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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Don't Cry Any More

I am a lifelong cryer. I cry over things painful and joyous. I have never seen an event of childbirth on TLC or Discovery Health that failed to force me to tears and I weep when listening to anyone's story of pain and abandonment. I keen from frustration of all manner and I sob over my feelings of inadequacy. I call the act of blubbering a steam relief valve. For me, I am certain, it is a release of chaotic energy that helps me regain balance. I'm sorry if it makes others uncomfortable and I warn people - usually - when I suspect it is about to happen. I generally apologize afterward. But I know that if I don't let off some of the pressure, I would have long ago exploded and chunks of me would require being scraped off the the walls and ceiling. Once a(n important) man asked me - do not read this "accused", he "asked" - if I used weeping as a tool. Because of his tone, I kept my own very level: "Use it? As in call upon it as needed? No, I don't think so. Rather, it has its own puissance. It must escape, like perspiration from the pores, urine from the body. It is impossible to hold it in when it is determined to come out. Consider it a protective mechanism. This prevents me from flying into the universe in pieces." He always seemed to accept this aspect of my self after we'd had the discussion. He even learned to anticipate when it would happen, or what was likely to trigger it.

The other day, I took my 6-month "chip" at AA, marking half a year of sobriety. Yes, it is an accomplishment. One I was unsure I could achieve when I set out to find a new way in life. I'd mentioned my special date just quietly during sharing at a meeting, resulting in a few head snaps and startled looks. "What? Are you sure?" Um, I was sure. One would know such things. There began a quiet chattering, discouraged except in cross-talk meetings, and this was not one. We spoke of a man in our home meeting who tells us when he achieves 4 months and 3 days, 1 week and 57 hours. He was there. We weren't talking about him without his knowledge. He tells us about each of his milestones and we cheer for him - he lets us know that is what he needs, and we give it happily. Our highest goal in AA is to help other alcoholics. But it is different for me. I am task- and goal-oriented. I want to take stuff on and finish it and move on to whatever next intrigues me. I could easily land on 6 months or 6 years and have my alcoholic brain decide, "Well, I completed that and don't have to do it any more." Wrong. Alcoholism doesn't go away. Our program has to get us through our lifetime. In the literal sense, ours is a journey without a defined destination. The more frequently I fill balloons with helium and obtain party noise-makers, the more opportunities I have to say, "There - done!" Not good. But I will continue to announce every year, perhaps every half year, because accolades are an excellent fillip to complacency.

I came out of my second meeting of the day (I'd had a challenging day) and gathered with the other AAs in the patio. "The patio" is a great watering hole - oops, bad choice of words! For here, "the meeting" continues, without restriction or rules. Here is where alliances are formed, peace and serenity expanded. For elemental to AA is that one drunk's story may hold the answers for another drunk. When one is new to the culture, hanging in the patio is excruciating. One doesn't even want people driving by in the streets to see them in that patio, much less hang out there yacking. It's different for me now. I belong there, even though it's a funny kind of place for me. On a huge club campus where sometimes hundreds of people mill about, there seems to be only one non-smoker. Literally. Me. So I remain on foot and gauge which way the wind is blowing. I can bunny-hop 360-degrees around a patio table and never lose the thread of the conversation. "Sit down, Les!" "No can do. Keep talking. I'm right there with you." I still reek of smoke when I get home, but that's the price for admission to the theatre where I need to watch the play.

"Want to pop over to the library?" I asked. She said she did, so we bought Starbucks again and headed out on the 3-block journey. My friend likes her Venti Java Chip Frap. I grin to watch her consume it. I'd do as well to just plaster the containers of that good stuff to my butt, so I sip at my freshly ground, freshly brewed Pike Place. Our reading tastes are somewhat similar, so we often point out good choices to one another, but there is also the lovely freedom of making our own way among the rows of books, knowing there is not someone toe-tapping as if one is wasting his time. (Read this: "a husband", folks. Sorry, guys!) When we encountered our first fellow AA member, we smiled. Stumbling upon the second, we grinned like loons. Number three elicited a guffaw. By the time six of us had gathered, the noise level rose and the library staff shot us evil glances. It was good to see where so many of us ran after our meeting!

An impromptu meeting began in the library grounds, numerous lightings of cigarettes and me looking for a flag to show the direction of the wind. Everyone chattered, asking questions about what everyone else took from the library. I got high marks and raised eyebrows for borrowing 11 books at one time. "Oh, she'll go right through them," said my friend. "We'll be back here in a matter of days." "So what is Bukowski?" a man asked. Oh, I was ready for that! For you see, I have a little Bukowski experience, having once located and bought for a friend a 40-year-old out-of-print-edition with colored illustrations and I'm able to recite at least a decent rendition of some of the man's works with appropriate inflection. I did just that. The drunks surrounding me get Love is a Dog From Hell. "Can I see the book after you, Les?" "Sure, homes, but I'd suggest you start with some of the volumes that are still in the library." I'd never before seen the volume now resting in my arms. Copyrighted 2009, it is called The Continual Condition and is touted as "a never-before-collected poems from America's most imitated and influential poet". I've now flipped through it several times and read a few of the poems closely. I have an opinion about these poems individually and collectively, but I will keep those to myself in case the reader is moved to examine the book.

The next day had become difficult by lunch time. I was painfully reminded of two apparently disparate things. The first is that I cannot safely and sanely juggle as many balls as I could once. I suffered a (professional) disappointment that was going off in my face like a string of firecrackers, one explosion after another. The second is that too much isolation is too much for me. I couldn't get the attention of anyone else affected by this series of explosions and I felt my back and shoulders starting to buckle in my solitary misery. I have at least the intellectual wherewithal to know instant relief is not always at hand and I needed to help myself for at least awhile. Said quite humbly: I tried everything ever recommended. I didn't pull myself too far out of the panic bucket. When I picked up my sponsor for AA, I said, "Well, I'm as close as I've come so far to thinking that a few drinks might be the answer." She was startled. "No, I'm not going to stop at the liquor store on the way home. It's more that when I looked at an array of possibilities for self-soothing, drinking was in the mix. I decided against it. I surely need this meeting." My sponsor was scheduled to lead the meeting and it got a little quiet at times, no one volunteering to share. When that happens, which is rare, the leader sometimes calls on AAs to speak. I'm usually pretty reliable for jump-starting discussion, but I shot her a look that said, "Uh-uh. Not today."

My grinning surprises came after the meeting. First, a woman who only attends our group occasionally accosted me. I suspect the perfect human metabolism in life would be the midpoint between hers and my own, as I am barely alive and she is maximum voltage. "Hey! Did you get lots of chips?" Unsure if she was speaking to me, and making no connection with her words, I looked over my shoulder. No one else was in the room. "You mentioned you were coming up on 6 months and I came back the next night, but you weren't here. I wanted to give you my 6 month chip." (The giving and sharing of chips, tokens, books and more is a generous part of the AA culture. I carry a sobriety key ring David gave me after carrying it for more than a decade.) She dug in a purse as big as a steamer truck, pulling out (I'm not making this up for comedic value) condoms, a diaper, full make-up kit, a vintage cell phone, Walkman, half a sandwich and a can of Monster. Finally, she landed on that blue 6-month chip, pressed it into my hand, yanked me into a bone-crushing embrace, and bellowed, "God love you, honey, I knew you were a keeper the first time I saw you." Well! OK. I stepped outside, bemused, and showed the chip to my sponsor who grinned.

There weren't many of us in the patio and there was no wind to speak of. I sat on a bench and half listened to a man talking to another man. The first man is a Las Vegas taxi driver and he has some tales to tell - no wonder he is an alcoholic. We are not his home group, but he comes to ours about once a week, which may have something to do with work schedule. He is well-spoken and deeply reflective. I like to hear what he has to say. When my sponsor finished her cigarette, I groaned my way up from the low bench and stood to walk away. I was immediately attacked from the rear! Oh, not in a threatening way. More like a Labrador puppy landing on a Pomeranian. The taxi driver was the Lab. "You didn't talk today. I love to hear you talk. When you share, I think 'Yes, that's how it was for me' and 'We should all be paying attention to this woman'." Oh? I know I blushed. "Well, um, thank you. The line of those who come to hear me speak is short, so you won't have long to wait for the next occurrence." We grinned at each other.

I really gave no thought of stopping on the way home, even though I passed right by Lee's Discount Liquor. When I arrived an e-mail awaited me that assured me I was not the solitary target in the professional shit-fight I've mentioned. This morning will be the difficult meeting where I can choose to be a bitch and say, "I told you so," or I can be as humble as I need to be and say, "These are the things I was concerned about and mentioned to you early on. Let's make an alternative plan now." I got over a rough patch by using new things I've learned. I didn't cry and I didn't drink. What do you know!

Something that charmed me: In the winter, they're called "Christmas Cactus", a politically incorrect appellation in my opinion, but OK. I buy them because they are a splash of color in a dark time of year. Now, Mother's Day approaches and they are called "Spring Cactus". OK, I don't care, even though I know they are exactly the same species of plant. They also cost just about twice as much in the spring as they do in the winter. Huh? I got one anyway. No crying over spilled garden soil here.


  1. Beautiful cactus! I'm going to call it "Lipstick Cactus". Nothing seasonal or Hallmark-holiday about that!
    Congratulations on your chip, and on your use of new skills. Very nicely done.

  2. "These are the things I was concerned about and mentioned to you early on."

    I can only guess at what you're talking about, but I hope this has earned you credibility with the shitstormtroopers.

  3. @ CramCake ~ Maybe with the moral of the story being one can teach an old Pomeranian new tricks? I think I'd make a dandy Pomeranian, all orangish and hair standing on end all over me.

    I'm learning every day! Have I mentioned I like to learn new things?

  4. @ Kirk - OMG, I had one hand placed correctly and one off-kilter. I nearly typed "Jurk"! Let's see, the shortest way . . . despite my long, dire warnings, those I'm writing for wanted me to try to sidestep some things, fly beneath certain radar. "I don't like this," said I. Oh, yes, I am now a Wiki outlaw.

    So, my meeting was grand. I used a voice loud enough to be heard. I kept my temper. I did not cry or drink. I offered alternative forms of action to pull the fat out of the fire, so to speak, and I came home with a handsome - oh, handsome - bonus. Didn't need a shield in that shitfight beyond what I already had in my own possession. "Learn new stuff, Les." "OK!"

  5. I had a nice little poem all worked out
    on the occasion of your achievement
    but like the Bukowski
    I just dropped into the
    returns slot
    at the pretlow branch library
    it just disappeared
    every milestone along your AA
    journey is important until
    they are not meanwhile
    one day at a time and
    one foot in front of
    the other.

  6. @ Tag ~ Aw, that is lovely. I believe I'll print it and take it to a meeting now I've formed an army of Bukowski-ites. Hey, I'm just doing the next right thing, Tag. It all works out in the end.

  7. Good on you for your 6 month chip ....i'm a blubber too .......it suddenly comes without warning so is Jim he cries at anything ....he got all emotional this morning when one of the kids from school brought in his final art piece from home .........and we knew what he had gone through to complete that piece of work .....and i got all goey yesterday when I told my class of textile exam students how proud I was of them when they had finished their exam and they had done amazing stuff...I will post up some of their work next week by the way.....so you are in good company ..its good to show your emotions it shows we are human ...unlike some people I work with ...but I won't go off on another one about that !!....have a great weekend ....xx

  8. @ Artymess ~ Thank you, Lorna, so much! It's beautifully blue, too - matches the eyes. I must say I also admire people who will show their emotions, rather than show nothing. I can relate with/to almost any emotion from the most admirable to the blackest of intent. I have more trouble relating to n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Sometimes, I just get tired of waiting to find out what a person is made of and I move on. I hate that, as I want to know something about everyone I meet. I GET it about tearing up for those to whom you've given guidance or instruction. Next to writing, I love to train or teach. I may or may not be good at it, but I love it. And I am touched by those who get some small snippet of what I've tried to share with them. Bless you and Jim and your lovely family.

  9. This was a beautiful post, Les. And I had a wee blub - not the works, you understand - British and all that - but I little dust in the eye perhaps and a twitch of a nerve in the chin...all under control now!

    Huge congratulations on your 6 month chip - 6months! - I'm so proud of you. You just keep on keeping on and that's brill!

    You mentioned a labrador puppy - well, karma must have had a reason for delaying my reading of this post - I was at the beach this aft with the kids - Beanie off looking for cats' eyes and me and Rooster examinig the fine shell for worn glass pebbles..blah blah..getting to it..when whumph! Slobbber! A year or so old labrador tide-swiped me to the shingle! How rude and the ownder had walked by us repeatedly and was, I believe, using her dog as a means of starting a conversation!

    What happened to just saying hullo?

    Anyway, if you were in my library, I'd be telling you that...'cause I'm that interesting!

    x Boobs x

  10. @ Rachel ~ It pleases me to see you popping up all over, having read the posts, etc. A wee blub is nice, and accepted in the spirit blubbed. At certain times in life, I'd have had a full-on "works" over myself and what I wrote. But today I'm grinning. I'll know what tomorrow brings when it gets here. And I've told you before, the British don't fool me for a minute with all that stiff-upper-lip stuff.

    You just proved my theory about the use of metaphor, allegory, analogy. If one tells her story the way it feels, the way it almost could have been, toss in a character (or dog) or two . . . and others will relate more deeply than if one only uses dry, crispy, factual, report-style words. We should put this forth as a tried and proven wonder of the world! BTW, to my sorrow - and I'm not being a clown here - some people are so phlegmatic they feel the use of any color in a story told is "lying". Yikes. Those folks don't work for me. Where are their souls and whimsy?

    I have also, literally, been taken down by a dog I don't even know. Rarely has it been with evil intent. Mostly, I am greeted by a happy, outgoing, smelly beast at quarters too close for my taste. Mostly, there is some happy human owner standing nearby, grinning inanely. "Oh, Bosco is so cute," one can almost hear them exclaim. Yeah, Bosco may be cute, but I'd like to have met him from a distance of 6 inches.

    Your description of shelling on the beach with the children took me off to my many happy trips to Sanibel Island, Florida, recognized as one of the world's top shelling destinations. My kid would paddle in the Gulf of Mexico for hours, water only a foot deep and VERY warm. I'd look out to sea every minute or so, making certain of her round rear end, her upstanding snorkel, and nothing else protruding from the water's surface. She was scouting for shells on the bottom, while mom scanned the beach.

    I'd come to your library to listen to your stories, Rachel, because you ARE that interesting!