addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Recovery

My Story, Part One.

(originally posted on Since Right Now, July 31, 2014)

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I WAS BORN IN DANVILLE, PA ON NOVEMBER 6, 1973, THE SON OF TWO UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS.

I’d grown up on university campuses and around academics for the majority of my early life. My father accepted a job with NC State University in 1976, so we moved – and save for two self-imposed moves on my part (one to Baltimore, MD, and one to Wilmington, NC), I’ve lived and worked in the Triangle area of central NC for most of my life. North Carolina truly is my home.

For the first 12 years, things were pretty typical. While my parents certainly weren’t well off, I never wanted for anything. There was always food to eat, a roof over my head, and I always felt loved. As an only child, I was spooled rotten, and rarely if ever was asked to do chores. As early as I can remember I was anxious, my hands always had a slight tremor, and frequently I would bite my fingernails and wring my hands. I had stage fright which only seemed to worsen as I entered adolescence. I was also terrible at athletics, though my dad desperately tried to teach me baseball and basketball. I was painfully shy and introverted, living most of my life in my own head and imagination. Ultimately, this imagination provided me an escape – writing stories, drawing, listening to tons of music, and making animations on one of the earliest Apple Macintosh computers, which my father purchased in 1985.

I HAD RARELY IF EVER SEEN MY PARENTS DRINK, AND CERTAINLY NEVER SAW MY PARENTS DRUNK. 1986 CHANGED ALL THAT.

My mom had begun teaching at a prestigious private school in Raleigh, which I had the (mis)fortune of being able to attend because I was her son. She began attending faculty functions where alcohol was served, functions which my Dad really didn’t enjoy. So he and I would frequently go see movies whenever my mom went out. On one particular occasion my dad and I came home to find mom’s car parked sideways in the driveway. Scared, we both went inside and found her sitting indian style on the floor, blackout drunk (which I didn’t understand at the time). The only example of a drunk person I’d ever seen was Otis from “The Andy Griffith Show.” This was quite different. The next day my parents sat me down, my mom explained what happened, and that it wouldn’t happen again.

THIS WAS A PROMISE THAT WOULD BE BROKEN OVER AND OVER.

I also became aware during this time that my mom had begun a relationship with one of the other teachers, who happened to be a woman. My parents were fighting quite often, and I couldn’t parse any of it. My mom couldn’t possibly be gay, I thought, because I *existed*. I was “proof,” right? I simply had no understanding, and no one was explaining anything to me. I would frequently sit at the top of the stairs holding the cat, listening to them yell. One Saturday morning, my dad came downstairs as I was watching cartoons and told me mom was moving out. He probably remembers what he said better than I do, and I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been for him. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would understand all of my mom’s struggles. What I know for certain is that within a year of seeing my mom drunk for the first time, my family – such as I had known it – was over. I would never trust or rely on the idea of “family” the same way again.

I began doing things which were very uncharacteristic for me. Back in public school, I came close to failing the 8th grade and to conceal the fact, began forging my dad’s signatures on official school documents so that he wouldn’t find out. I also began shoplifting, mostly CDs and porn magazines. All of this came to my dad’s attention at different times, and while he was very, very angry with me for it he never seemed to take it as a warning sign that something in me was changing, and not for the better. I never saw a therapist, was never told to go to one, and was never made to attend an Alanon meeting. To the best of my knowledge, neither did he. We did, however, start going to church – which I began to immerse myself in as time went on.

I was able to turn things around in high school, got my grades back up to A’s and B’s, and started playing trumpet in the marching band. I was bullied almost daily by a popular upperclassman, which made high school a scary place to be. No matter who I told, no one seemed able or inclined to do anything. But no matter how scared, anxious or hurt I was, I never picked up a drink. Friends would periodically offer them to me, but I turned them down flat. After seeing what had happened with my mom, I wanted no part of it – for the time being. She began reaching out to me, so that we could begin rebuilding our relationship. One day after school, probably in 1990, I’d gone over to her apartment to rest, and sitting on her dining room table were the divorce papers. It had been finalized in 1988, but no one had told me. What I realized at that moment was until I’d seen those papers, there was a tiny part of me that had always hoped my parents would get back together. No longer.

My dad and I also had a strained relationship at times, and no wonder. We were two angry men – one of whom had lost a wife, the other a mother – living in a big, empty house which for my dad probably represented everything he hoped their marriage would be. Now, it was an albatross around his neck. And neither of us were getting any help for our pain, save for church. I was also a latch-key kid, because my father had to teach sometimes until 7pm. By the time he got home he was tired and probably not in the mood to deal with a teenager. Sometimes, I would be the typical smartass adolescent and start arguments, sometimes my dad would just be in a foul mood and lose his temper. So while I kept my grades up and kept quiet, I confided in him less and less as time went by. The only times I knew for certain that we would be okay (i.e.. not arguing) were on Sundays. Church, it seems, brought us together – more for the shared experience of it than the spirituality I think. But my dad always did his best to explain and discuss scripture with me, and we prayed together nightly.

My mom bought me my first guitar at age 16 and I began listening to very loud, angry metal music. It was an ideal release for me and I still play guitar to this day, at least an hour a day. I also met my first girlfriend in high school, which was a transformative experience to say the least. The night I called her up to ask her out, she had been drinking. Her parents allowed her to drink alcohol as long as she and her friends remained in the house. Again, I never partook and was always very clear about it. We broke up at least 3-4 times that I’m aware of – but such is the nature of high school relationships. With all my “mommy issues” I imagine I was an insecure mess to say the least.

The night of my high school graduation, some friends and I went out and snuck into a local pool which, at 10pm, was locked up. So we scaled the fence. They’d brought some vodka and sprite with them, which I broke down and took a few sips of. I don’t recall feeling anything, nor did I really like what I was tasting. My dad found out and the next day and confronted me. He told me the following, unequivocally:

“SOME DAY, YOU’LL BE OLD ENOUGH TO BUY ALCOHOL, AND WHEN THAT DAY COMES YOU’LL HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. I HOPE YOU WILL CHOOSE NOT TO, BUT IT WILL BE YOUR CHOICE. HOWEVER, GIVEN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY AND YOUR GENETIC MAKE-UP, IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK YOU ARE PLAYING WITH FIRE!”

By my senior year I had already tuned out his warning messages, and the messages of my mother. I didn’t trust or care about either of their opinions. In my eyes they could barely keep their own lives and sanity together, and college was my first opportunity to try my own hand at living life. I was a ticking time-bomb: insecure; naïve; self-righteous; and under a *lot* of pressure to perform. I was already adept at lying and stealing – no drugs or alcohol required.

When I moved into my dorm, I snapped a “selfie” on an old Pentax K-1000. This picture would represent the last time either of my parents could reach me.

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Read part Two of my story here >

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, Recovery

Adult Child.

(originally posted to tumblr Feb 5th, 2014 – revised, edited and re-written)

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In addition to being an alcoholic and addict myself, I am also the “adult child of an alcoholic.” So what does that look like? During the early part of my life the only drug I had ever seen with my own two eyes was alcohol. It was mass media that gave me my first inklings of drugs other than alcohol. My parents drank wine occasionally, but I never saw beer or liquor in the house.

As a kid in the mid-1980s, crack cocaine was all over the news, and “just say no” was the catch-phrase of the moment. I can tell you for a fact that my parents had no access to crack cocaine, wouldn’t have known where to buy it, and probably wouldn’t have been able to buy it from a street dealer even if they wanted to.

Of course, crack wasn’t the only drug I’d learned about through the media. The first time I’d heard of LSD was the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, a clean-cut Green Beret and doctor who was convicted in 1979 of killing of his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He himself blamed the killings on Charles Manson-like hippies doped up on LSD. He was first indicted by a North Carolina grand jury in 1975, so the case was all over the local news, and spawned the book “Fatal Vision.”

I didn’t know what LSD looked like, didn’t know what it did, and knew of no one I could buy it from. However, based on what I’d heard from those many news reports, I thought I “knew” two things:
– LSD makes you want to kill people.
– Hippies are dangerous.

That remained my impression for many, many years. In my real-world experience, I have found neither to be remotely true. All of it seemed so far removed from me.

The only “drunk” person I’d ever seen up to that point was Otis of “The Andy Griffith Show.” He seemed silly, clumsy, and I could never understand why he would go to the courthouse and lock himself in jail – all the while the TV sitcom laugh track running in the background. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized he was doing for the sheriff what the sheriff would’ve done anyway: lock him up so he could sleep off the booze.

None of this is reality. But I was about to face reality for the first time.

I had never seen either of my parents drunk until 1986. My mom had gone to a faculty function at the private school where she taught, and my dad and I went to see the movie “Gung Ho” with Michael Keaton. It was a typical mid-1980s movie about American superiority over other world cultures, and this case the Japanese and car manufacturing. We both enjoyed it a lot, and it was during those trips to the movies that I really got to know my dad for the first time. We drove home laughing all the way.

(Side note: it was through watching movies that I was first able to find ways of coping with cravings for alcohol and drugs in early recovery.)

Once we got home, the laughter came to swift end. My mom’s car was parked to the left of the driveway, diagonally and very close to the lone tree in the middle of our front yard. Dad and I looked at one another, and were both concerned (read: terrified). When we walked into the house, I called out “Mom? Mom?” Her response was delayed…”I’m right here.” It was faint, and at first I thought I heard it coming from the living room. So we went into the living room, and she was not there.

“Where are you mom?”

“I’m right here,” her response again.

When Dad and I went upstairs, we saw my mom sitting indian-style on the bedroom floor, with a towel wrapped around her head. “Mom?” I said again. “I’m right here.” She thought that she was sitting in the bathtub taking a bath. She didn’t seem to be aware of where she was. I couldn’t understand the disconnect – did my mom not see me? Her eyes were sometimes closed, sometimes open, but she didn’t really seem to know I was there. It would be many more years before I saw another person who was black-out drunk, and several years after that before I’d find myself black-out drunk.

As with the fights my parents had during my childhood, my parents sat me down in the living room the morning after. My mom told me what had happened, that she’d had a mixed drink for the first time at the faculty party. That drink led to another, and before she knew it…you can probably extrapolate the rest. My guess it that it wasn’t the first time my mom had tasted a mixed drink. In any case, they reassured me that they loved me. This time, however, they promised me “it would never happen again.” Fights between parents were normal, drunkenness was not. As you can probably guess, her promise was broken time and time again.

All of it left me feeling sideways. I was still thinking about the version of my mom I’d seen the night before, thinking about Otis. It scared me to the core, and I remember thinking how wrong the media was in their portrayals of alcohol, drugs, and addiction. For me, this was the beginning of wisdom and betrayal.

For years I struggled with the pain of that moment. For years I imitated the examples I had been shown in both my parents: my mom, the active alcoholic trying to put her life together, slipping, getting back up, slipping; and my dad, the codependent and the rescuer, who also took some of his anger towards my mom out on me. At first, being terrified of alcohol, I was the rescuer – as well as wanting to be rescued myself. Neither of my parents really directed me towards any kind of therapy, so I had no idea that I was falling right into those typical self-destructive patterns. I honestly didn’t trust either of them anyway. They both seemed earth to me.

So once I finally gave in and indulged in my first drunk, I became the epitome of the walking wounded. I surpassed even my mom’s worst days, and over the course of 14 years probably consumed more drugs and alcohol that all the members of my family now living combined. I’m not proud of that. I wish my life could’ve gone any other way than it did. Today, I’m in long-term recovery and my life is better than it has ever been.

After I got sober the first time, my dad asked me, “what could I have done to prevent this from happening?” The simple fact is that an untreated ACOA is a ticking time bomb. Of course, there’s no guarantee that someone will go down that path. But the risk goes up exponentially, and in my case – even after years of fear being drilled into me, years of church, years of attempting to find friends in any social group that didn’t revolve around alcohol or drugs – ultimately I chose that path.

Scare tactics aren’t enough, fear isn’t enough, even love isn’t enough. If your child is the son or daughter of an alcoholic, and there has been trauma in the family, treatment is a necessity. Allow them to go to Alanon meetings, talk with them about their feelings, find a therapist they can talk to. And be active about it – not all therapists work with all kids, and not all support groups work for all people. Help them find the thing that works. Listen, be interested, be engaged – because while they are still young, they can still be reached.

Maybe we didn’t know in the 1980s the full extent of an ACOA’s dilemmas and struggles. But we know today. We have access to the sum total of human knowledge from our smartphones. Alanon meetings, therapists and help are a Google search away. We owe our children – our adult children – our best effort. To do anything less is to risk a life being caught up in the jaws of addiction.

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addiction, Podcast, Recovery, Uncategorized

Since Right Now.

