Would You Rather

Fiery Car accident 1

 

My brother and some friends and I have a little game we play. It’s always been particularly useful when we’re at a baseball game and it’s a blow out with no real hope of a Cubs victory. When that happened, in my old life, you would simply strap in and consume extremely large amounts of beer and try and convince yourself you were just happy to be at the ol’ballpark. Perhaps we would be watching a particularly laborious pitcher on the mound; the kind who takes 3-7 minutes to take off his hat, wipe his brow, put his hat back on, scratch his crotch, hock a big loogy, shake off a couple signs, put his foot back on top of the mound, and start the whole process over again before he pitched into a double. At some point, we would get so bored with the tedium of the sport (yes, even baseball fans can and do experience that horrible sensation when even we are thinking “Oh come on already. Throw the damn ball.” Of course, we would never profess to thinking so as it would otherwise violate the unwritten code of the baseball fan of never admitting that sometimes, just sometimes, baseball is yawnsville). When that happened, we would play a little game. This game requires no pieces or cards or money or even a board and it’s arguably one of the most enjoyable ways to kill time and also provide your brain with a little calisthenics without all the pressure of putting it to some higher purpose like memorizing family members’ birthdays or calculus.

In a vigorous round of Would You Rather, one participant poses the question of “Would you rather …” then presents the other guys with two options. The goal is to conjure alternatives that are vomitously disgusting or extremely painful. There was a third category, Embarrassment, which we briefly explored, but considering that me and my brother and his friends and my friends feel only a cursory and marginal amount of shame with all but the most extreme acts and circumstances, that avenue was quickly dropped. The “host” of the game for that round would devise two alternatives and what followed was a logical, diplomatic and reasoned assessment of the pros and cons of each option.

I’ll give you an example. We would ask each other “Would you rather be skinned alive, then set on fire, then have your testicles removed with a rusty pen knife, or have 5000 fire ants slowly chew their way to and through your vital organs while you are forced to listen to Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs That Make the Whole World Sing” over and over until you’re dead?”

What followed would be a series of questions from the contestant to the host about the specifics of each scenario. Sometimes, the participant may ask if his testicles would be sawed off before or after the skinning and setting him ablaze because obviously, the pain of having your balls forcibly removed might have a bit more acute pain if it happened before the skinning and the burning. I mean, once you’re completely engulfed in flames, I would imagine that any pain would be incidental, to say nothing of the fact that you’ve already been skinned alive. But, since losing a thin coat of human skin would be incidental compared to the burning and the impromptu surgery, it doesn’t even factor into the decision. Really anything can be used here depending on the participant’s preferences. Maybe the guy likes Manilow, so you’d have to sub in polka music or perhaps a particularly lengthy and meaningless diatribe from his wife or girlfriend. The point is to just have fun with it! Alternately, the participant might have an inordinately high tolerance for pain but an acute fear of fire, in which case, burning alive would be much more painful physically and psychologically and therefore being eaten alive by fire ants would be a cake walk and they’d opt for option 2.

The next host might decide to go with the Disgusting and pose the question “Would you rather be forced to consume 10 gallons of bird feces or be lowered naked into a vat of tapeworms and have to keep your mouth open for one minute?” The contestant would then debate the merits of both of these options. He might decide that bird poop is just bird poop and since it’s mostly white, they could imagine that they are eating frosting or Alfredo sauce. With the second option, the host might also throw in a variable such as “Would you rather be lowered naked into a vat of tapeworms and you have to keep your mouth open for one minute but before you are, you get to dine on a 7-course meal at a 5-Star restaurant?” In this case, the contestant might feel that this one’s a no brainer since the second task would actually present some significant health benefits after the first task. We would pass around the roles of host and contestant and a good time would be had by all.

Yesterday, while driving to my parent’s house, I harkened back to the glorious summer days when we played this game because A) I’m a sick, twisted man with a talent for this kind of thing and B) Yesterday was Thanksgiving and more than any other Thanksgiving in the past, I have an ever-increasing clarity of mind to realize that which I am truly thankful for. I brought this up at my home group meeting last night and I sincerely hope I accurately made my point that with time comes an increase in experience, strength and hope that things will turn out better if one is just patient. Once the guilt and shame of the wreckage of our past fades like a fiery car accident inside the tunnel of our lives in addiction and we travel further and further away, the brilliant sun of our future is ever more visible behind the clouds off in the distance. On Thursday, we went around the table at my family Thanksgiving gathering and took turns citing something we are thankful for. When it came my turn, I stated that I am thankful for finally finding a vocation I honestly think I can be good at. Then yesterday, Black Friday, when it seemed the rest of the country was out cavorting around at various centers of commerce, I was at the shop putting together gas manifolds along with the half dozen other guys that opted to work that day. My supervisor, the same supervisor who I’m pretty sure joked about my incompetence with the other guys a couple weeks ago, commended me for being “a trooper,” adding that most guys would have left by that point in the day. I don’t have that option. The only way I am going to get better at any task on my new job is to do it over and over and over again. And I’m coming at this HVAC thing late enough in the game that I don’t have time to not be better at my job.

Later, as I drove home, I reflected on two other things I am grateful for on a list that, again, after 3+ years of sobriety, has grown pretty long. I am thankful for the gift of being able to write. I often think of that scene in Stand by Me when Chris tells Gordy “It’s like God gave you something man, all the stories you can make up. And he said ‘This is what I got for you kid, try not to lose it.’” I have owned up to the fact that I have an obligation to write the book of my story to hopefully bring my experience, strength and hope to others and persuade them that yes Virginia, it does get better. The other thing is my passion for animals. I got an immediate glimpse of this on Thanksgiving when my roommate joined me at my parents’ house for dinner and my Mom’s dog Seamus took a solid half hour to warm up to him. Not that my roommate is a bad guy who emits the dog repellant pheromone that I know many people do (not to be confused with the that-dog-makes-me-nervous-and-if-you-weren’t-here-I’d-kick-him pheromone. If you emit that pheromone, you are a cold heartless ogre and should be put down yourself). But after 7 years of making dogs and cats my bread and butter, I just know how to be with them and put them at ease. I know the health and emotional benefits of having animals in your life. And after 7 years, I know how hysterical it can be to watch a dog become aggressive with an ottoman or a shoe.

For every alcoholic and addict, it comes down to a simple decision. Would you rather continue to cause yourself and those who love and care about you further pain and suffering, be it big or small? Or would you rather watch the car blazing behind you, thankful that you made it out alive and you don’t have to drive that car ever again?

You have a choice. Either pick up the drink or don’t. Choose wisely, friends.

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Him (Pack it in)

“There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.”

  • Pink Floyd

“Cute title,” He said and lit a cigarette. He was leaning against what would become the patio door of the house, still under construction. “Lemme guess, you heard it in a song and you just knew you could use it for that book you’re writing, right? Dumb ass. At the rate you are going you’ll still be ‘working on it’ when you are on your death bed.”

I craned my neck to look and make sure the sheet metal pipe was secure, then got down off the ladder to work on the next piece. “You’re right about the first part anyway. I heard it the other day, in a song I’d heard a thousand times before. But this time, well, it had a meaning it’s never had before.” I turned to look directly at Him. He snorted, then unzipped the top of a thermal lunch box He had slung over His shoulder. He pulled a half-pint of Jim Beam from it, unscrewed the top and pulled on it. Screwing the top back on, He stared right back and shot me that horrible, snaggle-tooth grin. “I figured since we’re on the work site and it’s cold, a little hair of the dog, nothing more. And, I know you’ve been thinking about tippling a little yourself.” He danced His fingertips over His lips with a flare of sickening mischief and grinned on. “What happened at work this morning must have been quite jarring.”

“It was nothing,” I said and dropped my head to the floor, pretending to look for one of my tools.

“Oh, come now,” He said and squared up on me. “You heard your supervisor say ‘Is dumb-dumb coming in this morning” and then your heard his boss say “Andrew? I don’t know’ and you immediately thought they were talking about you because, well, why wouldn’t they be?”

“There’s another Andrew that works there and besides, everybody calls me A.J. or Andy,” I said and climbed the ladder facing away from Him.

“Tell yourself whatever you want. Fact is, you know from talking to people that it’s pretty hard to get fired there so they’ll put up with you. But let’s face it, you suck at this too,” He said and slid down the wall with His back and slumped on the floor. He pulled the bottle out, polished it off, and chucked it against the grey brick wall where it shattered.

“You’ll take care of that right?” He asked in His best mockingly polite voice.

In the rooms of AA, it’s commonly referred to as “stinkin thinkin.” It’s the mindset that comes after the feeling of dread and impending doom that saturates the brain of the newly recovering alcoholic who is so disappointed and/or disgusted with themselves that, all too frequently, they “go back out” to drinking and drugging. It’s one of the oldest, albeit effective, tricks in His book.

“So what if they think I’m dumb? I’m starting school again in a few weeks so I won’t be dumb anymore. More importantly, everybody I’ve talked to says it’s take a while for anybody to ‘get it.’ Some of the leads are more demanding that others and they had me with a lead who was a real hard-ass for a while. But the guy I work with right now is great and I asked him today why he always had me doing to the easiest, most menial tasks. I call it the “bitch work.” Then I remembered that I still have to improve on even “the bitch work” before they put me on the harder, more complex stuff. And, as it turns out, it’s company policy to boot. So I need to stop this internal circus of wanting to move on to the next thing and focus on getting better at the stuff I know how to do. But make no mistake, I am improving. And as far as my supervisor goes, he can say whatever he wants about me, if he even meant me in the first place. Something a friend pointed out to me today puts things in stark perspective.”

Do Not Meme

“So you can bet I’m going to learn this stuff. I’m going to get better at it. And I’m going back to school to learn more.”

“Oh that’s right, I forgot. Vocational Rehabilitation agreed to pony up the money so you can get better at putting out bitch work. That’s fucking great. Wasting more tax payer money just like you did with that stupid attempt at Veterinary Technician school. I’m sure Mr. John Q. Public would love to know you are wasting his hard earned on yet another failed attempt at a trade. Meanwhile, you’ve been to, what, 3 meetings in the last month? All so you can work more? Hate to say it Ahab, but men far greater than you have fallen off the wagon because they didn’t think they needed to go to meetings anymore. Next thing you know, you’ll be convincing yourself that you don’t really need to keep going to meetings at all. And then …”

With that, He rose, produced a sealed bottle of Jameson from His cloak and held it out to me. “I figure you’ll need this eventually, so I’ll just give it to you now.”

Head hanging, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, then another. Like Mitch instructed me once, I said to myself “What’s my next thought going to be?” That particular Mitch was one of the guys in my circle of AA friends who said, as many do, that once he started having the feeling that maybe he’s got this sobriety thing figured out and he doesn’t need to go to meetings anymore, he knew it was past time that he went to a meeting. And, as my counselor back in rehab said, if you ever think you don’t need a meeting anymore, you better get your ass to a meeting.

“I have had the thought that I don’t need to go to meetings right now because I’m playing catch-up with my finances and need to work as much as I possibly can to get a leg-up on my money,” I said. “But make no mistake, I haven’t lost right of the Program. Last week, I found myself saying something that a good friend said in a meeting two years ago.”

“Which was?”

“The last thing I wanted to do tonight was come to this meeting,” I said and took the bottle from Him. I used to adore Jameson. I’ve often wondered whether the Irish love Jameson because it’s Irish whiskey or did the Irish invent Jameson because they just wanted a distillery right there on the island. Is that what makes it “Irish” whiskey or does “Irish” whiskey have a delicious secret ingredient like fairy dust or unicorn dung?

‘Yeah, and?”

“I went anyway. Because of you. And because it seems every other week I hear a new story about addiction taking out someone else,” I caressed the bottle like a forbidden fruit. Tempting, delicious, and deadly. “Sorry fella, but stinkin’ thinkin’ is for amateurs. I am not an amateur. I’ve been knocked down so many times I like the taste of the tile, so you’re gonna have to come at me with more than stinkin’ thinkin’ and a bottle of whiskey.

Now it was my turn to throw a glass bottle against the wall. Glass shards and whiskey flew everywhere. He recoiled from the impact, then looked at me aghast.

“That was a full bottle of Jameson you asshole!” He exclaimed.

“You’ll take care of that right?” I asked.