Before you begin this chapter, just a brief trigger warning. It was suggested to me early on that I was probably sexually abused as a child. I wasn’t, and the story as it unfolds will address that. But, I know that a HUGE part of the Recovery Community was abused. This is more of an examination of the misapplication of that fact, and the idea of “repressed memories” that permeated psychology, especially around the time of the Satanic Panic of the era. A lot of damage was done, including to those that were actually abused.
One of the things I heard the most back then, and still do, is along the lines of, “My worst day clean is better than my best day using.” For those of us in our first year or two, it’s a good idea not to analyze that statement too closely.
Because it’s not really true some of the time. I mean, sure, from the perspective of not doing something daily that’ll kill you, it’s right on point. But as far as how we actually feel or what actually happens…not so much. We get cancer, loved ones leave us, or there’s actual death. There’s a thousand things in between those things that happen. And some of them suck.
Still, after talking to Sam, I had one of those my worst day clean moments. It wasn’t the romantic reunion I wanted. She was just a friend, who cared a lot about me, and was smart enough to keep a clear line between us. The internal pain that reality caused me is near indescribable. It was physical and mental at the same time. a kind of silent anguish that defied expression. Every waking moment was consumed with thoughts of her, and almost everything that happened ended up being tied to her in one way or another.
One time, I went to the movies with a friend from AA, Haller. Big guy, smart as hell with about two years sober. We went to see Brahm Stokers Dracula, the one with Keanu Reeves and Wynona Ryder. After the movie, we went to Denny’s, to talk about the movie. As I remember it, it was Sam this, Sam that, how Sam was like Lucy and…I couldn’t stop. Haller tried to intervene, get me to talk about anything else, think about anything else.
When he dropped me off, it was the last time I’d see or hear from him.
My morning’s started out the same, everyday. I’d somehow attached the music of Rory Gallagher, the great Irish electric Bluesman, so Sam. She had a tattoo, and his song Tattooed Lady and most of the tracks from Irish Tour ’74 I somehow fit into the narrative that was the fantastical us. Same with Million Miles Away and Who’s that Comin’.
Mother Love Bone was another band solidly attached to her. Even now, if I hear Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns or Stardog Champion it takes me back to those days, albeit briefly. In my mind, it’s always a dark place, never mind the fact that late Summer in the Sacramento Valley is bright as heck.
If it wasn’t “attached” to Sam, I didn’t listen to it much. I’d become sensitive to the music I’d been listening to just prior to my clean date, and did my best to avoid it. Soundgarden, Helmet and Faith No More provoked strong reactions that I wasn’t ready to endure. That didn’t last very long, but in my first 30 days, is a came up towards my actual cleaned it, that’s the state of mind I was in.
There was one exception, and that was music from my teenage years, before I started to smoke weed or drink heavily. I didn’t think it meant much, but I found myself gravitating towards Black Sabbath, especially Vol 4. It was the first album I ever bought with my own money, when I turn 13 in 1975. Wheels of Confusion, Supernaut and Under the Sun gave me a bit of comfort. Those were the only songs though, and I stayed clear of St Vitus’ Dance and Snowblind, the latter for pretty obvious reasons. St Vitus, well, that was too close to home as well, so I had no idea why. For now it’s enough note that I stayed away from that song at the time.
Overall, my music consumption was pretty “meh” in that first week of September.
Work was the closest I came to a mental/emotional break from the obsession. The demands of coordinating Pulling with Loading, and also working with Receiving, kept me occupied. Meetings also acted as a ballast, keeping me active, meeting new people and giving me a sense of purpose. I learned how to put on the game face, censor and filter myself so I didn’t scare the Newcomer (even though I was one, myself.)
Other than that, I was squirming inside. It was a constant struggle just to maintain, to keep going forward. Work and meetings were where I could at least look as if I was OK, no matter how badly I felt.
I finally made it to my appointment with a social worker in Davis as part of my EAP requirements. I had a natural distrust of counselors and couldn’t figure out why I was seeing a Social Worker. The alphabet soup on the door referred to things I didn’t understand: MSW, BSW, things like that. My opinion was, since I was in Recovery, I didn’t need any outside help. As the saying went- counselors send people to us, not the other way around. But to keep my job, I had to see this guy, at least once.
I’d been through a few assessments back in the Navy, and it was on par with what I experienced back then. A whole bunch of questions about my medical history, family, and of course, my drug use. I had a certain smug pride as he read off my criteria and diagnosis: Alcohol Dependence, Cannabis Dependence, and Stimulant Dependence, all in on the way to partial remission.
When he got to another part of the assessment, things got a little more interesting, and he focused on my lack of sexual activity. It had been over two years since I left my last girlfriend, and he didn’t seem to buy the idea I’d only had sex once in that time. He also tried to understand my relationship with Sam, and for the one and only time, I didn’t want to talk about it. At all.
I was being Analyzed.
There’s an old concept in science called “the observer effect,” where just observing something changes it. In counseling, there’s the “observer-effect bias.” I think people in treatment can intuitively feel when that’s happening. There’s a whole spectrum of approaches to minimize the effect, but darn few counselors who practice it, or are even aware of it. We can feel the act of being judged, assessed and categorized. I could feel it happening in that session, and my immediate response was to avoid, evade, and escape, at any cost.
But the dude was persistent. He was also a gatekeeper: if I didn’t submit, he had the power to cost me my job. Or, so it felt at the time. Even though every internal alarm was going off, I went through the process, thinking that all I had to do was answer his questions and be done with it.
He was silent, intent on reading something in my responses, writing notes, and making regular facial expressions. After a while, he stopped, took a deep breath and spoke.
“When you were a child, did anyone ever touch you or do anything…inappropriate?”
A flash of heat went through me. “Um…no.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” The heat started to feel like anger. “Why?”
“Well, looking at your responses, and what you’ve told me about your…relationship, I get a sense that something might have happened. You seem to have difficulty with intimate relationships, you’re not comfortable with sex, and you have a tendency to bond with people, with women, who themselves have been…traumatized.”
“Okay. I guess so…”
“This…Sam, she’s the latest case. Based on what you’ve told me and your answers in the assessments, you feel an intense emotional bond and a strong need to be with her. She also triggers even stronger feelings, like the time you lost control of your drinking after she told you about her…experience.”
I nodded, my mouth too dry to speak.
“In my experience, intense reactions like this happen because of a shared experience. And that your need to be with her is a way for you to…heal yourself. Does that make sense?”
Once again, I felt like I reality was bending and shifting all around me. Vertigo took over for a few seconds. I nodded for him to continue.
“So, do you recall anything or anyone when you were young, around 4 or so, that something like that may have happened with? Touching, anything that would make you feel uncomfortable?”
My mind raced, searching for some memory or fragment that might be a clue. I remembered a picture of myself sitting on the lap of a man dressed as Santa. I think it was in our living room, it would have been in Lakewood, just outside of Cleveland. I had a hazy recollection of him walking into the house, scaring the shit out of me. I seemed to remember mom trying to calm me down…
I shook my head. “No. Nothing comes to mind. Seriously.”
The social worker took another breath, leaned back in his chair.
“Well. First off, good job with the drinking. I definitely think you’re on the right track, and I wouldn’t do anything different in that regard. Keep going to meetings, meet with your sponsor: don’t change a thing.”
That made me feel a bit better, and I nodded. But the walls seemed to be shrinking inwards, my vision becoming narrow.
“But, this other stuff. It could explain why you started using drugs in the first place. You’ve got quite an extensive history here: pot, booze, LSD, mushrooms, crack, cocaine, opium, quaaludes and methamphetamine. It looks like you’re trying to escape something. Then, there’s your childhood, which you describe as being a loner, isolated from your peers. You even went to the Akron Children’s Hospital for observation. According to what you wrote here, it was psychological, right?”
“Yeah. I had stomach problems and got sick a lot, and they figured it was in my head.”
“Hmm. Scott, all of those are clues that something pretty traumatic happened. And yet, no can’t remember anything…”
“Have you ever heard of repressed memories?”
“Sure. A lot of that’s been in the news. Saw one the other night, something about a cult.”
“Yes. I think it’s possible that you’ve experienced similar things, and what you’ve gone through is a reaction to that. I know a few people who specialize in memory-recovery therapy. I can give you a list if you like.”
“So, it wouldn’t be you that does it?”
“No.” He waived the question off. “I just do the assessment and make recommendations. I leave the treatment to the specialists, so you can get the care you need.”
“About this repressed memory stuff, do I have to do it? To keep my job and all?”
“Not at all. You were sent because of the alcohol incident and missing work. All I do is write a report, recommend follow-up sessions. To bo honest, I don’t have any recommendations for that; you’re doing fine. I do recommend therapy, but that’s voluntary and nothing in the report will say anything about that.”
“Cool.” The vertigo calmed down.
“But listen, I think it’s very important to deal with this as soon as possible. Repressed memories can cause serious issues, like the ones that brought you here. It’s NOT your fault. Whoever did this to you is responsible. You were only a child.”
That feeling of discomfort came back. He looked so serious, excited, like he was ready to pick up the phone, get a doctor over here and get to work. That’s one thing that wasn’t going to happen. What was going to happen was getting the fuck out of there. As quickly as I could, I stood up, thanked him for his time, asked if he needed anything else.
“No, that’s all for today. I’ll write this up, notify your work that it’s done. Take care, and please think about what we talked about.
“Sure thing,” I said as the door closed. I felt a brief touch of cold air in the September heat of the Sacramento Valley. At least that’s what I thought it was, but I didn’t think about it as I got in the car and sped off.
When I got home, I went straight to my room and stared out the glass door to the porch. I still had the chairs setting where they’d been almost a month ago. I remembered the margaritas I used to make, emphasizing the words used to. I didn’t want to drink, simply remembered the times when I did. I shuddered again, went out and sat on the porch. The sun was starting its descent towards the Vaca Valley hills, Mount Diablo in the distance to the South. I was able to take the sight in, reminded of the flat land of North West Ohio, with only the palm trees and the lone mountain to remind me of where I was. For the first time in a long time, I felt homesick. I could feel myself get lost in reverie…
The phone jarred me out of it. I rushed to the phone, just in case it was Sam. It wasn’t.
“Well, how’s it feel to come up on 30 days?” It was Andy. He always sounded like a radio jockey mixed with someone I’d known for years. He was neither.
“Well, I guess it’s ok.”
“You don’t sound very grateful. Where the gratitude?”
“Well, I…” I took a breath, my head still a bit fuzzy.
“Just kidding, buddy. Hey, watcha doing Friday night?”
“I dunno. Figured I’d get my chip at the Dixon meeting. Why?”
“Wellll, I was thinking about taking you out for dinner, to celebrate. Then hit the Young Person’s meeting in Davis.”
“Um…that sounds great, but I was thinking I should go to the Friday night, where I first went. It’s kinda my homegrown and all.”
“That’s your homegrown? It’s all old people. Smells like Ben Gay and shit.”
I laughed. Yeah, someone, maybe a couple, had the strong scent of liniment on them. Andy thought they were trying to hide the smell of booze. “You never know, this ol’ folks are crafty and shit, “ he once said.
“Yeah, it’s my hometown. I mean, I feel like I owe it to them, ya know?”
“Yeah, I get it. Hey, gotta run though. See ya Friday. Love ya, man.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I could never figure out why he acted so close. We had diddly in common other than relative age- he was about 28. I would have spoken to my Sponsor about it, but I never even thought about reaching out to him. Truth be told, Robert scared me a little bit. He had this really intense look on his face whenever I saw him, and it always put me on edge. I guess most people put me on edge.
Tuesday, September 8th marked my 30 they clean date. I was amazingly ambivalent about it, and it was one of the few times where I understood exactly why I felt that way. Over the course of the past seven years or so, I had multiple instances 30 days without using anything. It invariably led to another relapse, and another escalation in my steep decline. In fact, I’d managed to put together an entire year, from July 1990 until the same month in 91.
I consider it the worst year of my life.
At any rate, I wasn’t exactly excited to be going to the Tuesday night narcotics anonymous meeting and getting my red key tag. It was no big deal to me, and if anything was slightly embarrassing. But, when I announced myself at the beginning of the meeting, I was overwhelmed by the reaction. As usual, there was maybe 10 people in attendance, but they made enough noise for 50. I had to admit, it was a good feeling. Naturally, they had me give a little speech, and I regurgitated the usual platitudes I was becoming familiar with. I said something like, “keep coming back, every day I remember where I was a month ago, good night in meetings in 90 days, and don’t quit before the miracle happens.”
What I really wanted to talk about what is my counseling session, how the therapist had suggested I’ve been molested as a child. How horrible I felt afterwards, and how distant I felt from everyone and everything in my life. Except for this meeting. This was special, and something inside me and told me it was a good idea to focus on the positive things going on in my life rather than the internal struggles I was happening. There were one or two new cameras in the room, enter them 30 days of continuous clean time was a miracle they could barely imagine. They told me that during the smoke break, and even sat next to me when the meeting resumed.
You didn’t feel good to get outside of my head for a little bit, and I got to feel a little bit of the spirit of giving something away. I have no idea what their names were, I never saw them again. But in that moment, I was an example they could look up to, and I didn’t feel like I was a good example of anything.
That’s how my first 30 days ended. After the meeting, I went back to my room, slightly disappointed there are no messages waiting for me. I did have a slight glow after the meeting, but the reality is I went back to the same old room, in the same old boarding house, with the same old thoughts.
Most of all, I was disappointed that Sam didn’t even bother to call…