An Anniversary

Okay, I’ve shared with you, my precious readers, some things that happened in my domestic life which are very personal.  And yet these things weren’t too hard to write about or share.  This is possibly because the dissolution of my family happened officially in 2007.  While it’s not exactly water under the bridge at this point, it’s not such a fragile thing to handle as it was.  What I’m writing about today makes me feel very open and vulnerable, like I’m taking a huge risk by revealing it.

In 3 days, on January 7, it will mark 2 years since I’ve given up drinking.  Alcohol abuse has plagued me throughout my life, and yet it does not run in my family.  It was something I latched onto very early, and did to myself.  This paragraph alone makes me feel like I should wait for judging eyes, shaking heads, and faces turning away to other things.

I suppose the best way to write about all of this is to start at the beginning and work my way forward.  When I was in my adolescence, I hated my life, and I hated myself.  At 15, I wanted to kill myself, but hadn’t the willpower to do it.  I started raiding my parents’ unused liquor cabinet at that point, because I figured that if I couldn’t end my life quickly, I’d end it slowly.  The big surprise (other than learning that scotch tastes like what I imagine urine does) was that the feeling I’d get from drinking would turn every emotion I had around.  I had no more hate, anger, or depression.  Life, while drunk, seemed simply wonderful.  Instead of being the slow form of suicide I envisioned, it became a crutch.  I emptied that cabinet pretty good, and since my parents didn’t touch it, it went unnoticed.  My parents also weren’t around a lot.  It still seems strange, though, not to have gotten caught looking back at it.

I gave up drinking for the first time in 1990, a month shy of my 19th birthday, when I became startled that a stressful day resulted in a very clear image of a bottle in my head.  The image appeared in my mind, accompanied by the thought that it would all be over soon, when I got home to my concubine, the bottle.  It frightened me to find myself having that thought.

I’m not sure how long I was “dry”, but I did eventually go back to drinking, because my senses of worthlessness, inadequacy, loneliness, etc., were never addressed.  I understand that now, literally as I’m writing these sentences.  I’m actually tearing up with this revelation.  But onward I must go.  This tale has not fully been told.

I remember that I had gotten obliterated every day for 9 months straight with the exception of perhaps 2 or 3 days when I had a cold.  I was in my mid-twenties.  I worked in the morning, got destroyed when I got home, and would pass out by 8 p.m.  I had plenty of time to sleep it off, and so rarely was hungover or ill-effected for work the next day.  Of course, we seem to be able to handle that kind of lifestyle when we’re young.

I quit drinking at that time because my boss knew what I was doing.  She didn’t stop me in the way you might think.  The drinking didn’t effect my work or reliability, and to be honest, she probably had some problems of her own.  The reason she induced me to stop was because she called me on Thanksgiving, saying she wanted to wish me a happy holiday before I was too drunk.  She didn’t mean it in a negative way, I don’t think, but in a caring way.  I believe she may have had a similar destination, although it was because she was a party girl whereas I was avoiding life.  She wanted to let me know she cared before I’d be unable to have the conversation.

I’ve mentioned my writing of poems and lyrics in these posts, and I was doing this very extensively back then.  1995 was one of my worst years emotionally, and I can recall this because of how prolific I was that year and what it was I’d written.  Anyway, there were a few people at work with whom I shared my writing.  About a week after the Thanksgiving phone call, one such friend wanted me to show the poem I’d just shared with her to another coworker.  I refused, citing how personal my writing was and that I was very selective of whom got to see it.  She said, “What’s wrong with showing people there’re other facets to Jordan besides just being the Shift Leader in the Deli?”  I still refused to share the writing, but I started putting the phone call and that conversation together; what if the other facet everyone saw was just Jordan, the drunk?  I dumped out the bottle I was drinking when that thought hit me, and every other bottle in the apartment.

