Sunday, August 21, 2011

AA In Boston

So I've been here a little over a week. I have been twice to a Sunday night meeting in the basement of an Episcopal church which, in itself, has the charm of something out of a European village; its Biblically correct foundation built on native rock, and the stairs which you climb to the front door are carved out of this rocky hillside, so that it juts skyward, with all the attendant spiritual connotations. The basement room where the meeting is held is not nearly so inspiring. It's your typical tile-and-cinderblock arrangement, with a central series of tables surrounded by folding chairs.

The woman next to me today had interesting second and third toes -- they came out from the foot nearly an inch before bifurcating into distinct digits -- almost as if they couldn't decide until the last moment whether to be one toe or two. She'd tipped all five metatarsals in a glossy brown. I can't remember a thing about her other than her toes.

When I got to the meeting I was freaking out. I was lonely, heartsick, bored, angry, a little depressed, and haunted as usual by my endless self-jugments and evaluations. But, I sat still, and listened, and something very powerful occurred. I saw my higher power take shape in the room, through the faces and voices of the people who had gathered there. I don't want to go into particulars in case I compromise someone's anonymity, but I will say that people were honest and forthright, and that there was none of the empty showmanship and bravado of some meetings I've been to in the past. And I will say that I arrived at two truths about myself which I think I could do well to consider in the days to come:

1. I don't want to admit what I'm feeling
2. I don't want to ask a higher power for help.

This, after nearly 11 years in the program. Well, I can change that, starting today. I even had the thought, as I was sitting there, that my higher power had perhaps gotten me to Boston purely to get me back into AA. Probably not. But can you put it past him?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What a Week

Something called the Bullpen at work. I have to drive to a major city and participate in this all week. I am not looking forward to it, and I am feeling anxious. It is at times like these that I have to remember my purpose, which is to increase the peace and joy in the world through acceptance and creativity. If I can remember those things, then my purpose gets easier. I don't have any doubts about my abilities to achieve my purpose.

But I do have fears about loss of control, fears about fears, fears about the unknown, and so on. Those are all things I can't control. Those are all things over which I am powerless. Today is a good day to ask my higher power for help.

From the last time I blogged until this one I was doing pretty well, despite my thinking that I needed to work 66 hours last week. Most of that was an exercise in people-pleasing, which I do regret somewhat. However some of it was challenging myself. I remember a line from REBT which says that one should strive to enjoy oneself rather than prove oneself. That's a key line, and gets back to the purpose.

Last night at dinner my wife brought up the idea that even if you can't always be in your purpose, you can strive for situations in which you're doing something purpose-neutral. That is, you're at least not going against your purpose, or depleting your energy for your purpose. I put things like right livelihood into this category. My thoughts are jumbled because I feel I have lots to do today to prepare for my trip, and because I feel guilty for leaving my family. But the best way I can handle that is to go down and hang around with them, without feeling that I owe them anything. I don't owe anyone anything. Only myself, and what I owe myself is compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. Higher power, help me to use those tools today, starting with myself.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I'm Getting It

So, my good doctor, you are now working with me on my anger -- and yesterday I was disconcerted because you didn't affirm me the way I wanted to be affirmed. You remained passive when I wanted you to leap out of your chair and declare me healed. Yes, I wanted you to be an external validation point in this journey of mine.

So, I think I get how internal and external validations fit together. First, let me list the external validations I came up with:


How do I value myself currently?


Ability to succeed in an occupation that is outwardly challenging and commands respect, and that causes more anxiety and pain than the occupations of others.