Got to join the guys at SinceRightNow.com this past Wednesday 10/5 for a chat about recovery, music, yoga, love, cross-stitching and…well…yeah, it was a good time. You should check out the link below on Soundcloud:
https://soundcloud.com/klen-and-sobr/312-djfm-jon-g-djfm

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It’s not the only time I’ve been on Since Right Now…have a listen to my debut back in 2014!
https://soundcloud.com/klen-and-sobr/episode-18-jon-g-my-last-stand-dj-fm

That’s all for now…enjoy the rest of your weekend!

JG

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addiction, Recovery

#RecoveryPosse

The one, the only, the G.O.A.T…originally posted to tumblr August 7, 2014:
http://djfmdotcom.tumblr.com/post/94124796592/rp

 

Who says recovery can’t be fun? (or viral). Made these last night and will continue adding to them. Please share, I don’t care where 🙂

FYI: this is what graphic designers in recovery do when they’re really bored 🙂

LETS DO THIS #RECOVERYPOSSE!

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(RIP Gene Wilder)

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addiction, Consequences, Recovery

High Bottom, Hard Luck, Low Life.

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A near death experience will humble you.

I didn’t choose to overdose. I simply ingested the amount of drugs I thought would sufficiently anesthetize me from the emotions I was feeling in the moment.

I spent four days in the hospital. Multiple doctors asked me afterward if I had done it on purpose, if I was having suicidal thoughts. I assured them all I did not, because it was true. I had a chance to bounce back, but I kept on drinking and using as soon as I had been released. I had no respect for the chemicals I was putting in my body. I had no inkling of how close I’d come to death’s door. I didn’t care.

My experience of alcohol, drugs, misuse, abuse, addiction and physical dependence has always revolved around catastrophe and desperation. An innocent good time gone horribly wrong. A party at one person’s house suddenly transformed into a 3-day vacation from life resulting in panic and chaos afterwards. And no matter how bad things got, a complete unwillingness to stop. There were no in-betweens or burning bush experiences for me. I rocked it until the wheels fell off and kept going.

By contrast, sobriety seems to be the new “movement du jour” these days – and I welcome it. What I don’t welcome is the blanket assertion of some within the movement that because they chose to stop (as in, their biology had not yet betrayed them), everyone should be able to do likewise. You are powerful! Simply follow my 5 step plan to a new you!

It’s classic human nature. Experience X was like this for me, therefore it must be like this for everyone else. In the context of recovery, I’ve seen 12-steppers do it to newcomers, saying things like “you may as well just go get drunk right now if you don’t follow this program!” A sort-of twisted reverse psychology wrapped in a backhanded insult that suggests their own way of life is threatened. New school sobriety’s response is just equal and opposite.

And there is no middle ground. You are either utterly desperate and destitute and you better do work (or else), or you’re an appropriately dressed uptown someone who found enlightenment and walked away from “Substance D” cold turkey.

Being of sound mind and body at last, I get it. I feel like the sky is the limit some days and love the life I have today. But I also remember that at one point in time I had become a slave to the brutal changes I’d wrought in my own biology. Addiction is biological. Once your midbrain is hijacked to the point where self-preservation is disregarded, you are no longer in control. You are not powerful. It’s terrifying to me to think of it, and has made me cautious in a way that I’ve never been.

I did not simply wake up one morning and say to my mirror image, “Dear god these bags under my eyes make me look ten years older.” I didn’t roll over in bed and realize I was hungover (again) and say “Goddamn it, I’m late for work. Time for a change!” Being a musician and DJ certainly didn’t help. You’re surrounded constantly by enablers of all kinds.

Some people were able to do that, however – stop themselves before it was too late and right the ship. I hold no resentment toward such people, and wish I could’ve been one of them. In meetings, they are derogatorily referred to as “high-bottom addicts.” A kind of caste system within recovery. The new school sobriety movement adds yet another caste, one that seemingly looks down on anyone who applies the word “recovery” or “sobriety” to themselves – simply because they’d been able to hold onto their dignity and some of their social status after giving up their vices.

We desperately want to keep up appearances in this country. Our clothes must be “fabulous” – not so dressy that we appear uptight (“Today was a jeans and t-shirt day!”), not so casual that we couldn’t run the board meeting. Thanks to the democratization of technology, our selfies can and must be flawless. But not too flawless. Sterile like a pharmaceutical commercial but not so much that you can’t have a slight inkling of hipster chic. I’m edgy, dammit! *Snap!* Lord knows the power of dysfunction and codependence in American families have long lent themselves to secrecy and denial.

