Hiding in Plain Sight

I’m stealthy. I’ve always been good at keeping secrets — hiding things. I hid my feelings of guilt and shame about my father’s suicide when I was a kid by telling people all about it as soon as I got comfortable with them. If I told them the story quickly, and without a lot of feelings, then they would think I was over it — that I’d made peace with it. I told people that it was something that had happened, matter of factly, like it was as insignificant as what I’d had for breakfast.

I kept the fact that I was smoking hidden from my mother for five years. It was easy since I was in college and rarely home. When I was home for the summer, I made sure that I had a restaurant job that required me to work nights so that I could sleep late, leave the house early, and start work just before the dinner rush. That made it easy to conceal things, like smoking — and drinking. I told her that the reason my clothes stunk was because my roommate, Geoff, was a smoker — that was true, but it was only part of the truth.

I’ve been writing these gratitude posts for a little over a month. It’s a solid practice and it has helped me immensely. But it’s also a cover-up. If you read my gratitude posts it looks like I’ve got the world by the tail. If I don’t write about the challenges that I am facing, then you can’t know about them. And the truth is that things are fucking challenging right now. Just as challenging as they were back in November when I wrote this post.

I’m not sleeping well — waking up in the early morning and sometimes not being able to get back to sleep. I’m sometimes waking up because of dreams, sometimes because I’m in a cold sweat, and sometimes because I’ve been grinding my teeth so hard that the pain wakes me. I have been walking through life gritting my teeth subconsciously. I go to bed every night with aching teeth.

I started taking a beta blocker last week to try to help with the anxiety. Some days it seems to be helping. Others not so much.

At my last therapy appointment, I put on such a good act that my therapist said, “things seem to be going really well.” And I agreed with her. But it wasn’t conscious deceit. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was actually convinced the things really were going well. It was only after a few days that I realized I had been hiding this so well.

Sometimes, just putting my truth out there is what I need to do. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s messy, because life is messy and sometimes not pretty.

A Sober Agnostic’s Crisis of Faith

Things are really hard right now. Every day, I feel overwhelmed. Like so many others, I’m navigating uncharted waters without so much as a compass. The uncertainty of the moment weighs heavily on my mind and the challenges we face as a family feel insurmountable. It’s a game of wack-a-mole.

My company has been highly supportive of all employees during this pandemic and for that I’m grateful. There have been many opportunities to connect with the feelings and trials of the pandemic presented to us by management in the form of webinars and talks. The People Team has brought in many guest speakers and has worked diligently to help employees make sense of things that are hard to comprehend.

And yet, I still feel isolated and alone. My job has been reduced to a series of video conferences and fire fighting. I spend my days in a subterranean room that has been my office for 10 years and at the end of the day I spend some time in other rooms of the house, only to go to bed and get up and do it again.

While the company is doing well, my fiscal Q1 was miserable, perhaps the worst performance numbers wise in my career. I know it will get better, but I don’t know when. Underperformance and I don’t make good bed fellows. It saps my energy and I see it as a reflection of myself even if I know that it is not necessarily an indication of my efforts. Even when I know things are not in my control.

My son has been extraordinarily challenging since school started. I won’t say much more than that I’ve really struggled with what the next right thing should be for him, for us, as we try to navigate his seventh grade year. He started the school year in person, which was a small blessing as it gave us a sense of normalcy that we’d not had in months. But he is now doing remote school, and that is an added stress to our days.

I am trying to take time for self care, going for walks, runs, and bike rides, but at 48 there are only so many miles I can grind out on a daily basis to keep myself slightly sane. I’m making meetings. I’m eating well. But there is a lot on the plate. I’m practicing gratitude (you may have noticed based on my posts). All these things help, but to be honest, I’m struggling.

Struggling to make sense of things. Struggling to do the right things. Struggling to keep my cool. Struggling to get on task and to stay on task. Struggling to connect with others. Struggling in so many ways. Struggling to trust that the universe has my back. Struggling to believe that even if things are not okay, I will be okay.

I’ve long held this belief — the belief that no matter what, things will get better. That no matter what, nothing lasts forever. That I’ll be okay. I am clinging to these beliefs right now. I’m holding on. But it’s hard to keep the perspective. Hard to know it in my core the way I’ve known it all my life.

This sober agnostic is having a crisis of faith.

The ferry that wasn’t a ferry. 

“Hi, welcome to Seastreak. Do you have a reservation?”  

“Yes, we’re on the 2 PM to Martha’s Vineyard.”

“Okay, parking is down the street for $13 a day, or we can valet it for $25 a day.”

“We were planning to take our car…”

“We don’t take cars, sir. You need to go to the Steamship Authority up in Woods Hole for that.”

My sinking heart was met by my rising stomach, as that familiar rushing feeling started in my face, neck, and chest. Something was terribly wrong with this situation. This wasn’t a ferry. Ferries are boats that transport cars and trucks. This was an overpriced boat offering rides to passengers to the island.  Not a ferry.

She repeated the bit about Woods Hole after I didn’t respond. Then she offered that we really don’t need a car on the Vineyard, lots of bikes and public transportation. All well and good, but we had a load of shit in the way-back of the Volvo.

There would be no refund, but our prepaid reservation would be good for a year.

I was not concerned in the least about the money, though I probably should’ve been more concerned about losing $120 on tickets that we will never use. I was concerned that there would be no chance of us getting a reservation on the car ferry and that we’d be lucky to get to our vacation spot after two solid days in the car.

And I was right, the website confirmed that there were no available reservations until the next day.

We needed lunch, desperately, and had passed a restaurant on the way to this ferry that’s not a ferry. So we headed for it. The parking lot was a disaster, of course, and I nearly lost it trying to find a place to park the car.

The car.

The car was a gift from Mrs. TKD’s father. A twelve year old Volvo XC70 with 213K miles on it that had been nothing but trouble for my father in law. Why on earth was I driving this to Martha’s Vineyard? Well, it rides a lot nicer than either Subaru and it’s got very comfortable seats. It survived Mrs. TKD’s trip to Cooperstown. So, I figured what the hell.

Mid-way through our first leg of this journey the “Check Engine” light came on. The fluids were good. The car was driving fine. So we continued. Besides it was 8:30 PM, we weren’t going to find a mechanic anyway. It made it the 90 miles that we had left with no problems.

Mrs. TKD googled “Volvo xc70 check engine light” and found that the most common cause is a failing or improperly tightened gas cap. Visual inspection of the 12 year old gas cap revealed a failing gasket. Since our reservation for the ferry that was not actually a ferry was for 2 PM and since we had a 4 hour drive, I knew we needed to get to the bottom of the light first thing in the morning. So I’d been to Autozone to purchase a new fuel cap at 7:30. It did not immediately seem to have any effect on the light.

Fortunately, Mrs. TKD’s dad’s mechanic opened at 8:00. We headed there and explained the situation. They checked the codes and confirmed that it was infact the gas cap that had triggered the light. They reset the code. No charge.

So, back to this parking lot and the restaurant.

I haven’t felt a compulsion to have a drink as strongly as the moment I walked in that door since I quit drinking. Every cell in my body screamed, “give me the booze!”

I was furious, — with my wife and also with myself. When she asked me to reserve this ferry that is not a ferry, I had some concerns about it because all I’d ever heard of was the Steamship Authority ferry. But I took her word for it and reserved anyway without doing my research. I should have verified.

I was also anxious. All the stars seemed to be aligning against me. Maybe we should have gone to the Outerbanks like Mrs. TKD had suggested back in April.  

As I sat there sullenly, Mrs. TKD made a reservation for the next day and we started making our way to Woods Hole. I read from some 12 step literature. The reading in Daily Reflections was particularly helpful.

We reacted more strongly to frustrations than normal people. 

— AS BILL SEES IT, p. 111

Impatience with other people is one of my principal failings.

A little food. The Serenity Prayer. Deep breathing. Acceptance.

I got through the compulsion. I got past the irritation. I didn’t explode outwardly even as I felt like I might inside.

It’s still the same day as it was when we arrived at the wrong boat. I started this post on my phone while in the standby line at Woods Hole. I fully expected to be waiting hours – and if it were peak season, we probably would have – but I’m finishing this post from aboard the ferry and we’ll be landing on the island within a half hour.

Everything worked out. 

My family isn’t mad at me.

I am still sober.

Depression is NOT a “defect of character”

It’s June. The 6th month of the year. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will be celebrating the start of summer with the summer solstice. Those in the Southern Hemisphere are headed into winter.

Of course, in the 12 step world, we often focus on a step and a tradition each month. Naturally, meetings are focused on the sixth step in June, where we humbly ask the good of our understanding to remove our defects of character.

I’m still fuming. Continue reading

Finding Balance – A Week in Review

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity, thoughts, and a bit of confusion.  I left for my annual sales conference in Miami on Wednesday of last week.  I consciously chose not to get up for my morning meeting because I knew that I had a long day ahead of me filled with airplanes, Uber rides, meetings, cocktail hour, and a dinner.

Wait, what?  Cocktail hour?  Sober people go to cocktail hours?

Yes, sometimes we do when we have a good reason to be there, and a work event is generally a good reason.  That doesn’t mean that we drink, it just means we show up.  Sometimes you have to suit up and show up.  So I went to cocktail hours on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, and had non-alcoholic drinks. My non-alcoholic drinks of choice were, club soda and lime, Red Bull, Ginger Ale, and Espresso.

The meetings were generally good.  I found that I was much more able to focus on the content being presented because I was actually present.  I wasn’t hungover. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t tired.  I actually had a pretty good time and tweeted about it:


Continue reading