MomDay Monday – School Daze

Every school has its issues.

Issues with teachers. Issues with other parents. Miscommunication. Problems with other students.

Every school.

There’s no getting around it. We’re all human. We all have failings. And a school is, after all, made up of us imperfect humans.

But at what point does a school have so many issues it becomes dysfunctional?

Is it when the faculty talks out of turn to your child about their parents’ divorce?

Or perhaps it’s when other parents refuse to accept that their child is the school bully & consistently puts the blame for their child’s behavior on the very kids he’s bullying.

Is it when there are arbitrary punishments meted out at whim? One day a behavior is punishable by making the child sit out of recess. The next day, the same behavior is overlooked. One day, uniform infractions are barely mentioned. The next day, a student loses privileges for wearing the wrong uniform piece.

Perhaps….

But I believe it’s when a school & its principal are so afraid of criticism that they close off lines of communication to keep others from hearing it.

I believe it’s when a principal is more concerned with who saw a comment on the school Facebook page than she is with addressing the issues brought to her attention.

I believe it is when a student receives retaliation for the actions of their parent.

And I believe it is when anti-bullying rallies are held for the students but parents & staff are seemingly the biggest offenders.

The Kids attend a private, Catholic school. They have been there since they were each 3 years old, starting in the youngest Pre-K group. They have known their classmates for most of their lives & we have made good friends with some of the families of these kids. When The Ex & I decided to divorce, we quietly told The Kids’ teachers so they were aware of the situation at home & on the lookout for any kind of behavioral issues that might occur because of it. This school had an opportunity to show The Kids an example of what it means to be a Christian & support my children during a particularly tough time.

They failed.

Within weeks, it seemed as if everyone knew what was happening in our family. The rumor mill was in full force until people I hardly knew & rarely spoke to had an opinion on my divorce & The Kids’ reaction to it. I had been blind to the dysfunction in the past, believing my kids were in the best possible place for the best possible education. There were two things I hoped to keep consistent throughout the divorce as the kids lives were being uprooted. Their school & their house. I was determined to keep them in that school & in the house they had been in for the past 4 years even if it meant having to ask my dad for money. But little by little, my eyes were opened & I saw that there were issues with this school far beyond anything I ever realized. There certainly have been people on the faculty as well as other parents who have been more than supportive & I can’t thank those people enough for the kindness & support they’ve shown, especially to The Kids. But they have unfortunately been too few & too far between. It is school dysfunction at its best. Or worst.

I’ve stopped my insistence that The Kids stay in that school. It’s part of my letting go. And it’s okay. I am aware that any school will have issues, dysfunction, intolerant people & parents who violate the school drop off & pick up rules. At this point, I’m willing to take my chances.

But I’m keeping the house.

Why the Cigars Must Go (and Why it Pisses Me Off)

The author needs many coaches to keep clean and sane. Sometimes it sucks.

Mood music for this post: “Sludge Factory” by Alice in Chains:

Like anyone in recovery, I rely on several coaches to keep me from falling back into the sludge pit.

The OA sponsor keeps me on the path of abstinence (OA-speak for not eating compulsively; like an AA sponsor who helps you stay sober). I have to call her every morning at 6:15 a.m. and tell her exactly what I plan to eat that day. Deviating from the food plan I give her is considered breaking abstinence.

The OA meetings are like AA meetings. You discuss the 12 Steps and how they apply to you. You share your story, and so on. These groups stick together. We keep each other on the sane path.

Then there’s the OCD coach: my therapist. At my craziest I had to see him each week. Then I got better and it was every other week. Now it’s once a month.

In one way or another, they are all interventionists. They see me about to slip and they step in and get in my face.

I often want to punch them in the face. Addicts absolutely hate having the truth forced on them. It’s very inconvenient.

I got a taste of that today in the therapist’s office.

One of the first things we do is go through a checklist of my addictive behaviors and how I’m doing at each one.

Abstinent from binge eating. Check.

Sober from alcohol. Check.

OCD under control. Check.

Then I do something I didn’t plan on doing. It just slipped out. I told him that I’ve only recently come to see what a game of whack-a-mole addictive behavior is, how you put one thing down and find yourself turning to something else.

“And what would those other things be,” he asks with that smart-ass twinkle in his eye.

“Caffeine and cigars,” I say, figuring it’s no big deal. My coffee dependency is well known by all at this point, and there are no health or mental reasons to stop. Hell, I even felt comfortable walking into his office with a Red Bull in my hand.

But screw the caffeine. He heard the word cigar and exploded.

“How often do you smoke?” he bellowed the question.

“How many?”

“Does your family know?”

“How much do cigars cost?”

Then he threw the biggest reason for his disdain in my face: His father got cancer and died from that very habit.

I shrugged it off. After all, addicts know that the thing they are doing could eventually kill them. That’s part of the attraction, even, given the depressive streak we tend to have.

But he persisted.

“There are healthy addictions and unhealthy addictions,” he said. Coffee and exercise can be healthy addictions, he noted. Cigars are not healthy.

I tell him that coffee and exercise absolutely will kill you if done to the extreme long enough.

And back and forth we went.

Here’s the thing, though. I know the cigars are bad. I let it slip out because I’m having that mental war in my head over what to do about it.

See, I know I have to put ‘em down.

There.

I said it.

I don’t know when I’m putting them down, but I’m going to, because I know cigars could soon become as much of an obsession as the food and wine was.

The coffee I can live with.

But with the cigars, I’m playing chicken with God. And God never loses at that game.

So now that I’ve come out with it, I invite you all to be interventionists and get in my face if you see me with a cigar — lit or unlit.

I only ask that you give me a one-week grace period.

Expecting me to go cold turkey right now is a bit much to ask.

Ha! The words of an addict in denial come out again.

Bad Behavior, Easily Defined

The author turns to his musical hero for some easy-to-remember descriptions of depression and addictive behavior.

Mood music for this post: “Pray for me” by Sixx A.M.:

Many times by now, I’ve mentioned that one of my inspirations for this blog is Nikki Sixx, bassist and lyricist for Motley Crue. That’s because he gave the world a naked view of his madness at the hands of addiction in his book, “The Heroin Diaries.”

I’m itching to share the first couple pages of the book, where he presents his definitions of depression and addictive behavior. In turn, I’ll offer my own version.

Note: Since Sixx’s addictions were different from mine, I’m going to add in some of my own terms to fit the binge eating.

In we go:

 

ADDICTION

Sixx: When you can give up something anytime, as long as it’s next Tuesday.

Me: When you devour $35 worth of drive-thru junk between the office and the house, walk through the door feeling complete exhaustion, shame and self-loathing, and promise God you’ll never do it again. Then you do it all over again the next day, starting with the drive into work, even though you know it’ll kill you someday.

 

ALCOHOLISM

Sixx: A habit that helps you to see the iguanas in your eyeballs.

Me: Not exactly about downing a bottle of alcohol each day. More about REALLY, REALLY needing a couple (or a few) glasses of wine at the end of the day so I DON’T turn to the food.

 

COCAINE

Sixx: Peruvian Marching Powder–a stimulant that has the extraordinary effect that the more you do, the more you laugh out of context.

Me: I never did coke, but mixing the food with alcohol had the same effect.

 

DEPRESSION

Sixx: When everything you laugh at is miserable and you can’t seem to stop.

Me: What he said, with the added symptom where you lock yourself away and sleep for days, verbally assassinate anyone in your path and binge eat until fatty sweat oozes from your pores.

 

HEROIN

Sixx: A drug that helps you to escape reality, while making it much harder to cope when you are recaptured.

Me: Food had the same effect on me, specifically massive quantities of items with flour and sugar in them. Mix together a large enough dose of flour and sugar and the impact is the same as any drug you use to escape.

 

PSYCHOSIS

Sixx: When everybody turns into tiny dolls and they have needles in their mouths and they hate you and you don’t care because you have THE KNIFE! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Me: When the flour and sugar mix with a dose of OCD hyperactivity, leaving you with the feeling that you or someone close to you will die at any moment, be it from an accident or affliction. Then trying to mask those emotions by losing yourself in work, which you don’t do very well because you’re just too fucked up.

I’ll end by telling you a major truth I’ve only recently come to realize:

Without the above in my life, I’m a better husband and dad, which is more important to me than anything else. I’m also much more creative, which turns work from a stress into a joy.

I’ll tell you something else: The day I slip and fall back into my chief addiction is the day all those things fall apart.

Just thinking about what I could lose after gaining so much is enough to keep me from doing that.

Meet My Demon

Why the author treats his demon like an imaginary friend, and how it helps.

It won’t give up

It wants me dead

God damn that noise inside my head

From today’s mood music, “The Becoming,” by Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails:

At last night’s OA meeting, I saw quite a few people with heavy weights pressing on their minds. I won’t share details, because these meetings are all about anonymity. But it got me thinking…

You see, for all our awful behavior, there’s one thing we addicts do exceptionally well: self-criticize. If you want to meet people who are good at focusing on their own vulnerabilities and venting shame, we are the best there is.

It doesn’t really help us, mind you. It just makes us feel worse and, in response, lose ourselves in our chosen addiction. In OA, the addiction is compulsive overeating. But it’s the same with booze and narcotics.

We often describe it as our inner demon. The demon comes to you when you are feeling low and taps on your shoulder. Then he suggests you sooth your anxieties with a pile of junk.

Many of those who suffer from mental illnesses — mine is OCD, which fuels my addictive behavior — tend to give their demon a persona.

Winston Churchill called it his Black Dog.

I call my demon The Asshole. That’s what he is, after all. He’s my dysfunctional imaginary friend.

I got the idea of making my demon an imaginary friend from my kids, both of whom have imaginary friends. I believe Sean used to call his “Rexally.” Rexally was a sperm whale, by the way.

So let me tell you about The Asshole.

He’s like one of those overbearing relatives who will constantly push food on you when you drop by for dinner.

The Asshole: “Try that slice of pizza. It’s wonderful.”

Me: “No thanks. I’m full.”

The Asshole: “Come on, try it. It’s really good.”

If I’m not in recovery, I shove the slice of pizza down my throat, followed by another 10 slices. When it comes to binge eating, I can’t have just five of something, whether it’s pizza or potato chips. I have to have them all, and when they’re gone I’ll keep pushing other things in my mouth, no matter how vile and shameful I feel two hours later.

When I am in recovery, which, thank God, I am now, I tell The Asshole: “Piss off. I’m full and got things to do.”

Facing The Asshole used to fill me with fear and anxiety. I was the weakest person in the room when he was around.

But in the years since I entered therapy for the OCD, found my Faith and started taking medication, the relationship has changed.

Now The Asshole is more like an annoying cousin; someone I keep at arm’s length. I don’t shut him out of my life completely — I can’t, really — but one day I stopped fearing him, and that made a world of difference.

He still taps my shoulder just about every day. But with the fear gone, I’m able to go about my business.

Another thing that’s changed: What he has to offer just can’t compare with the other parts of my life: My wife and kids. My writing. A good book.

But I’m not stupid. I know he’s never going to go away. He’ll always be there, lying in wait. He’s like a terrorist, that old Asshole. He may lose most days, but he keeps trying, knowing that one of these days he might just pull off the attack.

And, truth be told, I’m never more than a few minutes away from the relapse. It’s that way with anyone in recovery.

And so I must be careful.

A Little Bitter

The author on three of the 12 Steps he keeps tripping over.

Mood music for this post: “A Little Bitter” by Alice in Chains:

Of the 12 Steps of Recovery, there are three  I keep tripping over:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

To be fair to myself,  Step 10 isn’t a huge problem. No one is better at taking personal inventory and focusing on all my vulnerabilities than me. Promptly admit it? All the time. That’s why I have this blog.

The problem is that I have a tough time taking the other two steps, particularly the part about making amends to those I’ve harmed.

The pastor at my church, Father Nason, once joked that those who have trouble making amends suffer from Irish Alzheimer’s disease: They forget everything but the grudges.

I’d like to think I don’t hold grudges. I know there are people I have forgiven for the past, and I’ve tried to ask for forgiveness when it’s called for.

But I admit to some confusion over just who I’ve harmed and what they need from me. With that confusion comes a little bitterness.

Let me make a list of those I think I’ve harmed and see how I’ve really done at making amends:

The Marley family. As I’ve mentioned, the family of my late friend Sean Marley — the mother and sister, in particular — hate my guts because I revealed too much about his suicide in a column I wrote shortly after it happened. I don’t blame them for being angry. I did a lot of stupid things back then. My intentions weren’t bad, but the results were. I took their raw wounds and ripped them open even wider.

So here I am again, admitting it.

I’ve tried to make amends over the years, but I’ve gotten silence from the Marleys along the way. So there are a few damaged relationships that will stay that way for now.

I guess this is a case where trying to make amends would indeed be harmful to others.

My Mother: This one is so complicated I wouldn’t know where to start untangling the mess. I’ve hurt her big-time, along with a lot of other people from that side of the family.

I won’t get into the tit-for-tat, but the biggest problem is that we both have OCD and hers triggers mine. We just can’t get along these days, though we have made a few attempts to move on,. But the bullshit keeps getting in the way. I’ve long since forgiven her for things that happened in the past. But making amends for the more recent stuff is proving more elusive at this point.

My addictions: In this case, I’m the one I’ve harmed by engaging in slow-motion self-destructiveness. I’ve been forgiven for this a thousand times over by my wife, church and friends.

I need to make amends with myself on this one, which means making peace with the fact I have to permanently abstain from compulsive overeating and alcohol. It’s not easy because having to abstain makes me bitter sometimes. Not so much in terms of the food because I was happy to shake that devil, but the wine is something else. Not being able to have any really sucks sometimes, especially when I’m traveling. But I have no choice.

I know the coffee and Red Bull are replacement addictions and, though they don’t make my life unmanageable like the other stuff did, I know that from a physical health standpoint I’m going to have to dial it way back at some point. This makes me a little bitter, too.

Or you could say playing whack-a-mole with addictive behavior makes me bitter.

The good thing about bitterness is that the taste never lasts. Eventually I’ll find the solution to what keeps me from succeeding with those three steps.

It may take years, but the whole process is for life anyway.


Pieces of Mind

This happens every time I have a week of travel.

By the time Sunday rolls around, I reach a point in the afternoon where I sit in the chair by the living room window as my brain cracks into pieces. I feel a buzz, even though I’m sober. I feel some bloat, even though my eating has been clean.

Mood music: “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead:

I feel like a wheel that’s spinning so fast that it looks like it’s completely still.

I feel the need to go into hyper-active mode, even though that’s the last thing I should be doing today.

It’s been a good day. Good Mass this morning, a fun Lego run with the kids this afternoon, and the weather is spectacular.

But I’m preoccupied.

I’ve gotten to do a lot of writing the last two weeks and now I’m looking at a week where there will be a lot more editing than writing. Deadline for the May print edition of CSO Magazine is coming up soon and I got a week behind while I was in California. There are guest columns to edit and post, and a book proposal to tweak.

During the RSA security conference, an editor for a security book publisher approached me about writing a book. But my idea veers too far from their normal content, and I’m doing some tweaking to fuse my idea with some of what they’re looking for.

If it doesn’t come together, so be it. But until then, I’m going to preoccupy myself with ways to come up with something they can sell.

One way or another, the book is going to get written. It’s in my head and will scrape the inside of my skull until I let it out.

Then there’s Source Boston, one of my favorite annual security conferences, which is coming up the week after next.

My want is to work the conference hard each day and write a lot of articles from it, but that aint happening because Sean and Duncan are on school vacation that week. It’s also Sean’s birthday and there will be a kid’s party to help pull off somewhere in there.

It’ll all work out fine. It always does. But planning how to balance the work thing with family has always been a challenge for me.

In the end, Sean’s birthday will win out. It’s more important than the other thing. Wife and kids come first.

All these things are examples of me obsessing about things beyond my mortal ability to control.

I manage that instinct a hell of a lot better than I used to, but it never fully disappears.

The fear-anxiety part did disappear, and that’s made each day a gift.

But lying around care-free? Not gonna happen unless I fall asleep.

Ah, the life of a control freak.

As long as I keep it from becoming a control freak-out, it’s all good.

Welcome to my world.

Scenes from the Airport

The author finds airport amusement where he once found hell. Here’s what happens.

Mood music for this post: “Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters:

I sit here at 6:23 a.m. San Francisco time, sitting at the gate for a flight home in an hour. Considering what I just passed through, I got here pretty quickly and calmly.

Let’s back up.

When I got here, the TSA line was as long as I’ve ever seen. Directly ahead of me in line were 40 or so tweens headed on a trip to Gettysburg and Washington D.C.

Finding MY food was more trouble than I expected, but I found what I needed. I also found some coffee that was made following my friend Ken White’s recipe.

A few minutes later, I found a Peet’s Coffee stand and things immediately started looking up. I tossed the “White” blend in the trash and got my rocket fuel.

All things considered, I’m in a chipper mood. I keep thinking of airport disaster movies and it makes me laugh. I find myself searching Youtube for some Lynard Skynard videos. Some of you might remember that half that band went down in a plane crash. That’s how my gallows humor works.

I have plenty of reasons to be happy. I’m going home to my family, who I miss. Our security conference was a smashing success. And each night here I caught up with many of the cool people I’m connected with on Twitter.

The weather has also been pretty brilliant, though strangely cooler than it was back home this week.

But there are other reasons to feel this way.

For one thing, I stuck to my plan of recovery and kept my strict alcohol-flour-sugar-free eating program intact. I also didn’t feel the edge around people drinking booze that I felt on the last trip.

I wasn’t perfect. I drank A LOT of caffeine, even by my standards, and smoked more cigars than I normally do. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel the edge around the liquor.

Ah, addictions. You put two of them down and three more pop up.

But when I think of how much I’ve polluted myself on past trips over the years, this is pretty good behavior.

There’s actually an even bigger reason I’m in a good mood: Trips through airports used to terrify me. It was one of the top freak-out items on my OCD-anxiety itinerary. I’d live the weeks leading up to a trip worrying about whether the plane will drop from the sky. Long lines would send my blood pressure soaring until my head was ready to go supernova.

Sitting on the plane for five or more hours was pure hell because closed-in spaces triggered anxiety attacks, the kind where you have trouble breathing and you see spots in your vision.

I would get home and collapse from the exhaustion.

So here we are, years after I started the therapy and found the 12 Steps of recovery. Oh yeah, and Prozac.

The TSA line doesn’t freak me out anymore. I chatted easily with the fellow overseeing the traveling tweens and with a couple of the kids. All the kids were actually very well behaved and polite.

Being on a plane now brings me peace. I look out the window and see how vast and amazing this country is. If the weather is gray, the pilot will fly us above it to a sky of blue.

photo-by-mbshane

Maybe I’ll get some sleep. Maybe I’ll listen to my music or read, or some of each.

Then I’ll land in Boston and get a ride home from a good friend.

Then I’ll see my wife and kids, who I’m eager to see again.

I was talking to a good friend at a meet-up last night — Ed Bellis, chief information security officer for Orbitz — and he asked me if I ever return to the darker feelings of my past.

Sure I do. Managing a mental disorder and its related addictions is hard work and you never stop feeling the ups and downs of life. Nor should you.

I still feel anger and even a little fear sometimes. But instead of those things controlling me, they are now more minor occurrences.

I still get tired. And with addiction, you’re always half a second away from potentially slipping on your darkest habits.

And I definitely go through a day here or week there where depression sets in. That’s normal.

But I told him — truthfully — that there are some things about the old me that will never and can never return.

I can’t see ever having the anxiety attacks and fear I used to have, though I suppose anything is possible.  I’ve seen too many of the things I missed to ever turn back. Even if I lapse back into periods of anxiety (I hope not!) there’s no turning back.

My eyes have been opened to a whole new world and going back to the dark room — which is something I used to crave — is now one of those things I’d dread instead.

Another friend, Jen Leggio (@mediaphyter on Twitter), asked me how I manage to write something new in this blog every day while maintaining the writing load I carry on the work side.

My answer is simple:

Back when fear, anxiety and depression led me to binge eat and spend 80 hours a week working out of fear that I might not please everyone (Man, that was fucking dumb), I was constantly wiped out. I would sleep all the way through my weekends.

As a result, writing was hard and stressful.

Now that I’ve learned to get out of my own way, writing comes easily, whether it’s here or in the security realm. I can write a lot more because I don’t feel the least bit of stress about it. I love it, so I do it.

The other thing I chalk it up to is Faith. As my Faith in God deepens, I realize that the things I used to freak out over are trivial items that I can’t take with me into the next life. So getting worked up about them seems pointless.

I know there’s always the chance I can slip backwards. Indeed, setbacks are a natural part of recovery. I like to call those moments growing pains.

But yeah, in the big picture, I’m one grateful SOB.

Now to board the plane. I’m in the middle of my annual reading of Helter Skelter, so I guess I’ll do that until I happily pass out.

End music: “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters: