or maybe my my inner Charles Bukowski (for that one, sit on a bar stool for a few decades). Whatever reason it may be, I still have the secret hope that it will help someone, that they’ll know that they’re not alone.

Cinco de Mayo will happen again next year, and I learned long ago that recovery is not linear. All events happy or sordid will pass after living their own life. I know my heritage will wait patiently for me.

Peace

Send In The Clones

“For me, to ‘drink responsibly’ means don’t spill it.” – – unknown

 

There is an active drunk in my apartment building.  And he seems to be living by the old Stephen King credo, “I work until beer o’clock.”  I don’t know of anything else that he does when he’s here.  He’s loud and obnoxious even when not drinking, and thus these traits are magnified when he’s inebriated.  I have complained about him multiple times to apartment management, and have called the cops several times.  So have other tenants.  “He’s such a nice guy when he’s not drinking” and “I know he doesn’t mean to harm anyone.”  are statements I hear about him. My favorite direct from the apartment manager was “He promised me he would stop.”  Does any of this have a familiar ring?

I have at least loosely tried to live by the “projection makes perception” mode from A Course In Miracles so at it’s absolute best, I’m being given a history lesson by my neighbor on behavior I’ve not forgiven myself for.  And fortunately at this state of sobriety it can be pretty comical.  When I told a friend yesterday about the “he promised” line that was given to my landlord, he burst into a belly laugh. What person who has ever been associated with an alcoholic hasn’t heard a promise or two before?  As I heard that my neighbor promised to stop his loud partying via a voice mail that was left for me, I was unable to advise that he probably forgot about what he said in less than five minutes.

I sat next to a group rep at an Al-Anon meeting a few weeks ago as she was sifting through some papers, stopping at a flyer with a heading of “Are You Affected By Someone Else’s Drinking?”  When I saw the flyer I shouted out “Yes!” I was supposed to have been at an Al-Anon event the previous Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m.  Thanks to falling asleep at about, oh, five a.m. courtesy of my neighbor’s bender into the wee hours, I didn’t make it, thinking better of driving and then showing up at the assembly feeling like I’d been through a meat grinder.  I had explained my dilemma to the group rep next to me, the same person who had actually recruited me for service at the Saturday Al-Anon gig.  So as soon as I shouted yes, she also burst out laughing.

The shoe is on the other foot right now, and for whatever reason I’m being treated to a refresher course on how I impacted other peoples lives while I was drunk.  It’s not pretty.  And while I had empathy abounding a couple of months ago when this all started, I have graduated to the aforementioned complaining to management and calling the cops.  Enough is enough.

My neighbor has been asked to leave, and to avert eviction he is being worked with so as to allow him to find a new home voluntarily.  One of the conditions is that he behave quietly while he’s still here.  Since I heard him loudly proclaiming as he walked through the hallway yesterday “I’m going out with a bang!” I think something may have been lost in the translating of his conditions.  The bottom line is that all of this has provided me with an epiphany for the taking.

Everything I’m hearing about how nice this guy is, how he promised to stop, how he’s harmless, also sounds familiar.  I don’t recall offhand how many millions of members AA claims in the forward to the fourth edition of the Big Book, but I would venture to guess that those characteristics were attributed to most if not all.  A line I hear frequently in the rooms of AA is “we don’t shoot our wounded.”  I agree.  I also think a person can be given only so much rope.  The previous quote has been replaced for me by the philosophy of an old supervisor of mine, who used to have a sign outside her door that read “Have a nice day somewhere else.”

A drunk is a drunk.  Nobody is responsible for me, but in the larger scheme of things, it behooves everyone to have a certain degree of self-care.  To me, that would include telling me that my drunken behavior is not welcome.  We alcoholics are all alike on so many counts its downright eerie.  In the fourteen years I’ve lived in this building this is the first person I’ve been impacted by due to alcohol directly.  Another one was an active drug addict who was evicted (imagine blood-curdling withdrawal screams at 4 or 5 in the morning), and a third a person who was five years sober, but who was still prone to vacuuming his unit at 11:30p.m. and was apparently incapable of closing a door without slamming it as hard as he could.  Management caught on to him when they were notified that he would often start parties at midnight.  Okay, so it takes a few years for behavior to be changed too.  I think this reiterates my point. We’re all pretty alike.

