Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Night of The Gun by David Carr

It had been a very long time since I thought about reading a book on addiction when I received an e-mail about reviewing The Night of the Gun, a story by NY Times writer David Carr.

So, I sat. I stared at the book for a week not knowing if I was ready to dive into someone elses personal account of addiction for fear of rehashing my own. I only knew David Carr from reading his work in The New Yorker. My knowledge was limited. Still, I did not Google him. Did not read any other reviews. I knew this book would impact a part of my life, a part that I wasn't sure I wanted to think about. And that itself scared me from picking it up. Finally, a quiet weekend on the farm came along and I began reading. Twenty hours later, after little sleep, feeble dog walks and minimal sustenance, I finished quite possibly one of the best addiction memoirs I have every read.

The premise of the book is based on David Carr's experience as a journalist intertwined with his life as an addict. He has gone back to "fact check" his former life, whether from lapsed memory or the need we have in recovery to make sense of our past experiences. The result of his fact checking leads to the telling of a man who is able to do something most of us in recovery would both love and loathe; he is confronting who he was and how he came to many different points in his life. He is connecting a murky past with his more clarified present. And in doing so, he recounts life as an addict and the lives his addictions affected with detailed honesty.

Carr writes:
Even if I had amazing recall, and I don't, recollection is often just self-fashioning. Some of it is reflexive, designed to bury truths that cannot be swallowed, but other "memories" are just redemption myths writ small. Personal narrative is not simply opening up a vein and letting the blood flow toward anyone willing to stare. The historical self is created to keep dissonance at bay and render the subject palatable in the present.
This is a primary factor in life as a recovering addict, where we look at the truths of our lives as we are able to handle them. When we suddenly realize our story is less a narrative than a complex and deeply rooted journey of self perception. Carr captures this in every chapter. The almost third party distance he keeps in the tonality of the book captures the way an addict lives their life, slightly disconnected. Yet, there is realness to the pain and suffering that after I was done reading, the emotions ran hard and deep.

I will not recap the elements or other characters within the book. They are all pivotal and well developed. But, to review them does not give justice. It unfolds with great synchronicity and the book itself is the invitation. For those in recovery, like myself, I could see my own behaviors. I could vicariously go through my own fact checking to assign some semblance to the tornado of drama that preceded the calm.

The Night of the Gun is a serious read. For those in recovery, thinking about it, out of it, around it or not in it at all. It's real. It's honest. And, while the ending is happier but not fluff, you know that Carr's life will continue to be immersed in the struggles of a recovering addict. And he conveys his thoughts, his intentions and his actions with brutal honesty, or dishonesty that comes with being who we are.

I am not an enthusiastic or adept liar. Even so, can I tell you a true story about the worst day of my life? No. To begin with, it was far from the worst day of my life. And those who were there swear it did not happen the way I recall, on that day and on many others. And if I can't tell a true story about one of the worst days of my life, what about the rest of those days, that life, this story?

This book takes the lies that we all tell in our own lives as addicts. The writing allows us a glimpse of what would happen if we could go back to every person in our past and ask them for the truth. And Carr conveys both the lies and the truth in such a way that, when finished reading, I actually forgave myself for all the people I had hurt. And that is one of the biggest accomplishments we can notch into the great big recovery belt strapped around our waists.
For more information, click on the book above, or go to http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=625091
David Carr's NY Times Magazine article, "Me and My Girls": http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/20/magazine/20Carr-t.html

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone.

—Coco Chanel

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The gift of letting go.

I went out on my porch this evening, it's been a long few weeks and I decided to sit out in the dark air. I've felt a great deal of ambivalence lately. Almost as if I have been waiting for something to happen, movement of sorts. I feel like life has been in a holding pattern, that some things needed to be sorted out.

I turned on the light, and sitting on the stone was a package. It was my birthday a few weeks ago, a time of end of summer celebration, and life has been quiet since then. But, now, in my solitude, was a gift within the brown box, bringing a sense of my own private celebration.

I recognized the envelope. My father's love before he passed away. A woman I admired deeply and have reconnected with after twenty two years. I knew the handwriting, I stared at it over and over. The same handwriting I had seen so many years ago. Notes I had seen her write, loving my father, me so intensely. Handwriting that was slightly flawed, like us. I ran my fingers, tracing the past. And, at that point I knew this gift was much much larger than a 6 x9 container.

My father believed, in some culmination of religious and/or philosophical beliefs, that he was going to be a hawk when he died. I have heard more versions of why, how and when he wanted to be a hawk post-life than I am able to count, including my own biased version. More important was this belief when he was alive. He was adamant about his passage. He wore a gold hawk around his neck. It symbolized his very passion for life and where his place was after. I have pictures. I have vivid memories of this very embodiment of him.

And when I opened the envelope, I knew what was in there. My hand instinctively reached in and fumbled for it. A card came, but I didn't need to open it at all. I knew that wrapped neatly inside white tissue was the sign I've been waiting for. The gift I had been hoping for the better portion of my life.

So, there I sat. Totally unprepared for what came next. I cried. Sitting on my farm with my unwrapped past in my hand. I bawled. Tears pouring down, as they do right now. Total and utter watershed. I missed my life as a child, my father, his loved one, my family. The time before I lost him. The time before we all lost him.

That's just it. We had all lost him. And here, I had suddenly found a piece of him in my hand. And that piece was given to me. She was letting go. And in that, she has given back a piece of me. A piece of my father. The very piece I had been waiting for. Her relationship with her past moves on. My life moves on. I have been giving the most amazing gift. She let go and knew that I needed this piece, this remembrance of passion and love and time where life was strong and good. And I knew it would come. I've waited. And around my neck was the missing piece to my past.

I cannot tell you the love that I feel in my heart right now. Overwhelming and beautiful. Sad and truly awe-inspiring at the same time. I swear, the wind kicked up as I sat there. I cried, but I smiled at the same time. I knew that this day would come. And I thank you so much for giving me the gift of letting go.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Lost My Way

The other day I was writing an e-mail to a friend of mine that has been long removed from my life, a friend that I went to high school with. In the e-mail I wrote, I said: "You know, somewhere between then and now, I lost my way". And that phrase has been stuck in my head ever since.


And it's true. Somewhere between the time I was young and a few years ago, I really did lose my way. I liken it to walking down this long long road that we call life. Throughout my journey, I've had this backpack attached to me with the weight of myself, my emotions, my grief. There have been times when I have stopped along the way and joined others, I married young and tried my hardest to live the picket fence dream with my backpack filling with my junk each step. I walked down big roads; divorce, sobriety, death. I walked along empty barren streets, peering into windows of others lives I wanted so desperately to live in, my backpack aching from the weight. It was like window shopping, seeing all the different lives I could be living. I just kept walking until I really just got lost.


Many times, I asked directions from those who didn't know the way either or others who tried to point me in the right direction but I just didn't know HOW to ask. I faltered from the weight of my own demons. A lot of stumbling, I was desperately looking for a way home or a diversion to just let the backpack fall for awhile. There were some lonely travels along dark paths. I was unclear. Heavy, unfocused.

And while I lost my way, I didn't stop. Every time I fell, I got up. I learned about the journey. I started looking to lighten my load of baggage to help move my life along. I paused briefly and began to examine those things. Trial and error, seeing what matter and what didn't. I dug deep until I finally pulled out the one thing I needed, a shiny compass buried at the bottom of my bulging sack of useless crap.

Today, I'm navigating. Perhaps I will always be a bit of a wanderer. A bit confused, but on my own road, with direction and purpose. I got lost, changed the way I traveled and now I am finding my way back. Walking through life with the shiny compass that I found in my soul. Stopping along the way to remember why I am walking along, the adventure, the love of traveling through. I am not lost, I'm on my way.

So, my next ponderance, my next life question will be, "Where the hell am I going?"