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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Shelter Me From the Powder and the Finger ..."

Ah yes, "the thought that pulled the trigger."

The carnival came to Muskrat Flats a few short weeks ago. We talked about that. Good music, good vibes, good people. And of course, the good people who were doing bad things, mostly to themselves, with nary a thought about how their actions might affect anyone else.

There could be the immediate consequences such as doing just a little too much and having someone caught unawares, as they slide barefoot through your vomit. Or, you could totally freak out the EMTs who have never had to deal with some one who is freaking out on acid, badly in need of both thorazine and some restraints.

You may not think about it, but you could be that guy who is just fucked up enough
that you are on edge and in an unpredictable state of mind - being loud, aggressive and incoherent ... bad vibes. You can feel it. And guess what? everyone else around you can feel it as well.

Perhaps you can be there and view all of the insanity and be thankful that you are not a participant, a reminder of how things used to be and could be again. Being in the presence of such excess can also go the other way, where you are tempted. You thought you could be strong, you thought that hanging out with the Wharf Rats would help ease the pain of the struggle, but it didn't and you pick up anyway.

And then there is the anomaly, like myself, strong and determined inside that scene, where drugs and alcohol are as available as if you were in a corner store along a canal in Amsterdam, but fearful and vulnerable and alone, at home.

I guess the freaks forgot to take their roller coaster with them when they left the flats with the rest of the carnival, because I have been riding it incessantly.

Oh the ups and downs. Those awful, misguided thoughts. The thoughts of insecurity and self loathing. The thoughts that you are less than and your worth has permanently been diminished by the excesses you have endured and the crimes for which you were never held accountable. The thoughts that led you into the arms of a lover you have no business interacting with ... at least if you truly want to stay clean. "The thoughts that pulled the trigger."

The thoughts that pulled the trigger. No one knows like you know, how you can lie to yourself. Well, your sponsor does, if you are practicing the spiritual principle of honesty with them.

Being honest is a hard, hard thing, especially when you have spent so much time in active addiction lying and spinning yarn after yarn to avoid being caught and having your inflated sense of self-image stained and tarnished in the the eyes of another. Even worse is the untold truth, the information withheld. You might as well lacquer yourself with a thick coating of patina, because you are harming yourself more than you know. Sometimes it takes numerous suggestions of those who are rooting for you before you open your eyes and realize that the program you think you are working is absolute shit and you need to get back to basics.

I have been playing a dangerous game, associating with someone from my past. And I paid the consequences. I have let that person go, She is off and running with her old boyfriend who left a program to do so. When he gets caught he is going to JAIL, no doubt about it. I have, in the past, had strong feelings for this woman but she is not worth losing my life and family over. I was expecting this. I was expecting the other shoe to drop, for the walls to cave in. I was Charlie Brown running up to FINALLY kick that football only to have Lucy Van Pelt pull the ball away, yet again. Leaving me gasping for air, frustrated and flat on my back, even though I know better.

I hope she finds recovery, but I am not the one to help her in that journey. It is time to Let the boyfriend step on a few land mines for me. He is going to jail anyway, the program he was in was imposed by his probation officer. What does he have left to lose? Let them lose what little she has, together, because I made it clear that I am unwilling to do so, unwilling to be that irresponsible party throwing caution to the wind to feel good. The thought that pulled the trigger.

I am back to counting days, instead of months. Sorry Mom and Dad, but it is what it is. I am back on track and have been doing good. I have been going to meetings and have been in very close contact with my sponsorship family. I have been asking for help and have been taking many good suggestions from those who came before me. I was fortunate to have only lost the clean time I had accumulated. I didn't lose vast sums of cash, I didn't lose my license, I didn't lose my kid, I didn't end up in jail and I didn't die. I did get very very sick, and I deserved it for fucking up.

It has taken me a while to write this.

One thing a member of my sponsorship family said, in convincing me to be honest with myself, was - If some one truly loves you they will not put you in harms way.

If, Someone truly loves you, Paul, they will NOT put Paul in harms way.

This is so true. I have to accept my part in the charade and acknowledge that I can not associate with people who are using even if it is casually. Look where it ended up for my friend, where it always does, down a long and hard road of insanity.

My friends in the fellowship have been very supportive calling me every day. I have been doing the same with them.

I felt vulnerable yesterday and made a phone call. I said, "I feel like I should not be alone today, I don't feel safe." He told me to come over. I talked to my sponsor on the way, I spoke with my buddy when I got to his house. We hung out all day and had a great time, we spent some time with other addicts who welcomed me into their home for the first time. After a while, the thoughts that pulled the trigger were so distant and foreign to me. Yes indeed, "This too, shall pass." I went to a meeting last night, where I saw my old dope dealer. She is clean and is in a pre-release program from prison. She asked me if i had the same number and she would call me when she got out. I told her, "Yes, I do," And that it was good to see her clean and healthy. As far as the phone number goes ... Okay, I told a lie, my phone number has changed.

After the meeting I went to a restaurant for some post meeting fellowship. I eventually ended up with my best friend, with less than an hour to go in the day. I had made it, another 24 hours under my belt. And guess what? I worked hard to accomplish that feat yesterday.

So, here I am today, nary a bad thought has gone through my head and I feel safe. Funny how it works that way. Yes, my actions DO affect the ones I love, there is no doubt about it. (stop crying)

Like I have said so many times in the past, I'll worry about tomorrow when It comes, but Just for Today, I am doing fine and know that today can sing at the top of my lungs with great joy and enthusiasm -

"Shelter me from the powder and the finger. Shelter me from the thought that pulled the trigger!"

Thanks to Neil Young, hearing you on the radio when I did ... you really helped me out yesterday, brother.

Once Again, with the "Hail on my back" and a smile on my face, I am "Running Hard Out Of Muskrat Flats."

(Sorry, I must apologize in advance for this one - clean and sober Deadhead/Trekkies - Worf Rats?)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fear and Loathing in the City of Homes

I love my city. Springfield, Massachusetts. There really isn't much to it. It is rather small by city standards. Sure we have the Basketball Hall of Fame, Smith and Wesson, Merriam-Webster and some fine Institutions of higher learning. But by city standards it is not very large.

It has it's unique neighborhoods, some are a little better off and well heeled than others. What makes the city so civilized, and others would disagree with my use of that word, is that even in the worst areas of the city there are strong healthy neighborhoods inhabited by decent people who care. But what is unique is the whole city offers living space, hence the moniker - City of Homes.

Look at Forest Park, for example. I used to live and conduct my business in "The Park" It really has a beautiful, heavily forested park. In Forest Park you will find a very metropolitan mix of folks. There is a historic district, which is very upper-middle class. Politicians, lawyers, business people who commute to Hartford on a daily basis all inhabit the Historic District south of Sumner Ave. There is a nice Farmer's Market at the Trinity Church on Tuesday and carillon concerts on Thursday in the same location. Forest Park is where the X, the intersection of Sumner and Belmont Avenues and Dickinson St., are located. Let me talk about some of the other neighborhoods in the City of Homes.

As You drive East on Sumner you head toward East Forest Park, not quite as tony as Forest Park proper but the neighborhood is strong and safe. East Forest Park turns into 16 Acres, where the homes are not built quite as closely together. If you follow Parker St. from 16 Acres center you will end up in Indian Orchard with its thriving new businesses such as Gus' Auto Repair a newly furnished Hampden Bank, Gallery 137 and of course my home base of operations the Indian Orchard Mills, which houses artist studio spaces as well as industrial space for all sorts of operations and chicanery.

If you drive up the hill, along "Monsanto Ave." and take a left, you will end up in the densely populated East Springfield. If you choose to exit Indian Orchard on Berkshire Ave. you will pass through Pine Point and eventually Mason Square also known as the Old Hill Neighborhood and Winchester Square. This is near the Armory. Wedged between Mason Square and East Springfield is the Hill-McKnight neighborhood. There you will find mansion sized dwellings bordering on low income neighborhoods. If you go down the Hill you will hit Main St. A left turn will take you through the South End an old Italian Neighborhood with specialty food shops and bakeries. A right turn onto Main St., will take you to the North End where the Latino population is predominant. And then there is the neighborhood where I live, the old Irish neighborhood Hungry Hill. Past the hospitals and medical campuses, and past Atwater Park and between Carew St.

Now to break this up in traditional way. The Forest Park Neighborhood, south of Sumner, the Historic District is mainly the NPR contributing liberal types. East Forest park is solidly middle class. North of Sumner is mostly inhabited by the lower income crowd. As is the South and North Ends, and the Old Hill Neighborhood, Indian Orchard and parts of Hungry Hill .

Needless to say, you knew this was coming didn't you ... you just didn't know when I was going to bring it up or where I was going to put it. These are the sections of the city where the drug trade is most prevalent. And when you have drugs you have all of the other good things that go along with them. All of the components which keep the drug economy viable. Components such as tricks, hustlers, schemers, scammers and manipulators and thieves.

