The Skull

We talk a lot about fear in sobriety. As I peel back the layers, I understand more and more about fear, both in myself and others, but it still remains somewhat of a mystery to me. The one thing I can say is that I used to believe I was afraid of almost nothing, and now I am seeing that I was and am afraid of almost everything – the baffling thing is that the more things I realize I am fearful of, the less fear I have. I have also come to realize that sometimes I have so many fears going on, that I don’t know which one to face and I need to get down to the root cause -that is what this post is about.

For my 8th Birthday my parents gave me the life-size, glow-in-the-dark skull pictured above. They purchased it secretly during our Disneyland trip. I may have even asked for it, I don’t think so, but it is possible – don’t remember.  I may have thought it was cool at first but I don’t remember that either, I only remember the aftermath. That skull sat on my dresser, directly in my line of sight across from my bed, glowing at me nightly. I was terrified of it, I would lie awake for hours, every single night, envisioning that it was alive and all the dastardly things it wanted to do to me. This went on for YEARS, I never told anyone, I never moved it. Face my fears? Yeah buddy, I did that, I faced that motherfucker every single night. But no, I wasn’t facing the real fear. The fear of being my authentic self, the fear of admitting I was afraid, the fear of disappointing my parents, the fear of my tough drill instructor father being disappointed in having a son that was afraid of a toy skull, the fear of admitting my truth, the fear of not being exactly who I thought you wanted me to be. When I described myself as a chameleon in my drinking story, this is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about, I strove to be whatever I thought you wanted, and it corrupted my soul. The fear of preserving my pride and ego was worth any price. What does this have to do with drinking? Everything to me. More specifically, it has everything to do with my sobriety and recovery. Put simply, I need to find and face the real fears to make progress in my recovery.

You know, that skull was meant to be in my life. It has taught me a lesson, a lesson that took 38 years to learn, but a lesson nonetheless. That skull still sits in my old room at my mother’s house. Maybe I will have her bring it to me, a reminder of the fear that wasn’t the real fear, a reminder to keep searching.



I understand a bit more every day about being connected. Alcoholics talk about how they were not “present” in their lives while drinking, and that has taken some time for me to understand. I always felt like I was present in my life because I was mostly hyper-vigilant about handling my responsibilities. As I’ve said before, much of this was due to needing to feel entitled to do what I wanted to do, with maybe a bit of guilt and perfectionism thrown in the mix.

There is an older gentleman in my neighborhood named Marty, he will be 90 in 14 days. Up until about a year ago he would walk the neighborhood and always stop to chat with us, usually we were in someone’s garage or front yard getting our party on. I have not seen Marty in a while. Last night, in the midst of the neighborhood party and fireworks, I went walking around looking for my wife and daughter. Marty was in his driveway watching the fireworks. This time I stopped and talked to him. Ironically, the first words out of his when I asked him how he was doing were “I’m just taking it one day at a time”. Marty shared with me that he is not doing well and that he is “ready to go”. He always said that jokingly, and he still looks in great shape, but he meant it this time. His wife of 62 years is now bedridden and he is now her sole caretaker. He doesn’t want to be here after his wife is gone. He is despondent because he does not feel well enough to walk anymore. He told me a story about  his wife’s brother-in-law offered him $52,000 a year, indefinitely, to put them in a home – but he simply couldn’t accept a gift of that magnitude. I just listened. I didn’t try to offer him some sage advice, or fix his feelings, or tell him it was going to be ok – because I really don’t know if it will be ok for him.

If you were observing this exchange from afar, it would have looked just like the many other exchanges I have had with this man (except for the hug I gave him at the end), but on the inside it was really different. In the past when it was me walking by, it would have been “Hey Marty, how you doing?” as I tried to look really busy and focused to avoid a long conversation that would have delayed me from doing what I really wanted to do. If he had stopped at my place, i would have superficially been looking for something comforting to say so he would go away and I could find my next drink or my party friends. Yesterday, I just wanted to listen. I surprised myself. It struck me that this is what “being present” really means. I am not trying to brag on my recovery, because I really don’t take credit for the change. I don’t even understand what is happening, just that it is different than I’ve ever felt before. I do believe that setting the booze down allows this to happen, but is not the final solution. In order to set down the booze I had to become willing to look at myself and live life in a different way. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes not so much, but when I do succeed I feel connected in a way that I have never felt before.