It is a truly fine Sunday afternoon. A bit chilly (in the 40’s), but with picturesque blue skies and sun. It’s a welcome sight after the long winter’s dreariness.
As for me, well, there’s much to tell.
As requested, I re-did my fourth step work for the second and final time. I presented the aforementioned essay, typed neatly, single spaced, all fifteen pages of it, to the Square-Jawed NP who then complained it was too long. Its itemized list of personal faults began, literally, at my birth. He wisely chose to read it himself instead of hearing it read out loud for the sake of brevity.
“I accuse myself…” he began reading back to me, “… of being born?” Really Margaret?
“Tough beans, bucko. You wanted it complete and thorough, this is what you get. Not only thorough, but ruthlessly thorough,” I said as I opened my Kindle to ‘casually’ peruse my email while he read my confessional essay.
“Yeah, but you’re blaming yourself for being born?” he queried.
“Yes, because if you read on, it resulted in being a burden on my parents. Besides, I wasn’t going to hear you ask me — again — if I’d included everything, so I included everything.” Back to my Kindle.
“Come on Margaret. Being born was your fault? What were you supposed to do? Strangle yourself with the umbilical cord in utero?”
I chuckled, but never looked up from my Kindle, swiping and tapping away as if its business was something far more important. “The Big Book says for every item on the fourth step list, you’re supposed to show what your role in the situation was, even if it was just being there. Therefore, I was there when this born thing happened, and it had an effect on my family.” I gestured with my hand in a brushing motion, “Keep reading. It gets better.”
Silence was followed by NP’s mutterings and comments like, “you can’t actually think these things were your fault…” to which I dismissively replied, “that wasn’t the point of the exercise. Keep reading.”
More silence. More reading. Next thing I heard was, “Wow.” I raised my head.
“What was ‘Wow’ about?” I asked.
“I knew about your addiction,” NP said, “But I never realized the extent. And that ordering from other countries stuff… you’re pretty resourceful.”
I lowered my head back to my Kindle smiling, “Yes, I am.”
Another minute of reading later was punctuated by “you do have a way with words.” I chuckled knowing he was almost done and put my Kindle down. Finished, he set the essay in front of him on the desk and closed the folder quietly.
“Any questions?” I asked.
“None at all? I don’t have to do it again, do I?” I gave him a squinky side-eyed look.
“Okay,… so now what?”
He asked, “Do you want to take it home and dispose of it or do you want to shred it here?”
I chose to shred it — it was what we had talked about previously. He and I stood up, went into an inner employee break room where the shredder was located. An intermediate-sized silver cross-cut shredder quickly dispensed of all 15 pages of my ill-earned confessions.
We went back to the office in silence. The door closed and we sat down. He asked me how I felt. Honestly, I felt perfectly okay. I felt nothing. He didn’t seem to accept that. I told him that to me, it was just a writing assignment. I really hadn’t processed any “feelings” for it except to be glad it was done and doesn’t need to be redone. He seemed confused.
I pressed the NP for his reactions to my fourth step work until he finally told me he couldn’t understand why I felt it necessary to begin each statement with “I accuse myself”. Where were all the accomplishments? The good deeds? The strengths of character that (he says) he knows I have?
[Author’s note: Okay, here’s where I need to interject something. The way I approached my fourth-step work is NOT AA’s recommended way. In truth, I’m not a big fan of the AA big book (sorry guys), so I had no intentions of following their format. But I noted that the fourth step’s intention seemed to be taking the victimhood out of the equation by mentioning whatever your part was (even if it was just being there). Plus, being that the fourth step is based on the Catholic sacrament of Confession — something this good Catholic girl was schooled in — I took the theme of accusation/confession and ran with it, beginning each new topic with “I accuse myself,” as one would do in a Roman Catholic confession (at least the old-fashioned kind).]
A couple of months earlier, the NP and I had done a form-based fourth step from Hazelden wherein once listed negative and positive traits in certain categories. I filled out the form as thoroughly as possible, but it ended up being rejected as “not thorough enough.” So I went hardcore when I did this one.
I explained to NP that the previous edition HAD all the positive traits in it should he want to revisit that.
I further explained, “If the intent of the fourth step is to take the victimhood out of life’s bad turns, then what’s left? In my mind, if one is not a victim, and one is not a bystander, that makes one the perpetrator. So I ran with that as the theme and angle of the piece. I certainly took a lot of doing to find my role in a lot of those otherwise-termed victim-type situations.”
The Square-Jawed NP looked at me and sighed. He was at a loss for words.
Hah! I thought, I had him! I had him on a technicality! I won!
He leaned in across the desk and folded his hands. “So basically, you’re telling me you suck.”
“You suck. You just totally suck then. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Yep, and thank God you said it,” I laughed, “At last someone finally had the courage to tell the truth!”
“Now wait a minute. I didn’t say you suck. You did.”
“Yeah, but it’s true, isn’t it?” I pronounced vividly.
NP sighed again and leaned back in his chair in silence. He took a few beats to study me before leaning forward again. He’s been studying me a lot lately. It’s quite obvious as he cocks his head back and forth when I talk. I sometimes wonder if he’s still trying to figure out if I’m playing him or if I’m being real. (Hint: real.)
He asked, “Why don’t you ever give yourself credit for your accomplishments?”
Curious. “Like what?” I asked.
“You tell me. You mentioned in your fourth step that you used to be a famous painter. Yet you stopped painting. Why would you do that?”
“It stopped being fun.”
“That’s it? That’s all? Or was there something else going on. What was it like when you were painting?”
I told him how it all started. Long before Kim Kardashian was getting famous for being peed on in a dime store sex-tape, I was a talented designer and illustrator just minding my own business in relative obscurity. Then I started painting stuff for a niche market collector’s area (not porn!!) in which I saw an opportunity. I enjoyed myself and quickly became a very in-demand artist, making a big noise, and earning quite a bit of money. I attended a convention where I was treated like a rock star. Long, boring story really, but interesting from the fame end of things. By getting famous, I became a dual-person. By day, a mild-mannered normal person working a salaried Initech job, but by night… people worshipped me. I use that word very specifically. Its definition: “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” I was no deity and I knew it. I was just some chick who could perform a cool trick. But the real me woke up every day with drool on my cheek and stinking of morning breath just like everyone else.
At my peak, I was receiving hundreds of emails a day from people wanting my work, admiring my work, or wanting to hire me to do work. Some wanted me to donate work to charity. Others begged on behalf of a dying loved-one that I please give them my work (I fell for that once and found the item up on ebay the very day after it was received.) In those days, there weren’t talent managers for someone like me, no stylists, no spin-doctors, no agents. I did all this myself and was pretty good at it too.
And it was a heady experience — people wrote me every day to tell me how great I was. I received fan mail. People even sent me gifts in the mail — pictures, trinkets, sometimes gift baskets — people just wanted to be near me or hear from me so that perhaps whatever was “special” about me might rub off on them.
This went on for a handful of years. With all that, a person’s gotta fight hard to not believe their own press. And after a while, fighting the good press, for me, turned into a chronic case of “I’m scum and those people just haven’t figured it out yet.”
Then the negative trolls started appearing as if in answer to my concern — turning out to be mostly fellow artists that were sick and tired and jealous. They attracted others. That’s when it got ugly. One particularly unstable individual began calling my house and threatening to kill me. He wasn’t alone. I had to call the police and even had to inform the security office at work and make a thing of it.
Not long after that, my interest in painting in that niche market waned considerably. I still worked, but not as often. Being famous was a lot of work and responsibility and frankly, I was getting sick of it. My last piece was created sometime in 2003. And though I briefly revived my former career in 2009 in an effort to make money, I had burned out from it and lost all interest. Besides, by 2009, I was high all the time, drowning myself in a virtual sea of Vicodin, and really didn’t care one way or the other about anything except more Vicodin.
I relayed all this to the Square-Jawed NP who patiently listened, but did so incredulously. He believes I really quit because I couldn’t handle the attention and accolades. Maybe he’s right.
“So why not start painting again now?” He asked.
“Are you kidding? Hell no.”
“Yeah, but it could be a source of money. Why not capitalize on it?”
“The market has changed. My style is not the thing.” I continued my protests, but NP really refused to accept it. To him, this is a way I can earn money to get a car. To me, it’s jumping back into a black pit of goo that I’m glad to have left behind.
But it got me thinking.
After I left NP’s office, I fell to pieces. “He’s right!” I cried, “I suck!! And now he knows it too!” Feeling misunderstood, alone, and miserable, I cried that night into the next day. I couldn’t get past the feeling that I’d been exposed for the truly lower-than-whale-scum sucky, horrible, pathetic excuse for a human being I really was — and did so in front of someone whose opinion I actually cared about. I thought the NP’d surely lost all respect for me. It was clear, wasn’t it? I suck, right? The list proved it.
I was in emotional overflow — functioning, working, talking, walking — otherwise functional but with tears streaming down my cheeks betraying my inner turmoil. This had happened before years ago during the lowest part of my life. Not again, I thought. I had to find a way to stop.
I looked up “Vision Boards” on the internet and decided to make myself one. NP was right, but not about the painting. I need money. I need to get off my ass and make money any way I can — draw upon my strengths — make use of whatever I can. I need to take my life back and shed this skin — much of it made from that fecal fourth step — and be ME again.
I made some decisions and put them up on my Vision Board.
Since that day, I have rematriculated into college. I got them to accept my previous general studies credits in English, Sociology, and Psychology. I’m now studying for the Math entry exam. If I can take prerequisites this summer and fall, I apply to official Nursing School in March next year. Then once I have the LPN, I enter the accelerated RN-NP program, then finally get to diagnose and treat illnesses for realsies like a grownup person. If all goes well, I’ll be about 50 when I graduate. Okay, maybe 51. I might have shaved a year off there by accident… that’s why I have to study for the math exam.
On that Vision Board are other things I want. I want a car. (On this, I got very specific — I want a red car with a standard transmission like a little sports car or even a hatchback.) I want to get thin and fit again. I want more nice pieces of jewelry (I had to sell off everything when I became broke). I want a better apartment in a nicer part of town with a place to park and a bathroom where I can do my hair and makeup. I want nice furniture. I want to keep singing. I’d like to perform on stage again. I want a better job. I want a man and a family.
As I’ve already begun the process of achieving things on my vision board, I can now tell the Square-Jawed NP that I have goals that I will recognize as I achieve them. That should satisfy that requirement.
I already feel like I’m getting back to being me. (The good part, not the suck part.)
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” — Woodrow Wilson