I EXIST AS I AM. THAT IS ENOUGH

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.”

– Walt Whitman


I have a sickness. At one time I was a sickness, but now I sit with the knowledge of having a sickness. It is something that is dealt with daily, not something that overcomes and becomes me. For years I was able to shut down part of my brain so that all feelings of guilt and shame would, for a time at least, disappear. Today I have the option to live that way but instead I choose to feel, I choose to be a part of the human experience. I choose to endure pain and sadness so that I may see beauty and love.

My sickness is a common one: generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and neurosis. It does not go away when one gets sober and for me it has not gone away with a lifestyle built around ridding myself of them. My sickness is barely visible compared to what it once was but it is still impactful. Others may not see this and it is not their responsibility to see it; but I see it and I feel it. I have also accepted my sickness as something I have to deal with, I do not pretend it is not there, avoidance does nothing but harm.

I have learned through this acceptance that others may see me as selfish, imperfect, imbalanced, and thoughtless – and I have learned that it is ok for others to think that about me. I have learned that understanding how to live in this world is a challenge, both for 5-year-olds and 32-year-olds. I am able to see why others may not understand my process and the struggle I have, I get why some may think it is time for things to be normal again. But things were never normal in my life and I don’t believe there is ever a time when someone is fully recovered. For as long as one is willing to work on oneself the work will always be there to complete; I choose to work on myself and others may choose a different path. My path, however, has a lot of questions and it is the only way I know to lead an authentic life.

Authenticity is the difference between this life and the one I lived for 31 years. It is the reason I am not offended by the desires of others and the reason I can be patient with the judgment of others. It is what allows me to be happy even though my way of life doesn’t fit in with the plans of others. It gives me the knowledge and comfort that of the 500 mistakes I make each day not one of them is a mistake born out of manipulation or dishonesty. I own my mistakes and ask others for advice, but I do not ask others how I ought to live. Nobody can tell me the right way to live simply because they are not me. I have opinions, emotions, and feelings that are hurt at times as well – I am after all human. But my hurt emotions are for me to understand and overcome. I do not ask you to change to suit my life, I change myself to fit a life I understand to be positive, meaningful, and fulfilling. Whatever direction that takes me is the direction I am going, and I am ok with that.

I live with knowledge that I work each day to become better than I was yesterday, not for one person but for my role in this world. My first priority each day is to stay sober. This is something others may not ever understand but it is something that can never change for me, and I understand why.

This is the life I have always wanted to live, a life where I am ok with the person I am even though I know I am full of mistakes and error. I do not feel such a strong drive to explain myself to others, for I do not believe I have done anything wrong. This also means that I am able to ask others where I am missing, where I am lacking, and where I have hurt them. I will always seek ways to make amends for any damage I cause to another person, for again I know that any harm I cause is because of an honest mistake I have made and not out of self-seeking, dishonest motives.

I will not ask others to have patience with me or to understand me, it is an unworthy question. People will be who they will be. I am fortunate to have been blessed with a patient, albeit seemingly confused at times, group of people in my life. My way of life is new to almost everyone I know, and it is new to me also. Others will be hurt by my role in recovery, wondering if I will ever just be – and I will at some point be able to live with less congestion. My recovery ought to always be first in my mind but over time it will seem a memory to those around me.

This life has given me the ability to listen to others and to appreciate their feelings. I do not fear what others may say because others do not decide why I do the things I do – nobody but myself needs to understand why I live this way and I do not ask others why they choose the life they have chosen. I know who I am, and I am imperfect and at times forgetful, disorganized, distant, and selfish. But my motive each day is to always come out the other end sober, stronger, and a better person all the way around.

So, I do not ask for the patience and understanding of others. I do not expect others to be able to understand my reasons when they have not experienced my life, such is an impossible thing to ask of someone. I do not ask for anything, for there is actually nothing you can give me. Instead I tell you that I have faith in the work I am doing. I have faith that through my mistakes I will learn new ways of living and I will only become a better person and a more positive presence. I will not set out to live the way others believe I should but this does not mean I do not care. I will let my actions and my progress speak for me each day and will continue to have gratitude for the distance I have traveled over these past 16 months. My faith in these works is what has brought me here from the gates of hell. You need only a memory of who I was to understand how far I have come to get here – and for what it’s worth to you I have no plans of stopping this progress.

OKAY, I’LL BE PART OF THIS WORLD

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
J.D. Salinger


For the first 30 years of my life, I was not part of much in any meaningful way. I had my moments with family; I was well-behaved, polite, never set out to hurt anyone. Then again I never set out to do much of anything – I didn’t want to upset anyone, and I didn’t want any attention. Attention shines a light and exposes good and bad qualities alike – I didn’t want any light shining on me. I wanted to go by unnoticed – and I was pretty successful. This attitude is perhaps why my behavior has at times confounded so many people throughout my life – I am someone who is likable, polite, pensive, and loving but I also don’t want people’s attention. So, often people would see someone who was safe to get close to, who wouldn’t hurt them. Often what people found was once they got too close I completely detached, and they were utterly shocked. I am nice, how could I do something so emotionally jarring?

I have always had one foot out the door. I didn’t want anyone to get close to me because I had no idea what they would find. The first part of my life I was too scared to look into the mirror, so I created what I thought you wanted to see – every single person. What resulted was a disastrous collision of personalities, all created out of thin air and none with any foundation. When you have no foundation it is easy to run away – it also makes it impossible to stay.

I had to change – not a few tweaks here and there – I had to change my entire perspective on how to go about living if I ever wanted to connect with others. I had to make a decision, every morning, regarding my position in this world. To be part of this world I had to face the darkness – if I wanted the light, the connection with others, I had to be willing to find a connection with myself.

The darkness is the part of myself that I don’t want you to see, and I certainly don’t want to acknowledge. It is the truth – it is the only thing worth fighting for and the only thing that will allow me to be a significant, useful person. It may sound like wordplay, but it is not – there is no trickery, and there is nothing pretentious or new about this line of thinking. Being part of this world means so much more than going to work, making dinner, and going to bed. A paycheck, a mortgage, a partner – these are all part of an individual’s life. But in these things we can escape from the world, pretend that our existence is a fulfilling one, that we have found beauty. For me there are a million smokescreens, a million disguises – there is always a way out of this world, and most people find it and take it.

To be part of this world means finding authenticity within oneself – admitting and working on one’s flaws before celebrating one’s successes. To appreciate the light with sincerity one must understand and experience the darkness – one must engage in their personal battle to find happiness and fulfillment on their accord. The euphoria that others bring us is not authentic; it cannot be. We create our happiness and others serve only to enhance our lives. We go out and face the world alone, find what we have hidden from ourselves, and rip it out of the ground and shine a light on it. Everyone has their fair share of flaws and most point out the flaws in others to direct the light away from themselves. In the darkness you cannot do this – there is no light to shine on the faults of others, there is only you.

You have people who rant and rave about the miscarriages of the government – posting vile speeches just to grab a headline – yelling as loud as they can about the misdeeds of everyone but themselves and then resting on their mistaken laurels. These people feel they have done their part; they have blown the whistle on everyone else! They have told you and everyone else exactly how to think! They have done nothing for themselves. They are scavengers – they want your attention – they want the light off of them. Don’t take their light on – or listen to them and take up arms from your couch. You will find no argument from me – I cannot make others work on themselves, and I know this. I can only show you how I came to confront life on my own – one must do it alone.

When I set out to face my devil, I saw the manipulation, the layers of deceit, the dishonesty. I saw where I had been so convincingly dishonest with myself that I hadn’t even noticed anymore. This had to be undone – my life had to be reworked. My life is still being reworked; it is a daily reprieve. I echo the words of great minds from the past and tell you that the only thing I know is that I know nothing. I cannot right the wrongs of the 21st century with a few vitriol words here and there. Each time I see another spew words onto the screen condemning others for their way of life and offering a solution I smile a bit. What I offer here is not a solution, it is not even directions to anything. I do not know what others must face in their life – I do know that there is a part of this world that is filled with darkness, and I know that when given the opportunity to work on one’s shortcomings a person will turn swiftly and point out mine first.

All I have is my path and it is dark at times, but it always leads me to a beauty I had never known before. These things I work on, the things others have taught me, are ways to work on a sickness that was within me long before any drink was. It is the disease of being born and being scared. The illness in this world is fear, and I cannot tell you what fear you have. Perhaps you are like me, and you have pushed your fears so deep you hope they never come back up – but they will and they most likely already have. Our repressed fears and shortcomings find new ways to breathe, new ways to hurt us and the only way we are rid of them is if we face them.

There is a darkness in my world today – it tells me to go back into my bed, to turn off the lights, to make an excuse instead of going outside. My fear tells me I am unwanted, unworthy, and of no use. However I have faced my devil many times and each time I do I gain more light – the light is my beauty and my truth and the more I seek progress in the darkness the more truth I find in the light. The light is what shakes me from my slumber; it is what makes my eyes rise to meet yours. The light gives me hope; it is a reminder of what I go through to get a glimpse of beauty. To know pure beauty is to know utter darkness; Do not fear to become mired in the shadows – the brightness within is bolder.

I do not know what the world needs or what problems can be solved. I only know that if one will only examine themselves the way so many dissect so many others from afar one will find answers they can use. I gain nothing by learning what your flaws are – I cannot correct them – only you can correct yourself. With this knowledge, it seems to make sense that I ought to continue working on myself and myself alone each day. My words here are only a journal into my life – if you find my life appealing, if you see stillness in me that you wish for yourself you will find my methods here. I will not make orders; I have no power and no control over you. I have experience. You know where I come from; it is your choice: do my words have any merit? Ought we look inwards instead of outwards? I tell you that man can change but one heart and one mind in this entire world, and that is his own. I will be part of this world by accepting the darkness – that is how badly I want the light.

The Sun Is Still Here

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

Though it satisfies my selfish mind to align myself, to toe the line, I must move away from mirrored minds and reflective voices on the chorus line shouting “we are right and they are lying.” I want my beliefs to be challenged, and you secure enough to be challenged.

I want to be without answers and confidently balanced.
I have no use for you who are right and you who are wrong.
I want to be steady on trembling roads where all is not right and all has gone wrong. I want to surprise my shadow and know that I am not all black nor all white.

Fling forth all beliefs and surrender all answers. They don’t mean a thing. The language will change and though we have the means we no longer feel the need. We will know how to move on these trembling roads and we will trust ourselves more than we did before.

Attachment melts from our golden eyes
The path we are on is not a pack of lies.
And as you beat your heart with no education
You will trust your words without hesitation.

You and I with golden eyes no longer need to proselytize or win the war or steal the skies. We just walk along on trembling roads and as we speak the pathway grows and roots are born and sorrow goes. And though the sun is sleeping even the blind can see that the brightness between us is the sunshine within us and the sunshine within us is the sun that you see.

 

FEAR

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

Fear of not being taken seriously.

Fear of freedom and fear of light.

Fear of being superfluous.

Fear that you won’t love your enemy.

Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.

Fear that what you love will prove inconsequential.

Fear of death.

Fear of running out of time.

Fear of things left unsaid.

Fear of being forgotten.

Fear that your transformation has gone unnoticed.

Fear that you won’t be fully recognized.

Fear that they won’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Fear that you are too late.

Fear that you never arrived.

 

With sincerity, effort, and error.

Recovery & Stigma​

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

I am a recovering alcoholic living with depression, generalized anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not news, but it has been a long time since I have written directly on the topic so I thought I would refresh your memory. My sobriety date is February 11, 2014, and I am without relapse, slip, or any other reference to the use of mind-altering drugs. I lead a fulfilling life with a loving family and a fellowship of people I would do most anything for. I am honest, dependable, thoughtful, compassionate, and spend most of my time of service to others in psychiatric wards, detox centers, an Alzheimer clinic, and as a mentor to a freshman in high school. I am proud of myself and my life, and I wonder how many people can get past the first sentence of this paragraph…

I am not here to defend addicts, and I own my alcoholism well. I do not shift blame to others, I do not play the victim, and my actions in the past are mine alone. I am also not looking for leniency or any other special treatment; I am here to give clarity concerning myself and people like me.


When I finally decided to get sober, I was somewhat shocked at how many people had no idea that I was in need of such a drastic overhaul. Granted people like myself often specialize in secrecy and at times work tirelessly to cover up the extent of our addiction, but to be genuinely shocked that I am an alcoholic took me by total surprise. I hear the same from other men and women every day; their spouse, boss, friends, none had any idea they had gotten so bad. And now we are all together admitting our past and hoping to recover, hoping to earn the trust of those we love and trying to cope with this world without any form of escape.

In many ways I got along pretty well in the world during my life; I was a miserable, dishonest character playing myself but all in all, I looked pretty good on paper. I was hired by well-run companies and organizations and had long-term relationships with women. My life on the outside never seemed as bad as it felt on the inside and of course that was by design; I didn’t want you to see me for who I was because I hated myself and further if you saw me as I really was I would have to admit the truth, I would have to agree this was all real. To admit my mistakes and character flaws were out of the question. I had built up so many defenses throughout my life, and though I had no idea who I was protecting, I was going to protect it to the gates of hell. To the gates I went, and all of my defenses shattered around me, leaving a confused, hurt, ashamed man; my true self as it was at that moment.

My past life is not littered with prison stays, violent behavior, dramatic meltdowns, or any other behavior often mistakenly associated with addicts and people suffering from mental illness. My past is a mixture of insecurity, dishonesty, selfishness, self-centeredness, ego, self-pity, pride, etcetera. My story isn’t fascinating either, at least not to someone who is eager to hear about wild nights, cops, violence, or the like. My point is that my life is not unique, neither astonishing nor deplorable, it is a life. But my life comes with an asterisk at times; I am a walking warning sign, and I entirely understand and accept this. But I am a warning sign because of things I have admitted openly and honestly – my character has been poured over to reach a level of comfort in life I never thought possible. I go through old wounds to find new answers, to find my way to a new life. My life is a work in progress; everyone is either a work in progress or stagnant – nobody is finished. I could have continued fooling some people, continued living a lie and gotten away with almost all of my behavior. I could have continued to live a life that wasn’t mine, but I no longer wanted to, the misery had grown too great, the hurt to others had become too clear, and my distance from humanity was too much to bear.  It was time to admit the truth. It was finally time to do the work, and the work is extensive, and at times it is painful, but it is authentic.


I wonder how rare this type of work is; I wonder how many walking warning signs I pass each day who do not have a problem with alcohol but have problems they still do not dare look at. I see so much jealousy, judgment, violence, dishonesty, and selfishness each day – I wonder if these people have faced their inner demons; I have faced my devil and I know him well – do you know your devil?

I wonder how many of them would sit with another and admit that they are angry, that they feel inadequate, that they hate their job. How many people have to put on a strong face before walking out the door? How many masks does a “normal” person have stowed away in their closet? My secret is out of the bag because I let it out; I wonder if anyone else has one or if it is just us addicts who should be so ashamed.

A therapist once told me that anyone can be in recovery, everyone has things they do not wish to admit about themselves and issues which are holding their life back. Anyone can sit and acknowledge that they are too greedy, angry, impatient, judgmental, overbearing, co-dependent, full of lust, high-tempered, quick-fused, insecure, pretentious, and on the list of flaws can go. But at what price does the admission of these faults come? How embarrassing is it to tell someone that you aren’t perfect? How low does a person have to go until they are able to admit they can improve themselves? For me I have paid hardly anything, and I have received a life without shame, regret, or fear.

And perhaps this is the answer; Perhaps the fastest way to improvement is the complete annihilation of self, something few people have to experience. My addiction has brought out qualities that others see as admirable, others are drawn to me almost magnetically, and this goes for the others I sit with as well. I sit in church basements along some of the warmest, intelligent, charming, and thoughtful people I have ever met. I know many of their faults, and none of these are embarrassing to hear, though for a time they are difficult to admit. I wonder how different people would feel if they could sit and talk to others about their fears, regrets, and flaws and do it all without fear of judgment.

If the non-addict who is riddled with anxiety and insecurity could tell someone how they felt instead of pretending it wasn’t there wouldn’t they feel a sense of freedom? Yet this freedom is in part denied to many for fear of judgment, criticism, and condescension. Where are all of the “listeners?” Being vulnerable enough to share your struggle is a sign of strength; however, others have used it to admonish those as weak-willed and unreliable. What motivates us to demean those who seek help yet reward those who pretend they have no struggle? There is a struggle behind each person’s front door, and still, we see strength in those who sit in judgment and disgust for others! We watch a lie unfold, an act of undeserved superiority, and we accept it because most of us are hiding too.

But I am not here to try and convince others. I cannot will someone to change, to want to rid themselves of their character flaws, to risk a little embarrassment for a wealth of freedom. I have learned that one does not need to go to the gates of hell to work on their flaws and become a better person; it is something I do each day without the pressure of anyone pushing me to change. The feeling that others have that their life is not working, that they aren’t happy, successful, or worthy – this feeling does not need to persist if they would only be honest. I had the fortune of being cornered, and for most it takes that kind of pressure to want to change, to want to become a better person.

Today, however, I can at least give the advice that life does not need to be lived in secrecy. That living a life that is not fulfilling only for appearances is never worth it. That changing your outlook each day does not always mean a radical overhaul of your beliefs. You do not need to identify as anything, you are in recovery from whatever it is that ails you. We recover from pain by facing the challenge, admitting our part and taking action to improve the situation. The more we avoid and deny our shortcomings the more we fall into unhappiness; it is the very thing we set out to avoid which causes the most pain and is the reason for our insecurity and lack of confidence. Avoiding our flaws is a hopeless and meaningless gesture – sooner or later the lock will break, and these secrets will come out. When our hidden life busts down the door it is never worth the years we kept up appearances; these things can be dealt with today and freedom of self would follow.

But I am not a preacher or a mind-reader. Perhaps most people are happy, joyous, and free. Maybe I am one of the very few in this world who needed to improve; perhaps I am the only warning sign on the block. Maybe people go to bed happy and wake up happy – perhaps the use of alcohol by “normal” people is really just for fun and never to cope with the struggle of daily life. Maybe I am wrong on all accounts, and I should admit that us addicts are so different from everyone else and that I am only now understanding what the rest of you already knew. But I wonder why so many are drawn to us, why our candor and compassion seem to take others by surprise. I wonder why people come to me for help and advice when there is a long list of others without my warning sign available.

In all of my questioning, the only thing I actually wonder is if people realize that at any moment they can improve themselves, find broader and stronger happiness, and do it all without embarrassment or shame. I share with you my flaws so that you feel comfortable in feeling your own. It is none of my business how clean your side of the street is, but it doesn’t mean I cannot look across and see the piles of wreckage and pain. It also doesn’t mean that I am judging you, I only want to give you proof that life is never beyond redemption; I am your proof and it is never done without help and never in silence.

Experience has taught me that to make an impact on this world I must truthful in my actions. I must lead by example and show that my actions are the reason for my freedom. When you get to know me, when you see my work with others, the words recovering alcoholic and mental illness begin to drift further from the mind, meaning less and less over time. I will be open with you so that you may be open to yourself; we all have to start somewhere.