Saturday, May 30, 2009

(part 161) GETTING SOBER

The more I ran from my problems, the more I carried them with me, like a sack of rocks on my back. I could not escape them because, in essence, I was the problem.

My inability, or my refusal, to see this clearly and honestly, had finally trapped me in a corner where I came face to face with myself.

It was true that much had been done to me that was wrong, but it was truer still that my radical reaction to those wrongs had caused me more difficulty than the wrongs themselves.

I lived in a world of unreasonable demands. Those demands were made by me on myself, as well as on the world around me. The demands I made on myself to keep going at all costs, no matter how much destruction I wrought on my body, mind, and psyche, had to change.

My demands on the world and it's people, to treat me fairly, had to be altered as well. But the simple truth was, that there could be no change unless I came to grips with the central issue, which was my ongoing choice to get loaded and stay loaded.

As long as my reaction to the world at large was fueled by my consumption of alcohol and drugs, as a means to deal with that world, I was doomed to take each problem to the depths of hell, or conversely, to the pinnacle of public absurdity.

This was a bitter reality for me to contemplate, let alone to accept, but as I headed back to L.A., I knew I had all but run out of options.

If I stayed loaded, I would continue my head long assault into self destruction, because under the influence, I did not possess the capacity to maintain a sense of balance about anything. I was little more than a ticking time bomb at that point, waiting to explode.

I do not remember the events that led up to my first attempt at getting sober, but roughly, I approached the issue, out of desperation, sometime in 1974.

My mother's brother, Norm, had been a member of AA for years, so I was familiar with the organization from a distance. I was staying with Carol Paulus, and probably hit another bottom of bad behavior, and was attempting to deal with the situation by promising to get help.

Between the pending legal problems in Nashville, and being threatened with banishment to the streets again, I assume that sobriety began to appear to be my only real choice.

I longed for something better than what I'd had, and the possibility of that seemed to be directly linked to my giving up drugs and alcohol. I don't think I wanted to quit as much as I wanted to get the world off my back.

Stopping drinking was something I knew nothing about, because I'd never tried to do it before. Everything about it was foreign to me, but I managed over time to wean myself off alcohol and the drugs as well.

I used booze to get off the drugs, and then used the booze to get off the booze. I'd drink less and less until I got down to nothing. I was shaky as hell, and felt like an open wound, but managed to keep off the stuff for the time being.

I started going to AA meetings in the Hollywood and L.A. area, and would show up wearing my sense of defeat like an old coat. My failure as a human being flooded my thoughts and left me a nervous wreck. Gone now was the once sharp wit and creative force that I had grown accustomed to and depended on.

Now I was dulled like an unsharp knife, surrounded by the gloomy reality that my dreams were gone, and my life was destined to become one of drudgery and plainness. I sat in rooms full of folding chairs, and listened to the tales of those who inhabited those chairs.

In the stark difference of that picture, contrasted by the life I had been living, I drowned in a sea of regret and desire for that which was no more. I stubbornly stayed, even as I wished to run from those rooms. I did not drink or use, and sought out the promise of better times and things to come.

1974 was prior to the onslaught of the late 70's, when AA was flooded with the eventual masses from the 60's. At the time, I was hailed by no one for attempting to get sober.

If anything, I was ridiculed for the length of my hair and my previous life style. AA was still dominated, for the most part, by the old school drunks from an earlier era, who'd become set in their ways, and were not interested in or moved by my story.

I was expected to get a job, which I did, and pull myself up by my own bootstraps, which meant, forget who I had been, and learn to accept who I was to become. This, in fact, terrified me to no end, because who I was becoming, seemingly had nothing to do with who I was.

I started painting low rent apartments for a contractor on the program named "Blackie" for $5 an hour, and kept at it for as long as I could. I complained about the pain in my feet and ankle, but was dismissed as a whiner by those around me.

I managed to make contact with an attorney on the program, and paid him $300 to deal with my legal issues in Nashville. In short, I did what I was told, and waited for months to feel better, but never did. I just felt out of place and hopeless, and longed for a better way of life.