Friday, June 18, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 11, 2010

Who really cares if there isn't enough cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought about this for a minute too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS - Some of you have asked to attend my graduation, please email me at

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