Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mother Goose vs Grimm

I have a couple of really good friends on the ranch who are fairly new – guys who count their time on the farm in weeks, not months- or as guys at my stage count, in days left (I have 110 by the way). I love to speak to these guys, and listen to their perspectives on what is happening to them because it reminds me of what I was feeling and thinking when I entered the program.

I like to be reminded of this because when I entered, I was told by everyone about all of these wonderful changes which I would be making, changes in my attitude, in my demeanor, in my way of thinking – unimaginable changes that would begin to happen to me as I stumbled through the program. I remember listening to program residents, chaplains, house managers, each with a different, almost contrived vision; they would tell me these wonderous tales of the new person I would become.

Don’t get me wrong, this new me was inspiring to say the least – heck I could hardly wait to meet this fine fellow. They were certainly the kinds of things I would like to have happened to me, but without knowing me, these people were just shooting in the dark, and it is likely the only thing about me that would change throughout this ‘ordeal’ as I called it back then, would be my reaction and attitude to alcohol.

And so I allowed them to indulge themselves in their fruitless fairy tales of hope and a bunch of blah blah, and I listened to them with the kind of suspicion and cynicism that you might expect from a person who knew better, knew more, confident in what would happen to me. It is the kind of cynicism and suspicion that I am met with now when I speak to the new guys. So, I don’t tell them about the great new guys they will probably become, instead, I smugly sit back and just know it. I see it in them, I can see attitudes changing right before my eyes, all in response to a renewed self awareness and the forced confrontation of emotions that we, as addicts, sought to hide from.

When I am in the weight room, many guys are motivated to open up to me. I’ve always had a bizarre quality where perfect strangers look at me and think it is OK to tell me really personal stuff about themselves. A nun once told me that it is because I have a very old soul and they can sense it. I had forgotten that she told me that until recently, but I now consider this a gift.

Anyway, Matt told me the other day that he was leaving our work-out early to help a dorm-mate with chores because they were involved in a spirited debate in their LEC class about helping out your brothers on the farm. The following day, he told me that he had to cancel plans with me on Saturday because he made plans with Chris earlier and he was trying to live up to his obligations, even the seemingly small ones.

Mike has a very biting sense of humor – he can seem almost mean, but he is hilarious. He is consciously trying hard to stop insulting people with his comments. He has recognized the power of his words and he is trying to use them to encourage and not discourage. Its hard to avoid the pitfall of good natured humor, a good natured ribbing among ‘the guys’, but I explained to him that everyone in the early stages of sobriety is an emotional mess, when your brain begins to dry up, and you begin to feel things again, its alarming to say the least and so his funny comments are like spears to some guys. You might recall my sappy blogs about ‘joy’ and ‘the beauty in the little things’ that I wrote in the early days – the romantic vision of life I had adopted was only in response to the chemical painkillers that were flooding my head in a natural, mental, attempt to dull all the emotions my neocortex was suddenly trying to sort out.

The differences between the kinds of men these guys are and the kinds of guys they will be is really telling when you get them in the same conversation with a higher phase guy – like Lane.

So, Lane and Matt and I were all talking about the program and about how sobriety has made a difference to us. Matt was listening to Lane and me speak, hanging on our explanations, asking question after question. It is scary when you just begin the program, there is the uncertainty of whether or not we will succeed, of whether or not sobriety will work for us, the unnerving feeling of ‘is this the right thing for me, and will this work?’ My God, that sucks. How can I stand failing at one more thing because of addiction?

And Lane and I recognized right away what he was really asking in each question, and the fact that Lane and I both had many of the same doubts and worries was comforting to Matt. I think this is because he sees who we are now and how our lives are where we want them to be – or at least headed that way. It’s our direction, not merely our intention, that is determining our path and our destination and that’s a powerful tool to have working for us now. Where we want to be is actually where we are heading.

Lane made the astute observation that every alcoholic has an identity issue. There is so much wrapped up in identity issues for us. How are we perceived, how do we perceive others, what do we really think about ourselves. There are so many self esteem issues that only compound the more you are swallowed by your addiction. In my opinion, self esteem, one way or another, is the keystone to addictive behavior. Not a bolstered self esteem that you get from being told you did well… but the real true self esteem of knowing you ARE well, the kind of belief in yourself that can only come from within. Despite all my outward successes, somewhere I got hung up on the idea that I didn’t measure up. Situations like not passing the 10th grade because I was in the hospital for four months and couldn’t catch up despite my parents’ insistence that it could be done – failure like that – well it has long lasting implications. Interestingly enough, the summer after that colossal failure is also the summer I began drinking.

You may recall, Lane and I used to have long conversations when we were in the lower phase dorms – emotional commiserations about how unfair the world was to us, how we failed people, how people failed us, how we were alone in this, it was real at the time to us. One time in September I was writing in my journal and I read some of the entries to Lane about those conversations that we had back in June and he seemed embarrassed and said, “I think I was still drunk for the first three months I was here,” and this was probably true. The effects of alcohol, then the new effects of the brains attempt to sort out this new emotional overload, well, to say that we weren’t in our right minds is an understatement.

What we are dealing with now, they keep telling us here, is a new life. But when you step back, my new life is just regular life to most people. It’s unbelievably pathetic to think that I am now, at my age, just learning the secrets of how to live like millions of Americans live each day. A sober person, with a job that you actually do when you get there, with plans that don’t require any special attention to ‘how will I get home,’ with goals, a strategy, with friendships that are built on companionship and not how much drama we survived together. I am not embarrassed to be myself these days, in fact, I quite like it.

But the changes happen. The changes start from the day we arrive. They begin the day before when we ready ourselves for this year long ‘ordeal’. Once we’re here we realize that these crazy rehab people don’t know a thing about us, that we will do this program but doubtful anything significant about us will change – or NEEDS to change for that matter.

And, secretly, we change. Our routines change, our values change, our duty to other people begins to change. We begin to see ourselves in the mirror as we truly are and not as we think others see us. It is very empowering to look back and see yourself without the distraction of a hundred opinions, it is a quiet victory when we look at ourselves that first time in the mirror and say “I am probably going to be OK after all.”

There is also another change that I noticed about guys who have been in recovery for a while versus the guys who just begin. The guys in the beginning are all really preoccupied with maintaining sobriety. This seems like a noble goal, like a decent plan, like the whole point of being here.

But after a while, sobriety moves lower and lower on our list of priorities, until it eventually drops right off.

Now, before that freaks you out, let me explain. When you live a sober life, when you live the ‘new life/ (regular life)’ you begin to see sobriety not as the goal but the byproduct of a happy life. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier that it works like this but it does. You see, in the beginning, being drunk wasn’t the problem. Being drunk helped me AVOID problems. Not solve them, but avoid them. Then they came back – more of them, and I drank more. Then I had more problems, more sadness, and now loneliness. So I drank more. And before you knew it, I had this laundry list of issues I had created and only one solution – Sangria and Gin!
The biochemical compulsions of addiction are pretty minimal after 6-9 months, and they continue to reduce as time progresses - and so the triggers we need to be mindful are emotional and memory triggers. This is why it pays to keep a positive mind.

I explained about the employment of the reality window, when your belief window changes, that changes the result. Now, in this new life, Lane and I meet problems, but we have been given some skills on how to deal with them and the ‘need’ to drink is never triggered. People ask me all the time how I am going to remain sober and I think the answer is wrapped up in my ability to see things as they truly are, through my new beliefs- that includes my self. Have I improved my self esteem? You bet.

And with that comes all sorts of benefits – things like the need to build a romantic relationship with someone who wants to share in my aspirations and on my terms, sober ones; the ability to shrug off the kinds of pains that everyone (yes even you) feels when they get around their families; the ability to accept that we deserve to be happy as much as the next guy whether we failed the 10th grade or not!

I had dinner on Saturday night with Matt and he relayed this thought to me. We went roller skating earlier in the day with a bunch of guys. He said to me that he had a ‘moment’ at the rink because he thought about the fact that he was roller skating for the first time since the one time he went as a kid – with a bunch of friends – and there was no booze or drama. He thought about how the next day we would all get dressed up and go to church. He decided that he deserved this bit of happiness, that he deserved to do nice things. This small happiness will not prevent him from drinking, but it will prevent him from the ‘need’ to drink – at least for that one day.

So let me explain the sobriety as a priority thought again – I am just saying that living sober isn’t the priority to me, staying happy with myself is my priority, and I have a lot of tools to stay that way. Sobriety is the benefit of not 'needing' to drink.

I will never be happy trying to stay sober – that’s like white knuckling it on a daily basis – maybe this is why I don’t like AA because, to me at least, (and ONLY to me) it seems like there everyone is living to stay sober, not living sober to stay happy.

There are really new guys on the ranch as well. Some are counting their time on the farm in days not even weeks. One of these guys just came in last Friday – and I asked him how its going. When he came he hadn’t shaved, he looked tired and worn out. He looked like a drunk. I know that he had a rough couple of weeks before he arrived. Yesterday, he told me he is beginning to enjoy himself and that there were some things that he needed. A bike was one, and the other was a nice shirt to wear to church. If you remember my blog from the beginning, my appearance was pretty important to me. Its how I was perceived, how I felt like I should perceive myself, through the eyes of people perceiving me.

I thought it was great, though, that he asked for a good shirt to wear to church because that shows growth from the way he looked when he first arrived – his perception and awareness is already changing – and beginning with how we present ourselves to the rest of the world is the beginning of a change that will eventually progress into the perception to how we see ourselves. This eventually leads to a sorting out of issues and the eventual acceptance of self, then the cool part – when we like to be who we are. And this is when we stop living to be sober, and start living as someone who is again happy. I hate to burst your bubble, but there isn't such thing as a 'happy drunk.'

That’s what I call recovery. As for the wonderous fairy tales I was told in the beginning about all the great changes I would be making…well… if I could go back to May and start this blog with ‘Once Upon A Time’ I would because, sleeping beauty is up and kickin, Rapunzel has let down her hair, and Humpty Dumpty, well, he's sittin pretty with only a few cracks to speak of. And me, well, these days I find myself recounting these same fairy tales to the new guys, but I will say, I am definitely more Mother Goose, less Grimm.

Have a great week all

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes it ends uncomfortably.

Last night I skipped my work out in favor of cake and ice cream. Am I forgetting my priorities, you may ask? No way. BUT, each night before a graduation, we all gather in the West Dorm (the final dorm) and have cake and ice cream – just the residents – to give a private send off to the graduate before the ceremony the following day.

This week, we are celebrating TWO graduations. One happened today, the other tomorrow. This is a lot of cake, but well worth it. Both of these graduates are changed men – both of them I knew from when we all first arrived. It’s a little strange to think that people that were new when I started are graduating. My, how a year flies by.

“Stubby” was a hard drinkin mountain man – one time during devotions, a chaplain asked how you can tell a friend is a real friend; Stubby raised his hand and said, ‘The guy who will back you in a gun fight,” and this was the kind of life he led.

He grew up in a small mountain town, transplanted from the hills of Arkansas – Take a moment and imagine the Hatfields and the McCoys. Now imagine a neighborhood where they are the most sophisticated people on the block, and you’ve imagined Stubby’s neighborhood.

He once told me that if he met me before he entered the program, he probably would have robbed me.

He is kind these days, gentle, calm. He gave me a hand written note one day in January that said, “I think you are doing a good job.” I didn’t know what he meant, and he said he didn’t either, but he felt like he should tell me.

I can say that the fabric of my life is indeed richer by the colorful thread of friendship I made with Stubby, a man I may never have met had I not come here.

Keith was a meth user, and rough around the edges. He had no teeth when he came in because of the decades of drug abuse. He was aloof, even mean, when he got here. And he leaves with a certain amount of eagerness. His smile is huge these days, his dentures are on the way – and he has a sense of resolve about him that I find admirable.

Keith has always got a cookie to give, it’s his thing – and I have a hard time imagining the kind of person he speaks about when he tells of his days as an active addict.

During this three day celebration, there is one resident on the farm who is noticeably absent. Tom is a resident who is preparing for a planned departure. In the order of rankings, he is number one – he has been there the longest. And it is time for him to go.

There is a strange phenomenon on the ranch where some guys get cozy and feel the safety of this life, a life they can hardly think about losing, and they max out their time. The ranch allows people to extend certain phases for a long time, in fact, its entirely possible I could still be in phase II at this point if I had decided.

There is a safety in all this, a level of security. It’s a new life, and its easier to maintain when you are accountable to the ranch. But this, I say vehemently, is NOT REAL.

You can NOT live on the ranch. A man of my age, of any age, is NOT supposed to live on a rehab ranch, this is NOT NORMAL. I wrote months ago about how I feel like this place is home, and I have since rethought this attitude. It is uncomfortable for me, it is frustrating, it is a real pain in the ass to be there, and it is supposed to be.

Some might read this blog and think to themselves that it seems like I got off scott-free for all the heartache I caused through my life. I know this because I get letters all the time from people who remind me of the hurt I may have caused and the fact that I am living a fairly tale at other people’s expense, and it isn’t fair.

Perhaps this is true, maybe there should be more of a penalty for me, but the fact is, there is no excuse for the way my life played out – there is also no reason for the blessings I have received, it is what it is. It would be nice and easy if life worked on a credit system, a system of blessings and punishments – where you can add to your prosperity by doing nice things for people, bank good things, then spend them on a few things you probably shouldn’t do – but this isn’t how it works.

The truth is, I do pay for my life’s experience. I have a conscience and a memory and there are times when my past does come to haunt me. This is true for anyone who spends a year on the ranch. There is a LOT of silent time. The activity I detail on the ranch is only the tip of the ice berg of reflection that each of us does and works through.

I wrote a while back about Phil – one of my friends who broke the lamp on his step-dads head at Christmas and his parents want him to apologize before he is allowed to participate in the family again. For four years, this has been brewing, and for whatever reason, he won’t do it.

I know he thinks about it. I know he carries this burden around with him all the time. I can see the weight on his shoulders, the weight of wanting to unload this – but he refuses to apologize.

I’ve asked him why and he doesn’t have an easy explanation but it must be something. He struggles with this, and I think the refusal to apologize is only a small part of something deeper that he feels, there is some other reason he won’t do this, and so he works through this pain – this solitude – by himself – without the full participation of his family.

But he is working through it sober. And I have realized that while I am here, my problems are not going to all vanish, the slate will not be wiped clean, but I can deal with my problems without the assistance of a shot of gin (or a glass of gin), and go on. Phil is incorporating whatever pains him into a sober reality.

It’s not the clean wrap up that everyone thinks it is when families and friends attend graduation ceremonies. Inside, some turmoil is still there for many of us, but we deal with it in a different way now, we deal with it as sober people.

And so while I detail an often recreational lifestyle on this ranch, you might need to understand that there is a lot of work going on; at the heart level, in the memories, in the building of a sustainable future and coping mechanisms. Tearing down a person who has been so bolstered by the illusionary effects of drugs and alcohol, then rebuilding that person from the ground up seems like a lot of work. Now, imagine that you can not tear the entire structure down, but you have to somehow rebuild it with existing beams, a few existing walls, even some of the light switches – you don’t get to start from scratch, you have to build around these things, whether they are broken or not. It is even more daunting.

This is all a big emotional mess if you ask me!

But it is what it is, and this is the only way to have a life, they tell me. So we all do it. And on graduation days, families and friends come and encourage the newly sober graduate, the residents all know that deep down, it’s scary, and still painful to be standing up there. There is a sort of humiliation, an embarassment, to say I was successful at rehab.

We also know that sometimes in life (or on the farm), we have to move on, like Tom, because we have outlived the experience, that we are not gaining from it and maybe we even have to be sent away. When life has stalled like this, it often takes something drastic to kick start it. There is a time when you get so in to your groove that it becomes a rut, this is likely when we start drinking again.

I don’t know really what to say about all this – I tend to close this blog each week with some sort of pleasant wrap up… and I struggle to leave it open ended like this, it is within my addictive tendency to want to put it into a nice package, but I won't, its real life. Uncomfortable isn’t it.
DAYS SOBER: 290 days

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Red Shoes come in convenient packages.

There are things that you, who may not have alcohol problems, probably take for granted; routines that you have worked into your day or week that you hardly even notice. Alex always knows when it’s Tuesday because Popeye’s has some chicken deal and Alex loves chicken, especially when it’s cheap. A friend of mine in the City was telling me that she gets off work early on Monday nights so she can watch “Hero’s.” Towards the end, when I was drinking, I always knew that Friday would include a trip to Blockbuster so I could enough movies to keep me occupied while I drank a litre of Sangria and one pint of gin. I knew I would pass out by 11:30 (midway through the second movie) with half the pint left – enough to get me through Saturday morning until I could go back and get more.

By the end, my routines always included alcohol in some way. Either I was including alcohol or I was trying to recover from it. I was a very organized drunk, it always managed to make it into my budget as well as my schedule. Its interesting how we always schedule things we love.

Routines are safe and easy for an alcoholic – and as I have said before, we like a nice, easy to package and wrap up kind of life; emotionally as well as in our daily grind. I was surprised when I stopped including alcohol in my life how few routines I actually had. Nothing about my ‘organized’ life was even remotely organized without that one consistent companion. It was alarming at first and thankfully, by design, at the ranch, there is a rigid time structure in place that helps to fill the vortex of a life suddenly out of whack with the void created by instant and immediate sobriety.

But now I am at a point where my synthetic ranch life is transitioning to my painfully real life and I think establishing new routines is pretty important. I still go to devotions in the morning, I think this is important so I can stay connected to the ranch and so I can start my day with friends. I sit with the same guys every morning, Matt and Mike and they have become part of my routine; Mike because he has become my most trusted confident and Matt because he considers himself a “linguistic renegade” and I love to interact with people who elevate normal conversation to the level of art. I look forward to our half hour of friendly banter. Most of my other friends don’t make it to devotions these days because of school or work. Some of the staff sometimes make remarks about the fact that I still do this. Its my routine.

I know that on Saturday I will spend the day with my dad. I will probably do laundry, we will bum around town – we eat, we catch up on the week, we gossip a little, he always has something for us to do. Every week when I leave my time with him we always say, “OK, so NEXT weekend, we need to work on the house, do chores etc.,” but we never do… saying it is part of our routine. When he drops me off, he always rolls down the window and says, “Hey Kid, did I ever tell you that I love you more than anyone in the whole world,” and I usually laugh out load and say, “Yea, you did.” “OK, good, see you next week” he will reply. This is a cherished part of the routine. The kind of routine I might have missed out on had I decided to stay drunk.

Curtis and I have a new routine. Every Tuesday he has a long break between class and his campus is only 5 minutes from where I work so we’ve decided to make Tuesday a standing lunch date.

“We should really try to make Tuesday lunch our thing,” he told me a couple weeks ago
“Cool, that’s great, because you don’t get to see me much anymore?”
“No, because if you don’t take me to lunch then I am stuck at school until 3 and I don’t want to do that. I mean…er…yea because we’re friends.”

His honesty is one of the reasons I enjoy his company. But we used to talk when we were in lower south about how cool it would be to do normal stuff like have lunch with friends when we got to higher phases, so now it’s possible, it would seem stupid to not do it.

This Tuesday he and I were eating and he asked me, “So what are the chances you are really going to stay sober once you leave – like what is the percentage you think you will succeed.”

This is a question that we all ask when we get to this part of the program – real life is pretty real to say the least and most of us are trying to figure out how to incorporate this into our sobriety.

I answered him and then asked him why he was asking. (You want to know what my percentage was, don’t you, but I am not saying). He asked because he told me that he ran into a graduate of the ranch recently and this graduate was drunk. This troubled Curtis quite a bit because I think he saw this failure as a failure that he too could have. It’s a dangerous question when we think, “I can use SOME things, I can’t do others,” because when we begin to bargain with ourselves on what we can ‘get away with’ – well, this is addictive thinking and its relapse time!

It’s shocking to see someone finish the program and then run back to the bottle. One graduate a couple weeks ago left the farm and THAT NIGHT went to find an old friend to get hammered. Its troublesome to think about because it makes each of us wonder - what’s the point. I mean, if I relapse, perhaps I should just give in and give up.

I mean, really, why am I spending this whole year doing all this if my chances of success are so slim. What in the world am I thinking, and who the hell am I fooling with all this. Statistically, I have not finished drinking – statistically, there is still a 78% probability that I will drink again. (Out of the hundred guys who enter the program yearly, only about 25% will graduate, and only about half of the graduates will remain sober – 12% of the guys who enter the program)

So Curtis and I began to dissect the situation. One thing we both agree on is that the guys who tend to fall are the ones who come in with the absolute, gung ho, this time there no turning back attitude. The guys who have no margin for error. Rigid, unbreakable willpower to stay sober. 90 meetings in 90 days guys – the guys who were drunk and high and probably ‘bangin some whore’ Friday, entered the program on Saturday, and Sunday they were Uber-Christian and 'living sober'. Those guys drive me nuts.

I’ve always maintained that the possibility of relapse is real – and I am far far from an Uber-Christian. Heck, I probably sin in my sleep. My relationship with God is real, however. The package of sobriety to me isn't pass or fail and I used to challenge my attitude and say that I was too passive about the whole thing.

But the point is, as an alcoholic, we like things simple, in boxes, with names. Things like “drunk” “sober” “recovered” are all easy packages. It’s not an accident that cheap wine comes with a twist off top, that the curve of a pint of liquor fits nicely in your back pocket.

And real life offers NONE of that. There are no easy packages in real life, there is no twist off top to drink from life’s solutions. It's blurry. It takes time. Sobriety is an endurance race – and the 90 meetings in 90 days guys are almost always successful at GETTING sober. Hell, I was sober every Monday morning by 11am. Hung over, but sober, and I maintain that GETTING sober is a cinch. Staying sober is the hard part. But how I define success at this isn't always going to fit into a package.

I have inched along in this rehab at a painfully slow rate. You may recall, I hadn’t planned on staying past June of last year. Then I was convinced that I would be home by fall. Christmas was out of the question and there was no way I would spend New Year’s on that stupid ranch.

But, here I am – beginning my 10th month in the program and life is purring along with new routines and I have made only baby steps. Sometimes I feel like I have traveled only a short distance, made only slight course adjustments.

Is this the solution? I have no idea, but it is a solution for me, for now. The baby steps, just a few small things which result in a few big results. There are many times, most times, I don’t feel like I have done much, gone far, my journey hasn’t seemed particularly difficult. It’s almost been comically easy in some ways. Has the solution ALWAYS been this easy to grasp? Sobriety.

And then I rest because there is some comfort in knowing that my real life, my new happy real life, has always been only a small distance away from me. I am able to stop beating up on myself for ‘letting it get this far’ because, maybe it didn’t. This makes it possible to forgive myself for many things, things I have harbored and resented about myself through this whole program. It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, when she sees that home was only a click of her red shoes, away. And forgiving myself for messing up is gong to always be part of my sobriety.

I know you may be thinking that I should consider this work. I can hear my parents now talking about how much more I will appreciate things when I work hard for them, but this doesn’t seem like work to me. It seems like something I am able to do naturally, like walking. Maybe I shouldn’t stress out because I am not stressed out. Maybe I don’t need to feel like I should be feeling something else; maybe my new package is emblazoned with, ‘Tastes great, less FEELING’?

So here’s how I will wrap this up. Like all the guys here, I worry about relapse, I worry about staying sober, I feel like I should worry about it. I catch myself feeling rigid, like if anything happens and I have a drink, I will be immediately transported through some cosmic tornado to a distant land where my companions will be scarecrows, tin men, and "linguistic renegades." But then I think, that’s not how it has to be. In the crappy event that something happens, I need to get up and click my shoes, and remind myself that my reality isn’t so far away and its time to get back to it. I am less scared by this.

Does this grant me permission to relapse. Hardly. But it also grants me permission to forgive myself and start over if I do and NOT give up, grab a litre of Sangria and go back to old routines. Is that an easy package to live in?


So, if you see me walking around town, clicking my heels, never you mind, it’s just part of my new routine. And if it’s a Tuesday, I will either be on my way to eat cheap chicken with Alex or have lunch with Curtis. If its a Saturday, I am probably playing hookie from chores with my dad, who loves me more than anyone else in the whole world.
All in all, my life comes in a pretty nice package.

Have a good week all - enjoy your routines….

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Insight from two seperate rambles.

Well, as the year has jumped to a start, Brian and I have been asked to once again, go to high schools and speak to students about our life – The kids at these schools are always positive when we get there because we never tell them to ‘not do drugs, don’t drink’ – instead we speak about our story, we tell the gory details and they laugh at the fun ones. And we are honest with them and they ask us a million questions.

It’s interesting because our visits are gaining in popularity, when we started, we spoke to one class a day, and it was only to those students who wanted to hear us speak. Tomorrow, when we go, we will be speaking to four different full groups, lasting the entire day. In April, we will be going to Estes Park to speak to another large congregation as well, and I am really honored that I am able to share some of this with so many people, impressionable people.

The kids always ask us what there is to do in rehab. When that question was first asked to me back in October, I immediately said, ‘We don’t do a whole lot,’ and then I continued…

“This summer I went to like 5 Rockies games, I went white water rafting, hiked in Rocky Mountain National Forest like 6 or 7 times. I learned how to ride a horse and the basics of mule training. I skied twice and learned how to snow shoe. I went to the Art Museum, the History Museum twice, and saw the Ghengis Khan exhibit. I helped deliver a baby cow, I bottle fed baby goats, I was an announcer at some pig races (where one was named after me!), I learned how to cook a kick ass lasagna. On warm days, there’s nothing to do, so we play kick ball, volleyball or horse shoes. I weight train, and ride my bike. I’ve been training for a marathon. I’ve cliff dived at Horsetooth reservoir but am afraid of heights so I only did it once. I was baptized in a real river with 30 other people. I painted a youth retreat in Wyoming and the pastor liked our work, he invited Lane and me up to paint the chapel. I fed the homeless in Cheyenne and sat through the worlds longest night time winter parade. I was on TV several times, interviewed by a major daily newspaper and began speaking to people all across Northern Colorado about the life transforming journey to sobriety. I quit drinking.”

And when I began to ramble, it dawned on me, the year as it began last May was viewed as a detour from my real life, the year I was ‘going to take off’ from life… but it was hardly that at all! Instead of taking off from life, my life has taken off! And completely sober. This is how my life is supposed to be. And I am detailing this because I want to illustrate the full life I am living because I am sober – and I am illustrating it for those of you who are apprehensive about quitting with your drug of choice. It’s a cool way to live.

This week, something shocking has happened and I am still unsure of how I feel about it, so as I tell about it, whatever emotions may seem lacking are only because I am still dealing with them.

I have a friend in Denver, who I will call Aaron, and this past Saturday he decided to drink a half gallon of Jack Daniels and swallow a lethal dose of muscle relaxers. When he was discovered 11 hours later, he was barely breathing, his blood pressure so low his heart was considered almost dormant – and he barely survived the ordeal – as of this writing, no one knows the brain damage he may have suffered. I spoke to him when he woke up yesterday, he was hardly coherent, and muttered about nonsense.

I know my family and friends who remember when I suffered from aspiration pneumonia and was in the hospital for several weeks can relate to this wait and worry portion of what I am experiencing. Is it some kind of divine retribution that I have to feel everything I may have made other people feel throughout my illustrious drinking career? What the hell is this all about. I’m a little mad about it, I suppose.

I mean, it gets pretty taxing on my nervous system to always be remembering, to always be recalling, to always be feeling…. It gets a little stale to be so ‘raw’ all the damn time. Remorse is a powerful emotion and I do feel remorseful about so much, but for chrissake, there’s a limit. At some point I am going to have to close the book on the past, and hope that the cosmos kindly does the same. I’m getting sick of all the ‘lessons’ I am learning – OK, OK, OK, fine, I may not have been the greatest person on the planet but it seems cosmically unfair to unload a bunch of experiences on me all at once.

And when I feel like I have reached my limit, which I feel, mechanisms which would have at one time forced me to retreat from this and go get drunk are engaged in a different way. In addictions class I have learned how to change perspectives, to change my belief window, to manage my stresses by tracing them backwards until I get to the source, identify the source, then change the belief. There is an immediate sense of release at the other end and life is, again, manageable.

But it gets exhausting. I wonder, sometimes, if this is sustainable. I suppose there are people with much more stressful lives who don’t have drinking problems, so somehow it must be sustainable. But its damn exhausting to always be on some sort of course correction. Not because I fear relapse, but because I like the person I am now and I don’t want that person to change for the worse. Whether I drink or I don’t, I can’t lose touch with the guy I’ve been building. That’s also stressful.

I’m getting sick of it.

So, this morning as I settled in to the coffee shop where I sometimes write this blog, frustrated and a little angry, and really tired, I didn’t even know what I would write about – I just knew that I am exhausted at maintaining sobriety. I started writing and began to ramble. At the table next to me, a woman came in with her kids. I see her sometimes when I am here.

While she was ordering, her daughter, about 8, made her way over to me and she said, “Hey, you have a good day, OK.”

I was a little floored but I smiled and returned the pleasantry and got back to my ramblings.

Then her mom corrected her, “Lisa, get over her, stop bothering people,” she apologized to me for her daughter’s intrusion.

And her daughter said, “Sorry, but he always tells us to have a good day when he sees us, and he didn’t, so I thought he was waiting for me to say it first.”

Her mom and I both laughed… I was touched. I realized that people may not always realize what I do, what I say, I may not even realize it, but people know how I make them feel. And this morning, I wasn’t making her feel like I usually do, and so she picked up the slack for me.

And in my life, that’s how it works best…. If I live my life well, a good life, if I make people feel decent, or have decent experiences, then on those occasions where I would retreat to my bottle, I can instead just go about my day, because someone will notice, and pick up the slack. And so the cosmos is hell bent on making me feel what I made other people feel, that’s fine – and there is bad with that…. But the more goodness I spread around now that I am happy and sober, the more that comes back to me as well…. And that, somehow comforts me.

You know what, I WILL have a good day.

You too.