The Story Of My Addiction
This post is about addictions, self-harm, self-discovery and eventually, self-care. I recently had occasion to think back to when I was 20 years old. I retraced my steps to the present day for the first time in one sitting and was quite surprised with my reaction to the story of my own life.
Looking back, I was terrified at the prospect of finding my way in the world. At the time, I just knew that I was getting high all the time and felt shame, despair and fear like a lump in my throat almost choking the breath out of me. I was on the verge of a great sadness, constantly frightened and alone.
I looked around for love or sex or something to quiet that feeling of loneliness, but no such comfort was there to be found. I remember awkward, clumsy moments with women and some conversations we had about sexuality, friendship and literature/music. I remember standing in my kitchen talking to one woman on the phone about her attraction to women. She was wondering where to go with it and I wanted to be her friend even if it meant not being a lover. I hope to god that I actually communicated that!
I remember another girl that I tried to get a relationship with, but she eventually stopped the relationship because I had no money and no clear indication that I was going to have any. That triggered my shame issues and I chose to leave for the Green Berets like some romantic sod off to the French Foreign Legion in the wake of a broken heart. (what a mope!)
So, off I go to the Green Berets because it was the hardest thing I could find in the military. I joined the Green Berets because I was lost in my life. I figured that I would either grow up or die trying.
I excelled in there. I was a medic in the Green Berets and that means that I was trained to kill and heal human lives. It was an interesting place to stand. It gave me a unique perspective on violence, judgement and the frailty of our beliefs. To clarify, I saw that the so called "right" and "wrong" we assign to any act is defined by the individual and not given as a property or tangible mass in nature. By viewing another human being as an enemy to attack and maim in one moment and a human to heal and nurture in the next, I discovered that these attributes are not physical but only stories or values that I assign to them. It made me take my actions seriously as this could be horribly abused in sociopathic behavior. I mean, if one is free to assign the value of good to one's actions in society, any value of our own choosing at all --- well, couldn't a killer or some other hurtful person just do terrible things and declare that he/she is doing good?
Needless to say, I did no such behavior and am actually a decent person. But, I did learn the responsibility to examine my actions in the world and question assumptions. It taught me the difference between humility and humiliation.
As I sat around in my spare time in the Army, I read things - all manner of things that caught my eye. Classics of literature both current and established, feminist literature, philosophy, physics and scientific journals. I was trying to teach myself the things about this world that were part of the world around me and those that were of my own creation.
During this time, I was still a young man. So, I was still dealing with my fears and shame. I used alcohol, drugs and sex to try and create bliss, to distract and to hide from a some painful memories and emotions. I got high, got drunk, saw bands, slept with women. It was fun and all, but I always felt alone and frail. Of course, being an Aries, I countered those feelings with excess. If some alcohol, drugs or sex made me feel good, then a lot would make me feel better. Or, so I surmised. Anyway, I tried to be a decent person, sensitive and intelligent. But, I was abusing sex and substances, as many young people do.
About this time, I really started struggling with this deep seeded belief that I was a loser and that things would not work out for me. So, I came up with a philosophy of accepting less, taking what is given or found and constantly, desparately trying to impress people with how smart I am.
In 1984 I got out of my regular duty phase of the Army. I was in Boston and had met a woman. We moved in together and I got a job a this punk rock club in Boston called Spit. I had a blond mohawk, drove a used hearse and tending bar to hundreds of hot young women five nights a week. It was like throwing gasoline on a fire. I was living with one woman and having sex with very many others in cars, bars and apartments all over Boston. I hated myself and yet I continued on. It was horrible. I drank more. I screwed more. I discovered Ecstasy, the drug. Wow. It felt like bliss, but it still did not ease the terror inside. I was terrified with the prospect of being responsible now for my own life and still feeling completely lost.
The woman I left behind got pregnant and she got an abortion. That was the end of the relationship. She told me months later as I left, that when she asked me what I wanted to do, I put it all on her and said "I’d do whatever she wants". I chickened out, didn’t tell her that I was afraid and not wanting a child and left all the decision upon her. She was right.
So, 1987 and I’m back in Chicago. My parents lived here then and I still had to figure out how to exist with my father. I stayed with them for like a month and that was not going to work. So, I moved into Chicago with another woman, who was like 13 years older than me. My dad did not like her and that sort of built up the already ridiculous tension between he and I to a stupid level. It all came to a close on a weekend trip he and I took to Missouri to his parents’ family farm to repair a broken fence. (quite fitting, in retrospect). So, we yelled at each other for like 300 miles in the front seat of a pick up truck and got it out of our system. We did a couple days’ hard work in the blistering sun and drank some beer by the river.
I got into the restaurant business then and broke up with that woman. I had stopped doing drugs by 1988 but, my drinking was worse than ever and going down hill fast. My family history is plagued with alcoholism – three grandparents, uncles, aunts and great grand uncles. Both of my parents. So, I left my girlfriend because I felt I was keeping myself up by leaning on her. I basically new I needed to fall on my face. I had not articulated my drinking problem, but I felt somehow that something was coming to a head and I needed to be clear of another person’s needs to get at it.
