Tag Archives: religion

Family, Family and Spikey Walls

Often, there is nothing more frightening than family to the alcoholic, for a variety of reasons, whether it’s because one’s family are essentially practicing alcoholics and one is horrified at the prospect of temptation or whether it’s because they are essentially teetotalers and one is afraid of their judgement, however much they say nothing about it and however confident one is in their love and support. Atheism can add another level of emotional complication to the family issue and dynamic as well. When one’s family is, mostly, well, the polar opposite. Not only is my family religious, they are deeply religious, with one exception (He may be an alcoholic, too, I’m not terribly sure. I think he handles booze better than I do, for all that he has a couple of DUI’s on his record.) They are involved in their respective theologically conservative Orthodox churches deeply, whether as President of the council or as a Deacon. My Dad credits certain explicitly mystical experiences with changing his life and converting him to Christianity (…from Christianity… but that’s another story for another day), rescuing him from the drugs and alcohol he had participated in rampantly from a very early age. He even used to tell the story of how God literally spoke to him (as in, yes, with an audible voice) telling him that my Mom was the woman he would marry from the very first moment he set eyes on her across a crowded hangar where teenagers gathered for concerts. So, yes, going home this weekend for the holiday was stressful. It was nice, too. I love my family, and my parents, given all the variables, really did a wonderful job raising us kids. And, I told a couple of my oldest friends that I’m an alcoholic, and they had the good grace not to order that beer at lunch that one of them talked about wanting to order before I told him that I don’t drink anymore and why.

And then there’s family. The not blood kind. This is a pleasantly recurring theme lately. I love them. They love me. This comforts me to no end and is beginning to give me a little bit more courage in trying to break out of my shell and just fucking relax a little bit, already. The mental vigilance I’ve gotten in the habit of may be good for keeping me sober, but it’s also been not only exhausting but all too effective at preventing me from reaching out and touching or talking to these other people that are my family. Learning the difference between helpful vigilance and self-pitying self-destructive spikey mental walls that I’ll just get bloody trying to hold up is important.

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It Just Ain’t Fair, Mama Mary, They Never Treat Me Right

Fair Warning: This gets a bit long, feel free to skip about at will.

So. At the continuing care once-weekly small group therapy that I attend once a week at a satellite treatment center associated with the in-patient treatment center I had gone to, they do periodic evaluations with treatment plans that go with it. The first one, which I received very shortly after intake to aftercare, I disagreed with, had wanted to talk about it with the counselor and therefore never signed it. I never talked with her about it, which is as likely a result of my own cowardice as it is a result of never had an opportunity to raise the issue (if I’d really been that concerned about it & been able to summon up the courage, I surely could have made the opportunity to talk with her about it). They never really noticed, as far as I know. It looked as though it was mostly canned, copy-paste kind of stuff, anyway, and after a while, although I never quite forgot about it, I dismissed it as nothing in particular. Until I got my next one. Now, as far as I know, they still don’t have a copy of the first one (unless they just printed out a copy of it & left it blank). I got the new eval & treatment plan on Monday. I’m going to quote at some length sections of it.

I continue to have many long-standing resentments, as evidenced by: a. I often blame others for my current problems; b. I am easily angered by the behaviors of others, and my anger causes me to overreact to their behaviors; c. I frequently use phrases such as, “they always,” “they never,” “nothing is ever fair,” etc.. [sic] In the past I have used these resentments to justify my use of alcohol/drugs.

I’ve lined out the lines that I disagree with. Which is nearly all of it, except that I certainly do have a lot of resentment to deal with, but this is rooted in stuff that I need to dig at with the aid of a therapist I think; it is distinctly possible that I have, at least subconsciously, justified drinking myself to the point of blackout every fucking day because of these resentments. In some ways, yes, the behaviors of other anger me; this is more social issue stuff, though, and is part of having a social conscience and being a screaming liberal. In order to help me with this, I’m to read “Freedom From Bondage” from the BB (done, multiple times, will read again, got it), talk with group members about 3 times I’ve been forgiven by someone else (fair enough, I can do that), talk about individuals I need to forgive (how does one go about the process of forgiving an entire group of children?, but ok I’ll see what I can do – given that I know this is never actually going to come up in group, I’ll at least journal about it – the 3 people that read this may get to read that, too :-P). and talk with my sponsor about the statement in the BB “Resentment is the number one offender.” (This is a good idea, I think, once I get a permanent sponsor – still looking at C for that; I certainly have spent a good deal of time pondering this.) Anyway, this isn’t the bit that really bothered me, so moving on.

I do not have a social network which is supportive of my recovery, as evidenced by: a. my friends are substance abusers; b. I do not socialize with any recovering persons; c. my roommate is a substance abuser, d. I find it difficult to make new friendships in recovery, etc.

To the extent that I have a social network, they are all uniformly supportive of my recovery. They may not always know precisely how to go about doing that, but they are. Hell, they got me into treatment. I love them for the evidence that is of how deeply they care for me. They cannot be faulted if I don’t reach out to them the way that I know that I should; that is my fault, my weakness. Even if I haven’t figured out how to overcome that weakness, I know at least that it’s mine. A) My friends are most definitely not substance abusers. They are able to drink responsibly, something which, now that I am not drinking, I recognize I am unable to do. B) I do not socialize. Period. End of story. Although I’m trying to, and I admit that it is extremely difficult. I am even trying to socialize with recovering persons (or person, at any rate; I’m an introvert, let’s do this one person at a time and work our way up, shall we? Groups are… a fucking nightmare at this point). C) My roommate is not only not a substance abuser, but has been extremely conscientious in completely abstaining in my presence. He had one or two drinks when we went camping last weekend, and he drank when he went on vacation. (I was not there, much to my chagrin, and I suspect if I had been, the vacation might have gone a bit differently, and so I’m glad he got the chance to get away and cut loose a bit, really. I felt awful when I found out that the reason he hadn’t been drinking at all was because of me. He never drank much, anyway, and that only when he was out with friends; he doesn’t really go out that much, soooo… I felt {feel} bad that he’s been doing that, although enormously grateful.) D. Self explanatory to anyone that’s got a single fucking clue what it’s like to be so very very introverty as me. It’s all hard, really really hard.

I’m supposed to choose 2 people from group with whom I’d like to strengthen my relationship. No. Doesn’t work like that. Well, maybe the one guy, but hardcore AA’ers might get pissed since he’s an addict only & not an alcoholic. I like his reserve and the devil’s advocate position he often takes. I’m also supposed to talk with an AA member (done) & volunteer to help set up chairs, or wash dishes & what-not. Most of the meetings I go to, there’s not much of that to be done. I take coffee around when appropriate, help break down tables/chairs at my Thursday meeting. I probably should see if I can do more, though. That’s supposed to be the road into service work, especially for the newly sober who don’t have enough sobriety time, to serve in the official service positions. And I’m supposed to talk about the “negative impact my substance abuse has had on my social group and activities.” I’ve about talked that one to fucking death. There’s not even a horse left to beat, it’s just a bloody mess on the side of the road.

Broken Tree

The above essentially pissed me off because it dissed the people that care about me the most, and I get a little Mama Bear (sorry, Ms Palin, you don’t get to trademark that shit) about the Circle, about my Family. However, perhaps more relevant to this blog is the following section. Here’s where it gets really fucking nuts. Ready?

My past experiences with religion have been negative, resulting in a reluctance to examine a Higher Power concept, as evidenced by: a. I am unwilling to attend Twelve Step Meetings because I do not want to hear about the need to have a Higher Power; b. I feel angry toward religion and religious people; c. I feel anger toward those who say they are religious but behave as “hypocrites”, [sic] etc.

Where to start, where to ohmyfuckingjesus start? This is not just shit that I disagree with, it’s patently false. To say that my past experiences with religion have been negative just because I’m pretty up front about the fact that I do not believe in a god, any god or deity, is pretty goddamn presumptuous. It’s also false. I didn’t stop believing because my experiences were negative. In fact they were, by and large, pretty positive, at least as I thought of them, then. I wanted to be a priest, for chrissakes! And a theologian to boot! And, in the end, that – seriously pondering & thinking about this stuff, is what started me down the slippery slope to recovering from religion. There were a lot of other factors that made space for that deconversion to become possible, but it is certainly clear that someone like me is not going to spill that kind of very personal reflection-stuff in small group! And I am not and have not since the beginning of treatment been reluctant to examine the concept of Higher Power. I knew it was going to be difficult as an Atheist, so I tackled that head on pretty much right out of the gate. I’ve come up with a couple of concepts that work for me, don’t have fuck all to do with the existence or non-existence of a deity, and that I continue to tinker with as the need arises.

Okay, getting to the bullets. A) I go to meetings about 5 times a week, and that’s stepping down to a manageable level from the 2-3 a day I was attending for the first 2 months out of recovery, excepting most weekends (I tried those & mostly, the weekend meetings, much to my surprise, are fucking huge for one, so I don’t like them, and then also when I have my daughters, they don’t really like going & it’s not usually appropriate for them – we tried a couple of times). B) The only anger I feel toward religion is of the Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens type. I fucking love those guys. Well, and maybe Jennifer McCreight & Greta Christina & well-the-list-gets-bigger-as-we-go-along. I do not hate or feel anger towards God. Let’s get that clear. For the same completely obvious reason that one does not hate elves and trolls and fairies or even Darth fucking Vader. They do not exist. C) I only feel anger towards hypocrites in the same kind of social conscience sort of way I spoke about above. And I can’t feel too much anger towards anyone I see behaving hypocritically in my personal life since I have to reflect on the extent to which I am or have been a goddamn hypocrite myself.

So, to help me grapple with my lack of fucking belief, I’m to read, guess fucking what, the “Spiritual Experience” appendix in the BB. Done. And Done. And done. And fucking done. I frankly don’t find it to be all that magically deep, profound, or inspired, but I’ll keep going back to it from time to time to try and see what others see in it. Not that it’s bad, either, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been said before. I’m also supposed to talk with the group (won’t happen, not because I’ll refuse, I just know how our group works, and it just won’t ever come up) about my understanding of the material and how it may “relate to my search for a Higher Power.” Ugh. The search is done. It’ll get tinkered, but I don’t want to pretend to believe in God just because that’s what most people in AA associate with Higher Power. I’m also to talk with the group about the concept of using “Good Orderly Direction” as my HP. Fuck that trite bullshit. I will not use the word God in any form to describe what my idea of  a power greater than myself is. The thought behind it, I understand. I get it. It even works for me in some ways, but if I say “God” in the context of HP, I have just given the rest of the people within a proverbial earshot tacit permission to believe that I mean it in a way that approximates the same way that they do. No. Flat. No. “I will discuss the way in which this would help me in my recovery.” Well, lady, it won’t. It won’t help at all. In fact, if you really want to see someone slip and fall from our group (which you seem to, since you keep lamenting the fact that noone in our group has in the last couple of months – huh? really? this is something to lament?) go ahead and keep pushing this issue. I guarantee it will drive me to the bottom of a bottle of cheap-ass Canadian whiskey faster than any other goddamn thing.

Ok, almost done, stick with me. Sorry this has taken so long. All of this, in the end, would be neither here nor there, beyond just making me mad, if it weren’t for the fact that this is the shit that insurance (i.e. work) is paying for. So now I’m worried that if I make too many waves or simply stop going, this will come back to them and negatively impact me at work. As in, negatively impact the fact that I still have a work. The woman that wrote this was not there on Monday and I’m fairly certain that next Monday, being the 4th holiday, there will not be a small group meeting, so I’ve got a full 2 weeks to get this all twisty and boiled up in my head. Yay. If anyone reading this actually made it to the end, you’re a goddamn trooper. Not the faceless stormy kind, the knife-wielding rope-tying kind.

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Testing the Waters

I went camping this weekend. With a whole bunch of wonderful people who were also drinking. A lot. Or not really a lot, in point of fact, but it seemed like it to my jealousy-beast. The rest of me knew that they were fine. Anyway, the point is, I did alright. It was fun & (kind of) relaxing (mostly, sort of – I am clearly conflicted on this point – I am definitely worn the fuck out, completely drained – whatever it was, it still took a lot of some kind of effort). I only had moments where the pain cut deep, and the sense of odd-man-out was palpable, at least to me. The tension of constantly being on guard and watching myself may have part of what was so tiring about it. I am incredibly glad that I went, though. Social skills are… yeah, still not good. But fuck that, most of these people knew where I was at, even if it’s clear that they don’t really get it and can’t and I shouldn’t really expect that of them (Jesus, I shouldn’t wish the process that it would take to make them GET IT on anyone, most especially them); they accept me where I am, even if they wonder why I am so much quieter and stand-offish and awkward than I was before. I hope they can see that I love them, still, and it’s not that I’m being aloof & cold. (Fuck, man, stop that shit! Little spinny-mind, stop getting twisted ’round your own little self!) Good test camping, further experimentation warranted, and there was a lot of beautiful to be open to. Moving on.

Test Camping

Also had a long chat this afternoon with C, a guy from AA. We talked about a lot of things, but it all revolved more or less around AA & alcoholism, which in a way was the best thing, since it’s become such a hugely central part of my self-identification that I can’t share with very many people (honestly, would you want to hang around with a guy that was constantly talking about his addiction & all the black oily shit that goes with it? But, especially at this stage of the game, it’s on my mind every fucking minute of every fucking day – yes, it is that central to my mental existence). This is the first time I’d invited anyone to coffee, and it was good to get to talk. I don’t know for sure if I want to ask this guy to be my full time sponsor, but it looks good. I hadn’t expected to chat for 4 hours with him, that’s certain. Still not the kind of conversation that makes me mentally orgasm or anything, but still, it was a good conversation.

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Jesus Appears! Also, Art Is Good.

Unfortunately, I have to say that the crazy is alive & well in AA. This should come as no surprise, but this took me aback for a moment, even at AA. So this guy, the one with the crazy, sports a gaudy gold chain with a three inch cross or so on it, and not to be overly stereotypical, but this looks odd on a middle aged (probably 50 or so) balding white guy with a salt & pepper mustache and tastes in clothes about as good as mine. That was Clue 1. He has also talked a lotta God when he has spoken before, which is often in the few times I’ve seen him as he is one of the chronic relapsers who has finally gotten serious about sobriety, gotten a sponsor and really wants to talk about it. A lot times, a lot of good stuff gets said by these people. I think he may be the exception. He begins with the standard congrats to birthdays and welcome to newcomers and thanks for the topic what a great topic, then rambles on for a little while (he has loud, kind of high pitched, kind of gravelly voice, too – the one at a crowded bar that you can hear from across the room over blaring music and voices) and then wraps it up like this: “And I just wanna say, I believe in God. I mean, I really really believe in God. I mean, I’ve seen Jesus, he’s appeared to me, I’ve seen his face! Right in front of me! Just like you’re in front of me. I’m serious, I had to talk to my priest about this and everything! And I wasn’t even stoned when I saw him!” There was something about him having been made a minister in his church just last week, too, but he’d kind of lost steam by then (I think he’s been clean and sober about a week and a half or maybe two, so not really sure how that plays). Really, dude? Really really? Holy shit. I’m pretty sure I held everything back except for what I hope was a subtle eye-roll and a whispered, “Oh Jesus,” which seemed kind of apropos after it escaped me. I had my face buried in the book that the reading had come from (I was catching up because I’d missed the first part of the meeting because I was at a life-drawing class, about which more later), so I don’t think anyone noticed my momentary lapse into complete disdain. And most of the room seemed to just nod along, like, right on, man, yeah, you totally saw that. I mean, perhaps not. He may have been that insistent about it because he sensed some incredulity in the room.

Needless to say, in the midst of what I took at the time to be the credulity floating fairy-like through the minds in the room, I felt out of place, as I often do at many meetings wherein the God-talk gets thick and heavy-handed, which is quite a few of them. And besides that, revisiting the current favorite isolation them, at the moment, I’m also in the awkward position of feeling out of place with a lot of the Atheist groups around. A lot of them meet in bars, and I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of heading to a bar for whatever reason. And then, as an example, when discussing the upcoming American Atheist National convention at a small, generally convivial gathering of Atheists, someone made the joke, “No, no, the other AA, the good one,” at which I too timidly tossed out, “Well, you can be both. Just, you know, saying,” but I don’t think anyone heard me or took notice. At any rate, I felt awkward and out of place from thereon out for the rest of the meeting, probably unnecessarily so, but still I just sat and didn’t say much for the rest of the meeting. Except when somebody mentioned the much bandied “No atheists in foxholes” line, at which I had to concur, “Yeah, I fucking hate that. I usually just point them to the website and list some friends.” I don’t think anyone gathered from this that I myself had been a soldier at one point (although very religious at the time, and hardly in a foxhole), but that’s not really surprising since the person talking about that was a vet that had been wounded in combat and therefore, rightly so, was much more an authority on the subject than me. (How a meteorologist gets wounded in combat, I’m not precisely sure.) Anyway, moving on.

It is now the previously referenced later. This life-drawing class is almost the most therapeutic thing I’ve found so far. This was the second class, and while I didn’t feel as good about the work I produced during the class as I did the first one, it was still a wonderful class and I am delighted that I’ve begun to draw again. I’ve wanted to do this for quite some time, actually, but before now, I was too busy getting drunk, and even when I wasn’t, I was too shaky to do any drawing, much less produce anything resembling a straight line. Hell, I couldn’t even write, and there were days when the shaking was getting so bad I couldn’t even really type. So every time I pick up a pencil or stick of charcoal, it is in fact a celebration of freedom from the prison that had become my racked forearms and hands.

And! I had a more or less pleasant random social interaction at the class last night. This seems like a fairly minor thing, and in some way, it is. In another way, it’s huge for me. When the woman next to me saw me popping an ear-bud in from my iPod so I could listen to American Freethought’s podcast while I worked, she said, “Oh, music. Now that was a good idea.” Now, at first, it didn’t occur to me that this was an attempt at talking, and I responded, “Well, actually, Podcast, but , yeah. I love having this.” “Oh, yeah? What Podcast?” “Um, American Freethought.” “Oh, cool.” Then it was time to draw. The longsuffering model took a break, and I looked over. Internal dialogue: Say something. Say something, anything, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Remember what they said, you just say, Hi, or whatever. I see that she’s wearing a Conan O’Brien Late Late Show T-Shirt. “So did you actually get to go see Conan tape a show?” “Yeah, I did!” “Really, that’s awesome! How was it?” “I went in ’06,” she begins, which I misheard as her saying that she went when she was 6, which led to a further awkward moment where she thought I was asking how old she was, which, granted, would have been incredibly fucking rude of me. But then she went on about how she was the last person to get in the show, and the friends she’d been standing in line with for hours and hours didn’t get to go, but she actually got to be part of a skit, and so it was a fantastic time anyway. And all I had to do was think it was really cool that this stranger, whose name, of course, I never did ask and still manage to bumble quite a bit (Progress, not Perfection, even in the little shit, I guess). Didn’t say another word to her the rest of the class, but still, it was a fairly normal social interaction with a person. Baby steps.

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5,000 Pound Fucking Phones and Fucking

Been a little while. So this one’s likely to go a bit long on me.

Last week I had what I’m pretty sure amounts to an anxiety attack of sorts. That’s what I’m calling it, anyway, with the caveat that I’ve not got the medical expertise to actually label it that and that I’ve never had one before and therefore don’t have much to compare it to. I don’t think it was the full-on real deal, but it did last about 18 hours, including sleep (I dreamt that my brother and I killed someone or possibly two someones and I was freaking out about hiding the evidence and the bodies and wondering what the fuck had just happened – I may be rethinking this whole Wishing I Could Remember My Dreams thing). It was incredibly surreal and uncomfortable and once again, there was no wall of whiskey to protect me from whatever it was. I have absolutely no desire to do that ever ever ever again. I’m pretty sure that it was kicked off by all the stress surrounding the uncertainty of whether or not I will be keeping my job, but it spiraled out into all kinds of other things that were very unfocused and difficult to keep track of. During this whole thing, it never even occurred to me to call someone, anyone at all until someone pointed out to me that I should call someone. Even then, though, I couldn’t do it.

In small group this week (technically, continuing care, but really, it’s small group therapy), this became the topic of conversation, and the counselor said that it was a self-esteem issue for me. Although I hadn’t connected that particular underlying issue to that particular dot, I probably should have, and regardless, it hasn’t made it any easier to pick up the fucking phone. I did get over it a little and call my sponsor and meet with him last week, but haven’t talked or e-mailed or anything with him since then; I don’t know if I thought getting over it once would suddenly remove the difficulty or what. No magic pills here, little lion man. Ugh.

I do also confess to being a little annoyed at the counselor’s diagnosis of self-esteem because when I told her the very first time that I had met her that this was an issue for me, she solved the problem in 10 seconds or less by telling me that the solution was to help others. OK, fine and wonderful, and not to say that it isn’t true either, but – won’t be going to you for individual therapy. Or perhaps I should get over that annoyance and go to her anyway. On the other hand, though, I’d prefer to keep one-on-one and small group counseling separate, I think.

It did also come out that I am ‘not religious’ at small group, which was, oddly enough, related to the isolation topic. When I was religious, that was the entirety of my social group. Then I went into the military, where the drinking began to get serious. Then I got out. Then I became not religious. I have not gone out and made social connections that had nothing to do with booze or God in so long that I am completely at a loss. No idea what I’m doing. Not even a little.

Moving back a little, counselor’s reaction: “What do you mean by you’re not religious anymore?”

“I mean that I’ve come to the conclusion that there probably is no God.” Confused look on her face. “It’s just that simple, I’m not angry about it or anything like that, it just is part of who I am, and that’s all. Nothing to it.”

“Okay, well, what was your social group outside of religion back then?” Give the lady credit for getting over the no-God and moving on pretty quickly.

“That was it.”

Then the conversation progressed a bit further and we went around the room. Turns out, I’m not the only alcoholic in the room that tends to isolate. Most of us in that group do. So now I have homework. Call this other guy in the group, even if it’s just to say, “Hey, calling because I’m doing what I said I’d do and, you know, calling.”

Which brings me to the last little thing for this blog entry, and it’s either really funny or really frustrating. When asked if I had a home group yet, I talked about one meeting I’ve been going to pretty regularly that meets at 6:15 in the morning 3 days a week that I really like. I mentioned that the only down side was the lack of women in the group. “What, for dating?” Shit, she caught me off guard, dating is the very fucking last thing I was thinking about when I mentioned that. In fact, the only reason I had mentioned it was because the one or two women that show up for that group had mentioned how nice it was when another woman showed up. “Umm, no. I just like more balance. No dating.” “You know, you shouldn’t do that in the first year of sobriety.” “Yes, I know. Dating is… well, it’s not… well, it’s complicated.” I left it at that, hoping it would go away. Nope. Kept getting shit for it. Somebody mentioned a possible meeting that I might like. Counselor: “Are there girls there? You know, for balance.” “Look, I’m not a dude’s dude! I don’t like talking about guns & shooting shit or fixing cars, I like talking about books & politics & shit!” Jesus, I wish I’d kept my fucking mouth shut just then.

Ok, but here’s the question that occurred to me later, which I did in fact have the good sense to keep inside my mouth: Why do all the married or otherwise coupled couples get to couple in their first year of goddamned sobriety? Why do they get the incredible comfort of another human being’s skin and breath next to theirs, another human being’s fingers to tangle in theirs, another human being’s chest to rise and fall against their back all night long, and the rest of us just have to fucking do without fucking? Just wondering.

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