Putting in time doing family things like mowing lawn, cleaning, watching kid. Performing acts that I anticipate others want me to peform, and that I find difficult

Financial Freedom

Making over 100k


ability to compulsively deliver "products" on very little rest. Work, home, writing


Approval of family and work, no challenges, mental control, no anxieties or anger, no sadness, no thoughts I don't want to have


No negative feelings no blood sugar issues no gerd, no anxiety

Time freedom

Never mention my need for free time


Emotional perfection -- no anxiety/anger, no fear, no doubt, no pain

So looking at the list above, I was prompted to think about my anger, and where that might come from. Obviously the list above is pretty rigid -- and it really comes down to my need to manipulate/control the reactions of others to always fill me up with positive validation. But it doesn't stop there, of course. I also need to manipulate the rest of the world, too -- other drivers, the weather, the functioning of my own mind -- in order to have a successful day. Seeing and thinking about this led me to consider my 4th step inventory, where I listed a number of different figures and situations in my past, and then tried to describe the self-defeating belief (SBD) that came from those figures and situations. I'l list that table here with some names redacted:


Events that caused the feelings

Feelings still harbored

Beliefs that support these feelings (all external values for the most part)


Abuse and belittling throughout my childhood. Specifically spanking with kite rod, and interrogation techniques revolving around rhetorical questions

Fear, shame, hatred (him and me), rage

1. You must be perfect and never have bad feelings or behavior

2. You must never be angry or you will probably lose your sanity

3. The world will judge you harshly so you had better be perfect.

4. You are a powerless victim who can’t protect or defend yourself


Our fights, her chronic discontentment

Sadness, shame, feelings of failure

5. Other people can’t be trusted, they will hurt you if they can

6. If other people are disappointed in you they will destroy you

7. It is your responsibility to protect yourself by controlling the feelings of others. Nobody else is allowed to feel bad


Her failure to protect me. Her failure to listen to me. She never listened to what I had to say, and I was afraid to tell her

Sadness, loneliness, isolation

8. It’s not okay to have feelings because nobody will listen to you and it only annoys them and drives them away.


Didn’t protect me from stepfather or that crazy church. Let me be an addict and alcoholic

Sadness, loneliness, powerlessness, rage

9. Even God doesn’t like me, because he’s a judgmental prick

10. The world (God) owes me complete satisfaction for the things I suffered in my childhood. If I don’t get complete satisfaction it makes me angry


Became a second parent and always criticized me, relentlessly

Rage, loneliness, shame, sorrow

11. Even those closest to you still think there’s something wrong or defective about you.


Talk of demons, hell, sin, god’s judgment, man’s unworthiness,

Fear, shame, sorrow

12. You are a danger to yourself because you have the debil in you

13. You must be careful around others because their feelings will contaminate you

14. Sanity and salvation are the same thing. Sanity and dark emotions are incompatible because you may open yourself up to eternal disconnection from God

Looking at this inventory, and cross-referencing it against the SBDs above, I think I can begin to see where my anger comes from. Not only am I asking myself to be perfect, in order to remain sane, but I am also asking the world to never test me, and to never thwart my desires. Of course all this is asking the impossible. It's very helpful to see that.

I don't know where it goes from here, but I feel hopeful, and not too angry today. As you pointed out, anger can also be very tiring -- but feeling it beats the alternative, because when I don't feel it, I can't even begin to see where my valuations and beliefs have strayed off course.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


My wife is sitting across the table from me and our laptops are out in battleship configuration. She told me she'd give me a topic on which I had to write -- immediately I felt myself getting angry. Not a good sign, perhaps for a man about to enter an MFA program. Nonetheless I pretended to be interested, and asked, what was the topic?

Sequels, she said. But then, being well-versed by now in my limited repertoire of facial expressions, she added that I really didn't have to do anything. Making the sign of a zipper across the mouth and discarding a tiny key, she began to type.

Sequels. That's fine. I think first of sequins, of some spangled gown, but there's nothing in that direction since the wardrobes which which I come into most contact, my wife and my son's, are composed primarily of cottons and various wicking fabrics that one finds at outdoor and adventure stores.

I did experience a sequel of sorts today -- my last surf session here in Florida before I head up to frigid and brainy Boston, Boston of the milky sky. My surfing friends have always been unreliable. I also fit into that pattern of behavior where they are concerned. Missed movies, broken promises to do dinners together, surf trips to Costa or Niceragua aborted at the last moment. Just about the only thing we could rely on was that we'd show up when it was time to surf. In preparation for my move I was selling off my meager quiver of boards. I had a 9'0" longboard that I put on Craigslist, but my friend J came by to see me and told me, in his casual way (standing with legs spread, sunglasses posted on forehead) that he would be happy to buy it from me, because he needed a longboard.

