(Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of self harm, suicidal ideation, and sexual trauma that may be disturbing for some.) I first …Depression, Interrupted
(My wife, posting about her mental health journey…hope you’ll take time to read!
(Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of self harm, suicidal ideation, and sexual trauma that may be disturbing for some.) I first …Depression, Interrupted
(My wife, posting about her mental health journey…hope you’ll take time to read!
I know it doesn’t look like it, but this picture represents a milestone.
As anyone who’s read My Last Stand probably picked up on, my relationship with with my father has been difficult and odd over the years. We’ve had good times, to be sure, but I had – and continue to have – lots of unresolved anger there. I’ve been working on it in therapy, in recovery meetings, etc. for the last 10 years.
Some backstory: after my parents divorced, my dad kept the house that they bought in 1983, and that’s where I stayed. My mom was far too deep in her alcoholism to be anything like a mother, and I hated her for it for close to two years. Upon reflection, the house was simply too big for three of us, let alone my dad and I. Whenever families or companies move to a bigger, “better” building or home, it becomes a test. If you didn’t really need to move, problems will always manifest. I worked for an ad agency from 2003-2006. They made a move to a brand new building in 2005, and was never the same. By 2008 they were bankrupt.
So it was with our family.
Outwardly my dad is even-tempered, quiet, and a little funny (if somewhat awkward). He remarried my stepmom in 1993 and they’ve now been married 26 years, 10 years longer than my mom and dad were originally. They go to church every Sunday. He’s calmed down a LOT.
The flip side of his demeanor – the part my stepmom may have not seen – was his temper. The temper that my mom and I both grew up with. Cups and glasses thrown across the room, trash cans thrown downstairs, his bright red face, spit flying from his mouth. Since neither my father nor I had the benefit of outside counseling or therapy during that crucial time, we spent most of those years taking our anger out on each other. At the end of the day though, he was the parent. He was in charge, and the decision-making in his hands – something he frequently reminded me of.
No matter how I frame it, it will always be his word against mine. Even if I go back to my old journal entries, even if I had video or photographic proof that I was in the right and he in the wrong, it always reduces to he-said, he-said. On paper my track record and credibility are spotty – I, like my mother, am an alcoholic. My legal infractions can easily be found by searching online. My “sins” are laid bare for all to see. His, much less so.
But there are a few things that I know for certain. There is no disputing them because there is evidence. And one of those things is this: neither my father (nor my mother, to be fair), in the nearly 29 years I’ve been performing music, have come to see more than two of my shows.
One of those was my first show with the second “real” band I’d been a part of in college, SGO/Iscream. That was in 1995. My mom and her “friend” Debbie (i.e. romantic partner – she never, ever said the world girlfriend even when it was obvious) were there. I’d always thought my dad and stepmom were there, but he recently admitted that he doesn’t recall being there – even seemed proud to admit it as though I was accusing him of something he didn’t do. It’s entirely possible he has never attended a single one of my shows post high school.
Mom, always with an eagle eye for finding fault in anything, commented on the crowd’s divided behavior (moshing vs. hippie dancing), said I looked nervous and asked if I had realized the cord had come out of my bass during the first song. I don’t recall anyone saying “good job” except Debbie. That would be the last time either of them would be at a show of mine for 20+ years.
My parents came to all my little league baseball games when I was a kid. In high school my Dad came to many of my concerts playing trumpet for the band. My father has always used the excuse that my DJ shows are always “past his bedtime.” This, despite the fact that he goes to the Duke University Solemn Service of Tenebrae every year, staying awake until 1 in the morning, and has certainly stayed for overtime at many NC State basketball games that went past 12.
In fact, in 2015 I sat down and compiled a list of all the shows I’ve played as DJ as well as in bands (a few, but most were as DJ FM). My dad has been on my email list since the beginning of my musical career, so he would’ve known about them. What I determined was the following:
My brain will try to rationalize it. “I can understand Dad not wanting to come to my DJ gigs because he knew I’d be drunk/high.” This one could be valid – he made it known from minute one he was not comfortable with my drinking. But he never came to any of my shows post-rehab either. I sometimes wonder if I had been a baseball player for NC State, or a basketball player – would he have come?
One of the many reasons I drank and used was that I never thought my dad was proud of me. In 2009, right before the beginning of my descent towards rock-bottom, I went to a club in Raleigh called Mosquito. It was a frequent hangout of mine and my friends. That night, a fellow DJ (we’ll call him Nate) was opening up the venue. In front of the DJ booth, dancing alone, was a skinny, goofy-looking old man with curly grey hair and a beer bottle in his hand. I walked up, said hello, and I asked him how long he’d been listening to electronic music.
“Oh I’m just here to see Nate play – he’s my son!” (cue goofy dance moves.)
