It has been a magnificently sorrowful series of days, personally and otherwise.
The death of friends, of icons, the mass murder in Las Vegas, the return of illness: a pall hangs over the world, threatening to snuff us out at any moment. This dark reign of awfulness seeps into our pores.
You can feel the rot on the wind, if you’re seeking it out. And yet we have one another. And that counts.
After wading through the muck of yesterday’s shooting and the inundation of a job in PR/communications that requires a continual absorption of the revolting truth of these deaths, and getting clocked in the jaw with the news of Tom Petty’s passing, I raised up on my clunky prosthetic leg and wandered out of my office. It was time to go home. But, as usual on difficult days, my head is like a neighborhood on the wrong side of town–it’s not advisable to take a walk through there alone.
And so, I realized, I needed a meeting.
When I talk about my recovery as an alcoholic, people pop their eyebrows up. “You’re such a hyphenate!” says my dear friend Tim, a military amputee I met in one of my support groups. “A gay, Christian, progressive, alcoholic, activist amputee. Where’s your parade?”
Oh, Tim. Every day is my parade. That’s what I do.
Anyway, three weeks ago, I hit a thousand days of sobriety. It was a little under four years after my first AA meeting, but there was a falling off the wagon between those two dates. Amidst all this loss and destruction and disease, I’ve managed to stay sober. Faith has something to do with that; so does purpose, which this disease has brought roaring back to me. And of course, I have some of the best friends a guy like me could hope for. I’m never alone. I’m never without support or adventures. I’m lucky on that front.
After tonight’s meeting, my friend Alan and I went out for a terrible cup of coffee and some much-needed laughter. We’re angry. We’re stewing in it. We don’t know what to do after a day like today.
It’s so easy to see the snark and vitriol in all of this; an echo-chambered acquaintance of mine posted a particularly gross photoshopped image of Trump, intended as satire.
I showed it to Alan, and he arced his eyebrows my way and said: “You know, if you’re seeking to humiliate anyone, the first person you humiliate is yourself.”
And I blinked. It wasn’t the first time someone said that to me this year.
About three months ago, a former student from my college theater/summer camp days started a flame war about my opinions on her nettiquette and the circumstances by which three family dogs had died and the fourth was put in danger via misbehavior and negligence.
My friends chimed in; eventually, so did I. And then her friends made disparaging remarks about me, my physicality, my family, and threatened my workplace. The authorities were involved. A police report was filed, and further steps were taken to insure the safety of me, my livelihood, and my family. I was notified when she recently moved, and was apprised that she now lived dangerously close to a family member one of her friends had threatened (the threat is still posted to her blog as a comment, and she refused to take it down when asked). It became a scary situation that I didn’t take lightly. And I continue to back-pocket the whole thing as if I’m waiting for an animal to attack.
And of course, Alan and I ended up talking about this tonight. “You know,” he said, as the conversation wound down and I began to understand that drinking anything other than decaf after six p.m. was a serious mistake, “It’s possible to be a victim and a bully at the exact same time.”
He’s right. He’s almost always right. The thing about being marginalized (as it could be argued both myself and my antagonist in this situation were) is that, in order to normalize yourself or get back to the center, sometimes you engage in punching down. And that’s exactly what happened.
In honor of Tom Petty, in honor of the deaths that swirl around this week, in honor of the illness trying to end me, in honor of this woman and what she’s battling, I’m letting go of that anger. I’m accepting my place in a broken back-and-forth. I’m going to try and be better and see if that benefits me and mine. And I’m going to pray she feels and finds the same.
Because in interchanges like the one we had, and in the pall of weeks like this, it’s so easy to feel like you can’t make a ding in the universe, like you’re the pawn to energies and evils that you don’t have the energy or agency to fight. I’m not going to let that happen to me. Life is rare, and precious, and there are dents to be made and changes to see in the world before this is done.
It’s so easy to be petty, and so much harder to be Tom Petty. I know how I want to live.