Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's Fun to be in the I-OH-O-P (Not!): A Wolf in the Fold

One of the things that analysts, even the ones in the Intensive Outpatient Program, love to do is force you to write "goodbye letters" to your loved ones -- and then share them with the class.

I already did this exercise with my original therapist the summer that my mother died. So -- after extracting a promise that I would not be forced to share it with the class -- I opened the old document and settled on writing an addendum. This by itself is somewhat longer than the original.

But I did not stop there. The assignment included goodbye letters to "others that have gone from, my life."

Hmmm. I knew just who I wanted to write to, and not only would I not mind sharing with the class, I'm posting it here to entertain you all.

So with no names censored, here is my missive to my dearest darling departed (not -- but I wish) sister:


April 29, 2012

Dear Claudia;

It is more with surprise than any other emotion when I see or hear your name and realize that you are still, unjustly, walking among the living more than a year after I declared you dead.

That your husband and family haven’t done the same is kind of a small miracle of nature, and one that you should be thankful for.

But I know you better.

They have forgiven you for things that you know full well ought never to deserve forgiveness: and instead of being grateful and turning yourself around, it only makes you feel contempt for them as enablers.

Am I right?

Sure, I know I am. Everyone has always forgiven you. Everyone has always given you the benefit of the doubt. Everyone has always enabled you. I don’t know how you work it, but you work it, and you secretly sneer at us while you go off and do things that have consequences for every single person in your family.

But there’s never been anyone in the world less deserving of the benefit of doubt than you.

I’ll stick just to what I know, just to what you did to me.

You sexually abused me when we were children. You emotionally, verbally and physically abused me until the day that you “left” for college.  Even then, you were still living at the weekend home and throwing wild drunken parties there while Mom and Dad were downstate taking care of me. Then you’d lie about it.

I grew up believing that rules meant something, and you grew up believing that there were no rules beyond what you wanted.

The day you left home to marry Tony, you came into my room crying crocodile tears about how you were going to “miss.” me. When you tried to hug me, I threw you off. It was the first time I ever realized how much you bullshitted yourself, as much as everyone else. Maybe it was even true on a certain level, the way a cat misses a mouse it has mauled to death: because you wouldn’t have me anymore to yell at and demean, you wouldn’t have me anymore to throw around or boss; marriage meant that you wouldn’t have anyone to do those things to.

Or did it? As I understand it, you became quite good at taking advantage of and abusing your family.

If they stood for it, that’s their business. But when I learn that you were stealing from Mom even while she was alive, and knowing that you never lifted a finger to help out or do anything for her while she was ill and failing unless she paid you for your gasoline and time – that’s where it becomes my business. Because you are so toxic a person that you won’t be satisfied at not helping: you’re only satisfied if you actively hurt others.

You never shed a tear when Mom died. You never even went in to see her afterwards, giving me the excuse that you were “not into seeing dead bodies.”

Do you think that I am? It’s your ­mother!

The only tears you shed in the month after her death were an act for my benefit when you came over to take some of her clothes to Goodwill (oh, and not coincidentally to rifle her closet for valuables). All you wanted was money out of the estate. Even now, you’re still nagging the lawyer. I hear about these things. Quote, “May 3 (sic) will be her birthday – what better way to celebrate it than by closing out the estate?”

You bloody evil, phony, puny, grotty little person.

While Mom was alive she always tried to think the best and refused to believe that you were stealing from her. When her wedding and engagement rings disappeared we had to tear her room apart in a vain effort to find them. She blamed herself and was miserable about it. Now I know the truth. You took them. You stole them. You didn’t care what it would do to her.

When she was gone, you literally burgled and looted the house, stealing not just from the estate but, paradoxically, yourself, and selling for pennies on the dollar. Why? You were supposedly off of drugs and drink at the time. Or are you still lying to everyone?

This is why I have declared you dead, now and forevermore. This is why I don’t even want you to know where I live. This is why I never want to see you or hear your voice again. You are much too toxic a person to trust.

I envision your gravestone in my mind:

Liar · Bully · Coward
Cheat · Predator
“Good Riddance to
Bad Rubbish.”

-- Freder.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Hey! I've Got a Social Disease!"

. . . exclaims one of the Jets (or is it the Sharks?) during the "Officer Krupke" number in West Side Story. Now I can make my own similar claim, although it's more along the lines of a social disorder.

If you've spent time on this blog you know that, thanks to some reports on the PBS News Hour that led me into some specialized reading and online tests, I began to suspect a while back that I was an Asperger's Syndrome patient.  Asperger's, in a nutshell, is a higher-functioning form of Autism where mental development is not delayed, but social skills can be severely impaired. in a variety of ways. There is no cure or Magic Pill to treat the disorder, although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has sometimes been shown to help. Over time, without even knowing it, I have developed some coping skills -- unfortunately, one of these was self-medicating with alcohol.

