Thursday, December 12, 2019

THINKING ABOUT REHAB?

I just had occasion to reformat my novel Saint Mary Blue and make it available again as both Kindle and trade paperback. To do that I had to read it again. It is the story of a group of patients going through treatment at Saint Mary's Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis. I wrote it one year after researching this novel the hard way and graduating from Saint Mary's. That particular rehab is now owned by Fairview Rehabilitation Services. That may have changed but inside it's business as usual: putting down the stuff and relearning How To Be A Human.
 
Working on the republication of this work brought it all back from my nightmarish flirting with suicide, the intervention, my foggy sick arrival at rehab, and my stumbling first days fencing with the disease of addiction, with the rehab staff, with my fellow group members, and even with myself. The work is fiction but there is nothing fictional about it. In a few days I will be celebrating my 38th anniversary clean and sober. I owe a very large part of that success to rehab and to its follow-up program.

There are all kinds of rehabilitation facilities, and of all degrees of quality. If you want to get clean, if you want to get sober, and if you want to stay that way, a professional treatment center can give you one hell of a good start. An incompetent treatment center is often worse than no treatment at all. At the time I thought rehab was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Through a lot of pain and much humility I found that it gave me back my life, my family, my career, hope, tears, love, and laughter: A good deal at any price.
 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

LIFE SUCKS BETTER CLEAN ~ TABLE OF CONTENTS

Getting to past LSBC posts has always been tough with Blogger, so I have put together a table of contents on my Authors Guild website, each title links to its reading, The link is on the right at the top of Learn More. Any time you want to go to the table of contents, click on that link. This should make it easier to find those recovery gems of yesteryear.




Monday, May 06, 2019

HOW TO DESIGN A HIGHER POWER

A few minutes after meeting my new sponsor at his home, he sat me down at his dining room table, put a piece of paper, and a pencil in front of me. "Now what we're going to do is design you a higher power."

He sat next to me, faced the paper toward himself, wrote a line on it, and faced it toward me. The line read: "Has the power to keep me clean for a day when asked."

"That's all I require from your higher power," he said. "Throw on anything else you want."

Wow! Did my inflated intellect and barely subdued disease ever want to have fun with this! "What?" I said. "This piece of paper?"

He shrugged. "Pretend it's a teddy bear, a sunset, a favorite chair, Allah, Vishnu, or the keychain in your pocket if you want. But if you ask that piece of paper for the strength to keep you clean for a day, you will get another day away from the nightmare." Then came the big lesson, which I have mentioned in this blog several times before: "You don't have to believe in this shit for it to work. All you have to do is do it."

The search for a Higher Power and figuring out how to fit one into your life and recovery can be difficult, particularly among rabid god-haters such as I was. I wanted to take this nonsense, discount the whole thing, and throw it in the wastebasket. I didn't, though, because I told my sponsor I would do what he asked.

I don't think I personified my paper HP nor borrowed any of the available gods and goddesses from current and ancient religion. Unnamed and "up there" somewhere, I asked for another day clean. I not only got that next twenty-four hours clean, it was easy.

Since then I have added on a few things. They are in my mind since I lost that piece of paper a long time ago. My HP needs to be okay with me testing it. I needed to see it work in my life and in a manner I could understand. One time, looking for a parking place, and frustrated on that account, I came up with my first test. "Okay, give me parking places." I found a parking place, and the parking places I've gotten since are embarrassingly great. My HP listens to me and answers every prayer, sometimes with "No."

There are a number of other things I added to my list, but I do not need to know and understand my HP. What I need is to be clean one day at a time and grow in recovery. Every now and then I need direction on what to do. How it works, why it works, and so on are not my questions to answer.

Keep it simple. 














Monday, April 29, 2019

TAKING MIRACLES FOR GRANTED

Shaker Wall at the Center
Brothers In Spirit, the annual men's retreat at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center in Alfred, Maine was meeting for the 20th time. I was program chair, our theme was "That Higher Power Thing," and for the previous couple of weeks I had been sweating cannonballs. The program, essentially, involved discussing and sharing on probably the most difficult and personal subject in NA, the Higher Power problem, as well as one of the most explosive issues in the world: believing, not believing, in which god, how to use or be used by this or that supreme being, which message or messages to follow, which set of rituals, which raiment, which set of dietary laws, which set of scriptures, which holy beings in which sect to follow to be good with the spirit world, good with my fellow temple, church, synagogue, mosque, circle mates, and keeping, as well, those in differing sects from throwing bombs through my window and slaughtering everyone with swords and submachine gun fire.



