Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A 2010 Math Lesson....

This blog is a couple days late but I had to do a lot of research in order to put it together so it took some time. It was amazingly eye opening and I am entering 2010 armed with some real data, and I am a sucker for real data.

Well, I've recently set up my bank account with direct deposit, and its cool to see money actually being deposited in it! I love working and having a job again. But this got me thinking about my last bank account, and luckily I was online banking and decided to check out my transactions for 2008.... I kind of wanted to usher in the New Year with an idea of what a sober life might save me in terms of money. Shocking to say the least.

I used 2008 because thats the last full year I was in party mode. I was living with Alex, I was working full time, I had money, I had a car, and I had a nice robust alcohol addiction. And I figured as I head into 2010 with a new outlook on life, one of which is my perspective on money and working, I should probably take a look at what this cost me.

I spend a whole bunch of time detailing the emotional and spiritual cost, but the hard cost of addiction SUCKS as well. And this cost is conveniently spelled out in 12 consecutive bank statements.

Mind you, this is only my bank account, this doesn't count Alex's account or money that was spent on alcohol. It also kind of estimates the bar tabs - I didn't really drink at bars, I was a solo, at home drinker, so this would seem 'nominal' (can I use that word?)

In 2008, I estimate that I drank

308 pints of gin (cost $1268.96)

122 liters of wine (cost $868.64)

61 12 packs of beer (cost $798.34)

I bought 57 bottles of other alcohol (like rum or vodka, or something like that) (cost 889.20)

For a grand total of $3824.14

Now this does not include bar tabs or money I spent on things like cigarettes or food I ate while drunk or work I missed.

But lets do more math.

308 Pints is 38.5 GALLONS of gin. I went online and googled 38 gallons. Sam's club sells a 38 gallon trash can for 102 dollars - this is one of those massive trash cans you see at parks.

122 liters is 32 gallons of wine. 61 12 packs of beer is 8784 ounces of beer (68.6 gallons).

8784 ounces of beer is 52,704 teaspoons!

57 bottles of hard liquor is 102.6 liters, which is 27.1 GALLONS of rum, vodka or other booze.

So... let's add this up again. That's 166.2 GALLONS of booze in 2008. That is 2,656 cups of alcohol in 2008.

I went online and found the calories for each type of alcohol, and I estimate that I consumed 260,288 calories of alcohol.

Since a calorie is about 3500 calories, that is about 74.36 pounds of body weight I can attribute to alcohol.

That was 40% of my body weight.


So, It is nice to see that I am immediately going to cut out $3824.14 from my annual budget. This is an automatic raise of about $2.12 per hour of work. When you cut out cigarettes as well, that number jumps to $2.88 per hour. This doesn't seem like a lot, but imagine that every hour you are at work, you drop $2 in the toilet, just for the 'enjoyment' of it. And you do this every day, for a year. And then, look in the mirror and tell yourself, its not a problem.

Heck, do this experiment, I did it yesterday. I laid $2.12 on my desk at work. And I set my phone alarm to go off every hour. Not because I was really going to throw $2.12 down the toilet, but because I wanted to see how quick an hour of work passes, and I would glance over at the $2.12 each time the alarm went off.

Obviously, the cost isn't about the dollars, its about the hours I wasted, its about the experiences I didn't have, the cost was my health, my relationship, and when you add all that, its not $2.12 you are flushing down the toilet, its a future, its a past, its a present.

These days $2.12 an hour buys me a whole lot. It buys me a new life.

Happy New Year everyone.... be safe.

Monday, December 21, 2009


My first week of work has been great, it is nice to feel like I am getting back into the driver’s seat of my life and things are moving along. We are getting ready for Christmas on the ranch, and our small tree in our dorm is already brimming with small gifts that we have been able to either make or buy for each other. Christmas this year is going to be a good one, I feel blessed by a lot, and there is something that gets you into the spirit when you live on a ranch – it’s peaceful, the snow is untouched, the Rockies are only 11 miles west of me so the snow capped peaks are a welcome reminder that it is December in Colorado.

The buildings on the ranch are bright red, so they contrast the snow – it’s just beautiful.

So, the other day I went to treat myself to lunch. I stopped into a small deli in town and ordered my favorite – Braunschweiger sandwich on dark rye with swiss cheese and cucumbers – and I settled to a small table in back to eat it and suddenly, a small gaggle of high school girls and one parent came up to me and introduced themselves to me.

It was the high school girls soccer team and one of the team mates had heard me speak about sobriety when I visited her school, and she wanted to check in with me and introduce me to her friends and the coach and someone’s mom. They all wished me a great Christmas and New Year, they got my email address and said they would like to stay in touch.

A few days earlier a strange thing happened. I wrote about how my boss Googled me and found out about the article written in the Denver Post and as a result, he also read some of this blog. I mentioned that this didn’t really bother me because, in the long run, it’s easier and healthier to own my sobriety, and getting treatment isn’t something that I should be ashamed about.

A couple days later a co-worker came to me and, over the course of a somewhat awkward conversation (I couldn’t exactly figure out why it was awkward at first), she explained to me that it was she who actually Googled me, not my boss. And then she paused and said, “I am an alcoholic too, I have known I have a problem for about 10 years, but I haven’t stopped, I still continue to drink.” You would think I would be speechless by this admission from someone I hardly knew but I am less and less surprised by the way people have felt close or have even felt a kinship to me since I put myself out there – explaining how alcohol or addiction has touched them – either through a family member or by their own hand.

She went on to ask me a little about treatment and said that she is completely functional (which is obvious, she runs a tight ship in the office – one might never guess), but she said something I found to be powerful. She said that she is fine at work, she works quite hard, and she does, but she said that every night from 6-10, she is completely off-line in her life and is her time. I understand this because alcohol was a very personal time for me too. But by inviting me to share her experience she opened herself up to the uncertainty of my reaction – and this is how I began to own my addiction, it’s how I began to tear down the old self and rebuild a more fortified self, strong in my ability to look people in the eye and say, ‘I am what I am.” And so, it was really a priveledge to have her to tell me this.

At the beginning of this blog I used to say, “People will surprise you if you surprise them first,” and I said this mainly in reference to apologies, forgiveness, meeting you half way in amends, etc. This has happened with most of the guys I live with, they are succeeding in the program and their families are slowly meeting them back where they left off.

I think my statement is bigger now. When I said it, I was speaking about sobriety, but I believe that this statement has effects throughout my interactions with everyone. I wrote about how part of this process is tearing down the old facades and learning to be ‘real’. And the more real I become with people, the more real people become with me. It weird, and it might be unnerving; it’s real and surprising. There is something innocent and basic and comforting about being real. I watch my two youngest nephews, both two and a half years old, and observe how they see the world. To them, the world is very real – people are taken at face value, things that are said are assumed to be true, there are no hidden agendas, no hidden motivations, there is no guilt or shame in being human, whether you have a booger hanging out of your nose or you fart in public, to them, forgiveness is a no-brainer and they offer it as easily as they expect it.

And I think when you become like that, you surprise people, and they, in turn, surprise you.

But these two events, the deli and the office, bring me to this week’s topic, something that I had avoided writing about for some time, but it is an essential part of sobriety, and I don’t know why I haven’t really spoken about it. But it is part of my journey, it is something I had kept out of this blog because I wanted the whole spectrum of people to be able to relate to it, and then I got to thinking, this is my blog, my journey, and I promised that I was going to remain real, and so I’ll tell you, one of the most essential components critical to what got me here, and what might keep me here, is GOD.

My belief in a higher power is real. One of the things that I felt was damaged by years of alcoholism was my spirit, and repairing that spirit happened to me only when I repaired my relationship with God.

I am probably the most spiritual person in my family and certainly the most Catholic. One of the best gifts my parents gave me was a knowledge of GOD. I am not some bible thumper or someone who belts off bible verses to advance my own agenda. But I do spend a lot of time in quiet prayer time with God and I do manage to thank God for blessings. I also ask God for help when I need it, I ask for guidance when I am troubled, I sometimes just tell God about my day like we’re old friends. I am not intimidated by God, afraid of God or ashamed of God. Indeed, I pray to God right before I even start writing this blog each time and thank Him after I post the blog for giving me the gift to write and the burning desire to tell a story.

