Thanksgiving, My Gratitude List

Today marks one year and two months since I put down the drink and started to rebuild my life. Of course it wasn’t planned, but it seems fitting that today is also Thanksgiving in the US. I am grateful so much in my sobriety that it can be difficult to list them, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. Continue reading

We Must Not Fear the Angry Anthems

I do not live in fear for
my life, my son, my wife,
my mother, or brother.

I do not feel the violent
assault, the insult of bellicose
abuse because I am white.

I have not walked intolerable
miles in the shoes of our
black, gay, Latin, lesbian, Muslim,
and transgendered brothers and sisters.

But they have.

My heart knows I can
not bear to wake up
knowing I did not
get up, stand up, and fight
fearful oppression
knocking at the door.

I will not live in fear
of a future filled with
hatred, anger, and
intolerance, where
angry fearful men rest
their boots on the backs
of the broken.

Fear must not prevent
action, offering protection
or caring words as voices
vanish in the thunder —
loud, angry, and fearful.

We must not fear the angry
anthems, or even fearful fists,
of those who distrust diverse
opinion, people, and culture.

Fear cannot prevent us from
standing with the struggling,
standing for equality and freedom.

My ancestors wore those shoes
and for that, I am American;
I do not fear standing against
hate or evil walking among us.

Current Status: In Need of Self-Care

The past 45–60 days have been insanely busy for me. Since October 10th, I’ve been on a plane every week except for one week, when I was sick as a dog and couldn’t even stay awake for more than a few hours. I’ve been to Massachusetts, Maine, Paris, London, California, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Many of these trips have been for nearly a week of travel. I don’t have the number of miles I’ve traveled at hand, and it probably wouldn’t be healthy to tally it up, but it sure feels like I’ve been around the world. This does not count my driving to local appointments or the activities that I’m involved in with my son.

The autumn always feels compressed. There always seems to be too much to do and not enough time. This is probably due to the fact that we lose daylight rapidly in the fall. Our days get cut short and the angle of the sun is low. Everything feels constricted in the fall. With the addition of the travel schedule I’ve been maintaining, I’ve had a perfect storm for anxiety. And then there is the whole election, which has stirred up even more anxiety and venom. I’ve finally done what I said I’d do last Saturday and deactivated my Facebook account after what can only be described as a relapse of bad behavior. Continue reading

Camping with the Cub Scouts, Sober

img_3466There was a time, not too long ago, when I honestly wondered if I’d be able to let my son join Cub Scouts, not because I don’t value scouts, or because I was afraid for his safety, or because I don’t like the outdoors. It was purely because I could not imagine showing up to den meetings sober. Camping never entered my mind.

I’d somehow managed to pull through T-ball, then baseball, and soccer. I even was the assistant coach for my son’s soccer team, but these things were hard. They interfered with my drinking time. I never went to a practice drunk, not even buzzed. When we’d get home, I couldn’t get the drink in fast enough. I blamed it in the kids. I suffered through many games with a vicious hangover.

I can distinctly remember thinking about getting my son involved in Scouting and worrying about how I’d manage if I had to go camping. I had no concerns about actually camping, I’ve done a fair amount of camping in my life, but most of it not sober. I knew in the pit of my stomach that I wouldn’t be able to drink on a Scout camping trip.

This past spring, I went on my first camping trip with my son and his Cub Scout pack. I was about eight months sober at the time. While both my son and I had a good time, it was not easy. There were many things that tripped my triggers and I was somewhat on edge most of the time. Even though I was pretty well past the daily desire to have a drink, the idea of a drink crossed my mind several times on that trip.

The summer slipped by and Fall started to show up. One of my best friends asked me to take the boys camping in October. I agreed to it and we did it. I had a pretty good time, but again I was on edge. Now part of that was that I’d completely over extended myself, wedging a camping trip into a weekend between two work trips and a work obligation on that Sunday. I simply had too much going on. It rained, we had wet firewood. I broke a tent pole. I lost it a few times.

This past weekend, we had the Scout camping trip for the Fall. Once again, I had probably a little too much going on and didn’t feel ready for the trip when Friday night rolled around. But I rallied, and we headed out Saturday afternoon. I expected the worst, and I found the best.

Prior to the trip, his den leader had declared that it was the scout’s responsibility to set up the tent. During the week, I’d hoped to have a few practice runs, but with my crazy schedule and the early darkness that comes after the time change, that just didn’t happen. We did practice one setup and tear down Saturday morning.

Our tent is a 6 person tent and is about 6 feet tall. Frankly, I have a little trouble handling it (witness the broken pole above) and I knew that Mr. Grey would not be able to set it up on his own. So, I decided that I’d be happy if he simply helped me get it set up, which he did. And Mr. Grey did a good job helping, but he lost interest quickly when one of his buddies came up and asked him to join in some fun. I let it go. It wasn’t worth fighting against the forces of childhood.

The scouts were also supposed to help with dinner. In my mind, this meant scouts cooking the entire meal soup to nuts so to speak. But that turned out to be an unrealistic expectation. Fortunately, his den leader knew better and divided tasks up among scouts. I was amazed to see Mr. Grey handle his job of pealing cucumbers with ease.

Now, that brings me to another part of scouts. See, Mr. Grey is in the bear den now, which means that he gets to learn about pocket knives. For some reason, despite the fact that I had my first pocket knife around the same age as Mr. Grey is now, and despite the fact that I was already shooting guns at his age, I have been quite nervous about him getting his knife. This too proved to be unfounded.

I was amazed at how all the scouts were responsible with their knives. These boys had already received instruction on safety. They had already practiced caring soap. They’d graduated from plastic knives to real pocket knives. And they were much more ready than I thought they were. Each and every boy found a stick and spent hours carving them into spears and arrows. There were a couple of small nicks that required bandages, but no one got seriously hurt.

Fire was a little more challenging. The boys proved that they are not quite ready for fire. Almost every boy was preoccupied with holding a stick in the flames until it was on fire and then removing it from the fire as if it were a torch. Or course, the adults were on top of things and we kept things under control. There was no need for the fire extinguisher which was conveniently on hand.

We had a nice night and went to bed at a reasonable hour. It was cold, reaching down to 30F as a low. I was glad to have a new sleeping bag and my long underwear. My son slept like a champ and never complained about being cold — if anything, I was trying to get him to put on too many layers and he was hot.

While there were a few things that happened which might have caused me to lose it last spring, I kept my cool. Somehow, I managed to enjoy myself. Somehow I managed to correct my son and other kids without turning into a crazy person. And the thought of drinking really never entered my mind.

I’m looking back at this weekend and wondering what I was afraid of back in my drinking days. Of course I know what it was. I was never afraid of being involved in my son’s life. I wasn’t afraid of him being involved in sports, scouts, or going camping, I as afraid of not drinking.

I’m so glad I don’t have to be afraid of that anymore.

There’s Only One Way to Silence the Echo Chamber

Much has been written about how social media, and Facebook in particular has contributed to the echo chamber effect. I’m not going to write about that. I’ve experienced it, and you probably have as well.

What hasn’t gotten as much attention is how this echo chamber is affecting our mental health — at least, I haven’t seen much about it — perhaps because my particular echo chamber is uniquely curated by an algorithm to me.

All I have to do is look at how my Timeline has changed since I got sober to see that. My timeline was once filled with posts and images from my oldest and dearest friends in my life. But once I started liking pages about sobriety, and making friends online with some really great people, my feed stated to become overwhelmingly slanted toward my latest likes and connections. My oldest friends started to show up less and less.

I also know this because my timeline has become increasingly overwhelmed with political news, because well, I post a lot of news articles that are related to politics. Facebook has correctly identified me as a Liberal and has fed me other articles posted by other liberals, while hiding articles posted by my more conservative friends. To be fair, I trained Facebook to do this, by hiding things that made me angry or uncomfortable over time from my timeline.

Under the covers, Facebook has a massive AI (artificial intelligence) infrastructure. If you’re not familiar with what AI actually is or if you think AI is a humanoid robot butler, you might want to have a look at this article which does a decent job of explaining the basic concepts. Basically, Facebook’s computer algorithm learns about us based on what we post, what we like, who we interact with, etc – and then feeds us similar information in an effort to keep us on the site by lighting up our neural pathways.

It’s basically the same as an addiction.

In recent days, my Facebook feed has become increasingly angry and fearful. I have many friends who are genuinely afraid of what the outcome of the US election means for them personally. These are friends who have listened to bellicose rhetoric for two years that has targeted them personally. It is understandable that they would be afraid. I am afraid and I’m a straight white male who happens to occasionally attend a Christian church.

Now, I’ve fed this algorithm. I’ve posted about my outrage. I’ve liked things. I’ve used the little sad indicator, and the little angry indicator. I’ve argued with people. I’ve called people out for their insensitivity. I’ve done all this in the name of my beliefs. But you know what, I’m not changing anything. I’m just pissing off my friends and making myself sink further and further into fear and anxiety.

And guess what?

Fear and anxiety were the primary triggers in my drinking days.

The past few days have been hard. I’ve tweeted about how hard its been:

Both of these tweets were in direct response to things that happened in my personal echo chamber on Facebook. The second one came after I got into it with a friend who posted about a harrowing experience on a plane. He contrasted his experience with the fear that people are expressing about the next four years saying that his fear was real — and implying that theirs was not.

Now, I slept like shit last night because of this. I went to bed angry and I paid the price. I woke up on my 44th birthday feeling frustrated, angry, and hurt. This is not how I want to spend my birthday. This is not how I want to spend my life.

I’ve written before about my struggles with social media. I’ve experimented with deleting apps from my phone. I always get pulled back. One reason is that I’ve kept my Facebook account active to keep this blog active on Facebook. Another reason was that I couldn’t deactivate the account without also deactivating Facebook Messenger.

I’ve decided that for today, I will not check Facebook. This morning I announced that I was stepping away from the echo chamber. I’ve deleted the apps from my phone and my tablet. After a few days, I plan to disable my Facebook account.

Facebook has made it so that you can disable your Facebook account without disabling Messenger. I’m kind of happy about that. Since I don’t get a lot of noise in Messenger, I plan to keep it active, that way I can stay in touch with some people who I would otherwise not be in touch with. I’ve set up a second account to manage the Facebook page of this blog.

See, I can’t make the echo chamber quiet down. I accept my responsibility in it, but by simply stopping my posting about these things, I can’t fix the AI in the Facebook Hive Mind that keeps feeding me fear and anxiety.

It’s a digital room full of noise that I can’t bear anymore. In real life when I can’t bear the cacophony in a room, I leave.

Why wouldn’t I do that in the digital world?

Shaken, Not Shattered

I am going to go a bit off topic today, but I will try to bring this back to recovery. I know many of my brothers and sisters in recovery share my thoughts and are feeling sad, lost, and afraid this morning. I also know that many do not. You may not agree with my assessment. You are welcome to your opinion. I respect your opinion, please be respectful of mine.

Once again, I find myself sitting on a plane on the way to a business meeting, so familiar, and yet so ungrounded. I left the house well before my son woke, after a fitful few hours of anxious sleep. Benadryl didn’t help.

Like many, I watched as the election was televised and saw my fears become manifest. I watched as a man who had campaigned on a what I saw as platform of hate and intolerance gained more and more ground, defying the polls. I’d never trusted the polls. I’d gone to bed, expecting the outcome, but not quite accepting.

I wonder how my son is this morning. He was genuinely fearful of this outcome. He is almost nine. I contributed to his fears by letting my own fears show over the past eighteen to twenty four months. But there were other factors in his fear. He heard the cyanide laced words of the man in the media – you couldn’t avoid them.

He understands what it means to build a wall, he understands what it means to dislike others based on skin tone, he understands distrust of other religions. And he knows what’s right. When he first understood racism in the first grade, he spoke of wanting to protect his friend Jameson who is mixed race.

I wish I was there today to tell him that things will be okay. That the world will continue to spin on its axis. That we have a system of government that ensures that even if we elect a megalomaniac full of vitriol to the highest office in the land, we have the legislative and judicial branches to prevent a dictatorship.

But, I am not at home. He will take his comfort from his mother.

I am not so saddened that we did not elect our first woman president as I am that we elected a man who I believe represents everything that I do not. I honestly never thought she was electable. Nor were her opponents in the primaries. I am saddened that the political parties couldn’t come up with a single candidate who I felt represented what the country needed, and who was electable. I am saddened that we have such a divided country. I am saddened that so many people chose to take comfort in words that cause so many others such distress.

I am shaken, but I am not shattered. Last night, I thought I’d be shattered. There were times when I thought that a drink would help. That numbing out would make this pain go away. I wanted the pain to go away. But I didn’t have a drink. I am not shattered.

I am resilient. Those of us in recovery are resilient. We are survivors.

The world will not end. We’re in for rough weather. We have a strongly divided country, and I suspect that many who chose to vote for hatred will soon find that the promises are empty, that we are in a ship without a rudder, and that our captain might not have an actual plan at all. Things will likely get worse before they get better. It’s gong to be hard. But we will get through it.

Those of us who choose love and kindness over hate and vitriol, we have work to do. We cannot afford to continue in the us vs them mentality. We must find ways to be inclusive. We must find common ground – it’s there I assure you. We must continue to work for what we believe is right and just.

We must do as Saint Francis guided us.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Brothers and Sisters in recovery, it is okay to feel sad, lost, and afraid, but today is another new day. A day to begin the begin. A day to remember what we have overcome.

A day to rise.