Addicts, especially those new in recovery, are not the most tolerant of persons. Neither are they usually patient, forgiving, non-judgmental, understanding, nor open-minded. These are skills and qualities one develops after years and decades in recovery. One cannot count on old-timers, however. As with modern education, I have known those who managed to go through the entire process of recovery without learning much nor changing a thing. So, we proposed to take this bunch, mix them up with the world's most controversial subject, and see if we could learn anything from the process. I should add, we did not provide metal detectors nor pat-down body searches at the meetings.

Check out this program:

Came To Believe —or Not! For many the biggest stumbling block in recovery is the “came to believe” part of Step Two. Why do that? How do you begin believing? How to get around a life of unbelieving.
The Decision: Wills & Lives In recovery, what does turning one’s will and life over to an HP mean? How is it done? How to detect reservations.
To Find, Have & Use an HP Talk is not cheap if your Higher Power is nothing more than words. How to find and use your individual Higher Power in recovery and in life.
Sending & Receiving Sharing the prayers we use and the ways we meditate, not just to achieve a closer contact with our HP’s, but to stay clean, grow in recovery, and live life.
Journeys In Spirituality We find our HPs each on our own path, but many get stuck along the way. Sharing experience, strength, and hope in our spiritual journeys.

There were tears, laughter, and men sharing their deepest fears, pains, hopes, loves, and aspirations. We all learned from each other, picked up what we could use to apply to our own lives and recoveries, got help where we needed it, exchanged numbers and made bonds of friendship and fellowship. What we did not do is argue, judge, nor attempt to dictate or control what another believed, how they prayed, nor even if they prayed. What we all did was shut up and listen to each other.

When a recovering addict speaks in the circle on what he believes or how he communicates with his HP, we listened. We didn't stab him to death, blow up his room, smear his name in the media, nor slaughter four hundred innocent passersby in protest. We listened, often celebrated his achievement, and even learned a thing or three we could apply to our own spiritual journeys. It was a miracle that outshone any bright lights or burning bushes and we almost let it pass without recognizing it for what it was. Thankfully, a couple of speakers pointed it out at the last sharing session. You don't want to let those miracles zip on by without notice.

There is an old newspaper yarn about what constitutes a newsworthy story. "Dog Bites Man," is not newsworthy. "Man Bites Dog" is. Churches, mosques, synagogues, and those of various faiths being torched, blown up, and worshippers slain in endless horrific ways is almost so commonplace it isn't newsworthy unless the body count is so high it in itself becomes remarkable.  Well, under the heading of "Man Bites Dog," in a tiny town in Maine, Jews, Christians, Islamists, Pagans, Buddhists, and atheists got together to peacefully discuss spirituality, higher powers, recovery, share their deepest beliefs, and learn from each other. And they did.























Monday, March 25, 2019

THE DUES



The meeting was about early recovery and how sticky that drug can get when you first try to put it down. Non-addicts do not understand this stickiness, this pull, this almost supernatural command to pick up that drug and use. These are the same folks who tell you, “If drugs are screwing up your life, why don’t you stop?” We had a number of newcomers at the meeting and they shared about those struggles, successes, and failures. For those who have been clean for years and decades, hearing about early recovery from those who are living it helps keep things fresh. The disease is alive and well, and every recovering addict, including the old-timer, is just one bad decision away from a return to the nightmare. The main thing newcomer meetings emphasize are what some of us call “The Dues.”

“Narcotics Anonymous is a club with the most expensive membership dues in the world.” I heard that in an NA meeting about thirty years ago. When you add up all of the costs of addiction, the prices, the financial problems, the health problems, mental problems, loss of freedom, being thrown out of one home after another, problems with the law, with employment, rejection of friends and family, and discover those are only the down payments on the dues, the size of the problem gets frightening.

Many don't appreciate the size of that balloon payment on their dues until they try to put down the drug. When they do that they discover that the disease of addiction is almost a real creature with a separate personality and a very loud voice. It talks, whines, cajoles, bullies, and has physical access to emotions, to mental focus, and to almost every nerve. It is very much like a very powerful mad-scientist dictator who has had power over you for a very long time and who isn’t going to give up control of you without a struggle. You try to put down the drug, the battle begins, and the battlefield is you.

I call it “the dragon,” some addicts call it “a monkey on my back,” and some call it “a gorilla on my back.” What is comes down to is a condition that presents itself as almost a separate personality whose only ambition is to get you back on the pills, powders, and potions. It makes it so you can only see loneliness, misery, pain, disappointment, injustice, and horror. It does this with the promise that all that will go away if you simply pick up and use. As I heard one recovering addict say, “The monkey is off my back but the circus is still in town.”

No sweet fairy tales here: Early recovery sucks. It is hard and often painful filling one’s head with constant doubts, worries, and a million good-sounding reasons for picking up. In Narcotics anonymous the addict new in recovery gets tools to use to combat those urges to pick up. The main tool for me was going to meetings—lots and lots of meetings. There I heard others going through the same things I was going through and how they dealt with them without using. After some time passed the cravings went away and it got much easier. But that condition only remained by continuing to use the tools of the program.

A tool I had a hard time learning to use was the telephone. Calling another recovering addict when I was up against it sparked this peculiar thing in me: I didn’t want to ask anyone for help because they might think I needed it. Then one day I was faced with what seemed to be a simple choice. The dragon was sitting on my desk and it was either pick up the drug or pick up the phone. It was a monumental struggle, but I picked up that ten ton phone,  called another addict, we talked it out, and I was clean for another day. Phone calls became much easier.

The dues to get into this club of recovering addicts are terrible and expensive, but they only need to be paid once. You learn how not to have to repay those dues (as well as how not to occupy your grave any sooner than necessary) by going to meetings and listening, by reading the literature, by getting and using a sponsor, by working the Steps of Recovery.

There is no cure. Addiction can be arrested and recovery experienced as long as that disease is still under arrest. Those cuffs, bars, and guards are meetings, a program of recovery, and other recovering addicts. The cop in this instance is that part of you that wants to live life as a human being.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Getting In The Groove







I was watching a documentary on Amazon Prime on the life and career of jazz pianist Bill Evans titled Bill Evans Time Remembered. I recommend both the documentary and the music of Bill Evans to those who appreciate magnificent jazz. Through the course of the recording describing how his music evolved entwined with the events of his life, as did many musicians and composers of the era (and now), Bill Evans got into drugs.

Vocalist Jon Hendricks, in Time Remembered, said, “(Bill) wanted to be able to deal with the work, but not the pain. Heroin is particularly well-suited to that.”

Jon Hendricks’s characterization of the lure of mood altering drugs to creative individuals is spot on. Tired? Have doubts? Can’t seem to get a break? Comparing yourself to the success of others? The piece you’re working on means reaching in deep, way beyond your soul, into dark and foreign worlds, guilt-drenched, horrific, and painful? Walking around in a constant state of loss, deprivation, loneliness, and depression?

Then a drug comes along, pill, powder, or potion, and it seems to make everything look, seem, and feel better. And, no, it is not simply an attraction suffered by creative men and women. Take a self-conscious school kid walking those halls, frightened by bullies, intimidated by school work, perhaps a teacher or two whose life plans hadn’t worked out the way they had envisioned and takes out the frustration and bitterness on his or her students. Kids, as do all humans, register this as pain. So lots of kids get into drugs; Lots of teachers do, too, as well as doctors, nurses, those in business, professional athletes, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, millwrights, the homeless, convicts, politicians, and those in the military.

The title of this article is “Getting In The Groove.” There is a measure of fear, fatigue, frustration, and guilt associated with every occupation, non-occupation, activity, and endeavor on this planet. Most often these things present themselves as necessary pain—a vital part of the groove. Writers like to talk about, “First, open a vein.” Athletes tell you, “No pain no gain.” If you work or play in an area you enjoy, the meaning and benefits often outweigh this pain. Often it does not.

Things aren’t going super, the job doesn’t fit well, things a little rocky at home, and those guys doing weed or a few lines on breaks or after practice every day have a message for you:

Hey, this stuff is legal.

Try it; It’s not really addictive.

Oh, there are ways of getting around piss tests.

It’ll loosen you up and ease those aches and pains.

Your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted; smoke this and you won’t give a shit.

 

In my own experiences being a novelist and short-story writer, then drug addict, to kill the pain, drugs kill feelings: the fun feelings as well as the bad. Eventually even that stops working and all one is left with is a horrible life with horrible feelings and chasing down and using more and more drugs in hopes of preventing the feelings from getting even worse. The wreckage you leave along the way simply adds to the level of addiction’s special kind of pain.

Stories are about people. People are about feelings. To write about people in your stories, you need to employ each character’s feelings as well as your own. Your feelings modified by your imagination is what brings your characters alive—is what makes them believable story characters. If you have numbed your feelings until you cannot feel anything but indifference, depression, bitterness, and rage, all you can invest your characters with are borrowed feelings, that is, descriptions of feelings borrowed from other writings, movies, remembered emotional experiences of the past, likely none of them fitting exactly the character you are writing on in that particular story moment. Afterward there is the dilemma of whether to teach your feelings of being a fraud how to swim, snort, or shoot.

For those who already use drugs to “relax” or “expand one’s thinking” while working or during breaks, to “deal with the work and not the pain,” there is a lot of help out there once you have worked your way through your denial sufficiently to recognize that you have a problem: Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, drug rehabilitation, counseling, detox units, and so on. Addiction is a prison with hundreds of escape routes. But as has been said, “The first step in escaping from a prison is to accept that one is in a prison.”

