I was driving home from a meeting the other day and I had one of those lightbulb moments. I’m in the middle of that hellish limbo right now where I’m waiting to hear if I’m going to be hired to do a job that I’d be perfect for….I’ve had two interviews that went well, but I am reticent to believe that it will actually come through. So I’ve been a little restless and agitated….that’s what I was focused on before my lightbulb moment. Financially we’re in the clear for the forseeable future, but this unemployment thing does not sit well with me. And not having some booze to fall back on is the undiscovered country for me.
Have I fallen into a deep depression during all of this? No, not really. The meds help, I’m sure. Between Wellbutrin, Neurontin and the miracle drug of sleep aids….Trazodone, I’m pretty even keel. But I’ve pretty much always been that way……my car explodes and my heart rate remains the same…..if the Publisher’s Clearinghouse van pulled into my driveway my heart rate would remain the same. I’m damn near comatose in my ability to control my emotions. BUT if a pot lid falls off the counter and starts spinning around and around and around on its edges, making that racket as it sloowws down and finally collapses……something like that sets me into a homicidal rage. And if you are on the phone with me and you’re chewing on food…..I’ll clip your fucking spine with garden shears so that you have to eat through a tube from then on. Bottom line, it’s all about control and anxiety over what you can’t control, and that is one of the main fossil fuels for depression. So this was going through my mind as I was driving along…..what was it about me that allowed me to keep total composure in the worst of times, and at the same time have no visible reaction when something fantastic just happened to me? A voice in my head went “well maybe it’s because you’re just not used to good things happening for you”. And most of the time that would kick off the melancholy piano music and emotional slow burn that would allow me to suck down a couple bottles of wine or just hole up in front of the tv for hours on end. But not this time. THIS time another voice followed up on that thought with “oh buuuullllsshhhhiiit!”.
I don’t have to get into details here, but despite all of the trials of this year, I generally have GREAT shit happening to me on a regular basis. Big things, little things, and it’s not because I’m some gem of a human, it’s probably just because whatever God is at work up there knows I’m a giant pussy, so he has to throw me constant softballs to keep me going. So where does all the negative self-talk that fuels depression come from? In short, I believe much of it can be attributed to ego. As a disclaimer I’ll say that depression can be a very serious, and sometimes fatal, phenomenon. And there is always room for a professional to come in and counsel, prescribe meds, etc. But at its core, it is an ego trip. By that I mean it is something that allows you to shut down and escape all responsibility. Like a giant, dysfunctional safety blanket. Its effect is a lot like alcoholism, so it makes sense that the two go hand in hand. The more inside yourself you get, the more you shut down, the more looming the big picture becomes, the more detached you become and responsibilities you escape from……the more it is all about YOU. Whether you’re the manic and egomaniacal frat rat alpha male who wears too much Ed Hardy and uses too much hair product, or the depressed and bookish mole person who weeps to Morrissey and sits in bars alone making a silent scene with a feverishly scribbled little poetry notepad, you are the center of the universe. You’re as big a cliche as I became, and as big a cliche as every annoying mini-van driving soccer mom. And I don’t mean that to sound like “get your shit together, whiner!”…on some level we DO have power much of it, but there are usually enough factors out of our control that require some sort of intervention…..be it professional therapy, group therapy, etc.
It’s just an easy trap to fall into. The pity party cliche. I think part of it is the need to regress back to childhood, when you weren’t responsible for anything, and that is not totally unnatural. We just tend to take it to an extreme. My ex was someone who I grew to hate because she would willingly fall further down the rabbit hole before she’d reach out for help and get some kind of a grip on her manic depression. Things had to be burning down around her before she’d take the smallest step towards change. Control issues, denial…..you name it, they all play a part in that weird meltdown alchemy. For me it was the booze and riding the highs and lows good chemistry could provide for me, AND that was my own thing that I wouldn’t get help for until things started to burn down. Now, I’m not giving the ex a pass here just because I see parallels in our behaviors, I’ll be happy if I never see or hear from her again. Booze driven depression helps you flex the ego and control muscles….as long as I did my job well enough and my wife never saw me completely wrecked, I was in enough control to give myself a pass.
At my core I can be a pretty judgmental prick. Forgive me for stating something so painfully obvious. It’s something I have always struggled with because I don’t want to be one of those bitter, angry people who live in a plate glass McMansion and hurl boulders at anyone and everyone in order to deny their own shortcomings or failures. I guess everyone does it to some extent, but addicts are like autistic savants with it. Self absorption begats judgmentalism….I could be just as big a dickhead as the evangelicals I hate. Fundamentalist freaks are way more obvious about it, but most people survive on their need to tell OTHER people what THEY should be doing. Perverted theology creates a make-believe system of rules and regulations that allow followers to point the finger and never understand why everyone thinks they are an asshole (and to believe that anyone thinking they are an asshole must mean they are right in their judgment, because the truth is SUPPOSED to hurt people). Also, there are the anti-smoking zealots who hold the bad science surrounding secondhand smoke like a little treasure next to their heart, because now they can tell EVERYONE what to do in restaurants and bars….not because they give two shits about the health of the patrons or employees, but because they finally found a way to put legislation around their little pet peeve. A million examples……people with enough expendable income to make a religion out of being “green” or “organics-only”, me with my giant brain and wild life experiences that make me more knowledgeable and in-tune than everyone else. We use religion, bad politics and biased ethics to PROVE why our way of thinking is right, we surround ourselves with likeminded individuals to bolster our fucked up worldview, and when the rest of the world refuses to kneel down and come around to our way of thinking…..we use another handy little tool, the bastard child of the psychological beasts, ego and control…….we use guilt.
Ah, guilt. God knows I’ve railed about that one both drunk and sober, to an annoying extreme. Guilt is a fantastic motivator. If you can’t win them with love, scare them with the fear of hell and their own failures. From the time we are born, disappointed mothers, angry gods, disapproving teachers and surly employers program us to respond in Skinnerian fashion to that tiny little cattle prod. Yes, we have to learn the basic differences between right and wrong in our daily dealings with others, but guilt is some shit that can get out of hand quickly.
The only new thought on guilt I can share here is something that came to me last week during an AA meeting (a different one than the meeting that brought up the ego rant….I go to a lot of meetings). Yes, there I was surrounded by a group of likeminded people who are convinced beyond all doubt that they have the answer……but I realized there is one big difference. Okay, a couple of big differences. First of all, there is real diversity in an AA meeting. By real, I mean it’s not that fabricated bullshit that is the bread and butter for liberal, drum-thumping academics and highly paid corporate consultants. Like I have always said, if you want to live the lofty ideal of “diversity”, then go make fucking friends down at the DMV or tax office. THAT is diversity. And honestly, the closest I’ve come to witnessing real diversity outside of those two hellholes is in the AA halls. Religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, income level, you name it, you find it in AA. And everyone gets along (for the most part), because what brought us there is how incredibly fucked up we were. The second big difference is that guilt is never used as a motivator to get people to change. Sure, there is plenty of shit we all feel guilty about from our past, as I’ve mentioned before we aren’t there to excuse ourselves from past behavior. However, guilt is does not promote real learning or real growth. And the thing I’ve found the most comfort in, is the very thing that makes every fundamentalist completely write off AA as pure “secular humanism”. There is no control in place, there is no set leader, there aren’t any paid positions, and most of all……while we all have to believe in and rely upon a higher power, there is no set RULE on who “God” is for everyone. Oooooooooohhh, spooooooky……..putting your eternal soul in jeopardy by aspiring to be the best and most reliable person you can be without acknowledging you are doing it to escape hell! I can’t even count the number of sermons, including full-costume illustrated sermons, I’ve sat through that were based SOLELY UPON the premise that “there will be a lot of ‘good’ people burning in hell”. Sure, I have a Christian worldview and believe in the simplicity of the New Testament’s message, but that kind of guilt is bullshit. And more importantly, it does NOT work. Case and point, I can tell you that I’ve experienced something completely new for the first time in my life…..being honest and thinking about others just because it is the right thing to do. There were points during my ministry days when I lived as an absolute hypocrite, drinking on the weekends, going to clubs, you name it……and it was my failure as a Christian and the guilt that came along with it that made me keep doing it. There are many who would say I’d never really let Jesus into my heart and gave my life over to him, but to them my response is…..your methodology for people to get there is completely flawed because it has nothing to do with personal experience or growth, it’s all about the show, the works people have to perform, and getting socialized enough in that mindset to “belong” to the group. The driver is guilt and the gatekeeper is a guy who gets PAID to keep the numbers of customers increasing from Sunday to Sunday.
Now, without the guilt based on a flawed interpretation of the Bible, I am able to feel closer to God, closer to people, way more open to change, growth, servicework for others, and the ability to share my experience without beating anyone over the head. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of assholes in AA who DO preach and beat people over the head (this blog is what I use for THAT), and meetings that don’t encourage new people to attend so that the old timers have it to themselves, but there is a certain bliss for me in being a newbie. I’m in no way ashamed of this phase of my life. I don’t wear a damn AA shirt or have a bumper sticker, but if someone asks me why I’m not drinking or has questions about the program or a friend/relative who may or may not have a drinking problem, I’m happy to talk about my experience in a very low-key and real way. And while I’d like for everyone who is experiencing the hell of addiction to get into the program, I’m not out to recruit or convince them. More specifically, I’m not going to goad or guilt them, which is pretty much what they are expecting or already used to. It’s up to the individual to decide whether or not they have a problem, and the only requirement to be an AA member is a desire to stop drinking. That’s it. No complicated theology, tithes, grandiose expectations, etc. The farthest I’ll go is to ask questions like “Can you have just one or two drinks socially and then stop for the night?”, “Do you prefer to drink alone?”, “Have you ever tried to stop drinking, or changed brands/liquors as a way to cut back, and failed?”, “Do you drink for the effect you feel when you are drunk?”……stuff like that, all completely valid things that EVERY alcoholic, if honest, would probably answer “no, yes, yes, yes” to, depending on where they are on the downward spiral. And from there, all you do is go to meetings, get a sponsor (and your sponsor isn’t there to tell you who your god should be or to induct you into the secrets of AA), begin to understand and work the steps, and if you do that…..correcting the failures and shortcomings that have been fed by guilt and shame up to this point will just work themselves out as a natural progression of the program.
So that’s about it for now. I found out Friday that I was a shoe-in for the job I had interviewed for, but they had to give it to the person they originally offered it to who protested when their background check came back with a problem. The good news is they loved me, so when something else opens up there in the near future, it’s probably mine. Now normally, hearing some shit like that on a Friday would mean I could tear it up all weekend, but instead I went to meetings, made chicken and noodles, went to the Farmer’s market, took the dog to the park, started a Six Feet Under marathon with my wife, ate at an incredible Thai buffet, went on a long nature hike, and of course…..HBO and Tool Academy on Sunday night. I think everyone can agree that while I sound like a boring old man now, it is a hell of a lot better weekend than it would have been before. I do apologize that I will no longer be able to entertain you with posts like “Best. Saturday. Ever.”. I encouraged my sponsor to read that post before reading the one I did a couple of weeks ago. Great contrast!