Monday, July 11

Calling my own shots instead of taking them.

Now I'm not one to judge but of course I am.

The more I become involved in AA, the more my jimmies are rustled. In the beginning (a forever pompous way to begin untrusted and controversial texts), I was under the impression there was only one path to staying sober: go to meetings, get a sponsor, and work the steps. My 21 days in inpatient rehab was essentially conditioning me to rely on the system of Alcoholics Anonymous for the duration of my sobriety. With the success rate of the program resting between 5-8%, AA convinces you that it's your problem you can't become sober instead of the institution in which we were threatened to trust. I know people who have gotten sober over ten times, been to rehab over 15 times, people who did a stint of sobriety after each of their eight DUIs. So I don't feel as if it's the person who is failing, but merely the system we are thrust into when we are confused, tired, angry, and barely sober. We needed something to trust, an ongoing sense of support, and unfortunately the only option was Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA has a ton of sayings by which we need to live our lives now that we've embraced the notion we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. Here's a list that should be shorter:

One day a time
Easy does it
This too shall pass
To thine own self be true
You can't get drunk if you don't take the first drink
Live life on life's terms
Fake it til you make it
Let go and let god
Keep it simple, stupid
Gratitude is an attitude
Keep coming back

If you stray away from the herd of seemingly innocent and sheepish credos, your guilt begins to set in. The "am I in the right place?" kinds of questions emerge slowly but you can never seem to shake them, sort of like alcoholism. The positive reenforcement, which can be easily mistaken as guilt, is thick at a lot of meetings. You're doing what you were told to do: you're at a meeting, but you're uncomfortable, you're newly sober, you're constantly wondering if this is the only option, and the other members of the community often corroborate all of the instructions for aftercare you heard during your 21 day stretch. Keep coming back! You're in the right place! Am I, though?

I spent the first eight months of my sobriety without a sponsor. During those eight months, my life wasn't the best. I was unknowingly going through a horrendous break up for two months, I moved my entire life back to Seattle as a result (a decision which I regret on occasion), I experienced a deluge of medical issues for the first six weeks I was home, and my readjustment into a supportive setting ultimately made me feel like I had failed as an adult. I was working the steps as I saw fit; I made amends with those who I knew I had harmed, I reminded myself every day that I'm an alcoholic, and I tried to reflect at the day's end about what I could do better. Going to meetings and working the steps as I interpreted them seemed like a good plan, but I never wanted a sponsor. The list of people I had to report to about my mental, emotional, and physical health was long enough. Why add one more person who is going to take me through the steps, a creaky staircase I don't even agree with?

The first step of AA is "we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable." Sure, easy enough. Throwing up in order to continue drinking and living a life of liquid hibernation was not normal drinking behavior. But that's it. That's the first step. At the beginning of most meetings, the secretary will ask the group to pause in a moment of silence to remember why we are there, most often followed by the serenity prayer. If I'm not completely distracted by bags of chips rustling or one of my chair's legs not making total contact with the floor, I usually think of those extreme instances of my alcoholism. I was never in denial I had a drinking problem, I just didn't really accept it. I believe the first step of the 12 is the most important (or 14 if you include the douchebag who 13th steps vulnerable women and Netflix).

The next 11 steps are an attempt at getting you to be a better person, but it's these 11 steps commence the rustling of said jimmies. Five of these steps mention god and none of them mention alcohol; only the first step in the staircase mentions alcohol. The rest are a feeble attempt at getting you to become a drone of the program. I took the attitude of "just don't drink." And if I feel lonely, there are places I can go to be among other former drunks like myself, which is good for AA as a whole. Unfortunately, there's this spiritual status quo alive and pulsing at most meetings. One of the common experiences within AA is having a "spiritual awakening." I don't place any spirituality behind coming to the realization I needed to quit drinking. Others may see it differently, but I had all the information in front of me: the proverbial trigger needed to be pulled.

Bill W put all these ramblings into a stack of 164 pages that became the lifeblood to the program. This text has not been seriously edited since the last World War and it fails to mention important cultures and demographics who aren't white men. Any sort of deviation from these ramblings are seen as "half measures," which I imagine conjures most of the guilt we experience when we aren't 100% committed to the program setting us up to fail. The sponsor we work with are supposed to take us through these steps and the assigned literature which desperately needs to be changed. Rewritten. Something. But my first experience with a sponsor ended poorly. I was loosely taken through the steps and I was left feeling extremely inexperienced in the idea of doing the same for someone else. It was during this time I sunk into a deeper depression as a result of trying to commit myself to the program and completing steps 2-7. I had to list all of my flaws, my harms to others, my entire sexual history, and all of my fears. These lists stared back at me as if to confirm I was a failure and I was still in the process of failing. How is this helping me stay sober?