I well remember the depression, panic, fear and anxiety that I lived with most of my life. I remember thinking, "How can anybody live like this? Does everyone experience life like this?" My beginnings with strong drink were more or less a deliberate action that I took as soon as I felt that I could afford it. It never occurred to me to go to a doctor and get some prescriptions. Doctors were neurotypicals, after all (although I didn't have that word at the time), and didn't understand me any more than anyone else did.

As soon as I started reading comics (well after I'd read writers like Faulkner, Orwell, Borges and others) Marvel's Language of Difference became permanently lodged in my lexicon. I was clearly a "radioactive mutant," well out of touch with the wavelength of normal people (contemptuously referred to by many a Marvel villain as "humans.") I was unconsciously (but correctly) diagnosing myself even then, decades before I ever heard of Asperger's.

My parents clearly knew that there was something wrong with me, and sent me for various tests and analysis, but the Asperger's diagnosis did not exist in those days. They sent me for hearing tests and were told that my hearing was normal, or even a little bit better than normal -- so why could I not understand / process so much of the spoken word? I think that they sought answers most every way they could think of before finally throwing up their hands and being done with it.

It's not conjecture anymore. Last week I was officially diagnosed by a qualified professional and her team. I am now formally and forever "On the Spectrum." No one wants to have a social disorder, but at least it goes some way towards explaining my whole life. It was not just Random Stupidity and Fear and Avoidance and perceived arrogance. There's a reason why am the way I am. My brain is actually wired differently from the "norm."

Among other things, Asperger's can lead to "Depression and other mood disorders" -- which in turn can lead to -- what? Anyone? Any guesses out there?

And yet, I'm now feeling that my decade-long bout with drinking is just another chapter in an already somewhat mystifying and definitely unfulfilling life. The feeling of Knowing is strange and terrible and somehow assuring. It takes me back in my mind to places where I do not necessarily want to go. With this diagnosis, everything drops neatly into place -- including my long-standing tendency to express myself through quoting others.

Especially these last two years, spending my evenings in a dark room lit only by a television or a computer screen, dumping drink after drink into myself; that was my way of making myself invisible.

-- Freder.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Welcome to 4 East: The Journal

Up until now, I've been writing from memory and have not referenced my journal of 4 East and the I.O.P. at all. Although I've scanned a couple of drawings from the journal to use as illustrations, I haven't felt a particular need to go back and re-read what I wrote in the hospital. But I'm certain now that there are entries worth reproducing in part here, and this is where it starts.

I was not given my journal until my second stay in Detox/Rehab, and the memory of my first stay just a few days prior to that was already fuzzy. Any reference to the first six days has to be considered a reconstruction of something that I barely perceived while it was happening to me. I was told that I was detoxing so hard during the first stay that I was kept sedated; which explains why E____ and other of my visitors often found me curled into a ball, unconscious, when they arrived.

The picture above is from the very first page of my journal, probably scribbled on the first afternoon of my second stay. It seems more than a little bit forlorn to me. The caption reads Good bye house and kitties. . . Welcome to 4 East.

Over on page two is part of a whiteboard chart copied down from my first Substance Abuse group counseling session. It's titled Stages of Change. I didn't even copy down the first column, because I felt, in part by admitting myself, that I had already gone beyond that stage. The other three columns are titled Prep, Action and Maintenance. While I was in 4 East, I went through all of Prep and into the Action. Maintenance still lies ahead of me beyond the first six months. There's also a scribbled word a third of the way down the page that I apparently didn't even understand at the time -- because it has a question mark after it.

On page three, above pencilled drawings of supporting characters from my ex-comic strip Quirk and a standard drawing that I do of a black cat standing behind a pumpkin, is the observation (in ink) that "Thomas Merton is NOT the guy to read when you are in DETOX."

I think that I disagree with that statement now. He's exactly the guy to read when you are in Detox -- although the going is slow and challenging at best!

Most all of my drawings made in the first few days of my stay were made in pencil, and have since already begun to blur and smudge. We were given these godawful little golf pencils to write with. Drawing was difficult enough, especially since I was in active withdrawal for some days early on, but I could not figure out how to hold the bloody things in order to write remotely legibly with them. I considered it a real coup when I asked one of the nurses for her pen, and she actually gave it to me.

The journal has a touch of surrealism to it,.not just in the tone of the cartoons and the shakiness of my handwriting: but I would write in the first few pages one day, and in the middle of the book the next, and then back somewhere in the middle third the next -- until I had so many blank pages in the front that I began filling them in during the final days of my stay. Some entries about the I.O.P. appear well before my first pencil-scribbled entries about Rehab. I flatter myself that it reads a bit like Kurt Vonnegut's idea of how Tralfamadorian novels read.

There's much here worth my remembering, worth my transcribing, at least for my own selfish purposes. Some of it will have to be trimmed, censored, altered. Composed. Re-imagined. But it will be as true as I can make it.

More to come --

-- Freder.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's Fun to Be in the I-O-OH-P (Not): The Dictionary of Self-Loathing

Of all the faux profound psychological games one is forced to play in either group or individual therapy, the one I hate most is the Positive / Negative game.

