Texas girl in the middle of Kiwiana

Amy Boatman


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Before I got to Texas this time, I could count on one hand the number of people I considered a real friend and I probably wouldn't need all the fingers on that hand. It's not because of other people though. It was because I had become so closed off there was no way anyone could truly get to know me. Hell, I didn't even know myself.

When I first got here in mid-June, I didn't anticipate that changing. I went to a few meetings but by and large I continued my habit of staying closed off and never letting anyone see my soft underbelly. I met up with a couple of the dear friends I did have and continued that relationship but that was about it. Even that was fraught with addiction issues since I stole drugs from them while I was visiting with them. The first month and then some I was here every move I made was calculated to score drugs. I visited people I thought would have them. If I didn't think you had any then I wasn't interested in seeing you. That all changed on a Sunday in July.

I didn't use drugs that day not because I didn't want to but because I didn't have any. I didn't have any way of getting any and I didn't know of anyone that had some. The same thing happened the next day. I didn't use because I couldn't find any. The next day was a Tuesday and I met up with my sponsor for the first time. We began my step work that night sitting in the bar area of a restaurant. That became the first day I didn't do drugs because I didn't want to. The next day I was tempted but I didn't do it. Instead I texted her and told on myself. Thus began the journey that I'm now set upon.

During the last 52 days, I've met some amazing people here! I've connected with people here that I hopefully will be friends with for a long time to come. It's amazing what actually being honest with people and letting them SEE you will do. I go to a meeting every day and in each one I've met at least one person, if not several, that I connect with on a real and personal level. It's an amazing feeling to walk into a room and have people call out my name and seem genuinely glad to see me. That's not been the case for me for a very long time.

There have, however, been a few women with which I've bonded quite tightly. One of them, J, is an amazing woman who has 18 months sober and has been such an inspiration to me. She is at one of the meetings I go to about three times a week so I would see her often. One day she shared something personal with me before the meeting started. After that we began texting each other pretty much every day. If I don't have a text message from her when I wake up I send one to her. We've had some really meaningful discussions about issues that effect us both. I honestly am just in awe that she thinks so highly of me. I'm so used to being the one to pursue a friendship, it's weird for me to be in such a reciprocal relationship. She cares for and loves me as much as I do her. I'm going to miss seeing her so often when I go back to NZ but I know we'll stay in touch. I can't wait to see her grow and blossom as she gets older in sobriety and sharing my journey with her as well.

The second person I've especially bonded with is my sponsor. She's an awesome person who was exactly the type of sponsor I needed. The first time I heard her share I knew we'd get along. Then we all went out to dinner and she was the instigator of the group so I knew we'd do well together. She was also the first person who was totally blunt with me. She asked me if I wanted to die because that's the road I was headed down. When I asked her to be my summer sponsor she didn't hesitate. She said yes right away. For my first step, she had me write out five ways my life was unmanageable. I honestly thought my problem was drugs. I knew I couldn't drink but I thought all my addict behavior and all my issues were centered around drugs. Then I wrote out five ways my life was out of control and half them involved alcohol. We did the first three steps that first night. I told her I had a limited amount of time and I wanted to get as far as possible into the steps before I went home. The last time I got into recovery I didn't do any step work and I relapsed. It took seven years but it was inevitable. This time I wasn't fucking around. I knew I needed this to save my life so I hit it hard. I did my fourth and fifth steps with her less than two weeks later. I was convinced she would judge me when she found out all the shit I did but she didn't. We discovered why our HPs had put us together because we had a lot of the same issues. We'd had a lot of the same experiences, not exactly the same but similar enough in essence. She really got me and that was honestly a first for me. To have someone completely understand where I came from and the weird way my brain works. She's had me calling her every day. I missed a few days calling but I always at least texted to let her know all was well. She didn't always answer the phone but I know that if I needed her she would have called me right back. Last week when we got together and she told me someone had approached her about my sobriety it made me really uncomfortable. I know they meant well but it still didn't feel good knowing someone in recovery went behind my back. I expect it in the rest of my life. I expect that my parents and my wife and my normie friends will wonder. Especially since I've become "too much" again. I know people will wonder if I'm high. I just didn't expect my recovery friends to wonder. I thought they would know me better than that. It's not like I've been a wilting flower in ANY meeting I'm in. I'm loud and excitable and frenetic every time I share. Have been almost from the very start. So when she said that someone had talked to her about me my first feeling was that feeling I would get when I was worried I was about to get into trouble. Those feelings of trepidation and dread. Like she was about to get mad at me I guess. It was weird. Anyway, our last visit just felt off to me so the last few days I've been wondering if she's distancing herself from me because I'm leaving or if she's judging me now or some other stupid shit my brain makes up. I didn't talk to her on Monday but I left a message. On Tuesday, she was supposed to come to the meeting but had to deal with a flat tire so I didn't talk to her that day. Wednesday I was feeling all kinds of shit and pouting so I didn't want to call her. I sent her a text but it was pretty bland. So today she calls me. She scolds me a bit for not calling her, letting me know that it's not really cool and I gotta keep up with her. Letting me know that she cares basically! That she's noticed I've not called and she's worried. I felt silly for doubting. She was giving me a hard time as she does and then just before we hung up she asked if I knew she was just joking around with me. Like it was important to her that I know that's how she expresses love and that she really cares. It gave me the warm fuzzies. She's one of those people who doesn't love lightly or even care lightly. She takes a bit to warm up but once you're in, you're in. I'm so happy I listened to my gut and chose her. She's been perfect for me and I only hope I find someone half as awesome as she is back in NZ.

The third dear friend I've made is the one who prompted this blog post. I just found out tonight that the time we'll spend together tomorrow will be the last face to face time we'll have until I come back to the US or she comes to NZ. I knew she was struggling with her issues but I guess I just assumed she was struggling like I was struggling: not so much with the actual use of drugs/alcohol but with the reality of being sober. We've been suppressing our feelings for so long that we don't know how to deal with them. We've not faced life challenges sober before so it's a new experience and we're like blind people feeling our way through an unfamiliar room. We bump into furniture and fall over obstacles but we're there for each other to lend a steadying hand or to pick the other up off the floor. I just found out tonight that she's been struggling in a totally different way than I have. Over the last couple of months we've both saved the other more than once. She's been the mouthpiece of my HP and I have for her as well. We've commiserated, cajoled, rescued, leaned on, cheered up each other so many times. Now she has to go on part of her journey on her own. Well, not really on her own. She'll have heaps of support. It just won't come directly from me for a while and I won't get any back from her for a bit. She's on her way to treatment, inpatient, for 42 days. It's for the best I know. It's to save her life and god knows I want her to save her life. It's just that I'm gonna miss her and I'm feeling especially selfish for it. I know she'll come out the other side healthier and happier and that's really the important part, right? It's not like I won't see her again. I don't know if she'll be allowed to keep her phone but I'm sure we'll at least be able to write to each other. I've gotten so used to the instant gratification of sending a text message and receiving an instant reply that I've forgotten what it's like to write letters. I know everything works out for the best. Hell, she should have been in Colorado today but her flight was cancelled because of a hurricane which allowed her to see her sponsor tonight which in turn allowed her sponsor to find out how much she was struggling and suggest treatment ASAP. There are no coincidences. Things happen exactly as they should and that's what's happened here. Tomorrow we'll get to spend a few hours together while I take her to the airport and for that I'm extremely grateful. We wouldn't have gotten that if not for the cancelled flight. So there's our HP working in both our lives.

Lastly, I've reconnected with a past girlfriend and that was certainly unexpected. When we split up, we kind of fell out of each other's lives. We hooked back up on Facebook but nothing too deep, the occasional "like" on a post but that was about it. Since I was down here I messaged her to meet up and we did. I got to meet her amazing new partner and hear about how her life has gone in the last 25 years. She's definitely had her ups and downs but has come through with an amazing love for life that I envy a bit. We text each other pretty much every day and will hopefully see each other one last time before I go back. I know we'll stay in touch now since we've become good friends again. It's nice to talk to someone who knew me way back when I was different from who I am today.

The word that comes to mind now that I've gone back and read this post is "grateful." I"m so grateful that these wonderful women have been placed in my path. They've been exactly what I needed when I needed it. They've lifted me up and saved my life. They've loved me when I wasn't sure I could love myself and believed in me when I definitely didn't believe in myself. Having these kinds of human connection again makes me realize how much I've missed over the last ten years and I never want to lose that again. I honestly feel that my life is finally headed onwards and upwards again!

Too much

Sunday, September 15, 2019

All my life I've heard that I was too much. As a child, I got Unsatisfactory in conduct all the time because I talked too much. I was seemingly unable to keep my mouth shut. As I got older, it didn't improve. Junior high saw me get put in the corner a lot because I talked too much or disrupted the class. High school, I developed a bit of a reputation as a minor troublemaker because I was disruptive. I cracked jokes and made people laugh. I talked during the lecture. Whatever. I was told time and time again: You're too loud! You talk too much! You're too disruptive! You fill every room you're in! You don't leave enough room for other people to breathe! You suck all the oxygen out of the room! I've heard this so many times that it's become a sore spot for me.

I discovered at an early age that when I drank I didn't care if I was too much. Other people might care but I didn't. I suddenly felt able to express myself any damn way I wanted to! I know it made me even louder. I know it made me talk even more. I didn't care. That was the beauty of it for me. I didn't care. Until I did. Until it became a problem. Until I started losing friends and getting banned from bars. Then I started to care again.

I can almost pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that while alcohol made me worse, drugs made me better. I had a terrible crash and burn in Witchita Falls and moved back to Austin. That's when I met Star and that's when I discovered that drugs mellowed me out. The first time I dropped acid with her, the frantic energy that constantly lived in my brain quieted. The first time I did mushrooms, the same thing happened. I could be in the world without overwhelming it. Suddenly I had a solution. Until I didn't. Until I could no longer drink because it made me black out. Until the drugs that made me mellow were actually separating me from my feelings and from all other people. Sure, I was mellow but I was also so numb I wouldn't have known a feeling if it had fallen from the sky on my head. I existed in a constant state of lethargy in my own mind. I was convinced that the drugs now made me "speedy" when in reality all they did was lift my mood enough for me not to be sick. There at the end, I would take my 30 pills at once and for a few minutes I would feel "good" then I went back to feeling shitty again. In actuality the "good" feeling was just my body not being in withdrawal for a bit.

Getting clean and sober this time, I've discovered some things about myself. I LIKE being too much. I LIKE all this energy crackling out of me. I LIKE being super talkative and bubbly. The feeling I've had most days since I got sober IS the feeling I've been chasing for years! I had forgotten that it was my natural state and I had forgotten how much I liked it!

Last weekend at the AA conference, I was on a really big high. I was around lots of people, many of them I knew. I was, for brief periods, the center of attention which I love. I was chatty and happy and energetic. I was really hyperactive, I'll be the first to admit. I feed off people. The more people around me the higher I get. I can stand in the middle of a gathering and feel energy coming off people in waves. I lap that shit up like a thirsty puppy. I can almost see my pores opening and taking in all that energy. I LOVE that feeling! That's the best high I've ever experienced only somewhere along the way the last couple of decades I forgot that. I forgot how great I feel around people. I've spent the last few years isolating myself, walling myself up in my castle not letting down that drawbridge for pretty much anyone. Shannon has been allowed in for a while but even her I've held at arms' length most times. I've only had my own mind to live in and that is NOT a good place for me to be. When I'm in myself, I'm unable to tell what's real and what's delusion, what's actually happening and what's wishful thinking, or, more accurately, what's negative self-talk. If my mind didn't need my body to walk around in, it would gladly kill me and that's what it's been trying to do for the last few years. Left to my own devices, I begin to think that I'm worthless and the world is better off without me.

Anyway, back to the AA conference last weekend. I was on a really big high. When I got home on Friday night, I was almost totally unable to sleep. I tossed and turned and finally got up after less than two hours of sleep. I was wired! Saturday was more of the same. I was hyperactive and super energetic. I was also sensitive and touchy. I got a bit resentful at people for pointing out how hyper and energetic I was because it felt like they were holding up a spotlight to my sore spot. Well, come to find out someone went to my sponsor days later to ask if I was okay. This person, she wouldn't tell me who, had asked her if I was on something. Now, I'll be the first to admit that when she told me this I was insulted. Why would they go to her and ask and not come to me? Why would they think I was on something? Well, after some introspection and reflection I've decided that this is a good thing. Someone cared enough about me to go to my sponsor and make sure I was okay. Not to be a nosy gossip but to check in that everything was alright with me. That I was still sober and working my program. I've decided to be happy about that! Not that long ago, there wasn't hardly anyone who would have cared enough to check on me. There wasn't anyone they could have gone to that would have known if I was okay or not. Today I have a network of people who will check on me, who know what I'm up to, and who will ask if they think I need help. That's a blessing.

It's been ten years

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ten years ago today my father shot himself in the head. Shannon and I had been living with my parents for quite a while. I came home from work that night and Jim told me what had happened. I remember my overwhelming feeling was anger. I was so angry that he had done something so utterly selfish. My feeling today is still anger.

My father and I had always had a complicated relationship. He left my mom and me when I was four. We moved from Dallas to Marble Falls and into the hotel my grandparents owned. For the next 15 years I saw him very infrequently. I was quite close to his parents so I was at their house all the time. He would say he was going to come visit me there. I would stay up as late as I could, sometimes falling asleep on the floor waiting for him and he wouldn't show up. Years later I found out he would come visit friends just a few miles away but not come see me. I thought it was my fault. I thought I wasn't worth him visiting.

My main memories of him are how much fun he was. He was the life of every party. He played guitar and sang songs like Hello Walls and Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog. He was charismatic and people were drawn to him. He had a big booming voice and an infectious laugh. He was great until he got too much alcohol. Once he hit a certain point, he wasn't fun anymore. He became an asshole. He would yell and throw things and have temper tantrums. The next day he was always contrite, ready with an apology. He'd say he wouldn't do it again but he always did.

When I was around 10 or 11, he married a woman named Lee. She was an even worse alcoholic than he was. My only memory of her was going camping with the two of them and my uncle. At some point, she became angry and belligerent and my father decided it was time to take her home. He loaded us all up in his van and off we went back to Austin. During the trip, Lee became enraged at me and tried to throw me out of the van as it hurtled down the interstate at 70 mph. Luckily my uncle caught me before she could do that. Lee was like a wild animal so Bruce handcuffed her to something inside the van. Once we arrived at my grandparents house, he left her out there all night long. They divorced soon afterwards.

His third marriage was to a woman named Julie who had three kids. He adopted those kids and gave them my name. I hated that. They weren't real Boatmans! After being married for several years, one day he just walked out and never went back. It was more than three months before Julie knew that he wasn't dead and had run away. I have no idea what happened to them after that.

When I was 18, I rode on an Amtrak train halfway across Texas from Austin to Alpine to visit him for the summer. We had a great time at first. We watched old movies he had recorded off the TV. Soylent Green was a particular favorite. He would invite friends over and there'd be parties. One time he ran out of toilet paper so he attached a blow dryer to the roll holder. He was a hoot. He drank beer for most of the day and then at night he'd switch to mixed drinks. He would get me to mix his drinks for him and I would fill the glass up with coke then splash a little bit of whiskey on the top so it would taste much stronger than it actually was. I knew that the fun-loving Bruce would soon disappear once he got enough whiskey in his system. I don't remember exactly how it all fell out but fall out we did. I left and didn't speak to him again for another 15 years.

I got into recovery the first time in 2002. I knew that I could no longer carry this anger and resentment I felt towards him. It was wearing me out and causing me pain so I decided to forgive him. He was still drinking at this point. He was always drinking. I stayed with him for about five days and we had a really good time. I was in a place of forgiveness and he had mellowed with age. At the end of the visit we parted as friends. Perhaps not father and daughter but friends.

I spoke to him sporadically until 2006 when my grandparents died. After my grandpa died, he sat up all night in their dining room drinking and brooding. I'm sure he felt he had unfinished business. When my father was a small boy my grandpa accidentally set him on fire. He went through months of painful debridement treatments. His grandfather gave him a silver dollar after each one. At some point, my grandfather stole all those silver dollars and bought booze with it. Bruce carried that around his whole life. During the night a few days after grandpa died, Bruce broke the dining room table which was made from glass. He said it had just broken but I'm pretty sure he got angry and broke it. Four days after Grandpa died, Bruce stole his van and drove it back to Alpine. I tried to get Granny to press charges but she wouldn't. Bruce was always her golden child even though my uncle was the one who straightened out his life, not Bruce.

Just a few months later my granny died. Bruce was insufferable the whole time he was there. He was drinking in the house which was one thing that was NOT done. He left in a huff and I never spoke to him again.

When Jim called to say he was dead he told me this tale. He said that Bruce and Maere had gotten into a big fight. Bruce had gotten really drunk, as usual. He also became very angry, as usual. This time, however, he was going to show Maere that he did NOT have a problem. So he went out into the culvert next to their street and shot himself in the head. Blew out half his brain. Maere had to be the one to find him like that. Can you imagine? I know most suicides don't even consider the person who will find them or the people they leave behind. What an asshole, though, that he let Maere be the one to see that.

So here we are, ten years later. He had just bought some property that I inherited. I still haven't gotten put into my name so I can sell it. I've keep paying the taxes because I'll be damned if I let anyone insert themselves in that. He burned through so much money in his life that this bit of property is the least he could have left. He got about $80K from the sell of my grandparents house and within six months it was all gone.

I'm just so fucking angry at him for doing that. What a cowards way out! Rather than do the tough work to get into recovery and make a better person of yourself, you just blow your head off. What a coward! It's late now and I'm sleepy so I'll have to postpone the rest of this diatribe to later.

What a great weekend!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Today I have 43 days clean and sober. 43 days may not sound like much but to me it's a miracle. I didn't think I could get 43 hours a couple months ago. And the way I feel now is exactly the feeling I was chasing with drugs and alcohol. Now that I've cleaned out all the substances, I'm energetic, bubbly, happy. I feel great!

This past weekend I went to an AA conference in Burnet. Friday evening Shawnda and I met up to ride together. It's amazing how two people who appear so different could have so much in common. Talking to her is just so easy because she understands exactly how I feel about most things. Even though we've had such disparate life experiences we are very much on the same page. I'm so glad we met because this whole Texas rehab thing wouldn't have been the same without her. She has a tattoo on her wrist of the world map but didn't have NZ on there and I was giving her a hard time about that. Today she went and got NZ put on there and told me that she's glad it wasn't on there before because it means so much more now. It's just the most amazing feeling to have relationships with people like that now. Before, when I was using and drinking, I didn't connect with anyone. I kept everyone at arms length, even my wife. I had built a barrier between feelings of any kind and myself. It's impossible to connect with anyone when they can't reach you. I've dropped all those walls now and I FEEL! I feel so much! But even the painful feelings are amazing though. I feel so much more alive now than I think I did even when I got sober the last time. I feel alive like only someone who saw their own death can feel. Everything is sweeter.

Anyway, when we got to the conference there were heaps of people I've met since I got here. People who like me and wanted to talk to me. People I wanted to be around. Our first speaker was a woman named Jamie from Witchita Falls. I have a history with Witchita Falls that I will probably talk about later but suffice to say that there was a TON of alcohol involved at that time. Anyway, she was an excellent speaker. She's the mother of five children with two sets of twins! That's just crazy! Her story was quite inspiring and I got a lot out of it. At the end of the evening we had the nightowl meeting which was as usual a lot of fun. Shawnda and I talked all the way back to her car and then finally had to pull ourselves away or we'd have just sat in the car and talked all night.

That night I could hardly sleep at all. I was so wired after an evening spent with people, talking and laughing and having a grand old time. I truly had forgotten how wired I get when I'm with lots of people. This is the feeling I've been chasing! It's so fucked up that I was trying to catch it by getting high and that's the one thing that chases it off. I can never feel this good on drugs or drinking because I don't feel anything. I hope I don't forget that again.

I was up at 6:30am on Saturday morning so I went on into the conference. I thought I'd probably miss the 9am speaker because it was at 9am, lol. I'm glad I made it because Cliff was awesome! He's a lawyer from Oklahoma. His story was quite compelling as well. The next speaker was his wife, Lori, who's in Alanon. I'd not heard the same story from the different sides before. The two of them together made for a compelling story. In between the speakers I got to talk to a lot of people. I'm actually astonished at how many people I've connected with in just the last 43 days. I've made some lasting friendships that I'll take back to NZ with me.

Our afternoon speaker was my favorite, Katherine from Abilene. She was probably the least polished of the bunch but her speaking style was so heartfelt and she had such a vulnerability about her. I really connected with a lot of what she had to say. It's one of the greatest things about AA that we can all come from such different backgrounds and yet have so much in common. I was really into her talk and then afterwards she told me that I had given her some great energy while she spoke. She also covered the most ground of the other speakers. A good recovery speaker should tell you how it was, what happened, and what it's like now. She did all that and hit on the 12 steps and the Promises. She was excellent.

The last two speakers were Vince and Ken. Vince was good. Ken was meh. He spent more time talking about his good works than he did about recovery. I can't really complain though because the whole weekend was a gift.

The nightowl meeting on Saturday was the most special. About halfway through, this couple came in and sat down. Turns out they're from Fort Worth. They'd had a death in the family and were traveling. They were sorely in need of a meeting and just happened to stumble into ours. It was truly a god thing. Her name was Ann and she told me to write down five things I'm grateful for every single day. I'm still trying to get a morning practice habit going so I'll incorporate that into it.

Tonight I played bunco with the ladies and had such a good time! The last time I played I was still drinking. This time I had a clear head and enjoyed myself so much! They all even commented on how much fun I was. This sober life is absolutely amazing and it just gets better every day. I'm so grateful to get to experience it!

Flashes from the past

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

When I first got clean and sober back in 2002, I went to see a therapist that was paid for my the EMS department where I worked. I had gone to my supervisors and admitted I had a problem so it was in their best interests as well to make sure I got all the help I needed. At first things went well with her. We developed a rapport and I was able to discuss things with her and finally stop relapsing. It took a bit. After I'd been seeing her for a while, I began having memories surface of shit that happened to me as a child. The memories led to total body flashbacks that were, quite frankly, horrible.

