Resilience in the Time of COVID-19

The mysterious universe seems to be built upon cycles. Stars are born out of gas clouds and cosmic dust. As the dust spins and collides, heat begins to build, and a proto-star is born. These proto-stars grow in size to become stars. Over the lifetime of a star it expands as it burns off fuel. Stars burn for eons until the fuel is consumed, at which point, they collapse upon themselves forming either white dwarves or black holes.

In this vast, infinite universe, 8 planets and one other object (sorry Pluto) orbit around one of these stars. Each circling the sun at its own rate according to it’s distance. Several of these planets are circled by rings and moons. We live on the third stone from the sun, and one revolution around the sun is what we humans call a year. Our moon revolves around the earth every twenty eight days.

Here on earth, we witness cycles as the seasons change from winter, to spring, to summer, to autumn, only to begin again, over and over — year after year. Tides come in and tides go out, about every eight hours or so. What we call day and night are the result of the earth spinning on its axis, gradually exposing the land and oceans to the warmth and light of the sun or the chill and the darkness of the universe.

Life itself ebbs and flows.

Only a fool would deny that we are in a crisis at this point. The Coronavirus was a pandemic long before WHO officially pronounced it so. Hundreds of thousands of cases have been documented, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of cases have gone undocumented. Over 14,000 people have died as of 3/22/2020 according to Johns Hopkins University

The stock market is down significantly. Businesses have been ordered to close. Schools are out. In my state, we have been advised not to gather in groups of more than ten. Our grocery stores are under-stocked, not because of a food shortage, but because people are panic buying. Many of us have never experienced anything like this, and for that we are fortunate.

Worldwide, people are worried, and with good reason. Fear seems to be ruling the day. And some of these fears are justified. We don’t know what we don’t know about this virus.

We do know that it can be deadly. We do know that it has spread around the world devastatingly quickly, despite the fact that we don’t truly know how it spreads (as of this posting). It would be disingenuous for me to tell you not to worry.

And yet, we (Homo Sapiens) are miraculous.

To our best knowledge, our world is the only world that sustains life. Conceivably, other life sustaining worlds exist, but we haven’t found them yet. Science tells us that we are the product of millions of years of evolution. We descended from other living organisms that adapted and changed in response to stressors and stimuli in this world. We share DNA with many other species on this earth including, cats, mice, pigs, and other primates. Ninety-six percent of our DNA is shared with Chimpanzees.

Our best genetic research indicates that Homo Sapiens began life in sub-Saharan Africa and gradually migrated to all corners of the globe. We are highly adaptable, having proven that we can not only survive but thrive in many different environments including the Arctic, the deserts of Africa and Asia, as well as more temperate zones in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. We’ve consistently beaten the odds as a species, and for most of our existence we did this without modern medicine, central air conditioning, heat, electricity, public water, and indoor plumbing.

We are the picture of resilience as a species.

Yes, we are going to go through some very difficult times in the near future. There will be losses, tangible and intangible. People are going to suffer. And while this is happening, it will be difficult to watch. We will feel helpless — because we are. We will feel powerless — because we are. We will feel lost, but we can find our way.

This won’t last forever. Yes, people will die, but most will recover from the illness. As more people recover from the virus, more people will develop immunity to the virus. And we may even develop a vaccine for the virus. Our institutions, our economy, and our way of life will recover. Just as the day turns to night, and the tides come in and go out, this will be prove to be another cycle.

Homo Sapiens is not about to be destroyed by the Coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19. This is part of the cycle.

Knowing that we are in a cycle, we can also know that we will recover. And knowing that provides hope in a time when hope is in short supply.

Step 4: Honestly Recognizing Our Own Humanity

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This step scares most people. The language feels foreboding, heavy, daunting. It sounds really hard. And for many people it is really hard.

This step is all about getting honest with ourselves. Some of us have suffered grave consequences and some of us have not. But we all know in our hearts that our addiction has caused harm. And so we must get honest about what we’ve done in our lives. Honest about how we’ve hurt ourselves and others. Honest about how our addiction affected others in our lives.

If you read the big book, there is a description of how to approach this step. For many the book is the only source they need. Others find the book’s recommendations problematic for a variety of reasons. I didn’t know it at the time but there are many ways to do the fourth step. One can find several guides online.

Step 4 was scary for me because I felt that I had to get it right. I thought that this was a one shot deal and that I had to make sure I got into all the things that I’d ever done wrong in my life. If I stole a 5¢ candy from the corner store when I was 10, it better be in the inventory along side my admission that I had punched a boy in my class in eighth grade. I felt that I had to do it exactly as it was described in the book and I was terrified.

Additionally, I could see no reason why I needed to include a sex inventory in my fourth step. What I did in the privacy of my own bedroom with other consenting adults was (and is) my business. Bill Wilson, who wrote the chapters that describe the steps, had a problem with infidelity. It made sense that he would include a sex inventory in his fourth step. I have always been monogamous and so it made no sense to include this.

And so, I wrote the list and sat on it. And I’d pull it out and look at it, decide that there was nothing more to add but that sometime something would come to me, and put it away. I did this for eight months. My sponsor was going through some heavy life changes at the time and so he didn’t pester me about it. And so I kept it to myself.

I was firmly convinced that I would never get it done perfectly, and thus could never progress. Luckily, about a month before my first anniversary I opened up to a friend that I was struggling and that I’d been carrying around this step for months. I told him that I was nervous because I really wanted to ask another man to be my sponsor but I was afraid of hurting my current sponsor’s feelings. My friend told me that I shouldn’t worry about that, that it would be okay, and that I should ask the other man and move as quickly as possible to step 5 with him so I could get the weight off my shoulders.

And that’s what I did. When it came time to talk through step 4 we spent an afternoon at his house talking through it. And not only did we talk about all the bad things but we identified some assets as well. My sponsor shared some things that he’d done in his past and I saw that we are both human beings — neither innately good nor innately evil.

It was really valuable to me to look not only at my defects but also at my assets. I think this is something that is often overlooked in 12 Step rooms. We have a tendency toward self flagellation. We are quick to identify how we fail, but often slow to identify our successes. Part of this may be related to the sense that we need to keep our ego in check. But there’s a difference between grandiosity and acknowledging that we aren’t entirely rotten to the core.

Really, we are all human beings. People with addiction issues may make more mistakes that are driven by their addictions but the final analysis we are human. Humans make mistakes. We have moral and ethical lapses. It’s part of the human condition.

In my mind this is what step four is all about — Getting honest and recognize our own humanity.

What Does It Mean To Write a Recovery Blog?

I went to bed with feelings of fear and guilt. As the rhetoric toward North Korea from the White House fired up to unprecedented levels my lizard brain went kicked into high gear last night.

I’ve been reading Ken Follett’s “Century Trilogy” and I’m on the last book Edge of Eternity which is about the Cold War period of the twentieth century. I’ve just gotten past the Cuban Missile Crisis in the book and can’t help but compare that crisis to our current crisis with North Korea. I’m not alone.

I’m not so old that I remember air raid drills, but I was old enough to watch and understand as Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev to bring about treaties leading to a much safer world in terms of the threat of nuclear war. While many credit Regan with bringing down the Soviet Union, I am quick to remember that the fall of Communism lead to a economic vacuum in Russia resulting in several wars and ultimately the installment of an insane former KBG agent as dictator.

My father worked for FEMA and we lived near enough to Site R that I remember seeing the tunnel entrances from the road in my youth. Of course, no one was supposed to know about this Underground Pentagon, but everyone in the area did in the same way that folks who live near the NSA always knew that “No Such Agency” was right off the Baltimore Washington Parkway.

All that’s to say, that I grew up aware of the fact that Nuclear War with the Soviet Union was a grim possibility. So, as the rhetoric turns more and more bellicose toward North Korea, and as our relations with the Russian Federation grow more strained, I’m worried about the safety and security of the world.

And last night, as I sat alone in my house, a scant 35 miles from Washington DC, while my wife was at dinner with friends and my son is away at sleep over camp, my mind raced with the thoughts of nuclear war. And in a moment of weakness I tweeted.

And I felt like I’d let my twitter followers down.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it means to write a blog about recovery and to participate in the online recovery community. I know that my blog provides many people with inspiration because they tell me so. I know that my tweets and posts have inspired others to seek sobriety. In short, I know that I’m making a difference.

And with that knowledge comes a certain weight. A certain feeling of responsibility. Part of it is the nature of social media. Its been documented several times that we present a curated life to the world in social media.

I try not to do that.

I have written about struggles here and I’ve shared my struggles on Twitter many times. In many ways the online recovery community has been more important in my recovery than my local 12 step fellowship.

But still I worried that I’d slipped up and somehow indicated that it was acceptable to consider a drink if we’re about to die. Maybe it is and and maybe it isn’t. I mean, shit, if I’m gonna get burnt to a crisp by a nuclear bomb, I’m not sure that it matters if I have one last glass of bourbon and a final cigarette. Then again, it would likely not be very enjoyable and I’d much rather spend the last few minutes of my life holding onto the people that I love.

I don’t know what my responsibility is to the recovery community when it comes to this blog. Am I only supposed to write about my triumphs? Am I only supposed to lift people up? Do I have a duty to constantly support those who need support?

I don’t know what the answers to these questions are.

What I do know is that I’m just another guy who has a problem with booze. I’m not special. I just share my story with the world and sometimes that story is inspirational and sometimes it isn’t.

I also know that despite lying awake well past my bedtime, the sun also rose this morning. The earth continues to spin on its axis. I got up, made coffee, read the news, tweeted, kissed my wife good-bye, and started my day. This afternoon, I’m going to have lunch with my brother.

Life goes on even when our leaders are acting like children. We’re probably not about to have a nuclear holocaust.


Dry Drunk: A Hot Coal to be Dropped

“As rain falls equally on the just and the unjust do not burden your heart with judgment but rain your kindness equally on all.”

When I first came into the rooms, I was emotionally shattered, unsure of myself, unsure if I was in the right place, and frankly scared out of my wits. Like many people, I found that I was warmly welcomed by a group of strangers who had been exactly where I was each in their own way. After asking for help, I was given a list of names and numbers on the back of a piece of paper printed with the prayer of Saint Francis. “Welcome Home” was written at the top and I was told, “we’ll love you until you love yourself, keep coming back.” I felt absolutely no judgement from the group and for that I was thankful.

I’d read much of the Big Book prior to coming into the rooms and understood a lot about the program. I was uncomfortable with what I saw as overtly evangelical religious language in the steps but chose to ignore this and to “take what I like and leave the rest.” There were other things that I was uncomfortable with in the rooms, mostly the trite little sayings…

one day at a time

keep coming back

you’re only as sick as your secrets

let go and let god

just for today

I know it’s the first drink that gets me drunk

Over time, I became more comfortable with these little catch phrases, and I’ve been adopted some of them myself, because I now have a better understanding of just what they mean, even if I may think that they are overly simplistic in nature. I mean, lets face it, telling myself that I’m not going to drink just for today when I know damn well that I need to make sure I don’t drink for the rest of my life is a little mind game that I play with myself. And I’m okay with that. But there’s one turn of phrase that I hear in the rooms that really sticks in my crawl.

He’s a Dry Drunk! Continue reading

Three Life Changing Words

“fear of people…will leave us”

Once I got sober I quickly found that I could drop many the things that I feared. I was no longer trying to hide the facts of my alcoholism. I was making positive changes that had big and immediate impacts on my daily life. I slept better, which meant I felt better. I quickly found that everyday pains and gut issues were subsiding. The physical wellness that arose out of my sobriety is a wonderful gift. And yet, there have been other, more important gifts – loss of shame, less irritation with life, less anger. Perhaps the gift I’m most grateful for is that the fear of people left me.

I recall hosting meetings for my team in my hometown about three weeks after I surrendered. I was nervous for sure. I couldn’t take the guys out to the best bars in Annapolis. I couldn’t drink with my team. I knew that would be difficult, and it was. I remember the team dinner seemed to drag on and on, well after I was ready to call it a night. But I also remember talking with the valet parking attendant at the hotel for about twenty minutes before dinner. I had no room at the hotel because I was going home to my house. I had no business grabbing a drink at the hotel bar and it was nice outside so I’d gone out to catch some fresh air while the team got ready to go to dinner.

I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation but I do remember that I recognized that I was actually connecting with this young man. Continue reading

How looking for the similarities rather than the differences changed my life

We all do it. We all compare ourselves to other people.

We compare ourselves to our friends, our enemies, our neighbors, strangers on the street, and celebrities that we will never know personally. In some cases we feel “superior to” and in other cases we feel “less than” — neither view is particularly healthy.

Our subjective understanding of ourselves is deeply rooted in our understanding of how we fit in (or don’t) to this world. We come to this understanding by comparing ourselves to others. In early years, this is how we learn to become social animals. It’s how we learn to make friends.

I am constantly amazed that my son so easily makes friends when he meets other children his age. I am sure he compares himself to them, but it doesn’t seem to matter. He quickly finds the commonalities and joins in in the fun. Those commonalities may be as specific as the love of Legos or as simple as the mere fact that they are kids and not adults.

I have vague recollections of being able to do this myself when I was young. But somewhere along the line I lost the ability to quickly identify similarities and began to focus on the differences. Continue reading