The idea is to write down. on one side of the paper, all the negative messages you've received about yourself from family, peers or other outside sources since your earliest days of childhood, and then to write down, on the other side of the paper, counter-balancing positive messages to tell yourself.

This is the second time we've had to play this sort of self-loathing game in the Eye-Oh!-Pee. The first time it just depressed and humiliated me. The second time, last night, resulted in one of those moments where if there had been a loaded gun in the room I would surely have turned it on myself, pulled the trigger, and blown my brains out in front of the whole class.

By the time I was done with the exercise, I had a list of negative messages as long as your arm -- but nothing at all in the positive category. There simply is nothing. It's no good putting on s smiley face and just Making Shit Up. 

Of course we were then expected to read our lists to the whole damn class. Of course. You can't express anything privately in these sessions. My head was downturned and I would not meet anyone's eyes, so I was called upon last. I said, "I don't have any positives." The instructor said, "Well, start with the negatives and maybe we can help you with the positives." I said, "I'd rather not." Seriously, who wants to read out a litany one one's flaws and failures when that is all you have? 

Next we were told to pick one of our positives and write it out in big letters. I did mine in block letters with shading. I wrote:


The instructor saw this and said, "Doug, if you're really stuck you can use one of the messages on the blackboard." 

I had read the positive messages on the blackboard earlier. It was all Complete Bullshit like "I am a Caring Person."

Well, no, honestly, I'm not. I mumbled something to the effect of, "I don't believe it," and went right on shading my Nothing and my Zero. 

The instructor said, "Doug, I'm concerned. . . " and before I could even think "Bully for you" B____ chimed in from across the table. B_____ is a big, loudmouthed junkie who is just the sort of person who used to push me around on the playground when I was in school, but he leapt in with, "Yah, I'm concerned, too; you're a good man an' --"

I guess my expression told him to put a sock in it. I wanted to tell him, "What do you know? You don't know me from shit."

I was down for the rest of the evening, right up until bedtime. I didn't sleep well. I guess that it's remarkable that I wasn't tempted to take a drink, not that any stores were open where I could have bought the stuff. But I have to wonder if some of these social worker/instructors really know what they are doing sometimes. Do they know what cans of worms they are opening? Do they know that they are playing with fire?

-- Freder.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Welcome to 4 East: On Visitors

Without any doubt, the most Stomach- churning, heart-in-my-throat, shit-in-my-pants moment at 4 East came when I was paged by the nurse's station -- only to discover that I had a visitor, and that visitor was my boss.

My employer has a very tough, no-second-chances policy when it comes to drinking, which is why I took such care every morning to at least not smell the part. Normally I did not drink in the morning, but if by some chance some vodka managed to arm-wrestle its way into my orange juice, I knew that some thorough Oral Hygiene mixed with either peanuts or corn chips would do the trick. 

On the other hand -- anyone who knows me knows the stresses that I have had with my current boss, knows that in the past I have dubbed her irreparably inhuman, sadistic even, and that it's not just me: every single person who works for her feels the same way. I have seen student workers actually dance when they were told that she would be out for a few days. I myself have not been above a whispered "Yessss!" and an air-pump at such news, and I get laughter every time I do it, no matter who I'm talking to. Everyone agrees.

So you can imagine my horror as I waited behind the red line and watched as she was admitted onto the ward. She came through the door and gave me that same smile that a snake gives before it devours its prey. Then she said, "You look good."

I said, "Are you crazy?" I had a four-day growth of beard, my hair was scraggly and uncombed, and I'd been wearing the same clothes since I'd been admitted. Everything was clean, but I still felt and looked like a hobo.

We walked across the hall to my room, where, thank goodness, I had back-up: my old friends H___ and BC, and my former boss and ally E____. So I felt that I had Moral Support; I felt that I had back-up, and I felt that I needed it, because I also felt certain that my boss had come to tell me that my job was gone.

Instead, she had come to tell me that they were drawing up Family Medical Leave papers so that I could keep my job and continue paying into my insurance policy in case I ran out of vacation and sick days. Later, H_____ told me that he'd found her "really nice." Well, dude, she was on her best behaviour, but still and all it came as quite a shock to the system.


It doesn't make things easy for visitors that 4 East serves dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon. Not only does this  make the evenings long, but it makes it almost certain that your visitors are going to show up while you're eating. Sometimes I'd be rude and push on through the meal while we chatted; sometimes I'd be polite, and have a cold dinner waiting for me when they left. The most comical example of this came when my old boss E____ came to visit during dinner, and was shortly joined by my current boss (back for another round? Back to perpetrate some evil that she hadn't been able to the time before thanks to my other guests? Whatever the reason, she seemed disappointed that I had company to protect me once again.)

Anyhow -- both of these women are in the book business, and both are managers of small, independent stores (E_____ owns hers) -- and E_____ was sitting to my left and my current boss was sitting to my right, and it wasn't too long before the shop talk was flying past me right and left. They were comparing notes, exchanging news, thinking out loud about current trends and suchlike. And it went on for a long time, with me in the middle wondering when I could get back to my dinner. At some point my roommate came in and flopped on his bed -- I wondered what he was making of all this. After, honestly, ten or fifteen minutes of the two of them talking across me about the book business I started to have thoughts along the lines of "Hello! Alcoholic in the room! I'm here!" and "Why don't you two just do a book convention together and let me eat my dinner in peace?"

It was amusing, to say the least.


I was always glad to have visitors, always glad to be reminded that there are people out there who care about me, but in one respect alone I did sometimes feel somewhat guilty about it. This is because I believe that I had more visitors than anyone on the floor. and I know that I had more visitors than my roommate, who had none. Ever. The entire time he was in 4 East. He was, underneath the tattoos and the scary appearance, a nice, decent man who had lost his way a long time before and who was paying for it now in a big way. He'd come up to me and say, "Boy, you had a lot of folks visiting you today!" And I could tell that although he meant it in a nice way, it made him sad that he had no one "out there" who gave a shit, no one who could even be bothered to visit him. 

This makes me even more grateful to everyone who took time out of their day to stop by 4 East and see how I was doing, especially BC, who drove all the way up from another state for what must have been a not-very-much-fun twenty minutes or so. The day that he came up, I came out of a group session and there were the three of them sitting at a lunch table in the commons room. I literally did a double take, not expecting to see my friends in that place.

Even then, it took my favorite person on the staff, the one I've less than accurately called Joan Arkwright in these posts, to remind me of It's a Wonderful Life and specifically of Clarence's gift to the Jimmy Stewart character at the end. She had a way of saying things that made me dissolve into tears.

-- Freder.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's Fun to Be in the I-OH-O-P (Not!): Questions with No Answers

I am cursed with a bitter sense of humor that shows itself at the most inappropriate times, especially in Meetings for the sake of Meetings, Stuck -Up social occasions where people who have no right to take themselves seriously attempt to do so (The Oscars would be a good example of this), and Intensive Outpatient Program sessions that are run more or less by the cookie-cutter book.

Two Wednesdays in a row we have been given a Post-It note and asked to write upon it our names and our current mood. On my first night in the program I didn't know what to expect. For my mood, I wrote down "Terrified" and when it came my turn to say this out loud to the group, the woman running the meeting got an awfully sour look on her face. Her partner said, "Terrified of what?"

I said, "Terrified of everything. What's not to be terrified of?"

They moved on.

The woman running the IOP is a woman who claims to have a sense of humor; but she would not recognize humor if it were jumping up and down in front of her, holding a sign that said "HUMOR" in big red and gold letters.

This week, the two councillors were joined by a trainee, G_____, who is much more savvy, knows how to work the room and get responses, and can tell a joke when he sees it. This week, when it came time to write my name and my mood on that obnoxious yellow post-it note that doesn't actually stick to anything, I wrote: "A 'mood' would be an Emotion, Captain."

Everyone in the room donned either a puzzled, bored, or sour expression except G_____, who was the only one who "got" it. He nodded and smiled and said, "Yes, it would!" I was forced into the position of having to explain myself. I said, "I guess that would be 'irreverent.'"

The councillors knew what I was saying -- but among the "patients" of the IOP I was met with blank stares. "What does that mean?" One of them said. They literally had never heard the word. Even the woman sitting next to me, who works in an attorney's office fer crine out loud, didn't know the word.

I was asked to explain and this really floored me. I thought, What am I, a blasted dictionary? Do I look like Mr. Webster? Why, you pointy-eared, green-blooded aliens, go get yourselves a damn dictionary and look it up! I stammered and hemmed and hawed. I use words with specificity. I never thought of "irreverent" as all that mystifying a word. Yet they were serious. They didn't know what it meant, and I'm not used to having to define words that have been a part of my vocabulary for about 43 years.

Next we were asked to write down our answers to 32 so-called "open-ended" (read "loaded") questions. And because that's the way they do things in the IOP, we had to go around and around the room, all giving our answers. Mine were alternately flip or full of self-hatred, and I think a majority of the room was mystified. When asked to name "something I really like about myself," I wrote: Nothing.

The junkie sitting next to me wrote "My penis." and his junkie girlfriend sitting next to him wrote "My boobs."

So you see what we have to deal with.

The evening ended with yet another Round-Robin. I hate these. At 4 East, we had discussions. If you had something that you wanted to offer, you were given the opportunity. It was productive and constructive, because, like Mister Ed, people only spoke when they had something to say. Usually it was worth saying, and worth listening to.

A Round-Robin is a completely different animal. The group leader asks a (usually inane) question, and everyone has to answer it, whether they have anything of value to offer or not.

Last night, for the second time, P_____ asked, "What sort of tools do you feel that you need in your Toolbox in order to be successful when you leave this program?"