Every time I'd have a flashback I'd write about it. I'd write down the whole experience, every single detail, and send it to her in an email. She knew this was very disruptive to my life but there never seemed to be any type of treatment to help me deal with the flashbacks or all the shit that came with them. She'd tell me, "This too shall pass," and other platitudes that didn't really help.

Now I'll be the first to admit that my feelings for her became VERY unhealthy. I've since learned that this is quite common in the therapy setting and it's up to the therapist to explain that it may happen. Especially to someone who had never really been to therapy before but she never did. I started Googling her and finding out everything I could about her which turned out to be a surprising amount of information. I started going to the same gym she went to at the same time she went. I found out her mother had written poetry so I got a copy of the book. Yes, I went way overboard and was highly inappropriate. I have no excuse except to say that I was extremely vulnerable and I felt completely out of control over what was happening to me. I had stopped doing drugs and was trying to learn new coping mechanisms. I was having these horrible flashbacks and didn't know how to handle that. I was finding out things about my childhood that I had buried for decades. There was a lot going on. I continued to have the flashbacks for months. It was a truly awful experience and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Reliving every single thing that was done to me mentally, emotionally, physically as if it was happening right now was excruciating. But again nothing really changed in our therapy sessions. We would just talk about what had happened.

Eventually I began to feel guilty for knowing all this stuff about her that I was sure she'd be upset about. I mentioned that I had become a bit obsessed with her during a session and she asked how I meant that. I then told her all this info I had found out. She, of course, was horrified. She had no idea this much info was available in the first place and that I had then sought it out was hard for her to hear. She ended our therapy relationship that day. I walked out of her office with out any clue how to help myself and only the name of a male therapist as a referral.

I went to see the male therapist just once because I was desperate only to discover that he wasn't for me. I ended up not going back to therapy for a few years and just muddling through on my own. Eventually I needed to find someone else and I did. I found a fantastic therapist named Cari Foote in Marble Falls. She explained to me that I should never have been allowed to just sit in all that emotional shit my mind was pouring out. She was a proponent of EMDR and used that on me to help process my traumatic memories. It made all the difference! I felt better after just one session than I had in a very long time. This then led me to carry some resentments towards the previous therapist. Why would she have let me go through all that?

I hadn't seen or heard from that first therapist in probably 15 years until today when a friend on FB posted a link to her FB page. I gotta admit that the feelings that came up towards her were not kind. I guess there's still a bit of anger there that it's time to let go. I made it out the other side so it all worked out in the end I guess. I hope she has managed to grow as a professional and doesn't do to anyone else what she did to me. I certainly learned about boundaries and I've not gotten that obsessed about someone I wasn't dating ever again. It's just weird how all that old shit can just appear out of nowhere sometimes.

Step Nine: Making amends

Monday, August 26, 2019

During my years of active addiction, I was not honest. I wasn't cash register honest. I wasn't property honest. I wasn't any kind of honest. I lied, cheated, stole, whatever I needed to do to feed my habit. The first time I got clean and sober back in 2002, I didn't do any stepwork. There were some people I apologized to for past behaviors but I'm not sure that could be considered amends so this is the first time I've been faced with actually having to make amends for my actions. And it is fucking me up!

I spent some time with my sponsor yesterday going over my list of people to whom I owe an amends. The one thing I can say is that since I didn't act out sexually, I at least don't have to make amends for being unfaithful to my wife which is apparently a pretty common thing people need to make amends for. What I do have to do is tell people I love and respect that I stole from them. It's making me want to vomit just thinking about it.

When I was using, that little voice in the back of my head that might be called a conscience was virtually non-existent. I mean, it was there but it was weak and feeble. I could drown it out until I got high then it was silenced for a while. It always resurfaced, niggling at the back of my brain, until I got high again. It was one of the things that kept me using. The guilt, shame, regret would become too loud if I didn't shut it up.

Now, I can no longer do that. That voice in my head is large and in charge. The list of people I need to make amends to is, I suppose, relatively short. I don't really know, though, since I don't know what anyone else's list looks like. I'm just assuming. While I was making my list, it seemed like my world had become quite small. Over the last several years the number of people I interacted with became less and less because I was falling more and more into isolation. There are, however, quite a few people I'll need to talk to.

After discussing each person on my list, my sponsor and I looked at the best way for me to approach them. Because I'm a great avoider, my first inclination was to send a letter or an email to almost all of them. We talked about it and decided that the best way for me to really make amends and become a better person was to do most of them face to face. The amends aren't for the other person. The amends is for myself so I can stop beating myself up about past behavior and move into the future with a relatively clean slate. For my own wellbeing, I need to look them in the eye and tell them that I came into their personal space and violated their trust.

It's not so much telling them that I stole from them. I mean, that's not a comfortable conversation for sure but it's not the main thing giving me pause. Mostly, it's the act of opening myself up to them that I find so daunting. For the vast majority of my life, I've kept core parts of myself hidden from others. I've created versions of myself that I show to others, sometimes different versions for different people. When I was in high school, I concocted elaborate stories, lies actually, about things going on in my life. I did it for attention mostly but I also think part of it was to make myself more interesting to others. I didn't think I was worthy of their attention on my own perhaps? I certainly felt less than. In the past, when anyone found out that I was lying I ran away as fast as possible. I'd drop their friendship like it was gonna bite me.