I mentioned that Nate was lucky, that my dad hadn’t been to one of my shows.
“Well that’s too bad young man.” Nate’s dad stopped dancing and looked me right in the eyes. “He doesn’t know what he’s missed…”
But it’s too late now. He has missed nearly three decades of shows, and will never have the opportunity to have seen me growing and changing as an artist. So I was shocked that he and my stepmom came to one of my gigs – playing music in a restaurant for people eating dinner. It was good money while it lasted, though it was low energy and there was no dancing.
So, is it a small sign that maybe things are changing? As my first sponsor wisely told me, “More will be revealed.”
This past Saturday the 27th my mother surrendered to cancer, almost a year to the week that she first told me she was dying. I got the call from my uncle while my fiancé Julia and I were out to dinner. We both went home and cried. So much for the rest of our evening.
The whole thing was not unlike how my father told me my parents were separating when I was 13. They’d been fighting a lot, and mom was drinking heavily. They really hadn’t told me much, but children can sense when something’s wrong. I was watching Saturday morning cartoons, and my dad came down with a severe look on his face – a look I’d not seen from him before.
So much for the rest of my teenage years.
This is not a eulogy, nor am I attempting to speak ill of the dead. I’m speaking honestly of the dead. During one of our last conversations, Mom told me the following:
“Honey, one day you’re just going to have to accept the fact that I was not a very good mother to you.” That’s the closest I would ever come to receiving an apology. I also believe that it gives me permission to say what I need to say.
And what I need to say, is that I’ve been grieving my mother – or rather, our relationship, our family – for over 30 years.
Mom’s passing wasn’t unexpected. Even before my mom knew that she had cancer, I could sense something was off. She kept telling me she was “healthy as a horse,” but my mom never, ever, told me an entirely straight story. One of her friends said her secrecy was to “preserve her dignity.” That’s what my mom’s friends have always done though: euphemistically defended her utter inability either to be truthful, or be a mother.
So what I feel inside is a combination of numbness, and sameness. Everything feels, sadly, quite the same. My mom’s passing has not impacted my day-to-day life, save for a kind of exhaustion that permeates my whole body. I have to force myself to get up, to do things. So I know I’ve been impacted by my mom’s death.
The short version of what happened to our relationship is that Mom began teaching English at a private school in Raleigh, and fell in love with one of the administrators who also happened to be a woman. She felt romantic love – probably for the first time in her life – and found herself trapped in a marriage that she never realized she was trapped in. That was the beginning of the end. Her drinking was simply a side effect of all those pent up emotions, because I rarely saw my mom drink when I was growing up. Even if she had been, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. My dad, who was busy focusing on his own career (really, they both were) seemed completely blind-sided.
Mom would come to pick me up, and be drunk. I would tell my dad, who could also clearly see my mother’s condition, and he would send me with her anyway. My guess is he was concerned with appearances, or maybe just didn’t like me challenging his authority. Regardless, there were times I’d have to grab the wheel out of my mom’s hands when she was nodding off on the road. Eventually I told my dad I no longer wanted to see her, and for almost two years I hated my mom.
The typical things that always accompany alcoholism began to occur. Mom’s life fell apart, she went to rehab, relapsed a bit and then was able to stitch a small stretch of sobriety together thanks to AA. To regain my love, she bought me things – clothes, CDs, food, nearly anything I wanted. Material things were always her way of showing love for someone. But it was never really her money. I came to find out it was my grandparents’ money. They had given her a credit card, in addition to multiple other credit cards she had opened for herself. My uncle related to me that she would secretly call her parents and ask for money in the early days of my parents’ marriage.
Those bills went unpaid for years. She ended up declaring bankruptcy at one point. In her house in Colorado, my uncle and I carried out 55 gallon trash bags full of unopened credit card statements, store bills, phone bills, as well as tons of beer and wine bottles hidden in the master bedroom of her house where she never slept. What was strange is that my mom left money stashed all over her house. So there was money to pay the bills. She simply never paid them. My poor uncle was left with the task of seeing that all those debts got settled. I got the task of cleaning out her storage sheds (two in North Carolina, one in Colorado).
Years before her diagnosis I would literally beg my mother to help with her storage units, knowing eventually I’d end up having to deal with them. I would ask over and over, and she would say it’s no big deal. “I can manage it.” But she couldn’t, and she didn’t – all the while claiming she was doing the best she could and simultaneously doing nothing. My guess is that, like the unpaid bills, she hoped she’d be long gone before she’d have to face her loved ones cleaning up her messes for her.
While cleaning out one of the storage units, I came across the documents finalizing my parents’ divorce. Dad had always told me he asked my mom to leave and initiated the divorce. My mom said that she didn’t fight to get custody of me because she knew that she was in bad shape and probably couldn’t have handled it. For years I accepted those answers.
