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.

Facebook, I’m breaking up with you.

I don’t remember exactly when we met, but you instantly brought a new dimension to my life. It was like I’d found the perfect conduit for almost anything I wanted to know, and anyone I wanted to connect with. I was in a pretty sad and lonely place when you came along,  and you listened, you gave me bits of encouragement, and you helped me to find my smile again. And I felt much better with you around. You were there to bring old friends back into my life, and you even suggested people that I might like to be introduced to. Slowly but surely, I began to think of you as my go-to for any problem, or just to relieve boredom. I know you thought that all of these things were what I wanted, and for the most part, they were. 

But there was a thought in the back of my mind, nudging me toward things that I used to enjoy. Things that enriched my life and made me the kind of person that I’d only dreamt of becoming. 

Your “helpfulness” weighed on me. Your demands for attention drained me. Sure, you had good qualities, and you still do. But the scales have tipped to the negative, somehow. 

I feel like dealing with you and your incessant need to occupy my every moment has become a larger problem than I want to admit. 

We had some good times, sure, and I appreciate your being there when I needed someone. But I’m cutting the leash. The strings that kept me tied to you are not going to manipulate me any more. I just can’t afford to spend my life keeping up with you. I have responsibilities, and I have a Power much greater than you to answer to. I want to grab ahold of what’s left of my time here. 

I’m breaking up with you, Facebook. I don’t want to see you around. I have no interest in hearing about your escapades. They no longer work for me. Don’t call me. Thanks. 

Yes, I have scars.

When you think of scars, do you consider them flaws, or signs of damage or vulnerability? 

I did for most of my life. I have some scars that are quite apparent, and more which are not. One of the more obvious (to me) would be the scars from where my ear was re-attached when I was about 18. Yet, in reality, I wear my hair up most of the time and I can recall literally no one noticing it. The closest I’ve come was recently when a co-worker mentioned that I had only one earring in that ear. She hadn’t noticed that it was because the other earring hole was too close to the edge of my lobe, due to the scarring, to realistically put in an earring; just that there were 2 earrings in one ear, and only one in the other.   

I read a post recently that talked about the Japanese art of mending ceramic flaws with lacquer mixed with gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, so that the repaired item is more beautiful than the original. Sometimes the broken area is replaced with a right-sized piece of another piece of pottery, making a quilt-like appearance. 

It’s called “Kintsugi” or “Kintsukuroki”. I’m sure you’ve seen examples of this, if you’ve ever been to an art museum or looked at a National Geographic magazine. 

This got me to thinking about my scars. Like most of us, I have both external and internal scars, as we all have. Is it a cultural thing, that when we see a scar, we see a flaw? And is a flaw necessarily a bad thing? According to Kintsugi, the scar is simply a part of the items’ life experience, not bad or good. But once it’s been repaired, the damaged area actually adds to the beauty of the original.  

Then there’s the western culture of throwing damaged items away and buying new ones.  The spiritual philosophy of Kintsugi is one of awe, reverence, and restoration. Kind of like how the Japanese traditionally honor their elderly, and embrace all that they can offer. And America, well, does other things. Not the least of which being how in our culture aging is made out to be a dreadful, almost accursed thing. God forbid a woman let her hair gray naturally or not buy the best wrinkle-removers she can find! 

Anyway, it has me thinking about my perspective. Some people say that scars are a sign of something that DIDN’T beat them. That’s good, right? It’s not untrue, is it? But I (maybe you, too, I don’t know) was sold a ridiculous bill of goods that said that scars are imperfections, need to be hidden (there’s a cream for that, you know), and certainly will disqualify you from being picked first for…anything.  

Where are you going with this, Ab? I’m glad you asked. 

Traditionally, for whatever reason, people wrestling with alcoholism, addiction, and/or mental illness have been considered defective, or broken, at best. So, ok, I’ll give you that. I, for one, was fairly shattered long before I discovered how to self-medicate. But not broken beyond repair, as I discovered. Drugs & drink were the Scotch tape that held my ceramic heart and mind together. The cracks and chips were incredibly obvious, and the tape did no more than keep the pieces in the same locale. It didn’t make me functional.

I consider my Higher Power to have taken the broken shards of my being and fit them all together again. He used the gold and silver of the Steps and Spiritual Principles to hold me together, and the result became more beautiful than anyone could have foreseen. The shiny veins of gold and silver make what was once a plain vessel to be even more valuable than before it was broken. 
I was convinced that the wreck that was me when I came into the Rooms would never be much more than a leaky clay pot, if that. God has taken my brokenness and turned it into something closer to what He intended me to be. All I had to do was hand the broken pieces to Him and let Him reassemble me. The beauty is demonstrated when I reflect the Light He shines on me. I can reach out to offer others the tools for living that have been freely shared with me, and I have the scars to prove that I’ve not always been this way. 

Y.E.T.s

I don’t think I’m the only person who listened to people talking in meetings and did a mental checklist: “haven’t gone there, haven’t done that, etc.” At that time, I was still trying to figure out whether I was really in the right place.  

I remember hearing women in treatment with me talking about things they’d done to support their habit.  They said things like “I’d be looking over at the pipe (in the middle of *the act*), thinking ‘just a little while longer, baby’ ” I could imagine that, but I hadn’t gone to that place, yet. I think it was the codependent gene plus NO business savvy whatsoever that kept me from that particular business. I envied the women who had been financially compensated -however slightly- for their wares. I just wanted to be ‘loved’. I suppose that was my weakness. 

In retrospect, I’m grateful that I wasn’t quite that hard, because I know how people become that way. I’ve been through enough self-destructive and emotion-numbing experiences, without adding even more, thanks. 

I hadn’t gotten any DUIs, YET. I hadn’t gone to jail (for more than a few hours), YET. I hadn’t subjected my children to the horrors of a using parent (only because I wasn’t blessed to not have kids while I was using), YET.  I hadn’t been in any vehicle accidents while under the influence, YET…

The Oldtimers told me to listen for similarities. I had put myself in dangerous situations. I had been in abusive relationships. I had lied, cheated, stolen, and murdered. I hadn’t thought twice about cheating on my mate, or about taking yours (just because I could was reason enough). I had driven when I could barely make out the lines on the road. I had awoken on the side of the road where I’d finally given up on finding my way home. I had placed the addiction ahead of my love for anyone else in my life. I hadn’t considered that the entire time I was living in direct opposition to my own values and morals, I was damaging my own spirit. I had no idea the depth of the devastation of my heart and mind, wrought from the years of “not caring”. 

I had become so much less than human. By the time I was done, I really felt like a bloody pile of flesh. And I volunteered for the vast majority of it. It was what my master required. But I digress.
The Old Farts in the Rooms told me that “YET” stood for You’re Eligible, Too. So, if I continued on the trajectory I’d been on, I was most assuredly going to sink even deeper into the depravity that I had heard about, and more. 
Today, I can apply the YETs to my life in a very different way. I haven’t gotten a degree YET. I haven’t become a Grandmother, YET. I haven’t travelled out of the country sober, YET. I haven’t been an “Empty-nester” YET. I haven’t been a home owner, YET. 

I’m blessed beyond measure. I know that my Tribe is there for me, and I know that I don’t have to EVER go farther down on that elevator than I had when I got off. The Program taught me to be grateful. And I surely am, today.    

Taking a Break

I’m thinking of taking a leave of absence from Facebook. I know, I know, many of you are saying ” good idea!” and the rest, well, you’re busy looking for stimulating new posts on your news feed. Yeah. That’s how I waste so much time, every day, as well. It’s been a while since FB really gave me that first rush, and I’m feeling like I’m chasing the dragon. I know the signs.And the thing is, I can only ignore them for so long before it begins weighing on my mind. 

There are, in ANY given day, SO MANY things I could be doing, instead of scrolling, scrolling, always scrolling…

A friend of mine advised me recently to “just write”. I’ve traded that sacred time for getting a  FB fix. I have things around the house that won’t get dealt with unless I do them. They’re waiting for me to re-prioritize. 

It’s interesting, that I didn’t have much problem cutting back on tv. I suppose that might be related to the impersonal nature of the all-seeing eye in the living room. I mean, occasionally, there are things on Facebook that are specifically for ME. But how often does that actually happen? Not so often. 

I’m not going to deactivate my account, as I’ve done before, because that takes everything of mine down, I think. But I have taken the FB icon off of the front of my phone, and I am going to be aware of how much time I’m giving to that time-suck. Really, what if there was another way that I could get info from ONLY the people that I want to hear from? And just the things that pertain to me? 

Oh, you mean like email? Or, maybe, text messages? 

I’m not going to say how long this will last, because really I’m not willing to commit. Posts here will still show up on my feed, so I hope you’ll come by here and let me know what you think of them. 🙂 

But, for now, just for today, I’m taking a break from Facebook.  I have a Book that I need to be spending time reading. I need to spend more time in conscious contact with my God.

What about you? Do you ever feel like social media is ruling your life? Have you ever taken a break? How did you feel? 

Recovery is about finding your Tribe, or #Recoveryposse

I was all set to run to the store & then the laundromat to get a week’s worth of clothes done. That was MY plan. 

What had happened was…

What actually happened was that I got the Element loaded up, put the key into the ignition, and discovered that I had a dead battery. The battery that we’d replaced just a couple of short months ago. Hm. 

My response was different…

Way different than what it would have likely been, not so long ago. The only thing I can attribute my NOT being upset to is that I’ve been consciously  practicing the 11th step more. 

What I did…

What I did do was go back inside and get ahold of my friend from Celebrate Recovery. (She’s an oldschool 12-stepper, too, but we met at CR.) It’s only by the grace of God that I even had a friend to call, considering that my default is to pull away from folks and be a hermit. 

Being aware of this tendency allows me to stop and make a decision, whether I want to rely on that (old and yet INeffective, really) coping/survival skill, or whether I want to Practice These Principles…Funny how God will set up opportunities to practice things we would REALLY rather not practice. 

What friends do…

So, my friend came over (in spite of the 25-minute drive, one way), we got the jumper cables figured out, and here’s the curious thing: my Element started right up! Yaay, God! (And to a lesser degree,us!) 

So, I was thinking as I wrote this, that having ONE friend that I can count on when I need help (Just ONE? After living in this area for OVER A YEAR? ) is pretty sad. And I started to “should” on myself. 

Don’t “should” on me!

Then the God of my semi-understanding reminded me of ME, and who I am. In fact, having a friend like this in ONLY ONE YEAR is pretty friggin miraculous! I mean, it’s not like I’m out in my community every day/week/month. 

Recovery = finding your Tribe

I’ve known more than a couple of instances where a person had a genuine, drastic change in their heart and mind, and without like-minded folks in their life on a daily business, they went back to their old ways. Oh, it wasn’t the next day, or even necessarily the same month, but there’s a very good reason why the Big Book describes alcoholism (and it def applies to any addiction) as being “cunning, baffling, and powerful”. 

Even just the realization that we are the ONLY one trying to live differently can be a big stumbling point. Yet so many of us will ignore the internal warning bells, and use that Magical Thinking and/or Denial, which NEVER worked out too well, and “soldier on” to the inevitable crashing and burning. 

Or…

There is an alternative, but it IS scary. It involves other people, and we know how uncontrollable THEY can be. But, how well did it go when we were the Director? I can say for sure that I was a TERRIBLE Manager, especially when it came to running my life. There are, seriously, a LOT of people  who think like you and feel like you, whose lives are changing for the better. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But changing, they are! All that is required is a small amount of Honesty (with yourself, primarily), some Openmindedness (maybe they know something that can make your life less sucky), and just enough Willingness to get you in the door. 

Where everybody knows your name…



Back when I was drinking, there was no mystery as to where I would find “my people”. There are bars and liquor stores on practically every corner, where folks will encourage me and cheer me on as I pursued The Elusive Perfect Buzz (yes, that was a Thing, you know it was). If we were willing to be around THAT bunch, it’s really not asking much for us to give the sobered-up version a chance. 

Easier today…

Back when I got clean/sober, there weren’t Sober Communities online. Nope. Not a one. The only place to find folks like me was f2f, in some kind of meetings, or possibly (but rarely) in a religious organization. 

I had found Recovery “Chat Rooms”, and that was a Godsend for me, especially since I was limited in how many meetings I could attend. 

My point being, if you want to find a new and happier way to live, your best bet is to find a Community that will support you, whether face-to-face or online. Or a combination of the 2. Chances are, after a little while, you may find yourself actually having someone (sober) willing to give you a jump on a Saturday night. 

I’ve never regretted the time I’ve spent among My #recoveryposse. 

 

It’s a Higher Power thing

I was thinking about my experience in recovery with my Higher Power. Like everything else that I “knew”, my understanding of God had to be investigated, once I got sober. (Because ours is a disease of perception.)
I attended a Christian elementary school in 6th grade and for a year or so I went to the Baptist Temple school. I was taught all kinds of legalism  as a younger person. (The teachers literally took rulers to measure the length of boy’s hair and of girl’s skirts.) I eventually concluded that since I could NEVER satisfy what I thought God required of me, I’d do us both a favor & stop trying. That’s probably the time my addiction really took off. I was incapable of following all the rules that religious people had burdened me with, so I dejectedly turned away from any attempts to fit their demands for conformity.

In The Rooms I heard “spiritual, not religious” and I thought I was gonna have to pray to rocks or some such New Age-ish thing. I was unsure about that, to say the very least, but I was also determined to figure out how to do this “sobriety” thing. And eventually I did.

My Higher Power is the God of the Bible. (I prefer the ESV or NIV, if you were wondering) The Creater of everything good. I’m not bound by the god of the slick, money-hungry televangelists. You know the ones, they’re keeping Aqua-net in business, driving a Rolls and living in a McMansion.
My understanding of Who God is, now, is much more balanced than before. I’m more concerned about doing things to please the One I love, and less so working to avoid the wrath and damnation. And the foremost guideline He has for me is to walk in love. That’s a seriously tough request, some days, but then I’ll get consequences to reinforce the importance of putting others first. 😦

I’m so grateful that the Program of Recovery that helped me get & stay clean is not telling us Whom we must follow. If someone had told me that I had to be a Christian when I’d first gotten sober, I’d have run away screaming. Like many others, I’ve been injured by people in the name of religion. I believe today that God led me to the 12-step Rooms, and the program, in turn, led me back to God. I am reluctant to call myself a Christian now, for the terrible things connected to “those people”. More often than not, they’re not even showing any kind of love. I am a Christ-follower, however falteringly. So far from being where I’d like to be, but thankfully, I’m not the person I once was.

image

Hallalujah!

The wisdom and foresight shown by the writers on the Big Book is amazing on many points. For example, you don’t have to believe like I do, and I don’t have to worship like you. That’s a novel idea, even today!

Within the Rooms, in my experience, there is virtually no “us” and “them”, regarding religion. For a group of individuals who are used to finding things to argue about, at least, taking religion out of the Rooms just simplifies things. How about you? Have you returned to your previous beliefs, or have you come to a different understanding of HP? Or, are you still working on it? Please leave your thoughts below.

Posted from my hut in the forest.