By Marc Dunn
Fear, anger and guilt, the unholy trinity of emotions, are feelings that every addict seeks to alter. They dominated my life from the time of my earliest memories. It was those feelings that lead me on a path of reckless, selfish and dishonest seeking of substances to mask myself. It was the thoughts that I wasn’t good enough and needed to be better that blocked me from being.
Young boys grow up with a father or role model they seek approval from or they seek to emulate in order to become a “man” with all the characteristics that are deemed admirable and manly by society. The lack of this approval, the feeling of being less than, set me on a course that lead to addiction before I picked up my first drink.
Christianity and Judaism introduced the concept of God to me at an early age. It was natural for me to identify the first father figure in my life as being God like because of the teachings in our places of worship; all powerful, all knowing, supreme judge and benevolent or punishing. My first hand experience was that of an abusive stepfather. Consequently I felt early on in my life that there must be something wrong with me. How could the God-like figure in my life be wrong? It had to be that something was wrong with me.
The lack of self-esteem for me was enhanced by changing school districts every year and constantly being the new kid having to prove himself on the schoolyard and not equipped with the tools to succeed. I wanted to escape but didn’t find a route until my early teens when I was introduced to alcohol. In the interim my stepfather and boys my age constantly picked on me, beat me up and tortured me.
Years later when my stepfather was on his deathbed I confronted him about why he treated me this way. His answer was, “you were a willful child and somebody had to beat it out of you.” My answer was, “Really? That’s the way to correct a child? Fuck you!” That was the last interaction I had with him. It also gave me a good reason to get drunk.
The fear lead to anger with God because I would constantly pray for relief from the treatment I received and my prayers did not lessen the pain, Naturally the last of the emotions, guilt, grew because of my low self esteem and conviction that something was wrong with me.
My alcoholism progressed, as I grew older and resulted in suspension from the university, failed relationships with women, marriage and divorce, arrest, theft, near death escapes, many automobile accidents and escapades from reckless behavior.
My constant companion was fear of not having your approval or being found out, mainly that I wasn’t who I was pretending to be. As a young man it was important to me to appear to be fearless and full of bravado. I accumulated things that made me look good; attractive women, nice cars, expensive home and cash. It was all a grand delusion fueled by alcohol and drugs.
Drugs and alcohol were now my master and I found nothing wrong with the person I had become, totally unaware of the destruction I was causing along the way.
In the 70’s I had my own business in a small college town. Although I stayed way from the selling of substances, it was common for me to be close to those who did and insure my accessibility by brokering deals for others. It wasn’t only substances, my addictions crossed over to gambling and sex.
I owned a small business that catered to college students and the resident hippie population. One afternoon three guys came into the store who I had never seen before. It was strange that they were all very tall and after a few minutes of conversation the explanation was easy. They played basketball and were in town for a game that night. Basketball was big in the town, although our team was pretty average. A big turnout was expected for the game because the opponent was a rival and was favored to beat our home.
We were joking about the game, and then it happened. They asked if I could get them high. “Of course! No problem, “ I said. “Come back in an hour and we’ll go outside behind the store and smoke a joint”.
Friends of mine had connections with a bookmaker and we placed bets regularly on all sporting events. My addiction to gambling enhanced my “macho man” image.
As soon as the players left, I rolled a joint and went to one of my betting buddies to share the good news. We had a sure thing. One of the players was a starter. Once I got high with them, there was no way they could play a decent game that night. We bet 5 times our normal wager.
The guys returned about an hour later and I let them smoke most of the joint. They went back to join the team, completely stoned. They were carrying on about how good the shit was and they’d never been so high. I was on the phone as soon as the Bookmaker’s Office opened, made my bet and went to the game. It was insane; they couldn’t make a shot, missed passes and looked awful. We won.
Several factors were at play in my behavior: drug and gambling addiction as well the thrill of living on the edge and attention seeking. Self-centered attention seeking only rivaled my dishonesty. This was more than the youthful arrogance of immortality, there was an attitude of, “I don’t care about anyone but me and I’ll do whatever to get what I want.” It wasn’t really evil, but it was reckless and harmful to others and it made me feel like a real man. More delusional grandiosity.
Incidences such as this continued during my young adult life: arrests by the FBI (later dismissed by the courts), a divorce because of my infidelity and gambling, running a night club frequented by drug dealers and bookmakers, drunken misdeeds such as out running the police in a car chase and being thrown out of numerous bars for being too drunk. These were not accomplishments; they were the result of a total lack of self-awareness, and disregard for the safety or feelings of others.
Finally in my mid 30’s I felt the need to make a change, a combination of events: custody of my son, meeting a woman I wanted to spend my life with but probably more than anything I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It wasn’t an epiphany or revelation as much as was my fear driving me. I married, bought a home and started a family. Only I hadn’t changed my behavior, I only masked it behind what looked like the ideal family. I began a horrendous chapter of stealing from those who loved me the most, my family. I stole their peace of mind.
The selfish, careless & dishonest behavior continued, sometimes sneakily in alleys or outside bars, other times under the guise of legitimacy in the driveway of my home. It wasn’t like I was always absent or didn’t properly interact with family and friends, but it was always on my terms with an eye toward the exit.
For the next twenty years alcohol became more important and lead to many misdeeds that jeopardized the family’s financial security and our physical safety as well. My need to be in charge and the man of the house was far more important than the needs of anyone else.
There was the verbal abuse I used to prove my superior manliness, and dangerous actions as displays of bravado. One episode involved me taking the family on a boating trip into the gulf that required us traversing a channel I had never done before with a lack of the required skills. The result was having to be rescued in the middle of a lightning storm after I luckily spotted a marina I managed to steer the boat to. My wife and kids were frightened, while I maintained everything was under control. More delusional grandiosity.
Finally I stopped drinking about 15 years ago, not because I wanted to, but the pressure from my wife and others was getting more intense. I had a couple of car accidents that were not exactly the direct result of being under the influence, but my decision making was based on appearances more than sound judgment. Looking good still dominated my thoughts.
I went to AA meetings for about 30 months. Most of the time I would burglarize the conversations of old-timers, repeating what I had hears them say as if it was what I had learned in recovery. Chairing and speaking at meetings like I was a big shot, never getting a sponsor, never reading the Big Book or doing the steps. I drank again, and went on a 6 months bender that finally brought me to my knees.
It was crashing my car in a blackout on the interstate in the middle of the afternoon that did it. The car was totaled, no one was hurt, no other cars were involved and somehow I walked away without being arrested for DUI. It was the last time I had a drink and it was the last time I stole peace of mind from my wife and children.
The next day I started my recovery from alcoholism searching for a healing of the mind, body and spirit; although I didn’t know it I was about to begin an internal search of my heart and spirit.
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Some handle it by resolving their issues and allowing their feelings to pass. I had trouble moving past those feelings and seemed to linger there, where the danger of addiction came into play. The temporary and seemingly soothing nature of drugs and alcohol provided me some with the quick relief but they we never the answer to stress, depression, or anxiety.
I knew that I had never felt at home. I had never felt at home in my home. I had never felt at home in my religion. And for many months, I did not feel at home even in Alcoholics Anonymous. I had to learn that home is where the heart finds rest and renewal. That’s where coming home is.
I am far enough along in the journey now to be able to see that there is only one ultimate coming home, and that is the final, total, complete, surrender of self to a Power greater than myself. I’m also brave enough today to believe that there will come a day, there will be a place sometime, somewhere, someday, that I will probably in all likelihood completely be able to open my heart and express my feelings without fear. It comes now at times when I share at meetings, even when I engage with people outside the rooms, because I am comfortable and I don’t feel the fear of being found out. I have nothing to hide.
I am reminded of this exchange between two friends on a cattle drive from the book Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty;
“You’re so sure you’re right it doesn’t matter to you whether people talk to you at all. I’m glad I’ve been wrong enough to keep in practice.”
“Why would you want to keep in practice being wrong?”
Call asked. “I’d think it would be something you’d try to avoid.”
“You can’t avoid it, you’ve got to learn to handle it,” Augustus said. “If you come face to face with your own mis¬takes once or twice in your life it’s bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day-that way they ain’t usually much worse than a dry shave.”
The shortcomings and defects of character I confronted in my 4th and 5th Step allowed me an awareness of what is in my heart and in doing so helped me to understand that I am a human being, with feelings the same as all human beings and its okay. I had to let myself feel fear, anger and guilt, but not act out in such a way that would hurt others or myself. I learned to trust and love the Sunlight of the Spirit and make better choices and most importantly I didn’t have to be perfect. That perfection was not the measure of a man; honest admiration, love and respect of others and self are what make us men. We are all loved by our families and friends we just have to let them love us and love them in return.
My recovery is a narrow bridge, I am not afraid because I am not alone.