I Hate Summer

Even if we weren’t in a global pandemic (though people in my state of Georgia are beginning to act like everything is hunky-dory), I would still dread today, which is the official beginning of summer break for my children. The weeks leading up to the end of school were strange and not terribly productive. My children’s’ teachers did what they could; they held Zoom sessions, assigned virtual class and homework, and tried to maintain a sense of class and school unity. It didn’t work well, so I’m writing off pretty much everything after Spring Break.  Who knows what it will look like this fall? I hope they go back to their actual school building because remote learning is far from successful, and much more it it will drive me further into crisis mode.

What am I saying? It’s going to be crisis mode for the next few months, if not beyond that. We’re still practicing social distancing and mostly sheltering at home. I walk my dog, go donate plasma, and go to the grocery store. That’s it. My wife works from home and will continue doing so through some time in June. And my children, while they have no school work, have to do something besides play video games and argue. We might be able to build some kind of schedule that involves things other than games and the TV, but God in heaven, they can’t go more than thirty seconds without fighting. I’m so sick of hearing them blame each other, yell at each other (especially my nine-year-old son, who’s scream is capable of hitting a pitch that I swear will one day cause me to have a stroke). My thirteen-year-old son isn’t much better. He’s the instigator 99% of the time, but then he says, “Oh, I didn’t do anything. He’s lying.” They’re both liars, and I want to dash my head against my desk just typing this.

On time of it being summer break with my children stuck at home with me and the temperature soon to feel like it’s 1,000 degrees outside (and don’t forget hurricane season! Maybe we’ll have the joy of evacuating again), I’m losing hours at work. I teach English online to Chinese people, and I have zero classes this morning. I barely make any money teaching online as it is, so it’s quite noticeable when I lose classes. It’s not just me; other teachers I talk to in a FB group say the same thing. So I’m back to looking for other online jobs…me and about a million people. Ugh.

These next few months are going to be awful. Oh, and we’re still not back in our house following the fire last June. When will we return? Who the hell knows? When we do, at least we’ll have things to occupy our time.

I feel worse than before I began typing this. Fantastic. Goodbye.


Ear Plugs = Sanity

Before I got sober, my prime drinking time was from 5-7 as I made supper for my family. It’s not like I didn’t drink at other times (first thing in the morning, middle of the day, literally whenever) but that was when my stress was highest. I hate making food for people, family or otherwise. I also hate eating in front of people, but that’s a whole different thing. It didn’t help that my children were (and are) notoriously picky eaters and are world-class complainers. And they’re loud. Also, I was the only parent during that time, as my wife was still at work. So, I turned to either wine or vodka to tune out the noise and numb myself to everything else.

Fast forward five years into sobriety, and dinner time is still incredibly stressful. My kids argue with each other on top of complaining and are louder than ever, and my body and mind still react as if they’re under attack. I no longer drink to solve the problem, but I don’t do anything else to address the problem…until I bought ear plugs.

It turns out that if I wear the ear plugs, I don’t have the fight or flight reaction to the noise or complaining, even when my youngest son’s voice hits a vocal range that normally makes my brain feel like it’s going to explode. It’s like I’ve turned down the volume on my life by about fifty percent, and it’s wonderful. I can even jump in the middle of my kids arguing and keep my calm. My amygdala isn’t under attack.

For the time being, I’m going to keep my ear plugs in my pocket and put them in as I start dinner, because the noise is coming regardless. I still hate making dinner–that’s not going to change, probably ever–but now I have a solution.

Identity Crisis

J suppose it’s not suprising that I’m having one. Many people are. Hell, maybe the whole world is.

It’s not a crisis, perhaps, as much as a deep examination of how I spend my time, especially when it comes to work. As some of of you know, I teach English online to Chinese children and adults (more adults than kids lately). I’m really tired of it. The weariness may well come from the fact that I’m just plain sick of communicating with people. I talk to people on the computer, then I talk to my kids, help them with homework, referree their arguments, and then teach some more. I am so tired of talking.

Also, I’m also on the second month without antidepressants, and things are okay. Of course I’m anxious and sad, but I think that’s situational. When the negative thoughts come, I let them flow and then they leave. Sometimes they’re stubborn and hang around, but they’re just thoughts. As I learned in rehab, thoughts won’t kill me. Drinking can and will kill me, and I’m still sober. So there’s that.

My goal is to be done with online teaching by the time the children go back to school (please, god, let them return in August). In lieu of teaching, I’m going to try to sell music. I write it every day, anyway, and I’ve got a decent shot at selling beats. Making beats is relatively easy, and if it can make me money, then let’s go. I’ll still write “real” music, but perhaps not as much.

I also resurrected my old writing blog, writing4ghosts. Well, it was writingforghost, but I always wanted it to be writing4ghosts. It’s good to have it back, but for some reason, I’m leery of writing. I don’t feel like I have anything to say, which I expect isn’t true. I’ve made my recent writing site, nightshadegallery.com, into a placeholder for my music.

It’s a nice idea to think I could make enough money from music and writing that I could leave teaching behind for good. I’m willing to give it a shot…with the realization that, when the world returns to a state of quasi-normal, I may end up back in retail. Lord willing, I won’t have to teach people to say “apple” anymore.

As you were, sober people….

Wanting to Escape

I should be used to the idea of feeling my feelings by now, and living life on life’s terms. And I am, mostly, but I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming sadness I feel at the state of the world.

Isolating and practicing social distance isn’t a problem, and neither is sheltering-in-place. Having my children home for who knows how long is an issue, mainly because I have no clue how I’m going to continue their education. Their school is having a faculty meeting today, but given the dearth of work over the last two weeks, I’m not hopeful. My wife and I can figure something out, I’m sure, but the four of us knocking around the same space 24/7 is far from ideal.

But even that shouldn’t explain my sadness or why I feel anger seething just under the surface pretty much at all times. Part of it could be that I discontinued my anti-depressants after one too many rounds with my pathetic insurance provider. I discussed the matter with my doctor and explained to her that I’m not continuing to deal with uncertainly with my meds; I’d rather just say I’m done with them. Is that the wisest course of action? I suppose we’ll find out eventually. So far, it’s been four weeks without my medication, and I’m finally over the awful physical withdrawal symptoms (constant dizziness and the feeling like my brain is being shocked every few seconds). Now that I’m past all that, I’m more determined than ever to remain off all anti-depressants. Yes, my mood goes up and down and my thoughts race from time to time and I can land up in a dark place periodically, but it’s my brain. I’ve had it for 46 years and counting, and I’ve made peace with it. Thoughts are just thoughts. Therapy, more than anything, has helped me grasp that truth.

The option of “wanting to escape” hits me particularly hard because for most of my life, I’ve looked for ways to escape (literally or otherwise). Drinking, of course, was all about escape. As has been said many times before, drinking worked until it didn’t, and going back to it isn’t an option. During this weird time, it isn’t even a temptation, so that’s good. My issue is that my healthy means of escape–reading, writing, creating music–are beginning to fail. Perhaps fail is too drastic a word; they’re beginning to fray at the edges. Maybe I’m expecting too much of my mainstays. Before the outbreak, I wrote poetry here and there, and I wrote music in between teaching classes online. Because I’ve had more time recently, I’ve written more music, and it’s starting to make me feel sick. I’m not sure how to explain it; my insides feel beaten up by the end of the day, and when I try to continue making music, I’ve decided every note I’ve written is utter trash. That’s when I turn off the keyboard. I know the thoughts aren’t true, and my the next morning, my energy tank is somewhat restored and I can create again. But it’s difficult, as an introvert, to truly recharge because alone time is hard to come by. I woke up at 3:00 this morning and was grateful only my animals were awake.

But everything feels fundamentally off balance, and I hope I find my balance soon. The key for me to take it easy on myself, continue to extend grace to my wife and children, and go with the flow. I (and we) will make it through this. The world and my life will look different, but it’s looked different since the house fire. We’re living in our second temporary home since last June. Repairs continue, but I have minimal expectations for the whole thing. I think the home will be done by the end of June. Maybe. There’s nothing I can do to hurry it along

If you’re interested in keeping up with my music, I post it here. My writing (such as it is these days) is here.

Stay safe, everyone.

(In)constant Cravings

I was at the grocery store early this morning to get a few things and walked past the beer section. No big deal; I pass by the wine and beer sections of store routinely without any issues. Today was not one of those days.

For some reason, I slowed down and let my eyes wander over the staggering selection of beers. Beer was never my go-to drink, but I liked it well enough. Wine and vodka were my thing. Anyway, I kept looking at all the choices and eventually started looking for Yueling, my brand of choice.

I noticed a sound and realized I was making a small groaning noise in the back of my throat. Keeping walking, I told myself. Once I made it past the aisle, I also noticed I was salivating. Good heaens, really? Drooling?! Sadly, yes.

As I write this, I remember salivating at the thought of alcohol another time, and it freaked me out then, too. I can’t control physical responses like that, but it’s completely within my power to avoid taking that first drink.

