Abuse, addiction, Consequences, Electronic Dance Music, Grunge, music, Recovery, Rock, Suicide, Trauma

Goodnight, Mr. Bennington.

(also published to Medium)

“One thing
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.

Godspeed.

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Abuse, addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Electronic Dance Music, music, Podcast, Recovery, Religion, Trauma

Experience.

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)
https://inrecovery.com/journey-fun-abuse-dj-fm

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.

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addiction, Consequences, music, Recovery, Suicide, Trauma

Goodbye, CB.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Abuse, addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

Birthday.

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.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7p7hssaHF0

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.

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, music, Recovery, Religion

The Codependent Love Songs of the 1970s.

I’ll be getting back to my sober DJ story soon enough, but for my first post of 2017 I wanted to share something a bit different.

Tommy Rosen, the founder of Recovery 2.0, shared a video on his Facebook page after his morning meditation which entailed pop culture, movies, the 1970s…the effect that those things have on children, and relates it to how he became an addict:

At first when he began talking about movies, he kinda lost me. I was thinking, whatever. Then he said something that made my jaw hit the floor. “You know what I grew with in the 1970s, if we’re really gonna be honest? I grew up with the codependent love songs of the 1970s.” Feels. (And doesn’t that sound like the title of one of those Time-Life greatest hits CDs?)

I remember the ballads, especially of the late 1970s/early 1980s. So many songs about unfulfilled and unrequited love. I remember hearing Dan Fogleberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” as a 7 year old and crying…kids know. Kids understand more than you realize. I remember my mom teaching class late one night and not knowing when she would come home, and then hearing “Your Song” by Elton John. Balling. Missing my mom. (I was a sensitive little kid, I’ll admit. Not much has changed.)

I also remember the movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you saw the animated movie “Watership Down” as a kid, you know what I’m talking about. The movie “Kramer vs. Kramer” with Dustin Hoffman came out in 1979, and from the clips I saw on HBO it seemed that divorce was an epic event, with a big soundtrack, courtroom drama, parents yelling at one another and at the judge. Anytime I met a kid in elementary school whose parents were divorced, I felt deeply sorry for them. I imagined them in court with their parents, watching it all go down, and then having to take sides.

And then my parents actually divorced. And there was unfulfilled love, and anger, and infidelity and substance use between them. But other than the relatively few fights I saw – bad as they were – it was a very quiet process from my perspective. My dad told me my mom was moving out while I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. I never once set foot in a courtroom, never talked with an attorney. In fact, my mom told me that she had me live with my father because she knew that she was incapable of taking care of a child – that she thought he would’ve been better for me.

Like drunkenness, I learned that divorce too was very, very different from what was portrayed in the media. I accepted my mom’s version of the story for a long time, until I myself found recovery. I saw men and women, young and old, who’d just recently had their children taken away because of alcohol and drugs. I watched them in 12-step meetings claw, and grasp at every straw they could to hang on to sobriety, to get visitation back, to get their kids back, to be in their lives again. These were, by-and-large, people who didn’t have educations, people who simply did the best they could with what they had, some with extensive criminal records. Never in all my life had I seen a parent fight harder for their children.

You see videos of mothers and fathers in war-torn countries being re-united with their children after being separated, after being refugees for a decade, two decades, with no hope of ever seeing them. And a miracle happens and they are reunited. They are falling on the floor in tears, and the children are too. Wailing, weeping as though their lives depended on it.

My mother and father were both highly educated people. If I’m to believe my mother, she was invited to join Mensa at one point. Neither had criminal records. Even with all that, I began to feel once again like I had been “given up,” in early recovery, at age 36 after over 20 years had passed. The feelings stay there. You can’t deal with them until you face them head on.

