Friday, December 12, 2008

The Nature of Love

©2008 by LeeZard
Throughout history writers have been trying to define and analyze love, capture it in words and make us feel it in our hearts. LeeZard thinks he'll take a crack at it.

“All You Need is Love”
"Can't Buy Me Love"
"All My Loving"
"And I love Her"
"P.S. I Love You"
"She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah)"
The Beatles

Not that I fancy myself an expert; quite the opposite. Remember, this is the guy who spent ages 17-51 in some form of chemically or alcoholically altered state. It is unlikely anything I thought was love was really love. That shit messes up your central nervous system, which is where some of that love resides, I’m sure (see "Chemistry of Love" to the right). So, I’m taking this on as a rookie. Hang on; here we go.

Ah, so many kinds of love, so little time. For our purposes, let’s talk of romantic love – the best and the worst kind of love. We’ve all been there; we’ve all felt the joys and the pain.

“Love Me or Leave Me”
Doris Day & James Cagney

“Good Lovin’”
Young Rascals

“Love Hurts”
Jon Bon Jovi

Not only are there many types of love – brotherly love, platonic love, self-love, (p)maternal love – there are likewise many shades of romantic love. LeeZard has tasted them all. Some tasted better than others but, hopefully, I’ve learned from each experience.

“Love and Friendship”
Jane Austen

Let’s put something to rest, though, right at the top. LeeZard isn’t so sure that lust is a type of love – unless you love sex but that's a whole different kettle of condoms. What do you think? I know I’ve been in lust way more than I’ve been in love. How can I tell? It’s that feeling of “get me outta here” immediately after the last orgasm. Ultimately it is an unsatisfying relationship.

I knew long before I got sober that whatever love there was in what passed for my marriage was long gone. But, how could I know if it was truly love to begin with considering my spiritual and emotional bankruptcy.

Yet, through the chemical haze over the years I was certainly touched by love. Unfortunately, I never had the tools to deal with it. I didn’t know how to properly accept it and I certainly didn’t know how to return it in a healthy manner. In fact, I’ve probably killed more love than many people ever experience. Even after I got sober it took me another eight years to learn how to be in a real loving relationship – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“Love’s Labours Lost”

So let’s run down the list of LeeZard Love:
• First Love – We were both 15. She was my first French Kiss, my first hand-to-bra caress, a regular source of sticky post-hump underwear and, right before we broke up, my first touch of that most mystical (to a hormone-driven teenager) of all secret places.
• Chaste Love – If you’re a young guy, chaste rhymes with waste. With maturity comes wisdom.
• Chased Love – That’s when her Mom and Dad come home earlier than you expected.
• Unrequited Love ("Unrequited love's a bore and I got it pretty bad....." The Mamas and The Papas) – Let us count the ways. Whether it was shyness and I never even made the approach or just plain rejection; it still hurt like hell. But not like….
• Lost Love – Is there anything more painful – young or old?
• Unwanted Love – A different kind of pain. And, as a guy, you can be sure I handled it poorly.
• Long-Distance Love – Safe for the commitment-averse.
• Cyber Love – See above entry.
• January-September love – I’m not talking about the calendar and everyone should experience it at least once. It makes the old feel young and the young learn so much about themselves – and life.
• Gay Love – LeeZard’s never tried it but if both parties are at peace with their sexuality I know, in the face of all the obstacles, it’s something to be cherished.
• Forbidden Love – Danger, thrills, disaster.
• Toxic Love – Everyone gets hurt.
• Real Love - ?????

“How Do I Love Thee?”

“The Art of Love”

I divorced after 25-years of marriage. For 18 of those years I was a practicing alcoholic and she was my enabler. Over the last seven years we drifted further and further apart as I learned how to live a sober life while she could never forgive those first 18-years. It is not an uncommon outcome. At the age of 58 I was suddenly “single.”

As often happens under such circumstances there is Rebound Love and wow did LeeZard rebound. I’d been friendly over the years with a co-worker who had her own unhappy marriage. We felt more comfortable sharing things with each other than with our spouses. She divorced shortly after me (hopefully not for me) and a latent torrid love affair flamed into existence.

This led to Co-Dependent (CD) Love, which I found out, isn’t that far from Toxic Love. The only difference is the two CD principals aren’t purposely trying to emotionally destroy each other. In CD Love, each person will do anything for the other even if it’s at his or her own expense. Gee, sounds a lot like drug addiction, doesn’t it?

“Addicted to Love”
Robert Palmer

After two years in the rebound/CD relationship we parted. It was her call and I mourned it like a death (see Lost Love) even though I could see it coming for months. Part of the co-dependency, you see, is doing anything – ANYTHING – to try and make it work even when you know in every place but your heart that it’s over.

But, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of that flaming CD Love, LeeZard was forced to learn and grow. After many years of urging from my AA sponsor, I started going to Al-anon meetings and working the 12-steps from the Al-anon perspective. I never got it before when my sponsor would say, “Al-anon is about relationships.” By the time I dragged my broken heart into my first Al-anon meeting I was ready to listen.

For the uninitiated, Al-anon is the companion program to AA for the friends and families of alcoholics. In Al-anon, they learn tough love, that their loved one’s drinking is not their fault. They learn that honesty and openness work best, they cannot control others and, most importantly, how to set boundaries for themselves. Those were critical lessons for LeeZard because today I find myself experiencing something entirely new and different, something I’d never be able to deal with if I hadn’t learned through Al-anon. Hell, I don’t even have a name for this type of love and, ya know what? I don’t care.“The Power of Love”
Huey Lewis & The News

I met her through one of the popular on-line meet-your-match sites – it’s the pick-up bar of the 21st Century. Even though the overall experience was mostly distasteful (Did you know people LIE on those things?), in the end it worked for LeeZard. I was never good at picking up women when I did hang out in bars. It felt dishonest trying to start a conversation with some slick line when what I really wanted to say was, “Hi, will you come home with me tonight and fuck my brains out?”

I had, in fact, cancelled my membership on this site – on all the sites – because I kept meeting women who either didn’t look like the pictures they’d posted or their pictures were 15-years and 40-pounds ago. What are you people thinking? Sooner or later you have to meet in-person and you will be unmasked as the liar you are! As usual, I digress.

When you cancel on those sites, they keep sending you “matches” for several weeks in the hope you’ll reconsider your cancellation. I still glanced at the profiles they sent me and one night something caught my eye. Her picture showed an attractive woman (to my cynical eye) but it was her profile that got me. It was straightforward, showed a little silly humor and a lot of things in common with moi.

“Love Letters”
Jennifer Jones & Joseph Cotton

I dashed off a very brief introductory note with the caution not to reply if the picture was any type of misrepresentation. I got an instant response basically saying “Let’s cut through all the bullshit and meet for coffee tomorrow.” My kind of woman already.

That was almost 11-months ago. Over that time I’ve meandered from cynicism to being “in like,” through some strange feelings of safety and comfort with a woman, then a little fear as I started to open my heart to the “L” word and finally accepting a kind of love I never thought possible.

While there is plenty of passion in our relationship – we jokingly place ourselves in the “other” column in all sex surveys – there’s never been that burning, desperate neediness of past passionate affairs. Instead, it’s been a gentle, slow-growing, caring, non-judgmental and, I’m starting to believe, enduring love.

Maybe that’s the best kind of love of all.

“How Deep is Your Love?”

“Love Me Tender”
Elvis Presley

Early in my new relationship I wrote the following poem:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Back to the Present: Pain, More Pain and That's the Good News

©2008 by LeeZard

I may be on the cusp of becoming “an elderly gentleman,” but I’ve never had to deal with chronic pain – until this year. I want to share this experience with you because, by reading this Blog, you are perversely interested in my journey through life. But, I also want to relate my first real experience with managing pain - or not managing pain - via the use of prescribed narcotics. OH MY GAWD!!

It started out last February as a dull ache down the back of my legs. I mostly felt it when I awoke in the morning and then a little bit after my daily three-mile power walk with Brando the Wonder Dog (BTWD). “Muscle soreness,” thought I, and tried to ignore it.

Three weeks later, the soreness was still there. In fact, it was getting worse, even with a couple of Aleve every 12-hours. Time to call The Doc. I’ve written about Doc before, about how he saved my sorry ass when I was at the deepest level of desperation right before I got sober. One of the reasons I called Doc then was because I knew, as a dedicated (Grateful) Deadhead, he would understand my drug and alcohol problems.

Over the last ten years, our relationship has grown beyond that of doctor/patient. On more than one occasion, Doc has called me to ask recovery questions vis a vis a patient. He has given my phone number, with my permission, to some of his patients when he suspects they are ready to turn their addicted lives around. If Doc is a deadhead, I am most-certainly a Doc-head. But, as usual, I digress. The point is, Doc knows I only call when there’s good reason. Doc is always there for me.

We talked on the phone a bit and he suggested I come in to the office for a quick examination. “I’m thinking it’s a pinched nerve,” he said after pinching, pulling, tugging and thinking. “If the Aleve isn’t working anymore,” he said, “I don’t really want to put you on a painkiller, given your history. Let’s try a steroid (Prednisone) to cool down the inflammation”

Twenty-four hours later I was a huge Prednisone fan; the pain was gone, gone, gone. After a month, I hadn’t realized how much the constant pain had affected everything – my mood, my attitude, my posture, my sudden lack of energy and motivation to exercise. The problem is, Prednisone is only a short-term fix. At the end of my week’s dosage, the pain was back – and worse than before. “Okay,” said the ever-optimistic Doc, let’s give physical therapy a whirl.”

I’ve done PT before. I hate it. No, how do I really feel? I HATE it. Doesn’t everyone? The only saving grace this time was my therapist; she was drop-dead gorgeous, abeit a tough taskmistress. Neither of us was interested in flirting but, hey, I’m still a guy and I still appreciate a beautiful woman and, if I could please her through hard work, then please her I would. The trouble is, after about four visits, nothing changed, except the pain was worse.

Now, I was having trouble walking when I got out of bed in the morning. It would improve somewhat as I moved around but things were definitely going in the wrong direction. So I asked both Doc and Beautiful Therapist about seeing a chiropractor. I wasn’t sure how they’d react but, since nothing else seemed to be working, they agreed it was worth a try.

Suffice it to say that three visits to a well-recommended chiropractor brought nothing, except the pain was worse. The chiropractor was a turning point, though because she suggested I go for an MRI. Doc immediately lined me up for the exam and one of the best neurosurgeons in town.

“Well,” you’ve got quite a bit going on here and none of it is good,” said my new doc. First, you’ve got some arthritis in the back and there’s not much we can do for that beyond trying to manage the pain. The other problem is Spinal Stenosis which is forcing two discs up against the nerves that are shooting pain down your legs.”

“Spinal Whaaa?”

Spinal stenosis is a narrowed lumbar or cervical spinal canal and typically consists of back and buttock or leg pain induced by walking or standing. The pain is relieved by sitting. Symptoms in the legs are usually bilateral.

I liked this new doc; here was a surgeon who actually didn’t jump right to surgery as a first option. In fact, he recommended it only as a last resort.

It wasn’t long before I signed in to the last resort but not until I tried almost everything else. Cortisone shots into my back only lasted three weeks. A process sending electrical pulses to fry the nerves sending (arthritic) pain to my brain was only partially successful; it doesn’t work on the Stenosis. 

So, two-and-a-half weeks ago, I submitted to microsurgery to decompress my spinal canal. My surgeon calls it “minor” surgery – compared to the full-meal-deal spinal fusion but all things being relative, no back surgery is really minor.

The surgery itself went pretty well. In fact, I went home the same day. Post-op is a whole other kettle of opiates. More on that in a moment.

We won’t know until sometime in January if the surgery was successful; I am still experiencing pain down my legs every morning, sometimes so severe I can hardly walk. That could be the arthritis. Have to wait on that one.

The two-and-half-weeks since surgery, though, have been quite a rough ride. Welcome to Pain Meds 101.

I was in so much pain in the few weeks running up to the surgery that the doc had me on a pretty heavy dose of Vicodin – sometimes eight-to-ten pills a day. Needless to say, as a recovered alcoholic/addict, I am extremely alert: no, make that paranoid, about anything that could put me on a slippery slope back to hell. But, I’ve also learned in recovery, that you have to do what is necessary to take care of yourself.

I thank God every day that I no longer crave alcohol or drugs and that miracle continued throughout my Vicodin use. I never exceeded the prescription’s recommended dosage and I never craved them but I’d eaten so much pre-surgery Vicodin that the post-op Percocet (Vicodin times 4) didn’t work. The first three days after surgery were agony I cannot begin to describe. Suffice it to say I was immobilized in every way. But that was only the beginning.

After the mega-pain subsided I tried to wean myself off the meds. I’d been taking one or two every four-to-six hours and two at bedtime. Even at that level, the pain would wake me by two or three in the morning and I’d pop one or two more (still under the doc’s instructions). Finally, about five days after surgery, I slept the whole night through on just the two Percocet. That was enough for moi so I switched back to Aleve.

We’ve all read about people becoming addicted to painkillers. I’ve known guys with more than 20-years sobriety who got hooked and were so ashamed, they were afraid to admit it in their AA meetings. I swore that was not going to be me.

I may not have become emotionally hooked on the opiates but my body had a completely different response. By mid-morning on the day I stopped the Percocet I felt like a 16-pound bowling ball was rolling around my stomach. That’s the only way to describe it. I began sweating and dark thoughts were followed by darker thoughts. I curled up in the fetal position and tried to tough it out. Welcome to opiate withdrawal, Leezard!

By nightfall things were getting worse so I did what I’ve been taught in recovery; I grabbed for the phone and called one of my AA buddies. In this case, the AA buddy also happened to be an MD and former pill addict.

I ran down my symptoms. “Yup,” he said, “you’re in withdrawal.” Yeah, that’s like telling someone throwing up on the deck of a rolling ship that they are seasick.

“It’s going to get worse over the next 72-hours or so before it gets better,” he added. “You’re just going to have to hang on to your ass.” NOT what I wanted to hear. “Has the diarrhea started?” he asked before hanging up.

“Thank God no,” I replied as I felt the bowling ball begin to churn around some nausea. Not 30-seconds after hanging up, I was running for the head – the first of what would become an hourly ritual through the next day. “Drink lots of liquids,” I kept reminding myself.

I don’t know why I waited but it wasn’t until the next morning that I called Doc and told him what was going on.

“You did it wrong,” he said immediately. “You need to wean yourself from that shit over a longer period of time. I’m going to put you back on a lesser dose of the Vicodin – just two-a-day today and tomorrow and one the day after that. It will ease the withdrawal symptoms but you’re still in for a rough ride over the next 36-48 hours.”

It worked, though. Before I took the second Vicodin that day, the symptoms eased enough for me to uncurl from the fetal position. By sundown I was up and walking around – the bowling ball down to about nine pounds. I was still attached to the crapper for another day but it was spreading out to once every two or three hours.

Even after the physical symptoms eased to the point where I could sit back down at the computer, my mind was still addled. I never really got a high from the meds but I knew in my head they were there. The affect was so outstripped by first the pain and then the physical withdrawal that I never noticed I was in a fog but it took another three days of simply staring at the computer screen and playing mindless games before I could do anything productive.

What have I learned from all of this? THERE’S GOTTA BE ANOTHER WAY!