That was Saturday. Today I got a call from him. He wanted to go surf. One last time. One last sequel. Since he hadn't purchased my board yet, I took it with me. Waves were waist high, water cold from some upwelling event, sky clear above us but dark to the south, that darkness emitting an occasional low growl of thunder. I was happy, and wistful. I'd had so many great sessions here, along this bit of coast, too many to count. I'd had a run of wonderful sequels which was now coming to a close. No more mild Florida water. No more chats with the other surfers in the lineup. No more moments of frozen time and complete oblivion as I guided my board along the face of some wave. My surfing life was coming to an end. That was sad. And yet, I was happy too. Happy that I'd come here. Happy that I'd made friends with people like J, who really knew how to rip, and who took their surfing to a level of artistry that would always elude me. I liked watching him. I liked his ease in the water. I liked his faded tattoos and the swell of gut he'd acquired since I first started surfing with him. I even liked (not the pain he experienced but the many stories he had acquired as a result of) his tendency to marry neurotic women. This time, though, he felt he'd gotten it right. Since we started surfing he'd been divorced twice, and now his girlfriend was pregnant. This made him nervous. I was glad to hear him talk about it in the waves. There are things you can say to your surfing friends in the lineup that you can't say anywhere else. It's like opening the door on your subconscious. We happily gave vent to the most vile and disgusting images in our psyche. We traded vicious insults. We picked out waves for each other.

I had to be home for lunch. This is what I'd promised. There was packing to do and a young son that needed attention. I looked at the pier, and down the coast toward the two hotels which marked the halfway point of the beach. I thought about all the sessions, the friends, the waves, the shifting sand, the hurricanes, the crazy wipeouts I'd seen, the girls ripping, the young dudes throwing jellyfish at each other, the broken boards, the bloody faces, the hope of every surfer, always believing in that next wave. And that's the thing about surfing, I guess. Each session is a series of sequels. Each wave is a step into the next perfect moment. I promised myself to find a way to surf when my school was done.

I don't know if I'll make it back or not. Boston might change me. Make me happy in tweeds. I might to my horror love sailing or sculling. I might turn into some red-faced pedant on skates, or some ecstatic ski bum in the northeastern mountains. I sure hope not. There's nothing like glass. But I guess Boston is the next sequel. It's my wave and I'm taking it.

And by the way, J. never called to buy the board. I will have to sell it to a stranger. I'm glad that old J. didn't let me down by suddenly becoming reliable.


Imagine my surprise to find out I was an emotional perfectionist. I never would've seen that coming. I always knew that emotions such as anger, or fear, or sadness, were unpleasant to me, but I didn't realize the level to which I had suppressed these feelings as a means of being "saved" or "sane" (in the world of my upbringing Christian salvation and sanity were conflated with one another). Since I really believed that salvation or sanity depended upon my not feeling these emotions -- that is, that if I did feel these emotions it must have meant there was some flaw in me, some part of the system which I was applying incorrectly, I spent lots of time and effort not feeling angry, upset, sorrowful, scared, etc. Once in a while these emotions would erupt -- but for the most part I kept them "successfully" repressed.

This emotional perfectionism led me to distance mentally from any real-world cause of distress. For instance, if I felt anxious, I would attribute this to some dietary change, some subtle imbalance in chemistry brought about by the over-or-under-application of a supplement or medicine. Sometimes I would blame my family, or someone around me, as if they were projecting the unwanted feeling on me.

The people whom I resented were invariably the people who represented my experience of one or more of these unwanted feelings. Rather than deal with the issues, I would avoid the people -- or control them in such a way as to ensure that they didn't ask me to experience anything negative.

As I said before, once in a while I would have some cathartic experience which left me feeling relaxed and happily empty -- but these experiences were accidental, and sporadic. It makes sense to me now that this model is not integrative at all. My behaviors of avoidance and control make sense to me. My search for external validation and valuation make sense. Not that I am endorsing them, but that I better understand the motivation.