I had been sober for over 4 years when I started dating my wife-to-be, at 29.  I had made it almost to 5 years, when, strangely enough, Thanksgiving would factor in again.  We had gone to the house of friends of my wife’s (then fiance’s) parents.  I used to wonder if I’d ever drink again.  I thought that because I thought about it so much and wanted there to be a day when I could, it meant that I wasn’t ready to.  But at this Thanksgiving, I was surrounded by the woman I loved and her son, their family, and their friends.  When I was offered wine, it seemed to me that it was just a celebratory thing, it was for the right reasons and not the wrong ones, and I had no pressure or expectations of having a drink.  It frankly seemed inconsequential, so I figured, why not?  This seems like the time is right.  I didn’t get drunk, I just had a glass of wine.  But it awakened that thirst back up.  By the time I was married, I was having an occasional beer with dinner if we went out.

I eventually started buying  alcohol and hiding it in my closet (my wife and I had separate closets).  I would have a six pack in the fridge sometimes, but I’d drink some and smuggle fresh ones from my closet into the six pack so it never looked like I’d touched it.  Sometimes my wife would go with my stepson over to her parents, and if it got late, they’d stay over.  I looked at those nights as times I could take a “mini vacation” and get lit.

I think I should point out here that I never required alcohol on a physical level, which is why I would be able to quit at various times over my life or could wait until my next opportunity to drink.  I never had the D.T.’s.  I could get through my day without it, without needing it.  It is, however, a very deep emotional addiction.  I’m addicted to feeling the way I do when I’m drunk.

I realize this might sound like the typical things addicts will say:  “I don’t have a problem”, “I can quit whenever I want”, “I’m not addicted”, “I’m in control”.  But there is physical dependency and emotional dependency.  I have the latter.  I know I very much do indeed have a problem.  I can have a single drink today and stop there.  I can wait a week or a month and have a second single drink.  But eventually I will want to have them more frequently.  And I’ll want to not just taste it, but feel a little buzz.  And then I’ll want to be drunk.  And then sloppy drunk.  I CAN stop at any point, my problem is in convincing myself I want to.  It becomes a game of “Forever Tomorrow”.  “I’ll stop tomorrow, this is the last day.”  The next day, “Okay, tomorrow, for sure.”  Like I said, the trouble is in convincing myself that I want to stop and not feel that feeling I love so much.  Feeling that false happiness I get when I’m in that state and that I don’t feel when sober.  I was able to control this emotional addiction when I was married because I had something to lose: my family.  It was easier to convince myself then.

However, my family situation ended.  In the first year back from Rhode Island, with my stepson raging violently every night once safe from his father’s abuse, there was no thought or ability to drink.  We just tried to get through each day.  But when my wife and I separated, I drank every day for a month.  I continued to do this for most of the next few months until my wife and I “hooked back up” several months later.  When she eventually became so depressed that she had to go inpatient several times (her son being cared for in the live-in facilities himself at that point), I drank away in despair for her mental state.  When she broke up with me again, guess what I did?  Mind you, I firmly believe my wife never knew of my closet drinking.  I do not believe this had anything to do with her decision to break up with me either time.  I don’t think she’d let me still see her son if she did know.

After the breakup, my drinking continued for a few years, until January, 2010.  By that point, I had dug myself into a nice whole financially, jacking up my credit cards, then about $35,000 of total debt, $20,000 of which I had accrued during the marriage, mostly during the last year of it paying for my stepson’s psychological treatment and medicines not covered by my insurance.  Plus what I’d charged to keep us afloat that whole year back in Jersey when my wife didn’t work.  To add to all of that, from 2008-2010, I not only bought massive amounts of alcohol, I’d buy things online while drunk.  I became $55,000 in debt trying to buy happiness.

So, that January two years ago, I realized something had to change financially.  I had to stop drinking, for one, obviously, and I’d have to see what I could do about the debt for another.  I eventually filed for bankruptcy.

It’s not been an easy road since then.  My money is tight, but this is how I have to pay the ferryman (metaphorically) for the lavish cruise I’d chartered.  I accept that.  That brings my story to the present, 3 days away from 2 years of sobriety.  I have to realistically assume I can never drink again, which is sometimes hard to pull off.  There are ads all over the television, there are social situations in which drinking is prominent, the temptation is always there.

Like I said, I have to convince myself I don’t want to do it, and just as my family was the reason I’d held myself in check before, my reasons now are that I have an amazing gift in my dog, and she needs me to keep my priorities straight.  Plus I’ve worked hard to rebuild this life.  I’ve wasted so much of it, but I’m not dead yet.  Perhaps I can still find some happiness, REAL happiness in my life, and to do so will require saying no, probably for the rest of my days.

“Satisfaction”

This is another “recycle” piece from my early days in one of my writer’s groups.  The prompt given on which to write was “satisfaction”.  I think I need to re-read it a few times myself, as I had been in a pessimistic state to say the least for the last two years, and I’ve been fighting to turn the page, to revisit the thoughts I had when writing this piece.

“Satisfaction”-7/22/09

I often reflect on life in sports analogies. At work, for example, there are the (metaphoric and literal) Captains and other locker room leaders, the role-players, the bench guys who come in in relief. You can’t always win every game, but you do your best.

Sometimes in life you feel like you’ve had your three strikes and you’re out. And sometimes you come up a yard short (remember the Titans?). Sometimes on paper things don’t seem in your favor, but you stick to your game plan, you steel yourself, and you pull off the Cinderella Story surprise victory.

A lot of the time, you remember to be humble, and that you owe it all to the people who’ve trained you, who’ve been on your teams in the past, the folks who believed in you, and supported you even when times were tough.

To apply the analogy again to my workplace, I’ve been in situations when I realized that I had one of the higher salaries on my team, and I felt the pressure of those dollars, because if I’m earning such a high salary and I don’t perform, well, the fans aren’t going to be happy, are they? And let’s not talk about how the Team Manager will feel.

In life, as in team sports, there are those that lead a team by example, those that are the rah-rah guys. There are those who might seem to be lesser players, but you won’t win without them. There are those whose single-minded intensity makes them dominant over all the rest.

So, what does this have to do with satisfaction?

You see, I remember a scene in Kevin Costner’s “For Love of the Game” when a player is leaving the team to sign with the free-spending Yankees (a team I hate in real life, by the way, but I digress). Costner’s character expresses disappointment and feels betrayed, because they had been teammates for so long. What about the team? The departing player points to his wife and child in the corner of the locker room, saying, “You see them? That’s my team.” I not only got that, but felt the same way.

I’ve brought up work in this piece twice now, but I had rubbed the people I’ve worked with the wrong way because I wasn’t interested in friends. If I got along with you, great. But I was there to do my job, and keep my (home) team afloat. I wasn’t there to be social. It was all about the team at home. The team at work was strictly minor league to me.  In sports, the athletes work hard, train, learn from the mistakes of the past, and sacrifice for the good of the team. I know I did these things for my REAL team, for my wife and stepson. My passion for that game should not be questioned, and I gave what I had to give.

Ah, but here’s the Shakespearean rub: teams disband, players sign elsewhere or retire, some players are simply cut from the team. Sometimes there’s a Team of Destiny, and sometimes you’re not on it.

I’ve touched on the end of my marriage and what happened to my stepson in earlier posts.  Using the sports analogy, suffice it to say, that I have lost my players to other teams.  Some (including myself) might say that I was cut. When this happens, the team must rebuild to make another run at it. I’m rebuilding.

So….satisfaction? Some players aren’t satisfied until they get a championship. Look at Elway, Bourque, Bettis, and others who got to go out on top after decades of failure. In a way, isn’t that what we all want? To achieve all we’ve strived for since we were kids? Knowing we never gave up, and persisitance payed off? What about Nomar Garciaparra, a fan fave in Boston, traded away at the deadline to watch the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years? That’s brutal. Sometimes I feel like I’m that guy.

Will I ever be satisfied? None of us ever knows. There were times I’d believed I had my one chance at a ring (metaphor, anyone?), and that was all the chance I’d get. But the aforementioned retired players eventually got their satisfaction, and poor Nomar, at least, went down still trying.

Will I get to my final day, satisfied that I achieved what I sacrificed so much for? Nothing is certain, but unless I rebuild after my losses, my personal victory lap will always elude me. You’ve got to fight to win, so I’ve got to dig deep, put on my eye black, put aside the pain and weariness, put the losses behind me, and give it another swing.