However, having been a participant in both AA and NA for the better part of ten years, I’ve known many single moms. Moms who fled their husbands. Moms who had no idea who the father was. Moms who had been pregnant in the streets. And every single one of them fought tooth and nail to keep their kids. Even the ones who lost custody because of their addictions desperately fought in court and in the rooms to gain custody and/or visitation. I’ve watched them weep uncontrollably. (To be fair I’ve seen many single dads do likewise.)
Mom never once lived in the streets. She knew who the father was. She might’ve been in a very bad way with her alcoholism, but was in treatment and in the rooms trying to get well. I’d developed several issues with her version of the story, and suddenly it all became clear.
As it turns out, she was the plaintiff. Her name was listed first.
She wanted the divorce, petitioned for it, and got it a year later in 1988. Whether it was the alcohol talking, or her frustration, or just selfishness, she’d become tired of being a wife and a mother. I know in my heart it was something she always regretted, but regret is not a mechanism for personal change.
My dad, whose pride was already wounded knowing that mom had left him for a woman (which in the mid-1980s was taboo, if not outright scandalous), probably couldn’t handle another bruise to his ego. Hence, his version of things.
So this is not a eulogy. This is a story of secrets. My parents’ marriage was one secret after another, secrets based on shame, on fear, on embarrassment and disappointment.
Secrets are unique in that they require work to maintain. When someone asks “can you keep a secret,” they’re asking if you have the physical ability to carry it, similar to asking if you can lift a heavy box.
It’s stressful to keep a secret, and in my opinion it’s unfair for an adult to place that burden on a child. Which they do, either by direction instruction or indirect transference. My uncle, until I saw him last summer, had no idea about what caused my parents marriage to end. I’m beginning to suspect that my dad never told his siblings the full truth of their relationship either.
Finally, secrets prevent healing. Our culture teaches us to bear our hidden burdens for the sake of others. But those emotions, those hurts, will come out eventually – in odd and unexpected ways. Anger that seems to come out of nowhere, over nothing. Unending depression. Ruined marriages. It is of benefit to no one to bury the past without examining it. One way or another, it will eat you alive.
But I’m letting all that go now. I will no longer be the keeper of the secrets.
As Anne Lamott, one of my mom’s favorite writers, said: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I only wish I’d known that I had this power long ago.
I’m not very good at this blog thing.
I write only when the muse strikes, never regularly. I should probably check my keywords for SEO purposes, but I have to do that so much in terms of promoting my music it gets tiresome.
I do like to write about my victories, and this is one.
113/67. The lowest my blood pressure has been in years. I credit that to sobriety, to eating better, and to walking/jogging consistently.
Of course, in order to understand the significance of these two numbers we have to flash back a bit.
September 17, 2009. I was opening for DJ Heavygrinder in Raleigh, at a brand new venue called Solas. Five years prior I had DJ-ed an EDM Lounge called Rush Lounge. We were the new kid on the block back then, and I thought I was hot shit. I was also 60 pounds lighter.
Now Rush was closed and I was playing a 3-story dance club which stood half a block away. The torch had been passed. Had I been sober, I might’ve grasped the significance.
Instead, felt like absolute garbage. I had been drinking all day, and doing G. At that point I probably weighed 270lbs. I would get so nervous before a gig, I would have to be completely fucked up just to play. And I wouldn’t play well.
Some of the only photos of me that exist from that night…
I opened, I don’t think I got paid. Maybe I did. I was too drunk and high to care. Somehow I made it from Solas down the street to a club called 606, drinking and taking G all the way there. I saw a friend at 606, who later told me I was completely incoherent. I couldn’t remember anything I did after leaving Solas, even how I got to my buddy’s house to crash. I vaguely remember driving.
I had a doctor’s appointment at 8am the next day. I think my girlfriend was the one who wanted me to see this particular doctor. I was having trouble sleeping (shock) and had terrible sleep apnea (again, shock). At that point I was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, so I made sure to bring a supply of G and some vodka in a flask with me. It would get me through the doctor’s visit.
Even with all that I was terrified when i got to the doctor’s office. My shakes were bad, my anxiety was through the roof. How did I get home last night, again?
After an hour of waiting, they took me back. I spent another 20 minutes in one of those small examination rooms. They took my blood pressure.
The nurse looked at me and took it again. The look on her face was one of absolute terror. No one would tell me what my blood pressure was for almost 30 minutes.
And then I learned: 198/132. Heart attack range. Coma. Death.
For the next eight months, I would be on two different blood pressure medications. I can’t remember what they were. I also bought a blood pressure monitor – the same one you see in the photo. I was taking some measures to look after my health. Nonetheless, my DUI arrest would be two weeks after the doctor’s visit, and my overdose three weeks after that. Then a month of couch-surfing. Then rock-bottom. Then rehab.
