Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Salvation Diary Six

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

And my current concern is with ridding my life of alcohol and drugs, and learning to live a content life in a sober fashion. I told Richard that right now, A.A. is my higher power, and I try to follow its tenets. I can intellectually understand how A.A. works (one alcoholic helping another, a group of similarly afflicted people getting together to help overcome that problems grasp… the Herd Theory), and I can feel its power when at meetings. I can intellectually grasp the concept of God (Supreme Being, creator of all things… the Turtle Theory), but do not believe that concept exits, in and of itself. So, I have a difficulty using the Higher Power concept in my recovery. Maybe one day I’ll experience a spiritual awakening and be able to accept the more conventional idea of what God is. If so, I’m all for it. It would certainly make things a lot easier (think for a moment how easy it is to be an honest and unapologetic agnostic at best, atheist at worst, in a predominately Christian nation, especially considering Christianity’s penchant for evangelical imperialism).
But I have no doubt that A.A works, so right now that is my higher power. And that’s okay.
Now I feel I can do another Fourth Step. The First: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – That our lives had become unmanageable,” I think I have finally beaten into my head. This very important step cannot be overlooked or compromised in any way. To do so is to flirt with disaster. I have relapsed too many times because I forgot how powerless I was over alcohol, or decided to not care about how unmanageable my life became, and once again strove for the empty false security and heedless oblivion a drug induced euphoria instantly gave to me.
That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? People have asked me repeatedly, why do I drink like that? Why do I hate myself so? Why do I want to live like that?
It’s almost impossible for a nonalcoholic or drug addict to understand.
I don’t hate myself. I think I’m a fairly decent human being, better than some, worse than others (if there is such a thing as better or worse). I may be very insecure, and have a certain capacity to withstand a certain amount of emotional pain, which I don’t care for, and which I’ve discovered drugs and alcohol completely alleviate instantaneously. I can choose to take a drink and not experience what I had believed to be a great deal of pain, or I can choose not to. Those are my only options. I have no others. I can choose to deal with life’s difficulties, joys, temporal concerns in a slow and systematic way, at the same time experiencing constant nagging sufferance, stress, and strain, or find instant (although temporary) relief that the ever present bottle brings.
Up to this point I have chosen the easy way. The temporary way, the solution that solves nothing.
Why? Because I’m an alcoholic, that’s why. No other explanation is necessary.
Why am I an alcoholic? It was always my dream. My first grade teacher one day asked us what it was we wanted to become in life, and I raised my little hand, and said, “A stinking drunk,” and have stuck to that vision ever since despite great sacrifice and hardship, never gaving up, finally achieving my goal. How many millions never get to realize their deepest ambitions?
But I’m being facetious. I do now realize that I am one, and realize what being an alcoholic means and that continuing to drink alcohol is not a satisfactory solution for what ails me. Through a series of disastrous lifetime experiences I have come to this conclusion. I seem to be slow learner in this regard. Many of us are. I had to do what is known as “hitting bottom.” Delve into so much pain that I just didn’t want to hide in denial anymore, and actually made a decision to help myself to never have to live that way again. The Park was my bottom. When I was ready to really understand that, and came to understand that, I understood it, and had completed the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The task at hand is to learn how to live life, with all of its pain and sorrow, with all of its joy and happiness, with all of its mundane, repetitious boredom, with its apparent lack of meaning and purpose – without having to anesthetize myself throughout it, and thereby allow myself to become exposed to the truth, beauty, and significance of what being alive and self-aware really is. I can no longer use things out of myself to help me. I must learn to look within.
Other people can help, but they can’t do it for me. That’s where A.A. comes in. Ultimately it comes back to me. If I truly want to learn a new way of life, set new behavior patterns for myself (which admittedly, is probably the most difficult thing any of us will ever have to do), if I truly want to stop living the way I have in the past, then I must make learning how to change, successfully and positively, the most important thing in my life. Nothing can be more important. NOTHING! No person, place, or thing, can ever be more important that my sobriety. I can’t love, protect, help, or be with someone if I’m not sober. Sobriety first; everything else second. I believe I really have no other choice.
Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Insane is a very appropriate word to describe the way I used to live. I have no trouble admitting that. I am told that a lot of us have difficulty with this Step because they can’t identify with insanity. As I said, I have no problem with that at all. If most of us took an honest look at the way we used to act and live while drinking and using, this part of the second Step shouldn’t be difficult. As for the second part of the Step; I believe that A.A. can restore me to sanity. Right now, that’s good enough.
Here’s the tickler (for me, at least), Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Or her. Or it. If I substitute the letters, A.A., or thought of God as in the Buddhist’s “Everything,” or “Oneness,” then I can live with Step Three. That’s all that’s necessary.
The writing of this journal could be considered as an attempt at Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This journal, more than likely will be a more detailed inventory than any the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous will suggest. Which is fine. It’s just going to take a while to complete.
Which is all right too.
In the meantime I’ll probably do a simpler version. A less detailed one, purely for personal maintenance purposes. I’ve done one before. I may do another. As Sigmund Freud often said, “It couldn’t hurt.”
Richard and I also discussed death. He told me that he did not fear death because life was never his. It was a gift from his higher power. Interesting, but probably a bunch of bullshit. He’ll squirm like the rest of us when his time comes.
I told him that I didn’t fear death all that much either (which is true to a point. It’s not happening to me right now, so I’m not particularly concerned with it at the moment), but that the idea of it really pisses me off.
He asked me why.
I told him that for me death represents a cessation of awareness. I won’t be able to experience the things I had always wanted to experience, but had never been able to. Death made me realize how I had wasted my life by drinking and drugging, or that I’ll never get a chance to be successful at what I wished to achieve in life.
It was all pretty depressing really.
I didn’t tell him about another reason. That I would be forgotten. That I would return to nothingness, which is pretty frustrating when you think about it. No one will remember my having been here. I’ll be just another faceless individual that had once existed. A statistic.
I didn’t tell him that because I hadn’t thought of it until I started writing this all down. It really is wonderful to realize that we’ve all defeated insurmountable odds to be here, to be self-aware, if only for a little while (99.99999999999999999998% of the universe is unaware of its own existence). It’s like winning the state lottery every week for a million years. That’s quite a comforting feeling.
He asked me what I though success meant.
I told him that success for me was to be able to experience the simple but important things in life (important to me, at least). To have a family I could love, a woman I could be in love with and be friends with, maybe have children. To have real friends who honestly care about you, not just when things are going well, or when it’s convenient for them to be friends. To have a home. To earn a living doing something I enjoyed doing. To be able to help other people. That would seem to be a great success to me. Material possessions, or social status does not really enter into it.
He said I can still do those things.
He is right. I can still do, or experience those things, some of them at least.
He asked me what school I wanted to attend. I had previously told him that I wished to continue my education. I told him I didn’t know. Glendale, I supposed. I hadn’t really though about it much. I told him I still had a lot of this program to complete, and when (and if) I graduated, I would be seeing the people from the California Department of Rehabilitation, where we would surely discuss this very issue.
These people were the same ones who were financing Richard’s own continuing education. I told him that right now I was just taking things one day at a time.
Richard said he could lend me one of his textbooks on alcohol and drug rehabilitation if I wanted. He knew I was interested in the field, and psychology in general.
I said sure, that would be great.
By now it was two o’clock, which is afternoon break time. We both went to get coffee and donuts (little circles of death, Richard calls them).
I wrote some in the lobby, mainly because Shirley was there, and by sitting in the lobby I get to watch her walk around.
Is this behavior bordering on lecherousness and perversion?
Yes, and delightedly so!
No, not really. I wouldn’t get to see, or talk to her at all if I were sitting somewhere else. How is one supposed to overcome their isolationist tendencies and get to know people if one doesn’t try? Or at least, hang around.
I also read while I was there. I could still be found sitting in the lobby at five-forty, when Jill walked in to begin her group counseling session. Playing the Ice Goddess, she ignored me completely, playing hard to get.
God I want her! But I know she will never be mine.
Obviously it’s her loss.
Later, Gordon, Brian Montague (my new roommate, a sixties holdout), myself, and Kevin Rockoff, went to the Ramo Auditorium at the California Institute of Technology, right here in Pasadena. We went in Gordon’s car, that he bought for $200.00 a few days ago. Nobody knows where Gordon got $200.00, and beneficiaries are not supposed to have cars. We used it anyway, rebels that we are. We went there to hear the Occidental Caltech Symphony Orchestra perform L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2, by George Bizet (of “Carmen” fame), and a cello and Orchestra, by Arthur Honegger, and Symphony No. 7, in A Major, Op. 92, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
I tend to enjoy classical music (but I can’t stand operas, or movie musicals (except Bob Fosse). How often do you see people walking down a street in the rain breaking out into song and dance? Okay, it happens every once in a while, but not often enough to make it remotely believable), so this was a real treat for me. I don’t know much about classical music, but I know that I enjoy most of it, and I’m very grateful that I’ll probably never have to play it. It seems a bit complicated. The musicians tonight were wonderful though. All those different people, with their different lives, customs, attitudes, and specialties, coming together for a short while to meld their talents into a coherent piece of music. And it was free.
How does one describe a symphony with mere words? One can’t. Nevertheless, it was an amazing thing to see and hear. I went there for the Beethoven, but found I enjoyed the first two pieces much more. This is something I shall have to do again.
I hope, many, many times.
November 21 Wednesday Day 70
I got up and had breakfast again. Then went back to bed.
After lunch I read a short story by H.P. Lovecraft called, “The Tomb.”
Richard came by and dropped off the book, I’ll Quit Tomorrow, by Vernon Johnson. That was nice of him, and very appropriate. I seem to be telling myself that very same thing a lot lately. Maybe this is an attempt by my higher power to get in touch with me.
Anyway, I spent most of the day writing and helping out around the desk, as I’ve been hanging around the lobby too much.
I got angry with one guy who tried to tell me how to do my job. Very silly of me. I was at fault to begin with, and not concerned with providing what he wanted because I didn’t like him. Very unprofessional. But then, this is not my profession. Still, I guess I should apologize. And I would to, if I was not afraid that my apology would make the incident a bigger deal than it already was. Stuff like this tends to nag at me, and I kept thinking about it for the rest of the evening.
In group counseling with Ed Reitz (George went home to San Diego, for the Thanksgiving weekend), we were called upon to describe, very briefly, our essential selves, and then describe how others might see us. Talk about being put on the spot.
When it was my turn, I replied, “Well, let’s see, talk about being put on the spot.” Ed didn’t seem to mind putting people on the spot at all. “Let’s see,” I continued, “I guess I could describe myself as being curious, sincere, fairly intelligent, fairly responsible when I’m not drinking. Alcoholic and drug addicted. I have a strong sense of humor, bordering on the bizarre. I’m interested in the physical sciences, psychology, philosophy, literature, and good movies…” I stopped because I couldn’t think of anything to say with everybody looking at me. There are qualities and attributes that I possess that I don’t care for. I can be impatient, selfish, obsessive, and sometimes dishonest. If I’m drinking, there’s no end to the stupid, ill-considered things I can do, and have done. But that’s not the real me, and for me to ever get nasty I have to be pushed into it. Usually I’m very amicable when I drink. I just want to get high, escape, have a good time, then go to sleep.
Ed then asked me what I thought others might think of me. I told him that I had no idea what others might think of me. I’m not a real demonstrative kind of guy. More your strong and silent type, but also very sensitive and nurturing. I guess I consider myself to be rather androgynous actually, in a masculine sort of way. That’s how I imagine others might see me.
Really, I don’t have the faintest idea how others might see me. Except that I’m ruggedly handsome, and intensely modest.
Seriously though, I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it.
When I finished fumbling around with my answer, Ed said, “Okay,” and went on to the next person.
After group I played a game of cribbage with Warren, and lost. Then I watched, “Star Trek, the Next Generation.” In this episode Picard and Wesley crashed on to a barren planet in a shuttle craft, while a very contrived entity hogged all the water.
