I’m going to celebrate something, maybe a bit earlier than I should, but this isn’t like starting the Stanley Cup parade before the season starts or anything.
In two weeks, I’ll have been sober 18 months.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a long time, but, like Sam tells Frodo, ‘one more step, and this is the farthest away from home i’ve ever beeeeeen.’
I haven’t spent this much time away from alcohol in 23 years and I’m really proud of myself.
I’m gonna be proud of myself today.
Thanks, me. You did good. Keep it up. <3
Just when it seemed that the tide wouldn’t stop rising.
I don’t quite know how to begin.
I had the most amazing and moving experience in recent memory on Wednesday night, completely out of the blue. Well, at least unexpected, anyway, but I should have known better given the source.
I was given an opportunity to attend a Men’s Group by a therapist for whom I have a ton of respect. I’ve worked with him in the past and he’s just a phenomenal person let alone educator and revelator, so when I received the invitation, I found it humbling to have been considered, imagining that such a group would be curated deliberately to ensure the cohesiveness and progress of the current members while trying to identify someone who could fill an open spot with a sincere desire to learn and grow. I’m glad he thought of me. It made me feel really good.
A seed started to grow in the back of my mind, though. I thought of the person I’d presented while working with him. The person that I try to be. He’s always made me feel like I can …
Shit. It’s making me emotional just thinking about it, ’cause I’m landing on the reasons why it hit me as hard as it did.
He’s always made me feel like I’m not a weirdo for speaking the way I do or using the words I do or feeling the way I do. It’s not about the nod, not about “oh, you’re smart”. It’s about acceptance of being. And I didn’t realize until the last few days of really tilling the garden that I’d planted seeds, within myself, of the kind of person I’m trying to become. It’s eluded me for a while. But I digress.
My point is this, then I’ll get back to the group: I was invited to be a part of this because of the person I was presenting, the person I most desire to be – open, honest, vulnerable, confident, thankful, appreciative, hopeful. All the things I’ve learned and continue to learn manifest themselves when I’d take on that persona, and I’ve started to realize that’s who I am. I really like that person.
But the group. I’d never done anything like this before. I was a bit reticent to sit in a room with six other dudes and talk about feelings, like what is this supposed to be? How does it work? What is the protocol? Can I really open up?
Toxic masculinity is real and I’ve perpetuated it. I have, up until recently, not cultivated friendships or familial relationships with people to whom I can be honest and open. I’ve always put on the mantle of the type of people I’m around in order to win their favor, afraid of showing a sensitive side that may dismiss me, because I didn’t want to be that kind of guy. The guy the other dudes talk about as being a pussy. I have not been real.
But within five minutes of being in this room with these guys, it became clear – perfectly crystal clear – that I didn’t have to hide. It was… exhilarating. I began to realize that there were other men, like me, who could recognize themselves, who could see their inner-workings, who wanted to be better today, then better tomorrow, then even better the next day. And we talked. For two hours. That seemed like five minutes.
One guy announced that he was leaving the group after two and a half years of being a part of this bi-weekly session. It was an obviously emotional moment. I watched one man I’d pegged for a tough guy tear up as he looked into this other man’s eyes and told him how much he’s grown just by being around him, thanking him for all the support and kindness he’s shown by being open and vulnerable and it was jaw dropping. The other man, the one leaving, was speechless and he said as much. He said he was going to really take that and think about it and hold that with him for a really long time. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was real. And I got to see it happen.
Better yet, I got to be a part of the group. During one moment, he looked me right in the eye, looked at the other men in the circle and told everyone that he was super comfortable now, knowing that the person coming in – me – was going to be able slide right in to keep the spirit alive. I felt it was a shame that I wasn’t going to be able to experience his gift to the group. And I told him so.
I don’t know. It was transformative in every non-hyperbolic way.
I walked to the car. I sat down. I wept profusely.
The invitation, the opportunity, bearing witness, the acceptance. The recognition that I’d put myself out there, taken a chance, and had it bear immediate fruit. The hope that I’d be able to learn and grow like every single man there said they had. The truth that I’d let myself be me for a moment and it was ok.
I got to see what I’m becoming.
