Thursday, December 11, 2014

Regrets I've Had a Few, and The Leap

It's my birthday, so yeah, regrets I've had a few. 

Ever late to the party, I just learned that podcasts are much better than craning your neck to watch Netflix on a tablet while pretending to dice vegetables for the salad.

The New York Times story about William Cimillo
Let's start with The Leap from This American Life. Then we can move on to Regrets, I've Had a Few. We'll consider a few ideas, other sides of the story.

First, The Leap, Podcast 539:

Tales of brave souls who take blind, if calculated risks that others only dream about. We don't have the guts, and for good reasons: even executed with panache, a real risk gambles livelihood, relationships, reputation, and mental health. What could be worth all that? We'll see.

For starters (Act One), in 1947 William Cimillo, a bored New York bus driver, hi-jacked his own bus, the one he droves each day, same route, every day. He woke up one morning, puts on his cap, took the wheel and decided to take a left instead of a right at the corner.  Joe Richman tells that story, interviews William's sons, over a half century later. One is charitable about his father's audacity, the other is not. William drove all the way to Hollywood, Florida, 1300 miles, didn't call his wife, home with three little children, for two weeks. Michael Wilson broke resurrected that story in 2010, called it a take-this-job-and-shove-it.

There are other kinds of leaps. Would you time-travel, if you had the opportunity? Jonathan Goldstein and Sean Cole interview older people (not old) to find out what they have to say about revisiting time, or flash forwarding. They find seniors on a park bench , old friends, newspaper blown in the grass, and proceed to a community center. There, instead of watching Let's Make a Deal, the regulars in the rec room take a break to talk about time travel. They wouldn't bother, naturally. They're doing it all the time. Telescoping, remembering things we couldn't see as younger people, is a phenomenon of aging. Maybe a perk, maybe not.

But the best, the story with the widest implications, is The Wisdom to Know the Difference, a reference to the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The rest of the prayer is about surrendering to the will of Heaven, accepting adversity. Get over it. Let God do Her thing.

Tough message, but an expression of the worldview, the heart and soul, of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tina Dupuy faces a choice, twenty years into sobriety. Is she sober enough to challenge the idea that she is an alcoholic? Diagnosed as a teenager, does the label still apply? No spoilers here.

It is enough to tell you that  she had been drinking hard liquor as a young child, remembers a full glass of tequila in her hand at the age of five, although she can't remember drinking it. Who poured it? Now she wonders if it ever happened. So disturbing, we wonder if it ever happened. But therapists can think of reasons for everything.

By 13 Tina is no longer rebellious or crazy. She is working a 12-Step recovery program, on her way to becoming a national celebrity, the young teenage Big Book thumper. Her story is on the front page of a pamphlet for teens.

Then at 33, twenty years solid-straight, like every person of faith at some point in their lives, Tina begins to question her Higher Power's real power, God's involvement in her life. Maybe even existence. 

They tell you in those meetings,
 'Keep coming back, trust your higher power, everything happens for a reason.'
But is someone, something up there really take care of things? Or do they just happen and we only think there's this master plan. What if there is no plan? Where is the evidence?

Tina worries. If there is no plan, then what the Big Book says isn't true. Maybe she can drink again. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe she isn't an alcoholic. Maybe one drink won't lead to another.

Changes in her beliefs mean she is changing. We use a bigger word, differentiation, when we talk about teenagers developing unique identities. They are differentiating (actually, we all are, but more slowly) first from parents and what they believe, then from their friends. That whole decade, and the next, too, is a search for self.  And Tina's self wound around that of a Big Book thumper a long time.

She is growing, is all. It had to happen one day. No reason to think she won't return to the dogma eventually, if in a milder form. She needs a break. The brain gets bored.

But you should know that this is the penultimate risk for an alcoholic, drinking. She might find that she can't stop with one or two drinks-- that her life, once again, becomes unmanageable. This is a terrifying thought. Nobody wants to go back to the reckless, irresponsible days, nothing romantic about them. An emotional roller coaster. Nobody likes you. You burn all of your credit with broken promises.

A leap many wouldn't consider, but Tina is thinking, what choice do I have? She sees only three possibilities. (1) She is an alcoholic in recovery, must stay stone cold sober or her life will become unmanageable; (2) She takes a leap and finds she is an alcoholic, can't stop drinking, or (3) She drinks under controlled circumstances to find she is not an alcoholic, meaning she can drink.

What will she do and what happens has me on the edge of my seat.

But what happened to four: She is not an alcoholic and doesn't want to drink, hasn't the desire and doesn't bother with what most of us take for granted? She doesn't consider this because the whole sobriety business has overstayed its welcome, apparently. Her brain, like yours and mine, needs more excitement.

What a set up.

This is what they should tell teens that at AA meetings: 
There will come a time will lose your faith, and you might want to see who you really are without AA.

Guess what?  You are you. You are your thoughts, your behavior, your desires, your friends, your books, your games, your studies, your choices, your relationships. And every year of sobriety, every day, as you add to your skill sets, there is more of you.
Must you still attend that same church when that crisis of faith strikes, or any church at all, read the same bible?  Maybe not. But if this is about identity, it isn't about just one thing.  

This podcast is likely to be the topic of many an AA meeting.

Most therapists would agree that the people we are as children are not the people we will be as adults. A child who drinks is likely acting out, self-medicating, socializing, or deliberately removing herself from something, perhaps a terrible life. She may be communicating anger, depression, anxiety, negative emotions.

And she has to learn how to talk about these, it is what we do in life, in sobriety, reel them in, learn to manage emotion.  Alcohol, actually, dis-inhibits, makes us more loopy, not less. Twenty years of calm, a lot less drama without booze, and she wants it back? 

So no, not on board, don't like this leap, I'm thinking. Don't set the example to others on the fence. When you are good at living without America's favorite recreational drug, when you have what everyone else wants, the clear-eyed life, why join those who top off even a good day with a haze?

As one of my alcoholic patients tells me: It makes you stupid, that's what alcohol does.

A little harsh, my friend. Not everyone drinks that way, and many writers can't write without it.

And the rest of us? We need those designated drivers.

We could certainly stop here, but just a few words about the podcast that follows leaps. 

Regrets, I've Had a Few is a line from a Sinatra song, My Way, and reading the words brings to mind, to my mind, a certain look in my father's eyes, sitting on a cracked leather bench in a beat up waiting room, still pink-cheeked and mentally vigorous in his eighties. We are waiting for his turn for dialysis and hear Ol' Blue Eyes sing that signature song.

For those of us who are notably hard-headed, who don't compromise often-- and those who lived with a family member who is hard-headed, didn't see a need to compromise, the song hits an ambivalent chord. I judged my father back then, a guy who had his way as a boss, a spouse, and a father, but not as a son. In the end, he couldn't. He would have lived to 120 if he had it his way, or longer.

Not that my way is bad, sometimes life calls for it. Definitive adulthood, making choices, choosing for ourselves. It is what Tina Dupuy is working out. But it is compromise that makes the (wo)man. We get farther in relationships if we compromise.

Enough podcasts and we're likely to get addicted to this perfectly innocuous field of entertainment. If you have started Sarah Koenig's Serial and find you can't wait for the second season. . .well then. . .

you know you're hooked.


And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

Yes, it was my way.
Songwriters: Carter, Shawn C / Revaud, Francois / Thibaut, Giles / Anka, Paul / Francois, Claude


Anonymous said...

You might also enjoy Radiolab.

therapydoc said...

Tried it. Like it! Thanks

Shmuel Brachfeld said...

"This is what they should tell teens that at AA meetings:
There will come a time will lose your faith, and you might want to see who you really are without AA.

Guess what? You are you. You are your thoughts, your behavior, your desires, your friends, your books, your games, your studies, your choices, your relationships. And every year of sobriety, every day, as you add to your skill sets, there is more of you."

In my experience working in addictions, I have found that the road to relapse, especially for those who are all in on AA, sometimes starts with the lack of awareness of the above quote.

AA has an important place in recovery, but it is important to recognize that it is just one tool in the recovery toolbox. As the recovery process continues it is important for the person in recovery to be open to explore more and learn more about his/her self and what works for them where they are in the here and now.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts