Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dear AA: How Do I Hate You, Let Me Count the Ways

I just stumbled out of an AA meeting in tears. Why was I there in the first place? Because my NP asked me to go, and I would do anything she asked me to do, even if it was jump off a building. Unfortunately, she won't ask me to jump off a building.

I'm trying, I really am, but i juat hate AA, I hate AA, I hate AA, I hate AA. Do you get the impression that I hate AA? Good.

What, you might ask, do I hate about AA? It might be simpler to ask me what I like about AA.


Just take today's meeting as an example. I showed up all showered and shaved and nicely dressed. And there were all these aging Bikers, people in tee-shirts, tank tops and shorts. Waterville definitely needs a better class of alcoholic.

Everyone was all happy, milling about, waving, socializing, saying hi, shaking hands, making small talk, smiling. . . being happy. I just found a chair in the farthest corner pressed my hands between my knees, turned my face down and did my best to bite back the tears that were already starting to come.

It was just like being back in elementary school.

I hated elementary school.

The meeting got off to a start and as has happened more than once or twice before at these affairs I couldn't hear or understand a damn thing the main speaker was sayng. Mumble mumble mumble. Fortunately or unfortunately, he soon passed it off to a guy who knew how to speak to a room.

I have to say "unfortunately" because the first ten minutes of an AA meeting are always the same. You always get the Commercial Message about How Great AA is and how all you have to do is follow the Twelve Steps. That would be (barely) tolerable. But the writers of the Dogma (and it is Dogma, no matter how you slice it -- AA is a CULT, folks, pure and simple) had to go one step further and dump all over people for whom AA doesn't work. Every meeting I go to, I have to listen to what a sad, worthless failure of a person I am because AA just simply Isn't Working for me.

Well, from there they recite the Twelve Steps and here is the heaviest dose of AA hypocrisy on the meeting's menu, because if you ask any one of them they will tell you, "It's not about God, it's not about God," but dang it all, it's RIGHT THERE in the Twelve Steps and it BLOODY WELL IS ABOUT GOD. Anyone who tells you otherwise is giving you a snow job.

God is everywhere in AA and the meetings are even structured like church meetings.

I do not believe in God. And if I ever came face to face with that low-down SOB I would first punch him on the nose and then strangle him, not just for what he's done to me, but for what he's done, or allowed to be done to so many innocent people over so many millennia. So much pain, all in the name of a bloody evil god who obviously hates us all.

And to you, CD, my NP, whom I think the world of, even you said to me, "God doesn't make crap."

Well, yeah he does. I'll just say "George Bush" and stop right there.

Anyway. Back to the meeting.

Around this time, a woman that I actually know, used to work with, and have had some issues with in the past, walked in, late. There were no chairs. I gave her mine, and from a close side room pulled out another and sat at the farthest edge of the room. The preliminaries over, the man running the meeting took over, and once again it was mumble mumble mumble. There were words and the litany of responses but when you can't understand what's being said you can't be expected to join in on their cultlike behaviour. I caught S_____'s eye and gestured at my ear; she shook her head.

I was so frustrated. I thought, It's just plain rude to waste people's time like this. After several minutes had passed, I got up and slipped into the next room. There were windows looking out out onto the street, and across to the hospital where I'd spent the last week.

And suddenly I was sobbing. I went and buried myself in the farthest corner of the room where I hoped that I couldn't be heard in the meeting. There was laughter and applause from the next room, and I thought, That's another Universe in there, that's not something I can ever be a part of.

Eventually, I calmed down to the point where I could go quickly out the back way, There's no sneaking out of one of these meetings, or I would have snuck.

My favorite AA story is one that I heard at one of the small AA meetings held at 4 East this last time. The guy running it was one of the Biker AA types. He mentioned that he had three sponsors when he started with the group. And oh, by the way -- they're all Stone Dead now. So AA really doesn't work so well for a lot of people, does it?

I want a solution as much as anyone. But why is everyone married to AA as the only solution? Isn't there anything else out there? Something with a little less Jim Jones, a little less Elementary School and a lot less Jesus? It's just like what I was trying to say to that snaggle-toothed bag of bones Romper Room OT teacher before she officiously "corrected" me: we're not all cut out of the same cookie mold. If it works for you, I'm HAPPY for you. But stop insisting that it's the only hope for me. 'Cuz I do need hope, I sure do. But it's got to come from somewhere else.

-- Freder.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Hold...

I guess that I have to put off blogging for a while longer, at least until the anti-depressant starts to work. I'm not functioning. I've started several posts and abandoned them as being misguided at best. I can't seem to think clearly. So I'd better put my typing fingers on hold for a while.

But there is one story I want to tell just in case my NP humors me and checks out this blog one time. It was something she was confused about. During this round at 4 East, for the first time, I was admitted to Occupational Therapy Sessions, and when my NP and my Social Worker came to pull me out of my first and last class, they found me practically foaming at the mouth. I said, out loud, "Oh thank God." I SO wanted to get out of that room.

First of all. the woman who runs the OT sessions is a prissy little sugary-sweet Romper Room type. I disliked her from the moment I laid eyes on her. But -- still, I give everyone a chance. This woman had her three shots at bat, and she blew it.

She wouldn't let me into the class on the first day because she said that I hadn't been evaluated for eligibility yet. The fact is that I *had* been evaluated, and had already been assigned to the class, but there were two Dougs on the floor and SHE didn't bother to find out which one I was.

Strike One.

When she realized her mistake, she approached me in the dayroom and gave me the homework assignment that she'd given the class for the next day. This consisted of making a list of all the things that didn't work for you in your life and all the things that did.

Well, guess what, Lady. NOTHING works for me in my life. Nothing ever HAS worked for me in my life. Nothing ever WILL work for me in my life. And no, I'm NOT going to talk about that in front of your whole class.

Strike Two.

On the third day, I was finally able to a) attend her class and b) not walk out after about sixty seconds. She started in on her blackboard explaining that Thoughts create Feelings and Feelings create Beliefs and Beliefs create Actions. And I had to disagree with her because I'm not like that. FEELING always comes first for me. It can take me DAYS to formulate a thought. Even when it comes to writing -- I never write from an outline because I never know where I'm going when I start out. I begin with a feeling and write around and around it, making frequent changes, deletions and modifications, and it's only THEN, when the piece is done, that I finally know what I THINK.

The proper response should have been, "Well, Doug, Everyone's Different."

But no. This scrawny little Romper Room Queen had the nerve to CORRECT me.

That, my friends, was Strike Three. And when you strike out with me, you'd best just stay the hell out of my way. Because as my NP knows, if I like you, I don't just like you, I Adore you. But if I don't like  you. . . well, if looks could kill, I'd be doing multiple prison terms for about a million years.

-- Freder.

Return to 4 East

I am just back from a third stay at 4 East. It was not nearly the positive experience that the last last one was. For one thing, the circumstances of my admission were humiliating to say the least, and will have consequences that will impact my future for some time to come.

While I was there, the doctors changed my anti-depression medication, and the effects of the new one have yet to take hold. In effect, I'm running on no medication at all -- and it's disturbing. I don't want to write about it too much here, because I'm afraid someone will call the cops on me again and I'll wind up right back where I was -- or someplace worse. Here at least I have my cats -- and we are all so happy to see each other!! We are all we've go. We are all we've got. We are all we've got.

But for me the worst part of it all was to disappoint my NP. The last time I got out of 4 East, I returned the same day, all cleaned up and shaved and with a handcart full of books as donations for the ward. And she smiled at me . . . the way she looked at me made me so happy. As I wheeled the books into the office she actually slid her arm through mine. I think it was the happiest day, the happiest moment of my whole life.

That's all over now. Of course she was nice to me, because that's her job.

This post is going nowhere and I'm in a really bad place right now. Type at you later.