Sobriety works much easier when you can surrender to a power higher than yourself. There is something that frees me in the belief that I don’t have to solve my every problem, that some problems I can just give to God and have faith that things will work out the way they should. I like the idea that this is not for nothing, the idea that I am eternal in some form makes the work of becoming sober seem worthwhile.

Here’s why this blog topic came about now, however. I read Bible scripture and try to apply it to myself, its how I live the question, “What’s my relationship with my higher power.” (Remember “living the question” blog? If not, go back, these all tie in together) I feel a divine vibration throughout all of nature. There is something divine about the cycles of the seasons, the birth, death and resurrection of plant life. There is something divine about physics and the fact that things have an order within the chaos, today is the winter solstace, it is the longest night of the year... it is also the day the earth is closest to the sun. The longest darkness is marked by our closest proximity to our life source. Tell me that isn't divine.

I’ll wrap it all up, I promise, and I won’t go into some sort of a bible sermon.

But, in John chapter 11 we learn of Jesus’s good friend Lazarus. Lazarus was sick and Jesus was summoned by Laz’s sisters, Mary and Martha, to come and heal him. But Jesus didn’t make it in time (it is a remarkably hectic job saving the world) and Lazarus died and was buried. According to the Bible, Jesus intentionally stays where He was.
When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, he finds that Lazarus is dead and has already been in his tomb for four days. He meets first with Martha and Mary in turn. Martha laments that Jesus did not arrive soon enough to heal her brother and Jesus replies with the well-known statement, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me shall live, even when he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die in eternity". Next encountering Mary, Jesus is moved by her sorrow, and we read the famous simple phrase, "Jesus wept".
Never one to miss an opportunity to do some miracles when a crowd is present, Jesus comes to the tomb. Over the objections of Martha, Jesus has them roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb and says a prayer – yes even Jesus prayed. He then calls Lazarus, “Hey, Laz, COME OUT OF THERE,” and Lazarus does so.
The next chapter takes place a few days later. Everyone in Bethany is so excited about what happened that there is a huge feast and people come from miles to speak to the guy who was raised from the dead. Lazarus was a spectacle because people began to realize that they, too, could be raised from the dead with faith and friendship in Jesus.

It should be clear by now that I feel like Lazarus. My friendship with God didn’t prevent me from heading down to the path to destruction and death. In fact, I believe that God intentionally stayed out of things, intentionally let me fail, for many years so I could eventually reach the end of that life – and die.

And when I finally surrendered to it, and I died, the stone that separated me, in my tomb, from a life outside, was rolled away by my faith and friendship in God and I was resurrected (I've always said it isn't WHAT you know.....). And now, I am in that feast period, people are coming from all over to speak to me, in a deli, in an office, via email, to speak to the guy who was raised from the dead. My new life offers a bit of hope that the death in their lives isn't permanent either. And while I rarely write about my belief in God, it is there, and I do apply these principles to my sobriety and daily life, and overcoming an addiction is so much easier when you just surrender to something greater than yourself – to God.

This year, Christmas is something I’ve anticipated and will enjoy. Not for the Santa stuff, the family, the kids, all those things are great, indeed. The story of Christmas is most importantly the simple story of a birth; the story of a baby being born - in a barn on a farm surrounded by sheep and goats and cows, a baby who's mom was travelling by of all things, a MULE, a baby who's very birth made people want to seek Him out and visit and share the experience. A birth that would bring hope and save people from their own demons, a baby who would grow up and help raise people from the dead, a baby who would give solutions, provide gifts of wisdom and a closer walk with God.

This is a great story of beginnings, and I bet you thought I would end by comparing myself to that baby, to my new spiritual birth, to my faith that I can give hope to people and offer comfort. Boy, are you off. I’m not going to do that. I am not that baby.

I am just His friend.
Merry Christmas All!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reasons to avoid swinging dead cats

Well, I started working at a new job this week, and it’s at a job I love. I’ve been blogging about how my physical fitness is a real important part of my overall spiritual health – I can’t imagine staying sober with a body that hardly performs (or looks) the way it should. I mentioned once that in terms of managing an addiction, there isn’t one thing that works for everyone, and so, part of the trick is to find several things that work for you and then calling upon that list whenever you have moments of weakness.

This goes for smoking, drinking, gambling, whatever. And I am less inclined to want to abuse my body with a bottle of sugary rum knowing what kind of work I put into it to maintain it. I don’t know if this will be my sobriety method forever, but for now, its something I have grabbed on to.

And, so this brings me back to my job – at a company that’s all about fitness (with a significant ‘cool factor’). I am not going to add a bunch of details about where, but I am happy to say, I am doing something I love in an industry I really love, with people who I respect and like, and I have a kick ass office to boot. My mom and sister came to visit me yesterday, and remarked that they, “expect nothing less.” I suppose reaching small successes is part of the reason I did this to begin with, so I should be relieved things are beginning to work out.

A funny story about the job, as a side note, my boss googled me and the first thing was the article in the Denver Post. He asked me about it, I was honest with him - as I am when anyone asks me about this process - and I think he respected that. But I am going to own this, its who I am, its real. As I said in an earlier blog, if I had cancer I would be applauded for seeking treatment, and so I would hope that this would be received in the same way. It’s entirely likely that many people still will see this as negative, and slowly, I hope my message and more like mine will begin to change attitudes. One thing I’ve come to realize in the past few months is that no family is immune to addiction. Not even yours.

But he asked. The interesting thing is that I am almost relieved that it played out like that – that he asked ahead of time so it was never a surprise to him, and this adds a layer of accountability to me that I had not counted on. Its less likely that I am going to fall into old behaviors and casually toss them aside to someone who knows that might happen.

I am a little unnerved about my paycheck though. Having money again is going to open up a whole new set of circumstances where something can get tripped up. I mean, you can’t swing a dead cat in this state without hitting a liquor store. I am counting on the fact that I am going to employ all the things I’ve learned the past few months in order to continue on this path. The temptation to leave the program is going to be there, the temptation to even grab a beer with friends after work is going to be there, and though these things have crossed my mind in the past, the opportunity hasn’t been there – in terms of time or money. And I haven’t run across a dead cat I really feel much like swinging.

And I am going to have to figure this out relatively quickly because I will be paid in a few days. But, I’ve always known, I am going to have a job again in my life, I am going to have money again, I am going to have freedoms, I am not going to be in the safety of this program forever. But I hope I approach this in much the same way I have approached other milestones at the ranch – from my first venture off the ranch for my first 2 hour pass, to my first weekend at home, I am just gonna have to remind myself what I am all about, and do it. What skills will I be employing? Well, in those addictions classes, I mentioned something about the lesson on stimulus vs. response. Dave, our addictions teacher, really pounded in the idea that stimulus vs. response is a natural occurrence – if you don’t believe me, ask Pavlov’s dogs.

BUT – here’s where the skills I have practiced and learned at the ranch come in to play. Here’s why a good rehab is important not only because it allows you to dry out and work through the emotional mess, but a good rehab works because it arms you with tools and weapons to keep going. You see, as we practiced, as we studied, and as we were told (a most obvious solution, but, the simplicity escapes you until you see it on paper – or a computer screen). The thing about the natural stimulus vs. response mechanism is simply, the freedom to choose. The freedom to NOT respond the way you always have. Its not easy to put into practice, but when you do, its makes you feel amazingly powerful.

There is a certain rush of energy you feel when you make a blatant, obvious, uncomfortable decision to respond differently to an age-old response. I know you are reading this gem of genius on a blog dedicated to addiction, but this is something you can employ to ANY part of your life.

When you are tempted by that last piece of cheesecake, you don’t have to eat it – you can just decide NOT to eat it for no other reason that its OK to NOT eat it. When you want a cigarette after a spicy meal, you can just decide NOT to smoke, and you can NOT smoke just because it’s OK to NOT smoke (yes I split the infinitive, shhh). You won’t die, there will be other opportunities to smoke again in the future if you really want it, there will be other cheesecakes in your life, I G-U-A-R-A-N-T-E-E it. And each Friday I deposit my paycheck and the stimulus to go grab a drink hits me, its OK to NOT drink that one time – not because I will end up in jail or dead – but, just because.

I am not going to spend my entire life coming up with complex reason to NOT drink. I am just not going to drink. Maybe someday in the future there will be an opportunity for it, I don’t know, I don’t think about that, but for now, I don’t want to drink – and the reason is super duper complex right? I just choose not to. Sobriety for me isn’t going to be a lot of work, it isn’t going to be a daily argument with myself to not drink. When it’s like that, then chances are, I am not finished drinking. If I have to come up with a reason every free moment to not drink, then I am not done. And I am done.

So, on to other things. Someone wrote to me and told me that they did an intervention on their brother and he didn’t respond to it. I asked this woman what they offered her brother in terms of a solution, she said she didn’t have one.

I am only going to say this because I put myself in her brother’s shoes so I could maybe offer insight to what he might have been thinking, and I am no expert by any means when it comes to this stuff. I am ONLY an expert on my own experience, and from my experience, if people you care about sideswipe you with an intervention (and believe me, it is sideswiping, but that’s why it might work), but then they don’t have any solutions like, “We have gotten you into this program, we have put you on the list for this program, we have looked into this program and it fits your needs, we are going to go right now to a meeting,” if you don’t do that, then your intervention is just a group of people who gather around you to call you out for being drunk. And what the hell is that all about?

So, in my very unprofessional, very un-expert opinion, while I think an intervention can be very effective because it really forces you to face your loved ones head on, an intervention without a solution is just a group of people you trusted who gather around to tell you what a lousy drunk you are.

My family tried an intervention on me several years ago after a camping trip and that VERY afternoon I went to a bar with one of the people in the intervention and we got hammered. I am not sure if I would have gone anywhere anyway, but had they been armed with real answers, like ‘You can enter such and such facility in 5 days for a 40 day program, etc.,’ I might have been more inclined to at least think about it.

As a note, I am not slamming my family in the least bit for this. Heck, they didn’t know what to do, staging an effective intervention isn’t something you really get a whole lot of training on and not the kind of thing you learn in business college. I am grateful for the repeated attempts my family made to get me sober.

But when you do make those attempts, be prepared for your addict to reject your attempts. I will say, it wasn’t until everyone left me alone, to my own devices, to my own conscience, to my own tired spirit, that I stopped making excuses and looked into this program. I am not saying this is how it needs to work for everyone, but for me, it wasn’t until I felt completely alone, that I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself, it wasn’t until I had to look in the mirror at the one person on earth who really knew who was looking back, only then did I decide this was it.

And I will also say that one day in March, I was talking to Alex, and I said I was having second thoughts, that I wasn’t sure if I was even going to come to the Ranch, and Alex looked at me and said, ‘OK, but I think you can do it.’ And I don’t know why that stood out to me, I don’t know why that moment meant a lot to me. Perhaps its because Alex didn’t say, “You NEED to do this, you SHOULD do this, blah blah blah.” Alex said, ‘I think YOU CAN DO THIS.’

Almost as if Alex knew that my defiance wasn’t defiance, it wasn’t even denial, it was fear and a lack of confidence. And those words really fixed me up on the idea. That day was Friday, March 27th, I know this because I wrote about that comment in my journal.

You see, having the confidence to do this isn’t easy. Heck, I recently heard of someone who decided not to come to the ranch because he was worried that if he decided he couldn’t do it, he’d be too far away to escape. That’s a lack of confidence and fear. (I will say that if anyone decides they can not do this, the ranch is VERY accommodating about getting that person to a safe place, there is no ‘escape’ – we arrange a van and drive that person, with dignity, to any location they need to go – including other cities – even one guy all the way to the airport – escape isn’t something people ever need to do from the ranch, participation is completely voluntary)

So, I ran a race today. It was my first official race, I was there with the running team, at 8am, in 20 degree weather. I finished in a respectable time, and it felt AWESOME crossing that finish line, a bunch of guys came along and greeted me in the final 1/5th mile, and they ran along side me and cheered me, then as I crossed the finish line, other guys from the ranch were there to take pictures, hi-five me, and chant my name as I made my way down the winner's corral.

And my finish time?
Is ‘ABOUT TIME’ a time?
Well, that’s all I am saying, I ran a race, I crossed the finish line and ….. ITS ABOUT TIME.

Peace all and have a great week.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Get REAL! I'll never steal grapes again....

Well, folks, I am now a phase 3 guy. I learned that I was approved to phase on Wednesday and I had the phasing ceremony on Friday, its official. I will tell you, if you asked me 6 months ago about getting to phase 3, I would have laughed and said 'Probably not,' and yet, here I am.

One of the perks of being in phase 3 is getting our cell phones back. I checked mine on Friday afternoon and had a text message from a girl friend, a former co worker, and someone that I consider a great confident, that said, "I need to talk to you, but can't right now, can I call you later?"

It sounded urgent so I texted back, "Sure, is everything OK?"

The reply, "Yes, I read Tina's article."

The shock this sent through me was immediate. I had done a fairly decent job of working on my rehabilitation and not having this bleed into my other life, the life I planned to leave in tact so I could return to it, seamlessly, and no one would be the wiser.

When we finally spoke, she brought it up, and her reaction was one I had not prepared for. I had prepared for the snide comments, and the mocking comments, I had prepared for the concerned comments and the comments from people who were wishing me well.

Her reaction was almost apologetic. She said, in a somber tone, "I'm at a loss, I didn't even know that you were having any problems, I feel like I should have known," And the shock this sent through me was super charged. We spoke and she told me that she read my blog and I mentioned my cousin who killed herself, and she told me that she had a close uncle who did the same thing this past June, less than 6 months ago.

Her story and her comments were familiar to me. She spoke of the confusion of not knowing, of the loss, of the resentment, of the sadness she felt, she spoke about her regrets with it, and how that death has put her life into some semblance of order, she prioritized things.

And what struck me about this conversation is that, it seems to me that everyone has a story to tell about this. It seems to me that everywhere I look, once people know that I am doing this, other people are eager to describe their anguish, loss caused by addiction. I know that they tell me this because I am someone who will not judge, and I think they tell me because it might help me to feel that I am not alone. I will tell you, living with my addiction was the most alone I have ever felt, and recovering from it is the most comfortable I have ever felt. The support is amazing, and when people learn that you are being real about it, they seem to come out of the woodwork and help you get through it.

And I mention this because I have been getting a lot of letters and comments about treatment, good questions like, "Is it like prison," "Do you guys chant," "Is there a lot of therapy circles, touchie feelie stuff," and I am glad people are asking - when I considered coming to rehab, these were the kinds of real questions I also had. And I hope this blog addresses some of those things. Its not scary, its not a bad environment, my experience has been positive - but I have had to work at it - and work very hard - and dig - and reach out - and face certain realities about myself and my past and my heart and soul that haven't been fun.

But, in the end, I am healing. And the people around me are healing. And there is no better reason to do this than that. There has to be an end in sight, then you jump off the cliff, and you do the work, and then you get the reward - health, happiness, forgiveness, and you get to be real - the real you that you know you are.

We are beginning a component of therapy called 'Band of Brothers,' and this is a spiritual look at the roles we have as men once we're sober. This part of the therapy deals with things like what kinds of husbands, boyfriends, sons, brothers, fathers, friends we need to be. It kind of gives us a blueprint of how to apply the things we learned about living like a decent human being to our relationships with people. This isn't about repairing your past, its about preparing your present and future.

The thing about this component is that it really helps us to remove some of those deceptive masks we wear as addicts and make ourselves vulnerable to reality. We wear masks to get people to believe we are a certain kind of person, we wear them because we are often afraid of showing who we really are, and removing those masks is about the only way to live, its how we become real, take it or leave it, like us or not.

I thought that I had already been doing this, but one thing about the past week is that I am finding that people, like that girlfriend who didn't know I was even having a problem, are still looking at the mask. It felt cathartic to have the article in the paper, but the masks to my close friends and family still remained, and this component on the ranch is about removing these masks. It's raw, and it's real.

It doesnt mean calling everyone up and making a bunch of uncomfortable statements either. Geezus, I hate when drunks do that. I mean, that can get a little bit creepy if you ask me, and just because I am here and exposed doesn't mean everyone else is in the same place emotionally - in fact, most people aren't. One thing I can NOT stand about a recovering addict is how they try to force their changes, their rawness, their new perspective on other people. For chrissake, I will NOT do this. No one wanted to hear my emotional episodes when I was drunk, I can guarantee no one wants to hear about them now that I am sober.

Real change doesn't mean that you need to wear this on your sleeve. It's not about making everyone see that you have changed. Living the change is when you know and believe in your own progress. Living as a new person, living according to the standards I set for myself and have put in place through my recovery is how I maintain change. I don't need to spend my time proving my changes or looking for opportunities to enact these changes at the pleasure of my audience. If I decide I am not going to walk around the grocery store and eat grapes out of a bag before I've paid for them just because it's right, and not because I am afraid of getting caught - well, thats a perfectly acceptable reason not to do that. Right? If I decide that I am not going to drink ever again because I don't like what it does to me and not because I am afraid of loss or disappointment, well, that's perfectly acceptable.

True realness is looking at the man in the mirror and saying "I kind of like the guy who's staring back at me."

And, these days I do, but it hasn't been easy and it hasn't been fun.

Oh, so I got a job, I am excited about it, I begin next week. Its great to begin living like a real person again and saving money. I am also running an 8K race next week, my first official race. I was reading this blog a few days ago, and I joked back in May, 'Hey wouldnt it be funny if I ran a marathon by this time next year,' and.... well, this plan looks like it can happen, the Colorado Marathon is in May of 2010.... This plan is real.
Reality seemed so scary at one point, and now I'm happy to embrace it. The thing about reality is that you don't really have much opportunity to escape from it, it's there, its not even a matter of hiding from it, it is what it is. And the thing I like about what's happening is that we are being taught that who we really are isn't all that bad, and that all that time I spent trying to not be me was pointless. This is how sobriety has to work this is how recovery works - I've identified the problems (physical and emotional and biochemical), I've faced many issues, I've solved many issues, I have rectified where I could and let go where I have had to, and now, the solution isn't a nice neat package, its a jumbled hodge podge of things that I could fix and things I couldn't, but either way, it is what it is, and I have to live with it. That's real life, baby.
It was such a waste of time, all that drunkeness. It makes me laugh at myself through a few tears - I just nod my head in disbelief sometimes. I like this life now, it's real.

Anyway, have a great weekend.

Contact Information

Some people have been trying to get ahold of me to get more information and I can't write you back through the comments section, so you may email me at: -

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The curtain has been lifted....


I took a very public direction in my recovery recently, and I gave an interview to a respected (and apparently widely read) columnist at the Denver Post about this blog.

The article choked me up a bit, it is unnerving to see my words and my story outlined so well on page 2 of a major daily newspaper – plus I am a sucker for good writing, and Tina Griego painted a detailed picture in 850 words of a decade of grief.

I wrote a while back about the deceptive curtain that alcoholics hide behind, and that eventually, the greatest fear, and the best blessing is when that curtain is lifted and its discovered that the wizard is just a man. Well, suprise, I am not a wizard.

I was extremely hesitant about using my real name in the story – at first it was because I write about several of the guys on the ranch who are with me and didn’t want to compromise their privacy, and, deep down, it was because I was a little ashamed that the whole city would know what I was doing, why I disappeared, and be public participants in a personal, intimate struggle.

The greatest rewards come when you take the greatest risks, and I permitted my real name and the blog address (which I kept confidential from the ranch guys), and closed my eyes, plugged my nose, and jumped right in.

I suppose I was ashamed because developing an alcohol addiction is so tied up in shame, in failures, it seems like it only happens to ‘those kinds of people,’ and now, here I was, one of ‘those people’ and the whole city knew it. They would laugh at me, or shake their heads and say, “Oh that explains it.”

None of that happened.

I received letters and messages from friends and family, all but one of them positive (the only snide comment came from a fellow alcoholic who’s bitter sentiment was to be expected. As a side note, I find it the highest form of hypocrisy when a seasoned alcoholic tells a recovering alcoholic, “Isn’t part of rehab making amends? Its OK, I forgive you”).

I received notes from former co-workers that wanted to reconnect and keep in touch with me. Strangers offered their stories of how alcohol has affected them, how it has affected people close to them. Families wanted to know how to get the kind of treatment I was getting and where. A dialogue had been opened because an undeserving victim of alcohol decided to tell and even embrace the story of an alcoholic, to get some insight, and to offer hope that not every story has to end the way hers did.

Tina wrote to me after the article had been published and said, “By now, I should no longer be surprised by how many people alcoholism/addiction affects, but I still am.” This comes from a seasoned veteran of daily news, in my estimation she’s seen it all, and yet, this still shocks her.

And the article strengthened my resolve that this is the only solution for the problems I had created for myself, that the absolute end to the part of my life that included alcohol as a companion was the only was I would live. I don’t look at my recovery as a shameful venture, as something that I need to hide or avoid in subject. Alcoholism affects so many people and when people talk about it, there is a relief, a collective exhale. That feeling of, “I am not the only one, my family isn’t the only family,” lifts a great burden.

One person wrote, “Alcohol wants to kill you, but first it wants to get you alone,” this resonated with me. It certainly tried to isolate me. I cried a little when I read this because it was so true, in my case and the case of most of my friends. And perhaps the systematic rehabilitation of entire families lies in the ability to talk openly about it, like people talk about cancer.

I’m thinking too globally at the moment, but when I get out of here, it may be one of my goals, to make something like this happen. To create awareness, to lessen burdens, and to help people get help. It all started with an article superbly written by a journalist who wanted to deliver a message of hope, and she used my story to help her tell it. In the process, I have gained a friend and I hope she gets some insight to her father’s torment when she reads the blog. She told me that she knows that her father knew he hurt people, and this contributed to his depletion of spirit, it certainly contributed to mine. But the cathartic release of this knowledge by acknowledgement in this blog is sucking the grief out of me. To share this with Tina, well, this is the greatest honor.

Life at the ranch has been hectic to say the least. Today is the LAST day I will spend in phase 2 – tomorrow I phase to phase 3 – all my homework is finally finished. I think I have an awesome job lined up. I’ve got to wait (and this time I don’t mind).

When I blog later this week, I will catch you up on the Addictions 2 part of the program, I am knee deep in it – and the transition from the safety of farm life to real life is a precarious one, and a misstep can be catastrophic. I’ll also be catching you up on life here at the Ranch. It’s been more than a little fun. I took the picture at the top of this blog of Lane the other night, we were bored and he dressed up in a goofy outfit. I snapped the photo and told him I would post it because in a year, when the stress of real life is upon him, he can look at it and remember what a blast he had in rehab. If you look closely, there is a banner behid him that says 'Hope' - it wasn't planned but its certainly in the right place.

Then I mentioned, when I look back, I will look at this as a SUPER fun year. I used to think of this as a year away from my real life, but this has been the most productive year in my life – the changes, the friends, my health, my growth, I resurrected a spirit, and that doesn’t happen too often.

The guys on the ranch read the article and my celebrity was a good 13 minutes long (I was promised 15 minutes). It wasn’t long before they began hassling me about how long I take in the bathroom, my cooking, I have too many clothes and I am hogging the closet, even about my weight, my friend Brian said, “Its true, the newspaper DOES add 15 pounds to you,” Nothing like good friends to keep it real, eh?

I will say, I feel none of the usual stress of this time of year, and feel hopeful and confident. The fear of relapse weighed heavily on me, but in my conversation with Tina, she predicted something that has really changed my perspective, she gave me a gift she may not know she even offered.

Tina told me with some degree of certainty that she predicts that by the end of this program, I will no longer fear relapse, or fear anything for that matter. She said that in reading my progress from the first blog to the most recent, she believes that I am heading to a place where the fear of relapse no longer keeps me up at night. This, somehow, comforted me. Finally, the end is in sight, to someone at least.

DAYS SOBER: 211 Days


Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Week

OK, so I am going to take the week off from blogging - its Thanksgiving, I have recently returned from weekend pass, I had a GREAT time. But I am trying to wrap up my phase 2 packets and find a job so next week, when I go to my final phase, I'll be ready.

Can you believe it, I am entering my final phase of the program... and I'll write more then. Until next week, have a GREAT Thanksgiving.

This year I have SO much to be Thankful for....

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The last thing on their minds.... fuggetaboutit!

One good thing about keeping a blog is that I can go back and look at the speed at which change is taking place while on the ranch. If anyone tells you recovery is a drag, they aren’t doing it right. It’s a really busy time, fixing your past, building your future and navigating your present all at the same time!

There is a sort of urgency in being in a program with a set expiration date, it feels almost rushed. My mom and I were talking a while back and I had to remind her that this is a program that is about half completed for me, and that I am not planning on staying longer than I have to. When I said, “I can’t stay there forever, I have to leave and get on with my life, living on a rehab ranch is NOT normal,” she paused for a minute because I think, somewhere, she thought, or hoped I would remain in the safety of a 250 acre ranch forever.

But, that’s not how this story will end, THAT is the only thing I can guarantee about being in rehab. But until then, I am really busy, as is everyone.

So Brian started working this week, he couldn’t be happier. Curtis got his financial aid and will be starting his degree program in January, Lane tested past several of his prerequisites in school and found out he is a semester further along than he believed. Steve has an interview on Monday morning, and Marty has had five interviews and he is going back this week for round two at a couple good places.

I also had two interviews, both of them went extremely well. I enter my final phase the week of November 30 and would love it if I missed this phasing ceremony because I was, instead, at work.

One of the chaplains said that my physical and mental energy is evident and that he is confident that I will be gainfully employed soon, his exact words were, ‘Your sobriety and health makes you look extremely attractive to a potential employer right now, probably more so than ever before,’ he ended our conversation saying that I wear sobriety well.

Apparently someone told him that playing to my over developed sense of self-awareness (read: vanity) is a fantastic way to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Tomorrow I am speaking to a huge congregation in a mountain town about my spiritual journey to sobriety, Tuesday I will be speaking to a juvenile youth-at-risk facility about what they can expect from a life of addiction and bad decisions. Thursday I will be speaking to another High School in the county, to talk about how the decisions they make now will affect their life forever. I will also be encouraging them to seek help now, to empower them and explain the amount of strength it takes to seek help – statistically, 58% of them have already used alcohol and 22% of them are binge drinkers. Statistically, about 160 of the kids in the school will be alcoholic or problem drinkers. And the number of them who will live with, marry, or have a parent or child that abuses alcohol jumps to about 1400 kids.

Who would have guessed that I would be speaking to people about this. A reporter from the Denver Post, Tina Griego, wrote to me and said, “To read your writing makes me think about how when my dad was drinking it was as if he could only play the highest and lowest notes on a piano. But when he was sober, all those notes in between were once again his and they brought to his life depth and nuance and beauty. I just wanted to thank you. You'll be in my thoughts.” WOW! A columnist for a major daily wrote to me!

I also heard from my sister that her brother-in-law had, out of nowhere, just checked himself into a treatment facility. She said she would like to think that my progress has something to do with him deciding to do this. When I saw him three weeks ago, he said he wasn’t ready and I told him, “If you aren’t ready, don’t go, don’t waste your time or their time. But someday, you will say, enough! And when you say that, you’ll be ready.”

Maybe he said, ‘enough.’ Maybe it had nothing to do with me, but I feel rewarded to have at least have had an answer for him that I hope made sense to him. An alcoholic is always told, “You can do it, now is the time, you’ll feel better, just stick with it, do it for yourself, blah blah,” and these things are meaningless to someone who lives with an addiction, because the addiction is telling you the opposite, and who are we inclined to listen to?

AA tells you that the first step is admitting you have a problem, and I am not going to get into why I hate AA, but this is one of the countless reasons. As an addict we already know we have a problem, geezus, we’re alcoholics not idiots. The problems are endless, they’re not some great big shock to us, its not like we wake up one day and say, ‘WOW, this is bad!’ I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the mornings of dry heaves, the hidden cupboards full of booze, the lack of real world interaction, the falls, scrapes, phantom bruises, job issues, relationship issues are problems. FREAKIN DUH!

The first step to recovery is just simply saying, ‘ok, enough.’

My dad was taking me back to the ranch one Sunday afternoon and I was showing him my running route – its my endurance run that I run each week, it’s a little less than 10 miles. He clocked it and was a little surprised that I do this with ease, heck I ran 4.5 miles today before the sun was completely up, and it was 17 degrees!

And he was silent for a little bit of the car ride, I think he was absorbing the idea that my life is becoming what it is becoming, and the speed its happening.

He spoke up and asked softly, ‘Think back, kid, to where you were last year at this time….’ (its cool that he still calls me 'kid')

The answer broke my heart. I thought about my relationship with someone I truly loved which failed miserably because of the drinking. That person had had ‘enough.’ I thought about the half assed comfort I was able to provide my family when my cousin killed herself because I was so far into my bottle that I could only emerge for brief moments of clarity, take a breath, realize the landscape of grief sucked too bad, and then grab another drink.

I thought about my ballooning weight and the fact that I had completely given up on the hope that I would ever again look in the mirror and like who or what I saw. I remember that I was so uninvolved with my job that I only showed up at work, awaiting the lay-off, I don’t think I even showered or combed my hair, I was relieved when they told me they were downsizing my department. Maybe they had also had ‘enough’

I remembered the strained relationships with my family. The apathy I felt towards them was painful for them, but, I really had lost the desire to stay plugged in or connected. Spiritually I had none of my sparkle, no energy, no real joy at all. I was black inside, a bottle of gin filled the hole where my soul once lived.

Through all this my companions were limited to the nice Asian lady who owned the liquor store and my dog – and even the dog was losing interest in me – she would sleep in her kennel even when I invited her on the bed with me. I remember I was so exhausted. ‘Tired’ is the only word that comes to mind. I had finally, just about, had ‘enough’.

And these memories brought me back even further – two years ago, right about this time, I nearly murdered myself – I word it like that intentionally because it would NOT have been a suicide, it would have been a murder, a manslaughter because it would have been my own carelessness and negligence that killed me. After aspiring on my own toxic vomit, I spent two weeks in the hospital on breathing tubes, unconscious, with a caring family who didn’t know if I would wake in a vegetative state or even worse.

My parents would come to see me daily and encourage me to wake up, Alex would take the bus or walk to the hospital to spend time with me. Everyone prayed and what a great tragedy to have died during the holiday season, Geezus, talk about crappy timing! The consequence would have been catastrophic for everyone, probably forever. What a great legacy that would have left, the guy who selfishly stole the holidays from everyone.

The doctors told me that if I kept it up I would die in 2-3 years.

Its now 2 years later. I am alive and well. Better than I have been in almost 20 years. My mom has always said how much she dislikes Thanksgiving – for whatever reason, every year for as long as I can remember, she laments on the holiday. She loves Christmas, 4th of July, hell, I’m sure she even celebrates Flag Day somehow, but Thanksgiving is a holiday that she really isn’t all that excited about every year.

This year, however, after the standard and almost required Thanksgiving family argument, I hope she takes a second and forgets all about me, because this year, I’m A-OK, and back from wherever it was I was for so many years. I hope Alex enjoys the day, drowned in indulgence to the point of sickness (Alex REALLY loves to eat), worry free, and I hope that I am the furthest thing from Alex's mind! Alex deserves a worry free day after all the days spent tied in knots concerned about me. I hope my dad spends his day watching football and thinking about a great meal, not wondering if I am going to spend the four day holiday drunk. I hope my absence is hardly noticed by my nephews and niece and their parents because they won’t need to wonder if I am gone because I am in some altered state of intoxication. Last year, my brother’s son asked where I worked, my sister’s son said, ‘He doesn’t work, he drinks.’

There is something that lightens my load to know that this year I am not the source of worry or anguish for the people I care about. Its kind of cool to know that my well-being isn’t even a thought. For the first time in a long time, I can say, ‘I’m doing just fine!’ and that’s ENOUGH for me to be thankful for!

Peace all have a great week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't microwave a steak.

One of the hardest parts about going on weekend pass isn’t returning. I love to come back. Last weekend, before I even left my parents’ house I was being bombarded by messages and emails from the guys at the ranch who wanted to know when I would be back, I had been away from home for two days and we had a lot of catching up to do.

The hard part about returning is the fact that I know how long it will be before I return for a break, and the minutes after I return are the farthest minutes I will have from the next pass. Waiting!

There’s a lot of waiting in recovery. It doesn’t just happen. If only we could take a magic pill and it would all be fixed! We’d probably have to open a new rehab with people addicted to magic pills. But it takes time. I say this because one of the hardest parts for anyone who is living an addiction is waiting.

(note: I’d like you to notice I stopped saying ‘suffering an addiction’. I started using this term in an essay to my case manager a month ago and he asked me to explain it and my answer is this, I don’t feel like I need to ‘suffer’ from addiction forever. I have one, and I live with it, but it shouldn’t have to make me suffer. He liked the answer.)

Anyway, waiting is real tough. In fact, I haven’t written this blog in a week and a half because I’ve been super busy getting ready to phase in a couple weeks, and so you’ve had to wait; anxiously, I am sure (riiiight)

Part of what makes it difficult to wait is the immediate gratification offered by alcohol or drugs or tobacco or sex or gambling or food or shopping or whatever you are addicted to. Addiction becomes much easier when you can just say to yourself, ‘This is all too stressful, I think I need to go have a smoke,’ and you feel the immediate effects.

Its very interesting to me that one of the best tools in rehab isn’t the groups, isn’t the meetings, isn’t the therapy, it’s the waiting. Sometimes it’s ENDLESS, all the damn waiting. But it takes nearly a year for your brain to detoxify itself from the saturation of alcohol, sometimes it takes longer. Nothing can speed this up, nothing ‘fixes’ it except time. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever get to a magic pill.

Around this point in my sobriety (about 6 months) Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome should be setting in. This is your brain’s last ditch attempt to convince your body that it needs to drink or do drugs or smoke or whatever. At about 6 months your brain is beginning to realize that you aren’t going to be giving it the immediate gratification it’s been expecting and it begins to play tricks on you.

During PAWS, the brain begins to mimic phantom inebriation or phantom intoxication or phantom satisfaction. Its the brain’s way of ‘reminding’ the body, “Hey, remember how good it felt?” This is where the rubber meets the road for addicts, this is where most who will fall off the wagon just decide to pull the wagon over and get a frosty beverage. This is when a smoker will most likely begin smoking, a drinker will take a drink or a gambler will make a ‘friendly wager.’

Its also when it is the most dangerous because the body’s physical tolerance is so low yet the mental tolerance has skyrocketed and many who do relapse in a PAWS episode don’t come out of it with any forgiveness from their body. Many die.

I’m a little bit afraid of this. I haven’t had any real cravings or any real phantom inebriation, but I am clumsier than usual and slightly more irritable and having some sleeplessness and these are symptoms of PAWS. Because I wasn’t a daily drinker, the effects may be less pronounced, but that doesn’t mean that I am not equally as vulnerable as the daily drinker to grabbing ‘just one.’ And the cure for PAWS.... you just gotta wait.

Yes, can you believe that? More waiting! Ugh!

Brian just phased this week, he’s the first of my friends to phase and he’s ready to go to work. He has been looking for a job for a month now. He finally got an interview and then we had snow, it got canceled, they didnt call back to reschedule for three days, then they did and he went but the person who was to interview him was sick, so he had to wait longer. Then he had the interview and they asked him to take a drug test (which he is excited about because this is one drug test he KNOWS he doesn’t have to worry about), and now he is waiting to hear a start date. Waiting.

As an addict who is being forced to wait, he is absolutely miserable to be around I might add. He obsesses on it, he can’t stop thinking or talking about it. Curtis quipped, “I hope they hurry and call Brian back, it will be good for all of us so we don’t have to go ahead and kill him like we are all secretly planning.”

Lane is waiting to take his math entrance exams so he can start school in the spring semester. He is waiting because he wants to get into the math he needs for his degree, and not have to take a refresher course which will require money and more waiting!

I am ready to phase, I am waiting to start work too. I am waiting to have money, pay my parents for helping keep me afloat here, waiting to start living like a normal person. It’s killing me. I am waiting for someone to hurry up and leave so I can move to the other dorm. Once I phase in a couple weeks it will be the last time I ever phase in this program. But I gotta wait.

I think back on all this progress. My body and mind are in excellent shape. My heart is in great shape, my spirit is ALIVE again. I don’t feel polluted mentally or physically. Hell, even my teeth are clean sub-gingivally (that means they fold the gum back, scrape the tooth and fold it back, yes, it hurts like a motha!!) When I get back, The Drover-v2.0 is gonna be one hell-uv-a-guy, friend, son, brother, uncle, employee. And guess what, you’re all just gonna have to wait; just like me.

And all this good feeling is part of the PAWS period in recovery also. Your brain, in all it’s sneakiness, is telling my body – “OK, um, so maybe you don’t remember how good it felt to be drunk.... but you feel GREAT now, you’re cured, go on with your life.”

That feeling of well-being can not get out of control. The guys on the ranch call this the phase 3 slide. It’s when the guys in phase 3 (the phase I am entering) begin to forget the bad that addiction caused, their brain begins to remember the good. We feel great, feel attractive, feel smart, look better than we have in years. We slide. Boom roasted, relapse.

The hard part is staying with the program and working the program because, as I said earlier, it takes at least a full year for your brain to detoxify. I’m only 6 months in to it. The euphoric confidence I am feeling is not real. I firmly believe that if you are trying to change a lifelong behavior pattern, an addiction, a year is a minimum. You can’t relapse if you haven’t been sober for at least 365 days. You can’t ‘start’ smoking again if you haven’t stopped for at least 365 days. Neurochemically, your brain is still under the influence of your addiction and absolute detoxification can take up to 7 years.

It’s a little cliche to say that its worth it to wait, but it is. My sister is finally going to get her chemistry degree after a decade in school. My parent’s are beginning to think about retirement, I can run 5 miles a day but when I started here my goal was to be able to run ONCE to the dairy barn without stopping (um, 200 yeards - shaddup, thats far). Sobriety is like that. It takes a lot of waiting, and thinking, and dare I say it, praying. But eventually, one day you do run past the dairy barn.

Take a steak and throw it in the microwave for 5 minutes and it comes out cooked, but its jerky-like. Its tough, it has no flavor, it does nothing for your pallet. Now take a steak and put it in a crock pot. It takes 12-15 hours to cook. But its juicy, it has flavor, it satisfies the pallet.

One night right before I came to the ranch, I was sauced and my mom went to pick me up to have me stay with her. A rescue of sorts. I asked my mom, “Why is this me? Why do I have this? Why do I have to be the one who drinks?” and she didn’t have a real answer that could satisfy me. Despite what we sometimes think, our parents are only human and sometimes as lost as we are. I was seeking an answer and she didn’t have one. I remember thinking that night that I would need to figure it out. But I would have to wait. Again with all the damn waiting.

I waited and since then I’ve realized the answer was in the question. The curiosity about why I was like that was what lead me to seek help – I couldn't get an answer, so I began to live this question. Its why I work on this all day and night when I am here. I am passionate about understanding this malfunction in my nature. There may not be a magic pill of an answer, but in the quest to understand myself because I dared to ask the question, I am healing.

In all that asking, I’ve begun to conclude that I feel like being here is preparing me for the rest of my life. I feel like I am about to live some real blessings and getting the upper hand on this addiction thing was just to get me ready for it. The weight of real blessings will crush you if you aren’t ready for them. The journey to get them just fortifies your ability to receive them. And, well, you’ve got to wait. I spoke recently to Bob, a trusted chaplain and he helped me make some sense of all this.

Like so many people, I used to believe that every bright morning concluded with a dark night, and now, I’ve learned that every dark night is concluded by a bright morning. You can’t see it coming, dark is dark, then its light, and you’ve just got to wait.

Bob passed me something that Sister Maria Rilke wrote:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,
Try to love the questions themselves,
Do not now seek the answers, they may not be given because you would not be able to live them, And the point is to live everything,
So live the questions now,
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
Live along some distant day into the answers.

There you have it, don’t expect the answer, release yourself from ‘suffering’ from your addiction, and quit microwaving your steak; live the questions, live your addiction, live for the juicy meat in the crock pot.

And how do you do this? Well, you’ve just got to wait.

DAYS SOBER: 187 (6 months, 2 days)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Goblins coaxed me out from the storm......

There was point on Saturday when I got a text message from Brian that read, “How is your banquet? Ours is simply maaaahvelous,” and I had to laugh out loud because I could totally hear his goofy voice behind the characters on the screen.

Last week, Brian ran a half marathon – 13 miles – and he did it in about 2 hours. This is an amazing situation because as he was giving me a play by play of his triumphant crossing of the finish line, he remembers that last year, on that day, he was in jail – with absolutely no plan as to what he was going to do once he got out.

He had been arrested at his home, and taken to jail, and consequently, his land lord evicted him while he was locked up and Brian had no idea where his stuff was or what he was going to do, or where he was going to live if or when he got out.

But this year, he marked six months of sobriety with a 13 mile dash. He won a medal and went to a banquet the following week where he had dinner with two Olympic runners.

I was in the city with Curtis and Lane – we were invited to an election primary kick off for a sitting US Senator. It was a private and quaint event where we spent a leisure afternoon hob-nobbing with active members of the Democratic Party in our state.

And what struck me as relevant when I received the simple text message from my friend across town was the idea that here we were, a typical Saturday evening, four alcoholics – two of us recovering from well established drug addictions as well (not me) – and we were having dinner with Olympians and Senators.

You know, you hear all the time about how your life opens up considerably when you can let go of what is holding you back – but it always seems like some stupid motivational poster you might read on the back of an 11th grade class room or a employee lounge, and when it happens to you in a flash you might just miss it if you aren’t looking for it.

Curtis was a nervous wreck and sick to his stomach. Brian couldn’t eat. Lane was so quiet he hardly said two words the whole night because he was almost frozen.

But there it was. And I got to thinking about it – the fact that these situations are opening up for us and I think that we, as addicts – hell, as people, get so used to living life under a black cloud that THAT also becomes part of our addiction. Its almost as uncomfortable for us to walk out into the sunlight again – it literally made them sick.

And we spend so much time in rehab releasing ourselves from past failures and so much time trying to understand how to avoid failures, but so little is spent on how to handle success, how to handle when we decide that life shouldn’t be lived under the shade of a cloud of misery – when we walk out from under it.

We expect it, we plan on it, we count on it, but we aren’t shown how to really deal with it. This presents a problem because it can be stressful, and this can lead to a relapse – the relapse of success – now wouldn’t that be horrendous.

It’s a new role we have to assume – the role of a successful person, a clean and sober one. This is only in addition to the roles we already have – the role of husband, boyfriend, son, brother, uncle, friend, these are roles we accept and it is our obligation to be the best one of these we can be – sometimes it isn’t all about us, sometimes we need to be the best in these roles because we expect others to be the best in THEIR roles to us, and hell, fair is fair.

And I wrote a few weeks ago that I was troubled because we were trying to define a relapse – and what I, personally, decided on is this - if I engage in any activity that makes me forget my priority (remember the FASTER scale refresher: Forget priority, Anxiety, Speeding up, Ticked off, Exhausted, Relapse) to be the best [insert role here] I can be, then that is a relapse. If I engage in a behavior that takes me down a path that may lead to an activity which takes me from those priorities, well, that would be a relapse.

So, if I smoke a cigarette or gamble – probably not a relapse. If I smoke a cigarette and this makes me decide that I don’t want to run and stay in shape, which makes me lazy and irritable, which makes me far from the best boyfriend I could be, well, in that case – that would be a relapse.

It seems simple, but its not as easy as it seems.

In any event, I am going to be home this weekend, spending time with my sweet little dog and seeing my niece and nephew in their costumes – probably for the first time ever (I usually had drinking and party plans on Halloween and don’t recall spending time with them while they flaunted their costumes – I kind of owe it to them, don’t’cha think?)

I won’t be in the company of Senators or Olympians, no, instead I will be in the company of some truly important people – possibly a goblin, possibly a princess, I don't really know just yet, four nephews and a niece – and I have an obligation to be the best uncle I can possibly be. And this is what makes rehab worth it. It’s cool to be out from under those dark clouds this year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Easy answers....hard tests....

I wrote a few months ago about my week of beginnings and all the new things I was about to start and then I wrote about the week in August that marked many accomplishments, and this week was a week of endings.

First of all, I ended the education component of my program. In December I’ll get some certificate at some ceremony in the city in front of thousands of guests that will mark my completion of the Lifestyles, Education, and Career section of rehab.

I am not really sure how I feel about this. It seems silly for me to go up and accept a certificate that says I completed a class that was to instruct me on how to live a ‘new’ life – one I should have learned how to live the past three decades by just living – on the other hand, few of my recent accomplishments have been worthy of a ceremony – in fact, its been so long since I even completed something, this would be a departure from the most recent normal and back into the past normal I have been trying to reach.

Even when I found out that I was part of an Emmy Award winning team for a documentary I helped produce over 10 years ago, I didn’t go to the ceremony, hell, I didn’t even know it until a year later we had won. In fact, I didn’t even know that we were nominated! Can you imagine being so caught up into your addiction that I can be a part of an honor like the Emmy for my ability and not even know we were recognized? The statue still sits in the Executive Producer’s office, I’ve always been too humiliated to ask about it.

I spent the day of my sister’s graduation from high school puking in the bathroom because I was so hung over, I only caught a glimpse of her even grabbing her diploma and only by pure luck in the timing between dry heaves – I even was a pallbearer for my grandfathers funeral, showed up to help lift his casket into the hearse, still slightly buzzed from the night before and probably smelling worse than he did at that moment. I was certainly not living a great life.

I don’t think I will attend the ceremony, but I will probably consider the certificate one of the better things I have accomplished in my lifetime. Its a milestone in my rehabilitation.

I also ended the Addictions 1 module. I didn’t think I would ever end this, and this comes as bitter sweet. I really enjoyed learning about addiction and the behavior patterns that I could recognize in myself – things I can do to maintain sobriety and things I can do in order to see when my behavior may lead somewhere dangerous.

This class also gave me a lot of answers as to why I am the way I am. I don’t view alcoholism as a regular illness. This would imply that there is a cure, a pill, some way to‘fix it.’ It isn’t – its more complex than that, its a biochemical situation triggered by emotional situations resulting in physical and spiritual situations that will eventually kill you. In a nut shell, it basically sucks.

I also don’t look at it as something that I knew enough about to prevent it. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back at all the things I might have done differently is an exercise in futility. It is what it is, I did the best I knew how with what I knew best – as misguided as it may have been. I never intentionally set out to be a drunk. I didn’t go to career day at school and head to the “loser alcoholic booth” and grab a bunch of pamphlets. But hindsight is also very revealing, I wasn’t living a great life.

But this class was great, and I have become much more body conscious and mind conscious when it comes to addiction and I have been given opportunity to examine my brain and my emotions and my mentality and physical responses and symptoms in order to keep my spirit in check and this is a wonderful skill to develop – not just to avoid alcohol, but in order to live a good life no matter what you do.

I am also ending one spiritual rehab component- the study each week of the ‘Gospel of John’ which is part of the spiritual module in the rehab. This Gospel is different because it is less of a report on what Jesus did on the earth, but more of an account of what he SAID.... so we look at it as part of our welcome mat back into the comfort of a relationship with a benevolent God, or whatever higher power.

I am also getting ready to move to another dorm – a more comfortable place to live, so I am ending my days in the building I have fondly called ‘home’ since May. And my leisure days of work on the ranch are ending as I am gearing up to phase and with that, I will be required to get a real job off the ranch – I am being forced from the nest back into the real world – they transition us back in to reality in slow deliberate steps so we don’t advance or go too far just in case we need to slide back for a minute and rethink sobriety, catch our breath, and head on back out.

My days of training the horse on my free time are ending, and I am moving on to a mule as a part of therapy. A mule is a hybrid – a donkey father and horse mother. It has the grace and elegance and size and speed of a horse, but it has the intelligence and ability to reason and test boundaries like a donkey. Its a remarkable animal and quite a challenge. In equine language, the mule even has a sophisticated way to flip me off when I make her do something she doesn’t entirely want to do. She’s beautiful, very smart, she calculates what I am doing and we keep each other guessing. But, I miss the horse – my days with her have ended.

Another ending happened this week. My friend Curtis was pulled out from the last education class by his case manager and encouraged to call his father. Curtis has been trying hard to get financial aid for next semester and it is not uncommon for him to get calls from home with news on the status. You may remember Curtis from the blog about his grandfather and the post-death name plate.

As Curtis casually listened to his father on the phone, his stunned silence was broken with an awkward, ‘No shit. Well.... hmmmm... OK, thanks for telling me. Um, can I call you back in a little bit?’

With that, he hung up the receiver, and went to bed. I followed him into his room about 5 minutes later and asked if he was going to go work out with me (as we usually do on Wednesday afternoons) – he said no. He sat up, hugged me, and calmly said, ‘My older brother was found hanging from a tree, dead, this morning, I don’t feel much like working out, can I take a rain check?” His brother had hung himself.

In the days that followed and as he digested it, he spoke to me about it and mentioned that he doesn’t really know how to react to this news. He said that he is really glad he is in rehab because he knows if he wasn’t here he would probably be completely tore up with drugs and alcohol at this moment, and his parents would have to be worrying about what HE is up to as well as grieving for the dead brother. He also said that he feels good that he is lucid and ‘with it’ enough to handle this for his parents – he is available for them. The first time in his life HE has been able to support THEM.

And I was reminded about someone very dear to me, right about this time last year, who also killed herself. It was that situation that started my brain thinking about getting help- it was then that I began to create a plan where I wouldn’t only conquer addiction, but submit to life – to living MY life.

I saw how an early death devastated the people around her, the people closest to her. I saw how people grieved at the loss, the line of cars for her funeral procession was at least 2 miles long; I lamented at what it was like to be helpless. During her funeral, I witnessed a most amazing demonstration of grief, I saw my uncle Al, my Godfather – a man as emotionally stoic as most men of his generation – openly weep. His heart had broken as if the niece he was burying was his own daughter. He may not know it but I feel incredibly close to him these days because I watched a part of him stay with his dead niece as she was lowered into the ground, and just knowing that he loved his niece that much makes me feel equally as loved by him because I am his nephew. His grief said, “I love you, dearly, ” to all of us.

During that death, I also was spoon fed a lesson on the frailty of human life. The Sunday that I went to my moms for dinner with an uncle I had not seen in several decades, the night we received the call that my cousin had taken her life will always be marked in my memory as the first night I would spend in the company of a long lost relative, and the last day I would ever spend on the same earth as my cousin, sadly, in her heart, also lost.

And when I look at the composite of all that’s happened, the beginnings begin to emerge again. The education component ended but now I can begin to look for work, to move on save money, get on with living. I am moving dorms but I am beginning a new chapter in cozy digs with private bathrooms! My days with the horse have ended but I am beginning a more satisfying course in dealing with a more challenging animal to teach. Gospel of John ended, but now I have a free hour to NOT study the bible (ha ha, had to throw that in). My addictions 1 module ended but I am beginning Addictions 2 which is a series of lessons on how to incorporate addiction into my daily life, so this should be interesting.

Curtis’s brother’s life has ended, but Curtis will be given the same lessons I was given about how important it is to LIVE life, and he said to me that his commitment to sobriety is renewed because he doesn’t want his mother to have to bury TWO sons. A new relationship with his parents, with his own life, is beginning.

I look back on this time last year – all that ended; I was laid off from my job, my relationship tanked, heck, even my lease was up. I remember that period as a dark dismal period that was ushered in with the end of a precious life. But in that death, I was awakened to the necessity of living. It’s as if her death breathed the spirit back into me and filled my lungs, her death filled the void I had dug out in my soul – its as if she was up there in Heaven orchestrating the situations that would unfold in unplanned and wildly coincidental rapid succession that took away all my excuses for not going into rehab – for not fixing myself – for not living, and going into this rehab facility – at the time I entered – with who the people I entered it with were all incredible blessings. And so, at least to me, in order to make sense of her death, I decided that it must have marked a beginning. My beginning. And I’m going to do my best to honor her life by living a VERY long time, living VERY fully engaged in each moment, and VERY healthy.

You don’t need a certificate in order to start living a good life. You just start living a good life. It’s a simple solution. Life is crazy though, it gives you the worst test before it gives you the easy answer.

Have a great week all,

Monday, October 12, 2009

The wrong forest, the right leaves....

Its been a great weekend – very busy. I spent Friday at work and right after work, I went to speak to a visiting group about the benefits of living a sober life – this was a departure because I am usually asked to speak about the things I have lost in life, and it was really cool to mention the things I have gained.

And one thing that’s great is to take an inventory of what I have rebuilt in five or six months – and the potential to build more. Saturday, I ran 3 miles, worked out, then went to the library to do some research and get some books on Egypt. I don’t know why but Egyptian history is my new passion. This is a surprise because it came out of nowhere. I also checked out a book about Equine Therapy – basically using horses as a way to handle real life situations I may encounter in life– things like persuasion, trust, body language, etc. Its awesome.

Later, I sauntered over to main street where I tried on clothes at stores I can hardly afford and met a girl friend for coffee. I rode 15 miles back to the ranch where I watched a documentary on evolution vs. creation, then watched the movie Wolverine. After that, I headed to dinner, then mass, came back and played board games with my friends from the dorm. I wrote a little in my journal, talked to my mom on the phone, read a couple issues of National Geographic, then went to bed. Sunday, I woke up, went to my dads, we went to breakfast and had menudo, I did laundry, read some of my book, met up with a different girl for coffee, picked up Marty from town, went back to the ranch, ate dinner, worked out, ran 3 miles, talked on the phone to friends, did homework, went online to do some job searching, then took a shower and went to bed.

And the reason I am detailing all this is because I am mentioning how busy a typical weekend has become for me. This is good news – and I was thinking this morning about all the things I did – and what my life was like last year at this time. How my time wasn’t my own, how it belonged to the bottle. I recall the occasional Mondays I would wake up and hardly realize what DAY it was, let alone what TIME it was. I would often have to call Alex to ask to be filled in on the last few days. Somehow I managed to make it to work and complete a day – not much got done.

And now my days are numbered. I say it like this because not only is there a sense of urgency in doing things in life that I want to do – I won’t be here forever – not on the ranch, not on the planet – and so wasted time (which is how I look at drinking…. wasted time) is no longer a cool option for me. Alex and I were talking last weekend and Alex mentioned that it seems like we’ve known each other longer than 4 years…. But to me, it hardly seems like 4 years– and I have to think its because I spent so much of the time drunk and passed out.

But when I say my days are numbered, I actually mean something else. Last week I went up to the office and got another set of calendars. You may remember from a few blogs back that it seemed like a milestone when I got the new set of calendars (Aug- Oct) in the beginning of August because I doubted I would need them, and, yet, here I am. Heck, I doubted I would need them past June. I half way didn’t think I would last past June. June 6th, I was even planning my escape. I recall this because I read a captivating article by a columnist named Tina Griego in the Post on June 9th that changed my mind that week. More on that later.

So, last week, I got November-January blank calendars from Jim in the office. WOW!! They are even populated with things I need to do. They detail things I have in my plans. When I say my days are numbered, I mean more that these days, those numbers mean something. They have names to me. October 12th now means something to me, it is a blank slate that has a purpose. I no longer want to wish away or waste away days, they are filled with events, with people, with experiences, and now they even have hope. This is a forgotten concept to me.

While I was in town last week, I was reading in the park and a woman sat next to me (its very weird how many women approach me these days - it makes me feel hot), she had her son who was playing in leaves. He was jumping up and down and frolicking about. Her kid was having a blast and he told her that is was a beautiful day. I remember that because I think it was cool to hear a kid appreciating something like that moment with words like ‘a Beautiful Day,” but that’s not why I am mentioning it. She remarked to me that she wished that he would look at each leaf and see how beautiful each leaf was; this was what she, as a mother, wished her kid could do.

And, I think that is what made it a beautiful day. This small comment really stuck with me. So, these days, I am going to try to notice the forest – not for the trees, but for the leaves. I spent so much time in a drunken state that not only did I not see the trees, heck, I hardly even noticed it was a forest I was passed out in!

So, we lost two guys this weekend. One relapse, and its damn cold outside, but the grip of addiction is so strong that he is fully prepared to weather the winter snuggled up to a nice bottle of beer. The other guy left on his own. He had enough of the program and his struggle had more to do with the shame he had in being in rehab and that he couldn’t face his friends and family. MY GOD – can you imagine being so ashamed of yourself and your addiction that you honestly believe that your family and friends would be anything but supportive of a monumental attempt to get yourself healthy?

I don’t have anything much to say about these guys except that I wish them well.
I am also looking forward to this weekend, my family is coming up to visit the Fall Festival. At one time, I may have said that I can’t wait to see them. I have four more days – equally as important, and named and numbered, to live fully – I have a lot of leaves to notice. But I do have their visit on my new calendar…. in pen.

OVERHEARD: “I remember one time when I was a kid, my mom dressed me up as a clown for Halloween, but I didn’t want to be a clown, I wanted to be Freddie Kruger, so I started crying and my make up smeared. But then later that night I won a costume contest because everyone thought I dressed up as a sad clown – so I got a plaque and a trophy.” - Curtis
Peace all, have a great week.