Our writer has lost his voice

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.

Making Amends to Ourselves — a Path to Self Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Fake It — You Might Not Make It

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

— Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene III

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

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

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


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

I did not partake.

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

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

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

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

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


Fake it ‘til you make it.

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

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

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

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


I know what it means to fake it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I still didn’t believe in the Resurrection.

And then I got sober.


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

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

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

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

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

Resignation Masquerading as Acceptance

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. … Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.

— page 417, Alcoholics Anonymous

I’ve been thinking about the difference between resignation and acceptance lately as a result of my therapy and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve let resignation masquerade as acceptance in my life for too long.

For years, I believed that I’d accepted my birth father’s suicide when, in reality, I’d resigned myself to the facts. While I knew in my heart that he had suffered from severe depression, that he’d been mentally ill, and that this was the root cause of his suicide, I still felt betrayed and abandoned. I wanted things to have been different. I didn’t, and may not ever, understand why he’d ended his own life.

I didn’t even know that his death had been a suicide until I was in the fourth grade, about nine or ten. I’d been told that there had been something wrong with his brain. I thought of it like a disease, like cancer.

Losing a loved one to suicide often leaves the family with a sense of survivor’s guilt. Sometimes it manifests as the sense that they should have done more to save their relative. Sometimes it comes up as a sense that they don’t deserve to be alive, that it should have been them instead of the person who is gone.

At the tender age of five I didn’t recognize these things in myself. Nor did I recognize them when I learned the facts behind his death. Until that point I blamed the doctors for not doing enough to save his life and I remember suddenly realizing that it had not be negligence on the part of the doctors.

I don’t remember if I blamed myself, or wished that it had been me instead of him. What I do remember is that I suddenly worried that he hadn’t loved me enough to stay — that maybe I had been the reason that he took his own life. Or maybe it was my brother or my mother, or all of us. In a word, I felt confused and abandoned — left behind.

I don’t know if I ever expressed these feelings. Probably not. I held them deep inside and I was angry. And I’ve remained angry for 43 years.

And this anger was only compounded when my step father, who I call my father, died suddenly when I was 29. It was a chilling blow. He and I were very close and I had many plans for us as Dad moved into his later stages of life. I imagined us hunting and fishing together. I imagined him bouncing my unborn son on his knee. I imagined him taking my son to the firehouse and letting him sit behind the wheel of the engines. None of those things happened. They couldn’t because he was gone. I resigned myself to theses facts as well.

Resignation may be a form of acceptance, but if so, resignation holds a grudge and includes a resentment. Resignation holds on, and wishes for things to be different. Resignation breeds anger and provides no relief.

Over my many years I have often said, “I have accepted this, but I can’t let go,” or “I don’t know how to let go of this,” — I have come to understand that this is the fundamental difference between resignation and acceptance. When I can’t let something go, I have resigned myself to it rather than accepted it.

And that underlying anger has often spilt over into other parts of my life. I’ve long had a history of explosive anger, fits of rage even. Only recently have I come to understand that my anger is not the same as other people’s anger. It comes on quickly and my blood boils in split second.

It is not something I am proud of and it is something that I am working on. I’ve been working on it for a long time actually. But just as I often said that I couldn’t let go, I’ve frequently said, “I don’t know how to control this anger.” Sure, I have cognitively known about many tools to cool the flames, but in the instant I frequently fail to access those tools.

Often the event that has set me off has not been that big of a deal — the trigger has very little or even nothing at all to do with my anger. And the anger has been disproportionate to the trigger.

Knowing the underlying roots of this anger is helpful. Knowing that I’ve been clinging to anger deeply rooted in childhood trauma helps me to recognize more quickly that the overwhelming emotions I am feeling in the moment have little to do with the actual moment.

I’ve come to believe that the key to ending this cycle lies in the full acceptance of my fathers’ deaths. And I am not sure exactly what that looks like, but I know it will be more peaceful, and more serene than how I’ve “accepted” things in the past.

Recently, I received some unwelcome news. News that will fundamentally impact our family and will require some changes in our lives. Nothing that is earth shattering, nothing life threatening, and in some ways fully anticipated — but still news that is not easy to accept.

And yet, upon receiving the news, digesting it, and forming the very beginning of a plan, I have felt relaxed with the news. I’m not angry about it. While unwelcome, it had brought a certain sense of relief. It has already changed me and my responses to situations which used to baffle me. I’m less angry and can deal with certain difficulties with greater calm and ease.

That is what acceptance looks like.

Blue Skies, the Universe Calling, & a Quiet Friday

This morning on my run, I noticed just how blue the sky was as I made my way through the wind and the cold. It was stunningly blue. Something about the angle of the sun made it that way. Of course, the sky isn’t really blue, it appears that way because of the reflection of light off the ocean against the black void of space — it all has to do with light and how our optic nerve and brain interpret it. It was a good reminder of the miracles of the mundane, those little things that we take for granted; that life is beautiful and we are incredibly lucky to have this earth to call our home.

I felt a call to get up early and join a zoom meeting with my original home group at 6:00. I was a few minutes late but delighted to find that one of my friends was celebrating 4 years of sobriety today. I remembered how we both started our attending that group around the same time and how miserable we both were. Things are different today for both of us. She is so full of energy and life — she shines. It is so good to see the miracle of recovery in others. The universe was definitely tugging at me to join that meeting for a reason.

Finally, it’s Friday and end of quarter. Some quarter ends are stressful, but my partner and I have already closed all the business that we had in the pipe so it’s pretty relaxed today. I’m grateful for an easy going Friday as we head into the weekend.

Day-Dates, Reclamation, & Courage and Strength

On Saturday, my wife and I took a drive over to Easton, MD and had lunch at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Scossa. We ate lunch outside, despite it being 48 degrees. Admittedly, it is a bit odd to eat lunch outside in January wearing our winter coats, but it’s as close as we are coming to normal right now.

Yesterday, we met my brother and his wife and son for a walk at Cromwell Valley Park, north of Baltimore. We did a two mile walk and found an old rusted out car chassis. The engine block was an in-line six. The markings on the block suggest that it was a Chevrolet built in 1948 or 1948. Nature is at work reclaiming the natural materials that were used to build that car. It may take hundreds of years but nature always wins.

Today, I’m thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Our own African American pastor spoke about Dr. King eloquently yesterday and shard a recording of Dr. King speaking about his kitchen table experience in 1956, in which he talks about receiving a call around midnight with an ugly death threat, and finding the strength and courage to continue with his mission by calling on his God. My heart aches at the fact that we are still wrestling with white supremacy in this country, but I know that “the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.”

I am grateful for the day-date with my wife on Saturday, it was time together that was much needed. I’m grateful for the time with my brother on our walk yesterday, and nature’s gentle reminder that she always wins. And I’m grateful for the courage and strength of leaders which inspires me to be brave and strong.

Birdsong, Vitamin D, Engaging Work

I am not laboring under the delusion that it’s spring — because it’s only January — but I have noticed that there are a few birds that have been chirping on my walks and runs.

After a week of fairly cold days (though still no snow which bums me out), it’s crystal clear and 50° today. I’m catching a few minutes in the sun, getting some vitamin D, between calls with a cup of coffee.

I tuned out the cacophony of news today by deleting several apps from my devices; made a list bud todo items, and got down to business. Before I knew it, more than half the work day was over and I haven’t thought about current events much today. It’s been invigorating to feel engaged in my work after feeling distracted for the last week.

These are the things I’m grateful for today.

The Kindness, Support, & Love of Strangers

It was a hard day for me. The weight of the pandemic and the dysfunction of the holidays not being very holiday like hit me hard today. But when I shared my pain with my Twitter crew, things felt better. I am so grateful for the support I get from people around the world on that service. I know that some people find Twitter to be a cesspool, and if I look in the wrong corners I see it as well, but the group that I interact with in a daily basis is so life affirming and supportive.

And that support, well, it’s the kindness of strangers. Most of the people who I interact with, I’ll never meet in real life. And while that makes me a bit sad sometimes, it reminds me that we are all interconnected. We are hard-wired for connection and belonging — hard wired to feel empathy and love for one another. I’m grateful that these qualities are so intrinsic to our human existence and that I can be open to give and receive this love.