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.

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.

Death of a relationship | Continue

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

If I should be brought before you

And am asked to skim the trees

To recollect my fondest thoughts

Amid a wasteland of memories

I should dig deep the shallow trenches

I will seek out every eye

For my past bear’s strong resemblance

To the ones I stand before

And I will know a soft resistance

As I push off from the shore


I wonder how all of this will come to pass; How you and I will remember one another. I don’t sit with this for very long, for I know where my mind often leads me. I do not drift to positive places. Instead, my mind seems to embrace the negative and haunting spaces. But I must think of this, of you and I and our past. My past, as it were, is what I must think of.

You were gentle with me; virtually every memory tells me this was your way. You knew that anger would cause me running, and your job was to have me stay. And at times you were overbearing, you wanted for yourself my good health. You wished my mind would pause, and you could rest. You cared much and sometimes in the wrong way. But I forgive your co-dependence, your expectations, and your disappointment. I overlook these things because I, too, am full of error, and I am not here to blame.

I am here to recover the past, not for keeping but to learn. What was it about our relationship that you wanted to hold onto? What was it about me that you seemed so keen on keeping close? I have asked myself this question, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. At times, I was honest and pensive, but others I was a complete waste of effort. Who holds onto the daily garbage? One who is sick themselves I believe. I look back with compassion, not wishing to change you, and this is not meant to enlighten you. This I doubt the entirety of you will ever read.

I can remember when you embraced me, and my embrace was a lie. I remember when you embraced me, and I felt your heart pouring into my chest. I heard your heart pouring into my chest, its crimson waves exposing the emptiness in me. I felt you sometimes, and other times you left me frozen, or I left you frozen.  We were just friends. We were lovers. We were enemies. All of it was real, though. You failed me and used me selfishly. You were so many people all at once; it’s no wonder I completely lost you at times.

But you are not unique … Christ, neither am I. I considered you less than you deserved and became the type of man I have always judged, hated. My selfishness knew no bounds and still, it was suffocated time and again. I had fallen so short of breath that our relationship had to change. All I could do was start over. I had no idea what this would mean but it was time to tear each other apart and continue, alone.

The beginning was beautiful. Leaves fell hard in those first few days, and for some those leaves are still rocks on their backs. But it was no longer excuse enough for me to hide behind. I loved them dearly, I truly did. I love them today differently because I am different and they are different. They are whole but hard to see. I send out eulogies because I was not always there when the moment surprised and seemed to ambush us. I am here now, I am here for the ones who wish to hear me.

I still seem to lose you at times, even though I feel we have been doing everything well. We outgrow each others usefulness, we no longer need one another. When you no longer need something it becomes a weight around your ankle unless you part ways while still feathers. In the beginning, it feels wrong; it angers me to part ways. But it is the best for both of us and the best way for the whole of us.

Sometimes I glance out the window and see your birds singing. Other times I turn my back to you, wishing you would at once turn away from me. I love you, I have forgotten you, and I hope to love you. Before the earth, before the lovers and the users and the apathetic bystanders, I hope I give you something you cannot hold but can use. I hope you see me and know that the past is real, but it is gone and only alive in your mind. This moment is real as well. I hope you see the power of this moment, and I hope you forget me and move on if that is what you must do.

You have nothing to say to me, and I nothing to say to you, for the most part. One day I will sit down and tell you what it all means, but today you must work on it yourself. It is your world that you must save from forever wilting. You do not live for me, I do not live for you, but we live for a purpose higher than both of us. I cannot define yours, and I know you cannot give me the relief I once sought. I appreciate you for who you are, and do not want you to change your colors to draw me closer. If I speak a foreign tongue to you and you wish to retreat, I do not blame you. Those who are meant to be in my life will be; others will become useful by becoming more like themselves.

I love you, I hope to love you, and I have forgotten and forgiven you. Do not fear whatever lay in front of us, it is meant to be there, and we no longer need to embellish who we are. This is the death of our relationship.

 

 

 

MY HEART

MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES

“There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I don’t deserve to have the mother I do. I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way; Rather I find my mother to be such a rarity that it doesn’t seem fair to others that I ended up with her as my mother. Such is life I suppose, and instead of feeling guilt I am grateful to have this rarity in my life.

I have always been a lot like my mother, the first similarity being our birthday. I often speak of our most valuable qualities coming by way of painful experiences, and me being a nearly 12 pound baby I believe I made my value known from the beginning. This would be the first in a long line of painful moments that my mother endured to allow me to become the man I am today. I often speak about the tools I have in my life, the work that goes on behind the curtain, and today I am revealing the heart behind the curtain, my mother.

My mother has always been the one constant in my life regardless of absolutely any consequence or difficulty. Her presence has been known in the best of times and more importantly in the most challenging times. I am admired by some for my recovery, told of the strength I exhibit and the hope I have given to others and it is all very meaningful to me. But in many ways the admiration is misdirected and the people behind the curtain are forgotten – for the strength that you see in me was given to me by my mother whose strength, determination, and compassion outweigh mine exponentially.

My mother’s story is not for me to tell but I will say that as a child and as an adult I have always known what strength and courage look like. She has been able to carry the pain of mine when I have not been strong enough to shoulder it. She has been stoic in the darkest hours because somebody needed to be. I have cried to her, lashed out at her, been distant, apathetic towards her, and have at times been nothing but an ungrateful embarrassment of a son to her. Not once did she stop loving me – and somewhere, even at my sickest, I knew this.

There are often hyperbolic statements made when we speak of who we would be without a loved one but in my life I need no exaggeration; Without my mothers love and compassion I am not sure I would be here today. I would not have the strength to fight my own fight if I didn’t have her show me what real strength is. Many people may have left me in the hospitals alone, left me to cry alone, to hurt alone, and I wouldn’t really blame these people. But I was never left alone, and for that I am truly grateful.

My mother gave me the freedom to be my own person while remaining close in case my plans failed, which they almost always did. And in the past I often treated my own mother this way, as a sort of safety net in case my idea of living was wrong and I needed to be rescued. It took me 31 years to find a life where I don’t need a safety net and for each of those 31 years she was there for me, putting part of her life on hold for me, making sure I didn’t vanish.

The gift I receive today from her is being able to see what an amazing person she is not because she is my safety net but because she is such an intelligent and confident woman. She has New Orleans Blues running through her veins and can dance until the lights come on. I get to watch a smile come across her face when the entire family is together and somewhere in her mind I think she knows it is her doing that makes this all possible.

My gift to her, after so many years of taking, is being a reliable son who can shoulder pain for her the way she has done for me throughout my life. Part of my purpose is to let her know that her efforts were not made in vein, that she didn’t fight to save me for no good reason. She is still the heart that keeps me going, only this time the heart doesn’t hurt so much and the tears are born out of happiness and not worry or sadness. She has taught me how to be of service to others, how to put my needs behind others, and how to show love without always getting the same in return.

I will always need my mother, things like that never change. I will always think of ways to make her proud of me, to make her smile, and to make her know that her life of sacrifice is beyond what anyone has ever done for me. Since day one she has been a walking example of how to treat others well, how to show love and how to make others feel loved. For most of my life I wasn’t prepared to accept this example, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my ways the way she had sacrificed herself for others.

Today I think I understand the seed she planted in me since I was a child. If I am capable of being 10% of the person my mother is I will consider my life to be one that is well-lived and admirable. She has shown me that at the bottom of everything, at the twilight before the sun sets, the most important thing is to connect with other people. She has instilled in me a desire to understand others before judging them, a willingness to listen to the stories of others before telling my own. By placing her needs behind the needs of others she has become more valuable than the lot combined. Others may fall apart and it is her strength that will be there when they need rebuilding.

There is always one who is able to stand and face the fire, and no matter how much it burns they refuse to shy away. She is the one who has held back the flames while I put myself together, and I can only hope that today I can take some of the weight off her shoulders. My smile is bright today because she believed that somewhere within me was a light. My light has always been her reflection, and I am forever grateful she was able to recognize that as long as she was with me I would never lose the light within. I still have it and now I share it as she shared it with me. And as hard as I try I will never be able to convey with words, not even 1200 of them, the importance and value that my mother has.

So Mom, I hope I can continue to make you proud and show you the love that you have always shown to me. I owe my life to you, and for that I will make every effort to make it a life full of love and laughter. Thank you for never letting me go.

All My Love,

Pug