A Necessary Hell

Tom, a member of several of the Facebook groups I’m in, is an outstanding poet. He posts a poem every single day on his blog quarryhouse.wordpress.com and frequently, his poems concern his battle against clinical depression. Tom is also a minister in a small Vermont town and he is far and away the most open-minded man of the cloth when it comes to matters of the spirit I’ve ever met (and I have never even met him in person.) He respects my choice of faith, Buddhism, and I respect his faith in God and Jesus Christ. It is this mutual respect that has made us devoted readers of one another for a few years.


He posted the following poem and “About” section on his blog today:


Strange Forges

 My mother taught me

to never let them see you sweat.


To never leave your blood on the table.

To discretely hide your scars so effectively


they became invisible, a strategy that worked

for the first fifty years until


there was no place to hide any longer, until

you were more scar than man


and your pain became a sideshow

with the carney barkers shouting to the rubes:


“Come see how the mighty have fallen! Come see

the living dead in their last days.”


drawing a crowd who looked on, not in horror,

but compassion, who saw in you, themselves


and wrapped their wounded arms around your almost corpse

and kept you warm when your heart felt cold.


And so today, you may see me sweat. You may see me bleed.

Not for the audience, or the horror or the spectacle,


but because I have finally learned wounds not only hurt,

they heal.


He followed up the poem with this:


About this poem.


Why share pain? For pity? For Drama? For (fill in your thoughts here.)?


We share pain because it heals. It heals us, and at times, it heals others as well, giving the pain purpose.


I have been punching the clock, at extremely irregular intervals, on the manuscript for my book for a little over a year now. But recently, I turned a corner on the project that makes it next to impossible to renege on the decision to write it at all. One of the wild horses that’s been wrangling around the corral in my head is one simple question. Why write the book at all?

My life in sobriety is pretty good and I’m a happy person most of the time. This contrasts starkly with the miserable wretch I was when Addiction had me in a choke hold. For about 10 years, I suffered an inward and outward bound rage at myself and the world in general because of the illness that completely changed my life. So why, you ask, in the name of all that is decent and holy would I want to plunge head-first back into the darkest period of my life and write about it? Let’s start with the reasons I’m not doing it (This is where Tom’s poem rejoins my story. Come on, stay with me.)

I don’t write this blog, and especially the Him posts, because I want people to feel sorry for me. If my father has taught me anything (he’s actually taught me quite a few things, but I’m shooting for relevancy here) it’s hatred of the phenomena of victim-hood. He and my mom have never been much for self-pity because I think they both subscribe to the belief that it serves no purpose. Oh sure, they as much as me and as much as really anybody have bouts of sulking with the occasional spar with passive aggressive bullshit. But for the most part, they have always taught me a recipe of a dash of self-pity in a big vat of suck-it-up.

The same holds true for Drama and is especially relevant given the Him persona I created to help me deal with the addictive side of my personality. Besides providing me with a healthy (I think, anyway) method of dealing with my daily reprieve in recovery, creating Him presented me with the perfect vehicle to implement in my book and blog the message of persistence and gratitude I sincerely hope I convey to anyone who happens upon my words. When He pays me a visit, it’s not like I’m waiting around for it. I’ve just learned to see Him coming and so prepare accordingly. I certainly don’t publish a Him post and eagerly wait for comments to roll in to make me feel better (although they do) or to boost my ego (although, again, there’s an element of that fortunate side effect.) As Connor Oberst once sang, I am not singing for you.

Sharing my pain helps me heal myself after 10 years of taking mostly self-administered jaw and gut punches. As far as the turned corner I referred to earlier, I renewed once again my commitment to writing my story because I realized how much good I might provide anybody who reads it and realizes they are not alone. I also realized that I was inching closer to the center of this tightrope and below is a lake of Hellfire that I have to traverse to get to the other side. I have to get details from my ex-girlfriend about the awful things we did to each other. I have to relive moments with my family from the past that I would just as soon never think of, much less talk or write about, again. I have to canvas every darkened porch in my mind and knock on the door. Then I have to deal with whatever opens it.

At first, I believed the message of my book needed to be “If I can do this with everything that happened to me, anybody can do this.” But again, that’s a little too self-congratulatory, especially given that everyone has their own bottom and wherever it is and how you happened to get there isn’t relevant in the least. No, the theme of the book, the point of the whole damn thing, is forgiveness of self. This recovery stuff is a pain in the ass squared sometimes and if I can talk someone back from the ledge and convince them to fight one more day, then it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Yesterday, I read a story about a 12 year-old girl who took her own life after constant bullying by her classmates. I read the story and all could think was how much this little girl meant to her family and sincerely wished I could have been there for her to assure her that it does get better. My creative vocation is to do that for the newly recovering person who might see the rocky road ahead and just say “Screw it” and go back to their old ways.

No matter what you’ve done and no matter who you’ve hurt or how much, you must forgive yourself and only then can you set about the business of changing your life. Do otherwise and I can almost guarantee that you will drink again and you will use again. It’s that simple. It’s up to you.

2 thoughts on “A Necessary Hell

  1. Andy, I want you to write your book.
    I found out last week that a friend
    has relapsed, left her family and we don’t know where she is. I think
    your book could wake up people
    before they take that leap.
    We all deal with it differently, but
    I read a lot to keep sober.
    You have a lot to say. Good luck to you. I am so proud of you.


  2. The only way out of the fire is through it- yea, sometimes you have to crawl or stop, and other times you run like hell, but the light always beckons. I believe you make a difference in many lives, and I know your book is in you so open your soul, sing your song and do it! Someone, somewhere will thank you.


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