That long one about alcoholism

Hi, my name is Nick and I’m an alcoholic. I had my last drink on October 14, 2013.

I have so many opening paragraphs started, a few different one page story bits drafted, and some very loosely related ideas written down. I don’t have a plan or an agenda, and just for today, i can be ok with that. I am going to keep writing for a while, then stop and put all of this out there at once. It isn’t great writing. It isn’t great storytelling. It is true. It is important. And maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it will help me. Thanks folks.

I have often referred to myself as an addict rather than using the term alcoholic. I have used and abused almost every fairly common drug out there aside from heroin, crack, and ecstasy. I have never tried any of those three. I am sure i missed a few other as well, but not from lack of trying. I intentionally avoided those three even in my darkest times. There is a difference between abuse and addiction and I have never been confused about the fact that alcohol was, is, and shall remain my true addiction. Part of the reason i ever even started referring to myself as an addict has to do with the culture of the 12 step programs in Richmond, VA (RVA) in the early-mid 1990s. The people i met in Alcoholics Anonymous were contentious, angry, and bitter people who argued about everything, and god forbid you mention a drug aside from alcohol in their rooms. The people who went to Narcotics Anonymous didn’t have time for all that crap. The people in NA were far to busy trying to figure out how to stay clean and stay alive. I went there to be with and learn from those people. They were very accepting and no one cared if you said “alcoholic” or “drug addict”. The few who stopped to even consider the issue had the sense to recognize that alcohol is a drug and these labels are really not the point.

I hated the language of recovery, from the first moment i learned anything about it and i still do. I remain unsure if that has more to do with the cosmic proportions of arrogance with which i am “blessed” or my passion for words. Either way, that language was a barrier for me, but i wanted to change so badly that i was able to shut up and listen long enough to hear the good stuff. There are so many clichés used in recovery that it can drive word-people crazy. One of the many things that makes it even harder to accept is how appropriate, true, and useful they are. “90 in 90” is one that most newcomers (term for people new to 12 step programs) hear often. It means that if you are brand new to recovery and just getting clean (or back from your latest relapse) you should attend 90 meetings in 90 days. The point of that is not mathematical, but to make it a priority to go to at least one meeting every single day for 90 days. We found plenty of time to do our preferred drugs for longer than 1.5 hours every single day. There is no reasonable excuse not to have the time to attend one meeting a day for 90 days.

90 in 90 is great for new people and i was no exception. I needed to break existing habits. Obviously what i was doing was not working out or i would not have been attending NA/AA meetings. I needed to build new habits. I needed to meet people who were actually making a point to try not to use drugs. I got to know almost every meeting offered in the city. I found two that i liked above all others, and made one of these my “home group”. (RVA peeps – every NA meeting at St James on Franklin was great. I preferred Thursday evenings. My home group was at St Andrews in Oregon Hill between Laurel and Cherry. Sunday night was the jam!) Your home group is the meeting that you are dedicated to attending at all costs, the one where you feel the most comfortable, and when you are really ready to start helping yourself by helping others, your home group is the place where that work can begin in earnest.

I shared more at my home group than at the other meetings. I got involved with set-up, tear down, and then running the meetings. I got involved in the larger NA community as a regional representative. My first exposure to working in a true parliamentary system was through NA.

I decided to let myself get sidetracked and then just stop this line of thought because i don’t remember a whole lot more about being a rep, and i don’t have much more to say about the program other than it really helped me out. I quit going eventually, not because i wanted to drink again, but because of my issues with the language. I am not going to explain that here. I never talk about that in public because i don’t want my reactions to end up turning someone else away from using these programs as the fantastic tools that they are. If you really want to know, tell me that in person or on the phone sometime. If you are not a person who has, does, or might suffer from addiction, then i will probably tell you all about it.

If you need or would like more information about NA or AA, for yourself or for someone you know and for whatever reason can’t or won’t do it, find it, and/or go to it, on your own, reach out anytime. I take this shit seriously. 202-297-1163. nick.renfroe@gmail.com

A whole lot of drunks and addicts have let me down. A whole lot of drunks and addicts have done nothing but support me. I have spent my time both supporting other drunks and being the drunk letting people down. I know the drill.

________

I have quit drinking several times in my life. I started very young, recognized i had a problem, voluntarily sought treatment, and was just about two years clean and sober before i turned 21. If you read the opening line and know that i was born in 1974, you can probably piece it together that my first stab at sobriety did not really work out. This last time, October 14, 2013, is the first and only time i truly said to myself – “this is it. I am done for good and can never ever drink alcohol again.” I had never said that or made that commitment to myself before. Even when I quit drinking on January 27, 2013 – not long after my friend, fellow alcoholic, former boss, and sometimes mentor Steve H. committed suicide by hanging – even then, i didn’t say “forever”. Not making that firm commitment to myself is one part of what led to my two weeks of staggering drunkenness that October. I hated every drink during that relapse. I would be weeping, telling myself how terrible it was to be drinking and how much i hated everything about it and about myself as a drinker, while taking huge pulls straight from the bottle. I am not even going to try to express the sadness and guilt and self-loathing that goes along with having admitted that you are a drunk and continuing to drink. It is the hardest easy-to-solve problem i have ever faced or even heard about.

Without the magic love of a few magnificent dogs i would not be here writing this right now. I have a great family. We not only love, but actually like each other. I did not have a shocking childhood trauma. I wasn’t abused or neglected. I have, what seems rare in this day and age, an awesome and supportive family. Hell, my dad and i have even been business partners since 1996. There is just something about the particular kind of hard ass that i am, the love and support or the lack of same from other humans just doesn’t factor in to my alcoholism much. To the extent that it did have an effect, the more i felt and saw that love and support, the further away i would go.

One of the many, and frequently first, unbearably difficult things about getting sober, certainly for me, and this is common, is coming to terms with the fact that our experiences, our feelings, and even the concept we carry inside our heads of our own identity – none of that is even close to unique or individual. The closing sentence of the previous paragraph, that is absolutely textbook behavior. It can be crushing to have to recognize that in addition to everything else you have destroyed in your life by the time you seek help, that in very important ways, you are not even special. “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” – (Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club)

When i was really low, maybe especially when i was really low, i didn’t want to hear about how much someone loved me or supported me. I did not want someone to just quietly be there and sit there. It could just be in my head, but i could feel the pressure of their desire to help, their desire for me to “get better” and it drove me crazier. Drinking made me hate myself more. Hating myself made me drink more. Drinking more made me…you see the wheel??

The first dog in my life that i got all on my own, Guthrey, also loved me unconditionally. His level of unconditional love just always hit me on a whole other level. He knew i was hurting and while he did try to be supportive, he had his own doggy agenda. His biggest intrusion into my psyche was stuff like, “i don’t care how sad you are there drunk man, and i do like you, but if you keep me in this house and do not feed me, i will eat you.” Not every one of my magic dogs had exactly that same style, but they all had one or two very simple bottom lines. They loved me so much and so simply, i could only let them down so far. Of course i let them down. Of course i failed them. But there were lines i would not cross with my dogs. When there was no food in the house because i spent all the “extra” money on booze, i gave Guthrey oatmeal. He did not like oatmeal. But once he figured out that i was offering him food instead of eating anything myself, he ate it. I lived on bread and beer – sometimes for months. Most of the time, i still bought Guthrey his really expensive fancy dog food.

With very few exceptions, i still walked my dogs every day. Sometimes that meant that “crazy dog man” was just weeping uncontrollably, hating being outside, hating being seen weak and broken, hating being seen at all, hating being outside, walking down the street with his dogs. Luckily, for most of those times, i lived in a socio-economically mixed ghetto with working people and crackheads alike. I was not the only one who had to struggle to get it together long enough to run into the store to buy booze and then run back to my hole. When i lived in other places, i would just wait until dark and then walk. If i did not have dogs in my life throughout all of the hardest times, y’all would probably not be reading this, and most of you would never have met me. Maybe one of you would keep my Facebook page going in memoriam like someone does for Steve. But more likely, i would have been dead long before cell phones fit into jeans’ pockets.

It wasn’t all terrible. I wasn’t in the darkest pits constantly for the past three decades. In the hood, i had a great friend live with me for a while. We would throw down together. He could probably out drink me even then. One of my neighbors became a very welcome regular at my house and he would match me beer for beer. I don’t know for sure, but i don’t think that either of these guys started drinking again right away the next morning. Not that any “binge” level drinking is healthy, but i started to see that even in a crowd of pretty serious drinkers most of whom definitely abused alcohol, i still stood out. I needed it, and i didn’t even wait until noon. Most of the time i was the first to pass out at the end of the day. Most of the time that was because i had at least a 12 pack head start. Drinking in the morning, drinking before work, drinking at work, and a truly key factor – hiding that i was drinking this often, hiding how much i drank, and lying about drinking.

Folks whatever you are doing in life, if you are hiding and/or lying about it, you have a problem.

________________

I do not have the best or most reliable memory. I am often incorrect in recalling timelines – by as much as a full year or two. There are some things even i do not forget.

I started drinking alcohol, with the clear purpose of getting drunk by myself, when i was in sixth grade, in something like 1985 or 86. I don’t want to mislead anyone or create some kind of false myth of my legendary drunkenness. I did not begin drinking more than 10 or 15 times a month until i was a high school sophomore. I did not start trying very hard to get drunk every day until the summer between 11th and 12th grade when i was 16 years old. This is when i started drinking and driving. (That is just information. It is not “the gun” revealed in Act I. I never got in a wreck, hit anyone’s car, property, pet, family member or anything like that – as far as i know anyway. I did eventually get a DUI, but that didn’t happen until 2003, and there was no collision of any kind involved.) I did not start drinking in the morning, pretty much every day, until i got to college. Luckily, i crashed and burned (metaphorically) pretty quickly. I admitted that I had a real problem and started going to 12 step meetings a few weeks before I turned 19.

Between June of 1992 and November of 1993 I consumed an ever increasing amount of mind altering substances. For a few months, i would stay up for two or three days at time tripping on acid as well, just continuing to take hits every 6-8 hours to keep things going. In the last two to three months of that time period, my abuse was staggering. It was an odd and sad time in Richmond, VA. Heroin was really popular and one of my roommates was way deep into that culture. There started to be some heroin parties at our house. I actually had to say to several of my friends – “If you guys are gonna do this shit here and you OD, i am not calling an ambulance. We are throwing your ass out in the alley.” My other roommate sold a pretty hefty amount of grass. A few of my other close friends also sold grass and other things. I knew everybody I needed to know to get whatever I wanted and got most of it for free or at deep discounts.

On an average day, i drank at least a half a pint of liquor, at least two beers, took 4 or 5 bong hits (for the uninitiated, that’s one way of smoking marijuana), and snorted a few lines of some low grade speed before leaving the house at 8 am to go to class.

This may shock or surprise some of you who knew me during high school or the first two years of college. When i got clean and started telling people i was an addict, most people did not understand what i was taking about. I have always been a very high functioning alcoholic, and to a point, adding in any form of speed can really assist certain kinds of high functioning alcoholics. If you saw the Denzel movie Flight, while dramatized, that is one of the many things the movie got right. I went to class, did my homework, read an average of 600 pages a day, wrote my papers, made the dean’s list, and was a pretty good employee at my job – as a pizza delivery driver.

My girlfriend finally had enough, broke up with me and kicked me out. I did have my own place – the Heroin house – but pretty much lived with her when i could. She saw more of my Jekyll and Hyde than most. She did not see much of the drinking. Like most true alcoholics, i was a frackin’ ninja at hiding my drinking. But she could not help but notice when i broke her lockbox to get to the weed inside. I did buy it. But i also did give it to her, steal it back, and break her stuff doing that. That breakup made me take a hard look at things. The breakup was not the only reason, but I got clean and joined NA inside two weeks.

I thought about those days, my first time getting sober, quite a bit during the downfall of my last two relationships, but mostly during the last one in 2010. That one failed for a lot of reasons, but my drinking, and lying about it, certainly did not help. It had to be absolutely maddening for her. Not only would she wake up and realize i had either left bed or never come to bed and then find me passed out outside. Not only would she then yell or fuss or whatever. But the next morning, she would slowly come to realize that the tongue lashing from the night before had no impact on me at all because i did not even remember that it happened.

_________

There is more. There is always more. This is not too bad at giving some broad general strokes at what my life drinking was like. I know i did not hit the darkness and pain section very hard. But guess what – it really hurts to even remember that stuff. I don’t hide from it anymore and i am not trying to hide it from y’all either. There is just only so much of it i can take at any one time. This is enough for now.

I won’t ignore anyones’ comments and i appreciate that you folks even read anything here at all, much less something real like this. I don’t need much in the way of support these days. The best thing that you could do for me is maybe try and think differently about drunks and addicts. The next time you see dirty street folks begging – i am not saying you buy them a bottle – but maybe recognize that the distance between someone like that and someone you know is a really really short line.

Thanks.

n

PS – for anyone freaking out about my contact info right there online in the post!! I have had at least one of my cell numbers and one email address published online right underneath my name on a company site which also bears my name, from 2004 – the present. I don’t foresee a time when that won’t be true. I have got to be one of the easiest folks to find contact info for out there. Given that, i would not want to make anyone who needs help have to goolge and then lose courage and not call or text or email.

Ramble Bits ©

Fair Warning for new readers – this is only PCT adjacent. If you just came for hikin’ talk, this probably isn’t for you. Feel free to hit the categories or the search options to find some hikey goodness! – Disclaimer Ends.

After about a month of staying up until 3 ish working on plans and general preparations and getting up between 5 and 9, I am almost back onto a hiker’s sleep cycle. In bed between 8 and 10. Up about 5. The next two nights, who knows. My brain is in a bit of a revolt the past week and i have not been able to muster the fortitude to keep it on track. I am even having trouble listening to my audiobook because there are too many thoughts in there and i don’t stay settled. I know this is temporary, and it has been nice for me listening to more music! Though it may be freaking the other folks at my gym out a little bit. When i am in the moment with the tunes, it is all i can do not to sing – but the dancing, air guitar, and head banging cannot be stopped m/. I actually have Rock Neck today from yesterday’s workout.

Casa de Luna (Joe's House) July 2012
Casa de Luna (Joe’s House) July 2012

I expect that my time in LA at Joe’s house will be a further aid to getting back onto a hiker’s schedule as well as finally giving me more hands-on time with my gear. I have only pitched my new tent twice and have never slept in it.  I know this is less than ideal, and it was definitely not the plan. But it is a good reminder that our plans seldom stand up to actual life for very long. I can’t wait to see Joe and Terrie and be in Green Valley again sleeping in the Magical Manzanita Forest! I plan to do a little hiking and might check out the path up to the aqueduct. I will probably hike out to the oasis as well. I expect that there could be some disc golf in my near future!!

Terrie, slightly confused Korean Girl, Joe
Terrie, slightly confused Korean Girl, Joe

My head is so very full of stuff to write about that it is difficult to pick a starting place. I may need to resort to the old outline and bullet point system for a bit to track the very divergent tales. One recurring issue that i have never figured out how to address is dealing with stories that are an integral part of my life but that may not really be mine to tell – or at least not in sufficient detail. Aside from the ownership of events, an admittedly not insurmountable obstacle, there is the impact on others to consider as well. In that regard i am more concerned about the business implications of full disclosure – which is why you have heard very few stories about my time in Doha and Thiruvananthapuram.

Me and Emily - June 30, 1996
Me and Emily Campbell (oldest niece)

Business and matters of the heart – how do you write about stuff without really writing about it? I have no idea. Maybe i am no good at writing that way because i am also no good at all at living that way. With everyone in my life, i always want to get to the point past all the surface crap, where you can be the real you without your defenses up.* Where you don’t have to worry about being misunderstood or causing offense because you have and trust the good feeling you share and because you know that you can work through miscommunications. I am an “all-in” kind of guy and i prefer to spend my time with people who are also “all-in”.  If you are not already nodding your head and saying “yes brother man, i get you”, i offer these simple examples. For me, the best example is the behavior of dogs. Dogs and their bipeds, dogs and each other, dogs and other animals. You always know where you stand with a dog. You know if they want to do what you want to do or if they are just going along because they like to be with you. You know when they miss you. You know when they would rather just nap by the fire. You know when they don’t like you and to what degree. You know when they do like you and to what degree. The other example i offer for those of you who are not well versed in dog is children. I don’t know kids as well as dogs, but i have spent a goodly time with many a youngster and there are some similarities. In that magical time before the conscious brain takes over, maybe it is before self-consciousness (not self-awareness now, that is something else), they leave it all right out in front of you. I like this. I don’t like that. I like you. That guy is scary. Let’s cuddle up and take a nap. I need a hug. I wish she/he would play with me. All of it just right out there in the open. I think that is a great way to live and i deeply mourn that so many of us lose this ability as we age.

Emily and Rachel
Rachel and Emily

Is there a line between boldness and stupidity? Evidence indicates that there is. I am finally pretty clear that such a thing exists. I am even getting better at locating it and abiding by it in business. But for other aspects of life, i am still not very good at these distinctions. I wanna live bravely, boldly, and in the open. I do manage that most of the time, the rough spots generally occur with “new” folks. I don’t know how much of this is normal and how much may be related to having a natural bias towards addiction – If one is good, more must be better. If once was good, all the time has to be the best, right? I am getting pretty good about controlling my relationship to substances, but i can get hooked on people too. How do you know what is really your heart and what is just some crazy expletive that the really freaky diseased part of you is excited about? Stupid heart never checks in with brain anyway. I  don’t know what that guy is up to half the time. But i do recognize him as one of mine because of how he goes about loving what he loves and that he wants to do it all Super Size!

Now that this post is firmly lost in the tall grass, it is probably time to stop.

I should have a more PCT related post coming in the next day or so about physical preparation!

Rock On Peeps. Be Bold. Live fully. Try not to hide!

n

* I am not saying that i always get to this magical place with everyone, but it is my goal, and i tend to spend more time and have longer relationships with folks when we DO get to the point where we are free to be ourselves without any worries or psychic baggage.

Niki Pops The Question!!

One of my friends asks some interesting and out-of-the-blue questions. They always make me stop and think. Another one of these came up recently and I decided to blog the answer.

Paraphrasing the question from Niki: What do you think about marriage? How about fidelity?

The Marriage Question.

To be honest I don’t really know for sure for my case. I think in popular culture and common discussion – particularly within a family, generally, though not exclusively from one’s elders, this debate so often originates from and is based upon the wrong points. And this “false start” is one of the many reasons so many marriages today end in divorce, and pretty quickly – though often not quickly enough.

As a single fellow, I get asked this a lot by my family, less so by my peers. My first response is simply this: I have had two relationships that lasted more than 1-3 months. The first was 6 months and the second was a little more than a year. Let me find somebody I even want to be with who also wants to be with me before beginning entertaining any thoughts about exactly what kind of life commitment or earthly bond I might swear with such a currently fictional person.

It has been suggested by some that I simply do not want to be in any form of committed or long term relationship. While I can’t rule that out, I don’t suspect that it is true. I do feel the drive to bond and share and nest with another. I look at the (admittedly few) examples of people in such relationships that I admire and I do think, man I would like to have some of that. But (here we call back to the “false start” statement from earlier) I don’t want it for its own sake. I only want it if it is something that develops naturally. For the naysayers, I am not saying that it must be simple and easy and never cause any difficulties. I am not that naive. But I have seen, and I imagine you have too, people who so badly want a certain result from a relationship, or want a particular kind of relationship, that they try to mash anyone they do date into a preformed scenario. This misconstruction of the issue is the thing that makes me dislike questions about when I will get married.

Fidelity:

Whether or not a relationship is “serious” or long-term, codified by specific oaths or sacraments, or just two people doing a thing – I am not into cheating. I don’t want to be a party to that on any side of the coin. It feels really terrible to have done to you, and it doesn’t feel any better to do it to someone else. As far as I am aware/can recall, I have only been a part of the cheating twice – one fairly innocent moment back in 11th grade, and one much more complicated incident about ten years ago. It sucks.

This is one of the very few places you will ever see me reference Christian scripture as a reasonable source for inspiration in an intellectual pursuit. To paraphrase – Adultery (for our purposes – cheating) is what happens in your brain and heart regardless of other action. Despite the fact that there are distinctions to be made here, I do not feel that there is a slippery slope involved. It all seems pretty clear to me.

There is a difference between a simple and harmless fantasy, and a desire to physically and emotionally stray outside your relationship.

That’s the whole thing right there. “What about if your fantasies are causing problems in your relationship?” Well then it sounds to me like they aren’t harmless. It would seem that one or both parties involved have some other issues to work out, but the question of is it or isn’t it cheating seems to be answered – yes. I do think that especially today, people lose sight of the emotional aspect of cheating. This to me is why some (granted probably excessive) fantasies could be cheating. If you are giving away that emotional part of yourself to someone/thing other than your chosen partner, that is a violation of the commonly understood  agreement we enter into (explicitly or tacitly) when we enter a relationship. This simple formulation also deals with the non-traditional formations as well – open relationships, swingers, and such. Did you violate the terms of your agreement in deed or spirit?

Summation:

Given all that, at this point, I don’t really care very much about whether or not I get married. I would like to find someone to partner with and share my life with. I am not saying I would not get married, but that the question of whether or not I would take that step is just not a big factor in what I am searching for.

The pragmatist in me would want to look at the advantages/disadvantages from a tax/financial/insurance perspective. The agnostic with strong atheistic tendencies in me would not at all want to do it in a church or any form of religious ceremony. The personal autonomy lover with anarchistic leanings in me would not want to have a civil service either. I am sure all those guys could get on board and work something out should it ever come up. But I can tell you this – the odds of me wearing a ring are very very small. I don’t want to and won’t cheat on you mythical future girl – but I hate jewelry. I would consider an anniversary finger tattoo…

Act III – the Hard Part

(I did not “meet” him until much later, but me and Xander Harris are Simpatico! Xander: I’m just gonna go home, lie down, and listen to country music. The music of pain.) Not that Idlewild South has insufficiently pain evoking music, but I am saving one blisteringly painful song from Idlewild South for another part of this story and, sometimes I feel like I still need more rawness and have to go to the band’s first album. I have a fantastic story about the origin of this song. Piton Allman Brothers Blues Museum. Cue the Music and Go! Whipping Post

What does all this mean? I am not sure I yet have a comprehensive answer to that question. Here are a few things I have figured out or started to figure out since beginning this particular process of reflection. The pattern of behavior evinced in this relationship repeated many times in my life. One easy one for me to pick up on that I even recognized in the moment was my relationship with Angie (who really should have gotten a cooler code-name, but i was sleepy and confused when i first wrote about her) and to a lesser extent, my relationship with Sparkly McButterpants (more on those in the “near” future). A harder lesson that I sincerely hope I am done learning is that there was a point at which I was no longer involved in a relationship with these women but with the fantasy versions of them that lived in my head. Romance is nice, so is fantasy and imagination. But following the threads of imagination to the extent that you become the only one left in the “relationship” is a bit too far.

I have started to recognize that while I did have repeats on the butter-side-down end of this dynamic, it also affected how I behaved in relationships when I was the one dreamt of and pursued. I disappeared on many girls. The few times that I either did not or was unable to fade away, I told lies. I believed that I was doing the right thing in telling odd lies to justify my exit from a relationship. Now I am not so sure. It seems to me that getting dumped sucks, period. A break-up talk is not a rational exercise. Your words are not going to be heard and absorbed in a thoughtful manner no matter what you have to say, so why not lead with the truth and hopefully the person will be able to examine that later instead of coming to a rational point and recognizing, “I still have no idea what happened there?!”

But then again, there really are very few reasons that people break up. For me, in almost every case, it was a simple equation – you loved me more than I loved you, you wanted more from me than I was willing to give, and despite the feelings you have or think you have about me and us, I can see that it is better for each of us to shut this down and allow us to not get trapped in a thing that isn’t working and enable us to move on to other opportunities.

As time passed after the Kim scenario, the more I thought about it, and the more I was put into the “Kim” role in relationships, I started to recognize that it is not an easy thing to do. That previous paragraph sounds great and while I hope I will never need it, maybe I am now mature enough and hopefully someone I might date would be mature enough to handle a conversation like that. But that is an impossible sell as a teenager or even a lovelorn 20 something.

I believe in truth and telling the truth, but I do think there are times when there is a distinct difference between truth and full disclosure. You want to be honest with people, but you don’t need to be hurtful with the truth. “We want different things. We are not headed in the same direction. I don’t love you anymore.” These are all hard enough to say and deal with, there is no need to throw in “I hate your Mom.”

Given these past few paragraphs, I am still a bit on the fence about truth versus lies/avoidance in these scenarios. When I look back at my big three lost loves, Kim, Angie and Sparkly McButterpants, the answers are obvious. They either did not love me, or did not have the same level or intensity of feeling to such an extent that they got to the “this is never gonna happen/work out” point and bailed. Hopefully I won’t need to know or use that answer anymore.

In the meantime, as that question slow cooks on the back burner, I will try to focus on the things I have learned and continue to work on becoming more of who I want to be, avoiding the extremes of the fantasies and trying to stay connected to the real. Learn to become more focused and brutal in analyzing my needs, wants, and desires in order to better communicate those to others. Learn to listen more to the needs, wants, and desires of the actual real human woman in the relationship rather than communing with the fantasy version in my head.

That is it for now folks. There are at least two more segments of this tale – Angie and Sparkly McButterpants. I have had most of the Angie portion written since the end of November, but writing that led me to recognize that I could not start the reveal of this story with the last main leading lady. I had to go back to the beginning. In addition to wanting to learn more about myself through the writing process, entertain and hopefully spark you readers to some of your own reflective thoughts, I wanted this to be entertaining enough that Sparkly Mcbutterpants might follow Kim’s generous lead and allow me to reveal her true identity!! We don’t talk frequently, but we are still in touch…

Act II – Pursuit

Here we have a song that I did in fact listen to often during this period that also fits the story. Cue the Music and Go! Prove My Love

Kim and Nick
Kim and Nick

From November 1990 to some time after March 1991 I was on the roller coaster. I was hopelessly in love with Kim. Looking back, I seem like a cartoon character play acting at love, but man I was sincere and really felt that strongly and followed my heart with reckless abandon.

Kim did break up with the boyfriend, but did not start dating me. We continued to have some long talks and I began spending more time at her house with her and her family – or sometimes just her family. We watched TV and had long talks among the 5 of us. Her sister thrashed me in checkers and I think we played some other board type games but I can’t recall. I really bonded with her mom and we spent loads of time talking about all sorts of things – not just Kim. In what proved to be the start of a potentially creepy tradition, I started leaving Kim little gifts with no notes. Often this was a strawberry Fribble on the hood or roof of her car or front doorstep. I was not averse to the occasional flower either. And there were also the letters.

While I did become good friends with her family, she started to grow more distant from me and she dated a few other guys during this time. I thought about her constantly. I wrote about her near constantly. I named my journal Kim. It was not pretty. But I could not stop. I knew we were meant for each other. I was starting to be able to understand a little bit about what made life so hard for her and I knew I could help.

It is difficult to recall other details when I am in the fog of remembering Kim, but I know me at that time and I would imagine that I “dated” some other girls. I remember two very clearly and that will need to be dealt with later. For now, all I can say is, “I am so sorry and it was totally not you!”

I would apologize to my friends for the endless hours they had to listen to me talk about this for YEARS, but that would be disingenuous. For my friends this was training camp because I did not get any better at this relationship thing for a long time. I am probably still just as hapless and inept, but it is harder to recognize because I have had so few, they are so far apart, and with one exception, so brief.

In unstoppable form, I persisted. I did not relent and I made some progress. The Merchant of Venice production in the early Spring definitely helped. We had much more shared stage time as Antonio and Shylock than we had during Les Mis. I still remember the performance in the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. I remember the Trial scene. I was on my knees when she opened my shirt with the knife raised. She pulled hard and buttons flew from the fabric. When she thrust down at my chest – while she did pull back, it looked and felt real and we were in the zone. I can definitely imagine what might have happened if we had been alone at that moment.

We started to talk about what it would be like to start “dating”. We spent a little time fantasizing about what life could be like together, and then one day, we did it. We cast off the labels and restrictions of mere “friendship” and decided to start “dating”. It was a school night and she did not really feel like getting into mischief in any case, so our first and only date was simple. I went to her house and we watched tv in the living room holding hands. I imagine her folks and her sister were there, but I don’t think I stopped feeling awesome and staring at Kim long enough to notice. We said goodnight on her front porch after an hour or two and I went home on a magic road. Thousands of tiny fairies carried my car through the air and every traffic signal was green.

Cue Next Track and Go. Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’

And folks, I kid you not, she did not speak to me again for a really really long time. In my somewhat foolish romantic heart, I believe that she actually never spoke to me again at all. It is possible that it is the writer inside making my honest pain seem or sound even more epic and tragic than it already is, but I don’t think so. I think that was the last time until the advent of the Facebooks.

Probably more important for the larger issues I am trying to work on is that I have believed that she never spoke to me again for lo these past 22 years. We certainly were never close or friends again. Some of the broken-hearted creepy behavior continued and escalated. I left more random gifts. I called quite a bit. I stopped by the house often. She was home but would not come out of her room or talk with me. I stayed and talked with her mom who was very sympathetic and comforting, but encouraged me to try to find a way to move on.

My friends were ready to kill me. I roadied whenever possible for my friend Woody’s band, Whirlwind. He told me about a new song that they wrote for me called “What You Don’t Know” and that it was about Kim. I listened to those lyrics and was moved. Maybe 21 years later, this past summer when I visited with Woody, he told me that he wrote that song about a girl in his life and that telling me that it was about Kim was a diversionary tactic. I completely understand. I didn’t want to hang out with me and listen to all that stuff any more either, I just didn’t have a choice.

Second Intermission

 

Act I – Death Brings Us Together

I was not actually cool enough to be deep into the Stones at 15, but it is remarkably difficult to find songs that fit the halcyon days of this relationship. Most of my archive suits and comes from the aftermath. But Mick always knows what I am thinking so the Stones get the nod. Cue the Music and Go! Let’s Spend The Night Together

Kim and I became friends and then closer friends during this production. Already I was hooked on her. Man did she light up a room. I don’t think it was just me either – I think many people responded similarly. She made me feel special, important, valuable, valued, and a little bit sexy. I did not exactly have ego or confidence issues, but external validation of your own greatness is always empowering. I have had way more relationships that were severely lacking in validation and Kim and I were not even dating.

As we neared the end of preparation and the performance grew closer, I started talking with Kim about how complicated and overwhelming and confusing it was to be killing myself at all – and so often. Was there a way to stay true to your character, to stay in character, but hold some small part of you separate and away from the motivations and emotions that lead one to suicide? I was not and have never been suicidal. Even in my darkest times I can always find something worth living for; dogs, the next season of Buffy or Friday Night Lights, the next release of a favorite author – I’m easy. However, I am a ninth degree black-belt ninja at nesting in pain. All that said, committing suicide onstage repeatedly was an extremely difficult situation to be in.

She had some very valuable insight about the craft of acting and the difference between character and self. After the show wrapped, we had some similar long talks about the other death, the death of the part of yourself that you gave to the character to allow them to become real. With the performance over, so too ended that little piece of you. This was a problem that Kim had not really solved for herself either, though she had been through it many times. It was fantastic to have someone to talk with about it who understood, who respected my sincerity of feeling and did not look on such things as attention grabbing or ego inflating.

Kim Post Show
Kim Post Show

Don’t let these descriptions of serious heady talk give you the wrong idea. She was unbelievably gorgeous and I wanted…well if you followed the musical link above Mick Jagger has said that pretty well already. I can’t speak for ALL theaters or everyone involved in my high school theatre department, but I can safely say that for a lot of us, the theatre was charged with passion, romance, and sex. My favorite thing was having people try to make fun of me for being in theatre. “Drama fag,” they might say. “I spend most of my free time in the dark with about 50 girls, what do you do?”

Javert Post Show
Javert Post Show

Kim and I were not remotely immune to these feelings. At the time of this production, she was dating someone else, but the passion and tension between us was thick and generally thickest in the theatre. We each got so jazzed from performing and in very similar ways that the taboo and flat out wrongness of indulging what we were feeling made it even more intense – Blissful Anticipation.

We did finally kiss one night. I can’t pinpoint the date without re-reading my old journals, but I would bet that it was one performance night, the 15th, 16th or 17th of November, 1990. It was in my driveway and it seemed to last forever in the best way possible. It had everything. It started with wild abandon, teeth knocking, lip sucking, recently freed caged-animal frenzy. But it did mellow and become far more sensual and dare I say it, luxuriant. Somehow it eventually ended. I lived lifetimes in that kiss. I can still go back to that moment in my mind and revel in that kiss. It was not my first kiss by far, but it was certainly the best I had ever had and not too many since have been its equal, or even in its neighborhood. There was only one down-side. I had been involved in an incident of oath breaking, of cheating on someone. I was not always the best guy in the world, particularly to the ladies, but cheating is not on my menu and I felt and still feel bad that while it was not my oath broken, I was for that moment, “the other guy”. Sorry dude.

Site of The Kiss
Site of The Kiss

First Intermission

 

Prologue: The Theatre!

I felt like this album was the story of my life for so many years. Truthfully, I still kinda do, but it does start with a happy tune! Cue the Music and Go! Revival

I got interested in theatre at the end of my freshman year of high school at the tender age of 14 in 1989. Two of my friends from school and church, Camper and Laura, were into theatre and began talking with me about it and encouraged me to attend the last show of the year, Mame, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.

My mom is a professional classical pianist, the head of keyboard studies at her university. My dad is a very good classical guitarist and was a preacher before i was born. I spent a lot of time in churches growing up, and even more time under the piano while my mom practiced. I grew up in churches. We also went on loads of camping trips with my dad’s guitar and sang around the fire at night. I loved choir and still love to sing. I never really had faith like the rest of my family and seriously questioned what was being said in sermons when I was 11. That is when I began my quest to learn about other religions, starting with buddhism.

But the music always filled me. I was a church choir member from as early as I can remember until I left high school. I learned to read music in third grade. I auditioned for and received solos and leading roles in church musicals over the years. I was in a few touring choirs.  Having my first personal introduction to theatre via a musical was a great vehicle for me.

The next year I auditioned for the Fall play, the first of the year, and got a bit part but had a few lines. I stayed in theatre and got deeper into the department. Camper and I both love to build and we became alternating set construction crew chiefs. I kept auditioning and got better and better roles.

My second year in theatre, my junior year – 1990, 15 years old – a few things changed. I got a leading role as a character actor in the Fall play – our non-musical Tim Kelly adaptation of Les Miserables. We had some new blood in the acting pool, a transfer student, a senior, Kim. She was fantastic.

I was Inspector Javert and she was Mrs Thenardier, the Innkeeper’s wife. I don’t know a ton about Les Mis and don’t suppose you do either. A plot summary is irrelevant to this tale. What is important about this plot is that Javert kills himself. He commits suicide by throwing himself off a bridge into a river. Even in the Tim Kelly adaptation – this happens onstage.

I am not trying to toot my own horn here, but I got really into the craft of acting. I was naturally hard wired to understand and enjoy becoming someone else. I won an award for Excellence in Acting and Character Development from the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in 1991. That was for my performance as Antonio in The Merchant of Venice opposite Kim as Shylock. Kim also won an award for Excellence in Acting for that performance. Through auditions, I earned a spot in an exclusive and prestigious summer acting workshop in 1991. I placed 4th in a Virginia state-wide acting collegiate scholarship competition in 1992.

From the start, I was very interested in and explored character development. I tried to learn how to truly become my character, and to some extent, it worked. Personally, I have terrible posture and slouch constantly. But Javert was a ramrod straight kind of fellow and so did I become when portraying him. That worked to such an extent that I had to have the help of others to recognize it and figure out how to unlearn that posture when playing subsequent characters.

That is only one very small example and the most outwardly visible of how I initially took my characters inside of me and then let them run the show. Why do I belabor all these small details and what does that have to do with Kim? Remember when I said above that Javert killed himself onstage? I tried to emphasize how much I put into my character development and how much they put into me so that you may possibly have a glimpse into what that might have been like for a 15 year-old boy.

In early rehearsals it was no big deal. Once Camper, the Crew, and I finished building the set and dragged the track and field’s high-jump mat into the theatre, it became real for me. Camper and I built this set as a series of ascending platforms connected by narrow walkways. I jumped to my death off the highest platform. I killed myself in every rehearsal thereafter, which was troubling, but less so than in the performances. In all but the final rehearsals, the lights are up, there are people running around and other people giving you notes. But for three nights in a row – Show Time – it was real. I killed myself – three nights in a row.

Les Mis Stage 1
Les Mis Stage 1

Stay Tuned

Intro to the Next Story with Spoilers!!

Hi there. It feels like it has been awhile since my last post. A few things happened that have affected my intent to write and post more often. 1) I have been busy with work, which is a good thing. 2) I have actually done some social type stuff the past week. Granted, not a ton of stuff, but for a not terribly social guy, it was a lot. 3) I have been writing but the Dream Angie post got me writing what is turning out to be a not so simple or short story.

Spoiler Alert – I am going to give you the salient framework details right now. I think this won’t ruin the experience of reading the story, since the point is more about learning how to understand my reaction to these details, how to accept them, and to attempt to discover how this has affected me unconsciously so that I can hopefully overcome any lasting negative impact and maybe become a slightly better person, and because I will fill the story with Mesmerizing Excitement – Romance – Hapless Heroes – The Theatre! – Vivacious Maidens – and A Dragon! Ok, maybe no dragon.

Spoiler Begins – Two critical relationships in my life have followed this exact pattern. I found a fantastic friend that excited my inner core on more levels than I knew existed. We became very close. I met and loved each girl’s mother. We both started to think that the relationship could and should evolve past the realm of friendship. We decided to start dating. I was blissfully happy. And within 24 hours or so of the moment we decided to be more than friends, the girl ended the relationship and did not talk to me again for a long time. Spoiler ends.

That project is coming along and it feels pretty good. When I began, I was in a lot of pain and very confused and I wrote like the wind. I have a little more distance from the gooey emotional core now which helps with the editing and shaping but tends to blunt my creative production. I have not yet found a consistent method for tapping into the emotional forge for creation without getting a little loopy in the process.

I will carry on with this project. It has already been very helpful to me and I hope it will be at least interesting if not also helpful for you. I reached out to the lady in question for the first incident to tell her about the project, that I wanted to blog about it, and ask permission to use her name. She said that was fine and we have had some nice correspondence. Just that has helped more than I expected.

I don’t know about you guys, but I carry stuff around – forever. In the physical world, I can be brutally unsentimental. I do consistently purge the physical objects one accumulates in life. But inside, inside I keep far too much and I keep the wrong kinds of stuff. This may even have a correlation to my reluctance to experiment to much with the Memory Palace. While it is true that I am not a terribly visual dude, I know that the wing of bad memories inside of me looks like the last moment of Raiders of the Lost Ark, just a huge warehouse of full shelves, row after row of memories of bad and painful stuff.

I don’t get it. My life has not been bad. And I don’t want to give the wrong impression either. I am not your sad sack mopey Emo boy. There have been a few particularly difficult times where I let those dark and painful feelings overwhelm me, but mostly they do not. At least that is what I think.

So I am going to pull some specific bad and painful memories into the light and look at them and share them with you. Maybe if I can find a way to lessen the impact of these, it will help me to more successfully deal with the rest, and even learn to quit storing that crap in the first place. I say Dream Big!

* Note – I want to give a big shout out to my friend Karen. She has her own blog and is a continuous inspirational source to me. Her blog lives up to its name to the fullest, Uncomfortably Honest and Honestly Uncomfortable. When I started my blog, I longed to write with the clarity, intensity, level of self examination and revelation, and sheer truth that Karen does regularly. I am trying to move in that direction.

Dream Angie

I am driving through what seems like Texas and arrive at the hospital. Most of me has no idea why I have come here, but part of me seems to know where to go. I open an office door and am ushered into an examination room. A few moments later, the door opens and in walks my nurse, Angie. She was scanning my body and mouth with an odd high tech wand. All the while we were both full of smiles, pleasant talk, and beginning to exude that weird sparkly thing that we brought out in each other that felt so good and was often commented on by strangers when we walked the city together.

Angie departs and the Doc comes back to talk about results. This is the dentist and the news is expensive! They found many loose teeth which probably need to be removed. This would result in either more holes in my grill, which would lead to more loose teeth, or some kind of bridgework.

There was a long wait for the next doctor, who finally arrives silently staring at me. I wait, though I am growing very uncomfortable. The doctor begins to say some cryptic things about Angie, her journey to Texas, her attempts to put her past behind her and heal. I start to try to explain that I did not cause these hurts but the phone rings and the doctor says, “you should get that.” I pick up the phone and it is Angie and she is crying.  She is really pissed at me and started to yell a little bit – not so much screaming as a raised voice rich with emotion. She was mad that I had come after her. She thought she had made a clean break from most elements of her old life, but I would not stop. Again, I was unable to get a word in to turn this from a string of accusations and declarations  into a conversation. Angie blazed on, picking up steam. This single act, my discovering her location and pursuing her, this was just as bad as what happened the first time around.

Angie ran out, and then the dream got a bit weirder. I was suddenly driving a car with dad riding shotgun trying to navigate endless over and underpasses of generic large Texas city. I don’t know why my dad is with me. He wasn’t there before. I can tell that I am in the same dream time/space. The memories of the encounter with Angie are fresh and still I am numb, feeling too many things for any one to stand out and get noticed.

We are driving in traffic and through what seems like the same series of lefts and rights over and under highways. I find an exit I had not noticed before and got us setup in a warehouse district to sleep and let the traffic die down. I woke first and went to get the car. Once I got in the car, the same route I had just walked was suddenly full of workmen and forklifts and boxes. I drove in circles (the same circle actually) over and over looking for a break in the pattern. This was not a simple trip around the block, but in and out of buildings, around tight curves, and down a few short flights of stairs.

That dream cycle died out with no resolution, and still in the same dream time/space, I am suddenly walking in the middle of a race with very few rules. We are on the highway, but people are scaling the sides of the sheer grassy embankment to climb from the sunken highway up to the city proper and off towards whatever the objective here is. I am swept up in the tide to the grass wall and begin to climb. It is very difficult, made even more challenging when I realize that I cannot properly use my hands and feet because I am stuck inside the new sleeping bag liner I made earlier that day (back in real life). Despite the lack of mobility, I do scale the wall, and find myself right outside the hospital from the first portion of this dream.

Thankfully, this is when I wake up. It is 3 AM and I am sweating inside my bag liner inside my bag. After getting the bedding sorted out, I stayed awake for a long time just feeling odd. I did finally manage to get back to bed and either did not dream again, or by some miracle, just don’t remember what I dreamt.

It is amazing how long some things stay with you. It is amazing how things that you thought you had worked out, don’t always stay worked out. I have been talking with a friend who is handling some of his own troubling issues right now and for both of us one of the hardest things to recognize and grapple with is that so many problems do not have “one time” solutions. So many issues you can’t simply face and fix once. You have to keep looking at them and keep grappling with them and keeping fixing them over and over.

I will probably return to this issue for my own sanity if not for both your edification and to receive much needed perspective. But this is about the maximum length most readers desire for a single post, and I probably need to finish reading that book on blogs/social media and the law first as well. (I did change her name for this post…)

I hope you are all still glowing from good food and time spent with your families, genetic or ones made by choice.

JMT Day 11 and 12 – June 11 and 12, 2012 – VVR Part 1 – The Staff!

Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) – Two Full Zero Days!

VVR on Facebook

7900 (+/- 0) – 0.0 miles

Free Maps Online – Day 11 and 12 – Map 10

Photos Open to the Public on Facebook

Let me just say, I love VVR. We ate a ton of good food. We drank many a fine beer from the incredible selection of fine beer there. And we met so many fantastic folks.

I developed deeper connections with more of the staff than I did with most of the other hikers – probably because the staff is there every day, Jake and I were there for at least part of 4 days, and most hikers were there for a day or a day and a half. These are my VVR peeps! (I don’t think I missed anyone, but if I did – Big Sorry!)

Marie, Olive, Kevin, Jim, Vicky, Gary, Randy, Rene, John, Robert, Mark, Joe, Roy – and the 4 leggers, Feather, Emma, and Stella.

Marie helped us get settled-in, took care of our many requests with a smile, and we had some nice chats about life and school. One of the amazing parts of her brain allows her to remember everyone’s name, trail name, nickname, and who is with who. Marie gave me a little notebook that I used the rest of the trip and to which I have referred often while writing this. I fall at least a little bit in love with almost every waitress. You give me a super cute one named Marie and it is Game Over. From my previous super-cute-waitress-Marie-love-experience, I was already playing some tracks from Harvest Moon in my head when Jake leaned over at breakfast one morning and sang quietly, “I used to order just watch her float across the floor.” Jake and I both had a big Marie Crush, and I would imagine many hikers leave there in a similar state. We could not find Marie to say goodbye to before leaving for the ferry and were sad about that until we saw her come running down to the lake (cue the music!) to give us farewell wishes and hugs!

Olive is a unique and wonderful lady that I enjoyed both sparring and actually talking with. We talked about life, school, travel, books, dogs, people, and many other things. There are tons of fantastic Olive moments and I will put one or two down here to give the flavor. One day, many non-hiking folks showed up around lunch time. There was a table of college-age looking guys near our customary spot at the outdoor bar. Olive came out, looked at us, and said (rather loudly) “I am so tired of pretending to be nice to people!” I think that put those dudes on their best behavior. One of our greatest and most public sparring sessions was at breakfast one morning. The room was not full, but there were at least 6 other folks eating breakfast at the time, and Olive started talking about how gross milk is. We went back and forth a bit, with me taking the side that milk is natural and no weirder than pretty much anything else about eating. Olive maintained that it is different and gross and weird because it is special food made for babies. Out of the blue she changed tactics and asked, “Would you drink a woman’s breast milk? Would you drink Marie’s breast milk?” In a rare fit of self-control, I kept the first two or three things I thought of in my head and only responded with a smile, “You are just sweetening the pot here Olive.” The room responded with joyous and approving laughter. Olive made one final attempt to regain her footing by approaching a distinguished looking hiker and trying to recruit him to her side. Grey Wolf was smiling and shrugged saying, “I agree with everything he just said.” Oh man, we had fun. Good Times. Olive and I have stayed in touch and i look forward to our next chance to visit one another!

Kevin is a wonderful Chef and a great guy. He cooked us many fine meals and seemed to enjoy the challenge/variety of cooking for vegetarians. He busted out his cookbooks and capped our great string of meals with some fantastic fried eggplant! I don’t usually enjoy eggplant, fried or otherwise, but this was super. He and I spent part of several evenings talking about cooking and travel and life. Before we left, Kevin realized that we were going to tell everyone we met how awesome VVR is, how awesome the food is, and that there were quite a few #6 breakfasts in his future. Kevin rode over on the ferry with us on our way out on the last day.

Jim, Vicky, and I talked about VVR, hiking, dogs, the VVR website and marketing, as well as other lighter stuff. They were both gracious and welcoming and maintain such a friendly vibe at their place.

Gary and I talked for a long time every evening sitting around the fire and covered a ton of topics.

Randy and I talked about skateboarding, growing up, mentoring kids, and hiking.

I got to spend less time talking with the others, but enjoyed the time I did share with Robert, Rene, Mark, John, Joe and Roy. I did get to watch John training Mark on the ferry and he seemed like a good and patient teacher. One day I heard Marie saying that she wished there was a way she could open the sliding glass door with her foot as she came outside with many plates of food in her arms. I thought that i was the only on that heard her. But, within an hour, Joe was there with some cut-to-fit angle iron and affixed it to the door and now she can open it with her foot! These are all great folks dedicated to doing a good job and helping each other. It was a joy to witness.

Feather is a lover and will accept love from anyone. I got some nice dog time in with her.

Emma seemed more selective than Feather, unless you wanted to throw her ball. We played ball for about an hour one day.

Stella is more discerning. I got to pet her a few times, but did not make it into her inner circle.

Stay Tuned for VVR Part 2 – The Hikers!

%d bloggers like this: