Thirty Years

In Case You’ve Been Keeping Track

Sometime last month – October 2014 – fell the 30th anniversary of my sobriety.  Back in the Orwellian year, a couple of months before my 21st birthday, I put on my best clothes, filled my cigarette case, and drove down to El Paso Cantina at the waterfront (looks like they no longer operate that Ports O’Call location, though).  I got a table outside, ordered a drink, ate an appetizer, smoked cigarettes, got the waitress’ phone number (never did call her, though, what was the point?); having spent close to my last dollar, I went back home.  Turns out, that was the last time I used alcoholic beverages.  Having been merely an opportunistic user of controlled substances, I have no idea when I last used them, but it was some time before my last drink.

30 plus years ago.  In this image taken at the Torrance "Horseshoe" Pier in Torrance, California, I am leaning against a light pole in a state of inebriation and thinking myself very clever vis-a-vis juxtaposition with the message on the sign above my head.

30 plus years ago. In this image taken at the Torrance “Horseshoe” Pier in Torrance, California, I am leaning against a light pole in a state of inebriation and thinking myself very clever vis-a-vis juxtaposition with the message on the sign above my head.

I Didn’t Mind Going to Rehab

Shortly after the events described, I checked myself in to a hospital rehab program, completed the program, religiously attended AA meetings for several years, followed through with the AA program, and amazingly enough, stayed clean and sober.  My family was pretty supportive during this time, and I would say their support was undeserved, considering the way I squandered any natural goodwill and affinity I might have laid claim to.  I couldn’t say how many of the people who completed the hospital rehab program with me are still clean, still sober.  The recidivism rate for such programs is pretty high, and early on, I knew of a number who’d returned to problematic alcohol and drug use.

Staying sober, I didn’t always live smart or behave in ways that I now consider ethical, but I didn’t use alcohol and I didn’t use drugs.  I became employable, got employed, after a number of years ended my forthright rebellion against the Almighty and began live Godward.  I started a couple of small businesses that didn’t last long, I got educated, I married a lovely, younger woman, we became homeowners, we became parents.  I’m still getting educated, I continue to live Godward, I’m active in my congregation, I’m trying to live smarter and in a way that makes ethical sense to me.  In terms of physical fitness, I’m in better physical condition than I was in my twenties – I just look a lot older because I am a lot older.  Thirty years sober – when I was 20, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see 30 years of age, much less 30 years without alcohol and drugs.

Stuff I Learned

Some of things I learned in AA that were helpful were:  Keep Showing Up; Don’t Drink or Use, No Matter What; One Day at a Time (sometimes that was one-hour-at-a-time); Once You’ve Taken Care of Your Responsibilities Everything Else is Boogaloo-Time; You Can Have Anything You Want in Life As Long As You Can Pay For It.

About paying for things – I was greatly helped in life, in my late teens and twenties, by being totally ineligible for credit.  I couldn’t get a credit card, so never did accumulate credit card, or much of any, debt.  Of course, my manner of life has never favorably impressed those who value appearance.  Even when I was a drunkard, I valued substance and understood appearance  was of not much value.

Characterological Progress

At some point, I got tired of listening to my own excuses, so made a real effort to stop making them.  Instead of complaining about the circumstances into which I was born, I recall that I asked God, who transcends time/space (both are made of the same stuff and are part of the created order – duh, people), to give me just what I was born with.  I could no longer whinge about never having asked to be born, etc., blah, blah, blah.  Turned out to be a fairly effective strategy, and one I recommend.

Facing and taking inventory of my own ugly truths has at various times proved transformative.  Of course, if that’s the only transformation one experiences, one’s experience of life, self, humanity, soul, or whatever is pretty truncated.

Reading

I’ve kept learning.  Even as a drunkard, I read every day.  I’ve never stopped reading.  Early on sobriety, I read a lot of AA literature – the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, also 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.  Both are worth reading.  Periodically, I’ve reread them over the years and have found the insights contained in them are still helpful.  I don’t reckon either of these books should be included in the canon of scripture.  I’ve heard religious professionals refer dismissively to the approach Alcoholics Anonymous takes to the problem of self-and-other-destructive use of alcoholic drinks and, by extension, other mind and mood altering substances.  I think therapeutic deism is a reasonable description and find no reason to limit its use to the pejorative.  In addition to AA literature, I continued to read novels, biographies, histories, and anything that interested me.

Imagination and Providence

Most of my life-failures have been failures of imagination, failures of faith, failures to trust God’s goodness and providence.  The former is pretty strange because I’ve got an active imagination.  Perhaps some life experiences contributed to the turning of my imagination to consider and my mind to accept the worst I could imagine as likely outcomes or as already real.  But there was something also about my character or nature that turned my mind in that direction.  The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provide one way to address characterological deficits.

I also returned to the Christianity of my youth and found the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments had been about addressing my characterological deficits for a long time already.  That has continued through the present, and I continue to both welcome and, at times, struggle and inveigh against the will and intervention of The Almighty.

Update

No, I didn’t drink or use today.  We had supper at my mom’s house and she informed me that the date I checked in to rehab was September 14.  Seems I was in a pretty bad state.  I wonder where I got the idea my sobriety dates from mid-October?

A Busy October

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing for another project that has deadlines, so haven’t had as much time to spare for what my wife calls “joy-reading” or, for that matter, free written expression. I’ve also been attempting to research long-term vocational and other life outcomes for child sufferers of post-traumatic stress syndrome – but have found little of use in the journals usually devoted to this sort of thing.

Sometime during the month of October, 2009, fell the anniversary of my 25th year of sobriety. By no means have I lived all of the past 25 years responsibly or even in the way that made best sense to my thought processes that were occasionally impaired by rigidly held conceits and residue of a less than idyllic childhood. To the good, however, I never did go all Heathcliff, criminal; nor did I continue to actively seek my own destruction. I can only credit the faith of Christ for this.

In the Orwellian Year, in the cool early afternoon of a sunny October day, I dressed in my best clothes and made my way, I do not recall how, to a restaurant called El Paso Cantina located at one end of Ports O’Call Village in San Pedro, which is the port of Los Angeles. I had a bout five cigarettes in a shiny metal case, a Zippo lighter, and maybe five or six dollars. I was an underage drinker, but was rarely carded. I ordered some kind of mixed drink. The waitress, a young woman named Vlasta or Vlosta, of Yugoslavian ancestry, brought me my drink and gave me her telephone number. It must have been the next day that I checked myself in at San Pedro Peninsula Hospital’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit, thinking that I would there learn to control my drinking as a preliminary means to regaining some self-control and self-direction. I had become a sort of monster. I was about two months shy of my 21st birthday.

The recidivism rate for programs of that sort are high, and I do not know whether any of those in-patient with me , or even any of the program’s counseling staff, have remained clean and/or sober during the intervening years. During the course of my life I have, for the most part, turned my back on the acquaintances or ‘friends’ of my time as a drunkard. The people with whom I have kept in touch are the people who, for a number of reasons, matter to me. Along the way, I have met and both befriended and been befriended by other people who matter, and I wish I could have kept in touch with all of them. Even among those who matter, I have found it best to distinguish between those experience has taught me are best kept at arm’s length and those who generally tend to live and speak out of a truth that imbues them with a greater value.

I recall a dream I had sometime shortly before my 30th birthday. I was on a paved-over embankment sitting with my back against a chain-link fence feeling the warmth radiating up from the asphalt covered ground and metal of the fence, looking at the playground and buildings of Crestwood Street Elementary School – another of many places of unhappy memory for me – and was aware in that instant that everybody I loved knew that I loved them, whether I’d been in touch with them or not. When I awoke, I accepted the dream-world knowledge as fact, and went on.

My family and I had a good Halloween. My wife dressed our little boy as the cartoon dog, Blue, and we took him to visit family and friends. As we were leaving our neighborhood, I was incensed at the fact that people who appeared to be of the tax-consumer class were bringing their children in carloads. I thought that it is bad enough the government steals my money to pay their rent, buy their groceries, pay their utility bills, and now buy them cellular telephones and “minutes,” now I am supposed to give their children candy? Of course, none of that’s the fault of the children, and I normally have some charitable feeling for children regardless of their class. We ate supper at my mom’s house in another neighborhood, and our son was frightened by the orange Scream mask worn by a polite child who came to the door seeking candy. Seventy-Six ran off crying, and later, during the meal, seated in a place where he could see the front door, kept looking apprehensively over there saying, “Door?” We didn’t let him have any candy, but I think we did let him have some frozen yogurt.

My work has required me to travel to a county I’m not usually tasked with visiting, and the driving involved has been tiring.

Our house is situated among a number of mature trees, and a million leaves have fallen on our yard. Another million or so are poised to fall over the next couple of weeks. I have discovered raking. My other strategy for coping with fallen leaves is even more primitive and ignorant, although it involves the use of an internal combustion engine and moving mechanical parts: I drive the lawn mower over the leaves repeatedly until they are ground up to the point where my conscience isn’t bothered by leaving (har) them where they lie. Even if that’s not correct, it is euphonious. Three of my nephews recently came over and, in exchange for a few dollars, helped move the piles of leaves to the curb. The youngest of the boys worked the most diligently. The older two combined their work with squirrel-like silliness.

We got a contract on our old house with a buyer more qualified and more committed to its purchase who is using a realtor and a mortgage company capable of performing the functions necessary to complete their assigned tasks.

That’s all I know good, right now. My great adventure is living the ordinary life in an ordinary way.