Sunday, March 04, 2007

On The Outside Looking In

There's an attorney in my officewho's gay and who I'm kind of friendly with. I've been to his house a couple of times when he's had people over, and we talk and quip with one another at work. We're not all that close, and there's never been any desire for romance on either side. But that's not why I bring him up.

This guy is always planning trips and outings and gatherings with his many friends. He's dating a great-looking guy, and they do all of these romantic things together. The attorney diligently works at his job as a means to the end of supporting all that he has going on in his life. Not to put too fine a point on it...I'm extremely jealous of his happy-go-lucky lifestyle. I know he has his problems and his challenges. And I know that things aren't really easy for anyone. But what I'm truly jealous of is the joy he gets out of life. He comes across so carefree to me, whether that observation is valid or not.

Lent's rocky start

I attended Ash Wednesday services this year. I seem to remember that priests would make a small but distinct cross with the ash, but in the past few years they appear to want to cover your forehead. I kept it on until the day, but I had to wipe the remainder off before I went to bed to avoid having it wiped off on my pillowcase by default. Now I've got an ash-smeared tissue lying around my apartment because it seems sacrilegious (or at least tacky) to throw the consecrated ash into the trash or flush it down the toilet.

Anyway, the tradition for Lent is to give something up and to add something positive. I chose to give up all substances (particularly alcohol) and to pray every day for peace in the world. Unfortunately I haven't made a very good show of it. Since the day after Ash Wednesday, I've pretty much gotten drunk every night and have been too befuddled to pray for anything except death. I also skipped going to Mass on the first Sunday of Lent.

So last night I went I went to confession to help work things out, and the priest was incredibly understanding. I've spoken with him several times and have started lecturing at the church, so he knows me. Other than saying an Act of Contrition (which I flubbed because I can never remember that one), all he asked me to do is approach this problem from a "place of serenity." Frankly, that's a little ambiguous, but I think he was telling me not to be hard on myself. I did confess that I'm an alcoholic, after all.

"Thou shallt not covet"

I have a solid, if undefined, faith. But one of the reasons I feel the pursuit of any kind of religious tradition can be so valuable is strictly pragmatic. Religion offers people with a mature faith the opportunity for self-reflection. Life should be a constant effort to better ourselves and to better the world around us. A "struggle towards the heights," as Albert Camu put it. And I was thinking about all of this last night.

After confession, I looked through the church bulletin while I was waiting for the service to start. Ironically, a blurb in there mentioned that the second Sunday of Lent was an opportunity to reflect on the admonition not to covet. I say it was ironic because of the initial theme of this entry and my endless litany of "Why am I the only not in a relationship?" all boil down to coveting. Instead of being thankful for all the blessing I have, I'm wasting my time by looking around at what others have and begrudging them for anything I don't possess. I'm sure a blind man would like to have my gift of sight. I'm sure a woman in a wheelchair would like my ability to stand and walk. And I'm sure countless people (including almost everyone stuck homeless out on the street) would like a family they can always count on to bail them out of any disaster they manage to get themselves into.

During Mass, I also reflected on how I need to work on anger issues, especially anger arising out of simple frustration. I see this a lot when I drive. Yesterday afternoon I was going apoplectic because it took me almost two hours to run two simple errands. Hollywood traffic was a particular cluster-fuck, and I was furious at how long it took me to get one book on tape at the library and one item at the grocery store. Then the bood on tape was messed up, so I had to drive to another branch that has about four parking spaces for the entire library to get another copy of the audio book. These aren't major setbacks in the schemes of things, but I was about to blow my top.

The irony continues...

And so I left church in my "place of serenity." Redirected on my path of Lent and mindful of my tendencies towards covetousness and anger. Unfortunately, all of this lasted about five minutes. I got back into my car, intending to listen to my audio book while patiently waiting for the cars blocking me in to leave. It turns out the tape I had worked so hard to get my hands on was jammed in the player. It wouldn't play or eject. I went ballistic. I tried to pry the thing out with one of my keys, tearing my thumbnail in the process and, I'm pretty sure, getting the thing irrevocably stuck. Why can't I just have a blasted tape player that works? (A tape player in a luxury car given to me free by my parents, I might add. But I wasn't thinking that at the time.) After getting more and more wound up, I finally gave up after several minutes. I looked up and noticed that I was still being blocked by a car or two. I yelled, "How fucking long does it take to get out of a parking lot?!" My windows were all rolled up, so I'm hoping no one heard me.

That night I tried briefly to resist the temptation, but ended up drinking 80 ounces of beer. Even though that is an improvement on the 120 ounces (80 of which were malt liquor) I drank the night before, I wasn't pleased with myself. I should mention that the alcohol issue is a bit more complicated than simply overreacting to frustration. See the end of this entry.

The moral of the story

So what's the point of all of this? At first glance, it may seem that I'm trying to prove that reflection and self-improvement are a pointless waste of time. That's not it, however. Awareness of both our foibles and our failures must be coupled with mindfulness for real change. I left church feeling a bit smug. I lot of times people think that conceding to a fault is enough, but as any AA person can tell you, admitting the problem is only step one. I think I was in danger of this, and the humility of my immediate setback this point home.

To booze or not to booze

"holding my breath again for fear of sleep again"
—Robert Smith of The Cure, "Disintegration"
My alcoholism is kind of weird. When I've been in a period of drinking daily, my panic at not drinking the next night doesn't really have anything to do with alcohol directly. Even though I love to sleep, can take a nap at almost any point in the day and can continue to sleep indefinitely once I've nodded off, going to sleep for the night always produces a certain level of anxiety for me. It's a bit like death, or the fear of death. That's why such a sleep-a-holic as myself can go through intense periods of insomnia, even after days of not getting enough sleep. Drinking eases the transition from wakefulness to sleep. When I haven't drunk in awhile, I want to do it because I don't feel well-suited for being sober all of the time. Drugs artificially eradicate my biochemical tendency towards anxiety and low mood, and alcohol is a relatively cheap and easily accessible drug. When I'm back into the swing of drinking, though, it's the fear of facing sleep anaided that drives me on.

Even now as I write this, I'm not sure whether or not I can avoid drinking tonight. I keep telling myself, "One more day, and then I'll stop tomorrow." I can feel the panic welling up even as every rational thought tells me that I'm best served by staying sober, even as my childish superstition (misplaced in any legitimate faith) fears the wrath of God.


Post a Comment

<< Home