Altitude Sickness
March 30, 2016

In and out of the trenches; communal fellowship

In and out of the trenches; communal fellowship

My knee is healing beautifully. This is by far the least catastrophic MCL injury I have ever had (my fourth on the left), and it is the first one where the morning after the incident, I started riding a stationary bike. I think this has something to do with it. I don’t ride as hard as usual, but I have doubled up on time. I can tell that the injury is genuine because I am getting a genuine deep itch in the ligament, much like when a deep cut heals. Though I am skiing much slower (more fearfully), and wearing a brace, I am still skiing. I didn’t let myself miss a day. I’ve totaled 131 as of writing this.

Not for nothing, but my recent accident was two days before the third anniversary of my big accident in 2013. It freaked me out pretty good.

As for the problem of my emotional spinout, the beauty of a gluten problem is that all I have to do is wait it out, and after about five and a half days of no gluten the fog lifts, and my mind transforms from a shaken bag of broken glass to a fiber optic bundle, and I am clear, level and back in business. I just have to wait for the gluten to wash out.

I was able to see, however, that my gluten problem started this fall, with small rationalizations like “a little bit of gluten in the sauce wont hurt me” and “I can have small amounts every once in a while.” Over time, the intervals get smaller and smaller, and I start paying less attention to what I eat, and pretty soon I am hugging my knees and crying in the shower.

Gluten is every bit as damaging to my behavior and mental health as alcohol or drugs. It is a miracle that I figured it out. This episode was unfortunate, but a great reminder that I need to be exceptionally vigilant, because there are many ways for me to sabotage myself.

This brings me to another conversation I had recently, with a friend who had stopped drinking. She had stopped drinking on her own and was mouthing off about how people from AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] were whiny and weak, and how they needed to “suck it up” and go to therapy.

I took a deep breath, having known many people who were part of the program over the years, and I said the following:

“Therapy is great when it works for you. But in my experience, there are quite a few people out there who need a great deal more than an hour a week. There are people who need a couple of hours a day. There are lots of people out there who don’t have the tool box for ‘suck it up.’ For all intents and purposes, they have no emotional toolbox at all, the only toolbox at their disposal being ‘f&#% it up.’

“’Suck it up’ is not a plan,” I asserted. “It is a sentiment. For those who have no emotional tools, that fellowship and set of twelve steps is THE plan for “Suck it up.” There is nothing weak about coming into an AA room for help. Geese don’t fly south alone. They take turns leading and drafting.

“There is, without question,” I continued, “no act more courageous in this life than admitting utter defeat, no act stronger than admitting that you have absolutely NO IDEA what to do and asking for help. There is no easier, softer way than to give your problems over to someone else, where the load can be carried communally.

“There is,” I said finally, “no better way for someone who has struggled to give back to the world than to reach out their hand and offer help in return to others who need it. AA, the 12-step program, is the most successful sobriety program on the globe, with about 8 million members worldwide: eight million people who today would be dead or dying from poisoning themselves!”

I didn’t leave much room for her to disagree, and she didn’t.

Why would a therapist be of more value than a room full of people who are just like you, people who have struggled your same struggle, and succeeded where others have not? I, myself, want to talk to someone who lived in the trenches.

Needless to say, if any of you reading this are at your wits’ end with a substance abuse problem and desperate for that to change, go find an AA room and take the hand that is offered. From what I have seen, it doesn’t make you weaker. It makes you stronger, and it is unlikely that you will regret it.

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