-- freder

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Full Weight of -- What?

Ah, yes, it's that lovely time of the year again, that season where every middle-manager gets to justify their existence to upper management by Running Down the Help. At least in my personal experience, the Annual Performance Review has never been about anything else.

Isn't it funny how one's successes never seem to amount to anything, whereas one's mistakes are given inordinate weight? While it's true that I botched one special order last year pretty badly, and had one unsatisfied customer as a result, the fact that I got dozens, hundreds of other similar orders just right and had many more extremely satisfied customers -- "That," as John Cleese points out in the parrot sketch, "don't enter into it."

I knew it was going to be bad this year because I could see the smoke clouds rolling up over the horizon. When you've worked in a corporate atmosphere for any length of time, you begin to be able to read the signals. I knew it was going to be Quite Bad when it kept getting put off, long after everyone else's review had been done. I knew it was going to be Quite Bad Indeed when my boss's boss showed up for the session.

Still and all, I didn't expect the bullshit to fly with quite so fast, florid and fetid gusto . Oh, don't get me wrong: both my manager and her boss, who sat in to watch while the screws were slowly turned on me, went out of the way to show that they really cared, yes, they want me to succeed, yes, and they wanted me to know that they were kicking the living crap out of me in the nicest possible way.

I Say "Banana oil."  They were simply placing the figures on the chessboard in such a way that I can be removed from play at any time in the next six months, immediately, if I so much as show up for work with a lock of hair out of place.

They tried to make it about performance issues, but absolutely everyone sitting at the table knows that this is really about my stay in the hospital and what I was doing there. The institution that employs me is All About establishing a product with a strong image, and an open, admitted alcoholic like myself does not fit that image. Never did, really, and recent events have only cemented that very neatly into place.

I'd be okay with that, if they would just be honest about it. If you want to put me on notice for the things that I'm actually guilty of, I will sheepishly take my lumps.

But when I'm on Death's Door with the flu, and I drag my ass into work anyway because it's a special event day and I know that I must be there because my boss is out of town and no one else is there to anchor the event -- and they write me up for looking "disheveled and unkempt"? That's just playing dirty.

When I walk out the side door at six o'clock -- which is the time I was scheduled to leave -- and they write me up because I didn't communicate that I was leaving (that is, my boss is writing me up because she didn't know know her own damn schedule)? That is dirty, too.

When you distort an event to make it sound worse than it was -- (for example, when a warning came later than you claim it did, and the facts were not as noted) -- that's just plain lying.

I've donated many unpaid hours to this place and I don't squawk about working them; but in return I expect to be treated fairly. That they are not, and that they KNOW they are not, does kind of get my goat. But can anyone do? I can't win an argument against people who are this gifted at warping reality to suit their needs. If it came to an inquiry, who would be believed anyway? The upper management or the admitted drunk? I've made my own bed in that regard.

So they have me over a barrel, and that's what really rankles me. It's a losing fight all up and down the line, and never mind Truth or Justice (which never had a heckova lot to do with the American Way anyhow).

All I can do is get my resume out of mothballs, sharpen it, and begin the search for the next big thing before I am forced to begin it down the road. I fully expect that it's coming. If I prepare for the worst, then the only real power that they have over me is the power I give them.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fists of Freaky

Midway through the watching of Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, as giddlily absurd a movie as will ever come down the pike, I could imagine turning to my partner (if I had such a thing) and asking her,  "D'you understand what's going on?" To which she would no doubt reply, if there was a there there, "Not at all. But it's kind of fun. . ."

I'm a big fan of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the way in which its high-flying action rises out of the emotions and inner conflicts of the characters. This is just what Marvel Comics useed to do so well back in the day, and what they've forgotten how to do for well over thirty years now. Egad. Marvel has been dead to me for longer than it was alive.

If Stan Lee provided the deeply identifiable character tropes of Marvel's heydey, it was Jack Kirby who provided the violence: and because the violence was always about something, because both the heroes and the villains had something personal at stake, it became poetry.

For this reason, I've always felt comfortable comparing Marvel at its best to Shakespeare: the conflicts are genuine and deep and are about more than just robbing banks and taking over the world. You'll find the same soap-opera complicated plots in Shakespeare; but instead of reciting poetry, comics at their purest present visual poetry in the charefully choreographed display of Violence as Dance.

Crouching Tiger was no different. I liked it because the Romantic leads were even more repressed than I am, and could only express their emotions in flight and fight. When Michelle Yeoh (a goddess by any standard) and Zhang Ziyi square off against each other in a vicious battle with swords, spears and clubs, it is a personal thing: betrayal and denial  and Ziyi's craving for, among other things, the unconditional love of an older sister -- which Yeoh refuses to give, because she must, because she's lived longer and she knows that everything comes with a condition. It's that emotional context that gives the admittedly astonishing fight coreography that follows its weight.

Having watched Crouching Tiger many times, and In the mood for something similar (because Marvel Comics just doesn't do it for me anymore),  I ordered up several Hong Kong martial arts films. I expected them to be a mixed bag. I didn't expect the extreme differences in style, all of which go a lot deeper than the similarities.

It's not all Wuxia, the specific genre of Crouching Tiger that combines costume drama and martial arts with flat-out fantasy; and it certainly doesn't all carry the emotional weight of Tiger, but I'm enjoying the discovery and anxious to see more.

First up was Ip Man (which somehow triggers the old Batman theme song in my mind). This is a more or less straightforward biopic about Bruce Lee's mentor and teacher, whose spirit was tested during the Japanese occupation of China in WWII.Though at its core a true story, it feels like a fantasy thanks in part to the enthusiatic action scenes (directed by Sammo Hung, whom you may remember from Martial Law a while back); but it's saying something to note that the distopian harshness of its second half, while real, plays like the bleak futureworlds we have become familiar with in modern science fantasies from Blade Runner on. Perhaps by being so pervasive, these dark visions are unfair to their audiences by distancing the despair. What we see in Ip Man is presumably real, and as bleak as it comes.

The first third or so of Ip Man (bada-dada-dada-dada-dada) is openly lighthearted, building upon the old saw that it doesn't pay to be the best in any form of combat, because the Young Turks all full of themselves will come after you and do their damndest to take you down. The humor of these earlier scenes comes simply from the fact that our hero is not so easy to take down. Before a polite after-dinner bout, he indicates to his wife that "This won't take long." At another, admonished not to break any of the furniture, one challenger proceeds to do just that. 
"I'll pay, I'll pay!" he cries, and although he gets his hat handed to him in what follows, one feels that Donnie Yen as the title character has a much worse punishment in store coming from The Wife.

But the tone changes quite suddenly as the Japanese occupation begins, and the film is to be admired for not taking the road of High Fantasy and having the Hero single handedly repel the invasion. Instead, what follows is something more similar to the holocaust, with the local marshal-arts legends forced to duke it out in the arena. Win, and you might get a sack of rice to take home to your family; lose, and you're likely to get a bullet in the back of your head.

As serious as Ip Man ultimately gets, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is more like a cinematic flourish,  so far from Crouching Tiger that it could represent a different genre altogether. The deceptor here is that the Detective Dee is as straight-faced and serious as they come -- but if you take it seriously even for a moment, you are in for a quick and rude awakening.

The year is 689 of the Tang Dynasty, and the regent Wu is about to become the first female Emperor of China. This much of the story is actually true, but prepare to leave Reality behind.

In honor of her coronation, a gigantic Buddha is being erected, not coincidentally directly over the Empress's palace. Work is coming along nicely until the key architects of the Buddha start bursting spectacularly into spontaneous flames -- in order to solve the mystery of these deaths before her coronation, the Empress frees an old adversary from captivity, Detective Dee.

