“You better calm down. You’re on the road to timeout dude.”
He hears my wife. I know he does because he is silent.
“Now take your shoes off and put them in the closet like I asked you to do 5 minutes ago.”
He avoids eye contact.
He doesn’t search for a way out. Deep in the recesses of his developing brain, a decision has been made.
As he realizes defeat is imminent, his mind tells him to hold on to what he has. In this particular case, it’s a play sword.
He is Napoleon at Waterloo or a hostage-taker hearing the S.W.A.T. team in the vents.
It’s his last stand.
The wilfulness of a toddler is an endgame proposition.
I’m usually the one to carry his flailing body upstairs to timeout. Only because he’s getting big—as tall as my hip. Tantrums are on the verge of posing a physical threat.
I am always amazed that the screaming and gesticulating limbs don’t start until I pick him up. He hears the words. He knows the countdown. We’ve been here before. But when the consequence falls on him, he acts surprised. Even though he has a way out,
the road to timeout is a one-way street.
I remember waiting at a party for a fix.
It was a rooftop party in Los Angeles.
I knew at 9 p.m. a man would arrive that would deal me some cocaine. In the hour leading up to that time, I didn’t hear what people were saying. I didn’t care about what people were doing. The only thing on my mind was the fix. At 9:01 I was grinding my teeth and no longer pretending to care what people were saying to me. My eyes—fixed on the rooftop door—avoided others.
By 9:15 I walked out the door to wait outside. I looked down the dim-lit street, hoping for car lights to illuminate the road.
Once 9:20 rolled around, I was gone, off to the laundromat where I knew I could score without having to wait on someone. I wasn’t at the party to socialize. I was at the party to get high. Whatever I told myself,
the road to the fix is a one-way street.
I don’t feel acute cravings any longer, but it’s still hard being sober.
I’m at a place where I know myself well enough that I can detect when to exit off the highway. I detect when I’m operating out of anger or lust. But does my self-awareness really make a difference? What do I do when I’m on the road to relapse?
Knowing you’re about to do the wrong thing and doing it anyway is a hellish existence.
I still have my fixes in life—affection, lust, praise to name a few.
I sent an email to a writer I admire introducing myself. I’m waiting for that reply. I’m checking email on my phone, ignoring messages from my wife, from work. I’m checking email for one thing: a response, a fix.
What happens when I don’t get the response I was looking for? What happens when the score doesn’t come through? After all, I no longer have the luxury of driving to the laundromat. Clean and sober living doesn’t afford you the opportunity to skirt responsibility, or to bail on people, or to disappear for a while.
So what do I do?
I get angry.
“Hey babe, can you take out the trash. It’s overflowing.”
I check my email. Nothing.
How about she take out the trash for once. Why’s it always fall on me?
“Did you hear me?”
Fuck the trash. Leave me alone.
The road to relapse is not a one-way street.
An alternative route exists. One option is to go down swinging, like my toddler who doesn’t know any better—to blow up. “You take out the trash for once. How about that?” I have been down that road too many times. It doesn’t lead anywhere other than a drink.
The other road involves a pause—a full stop at the stop sign. It involves a prayer, a phone call. I can take a step back, ask for guidance. I could tell my wife what’s really on my mind.
I can exit the road to relapse.
I can live again.