not forgetting

July 18, 2017

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.
Joan Didion

I’ve been asked a few times about whether I miss drinking, and it prompted me to look back on the older pics on my Instagram feed. In a few instances, I can look back and see memories of times spent with friends, of moments of quiet reverie, of enjoyment and fun, but I also see a lot of that “unattractive company” that Didion describes, and maybe that is part of what keeps me from wanting to drink again.

But I haven’t deleted those pics, because I don’t want to forget where I’ve come from. Instead, I want to continue to come to terms with that person and make right what can be made right. The idea of “forgiving myself” has always perplexed me a bit, which was hammered home during my fourth step, when my sponsor pointed out that “there’s one person notably absent from your list, and that’s Pete.” Part of making things right with Pete is clearly acknowledging everything Pete went through, without justification, rationalization, or overdramatization. Glad to be where I am today, but I got here because I was once there.

dissociation

July 18, 2017

The first person I knew who was open about her experience of dissociation due to trauma was a friend in college. She’d experienced some form of abuse from a relative as a child, and in an attempt at self-protection, her childlike mind had created a narrative that those things happening to her had actually happened to a different little girl who had just told her about those tragic experiences. I’ve had a heart for people who have experienced such trauma since, even if I didn’t always understand their thought processes entirely.

I don’t begin with that to suggest that I’ve gone through something of that magnitude – only to illustrate the degree to which the human mind is a truly amazing thing. Tonight, as I was driving back downtown for yoga class, I passed a brewery I used to frequent, and instead of thinking about how great it would be to stop in, I had the strange feeling that my experiences there had actually belonged to someone else, that some other guy named Pete had sat in the beer hall, raised a toast to his second marriage finally ending at the bar, or experienced heartbreak to the soundtrack of clinking glasses and heavy metal. It feels the farthest thing from who I am becoming now – not in an angry revenge seeking way, or a mournful memory driven way, but more of a confusing identity seeking way. Who was I then? Why did I do those things? What was I thinking?

Perhaps I’ll never have answers to those questions. The most peace I’ve had in years has come from accepting that my present moment is all I have, and that living now is more than enough. And so, as I focused on last week during yoga: “right now…it’s like this.”

mom and the 9th step

August 6, 2017

Mom has been steadily declining over the last decade from dementia. Most of the time she sits watching whatever is around her or sleeps. Tonight, after talking with my sponsor about how I might do this, I went to visit her at the nursing home and read her a sort of bulletpointed letter regarding the ways I had been resentful, selfish, self-seeking, or had otherwise caused harm to our relationship. It was of course a little bit sad to have that conversation with someone who can’t respond – and who doesn’t understand that the words that are being said are even for her in the first place, let alone what they are at all. I ended by telling her that my main regret, aside from going down this road to begin with, was that it took this long to try to make amends, and that I wished I could have spent coherent time with her as I am now. But sometimes the only real way you make amends is by living them, and I am grateful for every new opportunity to do that.

Thanks for teaching me, over the course of your life, what forgiveness looks like, mom. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I hadn’t known what your forgiveness would have looked like if you’d been able to show it to me again, but I do know, and I’m thankful.

4

August 9, 2017

I hear sometimes about people who have negative experiences with AA meetings, whether due to feeling that they don’t belong or that they maybe weren’t “alcoholic enough” to qualify. That makes me really sad. While I can’t say I’ve loved every single meeting I’ve been to, I’ve not been to one that wasn’t marked with profound gratitude and acceptance of life in all its messy glory.

After my first meeting, I was talking with a guy who told me a little bit of his story. He looked steadily at me and said “all of us have been in some version of what you are in now, and if you are ready to do whatever it takes, you can have what we have now.” I couldn’t meet his gaze at the time. There was a strength and power behind his eyes that I was ashamed to not understand. His eyes looked like granite, like he was a thousand years old, with a quiet confidence that made everything I’d looked for in all the years of trying to swagger through life look like paper maché.

Four months in, and I feel my soul solidifying like that granite, with an internal stability and strength that I’ve only seen glimpses of in other people. It’s good. Really good. Thankful to God for all of it.

the gift of desperation and me

August 15, 2017

Every time I practice yoga, I’m reminded of all the days my life fell apart. All the vulnerability of the curtains thrown back, my heart exposed like a miniature Saint Sebastian lodged in my chest, arrows multiplying and ripping through it. And perhaps worst of all was knowing that despite all of my confusion and protestation and screaming searing anger, in the end, I’d brought almost all of this on myself in one way or another.
I knew better than to have one of everything and then another round.
I knew better than to invite emotional vampires into my life.
I knew better than to distrust my instincts about whether I was being told the truth.
I knew better than to stay in situations that would lead to heartbreak.
But I did all of those things anyway.

I’ve heard longtime recovering alcoholics talk a lot about being given the “gift of desperation,” and it’s a funny thing, but I know that gift now, maybe a few years later than I should have. It is cold and hard, like the floor, but it is firm and solid, like the truth, and although it is truly an empty place, it provides a foundation and a space within which to not only recover, but to actually reconstruct. And that is where I have found life, and love, and strength, and faith, and without any sense of emotional masochism, I am endlessly thankful for the gracious gift of desperation, for without it, I would have never had a glimpse of what I might become – someone I am absolutely crazy about being.

you can’t keep what you hold on to

August 18, 2017

In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s tempting, sometimes, to take the things I’ve been given in life and build a fortress with a moat (dragon included, because dragons are awesome) around them in an attempt to keep it all for myself. There’s a sort of logic to this protectionism of the soul that I think we all feel sometimes, perhaps from the natural world. For example, if I have enough air and water and food I get to keep living longer than if someone takes those things from me. The difficult thing to remember is that life isn’t just material, and that there is a lot to it that we only sometimes get glimpses of. Sunrises. Sunsets. Children laughing. Embraces. Piercing conversations. Forgiveness lived out. A cup of coffee. Whether in these moments and things or others, every now and then the flimsy veneer of the material world gets peeled back, and (if we are paying attention) we can see how much utter abundance we live in, and how much we can very easily give away to others.

And the sacred upside down backwards crazy wonder in all of it is this: when you give your life away, you get it back, plus more. There’s a mystery to this that I won’t even pretend to understand, but having found it to be true, I have to tell you about it. You only keep what you give away, and you absolutely lose what you cling to. This isn’t some “prosperity gospel” name it and claim it and pray a Jabez prayer over everything you want. I think we’ve all been disappointed like that. It’s about seeing what you have and then being so damn grateful for it that everything in your heart overflows and pours into someone else’s place of need, and then seeing how you blessed them and being so grateful for the chance to help that your heart overflows again…you get the picture.

We often say “thank God it’s Friday,” and rightly so, but every day is a good one to be grateful.

Siri Says: Resume Dating

August 24, 2017

Apparently, Siri thinks I should be back on the market.

About a year and a half ago, my second wife informed me that she and her kids were leaving me and moving out of state. Once I’d moved past the shock into the acceptance of it, I did the things I needed to do to move on, and have been largely successful in doing so. I even set myself this notification for today, a year later, with the intention that I would engage in self care for a full year, heal, get my life figured out, and then let myself start dating again (although, as a friend pointed out, this makes it look like it’s an agenda item I need to cross off before I get to go home for the day.) I naturally conveniently forgot about it about a month later, had a misguided difficult to define [situation?], a few nice dates, but otherwise haven’t been in any kind of serious relationship for this past year. More than anything, I was surprised when this notification came up. It’s already been a year? That went by fast.

A kind friend reminded me that the point wasn’t to just not date. The point was to heal and to recover from the emotional trauma I’d been living in for the previous several years. The person I was a year ago couldn’t handle life. It wasn’t just about my failed marriages or codependency. It wasn’t about my alcoholism, which had started to really ramp up in earnest right about then. It was a spiritual problem, and the only answer to that is a spiritual solution. Abandoning all hope in myself and throwing myself on the mercy of God was the first step, but it’s led me to a far better place than I ever imagined while drinking. I can pretty safely tell you that I’m becoming the best version of me you would have ever met, particularly compared with previous editions, whether I’m in a place where I’m dating or not. I’m just happy being me. Really.

So it’s a strange place to be. I’m grateful for all the heartbreak and mistakes that got me here, despite wishing so many times that I could just erase all of it. I wouldn’t dream of it now, and I’m so blessed to be able to share my story and be of service.

Happy Birthday: I was going to drink anyway.

November 17, 2017

When you make the same choices over and over again for a long time and then stop, it’s kind of jarring. For example, I used to send this meme to my friends on their birthdays, and for the last seven plus months, every time a friend has had a birthday, this comes to mind. Those things just don’t work anymore.
I see it in all kinds of situations. It’s like the Big Book says: “A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values. We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly.”

As my sponsor has reminded me repeatedly, this isn’t about thinking our way into some revelation. It’s about discarding things that don’t work and don’t serve us well. I have been amazed at how quickly my life gets better after I dispose of anger or resentment without regret. I have a friend who seems bent on living his life angry, and he’s had some legitimately terrible things happen to him, but when I look at my own life and think about how thoroughly hateful and bitter I spent so much of it, I see absolutely no way that holding on to anger has served me well. More often than not, anger just compounds every problem I’ve had.

So choices change, friendships change, life changes. If it is working, it stays. If it isn’t, it goes. No regrets. Maybe I won’t be as funny on your birthday this time around. Maybe I’ll not be the life of your holiday party this year. But I also won’t black out and wake up with regrets, and you won’t hate me for ruining the occasion.

I’ve got plans.

September 5, 2017

Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great…
…what usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well.
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 73.

People talk about Plan B a lot when they are in the midst of change. Plan B is reserved for when Plan A, that idealized perfect version of things, doesn’t work out. Sometimes Plan B is seen as a lifeline, whether it’s a way out of a difficult marriage or job, but more often it is a resolution that things are never going to go the way you planned, and you’re forever off the course you charted on a map you may not have anymore. And God forbid that Plan B doesn’t work out, because Plan C (if Plan C has even been conceptualized) casts doubt on your ability to make plans at all.

There’s nothing wrong with making plans. If everything we did was on impulse, we’d have a very disordered world. However, I’m starting to think that we would do well to look at parts of life like relationships and work in terms of possibilities rather than plans. We talk about “getting our hopes up,” but this is code for “having to settle for Plan B,” where Plan B isn’t as good as Plan A. The fact is, B may be better than A, and C might turn out to be the best ever. My plan A was to be a pastor. Plan B was to become a therapist. Plan C was to eventually open a small brewery with some friends. Did I want to admit that I was an alcoholic and out of control, and that Plan C was going to eventually destroy me? Of course not. But life has become amazing.

What would happen if, instead of planning for a certain outcome and then accepting only that outcome as the source of our happiness, we actually got our hopes up and then chased those hopes instead of making plans? Maybe that would look more like living, instead of planning and directing.

Labor Day

September 4, 2017

I used to love “free” holidays like Labor Day, because they meant an extra night of drinking and an extra day of being lazy because I felt like a pile of death. I’ve been trying all day to remember the last time I just enjoyed myself without a drink in hand on one of these days, and I just can’t. If you’d suggested such even six months ago, I would have laughed at the idea and called it pointless. A year ago, I would have laughed even harder and insisted that you probably needed a drink so you would be more fun.

Because that was the point, right? To have fun? I’ve been thinking back on what my life was like a year ago, and it’s just killing me. I went to a huge Oktoberfest-style party at a large local brewery and sat and drank beer all day (scroll down if you’re curious. I left the pics up to remind me to not go back to that life again), and then went home with an undiagnosed broken heart.

Life felt so confusing then. I can’t get over how clear and simple and unconfusing life is in sobriety, but there it is. And it’s better. It’s ALL better. I have tons of time, way better sleep, loads more money, all kinds of renewed interests, a renewed faith in God, better friendships, better relationships with my kids, better health, and…oh…the FOOD. Food has never been this interesting and good and life giving! Food was previously “that stuff you eat so you don’t get drunk too quickly and/or become less drunk.” But food has become so much more.

And music. Music. My guitar greets me with the forgiving embrace of a long lost lover every time I pay attention to her, and she calms me like she did before I left her to try to drink myself into oblivion. She shows me grace.

I don’t deserve any of it. I really don’t. But I love life more and more all the time.