Inane. Just inane. Not only does the metaphor fall on tin ears to me, but I feel that I was given my sword and shield at 4 East and that it is only up to me now to use them.

I never know how to answer that question. But, thanks to my equally irreverent friend S______, I know how I'm going to answer it when it inevitably comes up next week:

"A screwdriver."

And the final Round Robin question for the evening was an equal Peach: "What have you learned about yourselves this evening?"

I passed. I couldn't say what I was thinking, which was, You mean something that we didn't already know? Not a god-damned thing.

But now that I've written this post and have had a chance to get my thoughts in order, I absolutely know what my answer should have been: That I am not a dictionary and if you don't understand what I'm saying, look it up in your damn Funk & Wagnells!

-- Freder.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Welcome to 4 East: On the Variety of Spiritual Experience

Towards the end of my first stay at 4 East someone gave me a copy of the AA "Big Book," the third edition, "Not the most recent," they said, "But the best."

I've been reading straight through it, in small bites, of an evening. As AA's roots are in the 1930's and most of this material is contemporaneous with the times, it's written in a formal, mannered style that's easy to digest. Their most basic tenant is, an alcoholic cannot do it alone, cannot quit by himself, on his own force of will. Check. I got that. It was made clear to me earlier this month, although I had already begun to suspect it.

Their next most basic tenant is that one must surrender themselves to a higher power -- by which they mean the God of the Bible, pure and simple And Nothing Else. There are a few wimpy cop-outs here and there where they tag on words like "your perception of a higher power" so as not to offend the different branches of the faith,

But the book's chapter on agnosticism is revealing. It is woefully inadequate and under-thought, and can be summed up crudely as "Well, you have to change your mind or this isn't going to work for you."

I haven't read nearly enough of John Muir, but in the small bits and pieces of him that I have read, I don't recall him tossing God around here and there like garlands of flowers. And yet none could deny that he was a spiritual man. When he wrote about his thoughts of Nature and Supernature, he used metaphors like "Cathedrals of the Forest." He was not, shall we say, a conventionally religious man, but found spirituality in the ground underneath us and the trees around us and the mountains cradling us.

Would he have felt at home in AA? I doubt it.

Neither the book nor the organization seem able to take into account the infinite varieties of spiritual experience that don't involve organized religion or dogma. With one exception.

Buried deep, deep within chapter two is a quote from Carl Jung. Jung was not the figure in the 1930s that he has become today, and the quote is not even directly attributed to him, nor is his name used more than once (he is otherwise referred to as "this doctor" throughout the small section that I describe).  But it has the ring of Dr. Carl!

Jung was, essentially, a conventionally religious man, but he expressed himself in such remarkable ways, not just throwing God and Jesus in your face, but really trying to get to the core of what spiritual experience was all about:

Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are
called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are
phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional
displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes
which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are
suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions
and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to
produce some such emotional rearrangement within you.

You go, Carl! I was kind of astonished to find this little nugget of reason buried in the mound of conventional Religiosity. It not only makes sense to me, but it makes me want to take my Jung books back off the shelf and re-read them -- and aside from that, I lived it and experienced it in 4 East.

I experienced it in the group sessions, listening to the stories the other patients told, choking back the tears. I experienced it in one-on-one conversations with my roommate and others on the floor. I experienced it in the eyes of other patients who were reacting just as powerfully to what I heard -- and sometimes to what I said. I experienced it in the tears that I shed every day and the tears that I watched others shed. I experienced it in the words of certain of the councilors, both individual and in the group sessions. I could feel myself being humbled, day by day, and I could feel my thinking begin to turn. It was just the short of emotional rearrangement that Dr. Carl writes about above. But it had nothing to do with God. Unless--

If you try to tell me that God is a self-determining, self-conscious Being with an Ego and an Id, a painter with a design for every living thing, a bearded old man sitting up in the clouds on a throne, a being who actually cares about all the little details like whether or not I choose to crawl into a bottle, I'm going to tell you that I think you're a pretty Gulli-Bull.

But I do believe, have always believed, that it's possible to draw a diagram of the thing that might actually be the pulse that runs through the universes, whatever you want to call it. It's not a diagram of my invention. It looks like this:

Well, actually, this is just an infinitesimally small piece of it. First, pick a triangle, any triangle. That's you. (I get the one in the lower right corner, because that's where I always squish myself in a crowded room). 

Every living thing: plant, animal, human, even Republicans, gets a triangle of their own. I don't say it's you, I'm just saying let it represent you for now.

Pretty soon you get triangles nested within triangles nested within triangles, expanding infinitely outward into the universe. When every currently living thing in the universe gets its own triangle, and everything that ever lived in the past gets its own triangle, and everything and everyone that will ever live in the future gets its own triangle, and all those triangles are nested within an even larger pattern that cannot possibly be comprehended: that, my friends, is God.

