Monday, October 28, 2013

The Hostess Cupcake Theory

   One of the key points to addiction recovery is what they call ‘hitting bottom.’  The theory suggests that until you have hit a bottom, you really do not take recovery seriously and will not succeed.  The problem is that ‘the bottom’  is a very personal experience.  Most people hit more than one bottom and are surprised when a new one comes along.  I have given up trying to tell other people what their bottom is, but I remember my lowest point so far.  
   To put this into perspective, chronologically I was 26 when my mother died.  However, in reality I was emotionally still a young teen.  I was totally dependent on her.  Yes, I lived in Connecticut and she was back in Rochester, but my memory is that I didn’t brush my teeth without asking her first.  Financially, I was totally dependent on her.  She was charismatic, intelligent, beautiful and a powerhouse.  This was my mother.  
   By the time I was 14 or 15 years old, I knew that I felt empty inside.  I now know that my dependency contributed to my depression.  I was nothing in comparison to my mother, father or brother.  For the next ten years, I filled that emptiness with stuff from outside me.  I am clear of four things I routinely used to fill me the void.  First, I used toys.  I can remember buying a C.B. radio, new skiis or some other toy and I would feel full for a short time.  Usually within a week or so, the emptines would return.  Men like to use toys to fill ourselves.  Women tend to buy purses or shoes, but really it’s the same thing.  The second thing I used to fill me were girls.   When a new girl would come into my life, I would feel full, worthy, successful and complete.  I knew “what a woman could do for my soul.”  Over time she would grow tired of fixing me, making me feel healthy and adequate.  Then we would have to start talking about our relationship and everything would go to hell.  I would hang on deparately.  She would eventually leave and I would be empty again.  
   The third filler in my life came as a senior in college.  My girlfriend had me try marijuana.  It took me three times before I felt anything.  When it worked, it worked.  The problem with drugs is they work for a while.  For many years I would smoke some pot and feel better for a while.  Then all the problems would be back.   
   The fourth substance I used to fill me was psychology.  I would read a new theory about schizophrenia or depression and I would be excited and enriched and turned on.  I was surprised how much my interest in people excited me.  
   This continued until my mother was killed.  Anyone who has ever experienced something like this knows what happens first.  You became a robot.  You are in shock and go through the motions without being totally there.  During the next week, when we went up to Rochester and made the ‘arrangements’ and had the funeral, I was in shock.  You lose all sense of time and space.  I remember being amazed that the world went on the way it did. 
   I ended up back in my apartment faced with an emptiness that wouldn’t go away.  For the first couple of months I totally drowned.  I had to learn how to cry all over again.  My mother had taught me that mourning was a good thing.  At first, I learned every trick in the book to avoid crying.  But, I couldn’t avoid the grief.  I remember the pain as devestating.  There were times I wondered if I would survive.  While I’m not aware of ever being suicidal, I certainly didn’t take care of myself.  Hence, I hit bottom. 
   It was a Friday morning.  I woke up and the first thing I had to do was go to the bathroom and upchuck.  I had been sick all week.  Drinking, smoking pot and not sleeping had resulted in my feeling terrible.  When I found my way back to bed, I started thinking how this was the fifth day that week I had started it by barfing.  This was becoming my life.  Then it came to me.  All my life, whenever I was sick, my mother would come and take care of me.  Here I was sick, with the unconscious hope that my mother would come take care of me.  Reality hit me.  She wasn’t coming.  Either I could get my act together and take care of myself, or this would be my life.  
   That was my bottom.  After that I started taking better care of myself.  I stopped drinking alcohol.  Some nights I would cry.  Most nights I would avoide it.  But overtime, I mourned.  I allowed myself the thoughts of missing her.  I believe that over the next year I healed the empty space inside of me.  The emptiness shrank as I worked through my grief.  This changed everything. 
   When the dark cloud lifted off of me during the months after the anniversary, I found a new person.  I had considerably matured.  First of all, I now took responsibility for myself.  I no longer could make any excuses for my behavior.  Second, my relationships changed.  I didn’t expect women to complete me or fix me any more.  I had used relationships as the filling to complete me.  After I had mourned, relationships became the icing on the top of the cupcake.  I didn’t need them to complete me.  Hence an intern coined this my hostess cupcake theory. While it is an unfortunate name, it is an accurate metaphor.  
            Several years later, I met my wife.  After our first child was born, I stopped smoking pot.  I couldn’t figure out how to tell my children to not do drugs, if I was doing them.  
   I will always remember the morning I hit bottom.  It has been up hill ever since.  I continue to struggle.  Everytime I mourn, I have to relearn how to cry.  Yet, I now have confidence in knowing that I can tolerate it.    

Friday, October 4, 2013

My First Clinical Supervisor

  There is no question in my mind, that my mother was my first clinical supervisor.  From as far back as I can remember, she taught me about people.  She taught me how to understand their motivations and she taught me how to manipulate them.  She was an expert.  Over and over again, she could orchestrate everyone around her to get what she wanted.  Partly, it was because she was beautiful and she knew it.  But she also had a charisma about her that would charm the horns off of a devil.  
  My earliest memories are of sitting in her lap and we would talk about people.  This goes back as far as I can remember.  Only recently have I recognized how special these memories are to me.  I can remember talking to her about school and the other kids.  She would talk to me about people, relationships and most importantly how to respond to people.  One day I told her about Lettie Edens.  Lettie was in kindergarten with me and I liked her.  I think it was my first crush.  The problem was that Lettie wasn’t giving me the time of day.  My mother listened to my frustration and then asked me if I was sure I wanted this girl’s attention.  Without a doubt I wanted Lettie to spend time with me, but I didn’t have a clue how to pull it off.  
  “Okay, I’ll tell you what you do.  I want you to play hard to get.  What that means, is that you should ignore her totally.  Pretend that you don’t see her or hear her.  You play hard to get with her and you’ll get her attention.”  On the surface it sounded like the opposite of what I wanted.  But, she was right.  Before the week was out, Lettie was asking if she could play with me and spend time with me.  My first lesson in manipulation was immensely effective.  It took me well into adulthood before I learned I could be more successful with people by being direct, rather than manipulative.
  Through the years, she often told me how to handle personal situations.  She also modeled how to handle people.  She ran the family farm and I witnessed her acute ability to get her way.  On more than one occasion I watched her deal with drunk farmhands.  She could be compassionate, logical and firm.  She handled people like a virtuoso violinist.  In the morning, I would sit on her lap and we would talk about people.  We would process the events of the day before.  In addition, she would encourage me to be a friend to people who didn’t have friends.  Subtly, she was training me to talk to people who sometimes don’t have people to talk to.  She taught me many things.  However, there are two memories that stand out over the rest.  I believe they helped save my life.  
  After my father died, we lived alone in the farmhouse for a couple of years.  I was attending community college.  Without my father there was no buffer between us.  We really didn’t know how to be with each other.  I was no longer a child, and she was scared to be all alone.  I was 19 and really didn’t care at all about college.  I wanted to stay out until the middle of the night with my girlfriend.  So, my mother and I would fight.  When we would fight, there were no holds barred.  We both said incredibly mean things to each other.  When scenes happen in our house they are just as ugly as scenes in anybody else’s house.  Finally, one night she broke through this ongoing battle.  
  We were having one of our usual fights.  We were both screaming and not listening to one another.  Finally, she sat down took a deep breath and asked me, “do you know why we have these fights?”  I just starred at her.  I had no idea.  “We are both so sad about losing your father, and we don’t know how to do the sad, so we get angry instead.  It’s a way for us to be close, without being too close and crying all the time.”  I quietly sat down next to her.  In my heart I knew she was right. Once again we cried together.  She taught me about emotions and how anger is a terrific mask for sadness.  
  That was the last time we had one of those fights.  But I knew the potential would always be there.  After my internship in Connecticut, when she asked me to move home, I said no.  I knew we shouldn’t live together again.  I didn’t want to go back to being her baby.  It was my feeble way of asserting some independence.  However, a month later when she was killed, I had to question myself whether I should have moved home.  After much work, I know that I was right.  The time for us to live together had passed.  This leads me to one of the most important things she gave me.  
  When I started school as a child, I remember my father telling me that I had to stop crying all the time.  I just had to stop.  I did as I was told.  I stopped crying and coincidently, by the time I was in 3rd grade, I was wearing glasses.  Although no one will agree with me, I’m convinced holding back the tears, contributed to my decline in vision.  
  For the next 15 years, crying was not a resource for expressing sadness.  However, when my father died, my mother cried openly.  We cried together frequently.  We never showed this in public.  Crying was reserved for being in private.  I think she modeled this after Jackie Kennedy.    Jackie Kennedy had set a standard for how to handle grief in public.  However, in private we cried.  For a while, we turned the sadness into anger and fought, but she brought us back to the sadness.  She taught me to mourn.  She taught me to let the pain pass over me and through me.  I now see this as entirely ironic that she gave me this gift, as six years later when she was killed, allowing myself the tears saved my life.  If I had avoided the pain of losing her, I would not have survived.  I’m convinced that when you shut those kind of feelings off, they come out somewhere else in the body.  We all know people who have died of a broken heart.  But she gave me permission to feel my pain and it made all the difference.