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’ve struggled to come up with three things to post today. It’s one of those days when the weight of the world feels heavy on my shoulders. I am grateful to know that I don’t have to shoulder that weight alone.
I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to not be okay and to give myself permission to feel the things I feel without judgement. I am grateful to the teachers who have taught me this lesson in life.
Everything in the universe is impermanent. The only constant is change. Things won’t be like they are right now forever and I am oh so grateful for that.
I’m stealthy. I’ve always been good at keeping secrets — hiding things. I hid my feelings of guilt and shame about my father’s suicide when I was a kid by telling people all about it as soon as I got comfortable with them. If I told them the story quickly, and without a lot of feelings, then they would think I was over it — that I’d made peace with it. I told people that it was something that had happened, matter of factly, like it was as insignificant as what I’d had for breakfast.
I kept the fact that I was smoking hidden from my mother for five years. It was easy since I was in college and rarely home. When I was home for the summer, I made sure that I had a restaurant job that required me to work nights so that I could sleep late, leave the house early, and start work just before the dinner rush. That made it easy to conceal things, like smoking — and drinking. I told her that the reason my clothes stunk was because my roommate, Geoff, was a smoker — that was true, but it was only part of the truth.
I’ve been writing these gratitude posts for a little over a month. It’s a solid practice and it has helped me immensely. But it’s also a cover-up. If you read my gratitude posts it looks like I’ve got the world by the tail. If I don’t write about the challenges that I am facing, then you can’t know about them. And the truth is that things are fucking challenging right now. Just as challenging as they were back in November when I wrote this post.
I’m not sleeping well — waking up in the early morning and sometimes not being able to get back to sleep. I’m sometimes waking up because of dreams, sometimes because I’m in a cold sweat, and sometimes because I’ve been grinding my teeth so hard that the pain wakes me. I have been walking through life gritting my teeth subconsciously. I go to bed every night with aching teeth.
I started taking a beta blocker last week to try to help with the anxiety. Some days it seems to be helping. Others not so much.
At my last therapy appointment, I put on such a good act that my therapist said, “things seem to be going really well.” And I agreed with her. But it wasn’t conscious deceit. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was actually convinced the things really were going well. It was only after a few days that I realized I had been hiding this so well.
Sometimes, just putting my truth out there is what I need to do. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s messy, because life is messy and sometimes not pretty.
Things are really hard right now. Every day, I feel overwhelmed. Like so many others, I’m navigating uncharted waters without so much as a compass. The uncertainty of the moment weighs heavily on my mind and the challenges we face as a family feel insurmountable. It’s a game of wack-a-mole.
My company has been highly supportive of all employees during this pandemic and for that I’m grateful. There have been many opportunities to connect with the feelings and trials of the pandemic presented to us by management in the form of webinars and talks. The People Team has brought in many guest speakers and has worked diligently to help employees make sense of things that are hard to comprehend.
And yet, I still feel isolated and alone. My job has been reduced to a series of video conferences and fire fighting. I spend my days in a subterranean room that has been my office for 10 years and at the end of the day I spend some time in other rooms of the house, only to go to bed and get up and do it again.
While the company is doing well, my fiscal Q1 was miserable, perhaps the worst performance numbers wise in my career. I know it will get better, but I don’t know when. Underperformance and I don’t make good bed fellows. It saps my energy and I see it as a reflection of myself even if I know that it is not necessarily an indication of my efforts. Even when I know things are not in my control.
My son has been extraordinarily challenging since school started. I won’t say much more than that I’ve really struggled with what the next right thing should be for him, for us, as we try to navigate his seventh grade year. He started the school year in person, which was a small blessing as it gave us a sense of normalcy that we’d not had in months. But he is now doing remote school, and that is an added stress to our days.
I am trying to take time for self care, going for walks, runs, and bike rides, but at 48 there are only so many miles I can grind out on a daily basis to keep myself slightly sane. I’m making meetings. I’m eating well. But there is a lot on the plate. I’m practicing gratitude (you may have noticed based on my posts). All these things help, but to be honest, I’m struggling.
Struggling to make sense of things. Struggling to do the right things. Struggling to keep my cool. Struggling to get on task and to stay on task. Struggling to connect with others. Struggling in so many ways. Struggling to trust that the universe has my back. Struggling to believe that even if things are not okay, I will be okay.
I’ve long held this belief — the belief that no matter what, things will get better. That no matter what, nothing lasts forever. That I’ll be okay. I am clinging to these beliefs right now. I’m holding on. But it’s hard to keep the perspective. Hard to know it in my core the way I’ve known it all my life.
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.
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.
“People need to hear your story. I think it’s inspirational. I mean you used to be a guy who didn’t do much besides go to bars and get drunk. Now, you do cool things. You love your wife, spend time with your son. You run. You hike. You bike. People need to hear your story.”
“Well, bud, some do. They hear it on my blog. They hear it at meetings. It’s why I have so many followers on Twitter.”
“Dad, you’re semi-viral on Twitter. Anyone with more than 1000 followers is semi-viral.”
“Well, that’s why people follow me on Twitter, bud. Because they get to hear my experience, strength, and hope there. And that’s why they follow me.”
I had this conversation with my son on Saturday as we finished a run that I’d made him go on. Not a long run. Not a fast run. An easy walk/run exercise to try to get him interested in running.
He fought me when I suggested it. He’s 12. He doesn’t want to run with his father. He doesn’t want to run at all. But I know it will be good to help him develop a habit of exercise. No one ever taught me this important life skill. I’m trying to break that cycle in the family.
He’s right. People do need to hear my story. People need to hear all our stories. And telling our stories is important. It’s cathartic. It helps us process the pain that caused us to drink or drug in the first place.
Sharing our stories helps others who may be struggling with similar challenges. As I’ve learned to get vulnerable and share from the heart in meetings, I’ve had many people tell me that my story gives them hope. Hope that they too can get sober. Hope that they can stay sober when the going gets tough.
I have heard enough stories in my recovery community that are like mine to know that I’m not unique. There are thousands, no millions, even hundreds of millions like me, who have given up the drink or the drug and are living extraordinary lives. We are the lucky ones.
But, in the eyes of my son I am extraordinary. That’s all I can ask for. Small recognitions from my son that I’m living up to my Higher Purpose, being a good husband and father. Doing the next right thing.
In the eyes of a 12 year old having thousands of followers is important.