Contentedness

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“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.”  Henry David Thoreau

One of my current preoccupations is narrowing the spectrum of my possible rewards or indulgences. I have worked hard all my life, whether as a musician, at a job or both. For many years I worked all day to pay the rent and finance whatever current musical project I was working on in the evening. I believed that as I worked hard, I had earned tangible compensations for my efforts.

In 2003, I stopped using heroin and cocaine; by this time, they were no longer a reward but a necessity, so it was life-changing to be free of them. In my euphoria, I was unaware that the scope of my reward system had narrowed a notch. Clunk. I hadn’t noticed because I was reaping the rewards a clean life brings: love, friendship and self-respect. As I have related in this blog before, alcoholism crept up on me over the next few years, with the consequent loss of self-respect and that of the people I love.

The next adjustment came when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Clunk – goodbye sugar and countless other delicious more savoury rewards. I believe my Diabetes is self-inflicted, a result of the sugar contained in the ocean of whisky I had been working my way through. It was also around this time that I had started to address my alcoholism, taking faltering steps from relapse to relapse. Chocolate I have found very hard to relinquish, especially due to the sugar cravings shared by most recovering alcoholics. The running jokes in my family began to revolve around discovered packets of M&Ms tucked away under my side of the bed, or an expensive piece of cheese hidden behind a more pedestrian item in the fridge. I went from secret alcoholic to secret food fiend.

I am still working on sugar, although my diabetes is at a more stable level now. Tobacco is the next clunk I know is approaching. I know I have to quit, there are financial reasons, let alone the health implications. Also, I no longer truly enjoy smoking, it is just the final piece of ill behaviour I allow myself. I think I am still smoking due to nostalgia. But tobacco is next, hopefully by the end of the year. Then I will be left with coffee, the obsession of most of the people in recovery I have met.

It was only when talking this through with my counsellor that I realised this narrowing of my system of rewards is mirrored by the narrowing of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I still have dreams. As Samuel Johnson says, “We love to expect, and whether expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting.” I want to go on writing and making music. I want to hear new ideas and read books. I want to grow old with my wife and watch my daughter grow up and become a woman. I believe what I am beginning to understand and be grateful for, is the contentedness that is a result of a simple life.

My friend Mark Goodson writes very beautifully about this in his blog, Miracle of the Mundane. I too, am learning to celebrate the mundane. The day-to-day stuff that is sometimes left unnoticed. My pleasures at the moment include feeding my family. Nothing brings me more joy than cooking a delicious meal for my loved ones. I am happy in my role of Recovery Coordinator at The Edge Café, helping to build a small community project to support addicts in recovery like me. I am content playing music in a little local band – I no longer harbour any dreams of fame or world tours. I lost the joy of making music through drug addiction, the lifestyle involved and the unnatural pressures of making a living at it. I have rediscovered the joy of making very loud music every week, just for fun.

I suppose this new-found contentedness may be the result of reaching the ripe old age of fifty-five, but I believe the reasons are far more deeply rooted in my recovery and parenthood. All my expectations are bound up in my daughter’s future; the pressure on me now is to prolong my life so I can enjoy watching it.

“He who is contented is rich.”  Lao Tzu

The Fall And Rise Of Amy Dresner

A Review of My Fair Junkie

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“As he drives me back to the sober living, I vomit relentlessly. Yet, instead of thinking, I should not have drank, I think, I should have just done coke. Welcome to the mind of an alcoholic addict.” Amy Dresner, My Fair Junkie.

The cover picture on my Facebook page, which I have also shared previously in this blog, is a quote from one of my favourite authors, Umberto Eco: “To survive we tell stories.” I started writing my blog in March 2016 and it soon became an intrinsic part of my recovery journey. I started to connect with people all over the planet, who were similarly sharing their experiences of addiction and recovery. These people became my recovery heroes and mentors. Some of the writing was expert and crafted; there were also simple messages straight from people’s souls. Both held equal significance for me.

I recently received my copy of My Fair Junkie by the incomparable Amy Dresner. I connected with Amy in my earlier days on Twitter, when I was following anybody and everybody from the world of recovery.  I soon began to weed out the organisations advertising their businesses and other less interesting pages. Amy’s tweets and posts on Facebook invariably brought a smile to my face, so when I learned that her book was being published I couldn’t wait to read it.

My Fair Junkie is a brutally honest memoir; a killer fairy tale for the 21st century. As an addict, her absolute candour and razor wit had me shuddering in empathy one minute and laughing out loud the next. I recognised many character types from both my addiction and my recovery. I shared her disappointments, her pain and her joy.

A quote for her publisher states, “Dresner had managed to dodge any real repercussions of her 20-year battle with addiction despite six rehabs, four psych wards, three suicide attempts, and twenty grand mal seizures. But on Christmas Eve of 2011, that all changed. She was high on Oxycontin, in a shitty marriage, and she pulled a knife on her husband. She was promptly arrested for felony – domestic violence with a deadly weapon.”

Amy goes on to describe her experiences of sex addiction, rehabs, halfway houses, AA, community service and the people that inhabit them. We meet the users and the used; the abusers and the abused. Unsurprisingly in this life, many people are a mix of the two. The succession of professionals is a mix of dedicated saints and the more human, less devoted experts who hold in their hands the fate of vulnerable people in recovery. These are the heroes and villains that populate all of our daily lives – recovery or not.

In my blog I have always tried to be truthful and transparent about my experience, but Amy Dresner has taught me more than one lesson about honesty. Her comedian’s humour and the casual frankness of her prose style belie the gut wrenching truth of her book. Every addict’s road to recovery is individual but the experience is universal. To survive, we must share our stories. In the cold despair and isolation of addiction, reading of other  experience of recovery can truly make a difference. Words touch people. Not only do I urge you to buy and read this book, I believe it is essential reading and should be part of the drugs education syllabus in our high schools.

13423723_10208454172545572_6896469298402465453_nAmy Dresner is a former professional stand up comic, having appeared at The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, and The Improv. Since 2012, she has been a contributing editor for the online addiction and recovery magazine The Fix.com. She’s also freelanced for The Good Men Project, The Frisky, Refinery 29, and has been a regular contributor to Addiction.com and PsychologyToday.com, where she has her addiction blog entitled Coming Clean.