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Where else can you get a really good look at a train wreck of emotional dysfunction
and not be right in the middle of the thing?


Thursday, February 4, 2010

"In My Vision of a King"

Years ago in my mind,
Hope began to sing
Of love and happiness
In my vision of a King.

Through the pain and pressure
Of life's bitter sting,
I find the strength to go on
In my vision of a King.

Waiting, waiting, waiting
While the death bells ring.
I live my life by what I see
In my vision of a King.

And though the day may never come,
To this I still cling.
Because my every dream lives
In my vision of a King.

Commentary

While I enjoy some of the lyricism and imagery of this poem, its meaning is incomprehensible to anyone but myself.  Back in high school, I was really into mysticism and portents.  On my sixteenth birthday, a birthday to which I ascribed a lot of importance, thinking that's when my "real" life would begin, I did a form of scrying where you randomly open the Bible and read the first verse you see.  I did this a few times, and two or three verses (enough me to assign meaning to it) mentioned the word "king."  I was convinced that that word had some significance to my destiny and the realization of my dreams.

Friday, January 29, 2010

We're Not Living in "The Matrix"!

Yahoo! Dating has posted an article called "10 Signs He's Not the One," and the title set off some warning flags inside of me. How many people have wasted their lives looking for "the One"? All the while ignoring the love that could be right in front of them?

People are so funny when it comes to love. They mistake the biochemical fantasy that is infatuation with the sublime, and often harsh, reality that is love. Love is not magic. Love is full of doubt and uncertainty, a high-maintenance beast that needs constant attention and work. Love is a conscious choice that we make. We plant the seeds of it in our lives. Love is a function over time. When the infatuation fades, the fruits of our efforts is the love that remains.

Can anybody love anyone so much
That they will never fear
Never worry, never be sad?
The answer is they cannot love this much
Nobody can
This is why I don't mind you doubting

{Howard Jones, "What Is Love?"}

I know my personal history in the area of love doesn't speak volumes for my authority in making such sanctimonious pronouncements on the subject. In all my forty years, I've only had one decent relationship, and that was in my early twenties. I was with a wonderful guy, but I was a complete mess. And though we cared deeply for one another, are still friends to this day, the relationship fell apart. Yet I have been an outside observer, an unrequited romantic, my entire life, and I have watched and learned, nurturing the hope that one day I will be able to put my observations into practice.
The best coaches are in the stands, sir.
{Marcie, Peanuts}
Keep in mind that I'm not suggesting that people should "settle" for a relationship that doesn't work; that might be the biggest mistake people make when it comes to love. But the truth is that love is just as much being the right person as it is finding the right person.

In all fairness, the article I mention above has some good advice. You shouldn't waste your time with someone you don't trust or respect. You should be able to project yourself into a future with the other person. However, I don't think an impractical ideal of the "perfect" love should eclipse the practical needs of a love that can grow and sustain you over the course of a lifetime.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
{1 Corinthians 13:4-5}
Personal Roundup

Days sober: 21
Weight: 230 pounds
Waist: 46.5 inches

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The First and (Probably) Last "Sticky Situations"

Many, many years ago, back in college, I had an idea for a comic. Not a comic strip, mind you, but a single comic. Unfortunately, I can't draw to save my life. A had a friend who was a talented artist, and I was going to suggest we collaborate. But I just never got around to it.

I was thinking about this comic idea. And then I was thinking of Rich Burlew's brilliant Dungeons & Dragons-themed web comic Order of the Stick. (If you like D&D or fantasy RPG in general, you should definitely check OOTS out! It's hilarious.) So I'm created my comic in stick figure. Unfortunately, the resolution loses a lot when I import it here. C'est la vie. (Clicking on the comic opens it in a separate window where it's easier to read.)

I doubt I'll ever have another idea, but you never know. So I bring you...

Sticky Situations #1

AdSense Makes Sense to Add Cents

I've decided to sign up for Google's AdSense program. Basically, you allow Google to place advertising links on your web site. When people visit your site and click on the ads, Google pays you a certain amount. Apparently the company keeps how much you get for each click very close to the vest, but of course its only pennies.

I initially hesitated in signing up. Ars gratis artis, and all that. But then I decided, "What the hell..." Besides, I've always wanted to get paid to be a writer, and now here's my chance. Even if my biggest paycheck is 23 cents.

You Are the Company You Keep

Google has some kind of automated widget that evaluates each web site in the AdSense program and determines the most appropriate ads to show there. So it wasn't much of a surprise to find the ads on my page were in the vein of "Detox Now!" and "Need Counseling?" But it did make me laugh all the same.

Personal Roundup

Days sober: 20
Weight: 230 pounds
Waist: 46.5 inches

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

I've been so blessed in my life. I've never had to worry about going without basic necessities. Poor planning, poor choices and expensive vices mean that I'm usually living from hand to mouth. But I've never really been in financial trouble. Seeing as how I'm a grown man now in his forties, it's pathetic and embarrassing to admit, but in the back of my mind I know that my parents will always bail me out if I get into a bind.

Privilege has led me to be giving towards others. I'm generous by nature, and I enjoy helping other people anyway. Unfortunately, this has led to my being taken advantage of in the past. I've lived on my own without roommates since 1994. Without going into too much detail about my deficient social circle, suffice it to say that I have often found myself starved for company. So on two separate occasions while living in Hollywood, I have allowed someone--friends of friends--to live with me when they found themselves without a situation.

Both times it was a nightmare, and the people screwed me over. Once guy sprayed Minoxidil in my cat's eye, and I got so freaked out that I was sure he was trying to poison me. The other woman promised that she mailed some packages for me, but it turns out she'd simply pocketed the money I gave her for postage. She was a piece of work in general. She was employed a grand total of two days out of the four months she stayed with me. Every night I'd come home after a hard day, and she'd be playing video games. She didn't have a car. Once she had the nerve to ask to borrow my car for a one-day babysitting gig, having printed out the bus directions that would get me to my office. She wanted to drive and have me take the bus.

Then there was this other guy, another friend of a friend. (The same friend, actually. I don't think he knew anyone who wasn't a train wreck.) So this guy used me for some quick cash. I felt sorry for him because he was HIV positive, and his lover had recently died. I don't think he worked. His apartment was *filled* wall-to-wall with all of this crap furniture he'd picked up off the street. He intended to sell it to make a living. He'd start crying, and I would help him out. I paid to hire some local movers to move some of the crap into a storage unit he had. He was a complete a**hole to me while we were trying to coordinate this crap transfer. He asked me to cash checks for him. It just went on and on. I remember finally having enough. He cried, but when I didn't budge, the tears dried up. Welcome to Hollywood!

A Helping Hand

The other day I was filling my car up during lunch when an old, rather shabby-looking man came up to me and asked for a gallon of gasoline. He told me that he'd run out just down the road. He wasn't asking for money; he was carrying an old antifreeze bottle as a makeshift gas can. I put gas in his container and told him to come back when he'd put that into his car.

He came back and told me that he was having problems getting the gas in the tank. It had even splashed into his mouth a little. I finally decided to help him out as much as I could. I told him to drive his car around to the pump, and I filled his tank. About halfway through he told me that it was plenty, but I figured I might as well do the thing properly. After all, I doubted he had well-off parents he could call and ask for gas money.

He said that my kindness was "truly a blessing from above." I was kind of embarrassed and muttered about being blessed myself. When I find myself in situations like that, I want to say something like, "God has blessed me, and I'm glad to be able to share His blessings with someone in need." But even if I had the nerve, it would sound so stupid and forced and plain trite.

Karma Isn't a Cash Machine
What is it? Some kind of cosmic cash machine?
{Saffy, Absolutely Fabulous, "Fashion"}
I enjoyed helping that man out. I just wish that some part of me wouldn't expect some kind of metaphysical reward for doing good deeds. It's an easy trap to fall into, but a fallacy in thinking. A person should do good deeds because they're the right thing to do, and for no other reason.
For we are God's workmanship, created in Jesus Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
{Ephesians 2:10}
Personal Roundup

Days sober: 19
Weight: 230 pounds
Waist: 37 inches

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Personal Guide to Addiction

My intention here is to bring a personal perspective to topics of mental illness and substance abuse. I have had a lot experience with both, and my goal is to act as a kind of "apologist" to help others understand what these things are like to go through.
Please note! I hold no certifications or specialized training in the fields of psychotherapy or addiction counseling. These entries are for informational purposes only. My hope is to provide insight drawn from personal experience, rather than clinical study; as such, some information may very well be incorrect. If you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, your best course of action is to consult a physician. He or she can direct you to the help you need.
The simplest and most direct format I can come up with is Question & Answer. It has the advantage of allowing people to skip down to topics that interest them, instead of wading through a long diatribe.

"My 'name' is Michael St. John, and I'm an addict..."
I first abused drugs when I was 16 years old. I had just flunked my driver's license test, and I was bummed out and dreading all of the teasing I would get from my friends. (Ironically, they never said a word.) Then I remembered the Percodans my dentist prescribed for my wisdom teeth. I stole one out of my mother's medicine cabinet and took it. Once it kicked in, I felt so calm and delightful. All of my problems melted away. Problems were an impossibility. That's how I began my career as an addict.

Over the next decade and a half, I got my hands on narcotics any way I could. I didn't use all of the time, but I never went more than several months without getting a new supply. After I'd exhausted all of the pills in my parent's house, I started stealing from the homes of others. It got to the point where any time I was in another house, I would make an excuse to use the restroom and search it for pills. I went to ridiculous lengths to search every bathroom in the house. It's amazing to me that I only got caught a few times, but those times were humiliating enough, though never enough to stop me.

It wasn't until 2002, when I was thirty-two, that I actually had a dealer. A clerk at a store I frequented had a dentist friend who would prescribe her thirty Vicodin a month as a favor. She liked them all right, but liked the money I would pay her for them better. For the longest time I went through a monthly cycle where I would devour the thirty pills over the course of a few days, and then spend most of the rest of the month withdrawing. Luckily for me, the dentist eventually wised up and stopped prescribing to her. (I can't imagine what he was thinking in the first place!)

I binge drank in college on the weekends like a lot of students. But I never really had much interest in alcohol because I've never liked the taste, and it was a chore to get it down. Then, again in my thirties, I started to drink to mask the persistent anxiety I was feeling. My life was going nowhere, and I didn't know what to do with myself. I found that beer would calm me down. Eventually I started to drink regularly until I finally became a binge drinker, someone who always drinks until drunk. For the past three to five years (I've lost count) I have been drinking almost every single night. I finally worked up to six malt liquors and three hard ciders a day, closer to twelve on weekends.
And so I drank one which became four
And when I fell on the floor, I drank more
{The Smiths, "Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before"}
So that brings me up to where I am now: a recovering addict 18 days sober.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Need a Fix, But a Fix of What?

I feel like a new person. In the short time I've been taking Abilify, it's been like going from night until day. I've been more positive and more motivated since I don't know when. In the past week I've done more writing than I've done in the past six to nine months.
I didn't realize how empty I had become until I was filled.
{King Arthur, Excalibur}
In spite of this positive turn of events, I've been having kind of a weird problem (though if one were describe me in only two words, "weird problem" would probably be good ones.) I have this pervasive sensation as if I'm "jonesing," that is, the nervous, twitchy feeling we addicts get when our "high" has worn off.

There could be a lot of reasons for this other than a reaction to my medication. I have one theory that my body is confused by the fact that I'm not actively feeling unhappy. I'm addicted to narcotics because they take away all my negative feelings and "fill up" the emptiness inside of me. When I'm high, I don't lie on the couch and watch the Home Shopping Network. I clean my apartment, do my laundry, etc. because I don't have to expend all of my energy simply keeping my mood afloat. Narcotics motivate me, and I'm wondering if the motivating, antidepressant effects of my medication is confusing my body into thinking its high. While Abilify removes the pain element, it doesn't actually stimulate the pleasure zones in my brain. Does my some part of my brain think that I'm abusing narcotics and wondering where the "high" is?

I'm not sure how scientific that theory actually is. I could also be working myself into a state over a shot-in-the-dark, pie-in-the-sky dream upon which I've been pinning a lot of my hopes for the future. (Something I'm feeling so guarded about that I don't want to reveal it in an anonymous blog.) It's involved a lot of creative writing and design work that has consumed me.

Personal Roundup

So far I've lost ten pounds by eating more moderately and not drinking. So now I'm only forty pounds overweight, instead of fifty! I've seem to have lost about an inch off of my waist, so that's a move in the right direction.

Days sober: 17
Weight: 230 pounds
Waist: 46.5 inches

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Schauderhaft

This morning I was tunneling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole when I stumbled across an entry for garum, an ancient Roman condiment and staple to the Roman diet. It struck me as odd how something could be so critical to the cuisine of an entire people and yet be completely unheard of today, even in present-day Italy.

Later on at lunch, I was eating in the break room with the rest of the office staff when I felt a ripple of dread watching a co-worker use a chili paste condiment on her food. In a flash I thought about the countless number of people using garum so many thousands of years ago: people long since dead and buried, people whose entire lives from birth through death are unrecorded and unremembered. Then I suddenly pictured in my mind people living thousands of years from now and how all of us around that table would be just as unknown as if we had never lived at all.

The Lighter Side of Death

Ironically, philosophical realizations such as the one described above are just as pointless as anything else. The one purpose they can serve, however, is to focus the mind on the things that matter. The most important thing in life--the only knowable thing--is what is going on around you right now. Who are you right now? What are you doing right now? What can you do right now to move your life in a better direction?

In a previous entry, I mentioned that existential insights don't necessary make one more secure about the nature of existence; however, they can separate the chaff of meaningless distractions from the wheat of authentic Being. Like all things, it depends on the person and the metaphysical space where one takes one's experiences and understandings.

Personal Roundup

I was supposed to start back at the gym yesterday. Unfortunately, I spent most of the four-day weekend in bed once again. In addition to being a nervous wreck, I've also been lethargic and unmotivated. I've been abstinent long enough that I shouldn't still be detoxing. My doctor started me on a new medication the other day, so hopefully that will provide me with some relief soon.

Days sober: 11
Weight: 240 pounds
Waist: 47.5 inches

Monday, January 18, 2010

Long Live the King!

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I know it's kind of a douchey, white-liberal guilt thing to say, but I have to admit that I'm moved by the fact that in less than fifty years our country has managed to go from segragation laws to a black president. Many blacks would argue that the country still has a long way to go, and I would agree. However, I've always found it distasteful to downplay the progress our society has made just because racism still exists.

Bayard Rustin, one of Dr. King's advisers and an organizer of the march on Washington, was an open homosexual. In fact, he ended up voluntarily distancing himself from the movement because segregationists tried to use him as a liability. I also remember reading in Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin that civil rights activists had to avoid using public restrooms when touring as speakers because the opposition would plant men in the bathroom who would accuse the activists of soliciting sex. It's nice to think that such tactics wouldn't fly today. So there's progress all round.

Dude, Have You Ever Looked, I mean Really Looked, at Your Paws?

My poor cat is stoned out of his tiny little gourd. He had to have his teeth cleaned at the vet today, and they put him under for the procedure. He's spent the last two hours sitting in the middle of the floor and staring vacantly off into space, mouth hanging open with his enormously dilated pupils. I want to take a picture of him to post, but I'm afraid the flash will hurt his eyes and fry his brain.

On top of all that, my other cat has decided she doesn't much care for the smell of the vetrinarian that my stoned cat came home with, and she's been hissing and spitting at him. So it's been an evening of nonstop cat drama in my apartment.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Existentialism With an "I" and a "Me"

I'm not going to sugarcoat things here: I have to struggle with my anxiety and depression every single day of my life. For me, it is always a matter of degree. If I were any more symptomatic than I am now, then I would probably have to live in some kind of assisted situation. As it is, I sometimes wish I could live in some kind of assisted situation to get the help I need. I fell into the trap of drugs and alcohol because they offer short-term relief. (Of course, they compound the problem and magnify the symptoms in the long run!) Having said all that, I sometimes I get angry when I feel pressured to always put a "happy face" on my life. On the other hand, I feel guilty when I'm honest and forthright about just how difficult it is for me to manage my symptoms, especially when it comes to my family.

Of course, this doesn't address the larger issue: What do my problems mean anyway, particularly when compared to the problems of others? In my defense, self-pity only gets me so far. I mean I'm damn good at it! But my empathetic nature and general sense of humor keep me from being permanently lost in the realm of "Poor me!" (I have, however, accumulated a lot of frequent flyer miles.) Plus, my parents did a good job teaching me to appreciate what I have, and I realize how blessed and lucky I am in life. I came from an intact home, I always felt loved, and I've never had to want for material necessities.

So I do realize that all of my problems don't mean anything. Trying to compare suffering is a most foolish and pointless exercise, yet my immediate needs pale in the face of the needs of millions, if not billions, in the world today. But even the cares of the world fade into nothing. Triumph and tragedy come to the same end in the inexorable march of time towards oblivion. So while such existential insights might offer perspective, they don't do much to cast a friendlier light on Being.

Personal Roundup

Days sober: 9
Weight: 240 pounds
Waist: 47.5 inches

Friday, January 15, 2010

To Litigate or Not To Litigate

Right now, there is a federal case being heard in California that is an attempt to overturn the newly-added amendment to the California constitution defining marriage as between "one man and one woman" (Proposition 8). Some same-sex marriage proponents have gone so far as to call this the Brown v. Board of Education of gay rights.

I support gay marriage, of course, and I was disappointed by Prop 8's passage. But I didn't raise the same hue and cry over it for the simple fact that it was legally put on the ballot and (narrowly) approved by the voting public. As such, I have mixed feelings about this federal case for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's seems to be delving into dangerous and questionable territory. Just because I don't like a political result doesn't mean I should use the courts as a means to circumvent it. There is far more potential for harm than good in this. Second, it could backfire terribly and actually set us back on the issue. I'd hate to see this case become a precedent for same-sex marriage opponents.

By Any Other Name

One thing I do have to admit is that I get really tired of the "separate but equal" terminology used for homosexual relationships: commitment ceremony, life partner, etc. Most of the time, people using this politically-correct terminology are just trying to be respectful. (And I'll take "two life partners" over "a couple of fags" any day.) However, I personally find these unwieldy phrases sad, laughable and totally unnecessary. A decade and a half of being single doesn't bode well for escaping old maidenhood, but if I ever do find that special someone, I'm going to have a wedding to marry my husband!

Signs of the Father

My father is against gay marriage, which isn't surprising in light of his age and generally conservative outlook. What pleases me is that he is in favor of civil unions. Given that, back in the day of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade, this is the same man who told me that "those people" shouldn't be allowed to teach children, and I have to admit that I'm touched by the progress he has made in his thinking.

Personal Roundup

So far my diet is going perfectly. I've managed to cheat all five out of five days I've been on it. Still, I've actually done fairly well in regulating what I eat. And the fact that I'm not pouring 1300 calories of beer down my throat every night has to be doing me some good.

Days sober: 7
Weight: 240 pounds
Waist: 47.5 inches

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Just Another

I have decided to start another blog, even though the global readership of my last two endeavors was about four people. I realize that in the almost three years since I last posted, I have launched myself from techie avant-garde and landed irretrievably into passé. I know I should be Twittering the fascinating minutiae of my life on my Crackberry every fifteen minutes: "Long line at the bank!" or "OMG! Totally pigged out at lunch!" or "Sure glad it's Friday!" But I just don't have the strength. Besides, my cell is an ancient flip that doesn't even text, and that's what Facebook is for, anyway.

Go East...

I have all but decided to move back to Memphis. I have lived in Los Angeles for almost ten years now and have nothing to show for it other than a drug habit, alcoholism and a filthy apartment. I can remain here and continue on as the Queen of Shadow and Emptiness, living year after year in quiet despair in an exotic locale. Or I can head back east to the not-to-be-underestimated comforts of family and several good friends. In fact, as sad as it is to say, I have more friends in Memphis now than I have after a decade in Hollywood. Every shrink, psychiatrist and rehab counselor I have had out here has said the same thing: You need to improve your social support to improve your psychological space. (As if my social isolation were a lifestyle choice...) And frankly, the best chance I have for continued sobriety and generally getting my shit in one sock is to move some place where said social support is already in place.

...Young Man!

I turned forty about three and a half weeks ago. I didn't exactly dread the day as some do. But I definitely have all the signs of a midlife crisis. First of all, I don't have the foggiest inkling of what the hell I should be doing with my life any more than I did twenty years ago. I mean I know what I want to do, but have no idea how to make it happen. Second, I've been obsessing about death in ways I haven't since I was in college. It's not so much the "When" that bothers me as it is the "How." And as far as the "What" is concerned, the prospect of oblivion or unbeing doesn't frighten me. In fact, I find that possibility comforting. It's all the infinite "Could Be's" that terrify me.

Personal Roundup

In future posts and in general, it is my intention to make this blog less self-directed and not spend every post wallowing in self-absorbed misery. Don't get me wrong, at some level, it's always going to be about Me! Me! Me!!! But I will try to make this blog more interesting to people--Oh, say anyone other than myself--in the hopes of making it a more attractive read. Notwithstanding that, I will post a barometer of my well-being in the form of the the items below. Perhaps such a disclosure will help me trend towards the positive (as in "I'm positive I'm a fat drunk!")

Today's score is...

Days sober: 4
Weight: 240 pounds
Waist: 47.5 inches