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.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The NA meeting was large for our rural area, 20 to 25 recovering addicts on an average Saturday. Those who attended regularly took the number for granted, as did I. About a dozen or so of the attendees came from a rehab about forty minutes away by car, and they were driven to the meeting by a volunteer. Then the rehab residents stopped coming. We heard that it was because the volunteer driver was no longer available. A couple others dropped away without word, another who had to work, another who had to do some  prison time, another who was ill, and another who went out to research some aspect of the nightmare he must have missed his first time through it. It seemed as though, all of a sudden, we were down to three persons or six on a good day.

It seemed wrong, somehow, we waited for more to show, but eventually we accepted the meetings would be small, and struggled on. Funny thing about small meetings, though:  The sharing was deeper, more honest, and much more useful. Folks I had known for so long I almost had their usual meeting qualification stories memorized revealed depths about their using and recovery that were entirely new to me. And I did the same. It hadn't occurred to me before, but the larger a meeting is, the less sharing time there is available per person.  Besides that, there are many who are intimidated by very large meetings and often remain silent. If there are only four or five at a meeting, it is difficult to hide, stay mum, and thereby opt out of that session's recovery.

It has gotten such that I find small meetings more useful to my recovery than large ones. It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. When I looked at why I had been surprised, I found a character defect of mine staring back. I was one of the ones who founded that meeting, making it in my head, my meeting. Hence, as in Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, increased numbers stroked my ego, decreased numbers felt like personal rejection. A large number of "friends" on Facebook don't mean that you have many friends, that is, humans who know the worst about you, love you anyway, refuse to enable you in your efforts at self-destruction, and who tell you what you need to hear. One real friend is worth more than all the numbers that exist. When I attend a meeting, my purpose is to maintain and progress in my own recovery, and to be of help when asked. I am not there to be flattered by my own imagination (And, yeah, that's why I removed the page-view counter from the blog).

There are smaller meetings that are of even more value. There are meetings with my sponsor, or a sponsee, or simply another addict, and not just to wrestle down the dragon or get through a white-knuckle day. When we are clean, we can be a real friend and can make and keep real friends. In early recovery, still raw and suspicious of others and their motives, it may seem as though being alone is the safest place. At such times, remember that an addict inside his or her own head is behind enemy lines. It was discovered a long time ago by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. and Doctor Bob. They were two hopeless fall-down drunks who found that when they leaned on each other they were both still on their own feet. There are also the small meetings on Twelve Step calls, and with your Higher Power that can be both the most rewarding and most frustrating in recovery. Both meetings have the potential to underline your powerlessness like nothing else.

The smallest meeting, of course, is your meeting with yourself through doing  Step work, personal inventories, and self-improvement. Working on yourself is much different than isolation in which the addict sits alone wallowing in self-pity, reviewing shameful and humiliating episodes of the past and seeing nothing but pain and wreckage in the future, greasing up those skids in preparation for that approaching "slip" back into the nightmare.

For those who do not know what I mean by "sponsor, "sponsee," "Step work," "Twelve Step calls," and "Higher Power," don't Google them; go to a meeting and listen to those who know and to those others who are learning. If you are an addict in need of recovery, moving your own ass to a meeting is your job. Doing nothing, waiting for someone or something else to "fix it," is, in its mild form, called "riding a pogo stick through a minefield." In  its more extreme form, it is called "suicide" by some other name.

Take care of yourself today.



Monday, March 05, 2018


So, there I was, in my cardiologist's office. My symptoms were weakness, fatigue, nausea, inability to focus, stumbling into things, difficulty in forming words, loss of appetite, weight gain(?), and a depression that made the Spanish Inquisition appear by comparison as a fun time in Jamaica. I had just gotten out of the hospital from a ventricular tachycardia episode that knocked me unconscious as well as forbade me by state law to drive a car for the next six months. This was day two of the ski trip I was supposed to be on, and I was not in a good mood.

The doctor reduced a medication I was on, then my guardian angel Regina drove me home almost two hours away. The extra burden of driving me around was wearing on her, which added to my guilt about no longer pulling my weight in the family. I had to cancel out of the remainder of my ski trip, I sat down to write and fell asleep. When I woke up, I found myself muttering, "Y' know, I don't give a damn how this story turns out." I'd been planning this series of books, The War Whisperer, for the better part of fifty years, and had let everything else go for the past three years to write it, and now I didn't care about it? That was a sure sign that I was suffering from crapitude.

Crapitude is depression that takes the form of being uncaring about what is important, things such as relationships, my art (writing), and even recovery. It usually evolves into anger. Of course, at the end of this nightmare would be going back to using, except for a little song I made up and began singing. The tune was roughly borrowed from "I Learned About Women From Her," and it went like this:

 There are dog turds all over the floor,
Cobwebs hanging off of the door,
That stuff in the sink is beginning to stink
And I don't give a shit any more.
Oh, I don't give a shit any more,
I don't give a shit any more,
I gave it all that I had
And watched it turn bad,
So I don't give a shit any more.

And I felt better. I went to a meeting the next morning and came away feeling better still. Feeling better after going to the effort of making up and then singing that song, however, puzzled me. I mean, anyone singing a song like that has to have a bad attitude and is greasing the way to a big slip, right?

Not really. That song was the roundabout way I had of saying "ouch!" As it was explained to me many years ago, before the acceptance of the things I cannot change and the letting go comes the ouching. I used to try to be  what in my mind was "program perfect." That meant that things that hurt or disappointed me, loss, devastation, shattered goals, the unkindness of a thousand lonely moments, instead of complaining or crying or feeling bad, I would shoot directly for "letting go," thereby feeling nothing.

My sponsor at the time referred to this as my "pee pee" program. "Before the letting go, there is the ouching. Trying to stuff feelings by using the Serenity Prayer like a drug may seem to work for a time, but all of those unacknowledged hurts, losses, and disappointments are still there and they come out as irritability, anger, and depression. Feel your feelings. That's what they're there for." Or, as a person at an Al-Anon  meeting once said, "Before you can let it go, you've got to pick it up."

So, you have a hard time showing pain and saying ouch, sing that little song again and again until you start laughing, then take a small moment out to be grateful for the laughter, for grateful addicts never use.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


The 2018 Winter Olympics are on, and I can never watch the figure skaters, singles and pairs, without thinking again on a familiar theme: When everything you've planned and worked for since your clean date gets hit by a train, you're deep within the folds of the blackest depression the world has ever seen, it all seems done with, finished, kaput, all over---why bother to stay clean---what in the hell do you do next?

I mean, why bother to do anything, right? Life sucks and then you die a miserable death, right? Might as well get high and numb out, right? In such moments, the disease is most persuasive, one's defenses at their weakest. When that happens to me, I think about the figure skating competitions I have seen.

Imagine spending six to ten hours a day, every day, perfecting your sport and polishing a routine. Your whole life has been spent following a dream, first to get selected to the nation's Olympic team and perform in front of the crowd at the Olympics, perhaps even medal, maybe, if everything goes absolutely perfect . . .

And you dedicate time, raise money, nurse sore muscles, overcome injuries, plan and revise the choreography, and then practice, practice, practice until you reach the point of absolute perfection. Then the night comes, you go out onto the ice, your costume fits like a custom made glove and it is spectacular, you look great, and as you push off and do a couple warm-up laps, the crowd is applauding, the air is crisp and electric, the skates feel tight and right. Everything is perfect.

You get into your starting position, wait two or three seconds for that really great music you and your coaches selected, and you begin skating, dancing, to the music. It is all just as you imagined it would be, you get into position for that first triple Lutz, touch the tip of that skate to the ice, and the next thing you know you're on your ass, and there's no such thing as a gentle fall on ice. Not much flexibility in that stuff, and no padding at all in either you or your costume.

Pain, embarrassment, the dream--- All you worked for--- The competition--- Letting down your teammates, the coaches, the fans who spent thousands to attend, parents, all those who donated, the dream a shattered fantasy ---all of it gone straight to hell.

And what happens next? I've seen a lot of figure skaters fall. and every time I see one fall, sometime with really painful injuries, I see the skater get up off his or her bruised butt and finish the routine.

So, the next time you run into a rough patch, reaching for the pills and potions is the option that kills. Reaching for that phone, calling your sponsor, bringing your bruised ass to a meeting, sharing your pain, your disappointment, and your embarrassment, gearing yourself up to do what you need to do to stay clean until that next sunrise, that is getting up and continuing with your program.

As with any fight, if you get up one more time than the disease, fate, the breaks, or the universe can knock you down, you win. And what the recovering addict gets for winning beats all the gold medals in the world.


California Clean and a Brief Peek at Reality

  Denial, that old Egyptian river. It is the principle symptom of active addiction. This is why addiction is often described as the disease...