Monday, December 23, 2013

No Wings For Clarence

I recently performed in a show dealing with mental health called "A Stand-up Mind - Holiday Edition" at the Salvage Vanguard Theater. The following is the transcript of my part of the show with some additions. Happy Holidays!


Something that happens to you when you are in treatment or therapy (for whatever reason...mine was alcohol/drug related) is that you have a hard time opening up in group and individual sessions in the beginning. However, you then find yourself on the other end...where you are completely upfront and uncomfortably honest all the time...to everyone.

"How are you?"
"Oh, just dealing with emotional detachment and intimacy issues as well as accepting the inevitability of my own death. I mean, FINE. I'm fine. Can I get a venti vanilla latte..."

I think about that when I prepare to go visit my family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. You don't want to be honest with your family during the holidays, if ever. They love you and all, but they don't want a buzzkill during turkey. "Don't ruin my Christmas with your reality!" Just say you're fine.

My mother has always been "the organizer" for family gatherings. Every get together needs one, and she's good at it. She always makes sure everyone is included in the festivities...no one is left out. Every Christmas with my immediate family would have a stocking for each person. This included one for my significant other, so there it was with my exwife's name on it...then it had a girlfriend's name...then a different girlfriend's name...then it was blank. I suggested just putting "Young Childless Hussy" on there and be done with it. Sure, it sounds harsh, but it would look stunning in glittered calligraphy.

For the bigger family gatherings that included all my aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids, Mom would dole out the food assignments based on finances, reliability, and possibly family status. Granny is cooking the turkey...Aunt Denise is bringing green beans, Uncle Richard is bringing pie, this cousin is doing a salad, another cousin is bringing all the plates, cups, cutlery and bread...

Me: "What should I pick up?"
Mom: "How about...you grab a bottle of soda?"
Me: "Soda. Right. Well, I hope I can pull this off."

Couldn't really blame her. I've been pretty sketchy for years.

I'm not really a huge fan of Christmas. The music is awful, I'm poor so I hate buying gifts...and I haven't been impressed by lights and ornaments since I did a bunch of psychedelics 15 years ago. "I saw my roommates torso dislodge from his body and his soul fly into the fireplace which was morphing through every fireplace I've ever seen in my life...but sure, that's an impressive tree with lights on it."

Not a big fan of Christmas movies, either. We would watch one every year as a little tradition. Never "Die Hard", though. Too bad. Usually it was "A Christmas Story", which I liked, or "It's a Wonderful Life."

I've seen the last half hour of "It's a Wonderful Life" many times, but I've only seen it all the way through maybe twice. It's 2 hours and 10 minutes long. There's no call for that, especially since they spend the first 90 minutes setting up one thing: George Bailey had big dreams of traveling the world, but instead he gave and gave and helped everyone else and let his dream die as he settled on a failing business and a family. So Clarence has to show George that his life is worth living in order to get his wings. He shows him what life was like if he had never been born...you know the movie.

When I saw the movie about 5 years ago, something occurred to me. I really liked Pottersville way more than Bedford Falls. Instead of a suburban nightmare, Pottersville was a strip of bars, pool halls, strip clubs and pawn shops...you know...fun shit. If I had been George Bailey, I would have said to Clarence, "Let me get this straight. I'm not running a bankrupt business and loan, my dumbass drunk uncle didn't lose 8 grand, and I'm no longer married with 4 kids, one of them named fucking Zuzu? Heh, you're shit out of luck, Clarence. MERRY CHRISTMAS, POTTERSVILLE!!" (starts running through the street)

"Bars, strip clubs...this is awesome...I mean, awful. Right. This is awful."
 
Also, Donna Reed in the alternate universe was supposed to be a librarian "old maid" or "spinster"...which is 1940's speak for "cougar". But she was like 24 in that movie and hot, so...nice try.

But I digress. I like seeing my family once in a while. Getting together just for the hell of it instead of a required holiday gathering has been better for me, though. I don't know why we put pressure on ourselves during the holidays. Maybe it's because it's better when we want to as opposed to when we have to? Regarding anxiety and stress, the easiest Christmas I went through was during the worst time of my life when I was strung out on heroin. A friend gave me a couple of xanax to make it through a couple of days. So I showed up at our huge family gathering with tons of kids running around, and I sat down on the couch and fell asleep. I woke up, got food, fell asleep. Woke up, people were opening presents, fell asleep. Woke up, it was time to go. That was pretty awesome. Relatively speaking.

Last year, I was locked up in jail and then treatment from September until March. That means I missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentine's Day. And it was...a relief! WHEW! Let me tell you...you need a break from the stress of the holidays, get yourself into custody! I didn't have to buy shit or fake small talk...it was beautiful.

I did miss seeing my family in the end. Also, another benefit of being locked up is the bar is set really low for you at the next holiday gathering.

"So, John, are you working?"
"Yes, I wash dishes."
"Oh, look at you! All employed and not incarcerated!" or "Nice to see you upright and conscious!" or "Look who's breathing!"

If you're like me and you aren't a fan of the holidays...just remember to see your family if you can...for them. It's not for you. I know a lot of you enjoy the holidays after you see your kin by going to your bar and swapping "my family is insane" stories with your bar friends over pints and shots. Do that. Make that your tradition, because that's what makes the holidays great...being with those you want to love...after you spend time with the ones you have to love.

Just remember...when your family asks...you say "I'm fine."

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Poor Shouldn't Smoke?

"I was in line at the store, and this woman in front of me paid for groceries with a Lone Star card, and then bought a pack of cigarettes with cash! OMG, can you believe it? And she had an iPhone and a fancy purse, I mean, what is wrong with this country..."

I can totally relate to what you are saying. And by "relate" I mean that I have also paid for food with my Lone Star "food stamps" card and then bought cigarettes with my debit card. I did that today, actually. OMG, right?

I am your nightmare. I am a drug addict with an iPod, checking his Facebook on his phone, carrying a $100 backpack wearing name brand skate shoes buying smokes and letting your tax dollars pay for his meal. Boo! If that's all you know about me, that sentence probably makes you angry and shake your fist at "liberals."

Here's what that sentence doesn't tell you. I've qualified for food stamps for a while. I didn't want to take advantage of it...principles, pride, ego, whatever...I was going to get by on my own. But then I had to start making significant payments to probation, and I was not going to be able to afford anything. I was working during the slow period at the restaurant, living in a sober house and wearing nicotine patches that were given to me. I was eating leftovers from staff meals at work. In a stressed-out tearful phone call to my mother, she encouraged me to keep doing the right thing and to apply for food stamps, because it would be temporary until I paid off probation and the monthly breathalizer fee. So I did.

I skateboard and bus to a restaurant where I bust my ass 8 hours a day as a dishwasher. I don't drink or do drugs anymore...sober 15 months. I bought these shoes in March with part of my income tax return. The iPod is second-hand from my family. My phone is a cheap piece of shit. I bought my backpack at Goodwill for $12 after looking for one for a month.

I get my music, books and movies from the public library. I don't buy or own much. I buy cigarettes with money I have leftover after paying all my bills and rent, and I buy them instead of patches because it only costs me about $20 more to actually keep smoking. That's my luxury purchase...a pack of smokes to enjoy and relieve a bit of stress every day so that I don't turn around in line at the store to someone eyeing me and tell them, "Eat a smelly cock, sea cow." That's me being selfish and flawed, and I'm comfortable with it.

You'll never know why the lady in front of you bought smokes, because you're not her, and you have no idea what her life has been like...and given your lack of empathy, you won't bother to find out. It must suck being so angry at the fact that there are 7 billion people on the planet that aren't you. Grr.

We all can make assumptions and snap judgments with little to no information. However, decent people tend to let it pass or recognize what they're doing...as opposed to jumping online and voicing every awful thought in their heads. Maybe you don't need to spill out all that bullshit from your big dumb brain into social networking.

But hey, if you want to play the snap judgment game, let's play. You like to ask questions like "how can someone buy beer instead of saving money", or "how can that poor person afford a tablet." Let me ask some questions, then.

How can you sit there and watch that football game on Sunday instead of playing with your kids who haven't seen you all week?

How can you buy the biggest flat screen TV in the store instead of putting that money away for your kid's college fund and continue watching your perfectly acceptable existing TV?

How can you consider yourself faithful to your wife when you go to a strip club for lunch on a weekly basis?

How do you consider yourself a religious person when you ignore parts of the Bible that conflict with your poor-hating fuck-everybody-but-my-family-and-friends sensibilities?

How can you eat that when you know you want to lose weight and get healthy?

Why do you choose to stay in that failing marriage while cheating on your spouse instead of putting forth an effort to make it work?

Why do you expect rich people to give to charity when you won't donate just a little bit of your time to helping someone else in need?

Why do you think you're the only one who has suffered and experienced pain?

Why can't we all just be perfect and adhere to our personal morals every second of the day? Why do we have to be so...human?


Note: This blog is directed towards acquaintances of mine who unfortunately won't read this, and to several people who have posted comments online that use anonymity to be outspoken, opinionated and overall shitty.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The 24 Hour Obsession

I came home from work Sunday afternoon intending to write a bit. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about other than possibly blast unfunny, tactless and obvious jokes about Paul Walker and imply that if you feel the need to make a Fast and Furious reference, you should donate to his charity to even out the fact that you and your joke suck.

But no. I did not write anything Sunday night because I had a song stuck in my head. Actually, it was a vague recollection of bits of the song, and it camped out in my brain. I had heard it on 101X a couple of times last October (in jail where I could do no research on it). I had to listen to the song again to make the musical memory loop stop.

The problem? I had no idea who sang it or even the name of it. Even worse, I didn't know any of the fucking words of the song. Try googling for that (googling "that groovy song that goes do do do doo"). I could hear the bass line and guitar riffs, but the memory of the singer's voice was all Charlie Brown's teacher in my head. I knew the band was new, but I had no clue if I would even recognize their name if I came across it.

I tried doing something else. I took a nap...I tried distracting my brain with ice cream, my new vice...I attempted to finish season 3 of "Fringe", but I couldn't concentrate. I had to find that damn tune. I went to the 101X website where they post their daily playlists, but they only had the past week listed. I went through every song they played anyway...if I didn't recognize the song title or band, I looked it up on YouTube.

Side note...Hey, 101X...It's been almost 20 years. You don't have to keep playing "Santeria" by Sublime every day. And that stupid Verve song. It also plays on every one of my Pandora stations. It's like the Music Genome Project works through complex algorithms to determine "Bittersweet Symphony" fits in every possible genre. Nice job.

Anyhoo. My YouTube listening party took some time. I was happy to discover new music (or new to me), like "Elephant" by Tame Impala and Spoon's last two releases. I did sidetrack myself with one or sixteen cat videos, but I had to get back to the only goal that mattered. I did a few searches on Alternative singles released last year, but I kept getting blogs and comments recommending the bands Imagine Dragons and the xx. I like a couple of Imagine Dragons songs, and I would like the xx, but their singing style of alternating the male and female singer sounds like they were broke and had to share one microphone. "I'll sing a line...now you sing a line...then I'll sing a line..."

The hook of the song I was trying to find was on the tip of my tongue...on the tip of my brain...my brain's tongue. It was something like, "wouldn't/couldn't it be right/nice." Or, "Uh it be I..." as I heard it over and over. When I searched the varying word combinations, Google insisted I was trying to find the lyrics for the Beach Boys "Wouldn't It Be Nice." I calmly explained to Google that I knew who the fuck the Beach Boys were, and I could give two shits about about Brian Wilson singing to a girl about how it would be nice if they were older so they "wouldn't have to wait so long"...which is creepy and weird because he was 24 years old when he sang that.

This went on for hours. Not exaggerating. I looked online all night. I went to sleep exhausted and despondent.

I woke up at noon (ish) with the song bits still staging their Occupy John's Thoughts protest. However, as I lay there in bed, one word from the lyrics that I couldn't remember became suddenly clear: candelabra. The guy says "candelabra" for some reason. Jesus, why would anyone that's not Bauhaus reference that in a song? That's dumb as balls. Okay, focus, John. This is a breakthrough. Let's get coffee.

So I did a search on song lyrics that contain "candelabra." Rattled by the Rush - Pavement, no...Te Amo - Rihanna, ha...Transylvanian Concubine - Rasputina, no but I am so looking that up later. And then...there it was. The Divine Fits.



Not "Wouldn't it be nice", but "Would that not be nice." You bastards.

I bought the song. I figure a dollar was worth dispelling my little insanity via my iPod. It's a decent tune...it's not amazing or worth going batshit crazy for 24 hours, but I like it.

I've listened to it about 10 times now. I still don't remember any of the words. Except "candelabra."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Have You Considered Marijuana?

I posted a brief conversation I had about weed about two years ago that is similar to this one I had recently:

Him: So, John...have you thought about smoking weed?
Me: Yeah, I shouldn't.
Him: I mean after you're off probation. I get why you don't now...
Me: Two things happen when I smoke weed. First, it makes me acutely aware of all of my past failures in life all at once, and I become full of anxiety and uncomfortable as hell.
Him: Yikes.
Me: And the second thing? It makes me want to do heroin again.
Him: ...probably shouldn't smoke pot, then.
Me: You think so? That's too bad.

At your next national pothead convention, you guys should really reconsider who you send out as spokespeople and recruiters. Really...I'm 40 years old and I have lived in Austin for about 15 years. Asking me if I've considered weed is right up there with asking me, "Have you heard about Jesus Christ?" Yeah, thanks, I've heard the name. I have been around the pot once or twice.

Let me make it clear that I think it is ridiculous that marijuana is illegal. However, I am very much a supporter of legalizing it because I just want people to shut up about how pot should be legal and how great it is.

"It grows naturally on this planet!" Yes. Yes it does. You then naturally harvest the bud, naturally break it up and roll it with paper, naturally set it on fire and naturally inhale the smoke. Then you naturally sit back and watch Adult Swim before naturally running to Jack in the Box.

You may notice heroin addicts don't argue about how poppies grow naturally on this planet, too. Granted, that's because they're usually too busy making a mental note of all your valuables in case they get into a bind later, but still. Also, there is no Heroin Times magazine with centerfolds of black tar. This is more than likely due to the publishers nodding off and missing deadline after deadline...but that's beside the point. I guess I just find some potheads to be a bit obsessive and annoying.

Sorry. I am getting off subject. I'm aware there are many of you who smoke weed and don't mention 420 via Twitter and Facebook every day.

What I would like to focus on in this blog entry is the concept of smoking weed in recovery...as in, an alcoholic or heroin/meth/cocaine addict using "marijuana maintenance." I have been asked several times, "What do you think about smoking weed as part of recovery?" My short answer is, "I think it's a bad idea."

BUT...I can't go with the short answer, because it goes against my belief that everybody has to follow their own path and not to be completely dissuaded by "it can't be done" in your life. Maybe you're the one that "can do it." So let's go with the long answer.

I know several people who had severe addiction issues that they have overcome and now just smoke pot. I also have met many individuals in treatment centers and sober houses that tried to just smoke weed, and they relapsed big time. Pot did not help me, that's for sure.

Many of us addicts have legal issues...and we're on probation and/or being monitored and drug tested. Smoking while on probation is stupid. It's very very stupid, and you are risking getting your ass handed to you by the county and getting locked up. You shouldn't even consider it until you are off paper.

The main reason I would tell someone not to try weed if they asked me is this...if you are hesitating in doing it, you may have already made it a big deal in your head. You may mindfuck yourself into a position where you handle being high on weed, and then you think, "fuck it, I can drink." Then you're racing off to hitting a new bottom. Marijuana may be "natural", but it's still altering your perception, reason and decision-making...and if you're prone to saying "fuck it" as I have been, weakening your resolve naturally or unnaturally is probably a bad idea.

In my opinion, the people I know on the marijuana maintenance trip successfully do so because it's not a big deal to them at all. They worked on themselves and fought to get their lives back, and the question "should I smoke pot" probably never came up...and if it did, it was probably met with, "why wouldn't I?" If it's not a big deal in their heads, it doesn't rule their thinking and their lives...and they make it work. I could be completely wrong about that, but that's what I think.

Here's the deal. For me at least, only a small part of recovery is being clean and sober. Recovery for me was changing my life...finding a reason to live and to care and working to change everything that my self-destruction and self centeredness turned to shit. I can't change if I'm wasted. I stay sober so I can keep working on me.

AA people have a term called "dry drunk." Essentially, it's someone who uses personal willpower to stop drinking but doesn't do anything else to better themselves. Their desire and thoughts are still at the bar or the liquor store, so they just go through their lives miserable people. Unfortunately, hardcore AA people throw this term around too much, sometimes labeling people who quit drinking outside of a 12-step program a dry drunk when they are not. That doesn't mean it's bullshit. I've seen it...miserable bastards who honestly would be better off if they just started drinking or using again because they were making everybody around them miserable too.

I think a lot of addicts can't just stop doing their drug of choice. They need to change, repair damage, and find life again. Some don't, and instead they replace their addiction with something else, never addressing the real problem...why were they escaping reality in the first place? Many replace that addiction with one to AA or NA. Some become obsessed with a hobby or with fitness. I think switching to weed from their drug of choice will do the same thing...it's a nice temporary fix...until something big comes along that their new "thing" doesn't help them deal with, then it's "fuck it" and back to what has previously helped escape reality in the past. (My "new thing" in the past was codependency.)

Someone close to me said that they didn't have a problem with weed at all. It makes them enjoy cartoons and sleep. However, they are working on themselves and find that getting high deters them from doing what they need to do on a daily basis to remain alcohol free, healthy and happy. That's their path.

If you have addiction issues, maybe your path involves marijuana, maybe it doesn't. I think you truthfully know whether you can smoke or not. If you have to question whether it's a good idea or not, it probably isn't.

I can't. Period. So stop bringing it up to me, ya hippies.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Romper Stompee

The worst physical damage that's happened to me in a single night of drinking occurred the Saturday before Easter, 2005. I had consumed 2 whole sips of a cup of keg beer.

I worked that day, and I ran some errands as the sun set. I decided not to go downtown for my typical Jackalope/Cucaracha ritual, as I wasn't in the mood to deal with the weekenders and frat people. I think I wanted to take a break as well. I had been out for a few nights in a row.

I stopped at the 7 Eleven on North Lamar for smokes, and I ran into a couple of my bar friends. Punk rockers, of course. They told me there was a big party going on down the street just two blocks away and that "everybody will be there." I said, "Nah, that's okay. I still have that breathalizer on my truck." (I was finishing up two years probation for DWI #'s 1 and 2.)

Them: "Dude, you can crash at the house. Most of us are. Also, they have a keg of Lone Star and tons in cans."

Free beer. Place to crash. My gut told me to go home. But free beer told my gut to suck it. I went.

They were right. It was like a packed night at Cucaracha but in somebody's house. Every person with multiple tattoos, piercings, leather and attitude that I knew was there. They had obviously been going at it a while, so I told myself I needed to catch up. I made my rounds saying hi as I worked my way to the backyard to locate the keg. My friend Sarah was headed to the bathroom and asked me to get her a cup as well. Sure, no problem.

The next thing I remembered, there were blurry people in white with surgical masks hovering over me. The main blur said to me sternly, "Sir! You need to quit trying to talk! I'm trying to sew your lip back on."

Well, that's unsettling.

I attempted the best "what happened" without an intact bottom lip I could. The blur assisting the main blur said, "Someone beat you up. You have a concussion. Please relax." They had no further information for me.

Turns out that main blur was a plastic surgeon...and kind of a cocky asshole. I was lucky because he was available for surgery that evening, and he was a cocky asshole because he was really good. Despite being condescending, he successfully lined everything up and made sure I didn't end up a deformed jackass. I then spent several hours recovering in a hospital bed with staff keeping me awake and under observation.

They released me around noon Easter Sunday. The doctor had said, "We'll check your stitches in a couple of weeks. You'll be lucky if you can afford my bill." I replied, "You'll be lucky if I pay you at all. Cheers."

I walked out of the hospital into the brightest sun that I can remember. My head was killing me. I put on my sunglasses, and I slipped a cigarette into the side of my mouth as far away from my stitched up wound as I could. I looked up to see some families arriving at the hospital with "Get Well Soon" balloons and flowers only to reel in horror at the sight of me as they hurried past. I was wearing my black spray-painted cowboy hat, black pearl-snap western shirt, black jeans, black leather jacket and my lizard skin boots with black duct tape on them (because it was cheaper to buy new ones than get the holes in the them repaired). Also, I was covered from head to toe in dried mud and blood. I looked like death as I exhaled smoke out of my mangled face. Happy Easter, kids. Boo.

photo by SLS Photo (Steph Swope!)

I walked into the parking lot and it hit me that I didn't fucking drive here. I also didn't know where "here" was. I realized later I could have just walked back into the hospital and asked where I was, but I exited with such a good comeback that it would be awkward to go back in there. Also, it's 2005, so no GPS or Google Maps.So I called my housemate Shane.

Shane: "Hello?"
John: "Hey. I just got out of the hospital...but I have no idea where I am, and I don't have my truck here."
Shane: "What do you see near the hospital?"
John: "Shit man, I dunno...there's a highway I think...oh, across it I see 'Corvette Country'."
Shane: "I know where that is. Be there shortly." (click)

About 15 minutes later, he pulled up and I got into his car. He glanced at me, expressionless, and said, "Hey." He began driving back to the house. I stared at him. He said nothing. Shane was a quiet roommate and all around chill guy, but this was ridiculous. After a long silence, I spoke. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened or why I look like hell?"

"Well, I figured you'd tell me at some point." That's Shane at his most Shane-ness.

I spent the rest of the day sleeping on the couch. My head had cleared a bit, and I just couldn't figure out why anyone would attack me. I didn't remember drinking anything, so I didn't think I had become mouthy...or mouthier than normal, at least. And while there were emotionally unstable drunk punks, they (we) typically only get into it with fratty douchebags, not each other. I texted and called some friends to see if they had heard anything. The problem was they and I did not really have the numbers of bar friends/acquaintances...we just see them at the bar.

One call I remember was with Jen T, who said that she thought it was strange that somebody would actually kick my ass. "I'm sure people want to, but nobody ever does because, I'm sorry, but you're not very threatening."

Me: "I...talk a big game though."
Jen T: "Yes, unfortunately, you do."

She was right. Nobody at that party would literally split my lip based on me being drunk and mouthy. And definitely not if I was sober, which I was becoming sure I was. I was going to have to wait until I went to Jackalope/Cucaracha the next day.

After sleeping a ridiculously long time then retrieving my truck, I went to 6th Street. The very first person I saw was Brad working the door. He was at the party. He, incidentally, also saw the whole thing...and he filled me in all right.

It rained buckets and buckets on Good Friday. Half of the backyard at that party was a big messy mud pit. Some brain trust decided to set the keg up right in the middle of the mud puddle. Imagine walking through wet grass and mud in boots that are covered in duct tape. Brad told me I filled up two cups of beer, took a couple of drinks from one, refilled it, and then made my way back to the back porch and concrete slab. "Careful..." he said, and immediately afterward I slipped and landed face first on the corner of the concrete slab. He told me it was impressive because I held up both cups of beer as I fell as to not spill them, which is why my face broke my fall. He busted out laughing when he saw me fall, but then he stopped when I attempted to get up and blood gushed everywhere. He said his reaction was: "Haha--oh SHIT!"

Anybody remember the bad guy from "Blade 2"? How his mouth kind of opened up on the bottom? Yeah, that's what happened. My lip had split and was hanging. Ugh, creeps me out even now.

The problem was, everybody was drunk. So people had to decide either who was the least drunk or cared the least that they were drunk. A guy named James drove me to the hospital.

Me: "The doctor told me I got jumped."
Brad: "Oh yeah. James came back and said that he didn't know if you had health insurance or not, so he was under the impression that if you were attacked they would treat you as opposed to falling on your own. So he said that then split, fast."
Me: "That's doesn't make any sense."
Brad: "Well, James is a fucking idiot, man...what can you do?"

I stood there for a minute and said nothing.

Me: "So...I curb checked myself."
Brad: "Haha, yeah, you did."

All I'm saying is that one reason for universal health care in this country is that some of us do really dumb shit and/or have really dumb shit happen to them...and we could use legit coverage and not a "somebody beat his ass" policy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No, THIS Is 40

I was thinking about what to write regarding my 40th birthday. I've been drawing a blank for the most part.

The whole "over the hill" thing really means dick since I've accepted the fact that it's a miracle I actually made it this far. I shouldn't be alive, so needless to say, I enjoyed my birthday...celebrated with someone special, watched "Spaced", ate ice cream...crazy night. Ha.

This was my first birthday in 20 years where I was not drunk nor incarcerated. You might find it unsettling that that's a big deal, but the highlight of my birthday last year was leaving Travis County Jail downtown to Travis County treatment center in beautifully fecaltastic Del Valle. So yes, ice cream and Hulu Plus with Katie kicked ass.

One thing about being 40 in my situation. I am not going to go through a mid-life crisis. I've manufactured enough crises, yeah? Besides, where would I go from skateboarding dishwashing Zen minimalist? Maybe I could dye my hair and stop using proper word spelling in text messages. Hashtag fat fucking chance.

I remember when my dad was 40...I was 15. He was a coach, teacher and preacher. Oh, and a father and husband...and worked on the house, yard and cars. Jesus, dad, I don't know how you did it. I can barely deal with taking care of just myself. I don't try to compare myself to him. It's just a hell of a contrast of lifestyle.

Side note: I'd love to freak out 15 year-old me: "Hey, I'm you at 40. You're a former junkie and drunk with a felony on probation who washes dishes and skateboards as transportation. Stop crying. You also write, do stand-up and are ridiculously happy. Okay, go back to masturbating. My bad."

I am ridiculously happy. I am glad Joss Whedon is not writing and directing my life because if he were, he'd be killing me off right now, that's how good I feel. As I've written before, I know it won't like this forever. Dark times could be right around the corner. I just need to be ready for them and remember that it'll turn around again. You don't fully appreciate the good without the bad, right?

I love taking on life at my own pace. I like being in control of my actions and just letting myself be. "Watching the Wheels" came up on my iPod on shuffle recently, and it means more to me now.

"Well, they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind. I tell them there's no hurry, I'm just sitting here doing time."


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Duality of Me

Pogue Colonel: You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke? 
Private Joker: No, sir. 
Pogue Colonel: You'd better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you. Private Joker: Yes, sir. 
Pogue Colonel: Now answer my question or you'll be standing tall before the man. 
Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir. 
Pogue Colonel: The what? 
Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.
-- "Full Metal Jacket"

Ah, dualism. It's a term used in many different contexts, but I tend to read and think about mainly moral dualism (classic good vs evil) and the duality in Taoist nature, the yin and yang.

We like to think of our inner struggle as having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Am I going to listen to the angel more today? Or do I say "fuck it" and listen to the devil? The thing is, I don't really think that angel is always good or the devil is always evil. That "angel" could be wrong because aspects of your belief system might come from being misguided and close-minded. The "devil" wants you to indulge in your desire or your craving, and sometimes going that route might open your mind or be beneficial. Things aren't black and white as most of us know. Calling someone evil means you lack empathy towards that person and that's how you're dealing with their actions. It's easy to categorize yourself as good and someone you oppose evil. We as humans are good at that.

Discovering spirituality has changed how I view others and the world. I have a new conviction to avoid harming living things, harming others and harming myself. My duality has to do with who I was vs who I am trying to be now. I have been reading many books on Buddhism and Zen, and I've been working on myself in sobriety, as I've written about here several times. My progression in "developing my Zen mind" has been healthy and life-changing...but it's also been wrong a bit. I'll try to explain.

I was in a controlled environment aka Travis County treatment aka Jail Lite, so I had no outside distractions (other than really shitty people forced to be there around me all the time). I read "The Four Agreements" and start slow by trying to practice just four principles: 1) be impeccable with your word, 2) don't take anything personally, 3) don't make assumptions, 4) always do your best. Trying to follow those changed my thinking and attitude within days. I went back and revisited principles of Buddhism and began applying those to the best of my ability, and I started meditating every day. These are great things.

The phrase "on a pink cloud" describes someone who is newly sober or newly spiritualized where everything is great and nothing can go wrong again...a temporary euphoria. Then you come off of that cloud, and if you aren't ready for it, life can broadside you and you find yourself using again or dismissing those spiritual principles. I came off that cloud right before they released me in March, so I felt grounded when I was in the real world again. The big issue for me, I now realize, is that I still remember what that temporary euphoria felt like...and I thought that was the Zen state I should be in.

What happen is I tried to be perfect based on what I was reading. If I wasn't having the right view, thought, livelihood, action, speech, effort, mindfulness and concentration, I'd feel like I wasn't "doing this right". Well, I'm aware I am not perfect and that I'm a big old dumb human male. Even knowing this, I still tried to be this image of what I thought I was supposed to be now. I no longer had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Instead, I had a big fat Buddha on one side and John Fucking Rabon, the "me" of old, on the other.

And then, I read something that smacked me in the face, and I "woke up", in a way. It wasn't a spiritual book that changed my perspective. It was a Hellblazer graphic novel. "Roots of Coincidence", to be specific.

John Constantine
Regarding John Constantine, from Wikipedia: "Although a compassionate humanist who struggles to overcome the influence of both Heaven and Hell over humanity and despite his occasional forays into heroism, Constantine is a foul-mouthed, disillusioned, British cynic who pursues a life of sorcery and danger. His motivation has been attributed to an adrenaline addiction that only the strange and mysterious can sate."

Not to go into the plot of the particular graphic novel, but essentially Constantine could allow another soul (a "good" one) to merge with his which would then make him a more powerful sorcerer and benefit all of mankind. Being the great anti-hero he is, he says "fuck all that" because he wants to live life his way and he's nobody's puppet, even if his way causes himself and others pain and suffering.

How this affected me, besides giving me the urge to dye my hair blond again and wear a trench coat for no good reason, is I realized I can't stop being me. I can work to improve myself on a daily basis. I can practice the Four Agreements and principles of Buddhism to the best of my ability. I can work on my empathy towards others I don't agree with or like. But sometimes I have to let "the old me" out on occasion, because that persona with its attitude its mouthy bullshit is part of me. I am my imperfections, and I can embrace them.

An example of this is that I've been working on not having to be right or not having to win, because it's an ego thing. So, I've avoided getting into arguments both in real life and on social networks, because trying to one up someone on Facebook or even in person when they won't change their opinion is a big empty waste of time, usually. But there needs to be a balance, like in everything. Right, don't fight everybody you think is wrong, but don't not say anything ever. So sure enough, in the middle of thinking about all this a "friend" on Facebook posts the dumbest thing I've read in a long time regarding how "redskin" is not offensive and is instead a term of honor. He could say this because, as he put it, he has "American Indian" blood in him. After a few comments of people saying "amen" and "agreed", I broke my little "let it go" thing and had to say something. Did it change his mind? No. Did I make anyone think about their own bullshit with my response? Probably not. But my gut told me, "Fuck him." My new principles and being sober allowed me to intelligently respond without personal attacks, so there's that. I didn't have to respond at all. But it's in my nature to combat loudly broadcasted stupidity and bullying, even on stupid Facebook. Even on the bus. Even in line at the convenience store. Even at the sober house.

I am aware that telling an ex-coworker on Facebook he used the "I can say that because I have friends who are black" argument means very little in the grand scheme of things, but it just helped things click with me. I wasn't evil in the past. Not everything I was sucked. I can't try to throw everything away because I would just be fighting my nature. I have to trust that being myself will work out because my perception is no longer distorted in a drunken, doped-up haze of self-centered motivation.

I will put my foot in my mouth. But making mistakes is better than doing nothing. Maybe I learn from them and the next time I just put my toe in my mouth.

And all this came from a comic book and a random guy I know who got angry at Bob Costas. Life is weird.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When the Going Gets Tough...

Things are going well for me. I love my job. I love doing stand-up comedy. I enjoy skateboarding and meditation immensely. I go to sleep without stress and wake up the next day refreshed...after coffee. While I don't have money for my own place yet, I am able to afford my probation payments, and I'll be done with those by December.

I went on a date recently like a real boy.

Everything is going my way. And because things are amazing right now, I am already preparing myself for the future when things get bumpy again. Life isn't just all ups and no downs, of course.

I have heard many people in treatment talk about how they always screw things up when everything is going well. I used to think the same way. You convince yourself that you can't be happy, and that's why you sabotage your happiness. You'll hear the same old story..."I was in recovery and drug-free with a good job, and then I decided to go ruin it all."

I do not believe that we fuck things up to ensure we won't remain happy. I think we get comfortable and let our guard down when everything is great. "Oh, I feel fine now...I'll stop taking my meds." "I'm going to kick back today...I'm not going to do my daily workout/meditation." "I don't need to work on myself anymore. I'm good." And so forth.

This is not just about addiction either. There have been times in my life where things were great, and I ended up making bad choices because I wasn't remaining mindful and being aware of what the right choices for me were at the time. My intuition is usually right on...if I'm paying attention to it.

It dawned on me the other day that the reason I got into heroin was not because of other drugs or alcohol and certainly not the fault of the person I was dating who got into it with me. It was because I ignored my gut. I remember the moment of saying "fuck it" after deliberating on whether to try it or not. Something told me it would end poorly, but I chose to ignore it because things were great.

And that's the thing about me and these other addicts I've met. When things got tough, we still managed to fight to keep going, even though we were miserable. When life is kicking my ass, I struggle to stay afloat. I don't let myself drown in despair. I may wait until the last possible moment to get help or do what I need to do, but I pull back from the edge...I pull the plane up before it crashes. It makes me think I should fight just as hard now that things are good. Don't let up just because life has turned around for me. Keep it going, you know?

I don't regret my past choices anymore. In fact, I am thankful for mistakes and the shit I put myself through...I'm older and wiser now because of them. I hopefully won't repeat those cycles as I attempt to maintain self-awareness...I don't want to get comfortable and stop working on myself. I am enjoying my life now, and I cherish every good day...the bad days of the past stay with me and remind me to appreciate today.

My favorite "Fight Club" quote 6 months ago was, "Quit trying to control everything and just let go." Today it is, "May I never be complete. May I never be content."

-----------

I have talked with several friends and relatives recently about issues they have been going through. Regardless of how great everything appears to be on their Facebook page (sigh), these people are going through some trying times right now. I feel for each and every one of you, I do. Life sucks sometimes...it just does.

Keep fighting...do what you can. It gets better. I never thought it would. To put it in perspective, I'd like to post something I wasn't going to show anyone when I wrote it. It was an anonymous blog I wrote related to my heroin addiction, and this was the last entry I wrote in it:

SATURDAY, JULY 24, 2010

Heroin and My Mind

This would be the first update in almost 6 months. I don't kid myself and think that anyone actually reads this. This journal is more for me to track this sickness, this addiction that I have.

You have no idea what heroin does to your brain...unless you've researched it online...then you do. Smartypants. Regardless, the first time you use it, I think it plants itself in your head. The longer you do it, the worse it is in your head. So you stop shooting up for a while because you're going clean. Guess who's sitting there with you every day? The Cravings stay with you, and they can be triggered with something as little as just seeing a 20-dollar bill. That's what happens to me. A twenty or higher triggers thoughts of using.

And you fight it...oh, you fight it, to no avail. The 12-Step Programs say you are "powerless over BLANK"...well, I don't know about people who have a "pot addiction", but I sense they just got caught and feel guilty. People who use junk are definitely powerless. I know at least 5 examples of people who can't or currently don't want to quit the shit right now.

I have to be honest here. I don't know how I'm ever going to shake this shit. Part of me still doesn't want to even though it has led me to lose everything I took for granted in my life: my job, my apartment, and my fiance. I lost all three in the past 30 days or so. And you attempt to deal with this loss at the same time trying to be clean...HA! Good luck, everything in the world screams.

Is Narcotics Anonymous and me going to meetings and working steps enough? Can we beat this motherfucker? I don't know if it's possible.

It gets better.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

6 Month Review

I met with Chef to do my 6 month review. It's a great opportunity to provide feedback, receive feedback and ask for a raise. In other places I've worked, my review was always more formal, bland and with my immediate supervisor as opposed to the owner. They were always just standard procedure and a waste of time. But there's a reason I still work where I do. I like being on a first name basis with the owners.

Reviews in an office are such a pain in the ass. You have to fill out a form reviewing yourself, practically defending your employment. You do all the work for your manager, really.

"What are areas in which you feel you have excelled?"
"What are areas in which you feel you could improve?"
"Where do you see yourself in 6 months?"
"Don't you think there is something more important that you could be doing instead of this questionnaire, like checking Facebook again? Or even Reddit?"

I've worked really hard for 6 months. I did my best every day because of a renewed work ethic...because I'm a professional, dammit. Also, because I was recommended by my old boss. Chef told me when we met, "I've never had a recommendation for a dishwasher before. This is a first." I was not going to disappoint. No way.

This was what Chef told me in regards to "areas of improvement":


Chef: My advice to you would be, never stop learning. Don't let yourself become stagnant or routine.

Me: Avoid complacency.

Chef: Absolutely. You've told me about the path you are on, and you are a pleasure to work with, John. This is a really hard job that you do, and you keep us going. I want to see you continue to grow during your time with us here, and I want to help you in any way I can. And I want to help when your path takes you some place else.


Well, shit. Is there any question I'm in the right place at this point in my life? Way to give me life advice, Chef. Definitely needed to hear that.

Then he said:

"And, you'll be getting a raise."

Okay! Well, looks like that about does it. And I didn't have to fill out any paperwork. Now THAT is a review.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lesson Learned

I was in no mood to get up today. I slept for 8 hours, but every bit of me wanted just one more hour. In my head, What I Want To Do began debating with What I Should Do. "We don't HAVE to get up right now...sure, we'll miss the staff meal at work, but we're not hungry, are we? We're fucking tired." I remember thinking, Okay, fine...let's learn a lesson here. I'll sleep until the last possible moment then rush to work. I will then have a bad day because of it. This will teach me to get up on time.

What a crock of shit. I just lied to myself to be comfortable with going back to sleep. Eh, whatever. Zzzzzz...

Sure enough, I had to rush to get ready...rush to the bus, which then showed up late...skate like a demon to work and start my shift without even taking a moment to prepare myself. But then everything went just fine for the first half of work. I was well rested and in a decent mood. Some lesson I taught myself, eh?

Then something happened. The prep work I was going to do during my shift was not going to get done because we were busy and dishes needed washing. Anxiety hit me, and my mood turned sour. I started giving dirty looks to servers and the busser as they brought me more stuff to wash, and I shouted, in my head, Not now, assholes! I have to finish up green beans and potatoes! I began to freak myself out.

And then this occurred:

You don't have to believe your thoughts.

Yes, thank you, brain. I'm quite aware of that. I've read that in several books related to Zen and Buddhism and even during treatment. I have that down, thank you.

Why are you upset? Let's break it down.

Gee, I'd love to, but I'm a little fucking busy.

Enjoy.

Okay, fine. I don't think I'll be able to finish prepping that big box of green beans AND cut all the potatoes AND wash everything. Oh, and they're almost out of plates with paper for the burgers and fries. I have to do some of them.

Well, what are you going to do?

I'm going to do the most important stuff. Prioritize. We'll get through it, but this still sucks.

Why the anxiety?

Because I can't do what I wanted to. I'm afraid they'll run out of something they need for an order.

But you're doing your best. And you're being mindful of what they need immediately.

Well, yeah...

So why are you beating yourself up with fear of something that probably won't happen?

Because...I don't want to let them down.

If they run out, will they yell at you?

No...they'll just tell me they need something as soon as possible.

So, you're making yourself feel bad worrying about something that probably won't happen, all because you're not as in control of everything as you thought?

Sigh...apparently.

Quit trying to control everything...

...and just let go. Thank you, Tyler Durden.

Hey, I'm just your brain, what do I know? Bet you feel better now though.

Yeah, I do.

You just challenged your thoughts. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, bitch...good job.

(and scene.)

I finished my shift. The prep I didn't finish will get done tomorrow, either by somebody on day shift or by me tomorrow. I can't believe I that challenging thoughts and feelings worked. Actually, of course I can believe it. It's just crazy how real and important those thoughts, feelings and anxiety were for such a short period of time. Oh no, the end of the world is nigh...and then it's gone.

So yeah, the lesson I learned today was not the one planned it was one I needed reminding about: I don't have to believe my thoughts.

But here's the real lesson I learned tonight. I have a couple of friends who messaged me today and needed to talk. Maybe they needed my input, but probably they just needed me to be there and listen. Had I woke up when my alarm first went off today, I could have talked to them via phone, text and/or Facebook messages. Instead, I slept. I didn't know they wanted to talk until afterwards of course, and I am not responsible for other people, sure...but that's not the point. I want to be there for the people I care about. Hell, I want to be there for people I don't care about, too. 

I can't give when I'm being about me and what I want. Sleeping in occasionally for me is fine...but I knew what I should have done. And that's the thing. My new life relies on avoiding complacency and following my intuition that tells me to do things I don't want to do...but that I know I need to.

That's what I learned today.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

One Year, or, My Mother's Birthday


September 12, 2012...my mother picked me up in San Antonio and drove me to Austin to my "appointment" with a Travis County probation officer...where we knew I would be arrested and spend an unknown amount of time in jail. It was my mother's birthday. While she pointed out it was the first time in a long time that she and I spent time together on her birthday, I don't think that made the situation any less awful.

I had quit drinking before this, and the exact day didn't mean that much to me. I thought the date was arbitrary...that it should be about the mindset and the actual decision to quit. However, I told her that I wanted to make my sobriety date that day, 9/12/12, because the whole day was "sobering" on different levels, let me tell you. I told her I wanted to be sober for a year for her next birthday. I was just happy I was led away in handcuffs out of her sight.

Well, it's today.


I've been to a couple of AA meetings last weekend, and I am going to a couple this weekend, specifically to be "recognized" for 1 year of sobriety...but it's not about me. It's to possibly encourage new people to keep on if they want to. This 1 year chip goes to my mom.

What they ask in meetings when you are recognized for 1 year clean and sober is, "How did you do it?" All I did was change everything. No big deal. Heh. Also, I had to fail and screw up just enough to eliminate all denial but not so much that it killed me. For some reason, I'm still here.

The most important thing I did was I made the decision to be done. I finally had enough. You might be thinking, "no shit." Yes shit. I had to stop lying to myself about quitting when I knew I'd want to drink after probation...or maybe I could still take pain medication when my back hurt from work or maybe I could smoke weed later once I'm done with everything because other people can...

No. No I can't. I was done. And just to be sure, the 6 months I spent away from everyone reinforced that decision.

To be completely honest, I did not do this with the 12 steps and a sponsor. I don't like broadcasting this in groups or treatment because I don't want to encourage other guys to say, "Yeah, AA is bullshit!" Recovery programs are like weight loss programs...just because a certain program doesn't work for you doesn't mean it hasn't helped others "lose weight." Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have helped a lot of people. And the guys I met in treatment who were anti 12-step are all either back in treatment or jail now. Seriously. I just avoid extremists. This is about me improving my life, it's not a competition.

So what did I do? I changed my thinking. I actually learned something that was poorly taught to us in the SMART Program. Cognitive Behavior Therapy lite. But, because I wanted to change badly, I read all the books available and focused on changing my thinking patterns in order to change my destructive behaviors. I spent my months of free time under lock and key focusing on the principles of Buddhism and meditation. I read the book, The Four Agreements, and I just tried to follow the four key principles of that book daily: don't make assumptions; don't take anything personally; be impeccable with your word; always do your best.

When I got out of treatment and into the real world, I fought becoming complacent and tried to be mindful of my attitude, behavior, mindset and motivation daily. I tried to improve myself every day. I tried to remember to appreciate the moment whenever I could. When I started my new job washing dishes, I worked my ass off. I still try to do my best. I'm thorough at work...because I'm not in a rush to get finished to make it to the bar before last call.

I am on pace to pay off probation in time by the end of the year. I'll be finished with probation next March. I do comedy when I can. I am funny sober...and I enjoy myself when I am around old comedian friends and when I perform.

