Tag Archive: AA


Say it ain’t so

I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when I wallow in fear rather than live in faith. I subscribe to the motto typified in the musical the Wiz where the character sings, “Don’t bring me no bad news.”

I’ve been throwing up a lot lately and it has me concerned. Something like seven out of the last ten days within fifteen minutes of waking up I have to race to the bathroom to visit the porcelain God, and dry heave what little water is left in my stomach from the night before. This morning I was driving in my car to get my morning java when I had to abruptly pull over to the side of the road, and now, after seven days of vomiting, my voice is kind of hoarse. So I screwed up my courage and made an appointment to see my doctor today.

I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t smoke, so in reality it’s probably a case of end of school term nerves, but now I need to schedule an appointment with a Gastroenterologist to make sure my system is still in good working order.

My doctor put me on Protonix, a cousin of Prevacid, but stronger, apparently, and I’m hoping to stop the excess acid production in my stomach. I said, half jokingly, mock serious, “I hope I don’t have stomach cancer.”

“Don’t even say that,” the receptionist cautioned me. It’s almost as though if you give voice to your underlying fears, that somehow might make them come true. People don’t want to hear the “C” word, nor do they want to confront the uncomfortable reality that some people die before their time. A good friend of mine who used to be head librarian at my local library is bravely battling brain cancer, and the longterm prognosis is in months, not years, although she has survived over a year already.

I still want to write my first, second, and third full length novels, and I don’t feel ready to die, but I get nervous that the “best laid plans of mice and men” are going to go astray and that I’m going to be thwarted in my ambitions.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I deserve good things happening to me. I think we’re so conditioned to believe that life is supposed to be a struggle that we don’t want to admit that we have been blessed, truly blessed beyond belief. I have great people in my life, including a support group that includes my mother’s cousin who loves me dearly and whom I love in return equally, and many other friends and family members.

The truth is: life is good, and I’m looking forward to creating many more meaningful days before I head into the western sunset. Just keep me out of the doctor’s waiting rooms please.

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Weighing Me Down

Over the course of the last five months or so, I’ve somehow put on 25 to 30 lbs, and trust me, not all of it has been muscle, so it begs the question, what exactly is going on? I’m convinced that stress, both good stress and bad stress, can pack on the pounds.

Of course I’m responsible for what I eat, and probably having that pint of ice cream late at night isn’t helping, but one pint doesn’t translate into thirty lbs, and, as my friends know, I’m a pretty active guy. I workout at the gym a minimum of two times a week, and I walk my two dogs at least one to two miles each and every day. Basically, I try to lead a really active lifestyle, but I think, if I’m being honest, that having gone through a major depression this past year really set me back. It’s almost as though my body is reacting six months after the fact. I’m no longer depressed, and in fact feel pretty darn great, but having struggled mightily in October, November and December, my body simply said, enough is enough, you’re shutting down. You’ve been severely depressed, and now your body is going to reflect that fact back to the world.

I’m listening to Nina Simone singing the song, “Feeling Good,” right now, and she cries out, “Birds flying high, you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze drifting on by, you know how I feel. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me, yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good.”

Making matters worse in here in Chicago is that we’ve had one of our worse winters on record. So many grey, gloomy days, so many snowstorms, so many bitter cold afternoons and evenings that even turning on the TV felt like a chore. The good news is that we have a beautiful spring and summer on deck with lovely summer weather, and the opportunity for lots of outdoor activities.

The frustration is this weight problem didn’t happen overnight, and can’t be solved overnight. Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s a Day at a Time program, and I get the opportunity to make better choices a day at a time. The key, however, is, to the best of my ability, to be happy where I’m at, because, after all, that’s is where I’m at.

Wreckage of the Past

One thing about being in recovery from either drugs or alcohol is that eventually you must face the wreckage of the past. In practicing the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, step nine tells addicts to make direct amends whenever possible, except when to do so would further injure others.

Just last week I saw a wonderful play at the Court theater, “Water By The Spoonful,” winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, by Quiara Alegria Hudes, about addiction, efforts at recovery, and the terrible price of addiction on those who surround the alcoholic or addict. The play was especially timely, given the unfortunate, unexpected relapse and death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who got sober at age 22, spent 23 years in recovery, but sadly relapsed, overdosed, and died. Aaron Sorkin commented on Hoffman’s death in Time magazine: “He died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it.”

Sometimes the best you can do in recovery when facing the wreckage of the past is to make a living amends, reform your life, stay sober “a day at a time,” and attempt to find a more spiritual way of living. Now that I’m coming up on seven years without a drink, there’s a slight tendency for me to whitewash my drinking years. It feels like the life of a different person, a person who dreamed of doing things, who dreamt of being creative, but never actually sat down to write, a person who wanted to live life fully, but lived a shadow life, using alcohol as medicine to drown out feelings of inadequacy, a sense that I just didn’t measure up and that I wasn’t really living life.

In “Water By The Spoonful,” one of the main characters, Elliot Ortiz, can’t forgive his mother Odessa for the years she spent using drugs and alcohol. The title comes from an incident in his childhood in Philadelphia where she, in the throes of addiction, took him and his sister to the ER when they had the flu and was sent home with the instructions to give the two kids a spoonful of water every five minutes to prevent dehydration, but she failed in her job and his sister ended up dying. Elliot’s aunt ends up raising him, and his mother does indeed get clean and sober, but he can’t forgive her. She ends up getting a job as a janitor (highly symbolic), and during her free time monitors an online site dedicated to helping crack addicts beat their addiction. Unfortunately, not only can’t Elliot forgive his mother, she can’t forgive herself, and it’s this inability to cope with the wreckage of the past that comes back to haunt her and threatens her sobriety in a vulnerable moment.

I think the lesson is that we must reconcile ourselves to the life we have lived, and we must forgive ourselves if we are to move forward and change our future from our past. I’ve been told that insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. The reality remains that we recover a day at a time, and for me, recovery means that I write–good or bad, the words accumulate a page at a time.

Surviving Versus Celebrating

Almost without even knowing it, yet another holiday season is upon us. I could have sworn, just last week, that we were in the midst of the American orgy more commonly known as Thanksgiving.

We had a rehash of, A Christmas Story, Thanksgiving, based on the much more profound book by Jean Shepard, In God We Trust: All Other’s Pay Cash. I felt I was doing well to avoid the inherent drama when an aunt who is a lawyer (who I love despite her career) made known that she was not getting quite her share of the dark meat. Being health conscious the way I am, I had loaded her plate with white meat, thinking that, though it may be a bit more dry, white meat is allegedly more healthy (have all the ads and Weight Watchers been lying all this time?). And, of course, I was looking out for her best interest because she is diabetic after all.

This thought process leads me to the somewhat illogical conclusion that “like seeks like,” but that, my friend, is for another blog, another time.

At any rate,we watched the games, and if memory serves, the Green Bay Packers played and beat the Atlanta Falcons, even without the effort of Aaron Rogers, but I finally had enough, and as a light snow fell, I took the car for a ride, and where I live, the streets aren’t plowed with any regularity so I may indeed have taken my life in my hands just heading to Starbucks to find out if indeed they may have remained open long enough so I could get a Vanilla Rooibos tea, just to calm my frazzled nerves. By that time, Starbucks had indeed closed for the day so I let the car drift along, guided simply by the half tank of gas left. Two hours later, I pulled back in the drive and was informed, walking in the door, that our two dogs had devoured the leftovers from the feast, dark meat and all. My aunt announced that there was too much chaos and that she needed to check into the nearest Best Western.

Flash forward to New Years, no wait–not just yet. Flash forward to the approaching Christmas season. Normally we set up two trees, one real, one artificial, but maybe because of the many grey days in the Chicagoland area, I could only manage the artificial, and couldn’t be bothered with scouting out and hauling home a real tree from the Xmas tree lot.

Naturally, last year some of the pre-lit lights burned out at the end of the holiday season last year so, feeling especially virtuous, I cut them off and was forced to restring the entire tree this season. Hence: the one tree rule. Lucky for us, we have a hybrid fireplace (don’t ask, don’t tell what that means, exactly, but it involves a carefully calculated combination of gas and wood burning capabilities).

This brings me to the very important question as to whether I, or any of us for that matter, approach holidays with a sense of anticipation and joy or dread. It’s been many years since I toasted New Year’s with an adult alcoholic beverage, but I’m painfully aware that many of us need the kind of crutch that Budweiser is certainly willing to deliver. One thing about being sober, however, is that I have to guard against a feeling of superiority, a feeling that I have mastered stress without drinking myself into oblivion. I suspect that many of us have a hard enough time dealing with life on life’s terms without having that third or fourth glass of wine, or even heading to a bar for a shot of Doctor Feelgood.

