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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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seven Days

It took about 7 days. I was still speaking and writing joyously for having some new things fall into my life and about how much I was going to relish experiencing them. Somehow - perhaps this is just very human and not at all specific to me - I connected those nice new things with the degree to which I've been working my AA program and my sobriety. Hey, if you save your money, you get a nest egg. Work your body, you get fit. Start leading a good and righteous life, good things come your way. Right? Sure! I had a busy July 4th weekend planned - busy for one who has been emerging from shadows and clouds for many months. Things were going well. I hadn't said it out loud in too many places yet, but I was beginning to think - just a little - that I was getting this "life" shit down pretty well.

Then came the routine blood draw with dubious results. Yes, it's an old enemy and one I understand very clearly. My doctors were wonderful to fully school me about it the first time around. I know percentages and survival odds depending upon age at onset, gender and ethnicity. I know what the levels should be each time I have a blood draw. I know many people walk around for years with the precursor and it never develops further. The precursor is as much as I ever had to deal with, and I found it nearly made me insane. Blood tests, wait ages for the returns. Biopsies, wait longer for the returns. Medicate as necessary, begin entire process again in 90 days. It is maddening and terrifying. In fact, last time it nearly sent me around the bend. It broke me in a handful of ways from which I have not recovered.

Frequently mistaken for Cleopatra, Queen of Denial, I went into my usual mode. I spun. Man, it was 4th of July weekend and I had some plans. A party here, a dinner outing there, some rare mall shopping, AA meetings with coffee afterwards. I had a couple of pieces of writing in mind and planned to work on them with the French doors open, the monsoon blowing cool breezes into my little work station. I spent some hours helping a friend create a blog and I was asked - for one of the first times - to listen to and advise a struggling alcoholic. A fellow member of AA asked me to critique his thesis paper and then to work with him on the presentation. I was flattered to be asked! My friend and I are planning a joint blog post featuring some of the only-in-Las-Vegas things we see every day. We spotted out some locations to shoot photos and kept eyes and ears open for more of the startling things unfolding on every corner when a woman stops for a red light. Yep, I got through that long weekend just fine. Tired, in fact, just a little bit, for all the increased activity. The neighborhood fireworks banged on a few hours longer than I hoped, but that's what earplugs are used for.

Tuesday morning rolled around. I felt unsettled. No more long weekend stretching ahead. No more forgiving doctor's offices that did not return calls immediately - the holiday was over now. Time to get serious. I spent the morning digging out records, making phone calls. I noticed I needed to change the bed sheets and the cat litter in both boxes. The monsoonal thunderstorms have occurred daily, remarkable in intensity, mucking up windows which I hurry to clean before they dry dirty. Yes, I am eating a little. Not very much coffee. I arranged for someone to come in to repair the fine, fancy, new washing machine that spews water everywhere. And then I just stopped. Stopped everything. No reading library books, which I bring home by the bushel. No e-mail, no text messages, no phone calls. No blogging, either reading or writing. No writing for pleasure or economic purposes. No meditation, no music, no movies that make men scrunch up their toes in their shoes, no daily readings for AA and other forms of serenity. I have stopped, utterly and completely. Slammed into the wall. Splat.

I have not missed an AA meeting, and I am talking at those meetings. AAs give good advice to their fellows. They are kind to me, but will not kill me with kindness. Many have approached me to tell me how they meshed their program of sobriety with their own or another's illness. I thank them. Some simple speakers say, "Just keep coming back every day." Yes, I will. I get good encouragement like, "Tomorrow try to make it to the meeting and just read one of your books." I shall try that. And one man I'd never seen before said something really profound to me: "I can tell by your face and your words you're beating yourself up pretty badly. This isn't crazy, alcoholic reaction. Anyone would be concerned about this." That helped me! I didn't know. How would I compare my reaction to anything "normal"? I've written before about my intense distaste for using the words "I can't" about any endeavor I take on. I don't allow myself that very much. It can be a very difficult burden to carry. It is an old reaction I've not yet been able to correct in myself, and yes - that is my safety button: "I've not yet been able to . . . "

Yes, rely upon it - I am in near constant evaluation of just what I'm waiting for. The other shoe to fall? Perhaps. The lab to call me back to say "Sorry to have scared you to death. It was a mistake!" That would be nice, but I don't expect it. Am I channeling the Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"?

. . . Bang, bang, Maxwell's silver hammer
Came down upon her head
Bang, bang, Maxwell's silver hammer

Made sure that she was dead . . .

I've been crazier than that before! Channeling isn't so weird. So, the best I can say is I'm struggling. I'm modeling Bambi in the High Beams. I don't have all the answers for it yet. And I'm working on all of it as best I can. My sponsor gave me a new tool yesterday. "Les, can you live with 'I can't today, but I may be able to tomorrow'?" Hey! I can live with that.

There has been little sleep in these almost couple of weeks. That's a chronic condition for me, though this bout is more intense and I've found myself both tearful and irritable. This morning after coffee, I managed to read one of my daily meditations and thought I could doze a little. I popped in some earplugs, pushing each almost through to the other side. I located the most boring book in my current repertoire, firmly planted  a cat on either side of me. I was ready! And soon enough, I felt myself drift. Until, through the earplugs, an unholy noise sufficient to raise my body from the bed tore me from sleep. When my heart slowed to the rate of a mouse's, I stuck my head out to see WTF? Ah! Home dudes here to fix up that washer leak. It seems the concrete slab has to be jackhammered, followed by some other ungodly noises. This has continued for hours. The very structure is shaking on its foundation. There are 6 homies on the property speaking very loud in Spanish. For hours. And so it goes. I can't do my laundry today, but maybe tomorrow.

In my ears right now:  I need a little lift!


  1. Man, I really don't know what to say, Leslie.

    I don't know if you read my "In Memoriam" for Elisabeth Edwards a while back. In it, I wrote about how everybody was praising her courage, and made the heretical suggestion that she was under no moral obligation to be so. If she wanted to cry, let the poor woman cry. Why should We, The Healthy always begrudge the not-so-healthy? I guess what I'm trying to say, Leslie, is, assuming this is something more serious than a hangnail (and I'm sure it is; I know someone who went through what you're going through.) then, go ahead, be scared, you're only human. I believe that's something they stress in AA, right?

  2. OH my Les, I must have missed your last post. I can't imagine what you must be going through...although you do a very good job of describing I must say.
    Here's a load of positive thoughts and prayerful wishes to you.
    xoxo Kim

  3. @ Kirk ~ Yes, my friend, you've got a really good handle on that "just be the human that you are" thing. AA abounds with such sentiments as "never ask a bunch of drunks to coordinate a meeting", etc. There's a tremendous forgiveness for us, and I'm learning to give that to myself, too. It's OK to be scared and it's likely OK even to freeze up for a week or so. And now it's time to try to move forward. Thank you, Kirk.

  4. @ NuminosityBeads ~ I thank you for those thoughts and wishes. I shall tuck them away right here in the journal you made me and which I've now begun to write in. It's really all simply about learning to handle new (good and bad) things. Today was actually a pretty good day.

  5. i've found, after about a million years of lessons, that in order to forgive others, we must first forgive ourselves. and we must first demonstrate compassion and gentleness towards ourselves, to be able to extend them to others. it's the hardest work to do, i think.

  6. @ Rraine ~ I think you hit it! In AA, one of many much-repeated buzz phrases is "you can't give away what you don't have", e.g. compassion and gentleness to ourselves, and forgiveness as well. I'm not yet good at it. But I can learn. I'm just a slow boat. Thank you for the really good observation.

  7. There has been little sleep in these almost couple of weeks.

    Hang tight, sending prayers your way. Back in my army days I was told several times by a bunch of old timers when you are very tired but sleep will not come, find the most unusual but restful place, provided its safe, and close your eyes. Your body will do the rest.

    Just thought I would mention it, it worked for me.

  8. @ Beach Bum ~ You know, that is very good! I mean, I could take it to the extreme and find myself sawing logs in the desert on the ground or something. But in practical application, I have some experience with this: you see, I could give sleeping lessons on any moving conveyance - car, train, plane or boat. I am notorious on road trips for saying I'll drive after the next fuel stop and then waking up 800 miles later looking sheepish. Now if only I could get a driver volunteer, I'd be all set .. .. thank you for the good wishes. It truly helps.

  9. This has been a hard one for me to respond to, This is try number 5. The thing is you know all this stuff. You hear it every night. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, don't do more than ready to. Oh and shit happens. to believe otherwise is to believe in the tooth fairy and Santa. You have been handed a pile of crap. it's not fair, it's not fun, it's not good in any way shape or form, but we're stuck with with it you and I. Hope and pray for the best by all means. maybe that will happen. I hope it does. But what I did learn is that you have folks who care about you and that is worth a heck of a lot more than any blood tests. Take Care Leslie.

  10. @ Mike ~ AH, yes, my friend who lives this stuff already. I thank you that you did respond, recognizing that it is so difficult. You know what I know? There are no learned, magic words. The only words that count are those you've just written. That's all there is. I'm climbing out of the hole. Yes, I'm the girl wearing concrete shoes, but I'm climbing out. You should see me very soon in other places where I've committed to contribute.

  11. @ Mike ~ Well, I thank you for the morning cup of (my own) tears! Thank you for your love and friendship and all the good things in me you have encouraged since we first met one another. That really IS as good as it gets. So, fear and frozen state - be gone! I am needed elsewhere. I have good things to contribute. Because that's what I do.

  12. It's nice to see that although frozen and tired, you still have enough of a sense of humor (as always) to find funny illustrations to represent how frozen and tired you feel. I hear you there, Les. You're not at absolute zero, you're thawed just enough to still do that. And that's something.

  13. @ CramCake ~ Oh, for sure, I'm not done. Please don't try to stick a fork in me. [You might bend the fork!] It's funny you mention the humor (Like that? Both funny and humor in a sentence?). I grew up in a house where one HAD to have a sharp such sense. This is one of the reasons my mother was frequently the odd man out in our interactions - she has none. Anyway, it was required, and became an important part of my own tapestry and a big part of what I seek out in others. Mates and my own child have had pretty funny streaks, thankfully. Anyway, humor has got me through a lot, and I wonder if I'd still be standing without it.

    NOW comes the sticky part: in my AA work, both through my own meditation and in conversation with others, has come the hard question - "What was being avoided while all that humor was flying in your life?" *@#%+ Because, of course, it IS an issue. It is something I'll have to sort through in life, but not today. Today I'm putting the humor in the "credits" column. I need to be able to draw on it.