I make less money than I have since the 90's. I am also at peace with myself and happier than I have been in a long, long time. I try to be completely honest through this blog because getting thoughts out of my head onto this blog puts me at ease.

I like myself again, and I could care less what you think of me....as opposed to not so long ago when I really cared what everyone thought and I didn't like me at all. I'm fairly sure those things are related, don't you?

I still have a long way to go, but don't we all?

I don't think I'm in any position to give advice to anyone...other than to give you a nice playbook of what not to do in almost every situation. "Hey, here's what I did, and it sucked!"

Follow your own path. Make a real decision and go from there...but you have to be in a position where you are truly honest with yourself, because that way you'll know what you have to do and when you're just bullshitting.

If that makes any sense to you, then explain it to me later, because I'm still trying to grasp it.

Oh yeah, and remember to breathe.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The '95 Phone Challenge



The YouTube video, I Forgot My Phone, essentially shows the main character attempting to connect with people who are too busy connecting with their phone. It was posted 2 weeks ago and already has over 21,000,000 views. I wonder how many of those views were on a cell phone.

I've been hating my phone for a while now. I had developed an OCD thing with notifications on my phone...as in, I don't like them. I have to read or listen to messages, check my e-mail, play my Words With Friends games, check Twitter and so on until the notifications go away. Really, John? Did a piece of shit from Cricket actually give you anxiety? Apparently so.

One of the benefits of being in jail/treatment for 6 months was not having a phone or Internet. It was weird for the first couple of months. I swear I felt my the phone that wasn't in my pocket vibrate every once in a while. But then, I didn't miss it anymore. I began to enjoy reading actual books and playing chess and Scrabble face to face with people.

Then I got my phone back. Having it again was kind of yay and ugh at the same time. I immediately fell back into constantly checking Facebook, playing Words With Friends, reading Twitter and texting when I wasn't doing anything...or even while in the middle of doing things. I started becoming very irritated when I used my phone, even just texting or phone calls.

This is ironic because everyone who knew Drunk John knew he liked to drunk dial, drunk text and drunk ramble. A lot. Usually at 2am. On a weeknight. (sorry)

Essentially, part of me didn't want to be one of these people not being present because they have to take a picture or video something all the time. Most of it, though, is I think I liked having free time without a device requiring my attention. Well, what the hell...I'm a big boy (kinda). I can do something about it.

I cut off most notifications, finally. That was a no-brainer. I ended up deleting the Facebook app because my phone has the storage capacity of a floppy disk using performance enhancing drugs. I quit using Twitter because I suck at it. And yet, that wasn't enough.

So, I came up with something for myself called The '95 Phone Challenge that I've been doing for a little over a week now. It started off with me swearing that I wouldn't look at my phone in public except to answer a call or text. I would read a book every time I felt like looking at my phone like everyone everywhere seemed to be doing. I decided to go further with it. I decided I would treat my cell phone like it was 1995. '95 was one of my favorite years, and, from what I remember, I enjoyed life and was very social without a cell. (Granted, I was also young and a college senior...I am aware that I am neither.)

The challenge was that I could only use my phone if I was somewhere that had a land line available for use. I can use my phone at home, obviously. There is a phone at work, so I can use it right before or after my shift. Technically, I can check my phone if I walk past a pay phone. Otherwise, it stays in my backpack or pocket. It doesn't exist when I'm out and about. Land lines only...other people's cell phones don't count. In 1995 anyone with a big-ass cell phone couldn't afford the minutes to let someone else make a call anyway.

I want to be present in the moment. I want to actually take in life instead of spending time reading about others taking in life or looking at their pictures of them being active. I think it's great that I can see what friends and family are doing with their lives, but technology makes it too easy for me to just waste online.

Not only that, but when I spend all that time staring at the computer screen or my phone, I end up just reading a bunch of shit I normally wouldn't, like comments. Every post on Facebook...every news article...every YouTube video...everything online (including this blog post) has an option to post a comment. And they're almost all horrible, opinionated and useless. If I limit how much time I spend online, I'll limit what I read.

So far, I like the challenge. One thing I've noticed is when I do use my phone and text or call a friend, I'm happier about it and therefore, I can have a pleasant conversation...as opposed to before where I would essentially end conversations abruptly because I was a cranky pants.

I read more. I can read books on my phone, sure...but it's not the same as a real book...and also, it's really frickin' easy to stop reading and go check Wikipedia about something in my head...then sneak over to Facebook...then YouTube...then ooh, look, cat pictures...then--ah, crap, I was reading...

I wanted to post about this to let you guys know I feel like I am more aware of my surroundings...like I'm paying more attention to what is actually going on around me. Granted, I should probably not listen to my iPod as much as I do too, but I can't listen to people on the bus. That's a bit too much awareness.

I also wanted to let you know about this so that if you call or text me and I don't respond, you'll know why. "Oh, he must not be home. Hopefully he'll check his answering machine later."

Next week on "Fuck Technology": Old man Rabon recommends dropping Instagram and setting up a darkroom in your home.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Example of the Universe Working Its Magic

My father took me out for a late lunch today, and it was great catching up with him. As he dropped me off, he handed me this:
The fresh maker?

Me: Thanks. Are you trying to say something about my breath?
Dad: No, I didn't realize it was gum when I got it. My teeth are too bad for gum.

I guess this is what they put candy and gum in now? A "protective" plastic case so that the gum makes a lot of noise as you skate down the street? Awesome...like I'm packing a baby rattle or a can with pennies in it to scare dogs and hobos.

I don't remember the last time I had a pack of gum on me, much less chewed it. I've been smoking for 20 years, and I haven't really used anything to curb the oral fixation thing since I started the process of quitting. (I almost wrote "oral fetish thing", but that's a completely different issue altogether.) So, I attempted to enjoy the minty-ness as I chewed a piece until I became annoyed by it (about 3 minutes), threw it away...and got another piece 10 minutes later.

I went to the public library for a couple of hours, and then skated to the bus stop at 5th and Lamar to go home. As I stood there waiting for the bus, I reached for that stupid noisy pack of gum. At that moment, this older lady in a gaudy dress and Jackie O sunglasses walked up to the bus stop carrying a shopping bag and smoking a cigarette. She was wearing one of those hats that says, "Hey, I'm old and the sun could kill me. Pretend I'm fashionable."

The bus came into sight a few blocks away, so she hurriedly inhaled the rest of her Pall Mall and started a violent coughing fit. She flung the but away and covered her mouth as she hacked uncontrollably into her hand. I then heard her make the sound of hocking a loogie...but with no spit. Lovely.

She finished, attempted to compose herself and straightened her sunglasses. It was at this moment that I stretched out my hand and lightly shook the Mentos in her direction.

Me (with slight smirk): (rattle rattle) "Gum?"

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Like" My Ignorance!

Tuesday night, I was deep in thought at work when two servers came in to drop off plates and silverware. I overheard one saying to the other, "...I don't know. It's that whole rebellion thing against Disney I think. She's just trying to break out of that image."

It was a Miley Cyrus discussion. This was Tuesday night...there had been coworkers talking about this for two days now. TWO DAYS. I had spent the two days thinking over what I just posted. That's quite a jump from "emotional and mental struggle" to "OMG she kept sticking her tongue out!"

On Facebook, I saw a status update that said to shut the hell up about it already. I agree. Then I saw another one that said, "Enough about the VMAs! There are way more important things to talk about!"

Hm. Are there? I mean, I understand there are more important issues going on in the world. And I think there are way more important things that CNN could be covering instead of becoming Miley Cyrus' promotion machine.

But I ask you, is there anything actually important being discussed on Facebook? Is there really? I don't mean links of articles, blogs or posts that one might find informative, I mean discussions and comments from friends or their friends. I personally wish there was an app that blocked comments on every YouTube video, news article and blog update I view online, because nothing brings out ignorance and hate like the lack of restraint people have behind their phone or computer.

It's also that we like to talk out of our ass with very little knowledge or research of what we're bullshitting about. Some of the discussions I hear on the bus or at work are just...sad. I'd rather them talk about the flavor of the week pop singer or who is going to play a comic book character as opposed to, say, Syria.

(I strongly believe that hate cannot be defeated by hate. I also understand we can't invade Syria and give Bashar al-Assad a hug and fix shit. It hurts to read about possible chemical warfare used in that country, and how we're contemplating air raids. And yet, we apparently don't mind slaughter in Egypt as we don't want to intervene with a western ally. We shouldn't be comfortable with the deaths of civilians, regardless of their religion, political affiliation and regardless of the methods used by military power to kill.)

Now, when I think about Syria, about Egypt, the last thing I want to hear or read are the opinions of some of my "friends" and coworkers who recently vocalized their opinion passionately regarding little white girls twerking.

It's nice to be distracted by meaningless crap. I think it gives you a break from all the horrible things that go on daily that make you feel like you've lost hope in humanity. I get that feeling...and then somebody posts a video of a cat trying to fit in a tiny box unsuccessfully. "I needed that. Sweet. Okay, back to it."

I encourage everyone to keep themselves informed about what's going on in the world so that, if anything, we can maintain some perspective in our lives. Yes, I have anxiety issues and I need to over-analyze strange thought patterns and feelings I have, but I should be thankful for what I don't have to go through on a daily basis.

I also encourage everyone to keep themselves informed so that you don't sound like a moron who knows more about Honey Boo Boo than Edward Snowden.

But I think the bottom line is, I'd rather people talk about meaningless stuff they know about vs important stuff they don't know about. It's easier to ignore.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Good Talk.

Thank you for listening to me. I don't really need advice so much as someone to just sit there and let me work out all these thoughts rattling in my head. You don't know me that well, so I think I can be completely honest and spill it all without trying to censor myself. Also, you can be objective since we have no real past history.

I have been sober for almost a year now, and I am not currently dealing with "cravings" or "desires" for alcohol or drugs. I'm dealing with my overactive brain and inconsistent emotional states. But I'll tell ya, I'm not struggling with "what does it all mean." I am trying to figure out "what I mean." Why do I react the way I do in social situations now? Why do I not connect like I want to? Why do I reject or fight the possibility of intimacy?

One thing at a time.

When I am out at a comedy show or even my work party I went to recently, I do okay conversing with a few people I know or like. But if I get caught up in a conversation that I did not initiate I feel like I have completely forgot how to talk to someone. It's not so much anxiety as I get hit with an extreme irritation with small talk, and I just want to end it quickly and walk away as if it's a complete waste of my time. It's bizarre, because I've always been social, even before being a boozehound. It's like I have to find something fascinating about the person or group or people in order to engage them at all. I remember thinking once this past week as I was in the middle of a discussion, "Why am I talking to this guy? He could care less about me and I prefer not to hear anything he has to say. No offense, guy, but you bore the shit out of me."

Drunk or buzzed people are difficult to communicate with because I'm on a different wavelength. The sober people I've been around tend to talk about being sober which is fairly annoying to me now. And normal people, those who aren't in recovery or drinkers, I perceive them to be too conventional to really connect with.

All of what I just said is judgmental, and I'm lumping everyone in three general categories in order to write off having to come out of my self-imposed isolation. It's unhealthy. But that is what's going on in my head right recently. There is a fourth category of a select few people I find unique and who "get me" on some level. I believe I have a desire to find more people that fit in that fourth category. The problem with this is that I have set up self-imposed criteria that are almost impossible for new people I might meet to match up to.

At least I recognize I'm making assumptions of others and putting unrealistic expectations on them. And at least I'm not telling them I'm doing this to them. How big of an asshole would I be then?

"I'm sorry, I'm going to have to interrupt you as I see no point in finishing this conversation. Good luck with talking about yourself at length in the future."

"No, I don't have a sponsor, thanks for asking. Do you genuinely care that I don't have one or is the idea that I've been sober longer than you make you feel self-conscious about your own program? You are aware we could talk about other things than the 12 goddamn steps, right? Or not. I'm going to go get more coffee."

You know what I've told more than one girl before? "Don't fall in love with me." How arrogant is that shit? And I was genuine when I said it, because at the time, all I could think was, "I dig you, but I don't see me falling for you, and if you fall in love with me I'll only hurt you. And I don't want to hurt anyone anymore."

Intro to Psych analysis will tell you that because I have been hurt in the past, I'm avoiding intimacy because I don't want to get hurt again. Man, I wish it was that simple.

I have a history of being in a relationship too long when I know it's over, or maybe I don't try hard enough? Regardless, I don't want to be without that person, but when I'm with her I'm unhappy and unfulfilled. I get complacent and eventually end the relationship and hurt her because I won't communicate.

When you take that history and magnify it with knowing what true love feels like...and I do...what happens is I refuse to even remotely develop a possible relationship if it doesn't "feel" like I think it should. Am I still in love with Her? I think I'm still caught up with the concept of Her. The problem with memories are they aren't true history...they're distorted...you remember what you want to, so the longer you hold on to old memories and want them again the more they change and the more they aren't genuine. However, it doesn't change that I was in love. Now I'm not. And if I don't feel that "thing", it feels like a waste of time.

Completely unfair. I should be lucky anyone finds me appealing. Anxiety-ridden exjunkie alcoholic comedian with baggage. "Ooh, sign me up." Really?

There's a painting by Oskar Kokoschka called "The Tempest (Bride of the Wind)" which shows a man and woman post intercourse. She's sleeping soundly and he's wide awake, almost tortured with way too much going on in his head. I can relate.

By the way, that's the first time I've said all that shit out loud...and I'll be posting it publicly too. All I have is honesty about my thoughts and feelings. I will hopefully let go of the Her concept, treat the memories of Her as fond memories, and maybe images of Her won't keep visiting me in my dreams. As for reality and the present, I just have to take it day by day, and don't mindfuck myself out of enjoying today. I need to be mindful of today and just deal with these issues as they arise. Give myself a chance and the time to make a connection on whatever level. I think that makes the most sense.

Breathe. And shit.

Wow, okay, all that is out there. I feel better. I really appreciate you sitting there patiently while I poured my heart out.


"Meow!"

(pets resident outdoor cat) Meow indeed. You're right, it isn't always about me. Good talk, kitty.

Monday, August 19, 2013

What's My Motivation Here?


I wrote that down about 4 months ago. These are still goals of mine. Once I pay off probation by the end of the year, I will add a new goal, which is to save money to move into my own place...my own room, at least. Bob is a great roommate and all, but I don't want to get used to another alcoholic snoring when I try to sleep. No offense, Bob.

Side note: I don't suppose anyone would be interested in a CD called "Natural Sounds of a Recovering Alcoholic Snoring" as a sleep aid? Get back to me on that.

I rarely think about "goals" or "long term" because I am working on embracing the Buddhist concept of "being present". It's just like the Ralph Waldo Emerson saying, "Life is a journey, not a destination." I don't want to be living so much in the past or the future that I miss out on the present moment. It's hard not to think like I used to, regretting or longing to correct or even relive the past and fearing the uncertainty of the future.

I had to change my thinking to change my behavior to change my life. For those of you worried about me dealing with the temptation to drink again, that's not what I struggle with. I struggle with old thought patterns and talking myself into taking it easy and being complacent. This is a daily battle. So far so good.

The other night, one of friends asked me, "What do you want? Like deep down...is there something you really desire that you currently don't have?"

Yeah. There is.

I figured out the reason...the motivation for wanting to move forward. It's why I want to pay off Travis County and get my own living space again. It is also something I didn't share in group or individual counseling...mainly because it more than likely would have lead to more counseling.

I want to be a cat owner again.

This is not a joke. I really miss owning a cat. I miss having a furry ball of disinterest occasionally pay attention to me because they're hungry or bored. I don't feel right having all these black shirts and black work pants without any hair on them. I miss the meowing alarm clock. And the sense of entitlement in an adorable package. I even miss having a box of shit.

(For the record, there's nothing in the sober house rules that says I can't currently have a box of shit in my room. However, a random container of feces and litter sans feline is not satisfactory.)

It's why I like every damn cat picture posted on Facebook. I own a cat vicariously through my friends. By the way, you guys are slacking. There's more pictures of children in my Newsfeed than cats recently, and I'm not happy. Please help restore the balance.

Yes, yes, I also want to grow as a human being, make people and enjoy life and give back to others and blah blah blah...I want a kitty.

That's my motivation.

Miss you, Lucy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pulling The Age Card

(Out of curiosity, I googled "pulling the age card" and found a blog of an 18-year-old who said she was sick of people thinking she didn't know what true love was because she was young and defended her relationship of 4 months. Two months later was a blog post titled "Forever alone" about the pain of being single again. Awkward...)

I've been working on making assumptions about people and jumping to conclusions. A friend of mine and I talked about this just tonight...making a snap judgment about a person for whatever reason (age, cleanliness, facial tattoo, wearing a fedora). Even if I'm absolutely right and the person turns out to just like I thought they would, that's not the point. I need to give people a chance like they should give me one. We all deserve the opportunity to completely screw up first impressions.

I do, however, fully agree with Louis CK's bit from his new special "Oh My God" that if you're older, you're smarter. "If you're in an argument with somebody and they're older than you, you should listen to them. It doesn't mean they're right, it means that even if they're wrong, their wrongness is rooted in more information than you have."

With that in mind, I don't pull the age card on people often. But I had to once about a month ago. I was going to let this thing go that a 21-year-old had said to me, but it was the third condescending thing he had said in about an hour. He was talking down to me essentially because of a lack of information about me, but he knew that I'm on probation and I wash dishes...and I don't think he really was doing it on purpose. Rather than try to burn him in front of other people to satisfy my ego, I talked to him alone to express something to him...you know, to be civil...and to satisfy my ego.

This is what I said to him:

"Hey listen, there's something you need to understand. I know right now you have a lot going for you, and your life is starting to take off. You're 21 years old, and you have the energy and cockiness of your age. When you're 25, you will look back at how you are now and you'll say, 'Wow, I was kind of an asshole and thought I knew everything. I know so much more about life and who I am now.' 5 years after that, you'll have an established life, be financially stable with a family most likely, and you'll look back and say, 'So much has changed, and I really didn't know what I was doing sometimes, but I made it. I'm glad I make better choices now and settled down.' Well, I'm 10 years older than that second you in the future. So don't fucking patronize me, kid."

I don't necessarily recommend that approach, but it cleared up his tone quite nicely. As in, he doesn't talk to me at all now. I'm comfortable with that.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rocks

The Travis County treatment program I was in (SMART) lasted 140 days. We were able to have outdoor "recreation" for about an hour a day. The multitude of activities available to us were horseshoes, volleyball and a walking track/path that was .9 of a mile long.

Side note: what is it with sobriety and fucking volleyball? When 12-step groups have an event they always have it. You'll find a volleyball court at every rehab. What happens is you get a bunch of alcoholics/addicts together with nothing going on in their lives because they're newly clean, so they get really invested in the stupid volleyball game, and they channel all their frustrations into being super-competitive. In other words, almost everyone becomes an asshole. Fun.

Because some SMART big wigs were visiting, they wanted to make the rec area look more presentable. So they went with pouring cheap gravel over the walking track...those big white driveway rocks. This was beneficial, because instead of the same ol' walking or running a mile routine, now we got to play the game "Who Can Exercise With the Least Amount of Foot and Ankle Injuries." We walked around the gravel, killing the grass and creating an outer track of dirt. If you'll look closely, all Travis County programs have a second track outlining the intended one...metaphorically speaking.

Anyway, recreation. I spent that time exercising some, but mostly keeping to myself, watching the sunset when it was evening recreation and a little walking meditation. In the rock track, I found a small, round rock that I could roll through my fingers like a coin. I would do this or just rub it in my hand when I walked around every day. At the end of rec, I would stash it in the same spot to be used the next day.

At first this confused the staff watching us, because they were keeping an eye out for anybody hiding notes, medication or whatever for someone else. I was asked a few times what it was I was retrieving from my spot. Seeing it was a rock, they would give me a puzzled look and then let me go on my way.

I told myself I would carry the rock every day, and then when I left the SMART facility, I'd take it with me as a reminder of the 140 hours of the outdoors I spent in 5 months...a nice reminder in the future to not put myself back in a place like this. It became important to my routine...something I looked forward to, especially close to the end of my time there. One day, a couple of my friends hid the rock from me and left a ransom note in its place...yes, we were that bored.

One guy asked me what I would do if on my last day the rock was just gone for whatever reason? Would I be upset? I thought about this and about the time invested in it and what it represented to me. And then I said, "Nah, probably not. It IS just a rock, after all."

I do still have it, by the way. It sits right in front of the Buddha candle on my dresser, and every day it reminds me of that time I was "on vacation from life." I also think about that answer I gave, too. To me, that little stone also represents aspects of my material world...not just money and possessions, but also my perceived role and status in life and my public image. It is easy in our society get caught up in trying to find happiness in our things.

And I know that you probably are aware that "money can't buy happiness" and all that shit. However, at least for me, knowing this and living it is retarded hard. I get comfortable with my life and what I think I need in it...my skateboards, clothes, iPod, my reputation in the local comedy scene, my job, my local hangout, my routine. And if I lose one or all of these things, I feel like I lose part of what makes me happy. But yes, Tyler Durden, I am not my job or my skateboard or my reputation. And yes again, it IS only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.

But all extreme alter-ego fight cult mantras aside, if I lose that job...if I lose that thing I think makes me happy, I have to realize that no, I make me happy. That regardless of what that lost thing is, it is just a rock, after all.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Request to Travis County Regarding Early Treatment Completion

Hello,

I was asked by my counselor Don Davis to write a request for early graduation from the SMART Continuing Care program. In order to do this properly, I need to provide a little background.

Since 2003, I have been on probation for almost 7 years. For 70% of the last decade, I have been under supervision of Travis County, and you would think that the fines, classes and conditions of probation would have been enough to make me change. At least change a little?

The fact is, I didn't want to. I knew I was smarter than most people on probation...that I knew what I was doing, and that Travis County wouldn't put me in jail...they needed my money. What had to happen was I had to fail enough, to screw up enough, to shatter all denial that I had about my addictions and the overall path of self-destruction I was on.

Receiving a public intoxication arrest at the end of June 2012 and then being chewed out for my self-centered awful behavior by a dear friend less than a week later were the catalysts for turning everything around. I made the decision to quit drinking. Not just stop drinking until I completed probation, but for good.

It was a few weeks afterwards that I found out I needed to turn myself in due to a motion to revoke probation. I had been living in San Antonio for over a year. One of the best decisions I've ever made was to refrain from drinking or drugs before doing so. Most people would say it wouldn't matter, because you're going to be locked up. But by staying by my commitment to be sober, I went to Travis County Jail with the right frame of mind and right motivation.

I stayed in county jail for 6 weeks, and then I went to SMART for the 140 days. Because of that initial decision for change, and because I'd been to treatment before, I wasn't starting from the bottom. I already had a foundation of what recovery is, so I focused my entire time at SMART towards changing my life and relapse prevention.

I left the SMART facility on March 11th, and I moved into a sober house. I obtained a breathalizer, attended class on Mondays and went to meetings.

That's what it shows, on paper, that I've done. This is what else I've done since entering Travis County Jail:

I've changed just about everything in my life. I read 30+ books in 6 months, and I read at least an hour every night. I'm feeding myself spiritually for the first time through meditation and studying eastern philosophy and religion. I'm eating like a normal person, not like a college freshman. I skateboard everywhere as it is my main transportation, along with Capital Metro. I'm wearing a nicotine patch daily as I'm quitting smoking for good. I exercise daily. I write. I write a lot.

I have a renewed motivation to be genuinely a better person, and not because I "have to", but because I need to. It's been "all about me" for a long time. I am working every day to improve and be a better person. To be better, you have to get out of yourself...show concern for others and for the world. I want to grow every day and avoid being complacent. I like the new me, and I have to continue to work on myself in order to avoid old habits which could lead me back to the old me.

I enjoy Don's class on Monday night. It's healthy to review and share your week, and then become renewed for the upcoming one. However, it is time for the next stage for me. It's growth, and I will need to replace the Monday class with a meeting and do my own weekly review and goal-making session.

I wanted to communicate that I'm on a new path, and that it's no longer lip-service. I would like to request that I be allowed to complete Continuing Care early and proceed to my next life stage.

Thank you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Moment of Clarity

I found myself in a little bit of a mood last week. I didn't feel like talking to anyone for very long, and I was a bit irritable. At first, I thought it was all due to quitting smoking. So did a couple of the guys at my sober house who proceeded to throw cigarettes at me and say, "Hey, smoke these and calm down." Thank you, enablers (wink wink).

It didn't help much, because it wasn't just quitting cigarettes. I had switched a couple of days of work with a guy who wanted Friday and Saturday off. So essentially, I only worked for 7 hours between Thursday the 11th and Wednesday the 17th. Nice little time off, right?

I hated it. I was visibly miserable and I avoided doing anything or being around anyone. I enjoyed reading, meditating and skating, but it was bitch to get me motivated to do any of these activities. I was losing motivation.

Then...Thursday. Back to work for 7 of the next 8 days. I worked my ass off Friday and Saturday. And I snapped out of it. The cloud had been lifted. I could tell it was gone after being at work for only a few hours, too. I just went, "Ahhhhh...there I am. There's that fucking Zen again."

That's why I wash dishes, by the way. It's part of my "treatment". I need regular doses or I get snarky. Worst of all, I get complacent. That's really what happened, I think. I knew I didn't have to work for a while, so I kicked back and didn't do much of anything. I believe that's why a nice dose of busting my ass at work put me back on track.

Now, I told you all that to tell you about this:

4 AM is an amazing time of serenity and silence. Last night, I was outside, watching the moon and the clouds roll through the sky over it. I was content that I was back to my normal self and happy to be back working again. My mind was clear as I was in a sort of meditative state.

And then this thought hit me. HARD. It set off a chain of memories, good and bad...a chain of realizations and ideas...a chain of more and more thoughts until everything in my head lined up. At that moment, I figured out the meaning of life for myself, and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my time on earth and how I was going to live it. It was beautiful.

And something inside me said, "Hey, you might want to write all of this down so that you don't forget it." But I went, "Naw, man...I got this. It's not going away. I need to enjoy this moment. Besides, look at the moon, bro."

Well, I went to bed, at peace with the world. And I woke up, and I don't remember what that main thought was that set off my little epiphany. Whoops.

So yeah, people. That's what I wanted to tell you. I learned something meaningful and felt a divine sense of purpose within myself, and it was supposed to be the defining moment for me moving forward spiritually and emotionally. But I didn't write it down, so...fuck it.

But hey, the moon was pretty, right?

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES