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

My Balancing Act

Essays, MY PERSPECTIVE | MY STORIES


“If the world were to end tomorrow would you get wasted?” That was the question that got the table laughing and got a resounding “yes” in response from the others. I had just finished chairing a meeting at Bellevue hospital, speaking to those still in the terrifying grips of this illness so the others would have to excuse me if I didn’t share in their excitement. I wasn’t angered by the question nor did it change my opinion of those who answered it differently from myself. This hypothetical only has one thing to do with this essay: The question compelled me to consider how we respond to fear and it made me notice something that has changed within myself.

To say that I do not have an ego when it comes to my sobriety would be a mistake; my actual self is genuine and confident however it is mixed with a lot of self-criticisms, which is where most of my old ego can be found. Throw in the occasional self-congratulatory feeling followed by hours of beating myself up for having said feeling and there you have it, there is my old dysfunctional ego! This being said, the change that has occurred within me has gone far beyond the surface and my understanding of most things has been rebuilt. My desires have changed and the things that once excited me now upset me for the most part. I believe that within me there has been a psychic change, a spiritual shift. I have been changed at the core of myself; The change has worked itself throughout, redesigning my way of thinking. And this design doesn’t grasp the appeal of questions such as these because the anticipation to escape the world no longer has a meaningful place in my mind — at least not at the moment.

The compelling part in all of this for me is that I have been able to surrender my arms – the fighting and the debate have ceased. I no longer feel as though the world is lined up unfairly against me; The life that I live is actually a life that I want to live. There were moments in recovery when the struggle could be found in just leaving the house and the fear of falling back into old habits was always present. It is an exhausting and continuous effort for what you believe is right but at your core still aren’t totally sure you want. The confusion is powerful and it is difficult to trust in your own thoughts.  The miracle happens when this fight stops and the desire to escape these thoughts aren’t there because the old desires are no longer there. And for me, at least at this moment, the fighting is over.

A different kind of fight will be upon me very soon, however. This Friday I am returning to the neurologist who first told me, just over a year ago, that I have brain atrophy due to my many years of active alcoholism. The images of my brain revealed to her the damage I have put my physical self through over the years and left her more than a little concerned, comparing my brain to that of a 60-year-old man. She told me that this type of atrophy is reversible through sobriety though it is difficult to say what other areas could be damaged or later manifest into something more serious. I have taken neuropsychological exams to determine my cognitive ability, struggled at times with memory loss and speech and have experienced brief moments where I am utterly lost and confused. I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that my brain shows signs of what could be the beginning stages of multiple illnesses including epilepsy and muscular sclerosis. And of course the ever-present, always lurking illness of active alcoholism; the doctors do not need to remind me of the dangers it presents. I have all the information and the idea is to see how prepared I actually am; how do I react if the news is something unexpected? This is when the winds of change begin to roll in; will I roll with it?

So, if everything changes on Friday and my future becomes less certain, would I want to throw it all away? The way I view this question is similar to how I view the first question posed: To me, each question is essentially asking what you would do if there were no consequences due to a perceived lack of hope or meaning. If I answer yes to the first question, if I would head to the bar the night the world ends, I am telling you that I do not see the value in the life I have at this moment. In answering yes I am ultimately saying that, given zero consequences, the feeling I truly want is one of loneliness and isolation from others. To answer yes is to tell you that this life is an unwanted fight for me, that if given just the right set of circumstances I would change everything, and that the value in clarity is not all that important to me. But this is not how I feel, and so my answer remains no, I do not want to feel loneliness the way I once felt no matter the lack of consequences. That feeling is nothing but pain and suffering and the obsession to reach something beyond it is no longer there. I do not have an excuse to return to my old habits.

I understand that sometimes we cannot see the excuses we use to behave without reason or meaning. I know that there are times when it feels there is no way out, that life is too difficult to bear without numbing yourself. I have been through tragedy and I have used it as an excuse to act with reckless abandon; Sometimes you go through things in life and people will give you a pass, people will forgive you more easily for acting out, but nobody here has the authority to approve my reckless behavior.

I am asked why I focus so much on my sobriety. Some wonder if my sobriety has become my identityPerhaps this is my identity; if my identity is an honest, dependable person I will take it. What was my identity in the past? I was a ghost. Many who are in the throes of active addiction want to know how they’ll be rewarded once sober! I tell them that they get to be sober for another day and down the line they may realize how incredible that reality would be for them. I am committed to living a certain way because it brings forth the most positivity and meaning I can offer to the world and to those around me. I have found value and purpose in life, easily overwhelming any desire to escape; I am no longer fighting, I am living. So on Friday, when life happens, I will be ok with it. I will be able to continue the life that I lead because I know it carries value, more value than I have ever had. My life means something not only to myself but to others. I have been put in a place where my strength and desire to live a life of happiness can inspire others to continue fighting until it no longer feels like a bloodbath. My entire life lies beneath my feet, and this moment is one I choose to be connected to. In order to thrive in this world, I had to find my place in it. I had to find a purpose that I don’t want to give up, something that carries meaning and love. Life will happen however it happens, I have given up the idea that I control any of it, and ever since my life has been beyond comprehension. By relinquishing control of the world I find a new control within myself, a power and purpose that pushes me to live a life that I see fit. I know that life is difficult, it isn’t always comfortable and sometimes it’s altogether exhausting. I am finally a part of this world and I have every intention of enjoying this life, no matter what it throws my way.

I am committed to living a certain way because it brings forth the most positivity and meaning I can offer to the world and to those around me. I have found value and purpose in life, easily overwhelming any desire to escape; I am no longer fighting, I am living. So on Friday, when life happens, I will be ok with it. I will be able to continue the life that I lead because I know it carries value, more value than I have ever had. My life means something not only to myself but to others. I have been put in a place where my strength and desire to live a life of happiness can inspire others to continue fighting until it no longer feels like a bloodbath. My entire life lies beneath my feet, and this moment is one I choose to be connected to. In order to thrive in this world, I had to find my place in it. I had to find a purpose that I don’t want to give up, something that carries meaning and love. Life will happen however it happens, I have given up the idea that I control any of it, and ever since my life has been beyond comprehension. By relinquishing control of the world I find a new control within myself, a power and purpose that pushes me to live a life that I see fit. I know that life is difficult, it isn’t always comfortable and sometimes it’s altogether exhausting. I am finally a part of this world and I have every intention of enjoying this life, no matter what it throws my way.

Life lies beneath my feet, and this moment is one I choose to be connected to. In order to thrive in this world, I had to find my place in it. I had to find a purpose that I don’t want to give up, something that carries meaning and love. Life will happen however it happens, I have given up the idea that I control any of it, and since my life has been beyond comprehension. I had always felt a need to control every aspect of my life, lest I collapse in on myself, wasting chunks of my life in fear and worry over things that have nothing to do with me. The instant I released my grip and let go of a desire to control I felt harmony as though for the first time. I am finally a part of this world and I have every intention of enjoying this life, no matter what.