I've certainly been honest about things with others before. I guess, though, telling a room full of addicts or my sponsor or my wife that I've done all this stupid shit is one thing but telling THAT good friend that I've known for ages that I went into her personal space and stole drugs from her is way more exposure than I've done before. I've told people that I stole but I've never told people that I stole from them specifically. Seems like I've continued to hide without even realizing it on a conscious level. What is it in me that feels this desperate need to hide? I know that right now I might not have the highest self-esteem but I certainly don't feel like I'm the scum of the Earth either.

It logically has roots in my childhood because this need to be better, more, different started back then. I remember telling my first lies as a small child at like five and six years old. Some stuff happened to me at that age that changed the trajectory of my life. That's the first time I can recall hiding something. I was led to believe that if I told I would be abandoned. As an adult now I know that wasn't the truth but as a six year old, having already had a father that left me, I had no reason to not believe him. So I began to hide. I lied and said everything was fine when it was anything but. After that is when things began to change. I knew I couldn't tell anyone but I was still desperately reaching out. When I was in junior high there was a writing competition. I wrote a fiction piece about a teenage girl who is raped by the son of a family friend. I was completely invested in that story winning the contest and when it didn't I was devastated. Not only did I not win, there was no acknowledgement about the story either. I guess I expected someone to read it and say, "This kid obviously needs some help." That didn't happen.

When I entered high school, I told my favorite teachers that I was struggling. I don't remember exactly what I told them but I know I was asking for help. Not only did they not offer any help, one of them wrote in my year back something along the lines of "Life is hard but you can tough it out." I remember going to college campuses for Speech competitions and being told to be careful walking on campus at night so we weren't attacked. I would wait until dark then walk the whole campus by myself willing something to happen. I guess I thought if something happened then I could get help? I don't know. I don't remember my reasoning. I just remember that horrible feeling of emptiness, loneliness, hopelessness. It's also during high school that I cut on myself for the first time. That wasn't to become a consistent thing until years later though. My pain was invisible because it was inside so I wanted to make it visible but still no one offered help and I had no idea how to ask for it.

After a few humiliating experiences being caught out in lies or hurting myself, I learned to hide it. I learned to manipulate people to get them to feel whatever way I wanted them to feel about me. I was 19 years old when I met the woman who made me realize I was a lesbian. She was just as damaged as I was and this led me to discover that if I could rescue someone else, I felt better about myself. After that I sought out damaged people. I may not have been able to save myself but I could save them. Yet another fallacy it took me years to work out.

My 20s are a blur of drunken nights filled with women who ran from my desperate need to be loved. I was so nervous and uncomfortable when it came to sexual attraction that I had to drink to pursue. And drink I did! The only thing that controlled my drinking was my lack of money. Given more money, there'd have been much more booze. When I finally did meet someone who wanted to be in a relationship with me, she wanted to change me. She didn't love me the way I was. She told me she didn't find me attractive because I was too fat. She said I wasn't sexually adventurous enough for her. She used my desperate need to not be alone as leverage to open up our relationship. I have a crystal clear memory of sitting in the house in Baltimore waiting for her to come home after spending the night with another woman. I drank directly out of a bottle of gin, my body feeling like it was actually being torn in half, until I passed out. Sometimes drinking actually saved my life. I seriously contemplated killing myself not especially because I wanted to die but because I didn't want to hurt anymore. Usually I got too drunk to be able to do anything.

Once I discovered opiates, I left alcohol alone. Opiates were way better at distancing myself from others. With alcohol, nerve endings become duller but so did everything else. I wasn't able to think clearly and, more importantly, I found it hard to hide that I was drunk. With opiates, it was like a lacy veil dropped between me and everything else. Nothing hurt, nothing was too bothersome, I had energy, I could get stuff done, and best yet no one knew I was high. I found myself able to keep everyone outside while I was tucked safely inside. Only it eventually stopped working. I can't remember exactly when but at some point it became less about getting high and more about not being sick. When there was a day I couldn't get drugs then I drank. I rarely did both. I didn't want to kill myself! *eye roll*

The way I've been living no longer works for me. I can't be the kind of person who lies to my wife and steals anything from people. That's not who I am. This behavior is incongruous with my true self. My sponsor tells me that if I make my amends, if I get through the steps and do the work, then my behavior will naturally line up with who I am. One of the things about AA and NA too is that everyone in the rooms earned their seat. We've all been to the same hell even if we took different roads to get there. When my sponsor says I know you can do it because I did, I trust her. That's what her sponsor told her and that's what her sponsor told her. It's worked for millions of people and I see the living proof every time I go to a meeting. So I know it's true. I can do this because Lo says I can, because Sharon says I can, because they were sitting right where I am once and they made it through to the other side. I really don't want to make these amends but I need to because I'm no longer the person who will steal your money or your drugs or anything else for that matter. The final nail in that coffin is to face those actions, tell those I hurt I'm sorry, and then never do it again. That's what the amends are really all about. Making sure this person I am now remembers the person I once was. The big book says we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it but it's certainly a room I don't want to visit anymore.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Tonight at my women's meeting we talked about faith. Now one of the things I love about AA is that I'm not expected to have any particular faith. No one expects me to be a Christian or practice/believe in any specific way. What is expected of me is that I find a power greater than myself. I just love that nowhere in the literature does it describe what my higher power should look like. It just says I need to get one.

When I was a child I was raised in the Church of Christ. This particular denomination believes that services should not include musical instruments of any kind, that dancing is of the devil, and that they are the only ones going to heaven. It was a very boring, monotone, staid service every Sunday and Wednesday night. I went quite a bit when I was a child because I rode with my Uncle Fred and Aunt Kathleen. My mom usually had to work on Sunday mornings.

I rocked along doing just fine with CoC until around my junior year of high school when I decided I wanted a more engaging religion so I joined an evangelical church. I can't now remember the name but I do remember that they believed in speaking in tongues, musical instruments, and dancing (as long as it was during a service and divinely inspired.) I desperately wanted to believe and to fit in. I had been feeling increasingly isolated over the years. I had gone through a phase where I told great big lies to get sympathy. I reached out to particular teachers desperately wanting, needing them to do something to help me but none of them did. I'm not sure now what they could have helped me with. I was being rushed headlong into experiences I didn't know how to handle and having feelings I didn't understand. I look back now in dismay that I was so messed up and yet still managed to graduate high school. Although I think the graduating part was just barely.

I thought belonging to this church would help. The kids that belonged were kids I liked, that I admired, that I wanted to like me so I figured this was the best way to get into their group. What I didn't learn until much later in life is that if you're running after people, chasing them down, begging them to love you, accept you, help you belong, they tend to run away from you as fast as possible. Once again in my life my desperate need was repugnant to the ones I needed. It's such a fucked up Catch 22. The more you need people, the faster they run away. The less you need them, the faster they show up by your side.

The church wasn't a bad place. I don't remember any of the clergy or really any of the services. I remember going skiing with the youth group to Crested Butte, CO. I thought, finally! I'll be one of them. I'll go on this ski holiday and we'll all become great friends! Well the trip was fun but because I felt Other, I remained Other. No one was anything but kind to me. I just wasn't in a place where I could accept myself much less them.

Once I graduated high school, I moved to Austin and it was there that I met Tammy. I got a job selling encyclopedias door to door (yes I am that old!) and there she was that first day in the parking lot. I'll save all that for another time. Suffice it to say I finally figured out one of the reasons I felt so different. Tammy and I had a whirlwind, intense, INTENSE, three month relationship until I decided there was no way I could be gay. Nope, no way, can't do it, this isn't who I am! So I did the only thing I knew to do: I ran away back to Austin and found myself an evangelical church.

Again, I can't remember the name of this church. I just remember that it was in one of those big, cold, emotionless buildings these churches are so fond of. There was a youth pastor there who was interested in saving lost souls and he said he could help me not be gay anymore. There was another person, a guy who's name I don't remember, who also didn't want to be gay so the pastor started working with us. He had us detail our past experiences with same sex friends as well as opposite sex ones. I told him all about my life, my feelings, my emotional entanglement with my girl friends that was so much more intense than theirs' for me. I told him about the guy I had sex with and I told him all about Tammy. I told him a lot of secrets some embarrassing and shameful to me. I wanted to get "better" and I thought I could trust a holy man.

After a couple of months of working with this man, he asked the other guy and myself to sit in the front row during the Sunday service. He said he wanted to do a special blessing for us. We naively did as we were asked and sat in the front. In the middle of the service in front of about 300 people, many of which I had come to know during my time in the church, he called us up to stand in the front. We stood there while he told the congregation every single thing we had been discussing with him. He shared our intimate, personal, shameful secrets with everyone. Even to my life at this point, at 51 years of age, I've not felt so exposed, so violated, so humiliated in front of a bunch of people. I left the church that day and never returned. I vowed that if this was what God was all about then he could go fuck himself. I wanted no part of such a horrible thing.

For years, I carried around that chip like a badge of honor. I was bitter and hateful about anything smacking of Christianity. I'll admit that I'm still not comfortable with bible thumpers. I don't trust them or their motives and that's not likely to change anytime soon. What it did do for me though was open up my mind to other spiritual possibilities. While I was still thinking that Christianity was the only true path, my mind wouldn't allow any other belief systems to be valid. After this experience, I was free to choose my path. For a long time, I was agnostic. I believed there was probably something but I didn't know what it was. Then I began to explore Paganism. For a while this became my spiritual path. Once I relapsed, though, I lost all ideas about spirituality. I was back to not believing in anything. I guess you could say my higher power was whatever got me high and then even that failed me. What had once felt good now just kept me from being sick.

Getting back into recovery, the first three steps require that we admit we're alcoholics, drug addicts, whatever, and that our lives are unmanageable. We come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. We then turn our will and our lives over to the care of that higher power. Having arrived at AA this time, I was fully ready to admit that I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. My sponsor had me list five ways that illustrated the unmanageability of my life. I was able to list them in about five minutes. It was pretty apparent. The coming to believe part wasn't particularly hard either. I've had plenty of evidence over my lifetime that there's a greater intelligence at work. I've seen things that shouldn't have happened, genuine miracles, and I've felt the presence of something. The hard part for me this time was believing that this higher power could restore me to sanity. Believing there's a higher power is one thing but believing that it is personal to me is something else entirely. The turning my will and life over part seemed daunting as well. I wasn't really sure how to do that. My sponsor told me that it didn't matter that I couldn't define it. She said that if we could define the higher power we wouldn't really need it, which I thing is very true. She suggested that I just pray every morning that whatever is out there would help me do the next right thing, would help me stay clean and sober, would help me make it through the day, just this day. Then she said at night I should thank whatever that power is for my day, for staying clean and sober, for helping me do the next right thing. She said just to put it out there and to realize that I'm not the center of the universe.

And that's what I've been doing for the last 24 days and it seems to be working. For the last 22 days I've not wanted to drink and I've not wanted to take any drugs. It's like that all consuming compulsion was just lifted away and I felt free and easy for the first time in a long time. So, as to the question of faith: I have no idea. I just know that if I ever start thinking I'm the center of the universe again, I'm in trouble. I need to remember that my best effort, my best thinking, got me nothing but fucked up and broken. Left to my own devices I would soon kill myself, maybe not intentionally but dead just the same. If I operate under my own steam, I will run this car into a ditch and off a cliff. So I remain humble in my belief that there's something greater out there and if I give up control of everything around me I'll be fine. I just have to trust right? Isn't that what faith really is after all?

That dreaded fifth step

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

It's interesting to me that so many people dread doing the fifth step. If you're not familiar allow me to enlighten you. The fourth step says: "We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves" and the fifth step is: "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Basically, we make a list of resentments and other shit we've done that we carry around with us then we tell someone all those deep, dark secrets that kept us sick. The point is to unburden yourself of all the stuff you've hauled around that you then used or drank over. Now, obviously, I'm not going to get into specifics here about my shit but I can speak to all this in a general way.

I've been really anxious about doing this step for a while now. I wrote down all my stuff during the fourth step. I looked at my behaviour past and present and wrote down all those things about which I'm embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, resentful, whatever. Anything that I used over for whatever reason. I tried to be as thorough as possible. I mean, I really want to get clean and sober this time. I'm tired of living the way I was and I don't want to do it anymore. My sponsor was amazing, truly! There's a reason she and I were paired up together. She understood a lot of where I'm coming from. It's kind of weird talking about deeply personal stuff with someone you don't know that well but then again I know that she's been in the same hell I've been in so what else really do I need to know? Like the big book says, we're like shipmates that have survived a shipwreck. We feel that overwhelming happiness to just still be alive and we know that the person in the life boat with us experienced the same terror we just did.

My sponsor and I went through steps 5, 6, and 7 so now I'm up to 8 which is the one where you make a list of all people you've harmed and becoming willing to makes amends to them all. So, back to the notebook for more writing.

Having my bad behaviours modeled for me

Friday, August 16, 2019

I work with a married couple cleaning houses. They're really amazing and fun to work with most of the time but here lately the man has been getting on my nerves.

Supposedly he can hear just fine, according to his wife who said he's had his hearing tested, but I swear you can be looking right at him and he won't hear what you're saying. His wife will be speaking to him from the backseat of the car and he doesn't hear a peep. I'm constantly having to tell him what she just said because I get stressed out when she gets angry at him for not hearing her.

He's so impatient to get where he's going that he drives too fast and too recklessly. He even got a speeding the other day. He barrels through towns with 35mph limits going 50mph and I don't even think he notices. He rages over the fact that the speed limit is stupid and should be changed. Surely he should be allowed to drive whatever speed he's comfortable with because he's a safe driver. He also thinks he's the only one who can successfully do something on his phone while driving.

He seems oblivious to anything that's not right in front of his face and he's unable to multi-task. He can't work and talk at the same time. When we go into a house to clean, he'll spend 30 minutes talking to the homeowner while the wife and I get started. At the end, he'll be rushing around all flustered because he's behind. Then he gets irritated at us for not helping him finish his work even though we're still working on ours.

The other day he got upset that the back of the car wasn't organized to his satisfaction so he threw everything out onto our customer's lawn before putting it back complaining the whole time about how we didn't put it all back in there correctly.

So, I'm talking on the phone to my wife and I'm bitching about his behaviour. "He's so hard to be around sometimes! I get so anxious and upset when he behaves like that," I tell her. She just goes, "Hmm," and it dawns on me that these are the same behaviours she has said bother her about me. Time and time again she's asked me not to throw things when I'm upset. She's asked me not to drive like a crazy person when I get impatient. She's asked me to do what I said I'd do instead of fiddle farting around on inconsequential things.

Shit! I'm getting to experience first hand how maddening, upsetting, irritating, crazy-making these behaviours really are and I don't like it! It's giving me new insight into myself, though, to watch what triggers the various behaviours. Except for the "that law is stupid and I shouldn't have to follow it" thing. There's no trigger for that one, at least not for me. I used to genuinely think I should be given special dispensation to not obey certain laws or rules. How many times have I gotten in trouble for not following a rule I thought was stupid? I've lost jobs, gotten tickets, lost friends, etc, etc. That one I definitely need to work on.

Two Dogs

Thursday, August 15, 2019

This morning, after I drove into Meadowlakes headed to work, I came across two little dogs that were running loose in the street. One was a small curly haired dog and the other a chihuahua. I stopped to see if I could help them as did a few other people. Neither dog was wearing any kind of tag and no one around seemed to know who they belonged to so I called R to ask if Meadowlakes had some kind of authority I could report the dogs to. She said there wasn't but I should bring the dogs to her place and she'd keep them safe until their owners could be found. Okay, excellent! I can do that. :)

I opened up the car door and the curly haired dog jumped right in like he'd been born to ride there. The chihuahua was a lot more hesitant. He would come up just out of reach of my hand. When I tried to reach for him, he'd dance away. He would get tantalizingly close to me but wouldn't let me touch him, wouldn't come close enough even, and kept turning and running down the road. Eventually, he ran off down the street in the opposite direction.

Later in the day it struck me that these two dogs represented myself in my recovery journey. The first time I got into recovery, it was because I was afraid of losing my job, my home, my stuff. I knew I was an addict. I knew I belonged in recovery but at that point in my life I wasn't desperate. Well, I was some kind of desperate I suppose. I knew that something had to change or I'd end up in jail and that was the one place I NEVER wanted to go again. But I was like the chihuahua. I got close to recovery. I danced around it. I got tantalizingly close to it but I wasn't ready for it to touch me and I sure as hell wasn't getting in the car with it! Inevitably, I relapsed.

This time, I'm desperate. I'm "Oh shit, the edge of the cliff is right there and this boulder won't stop pushing me over" desperate. This time I've already lost my job. I've come very close to losing my marriage, my home, my security, my life. This time I WANT this. This time I'm the curly haired dog. Someone opened up the car door and I leaped inside. "I'm ready! Let's get this show on the road!"