It’s not my favorite thing to acknowledge but I hit the reset button on my clean time over the summer. I was up to eleven months (which shattered the old record of thirty-one days). In any case, I’m back up to 103 days now and, today, I went to my “usual” NA meeting. It’s the only one I’ve ever been to in Jacksonville. As I sat there, I scribbled on the cover of my text.
“This is my first meeting in five weeks. Did I mention yet that I haven’t seen my counselor since September? How strange that I forgot to mention that…”
I was listening to this song on my way home tonight. It’s got a couple lyrics that’ve always stuck out to me. I don’t always relate to them as much as I used to, but I still love it.
I can see the question across your face: “How can you live so trivially?” I’ve got my ways and I’ve got my techniques… Our lives are built on hurt and shame; it doesn’t mean they’re not okay.
Narcotics Anonymous has a statement of clarity, which says that they don’t distinguish between drugs and alcohol. Makes sense, right? After all, heroin (for example) has got way more in common with alcohol than it does most illicit drugs (crack and cocaine, meth, acid, and weed, to name a few). For the purposes of recovery, what’s important isn’t a substance’s legality – it’s the effect that it’s had on your life. NA doesn’t care if your problem’s with heroin, alcohol, or Benadryl; if it’s a chemical, if it’s fucking up your shit, and if you wanna try their way of life – their doors are open to you.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, on the other hand, there’s a principle oft cited (in some groups) known as the singleness of purpose: “Each [AA] group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
No one forced me into recovery. Anytime I showed up to any kind of twelve-step meeting, it’s ’cause I was ten kinds of fucked up, miserable, and desperate. And I didn’t need someone to give me shit about “not belonging” for me to feel that way – I already did.
I’m not gonna use this as an opportunity to tear into the Fifth Tradition (from which singleness of purpose is derived) and the subsequent literature like I’m interpreting constitutional law for the Supreme Court. One thing I’m fucking certain of though is that it was never meant as an excuse for people to be assholes. I’ve seen kids come into meetings, fresh off the streets, grasping at straws, just desperate for anything to help save their lives. And I’ve seen shitbag AA “old timers” start coughing and muttering “singleness of purpose” under their breath when some poor kid that isn’t fully acquainted with the rules of AA mentions a drug other than alcohol. I’ve even seen a kid interrupted and told that he needs to go to an NA meeting (and not in a well-meaning, helpful kind of way).
There’s a reason that the twelve steps are identical in AA, NA, CA, OA, CodA, SLA, EA, and all the others. Compulsive behavior is compulsive behavior. The (specific) problems may vary (a little) but the fix is always the same.
In an effort to placate singleness hardliners, some alcoholic-addicts use codewords like “dry goods” and “other forms of alcohol.” Personally, I don’t bother with that. I know “the rules” so, if I’m at an AA meeting, I’m perfectly okay with total substitution. I say “alcohol” instead of “heroin,” “bottle” instead of “needle,” and “drink” instead of “shoot up.” While I might think that all of that’s kind of dumb, I do respect that the purpose of a meeting is to carry the message to those that still suffer – not to offer me a soapbox from which I can share my brilliant opinions (that’s what this website’s for!) So here we go…
So-called “old timers” that take a hardline stance on this shit are dinosaurs, and they’re on their way out. The time when alcoholics outnumbered drug addicts is history. For every kid that realizes he has an alcohol (and only an alcohol) problem, there’s gotta be a dozen more that are fucked up on alcohol and/or some other drug (or combination of other drugs). And I use the word “other” in that last sentence very purposefully: because alcohol is a drug. You’re not better than or different from some junkie just ’cause your chemical is legal. Get the fuck over it, get better, and help somebody else do the same.
The framed original cartoon is now for sale as well. (As you can see, like many of my pencil/pen cartoons, it differs from the version sold as a print).
Though I shared “witness accounts” in this entry, I do have my own story about being turned away by singleness of purpose hardliners. (It’s pretty fucked up). I’m going to leave it for some other time though.
I’m always busy. I always have “really important” stuff that I “have” to do. When I was living in DC, it was Traffic Street Records year-round and law school around final exam time. Back then (before heroin became the main problem), I feel like the biggest point of tension in my relationship was my emotional unavailability. Every night, Taylor would ask me to come to bed, I’d tell her I was almost done, and then six hours would pass before I actually made it to the bedroom. So every night she went to sleep alone, woke up while I was still asleep, and then came home from work to find me busy packing up records or laying out a record insert or [whatever]. Eventually, I started doing whatever Traffic Street stuff that I could at school instead of the apartment, so that she’d already be asleep when I got home and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not coming to bed and not paying attention to her.
Heather and I moved to Jacksonville this June. She didn’t have a job lined up before we got here so, for the first two weeks, we were both home all the time. Since I’m always busy, I’m never bored and I’m always content in that regard. But Heather has been working [forever] and likes having a job to go to every day. Consequently, she was bored out of her mind. And – maybe because of my own insecurities and my experiences with Taylor – I felt guilty anytime I was working instead of paying attention to her. It was stressing me out. And the fact that she was visibly bored and unhappy made even harder. Especially when I tried to talk to her about it and she just tuned out. Eventually, I decided that there was nothing I could do and just went about doing my own thing. But when it got to the point where we were barely talking at all, it was too much.
I’m feeling disconnected. I’m trying to push through it, assume the best, not stress out. If someone’s not talking to me, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me. They could just not feel like talking. Or it could have everything to do with me. But if every attempt at conversation – every question asked – is met with a one-word response, what am I supposed to do? [Moving to a new city together] is supposed to be exciting. And it is for me. But I feel like only for me. And that tempers the excitement a bit. I opened up, put everything out there. Explained with sincerity how I’m feeling. And I got nothing back. Literally, no response.
[ -written June 17th]
I was at a loss. Now I couldn’t work. I sat alone in the living room dumbfounded. And scatterbrained; I had my probation deadline hanging over my head and hadn’t finished my community service hours yet. That was also weighing on me and fucking me up. Especially since I was getting my hours from home; that meant that I could have been doing it in that moment, but wasn’t. Instead, I decided that I needed to paint. It had been too long.
There’s a small block of text in the center of the canvas:
My first impulse is to lie in bed, face down, and cry forever. My second is to beat off. I need to write and paint. I spill my guts and… I’m struggling. Sharing life isn’t easy. I might not be built for it. It’s tough to know what’s right for me. I like being me but it isn’t easy. I guess nothing is. That doesn’t feel true.
The next day – as has so often been the case this summer – I did a total one-eighty. Within twenty-four hours of painting “Blueprint,” I was working on a drawing that says: “I couldn’t be happier” – something I genuinely felt.
Nearly a year had passed since I painted this piece and it remained unsold. That’s mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t been displaying it because I didn’t really like it anymore. I don’t usually go back and work on old pieces because I tend to think of them as “artifacts” from another time in my career. But if I was keeping it locked up in a trunk, in a garage somewhere, it wasn’t really doing much good as an artifact or anything else for that matter. Better to go back, work on it some more – until it was something that I could be proud of and sell with confidence. It took another ten hours or so and I finished it on May 12, 2014. Sixteen days later, it was sold. Here’s what it used to look like…
I’ve been to three different rehabs and – at each – I got involved with a girl. Though it only (directly) got me kicked out of treatment once, it was never not a serious problem. If I include life outside of rehab, in times when I was trying to stay clean, I’ve relapsed with six different girls (and, each time, while upset about something that happened with me and the girl). That number doesn’t include times I’ve relapsed without [the] girl but while upset about something with her. Heroin is dangerous for me, but girls are probably more dangerous. I first started trying to get clean in November 2010 and – in all the time since – there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve been in dangerous situations where drugs were available through someone I was with (and/or someone was actually using around me). When that person’s been male, I’ve never once caved and gotten high, but when it’s been a girl that I’m even slightly interested in (i.e. most girls), I’ve found myself with a needle in my arm just about every time.
At Tranquil Shores, this was one of the issues that we spent the most time on. In my fifth month as an inpatient, Alexis, the girl with whom I was the most mixed up, moved out. She was signed up to come in three times a week for outpatient treatment but, two weeks later, stopped showing up. We were talking regularly by phone even after she left, but it wasn’t long before I lost touch with her too. She fell off – back into drugs – and lives behind bars now. I could have easily been right there with her when it all went down.
So now there were exactly zero girls in my age range at Tranquil Shores but I had others in the area that I had met at AA or NA meetings that I was constantly texting and meeting up with. (And I was doing that long before I lost touch with Alexis). Nothing serious happened between (any of) us, but I came pretty close to making some bad decisions on more than a few occasions. And that I even came close is insane. How many times did I need to put my life at risk just ‘cause I liked the way some girl smiled at me? But I couldn’t help it. It was the definition of compulsive behavior. I felt like I needed it.
A year prior, at the Wellness Resource Center, after getting caught with a girl (somewhere that we shouldn’t have been, doing something we shouldn’t have been doing), I was sitting in my room, contemplating the trouble I was about to be in. I didn’t want to get kicked out because I knew that I wasn’t “better” yet. I knew I’d get fucked up again and fuck everything up. I remember sitting there and thinking, “I don’t care if they never let me anywhere near her again. I don’t care if they basically lock me in my room. So long as I know that she’s also locked up in her room, sitting there pining for me, still in love with me, that’s all I need. I don’t ever need to see her again.”
I think that’s all it’s really about for me. I just want someone to love me or – more specifically – to be in love with me. I needed for someone to think that I was the most important person in their world. The best person. Their favorite. Once I’d get that, it never really changed anything. I never actually felt any better or less insecure. It seemed so at times, in short little moments, but if that had really been the case, then I wouldn’t have been constantly pursuing multiple girls, even when I already had one “on the hook.” [That term sounds shitty but it conveys the idea I’m trying to get across. Also, it is shitty].
Sitting in group in December 2012, I did some math. I had six girls that I was trying to juggle to varying degrees. While I’d like to write it all of as inauthentic codependent bullshit – to be honest – with half of them I wasn’t even sure [and I’m still not]. I thought there might be (at least some spark of) authentic love. Yet I was still leading on the three girls with whom I knew it was just bullshit.
What was I really after? What was the point? A thought occurred to me; it was really silly but it was also totally dead on, which just made it that much funnier…
Girls are not pokemon – I do not “gotta catch ’em all…”
If you know me personally you might be looking at the date on this cartoon and thinking, “What the fuck? You were already dating Heather by then – that’s fucked up.” [I decided to turn the idea into a cartoon back when I thought of it, but it wasn’t ’til two or three months later that I actually drew it].
Originally, I set out to write this entry about a different piece but I kind of had to throw all of this stuff about my codependent traits and behaviors out there as background info first. I’ll get to the other one tomorrow. [Update: That one’s online now too].
Anyway, I really love this cartoon. I love how superficially cute / innocuous it is but how the truth to it is kind of dark, sad, and pathetic. So often, I’ve let myself to sink to the greatest depths of hell because of something a girl said (or didn’t say) to me. I’ve dwelled in shit and misery for days, on account of facial expressions that I’d later discover I had completely misread. I’ve let my emotions, as triggered by girls, run and ruin my life.
But I’m getting better, you guys! For serious this time!
The original drawing already sold but hit me up to buy a 6×8″ print.
For more on my relationships at this point in my life, check out “Autobiography.”
I’ve struggled with whether or not I should post this image. I drew this the day after “Clarity” and the day before “No Accident.” If you haven’t read the entries that I wrote to go along with those pieces, you should. This week in December may have been the most significant of my life. I’m very glad that it played out as it did.
“Success rates” for slit wrists and knives to the heart are surprisingly low. I didn’t want to go to a hospital…
Forty-eight hours before “No Accident” and the moment when I started to finally “get better,” I was in my room – researching suicide methods that didn’t require anything that couldn’t be found in my apartment at Tranquil Shores. I was going to kill myself because a girl was mad at me. A girl that I wasn’t even sure that I liked.
Earlier that afternoon, we did an exercise in group. We had to pull a couple items out of a basket and relate to them. I declined to say anything aloud, but when it was time for art therapy group, I started writing.
The fortune was absurd, the paper it was printed on was dirty and crumpled. Together, they were useless. This pencil is not useless. It has incredible potential. It is an instrument of a higher purpose. In the right hands. It is comforting. I like holding it in my hand. With paper, it can save me from almost anything. And it is forgiving. It has an eraser. If I make a mistake, it allows for correction. Or at least undoing. The mistakes I make with it are rarely entirely forgotten. I don’t know how to apply this to my life. Is it by chance that the trauma I addressed [in group] this morning, that I was supposed to see is not happening anymore (but which I claimed could and would (and sort of was) still taking place) – is it by chance that just hours later it pretty much is [happening again]? Or did I choose that memory because it had already begun? Yes, that’s it. It’s just more clear now. Because I realize I’m no longer willing to be honest which means I can’t get better. I can’t be helped. So there’s no reason for me to be here. Except that to hope that things will change once more. I no longer believe that I’m a drug addict. Sort of. I know I can’t use drugs (or that it’s not worth the risk in any case). But I’m not going to pick up. Fuck that. I’m over it. It’s not appealing anymore. But I’m miserable. Like I realized on my first weekend here, people are unhappy for countless reasons other than drugs. Me? I have no legitimate reason to be unhappy. It’s all in my head and it’s illogical. Is that recognition enough to get help in getting well without disclosing my irrational stressors? Celexa is an SSRI. Cymbalta is an SNRI. Which means that it does the same thing as Celexa, plus more. Adding Celexa to my prescription [regimen] adds little to nothing. And it will be another 3½ to 5½ weeks before we even know if it’s having any effect. I need something different and I need something faster. I am chemically imbalanced. I need chemical balance. Abilify might work. It’s too expensive. It’s less expensive than inpatient treatment. Maybe I’d be better off with Abilify and outpatient treatment. Here or elsewhere. At this point I’m not afraid to leave.
I don’t like art anymore. I don’t like treatment anymore. I don’t think I’m ready to get better anymore.
This piece is called “Clarity” because that’s how I actually felt in this moment. I thought I had nailed it. I was deluded enough to think that my primary issue was chemical, thoroughly confused as to whether or not I needed any kind of mental health therapy or substance abuse treatment, yet I was somehow lucid enough to know that those feelings (and my written rant) were totally insane. The title is “Clarity” because I thought it was hilarious. I wasn’t laughing, but I knew it was funny. Even then.
Later that night, I made a half-hearted attempt to kill myself by asphyxiation. (Success rates are in the seventy to eighty percent range).
When I handed over the Traffic Street inventory to Kiss of Death, Glenn gave me a few new KoD releases. One was The Slow Death’s first LP. I listened to that record a lot while I was at Tranquil Shores. My name is on the thanks list even though I didn’t have any hand in its release. (Though I had been a big fan and supporter of The Slow Death and helped them out in other ways, so it wasn’t totally shocking). Still, I wasn’t expecting it and it was a really nice surprise. I had become so far removed from the world that I had lived and breathed for so long… Little things like that helped me feel connected in those days. It meant a lot to me. It seems appropriate that my first experience back in that world was the little tour with Rational Anthem this month, up to the fest that Jesse (of The Slow Death) organized. Here’s a song from that first LP that came to mind while I was writing this entry. And here’s a second song from their brand new record.
On October 2, 2012, I was kicked out of Tranquil Shores. It was my third time being kicked out of rehab that year. This time was different though. I knew what I needed to do and, on October 19th, I was welcomed back.
When I had been kicked out of Hazelden and the Wellness Resource Center, a lot of what was going wrong with me had to do with girls. At both facilities, I got “involved” with another patient. That hadn’t been the case this time but, when I was readmitted, I started doing it again. This time, I was determined enough to succeed that I didn’t let it control me the way it had before. We had more than a few conversations about how we were just friends (even once in the presence of the treatment staff when they began to worry about what might be developing). But I held on, I didn’t give in and do anything that would have been automatic grounds for my being kicked out again. Still, it eventually got to a point where we had resolved to be together after we got out of treatment and that’s the kind of emotional attachment that’s not good for anyone early in recovery, let alone a basket case like myself.
I don’t mean it as an excuse because I don’t see it that way but my thoughts, emotional responses, and consequent behaviors are not like most people’s. I “have” borderline personality disorder.
Something happened. It doesn’t matter what. She and I weren’t getting along and it was fucking ruining me. And because I wasn’t supposed to be involved with anyone (let alone a girl I was in treatment with) I couldn’t be honest with my counselor or anyone else about what was eating at me. It occurred to me that – if I wasn’t willing to talk about my issues – there was no longer any reason to be in treatment. Things got worse until one night, alone in my room, I lost it. [Since that’s a whole story of its own though, I won’t go into the details here].
The next morning I woke up feeling thoroughly empty, thoroughly hopeless. In my head, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t really doing anything wrong because I hadn’t actually slept with the girl. But I was fucking destroying any shot I had at ever getting better. I was already contemplating leaving and I knew, if I went down that path, I’d be shooting heroin again in no time. I was keeping my mouth shut for the sake of my relationship with this girl, but if I didn’t start talking and sort this shit out [if I left Tranquil Shores] the relationship was over anyway; I’d lose everything. I talked to a friend and realized that I had no choice. So I told the truth about everything that had gone on between us.
And she denied everything. She told them that it was all in my head – that I was even sicker and more confused than I seemed. I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was going to be the best thing for us. We weren’t supposed to get mixed up with each other in the first place but… it happened (nothing could change that) and now we’d be able to deal with it. And get better. It was going to be awesome. The greatest relief ever. But she wasn’t interested. She stuck to her story: that I was out of my fucking mind. I had an encyclopedia’s worth of Facebook and text messages to prove otherwise, but when my counselor said I could show them to her if I wanted to it felt petty. I realized that the truth didn’t matter. It was a big epistemological lesson for me. Emotions are stronger than facts. If I held that this relationship had happened, my treatment was going to progress as if that were the truth. If she held that it hadn’t, her treatment would address the issue as if that were the truth. [Weeks later, she did come clean and acknowledge that everything I said was true, but that’s not relevant to this piece].
After the dust settled from the shit storm that had been that afternoon, I went back to my room and wrote.
Pretty bummed out right now. Sad about the person I’ve let myself become. Not feeling totally lost though. I’m grateful for the lesson I was able to learn today and for the opportunity to use that knowledge to make my future better than my past. It hurts now, but this will be a good thing so long as I’m willing to utilize it, grow, and change.
I needed to get out of my self for a little while so I started to draw. Three hours later, I was flooded with feelings that I didn’t know what to do with. I stopped drawing. I scrambled around my room looking for something to write on. I found a piece of paper that I had traced my arms onto three weeks prior [for a project I hadn’t finished; I still needed to draw a knife into my right hand, for starters]. A few days prior I had that intention, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now, I didn’t care about that. I just needed something to write on. What spilled onto the paper was very stream-of-conscious. Just before I touched my pencil to the page, I decided to put it in my left hand since (it’s said that) writing with your non-dominant hand helps with honesty and hinders pretension.
i didn’t know who i was or what i was doing
i’m not whole yet but I’m closer than ever
i realized I could choose to not be an obnoxious, negative problem
november ended, i forgot
today is 12-12-12 and i just remembered
and i learned something new today
i can choose more
i don’t have to be confused
i don’t have to send mixed messages or be inauthentic
i can be whoever i want to be
I KNOW WHO I AM TODAY
i am honest sincere loving compassionate kind intelligent fun dedicated loyal creative talented doing my best sorry for the harm and hurt i’ve caused proud of my achievements and sam NICE TO MEET YOU
I’m embarrassed of this piece sometimes. The old, guarded me would call this the dumbest shit ever. But – as I commented when I first made it – it’s the most positive, productive thing I’ve ever produced. In recovery, there’s lot of talk about a “spiritual awakening.” This is the unintentional document of mine. I’m sograteful that I have it to remind me of exactly how I felt in that moment. I only wish that I could feel that way all the time. My resolve to be the kind of person that I described had (and has) never been stronger.