Entirely a Shit-show, but Not a Shit-show Entirely: 2020 in Retrospect

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.


The first wave shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it still knocked me off my feet. I’d seen it coming, and with all the confidence of a young boy, I stood and faced it head on, fully expecting that it would be no match for me. Quite the contrary, I was no match for it.

The second and third ones seemed to come out of nowhere. Gasping for air and trying to stand up again another wave crashed on top of me, driving me into the sandy ocean floor. I don’t remember being scared, but I’m sure I must have been — I was probably around 9 or 10 years old, and the Atlantic was having it’s way with me.

I suspect that most people who have grown up going to the beach know this story. Most of us have thought that we were stronger than we were at one point or another in our lives. And kids who’ve grown up going to the beach have certainly had experiences like mine where they were caught in the breakers and were getting pummeled by the ocean.

At some point, I realized that I needed to stop fighting. That the only way to escape, was to let the surf carry me further in toward shore, where the waves would be less forceful and I’d be able to stand.

This year I’ve felt like I’m that little boy again. Month after month there have been challenges in my life that have hit me hard. It’s begun to feel like things may never get better, like there will be more and more waves with no end in sight.

I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I’m ready for a break.

Perhaps, the key is surrender again. Perhaps, I need to stop fighting the flow and just go with it. But that feels impossible at this point.

So, I persist.

I do the things that I know work. I go to meetings. I call others who I trust. I talk about what’s going on in my life and how it’s impacting me. I tweet to the #recoveryposse. I And most importantly, I don’t drink.

I don’t drink.

Its a fucking miracle, but I haven’t picked up a drink through all the turmoil of 2019. And I don’t do that because there’s nothing happening in my life that a drink won’t make worse.

Sooner or later, these waves will come to a stop. Sooner or later this too shall pass. And when I’m through it, I’ll know that Nietzsche was right.

“That which does not kill me, somehow, makes me stronger”

Reflections On a Weekend After Two Years Without a Drink

“Sir, Did the Rangers get ahold of you?”

Me, stupefied, “Did the Rangers get ahold of me? Um, no, they didn’t.”

“We’ve been trying to get ahold of everyone who rented a cabin, we have a problem, stinkbugs,” the kind woman with curly salt and sandy hair said as she motioned around the cabin that serves as the check-in station at the state park where I’d rented a rustic cabin for the weekend. The walls had many, but not an over abundance of, stink bugs crawling around.

I thought for a moment. Maybe they’d left a message on my house phone, which I never check and want to eliminate but my wife insists that we need one. There are some battles that aren’t worth fighting.

“You can have a look at the cabin. I’ve cleaned it twice today and we bug bombed it yesterday, but I don’t think you’ll want to stay.”

We drove to the cabin and I took one look inside and knew we weren’t staying. The place was crawling with bugs, hundreds of them on the window alone. It was already 6:30 and I was exhausted having spent most of the day preparing for the trip. My son took the news better than expected, but I was miserable.

We went into the nearest town and had dinner. The server asked for drink orders, my son asked for a Shirley Temple and my wife asked for her customary Cranberry and Club soda. I hesitated. I was thinking about whether I wanted club soda or iced tea when the server asked, “would you like to see our tap list, sir?”

I hesitated again, letting the words register. I didn’t really want a beer, I wanted to have a smart ass retort, something like, “I don’t think you have enough insurance,” or “I’d like to get home for Christmas,” but none came. And briefly, I felt awkward before I ordered my iced tea.

Perhaps sensing the moment, my son asked, “Dad, who convinced you to get sober?” after the server left the table.

“I did.”

“Why’d you want to get sober?” he asked.

“Because, well, because I wasn’t ready to die.”

There was a brief look of real concern on his face and I assured him that I hadn’t been in imminent danger, but that if I’d continued to drink the way I was I would surely have died from it.

Relief shown on his face, as he accepted that simple answer as a nine year old will do.

The weekend didn’t turn out as I’d planned. It was supposed to be an escape to nature. An escape to the country. A weekend of hiking, cooking over fires, sleeping in sleeping bags, seeing wildlife, and not being too close to other people. This was the way I’d envisioned the second anniversary of my sobriety date. But it wasn’t meant to be.

We made the best of it. On Saturday, I looked for another site where we could stay with our tent, but my son wasn’t really into getting in the car and driving for an interminable distance (anything more than 15 minutes) to sleep only one night in the tent. So I rebooked for a few weeks out.

My sobriety date coincides with my niece’s birthday and so I called the family to see what they were doing. Mom said that there would be cake. That was enough for me.

We still wanted to get outside and so we decided to head to Ladew Topiary Gardens in Jarretsville, MD for the afternoon before going to my brother’s for dinner. Mr. Grey kvetched, but went along with the plan, because when you’re nearly ten you do what you parents tell you to do.

Ladew was lovely. The grounds are broken up into formal topiary gardens as well as less formal meadows of wildflowers. It being late September, the wildflowers are starting to die, withering and turning brown. There is a certain smell that accompanies the late summer as it bleeds into early autumn that reminds me of home. Not the home I’m wishing to escape so often, but home where I grew up. The country.

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving lately. There is something that just doesn’t sit right about where I currently live. Part of it, I think, is that this house is the place were my drinking went off the rails. Every day is a reminder of what went wrong. Any time my neighbors have people over, I feel like I’m either missing out or I get angry at myself for how I behaved up until two years ago.

I know I shouldn’t do this. I know that there were underlying reasons why I sought the solace of inebriation. I know that it has nothing to do with geography, and yet, I yearn to escape.

I realized this morning, as I was taking a walk in my local park, Kinder Farm Park, that I’ve lived in my house longer than any other place in my entire life. We’ve been here twelve years. It is beginning to feel like an eternity. The only other place that I lived nearly this long was my home in Taneytown, MD, and that was only for 9 years.

So maybe it’s just time. Maybe its not about escaping, maybe I’m just a rambler who’s been stuck in one place for too long. I don’t know the answers.

But I do know this, even if I wasn’t able to escape and celebrate my two year sobriety anniversary, I’ve come a long way in two years. And as I said to a friend on Saturday, “things are markedly better now, and, well, they weren’t so good before.”

And that, is what recovery is all about.

Belief vs Faith

I believe in facts; verifiable, indisputable, precise, truths. The sun rises in the East, at dawn, after the night. This is factual. I cannot disbelieve this truth. I can verify this with tools. Even on days when it is cold and rainy and I cannot see the sun, I know that it is true that it rose in the East, at dawn, after the night. I believe this because I have evidence.

I have faith in the idea that there is something bigger than us mere mortal humans. Some call this by name: God, Spirit of the Universe, Great Spirit, Allah, Elohim, Shén, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus, Shàngdì, Creator, Holy Spirit, Hu or Huwa, Krishna, Bhagavan, and Akal Purakh are all names for this unverifiable being or thing.

I cannot prove that this something exists. I cannot verify that it is out there. I do not know that it is benevolent, nor do I know that it is malicious. I have faith that it is good, but just as I cannot prove its existence, I cannot prove that to be true. Some people claim that they can prove the existence of a benevolent being, but, for me, the proof always hinges on something that really is unknowable. As an example, some people will say that what I might term a bizarre coincidence is proof of this god thing.

When we sit down to watch a movie, or to read a work of fiction, we engage in something called the willing suspension of disbelief. While we objectively know that what we are watching or reading is indeed fictional (i.e., made up to use the words my son uses), we suspend our mind’s disbelief and willingly believe that it is real for the time being. If we failed to do this, we would not enjoy the movie or the book because we’d be constantly questioning how our protagonist was able to do something that a mere mortal could not.

In some ways, faith is similar. When we have faith, we are essentially willingly suspending our disbelief. We are saying, yes, I know that i can’t prove this, but I believe it anyway.

I have a confession to make. I am closing in on two years sober, I attend 12 step meetings, and I have not completed the 12 steps. In fact, I not convinced the steps actually keep people sober. I’ve written about my struggles with the wording of the 2nd and 3rd steps in the past. By many people’s judgement, I’d be a Dry Drunk. Some would say that my chances are slim, or less than average. Some would say that the definition of insanity is, “attending 12 step meetings without working the steps.”

But I don’t see it that way. See, I am a person who wrestles with words. I listen intently at meetings. Sometimes I hear things that resonate, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I hear things that really piss me off. Sometimes I get pissed at the person who said those things. And then sometimes I find out that the person who said those things is actually really cool, once I get to know them.

I recall a man in a meeting talking about the difference between faith and belief. He spoke of how Mother Teresa wrote letters to God and often questioned the existence of God in those very letters. I’ve been wrestling with this for a a long time.

I have long seen faith as the dictionary defines it: complete trust or confidence in someone or something. And I’ve rejected this because this kind faith seems dangerous. Complete trust in someone or something leads to people following false prophets or worse, demagogues. Complete confidence in something unknowable leads to binary thinking; a type of thinking where things are black and white, right or wrong and there is no room for debate. This is Blind Faith. This is Televangelist Faith. This is dangerous and has lead to centuries of conflict.

And still, still there is this nagging idea that yes, there is something to this concept of a higher power. Yes, there quite possibly is something that out there that others call God — and it’s not little green men from Mars.

Last year I read Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. I cannot express how relieved I was to find another human being who claims to have known all along that there is this something but who also questions it and uses the F-Bomb, just like me. At this point, what I can say is that it is startling how similar my faith story is to Anne Lamott’s — They are not mirror images, but there are certainly reflections.

So I’ve been thinking about faith, and reading, and here’s what I’ve come to — Faith is the willingness to believe that something is true without tangible evidence.

When I’m not hearing how grateful everyone is or how acceptance is the answer to all our problems, I hear a lot about willingness in the rooms. I never fully understood what was so key about willingness before. I knew that I needed to be willing to address my short comings. I knew that I needed to be willing to stop drinking. But I didn’t make the connection between willingness and faith until recently. One cannot have faith without being willing to suspend disbelief.

Willingness goes a long way.

An Open Letter to the Guy Behind Me at School Drop-off this Morning

I get it. You had somewhere to be this morning and it wasn’t at your kid’s school to drop them off. Perhaps your wife usually does it. I don’t know your circumstances.

And you don’t know mine.

So when I stopped at the wrong spot to drop my kid off and then moved forward a mere 20 more feet, you really could have just played it cool, but you didn’t, you had to let me know that I’d somehow fucked up. And I get that too.

Really, I do, because there are a million little things that get under my skin on a daily basis. Like when someone doesn’t use their blinker when making a turn. Like when the barista at Starbucks doesn’t leave enough room in my coffee, or leaves too fucking much. Or when I thought I had my wallet and I don’t when I pull up to the gas pump. Yes, I get it, that my stopping short of the mark to drop off my son really pissed you off.

And you know what, I’ve walked in your shoes. I’ve been the angry asshole who made hand gestures at other people who I didn’t know because they fucked up in a minor way on the road. Continue reading

Sometimes the Thoughts Still Come

I caught myself doing that thing again. The one where I rationalize my past. The mind sometimes races when it should rest. That happened last night.

In truth, I should have been exhausted and fallen quickly into deep slumber but my mind had another agenda. It happens when I know I need to wake early, especially if I have a flight to catch as I did this morning. Rest did not come easy, and when it did, my sleep was marked by fitful dreams, walking in a seeat, and a phone call from the airline alerting me to a delay.

As I lay there this morning the thoughts came:

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a drink again some day. 

It was pretty bad but maybe you could control it now. 

You drank reasonably for a long time, things only got bad on the end. 

If you hadn’t lived across the street from that guy who drank every day maybe you wouldn’t have gotten so bad.  He’s doesn’t live there anymore. 

There it is. The blame game. Failure to accept responsibility. The self pity. When these thoughts come, there is usually something else going on. That’s the case today. Travel.

Stress that comes with changing timezones. We aren’t meant to travel around the world the way we do. Our bodies lose their rhythm and that puts us under enormous stress, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it.

Being half a world away from loved ones, friends, others in the program, and our routine takes a toll as well. As human beings we long for meaningful connection, and sometimes business is just business. Yes, I have strong connections with my colleagues and customers, but these are not the same. There is money involved, and that changes everything.

Thoughts like those above still come up now and then – and I suspect they will for the rest of my life. But I’ve got my life and that’s what matters. I have chosen to have a life. A rich, sober life full of family, friends, and experiences. A life worth living, full of love.

What’s important is that I now recognize them for the falsehoods that they are in the moment, and can usually move through them quickly with relative ease. For that, I am grateful.