Him (Let’s Do This Thing)

I “accidentally” smacked the back of His hand with my water bottle as I crossed the room. He was sitting on the overstuffed chair close to the TV I had purchased a few weeks back. The Roku screensaver was bounding around the screen and He had been dozing in the chair, a beer bottle spilled over on its side in His lap.

[Snork. Cough.]

“Ow! Shit dude, what was that for?” He stammered as the beer spilled over completely onto the chair.

“You’re cleaning that up,” I said as I sat down and pulled my small lap top off the floor. I pulled the lever and the foot rest kicked out under my legs.

“Whatever. What are you doing?” He asked as He stood up and shook off the daze only an alcohol-induced sleep brings.

“Writing,” I said and noticed the mud He had tracked in the house. “Better mop that up. Wouldn’t want the filth to gain a foot hold.”

“And what are you writing? Another pointless blog post? I don’t know why you bother. No one reads your shit because it’s not interesting. Bunch of sniveling, whining cry baby crap,” He said as He walked into the kitchen.

“I don’t write because I want anybody’s approval or sympathy,” I said as I opened the file I wanted. “I write because I have to. Because I need to.”

He walked back in the room with a fresh beer and pried the cap off with the few remaining teeth He had. He sat on the ottoman across from me, set His beer down on the floor, and paused for a moment. He then reached over, grabbed the lap top and threw it against the book shelf. It fell upside down on the floor but seemed otherwise unharmed. We exchanged stares full of rage.

“Get this straight Daddy-O,” He said and pointed a long, bony finger at me. “You ain’t a writer. You ain’t shit. You’re a loser. You’re a blue-collar, HVAC loser and you’re gonna fail at the HVAC thing just like you’ve failed at everything else. And one day, you’re gonna fail at this sobriety bullshit,” He said as His lips curled back into a mirthless grin. “Mark. My. Words.”

“And you get something straight, you pathetic excuse for an alter ego. Seriously, what’s that about? I couldn’t come up with a Batman or Superman or even Slim Shady. I had to settle on you. I’ve made a decision to get Empty Calories written. It’s not just a pie-in-the-sky lofty idea anymore. Once I figured out that telling my story could help other people who wrangle with their Hims and I could convince people that the life of the dry drunk who white knuckles it through sobriety and is still a miserable person only exists if we let it, only then did it really make sense for me to get off my ass and write the damn thing. Showing loving kindness, compassion and maybe a little wisdom I’ve gleaned from these rooms for those out there still suffering, that’s what sealed the deal for me,” I said. I got up, walked to the book shelf, bent over and picked up my computer, and sat back down.

“Yeah? And what about all the other stuff you’ve convinced yourself you have to do to stay happy, The gym and piano and meetings, not to mention you’ve still got a plenty of TV to watch! C’mon buddy,” He said, giving me a friendly slap on the knee. “Go get yourself a beer, Jager’s in the freezer, and we’ll huncker down and we’ll binge watch a few episodes of Lost or The West Wing or The Wire. You choose my friend.

“You’re not listening to me, friend,” I said and started a file for a new chapter. “I’d really prefer it if, at my funeral, they say that I helped people recover from the disease of addiction through forgiveness and compassion than say he got an awful lot of TV shows knocked out. Besides, you should be happy about it considering you play a pretty big part in my story. Stands to reason you get a pretty big part in the book. Sort of Iago to my Othello.”

“Tyler Durden to your Edward Norton is more like it,” He said and propped His feet up on the ottoman and sat back in the chair. He drank deeply from the fresh beer, draining half of it. “I’m flattered that you think I have some role in this, but I exist solely to make you feel bad about yourself and convince you there is no hope. That you’re nothing but a failure.”

I smiled ear to ear. “I know that’s what you think. That’s what I pay you for. But you’re wrong and I’m setting out to prove it, ” I said. I started to write, then paused one last time.

“I’ll let you know when your pathetic presence is required.”

Advertisements

A Necessary Hell

Tom, a member of several of the Facebook groups I’m in, is an outstanding poet. He posts a poem every single day on his blog quarryhouse.wordpress.com and frequently, his poems concern his battle against clinical depression. Tom is also a minister in a small Vermont town and he is far and away the most open-minded man of the cloth when it comes to matters of the spirit I’ve ever met (and I have never even met him in person.) He respects my choice of faith, Buddhism, and I respect his faith in God and Jesus Christ. It is this mutual respect that has made us devoted readers of one another for a few years.

 

He posted the following poem and “About” section on his blog today:

 

Strange Forges

 My mother taught me

to never let them see you sweat.

 

To never leave your blood on the table.

To discretely hide your scars so effectively

 

they became invisible, a strategy that worked

for the first fifty years until

 

there was no place to hide any longer, until

you were more scar than man

 

and your pain became a sideshow

with the carney barkers shouting to the rubes:

 

“Come see how the mighty have fallen! Come see

the living dead in their last days.”

 

drawing a crowd who looked on, not in horror,

but compassion, who saw in you, themselves

 

and wrapped their wounded arms around your almost corpse

and kept you warm when your heart felt cold.

 

And so today, you may see me sweat. You may see me bleed.

Not for the audience, or the horror or the spectacle,

 

but because I have finally learned wounds not only hurt,

they heal.

 

He followed up the poem with this:

 

About this poem.

 

Why share pain? For pity? For Drama? For (fill in your thoughts here.)?

 

We share pain because it heals. It heals us, and at times, it heals others as well, giving the pain purpose.

 

I have been punching the clock, at extremely irregular intervals, on the manuscript for my book for a little over a year now. But recently, I turned a corner on the project that makes it next to impossible to renege on the decision to write it at all. One of the wild horses that’s been wrangling around the corral in my head is one simple question. Why write the book at all?

My life in sobriety is pretty good and I’m a happy person most of the time. This contrasts starkly with the miserable wretch I was when Addiction had me in a choke hold. For about 10 years, I suffered an inward and outward bound rage at myself and the world in general because of the illness that completely changed my life. So why, you ask, in the name of all that is decent and holy would I want to plunge head-first back into the darkest period of my life and write about it? Let’s start with the reasons I’m not doing it (This is where Tom’s poem rejoins my story. Come on, stay with me.)

I don’t write this blog, and especially the Him posts, because I want people to feel sorry for me. If my father has taught me anything (he’s actually taught me quite a few things, but I’m shooting for relevancy here) it’s hatred of the phenomena of victim-hood. He and my mom have never been much for self-pity because I think they both subscribe to the belief that it serves no purpose. Oh sure, they as much as me and as much as really anybody have bouts of sulking with the occasional spar with passive aggressive bullshit. But for the most part, they have always taught me a recipe of a dash of self-pity in a big vat of suck-it-up.

The same holds true for Drama and is especially relevant given the Him persona I created to help me deal with the addictive side of my personality. Besides providing me with a healthy (I think, anyway) method of dealing with my daily reprieve in recovery, creating Him presented me with the perfect vehicle to implement in my book and blog the message of persistence and gratitude I sincerely hope I convey to anyone who happens upon my words. When He pays me a visit, it’s not like I’m waiting around for it. I’ve just learned to see Him coming and so prepare accordingly. I certainly don’t publish a Him post and eagerly wait for comments to roll in to make me feel better (although they do) or to boost my ego (although, again, there’s an element of that fortunate side effect.) As Connor Oberst once sang, I am not singing for you.

Sharing my pain helps me heal myself after 10 years of taking mostly self-administered jaw and gut punches. As far as the turned corner I referred to earlier, I renewed once again my commitment to writing my story because I realized how much good I might provide anybody who reads it and realizes they are not alone. I also realized that I was inching closer to the center of this tightrope and below is a lake of Hellfire that I have to traverse to get to the other side. I have to get details from my ex-girlfriend about the awful things we did to each other. I have to relive moments with my family from the past that I would just as soon never think of, much less talk or write about, again. I have to canvas every darkened porch in my mind and knock on the door. Then I have to deal with whatever opens it.

At first, I believed the message of my book needed to be “If I can do this with everything that happened to me, anybody can do this.” But again, that’s a little too self-congratulatory, especially given that everyone has their own bottom and wherever it is and how you happened to get there isn’t relevant in the least. No, the theme of the book, the point of the whole damn thing, is forgiveness of self. This recovery stuff is a pain in the ass squared sometimes and if I can talk someone back from the ledge and convince them to fight one more day, then it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Yesterday, I read a story about a 12 year-old girl who took her own life after constant bullying by her classmates. I read the story and all could think was how much this little girl meant to her family and sincerely wished I could have been there for her to assure her that it does get better. My creative vocation is to do that for the newly recovering person who might see the rocky road ahead and just say “Fuck it” and go back to their old ways.

No matter what you’ve done and no matter who you’ve hurt or how much, you must forgive yourself and only then can you set about the business of changing your life. Do otherwise and I can almost guarantee that you will drink again and you will use again. It’s that simple. It’s up to you.

Big-boned? Not so much.

I will never understand why women my age have this campy nostalgia for the Reagan years. The 90s gave us Nirvana and grunge, a burgeoning economy, Bill Clinton and a relatively peaceful world order. The 80’s, on the other hand, gave us the Challenger explosion, Ronald Reagan and the first installment of the vanishing of the middle class, Jazzercise and Duran Duran. Not a lot to look back on fondly. But the 80s did give us the films of John Hughes which did serve the purpose of distracting the American people from the Gipper and refocusing on leg warmers and Olivia Newton John. One particular line from one particular movie rattles around in my brain this morning.

“Y’see I’m not sure if you know this, but there’s two kinds of fat people. There’s fat people that were meant to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin but they became fat. So when you look at them, you can kind of see that thin person inside.”

  • John Bender
  • The Breakfast Club

I’ve been fat my whole life. Not that pathological fat like when a thin person looks into a mirror and still sees the fat person they once were and leads to eating disorders. The kind of fat you get when you are addicted to Bryers Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream and Ok-Ke-Doke Hot Cheese popcorn. I am cursed (blessed?) with a physiology that simply won’t tolerate that crap and it manifests in a pretty rotund beer gut. I’ve had it my whole life and been through all the stages of denial like insisting that I was just holding on to baby fat when I was 13 and thinking I could lose my extra tonnage if I watched Rocky III a couple times and worked my way up to doing 5 push-ups. I would have l loved it if it truly was a beer gut and, when I got sober, it finally took its leave. Unfortunately, all that happened was I got even more addicted to candy and those little tins of fluorescent Frito’s Radioactive Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese and Spicy Nacho Doritos. Yeah, I trimmed down to a respectable 20-pounds-over my target weight when I got on a brutal jag of working out 5 days a week and guzzling protein shakes. But alas, my body and metabolism had grown accustomed to the state of rest I maintained for much of my life so when I stopped with the protein shakes and downgraded to the gym 2-3 days per week. Likewise did my eating habits grow lax again and I resumed my search for the perfect cheese popcorn (still Ok-Ke-Doke, although Vic’s or Indiana will do in a pinch).

But during that brief stint when I did nothing but walking around the airport in my down time (which was most of the time) at work and maintained all those trips to the gym, I took a few photos where I looked pretty good and felt pretty good, even with a strict adherence to the cheese popcorn-and-Reese’s diet. I even expanded the arsenal of junk food to Reese’s Nutrageous bars, Reese’s Mini’s and SmartFood and Maggie’s Cheese popcorn (Yep, Ok-Ke-Doke defended its heavyweight (see what I did there?) belt).

When I started HVAC school and my HVAC job last summer, I realistically trimmed down my gym frequency to accommodate my new 50-hours-per-week schedule and redirected my focus to learning the new trade and making the necessary sacrifices. Sadly, this also meant the reintroduction of a nemesis I all but banished from my life when I read Fast Food Nation 15 years ago. Whether I was buying lunch for my crew as a gesture of good will or simply sick of the sandwich wraps and protein shake I had dutifully packed for my lunch, slowly the sinister Croissanwiches and reviled Chalupas infiltrated my menu and I was bona fide fat again. Not as bad as when I was drinking, but bad enough that when I weigh myself at the gym, I don’t have a little internal triumphant YAWP! But rather a defeated sigh.

To my credit, I did make some noble efforts to turn this franchise around. I moved the old tube TV downstairs and bought a new DVD player so I could play the yoga DVD a friend graciously gave me a couple years ago. I started watching glute and circuit training videos on YouTube and made a half-ass effort to stick to some sort of regular schedule on the exercise bike. Unfortunately, I placed them right next to the piano I’m struggling to relearn, so I’ve effectively created a Disappointment Wing in the basement chock full of ways to feel remiss at all those things I did before my addictions consumed my life. Couple that with my physically taxing and time-consuming job, going back to school a few weeks ago, wedging in time for penning blog posts as well as my magnum opus, all in the middle of a particularly cold and icy winter, and you’ve got a hearty helping of eat-dinner-and-binge-watch-Lost-before-going–to-freakin’-bed.

Oh, I suppose it bears mentioning that I’ve also decided to make a concerted effort to quit smoking (Have I mentioned my knack for trying to accomplish 6 different things at once and being delusional enough to convince myself I can do it all?) Well, I made a promise to myself a couple years ago that I will have quit smoking by the age of 40. Then my 40th birthday came and went, I had bought plenty of nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges and Dum-Dums and Jolly Ranchers to get me through the long dark night ahead. Y’know what else comes in pretty handy to get through the new job, new trade, a lot of driving, seemingly perpetual status of Never Married/No Children at the dating sights and sitting in my car while the defrost function cranks up to lukewarm? A goddamn cigarette, that’s what.

Of course my mom tried to reason with me, stating I should try to bring my weight down to a manageable level because I will gain weight as I give up smoking. Then I hear people say they gained as much as 50 pounds when they quit and you can lose the weight eventually. Then my cousin and I were going to lean on each other and both quit before she texted me yesterday all full of triumphant confidence that it had taken her all of 2 weeks to quit. Well isn’t that just swell for you Colleen. Now do me a favor and bug off.

I suppose a lot of Midwesterners endure some sort of funk as December turns into January and there’s no end in sight. The trick is to not give up hope, that there is an end and you will get there. It’s foolish and short-sighted to convince yourself that the next 4 months have to be consumed by defeat. I mean, that’s 1/3 of your life you would be committing to throwing in the towel and saying “I’ll get my ducks in a row in, like May.” That yoga DVD and circuit training videos and practicing piano and learning to juggle (I totally forgot about that one)? It all starts anew today! Right after I make myself a big plate of eggs and sausage and catch up on my shows.