Sunday, February 26, 2006

Coincidental Cusp

I’m between a rock and a soft place, that coincidental cusp that only happens twice a year when back-to-back 31-months leave a recovering alcoholic with neither 90 days nor three months sobriety. I can’t tell which is the rock or the soft place, the 90 or the three. But on this 91st day of sobriety I’ve been asked by George D., my first sponsor, to proudly announce in our Ultra Defective meeting my achievement. I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t jinx the whole thing by asking me to speak of what I haven’t achieved yet, but who’s kidding? It’s Sunday night in Minnesota. Bars are closed and the closest liquor store is in Wisconsin, an expensive cab ride away, one I would have to take after he drops me safely off at The House. But it didn’t take much effort for my daemon to hastily put that plan together.

Having survived Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years in various stages and places of recovery, I felt it relieving to share my discomfort. Thanksgiving was probably the worst, since I’d checked myself into treatment the day before and for the next five days listened to people whine about missing family because either they weren’t welcomed or locked up in this short-staffed treatment facility. Not having family to miss only added to my resentments. Nothing happened. For nearly half of my short twelve-day stay in Treatment I neither got treatment nor mugged. I guess that’s something to be thankful for. Christmas and New Years were markedly better having by then moved into The House. I was simply happy to be spending the silly season in a nice warm house then under a bridge.

Prior to this day, I was so close to completing Step Three and was wondering what was holding me back from deciding to turn it over? Why couldn’t I give my will over to a God of my understanding? I was almost so willing, but there was something holding me back.

This morning of the cusp I had a spiritual epiphany. Having woken at 4:00am and could not get back to sleep, I decided to read in the study as not to disturb my roommate with my reading light. Making a short kitchen detour for coffee, I snuck the beverage illegally into what is now referred to as the upstairs TV room. A slight bang on the thermostat ignited the cement logs within the gas fireplace next to which sat a fairly comfortable armed chair. It was there while reading Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons that I learned of it’s first murder victim’s oxymoronic calling: a Catholic priest physicist. His belief was that God’s existence could be proven scientifically. Closing my eyes, I threw my head back in disbelief. When I opened my eyes I was staring up at the illuminated Saint Paul Catholic Cathedral. Having all at once realized where I was and how I got there, I came to the understanding that if a physicist could be a Catholic priest, a computer geek could believe in a God of his understanding.

I’m now ready to start making my list.

When I got the news Friday from my doctor that all major organs’; liver, kidney, pancreases; test results had returned negative, you’d think I’d be happier. But I know my daemon. He fooled me once before. However, my doctor put it very sternly: “Wax, this is not a license to start drinking again. Just because your blood work shows no sign of damage doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means we can’t detect damage with these tests and doesn’t justify to an insurance company paying for a liver biopsy, which would clearly identify the damage you know exists.” Dr. Chris J. is my new doctor, and came highly recommended by my previous doctor who left the Twin Cities to pursue an opportunity up north in Duluth. His endorsement, although not disappointing professionally or in any other respect, did leave out one minor detail. Dr. Chris, despite lack of chronological maturity, does seem to have experience dealing with substance abuse patients that demonstrates compassion, knowledge, and temperance, especially when making the patient feel comfortable about sharing intimate using experiences without empowering them.

“So what’s your plan?” Taken aback, I can’t help but think this comes from some experience with recovery programs. This delivered austerely from the comfort of deep warm brown eyes, attractive round dimpled face, short obese stature of a young brunette woman showing serious concern. My first female doctor, the detail my previous doctor failed to mention. He’s known for his sense of humor, but crossed ethical boundaries just a tad. I’m going to have to retaliate somehow by pulling a George Clooney on him. Yah, that was really funny when that lady doctor stuck her finger up my patutey. In her defense, she did offer for a male nurse to perform the rectal exam, saying, “You’re forty Mr. Wax and you need this.” Weighing my options, I chose her by responding, “Just strap on the latex, play some romantic music, and I think things will be just fine.”

Sensing that I’d crossed some ethical, moral, or couth-like boundary, she replied, “We don’t do that here Mr. Wax.” Be cool. It’s not the first time a beautiful woman had her finger up your butt. Okay, this is probably going into the TMI range.

“My plan,” I explain, “Is to continue going to meetings, call my sponsor everyday, get employed so I can stop feeling sorry for myself and can get into a sober house, and read the Big Book.”

