I don’t go to bars to get drunk anymore; I don’t call a dealer to get high, but there is a place I frequent sober that I frequented drunk. I was there all weekend.

It’s lonely there, and I like it that way. I can go through all the motions of my life and never leave. I keep everyone at least a car-length away. It smells there, stinks really. Kind of like the laundry bin after a week of neglect. But I love the smell, don’t get me wrong. The smell is half the reason I get to enjoy the place all to my lonesome.

I realized I was there when my wife asked, “where are you?”

We were driving back from a Christmas tree farm.

“What do you mean?” I asked back. Don’t we always reply to questions we don’t want to answer with another question?

“What I mean is, where are you? You’ve been gone all weekend?”

“Last I checked, I was at that holiday shopping bazaar, and church with you and the kids. I just sawed down our Christmas tree. What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean you’re unavailable. You’re off somewhere like really far away.”

She had me. Since football season ended, I’ve had more time on my hands. As I usually do, I dove into projects and writerly things with abandon. I was consumed by it all weekend. I was with my wife and kids, but I travelled a good distance in my mind.

Somewhere in that conversation with my wife, she said, “This is worse than football season.” Meaning, I am more isolated and distracted now than during the season. That’s saying a lot. One time, when she asked me what I wanted for dinner, I was so focused on how a play should be run that I replied, “Gun rita weak Irene hot”—that being the name of a play.

I got to a meeting later that night.

And when I did, I realized that the distant place I was in all weekend was the same distant place where I lived in active addiction. I kept secrets. I let some see one side of me, some see the other while keeping everybody was a car-length away.

In 2007, I worked for the United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, California. I was an aspiring screenwriter. But more importantly, I was an addict who didn’t identify myself as an addict. On a Sunday, I was diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis. The Friday before, I was at work on time, although I hadn’t slept the night before.

That Friday, I answered to curious onlookers, concerned colleagues, to anyone who paid the briefest of attention to me in the same fashion. They looked into my eyes, saw no one was behind the wheel, and asked if I were OK. My reply: “I’m fine, how are you?”

What I should have said was, No. In fact, I am caught in a spiral of addiction. I can’t sleep because I don’t want to see another morning. And when the sun rises, the only thing that gets me out of the door is a medicine cabinet of substances that I prescribe myself. I’ve lost my mind and I can’t numb the pain any more. I can’t do it anymore. I’m done. I’m ready to die. There is no way out. I’m trapped. Get me out of here now or you may never see me again.

Yeah, that’s the place.

Is it lonely at the center of the univrse?—you betcha.

The place has changed now that I’m clean. There are a few air-fresheners in there, and I opened the windows to let the breeze blow through. But, I still go there. And I don’t let anyone else inside.

I cycle through obsessions in sobriety like a game of hot potato. Or maybe more like whack-a-mole because when I knock one out, a new one, or two or three surface.

I can’t stop writing once I start. Shit, that should be a good thing.

My sponsor tells me to keep my priorities straight: “Recovery, Family, God.” Man, I love that notion of order. For if I don’t stay sober, I can’t be a father to my children, a husband to my wife. And if I lose the love in their eyes, how could I ever dare claim to understand God?

What I am struggling with today is what I’ve been struggling with my whole life: moderation. A new world of writing has opened up to me, and my first inclination is to chase those fairies—the little darlings—the ideas—the far-off notions to the end of the fucking earth, leaving everyone else behind.

I need silence and distance to write, to create. I must respect that. I must tend to it like a small flame in the woods. I must keep others from it in order to let it grow. But I also need to keep it from turning into a conflagration that burns the whole forest down. That ain’t easy for me.

How do I strike the balance?—Insert laugh ‘til you cry emoji here—Striking a balance is never my answer. My answer is recognition. Recognizing that I take creative worlds to the same extreme I took my addiction. Recognizing that I need to make clear delineations between work and family.

And always recognizing that my name is Mark, and I am an addict.

If you liked this post, you may like more posts on sober obessions. Click here for the series.

31 Responses to “Isolation

  • Love how self-aware and diligent you are Mark. <3
    Diana xo

  • colin chatburn
    1 year ago

    great stuff as usual are not alone.we are why you can turn the volume up to 11.rather than addiction you could call it obssession.(that is the reason why i stay a long way from god based religions)what ever you do its ‘to much’i don’t know of a cure for it.but that piece really struck home.your wife should have you sussed by now.cheers.

  • Mark! We’ve joked enough about moderation so I won’t go there again! But you saw the tweets about Reddit: I got into a conversation a week or so with Cassie about Reddit. (Turns out she was previously a Reddit “superstar” before having needed anonymity destroyed, which created problems for her). Anyway, the Reddit stopdrinking group has like 100k members. I jumped on Saturday morning and WOW. I spent ALL DAY on there Saturday. The good news: tons of newcomer interaction. The bad news: I don’t see how you can make it “intimate” like our posse. Anyway, thankfully by yesterday the obsession had lifted. I think I’m done with it. I may go back now and then when what I need is to cheer on newcomers (they are easy to find). I guess all of this is just SHARING this addiction I experienced Saturday and to tell you, once again, that I relate. Sorry to be so long winded!

    • I’m so glad you explained! I was wondering what Reddit was about. I’ll go check it out. Don’t know if anything can replace the #recoveryposse. I tried the sober grid app at one point. And I had a similar experience as your Saturday with reddit. Sort of was lost in it for a weekend and then had to put it down.

      The moderation joke never gets old HD. I am, still, awaiting moderation with you, my friend! Haha.

      • FWIW, I wouldn’t check it out. Let me explain it to you sometime. “Sounds like” you don’t need to take anything else on!

  • I love that. Recovery-Family-God-Man In that order. I’m going to remember that next time I’m off into one of my obsessions. Thank you for a great post.

  • This is fantastic as usual, Mark.

    My wife says that to me now and then. It bothers her a lot, as it reminds her of how I used to be when I was drinking. Even recently on her birthday dinner, at a restaurant, I disappeared. My body was there, but I was gone. In my self, my head. Eyes glazed over. My wife kicked me under the table. A friend asked if I was okay. My wife later told me how upset she was and was even tempted to smell my glass for booze. It’s an easy place for me to go to – the distant nebula of my mind. I can drift there easily. It’s not always easy to be present and frickin focused all the time. Sometimes I want to space out. And I do, but apparently it upsets others! Isolating is so easy for me, Mark. I do it a lot. I don’t talk to others outside of social media. At all (except work, but that’s different). Part of the stinkin’ thinkin’! Anyway, progress and all that jazz.

    Wonderful way with words, my friends.


    • Thanks Paul. That scene with your wife is so familiar. I was always that way when I think about it. Always the kid picking grass while the coach was trying to talk to me. I wonder how much of this is a human experience in general, and how much of it can be attributed to the stinkin’ thinkin’ that you mention.

      I love how your writing and presence always gets me thinking about life concerns, instead of ‘recovery’ concerns. I am, always, so appreciative that you are an active member of my digital recovery program, Paul. You help so many. I am a chief Buzz Kill client, as it were.

  • Amazing reflection in this post. It takes courage to be willing to get to know yourself this well. There are still parts of me I’m afraid to meet.

  • That order – recover, family and god – is really good. I’d never heard it so thanks for sharing. Yeah, I go to that place too. A lot, especially when life is busy (holidays) or stressful (work) or days ending in Y (whenever, really). The writing thing sounds exciting. Everything in moderation, ha, yeah, that never will happen, right? I too find comfort just in seeing. It seems to open things up a little.

    • It’s so tempting right? I was talking to another writer about it recently. She described it as going to a world you created, where people move around and act and speak as you expect or hope them to. Why wouldn’t we prefer it in that world? That made a lot of sense to me, being someone who always tried to manage the expectations of others.

      Days that end in Y? Haha. Yeah, moderation is for the birds. Recognition at least lets me know when I’m being inappropriate. Even if I don’t have much control over it.

  • Great read. It’s interesting to me how different people perceive behavior.

    I have always been introspective, and an introvert. From the time I was a very young child, both my parents always told me how serious and focused I was, especially on creative things. However, for me I don’t see it as isolation, I think that’s simply my personality. For me isolation is a deliberate act, i.e. I’m in pain and don’t want to interact with others vs. I’m in a creative flow.

    I also think there’s a difference between isolating and being “distracted.” I find when I have something on my mind, I’m easily distracted and have trouble concentrating. Money worries especially will have me distracted.

    I believe that the stigma of addiction carries over from society into recovery to the point where we over-analyze ourselves and in some cases, self-shame. For instance, traits that I think are common to most human beings (anger, resentment, compulsiveness, etc.) we as addicts tend to think of as uniquely “ours.” This thinking is descended in part from the Big Book…

    “They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.”

    I’ve never wholly agreed with this sentiment. Emotion, and self-control, I think should be a priority for all. He does say “dubious” luxury, but the way I’ve heard it conveyed in the rooms implies that strong emotion of any kind is dangerous – when it is, in fact, simply human. As though addicts are all supposed to maintain a Buddha-like demeanor while the rest of the world does as it pleases. I find shyness/introversion are treated likewise, as though in recovery we’re all supposed to transform into gregarious used-car salesmen (remember, Bill Wilson *was* a salesman.)

    Just my $0.02 lol 😉 I’m going to have to blog about this!

    • This is a truly fascinating take on the post. I agree that we take normal human behavior and monopolize it as addictive behavior, when everyone to some extent feels, behaves, or acts that way.

      And you also nailed a key paradox that is true in my recovery. I get hooked on the cure! And the people around who don’t know what it’s like to get hooked on these sort of endeavors, don’t get it. They don’t understand and that makes us feel a little bit of that self-shame that you referred to I think.

      In this case, I have a new passion in my life that is taking my thoughts further away from a drinker a drug the nave ever been. And how great is that! How amazing? But I go to those places alone. And sometimes, I’m so hooked on going to those places, that to the outside world I appear distracted or “not present”.

      There’s a fine line somewhere in all of this that I always fail to hit. And I think that’s what we both are rapping about here. It’s the failure to “hit the mark” or “walk the line”.

      Thank you for this amazing reflection. It has made the post so much better! I look forward to reading your post when you write it!

  • Well done, Mark. So insightful.
    Love all of our #RecoveryPosse

  • Someone said that alcoholics (&addicts) are the only people in the world that treat loneliness with isolation.
    Good post. I ❤ non-verbal communication b/c without hearing my voice it’s easier to assure you that I’m “fine”.

  • Mark I felt so attached to this post. I can’t relate on a recovery level, but I can relate on that isolation level. Thank you for writing something that encompasses many, despite their reasons for being there. It is easy to go to that place, the reasons may be different or varied, but we go, and getting back is never as easy as just going.

  • John 2flags
    1 year ago

    Its problery one of the most powerful pieces I’ve read by you, the honesty of it moves me, everyone that reads your stuff I reckon. Your ‘reply’ to being asked if your OK, god mark that is spot on, chilling, resonates very strongly. Your thoughts, your posts, keep getting stronger. Awesome Mk

  • Thank you for your powerful vulnerability, Mark. May you never again lose the light of recognition that helps you to find your way like the North Star in darkness.

  • Matt (Sober Man)
    1 year ago

    Such great writing Mark. Really took me to some familiar and unfamiliar places. Cheers mate!

  • This is brilliant and touches on what I have been struggling with lately. I mostly hid my drinking and now I am mostly hiding my sobriety. I don’t talk about it, I just do it. I do find that I am obsessed with painting and with being in my head. All I want to do is to listen to recovery podcasts, read Glennon Doyle Melton and watch a good documentary. I want to be alone – mostly, right now. It feels safer. I don’t have to be disappointed in the expectations I have of others. Thank you for your writing. You are doing great.

    • Thank you for that. I hid my recovery for many years, 8 in fact. Recovering out loud with this blog I started a year ago has changed everything for me. Really has been powerful.

      So, my first year sober, I lived in the garage of an Oxford House in Portland. I worked. Worked steps. And read. I read every word Herman Hesse wrote. Total hermit. But it’s what I needed then and it laid the foundation for the life I am enjoying now. I wrote this I guess just to say. Take your time!

  • Goodness me! Goosebumps. You’re an incredible writer.

  • Hi Mark
    My name is Michelle and I am an addict 🙂
    I just wrote about this this morning, about isolation once the dust settles in recovery. Well sobriety anyway, as recovery can begin anytime really. So two months in and I found this which is great to know there are others that were drinking or taking anything really to be “absent” Herman Hesse – genius, my favourite author
    Thanks again

    • Michelle- It’s great to connect with another sober person, and a writer, but a fellow Hesse fan! In my first year sober, I read every book he wrote. I’m obsessed with that man’s writings. I went through the psych ward, and I related to the author’s life as he was in the psych ward at a young age himself. I even trudged through the Glass Bead Game, which was not my favorite. I love Narcissus and Goldmond the best.

  • I think for many people who are introspective can get lost in their heads and be distant. My SO and I are both similar in that aspect when one of us feels “far away”. Have you ever taken an MBTI test? Also known as your Myers-Briggs type. I think people who test as “intuitives” are more prone to this… I see it in myself.

    • Hi Nicola! And welcome to the blog. I’m glad you found it and commented. Thank you for providing your service in the recovery field.

      I’ve never taken a test like that no. I took a personality test for work. In summary, I’m a result-driven person who prefers to work alone unless others are willing to take my ideas. Yeesh. More control freak, maybe? I like intuitive though. Yeah, let’s stick with that.

      Thanks for the reads. Grateful for this exchange.

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