Book Review: Who I Am by Pete Townshend

5 STARS. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Today’s Daily Post wants to hear about the blog post I was most nervous to publish. I don’t have a particular post in that category, but always feel discomfort when I let a post reveal something deeply true about me.  I’ll post it anyway – in between the cat pictures –  because I so respect blogs and conversations that go beyond the superficial.  And because, when I make a list of important attributes, honesty is always at the top.

Which brings me to Pete Townshend’s memoir, Who I Am. This book mesmerized me and a big part of that was Townshend’s honesty. What separates this from the tawdry “tell alls” of so many celebrities? (Hmm I notice I have strong opinions of such celebrity books without ever having read one. Okay. Disclosure made. Reader beware.) Well. Everything, really. Townshend doesn’t gossip or confide. He shares secrets and bares soul.  I have so much respect for his willingness to make himself look bad in the interest of telling it like it was. Reading this book, I learned not just about Townshend. I also gained insights into topics as varied as myself, addiction, and the collective unconscious.

A few scattershot reactions:

  • Ironic that he had to end his marriage to get into a monogamous relationship.
  • Amazing how similar addictive mindsets can be from person to person, substance to substance.
  • The most fun part of the book are the chapters about the early days of the British rock scene, centered around an art school an Ealing.  One of those times when so much talent and energy magically converged. (I was lucky enough to live through such a time in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.)  Ealing in the early 60s had the Stones and Kinks in clubs, John Marshall developing his amplifiers, John McLaughlin as a local salesman! And of course school chums Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle happening to form a band.

You don’t have to be a Townshend or Who fanatic to enjoy this book. I loved classic rock back in its day but don’t listen to it now.  I always liked the Who’s attitude and enjoy their music but they were never one of my bands and I only saw them once (and that time, mainly because the Clash were on the same bill). I never got into Townshend’s solo work.

Book jacket publicity writing usually makes me twitch, but this time I agree with the cover blurb, which reads in part: “With eloquence, fierce intelligence, and brutal honesty, Pete Townshend has written a deeply personal book that also stands as a primary source for popular music’s greatest epoch. Readers will be confronted by a man laying bare who he is, an artist who has asked for nearly sixty years: Who are you?”

Okay, I might need to debate the greatest epoch part, but otherwise that description is spot on.

P.S. Also, he’s funny and there are laugh-out-loud lines throughout.

 

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My Dad Behind the Wheel

I didn’t know my father well. He died last year (after several years of being mostly gone due to strokes). He wasn’t an easy person to understand. In the decades that I knew him, I could count on one hand the number of times that he went internal and talked about what was going on inside him. We are so different in that way – introspective is my favorite state.

Recently, something got me started remembering his driving.

When I was very young, I thought that  freeways were an endless race. And considering the number of cars my dad passed, I thought we had a good shot at winning the race. If only we didn’t always have to exit to go to grandma’s house! He had an MG Midget which he adored and gave up because it had no room for kids. He knew everything about cars and spent much time tinkering with ours.

Conversely, coming back after any trip, when he got to our neighborhood, he would slow to a maddening crawl. Was he surveying his domain? Or reluctant to return home?

My stomach still clutches at the memory of drives back from family holiday get-togethers when he was dangerously drunk. One night he went on and on about how interesting it was to see double of everything: twice the lanes, twice the traffic signals. As soon as I got my driver’s license I became our designated driver. Thinking about this still infuriates me. It might be time to think about forgiveness. Now that I have learned about addiction (because Someone I Love Dearly (SILD) is a heroin addict), I see that my father was probably a high functioning alcoholic. He drank every day. But it was the family gatherings that were most noticeably out of control.

Only after my father retired was I aware of him having much fun. (Did he change or did I grow up?) Golf was a big part of that retirement pleasure. My kids got their first driving lesson in his golf cart. They were 10, maybe, and for years afterwards gleefully informed me of all the stuff he let them try, as soon as they were out of my sight. He was a complete control freak but just as big a rebel when it came to other people’s rules. In this case mine.

Peace in Thoughtlessness

The last few weeks, I have struggled to put two thoughts together, and this turns out to be a good thing. At first I thought it was a new stage of PTSD, my unfolding reaction to the fact that Someone I Love Dearly (SILD) is a heroin addict (today more than 2 months sober). Now I see this is part of my own process of healing and recovery.

My thoughts are very foggy and disconnected at the surface, but down below the thinking must continue. I can still hold a conversation – although if it is a work conversation that yields to do items, I had better jot them down when first discussed or they won’t leave the room with me. More importantly, I have written quite a bit on my new novel and it is really good stuff.

The fog disturbed me mightily at first, but more and more I see it as a protective cushion. My longstanding tendencies to brood and anticipate are not functioning well now – and I don’t miss them at all. I’ve got a lot of stress at work right now and when I start worrying I find myself trying to pull the fog closer and thicker.

Perhaps this is how I will back into mindfulness and an ability to be fully present – by thickening the fog. Not thinking is really peaceful. I recommend it.

The Long Plateau

It’s kinda like living in The Lost World, a previously unknown universe on a long, high plateau that ends in steep cliffs.

Someone I Love Dearly (SILD) is a heroin addict, just about 60 days into recovery. SILD could relapse. SILD could be secretly using. These coulds will continue to haunt me. But right now SILD is looking healthy and – remarkably – happy, intensely working a 12-step recovery program that helps to limit the power of the addiction while dramatically boosting self-awareness.

I have been working on my own recovery as a codependent and thus recognize that it will be a sign of my own improved mental state when I cease to start blog entries by talking about SILD. What happens with SILD is up to SILD. I can’t alter SILD’s path and I can’t predict the future. Hence all the treatment program mantras about focussing on today.

For a purebred westerner like myself, that living in the moment stuff ain’t easy to achieve but I can already see that getting to that point is an effort worth making. Lately sometimes I’ve managed to find the Off switch, to silence all my dreading and what-ifing. The sense of peace and the upsurge in energy are simply incredible. I wish I could tell you how to activate that switch – then maybe we could all flip it more often. At this point all I can do is reassure that it exists.

The biggest test of a codependent’s recovery is the ability to maintain peace, contentment, and joy in life even when the addict is doing poorly. So often we codependents say “I’m doing well today – because my addict is ___” Fill in the blank: Still sober. Working her program. Getting job offers.  That kind of thinking is still codependent. I’m okay because my addict is okay.  The goal is: I’m okay even though my addict is in a tailspin. 

Getting to that point is surely even harder than always living in the moment.

Thinking about a future where my addict could be in a tailspin is pushing against my Off switch. I’m knotting up inside and need to remind myself: nothing has changed as I type this blog. Today is still good. That is all I know for sure.

Today has been okay. Curiously, that simple realization restores my calm.

Folks, you have just witnessed mind control in action.

Perhaps two months ago I would have sheepishly deleted all of this.

Dirty Chips

Someone I Love Dearly (SILD) is a heroin addict — now just about 60 days sober. Like all addiction milestones, this one is important, reassuring, bittersweet, and just possibly a meaningless sham.

Without a treatment program, relapse is almost guaranteed – 97% of addicts who try to quit on their own will relapse. So I am deeply thankful that SILD had willingness and health insurance to go through treatment. With a treatment program, relapse is slightly less guaranteed: 90% of addicts who try to quit using a treatment program will relapse.

I get why the relapse rates are so high. Hell, it took me three tries to quit smoking. You have to learn how to live without your drug; the learning includes mistakes and some mistakes lead to relapse. One big difference is that I wasn’t at risk of overdose when I lit up one more Chesterfield. The chance of overdose goes up when an addict relapses: recovery messes up an addict’s tolerance for the drug.

SILD says “I am going to be in the 10%” and I mostly believe that SILD wants to accomplish this and will do so. Mostly believe, because I may never fully believe SILD again. In everything SILD says, I hear a whisper of an alternate reality: what might be true instead. That is a consequence of the years of lies while SILD was using.  At the same time, I can no longer live in a state of perpetual  mistrust. It left me debilitated and combustible. From what I can figure so far, with an addict, love and trust can have little overlap, at least for the first many years of recovery.

Two months ago, I knew nothing about this universe I now permanently inhabit. When I first learned the relapse statistics and heard all the relapse stories, I didn’t think I could face that future. Now it’s just another fact of life. So maybe someday I will shed my abhorrence of dirty chips.

There are three kinds of addicts in recovery – those who are not using, those who are using, and those who are secretly using. The addicts who are not using earn chips at meetings, chips that proclaim recovery milestones – for example, SILD has a 30-day chip and will soon earn a 60-day chip. The addicts who are using either stop attending meetings, or resume the effort to quit and reset their count of days sober, starting again at day 1. The addicts who are secretly using keep coming to meetings, keep collecting chips they have not really earned. These are called dirty chips.

I am outraged by the existence of dirty chips but I need to get over it. A dirty chip feels worse than just a relapse or just a lie but it is merely another fact of life in the addict universe. As SILD points out, “Addicts lie. It’s what we do.”

And those who want to  feel love for an addict without letting that love destroy their lives had better find a way to love without trust and trust without fully trusting.

Health and Trust

You know the saying. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me (oh, I dunno, ballpark estimate) nine thousand eight hundred and seventy two times and you must be my addict.

When people talk about their personal blessings, health is typically at the top of the list – and rightly so. Good health is important to so much else in life. When it comes to relationships, the health equivalent is trust. I’ve been thinking about trust a lot lately.

Someone I Love Dearly (SILD) is a heroin addict, now in treatment, and for the last few years has been a master liar and manipulator. Masterful, savvy, cunning – brilliant, really. SILD even turned my growing distrust against me, made me feel bad to have doubts. That was back when the heroin was a secret, back when I sensed something big and bad was wrong, but couldn’t prove it – and man did I feel like an asshole: what was my problem, how did I devolve to be so incapable of trusting...  In the old days we called that mind-f***ing, kids. But I digress.

So I didn’t trust SILD, I don’t trust SILD, and every statement SILD makes, I doubt. Yet at the same time, trust is so ensnarled with love in me, that even when I know SILD is lying there is a still part of me that – preposterously! – still accepts the lie verbatim, because it comes from SILD.  But that part of me doesn’t hold much sway, nowadays.

I fear to discover more lies from SILD, because at this point, every lie chips away at the love I hold for SILD.

Lately, my relationship with SILD feels like my neighbor’s retaining wall. In my neighborhood, many yards have quaint rustic walls constructed of rocks and mortar. But this one neighbor has a wall that is just artfully piled rocks with no mortar. For years I was amazed at the skill that kept the rocks balanced and in place – yet baffled that the wall stayed intact. Then one day, my skepticism proved correct. Part of the wall collapsed into an unstable pile of rocks. The old wall is doomed – it can’t be rebuilt as it was before: no way can the collapsed rocks be reinserted nor the balance restored. And meanwhile, the dirt and lawn, formerly held in place by the wall, will at some point also collapse and add to the damage. Left long enough, the whole yard will be wrecked.

I hope SILD and I have the courage strength wisdom to tear out the old structure and replace it in time. Some days I have more hope than others. It’s amazing how rapidly I can cycle from hope to despair. I have done several cycles just in the typing of this post.

Better? Worse?

Someone I Love Dearly (SILD) is a heroin addict who has recently entered treatment. SILD is doing great, on a tremendous voyage of self-discovery and new beginnings. Meanwhile I seem to be in the throes of some kind of PTSD and all my initial work in discovering codependence and in recognizing changes I need to make — all of that overwhelms me, saps me of energy, and really pisses me off. I just want to live my frigging life. I already did therapy back in my 20s and 30s. I don’t want to go to more meetings. I want to wake up having learned what I need to learn, adjusted what I need to alter. However, that approach never worked for learning Spanish so I assume it won’t be effective here, either.

I keep thinking about all the ways addicts seem to have more energy and fun* than those closest to them and in my darkest moments I imagine addicts as vampires of the spirit. In my self-sorriest moments I see the codependents as second-string sidekicks, leeches who latch on to give themselves purpose.  In more open moments I look around me in the meetings and see the addicts and the loved ones united by a drive to improve, to not waste another hourdayyeardecade of our lives.

Curiously, of late I am learning a lot from a character in my novel Scar Jewelry, Heather. “Curiously” because I don’t entirely like Heather. But lately I keep thinking about back in her wild younger days, when she was Heater, and her husband died in a motorcycle accident, and her friends feared that her devastation would provoke suicide. When they voiced their concerns, her reaction was No way! I’m not done yet! Lately when I spiral into the darkest or self-sorriest  moments I find myself repeating that phrase.

*After all, as Neil Young first pointed out, “every junkie’s like a setting sun.”