“Well listen: If you go back out there and start drinking again, it wont be like last time. Your organs will fail much faster. You may not be able to recover as successfully as you have this time. I’m worried about you,” she confesses.

Head down, I utter, “I know.”

“You have to rely on your willpower!”

“No,” I solemnly say, raising my eyes to meet hers, “My Higher Power.”

“Whatever...”, sounding too much like a Valley Girl, she catches herself and continues, “” That all too familiar Darwinistic tone proudly exhibited by young medical students fresh from the trenches of biology courses. Call it evolution-on-the-brain. A glance at the rear of her car would probably reveal her multi-legged Ichthys symbol with the word “Darwin” inside.

She’s now probably labeled me a bible thumper, but if she really knew the spiritual, theological, and scientific battle that’s ensuing in my mind, she wouldn’t be so quick to judge. I’d explain to her that the phrase, “Thy will be done, not mine,” has guided me through more potential lapses than sheer willpower ever did, but I thought I’d save that speech for someone who needs it; one of us.

The good news of my test results were more expected, so I was less excited about them, and I shared that with the group at the meeting. That would explain why I was not happy upon hearing of the results; nervous would be the word. I’m afraid my daemon is smarter than I. Why not? We share the same brain.

The cusp has passed and I’ve set out this morning to celebrate my three month milestone by receiving a medallion at one of my favorite alanos, Frost House. If you’re still working on the immediate-gratification-character-defect, there’s no place like the ‘burbs for medallions. Every alano has their pin day, usually the same first given weekday of that month, where they properly present medallions. The person presenting the medallion would be someone who knows the graduate a while, hopefully their sponsor, and has witnessed his/her progress. But I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and see if I might pick one up at my favorite morning alano, The Frost House. It could very well be the last weekday I visit this alano in a while, since I’ll be starting first-shift work soon.

My Higher Power must’ve been willing to entertain my eccentricities today, for he has sent me an angel: Paula T. Paula was the first person to recognize me when I came back to Frost House after being out for two years. An attractive lady with a good heart who’s maturity has been kind, and intelligence that defies her blonde roots. Although I had been visiting the Frost House on a weekly basis, time and financial restrictions have made it more difficult to attend. This has made the chance of encountering Paula slim, but unbeknownst to me she has been following my progress.

She was one of the first persons I spied when entering the house and she lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw me. I bee-lined to her and whispered in her ear, “Could you present my three month milestone?”

“I’d be happy to. Let me grab a medallion,” she replied. I’ve got to stop doing this!, I thought, but justifying that it will be a full three more months before I’ll ever receive another medallion, I just chalked it up to yet another unresolved character defect: immediate gratification.

When she presented me, I was shocked when she revealed that, although we hadn’t seen each other much, she’d been following this blog. I told her of it when I first started it two months ago, but she’d never left a comment, so I’d totally fazed it out. I was hoping she wouldn’t reveal it’s URL to the group, as she wisely didn’t; attraction rather than promotion. If AAs want to find this blog, they’ll have to search for it.

I spoke of how I did it and included how this blog has helped me. One day in jail while we were on routine 23-hour lock-down in my cell all alone, I had a major craving for Jack Daniels. It was bad. There were plenty of inmates I could talk this out with just yards away, yet not within speaking range. Solitary confinement is an inmate’s worst nightmare. Some men just can’t handle it. That’s what books are for. Forgive me Big Book thumpers, but no book can help you when you really need to talk something out. That’s why Bill W. created phone lists. But phones are not available during lock-down. I was looking forward to an all-night longing for whiskey. So I journaled. I frantically wrote for an hour and in half that time the thirst was gone. I’d discovered a way to kill the craving. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. The less people in my life that know about it, the more openly honest I can be in it.

As of press-release time, I’d read far enough to a point in Angels & Demons to read this spoiler (be forewarned, this is giving away crucial plot material):

The uncertain shadows that had fogged Langdon’s mind all morning, in a single instant, solidified into a vivid image. As he stood there in the swirl of confusion, he felt a door inside him if some mystic threshold had just been breached. The ambigram. The murdered priest/scientist. The antimatter. And now...the target. Leonardo da Vinci Airport could only mean one thing. In a moment of stark realization, Langdon knew he had just crossed over. He had become a believer.

Five kilotons. Let there be light.

It seems our main character has too had a spiritual awakening.

Without Wax,

Saturday, February 18, 2006

First Job

Okay, so I don’t feel energetic every time I leave the gym. Last night I attended the Cardio-Kickboxing class instead of seeing Jessy R. at The Whitehouse as usual. I miss her, but I really wanted to attend this I’m not so sure. No pain, no gain.

Having missed the A.A. meeting at The Whitehouse and Jessy, I thought I’d fill the day out by getting online at The Café and relax with a cup of joe. I stayed there ‘till 10pm. This behavior is robbing me of the one promise I thought I’d never achieve in my lifetime ever again: a full night’s sleep. With two months sobriety, and the weight of immediate life concerns temporarily off my back, I have found that I can get a full seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I thought because of my age, this would never happen again in my lifetime, so I’m very grateful for that. And I’m doing it without the aid of Melatonin. But for some odd reason now, drinking coffee ‘till 10pm keeps me up all night. Go figure.

So I got little sleep last night. My House chore has changed to morning shoveling instead of evening boardroom cleaning. I set an alarm so I can procrastinate on my morning chore enough to catch twenty minutes of nap and I’m out like a light. Alarm goes off, I’m dead tired, I crawl downstairs in bodily pain, bitching out the little Asian lady instructor whom I could barely keep up with last night, regretting the task at hand. “Hey you! You wanna make some money moving furniture?”, says a stranger in the lobby. Hell no, my body replies, but with that I quickly assess my financial situation and seeing that I’ve got $3.00 in my wallet, most of which will be eaten up by bus fare before I can even donate plasma in three days, and I’ve been looking for work, my mind audibly replies, “Can you wait five minutes?”

In that time I shoveled the most critical areas of the back in order not to earn a check-mark for sloppy workmanship, changed into appropriate attire, and jumped into a truck with a total stranger onto a job I’m all too familiar with. Tim G. was his name, a recovering alcoholic/addict who owns his own moving company.

“Drug of choice?”, Tim asks.
“Alcohol,” I reply.
“Crack cocaine and alcohol for me.”

More small talk; I explain that I used to work for a moving company, which he finds intriguing, enough so that he does an impromptu interview. I leave out the fact that my muscles have atrophied and that I may not be as useful as he thinks. Who am I kidding? He can tell a physically built guy when he sees one. What you see is what you get. I just hope I don’t embarrass myself.

The job entails moving a family from one house in Saint Paul to another in the same city. The wife and her mother have made the job as easy for us as possible with loose items boxed and labeled by destination room. Both women are pleasant. The wife is a very pretty young doctor with a good sense of humor. She’s married to a doctor as well.

Forgetting completely about the previous day’s exertion, I establish a good working pace as to appear energetic, yet still pacing myself for what I know to be a taxing undertaking. The move goes well for a couple hours until I start to notice that I’m breathing heavy; I slow down.

We’re at the new house when I take my first break. Rather than sit, I walk the three-story house. Memories of a yuppie life I once shared with my wife June come streaming back with a vengeance, complete with the back yard that did not face anyone else’s so as not to share the view of each other’s kitchens. The life I once knew.

The mental and physical toll has me entertaining the idea of making my apologies to Tim and catching a bus back to The House. However, guilt for rarely completed anything in my later days of drinking, and the need for money, kept me at the job. This was, after all, merely the stresses of everyday life.

Assessing what needs to be done to complete this move, I concern myself with moving as much furniture and boxes as possible just to keep my mind off of my past life. Another thought enters my mind: Don’t transfer your anger for the loss of June to this lovely woman we’re moving.

Near the end of the day, my body starts to reveal its limitations. I miss a step while carrying a mattress and drop to my knees. Tim happens to be holding the other end of the mattress. That’s it! This is my last time working for him, I know it.

We finish up in six hours with a half-hour lunch gratefully supplied by the wife. Tim thanks and pays me, handing me his business card, asks for my cell number for future jobs. Hiding my shock, I give it to him. The pay is as much as I make donating plasma for a week, about $10/hr.

Arriving back home, I quickly shower and change for my interview at a second sober house. I’m so exhausted, I catch myself falling asleep in the meeting with my potential roommates. I share my brief story of how I got to this point in my life with regards to alcohol, get a short tour of the house, and find an unanimous vote of approval. I’ve got two sober houses I can live in when I’m out of The House by the beginning of next month. Both are contingent on me getting a job.

We dine together. I pass on their invitation to attend their A.A. meeting, not for lack of comfort, but concern that I might insult them by falling asleep.

On my way out I have a deeper conversation with one of the house-mates. I hope he’s still there when I move in.

The bus ride home is uneventful. Walking up to The House though, I notice something I haven’t in a long time, since my drinking days: my hands begin to cramp up and close. But this doesn’t worry me; my muscle will eventually recover in time. I slip into bed and pass out quickly from shear exhaustion.

I’ve experience a normal work day, my first in too long. The next day I find myself bored, only this time it doesn’t lead to thoughts of drinking.

Without Wax,

Monday, February 13, 2006

Winter Rolls...

...By so fast when you're relaxing in your favorite coffee shop enjoying the atmosphere . Time can slip away unnoticeably.

Winter rolls accumulate and must be worked off. Working out can work off Winter rolls. Initially, getting into shape and loosing my gut was not in my original program of recovery, but it does make sense since my muscles had atrophied laying around drinking bourbon watching movies. Those same alcoholic muscles ached more from simply taking a shower than they do now from working out at the Y. I'm taking advantage of The House's scholarship program, that's how I can afford the membership. As of this writing, I weigh 210 lbs; my goal is to reach 185 lbs, my ideal weight. I feel more energetic everyday I exercise.

Winter rolls by without a job. This is not in my program of recovery. Winter vacation is coming to a close and I'd better be employed soon or face the consequences. I'm kicking it into high gear this week.

The role Winter has played on my recovery has had a profound influence on my attitude this attempt around. I feared the thought of living homelessly during Winter, but now I embrace it. It has definitely changed my way of thinking.

So drink it if you got it. Java's the only mind altering substance I'm drinking from now on.

Without Wax,

Thursday, February 09, 2006

4th Step Superbowl

Why they schedule the Superbowl during a 4th Step workshop is beyond me. I had to double-check with the alano to verify it was still being held. The games started the same time the workshop ended, which is convenient for those living in Minneapolis, but an hour bus ride away for those living in her twin city, the capital.

I had concerns that day: Would I miss the game? Would I miss watching the game with June? Would I watch the game in an Irish pub in Uptown? I missed those football games with my then wife June N. She was the only woman I loved that said she watched football and meant it; die hard Greenbay Packers fan all the way. When they won, she was happy. When they lost, she was depressed. I miss watching football with June.

I had to call someone, but everyone I tried was not available. Not my sponsor, his sponsor, nor my best friend who hated football. Enough phone time wasted trying to hail a shoulder. Time to leave.

Preparation is key to avoiding lapses. I’ll simply bring a radio to listen to the beginning of the game on my way home. However, my radio only gets FM. The games isn’t broadcast on FM band. No problem, AM radios go for $2.87 at Target and it’s on my bus route; just add an extra 30 minutes to ride time. But a trust-funder at The House over-hears my plight and offers to sell me an AM/FM/TV/Cassette portable with digital display, station presets, and equalizer for five bucks. If only I had real estate in a Florida swamp.

It was a beautifully sunny winter day for the ride. I took this opportunity to snap off a few photos for this posting. Minneapolis is so much more progressive to the eye than Saint Paul. I want to spend more time there this weekend.

The photograph I chose for this posting was taken just as Christine A. drove up. She acknowledged me with a smile and I waved. That’s odd: enemies don’t wave. Oh, that’s right, she doesn’t know she’s the enemy. Beautiful, but still the enemy.

Surprised not to find her sitting in the same spot, or even in the room for that matter, I took my seat in the usual place. After feeling completely dehydrated from the previous day’s plasma donation, I broke out a bottle of water, which drew a look of concern from our host seated at the head table. I smiled and lightheartedly quipped, “Absolute.” This started a rolling conversation about Vodka in the freezer, drinking it straight, hiding bottles, sneaking them into theaters, work, etc.; the usual A.A. war stories. At the height of this tête-à-tête in walks Christine who sits next to me, but is noticeably uncomfortable with the discussion. I let it continue for a while, interested in her reaction, until finally noticing that our host is not enjoying the dialogue either.

I interrupt, “Okay, I started all this.” Removing the lid from my water bottle, “See, it’s only water,” as I offer it to the only non-alcoholic in the room to smell. She predictably backs off, then realizing the embarrassing position she’s been put it, and not wishing to escalate it, sniffs it with an approving smile.

Christine’s uncomfortable around alcoholics. Wait, I made her feel uncomfortable around these alcoholics. Actually, more like annoyed. I still gotta know who’s the alcoholic in her life. However, she definitely doesn’t appear to want to hang around afterwards for fellowship. She wants to get in and out as quick as possible, not hang around the alano at all. What is an al-anon expecting to get out of a 4th Step workshop? The Wax may never know.

I’ll try again this last weekend of the workshop, but I doubt she’ll want to chat with me.

What were we talking about? Oh, the workshop. These are things I’ve learned:

When working through your grudge (or resentment) list, think of it not as a mechanical process, but an emotional, spiritual experience. Put yourself in the place of the one you harmed and ask yourself how it really affects that person.

If you’re reliant on yourself, you’re fearful. This statement blew me away. I mean I was noticing this when I was relying on total strangers’ help and compassion, but didn’t realize that there was once a time when I thought self-reliance was the key to life.

Work the list across the columns first, then down the rows. In others words, complete a grudge before moving onto the next. If you get stuck on an item in the list, put it aside and move onto the next item in your grudge list. (I like calling it a grudge list because the Big Book refers to it that way.)

And I love the host’s humorous advice, “Find a sponsor whose a worse alcoholic than you, take his inventory, and sign your name to it.” I’d definitely get more out of this workshop if I was currently working the 4th Step. For now, I’m just taking good notes. The workshop comes to a close and Christine bales immediately, as usual.

The Superbowl starts and I head on home with radio in my ear. I’m safely on the bus heading home. No worries. Wait! There’s a Cost Cutters. I have an interview tomorrow and desperately need a trim. I’m glad I did. This is very embarrassing, but because of financial difficulties, I haven’t had a hair cut in three months. The company I keep didn’t seem to mind. It turns out very well and for the price of $11.95, right in my budget. With radio back in my ear, I spot my bus just pulling up and run for it. I’m home free.

I’m a little jostled while sitting down (was that a turn?) I ignore it and get into the game; Steelers are up! Settled in for an hour long ride, I relax in the thought that I’ve made it through all the difficulties of this football day. Ten minutes into the ride, I hear over the game playing in my headphones the bus driver announce, “End of line. Everyone disembark.”

Panic sets in. “Excuse me, is this the 21A?” The “A” bus is the only one that continues all the way from Minneapolis to Saint Paul.

“No, sorry Sir, this is the 18. You must’ve got on the wrong bus back at Lake and Nicollet. You have to leave the bus. Another 18 will be along shortly. You can take that back to the bus stop your originated from to catch the 21A by crossing the street,” the bus driver states.

I step off the bus only to face an Irish pub, the screams of football fans emanating from within. I’m Irish, but to an alcoholic I could be Swahili and it wouldn’t matter. I think to myself, “Why not just watch the game then leave for home.” No, that’s my daemon thinking. But I stick to the plan and back-track my way home.

Safely back in Saint Paul, I walk back home thanking my Higher Power for whatever got me through this evenings test. And the Steelers won!

Without Wax,

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Coffee Tables for Sale or Rent

What do indigent homeless alcoholic computer geeks do to setup office? Rent a coffee table at your local Wi-Fi café for $1.98. A friend asked if I would update his laptop on-line, so I agreed. However, he couldn't be with me so I had to lug both laptops, his and mine, to the Café. Since I only have one Wi-Fi adapter, I connected both laptops together using Cat 5 network cables to a Linksys mini-switch. One laptop shares the other's wireless Internet connection. Add to that the external CD-RW drive and I'm good to go.

Now I'm downloading music, burning CD-Rs, running Windows Update, and writing this post. I felt so guilty, I had to buy a sandwich for $5.95. I now have $33.00 to my name.

Without Wax,

Friday, February 03, 2006

Like A Heart Attack

In this program, you can loose friends in the blink of a second. Robert D. had a heart attack yesterday while in the care of doctors at the hospital. If you’re going into cardiac arrest, there’s no better place to be than in the care of a doctor. That’s how my Father had his last heart attack. Thankfully, both men survived.

Robert is diabetic. He was having symptoms prior to this episode. Feeling light headed after descending the staircase, he unwisely decided to go back up stairs to bed. If it weren’t for his attentive roommate’s obstinate nature, he might’ve arrested alone in bed. Instead, his roommate took action, contacted staff, and Robert was taken to the hospital. On arrival announcing he was suffering a diabetic reaction he was rushed to en emergency where he suffered a heart attack.

Robert, who was a strange before moving into The House, has become a close friend in a short amount of time. He’s helped me see things differently and has become someone I can confide in. It is rare to find friends like him, period.

Chalk one up for a Higher Power.

Without Wax,