So without a drink in hand, I nevertheless steel myself to celebrate Christmas. Counting blessing helps, folks, and indeed I am blessed to have my two parents both still alive, and a lovely home with a cousin who is dear to me. But for those friends caught in the miasma of a depressive fog, I’ve learned that simply asking them to count their blessings can even cause them to sink deeper into what Winston Churchill referred to as his “Black Dog Days.”

So in an effort to notice time passing, to find a reason to enjoy each moment as it passes, I treasure the gift of life. I make time to journal, to drive to a new coffeehouse, to hand write Christmas cards, to wander seemingly aimlessly through a bookstore.

The past is gone, the future is yet to be, why do we think today is a gift, why do you think we call it the present?

Drunk Dreams

Friends have told me numerous times, “I definitely have another drunk in me; I’m just not sure I have another recovery in me.” I always thought, “My God, need you be so damn dramatic?” After my drunk dream last night, however, I begin to understand their sentiment.

I dreamt last night that I was about to go on a date with Adam Levine (okay, so I gotta dream big), and I got skunk drunk, knock-down-drag-me-out-of-the-bar drunk. I naturally humiliated myself and he wanted no part of me, leaving me ignominiously on the street corner. Though the details are somewhat hazy now, several hours later, kind of like the hazy morning-after memories of those now long gone days, I nevertheless remember the panic, the feeling that this is it, I can’t possibly fathom putting together two days sober, two weeks sober, a month sober. April 27th 2007 was the last day I fell down snookered, and April 28th this year I will celebrate six years sober, God and the universe willing. I begin to understand, dramatic or not, I may not have another recovery in me so I better make this one count.

I have thought about starting up another blog site, “One Drunk to Another,” and I personally feel it might make for a great book, but I really don’t want to jinx myself. I’ve got my life going on pretty good, heading creatively in the right direction as a writer who actually writes rather than dreaming about, but not working on the Great American Novel, and most days, I don’t have to think about alcohol or the effort involved in maintaining sobriety. It often seems deceptively easy. I laid a pretty good foundation, if I say so myself, and now weeks go by without me even thinking how great a Jack Daniels would be to take the edge off or make me more relaxed and interesting, or some other such nonsense.

Plus, I surround myself with positive people, and seem to naturally draw people with similar values into my life. Even those friends who drink don’t seem to have a problem having A GLASS of wine or A BEER, or if they order a second, often leave it half finished. This is unfathomable to me, and at times I find myself wondering, “How on earth can they simply leave a glass unfinished?” During my drunk bar days, I needed to have a glass in my hand at all times, and though now the glass holds a soda water with a lime, that behavior hasn’t dramatically changed. I still feel most comfortable holding that reassuring clear-bottomed glass in hand.

Strange enough, I have made numerous friends at Northwestern who speak in code, and let me know, “I had to quit drinking, or die.” Again, these friends seem to have a flair for the dramatic, but there is truth in the sentiment. I might not have physically died, though it was certainly a possibility driving home after far too many cocktails, but I most certainly would have died spiritually and emotionally.

I have dreams again, and the courage to pursue them. These dreams are far different than the drunken stupors I once found myself wallowing in, and it is a rare reminder to have a nightmare to reinforce that all the good in my life starts with me taking responsibility for my actions. Hugh Jackman, in talking about the painful life experience of having his mother abandon him when he was eight, refuses to wallow in life’s disappointments. He said, “There comes a certain point in life when you have to stop blaming other people for how you feel or the misfortunes in your life. You can’t go through life obsessing about what might have been.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Retreat Home

Conscious living. . .A buzz word in our modern, hyper-fast, race-to-the-finish-line society. People, by nature, seem to seek what they don’t already have, and we have romanticized the notion of slowing down to enjoy the view, lest life pass us by, but so few of us actually achieve a sense of conscious living.

I feel torn, several times a week, by differing value systems. Some gay men worship the body electric, and put all their focus, time, and energy into working out. That, indeed, is but a subset of the whole population, but I’m self-centered and vain enough to want other’s approval, even if it’s only for being in great shape. Then, there’s the value system of the small town, village really, in which I live. There, the greatest emphasis is placed on being a good person where you’re also encouraged to fit in and not make too many waves, and this can sometimes mean not being disagreeable–being liked. In this community, many diverse people are tolerated, but you certainly don’t want to stick out for being too progressive or controversial. Yet another group whose approval I court are the intellectuals and writers and the writing community at Northwestern as well as throughout the Chicagoland area. There’s a subtle sort of competition among my fellow MFA students to see who is the most talented and who has the most potential to go far.

Last, there is the Christian and Catholic community to which I have just come home on a visit, twenty years after I graduated. I went to a small, private, liberal arts Catholic school, St. John’s University, in upper Minnesota, about an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities. I am, in effect, on a retreat home, a retreat to my spiritual home.

I have, in the course of my life, wandered far from my spiritual roots, starting way back when I was a sophomore, and my former Resident Assistant, Chris Agnew, the student who oversaw our development and encouraged us to come to him with any questions, suffered an epileptic seizure and died in the shower early one morning. I really couldn’t reconcile the kind of God who would take away such a caring, loving young man so early in life. I couldn’t even make myself go to this funeral, held in the big abbey church where his life was celebrated. I didn’t want to celebrate his life; I wanted him still in my life. It was a real crisis in faith, compounded by my grappling with my sexual identity.

I have wandered far, over the years, from my roots, but now I am back for a vacation, and I get to look at the campus with new eyes. There is, indeed, an undeniable spiritual energy to the place, nestled among 2,700 acres and Lake Sagatagan, with a vibrant community of Benedictine monks and priests. St. Benedict was celebrated for the virtue of hospitality, and it is this openness and welcoming attitude that has brought me home, the long way around. I notice an innocence, a lack of jadedness, in the eyes of the summer students, and indeed, among the mentors on campus.

A simpler life is not necessarily a simple life, but this retreat has shown me that it’s okay to embrace a God of my understanding, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional Christian model, and still not be considered a cast out. I have spent so much time and energy trying to fit in among various communities, and now I sense is my chance to take two days to ask myself, who am I, where are my roots, where have I come from, and where am I going.

Much peace to you. I seem to be finding a missing sense of quiet serenity and gratitude up here.

The Idea Machine

Andy Rooney said it best: “I sit down at my typewriter, or my computer now, and I damn well decide to have an idea. That’s how you get an idea. They do not strike you very often in the middle of the night or when you’re doing something else. . .Ideas are amorphous, but you have to work on having one. The don’t just come out of the blue.”

Today I celebrate six years sober, six years since I last fell down drunk. It’s hard for me to take in that six years ago I traded Budweiser and gin and tonics for a life lived deliberately.

The reason this is relevant to Andy Rooney is that a little over six years ago I had this dream of becoming a writer, this vision of putting one word after another on paper until I had produced a novel, but nothing was getting done. I worried that if I quit drinking, I would no longer be creative, but the hard facts bore out a different truth. Many people out there can have one or two drinks, then sit down at their computer and write. That wasn’t my reality. I had big dreams, but nothing was being done to achieve them.

I’m not saying that everything has been easy since I quit drinking. I still haven’t finished that novel yet, but I have made significant progress. I have also started a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program at Northwestern University a little over a year ago. It’s been baby steps, but to me baby steps are better than no steps at all.

None of this would have been possible had I been drinking, of that I am sure. For that reason, if for no other, today is an important day for me. There’s that old saying: Do the footwork and leave the results up to God. And Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says it a different way: “Leap, and the net will appear.” So now, even though it isn’t New Year’s Eve, I renew my commitment to my creativity, and renew my commitment to finishing my novel this coming year.

Wish me luck, if you’re so inclined.

A National Holiday

At the risk of boring you, dear reader, I want to quote and write about the importance and impact of the life of Mexican Socialist leader Cesar Chavez.

He famously noted, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people that are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, AND THE FUTURE IS OURS.”

Just this past year, President Barack Obama, declared a day dedicated to recognizing the effort of Cesar Chavez, marking March 29th, 2013 as an honorarium for Chavez, celebrating his life.

Chavez was born March 31, 1927, and were he still alive, would be eighty-six yesterday. Echoing the efforts of our current pope, Francis I, Chavez dedicated his life to working with the poor, uneducated, and underprivileged. Cesar Chavez was a devout Catholic, and helped found what has evolved into the United Farmworker of America.

Ironically, Chavez’s birthday fell on Easter Sunday this year. The Contra Costa Times quoted a representative of the Chavez family as stating, “Cesar lived the gospel according to Jesus Christ: he helped the poor and outcast.”

My question for you today, dear readers: what have you done today to make the world a better place?

My dad cajoles me, “Let’s have a good breakfast, and then go out and change the world.”

Drunk Dreams

Friends have told me numerous times,  “I definitely have another drunk in me; I’m just not sure I have another recovery in me.”  I always thought, “My God, need you be so damn dramatic?”  After my drunk dream last night, however, I begin to understand their sentiment.

I dreamt last night that I was about to go on a date with Adam Levine (okay, so I gotta dream big), and I got skunk drunk, knock-down-drag-me-out-of-the-bar drunk.  I naturally humiliated myself and he wanted no part of me, leaving me ignominiously on the street corner.  Though the details are somewhat hazy now, several hours later, kind of like the hazy morning-after memories of those now long gone days, I nevertheless remember the panic, the feeling that this is it, I can’t possibly fathom putting together two days sober, two weeks sober, a month sober.  April 27th 2007 was the last day I fell down snookered, and April 28th this year I will celebrate six years sober, God and the universe willing.  I begin to understand, dramatic or not, I may not have another recovery in me so I better make this one count.

I have thought about starting up another blog site, “One Drunk to Another,” and I personally feel it might make for a great book, but I really don’t want to jinx myself.  I’ve got my life going on pretty good, heading creatively in the right direction as a writer who actually writes rather than dreaming about, but not working on the Great American Novel, and most days, I don’t have to think about alcohol or the effort involved in maintaining sobriety.  It often seems deceptively easy.  I laid a pretty good foundation, if I say so myself, and now weeks go by without me even thinking how great a Jack Daniels would be to take the edge off or make me more relaxed and interesting, or some other such nonsense.

Plus, I surround myself with positive people, and seem to naturally draw people with similar values into my life.  Even those friends who drink don’t seem to have a problem having A GLASS of wine or A BEER, or if they order a second, often leave it half finished.  This is unfathomable to me, and at times I find myself wondering, “How on earth can they simply leave a glass unfinished?”  During my drunk bar days, I needed to have a glass in my hand at all times, and though now the glass holds a soda water with a lime, that behavior hasn’t dramatically changed.  I still feel most comfortable holding that reassuring clear-bottomed glass in hand.

Strange enough, I have made numerous friends at Northwestern who speak in code, and let me know, “I had to quit drinking, or die.”  Again, these friends seem to have a flair for the dramatic, but there is truth in the sentiment.  I might not have physically died, though it was certainly a possibility driving home after far too many cocktails, I most certainly would have died spiritually and emotionally.

I have dreams again, and the courage to pursue them.  These dreams are far different than the drunken stupors I once found myself wallowing in, and it is a rare reminder to have a nightmare to reinforce that all the good in my life starts with me taking responsibility for my actions.  Hugh Jackman, in talking about the painful life experience of having his mother abandon him when he was eight, refuses to wallow in life’s disappointments.  He said, “There comes a certain point in life when you have to stop blaming other people for how you feel or the misfortunes in your life.  You can’t go through life obsessing about what might have been.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

When Advice Is Welcome

Augusten Burroughs doesn’t shy aware from the more painful, embarrassing aspects of his world and his crazy thoughts. I’m now reading his break-out memoir, “Running With Scissors,” for a book and film club which I started at my local library. We read the book during the month, then get together to see the movie, and discuss how they compare. Both “Running With Scissors” and “This Is How” appeal to a certain audience who are interested in the inner workings of a creative mind.

This latest novel, “This Is How,” however, reads more like a really well-crafted blog. If you don’t like reading blogs, you may find yourself disappointed. In his newest set of reflections,he’s more hard-hitting with his thought process. His story has been hard earned, which makes us cheer for him all the more.

As a non-drinker myself, I was especially drawn to his thought process on alcoholism. He doesn’t particularly endorse AA, but he has forged a path of his own choosing. On page 141, Burroughs details his process, saying, “The way to stop drinking is to want sobriety more.” Indeed.

Another thought provoking chapter is titled, “How to Be Fat.” He notes that the more you focus on the problem, the bigger the problem becomes. This relates directly to the difficulty of achieving weight loss, and he says, “In fact, the more obsessed one is with getting thin, the more certain it becomes that one will never get there,” (page 45). He suggest you become satisfied with where you’re at, not concentrating on what may prove to be unachievable goals.

Another mental aside of his: “Like so much in life, happiness is sold separately,” (page 34). Many many gems such as these are carefully placed within his reflections and musings. If, however, you’re looking for a good summertime fiction read, you’re likely to be disappointed, and if you hope his story will mirror his earlier work, it just isn’t going to happen. My mindset is, a good advice book is always welcome, especially when it is loaded with humorous moments.