Freedom & Willingness

Several years ago, my wife said to me, “I’d spend my last dime on travel” and I was dumbstruck. Certainly if I were down to my last dime I wouldn’t spend it on travel. Certainly I’d spend it on food, or better yet, beer. This was before I’d gone off the rails – in fact well before I’d gone off the rails. But that was my thought.

In the interceding years there were many times when my wife suggested we go somewhere — a long weekend, a trip over a school break — and I was adamant that we could not possibly do it. I always used money as the excuse. And money was a problem at times — it’s hard to find extra cash when you’re blowing more than a car payment on booze in a month.

If I’m honest though, the money wasn’t really the problem, it was simply that I wasn’t willing.

We talk about willingness in the rooms a lot. We tell people who have trouble with the higher power thing that they only need to be willing to believe. We tell people that they need to be willing to do the work. We talk about being willing to get vulnerable, willing to ask for help. And all those things are important, but what I needed most was a willingness to engage in and live life. I needed to become willing to do the things that I previously had no will to do.

It took time, but after a while I found myself willing to do things that I never imagined I’d be doing. Willing to go on camping trips with my son’s Cub Scout pack. Willing to take trips to NY and NC to visit my wife’s family. Willing to spend the money to take my family away for the week of my son’s spring break. (It certainly helps that I can better manage my finances now that I’m not drinking my cash each week.)

Since I got sober we have taken many trips as a family. We’ve been to Maine as a family and visited friends. We went to Bethel Park, New York for the Stevie Winwood and Steely Dan show. We’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard for vacation. We’ve went to Shenandoah over spring break last year and we’re in Asheville, NC for Spring Break this year. In years past, most of these trips simply would not have happened because I was not willing to do them.

There were many reasons why I wasn’t willing, but the biggest one was because I wasn’t willing to not drink the way I wanted to. I wasn’t willing to embrace this life and fully engage with my family.

When I look back on things it’s easy to get angry with myself. It’s easy to find fault. But the thing is, I wasn’t free. When men and women aren’t free, their choices are limited. And very often they can’t make the best choice simply because they don’t have the freedom. In some sense, freedom brought willingness to my life.

I’m glad to be free.

Fear, You Don’t Stand A Chance

Primal. Visceral. Instinctive. Fear lives in the oldest part of our brain, the limbic system. The lizard brain.

Fear lives in the same part of the brain that governs addiction and so it is not surprising that fear and addiction often go hand in hand. Or that addiction and trauma have such strong links.

But Fear is also the master of disguise. We often don’t recognize that a strong emotion we feel is really a mask for fear.

I was reminded of this tonight when I discovered that the bottle of antibiotic capsules prescribed for my son had become a gelatinous form because they’d been exposed to water. Anger rose up. I asked him if he knew what had happened. He said no. Frustration filled my chest.

A familiar sense that he wasn’t telling the truth took over. I started to let my anger show, but contained it. Briefly, the thought of a drink ran through my mind and was gone.

As I salvaged a few pills for the next few days, I reminded myself that we could call the pediatrician on Monday and get a new prescription called into a pharmacy here in North Carolina (we are visiting family for Easter) and that while it will be a hassle, and it will cost me more money, it won’t be a problem.

It’s a speed bump.

I also recognized that I really wasn’t angry, maybe a little frustrated, but not angry. I was afraid, and the fear was wearing the mask of anger.

What was I afraid of? Irrational things.

I feared that the Dr would refuse to send a new script. Probably not an issue with an antibiotic – if bit were an opiate it might be a different story. I feared that insurance wouldn’t cover it – and it might not but I’m blessed to be able to afford it. I feared that my son wouldn’t get better, that the Lyme Disease might not get arrested, but that’s not going to happen either.

As I realized that the anger was really fear, and that these were irrational fears, I softened. I was able to talk calmly to my son instead of interrogating him. And I hit got real story. He’d knocked the bottle into the sink and put the pills back in the bottle. Really it was my fault because I hadn’t actually put the cap on fully this morning and I set them near the sink.

And I also recognized that it was his fear that drove him to hide this when I’d first questioned him.

Fear. It’s powerful. It’s a trigger. It’s good at disguising itself. But I’m on to its crafty tricks these days. And I’ve got tools.

And when I use my tools, fear doesn’t stand a chance.

Ericka’s Summer Blues

Damien’s Note:  Ericka started following this blog on it’s Facebook page a while ago and recently reached out with a series of articles written from her personal experience.  Here is the second in the series.  I can certainly relate to parts of her story and I suspect some of my readers will as well.  This piece was written on August 6, 2015.

It was July 4th weekend when my whole family came for a long weekend visit. I lived near the ocean, so my place was the perfect summer vacation spot.  I was so excited and looking forward to having everyone under my roof.  At this time, my husband and I were still sleeping in separate rooms and for the most part living separate lives.  He really wasn’t too thrilled with everyone coming because as he always would say, “it’s your family.”  It was the first time we would all be together in a long time and all I wanted was for my husband to be present.  Upon their arrival, he made excuses to run some errands and stayed away for hours.

That morning I had already started my drinking.  After breakfast, I opened up my first bottle of wine and proceeded to finish it before noon.  I had a plan to just sip throughout the day so that maybe I could once again hide the fact that I was drinking a lot. I knew once everyone arrived, we would be packing up the coolers with beer and soda and heading to the beach.  I couldn’t wait.  I could drink the beer freely along with everyone else.  During this time, I knew my drinking was getting heavier, but denial still lived inside me.

We had an amazing visit together all weekend long and I was drinking not only with everyone but behind closed doors as well.  I had my stash of wine in my bedroom and whenever I had a moment I would go upstairs and have a nice, long sip.  Sips turned into gulps and then I knew I had to hold it together.  I really don’t think anyone noticed.  I thought I had complete control over my drinking.  I was so very wrong.

The short vacation with my family came to an end.  My husband did several disappearing acts during the weekend. This was so difficult for me because it was so out of character for him.  I just knew our marriage was not going to last much longer. I just didn’t get it, but my wine did for it always understood.  As my family pulled away to head home, I waved goodbye and cried.  I walked back in the house, grabbed my purse, got in my car, and went straight to the store.  That night I would drink my sadness away.

IMG_20170223_093816_772Ericka’s Bio: Ericka Brandt Delagarza is a professional, creative, and witty writer who has been published on many blogs and websites. Her most recent accomplishment was as a co-contributor for the cookbook, “What’s Left to Eat” which debuted as a number one international best seller on As an amazing home cook, foodie, writer, and former resident of Europe, and Puerto Rico, as well the East Coast, Ericka writes just about anything these days. With food and travel as her passion, she has found writing about her struggle with alcohol and staying sober over the last five years the most difficult, yet very therapeutic experience to date.

A Change is Afoot

Over the past month or so, I have not written much here. Perhaps you noticed. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, or that I’ve been isolating, or that I’ve fallen back into the patterns of my past. In fact, I have big news that I haven’t been able to share because, well, lots of people read this blog.

About a month ago I got an email from a recruiter at a competitor about a job opportunity that was interesting and I began talking with them. Over the course of the conversations there were many times when I felt like I was going to burst. There were many times when I really needed to write about it.

See, writing about my life is how I reflect. Writing is how I process things. Writing is how I share news with people around the world. And I wanted to write about all the ups and downs of the past month, in the moment.

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t because there’s something deep in my lizard brain that loves the instant gratification of publishing my thoughts. I don’t know exactly what it is, but when I write, it doesn’t feel complete until I push the publish button. It’s not as strong as the craving for the initial drink back in the day, but it’s not completely dissimilar either. And I couldn’t publish the fact that I was talking about leaving my then current company because that would have jeopardized my job, my income, and my family.

Changing jobs is stressful. There is so much that is unknown. No matter how well you vet things, there’s always something that catches you off guard when you join the company. You can’t know the soft underbelly of a company until you’re on the inside. And I’ve struggled with that mightily over the past few weeks.

The truth is that my job had become a little too comfortable and I was stuck in a rut. I spent six and a half years at the old company; the longest I’ve ever spent at a company. It was a great ride, with the exception of a year when we tragically had a CEO who didn’t understand his ass from a hole in the ground. I remember getting the email that he’d moved on while having dinner in a pub in Chertsey, England, while on a business trip — the news was amazing and it called for more whisky, of course. But I’m digressing.

I struggled with the decision to move on for a variety of reasons. See, there was nothing wrong at the old company. The company has great products, a great culture and most importantly, great people. I have great friends at my old company. It feels strange to call it my old company. But even with all that, there were some challenges.

My industry, enterprise IT, has transformed significantly in the past six years. It continues to transform. A huge driver has been cloud adoption. This has had significant impact on how the enterprise behaves and buys; when you’re selling to the enterprise, how they buy is very important. So, I found myself in a place where my company (at least in my eyes) was beginning to lose relevancy in my market segment. The fact is that enterprises aren’t building massive data centers in 2017, they are consuming infrastructure rather than owning it.

Over the last few years, there has been an emphasis on a set of skills that frankly I didn’t have and wasn’t really that interested in pursuing. As the enterprise has shifted from build to buy, the skill set of the engineers has shifted towards this thing called devops which is an amalgamation of development and operations. I am not a programmer or a script writer. Don’t get me wrong, I can hack my way through a shell script, a perl script, and even some python. I can decipher xml output, and I can read and understand JSON. But I don’t like to code. In fact, I pretty much hate it.

As I looked at the landscape changing before my eyes, I knew that I needed to move up the stack. And I saw three paths; resign myself to learning to code (which may still be a requirement), move to a software company (which I’d done in the past and knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do at this point), or jump back into my roots in Internet Security. Now, there may be other paths that I didn’t consider (like moving into management), but these are the paths that I saw as viable.

It is the third path, returning to my roots in Internet Security, that I’ve chosen.

I still believe in coincidences, though as my good friend Hearon told me, “coincidences can have meaning.”

I picked up my 18 month chip recently, and on the same day, I got the nod that the offer would be forthcoming. Now, that’s not the coincidence.

On September 22, 2015, I took my last drinks after I’d gone to a face to face meeting with this new company for a different position. I wanted the job badly and I knew that the role was perfect for me, except for one thing. Not a single customer was closer than 60 miles away and they were all on the other side of the DC beltway. As I drove home that afternoon, I knew that I could not accept the job.

I’d made a resolution the day before to start going to meetings, and failed on that commitment, but I hadn’t drank. I didn’t have my go to bottle of bourbon at the house and I knew it, but I had beers. As I approached the liquor store, I reminded myself that I really shouldn’t buy a bottle and somehow I managed to hold myself to that. But upon getting home, I drank every last beer in the house and found myself in that familiar pit of despair, blanketed in an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

It was that evening, while sitting on my couch that I had my first vision of hope after a friend posted a video on her Facebook page and I resolved to get up the next morning and go to the Wake Up Group.

I know that there were many reasons why that particular opportunity wasn’t right. The geography was just the tip of the iceberg and I had many great achievements left in my role at the last company. I now know that I needed to get sober before undertaking such major life change. I can only imagine what would have happened if I’d made the change while in the midst of my active addiction. I suspect that the outcome would not have been good.

Over the past month, I kept quiet about this move, for obvious reasons. And I couldn’t manage the stress by writing. I’ll admit there were a few times when a drink might have sounded good but not so good that I was willing to take one. In fact, I knew in my heart of hearts that a drink would do me no good. So, without my two preferred crutches, I had to find other ways to manage the stress.

I didn’t realize it, but I was relying on my tools from my program throughout and the promises rang true.

  1. Early on in the process I talked about this change at a meeting, sharing that I had the opportunity and that it brought up a great deal of anxiety because I was afraid of the unknown.
  2. I spoke with my sponsor about the decision on several occasions, and as usual, his sage advice proved wise. Even if there had been no advice, just talking about the challenges helped me to get through the process.
  3. I spoke with two of my good friends who I met through my activity on twitter about the change. Their listening ears proved invaluable.
  4. I conducted myself with transparency toward the new organization throughout the process. When I had questions that I thought would be too tough for them to answer, I found the strength to ask the tough questions. When I wasn’t sure about the role, I told them so, even up to the point that I nearly withdrew from consideration. In turn, I believe the people I spoke with returned the favor of transparency.
  5. When the time was right, I was transparent with my former employer about the factors that went into my decision. I made every attempt to carry myself with integrity through out the process.

And because I used my tools, fear of people and of economic insecurity left me; I comprehend the word serenity and I do know peace.

Do I still have fear and trepidation about this change? Of course I do, it’s a major life change; but I know that I’ve done the best that I can in making the decision and I know that I’ll be okay.