PUSH BUTTON FOR HELP
In the damp church basements of recovery it is often observed that the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous are in the order they’re in for a good reason and one should work them sequentially. This tenet is underscored because, as a rule, alcoholics are belligerent, defiant, and rebellious in an infantile, pointless sort of way.
Celebrating The Right To Be Wrong
Dipsomaniacs simply must do as they please, no matter how much more difficult, time-consuming, and aggravating their idiosyncratic path may be. Whenever “some assembly” is required, rest assured that the very first thing they did after unpacking the contents was throw away the instructions because – well, why on earth would you rely on the opinion of experts when you have your own complete ignorance, honed to perfection over years of not listening to anyone, nearby?
Ready, Fire, Aim!
A while back I worked at a company that employed many engineers. One of them had a sign on his desk that read – Ready, Fire, Aim! Of course, engineers – who live to plan – found this hilarious, but on refection it is amazing to realize how much behavior it describes, especially in an impulsive, indulgent, ADD world.
Never Enough Time To Do It Right; Always Enough Time To Do It Over
On a recent sojourn to the Maine coast, Mrs. McHarg turned my attention to a green box mounted on a pole. We walked over to examine it. It was a doggie poo bag dispenser, installed by the local citizenry to help keep their beach pristine. The box had writing and symbolic images. The writing offered a detailed description of its purpose and, importantly, instructions for bag use.
When All Else Fails; Read The Directions
To assist those for whom poo bag use is not intuitive, sequential images illustrated the proper technique. 1.) Put bag over hand. 2.) Grab poo. 3.) Reverse bag, tie securely, and deposit in an appropriate receptacle.
For Some Of Us, Doing Things The Easy Way Is Difficult
Whether you’re ascending from the cellar in recovery, firing a rifle, or cleaning up after your dog – being in the right place at the right time pays handsome dividends.
There’s an old gag that runs – the definition of “chutzpah” is when a kid murders his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. It’s funny, and yet, increasingly no one is to blame for anything in our society – no one takes responsibility, not even for their own actions.
Over three decades ago, Dan White set the implausibility bar very high by claiming he’d murdered Harvey Milk as the result of being hopped up on Twinkies. (The tasty snack treat made him do it!) That defense actually worked, and sparked riots.
We live in a society ruled by an enormous dog, (even bigger than Clifford the Big Red Dog) and all day long that dog eats our homework – so we never have to do it.
Now that the presidential election is ramping up across the land there is hand wringing and obligatory excoriation of elected officials. While this is understandable, everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that they are the ones who put the offenders in office, and they can vote them out. They could even – gasp – run for office, like Harvey Milk.
Personal accountability was a cardinal virtue among the people who built this country; but it seems to be almost unknown today. The fact is, if lightning strikes your house, it’s not your fault, but it is your problem. Assigning blame isn’t going to fix your roof, getting up there with a hammer, saw and nails will.
This subject is very familiar to me, indeed, my youth was a veritable love song to entitlement. I thought roughing it was when we didn’t get sorbet in-between courses, (to cleanse our palettes). That all changed when the heavens rained fire on my life in the form of mental illness, madness, manic depression.
Bear in mind, I did nothing to deserve this curse, this nightmare, this torture. When you are mentally ill you have a very strong case for playing the victim card, and you can, if that’s what you want to be. But I didn’t. Like others before me, one day I simply refused to be a victim anymore, took ownership of the disaster, and faced it.
If you want the full story you can read it in my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING. Suffice it to say that engaging in that long battle didn’t just wrestle the illness to the ground, it made me a man.
One hears so much wisdom in AA meetings. Recently I heard a woman say, “I am not a victim and life is not an excuse.” Alcoholics and drug addicts are among the most skilled liars in the world, with an absolutely inspiring ability to blame other people for their faults and difficulties. Over years of having the bs beaten out of you by no-nonsense dipsomiacs one finally grows able to see, as Shakespeare said so nicely, “the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves”.
Importantly, AA doesn’t care about righteous rage and fair versus unfair, AA is only interested in results. It is a program of absolute accountability, and, the question of – now that you are accountable what are you going to do?
Ironically, it was through mental illness and addiction that I grew to understand how to live a righteous and responsible life. Today I am no victim, that much is certain.
Axis of Brilliance
Washed Up is another great ride. Again, Alistair shows his talent for introducing us to characters who span an entire axis. Wealthy/Not, Healthy/Not, on their way out/on their way back…in a mathematic axis, these people are dots who live (or will live) in the x AND y planes AND in the positive AND the negative planes. Through wonderful dialogue and narrative talent, he carefully describes them just enough for us to get to know them – and apply our own experience to flesh out who they really are. He then tells us their story and sets up the crashes. You see these collisions from above – at least what you think they will be. But, as great storytellers do, they are not what you assume – which is what leaves the lasting impact.
Running through this novel, like a Booker T keyboard (it knows when to lead and when to lay back and when to duck out), is his observation of alcoholism and its impact on this world. This is the catalyst to many of the events in the book and it is through this vehicle that we experience a lot of the emotion of the novel. Joy, pain. Victory, loss. Second chances and the careless disposal of second (and maybe last) chances.
I found myself not entirely comfortable putting the book down until I was satisfied that I had finished the journey and found adequate resolution to the plight of these characters. And could make my own hypothesis as to their future. Like all of Alistair’s work, in my experience, this one rents a little space in your brain for a few weeks after you finish it. I like that.
I have been a promotion writer for 30+ years. Essentially, writing promotion involves making true statements in such a way that readers are encouraged to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say our vinyl siding virtually never needs painting – that translates to – our siding needs painting.
This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible – so long as these hired guns do not intentionally misrepresent the truth.
However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme. Rigorous, even brutal, honesty was my modus operandi, I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about serious matters like mental illness, evil, and alcoholism I quickly realized there was no room for preaching or persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.
Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.
I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in your pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.
Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry and lit, (and in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything.
Tell the truth, as you understand it, with clarity, precision and elegance – and make it entertaining. Don’t tell the readers anything; show them.