Friday, March 26, 2010

There will be a blog!

It's not that I neglected the blog yesterday, its that I was away in another City speaking to another set of schools about the route to rehab my life took. I often wonder when I speak to these kids if anything even sinks in, if I am having any kind of effect at all.

But, the fact is, I don't look like the typical addict - whatever that may be - and I dont act like it, so I think that just showing up makes some sort of an impact to help them realize that a normal looking fella can be as addicted as the guy holding the sign on the street corner.

In any event, I have a more substantial blog I've been writing, but I wont be able to post it until this weekend, I am having computer problems!!

Have a great day all, and I'll update you soon!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A decent carnival trick.

Usually when the volunteers come in, we have a bon fire at some point. This is just a semi-social event where we can relax with them and they can have what they paid for – the chance to mingle with real life addicts.

These volunteers come from all over the country – this time of year they are on spring break – and usually college groups that come in instead of partying for the whole week. They opt for constructive time, they call this alternative break. Its huge on campuses these days apparently.

I generally avoid these volunteers and any chance to interact with them. There is something about being on display that I find unnerving, like a zoo animal, or a carnival attraction. ‘Look kids, he drank himself into rehab, see the meth head try to say ‘she sells sea shells by the seashore’ with no front teeth, come one come all.’

Last night, however, I finished working out and was walking back to the dorm and saw there was a bon fire going on. Brian was going to give a testimony – which is when we are really on display. It’s sort of the story of our lives, a chronicle of how we got to the ranch, the things in our life that led us to this point. I’d imagine this is the main attraction of the week – the chance to hear an addict speak.

Brian has given countless testimonies, he goes to the schools with me and so his story is one I have heard many times. I can almost recite it verbatim. But, he is my friend and moral support is about the only thing I can offer people on the farm many times, and the support of a friendly face in the crowd goes a long way when you have to map out all your transgressions to a bunch of rich college students who you don’t know.

He began his talk as he usually does. He detailed the first time he got high at a Pearl Jam concert. He always gets an ‘ahhh’ when he tells that he lost his last baby tooth when he did LSD the second time. He started young.

He tells of how he chopped off his thumb the time he used the wood cutter and his parents rushed him to the hospital, thumb in hand. He was given a choice, he could be wrapped up and sent home, or they could get a micro surgeon to sew the thumb back on but he would have to stay there the whole week. He wanted to go home, he needed his drugs.

Eventually he was convinced to stay and his thumb is now back on his hand, but when he tells the story, he shows the deformed thumb and people gasp at the grip of addiction.

Brian is someone who is always a source of sunshine in the darkest of times. I have been very close to him for almost a year, we work together, our programs are parallel in time, we hang out a lot outside of the ranch. He has an amazing ability to keep me in a pleasant mood. I don’t know if I would have managed this without this friendship with the unshakable, unrattled, always in good humor, Brian.

Maybe it was the darkness, maybe it was the fire, maybe it was the fact that Brian is realizing that his time on the ranch is nearly over and real life is about to begin, but last night, he strayed from his usual script.

He spoke about his family, about the bridges that he burned, about the money he stole, about the pain he caused. He told how he knew those bridges would take years to rebuild. He said he had only time to give these days, and that he was committed to having his family back. He spoke about his friend who sent him a bus ticket because Brian’s life was spinning out of control, the friend wanted to save his life. He began to speak in a tone that I hardly recognized, the voice of someone I had never heard; the voice of someone who was crying.

He looked at the ground and gazed into the fire as he recalled losing all the people in his life who meant something to him, losing the job opportunity of a life time on a cruise ship, he spoke eloquently about the hardship of having to maintain an addiction by stealing copper wire and scrapping metal. He spoke about how people used him for a place to stay, and how he used them for the money to get high. These people he considered friends at the time. He tried to gain some composure and he muttered something that no one except me probably even heard because I was sitting next to him.

Disguised deep in the muffled mutterings of someone who had nothing left but the pathetic story he could share at a volunteer bon fire, he said, ‘I was so sick of myself.’ When he said this, I couldn’t believe it. Those words, the way he said it, it was how I felt before I came here. Doing drugs or getting drunk always looks like fun from the outside, but inside, its torture being in all that. And the disappointments we cause other people are nothing compared to the disappointment we feel about ourselves. We are addicts, not sociopaths, and guilt is the one thing that never leaves us. Family, friends, opportunities, happiness, our teeth, health, our appearance, even our very lives; all these things leave. Guilt and shame, well, they are loyal companions.

He said he now lives with an attitude of gratitude, which explains why he is always in an inappropriately good mood all the time. He cried more but explained that these were tears of joy. He detailed how he is building his life on a foundation of something he never had before, this new life, it’s built on self-respect.

And while he has a long way to go in repairing the damage he’s caused, the best he can hope for is that his life may appear like his thumb – deformed from the original design, but it works, and he’s still got it.

I hugged him, which is strange because I am not a touchy person. He rolled his chin into my neck, cried a little more and told me that he is thankful to have real friends. I think he did really good.

One of the volunteers decided to speak. He told us that his father was an alcoholic. He said that he was about 13 before he even realized that something was wrong with his dad. He didn’t know anything but a life with a drunk or high dad. Finally, when he was a teenager, he realized that his dad was NOT normal. That getting high, getting drunk, with small children in the house was not how a father was supposed to act. He began to resent his father, and his father’s drinking.

Eventually, as happens with chronic drinkers, the addiction begins to kill you. His father had developed cirrhosis of the liver. This is a disease that deforms its victims. There is generally a large, over-sized protruding belly that fills with poisonous fluids, and eventually, the liver is functionless and death is pretty swift.

This volunteer spoke of the resentment of losing his father the week before his graduation and how he has harbored this for a few years. He spoke about how he has always been angry at his father for the inability to control this. He spoke about the embarrassment and abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. He spoke about how he had planned on living his entire life with that grudge that could hardly be considered frivolous. I mean, c’mon, this was his dad, he should have known better.

So the past several years have passed and he decided to try this alternative spring break. Mostly he wanted to help people directly, working on the ranch, farm work, Christian work, in the soil. But he was also secretly a little curious about what rehab might have entailed, what kind of help was available, or what might have been done to prevent his father’s death.

He has guilt too, but he won’t admit it. I saw it, though. The mere act of trying to decode his father’s behavior and reconcile his resentment was a thinly veiled attempt at getting rid of the guilt he had for hating someone he never wanted to hate. A son should never have to hate his father.

I think part of him wanted to believe that help was unavailable for his father, though, and he would determine this with this visit. Rehab wasn’t for everyone, not everyone could kick it. Rehab was the last house on the block for many guys, and his dad died before it ever got that bad. Then he could blame the death on timing, bad genetics, something else.

And then he heard Brian speak and something else happened, instead. For the first time ever, he got a glimpse of the inside of the heart of an addict. It’s unthinkable, it destroys us to know we are monsters, as Brian said, we get so sick of ourselves, and unlike family or friends or opportunities, we can’t leave, we are stuck, forever, with who we are.

The volunteer said that dying from alcoholism does no good to understanding what it does to people, this leaves a wake of so many more questions. He had lived trying to understand it from the perspective of someone left behind by a mysterious and selfish death. Living in alcoholism obviously does no good. Recovering from it, and surviving it, and then sharing it, well, people who are victims of the terror caused by the monster deserve to know what the hell happened. There is a certain justice that is awarded to someone who lives with an alcoholic and then buries one, when they are allowed again to love the person they were forced to hate.

I don’t know for sure, but I think the volunteer left his guilt at that bonfire. I don’t know for sure, but I think Brian did too. I don’t know for sure, but I may talk to the next set of volunteers. Perhaps we are an attraction, but making some guilt disappear is a carnival trick I don’t mind repeating.

Have a good week all

If you want to write, the email address is

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Drop the stick, I no longer chase carrots....

You know, before you enter a rehab program, it feels like people in your life will tell you just about anything to make it happen. There is a certain amount of suspicion that follows all the grandiose promises that I was fed before I set one foot on the path of this journey.

When I arrived at the ranch, I was fed even more tales of all these wonderful things which would just happen to fall into my lap if I decided to put in the effort to get myself better. The least of which were my health, my self-esteem, and renewed opportunities in life.

A year of your life is a huge investment. I remember when I went in to buy my car, I was told by the salesman how wonderful my life would be if I was in this car. It would take me places no other car on the planet possibly ever could take me, and it would do it at 30 miles to the gallon. It would certainly be a reliable way to get around and of course it would probably make me more attractive, in fact, I would probably realize the love of my life just by SITTING in this car. I just had to make a huge investment.

WOW! How could I say no to this? And, so I entered the program and began to do the work, I heard of all the things at the end of the program which would be waiting for me. I would invest.

It should be noted, none of these things I believed. To be quite honest, I entered because there was a moment right before I came in that I thought I would certainly die if I didn’t do something about this, and if I died from alcoholism, I would be pretty pissed at myself! That is not how I should have to die, alone, on a bathroom floor, in some drunken pool of my own vomit.

Sometimes at the ranch, the way they convince guys to stay in the program is the ‘carrot at the end of the stick,’ approach. The promises of what life has to offer may not be enough for other guys either, so they throw in a car… and they throw in free dental work… and glasses… and the chance to work or go to school and save money… then there is rental assistance when we leave… and lest we forget the house full of furniture they provide… and of course there is the anytime $2000 loan they will give us.

Suddenly the year doesn’t seem like that long, this seems more like a sweepstakes than a rehab, and I have just landed the grand prize. I wasn’t buying a car, I was being GIVEN one.

It is easy to have some pretty screwed up motivation when all this is unloaded on you, and I am not an idiot, I know that much of this is because graduates of the program are good for the program. Donors love to hear stories about success rates and guys who complete the program, so there is incentive to the ranch to keep us going and completed.

This isn’t the main motivation, of course. But it certainly helps.

And so this week, a couple things happened to me that really tested not only what I have learned in this program, but the benefits of living sober. I wrote last week about integrity, and mine was certainly tested. I also wrote about reputation, and mine would certainly live up to its name, and I wrote about the fact that there is wholeness in living a good life and this wholeness brings goodness to you, like a gravitational pull.

The ranch recently adopted a policy that allows us to park our personal vehicles on the ranch when we get to phase 3. This is great news for me, as I have that car I mentioned, and I drive to and from work. I used to park the car miles away and either ride my bike or walk or take a shuttle to and from the car. This was tedious and cumbersome.

So, the policy went into effect on Monday of this week, and so I had my car ready and waiting, parked in the empty sod field across the street from the ranch, waiting for Monday to roll around.

Monday morning, I went in, paid for my monthly parking pass, gave copies of my current registration and insurance, and went to work. Later that day, I was informed by my case manager that I was being put on probation for 30 days because an administrator may have felt that I was thumbing my nose at the system, that I was pushing my limits by parking it so close to the ranch up until I could get my pass.

I was shocked to say the least. This was hardly the case. This could have meant a postponement in my graduation, it means that I was on the wire to being dismissed, it had some implications.

My chaplain, who I speak with every week, and knows my character, was a passionate advocate on my behalf. I spoke to another chaplain who asked me how I felt about this and my response required absolutely no thought or preparation.

I felt a little railroaded, BUT…...

There have been rumors about me, that some on the staff believe I might be someone who will leave the ranch early, that at any moment I am planning a departure. I mean, I have a job, I have a car, I don’t truly NEED a place to live, the carrots at the end of the sticks mean nothing to me. The chaplain asked me why I stay.

There are several reasons. The first is that too many damn times, I have robbed myself the satisfaction of success because things got a little tough for me. If life was mean, well, thank God there was one small reprieve from all that cruelness and it conveniently came in a $5.99 plastic bottle. I am not going to do that this time. I am not going to pack up and leave because things are not going according to how I expect them to play out.

I am not built to break, I am not built to bend. At some point I have to stop looking in the mirror and saying to myself, “What kind of man do I want to be?” and instead say, “What kind of man AM I?” And, I know now, I am not the kind of guy who quits at life anymore because it’s a little rough around the edges. I don’t have the safety of the bottle to cushion my blows, and so, well, I just need to put on my big boy pants and face it head on. Even when I am tied to those tracks I feel railroaded on.

The other reason is that many of the guys on this ranch have looked at my program and have decided to emulate it. To them, I work a good program, to them, my successes in this program are equipping me with the skills to maintain a lifetime of sobriety, too. What the hell kind of weasel would I look like if I demonstrated that I am the kind of person who sticks around when its easy to do, and high tails it out of there when its rough.

I have asked these guys to trust me for 10 months, I have talked the talk, I need to walk the walk. Hmmm, what do you know, I do have some integrity.

But you see, none of this required a second thought. For one of the first times ever, doing the right thing did not require a second guess. It felt exhilarating to hold my head up high at the ranch and take the probation and know I was doing this completely by choice. I was not going to challenge the decision, I was not going to try to get out of it, I was not going to play the ‘I am a victim here’ card, I was not going to leave because this screwed up my summer time table. I had been railroaded, but instead of getting pissed, I lumbered up on the train and decided to take it where it lead me. None of the reason I decided to stay with it had anything to do with those carrots at the end of that stick.

All of those responses are the typical responses of an addict, by the way. To try to get out of something, the decision to leave because I didn’t get my way, “everyone hates me so that’s why they are picking on me,” these are all addictive responses to challenges.

Addicts as a rule don’t like authority – authority takes away the opportunity to get loaded – you gotta answer to authority. Screw them, right.

But there is one authority on my life that I can not escape, and that’s myself. I am accountable to only one person, me. And here is where I begin to complete the circle I was drawing last year. You may remember there were some blogs about the fact that it is OK to be accountable to other people for your sobriety. I detailed how this was OK, that you have commitments to other people and so if you decide to live sober because of these commitments, this was as good a reason as any.

I also said that the idea, to an alcoholic, that you needed to do this ‘for yourself’ was ridiculous. I wrote that we are perfectly good with the intention of self-destruction and so deciding to get sober for ourselves wasn’t really a good carrot at the end of the stick either.

But trying this for the people I loved, well, that’s something I could live with at that time, that was certainly a reason to give this a shot. So I put on those big boy pants, and I gave it a shot.

And now I am noticing more and more that my motivations are, indeed, because I am no longer ignoring the good angel on my shoulder who is whispering a pretty decent code of conduct to me all the time. I am accountable to me, just me. And my fears about staying sober for a lifetime because I didn’t know who I could be accountable to, well, these are subsiding.

I can stay sober because I am accountable to myself. I was promised I would achieve this. I was told, among other things, that I would have this amazing ability to do the right thing, including not drink, because it was the right thing. I even had hints that I was developing this, but to actually see it put into practice, well, this was a really unplanned opportunity.

And so, I think about the ‘incentives’ that this ranch offers. I think about all the ‘things’ that I have been promised because I am here and upon my completion. There is more to me, though. What I got was what I was promised, and more. My health – physical and even emotional and spiritual, the health of my relationships, the health of my heart – my health is in the best shape. I was promised better self-esteem, and you can see how I feel about myself, I love me. I do. And I was promised renewed opportunities in my life. I feel like the world has rolled out a red carpet for me and I finally have the confidence to step up on it.

So the resolution to all this, you might ask. Well, I am still on probation and thanks to a chaplain who knows me well, these are the terms. Thirty days probation adds thirty days to my minimum phase requirement; phase three minimum is 12 weeks. I now have a minimum of 16 weeks in this phase. I will be at 16 weeks the end of this month, long before I graduate. Probation also means that I can be dismissed if I break the rule that got me on probation in the first place – which is parking in the sod field across the street. So I won’t be doing that. And this was achieved because my reputation was bolstered by my integrity, and a chaplain recognized this. I wasn’t trying to escape the probation, it was an opportunity to test what I was made of, and I think I did OK.

And so those promises were real. More than I expected, more than I had hoped for. It was sort of magical how all this came about inside me. There were some really dark days when I couldn’t even feel the life inside me enough to hope for anything more than the strength to get out of bed long enough to throw up. Hope has returned.

My mom shared with me the other day three things which she believes make a happy person – First is someone to love, second is something to do, and third, is something to hope for. I have so many people to love I feel as if my heart may explode, I have a renewed sense of my own purpose, there are so many things in my life to do that I have to actually live to be a hundred, I have so much to hope for, things bigger than the carrots at the end of sticks that might be waved at me.

This is happiness, I was promised this at the beginning, I should hardly be surprised that its here, but I am, a little bit.

The wholeness of all this has a gravitational attraction that you can’t deny. I am like a magnet these days, events in my life are working to build me up and catch me up. And so I received an unexpected email from my mom last week and my whole family has decided to help me with a bit of happiness by sending me to the Bonnie Hunt Show before she goes off the air in May.

I am beside myself! Touched doesn't begin to describe it. I immediately wrote to Bonnie Hunt and asked her about tickets (if you feel compelled, please write to her too, and ask her to send me some! – I explained to her that in the throngs of addiction, there were days when I would get lost in her hour of television, that it provided me with a window to the world and a reminder that the rest of the world was going on, and the world was pretty happy about it. I know it seems silly, but life was pretty empty back then. And I mentioned that I keep a count of the loss of this hour, not the loss of drunkenness, and this is why I mention the days since I saw her show on this blog.

I mentioned that you can only be successful at something if many people want you to be, it fills my brain with more molecules of hope than one person should be allowed to have, to know that my family wants to offer me something like this. It also means that they believe in me.

I was promised this, too. And here it is. And do you see the beauty in this gift, because I have to attend the show before I graduate, this is not a carrot at the end of a stick, this is a gift because I am loved and because the people in my life want me to be successful, and they want me to kow it. Another promise, made good.

I was thinking about this as I drove into work this morning, and I stopped at a light and looked at myself in the mirror and I realized another promise that was made to me that was made good on… as I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized, indeed I had seen the love of my life just by SITTING in the car, and it was me.

Have a good week all.




Thursday, March 4, 2010

The dark side of the moon

This blasted ranch is finally beginning to thaw and it is almost spring time, this means the volunteers are beginning to show up. Every year, volunteers from around the country come and work for a week or more on the ranch, you may recall I wrote about them with fondness last year; this year, it is with a little more contempt. I will say it did get annoying when 15 year old girls would pat me on the shoulder and say, “You are on the right track,” I mean, for chrissake, 15 years old? Really? What the hell do they know. I tolerate them, but only slightly. This is a common feeling of all the guys in my phase, the new guys still see the novelty in having them on the property.

As I write this, I am somewhat unnerved by the idea that I have less than 100 days left at Rehab Ranch. I met with Art, my case manager yesterday and we started speaking about my transition planning, and what my life will look like the day I walk off this farm for good. There is a bit of apprehension I feel in myself, the idea that this experience will be completed soon.

And then as I walked to the chow hall yesterday after my meeting with Art, I began thinking about this season, I began to notice the days are getting longer, and how it was this time last year when I began preparations for moving up here. I was still drinking, but I began to accept and mentally prepare for the next step in my life’s journey, the one that would happen only after I came up on this farm.

I remember last year when I started this whole thing, the concept of being here, at this time, it escaped me. Forward thinking is one of the first things an alcoholic loses when they begin to drown in their addiction. Successes are measured in pints and liters and gallons, not in weeks or months or goals met. So here I am, winding down, watching the newer guys as they move up through the program, understanding their progress.

But the volunteers. They signal something. They are the manifestation of the progress of time to me. They have returned in full force. The cycle is nearing the end for me, I am nearly complete. I use the word “complete” intentionally. In Greek, the word Telios means ‘complete’ it also means ‘perfect’. When you study Greek philosophy and literature, you will often see people referred to as ‘teliotic’ or having achieved ‘telios’ and while we translate this to mean ‘prefect’, I prefer to think of ‘perfect’ as ‘complete’ – This is also, ironically, what the dark side of the moon is referred to, the telios of the moon.

So, I am nearing completion, but after my talk with Art, I had to decide what that meant, what does complete mean to me? It could mean that I don’t drink, I have a well rounded life, I have things to keep me free from the isolation of alcoholism. Existing in isolation, it’s what hurt the most for me. Completion could mean that a journey has ended, and therefore I will be ready for the next one. The next cycle.

There is something else though. Completion for me, in this program, isn’t ‘having it all,’ or even ‘just finishing’. Here’s how I see it. My life isn’t a circle, I am three dimensional. My life is a sphere. When a sphere is exposed, there is one part that everyone sees. Like the moon, it is the part of the sphere that faces the world, it is what I think of as my reputation. My reputation is the relationship I share with everyone who casts a bit of light on my life – indeed, the whole rest of the planet. This is where so many of us shine. Indeed, even on this blog, in my ‘about me’ section I write about how I ‘shine in the spotlight.’ I look good in direct light, I might say – in other words, I am pretty good at working my reputation, I parcel out what I want people to see.

In a 12 step program, one of the steps is to admit to God and to another human being the exact nature of our wrong doings. I speak candidly about things I have done, people I have mistreated, situations I regret here in this blog. I share it with over a thousand people a week. I don’t do it as a response to the 12 steps, in fact, I find that I follow many of the steps unknowingly, but they work in my recovery, and they work for millions of people. (I know, can you believe it, I had a nice thing to say about AA) But I spoon feed my new reputation, and you should know there is a LOT more going on inside that I don’t share, there are many things in this orbit that only I know about myself.

My proverbial days are getting longer through this process. I am exposing more and more for public consumption and this has an ability to free me from my addiction. There is a sense of escape when I lay it all out on the line like this, like as soon as I give it away, it is gone. There is a bible verse in the book of Joel, 2:25, that I love, ‘I will return to you the years the locusts have eaten.’ I love this verse because it is a sort of promise of redemption. I have gone from sobriety, to recovery, and now, I hope to move to a state of redemption. So many years I have lost to a bottle of gin. So many opportunities that escaped me. So many moments which were clouded by the saturation of intoxication. And these are returning to me, my years are being returned. I have become sober, I have healed, and now, I want to get some of what I lost back.

Through all this, I feel free from the shackles addiction. While I will always be addicted to alcohol, I need not let that control me. I am not controlled by the thought that its almost Friday and I need to get a drink. I am no longer controlled by the having to come up with excuses for a poor job at work, or missing a family event. I am no longer controlled with transportation to and from the liquor store, or blocking out part of my morning for the expected hang over. I am not controlled by this, I have my frickin life back and I want more of it.

And this all seems really great, but there is that unlit part. This is the part that people don’t see, the part that only I see. This is where addiction might hide – on the side of the telios. It is not seen, it is not viewed, it isn’t even noticed. No one has ever seen the dark side of the moon from Earth, the same side of the moon we see every night always faces the planet. But, surely there is another side to the moon. It is a sphere, it is complete, it is perfect - telios.

This is the side that I call integrity. It is the part of me that only I see. Integrity also means wholeness, completion, how strong something actually is you may note. When we discuss a building, for instance, we always talk about ‘structural integrity.’ What kind of person am I? Integrity is not a conditional word, it is not open for interpretation. It does not change with the wind, the cycle of the moon, or if I am out at a bar with friends, or if I am trying to impress someone, or if I am simply home alone and no one will ever know what I am doing. It is what it is, integrity is what I see when I wake up and saunter to the mirror, it is my inner image. If I look in the mirror and I see a man who does not cheat at life, then I know that I never will.

I fully believe in living this kind of life, a life whereby I am sober because I want to be, not because I feel like I have to show it to people. I am all for living in the dark side of the sphere, I am all for integrity if only because life is short and a good reputation is not always easy to come by, and, just like the moon, sometimes it shines bright, sometimes it shines in little slivers, sometimes it doesn’t even shine. But the other side, its constant.

The benefit is there is no tension to all this. If I make a mistake, I own it, if I do something and don’t get credit, no big deal. The stress of managing my reputation no longer impacts the side of the sphere where I live, and that is the kind of stress that makes me want to drink.

Integrity is not a difficult concept. Babies know it. Babies are real, what they are on the bright side is the same as who they are on the dark side. As I have discovered through this whole thing, we tend to make simple things way too complicated, including sobriety.

So perhaps it is good that I am almost complete with the program, I am almost complete in becoming the person I have become. I might even lighten up with the volunteers, I might look past the frozen ground or the resulting mud puddles. Telios, means complete, whole, perfect.

Yea, it feels perfect. It feels pretty damn good.