In my active addiction, my MO was to find a trick to procure my drugs if my regular connection was unavailable or in jail. This seemed like the best bet because ... A) the last thing a Puerto Rican drug dealer wants to see a big bald headed white guy walking into the hallways of his building. B) the Big Bald Headed white guy who looks like a cop doesn't want to get shot walking into said dealers building, and C) A hustler does just that. You are lucky if you get your drugs at all never mind getting at the very least ripped off by paying too much or at the very worst, getting stomped, stabbed or shot before they take your money, wallet and car.

So, the tricks seemed like the best bet. Yes, they may rip you off, there is always that possibility, but once you establish that your intention is to get them high if they cop your drugs and you really are not all that interested in paying for sex, the playing field is leveled. They won't rip you off because you just gained a little bit of their respect with their realization that you are just like them ...an addict trying to get through the day using all of the ways and means and resources at your disposal to do so. Another addict, just trying to get that next hit, no matter what.
It is then that they tell you their real name. Do you think they are really named, Peaches, Star and Candy? They'll tell you how many kids they have and more often than not their hopes that they can get away from "the lifestyle" because they know that they can only run so long before they end up in jail, or dead. It seems odd that my motto in my active addiction is the same as my motto in recovery ... "Just for Today."

With all of that said, I guess I can't really feel too bad about what I'm about to tell you.

I was hanging out at my favorite convenience store on Monday night at about 9:45. I was there with a bunch of other people who are closely associated with the franchisee either as friends, employees or both.

A male about 6 foot 1 with a black doo rag and a gray t-shirt covering his face came in with a gun. He began shouting over and over, "Give me the fucking money!"

I was petrified. All I saw was the gun. After everything was said and done, nobody got hurt. The robber got a little bit of money, enough to get high at least. When the police showed up, they were, pretty much, incredulous that I didn't get a "good look" at the guy. I'm sorry officer, but all I saw was a fucking gun ... pointed at me and my friends. When I was copping with one of the ladies they would say ... "Whatever you do, don't eyeball this dude." So that's what I did. I looked at the gun long enough to see what it was and that it could kill me. I saw the guy's basic height, weight and ethnicity, but in the end, I followed the previous advice and looked away.

Sure, the scenario's were running hard through my head. I could have taken the fire extinguisher next to me and sprayed him in the fucking face with it, before I heard that wonderful hollow pinging sound of bone stopping a recently evacuated hollow metal cylinder cutting an arc through the CO2 dusted air. Yes, that melodic resonant ringing tone, as the extinguisher I was swinging found its home. But that would have been messy and a little over the top as far as heroics go. Not my style.

I was up all night processing the information of what I had been through in that very short 45 seconds, and was pretty screwed up the next day.

What I had to accept and reconcile in my own head was that guy with the gun was just like me. I have never done anything close to an armed robbery to feed my addiction. But, what if I hadn't found recovery when I did? I could have easily gotten to the point where I could have done something like that. We all could, if we are desperate enough.

Perhaps in a few years, I will hear the robber's story in a meeting, as he is trying to work through the wreckage of his past and find recovery. There may be some jail time for him between now and then. Perhaps he won't be so lucky and rob someone who also has a gun, one that is loaded, who wants to send the message - "Don't try to rob that guy he is a maniac and blew some one's head off last time they tried to rob him."

Take it down to another level, perhaps karma will come back to bite him in the ass in the worst way, as he uses the measly chump change he robbed from the store, far less than $100, to get his fix. Perhaps it will be his last hit of crack before he has a stroke and experiences irreparable neurological damage. So damaged, that he becomes a ward of the state - just another number in another nondescript underfunded institution. Maybe the insanity of his disease has already taken him to the needle, where he will be alone and frightened when he uses, perhaps that one bag too many, as he drifts into the big sleep, only to have his breathing stop.

These situations, I do not wish upon anyone, they are the sad facts of living a life in active addiction. You act out beside yourself. Nobody wants to mug, steal, or shoplift as ways and means to get by in active addiction. The amount of money he stole, would just get him through the night, and what is he going to do in the morning? Try the same thing in a different location? Insanity. No woman wants to hop into your car at 5 AM or worse after you get out of the bars at 2:30 when you are at your best. Insanity. They call getting high, a chase, for a very good reason.

Yes, I'm no better or worse than that guy who robbed the store. I just have some different shit to deal with than he will, if he finds the right path, as I have, and begins the walk down the road of recovery. The best part is, anyone can do it, even that guy.

Just for Today ... I'm Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats