A Roller Coaster
If you asked me about roller coasters, I’d say they were the ultimate thrill ride. That is, right up until I checked in to a detox unit for a thirty day spin-dry. Then the thrill was gone. The emotional roller coaster I was strapped into was specifically designed for twelve steppers who were newcomers to the feelings department. I discovered several unclassified and unwanted feelings that were about to beset me, so I fit right in. The coaster careened up, down and sideways, like mood swings on steroids, and it was not going to be a brief ride. I was still reeling when I was discharged a month later.
Out in the real world, everything was in flux.
I was a cool-guy loner: soon to be divorced, sporting high-top Nikes, pricey denim jeans and a healthy spritzing of Obsession when I first arrived in the rooms. Even though the twilight years of my mullet period approached, I struggled to maintain my image while I crumbled on the inside. Why I felt so incomplete and inferior after years of feeling good or nothing at all loomed as an unsolvable mystery.
I wondered ‘What’s wrong with me?’ while I struggled to represent to the rest of the herd there was nothing wrong with me. Constant management of that peculiar dichotomy was exhausting. Despite my frantic, cerebral juggling act, the look on my face betrayed my phony demeanor. Depression, anxiety and dread were the silent, revolving symptoms of a much larger problem I tried to conceal, a sizable chunk of which was about six-foot-tall and in denial. With a mullet.
My sensitive side became a handicap when it collided with the energized waves of emotions that besieged me.
I was flying high in April and shot down in May, over and over again. As taxing as it was, somehow I didn’t pick up a drink and fly off the tracks, back into the bottle I escaped from. Nevertheless, part of me wished I could be at those meetings and invisible at the same time.
I was high-maintenance in relationships, which my ex assured me wasn’t an asset. My ego loved to be right and detested being wrong, which led to a direct hit on the nasty button. Not long after that, “I’m sorry” stopped working. Every time I was in a scrape, it was someone else’s fault. My defects rattled other people’s cages, but I hardly noticed them. And despite over-thinking everything before doing anything, there was a real knack for making bone-headed decisions, followed by me shrugging and mumbling, “There I go thinking again.”
Being saturated with old ideas provided ample room for growth.
All I had to do was dump them off at the closest genius junkyard and start adding new ones. However, open-mindedness wasn’t one of my attributes. Still being aloof and suggestion-proof, I balked at spirituality, the God idea, sponsorship and the steps; there had to be something else. I was different, which was the common self-appraisal among some of the meeting-makers I was slurping coffee with. We were all different. It turned out to be a faulty conclusion that delayed any breakthroughs in my recovery.
I awfulized about my life often, and every potential problem I could imagine piled on top of the current one I was focused on. Then all of the old ones I could dig up joined the brainstorm. The roller coaster was working overtime, and it was pedal to the metal. I was at the mercy of my own thinking, but didn’t know it.
Surly moments unfolded when my new friends revealed I had a thinking problem. Their advice was thwarted by my countless, ‘Yeah, but’s’ and ‘I know’s’ until they left. I kept thinking on the sly after our little confabs, but morsels from my latest dilemmarama would still leak out loud and clear the moment I opened my mouth. They presumed I took too big a bite off the space cookie back in my formative, hippie years. I, of course, was convinced they missed the boat on Hendrix, Pink Floyd and all of the seventies. They probably didn’t like the sixties, either—just a bunch of squares who were a few french fries short of a happy meal. Somebody ought to look in the mirror, I thought. The second step is for everyone.
Hey, sometimes you feel like a nut– sometimes you don’t.
Despite my reluctance to accept their feedback, I couldn’t shake the stubborn waves of anxiety produced by the tendencies they identified. Finding a solution was necessary. I attended as many meetings as possible for the support and mental adjustments I sorely needed, and I never failed to hear something that helped me. It’s only by God’s grace that all our butts don’t fall off on the same day. Someone was always there with the message.
There were many people who made a difference when I needed it the most, but Nervous Irv stood out from the rest. I met him in the early months of my recovery, unaware of how helpful he would be. To me, he was a strange bird with nothing better to do than to go to meetings day after day, drink coffee and try to sound like our local Keep It Simple guru. However, sometimes the most unlikely people are inserted into our lives to help us, and Nervous was perfectly unlikely. The look on his face hinted he was a sad sack, but the cranky old eccentric could find the silver lining in any thorny situation. He was slipped into our sober enlightenment ward to cheer us up. It was inevitable he would get to me.
He had a crackling voice that warbled and squeaked like a rusty pump pulley that was about to freeze up. It vacillated between high and raspy, the ideal tone for a Saturday morning cartoon character, not a bottom-of-the-barrel skid row life guard. Besides being his trademark, it was a red-flag that he was prowling around nearby, looking for someone to help. He was chockfull of entertainment value and generic wisdom, even when he dropped gentle bombshells I didn’t want to hear.
Before he shared at the tables, he’d announce, “My name is Irv, and I’m a nervous alcoholic;” always followed by, “We’ll love you until you can love yourself.” I was smitten when I first heard the ladies say it, but not so much when Nervous did. I had to grow into that one.
The hard times he weathered were legendary.
He retold them so many times we could parrot them in our sleep. But he rummaged through the rubble of his unsavory past to turn it inside-out and uncover bits of joy to share with the suffering alcoholic. Laughter often followed. The stories depicted his shrinking gambling skills that led to empty pockets and dried-up relationships—all, the results of his boozing.
A maudlin tale of lost love was a crowd pleaser.
Twenty-odd years before, the love of his life skipped town when he went out for a couple of drinks. She had warned him. He noticed she was gone a week or so later. Ever since, he waited for her return. Decades passed, and she wasn’t back yet. We didn’t think she was coming back, but didn’t want to harsh his Good and Plenty.
His humor was flaky, and intended for a different target group. It often flopped with me. I was a divorced non-laugher, and I was dug-in. Besides, I didn’t need to hear the same worn-out tale every other week.
It was annoying when he interrupted my melancholy marathons with his happy horseshit. I wondered if the smart part of his brain finally reached its expiration date. Whenever he noticed me awfulizing, he’d mosey on over, give a friendly snort and declare, “Hey Sparky, my ass fell off so many times I’m sittin’ on bone. Welcome to the club.” Then he’d go grab a coffee.
Before long, I was downright embarrassed to feel sorry for myself.
I cringed to think we had similar issues. But still, I had to admit– my thinking was a lot like my drinking. Once I got started, it was hard to stop.
This story continues in Part Two—read it here.