Curt

CURT

 

My name is Curt. I’m an addict. I’m a son, a husband. I don’t think I was an accident but I don’t think I was expected. There was eight years between my brother’s birth and me and I always felt my mother very much wanted to have another child but I was never sure about my father because what was passed down about his attitude was that maybe he shouldn’t have any children There seemed to be that fear on my mother’s side of the family that I’d be deaf. That was how I arrived. The other thing I remember hearing, not about my birth but before I was born was that I was for God knows what reason I was supposed to be a girl. It seems from what I can tell was a hunch of our old family doctor. Obviously I wasn’t and I think there was another piece of that that I was supposed to be a petite little girl and I wasn’t that either as I weighed in at something in the neighborhood of 9 pounds, 14 ounces. It’s curious. I remember what my name was supposed to be had I been a girl it was a choice between Christine and Charlene. In terms of the birth itself, I arrived somewhere around 7:30 in the morning on a Friday. It seems to me I was told that I was a reluctant participant, that it was after some time and some difficulty that I was delivered, a high forceps delivery. Back in those days I guess mothers were mostly or often given general anaesthesia and it was apparently several hours after the delivery before I met my mother. She was asleep under anaesthesia for some time before I had my first contact with her. I guess that’s what I remember about my birth. Two of my four grandparents died before my birth. The ones who were living did live with my family for some time. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, lived in the house, or should I say we lived in her house. She lived with us and died when I was in about third grade. She was a remarkable woman. I don’t have a lot of memory of her. She was deaf, although we never really talked about it. I didn’t think about the fact that she was deaf as strange as that may seem until after the fact. It’s been in later years, well after her death, in talking about her, I’ve learned more about her pretty exceptional life of being educated by teachers who trained with Alexander Graham Bell and she met him at one point in her life. She was an extraordinarily patient and quiet woman. I have memories of her spending hours and hours working on the picture puzzles, the kind that have thousands and thousands of pieces. It seems like there was a room in our house, her living room separated from our living area, and I can remember going into my grandmother’s room and there was always a puzzle in progress on the table. I can also remember her doing things like untangling fish line, impossible as that might seem she was the kind of person who would spend days unraveling dollar package of f ish line. It seems that I was someone she liked in her life. I think she was younger and healthier when my older brother was a. child and that he spent a lot more time with her, but it seems like I have a memory that she used to tell my mother that I was her bundle of sunshine. I’m not sure why I don’t have more memory of her. I think as she got older she must have become more and more withdrawn. Maybe I wasn’t eight, maybe I was only five when she died. I’m not sure. The other grandparent that I knew was my father’s father. He lived with us part of the time; he didn’t always live with us. I found him to be a very frightening man. I wasn’t comfortable with his presence in the house. I found him kinda menacing and I’m not sure why, he certainly wasn’t the kind of grandparent where I’d want to go crawl into his lap. I sort of avoided him. I got a strong message that I was not welcome in his lap. He spent all the time I can recall sitting in a rocking chair rocking. I can remember he wore garters on his arms. The kind you put on to keep your sleeves from flapping around, or your cuffs coming down over your hands. I can’t say I ever really understood the point of those. I have some memory of those and suspenders. I think Grandpa always wore suspenders. He was Norwegian and he would sit and read his Norwegian newspapers. I have some memory that his favorite food was plum pudding, I have no idea why I remember that. He ate prunes everyday. Drank prune juice. A habit I had briefly in my life but happily gave up after not too much time. I can remember we used to rent a camp with my uncle’s family in the summers and Grandpa would come up and spend time. There was a large dormitory type room where all the boys in the family slept and he would wake up some nights screaming in the middle of the night and create quite a furor and I never had any idea why other than some sense that it was some way to get attention. There was never any explanation of why it went on. As I think about it, it was really very strange, but I’m sure that’s part of what added to my sense of fear or foreboding or kind of a menacing quality about him. My other grandparents died before I was born. My father’s mother died several years before I was born as a young woman and my mother’s father who I guess I heard a lot about died a couple of years before I was born. Both my parents were pretty quiet people. There wasn’t a lot of demonstrative anything, either affection or anger or excitement. My mother I suppose was a lot like her mother. She was very quiet but a very gentle and patient woman. She didn’t do puzzles, but as she got older she spent hours and hours doing handwork, like needlepoint, that kind of thing that took the same sort of commitment and patience as her mother. My father was also pretty quiet but I think of him more as absent although he always lived in the family. My parents were never separated. My father I guess always came home and slept in his bed at some point in the 24 hour cycle. I often felt like he wasn’t around. He and his brother ran a corner drug store and they had long and funny hours and it meant a lot of time away. He also played a lot of golf. When he wasn’t working he was often playing golf and it seems like I wouldn’t see him for days at a time. If my father was absent I felt like my mother was present and she was reliable. I’m not sure how nurturing she was but she was there f or me. She was there in the morning when I got up and she always cooked breakfast and saw that I got off to school and she was always there at the end of the day when I got home f rom school. She was the one who, if I had activities or things I was doing, things I was in she was usually the one who took me. I don’t recall my father seeing one little league game in my career as a little leaguer. My mother was faithful and always showed up. I don’t think she ever missed a game. And I think she always tried to fill in and compensate for the fact that I had an absent father. And one of the things that has always puzzled me about my life and stories about my mother, is her talking about what a happy marriage she had to my father and what a wonderful man he was. I never felt that, I can’t say I was ever able to feel any respect for him let alone love. I can remember, and it seems like a kinda cold or callous memory, when he had a series of heart attacks. The first serious one was the year after I graduated from high school. I graduated from high school in June and I think it was a few days or a few weeks later. He had. a heart attack which nearly ended his life. It didn’t. He ended up in a special care unit for a number of weeks and I can remember there was a backyard behind my house and a row of shrubs, hedge that marked the end of our property and I went back there as a kind of quiet place to be and in fact I think for years, my last contact with a god in my life was going back there and really praying for the end of my father’s life; I felt he had been around long enough. That didn’t happen. It kinda strikes me as a very strange thing about my relationship with my father that I’d want my life to go on without him in that way. One of the things my father and I both did, although I wouldn’t say together, it seems more in parallel than together. I spent years of my childhood working on a .model train and he had the same interest except we seemed to work on it at different times or if we were in the room together we were very much engaged in our separate things. Little communication or conversation with one another. We just kinda did our own thing. Whether he was involved or not, the model train was a very important piece of my childhood. I spent a lot of hours, putting a lot of energy and I did have positive feelings about the work I put in. After I started college and moved away from home my parents decided to sell the house they’d lived in, the one I’d grown up in and the woman who was buying the house expressed some interest in keeping the model train layout which had never been taken down. It occupied a rather large room in the basement. With apparently little thought of what it meant to me or more hurtfully, without really discussing the issue with me, my farther told the woman he would leave it for her and her children. It was both the work and a lot of equipment, special things we had made and bought. At the time I felt like I would have taken it down and stored it and maybe used later. Maybe used it with one of my children. I can remember fighting with him about it and him saying, “Sorry it’s too late. I made this commitment.” The final bitter pill, and I’m not sure how I learned it, was shortly after the house was sold, the new owner took possession and she tore down whole train rig and sold it which really made me angry. I don’t think I ever forgave my father for doing that. I feel like my mother, for all of her good qualities, became a very compliant person. She spent most of her adult life, all of her married life, trying to make my father happy and take responsibility for things that weren’t hers. Her covering for his being absent in my childhood. Ironically, I think the major thing she did in her life that did not meet with approval was marrying my father in the first place. My grandfather, the one who died a couple of years before I was born, was a manufacturer, apparently successful, and I think he had thoughts that my mother should marry someone who was more successful than my grandfather thought my father was or could be. That my mother should marry another successful type business person. My mother chose to marry my father. There are some stories that I heard that all sound charming, they sound like they could be in a movie. I remember the story of my mother coming up to the drugstore where my father was working, (he had already started the business with his brother and him coming out to talk to her, the whole conversation with her sitting in the car and him standing in the pouring rain, talking to her. It’s not a big deal but it always sounded kinda sweet to me, kinda special. I don’t know. I never felt in my life that my father would stand in the pouring rain for me. I feel like he did very little for me. I don’t know where that capacity in him went. I feel like after a piece of rebellion.,of acting out on my mother’s part, she settled back down from being the best daughter to being the best wife and just faithfully executed that role. I suppose in some sense another part of her role was to become the best mother and she really did some of that to a tee. As I said she was always very reliable, always there and meals got served and clothes got washed. Somewhere in there, there was a gift from her I feel like I didn’t get and that was really knowing her, being able to be free and spontaneous. I have a sense she had that somewhere but kinda lost it. And I feel that for myself. That’s something that if I ever did have it that I’ve lost. I hope there’s maybe a chance for me to find that. One day my children’s story will take a different turn. I think what I’ve gotten from my mother is on one hand, a lot of compliance. I have been very good at complying. I spent a good part of my life to date trying to figure out who people want me to be and trying to be that. I think I also picked up some of her quietness and patience. I don’t think that I consider myself to be as generous or as charitable as she was. That times I feel just too bitter and hostile to be generous and charitable. I feel like from my father, I picked up a lot of his passivity and inability to take action and make decisions and take charge of his life. I feel like he just sort of did what he was told. There’s a story that always struck me as very sad about him. His older brother was a pharmacist, graduated from pharmacy school. He’d started a store and my father for whatever reason decided that was what he wanted to be. He couldn’t afford to go to school and his brother was willing to loan the money to him and thinking of the cost of education today it’s just kind an amazing sum, I think the total sum was $600, which my uncle loaned to my father so he could go to school. He went and finished pharmacy school. To pay off the loan he went and joined my uncle in the business. And it was like he never paid off the loan. He spent a lifetime trying to repay a loan that was somehow far greater than $600. I never understood what that was about. I felt like he was given other chances, that the family business was really geared more to support one family and it supported two families and I always heard there were chances for ray father to do things differently, that my mother’s father was always willing to sort of help him financially if he wanted to start his own store and he never did. I guess that was the right thing for him. But I’m not sure he was a very happy man or had a great sense of himself or accomplishment. I worry at times going through my life and arriving at my death feeling that I never took charge and never took responsibility for my life. I only had one brother who was eight years older and I always felt that was one brother too many. I suspect that’s the way he felt about me. I can remember hearing somewhere once that if children are raised in a family with seven or more years difference between them, with no children in between them that they are much more like two separate only children and that’s how I felt largely about my childhood that I was an only child. My brother always seemed to be there enough to torment me. I don’t have positive memories of him. I don’t remember him being a loving or guiding big brother who wanted to show me what he’d learned about life. It was always he was going to show me about life but it was his agenda. It certainly wasn’t anything about figuring out my agenda in my life.. I have some very painful memories of being humiliated by my brother. I have memories as a young child of being chased around the house by my brother with a camera. My brother was always the family photographer. I guess he still is in a sense. It was something that I’m sure he thought was funny or playful. It certainly wasn’t that way. As a 43 year old adult I still remember the pain of him wanting to catch me and take a picture of me around the house, I probably wasn’t much beyond being a toddler, with no clothes on. I felt like his point was to somehow shame and humiliate me with that gesture. I can remember years later when I got to be baseball age he decided that he would take me out and play some baseball, hit some fly balls and I could shag fly balls which on the surface sounds like a nice thing for an older brother to do. But at the same time he took along his girlfriend’s younger brother who was still much older than I was and a much better ball player and in part had to do with the age difference and in part Billy was simply a better ball player. But the result was just to be disastrous for me. At that time in my life I was. pretty fat and felt pretty poorly about myself and totally inadequate about myself and that experience furthered those beliefs. The other kid, Billy, ranged around outfield catching fly balls and to me it felt like he was a major leaguer, he made the damn thing look so easy and effortless and I was fat and awkward and stumbled around and it was totally humiliating,. It was sort of why can’t you do it as good as Billy. That was what I always heard growing up whether it was from my brother or father why can’t you do it was good as whoever or whatever. Basically I don’t have very positive memories about my brother. I would have withed him out of my life too if that was possible. As an adult I’ve done that. We live a great distance apart and I make little effort to stay in touch with him. I always knew my physical surroundings well. I never did so well with relationships so my compensation was to be comfortable with where I lived. I grew up in a big, old house which as I mentioned had been in my mother’s family before my family sort of took over and my grandparents stayed on and then it became our house. I felt like I knew every square inch of that house. I roamed around there. It was my territory. My kingdom. I remember when my parents sold the house the family moved out, when I think I was 18 or 19, having the thought at the time that no person who lived there would know, understand, appreciate that house as I had. I have no idea now why that was an important thought but it seemed to be at the time. I guess it was, because I remember it years later. My time in the house, a lot of it seems very solitary. I learned to entertain myself doing things by myself. I spent a lot of my time in the basement. I’m not sure why that was, I guess just because there weren’t people there and that was just my territory to explore, roam around. I can remember what seems like a period of years in my life, there was a stairway down to the basement and my mother when I was bored and looking for something to do would have me paint the stairs using a brush and can of water. (Lost in turning the tape over) After I got to the bottom of the stairs the top stairs would have already dried and evaporated and I’d have to go back and start over. That was a good way to pass hours at a time. There are times when I think that has become a metaphor for my past life of just putting in time, doing the steps without being very creative or taking charge. This experience in the house seems important to me. It was a period for me that I have vivid memories. Maybe there was a sense of adventure, even if the adventure was accompanied by the fear. There was a room where the furnace was that we called the furnace room and behind it there was an old coal bin. The furnace had been converted from earlier times from coal into a gas furnace so the coal bin was no longer used but it was a dark place with no light bulb and the furnace was recessed into the ground and you had to go down a few steps and as a small kid that seemed like a really foreboding place and a big adventure and I think it took me an entire summer to get the courage to make the trip all the way into the coal bin and each day I’d try to go a little bit further and explore a little bit more. It was a great sense of triumph when I mastered the coal bin. I got there and cleaned out what coal was there and I hung some things on the wall and I made myself a little room back there figuring I’d be safe and secure. That was my private domain. That’s the way a lot of my life has been, feeling the need to have security in myself and not knowing how to let other people into my world.. There were a lot of bedrooms in the house. I always had my own room. My brother went off to college by the time I was in the third grade so I always had rooms to choose from. When I got tired of one bedroom I’d move into another bedroom and live in that one for a while until I got tired of that one and move yet another time. I guess my childhood wasn’t that happy. Most of my memories involve some kind of pain, or humiliation. My career at school started by being enrolled in the Bluebird Nursery school. On my first day of school coming home from school the woman who was the driver refused to believe that what in fact was my house was my house. She refused to drop me off there. I remember her driving me around the neighborhood with me feeling totally trapped and helpless like I was never going to get home again because this woman just wouldn’t believe me. I think it finally took my mother who was probably frantic because I wasn’t home yet coming out to see what was going on and flagging this idiot down by standing in the driveway and waving her arms to get the car to stop. That was my first and last day at the Bluebird Nursery School. I never returned again. I can remember some other dreadful times I think I was in kindergarten or first grade and it was March and mud season and going out in front of school. I’m not sure why but heading into the mud with my galoshes on and getting stuck in the mud and not being able to get out. Getting up to my knees. It was awful, it was very humiliating. My mother had to be called to school because I was mud from head to foot and I felt like a real asshole. We were a looking good family so everything appeared intact I guess to the outside world and I suppose in a sense to me and I look back on it and ask myself what was wrong? You had two parents who were there and not divorced or separated and a father who went to work and who wasn’t a falling down drunk and didn’t abuse you physically and I think what’s wrong? Why all the unhappiness in your life? I just don”t have happy memories. There is this horrible list of things, experiences that seem to have some sense of joy where the joy was snatched away from me in some tragic turn of events. I can remember as a small child, getting up in the morning Christmas time, before the rest of my family was out of bed, and going downstairs. Our Christmas tree was always a big tree and the tree was too big for the room and held up by some system of wires and was always just about to fall over. It had a Mickey Mouse Christmas tree stand made for a two foot tree and when we had a nine foot tree I’ll never understand why we didn’t buy a bigger Christmas tree stand, probably it just didn’t occur to anyone to do it. Well I was downstairs and you always had to crawl around behind the tree it kinda sat in a bay at the end of the living room and the electrical outlet was behind the tree. Again it never occurred to me why no one didn’t just put an extension cord, so you didn’t have to crawl around behind the tree to plug it in but we never did., Year after year I remember people crawling in behind the tree to plug it in so that’s what I was doing. I had just gotten in there and all the lights came on and I was thinking Wow! Isn’t this great! A Christmas tree just for me! That lasted about a split second before the tree fell over. I had upset the balance of the stand and everything came crashing down, all the old fashioned glass ornaments. The tree didn’t take the fall well, didn’t have a sense of humor about it. A lot of it was destroyed. And my parents didn’t have any sense of humor about it either. It was after discovering that I wasn’t dead and they could get angry about it, they did. Particularly my father. I guess he never really understood my motivation and it was that sense of joy and wonderment just turned to disaster. I can remember some years later in an Election for safety patrol or whatever you were back in those days in fifth grade. You were responsible citizens then and you got to go out and help the younger kids cross the street without getting run down by a car. Someone had to become captain of the safety patrol and there was an election of your peers to pick a captain and again being fat and inadequate, being made captain of something would have been a hedge against inadequacy. I was enacted captain of the safety patrol until one of the kids admitted he had voted twice in the election and the election was made null and void. There was a re election and I lost. I was not captain of the safety patrol. I suppose the most painful memory of my scouting career was that I’d gone off for my one season to Boy Scout camp. My grandfather had been a big mucky muck in the Boy Scouts of America and had become a gold beaver, platinum beaver or whatever the hell kind of beaver was the highest civilian award for boy scouting in America. it was a big deal. He’d given a big piece of land which became the Boy Scout camp where I’d go off to for my week long experience. I was not a camper. Camping required skills to be away from home and be with other boys and I didn’t do any of that stuff well and it was a miserable week. From suffering from the mosquitos to food that wasn’t home cooked and feeling really awkward, being with other people and not feeling good enough, feeling out of place. It was horrible. I don’t know that I had the opportunity to go home. If I had I suspect I would have gone home. But I spent the entire week at camp. But it got to the point where I survived something and I was pretty glad it was over. There was a farewell ceremony of some kind the night before the camp broke up. There was an award for select number of outstanding campers. I certainly had not been an outstanding camper, I didn’t think I had been anyway. The names were called off and everyone who wasn’t given an award was to go back to their tents and then there was a special ceremony for those who had. To my surprise and amazement my name was called off as being a recipient of the Flaming Arrow. I don’t remember all the ceremony but we were told what a wonderful, select group of people we were to have been shining examples to our fellow campers. The culmination of it was a torch lit procession back to our tents. The thing that was to make this thing really special, to make us no longer be kids but be men was it all had to be done in silence, we couldn’t talk to anybody until the next morning. Again, I don’t know why that was important. Somehow that ritual made it a big deal, with torches going through the woods. I was thinking, geez my luck has really improved. I guess I surprised myself. I didn’t think I’d been that good a camper. I thought my true talents had been recognized. The next morning my scout master whose name was Mr. Darling and if there ever was a misnomer to anybody Mr. Darling was misnomered. Mr. Darling came to me and said, “Well, you know there’s been a mistake here. We really didn’t mean to read your name. You were not to receive the Flaming Arrow” He went on that it was unfortunate and blah blah blah and I’m thinking what is going on here and he says, “So, I want you to make the decision of what to do. Either you can keep the award knowing that it was a mistake or return it. I kept it. I’m not sure why. I guess I felt defiant. I think I felt so confused and hurt. There was just something about me that said I’m not giving it back although any meaning or value it had was obviously lost. So I don’t know if that’s really the story of my life but that’s the way it felt to me growing up there was always a victory that was snatched away from me in the final moments before triumph. Looking back on my life, a lot of it has to do with survival. At times I’m not sure how I learned to survive but I think I did that well. I think my passage f rom my childhood into adolescence was that kind of thing. I can remember one of my friends or childhood chums who was a year older and was wiser telling me as I was to move from sixth grade into junior high school, that’s about the time I’d be moving from pre adolescence into adolescence, “Well, you know you’ve done pretty good so far in life and in school but it’s going to get tough now that you’re in the big time, the junior high school.” And it wasn’t. I always did very well academically but it was always with a great sense of not fitting in. I guess the point is that I did good in terms of grades in junior high school and continued my all A career but I certainly didn’t feel like an all A person, I felt like a D and E person about that time in my life. Being obese was the big thing in my life and that didn’t change. That traveled with me into adolescence. I had gone through the playground times, grade one through 6, everything with the “fatty fatty two by four” mocking by kids on the playground. I continued to find ways to avoid gym classes and doing things that I felt really underscored my ineptness. I think that the most important thing that happened to me in my life between the ages of six and sixteen, a moment of history in my life in my ninth grade biology class. I can remember we were doing a section on nutrition, something about personal habits and kids were talking about what they ate and I guess the subject of the day was to describe what we had for breakfast. I suppose that kids describing that they had juice and a piece of toast and whatever else and my favorite thing for breakfast and my mother always indulged me was a can of Franco American spaghetti. I didn’t know what other kids ate for breakfast. I guess that seemed normal enough to me. That brought a response of great derision from the class. It was at that point of humiliation that I decided I was going to change my life that I was no longer going to be a f at kid and I was no longer going to be embarrassed and hurt and I set out on the first of what’s turned out to be many diets in my life. It was pretty much self imposed and I can remember my mother cooperated. She would slice the carrot and celery sticks and I stuck to it faithfully and I was hellbent to lose a lot of weight. I can remember coming home from school starving after eating my celery and carrots and sandwich on diet bread. It was awful stuff. I’d come home and find a plate of freshly baked cookies sitting there. My mother forgot that I was trying to lose weight. But I did. I guess things started to get better after a fashion. I lost a lot of weight. I felt I looked better. Although I continued to lose elections, I did feel in someway that I gained acceptance by a group of kids in school and I became really good as a debater and in theater productions and that was my existence in high school. That went pretty well. I felt like I had arrived and my life was taking shape. I thought a lot about what I would do after I graduated from high school. My brother had gone to Princeton. I thought I should also go to an Eastern Ivy League school and had college catalogues from all the important schools I could think of with applications ready to be filled out and felt that was the direction my life would be taking. I had finally achieved what was very important to me. I had become master of ceremony at a big school wide talent show. That was also something my brother had done. In fact a lot of what I did was trying to match his achievements. But that was important. We were scheduled to do our performances around Thanksgiving time but the schedule was interrupted by John Kennedy’s assassination. The performances were rescheduled. One was on a Tuesday night so the audience wasn’t as large. I was in that and that felt like a big accomplishment. My father who was absent in my life continued to be absent and never saw that performance. Thanksgiving came between the two shows and the second performance was to be sometime after Thanksgiving. I never made it to that one because I was in an automobile accident Thanksgiving evening of my senior year in high school. I don’t think I ever recovered from that. Physically I guess I did fairly well. But I think somehow my spirit was really broken in that automobile accident. I just forgot about all my plans and dreams of being a success and going away to am important Ivy League school. I just settled for the local state university which I guess had a fine reputation but somewhere I knew that was a real second or third best choice. I really didn’t care. It was just a matter at that point of doing what I needed to do to get through life; taking the easy way through. Calling that automobile accident unfortunate doesn’t quite seem to capture it. It was a total disaster in my life. I felt like everything I had worked for had been washed down the drain and forever gone. It seemed like Don, my friend and I were just doing such a natural easy thing, getting away from our families after a tough family day and wanting to go out and get away and talk about adolescent things go out and get a pizza. Headed off without really a major care in the world and being in the accident, the next thing I know I’m in a dreary Catholic hospital, not comprehending what’s going on but knowing that my life is somehow different but not understanding the full implications. Strange flashes from the initial scene. Someone who knew me had been at the crash or nearby, and called my family and somehow told them or the story got confused or exaggerated and by the time my parents arrived at the hospital their understanding was that I had been killed in the accident. I didn’t know it at the time but somewhere in here I do feel like I did die. That my spirit either died or was mortally wounded to go on and die in my career as an addict. My strongest memory of that Mercy Hospital, ironic name, was the hospital green everywhere, that horrible, engulfing green. The walls, the floors, the uniforms of the people who worked there. I can remember being on the hospital gurney waiting for the doctor to come in, waiting for my fractured, dislocated hip to be set. No idea of what to do next. One minute I was a healthy seventeen year old with a future ahead of me without a care in the world and the next minute I was crushed and broken and frightened in a hospital bed in traction on my back not able to move and it felt like everyone vanished. There were concerned parents around but they seemed more involved in their own process than in mine. My experience was that everybody assumed that I was in pain because of the injury. I’m not really sure if I was in pain from my hip but I started getting high on morphine. The morphine took away a different kind of pain. It bought me a few minutes of peace from the loneliness and isolation from being in that hospital. I couldn’t sleep except when I had morphine. I’d dose off for about half an hour and then I would wait for my next injection. My whole life in a very short period of time got reduced to about a four hour cycle of begging and pleading for the morphine and could I have it sooner, bargaining with the nurses and getting a shot and enjoying the glow and feeling my cares dissolve into the drug and being able to fall asleep. Waking up again knowing that the cycle was starting over again and that there would be no more rest until I could make another deal again. And within a short period of time I was addicted to morphine. And then it became fighting with the nurses. The whole time I wondered if there would ever be anything to ease that pain. I left the hospital, not on morphine. The morphine was taken away from me but the memory, the feeling, the experience was firmly implanted in my mind. I didn’t really think about that role in my career as an addict until years later when I was in a detox setting after 25 years of alcohol and drug abuse that was the start of my career with chemicals. Life goes on. So it seems it does. I was discharged from the hospital, spent some time recovering. Eventually got back to school. I spent the next six months on crutches. I sort of feel like I lost my place in that senior year in high school. The grades came easy, they always did. I made up the class work and still graduated second in my class of 2,000 and some but I never rebuilt relationships. I never rebuilt the momentum. I never rebuilt a sense of joy or satisfaction. All my energy I had invested in my career as a champion debater felt like it went down the toilet. A close call kinda coming in as a pinch hitter lost the championship debate that year for the state. I sort of lost my place in all the theater comings and goings although I made a final stab at the end of the year in the school’s production of Oklahoma. Prophetically my part was that of Judd Frye. I can kind of remember that furthering my preoccupation with morbid things and death. I can still hear the words, “Poor Judd is dead. The candle lights his head. Looking oh so peaceful and serene.” I think that really launches into the theme of the next 25 years of my life, looking for some serenity and for me that was essentially a quest to avoid pain and the only way I knew how to do that was by taking drugs, by putting drugs into my body. I graduated from high school. I went off to the nearby university. As I said, I had lost all interest in doing anything else at that point. Another thing that happened along the way. I got back to school. I graduated. My father had a heart attack. His problems tied up the rest of the summer. There had been a tradition in my family, when my older brother went off to college a big deal would be made out of it; that my mother would drive him down to Princeton, every year in the fall and I got to tag along on those trips. I remember there was a lot of time and special attention and eating out in restaurants and buying things for his room and I thought, “Boy this is going to be great when I get to college.” In the spring at the end of the school year my father drove out to New Jersey and my father and brother spent a few days getting packed up for the end for the year and they went to New York city and went to a couple of plays, did the town up. Except my turn never really came. I didn’t really go away to school although I was encouraged not to, my father particularly felt it was a much more economical thing to go to a state university and because of his ill health, my mother didn’t feel able to leave him to make the 45 minute drive to move me into college, or at least some semblance of the tradition that was started with my brother. So I was packed up and my mother hitched a ride for me with one of her friends who I barely knew who happened to be going in that direction on the day I was due to be going to college. And that’s how my college career began. I’m beginning to believe more and more that like attracts like. My negative energy seemed to attract more negative energy. My themes of darkness seemed to attract darkness in other people. I ended up majoring in college in German language and literature which was a great place to do a lot of studying about more death. I wasn’t a daily drinker at the time but every time I drank I got drunk. I was having blackouts. I started drinking a lot with my brother. Life seemed pretty grey most of the time. one of my perpetual roommates, when he wasn’t in a period of dropped out of school, was Steve and I spent an entire summer staying at school and staying in our apartment and I don’t think we went out of the house we’d rented for days. At the time our food was brought in by the Domino’s pizza man and we’d sit there and gorge ourselves on large pizzas and play frisbee in the dark with the left over cardboard the pizza came on. We went to medical school because as odd as it sounds, I couldn’t figure out anything else to do. It always felt to me, although I’ve never been sure why, that was just my destiny. I can’t recall a time in my life that I didn’t just assume that I’d become a doctor. It seemed to me that people around me in my family made the same assumption One of those things that had always been forever and no one could figure out where it started or when it started it just was. On schedule, my applications to the same university schools went off and it never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t be accepted and of course I was and I was enrolled in medical school. One of my bright spots during my time in college actually a very marvelous period against an otherwise grey sky was piano technology and learning about piano construction and tuning and repairs and getting very excited by this very interesting German who had studied with the German branch of the Steinway family and was both piano designer and builder and concert pianist. He became quite taken with me as I was the only person in his course who really seemed to be interested and wasn’t a music major taking his course as a gut elective. I excelled in that and Dr. Pickett became very serious about me making piano design and going off to study in Germany for ten years. Although the idea seemed very appealing and exciting, on the one level, it just caused too much conflict of my compliant lifestyle of pleasing others and doing what had been laid out before me. So I rejected that idea and never saw Dr. Pickett again. I enrolled my freshmen year in medical school in 1968. I was pretty lonely most of that time. I had my roommates and there were a few short term girlfriends who dropped in and out of my life. My one serious girlfriend, Debbie, who I had dated for two years in high school and then the first two years in college had dropped out of my life at that point. I’m sure looking back at it that my possessiveness and my premature desire to settle down and have my life all solved didn’t appeal to her so she bailed out. I can remember driving around by myself in my car. I had a 1965 VW Bug, my first car. I spent a lot of hours just driving around by myself and I can remember the empty seat, the empty passenger seat next to me and I would fantasize while I was driving who would be the person who would sit in that seat and make my life complete. Karen happened into my life. In fact Karen recalls meeting me before I recalled meeting her. Apparently we had shared space in a summer school in high school but to be honest I can’t remember her. When I did remember her was when I met her in college and she was in a sorority and never having dated a sorority girl that was pretty big time to me. It was just another way to try to fill in a missing piece in my self esteem. We started dating and for a long time I was in a real rush to get married and I kept wanting to move the wedding date up. Just for practical reasons it was put off from wintertime to the next summer. Somehow over the intervening months I began to have some grave reservations about getting married. I think somewhere my sense caught up with me and unfortunately I couldn’t back out and again, being a compliant person I didn’t feel that I had the choice to end the plans and what could I possibly do since everybody had already been invited to the wedding so the only natural thing to do was to go ahead and get married, which I did. Karen and I spent nine years together between our wedding day and our divorce it seems to me it was a much shorter period of time. I’m sure the time was compressed in my mind because not too long into the marriage I became a daily drinker. I spent most of my marriage intoxicated. I think in some ways early on in the marriage I loved Karen and I tried to at least as much as love was a possible thing for me. As sick as I had already become with alcohol and drugs. But at least there was some fondness there in the early years that turned to bitterness as my disease progressed. I don’t really remember picturing myself to be a father. Generally I was pretty committed to not being a parent. There was a brief period of time when Karen was more interested in becoming a mother but as good fortune would have it, we didn’t get pregnant. In fact never did. That marriage ended nine years later, mercifully without children. By the time I finished medical school I guess my grades were drifting down somewhat and I finished down toward the middle of my class but I suppose looking back that’s quite an accomplishment seeing that I literally didn’t study through medical school. I graduated with plans to become a family practitioner. I really had no idea what I wanted to be. As I’ve said before, somewhere underneath it all was a real idea I didn’t want to be a doctor at all but I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that so I went ahead and did what seemed the most straight forward thing to do. Somewhere in my senior year in medical school I became taken with one of the people who was teaching psychiatry elective. Being in need of an identity, that would be a good one to follow so I decided to change my career vehicle, after a short detour in pediatrics which I did as my internship, to become a psychiatrist. From this point on in my life I didn’t know how to have any joy or fun in my life without drinking alcohol or using drugs or for that matter, didn’t know how to find anything, joy or otherwise, without alcohol or drugs. I figure looking back on things from 1972 until I went into treatment in 1988, that for 16 years I didn’t have one day in all that time I didn’t use some kind of mood altering chemical. That didn’t include my smoking cigarettes. That seems like a record that would stagger even Lou Gehrig in the baseball records for consecutive daily performances. Once I finished medical school, access to other drugs besides alcohol became easier. I discovered during my internship/which really marked the beginning of my period of daily use, that pills became a way to deal with the horrible hangovers in the morning, a lot of tranquilizers to try to solve the hangover problems I also took a lot of other associated medications to deal with the nausea, the headaches, to try to keep my body going without having to keep the smell of alcohol on my breath. Nonetheless, alcohol remained my clear drug of choice until circumstances dictated otherwise. As I had said earlier I had managed to drink my way through nine years of a first marriage and I suspect that alcohol played a major role in that marriage seeing as it seems to me that I was much more in love with alcohol than I was with Karen, my first wife. I met Joanne while I was still married to Karen and again it’s no surprise that romance/courtship was again carried on totally under the influence of alcohol. Joanne was really the circumstance that dictated that change from alcohol, my first drug of choice. She had decided she wouldn’t stay with an alcoholic and gave me an ultimatum that either I quit drinking or she would leave. Having already failed at one marriage I was not so inclined to so easily fail at a second so I agreed to stop the drinking and thereby not be an alcoholic. Of course I convinced myself I wasn’t an alcoholic because I did stop drinking and I never really saw the switch into prescription drug abuse which had already started years before. That took off full force whereas earlier I drank for some period of the day, prescription drugs gave me the opportunity to maintain a continuous, 24 hour a day blood level so that my intoxication became complete for the next eight years. Being an addict really came second nature. I don’t feel like I had to work very hard at it. The talent was just there. There were some anxious moments figuring out how to have enough drugs but I must say I never came close to running out. The sad thing is that it was like living in a chemical fog. I was addicted mostly to narcotics and depressant drugs that made for perpetual cloudy weather. Joy was even more difficult to come by then whereas I could create illusions of joy in alcoholic social scenes. My addiction to alcohol became a very isolated and solitary existence. As I look back on it now, I never had any idea that I could quit. No idea that I could ask for help. No idea that there were any alternatives, any choices in my life. As ridiculous as it now seems, my assumption was that I really must continue this until I die. And I now think that’s what I thought was my destiny from the accident that I’d had 25 years before. I had no identity, no self esteem, being a doctor had not done it for me. I had hoped when I went to medical school that at least that diploma would somehow make me acceptable, would somehow tell the world that I was a valid and worthwhile person. That didn’t do it for me. With the letters after my name I didn’t feel any better about myself. At some point I want to say period, paragraph because there were other tracts to my life going on in addition to being a thriving addict. I still think somewhat miraculously I managed to be at least somewhat successful by some standards as a psychiatrist. In fact that probably underestimates my accomplishments. The other major tract was to become a father which I did four times within five years. As I said earlier about my first marriage to Karen I had decided and always conceptualized myself as being a childless adult. Never really occurred to me that one of the major reasons I didn’t want kids wasn’t so much who I was but who I was married to. Whether or not that’s really right or wrong, I began to feel during my second marriage that having children was another way to complete a piece of my identity, by becoming a father. I never felt that being a father has come that easily or second nature to me. I’ve been trying to give myself a break and ask myself why should it when I was raised essentially by a mother and an absent father. My life took a major turn in the summer of 1988 that I’m not sure I could have ever predicted. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen with my life. I was continuing to raise my family as best I could. I was continuing to go to work every day. I practice my profession. Also continuing to use every day as I have described. Occasionally I thought about what the consequences of that would be. It was possible at times to develop some terror of what would happen if I was exposed. Most often I just figured sooner or later, mostly sooner, I would die and that would solve the problem. I had taken a vacation and as usual we didn’t go anywhere on our vacation. It was too difficult to organize to go anywhere, also pretty difficult to manage my addiction going anywhere. At that point I was probably successfully juggling 10 or 12 medications that I took every day in addition getting stoned just to add some variety to my otherwise pretty dull life. I did find some sense of accomplishment in spreading some wood chips around some lilacs that I had planted a few years earlier. In fact I still have some pride that those lilacs were transplanted by me. Actually they are still growing and are quite beautiful each spring. I finished my vacation and returned to work only to be confronted by one of my colleagues with about a two inch stack of computer printouts of prescriptions I had been writing over the years to myself. Fortunately they were never written to anybody else and major legal issues were avoided by my agreeing that yes indeed I had a problem. Shortly thereafter I left on another vacation for 33 days. During that time I detoxed from all those chemicals in my system and started a period of being clean and sober from drugs and alcohol which persists to the present. I’m now in a period of my life which can fairly be called recovery. I’m not quite sure what that means yet but at least I pretty much want to stick around to find out. Gone are the totally hopeless feelings, that I can’t get better, that I don’t want to get better, and that the only resolution is in death, the sooner the better. This doesn’t seem to be a very particularly creative phase of my life. I feel like a lot of my energy has been spent doing what other people have told me I need to do to stay clean and sober. I don’t have any regrets about that; I’m grateful. That’s worked out. I’m hopeful that as my life progresses that it might take a journey into what feels like more creativity and self exploration and expression. One of the things that has improved my recovery is my relationship with my four children has improved immeasurably. There are probably a lot of signs of improvement in my marriage. It’s quite a miracle that my marriage is still a marriage. Sixteen years ago I bought an antique house with my first wife. I clung to the ideal that I would restore that to perfection over the years. Somewhere along the line that notion became perverted by my disease and became a force that stifled growth in any other direction and one of the other miracles of my recovery has to be able to let go of that and making plans to sell that and looking toward building a new place to live that hopefully will better meet my needs. The most difficult issue for me in my life now is the recognition that my life is without passion. I suspect that was lost years ago if I ever had it. I suspect that corresponds with the death of the spiritual connection as my addictive disease progressed. I’ve always wanted to be something I’m not and that hasn’t had time to change yet in recovery. Unfortunately I still have no idea what that something is. Maybe someday I’ll find that or at least be more content with the fact that I haven’t. I always wanted to be a spellbinding story teller but I guess I’ll just have to accept the fact that I’m not and be grateful that I’m here to tell any story at all. The fact that I’m here, the fact that I’m alive strikes me as a miracle. I just recently celebrated my second year in sobriety and in a few days I’m off on another leg of my journey. I’m going to learn more about my relationships with other people. I feel like a couple of years ago learning about relationships was not an option for me because I couldn’t really maintain a relationship and that’s another gift of my recovery. Earlier tonight I was in an AA meeting and I had the pleasure of taking my older son who happened to be with me after a baseball game was canceled. It was really nice to have him at a meeting with me, to see where dad goes so many nights. To see what the chip club really looks like and how it’s done and to hear people have the courage to share their stories and I wondered if someday he ever ended up in the program if he needed it if he’d remember his first meeting when he was ten years old. And I wondered tonight if he would hear anything important or anything that would stick with him. I thought maybe it’s more a matter of what he would see than what he would hear. See a roomful of addicts and alcoholics who were functioning, vital and for the most part happy people. I never would have believed that such a roomful of people could have existed or that I would ever be part of it. I feel like at this point in my story after 43 years of life experience that I should have some lofty recommendations to offer something along the lines of being true to yourself, or pursue your ideals, do what’s really important for you. But I think what’s really important to me and it’s probably more advice to myself is being able to accept where I am and try to recognize that that’s where I’m supposed to be in my life. All these years I’ve been struggling, all these years of addiction, all these years of feeling without an identity in a career, wondering whether or not I made the right decision in a career, in a relationship that I’ve simply been doing the best that I’ve been able to do. For perfectionists that notion doesn’t come easily. I want to say that’s a bitter pill to swallow but that’s probably dangerous language to use for this addict.

Advertisements