Tuesday, January 31, 2006

4th Step Bus Stop

Like many valued learning experiences, the 4th Step Workshop is not what I expected, but exactly what I needed. I completed the 3rd of five workshops this last weekend. And like many exciting journeys, getting there is half the fun.

Spending two hours on a bus to attend an hour and a half lecture isn’t my idea of fun. That’s why God invented MP3 players. But every once in a while, it can get a little interesting. In a waft of odor, a drunk plops down in the seat in front of me. It’s not so much the smell, it’s the burning of the eyes. Then it occurred to me, this is the first time I’ve smelled alcohol on someone since, well before I stopped drinking. It’s odd: that ability to smell alcohol had vanished for the first couple months I was sober. I don’t know why, and I’ve been asking people in the program if they’ve ever heard of it, but haven’t really gotten any definitive answers. I’ll have to ask my doctor about it. I had to call this one into Tom S.; Sponsors eat this stuff up.

The 2nd 4th Step Workshop was more of a review of the first (workshop, not step), so I’ll kind of combine my learning experience for both weekends in this post.

Surprisingly, the 4th Step is not about confessing your sins. It’s about itemizing your resentments. It’s these resentments that will kill you.

Harboring these resentments is also not what this workshop is about. I was secretly hoping Christine A. would sit next to me again, so I saved a seat for her, and she did. Christine is this simple looking, beautiful, petite lady who I got to know a little the previous weekend. I mean, she’s not strikingly beautiful, but her smile and mannerisms are so lively. She’s attractive in just the right way.

“Hi Christine!”, I calmly said.
“Hi. It’s Wax, right?”, she responded. For those who haven’t figured it out yet, Without Wax is my alias, and Christine A. is not her real name, nor are any of the names posted in this blog; A technique borrowed from the infamous James Fray. That fact is supposed to be in my profile, the one I’ve only written in my head as yet. Suffice to say, I was happy she remembered my name.

It took a few introductions to finally quiet the room down to the point where you could actually hear them, but when it came her turn, she proudly announced, “Christine, alanon.”

Alanon? The enemy? No! This couldn’t be. God is playing another little joke on me. The laptop wasn’t even funny, but this? How could’ve I missed it? She introduced herself last week sitting right next to me. Did I miss it? Was I not listening? Possibly, since I remember her name from her personal introduction, not to the group. Or maybe she was to nervous, shy, ashamed to admit her true evil nature.

Don’t react! Don’t look her way; keep looking straight ahead. Pick a spot on the wall. It’s not safe to stare into the eyes of the enemy; they’ll suck the life-force out of you. Use peripheral vision. She’s staring straight ahead too, with that contemptuous gleam of pride. Her tangential gaze exposes her interest in my reaction; she is admitting her nature for the first time.

Alanon, alanon, what do I know about alanon? Okay, she has an alcoholic lover. Husband? Look for a wedding band. NO! She’ll notice. Okay, look down, then over; do it now. Hey, she’s got gorgeous petite hands; no piano lessons, that’s for sure. I wonder if they’re soft? Don’t get distracted; that’s what she wants. Just concentrate. No band. Did she chuck it, in anger maybe? Do the sober even do that? I know I did.

I looked up! Damn! Head turns; retina-lock. Her intoxicatingly blue eyes send me back to when I first stared into them and started to fall, reminded me of why I saved her seat. Her smile grows and becomes contagious. There’s no danger here.

What? Of course there is. She’s the enemy. She’ll break your heart if you let her. I’m distracted when the speaker says, “Adults don’t raise children; Children raise adults.”

The direction of the conversation leans towards adolescents. Christine mentions something in passing regarding how immature her son can be. Is she referring to the alcoholic in her life? Not an alcoholic lover, alcoholic loved one. This is promising.

What step are we on, the 13th? Oh, no the 4th. Okay, last week’s workshop concentrated on the 3rd Step, which dealt mostly with resentment. Ask yourself, is it possible to be angry and happy at the same time? This brought up thoughts of only the strictly devious. Even then, can one truly be happy? Assuming you can’t, then you must really examine your resentments.

