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.


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.


Lessons from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

Me and the kids are watching Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” for movie night. I like this version about as equally as the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, which we watched a few weeks ago.

That viewing actually inspired me to write down a post. I’m rewriting it here, because I’m having the same reaction to the newer film as I did the old one…

The author watched Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the first time since cleaning up from a binge eating disorder. What a trip.

Yesterday the rain was coming down sideways, so the Brenner clan decided to put in a DVD of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s still a great movie, but since my main troubles with addictive behavior stem from flour and sugar, which I gave up on Oct. 1, 2008, watching it this time was kind of weird.

Weird because I didn’t sneak out of the house afterward to buy $20 worth of candy to stuff down my throat on the 3-minute drive from the gas station back to the house. I just went to fill the cars with gas and buy a loaf of bread and some Red Bull.

The scene in the film which best fits a mind unhinged is where they are traveling the chocolate river on a boat:

Looking at the characters in the movie really reminded me of the multiple personalities I can have as an addict. Those kids were punks as individuals and got what they deserved.

Now, for a little fun, let’s squish them all into one, multi-personality monster and see what we get. By the time we finish, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what one person is like when their addictions run wild.

Charlie Bucket: This is the good side of the soul, the part that wants to be honest and do the right thing. For me, this side won out in the end — well, for now, at least — but being the quiet, well-behaved kid, he’s always in danger of being pushed to the back of the line by these wretched children:

Violet Beauregarde: The third kid to find one of Wonka’s elusive Golden Tickets, this little scamp is a compulsive gum chewer. That compulsion gets the better of her and she blows up into a giant blueberry. Been there, done that.

Augustus Gloop: The Deadly Sin of Gluttony personified, this poor kid is encouraged to eat like a slob by his parents, who are just as devoted to their own binging habits. Hell, his old man eats the top of a microphone and doesn’t seem to notice. The kid takes it too far by shoving his bloated face in Wonka’s chocolate river.

Mike Teavee: I know this kid. He lives for TV, especially the violent programs where a lot of bullets are flying. His parents sit there and let him indulge. Now blend him with Augustus and Violet and you get a kid who sits in front of the tube shoving all kinds of junk down his throat.

Veruca Salt: This kid is so selfish and mean that you want to spill tears of joy when she goes down the garbage chute with the rest of the rotten eggs. I like to think of her as the glue that holds the rest of the beast together. The other kids make up the guts of the poor soul who is owned by his or her addictions. Veruca is the skin.

What makes the movie so great is that Charlie comes out on top. It’s a dream of most people to have the good triumph over evil.

In this movie it does.

In my own life, it has.

But I have to be on guard at all times because, contrary to what Wonka says at the end of the movie, the guy who gets everything he wants DOES NOT live happily ever after.

You’re always seconds away from letting Veruca or Violet back out.

The good news is that if you are truly serious about being well, there’s no shortage of loving souls who will stick with you and keep you on the path to Heaven.

You might loop back through Hell a few times along the way, but you’ll end up in the better place if you keep working at it.

5 Songs to Play When Angry

OK, so I’m not in the best mood this morning. Daylight-savings-time is messing with me, as are the kids. The rain that’s been pelting the windows all night disturbed my sleep, as did my getting sent to the couch for snoring too loud.

None of it can really be attributed to OCD behavior. This is simply life, and the mood will pass after I’ve been to Church and we’re buried under blankets this afternoon watching “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Sean just read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” so it’s time to break out both films.

First, though, I need to gargle more coffee and play some angst music. Angst music is perfect for a mood like this. So let me share what I’m listening to this morning…

The Beatles: “Helter Skelter”

Nirvana: “You Know You’re Right”

Metallica: “The End of the Line”

Danzig: “Twist of Cain”

Beastie Boys: “Sabotage”

There. I feel better already.

Another Reason Addiction-Depression Stinks

I’ve mentioned before that one of the inspirations for this blog was a book called “The Heroin Diaries” by Nixxi Sixx, bass player and lyricist for Motley Crue. It’s a book of diary entries he wrote from late 1986 to late 1987, at the time the “Girls Girls Girls” album was recorded and the band toured the world to support it.

The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star

At the time, he was in the tight clutches of a heroin addiction that would nearly kill him by December 1987. He was in fact dead for a few minutes, but a needle to the heart brought him back to life.

Last night I was flipping through the book again and noticed that Sixx often went days without showering. If he took a shower, it was a good day.

His girlfriend at the time, Vanity, is also described as being a mess all the time because she was too high to notice.

As a former manager for Motley Crue put it, when you’re strung out the first thing to fall by the side of the road is personal hygene.

From my experiences with depression and addictive behavior, I can tell you there’s a lot of truth to that statement.

In my early 20s, when I was binge eating in the basement of the house in Revere, I would go days wearing the same gym pants and bath robe without taking a shower. I was so depressed I just didn’t care.

Besides, it’s not like I was having much luck finding girlfriends when I was clean.

My friends were often just as bad, especially Sean Marley, who at the time was descending into his own little hell and was running sleep-deprivation experiments on himself.

The hang-ups weren’t unique. I’d obsess about finding a girlfriend, which I couldn’t do because I was trying too hard. I was also going through my parental hatred phase. In hindsight I was an ungrateful slob. After all, they did let me have the entire basement apartment as a bedroom and let be throw parties at will.

Later on, after I met the love of my life and started getting serious about my journalism career, I made more of an effort at personal hygene. I showered more often, anyway.

But my weight was piling on as I dove deep into binge eating. Marley had recently died and I was doing an editing job that was killing me because of the hours I was putting in. I showered so I wouldn’t offend anyone, but I would wear the same clothes days at a time. I figured if I wore the same pants every day nobody would notice because I’d change the shirts. I’m sure some people noticed.

The good news is that I got over this sort of behavior as I went to work on the root causes of my OCD and related addictions.

So don’t worry. I’ve had my shower and a fresh change of clothes.

But if you’re standing next to someone in the elevator and they just happen to reek, go easy on them. They’re probably just going through a rough time.

With any luck, it’ll pass.

Addicted to Feeling Good: A Love-Hate Story

To kick off Lent, the author reflects on some of his dumber quests to feel good.

Mood music for this post: “Snake Eyes and Sissies” from Marilyn Manson:

Every now and then, it’s useful to look back on who I used to be so I can appreciate who I am today.

Today, as Lent begins, I do it simply to laugh at how in many ways, despite the progress I’ve made, I’ve been as stupid in adulthood as I was 20-plus years ago.

Lent is a time to sacrifice habits you love, gain a true appreciation for the sacrifices Jesus made [which were well beyond anything mortal man can comprehend) and draw closer to God. [More on my Faith in Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely, Rat in the Church Pew and Better Angels of My Nature]

I’ve given up cigars for Lent. It’s probably not nearly enough, because I don’t smoke them often enough to really be sacrificing anything. But since I’ve already given up flour, sugar and alcohol, I couldn’t think of anything else.

Still, giving something up always brings back acute memories of some of the dumber things I’ve done in the compulsive-obsessive drive to feel good.

So please indulge me as I take inventory:

Age 18: I’m living off 8 cups of black coffee and a mug of Raisin Bran a day in an attempt to be rock-star thin. I discovered an after dinner drink — Haffenreffer Lager Beer. There were little puzzles on the underside of the bottle caps, and your ability to solve them would steadily decline — or increase — depending on how drunk you were. Being addicted to instant gratification, I’d suck down three bottles in quick succession so I could immediately enjoy feeling like I had just absorbed half a keg of lighter beer.

Age 21: I’m pacing up and down the driveway of the old Revere house in a blue-green polka-dotted bathrobe I used to own. I’m freaking out because I’ve just consumed two beers and an entire stick of marijuana by myself in the concrete storage room beneath the front patio.

The fellow who gave it to me was about 500 pounds and wore a black trenchcoat, even during the summer. He died Valentine’s Day 2009 of a heart attack. I lost touch with him as I became focused on career and learned after his death that he had led an admirable life of aiding the mentally disabled. Anyway, I was freaking out because, in the midst of lying on my bed enjoying the high, I suddenly got the idea that I just might have a heart attack. That’s one of my earlier memories of an anxiety attack.

We partied a lot in that basement. It was the scene of many impressive and entertaining mood swings.

I called my friend Danny Waters and asked him to come over. He did, and found me pacing up and down the driveway in my bathrobe. He took me down the street to Kelly’s Roast Beef and got me an order of chicken fingers to munch away the anxiety. Kelly’s was always a favorite place for me to binge eat away my troubles. It was as good as any drug or liquor store.

That was the year this photo was taken in my basement:

The guy on the left is me. Dan Waters is in the middle. The guy dressed as a vampire on the right is Sean Marley. [Read about him in Lost Brothers and Marley and Me]

It was also around the time the three of us were ambushed by a group of punks while walking home from Kelly’s. I was walking ahead of Sean and Dan and escaped injury.

Age 29: I drop 100 pounds of fat I packed on while binge-eating my way through the middle 1990s. I’m inspired by the quadruple bypass surgery my father has recently had. I lose the weight by pigging out Thursday through Saturday and starving myself Sunday through Wednesday. The binge eating continues through the next few years but I manage to keep the weight down, fooling most people.

Age 33: Around this time, the binge eating gets a new playmate in the form of red wine, which I decide I can’t live without.

Age 39: No more binge eating — not today, anyway. No wine. I work the 12-step program of recovery.

The instant gratification is gone, replaced by something much better — long-term sanity and clarity that allows me to see all the precious moments around me that went unnoticed during the days of mental haze.

Giving up cigars for Lent is the least I could do.

Rat in the Church Pew

The author has written much about his Faith as a key to overcoming mental illness. But as this post illustrates, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual development.

The scene is the parking lot of All Saints Parish, just after today’s 9:30 Mass. Father Mike Harvey greets the Brenners and the conversation somehow turns to the kids listening to their mother and father.

Father Harvey: Remember kids, if your mother asks you to do something or tells you something, she is always right.

Me: Does that rule apply to me?

Father Mike: Yes. You always should answer her with “Yes Dear.”

Me: I’m an editor so I always try to make do with fewer words. So instead of “Yes Dear,” I shorten it to “Whatever.”

I have to be honest: While Sunday Mass is always a place for me to find peace and get closer to God, sometimes I ruin it for myself. I’m not a special case, because we all have our good days and bad days, but it’s worth noting here because it shows that while I’ve come far in conquering my demons, sometimes I backslide.

Case in point: I woke up cranky as all hell this morning, and as a result I went to church with a lousy attitude.

I didn’t hear the Homily, or the Gospel, or the Readings. I stood stone-faced during the Prayers of the Faithful. I got annoyed with the school principal sitting in the pew in front of us because her perfume was inflaming my allergies. I looked with disdain at a couple people who were reading the church bulletin during the Homily. It’s not my business, and I was as poorly-focused as they were. I was being judgmental, something I need to work on.

What’s this have to do with managing OCD? Let me explain:

Even though I’ve come a long way in managing my demons, there are still going to be days where I’m not as on top of things as I should be.

This is normal. Sliding back is part of the process.

It’s also easy to get caught up in parish politics and attitudes. Sometimes we get pissed because we feel someone is judging us. Yet we turn around and judge them back.

Today was a reminder that my mental tools are only going to remain effective if I keep working to perfect them. That includes the eating plan at the center of my recovery for binge eating.

The battle against the demons is never completely won. It’s a battle that continues until death.

I like to think of it as something more positive: a journey.

Serious Songs I Can’t Take Seriously

For some reason, the author always seems to get the most comic relief from things that are supposed to be serious.

I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog talking about music and humor as therapy. Today, I share some more favorites. The thing is, everything I’m about to share isn’t meant to be funny. But for someone with a dark sense of humor, these things offer true levity. Seriously.

Poison: “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”

The very fact that Brett Michaels sings these lyrics with a straight face makes you wonder if he was taking himself a bit too seriously. By the way, this is my friend Linda White’s all-time favorite song.

DIO: “Rock and Roll Children”

Ronnie James Dio. The man. Scary and intense during his Black Sabbath days. Then, to keep up with all the glam bands of the mid-1980s, he went and did this.

Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast:

I find everything from this band funny. I can’t help it.

Loudness: “Hit The Rails”

I can’t understand a thing the singer is saying. But that was always part of the fun with this, Japan’s biggest, baddest metal band.

Motley Crue: “Smoking in the Boys Room”

You all know I love this band. And true, there was meant to be humor here. But their glam image in 1985, along with their choice of this song to cover, shows they truly were on drugs.

Tomorrow: Serious films I Can’t Take Seriously