Sometimes it’s a harmony. Sometimes it’s a smile. Sometimes a documentary. Whatever it is it stops me in my moment. And transports me somewhere. To another time. Another person. A state of mind.
Moments of clarity, some call them. Powerful. Deep. Spiritual.
Yet somehow, to me, the cart is before the horse. Before I get to clarity, don’t I first need a calculator? How can I have clarity if I don’t assess, and have some perspective, some way of gauging, of judgment?
How am I doing? Have I lost my way? Again? Am I on the right track? Am I okay with where I am at?
I’ve spent most of my life wondering if I am doing it right. No matter what “it” is. As a kid it was all about pleasing my mom, or at the very least, not displeasing her. Displeasing her meant anger. Raised voices. Sarcasm. Biting sarcasm. Criticism I was not equipped to handle for sure.
Into my teens doing it right, or at least, not doing it wrong, meant was I any good at something? So, I wouldn’t be ridiculed, a pain even more searing than my mother’s words. So, I got good. Or at least competent at something. Goaltending. Statistics. History.
Then it was about girls. I failed at that. Tragically. Other forces, dark forces, were at play. I was drawn to the darkness, treaded in the deep end with it. Lost my innocence, my hope, my understanding of what it meant to be young. I was old too soon. And just as I was ready to give up trying to fit in, to do it right, right at the very edge of ending it, I switched course.
The decision to join the military was completely radical. For me, for the group I ran with, rebels all. We were the opposite of structure. We were the launch of punk. But my closest protectors, my friends, they didn’t see my desperation. My proximity to the end. I was stomping on glass. I knew I needed the radical departure.
Doing it right in the military was blue printed. There were no questions. Do it this way and you are in. Do it any other way and you are rejected. So, I trusted. And endured. And pushed through my stubbornness with authority just enough to complete basic training, to earn my hat badge, to earn my hook, then hooks, then hook and maple leaf. I fit in somewhere.
But my journey out of despair and into the brotherhood of the service was not the end. In fact, today I believe it merely helped me to survive myself. My addictions were vicious. Being in uniform, representing my country, projecting pride and strength wouldn’t suffice. My demons were parched. Before I had left my teens, the only time I felt okay was under the influence. That was the only time I felt like I wasn’t awkward. That I wasn’t doing life wrong. When I drank, and felt the warmth, I knew I was good enough. So, I wanted to feel good enough, as often as I possibly could.
And the price was high. Progressively. The rate of inflation went from embarrassment to belligerent denial. From silly comments from others, to the loss of things. The people who had made those silly comments left. Replaced by others who got me. They drank like me. They withstood the pain and terror of the next days, just like I did. Then the lies got so elaborate that others left. The lies I told them. The lies I told myself. Family. They left. Or did I leave them? Had I ever really been with them?
Promotions left. Police came. Often. Cells slammed. Several times. Violence was frequent. Geographical reboots. I knew I was lost, even darker than I had been as a boy. I took this show of insanity all over the world. To China. To Columbia. To Australia. To Singapore. To Alaska. To Nagasaki, the depth of all that is wrong with men gone mad. I tossed my uniform in a fit of anger. I was savage and angry, suicidal, homicidal. In February 1986 I staggered to the jumping off place literally, figuratively, inside and out. The keys were in the ignition. The end was below.
Moments of clarity happen when I stop. Full stop. Listen.
Where am I at? How am I doing?
Sometimes a harmony. A photo. A movie. Sometimes a question from a loving enabler.
I beat back the wolves and snarling, snapping beasts of my consumptions because of one of those moments of clarity. The internal and very external ramifications of addiction, the symptoms, the ISM’s if you will, remain with me, though the consumption ended over three decades past. I continue to nod at them from close proximity, crossing the streets of my shadow when they beckon, but not at a run. I have more power in the light.
The moments of clarity continue to show up every so often. My “Wow” moments have been replaced by a warm feeling of “Ahhhh…. There you are.” But the reflection, the ponderance, the questioning of my truth, that moment remains. Am I doing it right?
A couple of years ago I was feeling lost. I went for some counseling. We determined, rightly or wrongly, that what I had was something she called “Approval Addiction.” I am always unsure if I am doing “It” right. Whatever It is. Whatever right is.
Just go out and do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission Jeff.
I realized how much I struggle with that. In early recovery, I discovered the importance of going out and doing what my friend Lynne once said: Go to the park and play with the little person inside. Get on the swings!” I expanded on it. Try new things. Go tobogganing. Something, anything, but do what I want to do. I have certainly trusted my guiding inner self, my light, some power greater than I, to be in charge of my itinerary. But truth be told, I often felt selfish, or guilty. I was doing what I want, again. So, I learned to harbor a deep distrust of me, my motives, my ability to be thoughtful of anyone besides me.
Learning about approval addiction has helped me see how my mind, my lower self, my low self-worth, and other aspects of my oft tortured mind, often keeps me from enjoying the moment. I am too busy thinking who was going to be pissed at me when I’m done. Or watching the end race to the moment I’m in.
So, moments of clarity, when time stops, today means check yourself. Where are you at?
Tonight, I see how I am watching the future race towards me too often. So, what do I actually have tonight? The answer is gratitude.
The basics of health, a roof, food in my belly of course. But the love of a good woman sitting in the other room. Her daughter, sleeping in another room. My own daughter, just down the road in her safe place of dwelling. A cat. They all love me and I them.
I am wealthy tonight.
Tonight, it watched a documentary on a musician I like. Clarence Clemens actually recorded the quest for his own place of peace, just before he died. Though he was larger than life to some, much wealthier financially than I, running in much different circles than I, he was just another man on his search.
We used much of the same language. He called himself a seeker. He had faith but not in religion. His friends and he often used the language of love, the language of recovery. He loved to fish; I love to golf. Outdoors. He traveled the world, as did I. He had deep friendships with a variety of people. I relate.
Tonight, I am okay. I am where I am. I am staying put in this feeling. It shall pass.
I accept it. Until the next time we say goodbye. I’ll be thinking of you. Moments of clarity.