Stopping for Sam

If you follow me on twitter on Instagram then you know I’ve transformed myself from a relatively sedentary guy to a relatively passionate runner. In a little over a year, I’ve gone from barely being able to run for 90 seconds to running between 10 and 15 miles per week. Running has become a form of self care for me and I love it. I’m grateful that my body continues to heal from the damage I did when I was drinking.

Running is also a way for me to get out of the past and future thinking modes for which my brain is so hard wired and to get into the present. I tend to count off my footfalls in fours. I notice when my heart rate is higher than I want it to be (thanks to my watch) and I slow down and focus on my breath to bring it back into the zone that I am targeting. I notice others in the road or trail. I am delighted when I see friends in the trail, especially if they are friends from the rooms, as I did yesterday.

Because I am present and aware I notice my environment and what’s going on around me. And this is where the story of this post comes into focus.

Yesterday, I was out on a long training run, planning to run 8 miles as I train up for a 10 mile race in August. I’d been out on a tempo paced run for about an hour and a half and was closing in on the last mile when I noticed a man who I’m going to call Sam to protect his identity.

This was the longest run I’ve ever done and my motivation to complete it was very high. I wanted the little hit if dopamine that comes with the realization of a goal and a virtual trophy on Strava. I wanted to prove to myself that I could go the distance. I didn’t want to stop along my route.

Sam was underneath a picnic table which was underneath a pagoda on the side of the B&A trail in my town. He was on his back and looked to be writhing around a bit. The situation did not look good.

At first I kept running. I thought to myself, “that poor bastard is really in bad shape. Best not to engage. You’re so close to the end of your run. Keep moving.”

But then, because I’m in recovery and acutely aware of the epidemic of opioid addiction, I started to get concerned. “What if that guy is ODing? What if he needs help? If I don’t stop, who will?” I’d like to claim that the AA responsibility clause was ringing in my ears but it wasn’t. I just knew that I needed to check on Sam.

And so, about 25 yards after passing him I turned around.

I’ll be honest, I was a bit afraid of what I might be getting into. If he was ODing, I knew that I didn’t have Narcan and even if I did I’ve not been trained to administer it. I knew that I would need to dial 911 and stay for a bit. I knew that I might witness a man dying before my eyes. And I knew that if none of those things came true I could be in for a tongue lashing from a homeless drunk who didn’t want to be bothered.

I also knew that even though the trail was crowded in the glorious mid-day sun of June 2, 2019, not a single other soul was going to check on Sam.

And so, I approached cautiously. “Hey man, are you alright?” Something barely audible came out of Sam’s mouth and for a moment I was more concerned. “What’s that? Do you need help?”

“No, I’m okay,” his tired voice said. “I’m okay.”

“I saw you on the ground and wanted to make sure. I was afraid you might be ODing.”

“No,” Sam said. “I don’t do opioids — I drink a lot. Are you an EMT?”

I told Sam that I was not an EMT but that I am in long term recovery. I told him that I used to drink every day and that I’d been sober for three and a half years. I told him that there were a lot of people like us who would help him if he wanted to get better. I offered to call someone if he needed me to or to get him an ambulance.

Sam talked to me about his experiences with my old home group and mentioned a local legend from the AA community known for his drum circle meetings. I had to tell him that BR had passed about a year ago and that he’d died sober. Sam was sorry to hear this.

While Sam was clearly drunk and slurring his words he was able to hold a relatively coherent conversation and I felt that he wasn’t in immediate danger. He commented repeatedly about how I looked good and in shape and that he couldn’t believe that I used to have a problem with the drink. But I assure him that it was indeed true, that I’d worked hard to change and that he could have what I have if he wanted it.

I shook his hand and told him that he should make sure to get some water and eat something and that if I had any money with me I’d be taking him to get those things. He appreciated that.

And the I was off to complete my run. When I got to the cool down part of my workout I called my sponsor and another friend in recovery. Both told me what I already knew, that I can’t save everyone and that I’d done the right things. My sponsor reminded me that my stopping and talking might just be a little light in Sam’s world, perhaps the nudge he needs to find sobriety.

I’ll probably never know.

Later in the day, while doing errands with my son I drove by the spot just to see if Sam was still there. My son tiled me I’d missed our turn and I told him I just needed to see something. Sam wasn’t there and I don’t know what happed.

What I do know is that this small act of kindness took less that 10 minutes of my day and that if I hadn’t stopped it’s likely that no one else would have checked on Sam.

Maybe even a small act of kindness makes a difference when we live in such a disconnected world where others look past their present surroundings and ignore the plight of their fellow human beings.

Be kind to yourself and to your fellow beings. We are all just walking each other home.

Gratitude on Thanksgiving

I have been reluctant to write. For months, I’ve felt I have little left to be said. I’ve struggled to post a single thought in a month. The truth is that the Promises have come true in my life — not always in the way I might have expected them to, or even hoped they would, but they have come true. I wear life like a loose garment most of the time today.

I rarely struggle with the words I hear at meetings these days. Yes, there are things that get said that I find absolutely ridiculous, but I am able to let them roll off me with little concern these days. I know what my understanding of a Higher Power is, and while I choose not to name it, I respect others who choose to do so, and even understand that some will choose to tell us that they choose to call their Higher Power by a name that used to rankle my soul and I can be at peace with that. I can be secure in the knowledge that regardless of how we talk about it we are all talking about the same thing.

I’ve tried to tell myself that perhaps it’s time to close up shop here. That maybe my work is done. I’ve also tried to convince myself that I should write about all the gifts of my sobriety. Not sure that either is the right path. What I do know is that I have to carry the message. I have to show others that there is a way out. I have to deal in hope.

Not long ago, I couldn’t imagine that I would live past the age of 50. I truly believed that my death was coming soon due to my drinking. And it was this certainty that formed the basis of my emotional bottom. I was not (am not) ready to die. I turned 46 this month and I don’t expect that I’ll die before 50 today.

I was reminded this week that life is short. I was reminded that this disease steals lives from not only its victims but also from those who love them.

When I first got to the rooms, I was frequently annoyed when the topic of gratitude came up. I didn’t feel that I had much to be grateful for. In fact, I felt that others owed me a debt of gratitude — that I was making a sacrifice by getting sober and that others owed me for that. As I’ve spent more time actually working with the concept of gratitude by writing gratitude lists, listening to others, and practicing meditation, I’ve come to love gratitude. Gratitude now fills me up and makes me whole when I am in a bad way. I have learned that I can be grateful for anything, large or small, and that by bringing this to mind I can change the course of my day.

I try to write in my journal every day and to close with three different things I’m grateful for each day. I focus on why I’m grateful for something and not just naming the thing. This makes a huge difference in how I respond to the practice of writing a gratitude list. It’s not enough to say I’m grateful for something — that doesn’t help me to be more grateful and live better — I have to express why something makes me grateful. That’s where the juice is.

My gratitude list is long on this Thanksgiving Day, but tonight I’m most grateful for the fact that I am alive — that I made it out of the woods and by continuing to do the right things have a good chance of staying in the sun. I’m grateful for this because I was not and am not ready to die. I have a life to live and message to carry.

I’m not a praying man, but I will send out a metta practice tonight for those still sick and suffering, in and out of the rooms.

Don’t Bite the Hook

Feelings can be so intense. This morning I was supposed to take my son fishing on a charter out of Menemsha harbor. I woke at 6:30, made coffee, prepared lunch and snacks, and got him up for the adventure. We walked down to the appointed meeting point, the Menemsha Texaco, arriving at 7:50. Plenty of time to grab an extra snack and a T shirt for the boy who was wearing a sweatshirt with nothing underneath in August. Plenty of time to catch the boat.

My wife had made the arrangements and we’d been told to meet at the Texaco. As the clock neared 8:00, the time to shove off, I started to wonder where everyone was, when the owner of the boat was going to show up. I knew that I should have started asking questions but my social anxiety got the better of me.

They will show up I kept thinking. It’s island time. No big deal. Until I saw the boat pulling away and said, “we just missed our boat.” That’s when the woman who organizes the trips emerged from behind the Texaco and said, “I’m sorry, we were waiting for you.”

I couldn’t believe it. She didn’t have a cell phone to call the captain. Apparently he didn’t have one either because when I offered mine she didn’t respond. A friendly man, said he’d radio the boat but the news was not good. The captain wasn’t coming back. The woman said, “we’re just getting started, how could I have avoided this?” I suggested that perhaps a sign, clearer directions to the boat beyond meet at the Texaco, and perhaps making a call out that the boat was leaving might be helpful.

Mr. Grey and I started walking home. And then the feelings hit.

Failure. Shitty father. Idiot. Dumbass. You fuck everything up. You let down the ones you love the most.

The same feelings that I used to have when I was drinking. Only now there isn’t anything to numb the pain. No escape hatch. Just have to sit with them.

My son is more forgiving than I am. He asked me to take him fishing when we get home. And I will. And still, I have a hard time forgiving myself.

I know that in the grand scheme of things missing a fishing charter is nothing compared to being the drunk dad that I once was, destined to die early in life. And yet, I still feel like I failed today.

I’m going to try to shake this off. I’m going to offer myself metta — loving kindness. I’m going to do my best to let go of this. As Pema Chödrön says, “don’t bite the hook.”

It’s Been a Struggle

The past few months have been a struggle for my son as well as for my wife and me. We have been working to address some challenges he faces with ADHD through medication for about six months. We have also been working with a therapist and attempting to work with his school during this time as well. Things have gone well with the therapy but the other fronts have been marginal at best.

I know from my own experience with antidepressants that finding the right medication and the right dose is a series of trials and errors. And we’ve had some real errors in this department with our son. We’ve watched as he’s tried various families of medications and witnessed rage, increased migraines, frustration, and stomach aches for six months. The boy has been through the ringer. There have been periods of relative success but we have not settled on a perfect solution.

We’ve struggled to find a great doctor. The first psychiatrist we worked with didn’t seem to have any ideas and frankly had the personality of snail snot. We bailed on her in January after we realized that she was about as confused as we were. We went to his pediatrician since we had no where else to turn and she attempted to help but When things didn’t improve she suggested another psychiatrist.

About a week ago we met with a new psychiatrist who seems to have better ideas and we believe we are on a path. I’ve dutifully kept the school up to date in all the changes, but to be honest, and without going into details, the response from the school has been less than stellar. We have a meeting with the principal today to discuss the situation and see if we can find a path forward.


My escape instinct has been strong too. I’ve had more than a few thoughts of escape. Thoughts of moving. Thoughts of taking a solo trip. Thoughts of obliterating my feelings. Thoughts turning in to the liquor store on the way home. Thoughts of that magical elixir and the sweet relief that it brings.

But I know that it won’t help. I know that escape is temporary and that my family needs me. And so, I keep doing the next right thing.

I keep going to meetings. I keep meditating. I keep talking to people who I trust. I keep tweeting with my #recoveryposse on Twitter. And I keep playing the tape forward and witnessing myself alone and depressed with a bottle. It’s not a pretty site and the pain is palpable when I take the initial thought to its final conclusion.

But I haven’t written here. That’s one thing that I have not been doing. It’s hard to write at this point. Partly because the pain is not mine alone. By not writing though, I have failed myself in a way. Writing has always been a way to work things out, to get to a better place.

And so, I’m writing. And I’m scared to publish. But I know that sharing my story (even if it’s not mine alone) is important. And I know that writing is how I share my story. But more importantly, writing is a part of my program for success. And if I’m not working my program, I’m not going to succeed in the long run.

Coming Out Publicly About My Sobriety

Coming out publicly about my sobriety has changed my life. I wish I could tell you that I’d planned it out, that I gave it careful consideration, that I’d done it with a complete understanding of what I was getting into, but I can’t. That would be a lie.

I maintained another blog for several years that had almost no focus (surprise, I was a complete mess drinking all the time…) and one day, I just posted that I’d been sober and going to meetings as a way to get the word out to my friends. Over the next few weeks I posted a few more times and thought a lot about whether to keep these posts as part of the old blog or to start a new one. When I had the clarity that I had a lot to say about my journey, and that my journey would be life long, I knew it was time to split out these posts and start this blog.

In doing so I’ve made myself accountable. Most of my good friends, people in my local fellowship, as well as thousands of people around the world have read my posts, many with regularity. By writing about my journey, I’ve let the cat out of the bag and sometimes that’s what’s kept me from taking a drink.

There is also something highly cathartic about writing — I think that’s part of what many find so incredible about the fourth step. When we put our thoughts down on paper (or in bits and bytes as we do today) they stare back at us in black and white. We can’t escape them.

There have been times when I was a little freaked out about being so public about my sobriety. Last spring, while I was talking to my new company I was waiting for the shoe to drop that someone had found my blog. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I feared that this might hinder my chances at a new job.

There have also been times when I’ve worried that my openness may impact my family— more specifically my son. I’ve coached his soccer team, and I’m about to step up to be a Den Leader for his Webelos den. I have worried that people will judge him because of me. Still, I share my story.

See, if people do judge me, I don’t know about it — and more importantly, I’ve received nothing but positive encouragement from people who know that I’ve made a decision to be sober. I think that this represents a turning point in people’s attitudes about recovery. There was a time when being in recovery may have meant a moral failing in the eyes of some people, but I think that the majority of people don’t see it that way anymore. I may be naive, but my experience hasn’t shown me the judgement that I once feared.

If anything, my openness has helped others. I’ve had several friends and acquaintances who’ve asked me about my sobriety. Several have decided that perhaps they might give this a go. Some who have explored it have remained sober, and others have not. I don’t judge anyone who has chosen not to remain sober after talking to me — I recognize that we all have our own path. What’s important to me is that they know that they can talk with me — that they can ask me questions and that I am in a place where I can offer my perspective.

That’s why it’s important for those of us in recovery to tell our stories. If nobody knows that we’re sober, they won’t know who to ask for help.

Labels

“What’s up with the water?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why aren’t you drinking.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Never?”

“Never, not anymore.”

This was going nowhere quickly. I was already frustrated with my new business partner and his behavior, but I took a few deep breaths.

“I haven’t had a drink in over 18 months. If you’d like to have another SE like you last one, I can have a beer. If you like me to show up to meetings the way I have been, it’s best for me to have water.”

His last systems engineer had a problem with the bottle and I knew it. He had been let go because of his habit of showing up to customer meetings intoxicated. I hoped that he’d get the message.

“Why do you count?”

I looked at our customer who sat across form me and could see that he sensed the tension. I could see that he was a bit uncomfortable.

“What do you mean?”

“Why do you count?”

I had wondered whether or not my new business partner was clued in to my sobriety. I’d taken the job about three weeks prior and I was keenly aware of the fact that he’d talked to a lot of people that we both knew. I was also keenly aware that I’ve been public about my sobriety and that a simple google search would reveal a twitter account with links to this page. I was fairly confident that this line of questioning was coming from a place of knowledge of my status.

While I’ve always been quite comfortable with my sobriety and I’ve been open and honest about it, I didn’t advertise it in the interview process — that didn’t seem prudent. I kept it under wraps and planned to share it at the appropriate time. This was not the appropriate time and I was getting irritated with it.

“What do you want me to say?” Continue reading

A Simple Strategy for Disengaging from Social Media

On July 28th, I had one of those big blow out fights with a Facebook friend over politics.  It got ugly.  I got angry, really angry and ultimately removed that friend from my friends list. I also made an announcement that I’d be leaving Facebook for a while and that the best way to reach me would be by phone or Facebook Messenger — since like a lot of people there are “friends” on my list that I don’t actually have any contact information for and who don’t have my phone number.

I stewed over this event throughout the weekend.  The committee in my head told me all sorts of things about this person and all sorts of things about myself.  I was stressed out and not handling myself well.  I’d lost my serenity.  And I was still posting on Facebook. A friend in my 12-step group noticed and mentioned that he’d noticed — in a kind and loving way.

I don’t recall exactly when the conversation happened, but my wife suggested that perhaps, just maybe, I didn’t need to engage in Facebook.  Or on Instagram, or on twitter, or read the New York Times daily.  Her logic was that these things weren’t really adding value to my life.  In fact they were stressing me out and I was not that great to be around.

I committed to reducing my interactions with Facebook. Continue reading