You have to wonder what kind of force is so powerful that it decimates the instinctual bond between a parent and child. It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs. Those are just symptomatic. As Tommy is noted for saying (and I agree 100%), the root of addiction is trauma. The trauma that occurred in my mother’s life when she was young, which was in turn a result of trauma that her parents had, and so forth. At no point did anyone put the brakes on it, because our “no crying in baseball” culture doesn’t believe in feelings – talking about them, expressing them or recovering from them. One county in Georgia even banned schools from teaching mindfulness because of the influences of “eastern religion.”

Look at who we elected president, for god’s sake.

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(no, we didn’t elect dan fogelberg)

When you experience divorce, suddenly everything that happened before you see through a new lens. Nothing was right, everything was wrong. Of course the whole thing fell apart. Dan Fogleberg was right. “She’d like to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie.” And any happy song immediately became a lie. Hearing all those old songs made me even more emotional than they had when I was a kid, so my tastes gradually shifted away from even 1980s pop to the angriest, loudest music I could find. It was my only defense mechanism.

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(the loudest, angriest music I could find…)

Alcohol and drugs came much later, because watching my mother did make me afraid of their power for a time. But I was addicted to all sorts of things before that. Credit cards. Relationships. Materialism. Even the anger that I carried with me I was addicted to, in a way, because it was mine. It was something no one could take from me. Like the NIN classic Head Like a Hole, “no you can’t take it, no you can’t take that away from me…head like a hole / black as your soul / I’d rather die than give you control.”

Tommy concludes with observations about the media our kids are seeing today… “I’m not even sure what’s going to happen to our children today…the jury is not in yet, we hope that we can get our kids excited about the magic of life without dooming them to… a life of seeking through the outside world to create some bizarre reality…” The jury is still out. We don’t know.

I agree with what Tommy is saying. I also agree that I am 100% percent responsible for my actions. I can’t blame anyone but myself for what I did in active addiction, and I certainly don’t blame pop culture. What I do believe is that art, music, and media are a lens into our culture, an expression of it’s own reality. It may seem bizarre, and frightening, much like the gangster rap of the early 1990s was to suburban parents. But our art tells a story about us.

And if it’s any indication of what we’re feeling as a culture, I give you a lyric from one of the most popular songs of 2016…by the Chainsmokers:

“I think I’m losing my mind now

It’s in my head, darling I hope

That you’ll be here, when I need you the most

So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down”

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addiction, Consequences, music, Recovery, Rock, Uncategorized

On 2016, Sentiment, and Loss.

2016, like years past, has been full of it. It’s all over our news, our Facebook feeds, our 24-hour news cycles, our pushed updates.

Loss.

I’m nothing if not sentimental. I have a tragically good long-term memory, and tend to remember the good and the bad in equally vivid measure. I’m also a pack-rat, keeping every correspondence with people I’ve known, some of whom are no longer with us, and some who I lost contact with years ago.

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(correspondence)

If love could be measured in terms of that correspondence, then I am the most loved person of all. Hundreds, maybe thousands of letters, from college friends, my grandparents, loved ones from years ago are stored in plastic bins which I’ve organized over the years. As I’ve been putting together my book, I’ve been going through my old journals and letters to read what was going on at a particular time in my life – to make sure I have the facts straight. Or at the very least, my interpretation of events at the time.

It has been a journey full of surprises, a teaching tool for me in both in terms of my recovery from substance use disorder, and in terms of understanding how my life in general has unfolded.

It is also one of my defense mechanisms against loss. That person, that event, that thing I loved may be gone, or missing, or estranged. But the piece that worked, the love, the friendship, the enlightenment as it was documented and saved, will be with me as long as I have the capacity to maintain it.

Regarding 2016, I see a lot of false bravado on Facebook, the same kind you find all over internet chat rooms, message boards, and social networks. The irreverent, blasé angsty name-calling and deprecation that has long been a part of adolescent youth culture (which even “adults” are now engaging in.) “You didn’t know George Michael/Prince/David Bowie, so why are crying like a baby?” I even see people doing it with Carrie Fisher, who passed today at the age of 60. “Princess Leia’s dead. So what?” (and these are some of the nicer posts I’ve seen). I could also delve into the more existential “losses” felt by any person or social group negatively affected by Donald Trump’s victory, but I covered that in a different thread.