OK, my friend, my dear friend, if you are reading this, I have to give you some sort of a name. I can't keep alluding to an empty noun. I will call you Joan Arkwright, and in some ways it is a lousy name for you. because you are neither a saint nor a martyr. But you are my hero. You gave me hope, you gave me strength, and you put your faith in me. When I was speaking with you, I was speaking with just a tiny little piece of that great patchwork design, and I say the same about the group sessions and the people I shared them with. We had some great groups.

So, while I tend to agree with Jim Morrisson that you cannot petition the Lord with Prayer, I do believe that some powerful shifts of thinking and ideas can occur when a handful of these triangles collide at random under emotional circumstances.

We are all pieces of what AA likes to call the Higher Power. That's my God and I'm sticking to it.

-- Freder.

Welcome to 4 East: Two Admissions

Early this past March, an incident at work really shook me to the core. My immune system, already weakened by alcohol, seemed to completely vanish at this point, and I became ill with a flu virus. The doctor could not or would not do anything for that, but I felt terrible and didn’t want to feel that way, so I began “self-medicating” to an alarming degree, basically just drinking myself to sleep, waking long enough to do my chores and take care of my cats before drinking myself to sleep again.

As the flu began to subside and I began to get my strength back, I began to realize that all this drinking was certainly Not Helping, and it was probably making things worse. So I quit Cold Turkey, just like that – and that was my biggest mistake yet. Within twelve hours I had another fever, was dry-heaving uncontrollably, and my hands were shaking almost cartoonishly. I knew what the solution was: I got myself a bottle and within three drinks was feeling much better.

On, I believe, the second Monday of March I had an appointment with my usual therapist. She declared that, as she was not licensed as a substance abuse councilor, this would be our last meeting until I could get alcohol out of the picture. I didn’t quite understand this: I was able to separate alcohol from the other issues – why couldn’t she? But she was insistent.

With some helpful  brow-beating from one of my more assertive co-workers, my therapist made an appointment for me with a Substance Abuse RN at Seton. Which I showed up for drunk. D_____ was very good about it, but she also saw what needed to be done, and very much against my wishes I was loaded into an ambulance and taken off to the Thayer Hospital Emergency Room.

It was a busy afternoon. There was a young girl there that I'd seen at Seton who was also waiting to be admitted. I was put through the pre-registration process, and led to an inner waiting room where I could lie down.

I waited. And waited. More than an hour passed. Nothing was happening. No one was getting in. After who knows how much time had passed I finally went back out into the main waiting room and called my friend S_____, asking if he would give me a lift over to my car at Seton so that I could just go home.

While I was waiting in the doorway for him to arrive, a nurse came up behind me and asked what was happening. I told her that this was completely ridiculous, I'd been waiting for however long, and the other girl had been waiting for over two hours. She went away and reappeared with a form for me to sign, saying that I was walking away against medical advice.

I signed it, then ventured outside. The girl from Seton was sitting on the steps out there, smoking a cigarette. We both complained about not being able to get in. She showed me her forearms. She had slashed them almost to ribbons.

We wished each other luck and I went around to the back of the building to see if S____ had come in that way. No soap. As I came back around into the  Emergency Room parking lot, S_____'s wife C______ and I spotted each other at about the same time. She came up to me and asked what was going on. I said, "This is crazy, no one is getting through, if they won't help me, I can just go home and after a couple of drinks I'll feel fine."

At this point S______ came up to us. He said, "I don't feel comfortable letting you go home."

C_____ went into the ER reception hall declaring that she would read them the riot act, and S_____ took me by the arm and turned me back in the direction of the Entrance. As we came up inside the building, the girl I'd been talking to saw me and cried out, "They just called your name!" The nurse was standing right there waiting for me. S_____ passed me off, and I was taken in to where I disappeared off the face of the Earth for five days.


On my release, I immediately relapsed. We'll get into the whys and hows of that in another post.

Just three days later, the following Tuesday, I had another appointment with D_____ for which I again showed up drunk. She explained that I would not be able to go into the IOP if I had any alcohol in my system, or had any signs of withdrawal.

I went home, and was a Good Boy, and did not drink. Well, in true Alcoholic Thinking I finished up what was left in my only bottle (I rarely ever had more than one in the house at any time), but after THAT I did not drink. I thought everything would be hunky-dory. I'd be sober and get into the program the next evening where I would begin to get the help that I finally was realizing that I needed.

But by early the next morning I was again suffering heavy signs of withdrawal, as before. I placed a frantic call to D_____ (though I could hardly push the buttons on the phone without making a mistake, and had to make three tries to get it right), who had not yet arrived at work, but who called me back after a couple of anxious hours around ten AM.

She said, "Doug, what's going on?

I told her and said, "I don't think they're going to let me into the program tonight!"

She said, "They're not."

I said "I'm afraid. I don't know what to do."

She said, "I strongly urge you to go back and re-admit yourself to Rehab."

I was faced with a choice. I could blow off the IOP completely, just go out to the store, get myself another bottle, and feel artificially fine within three drinks. Continue the cycle. Or I could take D_____’s advice.

I didn't want to take her advice. I didn't want to go back there, to leave my kitties and my home and trouble my friends yet again with their care. D_____ said, "You're not going to be any good to them dead."

So there was that. And there were a couple of other things about my admission the previous week that led me to believe that this could be different from the so-called (failed) "Detox" that I endured two years previously, shortly after the death of my my mother. I knew that there were programs, and group sessions, and one person in particular that I could talk to.

And so, by my own free will, I re-admitted myself to 4 East, determined this time to just put myself into their hands and listen and do what I was told. My friend S______, who lives just down the block, gave me a ride over and waited with me until they called me in for pre-regiatration.

When that was done, I used the phone to call one of my oldest and dearest friends, H______. He said, "I'm proud of you, you're doing the right thing. I'll pass the word on."

I started to cry and he said, "Don't cry about it, you're doing the right thing."

And I knew that. It wasn't why I was crying. I was crying because by taking this action voluntarily, I was finally admitting to myself and everyone who knew me just exactly what and who I was.

-- Freder.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's Fun to be in the I-O-OH P (Not!): AA= Antipathetic to Asperger's

Just back from my third (and last for this week, thank goodness!) official AA meeting. We are required to attend three each week as part of the Intensive Outpatient Program, and for this reason alone I may have to leave the program. I don't knock it -- if it works for 99 out of a hundred people, then it's doing what it's meant to do. But I strongly believe at this early point that I'm the one in a hundred that it's no good for.

The second two meetings at least were not as bad as the first, because I had the sense of get out of there before they all started holding hands and reciting The Lord's Prayer. Now there's a point in itself. They pretend to welcome all beliefs, sects, denominations -- but let's say I were a Muslim Alcoholic. Holding hands and saying the Lord's Prayer would not be cool.

For my part, when it comes to God I don't say yes and I don't say no. I say, "Whatever happens will happen." But I also say: "Don't anyone dare shove your damn religion down my throat because I'll puke it up and shove it right back at you!"

The strongest adherents of AA insist that it's not a religious organization. And yet God is all over the place in AA, and the very structure of the meetings is similar to that of a church service.

Never mind. I can deal with that aspect of it, knowing that it's there, seeing it for what it is -- and also knowing that I do have a Higher Power -- and she works in the building next door. If AA is telling the truth about letting you decide who or what your Higher Power is, they'll just have to accept that.

No, the part of me that makes AA so difficult is the part of me that is strengthening again the longer that I'm sober.

It's not that I'm an anti-social person, as so many people have misunderstood throughout my life -- it's that I'm a non-social person. Alcohol loosened and opened me up and made me much more social than I truly am. The head psychologist who spent a total of fifteen minutes with me before rushing to judgement after hearing a fraction of my issues was quick to dismiss my self-diagnosis as being someone with a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome, and gave it a completely different name -- more to prove that he was The Boss and would be Making the Calls than for any good reason. Then a third guy came to my room and gave it a third Completely Different name.

And you know what? I no longer care what anyone wants to call it. The fact is that I have a  social disorder, the symptoms of which seem to be pretty much the same across all three diagnoses.

And when I stepped into that first AA meeting on Thursday night, my heart shot up into my throat and it was just as if my soul was lifted out of my adult body and deposited back into the body of that little kid in the First Grade who sought out the most remote, emptiest part of the playground and just sat there in silence, waiting for the bell to ring.

Here was a gymnasium full of people, all of them strangers, not one of whom I could talk to.

My old instincts took hold, and I went straight to the back of the gym, where I sat with my hands pressed between my knees and my shoulders hunched.

If there's anyone left out there who doesn't know how I feel about large gatherings of Strange People (and to me, most Normal People are Strange), I'll refer them to an earlier post on this blog called "A Nightmare of Hell." I went into this meeting in a state of serenity and strength, knowing that alcohol would not be a problem for me that night. I came out of it desperate for a drink, clawed by anxiety and fear, so upset that I shouted out loud and scared Whitey.

Instead of drinking, I took one of my anxiety pills and my last mood-evener of the day, poured myself some ginger ale. By mid-afternoon of the next day I had finally regained my Happy Place, the place where I knew that I was safe from drinking.

But then there was another AA meeting last night, and another this morning, and I sure hope this gets easier as the four weeks in IOP roll on ahead of me. Because if it doesn't, I will be buyig a bottle and relapsing before you can say "Danger Will Robinson!"

Not all solutions work for all people. I understand that most Normal People like Rituals and Large Gatherings -- but I can't stand either one. And since neither AA nor I will change anytime soon, I guess we're about to find out what happens when an Irresistible Force meets an Immovable Object. . .

-- Freder.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Welcome to 4 East: Therapist Roulette

Every day at 4 East you get about an hour one-on-one meeting with a therapist -- either a PMHNP or. . . or. . . drat! I can't remember what the other category is!

