Friday, June 18, 2010

The End.... or is there more to be written?




Well, there it was. The end of my time at Rehab Ranch was greeted with a sunny morning, family, friends, and the entire ranch assembled. I don’t know what I was expecting from all of it. I am still in a bit of a daze, some numbness, it doesn’t feel real.

If you’ve been following this blog the past several months, you know that I have been on an emotional rollercoaster. I have experienced the spectrum of emotions three or four times over. And today, at the end, there was none.

I look back on the past year, all the people I met. I attended the Bonnie Hunt Show and met Bonnie, went rafting, ran several races, the weekly outings with friends, the way people would look at me and say, “You look amazing,” I vividly recall all the victories, the laughter, I can vividly recall the the private tears. My heartache, my joy, the spring I discovered in my step; these are all things I remember. I did a lot of work, but I also had a lot of fun. I made some friends I will know forever I hope, sometimes I believe I even fell in love. I lost a lot of weight, I managed to bench my body weight, I connected with hundreds of people through this blog, former employers and friends reconnected, I spoke to schools and students. I learned to enjoy simple activities like roller skating, and horse back riding, and cycling. My family and I are closer than ever, I have an amazingly satisfying job, I read a ton of books. I learned to make lasagna, I learned how to be alone and be happy with it. I tore myself apart – by choice, mind you – and reassembled myself. It was like Humpty Dumpty with no kings horses and no kings men anywhere to be found.

I spent a lot of time escaping from the dark images I had of myself in my head. I illuminated those images and realized they weren’t as scary as I believed them to be. I studied addiction with wild abandon, I was educated on the biochemical effects of alcohol and alcoholism, I learned techniques to apply when I feel the physical need to drink. The ranch was dirty, muddy, and often a huge inconvenience, but I did it and I did it with the knowledge that the future had some pretty significant things lined up for me.

But it’s all over now. I have to admit, there is some uncertainty about whether I got everything out of it that I was supposed to. Matt and I talked a couple nights ago and he said that the best thing the ranch offers is time. I have had 13 months there, I have had time. Ironically, time is also the one thing that has an expiration date at the ranch. Everyone who enters will leave it. We can take our sobriety, our spirituality, our car, our teeth, our health, our friends, but the time is what will end.

I have to wonder if I used my time wisely. I still am no closer to discovering what it was that drove me into this frenzy of alcoholism to begin with; at times this bothers me because I want to know that it is over with, and to be sure that its over, I feel like I need to identify exactly what it was that caused this to prevent it from happening again.

I understand that I will never get this. I will never be able to put a thumbtack through a piece of paper and hang it on my cork board so I recognize it if it ever comes creeping back in.

I have a lot of hope, I have a lot of skills I didn’t have before, I have some clarity and some peace about a lot of things. But there’s tonight. Tonight, I am troubled by different things – the health of my friendships; what my home life looks like; what I want to do next. Not next as in, in my life, next as in BEFORE I EVEN GO TO BED! The ranch was such a HUGE part of my routine I am having trouble discovering what I am going to do Monday after work, then Tuesday after work, and Wednesday and every day after that. I don’t know what my weekends will look like. There is so much uncertainty in all this crystal clear clarity.

I sat up last night thinking and was trying to play the movie of what my life should look like now. There was nothing. Each day I am going to have to build on the previous day and create something out of nothing. The new days will take form from the remnants of previous ones. Slowly the picture will emerge.

This is all fine and dandy and in three months I might have a good idea about what my direction is, but today, right now, the faith that things will work out is about all I have and that doesn’t amount to a whole lot. As I was thinking about all this I noticed one thing, none of my fears are fears of drinking.

It’s easy for the guys at the ranch to look at the guys who relapse the first night and proudly pontificate about it. Admittedly, I secretly even considered them a bit ludicrous. Its easy for the guys at the ranch to envision what life looks like when they leave – they have a plan in place, a good workable, beautiful plan. But the long term plans we put in place, our three month plans, six month, one year plans – they are WONDERFUL in three months, six months or a year when they begin to bear fruit. But there is this first night.

I am by no means going to say that a relapse is in my immediate plans, but, today, right now I can certainly understand the huge vacuum that is felt the first few hours off the property – and I can understand why some of the graduates went out and drank before they even arrived at home. I have somewhere to be tonight, I have plans with a buddy this weekend, I have a job that needs me to be functional tomorrow, I have family plans over the weekend, but I still have this feeling of, “What the heck am I gonna do now!! – my life is now going to be all about going home and watching television until I conk out.”

I believe that the sense of accomplishment is going to hit me, I believe that the joy of this ‘new life’ I was promised will be felt, I know that, in time, I am going to be active and fully engaged in my new routines. But tonight, and tomorrow night and every night until it fills up, there isn’t a whole lot.

I would imagine its like a baby when they take their first few steps. So once they get up, there isn’t any place in particular they need to be, so they just kind of wobble around, walk in no particular direction, then sit back down. Eventually they have a purpose, they understand each destination, they begin to stand up, walk to where they need to go, then walk to the next place, and it continues.

But no one thinks about the first couple steps, the first couple days, when there is no destination, there is no purpose, there isn’t really anywhere to be.

I think about what Matt said, about the greatest thing the ranch offers is time. Tonight, I question if I used mine wisely. I suppose that I have to remember that it was a gradual process that got me to the ranch in the first place – alcoholism doesn’t just happen one day like a bad haircut or a zit; it was a shorter, but still gradual process to get me through the past year to where I am at this moment. I can only hope it will be an even shorter gradual process for me to begin to see where I am headed and then, get there.

But the first night, well, it’s not going to be a whole hell of a lot of fun, its not the celebration I thought it might be. Frankly it sucks. This is not what I was picturing at all! I fell into that planning trap of ‘what my life will be’ but I neglected the reality of ‘what is it right now.’

I hadn’t intended to continue this blog once I graduated, and I still may not, but I am curious if my feelings about this will be different in a week, then in two. I am curious what the picture which emerges will look like.

In any event, graduation was a victory for me. A hard won, difficult battle, waged on many fronts. Although I am now staring into some darkness about the future, for the first time in a really long time, I can look at my past with a sense of accomplishment, victory, humility, and pride. There is no shame, humiliation, there is no regret, I don’t lay my head on the pillow and begin to beat up on myself on all the things I messed up. I am exhausted from good work and not from running from my demons. In the fairy tale that runs in my head, those demons are slayed. I set out what I intended to do and I went even further that I planned.

And exhausted, tonight I will go to bed uncertain about what tomorrow even looks like, but I will sleep peacefully, confident that in my recent yesterdays, I did my best, worked my hardest, lived the fullest, and loved the purest that I probably ever have. I had no secret agendas, I was honest with my every emotion and every expression that I gave to others. It is hard to do this, we face considerable resistance when we are honest about what's in our heart. I don't get that. But peace of mind is only a sliver of the reward for peace of heart. My heart is at peace, I have left nothing that needed to be said, unsaid; nothing that needed to be felt, unfelt. I have given back everything I took from others, I have validated the feelings of other people, I have accepted responsibility for what I have caused and now, I am exhausted.

Sometimes that’s about the best you can hope to do. Vince Lombardi once said, “I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.”

This must be my finest hour, because I am exhausted.
I am also very proud of myself.
I did it.
I am victorious.

Peace all, and lead a good life.
comments to : snapshotsfromrehabranch@yahoo.com

DAYS SOBER: 410
(If you are new to this blog, you should begin at the beginning - and end here. The story of addiction, as told from the perspective of an addict should be witnessed before and during recovery, not after. This was a long, painful process, but it began with a phone call and a haircut and a frenzy of misplaced priorities - the kind every addict denies. Plus there are some really extensive clinical entries which we got as part of the program. It hasn't always been this motivational to read. TRUST ME!
If you have been following this blog, this may or may not be the final post. But, in any event, thank you for joining me on this journey until the end.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Who really cares if there isn't enough cheese


The countdown is on, and one week from today, I will no longer be a resident on rehab ranch. Last week, Brian graduated and his entire family came out from California to see him and help him move. Although my family doesn’t have nearly the distance to travel, getting them to get anywhere on time is similar in coordination to a cross country flight – and so since the graduation starts promptly at 7:30 IN THE MORNING, I will probably need to alert mission control to have travel planners scheduling their arrival as early as next Wednesday.

You can recall, even on my arrival at the farm, I was stressed out because I was supposed to arrive at 1pm and we didn’t even LEAVE until half hour before that and it’s a full hour and a half from my family’s home to the ranch. Flexibility, adaptability and patience are certainly good tools to learn while in rehab, but my strict adherence to punctuality will never go away.

At the graduations people get a chance to tell the graduates things in order to wish them luck, help them on their journey, or sometimes just a recollection of good or momentous times. Often we tell how graduates have changed over their time at the ranch. I decided to focus on the way in which Brian stayed the same, and the quality I try to emulate from him the more I have grown to love him as my friend; it’s the way Brian hands out cheese.

You see, when we first started, Brian and I worked in the kitchen as cooks. Our programs were parallel- we had the same work therapy, the same dorm, the same friends, etc. In the kitchen during that time, cheese was a scarcity, and we hardly ever got it to give to the residents. But Brian and I would double team our charming personalities and somehow manage to get some cheese out of the Kitchen supervisor for certain meals. The condition was that one of us would have to stand there and spoon a portion of cheese on each resident’s plate.

This never sat well with Brian, he wanted to put all the cheese out and he hoped that each resident would only take what was fair, what was just, what they would want the guy in front them to have taken. Each time he did this, he was let down and the cheese was usually gone in about five minutes. But he continued to put it out like this each time we were awarded cheese.

Brian has an unyielding belief in the goodness of other people. It doesn’t go away, no matter how many times people disappoint him, no matter how little people believe or lost belief in his goodness. I used to think this guy was insane, but now I say, if he is, call me crazy too.

Marty called me this past week and asked me if I wanted to head up to his house for the afternoon, Lane and I have been talking about his new venture into the world of TV, and Curtis is plugging away at school. I am the last one of this group of guys at the ranch and its seems almost silly for me to still do ranch stuff when my life has already started off the ranch. But I still do it. I am the last man standing and I need to just do this until the end. It is super comforting to know that there is a group of guys who care about me and want to spend time with me when I leave here.

So this is the key to my success at this new take on living. Sober living. I have been given a fully equipped gaggle of friends who are all sober – the first time in my life that everyone that I am closest to is sober. I think that for anyone who has something that they are trying to fix, there is a clichĂ© in saying it is a group effort, it takes support – but I am here to say, it does.

What this means is that I am also going to be one of the guys who goes out and makes it comfortable for the guys who are still at the ranch and who will be following me in the next several months. This is how a community in built and what a really crazy community – a bunch of sober guys who all are relying on each other to keep each other busy and sane. It is the bonds we forged at the ranch that are the framework for the rest of the lives we are building. It feels good to have this.

Alcoholism is a predator – and like any predator stalking a herd, it tries to get one away, alone, all by themselves, vulnerable, then it kills them. The closer we stay together, as a herd, the less likely it is that one of us will be killed.

And I was thinking that this isn’t only applicable to alcoholism. This is how all life should be led. People should just learn to rely on each other. I read somewhere that lonely people die at a much earlier age than people with an active lifestyle and lots of people in it. We are social creatures.

So last night I was sitting in the chow hall. I don’t know why I still trudge up there, the half mile, each night, to eat that awful farm food – especially because I have a kitchen in my dorm and a fully stocked refrigerator. I think its partly because I like to talk to the new guys, I remember when I first got here that getting face time with one of the seasoned higher phase guys was great – I loved asking them questions, advice, gossip. They all seemed so calm and peaceful and I often wonered if that would someday be me.

I watched one of the newest guys walk into the dining room last night, he was nervous and I could see the fear and enthusiasm and nervousness and fledgling happiness coming from him. He bounced in, surveyed the room for a place to sit and then sat at a table on the other side of the room.

All the guys immediately came to introduce themselves to him, there is a certain ‘I know how you feel buddy, and its all gonna be OK,’ mentality that the guys greet the new guys with. Rehab is a great place to feel like you belong, I mean it.

But as I looked at the 13 months he has in front of him, and the 7 days I have in front of me, I chuckled and though, “NO FREAKIN WAY!!!” I mean it, I am done and the thought of spending one more day at the ranch….well…. it isn’t even a thought. I am physically leaving to a place where my mind and spirit has already gone.

And at devotions this morning, we had another graduation, Daryl, and as we were leaving I crossed paths with a friend Chris who is about half way through the program. There was no reason why we hugged but we both walked right towards each other, arms stretched and embraced. It feels good to be emotionally comfortable again to just hug a friend to wish him well in his day.

I thought about this for a minute too.

This is also how people should live. We spend so much time distancing ourselves from each other, from community. And I am a firm believer that all people who have an addiction suffer from one common personality trait, HYPERSENSITIVITY. There is some beauty in an almost psychic awareness of other people. But it can make hurtful things sting worse, and happy things feel so good they are almost unmanageable. It can damage self esteem, create body issues, but can also lead to INCREDIBLE creativity.

Great artists and painters and musicians and writers have been plagued by extreme sensitivity. I have often been told of my grandfather on my mother’s side – a man I hardly knew – who was ahead of his time, brilliant. He even asked my grandmother to wear shorts to a drive in movie back in the day when proper women didn’t dress like that. She was mortified but he knew which way the wind was blowing.

He built a home for his family out of nothing. I am told that he was pretty smart. But alcohol grabbed him and killed him, perhaps from lack of opportunities or lack of education or just bad timing – but not until it had ravished his body for decades and locked him in his brain from numerous strokes – all that brilliance and forward thinking, now silenced by his skull, and all that hypersensitivity trapped with no escape – he was sentenced to live in the memories of what kind of person he had been in his life, all alone. Alcohol has isolated him from the herd and now it would slowly savor it's prey. And that won’t be me.

I’ve learned a few things about addiction since I began this blog, things that they don’t teach us at the ranch. There is so much shame in it all, wrapped up in it. Whether it is sneaking a cigarette and lying to your spouse, or taking the slice of cake in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping, or betting on the dog races online, or ‘borrowing’ $700 worth of your mother’s champagne to get loaded in your bedroom, there is shame and deception. I tell kids when I speak at the high schools, the first relationship you ruin is that of your parent’s because when they ask, “Were you drinking,” we always say, “no,” and so the first lie, the first deception, it begins there.

Through this blog I have connected with countless people and I have come to understand that EVERYONE is touched by addiction. Everyone either struggles with it, copes with it from a loved one, was damaged from it, has pain from it. Everyone.

The mere activity of telling you all about this each week was a connection I tried to make to eradicate myself of the shame of it and build bonds. It is like the a cyber hug I give to you each time I post. It is building a virtual community like the one real one I built with my friends from the ranch – these things are crucial to being a human. Isn’t it better to be touched with a spontaneous hug between buddies than by a crippling addiction?

I just think that in our lives, everyone, addicts or non-addicts (which I don’t believe truly exist), we all tend to put up these quasi-barriers, they create a netting or gate to the free flow of harmony with other people and eventually, like the grates in the farming irrigation ditch (which have all been removed at the ranch, BTW) or in your sink, they get all mucked up with a bunch of crap until eventually there is a back up.

Is it cause or effect when it comes to addiction, I don’t know. Does addiction cause more muck or does all the muck lead to destructive behaviors…. Who cares really. The fact is, when you remove BOTH things move as they should.

And so I have gotten a handle on my addiction and I am determined to keep the harmonious flow I am meant to have with other people. This will be the way I keep living as I am meant to live. Because, like Brian, I have come to believe that people are truly decent in their intentions. I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I am gonna try to be the biggest A-hole I can be,” and so when you cut people some slack, when you realize that they are a lot like you, struggling with something, trying to understand something, that they are as vulnerable to hurt, pain or a good pat on the back, it helps keep your drain clean.

So I say its quite all right to put out a big bowl of cheese, knowing it’ll be gone too soon. No one has ever died from lack of cheese, and it feels good to believe, even for a while, in the goodness of other people. No one has ever died that, either.

PS - Some of you have asked to attend my graduation, please email me at snapshotsfromrehabranch@yahoo.com

DAYS SOBER: 403 days - that's exactly One Year, One Month, and One week.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The moment.


Graduation mania continues at the ranch. You may recall from last year around this time, I used to mention the fact that I was confined to the ranch because of the phase of the program I was in. It would have seemed like a prison had it not been for a really good group of friend, and in particular, Curtis.

All of us who came to the ranch at that time came for a different reason. Curtis was at the ranch as part of a deal to defer a sentence. One night, he was partying with a friend of his who overdosed on heroin and nearly died. He recounts the story with vivid detail – how he was running around, trying to figure out what to do. The girl he was with panicked also and was nearly hysterical.

At one point, she grabbed a tray of ice cubes from the refrigerator and he screamed at her to figure out what she was doing. She told him to shove one up the dead guy’s bum – apparently this is known to wake a fella up when he overdoses.

Curtis didn’t do this.

Instead, he grabbed the phone and called 911. When the police came he was charged with a laundry list of things including some serious felonies. He came in to the ranch, determined to get his life in order, not knowing if it would help him legally, but certain it would help him live a more livable life.

He looks back at the overdose situation as a defining moment. Curtis knew he would be charged and blamed for the drugs if he called the police, but he decided to be a man about it, and save someone’s life instead of letting him die while acting like a coward. Life had come knocking on his door and he chose to answer it.

When I was confined to the ranch in the early days, Curtis would constantly make me walk from one end of the ranch to the other – we had to touch the gate each time. I have detailed this story many times. He is also the friend whose brother died from a suicide back in November after his own long battle with addiction.

This past year, Curtis has had a series of life trials and yet, he was always enthusiastic about being alive, sober and at the ranch. I have never met anyone with a zest for living and on a quest for learning like him before and on my most intolerable of days, he was my most tolerable friend.

He spoke so eloquently at his graduation about his brother’s death and how it was the first time in his life he noticed, clearly, how alcohol and drugs would just make a situation worse. It was the moment his eyes opened, and he could, for the first time, look ahead just long enough to see that the damage behind him would only become devastation in front of him if he began to use. He has since applied this lens to the rest of his life.

He drove away in a sweet Jeep Grand Cherokee with leather seats and a 7 disk CD changer. Its super nice. I am really proud of him.

We had another graduation this week. I am not going to mention this graduate by name. This graduate had been at the ranch for two years to the day. WOW! He worked an awesome program. He was a driver and a good friend.

He came in after a long battle with alcohol – one that be felt he was losing – and he needed help. It was hard, at his age, to give everything up and start over. The ranch is a humiliating place to say the least but to try to do it when you are well over 50, well, it would seem like a challenge most people couldn’t consider, much less, do for two years.

His program was a steady one – and he was a dutiful driver. His job was to shuttle guys to and from work, school, appointments, you name it. I look at this and think how bad it must have sucked to have to be at the beck and call of 70+ whiney addicts. And he did it.

His graduation speech was short and sweet. He spoke of how the ranch had changed his life, and had given him the opportunity to remember who he truly was – deep in his soul. I was moved.

That morning, he drove away in his new Camry off to his new life. His home was only a few miles from the ranch. He would stay connected. Around five last night, he returned to the ranch to pick up the rest of his stuff.

And he was drunk.

I know you are nodding your head in disbelief but this is addiction, folks. Its real and its real hard. And the fact that this happened doesn’t mean this is the end for him. It is still his beginning. He needs to shake it off and get up. Sometimes, even the best thoroughbred race horse trips right out of the gate – but it finishes the race.

Brian and I are going to go to his new place this afternoon and see if he needs anything – even to just talk. I think he might need a reminder that he needs to get back up and keep going. I will have to encourage him to remember the work he did in the program and tell him that this is no reason to give it up. He doesn’t have to. Sometimes just hearing that is enough. There have been times in my life where I felt the shame of addiction and at the right time – the right person – reminded me that I was sick. Many times I felt that I would be in trouble for drinking, and I dreaded it, so I isolated myself.

But that made it worse – and people would come down my rabbit hole to find me. Those people – my family, my friends, Alex – would make sure I didn’t get lost down there. Not even when I wanted to. This is what I will do for the graduate. We aren’t angry. We aren’t even disappointed. There is absolutely no room for a single bad emotion from anyone when you are so fresh into sobriety. A molehill truly is a mountain when you are just remembering how to walk. So, our emotions are hopeful, excited, and confident. These are the emotions which he needs to know about.

You know, yesterday, Lane and I had lunch. It was great. We talked, laughed. I am so happy to have friends from the ranch who will be my friends when I leave. We began talking about our lives, and not ranch/addiction/resident gossip stuff.

We dropped his girlfriend off at the mall and went to Chilis and has the lunch special. We even sat in the bar and watched sports center while we talked. Back in the early days of the ranch, Lane said that he regrets that he would never be able to hang out in the bar at Chilis with friends after work for happy hour or do those kinds of things that you see ‘dudes’ doing on movies.

So when I suggested Chilis yesterday, he didn’t have a clue that I was taking him there to demonstrate that he can still have all those experiences, and we’d leave sober, richer, and able to drive.

But it was the first time since I had been on the ranch that I truly did not want to go back. I really did NOT want to go back. It was dreadful, confining, such a waste.

My usual 15 minute drive home had extended to about three hours. I couldn’t convince myself to get there. I thought about my life. I thought about what it would look like in a few weeks when I left. I thought about how much had changed and how desperately I never want it to go back to what it was. I flirted with two girls in a car next to me and one blew me a kiss. I thought about how my confidence had returned. My aunt Sherry wrote to me a couple weeks ago and said, “I kept looking at your photos, and I couldn’t figure out why I kept looking at them. You’ve always been handsome, but now, you have a glow.” I feel this glow.

And I didn’t want to go back. Grrrrr…. It was awful. I could finally see my life as a sober person, and I felt alive because I was not dreaming of this life, I was ACTUALLY LIVING IT! For the first time ever, the overwhelming chill of my new reality took me, it was a high like I have never experienced. My dream of living sober – well, this wasn’t something I was trying to reach – I AM THERE.

I cried a on that drive. Tears of joy. I laughed hysterically for about 10 minutes and then sobbed like baby. I wasn’t going to tell this part of the story but I think that anyone who may ever wonder what the realization of a dream feels like, or anyone who thinks they need to stop with an addiction, or anyone who has ever felt chained, shackled, confined, tortured, held back, shamed, destroyed, unworthy, unloved, or uncontrolled reads this needs to know – the moment you realize its over – you can’t plan for that epiphany, it’s a moment I never even saw coming – but that moment – its an emotion without a name.

In the beginning, I wrote about my quest to slay the demon. Yesterday, for the first time – alone, while on the side of some old farm road, hot, and dusty – I felt like I could put the sword away, the demon is dead.

All the anxiety I had been feeling, all the frustration I have been writing about the past few weeks. All the emptiness, the wonder if it was worth it, the uncertainty of what my future held, of my direction, of the value in all this -washed away in a flood of salty tears and silenced by a booming laughter that sounded so sweet, so melodious, so symphonic, I can’t believe it even came from me.

My fall has been broken, I’ve put an end the end, I’ve changed my routine, my normal. I don’t understand what the universe has planned for me but I am starting to understand what is within my power. All the in-between years are over.

I can’t believe it, the work is done. I did something not many people could do, would do, dared do. I took myself apart and rebuilt myself. I left my life to go live on a ranch with a bunch of strangers for a freakin year. I got there thinking I was weak, a failure, alone, and realized that I am bold, courageous, and part of a group of people, family, friends, who love me.

At that moment, I understood that I have shed the weight and baggage of an addiction that I carried for most of my life. The torment is over, I don’t have to run anymore.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Whats the solution? "Eh, I dunno."


Spring time on a farm means one thing, baby animals! We have a new baby sheep on the farm, a lamb who is making quite the splash around this area. Churches want him to come visit, schools want him to visit, heck even a restaurant (maybe they are sizing up the next veal special).

Phillip was asked to take the lamb to a congregation in town this past Sunday to show it to a bunch of kids. Lambs are biblical to say the least and it’s a cool way for a church to get kids excited about something Old-Testament-ish. As a general rule, most children don’t much care for the angry vengeful God of the Jews.

So Phillip pranced this happy little lamb into a crown of adoring kids while the Minister began to explain the biblical significance. It just so happens that at this point in the lambs life, the tails are removed. They get in the way, they get damaged, and they are unneeded. The method top remove a lamb tail is like castration; we tie a band around the tail, cutting off the circulation until the tail eventually falls off.

Which is precisely what happened, while a baby lamb was being showcased by Phillip at the church. The ensuing pandemonium of terrified children, screaming as a sheep tail spontaneously popped off the lamb and began to squirt blood all over the church floor was certainly Old Testament inspired and could hardly be planned.

Children, parents, and the church elders were shocked as Phillip tried to calm the lamb – who was by this point, was equally as terrified and running around the church, squirting blood all over the floor and walls and chairs. When he finally calmed the sheep, and parents had finally calmed their horrified children, Phillip explained why we do this to sheep and it seemed like a somewhat acceptable answer. In fact, one girl asked, “If God didn’t want sheep to keep their tails, why didn’t he just make them without tails?” To which Phillip replied, “Because we must all have some suffering in our lives.”

He has a way with kids.

The next day, Phillip graduated the program and his speech was summed up basically by saying, “Well, you know in life, sometimes shit happens. You just gotta deal with it”

And no one could argue. It was a good graduation and ended in an appropriate manner.

This week, graduation fever has hit the ranch, with FOUR graduations in one week. The first was Phillip, and then Kevin. Kevin had been in the program once before, 7 years ago – and he never lost sight of his goal to be sober. The 7 years between stays in the program were hard on him and he admitted that he may not have been ready to stop the first time.

This time, he worked a wonderful program and he is a happy spirit. At 49, he says he is ready to start his life again. I think that there are some of you that read this and may say, “WOW, 49, that’s old,” but as far as I am concerned, there is no ‘right’ time to get life in order, you just do it when it feels right – any age. He can not look at the wasted years with regret or it will destroy him, he now has to look at the decades he has left with hope. There is no turning back and I firmly believe that when you leave the ranch, you are allowed to leave all that crap in your life there – like cosmic compost, it will fertilize the new guys that come in.

And this week marked two other graduations; two which have had a profound impact on me.

The first two guys in the group of five that I came in with and grew so close to graduated this week. Now, when we began the program, we were determined to finish it together. We were told by so many people that, statistically, only one of us would make it. We were told that we would probably not remain friends – but we confidently worked the program with the support of each other and we have built a foundation of friendship that will leave with us as we leave the ranch.

We came in alone, broken, and lonely people. We grabbed sobriety with a zest, we opened the next chapter of our lives with enthusiasm, and we never left a single guy in their moment of need. Over the past year we learned a sober way of living and we learned the value of friendship. It is comforting to know that loneliness, so long a reason to drink, will have four other souls to answer to before it comes to grab me again.

Marty was the first. His graduation was marked by a quiet speech in which he thanked everyone, including me, Brian, Lane, and Curtis by name. This was a grand moment to watch him be the first to complete the program (I will be the last and have the good fortune to be able to say good bye to each of them because of that).

Later, he got his Jeep, and I ran into him as he was leaving the ranch – his jeep loaded, his bike on top, and him sitting in the drivers seat. I was walking behind him on the lonely dirt road that runs down the middle of ranch and I began to run behind and wave enthusiastically– and he was driving away and waving back at me.

As he left, I felt the loss immediately. While I am sure we will remain friends when we leave, this important, overlapped, section of our lives is over. We will no longer live together here, we will no longer have parallel experiences here. What brought us together is now what is forcing us to part. Now is the time when all that we learned about sobriety, about our new lives, about our friendship gets put into practice. It’s unnerving. But I also know that Marty is on a journey, a vision quest, and the ranch was not the end of his journey, I believe it was his beginning. He needed to get sober, and now he can seek what it was inside himself that wanted to kill him.

I believe that he has something lurking and tormenting him and he needs to find it – its addiction at its most poetic – the tortured and wandering soul. But now, I believe he’s got some weapons and a taste of freedom, and I think he will confront it when he’s ready and I hope he will end his soul ache.

Lane also graduated. He asked me to speak, to which I gladly obliged. Lane is an artist and I believe he DID find what was torturing him. Lane operates on a vibration of sensitivity to the rest of the world that few people can imagine. He is hyper aware of every nuance in behavior, of every slight, of every hurt, joy, pain. I believe it was his hypersensitivity that caused him to drink. I think he tried to numb this.

Over the past year, Lane has done something quite remarkable. He first identified, then grabbed that sensitivity, that very quality which was killing him – the quality of destruction – and he boldly faced it. He harnessed it, and he controlled it and now, what once nearly put him in the ground has BECOME the ground which great creations spring. His art and his talent is amazing, he has turned his curse into a gift he shares with the world.

I believe that the weight of a blessing will crush you if you don’t accept it the way it was intended. I believe that God instills in each of us something of tremendous value. Inside of Lane was this vibrant sensitivity, his ‘gift,’ and it almost crushed him. Inside of you, there is something you are supposed to share with the rest of us and I hope you understand your role in the harmony of humanity, your duty to develop and share it.

Some of us know how to use it and give, and there are others, who perhaps are bestowed with almost angelic abilities, divine gifts with tremendous magnitude and potential, must figure out what to do with all this – but this is where greatness comes from, this is where a regular life becomes a great legacy and these are people who are chosen by whatever creates the universe, to continue to create. Lane is a foot soldier in the process of creation and I am honored to have a front row seat to all this.

It is our cosmic mission to learn what to do with our gifts and blessings. I believe that, armed with a handle on his newly discovered and harnessed cosmic mission, Lane no longer NEEDS alcohol.

Its interesting to me, these two guys, how different they are – one so far from his destination and the other, already on the road to the next one. One needed to stop drinking so he could discover himself, the other had to stop so he could share himself. Mind you, it was addiction which brought them here. I am glad that I have been able to see them graduate at the same time because in all this one thing I realized is something which I have begun to suspect.

There is no magical answer to what I am doing here, there will not be one magical solution to the end of my time in rehab. I might need time, like Marty, to tend to some unfinished soul business. Or I may be like Lane, settled in to a new contentment with sobriety. Or something completely different.

But the fact is, I don’t have to have the answer and I think that up until now, I have felt that time is ticking and I am running out of time and damn it, I need to figure a few things out still!! WHAT IS MY SOLUTION, I STILL DON’T HAVE A FREAKIN SOLUTION.

And then I realize that I don’t need one. The fact is, right up until my last breath, there will always be questions, always be things I don’t get, always be things I just have to accept I will not know. And leaving this ranch with absolutely no clue about why I became an alcoholic, why this fell on me, why I was the one who couldn’t escape it – well, its OK for me to just not know. Some things we just don’t know. And its OK to not know. But I am not going to find the answers lurking at the bottom of a bottle, either.

Which brings me to my final story. My friend Matt went on a weekend pass this past weekend for the first time. Up to now, he has not wanted to go on pass because he feared the boredom and the down time and not having anything to do. He knew he didn’t want to drink, and maybe he wasn’t ready for the time afforded by a pass – a time to be left alone with the demons in our hearts and head – a weekend without the distraction of the ranch is daunting and really long.

But he went and he had an absolutely, amazingly, boring time. Seriously, he said he did nothing. He was alone, he was bored, he did very little other than watch TV and start bidding online for a laptop.

But he also didn’t drink.

After dinner Monday night he and I were walking back to the dorms and talking about his weekend. I asked him, “So why didn’t you drink.” To which I was expecting the usual barrage of, “I like my life now, I don’t want things to change, I am accountable to people, etc. etc. etc.”

But Matt quietly said, “Eh, I dunno.” He then almost brushed off the question.

Inside, I found this to be the most remarkable answer, the most promising answer, the best possible answer to that question – perhaps a solution. Because I know that on weekend pass, I come armed with a laundry list of reasons not to drink. I have already thought about drinking and had to talk myself out of it. I say things like, “I like my life now, I don’t want things to change, I am accountable to people, etc. etc. etc.”

But Matt apparently did none of that. He didn’t wrestle with the arguments pro or con, he didn’t struggle all weekend with rationalizing sobriety. He just didn’t drink and there wasn’t any particular reason.

I am trying to digest this past week – a week of dynamic changes, which will kick off a month of significant changes in my life, culminating in my OWN graduation on June 18 – and I think to myself, I have nothing I wanted to figure out, figured out. But, if you ask me why I am not going to drink, I hope I can say, with the same amount of disinterest in the question as Matt… “Eh, I dunno.”

Its simple and easy and I like simple and easy. And that is something I know.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can't wait to fail


This past weekend I went home on a weekend pass and didn’t really do a whole lot. My parents teased that I must have worked off a FEW calories while drifting in and out of sleep on one end of the couch with my laptop in my lap and, on occasion, move to the other side of the couch for a more reclined position with the remote control.

This was not my plan. I had fully intended to do stuff. Heck, I had a whole laundry list of people who wanted me to see them. My facebook dance card was full. But I did none of these things. It was nice, to recharge, to hibernate far from the ranch and from work and to just hang out. What was nice is that the weekend of sleep wasn’t induced by a week of booze. And so, the recharge was truly a recharge and not a ‘catch up’.

One of the most strenuous things I managed to do was sit through the movie ‘The Notebook.’ In its basic form, the movie is about faith in a relationship, that if the relationship is right, if Love exists, it will not only find you – even when you leave it – but it will also wait until you’re ready to have it.

So this week, we have two graduations. One was today, and it was Brian (not the Brian I came into the program with) – Brian #2 is finally finished after about two years in the program. He is the only phase 5 guy on the ranch, we jokingly called him ‘The Illuminati.’

He had a tough spell. He came in to the program after 5 years in jail. He had lost contact with his 15 year old son and daughter who is now 24 years old. His life had disassembled into nothing more than himself and a bottle of anything. And what he wanted, more than anything, out of the program was to rebuild and even reclaim his family.

This is no easy task for an alcoholic. There is a lot of damage that always comes with addiction. In my family, I tended to adopt a policy of avoidance and absence – this was in part to save the pain from watching me senselessly kill myself, but also having to avoid the responsibility of family life – a responsibility my mother never let me forget. She would often say, “You need to be here because you are a part of this family,” and once she even said, ‘The Holidays are meant to be spent with your family, not with people you like, so get over here.” Indeed, towards the end she even told me, “Look I hate to see you drunk, but if that’s the only way to get you here, then come drunk, I’ll deal with it.”

But, over the two years Brian was at the farm, he began the arduous task of reconnecting and rebuilding his family life. He even got back in touch with the mother of his 24 year old daughter – a woman he fell madly in love with two decades ago and a woman he had not seen since 1986. Over the past year, he became the dad to his teen age son that he wasn’t before, and to hear them on the phone now is like replaying old tapes of my dad’s exasperation and the complete non-understanding that comes from a father trying, desperately, to bridge the generation gap (read: chasm) and understand this teen aged human being.

Over the past year, Brian and his daughter, and her mom, have exchanged over 200 letters. This is quite the accomplishment when you consider the idea that he doesn’t know how to use a computer, so snail mail, (so 1980’s) was his method to connect.

I asked him last night how he felt about graduating and he shared to me that one thing he was happy about is the idea that his daughter and her mom were now, again, part of his life. He told me that his ex-wife had remarried, and she had built a different life, that she left him either because, or at the time, his addiction to alcohol began.

And in 200 letters, they had discovered that they remained in love with each other and now that he was a sober person, she was reintroduced to the man she fell in love with over two decades ago. So yesterday, he saw her in person for the first time in 24 years. And, today, at his graduation, he leaves with a new life, an education, a sobriety which he earned, a daughter, a son, and yes, a fiancé he met 24 years ago.

Don’t you love a good happy ending? Like in the movie, love had waited for him until he was ready to have it, and there is a significant spiritual perfection in this. I am a sucker for a good love story, and a great happy ending, so what!

Tomorrow, Bradford graduates. This was one I didn’t know would ever happen. Bradford is the guy who gave me the rain poncho I wrote about way back in June. His program has been tumultuous and extremely loud.

I say loud because he is never one who lacks something to say and he is constantly connected to the phone. Early in the program this seemed like an issue because it appeared that his life existed only off the ranch, and he made no attempt to stay connected here.

But, as he progressed, a funny thing happened. It began to appear that this was the best way to handle his program. His relationships began to improve with the people who would be his support once he left – his parents, his mentors, even his ex-wife. He also, with new sober eyes, realized that he was NOT in love with the woman he had been connected to since he was 16, for the past 20 years. He now realized the toxic relationship for what it was, and has found a new common ground with his ex wife – whereby the kids will be cared for, but they will lead different lives. Sobriety brings a lot of clarity – its sobering.

He is getting a gift vehicle. As I mentioned, there is a car awaiting every successful graduate and he is getting one. He told me that early this week, he went to get insurance for the car and gave the agent his driving history. The agent said, “Well, as long as what you told me is true, then, your insurance will be $285.”

And Bradford said that, for the first time in two decades, he was calm. There was no lie to uncover. There would be no disappointment, there would be no attempt to get out of there before the agent discovered the lie so he could take the proof of insurance to get the plates, only to know that, probably by the time the plates were screwed on his car, the insurance would be cancelled.

He told me this was an amazing feeling. The feeling of knowing that you are doing what you are supposed to do, and that life is unfolding how it is supposed to unfold. It seems like people who try to get away with something should feel a relief when they do, but, through sober eyes, we discover, deception, shame, lies, trickery – these things kill your soul a little bit until you have nothing, until you ARE nothing.

He leaves tomorrow with a new life, an education, two marathon medals, a fully insured car, a new relationship with God and his parents, and…. Something he’s not had in a long time, his dignity.

I am proud of these guys and I can’t wait to watch their lives unfold. The night I got to the City for my pass I had dinner with my parents. I had one of the most perfect dinners I have ever had. Just the three of us (you must understand, with 5 grandkids, and my siblings who are never far from home – a quiet night out, just my mom and dad is a rarity and a gift) –

At dinner, we began to speak about what I would do once I left the ranch. I began to unveil my plan which looked absolutely nothing like they expected. But I have given this a lot of thought. I think it’s great that my brother and sisters have decided to raise families and buy houses and go to karate practice and have swing sets and school plays and Chem-lawn accounts, but this is not for me.

You see, I have thought long and hard about this. I did not go through all this self discovery, all this examination of myself, this tear down – rebuild myself from the ground up, to have that life. I was lamenting a couple weeks ago about the purpose of this whole thing and here it is: My heart is finally free – free from addiction, free from sadness, free from the limits I placed because I was consumed by the joy of a bottle of gin. My heart is free and it is time to follow it.

Where will this lead? I have no idea, but, gladly, I see a lot of failures in my future. And I am so excited to have them. Maybe I will try to hot air balloon across the French countryside and it will crash, maybe I will try to start a business and have to file bankruptcy, perhaps I will somehow get stranded in New York City with nothing but a guitar which I can’t play and my awesome beagle and have to figure something out. I don’t know – but I can tell you, my life is open, free, and a blank slate. I worked pretty frickin hard to get it like that and I just don’t see the point of chaining myself to something else, like a mortgage.

I know, there are a lot of people out there who were hoping that I would find a nice cute suburban house, a pretty wife, my dog, our 2 cars (1 import, 1 domestic), and a flat screen TV, and back yard BBQ’s and Halloween candy on October. But, that’s not how I see it.

Its like this, I have been chained, shackled, I have been imprisoned by a crippling addiction for 1/3 of my life. And, I am free. While this isn’t something I am going to do right away – I need time to adjust to life off the ranch, life as a sober person, the fact is, it will be my goal to live this life that I have reclaimed. Its mine and I feel like I own it again. This is a powerful feeling.

My mom shed a tear when I unveiled this plan. I don’t know if it was a tear of worry or a tear of disappointment or a tear of hope. She said, “You have always been different from the other kids, you’ve always been easy to reason with and you’ve always been older than your years,” and my dad, well, he basically said, ‘I am glad to see you fail,’ he encouraged the idea that life is meant to be lived and secretly, I think he was proud that I decided to take a few risks. My mom asked me, “But you might go back to drinking if your life isn’t settled,” and he calmly reminded her, “It’s the people who live unchallenged and unfulfilled that are likely to drink.” And he is right.

I did not come to this idea lightly, mind you. I had a lot of thought, a lot of wrestling, a lot of fear about losing people, friends and opportunities. But these things don’t go away, not if they have been built on a foundation of love and hope. Like Brian #2 and his wife, like the movie, if it’s right, it will find you and people you love manage to stay with you, somehow.

Will I be tempted to drink again. HELL YES! I am sure of it. I can just see it now, the dingy motel somewhere in the Moab. My dog and I watching the setting sun over the desert, and I get the thought, “One icy cold beer won’t hurt.” The way I look at it, if you don’t run into the devil on your journey through life, it’s likely you’re traveling in the same direction. So bring it on. Sobriety is my gift I gave myself this year and I never return a gift.

There you have it, I finally have a destination in mind – and the destination is appropriate considering this past year has been a seriously long look at my failures. What I realized is, I survived them. All of them. Every single thing I failed at, I survived it. And the decision to leap into more of them? Well, the adventure is part of the fun and if it proves to be too exhausting, I know I have a family with a comfy couch where I can recharge and sleep on one end of the couch with my laptop, and the other end with the remote control – then go back at it.

And that, I hope, is how I have my happy ending. Will love wait for me? My hope is, I keep it with me the whole journey. Peace all and have an awesome week.

write to: snapshotsfromrehabranch@yahoo.com

DAYS SOBER: 1 YEAR, 1 WEEK!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Week Off...

Yes, there will be a blog this week, I didn't neglect it last week, but I spent the weekend at home with my family for Mother's Day, and consequently, I was busy during the week last week.

Also, because we have a graduation every single week until I leave (and several even once I leave), I am going to focus a little on each graduate as they complete the program. I will begin this series this week.

Hold tight, its comin.

PS - I quietly celebrated my 356th day of sobriety last week. So, I will now begin counting in 'years' not days. Cool huh!

Check back in soon.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Cosmic Buyer's Remorse, or is it?


What is happening at the ranch these days is unprecedented. Each week, for the next 14 weeks, we will have a graduation. Last year, there were about 15 graduations total. I write to tell you this because I have so often detailed in the blog the dismal rate of success and it appears, at least with the current group, that something is working.

All of the guys I came in with, the guys I have written about for the past year are graduating. There is a buzz on the ranch, a sort of excitement about this. I admit, I am excited, too.

The first was Andrew who graduated today, and I am near the tail end of all this with a graduation of June 18. It’s exciting to think that I am getting on with the rest of my life. The next 6 weeks are going to be miserable for me because I want it to be over. I’d like it if I could just leave here right now, but I have made a commitment and I won’t.

But I was speaking to the head case manager (the head case-manager, not the ‘head-case manager’) and he said that my feeling is a good one to have. He said that when the ranch becomes a nuisance to me then it means that I no longer need it. This is great news!

There have been some staff members that are still convinced that any day I am going to leave. The fact that these comments continue to come from staff indicates that there are some on the staff that probably couldn’t do what I am doing, the fact that they don’t understand why I am going to stay tells me that perhaps they wouldn’t have the courage or the gumption to stay if they were in my place. I think their comments about an early escape are clearer pictures into the nature of their character and less into mine.

There is tension these days around me, however. I can feel it. I am short with people that never used to bother me and I am noticing that my relationships with people are becoming more and more polarized – two categories: People I will likely stay in touch with once I leave, and people I don’t care if I ever see again. Unfortunately, the latter group is larger than the former.

But this, I am told, is progress. I am assured that in my situation, this is a good thing. I shouldn’t need or want to keep too much of this ranch with me forever. I said it earlier, this is just my experience, this is not my life. Nor do I want it to be. I finished speaking to the last school this week, it was a bit of a sad day for me, but I took Matt and Chris out to lunch after because they will now take the school speaking project for the next year and make it something great, I know it.

A couple things are beginning to startle me. First is, I don’t have a lot of friends off the ranch, at least not in the area that I will be living. So I will have to make new friends. The beauty in this is that I can start each friendship with, “Sure I’ll go with you to Happy Hour, but I am not gonna drink,” instead of, “Remember when I used to be a stumbling idiot at the bar?” I can begin these new friendships as the kind of person that I want to be and I like that.

The other thing that is beginning to startle me is that now I have to really put all this training into practice, this is real life, this is the big leagues. Can I do? I think I can.

But this is what I really want to say about all this. Looking back, I don’t know what happened to my life or when I truly diverted from my path to head down this current road. I am a little pissed about it, I am a little sad about it. I am mostly mad that this will now, forever, become part of who I am. This isn’t who I ever wanted to be, ‘Roman, the recovering alcoholic” and for chrissake, it sucks.

I am pretty confident that in my new life, there will be people who will never know my situation nor should they have to, but I will always know it. Its not something heroic, like surviving cancer, or surviving a plane wreck. Its actually pretty pathetic when I think about it – and I am given lots of support and kudos on conquering this and you would think I’d love it, but it kind of disgusts me a little bit – not that people care, but that THIS is why people are proud of me.

I can tell you one thing, as I look at the past year one thing stands out to me. Whatever sadness I felt before I came in here, whatever emptiness I felt that made me run to the comfort of a bottle is still there and I never accomplished fixing that. I don’t think I even addressed it or figured out what it is. Nature abhors a vacuum and when I came to the ranch, the vacuum created by the lack of alcohol was immediately filled with new wonderful friends, with new opportunities, with the rediscovery of the person I loved being. But what caused the great soul ache in the beginning?

Still don’t know.

So what does my recovery look like? Well, it appears to be a steady stream of distractions and possibly never a cure. In a sense, it appears that I will be on a constant struggle to outrun this by filling my life with a series of mindless things that will occupy my time.

I mean, I have to ask, is that what you all do? Is that what your lives are like? Are those of you who read this just running through life occupying your time until the day you crap out and die?

So I have been giving this a lot of thought and I suppose what I am looking for as I wind things down on the ranch is some sort of validation that life still has some significance. I don’t think I am alone in wondering this, I mean, I want to know was all this self discovery and reflection worth it, and is it worth it, and to whom?

Do I just have is a serious case of cosmic-buyers remorse? And the only solution I can come up with is this, there are no guarantees in all this, no guarantee that I will be happier than I was before I came in. I think I was looking for a magic solution, that if I put in my time here, I would be suddenly whisked away to some wonderful new world where all my dreams would be realized, all my cares would leave, and everything that made me sad would be fixed.

The reality is that I am no closer to that fantasy land than when I came in. But now I can at least handle problems with a clear head and clear heart.

So this is where I am now. I know I often leave this blog with really great stories of personal triumph, but I am not always feeling like that. Sometimes it takes a minute for me to figure this stuff out.

But I have said once before that one of the things that I believe makes a person happy is having something to hope for.

So, at least there’s that.

Peace all, have a great week.