Then there’s this one: “2016 didn’t suck. People die ever year.” True enough.

And yet it is the great defense mechanism of our culture. It didn’t hurt me, therefore I’m not affected. Therefore, you shouldn’t be either. Every year sucks, so why care, why be shocked, why be sad?

I really don’t need to talk about what kind of impact Star Wars has had on my life. I didn’t weep when Carrie Fisher died, but I certainly “felt” it. The writer of “Watership Down,” Richard Adams, passed away also. It was made into a very disturbing, violent and sad animated film my parents allowed me to watch as a child. I hesitate to watch it again, and I never read the book. However, I felt the emotional knock at the door when I read about his passing.

Then there’s George Michael. As a musician, I feel it when another musician has passed. Because I know what it is to write music. You live life very much like an open nerve ending. You have to learn how to govern what you take in over time, how to process it – the pain and joy alike – or it will consume you. For many years, it did consume me. I sought ways both healthy and unhealthy to redirect and numb myself from it. As it seems like George Michael did also.

I knew of “Wham” peripherally when I was a child. I was 10 or 11 when “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” came on MTV, and I hated it. It was another in a series of throwback “doo-wop” music for baby boomers who were “30-something” at the time. But in 1987, when his “Faith” album came out, my parents’ divorce was in high gear, and all the awfulness associated with it. Much of the music of 1986-1988 reminds me of that very dark time in my life. “Faith,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” and “Kissing A Fool” were all songs that stuck with me. I didn’t really pay attention to the music he wrote that came after, except for “Freedom ’90” (solely due to the music video and the supermodels all lip-syncing his vocal parts). But that music produced emotions as vivid in me as I did when I was the scared angry kid that heard them.

My appreciation for “pop” music left after that, and my musical tastes did a complete 180…to Queensryche, to Metallica, and Anthrax…and the even heavier and heavier music it spawned in the decade to come.

So I didn’t know George Michael. I never attended a single concert. But his music had a long and lasting impact on me which I “felt” when I saw that he had passed. And to insinuate that I or anyone else shouldn’t “feel” something because I didn’t know him personally? That you believe – because social media is just one great extension of both the telephone game and a high school classroom – you have say-so over the emotions I feel and the emotions I carry simply because you have a mouthpiece?

Go fuck yourself. 

This event, this moment, this person meant something to me. And someday, you will hit a wall where you also will lose something of value. Because that’s life. I can promise you I won’t be there to tell you “how it is” simply because I’m insecure with what I believe.

Much of life is something we have to “feel” our way through. There’s the pain, then you embrace it, feel it, allow it in, then let it wash away. Because all emotions eventually run their course.

I will not allow myself to become jaded ever again, to hold back because emotional expression isn’t “cool,” or warranted in our culture. If something means something to me, I will allow myself to feel it and express what I choose in the way that I choose. And I won’t blame you for doing likewise. I expect the same respect in return.

Because to do anything else is disingenuous. 

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Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Election, Religion

On Trump, and Religion.

The election of Donald Trump has pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks from blogging about either music or recovery. I’ve had a few sleepless nights, like many folks, and am trying to come to terms with everything. In the week or so since, a lot has happened, so I’d like to focus on one particular event.

My girlfriend – one of the most kindhearted and non-confrontational people I have ever known – posed a question on her Facebook page (always a dangerous move) after the election. Essentially: how could a person who identified as a Christian support a candidate like Trump, whose hate-filled rhetoric ostensibly goes against everything Jesus taught?

Before going further, I have a history with Christianity that I need to come clean with.

Following my parents’ divorce, I became depressed. I was failing the 8th grade, I was shop-lifting, I was lying about everything. Rather than put me in therapy, my father and I started going to church (as much for him as for me). My dad has always hated doctors and I’m guessing this was the only solution he could understand or trust. In any case, when I turned 16 I began going to a different church with some of my friends. I wanted a church of my own to go to. I accepted Christ (i.e. “got saved”) at this church, and my freshman year in college I became a member.

The former pastor of that church had this to say in his blog, about his early experiences as a young minister founding a new church:

“While I was in the ministry, I was deeply troubled by the ability of otherwise intelligent people to tenaciously embrace beliefs that were patently absurd…For example, there were those who believed passionately that the world was only 6000 years old, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Others would walk confidently into my office and tell me that God had told them the future, making specific predictions that never came true. Undaunted, they would confidently make even more outlandish prognostications, ones that would eventually prove false, as well. Nevertheless, they still refused to re-examine their belief system…

The most salient example of this phenomenon was the small group of faith healing aficionados in the congregation. Some of them carried vials of olive oil with them to dab on the foreheads of ailing people before proclaiming them healed. When the “healed” person later died, they would simply move on to their next patient, insisting that death was a form of ultimate healing, one that ended all pain and suffering, and that their prayers had been answered after all. It amazed me how quickly (and conveniently) they forgot that their prayer had been for the person to be restored to health and go home to their jobs and families, not to be taken immediately to heaven. If they felt uncomfortable with this obvious discrepancy, they never said anything about it to me. Rather, when I questioned them about the effectiveness of their methods and the genuineness of their healings, they explained away the facts and doubted my faith.”

I experienced my own disillusionment within that church. While working as a youth field staffer, one of my responsibilities was phone duty. We maintained a list of all the kids who came to the church regularly, and tracked from week to week who was in attendance. If someone had been there the week before, but was absent that day, we were to call the number they provided us with to check up on them. I was about as good at cold-calling for Jesus as I was selling fruit for my high school marching band, and hated it to the core.

For that matter, so did most of the parents I called. They would say, “He/she is home. They didn’t want to go. Why are you bothering us?” And that’s a very pleasant way of rephrasing it. They would then ask to be removed from the list. In fact, most of the parents who left their kids with us didn’t seem too interested in whether or not it was religious in nature. They just wanted to get their kids out of the house for an hour or two and not be bothered.

I heard and saw this sentiment expressed over and over again by many of the kids I talked to – “kids” who were barely 3-4 years younger than I was. As if I had any business spiritually mentoring anyone at that point in my life. But I was the one they talked to. Everyone else told them to “read the bible.” I would actually tell them my *life experience* – what we call sharing our “experience, strength and hope” in 12-step recovery. Telling someone to “stick their nose in a book” is no different than Dr. Jan’sI love you, go away” ACOA message. When you’re on the receiving end, it’s not easy to parse.

To be fair, the kids didn’t seem too unhappy to get out of the house. Quite a few of them would walk to the back of the building and smoke weed or do “whippets” – either aerosol cans from the grocery store, or whipped cream canisters containing N20 – which create a 30-60sec long “head-rush” when inhaled. Once, the youth pastor called the police on a kid. It was probably only the second time in my life I’d seen someone using substances other than alcohol. Behind a church. So much for being sheltered.

Then the youth leaders began to question my music choices. As I’ve said in previous blog entries, the early 1990s were a great time to be an angry young man. And legitimately, I had a lot to be angry about – I just kept up the illusion on the outside that I wasn’t in any pain. I attended bible study, church, did well in the classes I was motivated to do well in (really not too different from my attitude in high school). I’d pull up in the parking lot listening to Alice In Chains, or Pantera, or Slayer, or some of the early industrial rock I had discovered like KMFDM. Many of them would try to introduce me to Christian bands which were “soundalikes,” just with religious lyrics. I always preferred the old hymns, sung by a choir, played on an old pipe organ.

The final nail in that coffin was when a youth minister approached me after finding out I’d gone to Lollapalooza in 1993. She took me aside and told me, flat out, that she didn’t think Jesus would’ve gone with me. I was completely taken aback and enraged. I stopped wearing preppie clothes to field staff meetings. I started wearing my hair down instead of in a pony tail, started wearing my metal t-shirts, and kicked my feet up on chairs during the meetings. And then I simply stopped going. I think I might’ve mentioned to one of the other field staffers that I was contemplating it – but really I was there, and then i wasn’t.

My former pastor concludes his blog entry with this
“But illusions need not be of a religious nature. As a pastor, I was merely in a position to observe closely the resistance to objective reality that existed in some devout people.”

What I began to see in the ensuing years was that “resistance to objective reality” becoming more and more widespread, specifically among devout people.

My father – a professor of counselor education – had in his toolkit a puppet called DUSO the Dolphin. DUSO was an acronym which stood for “Developing an Understanding of Self and Others.” For some reason I had this image of my dad sitting in an elementary classroom, talking to children with a hand-puppet. It always made me smile, thinking of him talking in funny voices and being kind to little kids. I don’t know if he ever actually did that, but it seems DUSO became a “desperate threat.” From the New York Times, 1993 (my sophomore year in college):

“The most frequently challenged curriculums in public schools across the country no longer involve sex-education programs or classic novels like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” according to a national anti-censorship organization. The new battlegrounds are elementary school self-esteem programs whose imaginary central characters include a blue dragon named Pumsy and a dolphin named Duso.

“Local groups, relying in many cases on information distributed by conservative religious organizations, have challenged “Pumsy in Pursuit of Excellence” in at least 35 school districts around the country, said Matt Freeman, a spokesman for People for the American Way.

“Uproar over the program, which is used in about 17,000 schools, has also provided a key issue for grass-roots religious organizations seeking to place their candidates on local school boards, Mr. Freeman said.

“Opponents of Pumsy and similar self-esteem programs, which in part are anti-drug measures and are thus mandated for districts receiving Federal money, contend that children are being introduced to Eastern religion, the occult, ‘New Age’ spiritualism and relaxation techniques they characterize as hypnosis.”

(Did you catch that? ANTI. DRUG. MEASURES. Take away a child’s ability to center, mediate and be at peace and they will be at-risk for drugs and alcohol, especially in poor neighborhoods. Of course, they’ll run right into the arms of the church when they’re desperate – which is exactly what was intended.)

It would be another 10 years (2003) before I’d ever darken the doors of a church again. I had lost a relationship and a job, was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate. I listened to what my father had always said, and found a new church home upon moving to a new city for a job. I had also just been convicted for the first time in my life of DUI, so if I’d been smart I would’ve chosen to go to a 12-step meeting and quit drinking. Instead, I stumbled upon another evangelical church whose members referred to themselves as “sippin’ saints.” It is no lie when they say that an alcoholic can find the drinkers anywhere they go.

This church had its own brand of extremism. In Bible studies one of the texts that was taught was “Answers in Genesis,” the Young-Earth Creationism program created by Ken Ham (yes, THE Ken Ham of the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate back in 2014). Also, many of the churchgoers I ate Sunday lunch with would heckle the openly gay and lesbian couples they saw on the street. I could not abide this. I wouldn’t be a “jerk for Jesus,” nor would I hurl insults at people in whom I saw no wrongdoing.

After finding a job in my hometown a year and a half later, I moved back and haven’t attended a church since. I also got sober during that time and found a spiritual life far more rich, accepting and tolerant than any I found in an established “church.” I cannot over-emphasize how much of a role sobriety played in my becoming clear-headed.

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Now that you understand my biases, I return to my girlfriend’s genuine Facebook post.

One of her former church friends posted the following rant in response (not edited for spelling,  grammar or contradiction):
“It has been prophesied by many that this is where he [Trump] is supposed to be at this time. He is far from perfect as many Christians are. He did give his life to Christ several months back. The media and Hillary have made him out to be something he is not. The “racist”, “womanizer” & more. He is the closest candidate aligning with God’s wills. As paster Mike spoke about on Sunday. Abortion is not of God. That simple. She is for it. He is against it. We need real drastic change and Christians have been coming together and praying for it. He is going to bring it. Check out some prophecy videos online. Some recent and some dating back a ways. He wants people here legally. He wants to change our economy. He wants to protect our lives from terrorism. Unfortunately. . The majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic. The majority of terrorism comes from Muslims. So we need drastic radical change. Its not going to happen over night and I feel he will give opportunities to become a citizen the right way…And the woman… not women.. he called all those names was only.. Rosie O’Donnell. That was many years ago after she bad mouthed him publicly…Rich Vera .. John Paul Jackson .. CK & Mike Thompson .. and Kat Kerr .. All well known prophets.. all said the same.”

My response:
“People are often subject to confirmation bias – the human tendency to use new information or evidence to give validation to our existing beliefs. It is no more evidence of God’s will than me running into the street and claiming that *i* had a vision. There is no such thing as prophesy – you have been sold a bill of goods by people attempting to profit on your sincere faith (of which I have no doubt). Jesus says it best in Matt 7:15-20 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits…I promise you, not today, not next week, not even when Trump is sworn in…but soon, you’ll know him by his fruits. And when you do, see it for what it is, and don’t dismiss it. The message, the lesson, will be right there plain as day.”

Her response (verbatim):
“The prophets that have made these prophecies are not false prophets. Im sorry you have never had an encounter with the Holy Spirit to know that prophesy is very real and it is one of the 5 fold gifts of the spirit from God. These well known prophets all heard from God that Trump would be in the White House. Whatever preconceived notion that you have of Trump from the media is false, right along with a little less than half of this country. I have first hand seen prophesy come to pass…Trump is not a racist. He wants people here legally. That includes all races. Most illegals just happen to be Mexican. ALSO Muslim is not a race.. it is far fetched that he wants Muslims out.. but unfortunately.. the majority of terrorism comes from Muslims. sooo we got to do what we got to do to protect us.. The US.. The media made him look racist. Trump did not mock the reporters disability. Look it up!!!…Mainly.. Trump gave his life over to the Lord recently and thats what is most important. JUST WAIT and see.. you have no choice but to.. or you can just move out of the country :)”

For my girlfriend, this was not the end of the story. She plays piano for a small church (a paying gig for her, nothing to do with faith of any kind), and after the most recent service, an attendee who had seen her Facebook post approached her saying, “I’m one of the ‘basket of deplorables’ who voted for Trump” and proceeded to chastise her – despite the fact my girlfriend voted for neither Clinton nor Trump. She came home in tears after the service, and is now considering leaving the job.

My former “paster” from the 2nd church I attended also posted a snide comment on my timeline the day after the election, saying that now I would know how he’s “felt for the last eight years.” Take note, this is not a white working-class individual. This is a straight, white male who came from considerable privilege, who clearly also believes that Trump is the fulfillment of some modern-day prophesy.

“Or you can just move out of the country.” Smiley-face.

Go to hell and God bless.

This is what it’s come to. I love you, go away.

So I now pose my own question(s) for the religious right, those who voted for Trump despite his hateful rhetoric, despite his clearly immoral behavior (behavior which they’re all-to-happy to point out in candidates from other political parties), despite his clear love of money.

First, how do you account for the Apostle Paul’s statement to his followers in Romans 12:18?
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

Live peaceably, with ALL human beings. Seems like a pretty clear message.

What about Matthew 5:9, one of Jesus’ beatitudes?
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

There’s that word peace again. And the people who make it seem to be pretty important!

Or what about Jesus driving the money-lenders from the temple in John 2:13-16:
“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

If you believe that Trump is prophesied to bring about the 2nd coming – a man who has been interviewed sitting on a throne of gold in his high-rise in Manhattan – then I hope you’re prepared to allow the money changers back in.

Because in my estimation, you too have betrayed your faithand for far less than 30 pieces of silver.

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