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Learning To Run Big Engines

I am very excited, eager, and willing to share a story.  Wifey and I are very much in love and have an amazing energy that is palpable to us both.  As we met and were falling in love, we realized we were each raised in dysfunctional family systems. I am not blaming or finger pointing, all families are dysfunctional. We want to build a family that brakes the cycles of this dysfunction.  These patterns of behavior have been formed over decades, we were excited and terrified at our attempt to end them.  If we could arm our children with just one more healthy tool than we were given, we decided it was worth the pain and effort. When you throw the old family playbook out the window and start living with a new instruction manual, life and relationships can be confusing and painful.  Especially given the heavy baggage we each brought with us on this journey, all carry on in an oversized roller bag that doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment.  Often the pain of that baggage feels just as real as it did 20, 30, and 40 years ago.  Knowing how to sort these implicit memories is paramount.  We quickly realized we needed to learn to handle this pain ourselves rather than expect another person to fix it for us. Given the characteristics of people who have grown up in alcoholic households, how do you acknowledge the other person’s pain without wanting to fix it?  It is an ever-evolving skill that needs to be practiced and adjusted and honed.  It takes vigilance.

    Wifey and I have learned we both have what we have come to call “big engines.” Our big engines are different – mine is loud and demands attention and breaks down without warning.  Wifey’s hums along, taking the curves unchecked but safely, risk is still an allure for both of us, we will push the limits of our engines.  Sometimes the check engine light comes on in wifey’s Ferrari.  Whether she takes the car to the mechanic or not is up to her.  The longer you let the check engine light go, the greater chance you will have a very expensive repair to pay for…. I think you get the point.  

Now, when seen from a distance and with proper perspective, my family has a great opportunity to heal open wounds. 

The cycle in my family usually goes like this: wifey reaches a breaking point with physical or emotional health and claims there’s no way this can ever get better and announces, I’m leaving.”  She flees. This never surprises me. I’ve known she prefers the flight response since early on in our relationship. Wifey has an extreme reaction to any kind of overload of fear ad runs.  This is how and who she is and I love her for it.  It’s the right kind of crazy.  It is her sloppines in the execution of getting better that lets me know, as her partner, that she is indeed trying to “get better” and change the playbook for our family going forward.  She knows no other way.  We both know that will require us to take on a fair amount of emotional pain and mistake making.  We have no idea what we are doing but know the desire, willingness and intent are all there in order that we can change the course of our family narrative.  This is truly her and I love her unconditionally.  

In 2018 Kimley decided her car needed to go to the shop… the check engine light had been on for a while.  Because she is a Ferrari and the parts are expensive and sometimes take a long time to find, she moved out for the summer. I am very good in a crisis.  Like I said, my party bus engine breaks down a lot – I am used to unannounced crises.  The process of healing in my family is such that my wife recognizes there is a crisis happening in our marriage/family and then relies on me to lead through the exposed pain so we can experience the light that lies on the other side of all emotional pain and spiritual growth.  At the end of May in 2018 my wife and I decided we were going to do a Summer separation hard reset on our marriage and really work on ourselves as individuals.  It’s amazing the way the two of us fit together like two puzzle pieces. She brings it up and I say OK let’s make a plan to get better.  Getting better requires a different kind of knowledge then exposing the dysfunction and this is why we make such a great team.  It takes a lot of guts to speak up and bring a big problem to the surface.  It is scary and seems informidable… to those that can see it.  But those that can’t see these dynamics are precisely the ones that can come up with a plan and process for individuals to heal, grow and thrive. So over the course of the Summer of 2018, wifey got her own cute little apartment for three months and I stayed in our family home.  I will come out and say it, this was the scariest and most difficult three months of my life.  We had good guidance.  We had already been in couples counseling for a couple years and things were going well but just under the surface of the deceiving calm was an undertow that could have sucked us under and ruined our marriage.  Codependency is a sneaky beast that will borough into a relationship and suffocate both participants and who they are as individuals.  We were beginning to look to each other for internal validation and the fulfilment of a sick need for adoration.  Our counselor helped us unpack what was going on and how to heal and thrive in our marriage going forward.  We had a plan and rules to go by.  We scheduled dates and had a check in call every night at 8:00 that we tried to keep limited to an hour.  I will say we did an excellent job of sticking to these rules.  As a result of our own strong individual efforts and our mutual willingness to work together, we came out of this experiment a much stronger couple.

On our first date Summer 2018. I love this woman more than words can describe!

The ultimate lesson we learned is that we both have big engines and we are the only ones that know how to run and drive our own big engines. Wifey should never be driving around in my party bus and I should always be hands off when it comes to taking wifey’s Ferrari out for a drive. I look at it like this, we are all 15 year olds on the inside. Some of us are better at hiding it than others. So what happens if you give the keys to a Ferrari to a 15 year old boy? I can tell you he is going to run it into the ditch. The damage done by running a Ferrari into a ditch are expensive repairs to have to make. The other good question is what happens when you give the keys to a party bus to a 15 year old girl? Again, things will end up in the ditch and the repairs will be expensive. So we now know to run our own big engines. Remembering this can be difficult when codependency is a tendency in one’s life. If that is the case, admit it and work to not have it overwhelm your life and relationships. It is scary and one needs to be brave in order to confront such dragons. With an open heart, open mind, arms at your side and true unconditional love, any battle of the spirit can be won. Day In Day Out we must fight the good fight and protect ourselves and the ones we love from the insidious forces working to tear us apart on every level.

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Look For The Similarities

A big part of my recovery over the last 16 years has been the 6:00 A.M. meeting at the Mustard Seed in Chicago. There really should be a documentary made about this place. The Mustard Seed in Chicago is quite possibly one of the most significant sites not only in Chicagos’ history but in the history of recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous all around the world. In the hour from 6-7 A.M., M-F, on North Ave. just a bit West of Sedgwick St., in a nondescript brick building, miracles take place everyday, plain and simple. It is a certain type of drunk that comes to a 12 step meeting at what I refer to as the “ass crack of dawn.” The Mustard Seed has been around for almost 60 years and has always occupied a geography that could be considered both “safe” and in a “bad” neighborhood for those in need of the “tonic” dispensed inside the four cinder block walls of this sacred space. In 12 step language we have a saying, “Look for the similarities, not the differences.” This is one of the lesser used phrases in our lexicon, it makes people very uneasy to admit there is a mirror with someone that looks almost nothing like we do on the outside. It is in the 6-7 o’clock hour where the seeming differences between us melt away. It is hugely comforting to listen to investment bankers, worth tens of millions of dollars, share their stories and see men and women worth no more than 10 cents, nod knowingly. The kind of darkness that envelopes an alcoholic is singular in its descrimination, it needs only the tyrant alcohol on which to feed. These people share as if they had been “partners in crime” all those years ago and had shared the same experience. Misery loves company.

When a child is traumatized, it matters not one iota if that child is black, white, rich, poor, man, woman, Jew, or Christian, the result is the same. My therapist has taught me “those of us that had traumatic childhoods, have a little extra work to do when we are adults.” This is comforting to me and reminds me that it is ALL my experiences that make me who I am today. My life is the sum of every choice I have made from the day I was born to this moment. If I try to remove any part of my experience, good or bad, (according to my little pea sized brain) I am discounting who and what God intended me to be while on this earth. Not every traumatized kid becomes an alcoholic, but every alcoholic was traumatized as a kid. All of the traumatic events in my past have made me the resilient man I am today. This is only the case because I have addressed how these events manifested in my life in an unhealthy way. Now I have turned them into assets of my character. I am the person people can call when they are in crisis and need someone to help handle the big things. This is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I was not always the guy that could be counted on. When shit hits the fan, my family now knows where to turn for triage and getting back on the right track. My daughter Layla put it well after hearing me listen to her Nanny describe on the telephone a difficult situation she was going through. After I hung up, Layla said to me, “Daddy, it’s really good that Nanny knows she can call you when she has a big problem.” If you have a big problem or crisis, get a drunk to help you, chances are they have gotten themselves out of the same shitty situation, probably worse. We all are more alike than we care to admit.

Being an alcoholic means that, for years, we are the main tyrant in our own lives. We are constantly getting ourselves into trouble and therefore have to get out of trouble. We have perfected the art of getting out of jam! Repeating this cycle over and over for years and years, will produce an adult capable of weathering just about any storm. Being an active alcoholic can produce only so many different outcomes in one’s life. These outcomes include for the most

part… divorce, estrangement, jail time, ill health, broken finances, and strained relationships all over the place. The sad thing is, alcoholics are pretty much limited to these outcomes for their lives, at least that is my experience. Really people… the similarities are there and not the differences.

So when my friend Jamie tells me the story about how she ended up passed out behind a dumpster in an alley while her family ate dinner (she told them she was taking a nap!) at a restaurant around the corner, I nod knowingly, because I too found myself leaning up against a dumpster (while passed out) in an alley when I should have been going to the bathroom in the movie theater I took a date too. She never did find me after the movie and I never called her again. It makes no difference that Jamie is an African American lesbian that is significantly older than I. We all feel the same on the inside when we do shitty things to ourselves and others, unless of course there is a pathology to one’s behavior. That is a topic for another essay… there it is again, the similarities not the differences.

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Snakes & Spiders

This is another poem I wrote about snakes and spiders… to good not to share

The key to happiness?

Forget

About yesterday as if it never happened 

forget about all your Yesterdays they have to go out the window 

I have only this moment 

this book chair, cabin dog soul skin heartbeat the love 

that passes through 

me 

out into the world how else does one look at themselves in the mirror 

everyone can most won’t 

go there 

through the spiderwebs 

that stick to your face 

over the snakes that want to attach to your Achilles 

only when you trust yourself 

to not scar yourself 

can you 

forget about yesterday