Friday, April 30, 2010

Cosmic Buyer's Remorse, or is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, at least there’s that.

Peace all, have a great week.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Larry, the unlikely hero

It seems like there is a lot of fear that goes into developing and managing a recovery program. I have written for a year now about some of the fears that I have had through the process – fears when I began the program were foolish insecurities wrapped in a disguise of fear, things like, “How will I get my haircut at that ranch,” or “Will they make fun of me if I bring my loofah,” these are the kinds of things I focused my fear upon because the bigger things that scared me were entirely too scary to face at that time.

Over the past year I have slowly faced the other fears, one by one, and have begun to sort out some of the things that held me back in the past – it feels good to know I have begun to strip the power from the very thing that stripped me of power for so long. A plastic bottle of gin can be a formidable foe, and such an enticement to remain under the spell.

But failing at recovery my biggest fear. I am not going to do rehab again. This is not a revolving door for me, there is this one and only chance to get what I need from it because I won’t be here again. When Tina Griego wrote about me in the Denver Post, she predicted that by the end of the program I would no longer have the fear of failing at it, that I would have the confidence to know I had beat this. Her words resonated with me because she seemed so sure of herself when she told them to me. I believed her.

But the fear has remained and I had no clue what my life would look like when I left here or if I would even be able to maintain this. There are things I want to do, and looking back, it seemed that the more success I had in certain parts of my life, the deeper down the gin-hole I went. I’ve never spoken about my life as though it was one colossal failure after another, in fact, it had some dizzying heights of amazing opportunities and experiences…. These were countered in equal measure, however, with the failures of that same dizzying degree.

I believe that when life is grand and then it is taken away from you, or you walk away from it, bottle in hand, the loss feels much greater – whether it is or not. I’ve come to realize a couple things about all this. First, through a series of redemptive experiences the past year, I have figured out that maybe I have never truly failed, I have had experiences and reactions to these experiences seemed like failure. The things I value, I still have and have had all along – family, friends, my brain, and especially, my heart. I have a really cool heart. But we tend to give up to the word 'failure' and throw our hands up and say, 'well, that was it,' - but that's a cop out. Failure isn't that easy.

But the most important thing I have realized about all this is that the real failure in my life is failing to realize how close I am to happiness and quitting just before I get it. Relapse is a pretty big QUIT to me.

The bottle still calls me sometimes, but now I am able to turn on my heel and walk away a little easier – I am armed with some good things to help me with all this.

So, I have been getting a lot of emails from people anxious to hear about the trip to Los Angeles to see Bonnie Hunt. I can tell you, it was everything I had hoped and more. I was exhausted, first of all. I had only two hours sleep the night before and we went straight to the show from the airport pretty much. Matt had never been on a plane or seen the ocean, so there was an awesome excitement with being able to provide this experience for a friend of mine who also is trying to regain some of the ground he lost on the slippery slope of addiction.

We got to the show, and were given a number – mine was ‘123’ – kind of a good luck number I would assume. We waited. Matt joked about the demographics of the studio audience – a lot of older house wives and me. What he may not have realized is that this show was at one time a lifeline to the rest of the planet. I spoke to my case manager about this, I asked him if he thought it was ridiculous that I lobbed onto a television show in the final dark days of my alcoholism. He assured me that, whatever it was that kept me afloat was not ridiculous – and that there was some kind of cosmic connection that was made way back then – that eventually brought me to the show in the unusual circumstances which marked the whole trip.

And I have spoken before that for a few months, the only two women I had any real relationship with and looked forward to were the Chinese woman at the liquor store and Bonnie Hunt. But, as I sat, exhausted, in that crowd of people waiting to get in, the impact of the experience was with me, but had not taken me. This is also due to the fact that I was starving.

I should have known when they started handing out hot dogs and root beer that the universe had something special in store for me. In my exhausted and famished state, that seemed like the greatest hot dog ever fed to a human being, and the root beer was the most thirst quenching root beer ever consumed in the history of earth. I was excited to learn that Bonnie is one of the few shows that feeds their guests. I lucked out.

The studio was amazing, Matt and I were seated in the middle row a few feet from the stage. Awesome seats! The set was so much larger, and the crew was much smaller than I imagined. She had studio drapes with her name emblazoned on them and I remember thinking that was a pretty interesting since I can’t imagine where you might ever need 1000 square yards of fabric with “The Bonnie Hunt Show” dyed onto it except right here in that studio. If I was Bonnie Hunt, I would have a comforter made from it and make all my guests sleep on ‘The Bonnie Hunt Show’ sheets when they stayed the night. I mean, c’mon, why not – and the show is going off the air in May, so what else are they going to do with them?

We sat in the audience and I got comfortable, knowing that the past year of my life was a cosmic launching pad for some amazing things yet to come. I had finally accepted that things were truly working out for the best, and this was proof. At one point when Bonnie Hunt was in commercial break, she purveyed the audience and our eyes met and briefly locked. I don’t know if she recognized me from the pictures in the blog or if she was shocked they let in someone who was so over the top tired looking anywhere near a TV camera!

After the first show was taped, guest was Jimmy Kimmel and some young magicians, Bonnie brought out a couple of the kids to take pictures with her. We all sat while the stage was reset for the next taping. And then it happened, Bonnie told the photographer, “Don’t leave yet, we have one more picture to take, where’s Roman who writes the blog?”

The rest was a bit of auto-pilot for me. I walked down to the stage to sit on the couch I had invited into my living room so many times – the same couch I saw while I was confined to MY couch, remote control in hand. I sat next to her and she said, “I read your blog, you are on a journey, and I pray for you.”

Bonnie Hunt prays for me. You just gotta let that sink in for a minute – consider for a minute how all this came about, how a year earlier I was dying from an addiction and Bonnie Hunt’s show was one of the things that injected some life into my decaying spirit each day – and now, she knew who I was and she even prayed for me.

We took some pictures, and I told her that this was pretty special to me. I made my way back to the seat, not really forming a real thought. The warm-up guy asked me ‘Whats your blog about,” and I think I said something WAY out of character like, “nothing, none of your business,” which was only a reaction to the fact that I couldn’t think. To do it over again, I might have told him what it was about…. Or said, “Redemption… and farming.”

After the show, she said good bye to everyone in the studio, she looked over at me and said, ‘Roman, you’re doing great, hang in there, I really do think about you and know you’re gonna be OK.”

If the story ended here, this would be more than enough. The fact that we got to tape two shows which were both, coincidentally, days which featured a segment called ‘Dessert of the Day,” so Matt and I were each treated to two delicious desserts. The guest on show 1 was Jimmy Kimmel, and on show 2 was Sara Silverman (think about THAT for a minute – what I would have given to be a fly on the wall in the green room that day).

But the story didn’t end there. In fact, one of the most important parts of the story hadn’t yet happened. As Matt and I were walking across the Culver City studio and back to the car, a voice from behind me was calling, “Excuse me, excuse me,” and I stopped and turned around.

Walking up to me, dressed in the standard Hollywood uniform for successful show biz men (blazer and turtle neck) was Larry. Larry caught up to me and said, “I read your blog, how long do you have [sober]?” I tried to do the math, came up with about 330 days. He smiled and said, “I have 21 years.”

I don’t think that Larry knew what part he was writing in the story of my life at the time. The four simple words, “I have 21 years,” almost eliminated the remaining fear that I detailed at the beginning of this blog. I mean, its one thing to have friends and family telling you that you can do it, but to have someone who’s survived this, who leads what I would consider a pretty happy life doing something he probably loves doing, tell me that he has not only read what I’ve written, but he has managed to build his life as a sober person – well, it’s the kind of thing that can only have some cosmic message behind it.

Larry is a producer for the Bonnie Hunt Show, and he gave me his card and wanted to make sure that I got the pictures. He said that his cell number was on it. As promised, he delivered, and they are at the end of this entry.

His introduction was pivotal to me. The fact that he took some time to catch up to me meant a lot. But there was more. Larry had an aura of contentment around him. It wasn’t the kind of contentment that is a result of settling – I am sure as a producer for a national television show, his life is far from settled. Instead, it was the kind of contentment that comes from living the right way. Larry is not shackled by addiction any longer, he is free from that fear, and it exudes from him. He didn’t give up before he got to where he needed to be.

What a shame it would have been if he had, for the both of us.

Ironically, I used to have a great job in television but was hesitant to pick it back up again because I didn’t know how I could manage sobriety in that environment. Larry made it clear that it wasn’t only possible, but damn it, there wasn’t an excuse for not going for it because of fear. And even if that doesn’t work out that way, there is an enormous value in just living the right way, and someday, in 21 years, I might be able to exude contentment to someone else embarking on this journey and my words might stay with that person as well.

Here are the morals of the story – To me, life’s biggest failure is failing to realize how close we get to success before we quit; You never know when the universe is going to send you the right message at the right time from the right person; It’s perfectly OK to hope for something that may seem ridiculous to other people because in the end, happiness and validation doesn’t come from the sophistication of experience, but in the joy of having it; Bonnie Hunt will feed you hot dogs and root beer and they are the bomb.

Peace all, have a good week.

Thanks Bonnie Hunt... and thank you, too, Larry.
comment to:

(That number was getting pretty high, eh?)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Normal treatment.

Springtime is in full swing at the ranch. I spent Sunday sitting around by the horse shoe pits with a bunch of the lower phase guys while they all came out of hibernation for a day-long tournament of horse shoes. Kites were flying, footballs were tossed around, and 36 white legs were trying to bask in the sun.

One of the guys mentioned to me that he feels great to be outdoors doing something, that he feels ‘like normal’.

While I can certainly understand this, I quietly observed these guys as they began to stretch their wings, the wings which had been cocooned within the pod of isolation for so long – it is springtime, it is warm outside, there is nothing else to do on the ranch except have fun.

There is a strict policy on the ranch that says that no resident can ever be alone with a volunteer, at any time. Volunteers come to help out on the ranch all spring and summer – many are church groups looking for a mission, many are college groups who either come to study farming or study rehab. The policy is meant to protect the residents – no one can accuse of us of any impropriety if there are other people around. This policy is very strict – a couple weeks ago a resident faced expulsion because as a runner on the running team, he dashed ahead and one of the volunteers joined him at the finish line, for two miles they ran alone, and this is prohibited.

But there is also another reason that this policy is in place. It’s a really fun time when the volunteers come and work with the guys on the ranch. They work on projects, and there is always someone in the volunteer group that may remind a resident of a family member or friend or someone they once knew – it feels like normal to be part of a group of people that aren’t residents on the farm. It feels good to feel normal again. But it isn’t real.

Your brain can be pretty heartless. One thing that many of these guys don’t understand but eventually must is that they are not yet normal. This situation is not at all normal. I have said it before that living on a rehab ranch for a year is far from normal. And a lazy Sunday afternoon playing horse shoes with fellow residents feels good, but it isn’t normal.

Normal people are out in their real lives having a real relationship with the world. They are not governed by curfews, random UA’s, shuttle passes, addictions classes, dorm chores, work therapy, they just aren’t.

Guys often get so enamored of having volunteers around that there is a marked depression that hits the farm when they leave. The reality of where we are is compounded by the loss that is felt when the volunteers are no longer around and we are required to get back on with why we are here. It is easy to forget that we are at the farm because of an addiction, it is easy to forget that we are, indeed, not yet normal.

Feeling normal is FAR from being normal. It’s a very dangerous situation. This is where guys, at about 6 months, begin to think everything is OK, and they can have just one drink. They can’t. This is when guys think its OK to start having a relationship with someone. They shouldn’t. This is when guys think that its OK to leave the program and get on with it because they have gotten all they need. And they haven’t. Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is the trick your brain plays on your body to make you think you’re completely OK and you could get a drink.

But we can’t. Not drinking has to be the new normal for us. And it sucks because drinking was so great, such a good normal for so long, it sucks that it can’t be anymore. Only time is going to reinforce the concept that normal for me doesn’t include a bottle of gin.

What we are asked to do in rehab is create a new normal for ourselves, and sometimes it gets so normal that guys go the opposite direction, they never leave. Last week, I moved into the last dorm on the ranch. WOO HOO for me. I have an awesome semi private room and its super comfortable.

This dorm is like none of the other dorms because the other dorms are occupied by guys you came in with, we move through the program in an order, so we always live with the same group of people. This new dorm is the last dorm and since guys can graduate at any time between 13 and 27 months, there are guys from many timelines in this new dorm.

There is a lot of sleeping, a lot of doing nothing, a lot of lethargy and mental atrophy in this new dorm. I was so excited to get here, and now I can’t wait to graduate just to escape it. This is the dorm where ambition goes to die, I believe. And I will not succumb to this.

I have stayed active with my health, running, biking, working and my gaggle of friends. I read, write and stay busy. These are all significant to me because someday, in two months, I will be leaving this ranch to get on with my ‘normal’ and I think it is going to be much more like this dorm than like the previous dorms. It will be lonely, boring, and silent.

But this is the part of the program that we focus on transition. How are we going to maintain this momentum and energy required to get sober and place it in to the habits which will help us to stay sober.

Transition meetings are essential for me. They seem so trivial, but much of what I have learned about my triggers and causes to drink I learned from some seemingly trivial exercises I was asked to try out way back in my Addictions class last summer. Many of the principles I have developed in terms of my values and what I consider important I learned from some of our trivial exercises we did in LEC. I complained back then about the fact that I considered it humiliating that I had to go to a class to learn how to be a decent human being, but you know, it wasn’t… I discovered many things about myself and I think I am pretty decent these days, and it comes to me without much effort.

So, transition phase has some practical exercises that I am participating with in hopes that I find some strength or exercise which will keep me sober when I am out there, in the normal world, by myself.

First, we have access to a case manager whose only job is to work with us once we leave and provide encouragement and resources. Because I did not really do the whole 12 step approach, I don’t have a sponsor or a mentor – this is not really the best way to handle things. But I have a pretty active family and friend network and so I think that if I needed to talk to someone about all this, I could.

I don’t anticipate the late night phone calls whereby I am staring at a bottle of gin, needing to be talked away from the ledge of inebriation and someone will need to come rescue me. This isn’t recovery, that’s still dependence. I went through this program with the idea that I wasn’t going to have to depend on that kind of crap, that late night phone calls to my parents would instead be things like, “It’s a boy!” and NOT “Please talk me out of getting drunk.” It seems foolish to me.

I have created a list of things, activities that I should keep with me and employ if I feel the need to get hammered. Some are simple things like, “Go shoe shopping,” “Go get a cheesecake,” “make a lasagna,” – others are more in-depth things like, “Recall such-and-such time being drunk and how you felt getting sick,” “look at old pictures of myself when I was chin deep in alcoholism, and how unhealthy I looked” “play the tape forward, think about how pissed I would be if the past year was wasted,” “call a graduate like Lane or Brian or Curtis and go out for sushi or a movie.” Sometimes just being around the guys who went through the program with me, we just know what to say, we just know how to remind each other of the victory. Yes, victory.

For now, at least, I will have a constant connection to these guys, and they will have one to me. We will need to remind each other of the way life was in our previous normal, and what a frickin pain in the butt it’s been to make this new normal comfortable.

One of my methods I was asked to do in my transition group is to list all the positive things that I have done or experienced the past year as a direct result of being sober. The experiences I have had, people I have met, big ones like my upcoming trip to the Bonnie Hunt Show, or small ones, like the nightly walks Lane and Curtis and I used to take when we were confined to the ranch in the early phases.

The memories of this place are going to help me stay sober.

But this brings me back to normal. As I transition out of the ranch, I am fortunate to spend time with the new guys who are discovering normal, what normal should be like. What it should have been like all along. It’s nice to see as they begin to feel normal. Although none of them is normal, rehab isn’t normal, there is the flavor of normal which they each get to taste. I am reminded of my nephews, the first time they discovered the joy of having ‘bampa’ (grandma) squirt whipped cream directly in their mouths from the canister. Its not nourishment, but it tastes surprisingly delicious!

One thing I have learned about this transition phase is that normal isn’t something I just all of a sudden got back, I had to create it, piece by piece, Sunday by Sunday, experience by experience – and reflection by reflection. I had to dig deep into my memory banks to remember when life was ‘normal’ or at least normal as how I wanted it to be. From there, I also had the painful task of following each ‘normal’ experience to whatever it was that disrupted the normal. In almost every instance, it was my addiction to alcohol.

The other thing I learned is that it’s organic. It can change. What is normal for me today may not be normal for me in a few months. We had an exercise in addictions class that reinforced the idea that adaptability is a key component to maintaining sobriety.

I was sober last spring but what was normal for me isn’t normal to me at all these days. But my life is somewhere light years from where it was back then, and I don’t even recall traveling the distance to get here.

Looking back, it’s been a great journey; not normal, and I sort of like that it hasn’t been. When will life get back to ‘normal’? I kinda hope this is it.

Have a good weekend all, and I will post pics of LA next week!!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Piece of Peace....


Last week, I mentioned that Brooks died. He was only 46. He isn’t the first guy from the farm to die since I got there, but he is one that is fresh in my memory because he graduated so recently. The story is that they found him, dead, in a home with eight guys who lived there. It’s a shady story but it doesn’t surprise me that shadiness follows someone who died from an alcohol overdose in a place where 8 grown men lived.

Brian and I went looking at a town home for him this week. He is super excited about moving out and he is now in the part of his program where he will need to get leases signed and start thinking about life off the ranch. This is a magical time for him, and I am pretty happy to share it with him. He also has a girlfriend.

Lane and Curtis are just about finished with their first semester in college. I saved a text message from Lane that he sent to me on the first day of school, 1-19-2010 at 6:32am, it reads, “Life has started over,” and this is a sentiment that I hope he maintains. If he strays, I have this text message to send back to him to remind him. I was able to help him get an internship and possibly a job at a station where I used to work, so I’m confident that he’s been able to make the most of this life changing year.

All of us are about to celebrate a year here at the ranch. WOW! What a different life I was leading last year at this time.

I am working and loving my job. I am working on some TV projects here as well, they keep me fresh so that when I am completed, I will be able to jump right back in. I am also extremely healthy and I love that. The school speaking circuit has been going great and I am given letters and notes from teachers and classes all the time explaining in detail what the impact I have had on them by telling my story.

This blog is also keeping me healthy and sane, and I cant begin to thank everyone who writes to me to offer encouragement. Its great.

But I am beginning to think about my life off the ranch. The things that I will be doing, the people I will know and surround myself with. I will try to stay as connected to the ranch as I can.

The goats are beginning to have their babies, the pigs are as well. This is that cool part of the year that entered the ranch last year. Springtime is awesome on a farm. I love the thunder storms, I even love the mud.

There is a bible verse that I like, its Joel 2:25. I have mentioned this before it says, “I shall return to you the years the locust have stolen,” and I like it because it’s sort of a cosmic second chance. Redemption comes in all sorts of places. I will be seeing my nephews in a karate tournament at the same school I nearly missed my sister’s graduation because I was hung over and throwing up in the bathroom. And here’s a funny story…

I was telling my friend Revekka about my upcoming trip to see Bonnie Hunt. I told her that I wanted to snap a picture of me with Bonnie Hunt for this blog. Revekks used to be a publicist for a few studios when I was an entertainment reporter for a station here in this state.

She said, “Oh cool, I remember how much you loved her in Return to Me,”

I was a little bit dumbfounded.

She went on to explain that I did an interview with Bonnie, that I gushed about her to the publicist, and was on the air saying that the best reason to see the movie was Bonnie Hunt.

And none of this I even remembered. My life was a cloudy hazy waste at that time and I am still sometimes shocked at the extent of it all, the extent of my darkness. I have already met, interviewed and sat 3 feet away from Bonnie Hunt, and I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER THAT.

It's weird to think that I am so excited about being on Bonnie Hunt's show, and she has already been guest on mine!

So, the trip to California is a bit of redemption on that too.

I often wonder if I will maintain this blog when I am done. I have been told that writing about life as a sober person who lives in the rest of the world is still going to be helpful for people who live with, love, or try to understand an alcoholic. There are going to be challenges I will face and they want to know how I employ what I learned at the ranch to real world situations. Or if I do. In a strange way, this blog will also help me maintain some accountability to at least THINK about my decisions and reflect on them.

There will be weeks like this one, though, where the calmness and tranquility of my life will be the theme. Life isn’t supposed to be a series of dramas that I am constantly trying to navigate. Some weeks, its nice to sit back and say, “I have very little to say,”

Except –
Peace all.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Sometimes there is death, and other times, thankfully, there is Bonnie Hunt

This blog is not the blog I intended to write, but so much has happened in 48 short hours, I am starting from scratch, all over again. Things happen so fast in my life that I wonder if its always been like this but I was in some drunken haze for so long that I never noticed or if I am putting out the kind of energy that is somehow attracting things to me like never before.

And as I was trying to figure out how to write this, it never made sense in my head. I decided to start with the worst news and leave you with the best. Here are four major stories from my life this week.

Yesterday, I got a text from Brian. Brooks had died. Brooks graduated the program in January. He was the recipient of a new set of teeth, a new life, a whole set of new opportunities. He came to the ranch over a year ago because his marriage had failed and he wanted to go away and live in the mountains - in tents – off the land. Well, the Rockies can be harsh even in the summer and he decided that he couldn’t make that plan work.

Surrendering, finally, to the fact that his marriage had dissolved because of decades of drinking eventually led him to the ranch. I have to say that the guys who make their way to the ranch are blessed mainly because they find the farm. Or perhaps the farm finds them. It is a special place where special things happen to people who live there. Sobriety is only one of the benefits. I believe that the Universe picks us to live there, that we are chosen to go, far away, and we are given new lives.

Perhaps the universe saw Brooks in his hopeless condition, trying to live in a tent in the wilderness, and called him in. He had a good program, always in the most wonderful of moods. I remember when I first started at the ranch, he would come through the line and flash me the toothless grin he became known for. I would make him special dishes on the days we had crunchy foods because I knew he couldn’t chew them. He never asked for them, but he appreciated it and told me each time.

The day of his graduation, that afternoon in fact, Brooks never made it to his destination in Arizona where he was going to take a new job with his brother-in-law and start his new life. He stopped in town, got a bottle ‘for the road’ and hunkered down for the weekend in a motel.

The drinking did not stop. He made a decision to start drinking when he knew the risks, and he never stopped. Here’s the thing about this process. I feel awesome. I feel better than I have ever felt. I love having a sober, healthy body. And there are times when I honestly say to myself, ‘One drink won’t hurt anything.’

And the truth is, one drink probably won’t hurt me physically. Nor will the second, third, or the hundredth. What will hurt me is the fact that, in my case at least, there WILL BE A SECOND, AND A THIRD AND A HUNDRETH. I don’t hold on to my sobriety with a tight grip, so the opportunity to lose grip is always just a twist off cap away. I know this, it petrifies me with fear. It keeps me from even having the conversation with myself about whether or not I will have a drink at a motel on the way to start my new life.

So Brooks drank himself to death. I think back to the bitter cold Christmas season, he and I rode the same shuttle to work. He worked as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. One morning, particularly cold, I asked him how he could do that job – stand out there in the freezing cold all day and ring the bell. He smiled at me and said, “I like being the face people see when they feel generous enough to give their change, besides the cold won’t kill me, I’m tough. Nothing can kill me, now that I’m sober.”

Except a bottle and one bad decision.

I usually write only about how addiction and alcoholism affects men. Well, of course this is because I live on a men’s ranch and, I write about what I know. A woman I know very well was admitted to a psych-hospital this week because she has been battling alcohol for 20 years now. She has been trying to figure out a way to stop the abuse and made a decision to get antabuse on Monday.

As so many alcoholics do, Rita decided to have one last ‘hurrah’. I completely know how this feels. Right before I went to the ranch, I, too, decided to have one last hurrah. I was staying with my parents and was about to enter the ranch. I was so close to the top of the list I knew it was anyday I would be called. I distinctly recall sitting on the bed and thinking, I am never going to drink again. I mean, never, Ever… I will never again be able to drink.

WOW, scary. And, so that night, May 5, I went downstairs and decided to have a few classes of wine. Do you see where this is going. Well, immediately, I was in celebration mode. I don’t know if it was celebration because I was finally going to be free from all this, or celebration because I knew my life was finally about to turn for the better, I can’t say. I do know that at that time, I wanted so desperately to not have to drink that it felt like a celebration. I would imagine that if a woman divorces an abusive husband, there might be at least one moment when she stops grieving for the bad decisions that got her there, and rejoice that she is free. This is what I was doing.

I drank. I loved it. I wrote in my journal and thankfully still have all those pages to look back on. It was a good experience for me, I am not going to lie. I was finally gonna be done. I remember that night sitting in the room I had at my parent’s house and dreaming about what my life would look like, what I would look like, what kinds of people I would know, what kinds of opportunities I would have, I couldn’t WAIT to be a sober person. I toasted all this with several bottles of good champagne.

Pause for a moment and think about that. I drank to celebrate freedom from drinking. It's so upside down and at the time made the most absolute sense. There is no sense while in addiction.

The next day, I didn’t feel so hot. Now, when my mom discovered me, she was pissed, but not for the reason you may think. Sure, she was disappointed because I drank at her house and she had to see me drunk. Not a pretty sight. But she had the wisdom to say, “If you could just NOT drink, you wouldn’t be going off to rehab,” she wasn’t mad about that. Instead she was mad because I drank $700 in quality champagne.

“For chrissake,” she exclaimed, “if you needed to drink, couldn’t you down the cheap stuff!”

And so it went, my last time was memorable. I think Rita was trying to get this same kind of closure. Yea, I said it, closure. I mean, I had a full on relationship with alcohol, often this was my ONLY relationship, and leaving it, I needed closure.

Rita posted this on her facebook account, she had made public declarations before about how she was going to go to a doctor and get something to help her get sober. Putting it on facebook was something else entirely, though.

You see, as addicts, this is a preemptive strike directed at you. People often think that addicts do this sort of thing because they are crying for help. And indeed, this is often the case, but to publicly announce that you have these problems while you are in the midst of a full on bender, this isn’t a cry for help, this is a calculated, planned announcement.

It is akin to the times I would call my family, druuuuunk, and apologize for being drunk. It is like the times I would apologize to Alex on the way to the liquor store for having to get more booze. Its when I would wake up and say with incredible resolution, “TODAY I AM GOING TO STOP DRINKING NO MATTER WHAT.”

This is an addicts way of planning the next step, of avoiding the consequences of their inevitable actions. Oh yea, we are so amazing at manipulating people that we even learn how to do it AHEAD of time. Because this is a fine way to say, once we have spun out of control, once we have gone completely off the deep end, we have a cozy little weapon in our arsenal of guilt that we attack you with, we can always say, ‘Hey, you knew this was coming, I cried out for help, you knew I was like this, so this is not my fault at all…. I have a disease, I am sick, and YOU KNEW ABOUT IT. You probably didn’t do enough for me to get me some help.”

And it sucks that we do that to people.

But addiction isn’t going to end because we go to the doctor and get antabuse. People don’t abuse alcohol because they can’t sleep. Alcoholism isn’t something that can be fixed with a pill. It takes time, reflection, and a crap load of work.

Anyway, she also coupled this with a bunch of ambien and ended up in a psych ward. Once she took all the ambien, she was on the phone, texting her family, that she had just taken all the ambien. Another public preemptive declaration. She was found and taken to the hospital. She will be OK, and I hope she gets the help she needs.

So, where are we, one story of death, one story of near death, now how about a story of success.

Mark graduated today. Mark worked with me in the kitchen, he is a class act. He got a kick ass car, an Infinity with a Bose sound system. He worked on himself through the entire program and I always found him in the most reflective moods. He used to tell me that he had a life he had to figure out. I didn’t know what that meant until now. Now, I know what he means.

Over the past year, his two teenage daughters finally started talking to him again, his mother spoke at the graduation that she finally knows the son she remembers, and the guys who wanted to wish him well was a non-stop comment after comment connection. Sometimes at graduations, we are wrapped up in half hour – Marks could have gone on for at least another hour with all the people who wanted to tell him what an impact he had on them.

I spoke to him after and he said this to me, ‘You know, I went through this whole program feeling like I was doing it alone, and today I realized, I was never alone, and I never have to be again. I envy you because you aren’t alone either, and you have this awesome knowledge that you aren't alone.’ This was amazing point he made, and a true one. I don’t feel alone and I love it.

I think that’s what its all about, really. Sobriety. I think its all has to do with the fact that as alcoholics we spend so much time on the outside, looking in, wanting desperately to be in, to be BACK in. Alcohol will kill us, and like any predator, it has remarkable abilities to separate us from the herd, to get us alone. Having people in my life will certainly help me stay sober, knowing they are in my life is frosting on the cake. Because the predator is still out there, and someday, it wants me alone, to convince me to make a bad decision, when no one is around, to grab a bottle when I am on the way to the rest of my life, and kill me in a motel room, like it did to Brooks.

It was having other people in her life that saved Rita from dying.

Maybe this is a profound key to it all, staying connected to people is natural, its how we are built.

And so this brings me to the climax of this blog. The best news of all. Friday, April 16, I will be in Los Angeles, California, attending one of the final tapings of the Bonnie Hunt Show.

You see, I used to chalk things up to coincidence and now, I fully admit, that there are miracles at work. Bonnie’s show was set to end before graduation, and then I got an email from my family offering to send me early. Bonnie’s only available dates in April were on Mondays and Wednesdays, I could not go to any of these because weekend passes are only Friday-Sundays. A show on April 12 was cancelled and moved to that Friday, the 16th, a day I HAD ALREADY REQUESTED FOR MY PASS.

And as I detailed in early blogs, there are many unplanned, cosmic ‘coincidences’ that have led me to the ranch, to sobriety, and have kept me there. This is but one.

And the reason this is so important for me, why this trip to her show is the most incredible crescendo in my journey the past year, is because it is how the Universe is telling me that what I am doing, that the path I am on, is the right path. It is the manifestation of hoping for something, looking at how you want your life to play out, and living it as if it already has played out that way, and it comes to you.

There is a great power in being the master of my own destiny and it isn’t because I have plotted and planned, but because I surrendered to the idea that things are supposed to happen in the best possible way. There is a great freedom in allowing the universe to work in its own time, and faith that my best interest is the goal. Discord isn’t natural, and fighting it isn’t natural. It is addictive behavior to try to control things, then blame others when it all blows up on you. But stepping back, allowing it to all work naturally, this is hard for an addict, but proves in the end to be the best and only way to live. Adaptability and availability to universal what the universe wants to do with you.

Why Bonnie Hunt you may ask? Well here it is. You see, I can relate to each one of the people in the stories I detailed above, including Brooks. I can imagine him locked away, inside, no one knowing what his tortured life looks like behind those curtains.

It is dark, it stinks like old booze and cigarettes and body odor, food is not even a thought. Days are numbered not by a calendar, but by the number of empty bottles lined up neatly on the floor or on the counter. The sound of the rest of the world is drowned out by the constant noise of the television. The television is the most effective tool to drown out the silence in your own head.

Walking outside is a daily task that brings anxiety. The energy it takes to dress himself, count out the pennies he needs to buy the cheap bottle, to run some water through his hair or rub a toothbrush across his mouth, it feels like the kind of energy required to power a house. But he travels there, dutifully, his one and only task for the day, to get the bottle and return home.

And when he walks to the store, the sun shines, there is an immediate awareness that the world is, indeed, still out there. And it sucks to know that he has to go home, to that awful place where he belongs, once he has gotten his bottle. But he can’t escape. It’s the only place he knows to be.

And for me, on those days, I looked forward to only two women. The Chinese woman at the liquor store, who towards the end, was so compassionate she would often have a bowl of rice waiting for me when I came to see her. ‘You look awful,’ she would tell me, ‘You need to eat,” and she would feed me. It never occurred to her to stop selling me gin.

The other woman in my life was Bonnie Hunt. For the hour her show was on, I would laugh, it would wake me up, life seemed like less of a chore and more of a possibility. You may think that I am putting too much stock into a television show, but there was something about her that drew me out, for an hour, to the world.

And I remember last year, at this time, I have it in my journal. I lived alone, Alex had moved out. I had only a few pieces of furniture and a TV. Last year, I was watching the Bonnie Hunt show on TV, imagining, dreaming of my life as a sober person. And this year, I am not going to be in some far off place, watching from the front of the television, I will be in the studio, understanding that I am there because I surrendered to the idea that life, as a sober person, was possible. This is how I am being told I made the right decision. In other words, I am not alone, locked inside my dark living room watching her show, I am out in the world, with other people, watching her show.

So, I want a picture of Bonnie Hunt for this blog. If you feel inclined, please write the show and ask her to take a minute after the taping to snap a picture with me. I think a little grassroots support would be a fine idea!

I don’t know if she knows about my blog, but I want her to know she’s been an unknowing passenger on a very interesting journey.

Peace out all

Days Sober: 332
Days SINCE I saw Bonnie Hunt Show: 323

Days UNTIL I see the Bonnie Hunt Show: 14