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.

Happy and Productive in the Debris Field

The author used to come unglued around chaos. Now it floats past him.

Mood music for this post: “Sons and Daughters” by The Decemberists:

Looking at the week ahead, it’s amazing I’m not hiding in a foxhole right now.

I’m working from home the first part of the week while the kids are on vacation. Call it half a vacation, though I’m tackling a full plate of work each day.

Sean’s birthday is this week, so the house needs a scrubbing before party guests arrive Thursday.

I have a conference in Boston to cover the latter half of the week into the weekend.

And oh yeah — with two vacationing kids comes a lot of clutter.

I’ve always hated clutter. It’s one of the biggest OCD triggers I have. And you can’t have kids around without accepting a certain degree of clutter. There’s no eating without dumping stuff on the floor. There’s no Lego activities without getting Legos everywhere.

But something strange has happened in more recent years. I’ve found that these things don’t rattle me the way they used to.

I chalk it up to all the progress I’ve made managing my OCD and putting down the worst of my addictions.

Now I can peacefully co-exist among the chaos and clutter. If I have work, I can do it  and do it well sitting among the debris, like I did yesterday when Duncan decided to make a blanket/pillow fort right where I was writing a couple CSO articles:

Hell, I even helped him build the thing.

Then I sat in my half-covered chair and got working. And guess what? I got plenty done.

I feel better about zigzagging from the conference to Haverhill for birthday activities because I’ve already written and posted four stories and two podcasts about things that will be going on at the event.

It’s all good.

One more thing about the clutter, though: If you know someone with OCD that’s not under control, keep them as far away from chaos as possible.

For the chaotic mind, clutter is the worst.

It amplifies the crazy in your head.

That I can now exist in the clutter is pretty wild when I stop to think about it.

Oddly enough, I’ve probably swung a bit too far to the other side of the spectrum.

My wife pointed out to be recently that I’m more of a slob since cleaning up my act.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it?


Windmill Hands

Ever wondered what that weird thing is the author does with his hands? Wonder no more.

Those who know me well have seen it at one time or another, usually when I’m sitting at a desk engaged in a project. My face gets slightly contorted and I start shaking my hands around like they’re on fire.

I call it my Windmill Hand Syndrome.

When I’m doing it, I don’t realize it, though I just noticed myself doing it just now.

It tends to happen when I’m sketching or writing. Sometimes it happens when I’m editing.

Is it a byproduct of OCD? Don’t know.

I’ve been doing it for most of my life, though, so probably not.

It’s a mystery. But no one ever gets hurt, so I’m not fretting over it.

Sure I look like a jack-ass when I do it. But it can’t be any worse than what I already looked like. Hehheh.

Skeptic Slang and Charles Manson: Six Degrees of Separation

Skeptic Slang and a glimpse at mental illness in the making.

Mood music for this post: “My Monkey” by Marylin Manson:

A note about the music: Marilyn Manson put this on his “Portrait of an American Family” album, which was recorded in the Sharon Tate murder house. The title and chorus were taken from a Charles Manson song called “Mechanical Man.” Bits of Manson interviews are sprinkled throughout.

It just seemed appropriate for some reason…

Today was a good day with some strange memories thrown into the mix. Call it Skeptic Slang day.

I put the kids in the car (Erin was at a writing and editing conference) and drove to the Salem, Mass. home of my former Skeptic Slang guitarist, Chris Casey, his wife Nancy and their two sweet kids, Melissa and Mark.

I was there for a few reasons: to help Nancy set up a blog for her own writings, which I suggest you follow, and to look at photos she had of our old band. Most of all, I just wanted to see a couple old friends. I’ve known Nancy for 20 years and their marriage is a point of pride for me because I introduced them way back in the day.

So I looked at the Skeptic Slang pictures and noticed something I initially found funny. But later, back in the car, it occurred to me that the images were a bit jarring. They reminded me of something I had forgotten about myself back then.

I’m wearing a Charles Manson shirt. And with the long hair and beard, I sort of resemble the creep:

But looking back, it was an awful shirt to be wearing.
The other thing I noticed in the pictures was that I had angry eyes.
In another picture I have my hand over my face. I remember now that I was agitated as hell during that photo shoot because it was taking a long time and the thought of me being photographed made me sick.
Indeed, that was a very angry time for me. A family member was suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. I was in full rage against my mother and step-mother. More than one Skeptic Slang song was about wishing my mother dead. In fact, one song was called “You’re Dead,” as in dead in my mind.
I was still pissed as all hell about my brother’s death eight years before.
The mess in my skull that would ultimately blossom into full-blown mental disorder was starting to swirl. The bitter roots had taken hold.
Fortunately, the band itself was an excellent release valve at the time. I couldn’t really sing, but it didn’t matter. We played aggressively, and that allowed the rage in me to pour out like sweat that I could then wash off.
God has always had a funny way of giving me the things I needed to lurch forward.
And while the band is long gone, I got some lifelong friends out of it.
The fact that we can now hang out and watch our kids hang out with each other is just freakin’ awesome.

Human Tourniquets and the Freaks Who Love ‘em

The author on a man who took a lot of abuse at the hands of his not-so-sane friend.

Mood music for this post: “Tourniquet” by Marilyn Manson:

You know the type. They hang  out with people who act more like abusive spouses than friends. They are human tourniquets. They absorb the pain of their tormentor daily and without complaint.

This is the story of the man who used to be my tourniquet.

I met Aaron Lewis in 1985, my freshman year of high school. He was the kid with really bad acne. But nothing ever seemed to bother him. I’m sure a lot of things bothered him, but he was very good at hiding his feelings.

That made him the perfect target for a creep like me.

Don’t get me wrong. He was a true friend. One of my best friends. We shared a love of heavy metal. We both got picked on, though unlike me, he didn’t take it out on other, weaker classmates.

We hung out constantly. He practically lived in my Revere basement at times. I let him borrow my car regularly. And if I drank, that was OK, because he almost never drank. He could be the driver.

Except for the time I encouraged him to drink a bottle of vodka. He had just eaten a bag of McDonald’s and I told him I was sick of him trying to get buzzed off of wine coolers. This night, I told him, he was going to do it right.

He got smashed, and proceeded to puke all over my basement — on the bed, the carpets, the couch, the dresser. That was some strange vomit. It looked like brown confetti.

I sat on the floor, drunk myself, writing in my journal. I wrote about how drunk Aaron was and prayed to God that he wouldn’t die. He was never in danger of that, but I freaked all the same.

Man, would I love to find that journal. That entry would be a hoot.

We saw a lot of movies together. We watched a lot of MTV.

He was the perfect counterweight to Sean Marley. Marley was essentially my older brother and I spent a lot of time trying to earn his approval. I didn’t have to do that with Aaron. He didn’t criticize. He didn’t judge. He just took all my mood swings on the chin.

I would sling verbal bombs at him and he’d take it.

I would slap him on the back of the neck and he’d take it.

Man, I was such a jerk. And he took it.

That’s a true friend.

Times have changed.

Aaron got married, moved to California and has a growing family. He’s doing some wonderful things with his life.

I cleaned up from my compulsive binge eating, found my Faith and untangled the coarse, jagged wiring in my brain that eventually became an OCD diagnosis.

If he’s reading this, I apologize for all the times I was an asshole. I hope somewhere in there, I was a good friend, too.

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.