Another Re-used Writing

This is another “prompted” piece from the past, and the prompt was actually a photo, which I posted at the end here.  I hadn’t gotten back to my usual lyric writing yet at that time (I was writers’ blocked for a few years), so my reactions to the prompts at this point were editorial-like writings.  I thought they might finally get to see the light of day in this forum, hence this and my previous entry.

The Reel Life 8/1/09

Life is a film. A movie, in fact. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end to it, just as any film has. There is even a back story to the beginning, often mysterious at that. There are supporting characters, antagonists, many settings and changes thereof. Life is even like the films that are a series of acts, a la “The Godfather”, “Star Wars”, even “Austin Powers”, though fortunately not as ludicrous.

Many plot twists will occur, ones that the viewers never saw coming, and there also are moments you could predict with your eyes closed and under water. Sometimes the plot develops so quickly you wonder, “How did I get from that scene to this one?” You will even question the meaning to the whole story.

Some of the life-films are epic in their length, while others are tragically short. These life-films don’t generally stick to a genre, rather they flit from comedy to drama, from tragedy to human interest piece, from romance to documentary, from mystery to satire.

There are political scenes, love scenes, revelations, soliloquies. There are monologues, dialogues, denouements, thrills, moments of violence, acts of kindness, and acts of forgiveness.

There are moments when you simply can not wait to get to the next scene. Some scenes are embarrassing, uncomfortable, or strike a chord that hits home. There are also boring moments you wish you could fast-forward.

My good friend Billy said the world’s a stage, and we are its players. Bill never got to see a film, but I think he’d agree with me in this comparison. There was much he understood before his time, before his own ending.

Unfortunately, these films do come to an end, and these endings can be funny, peaceful, sudden or drawn out, horrific, or, extremely rarely, just the way we want them to be. The endings are nearly always unpredictable, but we keep guessing anyway.

Ultimately, the director makes decisions without your consent as to content, duration, theme, and tone, but you can sometimes figure out where the story’s going. You just need to look at it frame by frame.

Flashbacks in Last Night’s Class

I was at my tai chi class last night (yes, I take a tai chi class), which is actually held in the basement of a church.  I don’t belong to the church, and  religion or lack thereof doesn’t qualify or disqualify anyone from going.  That’s just where it’s held.

I bring the church part up because the basement is a multi-purpose setting.  Meetings are held down there, other exercise classes, and plays and talent shows as well, since there is a stage.  The stage is the key to my story here.  The curtains were open, and various things were up there, including desks and chairs.  The one item that really caught my attention was a little red ball.

I’ve mentioned my dissolved marriage in this still-new blog, but not the reasons why it is so.  The fact is that my ex-wife and I found out my stepson was being abused by his biological father.  All of the trauma and stress that came from this revelation is what ultimately did us in.  I’m not saying we wouldn’t have ended where we are now anyway, because who knows, but that’s the way it happened.

This I mention now because once we got him away from his father (he lives in another state, there’s a restraining order, etc,), my stepson had violent episodes of lashing out, which is apparently common of victims once they are safe.  His violence was so bad (towards us and himself) that it was a miracle if he could make it to school.  This was our daily existence, walking on eggshells until something finally tripped the land mine.

He was eventually sent to a live-in therapeutic setting for children like himself.  My wife and I had separated by this point.  Ultimately, he was in a series of centers for three years before finally coming home.  It was the memory of his second such therapeutic situation that was triggered by this little red ball.

This facility is in Piscataway, and is part of the psychology and psychiatry program at Rutgers.  We would get two visits per week (My wife had come back to living with me and we were briefly together again at this point).  During our visits, we could use the gym on the campus, as long as it wasn’t already in use.  This was often a highlight to the visits.  My stepson loved the time since he’s very athletic and active, and we made up a lot of different games while there.

This gym also had a stage area, with curtains and all, and this, to get to the destination at the end of the winding road, is why seeing a ball on a stage sent scenes rushing back from the past to fill my head.  We were doing breathing and meditative exercises in tai chi class at the time, and as I was holding my pose, and focusing straight ahead, I saw the ball.  I had to stifle the urge to cry, and to remain in the present.

There will be things that will bring flashbacks of such memories, of course, though it happens less frequently over time.  But when they do, they will always come at a time when they’re completely unexpected.