Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hi, My Name Is Neil And I Am ...

I was a single child born into a post WWII home in a small town. My mom and dad worked for the local Utilities Company. That’s where they met. After I arrived on the scene my mom stayed home with me for about five years. My mom went back to work when I was five, but only after some discussion with my father, because after all, no wife of his was going to work. But she did, and life went on.

Baby-sitters were the order of the day, especially during the summer months. We lived in a two-bedroom house on a street full of two and three bedroom homes, all built posthaste at the end of the war. Our town had a Saturday market. There were no large supermarkets to speak of until the A&P Store opened on what was once a park and then all the other major stores followed and the town was transformed from sleepy rural to quiet backwater.

The focus of the townspeople’s lives centered around what happened on the railways, the town’s major employer. There were seven different railways as I recall. Who was being bumped on which seniority list or who was or was not on which spare board were all current topics of discussion over coffee or over clotheslines on Mondays.

Monday was always wash day.

That was just the way things were.

The local newspaper measured big events, ‘who’ was who and ‘how’ they were doing was reported weekly in the Hatched, Matched and Dispatched column on Saturday. You could always find out who was visiting whom and who was away on holiday and where they could afford to go. It must have been a burglar’s fondest dream.

As a child and well into my teen years, I was a loner who seemed to move between groups or cliques and never felt that I really belonged.

I actually prided myself on this ability to float between groups without belonging. In my early adult years, I put this learned skill to practical use and entered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMPolice). I was recruited for the Security Service and worked in the semi cloak and dagger world of counter espionage and counter terrorism.

I really just knew one set of grandparents, my mom’s folks; my dad’s folks had divorced in the 1930’s and had lived apart. My maternal grandfather owned the local watering hole in a small village about 50 Km away. He had the unwanted (or wanted . . . never could really tell) attention of every ne’er-do-well in the surrounding three counties. Because, as his friend, they had an indirect access to his supply of booze, and this came in especially handy on Sundays and other statutory holidays when the liquor store was closed or when they were broke (note the hotel sold 100,000 gallons of beer a month by bottle). Oh yes, those three counties that bordered on to his ends of our county were all dry. It was not uncommon to come to the hotel, and later after the hotel changed hands, to the house for a visit on a Sunday and find the Labatt’s courtesy car, the Carling’s courtesy van, the Seagram rep’s vehicle and the town constable’s car parked in the lane. All would be in the house in some form of intoxication.

I have come to learn that there was a secret to how they could consume so much so often and now I’ll share that secret with you. There was only enough ‘drink’ in each bottle for one drink each for those who were present. They only drank quarts of rye (26 oz.). Thus if there were only two present then only two drinks would be poured and the bottle of booze would be emptied. They had large glasses as I recall. Actually as I recall it now the glasses were gifts from one of the distillers, oddly enough.

There was not a day that went by when I was in either of my grandparents’ presence that I did not see them consume alcohol. There is sadness and a truth that goes with the thought that alcohol played such a pervasive part of their lives. Another thought oddly enough is I still thought they could walk on water. I loved my grandparents dearly. They were my first experience with god-like creatures, where I truly knew they, especially my grandfather, could make the earth part if he so wanted it to be. I knew in my heart of hearts that all I had to do was ask and he would and could make it happen. It was really as simple as that. Everything from new bicycles from Peter’s bicycle shop next door to the hotel, to Oh Henry chocolate bars and pop from the dry bar, anytime I wanted them, was possible from him.

From this child’s perspective that was all powerful.

I can remember accompanying him on his rounds, visits to various farms or villages in the area. People sought him out for his blessing and approvals on darned near everything that happened at that end of the county. I learned years later that he was a pushover with cash and damned near everyone owed him and no one was in a position to pay him back. I know that he was respected because he helped without any thought of payback. I know that he supported various lost members of the family through odd and varied circumstances, who supported others who had been abandoned by life and life’s crappy circumstances and were still too young or unable to fend for themselves. He was a good man. He drank too much. Oh, by the way, that’s not bad that he drank too much. You may come to understand this idea as you work your own life out.

Now on my father’s side, his parents had divorced back in the 1930s and that is an oddity in and of itself. Divorced in the 1930s and Catholic to boot. Well actually it was a marriage of the Orange and the Green for those of you who understand Irish history.

My grandfather, Sid, was Welsh (Orange) and lived in the same small town as we did. He died of a brain tumor when I was young.

Sid’s ex-wife, my grandmother Sarah (Green and one of 17 siblings, 16 girls and a boy, Uncle Jimmy. We don’t speak much about him, you know.) and her daughter, my aunt, lived in another small town several hours drive from our place.

I never got to meet them until I was about 10. Boy, could my aunt drink. I’d go to school and brag. I mean she could drink, really drink. She really put them under the table. She quit one weekend cold turkey and she turned her life over to the pursuit of spirituality via religious cause. She became a nun, and a darned good one. I was proud of her.

Grandma Sarah passed on.

My aunt did all this becoming a nun stuff, and quitting drinking right after her mother passed on.

I was never really close to my grandmother and never got to know her. I was about 13 or so when she died. I remember some of the funeral processes and the nuns who came to the funeral home. Order of St Joseph’s, standing there in the viewing area like tall statues of black and white. I knew nothing about being Catholic. They came to pray, to pray my newly departed grandmother right into heaven, and I had no idea what was about to happen. My dad did and he got the hell out of the room before things got off the ground, but I didn’t know. They must have gone round the rosary 10 times or 10 times more than normal. I actually had a bruise on my knee from kneeling so long but I hung in there.

I faked it until they made it.

I got to meet some of the aunts and assorted others from my dad’s side of the family, but the only one I could remember is Aunt Gurt, and she was a sight. She was also at the funeral. She lived in the same small town as my grandmother. Aunt Gurt had a knack for wearing make-up in such a fashion that her age was perfectly disguised by her outward appearance of a not-so-nearly-retired-madam, 70 or not. My dad was a little more direct in his description of her.

At the funeral I got to hear some of the stories that had threads leading directly back to County Cork in Ireland, that wove their way through ‘establishment’ families of Upper Canada (Ontario) of today.

People showed up at the funeral, and those who were someone, came in all in their finery, and their mink stoles, etc. just to be seen, even though the weather was hot. Family names of establishment Upper Canada were well represented. In all honesty, they were people who had hard beginnings and fought their way out of their assigned lot in life.

They all drank too much.

Some varied the theme with worked too much, and that was praised because then they could consume too much. Others were just a little weird (remember Uncle Jimmy, the one we don’t talk about) and we didn’t talk about them because they were never ‘right’ in the first place.

No great traumas here right? Wrong!

Here is an interesting aside that I learned doing this recovery stuff. Trauma does not have to be noisy. It is something or a combination of somethings that you were never allowed to express your feelings about. Drama is what happened and trauma is never being able to express yourself about what happened.

Don’t Confuse Trauma with Drama.
They are definitely different.
Most people do make the mistake of confusing them.

I believe now that the appropriate way to describe my life is to say that, if one never ventured past the surface then one might conclude that there was no great apparent trauma. (I was becoming skilled at living a lie). The key word here is apparent, because something was there and it turned into the thing that lurked in my life until I was well into my 30s. I never really knew what it was, but I knew something was there. I knew for a fact that it was having a major impact on my life. I could not control it. It was just happening to me. It drove me to drink, it drove me to overwork, to rage, and the list goes on and on and on. When I had had enough, it drove me to meetings and the 12-Step process.

I’ve spent considerable time at this process, actually since May 12, 1979. I attended my first AA meeting in Wardsville Ontario, behind the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, a place notorious for its strawberry rhubarb pie.

I was in the Program.
I was out of the Program.
I was back into the Program.

Those who know often call this doing research, and it is a polite way of saying that I was using my best-worst defense(s) against a world that scared the hell out of me. I was drinking, or I was working or I was raging as a way to deal with something I could not deal with. Did I mention smoking or control or blame or perfectionism? All basically the same thing except the government does not get tax from the last few. Literally the list goes on and on and on. What in fact I was really doing was depending on me and my vast lack of resources to search out what could not be searched out with the tools that I had. Something like attempting to find a bacterium using a pop bottle end as a microscope.

I basically had no tools, but was too scared, proud and ashamed to admit to myself or to the world, let alone ask for help from someone that I already knew I could not trust. It also needs to be understood that this person I knew I could not trust was unnamed. That was everybody, but I could not show that to anyone.

I had read someplace or other that if you had something to learn then go teach it. I had lots to do and believe me much more to learn, especially about myself, so I said to myself “Self, time to go teach.” But who would want to hire a newly retired spy-catcher as a teacher?

That’s when I bumped into George Bullied and Twin Valleys School. Twin Valleys School [a.k.a. TVS or The Valley] was an alternative to the penal system for young offenders. George said something to the effect that if you’re not doing anything, and I wasn’t, then come to The Valley.

I did.

That got me to Wardsville, Ontario and that got me to my first AA meeting in May of 1979.

The roller coaster had started for me officially several years prior to that in 1976, but I think it was 1979 when I surfaced for the first time. It goes something like this, and I am sure most of you have experienced this one. Life is something you dive blindly into. Sometimes when you do dive in - which is the only requirement my life seemed to demand, the diving in that is - it is so thick and cold and distasteful and deep, it seems to take forever to be able to surface. That time frame from 1976 to 1979 was the longest time I ever had to hold my breath, both spiritually and psychologically.

That was an eternity.

I thought I had found help upon arriving at the Valley and I was more than happy to let them do it for me, but shortly into this process I discovered they were more lost than I.

Now the tale of ‘who’ I am and how I got to be here gets just a little twisted here. If you pick up the thread of my story at about the place of understanding that all the supposed ‘niceness’ of life, wasn’t. I was living a lie and had become well practiced at it. Then I can jump start back through time and pick it up at: I had a job with the Federal Government in the RCMPolice Security Services and I was working my way up. (I just jumped from spring 1979 back to about early winter 1970.) I got early promotions and the like. Earlier on before my transfer into the Security Service, I had met and married a young lady from Regina - while in training actually - and we had a child together. And she and I, we drank just a little too much, a little too often and we thought we enjoyed it. Then I began to notice that she drank far too much, but I never really put it together that this observation may have applied to me also. Odd isn’t it, what we can see in others and can’t see in ourselves.

That observation took several years to notice and a decade or so to be understood and then to be accepted. That business of noticing and understanding came after an incident that could only be described as ‘something that should never happen to your worst enemy’ happened. The front door to Hell kicked open and out came the unholy horse guard and all the crap and misery they could muster.

My wife’s up bringing did not seem at all like mine. She had a drunken stepfather, an absentee mom who worked to support everyone, including the damnedest mixture of ne’er-do-wells you could imagine. Remember the ne’er-do-wells at my grandfather’s place? Well I didn’t remember them and more importantly I didn’t understand the significance of them either. The odd thing was that I fit right in and felt totally and completely at home. I didn’t like it, but it fit like a glove.

That whole experience eventually led to what I was to think, for the longest time, was the true trauma of my life. In truth it was a travesty, and it was dramatic and I would not wish it on anyone. The trauma was in the smoke and mirrors that came with the drama, and as I was to discover much later, the trauma had been there waiting for me all along. I had just never noticed or knew that I could notice.
My wife eventually committed suicide and left me a widower with a small child. I was devastated. Could this be happening to me? Where do I look and what do I look for? What I found was I was spending most of my time with the ‘why’s’ of this life. It took me a long time to come to terms with asking ‘what’ rather than ‘why’.

Now this brings me back to arriving at Twin Valleys School (The Valley) in 1979 and the beginnings of me searching for me through me. I knew I needed to do something, but I was not sure what that was. What I came to quickly learn at the Valley was that they didn’t know either, but almost everyone was at least honest enough to admit to their ‘lostness’.

Nice to be lost together!

And our community drew members from other communities to us and us to them. There was a network of lost people being lost together, which for awhile during the 70’s was what I called ‘hippy dippy dum’. We at the Valley were the last bastions of ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ was.

NDT: Extracted from A Step Four and Five Guide Published by Bright Star Press ... Available on the net at

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