There is a strange release in writing about all of this, in acknowledging being a member of the club, in the grounding of my ego that so frequently invites flying toward the sun.  We’re all in the same boat, and while every now and then I hear statistics like “only one in ten of us makes it,” I don’t agree:  I think most of us don’t make it.  So what my sponsor told me when I spoke of my dilemma yesterday, “It could be you.”  is sobering, no pun intended.  So, My Neighbor, I guess ultimately I’ll say thank you for the reflection.  I’m not just like you. I AM you.  On some level(s) we are figuring this out all together.  A few lost nights of sleep are not the end of the world.  But in the mean time, dammit, have a nice day somewhere else.

 

Peace

 

 

 

 

 

The Rope

“What’s sad is that we bring our own unhappiness with us into situations where it’s easiest to blame it on our surroundings and other people.” – – Tara Braveheart

 

It was a normal looking rope, really.  About six feet long, and just left laying in the lunch room of a busy workplace called The Garden Of Eden.  Nobody even noticed it until one day a young woman came in for her morning shift, muttering to herself – – problems on top of problems: the husband, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  She would give just about anything for a distraction.  Then out of the corner of her eye she saw it.  “Is that a snake in the lunch room?” she asked herself while she hurriedly passed through on her way to a meeting.  “It’s huge!” She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she’d best tell somebody right away.

The first person she saw was a co-worker from the same department as her.  He had come into work muttering to himself – – problems on top of problems: the wife, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  He would give just about anything for a distraction.  His co-worker grabbed him as soon as he came into view, excitedly saying, “Look! Look! It’s a snake in there! And it’s gotta be at least twelve feet long!”  The co-worker quickly obliged and looked in horror at the fourteen foot snake.  Soon, the two of them were talking about nothing else.  They hurried out of the lunch room to alert a few others in close proximity, the people they knew best first, about the sixteen foot snake.  Before they could call an exterminator, a short-term fix was needed.  As the group closest to the lunch room scurried about for boards and nails and hammers to shut in the eighteen foot snake, the rest of the room privy to the slithering nightmare went off to warn the remainder of the building not to go into the lunchroom.  The original two (as well as others) didn’t even notice that they were no longer thinking of their personal issues, and wouldn’t for the next eight hours.   Not until they left the building and headed for home again, anyway. We must keep our attention on getting rid of this twenty foot snake!

Finally, someone from the group closest to the lunch room said, “Hey, I know just who to call! Magic Man Exterminator!  I had rats in my house once and he got rid of them all.  He said he didn’t find anything, and that made me think he was nuts, but the thing was – after he left my house they never came back again.”  So the man went off to the front desk to call Magic Man to liberate them from their serpentine dilemma.

He did indeed look like a magic man.  Dressed in a tuxedo, complete with top hat and wand and white gloves, he looked so grand!  He strode in through the main entrance confidently, heading toward the lunch room to survey the problem.  As he removed a few of the boards,  he chuckled to himself and said to those just outside, “Ok, I’ll have this taken care of in no time.  You can just go about your day.  Are you sure you want this resolved though?  Are you sure you’re not too attached to the problem?”  Those around the Magic Man were floored by the question.  “Of course we want it resolved!” shot back one of the small crowd.  “Are you nuts? Who in blazes wants a forty foot snake in their lunch room?”  “Ok then,” replied the Magic Man.  “Done deal.”

He noted once again that the situation was always the same.  He laughed as he calmly picked up the six foot rope.  He’d been to places like The Garden Of Eden before. A few doves fluttered about him as he walked out the door, and those observing him noticed that he moved with such grace and had such a soothing feel about him.  The soothing aura the Magic Man emitted was so opposite the norm in the building it made everyone nervous.  Though the fifty foot snake was gone, they all had it in the back of their minds to keep an eye out for more, just in case. At least they would have something to talk about. The Magic Man easily picked up on the nervousness, then turned around and tipped his hat saying “Thank you for your business, and as with all of my clients, my service is free of charge.”  He exited through a side door and flipped the small rope into the back of his truck.  A few of the doves fluttered about in the back of the vehicle also, gliding into it on the trail of the Magic Man’s warmth.  The Magic Man fired up his truck and looked back at the entrance and smiled, then laughed the soft laugh of a Magic Man as he noticed a large yellow-lettered sign with a big arrow pointing toward the doorway, the same sign he noticed at all of the building’s entrances: “Volunteers Only.”  Then he started  singing a little Magic Man’s song and began waiting for his next call, knowing that it may be a long wait.

 

Peace