That's as much sense as I could make out of it. The events and setpieces in Detective Dee come with the arbitrary quality  of a particularly vivid dream, and the picture can be enjoyed on that level as an entertainment that drives escapism so far from coherence that it's best to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It is never less than surreal -- faceless antigonists whose limbs can separate from their body and re-attach to it are not the most outre experiences that our hero encounters as he moves toward unravelling the secret.

I confess that I was put off at first by the movie's out-and-out unwillingness to embrace anything resembling a familiar narrative convention (even the action scenes, again directed by Sammo Hung, are tough to follow). But about the time that a bunch of stags (yes, stags) start talking and attacking Detective Dee I gave myself over to this strange and frequently eerie little number. Looked at as fantasy, there's a bizarre internal logic at work like what is sometimes found in the great  animated films of Haiao Miyazaki. The visuals, even when some below-par CGI comes into play, are never less than entrancing and evokative.

The cast, with their somber expressions and doubting eyes, do their best to sell it. The action flies high with a blend of Wuxia levitation and the uncanny manipilation of whips, arrows and darts. The only thing really lacking is the emotional depth to raise this cheeky, unusual item into something more than an actioner on LSD.

-- Freder.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hair of the Dog

I don't want this blog to become about alcoholism any more than I want my life to become all about it. But I had a period of sadness and depression following my deliberate relapse of the weekend, and in consequence I wrote a long maudlin post about it. Never fear -- I'll give you the Reader's Digest version.

At first it was fun. Fun to damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead. I wanted a drink, and I was acting on that feeling. I knew that I was doing something BAD and, as Chris n the Morning once said, "Sometimes you just have to do something BAD."

It was fun for about the first three or four drinks. Fun for the first evening. Then then it was not fun.

It's such a shock when an entire day goes missing. Disbelief is so intense that it even outweighs self disgust. The disgust doesn't come until later, when it's late Sunday afternoon and you're dragging yourself out of bed wondering what in hell happened to you, to the last 36 hours. Then the booze is dying inside you, and you feel like crap and you feel stupid, and the stupid feels worse than the physical discomfort. 

I realize now that I must never have been sober, truly and completely sober, for a period of several years. When you're drunk all the time it becomes who you are, nobody can tell the difference because there isn't any.

All of the anxiety and depression and sadness that I have been mercifully free from lately began filling up in me like rain in a barrel. Doing the chores, taking a shower, all carried such a sensory burden that it had me begging for mercy once again. I began to wonder, what in hell is the point of me? What am I even doing here? When my mother was alive, at least I had a definable purpose. All that I have now is a job that I hate and days that can be slept through with no one else in the world to even notice that I'm gone.

So, what am I feeling now? Renorse? It's hard to feel remorse for a deliberate action that you knew or at least suspected was going to have consequences (that's why I don't buy it when murderers make courtroom apologies to the families of the people they have taken out of the world). There is regret that it turned out so resoundingly bad, that I lost an entire weekend over it, but the thing that hurt the most was the feeling that I hadn't actually missed very much. The soap-opera world turns. Poor me, boo-hoo, nothing to live for.

Now -- the booze has bled out of my system and the anti-depression, anti-anxiety pills are doing their job, and I'm no longer beating myself up about it. The afterburn of the booze is long gone and I'm no loner feeling the desire to jump off a bridge over it. It happened, I learned something, and the learning wasn't fun, and that's all. I get to do what all relapsed alchies get to do in these cases: start counting over.

-- Freder.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bad News and Good News

The bad news is that I didn't "fall" off the wagon this weekend -- I leapt off of it. The good news, I suppose, is that as experiments go, this one was such a resounding failure that I won't be repeating it anytime soon.

I ended up sleeping through the whole of Saturday, and anything that causes me to lose an off day is not welcome in my life, thank you very much.

I can't believe that I used to function in this state. Can't believe that feeling like this used to be normal for me. Even now, I'm barely able to think and function.

If I had rose-colored memories of the alcoholic experience, this was enough to put them to rest.  I feel like I've been hit by a truck. How did I ever think that this was a good idea?

-- Freder.
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