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.


November 28, 2017

When I was dishonest, it gave people power over me.

The irony, of course, is that most people (myself included) are dishonest to try to maintain power, usually the power that comes with a positive image or perception by others, but in doing so, we actually forfeit that power to the person or people we lie to, because we have to live with an awareness that the relationship will always be contingent on the truth never becoming known accurately, if at all.
But when I tell the truth, I actually have real power. I have the power of solid reality. I don’t walk in fear that I’ll be found out as a fraud, or that a secret will be revealed and I’ll be discredited. I just get to be myself, perfectly imperfect, and I have peace, because I don’t have to scramble to frantically cover anything up. When my life is consistent with reality – and perhaps more significantly, when I just try to do the right thing without worrying about the consequences, even if it makes me vulnerable (as in making amends for being profoundly self centered and admitting when I am wrong), I get the peace and power and serenity that I never ever got by lying, whether the lie was about how great I wanted you to think I am or about how I wasn’t truly responsible for something I had done. Life is a lot easier and less messy when I just do the right thing and keep telling the truth.

the List

Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs,
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes,
Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers’ tears.
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet.

William Shakespeare

So, I don’t have this all figured out – not by a long shot – but one thing is making a lot of sense lately. I spent years (decades, really) trying to “find the right person” for me. I had a List, sometimes written, usually just mental. Things like “is not a pathological liar,” or “is faithful” usually remained unchanged (yes, I know all too well from firsthand experience that a pathological liar can fool you into thinking he or she is not one). But other things (“lets me cook a lot,” or “is physically active,” or “loves craft beer” [back when I did], or “is creative”) rose and fell in importance as life went by. And I wondered after two failed marriages and an overflowing handful of stupid or painful or chaotic relationships why I just couldn’t seem to pull it all together – why “that right person” remained elusive.
And then it hit me – not like an arrow, but like the gradually brighter rays of dawn: Most people don’t spend much time on becoming the right person. I know I didn’t. If you look for the right person, you have very little control, other than to say yea or nay to each person. But if you become the right person – perhaps using the person that you imagine as the “right person” as a reference point for who you want to be loved by – you have so much power to have an incredibly fulfilling, wonder-filled, passionately amazing life, because you get to do more than just vet or veto potential loves. You get to become something greater – in fact, if you do it right, you might even fall in love with yourself before anyone else gets to – and someone genuinely in love with him or herself, living his or her life with passionate abandon and joy, is pretty hard to forget.
So immeasurably grateful for every moment I get to think clearly, to love myself deeply, and to become me.

meeting after the meeting

September 6, 2017

One of my favorite things is going out after meetings. It’s just great being with people who get me. Tonight, we went to a place I used to live quite literally within crawling distance of, and it was amazing to not be drunk here. Kind of felt, like so many things lately, like I was getting yet another part of my life back.


September 11, 2017

During my second marriage I think I had six months of sobriety, and only started drinking again when my wife told me to. (I tell that story a lot, not out of malice, but out of amazement.) I was thrilled to start drinking again…and kind of aware that it was a bad decision. The first of many that followed, although really just one of many more.

The truth is, I don’t know if it was six months or three months or something in between. So much has happened in the time between then and now and I honestly remember so much less from that time than I probably should – not just because I drank a lot in the interim, but because so much of that is just not important to me anymore. When you abandon your resentments and fears and work at being a more useful and better person, so many truly trivial and pointless things fall away like cold fall rain pounding and pouring and sliding down the windows of your heart.

I had the opportunity this past week to think back really thoroughly on the last year, and the better my life becomes, the more true it is that I neither regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. I am grateful for the heartbreak, the tears, the longing, the doors slammed shut, and the hard vivid void left when all that remains is the quiet voice that says “don’t give up.” I could cry over all I’ve been through, but I’m not sad anymore. I’m not even wistful for the past I wanted to be different. I’m just glad to be here, in all the imperfect glory of right now.


September 17, 2017

I used to get the thickest, darkest curtains I could find, so that I wouldn’t be awakened by the morning light, but these days I keep the blinds slightly open, and often wake up before sunrise without any provocation, even on nights I don’t sleep enough. I don’t hate mornings anymore. They feel now like an old friend returning after some time spent apart, rather than a jilted suitor pounding on the door demanding attention. Maybe that’s what making amends to myself feels like. Every new day is another adventure, and I am still surprised and delighted that I get to be a part of it.


I was talking with my sponsor yesterday about how recovery works, and he said “what I know is that the people I’ve known who work through the first 164 pages of the Big Book and keep it simple don’t drink again, stay sober, and live happy lives. There are a lot of unhappy people in Alcoholics Anonymous, but from my experience, most of them tried to make it more complicated and go beyond the program as it is.”

There’s something really profound about this for me. I tend to be an “all or nothing” thinker at times, in that I expect or hope for a universal solution to the problems of life. I want all of it to get better without having to wrestle with any of it, or without having to accept that sometimes life just doesn’t get better. But that’s a surefire path to an eventual straightjacket, or worse. Life doesn’t always get better. Accepting life on its own terms is sometimes the best we can do.

I think I’d hoped that becoming sober would solve everything else for me-and maybe eventually it will, in its own way. It’s becoming easier to be okay with some of the ambiguities of life, and to let go of some of the ways I’d tried to control life before. It’s definitely easier to think clearly. I’m no longer trying to avoid making hard decisions or pretend they aren’t even there by anesthetizing myself or checking out of life. I’ve had to walk away from a few friendships, and while this has been sad, it’s also been both necessary and obvious, and while I truly wish I could still have the best versions of those friends in my life, I also know that my own survival and sanity are at stake, and that letting go in this case means trusting God to take care of people I really do love but who cannot love me in a way that will work.

Honesty, Doubt, and Surrender

Today’s meeting was a discussion of the third step:

“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Overall, the last 13 days of sobriety have not been that hard for me. I’ve had a sense of calm and a lack of chaos in my heart and life that I haven’t experienced in months, if not years. But I found myself struggling with this point, not because I disagreed with any of it, but because I agree with it so thoroughly, and because of a profound fear of inauthenticity in myself. In addition to having been a drunk therapist, I was once also a drunk pastor. I’ve prayed for deliverance from my addiction and from the life circumstances that somehow made dependence seem necessary before. I’ve recommitted myself to God’s purposes for my life and tried harder more times than I can count, only to stumble and fall in my very best efforts to be a better version of myself. I wasted a lot of life living as a hypocrite. I don’t ever want to live that way again, and even if that means a vivid and unattractive display of my wounds and scars, I’d rather be known as I am than loved for something I’m not.

I desperately want to remain sober, and that requires a sort of honesty and authenticity I’ve mostly faked in the past. Sometimes I’ve even believed the false version of Pete myself, and that’s the part that scares me. How do I know this time is any different? It feels different…I’ve done a few different things this time…but the truth that I’ve come to know about myself is that I have a tremendous capacity for self-deception. That’s why it’s so important to surround myself with people with whom I am ruthlessly honest, who will hold me accountable and call me on my bullshit, but who will also tell me when they actually see me being honest. That’s why I’m grateful for meetings.

I guess the other thing, like many matters involving faith, is that this isn’t a one time surrender. Every day, sometimes every moment, I have to commit myself to that surrender again, to decide that this is the path I walk today. Today is almost over, and I’m grateful I got to live in it.

“Hi. I’m Pete. And I’m an alcoholic.”

For the third first time in my life, I sat in a room of strangers and nervously uttered those words, knowing at least what the next two I heard would be.

“Hi Pete.”

I’d been sober for 24 hours, and I’d been here before, as I said, twice.

The first time, I was going through my first divorce.  I was on staff at a wonderful church, but my life was very confusing, and I was grasping at any clarity I could find.  I went to one meeting, decided I wasn’t an alcoholic, just really stressed, and never went back. I enjoyed a comfortable relationship with alcohol for the next two years until I got married again. (By comfortable, I mean that after I went back to school and became a therapist, I drank every night, sometimes through the entire weekend if my kids weren’t with me, and at one point had a bottle of bourbon in my filing cabinet in my office.  At least two of my clients saw me hungover on a regular basis, and one ran into me drunk, standing on the sidewalk, in a kilt, on Saint Patrick’s Day. “Comfortable” in this case means “unapologetic.”)

The second time, during my second marriage, my wife and I had just had a big argument. I may have even passed out in the middle of the discussion, but the drinking was clearly a factor.  The next day, I went to a meeting, cleared my house of all the alcohol I had, and was stone cold sober for six months.  I went to meetings at least weekly, and I didn’t miss drinking at all.  My marriage started to seem more like the friendship it once had been. We talked every day about deep, heart issues, and it started to feel like healing.  My wife and I went for a walk the day I’d been sober six months, and she told me two things.  First, that she had decided she didn’t want to give up on our marriage, and second, that she wanted me to start drinking again, because I was more fun and because she wanted to be able to drink and not feel weird around me when she did. “I don’t want you to get drunk.  I want us to just have one or two and do so in moderation, and not stockpile it in the house.”  I enthusiastically agreed, because I loved craft beer.  I filed for divorce about a year and a half later – not because I of alcohol, but partly because of some of the control issues that all of the above should at least begin to illustrate.  On April 15th, 2016, when she told me she was leaving me, my work friends took me out to Brit’s Pub and got me ridiculously drunk in an effort to be supportive.  The day I served her with papers in June, I met a friend at the Surly brewery, and daily drinking again became part of my life.

That was the beginning.

I moved to a quiet suburb that has one brewery, but it’s one of the best in the state, and made so many frequent appearances that I often ended up not paying for much of anything. I met and unsuccessfully attempted to have a relationship with a girl who worked at two breweries, and spent most of the time I was with her drinking or drunk. I got a part time job at a liquor store for about a month and spent nearly every dime I earned there on craft beer. I got incredibly drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day this year and did some regrettable things.

And then one day it all fell apart, and I knew I was done.

Today is my twelfth day sober, and more than anything else, I have a sense of gratitude and undeserved peace.  I am thankful for every moment that I get to participate in life with a clarity I haven’t had in nearly twenty years.

And with that, I’ll pass for now.