Almost 8 years and a lot of history later, I get to see the benefits of my choice(s) to stay sober every day. Sometimes they’re big things – legal victories, musical accomplishments, amends and forgiveness.
And sometimes it’s just two numbers.
I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try…”
…and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from this dude.
I’m in a Wal-Mart. A fucking Wal-Mart “neighborhood market” (as if there’s anything “neighborhood” about a Wal-Mart). And as I walk in to buy rawhide dog bones at 11:30 at night, there’s that voice:
I was living in Baltimore the first time I heard “In The End.” I had moved there in March of 2001 for a relationship and a job. Really, for the relationship. She and I had dated long distance for over a year and I was tired of the long drives from North Carolina to Maryland. I really loved this person, but she had fallen for an older co-worker with more life experience and more money. Her father even called her out on it once which was pretty funny. For my part I was clingy and insecure, which always helps.
Five days after I moved, she decided she “needed some space.” Two months later, my job let me go. “It doesn’t even matter how hard you try.” I had no rudder, nowhere to go. I was drinking myself to death and hemorrhaging money. My dad told me to find Jesus and go to an AA meeting (some of you may agree with him – I did not).
My drinking, of course, got worse the minute he said that. He told me he’d drive up to Baltimore to read the Bible with me. Exactly what he did with my Mom when she was drunk. I remember the three of us going to church together at the height of her active addiction, some time in 1987. She would nod off in the pew like a heroin addict overdosing then coming to.
Being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, I know better. Taking a drunk person to church, reading Bible verses at a drunk person…these are futile acts of desperation. I could’ve told him that as a 13-year-old who’d never had a drop of alcohol, but now I was in those crosshairs, as though he wanted to drive to Baltimore and perform a séance with me. I just wanted him to listen to me, not talk at me. It was not to be.
I was running out of money at and couldn’t find a job. I was in pain, and no one seemed to care enough to actually hear me.
Then 9/11 happened.
The Pentagon was still smoldering as I had begun driving my stuff back to my mom’s apartment in North Carolina. I had utterly failed, and the world was crumbling down around my ears. “In The End” was one of 3 videos in constant rotation on MTV. “Overcome” by Live, as well as “Drops of Jupiter” by Train were the others. It was a sad time. Chester understood. He knew times like that.
…and then I snap back and it’s 16 years later. I’m still in Wal-Mart at 11:30 buying dog treats.
And that voice, Chris, the band…god bless Mike Shinoda spitting bars that made me remember her all over again, the anger:
“Things aren’t the way they were before
you wouldn’t even recognize me anymore
Now that you knew me back then
But it all comes back to me in…the…end…”
I snap back again. Hard to shake the feeling, but that’s music for you.
I had often wished I could jump on stage with Linkin Park and fill in on bass for one song. Hell, I’ve played for 25 years, guitar and bass. Too late for that now, but if it hadn’t been for “Hybrid Theory,” I wouldn’t have made it out of Baltimore alive…
12 years after Baltimore, and for the second time in my life, I found myself in rehab. The downward spiral that began in Baltimore had started a chain reaction which I don’t think I ever really overcame. My drinking and drug use had spiraled out of control, and after a first trip to rehab, a near death experience from an overdose, and another failing relationship later, I was (again) at the lowest point in my life.
I was living in an Oxford House for the second time, once again re-assembling my life. And on Facebook, I heard a familiar voice:
“The nights go on
Waiting for a light that never comes
I chase the sun
Waiting for a light that never comes…”
Chester knew. He’d been there. And there was Mike with those bars again:
“Nah, you don’t know me
Lightning above and a fire below me
You cannot catch me, cannot hold me
You cannot stop, much less control me
When it rains, it pours
When the floodgates open, brace your shores
That pressure don’t care when it breaks your doors
Say it’s all you can take, better take some more.”
The beat was all EDM, finishing touches provided by Steve Aoki. But the guitar was in there, the voices were there, the interplay between Chester and Mike, the heart. It was my rallying cry. The guy old enough to know better had run out of lives to lose. Dad was nowhere to be found, except to tell me he was done trying to “help.”
Time to grab the reins one last time and right the ship, and then never ask anyone for help again. No more waiting for a light that never comes. My journey towards agnosticism – and personal salvation – began right there.
In my determination to never ask anyone for help again, help came to me.
I’m coming up on four years clean and sober. I’m engaged to the love of my life, a real woman who doesn’t need to “trade up” at the first sign of trouble. I have a good job, a good home, and somehow after almost 20 years the DJ FM brand remains and is somehow still relevant, even if I haven’t sold 1,000,000 copies of anything.