When I switched to my second sponsor, I was less than thrilled to know I was to start my progress over with step work after assuming my credits would transfer. I was hovering around steps 10 and 11 only to realize the painful realizations brought forth by the exact staircase I was trying to ascend were not to transfer sponsors alongside me. As a defeated square peg being forced into a round hole, my aggression and resentment towards the program became top tier. Some of the steps are to relieve us of our resentments, not to liven them towards the exact establishment attempting to guide us.

AA cannot solve all of my problems, but I frequently come across others who think differently. And that's great! Whatever keeps you from drinking. Part of the program in AA is removing your ego and your obsession with self. I believe it was my own decision to stop drinking and my motivation and consequences in the past that keep me sober. I don't believe there is a greater power working for me, or a cognizant force aware of the decisions I make or don't make. Again, whatever works for you. Your sobriety is not my sobriety. Part of relapse prevention is not isolating, but being among many others who are also alcoholics make me feel emotionally isolated because of their progress through the program, and my choice not to take part in the ideals which I do not believe in, or those which have a history of upsetting me.

I also do not believe every part of my life needs some sort of sobriety related connection. I'm trying not to be a dick, but certain aspects of the program and the people who also participate in it is turning me into a dick. Alleviating myself of a sponsor has allowed me to rid myself of the anger the AA program, literature, and attitude has fogged me with for the last few months.

Whenever I listed my hesitations to those around me, I always had to preface it with, "Okay, hear me out. This isn't the relapse talk or the leaving the program talk." People freeze up whenever I mention the program with a piss poor success is doing me more harm than good. After all, I was lead to believe it's my only option because otherwise I'll fail.

I am not going to drink today, and that isn't my ego speaking or my powerlessness. Alcohol makes me an asshole, an undependable person, a shitty family member, a frustrating girlfriend, a horrible human being. If I can avoid that by choosing to not drink, I'm going to do it. That's my choice, and it's not one created by powerlessness. I have seen how alcohol affects my life, and it forces me to make poor decisions. I am happy to remain on the ground level of my sobriety without the social and guilted stress luring me up a set of stairs with a less than stable foundation. I'm happy right here.

Wednesday, July 6

If you ever need anything, please don't hesitate to ask someone else first.

I've been able to stay relatively positive for the last few weeks. Traffic and keying through an automated system on the telephone and other common annoyances still peek their heads around the corner to see if I'll react. I'm feeling good! I'm being positive. I don't have that sinking feeling anymore. That was until I watched Montage of Heck, the HBO documentary on Kurt Cobain.

Kurt Cobain looked like the kind of guy I would date in college. He exhibited a style I occasionally emulate late into my 20s. His hometown of Aberdeen, Washington has a welcome sign just outside the city limits that reads "come as you are." One of Nirvana's first shows was in the Mods lodging complex on the Evergreen State College campus. His former home on Lake Washington Boulevard is a coveted place for visitors to slowly pass in the car while gawking at 15 miles per hour.

I don't really remember much from 1994. I was developing an interest in baseball and horses while Seattle was becoming a wet refugee camp for the depressed and angsty. Some of us could afford the new advances in appropriate outdoor equipment released from REI to shelter us from our famous weather patterns. Others were left wearing cheap ponchos while thumbing it near onramps to I-5. The Mariners were on the up and up, and I was learning about the skeletal system in my first grade classroom. My favorite band was the Beatles, and I wanted to be a truck driver when I grew up.

Montage of Heck began with an introduction to Kurt's parents, who were residents of Aberdeen. Aberdeen hasn't changed much except for the encouraging welcome note of originality upon arrival. Houses are small, streets are on a very precise grid. Logging, longshoring, and other types of transportation related industry continue to be Aberdeen's strong points while the bluest of collars remain scruff and thick with community and union. What started with cocktail parties at the Cobain household twisted into isolating in a bedroom with the curtains drawn to hide the awkwardness and almost illegible handwriting.

I saw a lot of myself in Kurt Cobain. His parents divorced when he was at an old enough age to understand it, he struggled to fit into multiple social circles in high school, his sexual experiences were regretful, and he found refuge in the escape you can buy for $20 at a time from a guy named Smudge or Greg the Midget. Mead notebooks with yellow, black, and red covers seemed to be his medium of choice when crying out to no one in particular. The most troubled people latch onto some form of creativity, a space where ideas prosper within an accepting arena. For some of us, it's comedy. For others, it's acting, painting, dancing, writing, dreaming, molding, moving, dying...

There's a sense of romanticism when it comes to writing under the influence of alcohol. I wanted all of the writing I ever produced to be shaped by Hemingway-esque habits, porte wine in the morning and cigarette ashes from smoking incessantly indoors, a cat who is simply happy staying asleep and dreaming at my feet. If I was going to be a successful writer, I was to drink wine from an object not normally used for drinking while in my bathroom, eat microwave dinners on the floor, celebrate some sort of post-modern beatnik madness from behind another poetic pity party. I never amassed collections of artwork anthologies of flora and fauna to be used as references. I simply got shitfaced and wrote about how sad I was while taking breaks for a cigarette every ten minutes. The "write drunk, edit sober" credo was too much for me, so how was I going to be a real writer if I could only do both while sober? In retrospect, no longer feeling the need to try something called a "dessert wine" helped me. "Write life, edit life." Or something. Above all else, I didn't blow my face off with a shotgun and have the posthumous misery of being buried in Ketchum, Idaho.

There's a phenomenon known as "junky pride," an attitude heroin addicts exhibit because they did the hard stuff, and they knew it. Even though we're all going through the same struggle of addiction, heroin addicts remain on a pedestal supported by muscling, injecting needles in the webbing between toes, and overdosing and coming back to life. But Kurt never exhibited "junky pride" in any of the footage shown in the documentary. The film touched on his heroin use throughout his life, everything from his journal excerpts to interviews with his former girlfriend and calamitous wife. Unaware of being filmed by Courtney Love, Kurt would nod off while high and holding his only daughter, Francis Bean. Courtney would snap at him from behind the robust videocamera to stay awake and he'd mutter, "I'm just tired..." She knew, as a bystander and a drug user herself. It was strange to watch the rampant progression of addiction within someone who was so prolific and influential to so many, especially in Seattle, the birth place of this soggy misfortune. His mother commented on how he was getting really bad. MTV News footage from the 90s showed a candid but emotionally distracted and drowning Kurt. Everyone around you knows about your addiction but you, and everyone knows how bad it's really getting but you. I liken it to a car accident in a heavily populated area. People leave their windows to view the wreck from their porch, and the only thing they can do is watch or wait.

Whenever I picture Kurt Cobain, I don't think of combat boots or seedy hotels on Aurora or sweaters in various stages of stretching. There is a series of black and white photographs of him and a couple of patchy kittens. He is quietly awestruck, solidified in a grayscale garden. It's unknown whether or not he's sober in the series of memories. What I do know is that sobriety has leant me opportunities to be amazed by simple things: the perfect temperature of a room, a crisp t-shirt, hitting all of the lights on a busy arterial during rush hour, clean sheets, a kitten who is experiencing human shoulders for the first time.

Maybe Kurt was high. Maybe he was in that tired state of euphoria when interacting with some tiny whimsy. In early sobriety, I was always tried to happiness within simple things. But when I drank, I would always become complex and learned, spouting philosophies from whatever information I retained from the Wikipedia entry I read a few weeks back. I created inside job theories out of outside jobs. Drinking became my Black Phillip, a demon within my own demonology. There is no amazement with a kitten crawling up your arm when you gave in to Old Crow and its pungent medicine show.

I can understand why Kurt's ashes were scattered in numerous meaningful places. Throngs of flanneled transients playing "All Apologies" and "Polly" on a bootleg guitar missing both E strings next to Kurt's stationary shrine would only become a sore for Seattlites, their commute, and contributing writers to The Stranger. Month after month, it would be vandalized with misinterpreted song lyrics. Guitar picks would be sprinkled about like litter left from teenagers on a wandering Greyhound pilgrimage. Cigarette butts would be carelessly discarded in a cancerous fairy ring. Eventually some urban myth would surface and after Snopes couldn't fully disprove it, his body would be unearthed for truth and perhaps disappointment.

I am not one of those people who believe Courtney killed him. She may have been involved, but I don't believe she put the needle in his arm and his awkward finger on the backwards trigger. Kurt found the ultimate way out. None of this matters to Kurt anymore because it can't. I know I've mentioned it in a few posts in here, but it relieves me to know that at some point, none of this is going to matter. The countless hours of audio recordings from open mics and shows. My kitty. My favorite jeans. Student loans. Politics. This post. None of this will matter in the future, and for whatever reason, that makes me feel incredibly safe.

We did drugs because we wanted to find a way out, at least temporarily. Sometimes that temporary exit manifested into a permanent way out. We get so lost in our addictions that we could no longer decipher temporary from permanent. I know some people who simply stopped caring that their addiction could kill them and continued to drink and use while hovering right beneath rock bottom. I know others who had life medically and physically removed from them and were somehow able to regain a heartbeat. I got sober when many didn't. Seattle is in Kurt's sandy bones much like his fervor is in Seattle. Kurt's life and music matter to others, but not to him. Maybe it's the comfort in death which leads addicts to put our toes deeper into the water, one weekend at a time. If we die, none of this matters.

For now, be a shoulder.