As a reward, I got myself a Payday candy bar (my favorite) and made short work of it. Then I went home and exercised, which is a whole different story. After twenty years, I’m running again. Well, more like sadly jogging along and panting, but at least I’m moving. I’m actually up to three miles, which I didn’t see coming.

That’s all for now. Happy sober Sunday.

Heartbreak Sunrise

The last public teaching gig I held was at a middle school as a language arts teacher (even though I will always think of myself as a former English teacher, and to hell with this “language arts” nonsense). When I took the job, I had been sober for a little over a year, and I figured I could handle it. As it turns out, I did handle it, but Until I began taking Klonapin, I was mostly a wreck. I would nearly fall asleep at the wheel as I drove to the school. It wasn’t uncommon for me to vomit in the parking lot once I arrived.

The saddest part of the day for me was the sun coming up as I drove. The road ran parallel to an open space with no treeline. The space was occupied by gas stations and stores, but the sky was nonetheless enormous, and the sunrises were spectacular.

I want to keep driving, I would think, and leave all this behind. Just drive in the sunrise and say ‘fuck it’ to this awful job.

Of course, I didn’t do that, but by the time I walked into to school a little before seven o’clock, I wanted to cry. This happened almost every single day. I was grateful for the days it didn’t, but I still had an enormously hard time.

I don’t want to lament all the terrible aspects of being a middle school English teacher; I’m sure you can imagine. I clocked out every day at 3:00 PM, the earliest we could leave, while many other teachers stayed to make copies, grade papers, and prepare for the next day. I drove to a gas station and loaded up with sugar and caffeine so I would fall asleep driving home, and then I would sleep for an hour-and-a-half before driving to pick my kids up from school.

I made it through that school year with the support of my family, AA, medication, and no small amount of luck. I know the statistics regarding sobriety. I know there are arguments around these numbers and people are certainly not statistics, but I heard this in rehab and it stuck with me: Only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent. For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse. If you can make it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 percent (you can read more here).

The odds were about split as I entered my second year of sobriety, and my job didn’t help. I could have easily relapsed. I could have also broken my contract and gotten the hell out of that school, but I stayed. When it came time to renew my contract, my principal told me he would not recommend a renewal. I simply nodded. The year had been a disaster, but there had also been some weird school politics at play that prevented me from getting the support I deserved as a first-year middle school teacher. I’m not sure if I would have felt different had I gotten that support, and it doesn’t matter. Teaching in a classroom is no longer a good fit for me. It probably never was, but I’m damn good at faking it unti l I make it…but the thing is, I never made it, and the vast majority of my teacher career occurred against the backdrop of drinking.

I teach online from home now, and I’m looking into another job that would require me to read and comment on college essays. I can easily do that, and I don’t have to meet with students or grade a final draft or do anything else associated with instructing at a college or university. It’s just me and my computer, and that’s best for now.

When I drive my kids to school, the sun is already up, but it’s still low enough in the sky to be called a sunrise. I snapped a picture of one the other day. As I looked at it, I took a deep breath and sent good vibes to my former self who lived most days in fear, anger, and confusion. He did well, even though he didn’t think so at the time.

For this curious, I also wrote a song that goes with this post and image.

The Right to Disappear

Some time ago, I read a series of articles detailing the lengths people go to to erase their virtual presence. The cases were extreme and usually involved people who had been accused of and since cleared of a crime, but a cursory internet search for them revealed outdated, untrue, but nonetheless incriminating information.

I am not in that situation, but ever since reading about “the right to disappear,” I have been consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) removing myself from the internet. At first, I disabled or deleted all my social media accounts as well as my WordPress domain. I had a change of heart a few days later and created another blog and a new Facebook/Instagram account, but it didn’t feel the same. I usually had to force myself to use them and interact with people. It turns out my first instinct was correct, however. At this point in my life, I simply don’t want to interact online with people.

I also rarely write anything these days, and if I do, I don’t feel like sharing it. I just file it away somewhere and move on. The same goes for music, though I sometimes post a song on Soundcloud.

This time around, though, I’m not deleting accounts. I just don’t plan to use them. There aren’t many people who follow me, but for those few who do, I thought I would say something before leaving.

That’s all for now.

Apologetically Myself

I know some people who are comfortable in their own skin, as it were. To be clear, I am not one of those people, and I doubt I ever will be.

The people I’ve met that accepted themselves and live life on life’s terms (to borrow another cliche) are older than I am. Much older, in fact. I’m 46 instead of, say, 66, at which point I hope a little more at ease with being myself.

I’m thinking a lot about this because I’m reading Quiet by Susan Cain. If you’re not familiar with the book, its extended title sheds light on its subject: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I began reading it some time ago and my interest waned, and then my wife listened to it on Audible, so I gave it another shot. It turns out that listening to it is much better for me because I’m moving along quickly through the book and finding it interesting,

I’m very much an introvert who’s “just a few clicks away from being a hermit,” according to my therapist. That’s not entirely untrue. It’s also okay that I’m wired this way. So why do I have a hard time accepting it?

I don’t have the time to relate all the reasons for not accepting myself–and I doubt you have the patience to read them–but suffice it to say that I have a long history of thinking there are many things wrong with me. I’m better about it now, but I still have a long way to go. I appreciate Susan Cain pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with introversion and further adding that much of our society has been built around praising extroverts and encouraging them along. It’s been only relatively recently that the study of introversion (and extroversion, for that matter) has entered the public conversation.

At this point in my life, I don’t have any close friends. I don’t really have any friends, period. I have nothing against people; I just don’t feel like having friends. In fact, I haven’t wanted friends since I got married. It was like I moved into another part of my life and left another one behind. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I did. I tried to make friends with guys a few times over the years, and it never went well. I’m not complaining, mind you. The question is: why do I think I should want to have friends? If I don’t want to, I don’t want to. I’m not a social pariah or a sociopath (hurray!). I’m just…me. A guy with a wife and two children and from whom that’s socialization enough.

And yet, every day, I have to remind myself that my temperament isn’t wrong; it’s perfectly fine that all my interests are solo endeavors; it’s okay that I love spends days and days alone when I get a chance.

As some of you know, in late June we suffered a house fire. We weren’t home when it happened, and the damage was mostly contained to the two upstairs bedrooms. Still, the house is uninhabitable due to smoke and fire damage, and repairs haven’t even started yet due to a host of reasons that make me too frustrated to mention. Since then, I’ve had to develop a new routine, and it’s a routine that places me even farther from social interaction (not that I had a lot to begin with). But we’re staying in a house far from downtown. And since I work from home, there are many days that I don’t leave the house except to walk the dog, jog through the neighborhood at a pitiful pace, and to pick up my kids from school. That’s it…and I’m happy. I’m happy that my world in relatively small and often quiet. And I have a hard time not feeling guilty about enjoying the peace.

Ugh. I thought writing about this would bring some clarity, but now I just feel jumbled up and confused. Oh, well.

Happy sober Sunday, folks.

The Old Neighborhood

I thought I was posting this on my creative writing website, and I nearly cut it when I realized I was on the sobriety one. But then I thought, “Well, it’s called ‘Sober and Strange.'” So here it is.

The Old Neighborhood

I’m not much of a social creature,
he breathed through the muslin
of his brother’s leaking brain.

Inside the tree, I was an octave
or two short of a good tuning,
and I remember wishing for snow.

Inside the dark, crippled house,
an equally crippled woman sang
Sinatra to a dying cat and drank rum.

The stars, lost forever, gleamed
like God’s teeth, and the moon worried
itself into a shadow that still lingers.

Happiness, Joy, Contentment? Eh….

I’ve always had a hard time experiencing happiness and joy. Well, not always. I remember being pretty damn happy as a kid. Once I hit thirteen, things took a downward turn. It was the 80s, and kids didn’t really talk about depression too much. I could have benefited from medication and therapy, but that had to wait until my twenties. Better late than never. Of course, I spent plenty of time mixing meds with alcohol and even wondered sometimes why I was so often worse with medication than before. I didn’t let myself consider drinking as a negative contributing factor. I rationalized it all and told myself that downing a pint of vodka every two days (at first…it wasn’t long before it was one a day) was perfectly normal. Hell, it wasn’t just normal. It was saving me.

It wasn’t until I got into rehab that I understood that numbing oneself to the world with alcohol meant numbing everything. I didn’t get to choose the things to block out; in the end, I blocked out everything and everyone. The only relationship that mattered was the one I had with the bottle.

It’s been almost five years since I for summer, and some emotions haven’t come back. Or maybe they were gone long before I picked up a drink. I’ve always joked that I’m constitutionally incapable of experiencing joy. I also have a very difficult time allowing myself to do fun things or relax. I’m not a very “fun” person, and that’s fine. I didn’t get sober to be fun or to be someone I’m not. More on that later.

Until then, as you were, sober people.