I never knew you Chester. I never got to see Linkin Park play. We weren’t even that far apart in age. You were so lucky that you got to meet Chris. He and his band got me though my teenage years, and it sounds like he may have done the same for you. I hope wherever you both are, you’re jamming with him and making amazing music.
I hope someday I get to see you and thank you for what you did. Maybe you can see me now, or maybe I’m simply thinking magically to make myself feel better. Either way, it’s a comforting thought.
Until then, take your rest Mr. Bennington.
I was recently interviewed by InRecovery magazine for a piece on active addiction (shameless plug alert: you should go read it and then leave a comment if you like)
Sometimes it just doesn’t feel real to me. I’ve never thought of myself someone whose experience or opinions should be held in high regard by anyone. I’m just one voice among billions. Granted, in the last few years I’ve had things like this published about my journey in recovery in various places. I’ve also been interviewed twice on the Klen & Sobr podcast which was amazing. If anything, I am not anonymous.
But still, I can’t believe that it’s me. I often scoff at the Tony Robbins types. They seem well-intentioned, yet I’m never able to trust whether they truly want to help their audience, or simply like hearing the sound of their own voice. All of this of course speaks volumes about my own insecurities. We are all a work in progress, but I’m no one’s guru.
I also watched “The Defiant Ones” on HBO last week, a 4-part documentary about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s musical and business collaborations, and their long history in the music. I am impressed by their stories. Two guys who literally came from nothing and now sit atop what remains of the music business. The greater the risk you take, the greater the reward I suppose.
I want to say I’ve never been the “starving artist” type, but in truth I was once. Between 1996 and 1998 I wrote and recorded my first album “Breakup.” I was 23 and had limited access to recording equipment, so I had to go into an actual studio and work with a producer to bring my vision to life. Of course, that meant paying for the time – and the money which went to the studio meant money wasn’t going to rent or food.
In fact, I was 3 months behind on rent and had to borrow money from my recent ex-girlfriend to get caught up. I was eating the leftover food my roommates didn’t want, and when there was none of that I was eating microwave popcorn. It sucked. My hat’s off to anyone who quits their job and goes out on a limb for their art. It created an added level of stress that I simply couldn’t handle. I have been attempting to find balance between art and “career” ever since.
Fortunately, my producer was patient with me and he came from a similar musical background and similar tastes. He taught me everything I know. I paid as I could, and “Breakup” became DJ FM’s first album. So many lessons were learned, and so many good things came about as a result of that album. Most importantly I learned the most was that if you want to be a creator – a musician, an artist, a writer – your vision comes first. Like I said, I have never believed that my opinion or my voice mattered to anyone else. Music helped me realize that my voice at least had to matter to me.
I now have a sponsee. One. The only sponsee I’ve had in 8 years of my hit-or-miss recovery. We “worked” together for an entire year, in which he didn’t call and didn’t do any actual work. I was his sponsor in name only. He is from India, and in the process of becoming an American citizen – not an easy journey in the era of Trump. Still, he wasn’t doing the work, so I fired him.
And then he had to leave the country, simply so he could re-enter and get a new Visa. I felt like a piece of shit. This was about the time Trump was mobilizing his travel ban and even though India was not on the list of banned countries, I worried for my friend. Who knows what an authoritarian regime is capable of, even in the United States?
He reached out to me from his home country a few times. We chatted. He asked if I’d be his sponsor when he came back. I told him “we’ll see – it depends on whether someone else comes forward.” I really didn’t know if I wanted to be his sponsor. I was at a point of not caring, because he certainly didn’t seem to care that year I tried to sponsor him. I blamed myself for not being tough enough, not being interesting enough.
Of course, in my mind I know that’s ridiculous. You can only lead a horse to water. What they do from there is up to them, especially in recovery. Those who suffer from substance use disorder are some of the most stubborn and incorrigible people you’ll ever meet. Have you met me in-person?
What happened was remarkable. He came back to the US, and it was as if a fire had been lit beneath him. He asked me twice if I would be his sponsor, and I finally said yes. We have been working together and every time we meet, he thanks me for listening, thanks me for guiding him. I see my experience benefitting another.
The way I was raised, and after most of the trauma that took place in my early teenage years, I spent most of my first 36 years of life feeling like I’d been permanently punched in the gut by god. Alcohol and drugs eventually numbed the pain of that sad worldview, but what I’ve learned is this: your vision matters. Your experience matters. Your voice matters. I would’ve never understood this without recovery.
You have to believe in you, first.
(This is a re-post of an instagram pic I posted yesterday…)
“A #victory in my personal #fitnessjourney #weightloss #bodypositive – 219.8lbs.”
I have struggled with my weight and body image since middle and high school (over 30 years). I know all too well what it is to be the victim of bullying. My heart goes out to anyone who struggles with self-image in relation to their physical appearance. It is some of the hardest work you can do in our “succeed at all costs” society.
