Making Amends to Ourselves — a Path to Self Forgiveness

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of self forgiveness lately. I think that self forgiveness presents a challenge for many people, in and out of recovery. As humans, we often judge our own actions through an unrealistic lens and are particularly hard on ourselves.

According to Freud, we all have three parts of our personalities — the id, the ego, and the super-ego. The id being the part of our personalities that is responsible for our animal instincts, sexual desires, and aggressive drives. The super-ego is the part of our personalities that functions as the moral compass and the ego is the part that mediates between the id and the super-ego. Perhaps it’s the ego that can’t accept that we might say or so something that falls outside out ethics governed by the super-ego.

Now, I am not a psychologist, and I’m not sure that Freud got it all right, but this model may be somewhat useful as we explore the concept of self forgiveness.

When we do something that we regret, the idea of forgiving ourselves can be difficult. We act as the prosecutor (super-ego), defense (id), judge and jury (ego) in our own minds. Rarely do these disparate roles agree about an action that we regret. In fact, this internal conflict that arises between these three parts of our personalities may be the very essence of regret.

When this conflict is strong within us, forgiving ourselves may seem impossible. Perhaps the strength of the voices of our internal judge and jury make us feel that we are unable to forgive ourselves. But, I’ve learned it’s important not to confuse ability with willingness. We can always forgive — even ourselves — the question is are we willing to do so or not.

Steps 8 and 9 are all about making amends and hopefully receiving forgiveness. When we get to step 8, we often look back at step 4 to make our list of people based on our moral inventory — it makes sense that we would look to address our amends to the people who were affected by the items on the list. This list may include our friends, spouse, children, other family members, business associates or supervisors, former lovers, and even former friends or others to whom we are estranged because of our behaviors while drinking.

There is one person that I think is excluded from the list more often than not and I believe this is unfortunate. That person is ourself.

How often does the amends list include ourselves? Why should this list include ourselves? Don’t we owe it to others to make things right first? What does making amends to oneself even look like?

While it may appear egotistical to make amends to oneself at first glance, I believe that it is foundational to making amends with others. I believe it is foundational to loving oneself. Just as one can’t truly love another without loving oneself, I believe that one must make amends and forgive oneself in order to truly grow in the program.

If we go about our lives regretting the past and thinking horrible thoughts about ourselves then we can’t truly change as a person. Brené Brown says, “we become the stories we tell ourselves.” If we are constantly telling ourselves that we are no good because of our past or that we are defined by our past, we come to hold this as a core belief about ourselves. And if we believe in our core that we are unworthy, then we will live as if we are unworthy. We will act as if we are unworthy. We will hold in to and repeat those old behaviors.

One of the promises is, “we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” When we are newly sober this promise may seem the most extravagant of them all. How on earth could we not regret our past? It’s exactly what got us here. Our past is defined by problems, poor choices, misbehavior, and pain. How do we get to a point where we don’t regret it? The magic that makes this possible exists in self forgiveness. And self forgiveness begins with making amends to ourselves.

So, how do we do this? It starts, as all amends do, with an assessment of what when wrong and how it could have been handled differently — the core difference between an empty apology and an amends being that an amends tries to make things right, by fixing the mistake of possible and by ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. So in order to make an amends to ourselves we need to know how we hurt ourselves and how we might fix it, as well as have a plan not to do it again. Then we tell ourselves that we are sorry for what we did, acknowledging how it was hurtful, and explaining how we will avoid it in the future. That is what making an amends to ourselves looks like.

Suppose that we hurt ourselves emotionally and spiritually by putting ourselves and others in danger by driving under the influence. We now see that our behavior was reckless and dangerous and we may feel bad about it. We may feel a deep sense of regret and fell like we can’t forgive ourselves. We need to make an amends.

To do this, we could write ourselves an apology letter explaining that we can’t change the past, but we can ensure that we never drive under the influence again, which should be easy since we are not drinking. We could even take it further by promising ourselves that we wouldn’t drive under the influence even if we did have a slip. If writing a letter to ourselves seems strange, we could record ourselves making the amends and listen to it, or even say the words to ourselves with a mirror. And while this all sounds a little strange, there is something powerful about making this concrete rather than simply thinking about it.

After making the amends to ourselves, we are in a better position to forgive ourselves. Again, making it concrete is valuable. Actually saying the words “you’re forgiven” is invaluable. Repeating them to ourselves when we are triggered about the past is also valuable. We become the stories we tell ourselves.

While it’s certainly not required, I believe that when we’ve forgiven ourselves for our past mistakes — when we believe the story that we are making changes and living a better life — then we are in a better position to make amends to others. Our belief in ourselves inside shows on the outside and we carry ourselves differently because we have a new found sense of self respect. Our self respect builds and becomes love of self and we are able to show others that we have changed, and it is per cicely these changes that enable us to make amends.

And what are amends, if not an act of love?

Don’t Fake It — You Might Not Make It

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

— Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene III

Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes comes in the context of finances and very likely was received by an Elizabethan audience as the recommendation to take care of one’s self first and foremost — Polonius being one of the villains of the story. Just two lines earlier, Polonius advises, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”

And yet, our modern reading of these words has become gentler — these words serve as a guiding moral principle advising us of the power of being true to our own codes of morality, often in terms of presenting ourselves as we are rather than as others might like us to be to the world, rather than as a selfish conceit about putting ourselves first in business dealings.

To be fair, I prefer the modern interpretation of these words, even if it may be out of context in the play.


This past Sunday was Easter — the day upon which Jesus Christ is said to have risen from the dead, a miracle, and opened the gates of heaven to the believers. In Christian churches around the world jubilant cries of “He is Risen” could be heard along with “Alleluia” and “Hosanna in the Highest.”

I did not partake.

I did attend our church service via Zoom and listened as our ministers spoke about the realities of Jesus Christ’s death. That he was a political agitator. That he was put to death by a Roman Empire that who saw him as a threat. That while the narrative is that he was not in the tomb when Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s mother came on the third day because he’d risen from the dead, it is very probable that his body was removed and desecrated by the Romans.

We know that powerful people do awful things a to their enemies and there is little reason to believe that the Romans simply let his body be buried. They were, to be sure, a bloodthirsty lot. They fed people to lions for sport for goodness sake. And we know this happens to the bodies of dissidents in our modern world, witness Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the hands of the Saudi government.

I do not wish to belittle or betray anyone’s belief here. If you believe the story of the Resurrection and it provides you with faith and comfort, it is wonderful. We all need comfort in this chaotic world. And a little faith goes a long way.

If I’m honest, though, I never believed it.

But I tried. I tried to believe it for a long time.


Fake it ‘til you make it.

This well meaning turn of phrase, employed so often when someone struggles, grates on me. Particularly in the context of addiction recovery, I find this advice highly problematic. Just think about it for a moment. Addiction leads so many of us to a life masked in half-truths, denials, and outright lies.

We hid our addiction, out of shame and fear. We lied about how often we drank, or where the money came from, or what happened the night before. Even if we didn’t lie to others, we lied to ourselves denying that the problem was as big as it was as we hid the bottles, empty or otherwise.

Faking it until we make it, is just another lie. We can’t fake sobriety. We can’t fake recovery. We have to do the work.

Now, there is something to be said for modeling good behaviors. There is something to be said for setting intention and how intention can be a strong predictor of success. But “acting as if” is different than “faking it.”


I know what it means to fake it.

For nearly half a century I faked it. I did what others told me I should. I went to confession for the first time in 5th grade and took first communion later that year after a well meaning teacher in my school asked me if I’d like to receive the sacraments. Never once did I believe that saying 10 “Hail Mary’s” would relieve me of my sins, or that the stale wafer had transmuted into the flesh of Christ — and thank God for that, I mean, can you say cannibalism? — Later in high school, I got confirmed, because it was what I was supposed to do — even though I was a few years late to the party.

In my twenties, I attended a Catholic Church on and off with friends, but slowly drifted away. I broke up with a wonderful woman largely because I could not accept her interest in an evangelical faith — I still owe an amends there. Throughout those years, I would go to church for the big days — Christmas and Easter — and if I’m honest, I always wanted to believe. I felt that believing might relieve some of the pain. I found myself jealous of the certainty that others had about the hereafter.

This big ball of chaos and confusion that we call earth just might make a little more sense if there was an afterlife of bliss. I mean, it’s a great fucking story, but my life experience runs counter to it at every turn.

When I met my wife, she was an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. I still don’t really know what that means, but I do know that she was invested in it — that it carried meaning for her. And I’d learned, by way of the aforementioned break up, that perhaps I needed to be sensitive to her faith even if I wasn’t all in. I attended church with her, because frankly, I’d have walked through a bed of hot coals to be with her.

It was uncomfortable. Not only was I not a true believer, but I’d been so thoroughly indoctrinated by the Catholic Church that I believed I was somehow committing a sin by attending another denomination’s services. They did a great job telling me that there was only one true church. To be honest, I still struggle with this from time to time even though I’ve all but renounced my Catholicism by burning the Pope in effigy.

This sense of betrayal was so strong in me that I struggled with the idea that we would be married in the Presbyterian Church — even though I loved the pastor of the church. He hooked me on the first day I attended his service which a sermon about how Liberals and Conservatives needed each other.

And yet, I overcame that sense of betrayal and actually became a member of not one, but two different Presbyterian churches. With time, I actually enjoyed the services. Those churches provided me with good people, good community.

But I still didn’t believe in the Resurrection.

And then I got sober.


I’ve written ad-nauseam about my challenges with religion versus spirituality and how I came to a sense of peace when I finally let go of the God of my childhood. It was only after doing so that I felt I could approach the 12 steps in a meaningful way. And it was only after letting go of that God, that I was able to seek out a church community where it was okay for me to have my doubts.

I tried to fake it until I made it for so many years, and never actually made it. Or at least, I didn’t make it in a way that looked like I thought it would. I had always thought that given enough time, I might eventually will myself into believing. That if I went to church and heard the message again and again, that it might some day actually be true for me. But that truth never crystallized.

This past Sunday was a glorious day in many ways. We had beautiful weather and I saw my family. Many of the adults in the family have been vaccinated and it feels like we might actually turn the corner in this god forsaken pandemic. I enjoyed our church service and felt connected to the universe. And I felt liberated because I didn’t need to pretend to believe in the Resurrection.

In the end, if I allow myself to believe that I’ve come to the end of this journey, which is probably another misconception, faking it until I made it did more harm than good. I struggled and suffered trying to reconcile a disjointed belief with my own life experience. It never fit and it was always uncomfortable. That certainty and the peace that I thought it might bring was never going to happen. I’d have been far better if I’d taken Polonius’ advice and been true to myself from the beginning.

It’s not that I have no faith, nor that there is no God — it’s that it doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what making it looks like.

Courage, Rebellion, and a Universe that has Your Back

Something that isn’t talked about enough in the rooms of the recovery community — courage. It takes courage to admit that we have a problem. It takes courage to ask for help. It takes courage to leave behind old habits and old coping mechanisms. It takes courage to get honest with ourselves and others. It takes courage to get sober or get clean.

In some ways, getting sober is a radical act. I mean, one day I was drinking to excess and the next day I made a decision not to drink. And while we use the one day at a time mantra, I knew that I was making a life decision. I knew that I was making a commitment not just fit the day, not just for the foreseeable future, but really for every day of the rest of my life. I knew that in my core.

Getting sober was an act of protest against the substance that had been my tyrant for so long. An act of rebellion. I put my foot down and said, “Enough! I can’t live like this anymore!”

But I didn’t do this on my own. I needed help. I needed people to show me the way. I needed people to lean on. People to call when things got rough. Because, let’s face it, rebellion is a hard road. There are times when we need support. A kind face. An open mind. Someone to listen. Someone to hear. Simone to cry with.

Last Monday, I had one of those hard days. Things went off the rails with my son. I lost my temper. I was angry and escalating the situation — it’s telling that a week later I can’t even recall what the argument was about. And the I paused. I took a breath and left the Hoise for a walk, right after setting dinner in the table.

I went for a long walk and was contemplating the concept of a higher power. Contemplating how the God of my childhood had been a failure and how I had let that go. I was thinking about the mystery of the universe, and thinking about how things always seem to work out. My faith in things getting better is definitely part of my higher power.

The universe has your back.

The thought crossed my mind, just as I was looking at the liquor store where I’d been a regular customer. I kept walking, down an old rails to trails path in my town when I came upon two friendly faces from the rooms sitting outside a local coffee shop.

“How’s it going?”

“Shitty,” I said as I pulled up a chair.

We talked briefly and it felt good to let it out. There was something cathartic about talking about my feelings and frustrations, if only for five minutes. I said I needed to be going and that I was planning to go to a meeting that night.

Both men got up and gave me a hug. Hugs have been sparse in this COVID-19 world and while I’ll admit that they felt damn good, I also felt guilty for accepting them, and vaguely worried that I’d unknowingly exposed myself to the virus.

But, mostly I felt good. Even courageous and rebellious people in recovery need hugs and support.

The universe has your back.

1827 — Five Years, One Day at a Time

One thousand, eight hundred, twenty-seven days without a drink — one day at a time. But who’s counting?

Well, I am.

Five years is a long-ass time without taking a drink, considering that I drank daily for seven years, and at least weekly for 25 years, leading up to September 23, 2015.

It has been a rough road, especially in the first year and in the last two years. The first year was, well, the first year. I spent months walking around in a fog. I sometimes forgot what I was saying mid-sentence. I craved booze, especially in the first six months. Everything was a trigger. Having a good day, I wanted to drink. Having a bad day, I wanted to drink. The weather was cold, the weather was warm…you get the picture.

The last two years have included family and societal trauma. I went through some things that no parent should ever go through. I watched my son suffer and he showed me what resilience looks like. I’ve been living in the same pandemic as you are and 2020 has been a shit-show with one hit after another. But I’ve always held on to hope and faith that things will get better. And I’ve stayed sober through it all.

These last five years have also been a time of self reflection, rediscovery, growth, and joy. I uncovered the root of my addiction. I discovered that I could let go of the God of my childhood and embrace an understanding of the universe that made room for the mystery without subscribing to a particular dogma. I began running at the young age of 45.

I am grateful that I am now living a life that I couldn’t have imagined back in 2015. I am safe, secure in who I am, have a loving family and a wide circle of friends. I’ve traveled and enjoyed making new friends. I’ve been a better dad and a better husband. I have truly discovered a new freedom and a new happiness. I don’t regret my past; I can look at it honestly and openly. I’ve found peace and I know that my experience can help others. I do not fear people or economic insecurity. My whole outlook on life has changed. These are only a few of the AA Promises, and I am here to tell you that they do come true.

I couldn’t have gotten here without help and hope. Hope and faith that things would be better. Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” I came into the rooms with only a grain of a mustard seed of hope but I had a why. My reason to live was for my son and may family, quite simply, I wasn’t ready to die and I knew that dying was on the agenda.

I often think about the darkness and despair that I felt as I walked into that 6:00 AM meeting in 2015. I think about the newcomer, and all those out there who are struggling, often in silence — our stories may be different, but we have a kinship of common suffering. We also have a kinship of a common solution.

And so I want to leave you with this as I celebrate my fifth anniversary of choosing to live —

If you are struggling,
If your world feels dark and lonely,
If you look in the mirror and hate the person you see there,
If you can’t imagine living without alcohol or drugs,
If you can’t imagine another day of drinking or using,
If you know that you’re killing yourself with your addiction,
Know that this is how I felt,
Know that others have been right where you are,
Know that you are not alone,
Know that there are ways out,
Know that people want to help,
Know that they can help,
Know that you can accept their help,
Know that you are worthy,
Know that you can overcome this,
Know that you can not only make it, but thrive.

It all starts by surrendering, accepting the fact that you can’t continue to live like you have been, and asking for help.

Grateful for Technology

Since March, I haven’t been to an in person 12 Step meeting. I’ve been to meetings, just not in person. And really, at this point even as we’ve had in person meetings open back up and some have gone to a hybrid mode (in person and zoom at the same time), I have no intention of going back for the foreseeable future. Not because I don’t need meetings, I do, but because I am not quite ready to go sit in a room with other people in recovery who may or may not be taking this pandemic seriously.

On a relatively frequent basis, the topic of how bad Zoom meetings are comes up.

“They aren’t the same.”

“I don’t feel like I get much out of them.”

“I miss actual contact. Physical hugs.”

I get it. Zoom meetings are not the same as in person meetings.

I’ve spent the past 23 years either directly building the internet, or helping people build the internet. I remember in the late nineties when a friend of mine asked me, “Do you ever think we’ll see video delivered over the internet?” I answered no, that it was too slow. And in 1996, it was. A 33.6 Kbps connection was blazing fast for a home user. I had no idea what I’d see over the next 10 years.

Broadband exploded in the early 2000’s and people started having fast connections at home. Technology improved exponentially and as connections got faster, we started streaming music and video over the internet. In 2007, the iPhone was introduced and the world was revolutionized. Suddenly we had portable screens with us at all hours of the day. Phone plans changed from talk time minutes to megabytes and gigabytes of data per month. In 2011, FaceTime made it’s debut.

And for all of that, I was still using conference calls for most of my business as late as 2017. In fact, it wasn’t until I joined my current company that I started to use video conferencing regularly. That was in 2017.

So, lets put some perspective on this whole Zoom thing in the pandemic. We are blessed, absolutely blessed, to have Zoom in this pandemic. As I said, I’ve been in the industry for 23 years and I only started using video conferencing from my home a few years ago.

While we may not have flying cars, this is some real George Jetson shit. If this pandemic had happened only a few short years ago, we would be in quite a pickle. We wouldn’t be getting on Zoom calls to complain about how they are not the same as in person meetings.

Look, I hate Zoom at this point. I use it all damn day for my job. I haven’t been to see a customer since March 12th and I don’t expect to make an in person sales call for the rest of 2020. The last thing I want to do in the evening is get on a Zoom call.

But when I said I wanted to get sober, I was asked if I was willing to to go any length to get there. So, I get on the calls.

Are they perfect? Not in the least. But I’ll take them over sitting around in a room with people who, lets face it, don’t always have the best track records with personal hygiene and health.

I recognize that I am privileged. I recognize that there are people who need in person meetings because they don’t have access to technology.

I am grateful for the technology and for my privilege. I think those of us in recovery who have these privileges, owe it to ourselves and to those less fortunate to be grateful rather than to bitch and moan about how the meetings aren’t as fulfilling.

Strengthening Our Hearts

Of all the muscles in the body, the heart is probably the most essential. In conjunction with the diaphragm, the heart works to delivering oxygen and nutrients to every other system in the body by pumping blood 24 hours a day.

One of the many signals the universe sent telling me it was time to make a change in my life, time to quit drinking, was on a weekend that should have been enjoyable but was pure misery. In 2015, I’d been riding in an organized metric century bike ride benefiting the MS Society since 2010 for five years. The first ride in 2010 was a two day ride in July. I was new to cycling and out of shape and it was ridiculously hot and humid. We were staying in the dorms at a local university and several people spent the night heaving in the bathroom after the first day of riding. I vowed to get better and started training.

Over the next few year’s my riding improved despite heavier and heavier drinking, but when I look at my annual miles I can see that things started to go south in 2013. I dropped from well over 1500 miles a year to a few hundred. When we stared the 60 mile ride in August of 2015, I may have had 100 miles under my belt for the season. We planned to ride the metric century in the first day and ride another 40 on Sunday.

On Saturday, I suffered. I a struggled mightily and barely finished the first ride. Wiped out I went to bed early and woke the next day knowing I would never be able to ride another 5 miles let alone 40. I drive home defeated and dejected.

I hadn’t trained because I was no longer in the game. My game was drinking and I was a professional at it. I was no longer a cyclist. It took me another month to gain the courage to address my alcoholism.

When I first quit drinking I tried to address everything at once. I figured that if I was making one life change, making several at once was a good idea. I tried to address my drinking, eating, and exercise habits all at once and quickly became overwhelmed. Luckily, I had the sense to let go and focus on the problem that was most urgent, my drinking.

In the spring of 2018, I went on a trip back to Penn State for the first time and was inspired by a fraternity brother who had lost over 50 pounds who ran a 5K that I walked. It was time to start addressing my exercise habits.

At the age of 45, I decided that I was going to become a runner. The only problem was that I hated running and I was convinced that my knees couldn’t take it. I started out slow, using the C25K app, and icing my knees after every run. The first run/walk had me do 8 reps of 60 seconds of running, followed by 90 seconds of walking. Those 60 seconds were awful. But gradually, I got better and I was able to run for longer periods of time. Gradually, I was strengthening my heart.

Two years on, and I’m still running. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Never before in my entire life have I had this kind of aerobic base. And I’m seeing results. I’m down 4 inches in my waist and my face is visibly thinner. But what’s really been impressive to me is how much better I am at cycling. I’m setting PRs again on my rides, for the first time since 2013.

The other day, as I was running I was thinking about how I’ve strengthened my heart through running and it occurred to me that I’ve strengthened my emotional heart in my recovery. We all have two hearts, the physical one that pumps our blood as well as our emotional heart. The heart is the life force of our existence, physically and emotionally.

Over the past four years and nine months, I’ve learned a lot about my emotional heart. I’ve learned that it was suppressed by my addiction. I’ve learned that addiction numbs not just the negative feelings, but all our feelings. In the early days of sobriety, when I was beginning to feel my feelings again, it was often painful. It felt like walking through the world without my skin. The highs were high, the lows were low, and everything felt overwhelming.

Just as with running, over time I strengthened my emotional heart by working with the 12 steps and in therapy. And my emotions became less difficult and more manageable. Just as with running, it’s been a slow and at times painful process, but I’m also seeing results.

I’ve become more tolerant and more mindful of my reactions to situations. I notice how my body responds to things that once spurred an immediate negative reaction from me. Often there is a bodily sensation that precedes the emotion. And when I recognize that sensation, I know what is about to happen and can (sometimes) short circuit the reaction and respond rather than react. It is definitely a work in progress.

By getting honest and sharing my struggles in my recovery, I learned the miracle of vulnerability. I’ve learned how to have my feelings again, how to respond rather than to react, how to sit with pain and how to forgive. In these ways, I have strengthened my emotional heart, and built a more resilient emotional base.

Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

Are you Struggling?

Yesterday, one of my Twitter friends sent a tweet saying that she would be deleting her account because she was drinking wine again. A few weeks ago, another friend on Twitter posted that he’d relapsed and he would be deleting his account because he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t keep half-assing sobriety. Perhaps you have seen these messages. Perhaps you’ve sent a similar message. Perhaps you feel an incredible desire to pickup a drink or a drug. Perhaps, you are struggling.

You are not alone.

We are all struggling right now. Humanity has not witnessed a pandemic like this one in over 100 years when the influenza pandemic of 1918 occurred. That’s three generations of humans who haven’t seen anything like what we’re going through at this moment the time. The human condition is difficult.

We are gifted with self-awareness and cognition. That self awareness and cognition mean that we ponder big questions. Questions like What is the meaning of life? and What is my place in this world? These questions are difficult to answer, and indeed the answer for each of us is unique.

We are also social creatures. Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that our defining characteristic is our ability to form collective groups around a common story — that what makes us human is indeed our social tendencies.

We are inundated with bad news in the 24 hour news cycle. Daily, we witness dysfunctional responses to a global pandemic by our elected officials — not all of them, but many of them. We see the news of mobile morgues and mass graves for bodies that are unclaimed. We grieve for life as it once was, not so long ago. And we are largely isolated. Cut off from our friends and family. Cut off from our coping mechanisms.

I believe, firmly, that alcoholics and addicts are no different from the rest of humanity. We have maladapted coping mechanisms, but every human being struggles with feelings and emotions. What we experience is part of the human condition.

Frankly, people who suffer from addictions are in a very precarious situation at this point in time. Many of our coping mechanisms have been taken away. Our addictions feed on isolation and we’ve been told to self-isolate. So, it is not surprising that some of us have relapsed. What’s probably more surprising is that others have not.

Shame and guilt are two deep emotions that every addict knows intimately. And the sense of shame that accompanies a relapse or a slip can be overwhelming. I am grateful that I have not had this sense of shame in a long time. But I know what it feels like. I felt it every time I went to the liquor store after I’d vowed not to drink again. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself that I hated who I was after getting drunk when I’d told myself I wouldn’t do it again.

Shame and guilt are killers.

And that’s why those of us in recovery have a duty to tell our brothers and sisters who have slipped that we understand. That they are welcome back into the fold. That we don’t judge them.

If you’ve slipped, I want you to know that I don’t judge you. I get it. And I’m here for you along with an army of other people in recovery who are ready, willing, and able to help. Reach out to us.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

Permission to Grieve

Before I begin, I want to say, categorically, that I’m not going to pick up a drink. When I think about the escape that alcohol provides, I can’t help but remember the emotional prison where it held me hostage for so long.

But I’ve been thinking.

Thinking about drinking.

Mostly it’s grieving. Grieving for things I can’t have right now.

I’m remembering the times when booze was fun. When I didn’t really have a problem with it. My 20’s. That sweet time after college when I had few responsibilities and just enough money for a little fun, when a spring day meant a mountain bike ride around Loch Raven culminating in a spontaneous barbecue in the alley in the Charles Village.

I’ve been thinking about these things, because COVID-19 makes them impossible. I can’t have friends over. I can’t go on a mountain bike ride with friends and have a barbecue afterwards. I can’t even see my family.

And while booze is something I’ve decided I can’t have (and I am quite certain about that) I have found myself going back to memories of easier times — fond memories of spring days like the ones we’ve been having here in Maryland and those memories involve beer and friends.

But the grief really isn’t about the beer. It is about the lack of connection with friends. It’s about how absolutely awful things are right now. The days blend together making every day feels the same. Every day has a background buzz, a continuous stream of bad news. Every day is more news about death, the spread of the disease, and our federal government’s abject failure to respond to the crisis appropriately.

Thank God for our governors. Real leadership is taking place at the state level and filling the vacuum created by the current federal administration’s complete and utter failure to lead. One shining star in this crisis has been my state’s governor, Larry Hogan. Today he announced that he’d brokered a deal with a South Korean firm to get 500 thousand test kits for Maryland.

In all of this, my mental state has been deteriorating. I’ve found myself sleeping later and longer than usual. I’ve found that I’m not motivated to do the things that bring me joy. I haven’t written a post here in over a month. I’m not playing the guitar. I’m less motivated to cook. I haven’t been running or cycling.

I recognize these as classic signs of depression setting in.

So today I made a bit of a change. I got to the end of the day, things felt incredibly heavy. My wife had picked out a dish for dinner that was in the latest Bon Appetite. I was feeling kind of grumpy about making it to be honest. So, at 5:30, I did the one thing that I know will make things better pretty much every time.

I went for a run.

I went out for a run with no specific training regimens in mind. Not intervals. Not a specific distance. No fucks given about my heart rate. I just ran.

And it did make things better.

When I got back, I talked with my neighbor for a few minutes, and that made things better too. Then I went inside and cooked these amazing shrimp tacos. We had a great dinner and I hit the shower and then a Zoom meeting.

I’m making a commitment to myself to do more runs. To make some phone calls. To cook more adventurous meals rather than subsistence cooking just to get calories in the body. I’m going to work to make life as close to normal as it can be while things are decidedly not normal.

And at the same time, I’m going to work to go easy on myself and my family. To wear life as if it were a loose garment.

We have to recognized that things are not normal. We have to recognize that we need to be gentle with ourselves. We have to give ourselves permission to not be firing on all cylinders every moment of every day.

And we have to be able to grieve. Even if that grief is for things that we no longer really want — because this is a fucked up time that we’re all living through.

Having Fun in Sin City, in Recovery

Vegas is not my favorite place. I didn’t like Vegas when I was drinking and I find it overwhelming now as a sober guy. It’s really more about being an introvert than it is about the drinking, drugs, and debauchery that are on public display. I am sensitive to being overly stimulated and Vegas is a constant buzz of activity, blinking lights, and noise. And yet, I’ve found ways to go to Vegas and enjoy myself.

It took me a long time to get here though. In my first few years of sobriety, the trips to Vegas felt like a burden. I felt like I was being tested — put in an untenable situation. How could a guy in recovery be expected to go to Vegas?

I get to go to Vegas roughly twice a year for my job. Usually for one technical conference and for my company’s sales kick off. Both are grueling events that start at 8 AM with sessions until 5 or 6 and corporate “fun” events in the evening. Corporate “fun” is code for drinking. For the first several trips, I would grind through the days, make an appearance at the corporate event, and then retreat into my room. It was a strategy, but probably not the best strategy.

Last summer, I tweeted my dread about going to Vegas and a fellow technologist who is in recovery responded with a tweet that reframed my perspective. He said, “Vegas has great food. It’s a Fat Boy’s dream. Let me know where you’re going and I’ll give you some restaurant recommendations.” Now, I’m actively working to not be a fat boy, with some success, but I love food and so this resonated. I got some recommendations and made some plans.

Previously, going to Vegas and partaking in the drinks at the corporate events meant that I didn’t spend any of my money at these events. I ate what they offered, which is generally garbage, because I really didn’t care since I was getting loaded. But now that I’m sober, I really do care about the quality of the food on offer. And the company has policies about not expensing food at these events. Since they are paying for all the catering — I get it, even if I don’t like it — I’m not allowed to expense any meals that I get on my own.

Vegas is expensive. The same cup of coffee that I get for $3.13 at my local Starbucks is over $7 in Vegas. Lunches, a sandwich and fries, are over $25 in the hotels. I don’t like it, but I have reconciled that I am making a choice that helps me to stay sane and sober in Vegas. So I spend my own money and don’t worry about it.

I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be at every corporate event. This past trip, I didn’t attend a single corporate party. And guess what? No one noticed and no one cared. It helps that I’m open about my recovery. My management knows that I don’t drink and so the expectation that I’ll hang out at a drinking event isn’t there.

Since I got sober, I’ve been going to a lot more concerts, and guess what you can find on pretty much any given night in Vegas. That’s right, a concert. And not just a local musician busking on the sidewalk. I now make it a point to look for an act that I’d be interested in seeing when I go to Vegas. Last summer, I saw Jackson Browne one night in Vegas and this past week I caught Aerosmith. I’ve gone by myself, and I’ve invited members of my team to join me.

Again, it’s money out of my own pocket on a business trip, but it’s worth it to keep me sane. I’ve also realized that I used to spend more on booze in a week than the price of a ticket to a show. A ticket to see a band is money well spent when I put it in that light.

And so, my perspective on Vegas is changing. Whereas I used to say, “I have to go to Vegas twice a year for my job.” Now I can honestly say, “I get to go to Vegas for my job.”

Do you travel for business? If so, how do you keep yourself busy when the corporate parties get rolling? Drop me a line in the comments with any additional ideas.