Did I write some stuff that was great when I was using? Yeah, I think so. Could that stuff have been better without impaired feelings? That little ghost of a question follows me around wherever I go. I know since I got clean I have written stuff I think towers way above my previous work. That’s just me, I know. But I am for whom I am writing.

For those of you who are experimenting or thinking of experimenting, the experiments have already been done. Science has proven that using addicts make terrible decisions about their work, themselves, their relationships, and their feelings.

Oh, you may not be an addict? Here is something to think about. If there was a new food product on the market with a one-in-six chance of ravaging you with a crippling horrific fatal disease that would also affect and possibly destroy each and everyone you love, would you try it?

It’s a yes or no question. If you answer “yes,” there is a game you might wish to try called Russian Roulette.  It is faster than addiction, but causes much less collateral damage, and is infinitely less painful.
PS: Yeah, Dufus. Alcohol is a drug.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

AGAIN . . . and again, again, again . . .

Slips are not slips. This was one of the first things pointed out to me in early recovery. The term "slip" is a way of minimizing a life-threatening, serenity, family, and employment shattering relapse. What such relapses do to one's sanity, self-worth, integrity, and values was best summed up for me by someone returning to the program who said: "If someone else did to me what I have done to myself, I would've killed the sonofabitch."
My sponsor used to refer to "slips" as "planned campaigns." He would smile at me and say, "It's like for a week I poured motor oil all over my front steps, then stepped out one morning and "slipped."
Oops! That was certainly unexpected. How did that ever happen? These are all other ways of telling ourselves and others, it really wasn't all my fault; not really. And just a little slip wasn't that bad (I'm still alive, right?), and here I am at a meeting so I'm all better now and can't we talk about something else?
It has been said before: Cheating at poker is merely dishonest; Cheating at solitaire is insane. When addiction is in control, the lies recovering addicts both tell to and believe themselves only have one purpose: To prepare the addict to pick up again. And addiction's purpose in having you pick up again is not so you can have a little break from recovery or a moment of fun. Its purpose in having you pick up again is, in the end, to kill you. And, if you have been around long enough to have a relapse, you also know that every relapse hurts more than just the addict. It hurts people who care about you, who love you, who depend upon you, who trust you: they all get wounded.
Yeah, so I was at a meeting and heard another addict trying to come back to the program after a series of relapses. It was the first time I had ever seen her at a meeting, but before she shared I already cared what would happen to her. I was scared for her, and I told her so. It made me think of a scene from my mystery novel, Rope Paper Scissors.
In the story, a school teacher and a couple of students managed to trick and blackmail a number of druggie students into attending their first NA meeting. The student, Edgardo Rodriguez, comes from a using family and has a heroin-addicted older brother not far from death. Edgardo is talking to Uncle Tom, one of the NA old timers, outside before the start of the meeting.
~ ~ ~
He (Uncle Tom) looked at Rodriguez. "No one ever got to that door, Eddie, because life was great and everything kept coming up sunshine and lollipops. However and whyever they started using, right now they got big holes in 'em they think they have to try and fill with drugs; Never good when what's causing the problem is the only answer you got."
"You mean it's pretty much hopeless?" asked Edgardo.
"Hell, no," said Tom, holding out his huge hands "Hope is our big draw. See, somewhere deep inside each one of 'em, they know they caught by somethin' big and mean. Nobody like being a slave. What to do about it is still a question to them. Maybe they pick up an answer or two tonight. Maybe they pick up a drug, OD, and fucking die before sunrise. That's all up to them." He looked at me and back at Rodriguez. "See, it's not your problem; it's their problem. Time for them to deal with their problem; Time for you to let go."
"And if they just fucking die?" asked Rodriguez, his tone somewhere between anger and desperation.
The big man paused, looked into a shadow or two, then shifted his gaze to Edgardo. "Then it's time to cry, and then let go." Uncle Tom dropped the remains of his cigarette into a butt can next to the door. He turned back and faced us. "You get into recovery, you live longer." He put his hand on the doorknob and looked back at Rodriguez. "You get to go to a lot of funerals, too." He waved good-bye and followed the others through that door, closing it behind him
~ ~ ~
Recovery isn't a life style choice, something you do to please someone else, nor something to do in order to keep out of jail or pass a drug test for employment. It has certainly been used for all of that, but those things are side effects. Recovery is the first step in moving from being a using obsessed drug addict to a genuine human being. Its principle symptom is that state of ever increasing choices called freedom.
Imagine a newly freed slave picking up the chains he had worn for years and through all of his beatings, losses, and crushed hopes and then trying them back on because, well, slavery wasn't really all that bad. That is what a relapse is.

 

THINKING ABOUT REHAB?

I just had occasion to reformat my novel Saint Mary Blue and make it available again as both Kindle and trade paperback. To do that I had...