Then, I went on a tear of fucking things up right and left. Drank all my money away, got evicted for not paying rent – moved out one day ahead of the sheriff. Went out every night of the week, drinking rare wines and spirits, working in elite restaurants, spending every cent I made in bars and restaurants acting like I actually knew something and was leading a happy life. Meanwhile, I was just a drunken phoney.
As it turned out, I was in therapy – a parting gift to that Girlfiend during our breakup, as I thought she might go psycho. In retrospect, it was just me chickening out again from a relationship. (Seeing any patterns here, folks?) So, I’m at the therapist describing my night out before – went home with a woman I met at a bar and realized as I stood there in her apartment, that there was nothing about this woman that I liked. I actually found her to be silly, shallow and insipid. But, I was there to have sex. I couldn’t bring myself to do it and made some b.s. excuse to leave. I told my therapist about it and she asked me if I had ever considered that I might be an alcoholic.
I was stumped. I had not even considered it. I had such harsh judgments about my parents and the rest of my family about alcohol and had not even seen it coming when it had happened to me. I went to AA that night, June 17, 1989 and it was the scariest thing I had ever done. Still is. I had jumped out of airplanes with 100lbs of explosives and ammunition hanging between my knees and still this was scarier. Admitting that I am powerless over alcohol – over anything for that matter, was like climbing a mountain and falling off the mountain at the same time. Daunting and liberating. I remain sober to this day.
I got clear that anyone in the world can drink. Just not me. I also got clear that I wanted to live, love and be loved. I still had a lot of abusive behavior to notice and take responsibility for. I still used sex for example and it took me another 5 years or so to get into a relationship where real intimacy existed.
She was tall, thin and one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met. She came on to me, and I thought that the heavens were pardoning me for some sins and freeing me from the sentence of unworthiness. We lived together and I knew for the first time what it felt like to be contributing to and contributed to by someone I love. I was happy and felt like somehow, the human race had let me back in. Then, a horrible tragedy struck.
Her brother committed suicide. It tore her up, her only sibling gone in such a way no less. She withdrew and left me to return to California where she was raised. It was the first time that a woman had broken up with me. I was 37. (Note to self or anyone reading – DO NOT wait until age 37 to get dumped for the first time. It only prolongs and magnifies the shock to the ego and subsequent sorrow.)
Then, one day as I’m driving through a neighborhood at 5:30-6:00pm, I see a man just come home from work. He’s walking up the sidewalk, picking up a paper and playing with the cat in the yard as he returns home to his family.
In that “eureka” moment, I realized that I had been telling myself that I didn’t want a family or home, solely because I felt that I could not attain such a thing and I steeled myself from the disappointment by telling myself that it did not matter. I realized that I did want it and that I could have it and that I was not deficient in any way. (although you may find differing opinions on this last issue among my closest friends).
So, I went about dating with the intention of meeting someone to marry and raise a family. I met her. She was looking for the same thing. We married in ’98. Our first couple of years were hard. We’re both pretty pig-headed and our default assessment is that we are each right. That got worked out. We had our daughter. What a miracle it is to be the father of a girl.
I had always identified as either pro-feminist or openly feminist, but I realized so much about sexist beliefs I had as I examined them in the space of creating a relationship with this girl.
For, what gifts will I give this girl, my child? Will I teach her that she is “less than” in any regard because she is a woman? This is always the question before me, because we live (as I am sure you noticed) in a world that reserves the right to abuse women above all else. It is everywhere in every culture. It is the cause of poverty, ignorance, injustice and abuses of power across the globe. Rape, misogyny, brutality, sexism, unequal pay, denied education, holders of blame for men’s misdeeds to themselves. These are the birthrights of women because men have the physical mass to impose their brutality upon them.
I saw this in the world around me and strive to discover any such beliefs, no matter how silent or hidden in myself so that I may teach my daughter how to respect herself and how to relate to a man that treats her as equal in all regards. This is my role and my gift as father. It is my gift for choosing life over a drink, as the choice was presented to me by myself.
So, now I live as a corporate salesman in a downtown office building. I play with computers for fun and I dream of completing my novel and traveling the world. In my spare time, I torture the cat with my toes and I simply adore dark chocolate. I blog and communicate with people across the planet looking to be accepted into the family of humankind as the people they know themselves to be.
A good friend of mine got sober on the same day I did, purely by coincidence. We meet each year to celebrate another year of this gift we carved out for ourselves called 'life'. When I spoke to him about my retracing my steps, we realized that in the 21+ years of our sobriety we could have raised a child. In a sense, we did - we raised ourselves. It took me 21 years of sobriety to grow into a person I can live inside of.
Another thing I didn't anticipate before starting this little exercise is that I became aware that the fears and shame which drove me without mercy through decades of my life - were no longer the defining forces of my identity. For so long, I had been defined, constrained and shaped by the shame of sexual assault, alcoholism, poor choices, selfish and hurtful things I said or did to lovers. Over the 21 years of sobriety, I had replaced those things with care, listening, honesty and the assurance of knowing what I could gain by loving myself and other people.
This is not all of me, but it’s some. Leave a comment, if you wish - if any of this sounds familiar.