That happens all too often.
After, “Star Trek,” I wrote for a while. In fact, I’m writing right now, in real time. I’m now sitting in the large T.V. room, and I’m the only one here. A New Perry Mason thriller is on. Debbie Reynolds is the guest star. Jack Crosley and Thomas Bommarito are shampooing the carpet in the lobby. The have just finished in the room I’m sitting in right now, and they are really busy resenting the fact that I’m sitting where they had just finished cleaning without giving the carpet a good chance to dry. A guy by the name of Sheldon just came out of one of the small T.V. rooms and hiccupped. Jack just came by and told me to go to bed. I suppose I will. Eventually. It is getting kind of late. I will go up to my room, grab the Lovecraft book, and go to the bathroom to read and smoke cigarettes for a while, then go to bed.
Now, having written about it, I suppose I should go make it happen, just to make my account perfectly accurate, and all.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. A very big deal around here.
November 22 Thanksgiving Day Day 71
Thanksgiving Day. A day of thanks for our many blessings.
Yeah right!
I am forced to get out of bed earlier than I would have liked. Anytime I am forced by some outside agency to get out of bed earlier than I would have liked, I’m not too damned thankful. Sometimes I may even get rather grumpy. Women have told me this. It doesn’t pay to be grumpy around here though. Someone just might slap me upside the head if I got grumpy at them, and then we would both be thrown out of here and be back in the Park.
So I got up, depressed by base, immature feelings, trudged to the showers which were abnormally filled with other grunting, smoking, farting, Thanksgivers in various states of undress. I found an empty shower stall and went for it. Freshly laundered, I was in the act of dressing when I heard my name called over the PA system.
I rushed down to the desk. Mr. Vasquez wanted me to take attendance at the ten a.m. chapel service. I consented to do this with some trepidation. We’ve had an inordinate amount of new people come into the program within the last week or so, and I didn’t know them all by name. As I stood at the back of the chapel, they rushed me as I tried to check off each person. I found it impossible to keep up with them. I remembered the advice Mr. Vasquez had given to me for times like these: “Don’t Panic!” Words to live by. At all times I looked like I had everything under perfect control.
I marked everyone as being present.
A nice hour long service ensued. Ed Reitz sang a song for us. These Salvation Army people really get off on singing songs. They sing their heads off every chance they get.
There was a little recognition ceremony for a few of the guys who had completed Salvation Army Adherent classes. Victor and Kevin Rockoff were among them, the brown nosing bastards.
After chapel we had our big Thanksgiving Day lunch/dinner. The Major and his lovely wife, and guests wanted to show us all what nice, regular people they were by serving us the food. We even had a Colonel helping out.
I hung out around the lobby after lunch, watching everybody, and reading the book that Richard had lent to me. I spent most of my shift reading, and taking notes on what I had read.
It is a very good book, so far. I read about how and why alcoholics start to drink, how they get hooked, the increasing emotional cost paid by the alcoholic, and/or chemically dependent person. The feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, free-floating anxiety we addicts share. The defense systems we use to keep on going, that keep us out of touch with reality so we can’t see what’s happening to us, let alone begin to deal with it. We use denial, rationalization, projection, all to protect ourselves from pain. Or we try to forget, or ignore the pain and degradation our continuing drinking and drug use causes through blackouts, repression, and euphoric recall.
It’s not that alcoholics don’t see what’s happening to them and don’t care. They can’t see at all! They’re own memory and defenses won’t let them realize that they are sick.
As has been mentioned, this is the only disease that makes those who have it insist that they don’t!
This is when some form of intervention must come into play for there to be any chance of the addict to begin recovery.
Mine was the rejection by my family, and so called friends. The realization that no one was going to fix me except myself.
And the loneliness of those lost days in the Park.
November 23 Friday Day 72
Work was boring. I was bored after the first twenty-five minutes. The enigmatic Russell Burke, one of our janitors, walked by and said, “Hello.” He always does that.
Victor called me into his office and told me that he liked animal stories. He offered a book that he’d been reading as proof of this statement. He had been reading, Big Mutt. I didn’t catch who the author was. He told me that what he liked about these novels and stories is that when he reads them they help him to relax. I believed him. I recommended Animal Farm, by George Orwell.
He said he would be eager to read it.
I continued studying the I’ll Quit Tomorrow book. I read of forced intervention, when family members or an employer of the addict (I will use the label “addict,” now to describe both those addicted to alcohol and those addicted to other drugs and behaviors, unless specificity is required) confront the dependent person with detailed instances of intolerable behavior brought about by their using. Note that the confrontation is made by significant people the addict will having the most difficulty ignoring, and whom they care most about, or is affected by the most.
Specific instances of painful incidents (times, dates, witnesses, etc.) are used because they are impossible to refute.
The intervention, although extremely difficult for everyone involved (I confess, I got a little misty reading of a typical confrontation), is necessary in order to bring about a crisis in the addict’s life, and bypass the defense barriers normally employs to disregard the problems they incur while using, and allow them to see themselves as others see them. To bring them back to reality, the point being to get them into some form of treatment as soon as possible (immediately).
The book is of the opinion that the intervention should be brought about as early in the disease process as possible. To sit back and do nothing, and wait for the addict to hit bottom is not recommended. The addict’s bottom may be death, at which point intervention is deemed unnecessary. Also, the longer the addict participates in their disease, the harder they will be to treat once treatment has begun.
The book goes on to describe the typical hospital treatment program.
Intervention did not work for me. I am a stubborn and hardheaded individual, much to my personnel determent. My mother tried a form of intervention. Jan and Debbie tried it. I was already aware a problem existed when they tried it, and it still did no good. I had to hit bottom, if in fact I have done so.
I hope I have.
I’ve been in a hospital treatment program for drug dependency, and it did not stop me from drinking. It did help me understand my disease, and to this day I will continue to draw from that experience to help me remain sober. Hospital treatment programs have helped many people, but I drank the day I got out. I still had a nice little apartment I could go to and hide in, with my nice color TV and VCR. I had to lose that stuff before I could stop drinking.
After work, I went upstairs to the bathroom and started reading a science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout, who is himself a fictional character created by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who is himself a fictional character created by Eliot Rosewater. The title of the novel is, Venus on the Half Shell.
I read until two a.m., then went to bed.
November 24 Saturday Day 73
I roused myself in time for lunch. I’ve figured out that if I stay up late at night, I tend to sleep in late in the morning (I must be unconsciously depressed to crave sleep the way I have. I must be bummed out over not having stopped smoking yet, thus putting my behavior into conflict with my value system. How’s that for being a shithouse psychologist). If I go to bed early, I have trouble getting to sleep. A puzzling predicament.
I was hanging around the lobby after lunch, and before work, when my good janitor friend, Jerold (Jerry) Schimmele came in from an outing. He sat next to me and we bantered back and forth. Skip Grinnell was finishing his shift when he asked Jerry if he wanted his key. Jerry said, yes, and Skip offered him a breath test (S.O.P.). After he blew, Skip’s facial expression suddenly changed, and he asked that I come over to verify the test results. The breath-a-lizer read: .05. Jerry had been drinking. He probably had had a beer or two within the last couple of hours. Unfortunately for Jerry, or anyone else who comes in after drinking, automatic termination occurs if the machine reads as much as .01. Skip asked Jerry to have a seat and wait for Mr. Vasquez to return from Star Video.
He was busted. At once Jerry’s demeanor altered noticeably. He instantly became incommunicado, embarrassed, and distraught. Having been in his position (a bustee), I could certainly empathize with him, and could guess what he was feeling and imagine what he was thinking: “I fucked up! I fucked up! Fucked up! Fucked up! Fucked up! Did I mention that I FUCKED UP! Why did I do that? Why? Why? What am I gonna do now? One minute, everything’s alright, the next I’m on the street. Where do I go? Where do I go now? Got no place to go. Oh, Jesus, help me!”
Jerry admitted to me and Skip that he had been drinking. We let him get a coat from his locker upstairs, and he left without waiting for Mr. Vasquez.
Later, an employee of the center, Roger Cunningham, found Jerry sitting alone in the Park. He apparently took Jerry to a motel for the night.
I’ll hope he’ll be all right. I hope he makes it through this. From what I understand, his family has good as abandoned him. Just like my family has abandoned me. The Sally is the best place for him right now. Just like it is for me.
I wish him well.
God, I hate this disease.
November 25 Sunday Day 74
I stayed up until two in the morning, reading in the bathroom. I don’t know why. I went to bed with my clothes still on.
I woke to the gentle tapping of Mr. Pandolfi’s clipboard against my boots. I opened my eyes and said, “Ohra orha….” as he retreated softly back into the darkness.
I arose at five-forty, grabbed a tie and razor, and was at work by six.
Typical Sunday for me. Mr. Vasquez was quite busy though. The Annual “Do Da Parade,” was going on nearby on Colorado Blvd., and Robert was trying to squeeze a buck out of it by selling parking spaces from the Thrift Store and As Is Yard at seven bucks a pop. By the end of the day we made about $300.00, which will go to the Salvation Army’s World Service Office, in London, to help finance their imperialistic expansion across the globe.
It is a fairly unconventional parade, I’ told, just about anybody with a costume can join in.
While he was running around I had time to read a few chapters from, I’ll Quit Tomorrow. One of them dealt with relapse. A curious phenomenon, one with which I’ve had much personal experience.
This is when seemingly intelligent, well intentioned individuals who have already lived through the pain and degradation associated with an alcohol and drug related lifestyle, and have admitted to themselves that they have a chronic, progressive, fatal illness, and who have stopped using, having gone through the lengthy and agonizing process of withdrawal, for some reason start using again. Being progressive, the illness never tones down or gets better. If the alcoholic was downing two-fifths of tequila a day when they stopped drinking, once they relapse, a shot or two won’t satisfy them. It will be right back to two-fifths a day.
Addicts tend to relapse repeatedly. I did that for many years.
The book attempts to explain why this occurs, or at least one of the reasons. It seems it all has to do with potentiality.
While drinking, (before initial recovery) an alcoholic will eventually experience a period of emotional deterioration:
“Normal self-esteem, is replaced progressively by discomfort, twinges of remorse, severe and chronic remorse, self-hatred, and at last self-loathing that may even reach suicidal proportions. The illness causes the individual to move emotionally downward from A to B:
A: Emotional deterioration
B: Recovery
These negative feelings potentate the equal and opposite feelings (conservation of energy), so that people after successful intervention and initial recovery often experience euphoria.
To put it one way, the more one knows what it is to actually suffer pain (1), the more one would knows what it would be like not to suffer pain (2). Likewise, the more one knows what it would really be like to hate oneself (3), the more one would know what it would be like not to hate oneself (4). And so on through the long list of negative feelings in the alcoholic:
C: Positive feelings are potentialized
Negative feelings are experienced
Because the suffering had been so severe, they now know what it is like not to suffer! And this occurred in a short period of time.”
Let us say that a persons “response to treatment has been good. Abstinence time goes on and things, as he sees them, are simply getting better and better, at home, on the job, and health wise as well. He will be comparing what is now with what was then.
At this point let’s say, a stray thought moves through the person’s mind. ‘Maybe it isn’t true, after all, that I’m an alcoholic,’ or ‘Maybe it isn’t true that alcoholics can’t drink safely, a little, from time to time, on special occasions…’”
I would like to point out that the book fails to explain why these thoughts occur. The typical answer seems to be that the person did not immerse himself (or herself) into recovery (or A.A., or religion, or a hospital treatment after care, or whatever.) by attending meetings, building an usable outside support system, and literally brainwashing ourselves to the point where taking another drink is wholly unacceptable. Sometimes we forget, or want to forget the insidious power that alcohol, or drugs maintain over our lives, and the better we feel, the more sure we are that we will never sink once again into the despair we once suffered in the past. Trifling, everyday frustrations, nag at us, causing an existential distress that becomes increasingly difficult to deal with. We multiply the pain into eternity! It overwhelms us. And we alcoholics know how to stop that pain, how to repress it, know how to forget get it, to delay it, at least for a little while. We know how to do that instantly! We can cope with out problems tomorrow, but today we’ll take a little rest. One drink, that’s all. We can stop after just one. After a drink we’ll be able to think a little more clearly, act more rationally, have a better perspective. Just one drink. Then maybe just one more. Just one more, that’s all, and then I’ll stop. Maybe I’ll drink just for today, and then tomorrow I’ll stop drinking forever, and then get my life back. Tomorrow. I guess if I’m just drinking today, I can have as much as I want. What difference will it make? Just today I’ll drink. Just for right now, just one more itty bitty, teensy weensy, little dinky drinkie poo.
D. Relapse Potentiated feelings are actualized.
“While there are variations to the pattern, nevertheless, in a relatively short period of experimentation, if one is a typical alcoholic, he (or she) will plunge emotionally back to E. And it is to be noted that his new emotional state seems much worse than it was the first time (B). This may well be because the potentiation was, in fact, greater.” The illness progresses even when the alcoholic is not drinking (or when the addict is not using).
E. Positive feelings potentiate the negative counterparts
“In any case, now because the emotional pain is back making its demands, all the old defenses are revived and regrouped, this the entire alcoholic syndrome reappears in force.”
Now I know all about relapse.
After work I walked to the supermarket and purchased some birthday cards for my mom and my sister, as both celebrate their respective births next month. I don’t particularly care for store bought cards, but if I made my own they would think that I was too cheap to buy them some.
I was the big winner at bingo tonight. I won seven canteen cards! That’s the absolute most one can win in one night.
Oh boy!
I watched some TV, then went to bed early, as I was very tired.
The wind was blowing outside. A very cold wind. I knew that because some idiot left the window open above my bed. I told my roommates that I would personally find the key to the door to the roof, so those that felt the need for fresh, ice cold air while sleeping can bed out there. I though of Jerry Schimmele.
I pulled the covers up closer and went to sleep.
November 26 Monday Day 75
I woke up and went to breakfast, and returned to bed.
I was rudely woken by the distant, but steadily increasing volume of sound made by a raging vacuum cleaner headed my way.
I attempted to ignore it. I refused to open my eyes and accept the existence of the perpetrator of this domestic upheaval. I thought that maybe it would go away having completed its task, and leave me to my slumber. No such luck.
Someone began to talk to me.
“Hey, Rick.”
I opened my eyes. It was Jerry Schimmele.
“They gave me thirty day restriction.” He turned off the vacuum and stood near the foot of my bed.
“Nuuraccgo,” I wittily replied.
“But they told me, if it ever happened again, don’t bother to come back.” He looked at me and swallowed, his eyes bulging out the cute little way they do, as if to say, “what do you think of that?”
“Good to see you, Jerry. I’m glad you’re here. We were all worried about you.”
“Yeah, well. I was kinda worried myself,” he said and smiled.
Jerry was not suspended from the center for the usual thirty day period, because he had a relatively good record, was not too much of a trouble maker, and had been here almost a year. And Mr. Vasquez liked him. The Major too, I guess. Besides, the administration can change the rules to suit its own purposes any times it wishes to, simply because they can. Just like the government.
Along with the thirty-day restriction, Jerry also managed a drop in gratuity from $15.00 a week, down to $5.00, until further notice.
It’s better than being on the street with nowhere to go.
Being thrown out of the Salvation Army, certainly is a form of intervention. It forced Jerry to face that if he drinks a beer or two while living here, he can, and will be expelled. He had forgotten that.
Like all of us, he may, or may not drink again. But he’s been reminded of the consequences of that action.
I’ve fallen in love with another counselor. Her name is Wendy, a very cute blonde person, slight of build, like Stacy. She comes here on Monday mornings. I hang out in the lobby when she’s here sometimes, whenever I can drag my ass out of bed, that is. Like Jill, Wendy has a tendency to wear long, flowing dresses, which can be very discouraging. I hang around the lobby anyway.
Work went well. I like working on Mondays with Mr. Vasquez. Things get busy, busy, busy. Things in general.
George came back and conducted Bible Study this evening, the last class he will have here. We talked about the differences between the Old and New Testaments.
One’s real old, the other’s not so new.
November 27 Tuesday Day 76
Today is one of my well deserved days off.
I finished I’ll Quit Tomorrow, this morning. A very good book. I highly recommend it.
Finishing it up taxed me so completely that I had to take a little nap to recuperate.
Richard, my counselor, came by for our weekly chat later. He discussed himself for most of our session. I sat back, nodded my head when appropriate, and said, “Yeah, I agree.”
Then I had some nice tostados for lunch. I really like Mexican food. And women.
I had found a box the night before that was just the right size and shape to mail my sister’s birthday presents in. So I put the presents in there. I cushioned them with newspaper, then walked across the street to the warehouse, to the Bric-A-Brac Department.
Yes, we really do have a Bric-A-Brac Department.
I asked Molly, the Bric-A-Brac lady, to loan me some strapping tape to close the box.
Molly said, “Who are you?”
Returning to the residence, I borrowed a felt pen from Victor, and wrote my sister’s address on the box (she also lives in Bullhead City, about a mile away from my mother). All finished, I put the box in my locker. It’s a little too early to mail it yet.
Then I went to the lobby and wrote for awhile, and wait for Shirley to show. She didn’t.
After I finished writing I put my laundry in the washer, and went back downstairs and rearranged all the pages of this journal. Then I put my clothes in the dryer, and walked to the store. When I got back, I made my bed and checked my laundry and noticed that I had neglected to turn the dryer on.
So I turned it on.
I had dinner after that, then took my clothes out of the dryer and put them away, then went back to the lobby to write some more.
Shirley had arrived. We said hi, to each other.
Jill came at five-forty, and I can tell you that I was a little nervous having two women I’m in love with, both in the building at the same time.
