Friday, August 31, 2007

Random Ruminations in August

Apropos an email discussion with a fellow recovered alcoholic, I fell into a reverie this evening about my astonishing journey over the past decade and change...

On November 22 this year, barring relapse (which is highly unlikely, frankly, though I remain humbly alert for those pitfalls that led me to relapse in the past), I will mark my 11th year without a drink.

This blows my tiny fucking mind, truth be told. Whenever I contemplate this fact of my existence -- I, Maryscott O'Connor, alcoholic nonpareil, have not had a drink in ELEVEN YEARS?!?! -- I truly wonder what on EARTH kept me sober through the trials and travails of the cocktail-free life I've led all these years.

Meetings? Steps? Fellowship? Helping others? Higher Power?

And, of course, the answer is:

"All of the Above."

And not a little willpower, mind you... That and the sharp, indelible memory of my last few months of drinking -- the Bottom to end all Bottoms, the pitiful and incomprehensible demoralisation that was the inexorable, inevitable result of so many years of drinking (started at age 5 with a bang, sipped my way through childhood and emerged a full blown alcoholic by age 15), the rock bottom despair and helplessness that finally could no longer be drowned in scotch and drove me, finally, to sobriety.

In the past, when people expressed to me their incredulity regarding the perpetual relapses of Hollywood types (and my god, poor Lindsey Lohan, my god, she's a mere child, how much longer will her revolving door keep spinning? And while I'm here, goddamn her fucking parents to hell for their abysmal stewardship of this one time innocent, whose alcoholism and drug addiction may have been in the cards all along, but was certainly mitigated not a whit by her so-called parents and their astoundingly selfish and appallingly grotesque neglect of even the most basic parental responsibilities in favour of their own desires), I would try to explain to them the concept of the Bottom, the concept of that experience people in AA refer to as Pitiful & Incomprehensible Demoralisation... They never really got it, and eventually I learned to stop trying to explain it.

If you don't get it, you don't get it. It's only something that people who have actually experienced it will truly understand, beyond intellectually. I think the part with which they have trouble is the idea that someone can HIT bottom, can experience the seeming finality of that pitiful and incomprehensible demoralisation -- and drink again.

Mel Gibson and Robin Williams, to name a couple of high profile alcoholics, each had over 20 years of sobriety; you'd think whatever kept them sober all those years would have continued to keep them sober -- but they drank again. They... forgot.

Been there, done that. Certainly, I never had that kind of time under my belt and relapsed -- but I know damned well it CAN happen to me. Eternal vigilance is the price of sobriety, I'm convinced of it. There is no such thing as "home free."

Eleven years, no anesthesia. And trust me, there have been a myriad of excellent reasons for anesthetising myself. You don't drink, as an alcoholic, for the fun of it. Sure, it might have begun that way for many a drunk -- though in my case, from Day One, I drank to obliterate pain. But by the time an alcoholic has reached the point of no return (no return -- to the good old days, to the good times, to the happy happy joy joy party times, to the era when it actually was fun), that scotch and water isn't merely a social lubricant; it's Novocain for the soul.

And here's the thing only a sober alcoholic knows: once the Novocain wears off, the pain it masked is still there -- and along with it a raging, throbbing, gaping wound that needs healing. And the thing you want more than anything in the world once the anesthesia goes away is... more anesthesia. Or, at least, a hefty prescription for Vicodin. But it ain't in the recovery plan; you have to heal stone cold sober.

In many cases, when the painkillers join the list of Things You May Not Have, the pain is a thousandfold worse than it was before you started self-medicating, because while you staggered through your years of intoxication, you managed to fuck up your life but good. The things on the To Do List you staved off with a decade of highballs comes crashing onto you in a Time to Pay the Piper fucking avalanche -- giving you ever stronger reasons to want a fucking drink.

No can do, buddy; you gotta face the music clear-eyed and utterly, irrevocably, exasperatingly sober. The unpaid parking tickets result in a towed car your first month sober; the late fees accrued on your credit cards bring you face to face with the creditors you've been hanging up on for god knows how long; and the hordes of people you've harmed and avoided are lining up around the block for the Amends they know they've got coming -- somehow that 5th step has made its way into the popular consciousness and whoever wrote the James Spader-ice cream parlour-apology-to-Jason Alexander scene in Seinfeld has hit the Most Wanted list of every AA newbie.

What's surprising is how many people manage to stay sober, not how many of them relapse. Jesus, if I weren't so viscerally fucking aware and terrified of the certainty of my return to that pitiful and incomprehensible demoralisation, you can bet your ASS I'd be heading down the block to the dive bar with triple scotch and soda Wednesdays...

I have no pithy wrap-up for this segment. Just thought I'd, you know, share.

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In other news: My uncle Thomas's stem cell transplant went off without a hitch yesterday. (I'd been under the mistaken impression that it happened a few weeks ago, but apparently that was a pre-transplant thing. Hard to keep track of all these medical procedures and their jargon...)

A lightly edited version of the letter Sherry sent me today:

Success! Thomas has received the stem cell transplant and is home and doing well!!

Thomas' brother Terry was a terrific donor - lots of stem cells! Thankfully Terry weathered the process pretty well, although he will be more tired than usual for several weeks. We are so grateful for his wonderful gift. He left this afternoon to get back to his lovely wife Jennifer, their two pooches and bird.

Thomas spent a couple of nights unexpectedly in the hospital, and received his transplant while in-patient. His electrolytes were a little off the day before transplant, so they admitted him to receive fluids and a transfusion. He had a bit of a difficult night on transplant night after the total body irradiation session that afternoon (nausea, headache, etc.) - but he was much better this morning. He is fatigued, but otherwise feeling good.

All is well on Day +1. That is how we measure things now. Certain "next" tests will happen on certain days - for example, next bone marrow biopsy on Day +28, etc.

Now comes waiting for engraftment (for Terry's cells to take hold - and eventually take over). He will have blood tests every day, and will be very carefully monitored. They are pros at this here, and we are so grateful for the wonderful care.

Please keep your love, prayers and energy coming. This is a complicated process, and we need good healing energy, love and grace for continued success.

We will keep you updated. Again, THANKS for the help you've given us to get to this point. You were in the room with us last night at 7:00 p.m. when they walked in with the stem cells and said, "Happy Birthday!" (That's when I started to cry.) The staff came in this morning and sang Happy Birthday to Thomas as well. We couldn't have done it without you. We are so, so blessed!

Love, love, love. Be well.

Sherry & Thomas

This entire ordeal has taken so much out of them both, in their separate ways; but Sherry and Thomas are one of those bafflingly happy couples who seem to have been designed for each other before time began, and to no one's surprise, they have been each others' source of strength and hope.

When Thomas was first being diagnosed, things seemed truly bleak. The doctors were talking about his survival rate in terms of weeks -- and now it appears the only hurdle left after this engraftment is Thomas's heart, which took a thorough beating and now has permanent damage from the chemotherapy. And even that, the doctors described as likely to be his undoing; "Well, the good news is, you won't be dying of leukemia. The bad news is, you'll probably die soon because of the heart damage done by the treatment that got rid of the leukemia."

In other words, Sherry had about 15 minutes of relief and joy on hearing the leukemia would likely be eradicated by the combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant -- before the doctors began warning her that he'd probably die soon anyway.

True to form, Sherry and Thomas bore down and did the work they needed to do -- and though he has a severely weakened heart, it looks like he'll be living a long life of taking it easy. (When they gave him the physical that discovered the leukemia, Thomas was described as being 60 years old with the physical health of a 30 year old. Now, sans leukemia but with the heart damage, he is a 60 year old with the physical health of a... 60 year old. In all, a damned fine outcome.)

I'm taking Sherry's tack and speaking fairly optimistically about a situation that is doubtless fraught with unknown and known peril at every turn -- but since her way of tackling this kind of shit seems to be working pretty damned well, I've decided to work very hard at adopting it as the way I approach my own life as well as those of my loved ones.

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I've buried the lede, as they say in Journalism Schools (wait, they still HAVE Journalism Schools?). Too late to change it now, it's going to press and I'm in no mood to rewrite the damned post...

Thanks to the generosity and combined efforts of several determined MLWers, The East Coast MLW Gathering scheduled for September 8th in Philadelphia will include at least one West Coast representative: ME!

Yes, the crazy fuckers have put their heads and wallets together and gifted me with a trip to Philly next weekend. I said I'd come if they managed to find a rich motherfucker to pay for it and they did ALL the work, I wouldn't lift a fucking finger, I said -- and they called my bluff. Seems all I have to do is accept a ride from my husband to the airport here on Friday afternoon, and have him pick me up at said airport on Sunday morning -- because those crazy fucks on the East Coast have taken care of everything else.

According to the itinerary I received in email form a short while ago, I depart LAX on Friday afternoon, arrive PHL Friday evening -- spend Saturday whooping it up with the East Coast Contingent of MLW Crazy Motherfuckers -- and depart Philadelphia at the ungodly hour of 8:15am Sunday to arrive home in Los Angeles just before lunch time.

See you Saturday, you Crazy Motherfuckers.

With bells on.


Maryscott OConnor said...

This is crossposted from yesterday's Front Page at My Left Wing; figured I'd just start crossposting anything that seemed worthwhile...

My opening comment in the discussion over there:

And now, the REALLY important issue:

I had planned to go blonde this week…
But since I'll be meeting all you people for the first time, is it WISE to go with a radically different look than I usually have?

This is the sort of shit that keeps me up nights, you know.

Oh, and incidentally - a kind and generous MLWer has offered me the use of her empty home from this Saturday through Wednesday - and I intend to use the time and solitude to…

Quit smoking.

Perfect set-up, really - no one around, just me and the walls, crawling them.

Adam has promised that he will quit while I'm gone, too; best we do the withdrawal from the most powerful insidious drug in existence separately, given how thin the tether is between us and total marital collapse.

ANYWAY -- back to the hair...

I'm thinking something like


Without, you know, the fashion icon status and the 25 year old face... And, um, body.

Renee in Ohio said...

Thanks for crossposting, Maryscott. The beginning of the school year (for my kids) is seriously kicking my butt, so I don't have much to say. But I appreciate having your voice over here as well.