Category Archives: recovery

Book Review: Born In The Year Of The Butterfly Knife, Codependent No More, Julius Caesar

I’ve finished three books within the past week, which puts me at 10/52 of my self-challenge on Goodreads to read 52 books this year. That’s one a week, I hear! Their pace-counter informs me that I’m one book behind, but I feel pretty encouraged myself! And now, on to reviews…

Born In The Year Of The Butterfly Knife  (Derrick Brown, Write Bloody Publishing, 2004, 203 pp.)
A few years ago, I saw “The Drums Inside Your Chest” a concert film of performances by independent poets. I was initially drawn to the film (besides the inherent attraction of poetry to me) because it was produced by and featured Amber Tamblyn. She talks to God, after all. But the poet in the film I ended up being most impressed by was Derrick Brown, and I went out afterwards to find this volume collecting his poems from 1993-2004. While I’m a fan of Slam poetry and performance poetry in general, I’ve found before that many poets who are compelling on stage don’t read nearly as well in print. Brown, though, has such a visceral quality in his words, and such sharp images, that he escapes this trap. Check out his poem “Kick in the Chest” some time, for example. It pretty much says everything about what I think writing should do. If you like things that burn with truth and are unafraid to look ugly in the process, Brown’s poetry might be for you.    

Codependent No More (Melody Beattie, Harper/Hazelden, 1987, 229 pp.)
Speaking of things that burn with truth and are unafraid of illuminating ugliness in the process… I’ve known of this book, the foundational work on recovery from codependence, for some time, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. In the meantime, I absorbed a lot of the concepts in it from wise friends in the halls of recovery, and from Beattie’s daily meditation reader The Language of Letting Go. If I hadn’t, I think this book would have landed like a thunderclap. As it was, even as familiar with the ideas in it as I was, it was quite discomfiting at times. In the best sort of way. Highly recommended for anyone who has suffered from codependence in any of its varieties, and still needs to learn that fundamental truth that taking care of ourselves is not only okay, it’s necessary.         

Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare, 1599)
I’m probably not going to deliver anything here that’s been substantially missed by others in the last 400 years or so. I will talk a little bit about why I wanted to read it. After going through a classics kick last year that included reading the the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Paradise Lost, as well as re-reading (well, 50%, anyway) the Bible, I developed a taste for epic works of mythical power. Pound for pound, you pretty much don’t get more of that anywhere in English literature than you do with Shakespeare. I left a very happy reader, not least of all because the pages spoke so much more to me now than they did during my previous reading. Apparently, my world has grown since the 8th Grade!

Will science create an army of Dry Drunks?

Many of you may have noticed a story this past week about researchers developing a possible heroin vaccine. The basic idea is this: the vaccine blocks the brain-receptors that respond to heroin, such that users no longer get a euphoric rush from the drug. There’s been corresponding work on a cocaine vaccine, as well as indications that some diet drugs that operate on a similar principle are not only good for decreasing overeating, but may also help with quitting smoking and drug and alcohol addiction.

These developments, and others like them, are the outgrowth of burgeoning research over the past decade into the neurochemistry of addiction and genetics of addiction. Given all of this, it is not absurd, in fact it is overwhelmingly likely, that science is well on its way to delivering the ability to block addiction at the neuro-chemical level. It may take a decade or two, it will no doubt have fits and starts, but a medical “cure” (or more likely, multiple cures) for addiction is on its way.

Given my own experience in recovery, I feel a little cautious about some possible side effects of this. I can absolutely see these vaccines and blocking drugs helping people and saving lives. But I wonder if they may also facilitate the creation of an army of dry drunks.

For those not familiar with the parlance, in recovery lingo a “dry drunk” is a person who is no longer active in their addiction, but is also not undertaking the self-work necessary to transform the psychological and character roots of addiction, and clean up the internal mental toll that active addiction leaves in its wake. Usually you can’t get away with this for too long without returning to using, but some people do for years, even decades. The Minnesota Recovery Center has a good online run-down of what this looks like on the ground.

To give a quick summation, it boils down to this: “dry drunks” are clean and sober, and may remain so their entire lives, but they’re not, to quote the AA Big Book, “happy, joyous and free.” This can be a pretty miserable way to live. It also tends to lead to a lifestyle that can spread misery to family and friends. 

I’m not trying to rain on science’s parade here. As I said above, I can see these medical measures doing a lot of good for a lot of people. But I can also see, especially in our “quick fix”-obsessed society, these treatments increasing the temptation to try to bypass the hard inner work that, in some cases, there may be no substitute for.   


One Year

Last night as I was out in the Mission I realized, “Holy shit, all I have to do to have one year is go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning!” While you can’t take either one of those entirely for granted, they seemed pretty achievable. It dawned on me that I really was going to do this thing.

And lo and behold, I did wake up this morning. And now I have one year clean and sober.

I was actually out past midnight, so technically my reign of non-terror began before I went to bed. Being out last night itself struck me- I was onstage in front of a few hundred cheering people at Mortified, laughed so hard at the other performers that my face hurt, and then spent a few hours after the show hanging out and talking with beautiful, creative people.

I’ve still got my fears and insecurities. I feel frustrated sometimes with the pace of change in my life. Some things come up now, un-numbed for the first time in years, that I hardly even know what to do with. But a year ago, shaking, sweating, and scared shitless knowing that something had to change or I might not make it, I no longer knew that the kind of night I had last night was even possible.

Now it’s not only possible, it’s becoming normal. Normal that I’m losing my fear of people. Normal that my creative life is expanding, Normal that my world is getting bigger, rather than smaller. Not only that, I have a chance now to reach out to people who are where I was a year ago and tell them it will be okay. That they can make it. That there’s a way out.

I reckon all that’s worth sticking around for, and I’ll try a year and a day next.