Are you angry at someone for something they did, or at the way they reacted towards something you did? Where is your fault in all this? So we have to examine our part in all this. Were we selfish or dishonest? Could this have caused someone to react, in a health way, to a self-seeking or dishonest person? Didn’t we manifest our own resentment.

Anger takes a lot of energy. If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.

I’m angry at a woman who I barely know because she’s an alanon. What’s the problem with alanon? What’s my problem with alanon? When I introduced my wife, more like pulled her dragging and screaming, into alanon, something scary happened. An alanon speaker told her that she was empowering me by assisting while I was in treatment. After that meeting, she was nearly ready to divorce me then. They’re clearly the enemy.

I mean this is a selfish program, isn’t it? It’s all about me. She attends alanon so I can feel better about all the crap I did to her. “Where in this program do I discover my ex-wife’s flaws?”, I blurt out.

Our host laughs at this and responds, “A.A. is not a selfish program, but rather a self-interest program,” as if intuitively projecting my thoughts.

I must release this anger, confront Christine. There is only one course of action: sleeping with the enemy. It’s a noble sacrifice, I know. In all seriousness, let me use Christine as an example. We’ll see how applying this new knowledge works in this case.

Following a few threads of resentment, we find June N. (ex-wife) is clearly damaged by my inebriated actions. In trying to protect herself, she takes defensive actions advised by someone from alanon, who herself was damaged by an alcoholic. Now I’m faced with divorce for trying to help June into alanon. I resent alanon.

In treatment, this last time (well after loosing my wife), we were visited by another alanon speaker; oh joy. She handed out her alanon card to everyone. She spoke of how alanon helps victims of alcoholic husbands and fathers, yada, yada, yada. I sat there in anger, the blood rushing to my head drowning out anything constructive advise she might’ve said. I was barely holding onto that card when I sneezed and dropped it. What do I need alanon for? I’ve already lost every loved one alanon could possibly effect. After faking a few more sneezes, I promptly excused myself.

So now I’m angry at Christine for something I did to June. That’s insane. I should try to talk with her next weekend. Aren’t alanons by nature attracted to alcoholics anyway? Just bat my blues eyes and she’s in bed. Wait, that’s not the goal. The Soup Nazi: No bed for you! But she’s so cute. I’ll just approach her with an interest in understanding alanon; save the history for questions she might ask.

Alright, it’s obvious I’m thinking with the wrong head, so I’ll wait until next weekend to learn more. Back home I go. This night I catch a different bus, one that transit assures me will take me to my transfer. It drops me off at a transit station in Uptown Minneapolis, in eyeshot of Calhoun Square. I had just read an ad in The Onion for The Independent. I’ve got time until my transfer arrives, so I check it out.

Knowing full well walking into a bar alone early in sobriety is simply your demon planning your next relapse. Is this coincidence? Having no money was the final straw that justified my actions. I was thoroughly disappointed. The ads made it out to be more than what it was. But the demon’s seed had been planted. I’ll have to watch for its sprout.

On the bus back I hung out with the driver attempting to gleam some knowledge of Uptown. She was a very pleasant young black lady with a helpful disposition. Approaching the next stop, I can already hear the fare’s obnoxious tone. I’m paraphrasing:
“I can drink tonight. I’m not on duty,” he spouts out. “See ya tomorrow,” he says to whomever was keeping his company. Hi Shamika,” as he stumbles to one knee getting onto the bus. ‘While you’re down there, why don’t you genuflect’, I think to myself. As soon as he crosses the threshold, his odor announces his altered state. “Oops, sorry.”
It’s funny how apologetic alcoholics are for injuring themselves.

“I can drink tonight,” he repeats, “I don’t work ‘til six.” He flashes some kind of employee badge with brown lettering, nothing that looks like payment, then sits down across from me just behind the driver. Mumbling some incoherent phrases, he spouts out loudly, “Do you mind if I sing?” This is not a karaoke bus, but that doesn’t stop him. The bus driver rolls her eyes. Thankfully halting his performance, he says, “I’m celebrating tonight. The Minneapol…err, Minnesota government has decided in our favor. So tonight I drink. I don’t have to drive ‘til tomorrow.”
The obnoxious rants and songs are cut short by his destination. “See ya tomorrow Shamika.” Off he stumbles out the door.
He left me with a nagging question: “Did he say he didn’t have to drive tomorrow or drive until tomorrow?”
“Drive until tomorrow,” the bus driver grunts.
“Good thing he didn’t drive home tonight at least.”
“He can’t. Doesn’t own a car.”
Confused, “How do you know?”
“He’s a co-worker.”
The badge: “For MetroTransit?”
“Dare I ask what he’s driving tomorrow?”
“A bus.”
Long pause. “What route...so I know to avoid it?”

Without Wax,

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I Slipped...

...and fell hard. Just a couple days after my two month sobriety milestone and I hit my first rock in the road.

I typed up my last medallion post at home and I’m ready to submit. I pack up the laptop and head out to the café. Distracted by solving the Rubik’s cube, not looking where I’m stepping, I slip on ice. Went down hard on my left knee. However, I did catch myself with both hands. Checked my jeans to find no damage. Cursed myself for screwing around with that damn cube, brushed myself off and continued onto the café.

When I arrive, the laptop fails to boot. After 15 minutes of trying different things, still nothing.

I stop and think; What could’ve happened in the fall? The backpack shifted, but I don’t believe it hit the ground. Whatever is wrong, the café is the wrong place to diagnose it. Pack it up and head back home.

Another reflection; What do I do if it wont boot up? My first thought is: What if this leads to a relapse? This stops me in my tracks. This is the most important problem. It doesn’t matter if I can’t recover stuff off the hard drive. It doesn’t matter if this laptop, that’s on it’s last leg anyway, dies. You don’t need a laptop! No one else at The House has a laptop and they’re still working the program. (Okay, a dozen guys relapsed this weekend, but that’s a different story.) I didn’t even have a computer when I started this Weblog; just used library’s computers. A repair bill is out of the question: this laptop is not worth the money to repair even if I had the money. It’s not that it’s damaged, it’s just obsolete. I couldn’t get a liter of Vodka with the money they’d give me for it at a pawn shop.

It doesn’t mean I have to give up this Weblog. Just will make it less convenient to update. What it does mean is no more downloading music from the Internet.

If that’s the extent of its effect, I can live with it. No need to relapse over this. It’s just a piece of crap old laptop anyway. Let it go.

But what I did realize is that this was the first obstacle in my recovery. I have to take that seriously. There will be more, and they will be more difficult.

So, I headed back home trying to think of what was happening to the laptop. When I arrived, I set an alarm for the 4th Step Workshop meeting that night. No matter what, I wasn’t going to miss that. I thought of my Higher Power, my deceased Father. What would he have done? Well, it’s worth nothing now. Let’s open it up!

I plugged it in and booted it up in the quiet of my room. It’s sounds gave clues as to how far it got into the boot-up process. Everything with it’s own controller came up: hard drive, CD-ROM, display lights (to some extent). No sound though, nor screen. Not good.

I take a deep breath and think what I usually do before attempting an aggressive project: shot of courage. I used to have three shots of spirit, usually Whiskey, before embarking on such a project. Although I’ve built desktop computers from scratch, I’d never opened up a laptop before. Better make it four shots.

No, no, NO! Do this sober, God damn it! Take another deep breath. Just fucking do it sober you lush! Do something sober for God damn fucking once! If you screw up, you lost a laptop you thought was useless at one point anyway.

One more deep breath! Hold it! Grab the Phillips head! No, not the Phillips Vodka, the Phillips head screw driver. Crack this case!

An hour and a half later...it’s totally in pieces. I’ve re-seated the memory, modem, LCD cable, and keyboard. No change. I connect the house’s PC monitor up, but get just a flicker. I still have no clue what’s causing it not to boot. This had never happened to desktops. The alarm goes off.

Suck it up and go to your meeting.

On the bus I think of what I did so far, how it’s responding, what it is and isn’t doing. It’s still spinning up the drives. That’s something. I eventually put it out of my mind.

The only distraction I let divert me is a wonderfully beautiful woman who asked to sit by me. I know – cross addiction. I behave.

When I arrive back home I sit down to dinner before returning to the repair. Take another deep breath and dig even further into the laptop. I stop along the way every now and then to attempt a power up. I get to the CPU board. I remove its heat-sink. I carefully lift the CPU board out and notice it came out too easily. Re-seat it, apply power, up comes Windows! Eureka!

“What? That was easy!”, I exclaim out loud. Then I look at all the parts and 20 screws of six different sizes I still have to remember the locations of. Okay, it’s not easy, but it works! The fall must’ve jerked my whole body hard enough to pop the CPU out of its socket. And I can now put “Laptop Repair” on my résumé.

I pause to reflect and credit my Higher Power for the strength and courage. I pray that this lesson is an example to use when a really tragic event occurs.

It took several hours to re-assemble the piece of shit laptop, pausing at every stopping point to perform a power-up test.

So, if you’re all concerned and wondering why I’ve been away from this blog, this is why.

Without Wax,

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Two Months Sober

On Friday I received a medallion for two months of sobriety right on my sobriety date. The desire for instant gratification – an alcoholic trait – brought me to an alano in the suburbs that I knew awarded medallions spontaneously. Referred to as the Smurf Church, it’s the only big powder blue building for miles. I want what I want and I want it now! I’m in limbo waiting for my 90 days of sobriety like an eleven year old who demands he’s 11½. But it feels good to hold it in my hand, especially when I get The Mean Reds.

The Smurf Church was the first A.A. meeting I’d attended, in Minnesota, and my first true attempt at getting sober. Two years ago, when I entered their doors, I was still looking for work, drunk all the time, hiding bottles in my car, had just recovered from an alcohol induced fractured leg, and was in serious jeopardy of loosing my wife. I told them of my situation, and they must have took pity on me because they gave me a Big Book and a Twelve By Twelve. An old guy said jokingly I’d have to return them if I start drinking again.

Well, I didn’t return them, but I did return with them. Two years later, no more wife, car, house, job; I came back. It was comforting. Some old faces remembered me, but not by name. Others assumed it was my first time there; I’d explained, “Been MIA for two years.” One man new to A.A. had mistaken me for the meeting director; I’d been dressed for an interview and was the only one wearing a tie.

The meeting’s host, sitting prominently at the head of the table behind a binder and a box of medallions, explained to the newcomer that this was a closed meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous intended for those seeking sobriety, then asked, “Do you have a desire to stop drinking?” to which he simply replied, “Yes.” Ah, the First Step meeting. How I love to hear a newbie tells his story of what brought him our way. But not tonight. Tonight is about me, for isn’t this a selfish program?

Some of the nervousness that accompanied me at my first A.A. meeting returns. I welcome this rare feeling. I seldom feel uncomfortable in meetings anymore, but back two years ago I could never relax completely surrounded by alcoholics that knew all I wanted was to get back to the Platypus pouch of Vodka hidden in my vehicle. Even if I didn’t indulge, the fact that they sensed my lack of serenity convinced me I was months away from my next lapse. But today my vigorous anxiety was due more to the simple fact that here stands a man claiming to be back from a long stint of binge drinking with two months sobriety seeking a medallion and no one to represent him. Also just being home again.

When it comes my turn to share I announce my two months and get a round of applause. We break into three separate groups. A woman approaches me, medallion in hand, and says she’s got it and to follow her.

She’s the first to speak: she said words of encouragement I could never forget, but cannot recall. I was so mesmerized by her expressions, her sincerity, her beauty, that I took it all in through osmosis. I wish I would’ve thought, at least, to try to commit them to memory, but I was having too good of a time just experiencing the whole thing. Since no one knew me, the others really didn’t have much to share.

And I didn’t even check for a wedding band!

Due to the wonderful transit system in the Twin Cities’ suburbs, a gentleman was more than happy to give me a ride back home. We had a deep discussion about half-way houses and the good they do. He offered rides to and from their meeting.

Wanting to celebrate, I walked down to the video store to rent movies for the weekend. However, my planning was poor and their were no new releases available. Walking back home I passed the café where a man was panhandling for half-a-buck. I told him I was broke and couldn’t afford it.

He protested, “What? A man like you can’t spare fifty cents?”
It took me a second, but realized I was dressed in business attire with tie. I replied, “Hey man, I homeless.”
“Yah, right.”
“Yes! I’m heading back to The Mission,” I lied. I did not want him knowing where I lived.
“Hey, sorry man,” he replied. “Wanna get a beer?” as he half-way exposes a $100 bill.
“No thanks. I just got my two month medallion today.”
Taken aback, he response, “Good for you! Keep it up.”

After walking back home it occurred to me that I turned down the offer of alcohol without hesitation. Had I thought about it, being high on receiving my medallion, I know I would've declined anyway. But it was still a good test. I'm sure there'll be more.

Without Wax,

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Moderation Management Manslaughter...

...And other deciding factors in choosing help for your drinking problem. If you've progressed to the stage in your addiction where you're looking for help, congratulations! You're ahead of the pack. There are many flavors of programs out there to choose from, ranging from the religious/spiritual to the atheistic, from alcohol to cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, narcotics, from total abstinence to moderation/manslaughter.

Novice disclaimer: I'm writing this on my 58th day of sobriety. This is my opinion at this point in time.

That being said, why would you ask for help from a program founded by a person charged with intoxicated vehicular manslaughter? Given the history of Audrey Kishline, I don't think she should be given car keys, much less starting organizations and writing books dictating to others how to moderate one's drinking. Moderation Management is purportedly changing tack to "revive" their organization in order to assist even more alcoholics drink responsibly, following in their founder's footsteps. You too can surround yourself with people to help you deny your problem until you kill a few innocent people while driving the wrong way on a highway with a blood alcohol level of 0.26. (I should talk; that was my DWI BAC, but then the only advice I'm selling alcoholics is abstinence.)

In order to familiarize yourself with the incident, please read the original Seattle Times June 17, 2000 article (registration required), a related article, or this biased blurb. Of interest is Moderation Management's response to this firestorm.

I don't recommend Moderation Management. If you think you have a drinking problem, go to an A.A. meeting and speak to people who know they have a drinking problem. It really can't hurt...really!

Monday, January 16, 2006

4th Step Workshop, By The Book

Although I'm only working the 3rd Step right now, "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him", I've started a five week, one day a week, 4th Step workshop. Since we're starting with the 3rd Step, the timing couldn't be better.

We go straight to "How It Works" in the Big Book and are reading the whole chapter. I've learned a few things about the 4th Step that broke some of my misconceptions. Like the 4th Step is not about admitting your mistakes. It's all about action.

One of the presenters said something very memorable, "I took actions I didn't believe in, and got results I couldn't deny." This is starting to happen for me.

I would like to add more, but my time on the Internet is limited today. I'll add links to this post later, but will add more content in a separate post.

Without Wax,

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Sanity, And Lack There Of Music

Living on the streets of Saint Paul in Winter with no place to call home is depressing enough, but to do it without music is unbearable. At first I thought it was not that important and was simply part of my penance, the suffering I must endure to, at first, remember how low I had sunk, then later as part of my program of recovery.

I’d given up on listening to music when I was drinking almost completely. The love songs reminded me of past relationships. Most songs on the radio I had listened to with my wife reminded me of the wonderful times we shared, the ones I’d drank away. Playing the radio meant walking a mental minefield. I often simply listened to talk shows on National Public Radio. Getting access to my CD collection was very difficult since they were still in my ex-wife’s possession. The hassle of contacting her for some music I was likely to relapse to was out of the question.

However, my little portable MP3 player was part of my property, held by a friend, that I acquired soon after moving into The House. With it came a few MP3 discs that I’d made at home while drinking and still married, but hadn’t really listened to. There are few places one can play an MP3 disc and my car was not one of them. So, now when I started playing them, I’d discovered hundreds of songs from artists not associated with bad past memories. I’d found the joy of music once again.

Like the martyr I am, I chose drinking songs. Figured it was part of my program. If I can handle those, I can handle anything. Came to find out later that’s not such a good idea. Just me working my own program again.

Some of these songs teach humility, in a humorous way. Listening to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “You Me And The Bottle Makes Three Tonight” would be the poster song for humorous humility, ending in “What da ya mean it’s last call? I just got here.” Keep that sense of humor, it’s critical.

Now the next song can only be humorous if you’ve been there, done that, gone through treatment, been sober five years...or plain still drinking. George Thorogood and his trusty Destroyers have an apathetic way of romancing the idea to Drink Alone. For every alcoholic knows what ol’ George is singing about when he avoids a party to stay home with his old pal Johnny Walker and his brothers Blackie and Red. Now I never knew my dear ol’ Grand Dad, but I’ve heard enough about them in meetings to know they love to give their Grand sons and daughters a sip now and then.

And if you’ve ever had a wet rag for a spouse, Thorogood’s got you pegged. If You Don't Start Drinkin' has got every obvious thing you’ve wanted to say to her, but was never foolish (or drunk) enough to verbalize. Guaranteed to secure a slap from a sober spouse.

I’ve heard King Of The Road before, but never been a fan of Miller Roger’s, nor Country Music for that matter. However, living on the Streets of Saint Paul brought out the true meaning of this song and made me take it to heart. Another resentment I can look back on with ease because I know I’m not alone when I listen to this melody. Did the pan handling, odd chores for room and board, no phone, don’t smoke and never rode in a box car, but considered it. When I share my experience living on the streets at meetings and bring up this song it invokes much nodding. You look around the room and find many men and women who know what you’re talking about, but are too ashamed to pipe up.

I’ve listened to Alice In ChainsGot Me Wrong many times, but never listened to the words closely. “Reach for something strong,” was something I often did. Last time was in anger, it landed me in detox. I so do not want that to ever happen again, but I know it can...it always can.

All of the above mentioned songs were found on only one of the old MP3 discs. Given the state I was in when they were made, their content is understandable.

Starting or ending a relationship in the beginning of recovery is not recommended. Starting and ending a relationship within the first two months of sobriety, with a married woman met in treatment is insane. Yah, I did it. But don’t call me insane. I don’t think with my dick, my dick thinks for me. Since you cannot declare your penis mentally incompetent, and you can’t strange him (I’ve tried, but it only works for about 45 seconds and is quite messy), there’s angry breakup music.

On one of the MP3 discs from storage I found an album from Natalie Imbruglia, Left Of The Middle. On it you’ll find wonderfully pessimistic love songs such as Torn, One More Addiction (apropos), Big Mistake, Leave Me Alone, Wishing I Was There (don’t let the title fool you), Don’t You Think, and Impressed. I didn’t start listening to Imbruglia at all until several days before the breakup, but already felt the urge to plagiarize her lyrics in a letter to my girlfriend (term used loosely). I just pulled off my headphones and heard Imbruglia’s Torn, thought it was coming from the computer, but no it’s playing over the speaker system in the café.

Now we’ve installed a CD-R burner in the computer at The House that I’ve been using to create MP3 discs with music I download from the Internet. Some new, mostly old: Cheap Trick, Devo, James Brown, Jane’s Addiction, Jimi Hendrix, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, The Fixx, Lenny Kravitz, Lenny Williams, Elvis Costello, Oingo Boingo, Thomas Dolby, The Cars, etc. Some for me, others for the guys in the house. It’s all good music.

Treatment says music is therapeutic and helps one meditate. It’s definitely helping. I’m glad I’ve found love of music once again.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year 2006!

I made it! I saw the end of another bad year, only this time sober. Had a lot of help; used a lot of cell minutes. But I’m at the café with my 42 days sober. It’s not that it wasn’t without its temptations.

I ventured out last night for hard candy. Came across several couples, dressed to the hilt, going into bars and restaurants. Wanted to join them. Wasn’t dressed for it, but it didn’t matter. Jut wanted a shot of Jack.

That’s when I started making phone calls, and it worked. I got a hold of a sponsor (not mine, but what the hey) on the third call. Felt better afterwards.

No resolutions! I’ve got too much on my plate trying to stay sober to deal with things like loosing weight, getting a better job, exercise more, etc. Screw that noise. 2006 will be my first full year of sobriety; okay, I guess that constitutes a resolution.

Must leave, coffee shop is closing…or not. It’s noon, when they said they’d close on New Year’s Day, and like twenty people just walked in. Well, I’m not going to contribute to their unexpected rush. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Without Wax,