As promised: Q & A with the Director & Executive Producer of “Surrender”.

​Interview: Mark Renshaw + Christopher Carson Emmons

Chris, as the director, you brought forth a patient yet striking visual narrative with this short film.  How were you able to achieve the vision you sought with the numerous effects shots and other stylistic challenges that the film required?
The team tried to achieve many unconventional things with this project, it is essentially a silent film from the point of view of an unreliable narrator (due to his alcoholism we see some things that are only in his mind) and is also a mental health and addiction awareness piece masquerading as a horror/thriller film.
I felt that showing literal manifestations of the main character’s inner demons throughout would help communicate why as an addict he consciously makes the wrong decision time and time again. The temptress character at his office is a living manifestation of the addict’s impulse to do the wrong thing while being aware it’s wrong, perhaps seeking ultimately punishment and intervention from external forces before the darkness inside completely consumes.
I also wanted the viewer to experience what a day in the life of this man was like from his point of view, in an effort to hopefully help them empathize with what otherwise may have been a deeply unsympathetic character. To me, the core issue of the character was a lack of self-love, which caused him to lash out at loved ones because he didn’t feel he deserved them and he simultaneously punished and medicated himself constantly for this with alcohol.
We tried with the visuals to thematically imbue a sense of not trusting the world around the lead character or the character himself early on. Even the water bottle he puts clear alcohol in is misleading, but alcoholics viewing the film would know that there are many ways such as this to disguise addiction. With the sound, we tried to really illustrate the decay inside this man physically and spiritually. Every time he takes a drink of alcohol, you hear the sound of his insides burning. The music is really the dialogue, which communicates most of the emotion throughout the journey.
Mark, as the writer and Executive Producer, you drew from some personal accounts when you envisioned—and eventually scripted—“Surrender”. Please tell us about your personal journey that led to the genesis of this unique and important film.
At the time of writing this, I’m three years, nine months and two days sober; not that I’m counting or anything!
I was a functioning alcoholic. I had a successful career, a fantastic family and a lovely home. At face value my life was perfect. I seemed like a happy, normal guy.
Inside I was dying.
Physically, mentally and spiritually, I was a wreck. I couldn’t cope with the real world, so I started to rely on something which took me out of my anxiety and into my own version of reality. The only thing keeping me going was the promise of that bottle at the end of each day. It became my solution to everything.
Eventually I had my rock bottom, I reached my jumping off place. To quote from Pulp Fiction, “I had what alcoholics describe as a moment of clarity.” I admitted defeat, reached out for help and began my recovery.
When I wrote “Surrender”, I wanted to encapsulate how it feels to exist as a functioning alcoholic. I wanted to show how different they are from the stereotypical, drunken tramp-like figure most people imagine when they think of an alcoholic. My goal was to highlight how ordinary they appear at face value, as well as how deceptive and manipulative they can be.
The main character, Dave, isn’t me, but he does represent key elements of my battle with the booze. “Surrender” also drew on many shared experiences I’ve heard from alcoholics over the past few years.
However, I wanted to avoid a potentially dull narrative were we simply observe a character drink heavily and wind up in trouble. I initially wrote about a guy who existed in a completely isolated world when he was sober. The only way he could cross into the ‘real world’ and interact with people was to take a drink. This would allow him to operate normally for a while but he would eventually spin out of control and wind up back in the ’empty zone’ when he woke up.
After reading this script, Chris suggested that I try a more horror-based approach, in which we could see his fears, anxieties and all his inner demons materialized. I loved this idea. And thus, “Surrender” was born. 
What do you hope audiences leave with after viewing “Surrender”?
Chris: My hope with this film is that people take a moment to question what the differences are between someone’s surface demeanor and their inner lives. What is the person who publicly seems happy all the time really thinking and what does this temperament do to their soul? What are the depths of compassion the person you deem awful or irredeemable is actually capable of?
Functioning alcoholics are often masterful at seeming like they have it all together, which makes them incredibly difficult to diagnose let alone get to seek treatment. It is an internal struggle that I think deserves examination and awareness.
The film unapologetically presents an addict who is self-destructive in all aspects of his life on his road to rock bottom. When presented with the concept of rehabilitation by his wife, we end the film on his response, which is simply “How?” This is one of the most important questions we should all be addressing about addiction, and it is my hope that the film ultimately contributes to that dialogue.
Mark: This may seem strange but I would like viewers to have a strange taste in their mouth when they watch “Surrender”. I want them to be hooked into Dave’s journey but be slightly uncomfortable about the ride. 
Dave represents the ‘Yet Factor.’ I drink a bit too much, but not during the day…yet. I drink but at least I’ve not lost my job…yet. Well, I’ve passed out a few times but I’ve never woken up in a strange place…yet. Etc.
My hope is that anyone struggling with addiction, both personally or through someone they know, will identity with Dave’s struggle. When they get to the end of “Surrender”, I want them to realize that no matter how far down the ladder they may have fallen, they can always climb back up. I also hope that they are as curious as Dave as to how this can be accomplished and seek the help to do so.

Service Work and Gratitude

Good Spiritual Morning!

So, this morning I met up with a new friend (from Celebrate Recovery), and dropped my boy off at her place to hang out & go swimming with her son. Then I followed her to an AA meeting, all before work. This required me being up and out of the house by shortly after 6am. (INSANITY, right?!) So, of course I was running late, and then my gps SUCKED, so we drove in large, gas-wasting circles, and ended up getting to the meeting when it was about halfway through. (Grrrrrrr.) 
I left the meeting 5 minutes early in order to get to work on time (yes, I do want a gold star for my Incredible  Adulting Skills), and was feeling somewhat less tense than before, by the time I pulled into the parking lot. I should mention that even though being late is definitely a part of my DNA, it still causes me great anxiety when I’m late for something as important as work.  
Work went along like it usually does, with 20% of staff doing 80% of the work, and the usual drama and high-tension, running around like chickens with our heads cut off…

“I love my job I love my job I love my job” annnnd deep, slow breaths…

Time to relax, right?

After I left work I was able to check my text messages and voicemails, and I discovered that my son had gone to the hospital with his new friend and his Mom. Something about a new medication for siezures…but I’m not sure what happened. The look of fear on her 13-year-old son’s face said a lot.

Rolling with the changes

So, now I’m sitting at home watching.”Daddy’s Home” with the boys and thinking about what kind of pizza we want to get. Thankful that, today, I am able to see a need and follow through on meeting it. One more blessing of sobriety. I may never see the boy again (he isn’t usually with his mom), but today I was allowed to be a positive force in his story, however briefly.

Grace under pressure?

The thing is, this kind of day is the kind of thing where my past experiences come in handy. I’m not great in the ordinary, average day-to-day stuff. I wish it wasn’t so, but the truth is, I generally handle crisis with relative ease. I truly wish it wasn’t so.

Which reminds me

Did I mention that I met my new counsellor yesterday? She’s nice enough and seems to know her stuff. We talked about CBT and how that would mean me having to do homework. Ugh. My son, of course, informed me that I will be doing my homework. Smart aleck kid. I will do it, but I don’t have to like it. Just gotta keep my eyes on the prize: peace, serenity, self-confidence. I deserve all of those things, and I will work for them.

Thanks for listening. You really do rock. image

What’s your week looking like, so far?

Posted from my cabin in the mountains.

3 tremendously helpful tips from my early sobriety

How did you do it?

I was thinking about the first few months in sobriety.  It’s amazing how different our experiences can be, yet so very similar at the most base levels.

I was blessed in many ways during my first several months. I spent the first 3 months in a women’s residential treatment facility, and after that I moved back into my Mom’s house. Being in my Mother’s place, for the record, was undoubtedly the best possible situation for THIS new Mom and my special little son.

Center of the Universe

Once I became a Mother, at 3 months clean and sober, it became terribly apparent to me that I was no longer going to be in charge of my life in ANY way, shape, or form. Hazeldon has a great booklet called “King Baby”, which described the immaturity and self-centeredness of alcoholics and addicts, and likening them to a Baby in a highchair, pounding fat little fists on the tray and demanding WHAT they want, WHEN they want it…sound familiar? It was a rude awakening for me, when that little person showed me exactly HOW in charge he was. If Mom hadn’t been there to intervene, I shudder to think about how it might have played out when my Little One kept me up ALL NIGHT every night for over a month. That particular sleep pattern was exactly how I lived before getting clean, and it was really weighing heavily on my mind: increased depression, frustration, anxiety, the whole gamut.  I learned pretty quickly that I was not even a LITTLE bit in charge. OF course, that didn’t keep me from trying to get my way. But it rarely worked.

Selfish, but not selfish

I was having a crash-course in self-control, as evidenced by the fact that (by the grace of God) my child was not injured while in my care. I told people more than once that I knew I learned some patience when my children were young because I didn’t beat them. (My Dad taught me how to effectively “control” a problem when I was very young. He was quick with his belt. I know he didn’t know any better, and I am very grateful to not have been under the influence while raising my boys.)
But they told me in the Rooms that it was “a selfish program”. Dafug??

Turns out, it’s the kind of selfish that says you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and the child second, when the airplane starts to go down. If you don’t take care of you, FIRST, you’re not going to be worth anything to those who need you.

My kingdom for a…nap

I know that many of you are doing this deal, too, while trying to keep your child(ren) alive and well. So, I’m going to share with you some of the things that were critical for me to getting through those first months, while also being responsible for caring for a very special Little One. I hope this will be helpful.

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Beyond exhausted

  1. Don’t let anyone “SHOULD” on you. I’ll tell you a story to illustrate what I mean by that: My Mom, bless her heart, had my best interests at heart, I know she did. When I came home with 3 months (clean) under my belt and an incredibly stressful new career as a single parent of a Special Needs baby, I know she meant well, but our priorities were just different. “While your baby is ______, you should take that time to get some housework done.” “You need to run the vacuum while you have the time.” “You should get into the shower while he’s laying down.”

See, as a newly sober person, living in HIGH CRISIS mode 24/7, what was important to me was not the same as what was important to my Mom (A Normie, for the record).  I explained it to her as gently as I could at the time: “I SHOULD feed my baby and keep him as healthy as possible; I NEED to get as much sleep as I can since it’s rarely over 2 hours in a row (literally, he had meds that had to be given every 2-3 hours for many months); and I should find a way to get to a meeting as often as possible.”  I know she couldn’t understand where I was coming from, but thank God she took my word for it, and was as helpful as she could possibly have been.

2.  Take multivitamins. You don’t have to like it, just DO IT. Your body is trying to    function after having been self-destructing for however many years you were using/drinking, and your life will be MUCH easier if you begin doing simple things like that.

3. Grab ahold of someone with longterm recovery, and get their phone number and USE IT. MEN WITH MEN, and WOMEN WITH WOMEN. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. If you’re willing to go to AA or NA, I implore you to get a Sponsor,   NOW! If they aren’t working for you down the line, you can get another one. Just FIND a person to whom you can relate, and call them. It will get easier with practise, just like everything else in this new life.

In the interest of keeping it simple, I’ll leave you with these. There are tons of other tidbits that I could share with you, but they’ll have to wait for another time. These are a good start.

So, tell me, what are some things you did or kept in mind during your first few months, that helped keep you and your family alive?

Thanks for coming by, and have a great evening. 🙂

 

 

 

 

3 great meeting types with the best recovery rates

Ok, gang, how are you all on this fine Saturday morning? It’s gray and humid here, but it’s been a good day, regardless. Even if it wasn’t, I can start my day all over again whenever I want.
Today I thought I’d share with you all my experiences with the 3 main addiction recovery meetings, at least to my knowledge.

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Letting go. It's a good thing.

I got clean and sober in AA, having followed my Dad in, a little more than a year after he figured out what his problem was…(as opposed to the countless people, places, and things that he thought were the cause of his troubles)
I was pretty sure, as much as I was like him, if it was Dad’s actual problem, there was a good chance that the chemicals (including alcohol, of course) were also at the root of my misery. I remember spending many hours at a meeting place where NA & AA both had regularly scheduled meetings. Folks from all walks of life could be found there from dawn to dusk, all with (mostly) the same (ish) goal: to stop the pain. Some were of the understanding that alcohol &/or drugs were the problem. Many thought that the police and the Judge were their only real pain. I know many folks grabbed ahold of sobriety and were “willing to go to any lengths”, while perhaps as many others just showed up to get their card signed. The oldtimers used to tell us they would “gladly refund your misery” if sobriety, uh, wasn’t for you. Sometimes folks went out to do some more research (to be surethey really were drunks), and came crawling back in, and sometimes they didn’t make it back.
By going to meetings several times a week, I was frequently reminded of the alternatives to getting sober and staying that way. Sobriety, even being such a foreign idea, sounded better to me than continuing to live in the darkness and misery I was so accustomed to.

I found kindred spirits in the 12-stpe rooms. Regardless of what or where or who I was with, before, I was never fully at ease. I didn’t find comfort for my heart, my spirit, in any of the places where I looked. Only after some time clean/sober, with the help of a Sponsor, did I begin to feel…comfortable. They told me that the solution was in the steps, and I was willing to do anything, so I worked the steps. Somewhere along the way I realized that in contrast to before, when pain was just the inevitable result of so many poor choices, now pain was a real part of growing away from that mess. Hence the phrase “growing pains”.

At some point, I became curious about Celebrate Recovery. I wasn’t ready to go to church yet (not for about 5 years, and then it was a while before I felt at all comfortable there), but I did attend a few cR meetings. They were similar to AA, but a bit too sweet for me. I had previously been in a very abusive situation with a man who claimed to be a Christian, and that left a vile taste in my mouth where anything that resembled “churchianity” was concerned.
And also, I was more comfortable (still am, truthfully)in a more hardcore meeting. “If I wanted someone to pat me on the ass & tell me everything was gonna be alright, I’d go to a bar.”
I needed the truth in love, yes, but not given with a smile and some sugar. That was my impression of CR, at least at the ones I went to. I was used to getting one over on anyone who was the least bit trusting and/or ignorant to the hustles that are such an integral part of the addict lifestyle. Also, my experience had taught me to never trust people who were “happy” all the time. I still feel that way at times. But if you’re comfortable in a church setting, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go to Celebrate Recovery. I’m a big fan of several meetings every week, and that usually means more than one of these fellowships. Good news: you’ll find other folks from the other meetings at the other two, too.

After about 10 years, I began attending NA meetings instead of AA.
When I got sober, the NA meetings I’d been to were more like meat markets (AA can be the same, to be sure), but I heard so much “glorifying the drug” and the like, that I’d settled into AA. Plus, AA was where Dad went, so… 🙂
So, after 10 years or so in recovery, I went back to NA, as I had a friend wirh longterm recovery who attended AA and NA. By that time, there was a whole lot more recovery…maybe it was just the meetings I went to, but it seemed more abstinance-focused than before. I knew more than one person with more time clean than me, and that was comforting. I enjoy NA because there’s no one looking at you funny when you talk about drugs, and I suppose I have more in common with the members there.
That being said, I qualify for both fellowships (and a few more, really, but that’s for another post.), and nowadays it doesn’t much matter to me which I attend. The fellowship is of great importance to me now, having gone through the steps more than a couple of times. I’m positive that I’d never have made it this far if I hadn’t had a Sponsor to help me through the steps.
I encourage anyone who’s contemplating this whole “sobriety” thing to check out any or all these groups. Give them a couple of tries, each.
What have you got to lose? You might just find your tribe. And, if I’m lucky, I might get to see you there.

Posted from my soggy cabin in the mountains.

2 Wildly Contradictory Views of 1 Disease (Part 1 of 2)

girldrunks

All the cool kids are doing it

I really tied one on last weekend! I don’t even remember how I got home! I was either in bed or the bathroom all day Sunday, and I only made it to work for half a day, Monday! Whew. I can’t wait till Friday night; me & my friends are gonna hit this new place downtown!

Does that sound familiar? I’m positive I’ve said all that before, and didn’t have an inkling that it wasn’t normal. I thought EVERYONE did that.

Then there’s the other side of that coin:

The parent/spouse’s perspective:

“Did you know that “Sam” was out all night, again, last Friday? I heard a car door slam in the driveway, around 4am, so I’m guessing that’s when she got home. Then, on Sunday, she only got out of bed long enough to run to the bathroom. She’s been so moody lately, I almost look forward to when she’s drinking. It’s the only time she’s not a total bitch. I don’t know why Sam can’t just drink like everyone else!”

How about the co-worker/friend’s side:
“Sure, “Joe” likes to party, but doesn’t everyone? I mean, he works hard, what’s wrong with cutting loose on Friday night? The Boss doesn’t seen to mind him missing a few Monday mornings, as long as the work is done the rest of the week. Joe doesn’t drink that much more than I do! Besides, he’s an adult. It’s not my business to tell him how to live. He must’ve been ok; he had a couple of cups of coffee before he drove himself home!”

Now, I’ve heard in hundreds of (12-step) meetings that you’re not an alcoholic unless you say you are. Is that true?
I’m not going to tell you that you are, or you’re not, but I will tell you this:
If it walks like a duck; if it talks like a duck; if it poops through feathers…it’s probably a duck.

walking-duck

Quack and sh*t.

That being said, in the alcohol abuser/alcoholics’ mind: If it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem. The thing that keeps most alcoholics/addicts from getting clean and/or sober is the fact that, in their mind, they don’t have to.

You can talk, yell, cry, or ignore someone whose drinking seems to be excessive, in hopes that they will decide to “get it under control”. More often than not, there won’t be any discernible change, regardless of how gently, harshly, or frequently the problem is brought to light.

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Wanna guess which one was Yours Truly?

Not at first.
Sometimes, an alcoholic (or addict) will get a “Judicial Scholarship” requiring them to attend x number of 12-step meetings, or check into a treatment center, in hopes that they might hear something…and occasionally, it works. Sometimes, after a few DUIs, a few mandatory stays in a treatment facility, and/or some jail time, Sobriety begins to become attractive.

More often than not, it hasn’t really sunk in that the person has a problem that they need to solve…Unless and until the alcoholic/addict comes to the conclusion, the belief, DEEP DOWN INSIDE that their lifestyle is just not worth it anymore, you’re wasting your breath.

Sorry.

 

 

Posted from my cubicle in the library.

2 definitions of addiction


I had a conversation recently that reminded me that I haven’t yet posted a definition of what I mean when I say “addiction”.
Oftentimes something is referred to as an addiction because a person is fervent about it, thinks about it constantly, and is never happier than when they’re involved in ______. I can be obsessive-compulsive about a variety of things to which I am not addicted. I can be giddy and excited when I anticipate doing, going,or being X, Y, or Z. That doesn’t make me addicted. Here’s what some really smart guys said about it…
Merriam-Webster:
Full Definition ofaddiction

1:  the quality or state of being addicted <addictionto reading>

2:  compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly :  persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.

Or, put another way, a more detailed definition would be:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
(American Society of Addiction Medicine)
You can find an even more detailed definition here.

If you are able to stop drinking after one or two, without any qualms whatsoever, and if you never even think about drinking or using unless someone (or something) else brings it up, then it’s safe to say that you’re not an addict.
If you wake up thinking about using or drinking, or if your motivation for schlepping through Monday through Thursday is to get to FRIDAY, because then you can drink/drug/shop/game/act out sexually/eat for two whole days as much as you want…odds are pretty good that you are an addict.
Dependence, while it can be a lot like addiction, is not the same. If you’re dependent on something to alter your mood or how you feel, just to function, then you would be wise to look into what steps may be necessary to keep from crossing the indivisible line into addiction. No one can tell where that line is, but one thing is sure: once you’ve crossed the line into addiction, you’ll never not be an addict. You can’t un-pickle a pickle. Once you’ve baked a cake, it’s never going to be an egg, butter, milk, etc. again. There’s no going back.

The good news: there is a solution! The predominantly recognized answer to finding a way to live a satisfying and productive life, for alcoholics and addicts, is through a simple, 12-step program. There may be other ways to stop, and I’ve even heard of folks who have crossed the line and learned how to go back to social drinking/using. Usually, those individuals can be found working on Unicorn farms. Just sayin.

Posted from my office in the mountains.