I am changing my goals from the model above to a goal of integration. That means I am going to begin rewarding myself based on internal valuation and will reward myself for the successful experience of emotions -- the whole palate. One last thought in this ramble; it makes sense now that when I would travel for business I would feel so fulfilled. Unable to control my environment, I was also unable to keep the "bad" feelings at bay -- and consequently, at the end of the day or at the end of my trip I would feel relaxed and happy. I had been forced by circumstances to integrate, and it felt good.

I guess that's where the seventh step comes in. I can ask my higher power to help change my intolerance of "shadow" feelings, and allow me to better feel and integrate these emotions.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

High School Football

Took the young son to a local high school football game last night. On the drive over we saw a ring of white illumination far across the waterway -- the famed Friday night lights. It was after halftime when we arrived, and the ticket booths were already closed, so we walked right in. The concrete bleachers were a little daunting for the young son, and he asked daddy to carry him up. We sat halfway up the bleachers, just next to the band section, which, as it was after halftime and the band was taking a break, was empty. The field itself sat inside a large cinder track, and the blaze of the lights made a thick black curtain of the sky surrounding the field. Little man wanted to know about everything. Who were the cheerleaders? What were they doing? Who were the dancers? Why were people yelling? Where was the ball? Who was wonning?

My wife and I answered the questions as well as we could; little man sat on my wife's lap. A large African-American woman sat in front of us, cheering on her son. When she shifted in hers seat she emitted a rather nauseating stench. Behind us a trio of high-school girls, big, and rubbery, and outrageously awkward, were fighting over a paper basket of French fries. The game was 26-0 in favor of the home team, so naturally I began to root for the visitors, who could not advance the ball on offense to save their lives. The only play which worked for them was a draw or trap to the fullback, a powerful brute who shed would-be tacklers with a twitch of his shoulders -- but alas, he was not fast enough to evade the fleet defensive backs who dove at his feet, and tripped him up. He went down under a pile of yellow jerseys. When the visitors were on defense, they had a cornerback with skills -- he had one interception, and another near-pick. Other than that, the home team dominated to such a degree that eve the fans around us seemed bored.

Perhaps were were all taking our cue from the cheerleaders, who showed little interest in pep, or rallying. They talked amongst themselves, or did impromptu dances. When a player was slow getting up, they sat down and crossed their fingers to indicate their good wishes but then they were screened from the field by the backs of the football team, and they often remained sitting on the track long after the injured player had gone back to the sideline. The few cheers they did crank out were ragged, and uninspiring. The dancing girls in their black leotards were not much better. They repeated a rump-shaker routine which involved one hand behind the head and the hips thrusting outward. They spent long stretches socializing with each other, and with the boys who packed the front rows of the bleachers. Only when the band came back did the game take on a real football atmosphere. The drummers were vigorous, and enthusiastic, and the horns blared, and the people in the crowd swayed or clapped along. Even the cheerleaders and dancers were roused from their listlessness, and began to move crisply. A large dark girl whose body was perfectly square, like a Lego character, did a tumbling routine down the track and finished by pointing at the band, as if to direct the crowd's adulation to the proper object.

My wife gave out son a ring pop. He wriggled his little finger into the plastic hoop, and popped the blue candy diamond into his mouth. The stream of questions was interrupted while he got his sucker warmed up. The woman next to us pointed out her son, a defensive end on the home team. I watched him rush the passer and get turned away by a massive tackle from the visitors. He was too slight to play defensive end.

Finally, in the fourth quarter, the visiting team kicked a field goal, and so avoided a shutout. We left soon after to avoid the traffic. I could see that ring of light sinking below the trees in my rearview mirror. My son, when asked what he liked about the football game, said, "I liked all of it about it."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Within My Heart

You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

Yes, it's true. He's in there. It's rather unpleasant, actually, and was quite a shock the first time the x-rays indicated some guppy-like presence within my chambers, swimming about. An ultrasound made visible a robe and a staff, and a long dirty beard, and showed this tiny creature gesturing as if in the middle of a sermon.

Nobody is sure what to do. Surgery has been suggested but the risks are too great. He apparently draws nourishment from my blood through some gill-like system, so any attempts to starve him out, or to poison him, might prove fatal for the host.