Anyway. This is incongruent and that’s ok. All I know is that it was an amazing experience that immediately made me a better person.
The kind that decided to swim.
I recognize that I’ve been wallowing a bit. I need to sit in it. I’m wrestling with pride (of course) and hope (always) and uncertainty – but I feel rumblings. I had a conversation with Reza last night that was more a lecture to myself than it was to her: We have to take responsibility for our own feelings, to let others have their own without letting it bleed over onto our goals and progress. Some days I do a good job of remembering this. Lately I haven’t.
That’s not to dismiss the trauma and work my loved ones are doing right now. It’s recognition that their work is their work and I have enough of my own right now. (Even if I didn’t, that’s not my lane anyway.) And I believe that’s the best I can and should do for them, to give them emotional space, even if it’s antithetical to my nature.
I struggle because I want to affect the outcome. I want to say and do the right thing. These are fallacies. I have no more control over someone else’s feelings for or about me than I do over the sun rising tomorrow. My actions speak for themselves; if they are too much to bear because of past failures, I can’t wish them away or dull that pain. I have to accept the consequences of who I was just as much as who I am now.
I’m feeling pretty fucking anxious lately. Today, just right now, stability eludes me, and I’m worried that even saying it out loud, putting it on paper, would somehow cause backlash or misunderstandings that are completely unmerited. I’m struggling with limits: When they’re reached, what that means, where boundaries lie, when self-preservation is invoked and what my own health is worth. I’m lashing out internally.
I can’t remember if it was Edon or John that said something along the lines of that when we find ourselves in a place of upheaval, the nihilistic portion of ourselves – it was John; we were talking about parts – wants to just blow it up and walk away like Michael Bay movie. This is not foreign to me.
Not that I would, but sometimes the urge to pull the ripcord is very very strong.
It’s debilitating to feel that I unduly qualify my thoughts and expressions, like I don’t have the wherewithal to feel the way I do, with perspectives constantly misconstrued. But this is why protocol is in place and worth the effort, I think. I’m really trying to weather this storm with the idea that I will be a stronger person when it passes, but I have this fissure of self-doubt yawning in front of me. What if my thinking isn’t healthy? What if it’s selfish in the wrong ways? What if I’m burdening when I intend to lighten? What if my growth processes are burying others?
I want to be strong.
Today, I am not.
I haven’t been here in months, but it waits patiently. I always say I need to be better at writing my thoughts down, but it’s become increasingly apparent that I’m so very out of practice, rusty and misaligned.
*big deep breath*
I’m having a moment today. It’s been creeping up on me for a few weeks now, slowly and inexorably, like an imperceptibly declining level of oxygen, threatening the surprise of regret. Maybe it’s the music. Maybe it’s the repetitive nature of the eight-hours a day I spend in toil. Maybe I’m lonely as fuck.
I didn’t used to feel lonely. It’s hard to recognize loneliness as we hunger, then feast, on the elements of the stars around us; it’s harder to realize starvation awaits nonetheless. This is the nature of a singularity. So as I’ve changed my consumption, as I’ve changed the laws of my physics to become my own light, I feel alone in my cluster.
There’s an irony, isn’t it?
Blame is not an element to be found in the violence of celestial birth; worlds are destroyed to become the particles of young stars but I cannot deny that I feel like a solitary untethered astronaut listening to the sounds of my own breathing, waiting for the inexorable alarms to pierce the tranquility of the view of the nebulae in my visor.
I miss her. She’s working so hard, from nova through accretion – building newly habitable worlds – but I miss my person. It’s not her fault that I miss her and it’s ok that I do.
I have to write this here because it’s fucking bursting out of me and I need a way to look it in the eye.
I have to do step four now, and I realize it and I’ve avoided it because i’m fucking terrified.
I know I’m not supposed to be scared, but the prospect of doing this inventory has had me on the verge of tears for three days. It sucks that the timing of the stepwork is coincidental with so many other things going on that intersect with this process – only because of perception, not because I’m resentful about the work. I’m resentful about a lot of things, but not the work.
I feel like I’m standing in the middle of the same warehouse that holds the ark of the covenant.
I haven’t been this scared in a long long time.
Every time I log into WP Admin to write a post, which isn’t often lately, I see the button at the bottom of the login screen that says Remember Me. I chuckle. I wonder if my website wonders where the hell I’ve been.
Certainly not on social media, that’s for sure. I’ve cut down my FB usage to a bare trickle. I have a filtered group of five or six people I deign to follow, but beyond that, it’s done for me. It became a sickly cancerous place for me; I’ve got a chat client that I use to for daily communication with certain unnamed individuals, but beyond that, I’m not interested in the feed anymore. If someone has something cool they want to show me, hey, I’m game, but I like the interaction that goes along with, “Hey, I saw something I thought you might like and wanted to send it to you.” It makes me feel that I’m on people’s minds and that’s a far healthier relationship for me than trying to drink from the firehose of people’s thoughts. It just got to cacophonous and it’s not for me anymore. Not that I’ve had the time anyway.
I just wrapped up my second term of school with nary a point lost in this last class. That puts my First Year Composition aggregate grade at a 99%. I’ll take it, even though I don’t think aggregation matters to the school; it matters to me, though, so fuck it. Nice work, me. I’ve got a couple weeks off before I start the mid-level English classes, but then it’s a few curveballs: I gotta get this fucking math class booked, but I’ve gotta bone up on my skills first. No joke. I’m remedial. This makes me happy in a really sick way. But the best part is the four-term Spanish program that starts in two months. Ivonne is gonna have a field day correcting all my shit. I’m hoping it satiates her desires to tell me how to drive. (I LOVE YOU!)
Speaking of which, this last Tuesday marked fourteen years of marriage. Despite the bouquet of flowers that arrived without the god damned card it was a pretty phenomenal day. We went to dinner at Born and Raised, I ate the best steak I’d had in years – but I’m not a steak guy, so that might not mean much – and we came home to a quiet night of long-term digestion. To Full To Fuck is real, kids. But that brings up a good point: We’ve never been ones to insist on sex for holidays, like anniversaries, birthdays, christmases, and the like. We didn’t fuck on our wedding night so non-fucking is more of an annual tradition than fucking. Not that I’d have a problem with it, of course. I’m just saying; this is what we do. With that in mind, though, I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that this was one of the best anniversaries that we’ve ever had for a myriad of reasons, but those are ours. I’m just really proud of us.
Yet, I’m proud of me, too. I’m not perfect in any way but I’ve made a lot of significant life changes since a year ago. I was worried that I’d fall back into patterns of commitment and change, only to see them fall away as I lost momentum. Not this time. Sure, I’m not doing yoga as much as I should but in reality, that’s the only piece that’s waned as other commitments wax. Having a healthy fear of going back to the past keeps me focused; this is something I bring up quite a bit in my AA group. Lots of people have ‘higher powers’ they use to keep themselves going. Mine is memory. I remember what it felt like to have everything I cherish almost lost. I keep that front and center. I vacillate between not wanting to care about a sobriety anniversary and recognizing how important it is to the people around me. I’m glad for them; I’m glad for me, too, but this is a dichotomy I need to explore in more detail later. For now, though, I’m a year in and I’m proud of myself. I know they are, too.
So yeah, that’s where we are. Jason’s wedding is coming up, I’m knee-deep in work shiz and we’re right back to it.
Not much going on at all. 😉
Yeah, so, lots of school related posts are coming. I can feel that shit like my intestines after the holidays.
OK, so the first term is scheduled. English 1011 and a one-week orientation that officially start on Monday of next week, then two classes scheduled to begin in March – another credited ASU-related class and a Geography course to fulfill the social/cultural general requirements.
I am way fucking nervous but fuck it. Here we go.
In other news, I took this Accuplacer test yesterday right? Max grade was an eight. I scored a six. First, I’m pissed about that; I should have done better. Second, I set myself up for a bit of disappointment in that I thought there was a mid-level course for which one would qualify if they didn’t achieve the perfect score required to get into the 105 class straight out of the gate. Nope. Go to 101, motherfucker. Bust.
So, lesson learned. This is why you’re going to school, asshole. You don’t know it all. Yet.
Good news is that I found out my work has a pretty robust reimbursement program. Gonna take advantage of that like whoa.
That’s it for now. I actually have to do some real studying now.
You believe that shit?
It’s rad as fuck.
- which still bugs, but I’ll get to that in a minute [↩]
Ah, 2017, you magical whore. There was so much to love, so much to hate, so much to view from binary perspectives that are anything but. This was anything but a sedentary year and that’s a very good thing, but there are sharp edges to this recent past that leave me with more than a healthy respect for growth, ownership, compassion, and above all, love. Love for ourselves, love for our partners and friends, love for the future. So let’s start with the past; let’s review what we’ve learned.
I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced a year of growth on such a massive, transformative scale. And that’s not hyperbole. On one hand, it’s easy enough to say that it shouldn’t need to have happened this way in the first place, but what is growth without the need for it? And does the anguish of the evolutionary process diminish the greatness that follows? Not in these cases, painful as this molting was.
I had, for years, taken Ivonne for granted. There were depressive states during our marriage that were entirely and completely fueled by my lack of communication and unwillingness to concede fear or sadness or depression. And when your partner sees these things – and the inherent ability to be better than the person you’ve become – there’s a sense of disappointment and complacency that arrives, unwillingly. This isn’t her fault. This is human nature. We stop asking, we stop reaching out, we stop trying because our requests are rebuffed with, ‘hey, it’s all good, nothing to worry about,’ or the time-honored, ‘it’ll be fine’. Sometimes it’s not fine. But we speak the lie, and it’s met, not with admiration for some enduring strength but with the solitude felt by those on the outside looking in, and we can’t be surprised when the faces of those most treasured turn to warmer fires, to friends that will listen, to family that will embrace.
I shut down. I stopped talking to her. She stopped talking to me and we started to drift on different currents and all of a sudden found ourselves out of arms reach. We of the perfect façade. And this, primarily, was my doing. This recognition was hard for a myriad of reasons, but framed within reasonably-toxic masculinity and a sense of shame of who I’d allowed myself to become, the veils had to be lifted before I could see a proper course of action.
And that’s not to say my course has always been true since finding the right star. I’ve tripped on some serious shit, some stupid shit, some ‘you gotta be kidding me’ shit – but every one of them are lessons now, not setbacks. They’re opportunities to remember what it felt like when those dark places were years of your life, not pockets of challenges that are (relatively) easy to manage now. This is only true, only real, because of the hard work I’ve done for myself and the hard work we’ve done together.
I see my personal therapist once a week now. We work on things from my familial relationships, to my personal goals, to crisis management, to understanding how communication and compassion are symbiotic, to you name it, we’ve discussed it – and litany of topics remain that I’m just now unpacking that will require quite a bit more work. And yes, it’s been fucking hard, but beyond worth the effort. I haven’t felt this emotionally stable in, well, ever, because the dirty varnish of hubris and arrogance is never as thick as we might hope. When those get stripped away, I’m left with myself. And this person needs care, attention, and love. We have to start giving those to ourselves before we can properly receive them from others.
We see our Marriage and Family Therapist once a month now. There was a time we were going once a week; I’ll let the frequency speak for itself. But these sessions, too, have been heavy lifting, hard work that has had its own rewards, but would be far less meaningful if it weren’t for the personal effort that frames the ability to lift together. One person cannot perform the lifting for two.
Through this process I began to truly realize that I, somehow, got luckier than one person deserves. In as much as I’ve abused my relationship with Ivonne over the course of years, we never detached and the bond never broke. I always perceived an invisible thread that ran between the two of us: Thicker at times of closeness than thinner when we gradually ebbed apart, but gravity always brought us back. Not this time. This time, I think I almost played the final act. Almost.
But today, we are stronger now than we’ve ever been in our marriage. Ever. I am more compassionate to myself than I have ever been. Every day, I try to prove myself open, honest, communicative, and present. I have, and will continue, to make mistakes, drawn off course by some fog of the mind and heart. But there she remains, right there waiting for me, as I do for her when it’s her turn to need. We support each other, build each other up, allow each other to hold space, stopped trying to fix, but respecting our perspectives and positions while allowing for the changes that continued evolution must always manifest. We’re growing together, the way we always said we did.
And for these things, I am beyond grateful.
The second major molting occurred when I recognized my alcoholism for what it was and started to get help.
I had always viewed alcoholism as weakness, something that dirty drunks did when they couldn’t control themselves, when they were depressed and alone, when they were… oh. Wait. All of a sudden, this shoe suddenly fit so very very comfortably.
There are different types of alcoholism, but we immediately create a picture in our minds of someone who’s buying gallons of vodka from six different liquor stores and hiding them around the house so they can manage to breathe for one more week – and those people exist. I know guys in AA meetings who can’t seem to stay sober for more than three days. Others have been going to those rooms for thirty years only to find themselves standing outside the door of a bar trying to convince themselves not to go in. Alcoholics some in all shapes, sizes, mental states, and levels of strength, but one truth remains: Their relationship with alcohol is toxic and it is powerful. Plain and simple. And once I realized that there was no black and white in that space, I recognized that I’d been there for quite a long time.
Alcohol was a defining factor in the state of my relationship with Ivonne. It was no coincidence that the best footing our marriage ever stood upon was the year and a half of self-imposed sobriety after an embarrassing incident where I pissed the bed, the floor, and my books after a night of blackout drinking. The difference then was that I knew I wasn’t stopping for good. I knew that I had a problem, sure, but it wasn’t enough of a problem that I couldn’t figure out how to manage it, that somehow I could learn how to ‘drink properly’ and not let it become a thing.
But that’s where I erred. I tried to control it when what I really needed to do was let it go. Knowing that I almost lost my family because of it drives me, sure, and was a great initial spur to the backside of progress, but now, it’s not about them. It’s about me. I don’t drink because I don’t want to lose myself. If I lose myself, I lose them, I lose everything I’ve worked so hard to change. And I’d be trading it all for the bottom of a bottle.
But that’s just me.
I don’t begrudge anyone who drinks. As a matter of fact, I like to read the lists in restaurants to see what seasonals are on tap, but not once have I been tempted to place that order. I miss it, yes. I’ll miss it the rest of my life, and that’s ok; that’s a healthy fear. The moment I stop respecting the role alcohol has played in my life – and how it will always lay in wait, is the moment that I invite my own downfall.
So, I go to AA. Oh, I resisted, kicking and screaming, but I’ve found a meeting I like, every Sunday afternoon at 4:30. It’s agnostic/atheist and eschews the portion of the steps that focus on god and classical spirituality. And while I don’t necessarily subscribe to ‘the steps’ as one my perceive them in traditional AA, I’ve also come to understand that this process is, like our alcoholism, singular and unique to each one of us where we get to pick and choose what works and focus on that space to keep ourselves sober.
So I choose to focus on my sincere desire to quit drinking. My ‘higher power’ is myself and the knowledge that I have made these commitments to my family. I go to this meeting to get propped up, to be appreciative, to hear the stories of those who have lost everything and to get back in my car thankful that I have a family to whom I can return.
I close this section with this: Should you be reading this, thinking, “oh shit, this is going to change my relationship with Josh,” it may. And I hope so. Because our relationship will only change for the better.
Last, but certainly not least, I’ve decided to go back to school.
I’m going to get my English degree. I’m going to write books. I’m going to take this, the most precious of mediums, and finally bend it to my will.
When I got the notification that I’d been accepted to Arizona State – yes, it’s online, yes, they have a 98% acceptance rate, so what – I wept. I sit and dream of the classes I’m going to get to take. I’m going to get to walk with my class and receive my diploma.
I haven’t started – I literally start next week – and just the thought of it fills me with such pride, such thankfulness, that it’s hard to describe.
This may not seem like much, but for me?
See, that’s just it. This is for me.
I’ve said enough. And I tend to do this: I get all verbose at the beginning of a post and get all terse at the end, ’cause I know it’s time to quit and get in the shower and go to work because I’ve gotta hand out trinkets to people who’re coming to the casino to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
But I want to remind myself that, away from all the personal drama, political bullshittery, and evolutionary strides we’ve made as a society – how we treat each other, the recognition of our mistakes as men, the willingness to be better, the equality demanded by all – there is still a lot for me to personally take away from this year. Least of all an appreciation of myself.
So that’s my 2017.
I’m glad it came.
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