“The cemeteries are full of indispensable people.”
For two years, or so, I have been sporadically constructing a Walking Raven post, the working title for which has been the “Mother of All Blog Entries” (“MOABE”). I have now decided to publish it in serialized form in the hope that as pieces get fed cloudward (I just made that up), what remains will become manageable enough to finish, so I can get on with fulfilling my destiny — or not — depending on which direction my existential winds blow. Here then is
The Author’s Preface
“Hello. My name is Kris, and I’m an alcoholic.” I can’t remember when, exactly, I first said those words at an AA meeting. It would have been sometime after the Ides of March, 1975, a day that will live in “famy.” It was on the Ides of March, 1975, that I first crossed the threshold of Hazelden. I was 20 years old. (It was the 70s and if you could go over and get killed in Viet Nam you damn well could drink and vote at home, so the legal age for both changed to 18 the summer of 1973.) I had spent the last year and a half attending classes by day, cooking part-time at Pumpernik’s Deli, and drinking until I blacked out nearly every night.
Then, one night, I lost my bosses’ wife’s car. I had taken it home because buses were iffy on Sunday mornings. The Deli had a busy weekend breakfast crowd. I would do the prep and cook 400+ omelets or plates of scrambled eggs (highly recommend pastrami, onion, and egges) each weekend morning with a debilitating hangover. I remember going downstairs and getting in the car on Saturday night. I had decided to go stay with a friend who lived closer to the deli. My last memory of that night was getting in the car. I woke up the next morning back in my own bed with the car key in my pocket and no car. Oops. To this day I have no idea what occurred that night. My boss found the car a few days later at the St. Paul impound lot with two bent wheels on the passenger side.
Sometime that next week, I went to student health services and spoke with a counselor. I explained about how I might be an alcoholic. We went through the twenty questions. I answered “yes” to nearly all of them. When we finished, she reached down, opened one of her desk drawers and came up with a list of treatment centers. She asked me, “Where would you like to go?” (This was Minnesota, remember.) How I knew about Hazelden, I’m not entirely sure, but it was on the list. A couple weeks later, on March 15, 1975 — after passing out and missing last call the night before and drinking a double scotch at the Oak Room Grill (Cutty Sark was the bar scotch for 60 cents a shot) — my brother John and best friend Judi — the two who had been most instrumental in keeping me alive — drove me out to Hazelden. Talk about coming full circle. it was on March 16, 1973 that I had gone to my first bar and experienced my first black out.
During my first individual session, my counselor asked me what brought me to Hazelden. I somewhat flippantly remarked that I knew I could make it as an alcoholic, so I thought I’d see what being sober was like. She looked at me over her glasses and announced that I had “failed as an alcoholic the moment [I had] walked through those doors.” That pronouncement, as much as anything else, has kept me relatively sober since then. Over the next ten years I had a couple of one night slips and a couple bouts of dabbling with a drink here and there over a period of a few weeks, but I’ve not had a drink since the May, 1985.) I have continued, however, to struggle with addictions of one sort or another throughout my life – most notably, my nearly 30-year addiction to nicotine. Two-and-a-half years ago, I stuck the needle in my arm, again, metaphorically speaking, of course. I loaded World of Warcraft (WOW) on my newly acquired Lenovo X61 Tablet PC, created my avatar, a human Paladin named “Elfredge” (female)(mining/blacksmithing), and started my 10-day free trial.
If only I could embrace the notion that 13 or so billion years ago someone or something uttered what amounted to “Let there be light” — or performed one of the other equivalent actions as reported by other religious, philosophic, or scientific entities to explain the beginning of this, our universe — thereby causing the precise series of events that led me to the Best Buy just off I-40 in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I acquired the software containing the virtual world of Azeroth. In other words, if only I could believe that everything since the beginning of this timespace universe has occurred according to the laws of the unified field theory. Then I could simply accept WOW as a wonderful gift from the universe. Because truly, just as I once would have been content to drink myself to death, or, as I have nearly done, smoke myself to death, I stand content to play myself to death.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) (everything is, after all, relative), I believe that our universe operates on what has been labeled the “uncertainty principle” in quantum physics. I will not attempt to offer an explanation of the principle here. Suffice that God does indeed throw dice (metaphorically speaking, of course). In my mind, the uncertainty principle accounts for humans having free will which means that I, as a human being, have a choice to do something other than exist enveloped in the mind-numbing bliss generated by playing my massively multiplayer online role playing game (“MMORPG”). This belief that I am neither victim nor puppet of some higher or natural law has led to my decision, time, and time again, to stop playing WOW to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
And why do I keep going back to the game? Well, that’s easy. I’m an addict. (Assuming I’m right about free will versus predetermination.) Even so, why not play, if it makes me happy and isn’t hurting anyone else? Just surrender to the addiction and enjoy? At the moment, as I await a call that I have a donor for a new lung or lungs, it can be said it sort of sucks to be me. Ay, there’s the rub, as my favorite Dane is/was wont to say. [Actually Hamlet has fallen out of favor lately. He’s a whiner.] In the first place, I wrote, without thinking, “anyone else,” in the previous sentence. Somewhere, then, deep down, I must believe that playing WOW is hurtful to me. At least “bad,” “wrong,” okay, “immoral” rather than what I might – perhaps even “would” — like to believe, “amoral.” If I believed playing was amoral, I wouldn’t feel bad about playing all the time, but I am unable to deny that while playing to the exclusion of everything else on the one hand is as close to nirvana as I’ll probably get in this lifetime, it also causes a sensation in the pit of my stomach, the place where I’m supposed to feel bad when I’m doing something “wrong.”
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian – though [the] God [I no longer believe in] knows I tried to believe, to have faith, in my younger days. In those days, I had a fascination with the unforgiveable sin, first introduced to me as the topic of a Sunday sermon based on Christ’s declaration in Matthew 12: 31-32 (NRSV):
Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
I remember endeavoring to learn what word or words might constitute this sin. (As a young pup I took things quite literally – still do actually. It was a sad day when I finally understood that “not every sentence is a contract.” That knowledge, however, has made life much less painful and confusing.) I was fascinated by the idea that with a word, I had the power to condemn myself to eternal damnation. Sometimes I wondered if, in possession of this knowledge, I would have the courage and perversity to say it and be done with it. Other times, I recall having some concern I would utter the word or words by mistake.
Over the ensuing years I became acquainted with Faust and the notion of selling one’s soul, but that is different because it involves a “boutique” unforgiveable sin not a sin out there for just anybody to commit. Then there is Huck’s “and then says to myself, ‘Alright, then, I’ll go to Hell’.” (It is this decision that puts Huck right up there as one of my most admired people.) And there’s Ahab. But even their sins, as bold as they are, were sins against Yahweh, not the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until I read The Faerie Queene as a graduate student in my late 20s that I found a satisfactory answer to the question –in part because, as I’ve just now realized, I had forgotten the unforgivable sin was a speaking sin against the Holy Ghost. To Spenser, the unforgiveable sin was to despair to the point of suicide. That explanation served me in good stead for many years. Lately, however, and to bring it around to the subject at hand, my addiction to WOW, I’ve been having second thoughts.
Go to any 12-step program meeting of whatever ilk, AA, NA, Al-Anon, COA, CODA, OA, GA, and one soon learns that “denial” is “more than just a river in Egypt.” Unlike many alcoholics, it took me almost no time at all to accept that I was an alcoholic. After all, what better excuse to drink? Of course I drank, that’s what alcoholics do. Once in treatment, however, I went a day without drinking, and then another, and then another, and I kept waking up. Eventually, I had to admit it was unnecessary to drink to live. After that, I pretty much had to accept drinking was a matter of choice – indeed almost everything in life involves some sort of choice. Moreover– gasp! — I am responsible for the choices I make. It wasn’t a rotten childhood, or a genetic predisposition, or any of a number of other excuses I used to keep drinking. It was a choice I made. But that’s where things start to get insidious. At a certain point, choice moves beyond choice to “rationalization.” And, at a certain point, the words we tell ourselves to justify our actions or inactions, to dissolve that pit in our stomachs, can, I submit, amount to speaking against the “Holy Spirit.” Rationalization, then, is the unforgiveable sin.
It’s a disease, and the ultimate denial is non-denial. The game’s, not the play’s, the thing. And oh, it catches my conscience so. And so, just for today, this hour, this minute, right now, I write through the desire, the urge to double click the WOW icon, type in my password and start merrily killing everything in sight (Well, not everything. “There are no honor points in killing guards” – but people do it, oh yes they do.) And why not simply succumb? Because I believe there is a qualitative difference between playing a video game and reading a book and, for that matter, writing a poem or performing some other creative act than reading a book. (And I mean qualitative, not just quantitative, and I know the difference because I went to college in the 70s and we got to take cool classes like Marxism for credit. “Production is immediate consumption.” (Come to think of it, in high school, I had a large poster of Karl Marx on my bedroom wall, along with Moshe Dyan. What’s that all about, Alfie?) Semper Fi.next post: Part the Second
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