On my first stay, I got really lucky. I'm not going to write much about her, because we're kind of friends now and I want to keep it that way. She's a wonderful person. She's not the only one who helped me at 4 East -- but she's the only one there who put hope into me, who put strength into me, who showed real faith in me.

The second time, I worked primarily with two other therapists sharing almost the same first names. I'll call them Ilsa and Ilse, after the title character in a series of vile exploitation movies.

I don't know whether they compared notes and worked in tandem, but a better Good Cop / Bad Cop routine you would not be able to find anywhere else. First up was Ilsa, the Good Cop. She practically twisted herself into contortions trying to be nice, trying to be understanding, trying to be Caring -- but there was a notable artificiality to it all. It was a put-on job, and if she and I accomplished anything at all in the two sessions that we had together, I can't say that I remember it.

Well, no, that's not entirely true, now that I think back. She gave me the assignment to come up with an Affirmation, which at first just made me roll my eyes. But in casting about for something that I could possibly use I stumbled upon the following quotation from Thomas Merton:

"It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced."

It's too long to be what they call an "Affirmation," but it's as close as I'm going to get, and I keep going back and back and back to it, because it addresses the core of the issues behind my drinking. So some good came out of meeting Ilsa. Just to put some perspective on the matter, I'd rather work with her any day of the week than with the woman who is running the evening IOP sessions that I am currently attending, but how much that says is anyone's guess.

Next up was Ilse, the Bad Cop, and what a very Evil Bad Cop she was indeed -- although I guess her methods are effective if you don't mind bleeding all over the floor.

Every therapist has their own style, and Ilse's style is to spend the first few minutes of the session sizing you up, checking you out, feeling for the weak points. Probing. Once she's found  them, she strikes. First she kicks your shins out from underneath you. When your knees hit the ground, she clouts you a good one on the back of the head with a billy club. When your face smashes into the pavement, she sits back and gives you the Evil Smile.

All metaphorically speaking of course, except for the smile.

So -- you're lying there, stunned, and a pool of blood starts to form underneath you, and you're not sure what part of your anatomy it's coming from, and then she begins to ask more questions.

I think my answers were along the lines of "Guh --gurgle -- wah -- please don't hurt me anymore!" and my thoughts were more in the direction of Why won't they let me see the therapist I had the first time I was in here? I liked her! She gave me hope! She didn't kick me around the room!

Nonetheless, I don't believe that it's possible for an alcoholic to move on without having to answer some hard questions -- and most of the time, we probably have to be forced to face and answer them. I'll say it again: Every therapist has their own method. Sometimes, as with Ilsa, it's an artificial method. Sometimes, as with Ilse, the methods are harsh.

And then, once in a lifetime, you make a real connection. 'Nuff said!

-- Freder.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome to 4 East: Not the Beginning

I think the contrast between my thought process in the early and later  days of my second stay at 4 East are well illustrated by the difference between this very crude cartoon I drew at the beginning:

. . . and these only somewhat less crude cartoons that I drew near the end:

Now I'm going to tell you a joke, and then explain why I'm not going to be the third priest. Becsuae this represents a shift in my thinking, too.

There were these three priests riding together on a train towards some Priestly Function. And for some stupid reason, just because this is a joke that needs a hook, they all decided to take each other's Confessions. 

The First Priest said: "Well -- my name is Father A_______ and I'm an alcoholic. Every nigh I drain all the sacred wine dry and every morning I have to go down to the local merchant and replenish the supply. It's gotten so bad that I sometimes have to go four towns over so that the locals don't suspect anything."

The Second Priest said, "I hate to admit this . . . but my my sin is -- is -- is -- s-s-s-s-s-s-s. . . sex. Once a month I take a train down to Lancashire and hire about five prostitutes and we go at it and tie ourselves in knots!"

The Third Priest said. "Hmmmmm. Very Interesting. My sin? I'm a GOSSIP -- and I can't WAIT to get back to my Parish!!!"

Cute joke. But it represents something real to me now. When I first began my second stay at 4 East and started going to group sessions and started hearing the stories these people had to tell, my first thought was, My God, not only are these stories of Epic struggles, but these are stories that Need to be Told. 

By the end of my stay I had completely changed my mind. I realized that to pass on even the smallest details of anyone's story would be a betrayal not just to the program but to the brave, good-hearted people whose lives they represent. Not even my antiquated Victorian devise of picking an initial and following it with blanks (Q_______) would be sufficient: 4 East is too small a world. 

If this was a novel it might be differemt: I could combine events and people and add as many completely fictional flairs as I wished, and it wouldn't be a betrayal because it wouldn't be the truth anymore.

But truthfulness is the whole point of what I'm going to be typing here in the coming weeks -- so you won't be getting any Juicy Gossip or learning anyone's private details here.  I can only write about my own personal experiences, and my impressions of the people that I met, and the changes that I experienced during my stay. When I refer to a specific person, I will use a completely ridiculous made-up name like "Trefusis P. Quackhammer" or something silly like that. 

After all, you have to hang on to your sense of humor in situations like this.

-- Freder.
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