I also hate gyms with a passion. I have never felt comfortable in them, nor did I ever find anyone willing to mentor me in a kind way without the traditional “lift you fucking pussy!!” bro-tastic motivational tools. My favorite fitness activities have always been jogging and walking. They are solitary, they are non-competitive and they are personal/spiritual.
8 years after beginning my journey to quit alcohol/drugs, almost 2.5 years after quitting fast food, a little over 2 years after beginning my personal fitness journey (counting steps/closely watching my calorie and nutrient intake), I’ve dropped below 220 pounds for the first time in over a decade.
To give you some sense of what that means to me, it’s almost 60 pounds less than what I weighed at check-in to rehab.
More than the significance of the number to me is the fact that I fit in clothes I haven’t fit into in years. I feel better than I have in years when I look in a mirror, and I’m more accepting of myself. How much that acceptance has to do with recovery, how much that acceptance has to do with my fitness journey, or how much it all correlates together I have no idea. But I’ve found a routine I enjoy which clearly benefits me on multiple fronts.
I see all of you out there quietly doing this hard work and my heart goes out to you. It seems the world endlessly gives us more obstacles to overcome than encouragement to overcome them. But I see you, I know you, and if I could I’d give you a hug.
Just keep going – and I will too.
This is Christy B, CB for short.
The picture above was taken at her birthday party in August 2006, several years before I first found recovery. We were both graphic designers and had worked for the same company – in the same office – for almost 3 years.
I learned last that Tuesday that she’d committed suicide.
It was completely unexpected, and a reality check for how fragile the human spirit is.
Two years prior to our meeting, I had moved to Baltimore, MD for a relationship and a job (really, just the relationship – the job was simply a means to an end). After 6 months, I’d lost both, and my drinking spiraled out of control. Then 9/11 happened, and I returned to North Carolina, tail tucked between my legs. Back in NC and living on unemployment, my drinking continued. I was about to go bankrupt, had been arrested for my first DUI, and was in a deep depression.
Fortunately, I found a job with a company in Wilmington, NC in August 2002. I moved there in haste simply to have enough money to live and go into credit counseling. Six months after moving, one of my oldest friends from college wrecked his car driving drunk and passed away. A year after that, the Wilmington company ended up going bankrupt. Things were looking up, I had managed to get back on my feet, and my license had been restored. But I needed a job – again. I felt like life simply wouldn’t cut me a break.
In It was December of 2003, fortune smiled on me and I started freelancing for an ad agency in Raleigh called AdStreet, and with the promise of a full-time job moved back to Raleigh and became roommates with an old high school friend. Raleigh is where I grew up, so for me it was a relief to be in familiar surroundings, with people and places I knew.
When I first started working for AdStreet, the company was headquartered in what was an old warehouse, with makeshift dividers and sheetrock put up to make it feel more like an office. The “art department” (four graphic designers, myself and Christy included) worked in a 15×15 room with terrible climate control. We were all in the trenches together though, and we couldn’t have been more different. Being a graphic designer in a smaller urban area is like that. Raleigh isn’t New York. You take what you can get, and you end up meeting pretty much everyone. Sure, I could’ve moved to New York – and it would’ve eaten me alive.
I went out drinking night after night with these people. I had a weekly residency at the hottest new lounge in Raleigh, and sometimes they would come out and dance. Of course, I didn’t think of it as “active addiction.” I was free. I was back home and making a living after 2 years of non-stop crisis. I was paying down my credit cards, paying my bills, doing what I needed to do. I was grateful to celebrate with my co-workers, and it was always legitimately fun. We joked, we laughed, we argued. We went to lunch together. As frustrating as it could be sometimes, I’ve never been closer to my co-workers, before or since.
As companies sometimes do, we bought a brand new building and moved into it. It was ill-advised – we could’ve stayed in the same place and done just fine. The two owners split after the move, and the company changed names. It would still be AdStreet to me, but things had changed.
Christy and I now shared an office alone. We introduced each other to new music, we joked about *really* random things. For instance, the time I’d found a factory sealed coffee creamer container that had no cream. We kept it and laughed about it daily. We shared each other’s personal struggles and occasionally got on each other’s nerves. We went to concerts together. One was a free VIP pass to see Coldplay in 2005, a band I would’ve never given a second about until I saw them live. Even better, all our food and drinks were free.
I ended up leaving AdStreet in 2006, but Christy and i stayed in touch. Once 2007 rolled around though, and I began experimenting with drugs other than alcohol, I left all my old friends behind.
Christy had her share of trouble to deal with in my absence. A series of bad boyfriends (one of them horrible), money issues, and a move to Austin, TX to “start anew.” Much like my move to Baltimore, it sounded like everything had fallen apart around her, so she “came home.” At a dinner in late 2013, after coming back from my relapse, she confided in me that her drinking had taken a turn for the worse. She said she now “got me” and understood on some level what it must’ve been like for me. I told her that if she thought she had a problem, I could help her. We never talked about it after that.
A year or two ago, she messaged me on Facebook. While the message seemed legit, it was somewhat incoherent and almost seemed like she was trying to express that she had feelings for me. We had never dated, and I certainly never saw her as anything other than a good friend. I asked repeatedly if she was alright, if she’d been drinking. I really didn’t need to ask – I knew.
That was the last time we talked, beyond commenting on one another’s Facebook posts.
And then last Tuesday, it was too late.
I want for it to not be too late. I don’t even know how she did it, or what tipped her over the edge. I don’t hold anger in my heart, I don’t blame or judge her. I’m simply sad, and I miss her.
The world is an emptier place without you CB.
If you can see me CB, you know everything now. You see everything I’ve thought and done. Yes, Barb and I were going out and kept it secret from virtually everyone. It was a wonderful few months. You know now. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you.
Her nickname for me was “Johnny Dollar,” after an old beach music song her mother frequently played as a child.
I don’t know where you are, but I hope that your strong faith led you to the place you were promised.
And I hope it is a quiet place.
I recently remarked to my girlfriend that being in recovery and being in therapy was like being set free from the Matrix. You look around you and suddenly see the world the way it really is. In many cases, more than you ever wanted to see.
My girlfriend’s niece turned 4 years old last week, and her birthday party was today. It was held at her favorite place, the “bounce house.” Basically, an entire room filled with rows of trampolines, ball pits, jungle gyms – all padded so that kids can run and jump and bounce and play without harming themselves. The place was full of little kids having a blast, and parents who looked unenthusiastic at best, exhausted and irritated at worst. Even the employee helping with the party looked tired and bored.
(An aside: last year, her birthday party was held at Chuck E Cheese, a place where I’d had my 8th birthday party all the way back in 1982. Back then, it was all video games and pinball machines, which I loved. But they still had the goofy, scary looking animatronic puppets playing music way too loud. I promptly texted my father and told him I then understood exactly why we didn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese that often.)
In any case, there were quite a few dynamics at play:
– My girlfriend no longer speaks to her father, for reasons I understand and respect completely. He was there.
– My girlfriend has instructed/begged/pleaded with both her siblings not to allow their young children around her father (“grandpa”) for the same reasons. They don’t listen.
– My girlfriend’s sister-in-law tried to schedule a Mother’s Day lunch the previous Sunday without inviting my girlfriend or sister. There was much consternation, and so the sister-in-law is being pissy. She also was there.
– The birthday girl’s parents are going through an ugly divorce and, you guessed it – both there.
– My girlfriend’s mother was there, mostly likely a little tweaked on Adderal, and an hour late.
I glanced around the room. The children seemed content to eat pizza, cake, run and jump. The little girls were just sitting and talking, learning how to be social with one another. Same with the boys. In short, the kids would’ve been content to simply be themselves.
The adults however were fidgeting, anxious, nervous habits and tics could be observed all over the room. Everyone just HAD to get pictures of the niece with the presents they got. And – you guessed it – there was a big chair at the far corner of the “party room” where the birthday girl could sit and have her picture taken with all her presents as she opened each one. “This one is from Ms. So-and-so! Say thank you! Sit! Smile for the camera!’ “Sit in your seat.” “Get up from your seat.” “Eat your pizza.” “Eat your cake.” Do this. Do that. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Be here. Be there. Everything had to be just so!
I know what it is to be a spoiled kid. Like my girlfriend’s niece, I was an only child. I not only got everything I ever wanted, I also knew how to gripe to get what I wanted. After my parents divorced, my father (whom I lived with) would get angry with me for griping, even though he was the same person who repeatedly got me everything I ever wanted. I certainly didn’t complain. What 10-year-old boy, circa 1984, would complain about getting ALL the Transformers?
It took years of childhood trauma, unfortunate circumstances and self-inflicted wounds to break me of my entitlement and greed. It didn’t have to go that way, but it did.
My girlfriend, who came to the party exclusively for her niece, was traumatized seeing her father – invited anyway despite her past pleas, but again no one listens. I felt horrible for her. We left early.
In the end, I wondered who the party was truly for, or about. Because it certainly wasn’t about one little girl turning four.
In many respects, it’s never about the kids. It’s about parents keeping up with the Joneses. In high school and most of college, I worked part-time in the stock room of a Toys R Us. I was a jack-of-all-trades. I knew how to run a register, set up an end cap with new toys, block merchandise, unload a semi-truck full of toys in a hot truck bay and assemble a kid’s bike. I can tell you I never saw one child leave that store with a dry eye, unless they had something to show for it.
And why would they? A five year old mind is no match for a colorful store with toys, video games, sporting goods and bicycles stocked floor to ceiling. It’s like telling a cocaine addict to go into a room full of mirrors with a straw and an 8-ball and NOT use. The retail chains know this. That’s what capitalism is all about – sell, sell, sell. Always be closing. Take their money. No one cares which kid grows up spoiled or addicted as long as they sign on the dotted line.
Again, seeing things through the eyes of someone who’s been unplugged from the Matrix, it is hard to watch a room full of people repeating the same patterns that have probably been in those families for generations. The same patterns that my family followed for generations. My grandmother would have epic Christmas parties when I was a child. In many ways, it was a throwback to when she was younger, and the family was well-off, living in Colorado and high on success. As a child when we went to visit them at Christmas, they were just an old, retired married couple living in Marietta, GA, far away in both time and place from those experiences. Now that my grandparents have passed, my uncle tries to carry on the tradition, desperately trying to cling to something that only ever worked once or twice, sometime in the early 1950s. In addiction, it’s called “chasing the dragon” or “romancing the drug.” The circuit is the same.
Watching the cycles repeat over and over is like watching reruns of the same series, only with different actors. We tend to think of therapy and recovery as terms only to be associated with the most severely affected. Survivors of physical and sexual abuse, recovering addicts, those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or some other mental condition. Given the millennia of trauma humanity has endured as a species, one would think we’d know better. But we don’t. Even with all the access we have to good information, we avoid it. Even with all the tools at our disposal. Instant access to credible sources and we turn straight to Raw Story.
For instance, I found this clip of a lecture by Dr. Janet Woititz, on Youtube. Dr. Woititz started the Adult Children of Alcoholics movement and in fact wrote the book. This clip was recorded sometime around 1983, the time her book was published, and almost 3 years before my Mom’s alcoholism would take hold. The resources were there! Here she talks about messaging in broken families (in this case alcoholic family systems, but it applies to more than just alcoholism). She describes a type of habitual repetition in the victims of trauma.
Never again will I live that way, dragged around by the dysfunction of others. I will follow the truth wherever it takes me.
And the truth, as I see it, is this: I think two parents, the niece, and maybe a close friend or two would’ve been fine. No crazy party hats. Let them run, let them jump. Let them be themselves. Hold them, show them love, leave them be and keep them safe. She wouldn’t have known the difference between 20 friends, pizza, cake and a truckload of gifts – or a day at the park – if she hadn’t been conditioned from birth to expect the former.
And for Christ’s sake keep the kids away from Grandpa.
I have a habit of taking myself way too seriously. You might not know that from this picture.
And no, I don’t have a masterclass. I do, however, have Photoshop, a degree in graphic design, and time on my hands.
I take politics seriously. I haven’t blogged in awhile because our country seems to be coming apart at the seams. As I know from recovery, much of that is beyond my control, but it doesn’t stop me. I tried to write about it elsewhere.
There is probably no better example of how seriously I take things than my music.
The very first album I wrote was called “Breakup” – inspired by every failed relationship I’d ever had. Serious stuff.
I wrote an album while living in an Oxford House my first year in recovery. I was angry, scared, hurt, alone. There wasn’t much to laugh about. See the before and after picture below. It was the guy on the left that wrote “Last Man Standing.”
This is a problem for a dance music producer.
Dance music has never been particularly political nor serious. Just look up the Chainsmoker’s first hit “#Selfie” on YouTube to see what I’m talking about. For earlier examples, look up “Don’t Laugh” by Josh Wink, or “Ebeneezer Goode” by The Shamen (a play on words about Ecstasy…”E’s are good.”)
So it took me by surprise when my girlfriend and I were Christmas shopping at Kohl’s in 2015, and I came across a toy in the kids section that grabbed my attention. One of those kids toys in which you pull the string and a wheel spins, playing a song about a letter of the alphabet. “J says jump! I love to jump up and down!”
I recorded it for posterity on my iPhone and told my girlfriend that I’d make a song out of it some day. I wasn’t ready then, as we had just moved in together. I was nervous about it because the last time I’d moved in with a girlfriend, I’d developed a pretty horrible drug habit and ended up in the hospital, and rehab, and an Oxford House, where I wrote an album and…you can see where this is going.
But I’m happy now. Happier than Ive been in a long time. I can laugh at myself. I come home from work, look at the life I have, and feel tremendous gratitude for the many bullets I’ve been allowed to dodge. I can take a deep breath and know that in this moment, I am content.
And it shows, even in my music – maybe for the first time ever. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. “J,” after all, “is for jump.”