Sunday, October 04, 2015


For two or three years every time I would pass a particular auto repair garage on my way to the Saturday morning Nineish Meeting ("If you show before eleven, you're on time") I would pass their sign that said, "We can fix it."

Depending on where my attitude was, I would either laugh, get angry, or feel bitter as I inventoried all of things going on in my life, and the lives of others, the owners of that establishment could not "fix." Often it would make me think of the origin of the word "fix," which did not have it's modern meaning of "repair."

It the times of ancient Rome, when you were really pissed off at someone, the curse was, "I'll fix you." The "fixing" involved writing down upon a small sheet of lead all of the horrible things one wanted the gods to inflict upon the cursed in the afterlife, folding the lead sheet, and "fixing" it or nailing it, onto the cursed's coffin or tomb after he or she died.

"I fixed her," eventually evolved to become, "I fixed that car." Considering some of the crappy repair jobs I've gotten on cars over the years, however, "fixed " apparently hasn't lost all of its original meaning.

"We can fix it." That sign messed with my mind so many times, I even had my sleuth in the Joe Torio series express frustration over it (in Rope, Paper, Scissors). There, too, was a situation that no one without a time machine could remedy, and there are no time machines in the Joe Torio universe.

Yesterday when I went to the Nineish Group Meeting, I passed the same auto repair garage, and their sign was advertising some deal: oil change, tune up, muffler, or some such, and I realized there was a part of me that missed the original sign. "We can fix it," was a hopeful but hopelessly naïve claim reminiscent of the "addiction cure" commercials I've seen on television over the years.

"We do not believe in the disease concept."
"This is not based on a Twelve Step program"
"And so-and-so cured my addiction!" 
. . . Nah, I don't think so.

Here is what "curing" addiction would mean: It would result in the "former" addict being able to "safely" use drugs(!): Recreational mainlining, smoking, snorting, popping, and chugging. Those who believe that and try it truly get "fixed."

No one can cure addiction, but through working a Twelve Step program of recovery, millions have repaired their lives and helped repair the lives of others.

When I was in aftercare, one of my groupmates said something quite profound: "I hope they never come up with a pill that cures alcoholism. If they ever did, the first thing I'd do is pop one of those pills, head for a bar, and get wasted."

Addiction can be arrested. Even science fiction hasn't come up with even a believable cure. Addiction is like playing chess with a computer set on "easy." The computer set for an easy game isn't very smart, but it will never miss and always take advantage of every one of your blunders. So, be careful out there.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


"The journey IS the destination: Don't keep worrying about outcomes.  Worry about the process.  Do your duty and do it well.  The results will take care of themselves."  —M. Sawhney

A fellow once asked me about writing as a career. He said he'd wanted to write ever since he was in school. He'd never really gotten started, however. "I mean, what if I put in all of that work and it never goes anywhere? It's no good. No one wants to publish it? I will have wasted all those years."

I told him that it seemed he didn't really want to write. What he wanted was to become successfully published.

It reminded me of a fellow I once met at an Al-Anon meeting. He told me he had a drinking problem but was attending Al-Anon "So I can get the program without having to stop drinking." It would be funny except for the fellow drinking himself to death, which he did a few short years later. 

The Process: Don't use, go to meetings, get a sponsor, use the telephone, focus on getting through the current twenty-four hours clean.
The Outcome: For you, I don't know, except for you being clean. Everyone I know who's done it, though, eventually calls it "A life second to none."

Friday, September 25, 2015


Early recovery and, hell, what did I ever think was going to happen? I was in rehab, they had searched me and my duffel bag, confiscated all of my prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and suddenly I was in a very threatening and painful foreign land.

How do you deal with physical pain without medication? How do you deal with painful feelings without a chemical? Taking the medication they prescribed for withdrawal would have been smart, but I had already declared that I didn't have a chemical problem, hence there would be no need for such medication.

One of the drugs I had been on was a tranquilizer to treat anxiety. Withdrawal from that drug was anxiety and paranoia raised to the power of infinity. I was in a building full of drug addicts! My wife and everyone at home were already pissed off at me. Getting my wallet stolen would be the final straw.

That night I put my wallet in my pillow, stuck my hand in the pillow and secured my wallet with a death grip. For some reason I couldn't sleep. Finally I took my beard trimming scissors, cut up all my credit cards, and flushed them down the toilet.

Still couldn't sleep. Perspiration was coming off me in rivers. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't sleep. I spent some time in the patient's lounge where everyone was withstanding the New Year coming in with vegetable platters, Ping-Pong, and ancient disco. It was there that another patient said, "Remember, today is the first day of your nightmare."

There were a number of other persons there who were going through what I was going through. It didn't really get through to me that night. I was still unique, an island of pain unto myself. After drinking a vat of coffee, I stumbled back to my room. I couldn't sleep, so to kill time I read one of the pile of books I had been issued: Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA's Big Book.

I was looking for things to fight about, and I found plenty. One of my former occupations was that of printer, and after the sixth or seventh time flinging that book from my bed against the far wall, I became quite impressed with that volume's binding.

I did learn something, though. I learned that I had a problem with alcohol and other drugs. That word "addict," though, was still poison. I couldn't be a drug addict.

I had one laugh that night. I was back in the patient lounge, sitting there, smoking, sucking down more coffee, shaking, sweating, my head aching. Another patient was telling the story of the Three Little Pigs.

"'Little pig, little pig, let me come in,' said the big bad wolf. 'Not by the hair of my chinny chin-chin,' said the pig. Then the big bad wolf says, 'Whoa, man! A talking pig! I gotta stop smokin' that shit.'"

The next twenty-four hours were worse, and the twenty-four hours after that even worse. With spiders crawling all over the walls, the ceilings oceans of worms, a blinding headache, and I said to someone at the nurse's station, "I feel terrible." A floor counselor asked me if I wanted to talk and what was my name?

I couldn't remember my name. In between hallucinations, tears, pain, and talk that night, I finally had to admit I was an addict. I had been so wrong, put myself through such a nightmare, and felt like such a fool.

Later it was explained to me that humility is you being in touch with reality. Humiliation is reality getting in touch with you.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Bruce C. once told me, "NA is not my life. NA gave me back my life." That was right after I had recited about half my inventory of meetings, events, services, and things in the program I was doing and scheduled to do.

The point was in becoming a human being and the message was balance. An old sponsor of mine put it another way: "God didn't put you on this planet to sit in in endless meetings and chant steps and slogans like a robot. The program is medicine for the disease of addiction. It is not a life. Out there somewhere you have a life. Go and find it — but don't forget to take your medicine."


Of those who relapse and do stay alive long enough to crawl back into the program, they usually start off by saying, "Well, I stopped going to meetings."

The only way to determine accurately how little of the program and meetings you need to stay clean is to do too little and relapse.

The Twelve Steps are designed to move your mental programming from addict to human mode. If you are still living life with the same attitudes, outlook, relationships, and success you did as an addict, but without the anesthetic, Sponsor + Steps = Balance

Motto of the Moscow Circus School: "Balance is better if the head is full."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Hello all and welcome to another twenty-four hours. Here the sun is shining, the temperature is cool, went to a meeting last night, I exercised this morning, feeling good and I am clean. If I don't pick up a drink or a drug for the next twenty-four hours, I'll have another day clean. So, I am already a miracle and Step Three seems to be working. Absolutely no reason for me to have a crappy day.

A lot of bad stuff going on in the world, though. War, terrorism, hunger, murder, violence, and somewhere on a schoolyard a little kid is talking another little kid into "trying some of this shit."

My disease wants to take on all of this because the more miserable and frustrated I am, the more likely it is that I will use. Not taking the bait, though. At least, not today. There are a great many things I cannot do anything to change. That's the stuff my program tells me I need to accept, acknowledging that acceptance is not approval. Acceptance is recognizing the facts of reality.

One of those facts is that mystery and adventure books don't write themselves and it's time for me to get to work.

Have a great day and remember this sign that appeared on the lawn of a funeral home:



Tuesday, September 22, 2015


As you can see from the index of posts, it's been rather spotty of late. Illnesses of various kinds that are too boring to talk about slowed me up, then stopped me. It was all I could do to stay clean. Still, I watched the page view numbers climb, and was driven by sheer desperation to put up a post now and then.

So, when health drove me back to the blog, half of the links didn't go anywhere, and there were some other things that needed shaping up, including that old picture of me where I looked like the grim reaper coming to collect.

Right now the health is good and getting better, I've checked all the links in the "Learn More" column, and I hope to get posts up on a more regular basis. For those who stuck with me all these months, I am very grateful. I'll try not to let you down again.


Group therapy in rehab and the counselor asked the small group, "When you're in your casket and family, friends, and associates come to the viewing, what would you like them to say about you?"
Artie H. said, "I would like them to say I was a wonderful husband, a fine spiritual leader, a great family man, and he died sober."
Eugene V. answered, "I would like them to say I was a wonderful teacher, a servant of God who made a huge difference in people's lives, and he died clean."

Al M. said, "I'd like them to say, 'Look, he's moving!'" 


So what about rehab? What good is it? Various gnarly old-timers who got clean strictly through AA or NA sometimes recite their agonies, scars, and rewards of getting clean strictly through a Twelve Step program.

There's nothing wrong with that. Millions have gotten clean, sober, and free of other OCD afflictions exactly that way. It becomes just a bit destructive to a rehab grad, though, when the program-only dude comes at the grad like a Navy Seal dropping on a Cub Scout, comparing initiation rituals, as though getting clean on a rehabilitation unit is some kind of vacation.

In a fictionalized form, I recounted some of my experiences in Saint Mary's Rehabilitation Center (now Fairview) in my novel Saint Mary Blue.  It wasn't a vacation resort or health spa. It was withdrawal, trying to find a few threads of hope and reality to hang onto, and learning just how big and powerful is the thing we were up against. Based on Twelve Step recovery, it was learning that addiction is a disease, but it's not a disease of stupid people, rock stars, writers, or athletes.

There are commercials on TV bragging about a rehab that spurns the "disease concept," and Twelve Step programs. Fortunately for me I was directed onto another path.
Rehab was thirty days away from the chemicals, the places I used, and the persons with whom I used.
Rehab put me together with men and women of all kinds, ages, and occupations who had the same thing in common: Getting and staying clean.
Rehab introduced me to the Twelve Steps and actually had me do work in completing the first five steps.
Rehab (the one I went to) had a two year follow up program where the patient returns after three months, six months, a year, and after the second year. Reviewing programs, feedback from your return patient group members, and sitting in your old patient group with the new fish to (1) share your experience, strength, and hope; and (2) see how far you've come.

If I hadn't gone through rehab, I don't think I would have been alive today. If you're in the water swimming with all the sharks, rehab is a safe place to acquire a sound introduction to Twelve Step recovery. But, if the sharks are telling you that it's really not that bad, go straight to rehab. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect two hundred dollars. That comes later.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


I get attached to places, people, objects, and even situations. Natural, I suppose, to cherish what surrounds a person at a particularly joyful, serene, or spiritual moment. The danger comes when those persons, objects, places and situations are requirements to maintain recovery.

A meeting I went to all the time, the first meeting I hit after getting out of rehab, was a sentimental favorite of mine. I liked the people, the discussion sustained me many times, and every so often I got to be a real help to someone else. I couldn't imagine a future without that meeting peopled by those friends the meetings conducted the way they had been conducted throughout eternity. In other words, I linked it with my recovery.

The only constant in the universe is change. People change, policies change, meetings change, goals change, places change. In the case of my beloved meeting, it changed. It was an AA meeting, and like the AA meetings in Minneapolis where I first got clean, if it affected your sobriety, it was meeting material for discussion. I was away on business for a couple of weeks, and when I returned to celebrate an anniversary, it was made clear that there was to be no talk of drugs in the meeting, except for the drug alcohol which was not to be referred to as a drug. In addition, addicts who attended that meeting could not identify themselves as addicts, even to saying, "I'm Barry and I'm an alcoholic addict."

The change had happened. The meeting I had cherished was no more. Many of the men and women were the same, but either they had changed or had been cowed into silence by the majority. I actually felt threatened. So, I resisted the change.

If things are going too well for you, try and change someone else. If you really need to destroy your serenity, try and change a whole room full of people. The change happened because most of those attending the business meeting wanted the change. Rights and wrongs, the perceived threat to my recovery, angry argument, amounted to nothing. The meeting that I thought my recovery depended on had been replaced by a meeting that could tolerate me, but not my story of recovery.

Okay, I got over it without using. There were other meetings, and in our area we started up the Dragon Slayers Group of NA, which is now the longest continuous NA meeting in the state of Maine. Many years later my sponsor died and I once again discovered something without which recovery seemed almost impossible. Time, a lot of grieving, and eventually a new sponsor. My recovery got over it. My recovery needs meetings; It is not dependent on any particular meeting. It needs people; It's not dependent on any particular person or group of individuals. My recovery is portable if I choose to make it so.

So, today I'm at the Miracle, an annual NA convention I have attended every year since it began in 1983. Over the decades at the Miracle, I found my HP, the NA program and fellowship, many friends, some good service work, and answers to many of my painful issues. The Miracle is a very important part of my recovery, and this year the convention committee made changes.

Big changes.


After pissing and complaining about it, I went for a walk and discussed the issue with the insides of my own head, until it was beginning to exhaust me. Asked HP about it, and the advice was to keep my recovery portable: attach my continued recovery and serenity to nothing, including my HP. Use what works, let go of the rest, remembering that if nothing ever changed I'd never have gotten clean.