I feel that I’ve lost my voice in my writing. Since I started this blog, my posts have been largely confessional in nature. Early on, a lot of my posts were about my struggles with various aspects of the 12 Step world as I understood it at the time. Some, but not all, of those misgivings arose from my own misunderstandings of things.
Between years four and five I became much more comfortable with the program, largely as a result of allowing myself abandon the god of my childhood and embrace my own understanding of the mysteries of the universe. And as a result, my writing slowed. But that’s not the only reason.
Over the past two years there have been a series of events in my life that have been incredibly difficult. These events have involved not just me, but my family. They are our story, not exclusively mine, and because they involve others I have not felt that it was appropriate to write openly about them.
This has been difficult for me, because writing about my own struggles has been therapeutic, and I don’t enjoy the cathartic release that came from sharing my story when I keep it inside me. I have shared some of these details with trusted confidants and in meetings, but by and large they have not been on public display.
I have struggled with what to post here. On several occasions I have written a post and sat on it only to decide ultimately that it was not mine to share without the consent of others involved. I know this the right thing to do, but it’s not easy to restrain from publishing.
And so, I find myself at a crossroads. I am not sure that the stories I have to tell are mine alone to tell and I am not sure how to sanitize them in such a way that I can share them. I would like to continue this blog, but I struggle to come up with content that I feel is safe to share at the moment.
I suppose this is growth — this awareness of others. In the past, I might have simply published without regard for the others involved in the stories. I am sure there is a balance somewhere, but, for the life of me, I haven’t been able to find it recently.
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.
“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.
I promise, this post will highlight some good things that happened in my life in 2020, but first I have to acknowledge some unavoidable and inconvenient truths about this past year.
There is no doubt that when the history books are written, 2020 will go down as an epic shit show of a year. In early 2020, it was evident that a major epidemic was brewing in China — a virus which would eventually break free of the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the damage and become the COVID-19 Pandemic. We watched in horror as first, Europe and then the United States struggled to control the virus. We watched an epic failure on the part of the Trump administration when they at first ignored the virus, then downplayed it, prematurely declared victory, and finally walked away from it while we suffer death rates in excess of 9/11 on a daily basis in the United States.
Our economy faltered and failed. The most vulnerable among us became victims as the pandemic ripped through communities and people who could not work remotely continued to go to their jobs so that they could put food on their tables, or lost their jobs. We watched as relief packages expired and our Senate Majority Leader blocked meaningful legislative action to assist those who needed it, as the chill of autumn crept in and people couldn’t afford food, let alone heat.
And if a Pandemic wasn’t enough, we watched again and again as police in America killed black men and women. Our cities burned during the summer as years of rage boiled over, but there were far more peaceful protests in the name of Black Lives Matter than there were riots. We watched as President Trump used protests as a politically convenient tool to further his agenda of hate and chaos. He used tear gas on peaceful protesters to clear a street in DC so that he could have a photo op in front of a church while holding a bible as a prop, upside down. He waged an very real press war on a very imaginary radical left that he calls Antifa. Let’s be clear, Antifa is Anti-Fascist. Every American should be anti-fascist — the Greatest Generation fought to destroy fascism in the 30s and 40s.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. We have all suffered with isolation and fear this past year amidst the pandemic. However, I know that there were also good things that happened in my life this past year and I was reminded of many of them last night when I scrolled through the photos in my phone. Yes, it’s been a year of challenges, but I realized it wasn’t all bad.
Before I begin sharing some of the good things that happened this past year, I need to acknowledge that I am privileged. I work for an information security company that has been wildly successful during the pandemic. Our company has been successful in part because so many other companies were not prepared for a rapid shift to remote work and needed to make significant investments in their infrastructure as digital transformation accelerated as a result of the new realities of the pandemic. My job was 100% remote before the pandemic and the biggest change for me with respect to work was that I began meeting with my customers over Zoom rather than in person. I’m tired of this, to be sure, but I am also fortunate. Our company shifted to 100% remote for all employees early and has not gone back to in person work. We are truly fortunate because we get to work safely from home, day in and day out. This privilege has meant that I have been shielded from the harshest realities of the pandemic and for that I am truly grateful.
The year started off, much like any other year. I was blissfully ignorant of what has happening in China on January 1st 2020, as were most Americans. On New Years Day, we went to Harpers Ferry for a hike and enjoyed views of the Shenandoah. Over the course of the month, I began to hear the name “Wuhan” more and more frequently, but it was distant. It was something that was happening in Asia. It felt a bit like SARS to me. I was mildly afraid but not overly concerned despite the fact that during the SARS and H1N1 epidemics I’d been part of a planning exercise for a pandemic while working at a global media organization.
In February, news of the virus had started to become more urgent. My company typically hosts a technical conference in February for the global systems engineering and professional services organizations in Vegas. There was some talk about whether to cancel the conference, but it went forward. We were advised that our colleagues from APAC would not be in attendance and that if we felt unsafe, we could opt out of the conference. I went to the conference, despite some reticence. I have taken to going to couple of shows when I’m in Vegas now since I don’t drink or gamble. I saw Aerosmith on February 10th. It would be the last live show I’d see in a long time. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry put on an amazing show.
In the middle of March, I had my last in person meeting with a customer. I remember offering my hand for the customary handshake and my customer taking it and then saying, “oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to do this anymore.” Despite knowing that the guidance coming from the Trump administration that masks were unnecessary, I remember thinking that they would be a good idea. But they were hard to find and I felt that health care workers needed them more than I did.
In my town, there is a special place called the Donut Shack. The Donut Shack was a local independent business that was started 30 years ago and had the best donuts ever. In 2019, the owners retired and sold the shop. The first new owners, ruined it. They sold within 3 months. The second new owners, destroyed it. It sat empty for a few months. I was quite sad. Early in 2020, I was alerted to the fact that a third set of new owners was working with the original ownership to learn their craft. March was special because even though we got stuck in lockdown, the Donut Shack reopened and the donuts are as good as they used to be!
My wife loves San Diego Fish Tacos, and along with her quest to find the perfect Caesar Salad, she regularly orders fish tacos when we are out. They are almost always a disappointment. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but cheese does not go on a fish taco. Neither does lettuce. As the lockdown began to stretch on, we started to get antsy and she started talking about the foods that she missed. Fish tacos came up. I scoured the internet and found a few recipes. I tried a few and in April, I perfected Baja Style Fish Tacos! There was much rejoicing and even my picky son loved them!
If you know me, or if you have been following along for a while, you know that is love bicycles. As the lockdown stretched into May, I started looking for additional ways to get outside. I had done a 4 weeks to faster 5K training regimen in April and was getting tired of running. I wanted to get out on my bike, but I have been struggling with tight hamstrings as a result of too much time in the saddle for a few years. When I was younger, I rode mountain bikes but after a few gnarly accidents I’d put my Specialized Rockhopper into retirement. I was dying to get out in the woods and one day, I decided to take my bike to a local trail. After that ride, I came home and said to my wife, “I don’t know why I ever stopped doing that.” Thus began my re-entry into the MTB world and began my quest for a new ride which proved difficult because everyone in the entire United States was buying bikes last spring!
In June, the fact that we’d been stuck in the same 5 square miles was really eating at us. We weighed the pros and cons of going on a vacation heavily. I was initially very much against the idea, but after talking with a few friends I warmed up to the fact that I could quarantine at the beach just as I was here at home. We rented a place and went to the beach. It was lovely. There were very few people at the beach and we had all our meals in the house. Many of the restaurants were closed entirely, but a handful were offering take out. We were very careful and wore our masks and abided by the rules of Delaware at the time. One day, I went out for a paddle in a kayak on the Delaware Bay. As I was paddling I found myself surrounded by a pod of dolphins! They were so close to the boat I could have touched them with my paddle, which of course I did not do. It was a special moment.
I’d long wanted to upgrade to a full suspension mountain bike, but since I hadn’t been riding on the trails, I never felt that I could justify it. As I started riding on the trails more regualrly, it became apparent that my 22 year old bike was in need of an upgrade. I wrestled with whether to upgrade to a 29er or a 650b ride. After a few test rides, it was clear to me that I didn’t want a 29er. My buddy Eugene let me ride his Yeti SB140 and I was instantly in love. I ordered the last one I could find in June. In July, my new bike came after a long process (the original bike shipped with a crack in the head tube). I rode it a few times at my local trail system and in mid July, I went down to Virginia one Saturday for an epic ride at Fountainhead with my buddy Eugene from work. It was great to see Eugene after a few months of talking on the phone and team Zoom calls. We tore up the trails and it was one of the best rides of the summer on my new bike.
August found us feeling cooped up again. We made plans to go to NY to see my wife’s family for the first time since the previous November, but they got thwarted when Governor Cuomo announced quarantine restrictions on visitors from Maryland. After some searching we found that we could get a cabin on the grounds of the Greenbrier in West Virginia. We did not want be in the main hotel because we wanted to be as careful as possible and the cabin presented us with a way to go but maintain social distancing. When we entered the property, the staff took our temperatures. If you had a fever you would be turned away. We enjoyed our trip. Nearly all our activities were outdoors and by ourselves. When we were with others everyone wore masks. While we were there, a good friend with deep roots in the local area pointed us to an amazing little cafe in Lewisburg, WV.
In September, the restrictions in NY were lifted and we went to visit my wife’s family. Because we did not want to put them at risk, we stayed in a hotel rather than at their house and we met outdoors for a walk and lunch at an restaurant with outdoor seating. It was nice to get to see them and also to see some of the first fall colors of the year. And of course, September was also important because September 23rd was my 5th sobriety anniversary! I remember early in the Trump administration saying that it would be a miracle if I got through his presidency sober. Well, not only did I get through four years of ignorance and chaos, but I also got through the pandemic (so far) without taking a drink. Miracles.
In October, the restrictions on in person meetings of more than 10 people in Maryland were briefly lifted. This afforded my son’s scout troop the opportunity to meet outside with masks. We had about six meetings as a troop before it got too cold and the restrictions were put back in place as the virus began to rage again. We managed to get the only scout camping trip of the year in during the month of October. I vividly recall talking with other dads on the trip about how good it felt to be outside and how much we all needed that trip.
In November, we watched as 81,283,485 Americans showed the world that we don’t stand for fascism, white supremacy, and authoritarianism. Sadly, 74,223,744 Americans showed the world that these things are not deal breakers for them. The next 50 days would be filled with disinformation and flagrantly false statements from the president as he and his team of thugs worked to find any possible way to hold on to power. Every lawsuit that was brought was struck down by the courts because they were all baseless. It was a sad time in America. We have a lot to wrestle with as a nation. Somehow we need to find a way to bridge the gaps that exist between so many people. I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people vote more often than not out of fear than they do out of conviction. We’ve weathered a rough few years that nearly tore the country apart. But I have faith. Faith that things will get better. Faith that truth and justice will prevail. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said when he paraphrased the 19th century Unitarian Universalist, Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
December didn’t feel much like December. We lost my uncle Danny to cancer in December. He had been sick for a long time, and while it was sad to see him go, we all knew that he was finally at peace. Still, his death hit me more deeply than I originally thought. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years and many of them have been 65 or younger. As I am now 48, this can be scary and overwhelming. I know that I’m doing the right things to maximize my time on earth, but it’s still scary to see so many people die early in my family.
Between Danny’s death, the general malaise of the pandemic, and the aforementioned disinformation campaign coming from the White House, it was really hard to get into the Christmas spirit. There were no holiday parties to attend, and we didn’t get together for a family meal on Christmas Day. Still, we had a nice Christmas. I built a custom gaming PC with my son for him for his Christmas present and we got got a few more hikes in as well, including one at one of our favorite spots on the Chesapeake Bay.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. There is no doubt about it. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We did a lot less than we would have in a typical year, but we were also lucky to be able to do a lot more than others. We were cautious about when and where we went and we wore our masks religiously. I’m sure that some may judge us for all the activity that we partook in. That’s fine, we made our choices based on our circumstances. When we were home, we were isolated and so we were reasonably assured that we were not carrying the virus. We were fortunate that we did not come in contact with the virus in our travels. Thankfully, we have our health and there is hope on the horizon in 2021.
I have loved boots as long as I can remember. I remember having rubber boots that buttoned around the front when I was very small, wearing sandwich bags over my feet to go out in the snow. When I was in second grade, after we moved to the sticks, I started asking for a pair of cowboy boots, and a insulated vest, because that’s what the kids who’s parents had farms wore to school.
My parents got me a pair of cowboy boots for Christmas and I wore them long after they were too tight for my feet. The were the coolest — the toe, vamp, and heal of the uppers were light brown and the shaft was dark brown with white stitching on the sides.
In high school, I was one of the kids who wore combat boots. I wanted Dr. Martens desperately, especially in the ox-blood color but they were expensive — and the skin heads wore the ox-bloods. The rumor was that you’d get your ass kicked if you were wearing them and were caught by the skins. To boot (pun intended) they’d steal the boots right off your feet. One of my childhood friends got caught up in the skins, and he was the one who told me these stories. I believed him, whether they were true or not.
All this is to say, that I come by the boots thing honestly.
When I got sober though, boots took on a new meaning for me. I had tentatively started tweeting about my sobriety, under my original handle “ddeville.” As I learned more about the Traditions, I felt a need to anonymize my handle. I started out with “sobercyclist” but there was another person who was using this in place of her name and it was confusing to folks. As I sat at my desk one afternoon, wearing a pair of harness boots, I came up with “soberboots” and I hastily registered this domain name. And I quickly developed a sense of an identity around the name soberboots.
I remember feeling out of place at meetings. I had no criminal record, no DUIs, no arrests, no fights, none of what I saw as the trappings of an alcoholic. I thought that I needed to be a hard ass. That I needed to craft an identity that fit the picture of an alcoholic in my mind. I don’t know where I got this, admittedly insane, idea. But I confess that I liked the name “soberboots” because it came with an air of toughness that I felt I needed to be a person in recovery. And I started buying more boots.
The first pair was a legitimate replacement for a worn out pair of ankle high boots lace up boots that I already had. It was a pair of Red Wing Moc-Toes with a lug sole. They were super stiff. They were hard ass. I felt like a bad ass in them.
Next I bought a pair of Red Wing Beckmens in Cherry Featherstone leather. They were a glorious shade of oxblood. I loved the color and I was no longer worried about skinheads beating me up and stealing my boots. And like all Red Wing boots, they were hard ass. Super tough.
Here’s the thing about Red Wing boots — they aren’t fucking comfortable. I know that some hipster out there will argue with me on this, and frankly I don’t give a shit. They are stiff as hell, completely unlined, and most people complain that they take for ever to break in. I’m here to say, that I don’t think they ever break in. I tried my damnedest and I don’t think I ever got them fully broken in even though I wore them nearly every day for a couple of years. And, they are super expensive. I’m embarrassed by how much money I spent on those boots to be honest.
A few years into my sobriety, I tried on a pair of Blundstones which are originally from Australia and are classic Chelsea boots. And they were like slippers — super comfortable boots. Like no pain at all. They look great and while they aren’t cheap, they don’t even come close to what Red Wings cost. Once I bought these boots, I almost never wore those hard ass Red Wings again. I still loved the look of them, but every time I put them on I found myself taking them off as soon as I could. I recognized that I wanted to be comfortable more than I wanted to look like a hard ass.
At the same time, I was becoming more comfortable in my sobriety. I realized that I needed to be me, not some insane idealization of “what an alcoholic looks like.” I found out that some of the dudes in the rooms who looked the roughest and toughest, were actually really compassionate. I learned that masculinity is not defined by boots and muscles, but by the ability to connect with others. I learned the difference between toxic masculinity and being a man.
Sometimes I think about changing the name of this blog. But I don’t think I’m going to. For one thing, my buddy Mark has said that the name is one of the greatest names he’s ever seen for a sobriety blog. And secondly, I feel like there’s still a metaphor in the name. I am walking a path of recovery, and I often wear boots, which provide me with protection and support — kind of like recovery does.
I am grateful for the elasticity of the mind, the ability to learn new things, or to relearn old things. After a few years of study and practice, I feel like I’m finally making progress with the guitar again.
I am grateful for the growth mindset. Knowing that we can form new habits, make changes to our lives, and become better humans gives us a sense of hope and promise.
I am grateful for the courage and strength to persist and grow throughout this pandemic. It’s been a hard year, but that hasn’t meant stagnation.
Have you ever been afraid for your life? Not just scared, but really concerned that you just might die — right here, right now.
It was a late summer evening and I was 15 years old. School had already started but the sun was still high enough in the sky that we could go out after eating dinner and cruise around town on our bikes — we ate early, 5:30 every day. My brother and I had ridden into town on our freestyle box bikes and met up with our friend Matt to go to Sheetz — Central PA and North Western MD’s incarnation of a 7-Eleven, except they didn’t have Slurpies.
We got some junk food and as we were leaving Andy and his crew walked in. He said something rude to me and I ignored it. Andy was my bully. Andy was 17 and huge. I knew to let his comments roll off my back like water off a duck’s ass. The three of us sat in the curb and indulged in our candy before starting to ride up the road. Before leaving we talked to a man and his wife (perhaps girlfriend) about how nice the night was. No more than ten minutes had passed.
We’d gotten about 200 yards from the Sheetz when Andy and his crew pulled up beside us in their dark green muscle car — maybe a Chevy Nova, or an old Pontiac, I don’t know for sure — and Andy leaned out from the drivers seat and screamed something at me. He was slurring his words. Clearly intoxicated. Slamming down the accelerator, he sped off. I thought it was over. I was wrong.
Somewhere he had turned around and came by to talk more shit to me. I was scared. He had a car and I had a bike. The three of us decided to book it and cut through the school to try to find safety. I thought that by doing this we’d effectively cut him off the chase. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might not need a road to drive on.
With Andy and his crew in hot pursuit, I peddled as fast as I could and made a beeline for a tree-line where there was a fence that he couldn’t get through in his car. But I also had to ditch my bike. There was a cut-down corn field on the other side of the fence and just beyond that field was Main Street, where Matt lived. It was perhaps 75 to 100 yards to safety. I made it about fifty before I felt Andy’s massive left had grab my shirt collar and flip me around so that his right fist had a clear shot at my jaw.
Matt had made it to his house and I watched him scale the privacy fence to get to safety. My brother was being held back by Andy’s crew and he was younger and smaller than me. We wouldn’t have had much of a chance against the four older boys.
Andy beat the shit out of me.
I was smaller, lighter, and unable to gather my wits to punch back. All I could do was shield my head as best I could. I remember, after a solid hook to the face, the ground rippling beneath me, thinking, “I’m gonna die,” as he pulled me up for another swing.
When I was sure that I was going to die, I heard the man from Sheetz shouting, “Hey, let that boy go.” I never got his a name but that man may have saved my life.
For many, many years, I held an angry grudge against my assailant. I’d wanted him to serve time. He didn’t, despite being a repeat offender and was my first introduction to the failures of our criminal justice system.
I sometimes thought about how I might get revenge. Either beat him or better yet, catch him in a crime and get him licked up. I wanted him to get hurt. I wanted to hurt him. I thought that if I could get even, I would feel better.
Every now and then, I would Google his name and once found a reference to him being in prison.
“Good,” I thought.
But it wasn’t good. Neither revenge and retribution, nor Andy’s poor choices and his incarceration would actually fix things. Nothing would fix things from that day. I’ll always have been brutally beaten. And I’ll always remember it. All that changed was knowing that he’d served some time. The anger didn’t go away.
As I’ve grown in my recovery, and as I’ve worked through my past traumas, I’ve learned that the way to heal from them is to find compassion for myself and for other. I’ve learned that forgiving others releases me of the burden of carrying the grudge.
When my son was attacked, I worked hard to find compassion for his assailant. I knew that there had to be something deeply wrong in his life that would lead him to attack a younger boy. I was right about that. I learned about some of his troubles in the court room.
Today when I think of Andy, I wonder what hurt him. I wonder what was so broken and wrong in his world that drove him to bully me. We knew his family. They were nice folks. His brothers and sisters were kind to me. I don’t have the answer. I probably never will.
What I do know, is that when I dug deep and cultivated empathy for Andy, I was able to forgive Andy for beating me up. I was able forgive myself for being weak and failing to fight back. And I was able to let it go.
As the pandemic reaches the seventh month here in the United States, and our death toll continues to climb — in part due to mismanagement and disinformation on the part of the highest levels of our federal government — we are assaulted by science denial and lies on a daily basis. We watch as the President intentionally sows distrust of the electoral process, spreads baseless conspiracy theories, and has calls for his cult like followers to actively participate in voter intimidation at the polls, as it becomes more and more likely that he will lose the election.
We are, rightfully, wary of our fellow humans — no one knows who is infected or who has been exposed. Most of us wear masks, but some refuse to do so — I don’t believe in hell, but if I did, I’d be sure that there is a special place in hell for these people. For those of us who are practicing sanity, we have forgotten what life without masks looks and feels like. We don’t see other people smile.
For many of us, life has taken on a tone of monotony, as if we are living the movie, Groundhog Day, were we are going through the motions and every day feels the same. Blendsday — waking up on Saturday often leads to a moment of confusion about what I have to do for work, only to realize that it is the weekend.
But having the weekend has become small comfort — we can’t really do the things we’d normally do on the weekends like gather with friends and family. Put simply, life doesn’t feel much like the life in the land of the free and the home of the brave lately. It feels dysfunctional because it is dysfunctional. We aren’t living through a time that simple feels dystopian, our time has actually become dystopian in many ways.
This weekend has been different. My son’s scout troop went on it’s first camping trip since COVID started. Things were different on this trip. Each boy slept in his own tent. The adults prepared all the meals. We wore masks all day and gloves during meal prep. We used disposable plates, cups, and flatware. We camped on private land rather than at a campsite — the county parks are still closed to overnight camping and all the state parks are booked.
And yet, it was a change in homeostasis. We were outside. We were together. Doing things. Building fire pits and fires. Boys learning to use tools like axes and saws. Tug of war. Ultimate frisbee.
It was clearly not Blendsday.
Yesterday, in the middle of the day as I was prepping and serving lunch to middle school and teenage boys, I felt something in my chest. A peculiar sensation.
Buzzing. Tingling. Warmth. Excitement.
Moments of joy have been few and far between for so long I almost didn’t recognize it. I mean, I literally felt the feelings in my chest and wondered what was going on. As I made another sandwich, I took inventory of the rest of my body. It was only when I recognized that I was actually smiling under my mask that I could name it.
It was a feeling brought on by doing the next right thing. In this case, being a responsible father, serving young men, being a role model for them, and knowing I was making a difference.
One of the other fathers said it best while we were lounging around a fire mid-day yesterday day, “I needed this.” He was referring to being out in the woods, the fresh air, the petrichor of the forest floor after a passing shower, and the physical activities of camping.
And while I needed all of that, it was not just the experience of getting out in the wilderness that brought on joy. My higher purpose in life was being fully actualized in the moment. That’s what life is all about. That’s how we get through the dystopia.