Soon it was time for Step Study. Same old thing. The first three Steps. Tonight we talked about Step Two. Boy, if we progressed a bit, and actually talked about Step Four, I might have a heart attack.
After Step Study, I enjoyed an egg and cheese sandwich at the canteen. I had plans to play cribbage with Warren, but he had already started a game with Dan.
What a dick.
I returned to the lobby, and wrote and watched Jill for awhile.
As a matter of fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. It is now 9:28:08 in real time, and Jill just walked out the door, saying, “Oh! It’s cold out there.”
She’s right. It is cold out there.
That’s why I’m in here.
Now that the show was over, I thought I’d head upstairs to the bathroom, and read and smoke cigarettes. Then later I’ll go to bed.
Another day in the life of a recovering alcoholic.
November 28 Wednesday Day 77
I was sitting on the toilet when I heard my name called over the P.A.
I feel a little nervous sometimes when I hear my name called like that, similar to how I feel when a police car pulls up directly behind me when I’m stopped at a red light. Guilty of something, even though I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I remember how I had been set up at the Van Nuys center, so I went to the desk with an air of caution.
It was just my counselor, Richard, wanting to give me another book. This one was, Understanding Alcohol, by Jean Kinney S.S.W., and Gaven Leaton. After having read a little of it, it seemed like an owners manual for the disease of alcoholism. Everything you ever wanted to know (or didn’t want to know) about alcohol and alcoholism is in the book. Everything! Lots of facts and figures and statistics. Very useful. I’ll need to acquire a copy for my own. I have some theories about alcoholism and drug addiction in this country, and how we as a nation have mucked up dealing with these important social issues.
Suddenly I’m exceedingly interested in social issues.
I suppose a lot of addicts begin thinking about saving the world while in early recovery. Me Too! We have all this energy for one thing. We’re not drugging ourselves silly any more, and we have to do something to keep us busy. And like I mentioned previously, we feel guilty for wasting so much of our lives, and we want to help others. I do realize I can’t help anyone else if I don’t first help myself, which, yes, is selfish, but the way it has to be for the time being. I’ll tackle the world tomorrow.
Fat chance I have saving the world anyway.
But, you never know.
So for now I’ll file away all my thoughts and plans for world saving for some time in the future, like a chipmunk with its nuts.
After Richard left I ate lunch, the said hello to Noah, the parrot. Don Jones, the warehouse janitor, and Charles Purcell, the shop supervisor, have erected a large and wonderful electric train set in the atrium. This is done every year so the neighborhood children can look at it when we invite them in for an annual Christmas party. It’s set up right next to the two parakeets, who look down on it with icy indifference.
I said goodbye to George. Today was his last day here at the ARC. I shook his hand and wished him good luck. I told him that I had benefited from our brief acquaintance. He thanked me, and said that it meant a lot to him to hear that. He said that he hoped that if he had accomplished anything, he had been fair about it. I told him that I thought he had.
What a kiss ass I am.
George is not perfect, and certainly not a people pleaser. A lot of people around here will be glad to see him go. But nobody’s perfect, not even me. The people who want to see him go are more than likely those who are not working any kind of program, and they disliked George because he let them know it.
George, though not an alcoholic, is a nicotine addict who stopped smoking twenty years ago. He has an intuitive grasp of addiction issues, backed up with many years of academic and counseling experience. And he doesn’t fuck around.
I’ll miss him.
At chapel tonight we all said goodbye to him during the testimonial portion of the service. I’m sure George was pleased with the overwhelming positive response.
I wish him well.
November 29 Thursday Day 78
I have a cold. It’s the second since I’ve been here. I sat around a lot, and was miserable all day.
I hate being sick and having to work. The time goes by so slow. Especially working with Victor. He’s an all right person, I guess. He has a lousy job and tries to make the best of it. He tries and tries. He also takes undo advantage of the authority his position provides him, but we all do that to some extent.
He upholds the rules and regulations around here, and he does an adequate job, but he does not have the knack of enforcing the rules without irritating everybody.
Mr. Vasquez has that knack. He can chastise you harshly (and does) without you even knowing that you’ve been chastised. You will walk away smiling and shaking your head, and you will do, or not do, according to his direction, what he wants you to do.
An example: one day while in the midst of some chore, Robert Vasquez will suddenly stop. No movement can be discerned as he quietly gazes off into the distance, resembling a contemplative, skinny version of Mr. Magoo. A sly, knowing smile appears from nowhere. He slowly reaches for the telephone, his eyes still fixed on some distant point, his fingers punch in the code that activates the P.A. system. He raises the receiver to his lips and utters these words: “May I have your attention in the residence, please. All you people waiting in the line to eat chow in the canteen area. Stay off my walls and windows. Otherwise, I’ll volunteer you for a little Saturday work. Thank you for your cooperation.” He’ll put down the receiver and watch his victims for a while. Several fellows in line straighten up and disengage themselves from the wall. Others don’t seem to get the hint.
Mr. Vasquez will now pounce with the swiftness of a striking cobra. He walks into the canteen area, walks up the line of potential diners, takes stock of an offending individual without saying a word, scribbling something down on a clip board and moving on before that person has time to react, alter his position, or think of an excuse.
You really can’t help but laugh and admire his abilities.
Victor is another story. His confrontations lack finesse. Most leave him feeling hurt and filled with resentment. I am one of the few people around here who has the opportunity to view the inner Victor, and understand him, a little, and am probably the closest he has at what could be called a friend. Yet, he still manages, with relative ease, to every so often piss me off. Like today.
He told me to change my pants.
Me! The perfect deskman.
I had on a gray pair of jeans, dress jeans you might say, which I had worn last Monday night when working with Robert, but Victor didn’t want me to wear them. He said I was out of uniform. He said I should be wearing slacks.
I hate slacks.
This of course, was a minor irritation that I successfully amplified into a major one. Not feeling very well to begin with (excuse), and being busy doing something at the time that he mentioned it (excuse), provided the perfect opportunity for me to get angry with him. Minor irritations get to us alcoholic people, so I argued with him a while, which did absolutely no good whatsoever. I then repressed my anger, and changed my pants. Soon I began to realize how minor this incident really was, and that these things will happen when dealing with Victor, and proceeded to get on with my life, which at the time consisted of being stuck behind the desk while sick and miserable.
Later, after work, walking by the laundry room, I saw Richardo Montgomery, the thirty year old, black guy, who if you recall, entered the center the same day I did. He wears his hair in sort of a raised flat-top (I call him “Aircraft Carrier Head,” sometimes). He enjoys a muscular build (not unlike myself), is very handsome (again, not unlike myself), and is very amiable, usually smiling and filled with laughter.
We call him “Rico,” most of the time. Besides from being a skilled pot washer on the kitchen staff, Rico serves another very useful function. He stirs people up, or agitates them, and takes immense pleasure in doing so (whereas Victor does the same, but without the mischievousness). Some of us in the center, left to our own devices, tend to stagnate and get into ruts, and Rico is wonderful at getting these individuals incensed, and moving again. Rico maintains that it is vital to agitate others in order to stay sober. He asks everyone he sees if they’re all right. “You all right?” he says, again and again. He believes that he is making a nuisance of himself, when I for one am happy that somebody cares enough to ask me how I am each and every day. Twelve times a day. I’m sure others are also.
Anyway, I espied Rico in the laundry room, folding some clothes. He looked at me, “You all right?” I assured him that I was, but that I had a mild cold, one for which he probably couldn’t do anything about, and thanked him anyway for asking.
Then I thought I would be tricky, and attempt to agitate him. I asked, “Rico, do they call you ‘Reek,’ for short?”
But he is the master. He said, “No, they usually call me, ‘sir,’ or, ‘get out of my house!’ or, ‘please don’t hurt me,’ or, ‘just take it and leave.’”
I walked away, thoroughly agitated.
November 30 Friday Day 79
At two o’clock this afternoon, I took a break from doing nothing to have some coffee and donuts with all of the other in-house workers, but there were no donuts. All that were offered were some stinking muffins. Not that I have anything against muffins. I don’t. I like a good muffin as much as the next man. I like muffins when they’re nice and warm, with melted butter throughout. But the muffins presented today were cold and hard. Nobody ate any.
Enough about muffins.
I wrote until it was time to go to work. A very typical Friday afternoon. Only one person went on a weekend pass, David Earl, the young, honky, forklift driver.
George Staub and his wife came in at about four-thirty. They were going to spend the night in the downstairs apartment, before leaving for Phoenix in the morning. Dale and Jenny (Major and Mrs. Johnson) picked them up at five-fifteen, to go to dinner.
Just after seven the phone rang. I thought nothing of it, as it rings all the time.
I answered, “Salvation Army residence. Rick speaking, may I help you?”
“Uummm yes. This is the Salvation Army, right?” a masculine voice asked.
“Yes it is.”
“And you provide shelter for the homeless?”
“Well,” I replied, “this is a program for recovering alcoholics and drug addicted people. Males.”
“And your address is fifty-six, west Del Mar, in Pasadena?”
“Are you the one to talk to, to obtain a list of the people living there?” he asked.
Ah haw!
“I’m sorry. We can’t provide that information over the phone.”
“Why not?”
“Because of the privacy act.”
“Oh. So if I came down there, I could find out who lives there?”
“Even if you came down I couldn’t give out any information about who, or who does not live here, sir. I’m sorry. I would have to direct you to the program director or the intake officer, and they would not be available until Monday morning.”
“How about if this person was a wanted criminal? A rapist?” he persisted.
“I’m still not allowed to give out any information.”
“Isn’t that kind of silly?”
“Silly, or not, sir,” now I was getting a little peeved, “I can’t give out that information.”
“This is the Temple City Sheriff’s station calling. Who can give me this information?”
“One moment, sir.” I put down the phone, and yelled, “Victor! There’s someone on the phone for you.”
Victor came out of the office and took the call.
The men who come here for help have a certain right to privacy. Sometimes they don’t want anybody to know they are here and undergoing therapy for drug and alcohol abuse. Some wish to deny this information even to their families. We (I’m speaking as if I were a staff member) have to respect that right. I for one, would not appreciate someone giving out my name and address to certain creditors. Not that I wish to stiff them, I’m just not ready to deal with them. I will deal with them at some later date, but not right now. At the same time we do not wish to harbor felons. However, I have been given stern directions not to breach the center’s rules regarding client privacy, and for no other reason than to save my own ass, I intend to do just that.
Or pass the buck, as I did so expertly with young Victor Robinson.
The cops (if the guy on the phone really is a cop I’ll eat a plutonium omelet) can sit outside and wait for whoever it is they’re looking for to come out, if they want them that badly, and then bust them. Or produce a search or arrest warrant, Monday morning to Ed, or Clarence.
Besides, I’m not all that fond of police officers in general. I’m sure there are some good ones. Really I am! But I’ve had some awful experiences with a few, enough to manifest a certain degree of ambivalence and caution when dealing with them.
After a minute or two, after Victor had reiterated our policy numerous times, he gave the insistent caller our address (which they already had, apparently), and hung up.
“That guy was psycho,” Victor exclaimed.
“If the sheriffs are coming over here, I’m leaving,” I told him. I still had an outstanding warrant for a failure to appear on a drunk in public charge I received while living in the Park. I had been scheduled to appear in court the day after I came to the ARC, and didn’t go. I plan to take care of this eventually (always tomorrow).
“Me too,” Victor said.
Simultaneously, we both took off our I.D. badges, and put them away in our trouser pockets.
Victor went to tell Mr. Vasquez what happened. He came down and called the Temple City police, but could get no clear answers from them. He then handed me his room keys, saying, “I’m going out for awhile. If they come with a warrant, let them take anybody and everybody!”
“As if I’d try and stop them,” Victor said.
“Doesn’t it strike you as being more than a little curious,” I asked Victor after Mr. Vasquez had left, “that once Mr. Vasquez found out the police might be coming, he takes off, in what might call a distinct hurry?”
We both mused.
No one from any police department showed up.
After an hour, Mr. Vasquez returned. “Gee,” he said, “when I came back, for a while there, I thought I’d see… what was the name of that movie… Fred Astaire was in it, yes… about the submarine…”
“Oh,” I said.
“Gregory Peck was in it, too.”
“On the Beach,” I remembered.
“On the Beach?”
“Remember when they went to San Francisco? To check the radiation, or something?”
“Yes sir.”
“And no one was there. That’s what I thought I’d see when I came back. The whole place deserted.” We laughed.
Matthew Moore came in from work at about ten-thirty. I opened the canteen and heated a fish dinner for him.
Soon I shall write about Matthew. If I can. It might help to prepare me for the more arduous and subtle task of describing Russell Burke.
December 1 Saturday Day 80
Speaking of Gregory Peck, I once helped him make a telephone call to Beijing, China, while working for AT&T. He tried to call direct, but mistakenly dialed an “O” before the country code, and got me instead. I put the call through at a direct dial charge, being the nice guy that I am.
“Thank you,” he said.
A beautiful, sunny, but crisp day here in Southern California, nice enough to lure me outside to take a short stroll. Stopping at the desk on my way out, I asked Skip if he wanted me to buy him a lottery ticket, as I was going to the Vons supermarket to buy one for myself. After long and careful deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that if I never purchase a lottery ticket my chances of winning the lottery are fairly slim. Skip gave me a dollar for his, and I was on my way.
I picked up some cigarettes while at the market, and a Christmas card for my lovely and precocious, young niece, who is all of six years old. Her name is Kerri Lynn (after Ginger and Amber, respectively. Oops, just kidding), and she is the love of my life.
I bought the lottery tickets from an automated lottery ticket machine, then walked to the thrift store and purchased one birthday, and one Christmas present for my mother.
On previous Christmas’s, I have been known to go wild with gift giving, and spend two or three million dollars (extreme exaggeration) on a single person (usually Jan). But now, making only fourteen dollars a week, I can only afford one or two presents a week from the thrift store, until eventually everyone is taken care of.
I took my stuff back to the residence, and all my roommates told me that I was a chump for buying the presents at list price. That anyone of them could have gotten them much cheaper. I reminded them that I did not have all their underworld connections, and they told me to come to them the next time I needed something.
While writing in the canteen area, Gordon came over and we somehow began talking about Paul Gauguin, the French painter and woodcut artist. We both wondered what Gauguin would have thought of today’s computer graphics, and set a date to visit the Norton Simon Museum, which is within walking distance of the residence.
Work went well. For me. Victor almost got into a violent confrontation with one of the house barbers two minutes after he began his shift. Poor Victor.
Mr. Vasquez went out at five, then called back at nine-thirty to let us know he wouldn’t be back tonight.
The old coot must be getting some somewhere.
Matthew Moore called. “Is Bo Bo Bo Bo Bo Bo ah Ba Ba Bob there?”
“No Matthew. This is Rick. What do you need?”
“Ta ta ta ta tell him I I I I I I I I I I I I I’ve got got got got got to work, over over ov overtime ta ta ta tonight.”
“So what time will you be in, Matthew?”
“To ta ta ta te te to ta ta two o’clooaaaacck.”
“Okay, Matthew. But I want you to know that I’m not going to wait up for you.”
“F f fa fa fa fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa fa faaa fa fa fine.”
I read for most of the rest of the evening. The Understanding Alcohol book.
Everybody came in on time, no A.W.O.L.s. Gordon blew a lot of air on my thumb as he took the breath test, which led me to believe he may have been trying to beat the machine. I hope he knows what he’s doing. If he tries to do it again I’ll have to talk to him about it.
I read for a while after work, then went to bed to try to get some sleep before I faced Pandolfi in the morning.
I had the same old dream. Giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago.
Will it never end?
December 2 Sunday Day 81
I awoke to the gentle WHAP! WHAP! Of Mr. Pandolfi, striking my feet with his clipboard again. I took a nice shower, pulled on my clothes, and was down at the desk by six a.m.
For the next thirty minutes I was treated to an account of Wolf’s amorous adventures. I was amazed he was able to make it last for thirty minutes, but he managed.
Mr. Vasquez rolled in from his night on the town at seven-thirty, right before the Major and Mrs. J got here.
Nothing that was very interesting happened at work. Different people came and went. They’re always doing that. They give me their keys and I mark down the time they left (when they’re leaving) on a piece of graph paper especially designed for that purpose. When they return, I mark down that time, and give them a breath test along with their key. Very exciting stuff. Gordon left at one-thirty seven.
Russell Burke walked by, raised his hand and waved at me, while saying, “Hi, how ya doing?”
I answered, “Fine Russell. How are you doing?”
He said, “Okay, fine,” still walking. “The Rams are winning. They’re doing good,” as he made a fast exit around the corner.
Russell likes to keep a low profile.
I tried to read as much as possible, but inconsiderate people kept interrupting me, wanting to come and go.
Mr. Vasquez went upstairs to take a nap at two o’clock, or said he was. Shortly after he left I saw him through the window in the canteen area vacuuming.
I got off work ten minutes late (our new deskman, Clarence Bliss had overslept), then went upstairs and read an article on quantum mechanics, in Discovery Magazine.
I consumed a couple of pieces of pizza at dinner, the first pizza I’ve had in over three months. I sprinkled artificial bacon pieces over them.
I watched a repeat episode of “Star Trek, the Next Generation.” It was the season premier show, concerning the Borg. The season’s not even half way over and they’re already showing repeats.
I lost every game at bingo. My self-esteem diminished considerably.
Afterwards, I got myself a seat in the small TV room, in anticipation of the big Sunday night VCR movie, which I knew to be “A Fish Called Wanda,” a comedy about sex, deceit, and seafood. I’m in love with Jamie Lee Curtis.
When the movie was over I walked around the residence, then talked to Warren and my new roommate for a while, then read.
When I went to bed at midnight, Brian, who has the bed next to mine, was still awake. He told me that Gordon had not made it back for curfew. I thought of Gauguin as I fell asleep.

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