Sunday, March 22, 2015

Broke on Through

Jim Morrison – right, the singer from the Doors. They're on my mind recently. Specifically, it's Morrison that is on my mind. I read a Jim Morrison quote about fear, and that got me started. It's been more than a month, and I'm still on-topic. Still mulling it over. We have a long history, the Doors and me. Hooked in 1978, at age sixteen. Their self-titled debut always on my turntable. It's practically a greatest hits album. Like many bands, many artists, their first published work is their best. The stuff good enough to get the world's attention. After their debut album, their library is spotty. Some songs are good, some great, and a lot of crap. Crap like Crystal Ship and The End – two cuts they should have left off of the first album. Back in those days, before everything was digital, there was effort involved in skipping songs.

The quote: “Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” It's a nice quote. Accurate, but over-simplified. Step-one in a long road to overcoming phobia. But at least it is a step. Morrison's image was being in control, worry-free. He liked to appear above the concerns of the ordinary. Uncaring about what people thought of him. Part of this persona was that he was better than everyone else. This quote plays right into this image. He is free because he is unafraid. He faces his fears head on.

The word often used to describe Morrison is narcissistic. When listening to his lyrics, reading his poetry, reviewing interviews with him, this is an easy assumption to make. Self-centered, it's all about him. When looking at photos taken of him during his heyday, he is brimming with confidence. He loves himself, or so it seems.

I'm not a Doors scholar. I'm more of a fan. I've read the popular biography “No One Here Gets Out Alive.” I own the DVD of the movie “The Doors” based on that book. And I listen to the music, but not in an analytical way. But I'm enough of a fan to have opinions about Morrison. I embrace the criticism that he was sophomoric, that his 'deep lyrics’ were adolescent. But at times the Doors really gelled. Morrison had a strong voice, well-suited to the rocking-blues his band played so well. They left a legacy of some phenomenal music, and Morrison, despite his silly Lizard-King image, was a person of some depth. He reminds me of myself.

I've never read anything about Jim Morrison suffering from social anxiety. The Doors are an old group and Social Anxiety Disorder is a new term. But this disorder is as old as humanity. Essentially, a socially anxious person is overly concerned with others' perceptions. So concerned, that they develop behavior patterns and personality traits to minimize their anxiety. Shy, awkward, weird, aloof. These are adjectives often applied to the socially anxious. Another common adjective is 'drunk.' These days, there are safe medications to help overcome social anxiety symptoms. But throughout the years, many found relief in alcohol and drugs. They still do today. I should say we still do.

Morrison's quote about facing fear is a give-away. His tell. He overcompensates. He is too confident. The iconic image of him, shot by Joel Brodsky, a photo steeped in Jesus imagery, shows a man who is so present, it's eerie. His focus on the camera is intense. He seems to be seeing the soul of the photographer – or the viewer – of the picture. This is part of what makes the photo so great. And it plays a lasting role in Morrison's image as a direct, confident person. But this is the same Morrison who was so over-come with stage-fright, he was unable to face the audience as he performed. Initially needing to sing facing his band-mates, his back to the crowd. Later, singing to the audience, but making sure he was seriously f***ed up every time on stage.

I never met Jim Morrison; I was six when he died. And I'm not a mental health professional. My only qualifications and expertise on diagnosing this disorder stem from my own experiences. Possibly, I'm over thinking this – a habit of mine. Looking for deeper meaning where none exists. But as they say, “my blog, my opinion.” My teenage and young adult behavior mirrors Morrison's so closely, you would think he was my role model. I feel like I knew him. Or at least I know how he felt in this world. Socially awkward and self-conscious when sober, out-going and confident when drunk or high. Like Morrison, I was a daily drunk, and I was a confident person. Over-confident, in fact, sometimes to the point of being obnoxious. But during this period, I was popular. Fun and opinionated and always ready to party. I had dozens of friends, scores of acquaintances. The more I partied, the more popular I was.

That was years ago. And the farther I move from that drunken lifestyle, the more I've struggled with awkwardness. It was a slow progression. A new girlfriend who was a light drinker, and completely drug-free. I tempered my alcohol intake to a level that wouldn't scare her away. Gave up illicit drugs entirely. Marriage, home-ownership, continually finding more self-control. New experiences – like actually driving home from a night out. Not leaving myself with the chore of picking up my car in the morning.

Since my daughter was born, I've been sober. Sober meaning not drunk. Drinking, but never enough to slur, to stumble, to blackout, to be hungover. As I gave up intoxication, I lost my edge, my confidence, my comfort level in my group of friends. It seemed like I had less to talk about. Nothing in common, no shared interests. Not only with my friends, but pretty much with everyone I met. In conversations, my brain seized. I had nothing to say. Nothing that I thought was interesting anyway.

This has been going on for thirteen years, but I continued to drink daily. Usually, two glasses of wine, sometime three. To the edge of a buzz, but never crossing that line. To be relaxed, as a reward, a way to cap my day. Maybe just to hold on to part of my self-image. I'm overly reliant on self-image. Using labels to define myself. A drinker, a runner, a writer. Losing a defining activity felt like losing a piece of myself.

And to some degree, this was true. Giving up drunkenness affected my lifestyle, my relationships. Because I feel less confident in social situations, I'm less social. Almost reclusive. And this weighs heavily on me. Something I lie awake at night regretting. While I no longer drink to get drunk, I've certainly been drinking – a lot. Not at once, but a moderate amount every single day. I've used red wine like a junkie uses methadone. A safe daily dose. Just enough to offset the need. Enough to avoid being a drunk.

Until January. Seventy five days ago. I quit drinking... except on weekends. I'm not trying to give up alcohol, I'm trying to break the habit, the dependence. It's gone well. Two and a half months with no falters. Some weeks are more challenging than others. At times I find myself counting down to the weekend. Knocking about the house or going to bed early because I don't know what to do with myself without a glass of wine. Alcohol still has a hold on me. Yesterday I bought a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. I went to bed anticipating the enjoyment I would get from it on Friday night. Sort of the way I might anticipate seeing a new movie I've been awaiting for months.

The benefits of this change are easy to list. I'm more clear headed. My aging body feels better. I weigh less. I'm spending less – decent wine is not cheap. All obvious and unsurprising. But what I didn't expect: I'm happier without any alcohol than with a small amount of alcohol. A weight has lifted off of me. I don't spend my days anticipating a glass of wine after work. I don't spend my evenings measuring out my dose, feeling regretful when it's done. I don't wake up every morning with harsh judgment of myself – beating myself up because I had an extra drink.

And even less expected: My comfort in social situations has improved. I feel less awkward, less self-conscious talking with people in chance encounters – at the grocery store, at the gym. I'm joining new groups, I'm making new friends. I'm becoming social again.

There's truth to Morrison's statement about fear. It has to be faced directly. I started doing this three years ago. I do it with writing, and I do it with therapy. When I immerse myself in my fears, I begin to understand them. Their power erodes, some. My fears don't disappear, I don't overcome them. But I know them, I understand them, they don't surprise me any more. None of it is comfortable, but ultimately it is all rewarding. It is a long-term process with break-throughs, plateaus and set-backs. A rough ride, but so far, the general direction seems to be up.

Alcohol and relationships are two problem areas I've avoided. Too hard and too scary to attack. Intertwined in ways I'm just starting to understand. There are no quick-fixes for psychological problems. They take effort, tenacity, courage. Now that I've started on this path, I intend to continue. To ride the ups and downs. To find comfort with alcohol, or without alcohol. And to find comfort with people.

Jim Morrison? He was a bright and creative guy. With more time, it's likely that he would have truly faced what he feared – which I believe, was himself.  

1 comment:

  1. I was a day ahead of NPR on this topic. I think they got the idea from me. It's nice to see a Moderation Movement being talked about.