But addiction – the kind I dealt with in my own life – is messy. It is ugly and hard to Photoshop away, especially when you pass out drunk standing at a bus stop (this guy). For its part, the recovery community does itself no favors by forcing the “school of hard knocks” approach, an outdated idea of anonymity as social bullwark, and a rejection of 80 years of scientific method. As long as we continue to shoegaze, we’ll continue suffering from terminal uniqueness and miss the world turning.

When I was living in an Oxford House my first few months in recovery, I came home one day and began to pontificate on all my difficulties as newcomers sometimes do. Somewhere in the discussion I referred to myself as a “hard luck case,” which a housemate took issue with. “Jon G,” he said, “you a good dude, and I know that you been through some pretty bad shit from your view. But you ain’t no hard-luck case. I’ve seen hard luck cases, people with nothing, people running in the streets with no clothes and no food. You ain’t no hard-luck case.” So even my experience wasn’t the be-all end-all of rock-bottom. I had unconsciously created a caste for myself, and was judging everyone I thought was beneath me. It was a hard pill to swallow.

Addiction is a broad spectrum, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For me, addiction will always be a desperate matter. My behavior took me to extremes that by any metric were beyond the pale. Quantifiably, measurably, there will never be a good justification for me to put drugs and alcohol in my body again. Sure, it’s still technically a “choice” for me to do so – in the way that it’s a “choice” for me to drive my car off a bridge.

Some people had a choice in when they gave up their vices. But having a choice doesn’t mean you have power. True power is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and then honestly building on that framework. True power is also being humbled enough to understand that judging someone else’s experience through the lens of your own is futile.

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addiction, Recovery

Three Years, Revisited.

(originally posted to tumblr July 31, 2016)

So this past Thursday I celebrated 3 years sober. The first time around in recovery I always claimed to be “sober” (I hadn’t taken a drink), but had been dabbling again in weed and psychedelics by the end of year two. It was only a matter of time.

This is 3 very real years for me, completely clean and sober. I’m so grateful to be here. I spent the day at the pool with my girlfriend, her sister and little niece. Then we came home, Netflixed and chilled. I didn’t get sunburnt at the pool (if I was any whiter I’d be transparent), I ate well, laughed and was sober another 24.

But I’m going to tell you, I’m tired. I’m fucking tired.

The events of the last 7 years in recovery are catching up with me. Like a person whose adrenaline has spiked, allowing them to perform a feat of superhuman strength in the moment to save a life. They wake up a few days later to feel sore, beaten – alive, well, but exhausted. I could sleep for a week.

For one, I fired my therapist…she and I were simply not gelling. It was a difficult thing for me to do and put me in a weird headspace, but it needed to be done. I’m trying to work out the anger I have towards my father, accept that there are things I will never hear from him, that maybe he simply isn’t the male figure I need in my life. Maybe I need to find someone to fill that role. Not an easy thing for anyone to come to grips with.

Second, third and fourth, I filed trademark paperwork on the DJ FM name, commissioned a new remix for one of my songs, and booked gigs that could last well through October (if successful). I find myself wondering if I’m not “too old for this shit.” If not too old, then too tired. Too tired to lug my PA system all over creation to various gigs and events. Music has always sustained me emotionally – saved me, many times – but never financially. I’ve come close to breaking even a few times.

I’m at that point again in my music life where I find myself saying, “maybe I should just sell all this gear, recoup and be normal.” LOL, normal. I doubt I’ll ever be normal, and I’m okay with that. I just wonder if I have outlived my artistic usefulness.

Music is not an easy path to walk. There is no clear definition of success save for the individual, how you personally feel about what you’ve accomplished. Sure, if you sell a million albums, then you’re “successful” in the business sense. I just wonder sometimes if my desire to be successful in music was fueled in part by some alcoholic/addict “drug planning.” Ego and ambition run riot through the lens of MDMA and vodka. It scares me to think about it, because I know that I do truly love music.

Maybe all this is absurd – simply how I feel at 2am on a Sunday morning after a day in the sun entertaining a 3-year-old. I don’t have a desire to drink or use. But somehow I need to find the energy to push on with my dreams, while at the same time wondering if the tank has been on empty for awhile and I’m simply running on vapors.

Real talk at 2am, LOL. I am grateful for another day. Time to get these dishes done.

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