Friday, July 06, 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Weak, so incredibly weak I can hardly stand. I cannot stand or walk without hanging onto something. I feel my life slipping through my fingers, and no matter who I see, what I change, nor how hard I try to hang on to it, it seems the flow through my fingers continues. Today I feel the currents increasing as the clocks paradoxically seem to slow. It took a few seconds for me to remember how to start my computer and open a new document.

 Pain is not a problem today. Most other days it is a hammer swinging demon clinging to my back, slamming my neck, my head, my spine, my joints until I am driven into darkness, immobility, tears, or to pills: Prescription drugs that either do too little or risk doing too much, always making the payment for reduced pain that nauseous, sleepy wooze that divorces me from my feelings, sucking every last scrap of joy and gratitude from my existence.

 When I reach that unpredictable wall of weakness and weariness, the pain usually goes away. From the time when I died before, I remember the meaning of pain's end. It is death. That's when all the aches, stings, troubles, and concerns of life end. What happens after that is still mysterious. I remember when my heart stopped I seemed to fall into an ocean of warm black cotton, then found myself flying, exploring the universe, and filling myself with knowledge that no longer had a point. It became knowing for its own sake. But that could have been imagination, a dream, or coming off whatever medications they were using in Intensive Care to treat me.

I do not know what comes after dying. I am quite certain, however, that it does not involve writing. It does not involve being with those I love. There are things I still want to accomplish, books and stories still to be written, men and women whose company I still cherish. As circumscribed as my life is, I want to live.

 But I feel like I am dying. I have felt like this many times before, and each time thus far I have come out of it still alive. Playing the odds, I should come out of it alive this time, as well. Judging from the paragraphs above, I can still write. Perhaps I can tap out a few more pages on that next book. Time to get on with getting on with it.

I heard a speaker once at an NA convention remark, "Some days it's simply putting one fucking foot in front of another." So, back to writing, go to the meeting tonight, hug those I love, take a run at a gratitude list, and if I should see another day clean tomorrow morning when I open my eyes, thank my Higher Power for extending my ticket on the ride.

Monday, May 21, 2012

THE SIZE OF THE BOAT  blogs have a neat statistics page through which I can see from where the Life Sucks Better Clean page views come. Today's page views, for example, come from the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Gabon, and Slovenia. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the disease of addiction is universal. No country, no social or ethnic group, no particular class, no one rich or poor, smart or dim, strong or weak, religious or reasoning is exempt.

If you've got the bug of addiction and then pick up the substance and use it, the dark-side adventure begins and continues day-after-day, year-after-year, decade-after-decade until you either die, kill someone, get imprisoned, or get into recovery. I have no doubt that once we make contact with beings from other galaxies, they will have addicts, and they will do the same dumb, sick, cruel, self-destructive things we all did. If they have recovery programs that work, chances are they will involve the addict putting down the substance, reaching outside of him, her, or itself to a Higher Power for help, and going to meetings (or perhaps melding with the nest consciousness).

I write a lot of science fiction. The one universe I have yet to create is one in which addiction in all its forms (Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior-OCB) does not and never had existed. I can't imagine it. If one is a living being, one seeks pleasure. Given the opportunity, a certain portion of any group of beings will seek their pleasure to the exclusion of anything else; In other words, they are addicts.

Back in the Late 'Sixties, I watched a news item on TV in which a rat had an electrode implanted in the pleasure center of its brain. The rat could stimulate this pleasure center by pushing a button in its cage. On the screen it showed the animal pushing the button again and again. The voice over mentioned that the rat would continue doing this to the exclusion of any other behavior until it died of thirst or starved to death.

I also remember my wife's reaction to the story: "What a terrible thing to do to an animal." I remember my reaction, as well: "Where can I get one of those gadgets?"

Drugs or life? Health or sickness? Being a monster or being a human? Existence under slavery or existence under freedom? Life or death? They are all very real choices. We are all in the same boat whatever our spoken language, color, politics, economic system, or available substances. The forms of recovery, however, are different from culture to culture depending upon how much reliance the addict can place in his anonymity. One is reluctant to share about one's use and abuse of alcohol in a society in which alcohol is forbidden and using it has serious consequences at law. You don't want your using exploits to find their way into the files of the secret police or the local news media.

What is the state of recovery from addiction in your country? What changes or adaptations did you find necessary? Are there any stories of hope and recovery from all these different countries? Twelve Step Recovery programs were born in the United States from seeds planted by the Oxford Group, which had it's roots in England. But just as the disease covers the planet, so does the opportunity to create and take advantage of recovery.

I'd really like to hear your stories.

Friday, May 18, 2012


A thing I realized after passing my 70th birthday is that I had reached some kind of universal cutoff point. When one is 69 years old and dies, everyone says: "Aw, he was so young!" If you die at 70, though, what they say is: "Well, he didn't have a great run, but it wasn't bad."

When he would be in a bunch of recovering addicts who were pissing and moaning about aches, pains, medical problems and all the crap associated with aging, my late sponsor used to grin and remind them all, "Hey, remember, we aren't even supposed to be here." When you take an addict and add the addict to recovery, the best you can hope for is a recovering addict who is getting older and older. The resultant old addicts are something new on the scene. In the past, addicts never had to worry about getting old.

This is the gift of life; A gift, incidentally, for which those in Twelve Step programs have to work their asses off to receive and maintain. The disease never sleeps, though. Instead of being grateful for still being alive ("If you wake up in the morning, congratulations! You have another chance!"), the disease wants us to look for the flaws in our lives. Got a new medical problem? A bad back? Chronic cough? Allergies? Hair falling out? You can't get it to comb right? Those tacos turning into muffin tops, then into beach balls?

"Don't stop there," urges the dragon. "What about the economic picture? Unemployment? Monetary inflation? Debt? What about politics?"

It doesn't take a lot of effort to feel like crap. The disease will do all the work for you. For the recovering addict, however, gratitude needs to be earned. The work one needs to do is incredibly burdensome. Can you take a piece of paper and write down five things for which you are grateful? No?  Look again.

Is there anyone you love still alive?
Do you have any fond memories about anything?
Could you feed yourself this morning?
Are you able to dress yourself, wipe your own ass?
Are there any musical artists whose work you like?
Any movies, plays, books, paintings?
Do you have any friends ? (and if your answer to this one is "no," get your ass to a meeting and begin making friends.)

The disease wants to find that single fly speck on that huge, lovely clean wall, and focus on it until that fly speck fills your universe. The antidote is gratitude: reminding yourself of all the parts of that wall free of that fly speck.

If that can't move you off the pity pot, there is a twelve year old girl named Anna King who was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, was restricted from strenuous activities, and told she needs a heart transplant. Now, that's what I call a fly speck! What a great opportunity to go into a self pity wallow. Watch the video and see how Anna dealt with the news:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Looking For The Light

"Had enough yet?"

Were there ever before three words calculated to piss off people quite as much as "Had enough yet?" To the person using those words, he or she is looking at someone in an incredible amount of pain and well down the road to the destruction of everything and everybody of value to the one being asked.

To the using addict, though, the view is different. "Yeah, I'm in a lot of pain, and things are coming apart pretty much, but you want me to quit using the only answer I've got. You just don't understand."

No. We do understand. We've all been there. The difference is that we have learned that when the only answer you've got is to use the stuff that's causing all the problems, that is the definition of late stage addiction.

The answer, of course, is pain; Lots and lots of pain. Pain can turn on that lightbulb, and the hope is that the light goes on before death turns it off forever.

"But I'm not sure I'm an addict."

Uh huh. I was once on a designer-drug panel at a science fiction convention. One of the speakers there said something quite remarkable: "I've been using this drug for over fifteen years, and I'm not addicted."

Believe it or not, using drugs is not really good evidence that you are not addicted to drugs. I know it's unfair, but that's the way it is. If you want to test whether or not you're an addict, put down the drug. No booze, no chemicals, no gambling, no other obsessive-compulsive behaviors (gambling, overeating, raging around, being a destructive bastard, etc.) and see how it fits. Try being addiction free for a few years and see what happens.

Holy Crap! Waddya mean, a few years?!"

If you aren't addicted, then you don't "need" the booze, joint, pill, powder, whatever; There's no point in using, right?
"I've been using these drugs for years and years, and although I don't need them, I enjoy them. I can put them down any time I want, but right now I don't want to put them down. And look at me. I have a job, a house, two cars, a family, money in the bank. Things are all right. Why should I do without?"

You ever hear the one about the guy who jumped off a two thousand foot cliff, and as he neared the bottom a passing eagle asked, "How are you doing?" As the fellow plunged down toward the rocks he replied, "I'm doing okay, so far!"

For those looking for a softer landing, pick up that phone and call that number. It's in the book. Who knows? They might just have a parachute that fits.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What's On Your List?

At Brothers In Spirit, the NA men's retreat every April in Alfred, Maine, I chaired a workshop on "Letting Go of Backdoor Reservations."  So, what are these "backdoor reservations" of which I should consider letting go?

It started with a list in rehab: "Write down all of things which might happen that would cause you to pick up and use drugs again."

Of course, there was a time in my using when it being Wednesday would be cause enough to use. "I'm awake. That's reason enough." One time, trying my best not to use all on my own, facing yet another wet bar at yet another convention, the reason I found, after two weeks of sobriety, for climbing back into the bottle was, "What the hell."

A sincere effort is different. Rehab, followed by regular attendance of Twelve Step meetings in AA and NA, years of being clean and what are the back doors now? Consider your list carefully because you can almost guarantee that one or more of the things on that list are going to happen to you, because addiction is just that kind of disease. If being blind, losing your job, being thrown out by your spouse, or losing your children would cause you to use, watch out! Your disease considers this its shopping list.

Addiction says:
     1. Nothing comes between my user and the drugs.
     2. My user requires that he first wreck his marriage before he can use again.
     3. So long, marriage.

If you have a list of horrors that you cannot possibly survive without using, addiction will begin attracting those horrors ever closer to you until you do use.

The only safe course? Close all those back doors. Tell yourself, "I don't use, no matter what." You'll probably need to repeat this every now and then. You might even want to talk to your sponsor about it. You don't have a sponsor? You haven't quite made it through those meeting room doors? The clock is ticking.

Instead of making a joke about it on Facebook, or tweeting your buds for some Bud, use that phone to call NA or AA or whatever A program is designed to save your A from addiction. Always ask, "What is my next right step?" and then listen to the answer.

Go make a good day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What's Important

There is a long list of things each item of which once occupied most of my attention because I regarded them as important at the time: Grades in school, pleasing unpleasable parents, another bit of rank advancement in school and in the military, Heaven, Hell,  politics, economics, sex, drugs, money, work, publicity, applause, and so on. In some respects, however, as the years pass, the bullshit thins out revealing the germ of wisdom that had always been there. 

In the end, the most important thing is love: Giving it, allowing it in, acting on it, even using it on myself. Love. That's what's important.

Today, look in that mirror and tell yourself that you are okay. Find someone else and tell them that you love them. And if you should be so fortunate as to have someone tell you that they love you, believe it. Don't make a joke out of it; don't throw it back in someone's face with a sarcastic comment. Instead, take it in, feel it, and join the trend: Love your self, and treat yourself as though you are someone worthy of love.

Monday, April 16, 2012


A friend telephoned me a few hours ago to let me know that Larry, the man who has sponsored me for the past 28 years, passed away sometime last night. He's the man I loved and trusted most in the world. I am mostly numb with occasional moments of devastating loss.

We were going to meet at the recent Brothers In Spirit retreat last weekend, but he never made it. There was a lot of talk at the retreat about program brothers who had passed away recently. Dan, Neal, Uncle Jimmy, Skip. At the Steering Committee meeting after the retreat, doing housekeeping things and discussing next year's BIS, one of the brothers reminded us all of what Neal used to say whenever he'd hear recovering addicts complaining about aches, pains, graying hair, loose teeth, and enlarging prostates. He'd say, "Remember, we weren't even supposed to be here."

True. Addicts die young. That was the rule for the longest time. It's no longer a rule now; It's a choice.  No addict who wants to get clean has to die from this disease. Reach out, pick up that phone directory, call the Narcotics Anonymous number, do what the person on the other end says, put down the drug and pick up on the program, go to those meetings, and follow the suggestions. If you do that, most likely you too will grow old enough to wrinkle up, ache, gimp, bitch, and help a few hundred newcomers into recovery.

If you don't use, you get older. Kids in the program make jokes about me having been around since rocks were soft. And Larry was older than me. He probably witnessed the Big Bang and complained about the noise. It shouldn't have been a surprise he passed away, but it was.

Being mindful of mortality, I often say that no one has a lock on the next ten minutes. But somewhere deep inside me I feel that those about whom I care are immortal. I never raised that belief to a verbal level, so I never knew I held it. Time after time this year, though, someone has died who "wasn't supposed to." But they died anyway. Life on life's terms: what a sucky deal. I don't have a lock on my next ten minutes, nor anyone else's.

I can hear Larry now, laughing in my ear, and saying, "So what're you gonna do? Pick up? That'll make everything all right." Larry had his sarcastic moments. 

No, Larry, I won't pick up the drug and use. It's the one thing calculated to make what I'm feeling now much much worse, and I don't think I could live through feeling worse than this. Besides, that would be one hell of a way to honor the thirty years of clean time you and I, among others, achieved for me. You're the one who blessed the title of this blog because you knew it's truth. I really hope you can get together with the redneck (his first sponsor). I know how much you missed him. I really wish we could have written that book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Death, Worry & A Cowboy's View

There is a really great movie titled Conagher based on a Louis Lamour story and starring Sam Elliot and Katherine Ross. If you love the West, appreciate a good yarn, want to see an example of what a man is, need to see one of the best love stories ever written and turned into flicks, check it out. Conagher

What brought this motion picture to mind for me was a line spoken by the character of Conagher as a fellow was threatening him. Conagher said, "None of us is gettin' out of this alive. That's the only thing man knows about life."

For a day or so, I've been worried about death. Bad news regarding one's heart tends to do that to me. And what is worry? Worry is a form of prayer that attempts to control the future. If we may be scientific for a moment, there is no evidence that I know of proving that worry helps people to live longer.  Quite the opposite, in fact. Worry causes stress and stress is the grease next to that grave-hole hastening one's departure from this world into Worm City.

There is this feeling, though, that if I'm not worrying about dying, the powers of the universe will note that fact and conclude I don't give a crap about living. This view of the powers of the universe casts God, Allah, Jehova, Shiva, or whomever you choose for a Higher Power into the role of a minor government official who needs to be cajoled, flattered, and bribed to renew your license to live.

Everybody dies. How long do I have, is the question, but the only reason for demanding an answer is so I can argue with the results, convince the pwers that be they've made a mistake, thereby carving out a few additional years, days, or hours. In the process of worring about a future death, in addition, I am ignoring my very real present, now, my real life.

I don't know what the outcome of my heart problem will be; I see the cardiologist four hours from now. What I'm not going to be doing during that four hours, or of any of the hours after my visit, is worry about death. I know it's coming. None of us has a lock on the next ten minutes of life. However, if ten minutes are all the time left on my ticket, I want to spend it living.

Today, stay in the present. As Grand Master Oogway pointed out (in Kung Fu Panda) "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called 'the present.'"  Kung Fu Panda


Monday, April 09, 2012


I don't watch the very popular amateur talent shows such as Britans Got Talent and American Idol, both shows descendents of 1950's era Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.  I don't watch because I literally cannot stand to watch someone go through all that one must to appear on such shows, then lose. Heartbreak is a part of life, as is pain, as is crying. In addition to life, as a recovering addict in the company of hundreds and thousands of other recovering addicts, all too many of whom have very short-lived recoveries, I get more than my share of heartbreak dished up to me every day. But, as is frequently pointed out to me, in avoiding the pain, one also avoids the pleasure. Avoiding the failures also means doing without the victories, scarce as they may be. To do without the tears, one must also forego the laughter.

I've never attached a video to this blog, but I have been driven to these extremes by a friend and former military school classmate who sent me this link. This is one of the things I missed in my quest to avoid unpleasant failure. Watch the whole thing. ===== Okay, so I haven't yet figured out how to put in a video. Meanwhile, here's the link for the video. Watch it and come back: The Missing Video

Inside each and every one of us is a very strange but wonderful alien life form known as a human being. If you've had to travel where one has to go to carry this lable "addict," whether your addiction(s) is drugs, gambling, sex, overeating, codependency, video games, TV, or any of the dozens of other obsessive-compulsive disorders, you might not believe that human being---that worthwhile, capable, lovable man or woman---exists somewhere inside and beneath that ugly mountain of lies, misdeeds, wasteful and shameful acts. Inside each of us, that human being does exist. The more we do to allow that being to surface---abstinance from the addictive behavior or substance, doing the head work and continuing to grow---the closer we come to first glimpsing that being, then becoming that being: becoming who we really are.

In NA they have a slogan: "Don't leave before the miracle happens." That miracle is becoming the human being you were supposed to be. And don't be afraid of failure. According to the Baseball Almanac,  Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams batted .406, which means that he missed most of the time.

Incidentally, that was the message my Higher Power whipped on me at one of our earliest conversations. Try my best and leave HP to do the rest.

So, go give your inner human a treat and make a good day. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Every Act Is A Spiritual Act

I've heard that more than once in the program: Every act is a spiritual act. I think I even wrote on this in my original meditation book, Yesterday's Tomorrow.  The first spiritual act that was pointed out to me in rehab was my attempt to end my own life. That's the basic choice in life: To live or not. All spirituality related to my own recovery from addiction draws from that fundimental decision.

Do I pull this trigger or trust that my nightmare will somehow take a better turn?

Do I admit to myself that every problem I have is either caused by or made worse by active addiction?

Do I stay in this exhausting footrace with an untiring death, or do I get clean---free from the pitiless chains of addiction?

Do I keep doing what I've been doing and keep getting the slams I keep getting, or do I open my mind enough to try a different way?

Do I go to where the kind of help I need is, or do I keep drawing from the dry well of my own thinking?

Do I reach for freedom and life, or do I continue creeping through the muck of shame, guilt, illness, debt, loneliness, and despair toward a certain and demeaning death?

This is Easter Sunday. For a good part of the religious world, it is a time to celebrate a resurrection. For others, it is Spring. The world clock has turned, trees are budding, the perennials planted and tended last year are warming up, some peeking through the soil to see if it's warm enough to come out, moose, deer, bear, rabbit, and fish are preparing for new life, and with all this going on around me, what am I going to do? Pick up?

No. What I'm going to do is what I did yesterday: Don't use, go to meetings, ask for help.



The quote from NA's Basic Text appearing in April 8th's Just For Today says, "We come to know happiness, joy and freedom."

I like happiness. It makes me happy.  It feels good. That's why I do what I need to do to stay clean: Meetings, Higher Power, Step work, sponsor, sharing --- it really is much less bother than being borderline suicidal 24 hours a day.

Do what you need to do for today.

  ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Death, Where Is Thy Sting---OUCH!!! Dammit!

What a couple of weeks I'm having. Chest pains in the airplane before it takes off, me taking off in an ambulance first, heart catheterization, mixed news, echo cardiogram, really shitty news (For ticker fans: ejection fraction down to 35% from 50%), Maine is about all out of snow, the ski resorts are thinking about golf, it looks like another surgeon is about to get a knife in me, more hardware stuck in my ticker, and I spent most of the night worrying about no longer being in any condition to worry about anything.

Another good friend died this past week. His name was Skip, he was big time biker, long time NA member, big wheel in the Maine Disabled American Veterans, and he was responsible for getting many disabled vets (including me) into the DAV for help in getting VA benefits.

Putting the two together, and that creepy mind shadow begins following me, measuring every act, plotting every turn, attempting through anxiety to control the future and fool death: A big waste of time and not a serene way to live. So, right now I'm off to an NA meeting and I have every intention of hanging in there until Brothers In Spirit (NA Men's Retreat) in Alfred, Maine, 13-15 April where the theme is "Letting Go." I do believe there might be something there for me to learn.

Today . . . Ah, hell. Today I want to be teachable. You up there; Help me to do that.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I had a really inspiring post, written as I am once again in a hospital awaiting invasive tests and heavy answers. It was a great blog. Then . . . I hit delete instead of publish. If you want to hear God laugh, make a plan.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I was asked about the prayers I use. A number of them depend on what's happening, but I have a few regulars.

First thing in the morning, once I'm done with breakfast, complaining about my aches and pains, wondering if I'm ever going to get a motorboat, and make it into the fresh air outside, I say, "God, thank you for last night, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for the gift of this new day."

Life is a gift. A near death experience taught me that. As the years on my ticket get used up and my health problems increase, the treasure that is each new day becomes ever more obvious. "Okay, I have another day; Now, what do I do with it?"

After that, I pray that God watches out and protects me and those I love in our travels and adventures today, and I pray for some folks I know in and out of the program who are having a tough time with addiction and/or other things.  I may throw in a prayer or two for deceased friends of mine who I'm not absolutely certain made it to a better place.

If the committee in my head is really running around, screaming, pulling me this way and that, I say: "God, help me to focus on the present moment and fill my mind with the task at hand."

The Serenity Prayer is frequently employed when I'm feeling up against it.

Try a prayer or two. As a crusty old bastard in the program once told me, "You don't have to believe in any of this shit for it to work for you; All you have to do is do it."

I came.
I came to.
I came to believe.

Make a great day.

Monday, March 26, 2012


"The program isn't my life.  The program gave me back my life." —Bruce Chamberlain

All or nothing: That was how I ran my life and everything else before getting clean in the program. Work, sex, research, writing—I went at it all as though my life depended on it, which included drinking and using prescriptions. When I began writing a story, I would begin writing and wouldn't stop until—sometimes days later—I would finish. Things like moderation and balance were vague and mostly meaningless concepts from Eastern philosophy that had little to do with me, even after my way of doing things gave me a heart attack at the age of thirty-six..

Then I ran headlong into a wall called "addiction," rehab, Narcotics Anonymous, and a person whose name I can no longer remember who told me, "All you need to do to get and stay in recovery is change everything but your hair color—unless changing your hair color helps, then change that, too."

I didn't have to change my hair color, so I did. When my beard started turning gray, I used a product that was supposed to return my beard to its original color—a youthful light brown. The color I got, however was Big Bird yellow! About the same time that my gray beard grew back in, the hair on top decided to thin the crop.  I was falling apart! At a meeting I went to, a young man was sharing about the gray hair that was peppering his sleek locks. "I told my sponsor about it, and he held out his hands and said, "I don't know what to tell you; if you don't use you get older."

The frantic way I went about my recovery mirrored my behavior when I was still using. If I was going to be a recovering addict, I would be the most perfect recovering addict the planet had ever seen. Meeting attendance, service work, sponsors, sponsees, Twelfth Step calls, buried myself in literature, and when it came to Higher Powers, I fell into an endless pile of research on ancient and modern religion.

Slowing down. The first time I actually heard and listened to this concept, I was at an Al-Anon meeting. How much should I slow down was the obvious next question, and the response I got was sobering . . . so to speak. "Take a quarter of what you're doing now and do half of that." I talked to my sponsor about that, and he agreed. “God didn’t put you on this earth to sit in endless meetings and chant steps and traditions like a robot. The program is medicine for the disease of addiction. It’s not a life. Out there somewhere you have a life. Go and find it —but don’t forget to keep taking your medicine.”

Today I'm not running as hard as I can to wind up in the same place. I have a life, people I love and who love me, fun things to do and see, wonderful books and movies to experience, places to go, things to see, causes I like that can use my help, and downhill skiing. I also am still writing and enjoying it much more now that I'm not hovering over myself with a bullwhip, driving myself into another cardiac problem.

Easy does it—but do it!

Sunday, March 25, 2012


"Life's tough, kid, and it's tougher if you're stupid."

The above quotation, a variety of which is most often attributed to John Wayne, came from The Friends of Eddie Foyle.  John Wayne is also attributed as having originated the following quotation: "If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

The value of the second quotation to the problem of staying clean is marginal, since it is the main credo of every addiction of which I know. When alcohol had me by the litchi nuts, my heart and mind definitely followed. When I first got clean, however, my heart and mind were still trying to make up their minds. It frightens me to think about my early and quite naive bargaining and negotiations with Death, not understanding until much later that Death does not negotiate.

The world of recovery is made up out of two groups of persons: Active addicts and recovering addicts. Active addicts use; Recovering addicts don't. Active addicts are playing leapfrog with Death; Recovering addicts have stopped playing games with the disease of addiction. You never want to play leapfrog with a guy who's carrying a scythe.

There are problems in life, and as an old sponsor of mine once put it: "Recovery is one long exercise in applying the Serenity Prayer."

For those not familiar with the abbreviated version of Reinhold Niebuhr's untitled prayer used in Twelve Step programs, it goes like this:

God, grant me Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.

I can't change that I'm an addict. I can't change what I need to do to remain in recovery from addiction. If I accept those two things and do what I need to do, I thrive, mostly. If I decide to go to war with the facts of reality, well, I'm back to playing leapfrog with a guy who packs a three foot-long blade and doesn't like to lose.

I know better. Since I know better, the only way I can convince myself that going back out is a good idea is through that self imposed blindness and ignorance we call Stupidity.

"Life's tough, kid, and it's tougher if you're stupid."

Today I'm going to do what I know I need to do for my recovery, let go of outcomes, and have a great day. I hope you have one, too.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Under the heading of "Identify, don't compare," I was sent the following by a fellow in Virginia.

A man walked out to the street and immediately catches a taxi in New York City . The cabbie says, "That's perfect timing, sir, you're just like Brian."

Passenger: "Brian who?"

Cabbie: "Brian Sullivan. He's a guy who did everything right all the time. I first heard about him in the program. Like my coming along when you needed a cab, things happen like that to Brian Sullivan all the time. A great man."

Passenger: "Program? Are you a friend of Bill W.'s?"

Cabbie: "Yes sir, I am.  You?"

Passenger: "Yes. Clean and sober the past three years. About this person, Brian, everything couldn't have been perfect for him. There are always a few clouds over everybody."

Cabbie: "Not over Brian Sullivan. He was a terrific athlete who could have won the Grand Slam at tennis or played golf with the pros. He sang like a bird, danced like a star and played the piano . He worked one hell of a program, an amazing guy."

Passenger: "Sounds like he was something really special."

Cabbie: "Oh, there's more. He had a memory like a computer, remembered everybody's birthday and worked Twelve Step calls like a saint. He could fix anything from a toaster to a car. Not like me. I change a fuse, and the whole street blacks out. But Brian Sullivan did everything right."

Passenger: "Wow... Some guy that Brian."

Cabbie: "He always knew the quickest way in traffic, avoided every traffic jam, and never had to search for a parking place. Brian never made a mistake, picked up after himself, and he really knew how to treat a woman and make her feel good. He would never answer her back even if she was wrong; and his clothing was always immaculate, shoes highly polished, too. He was the perfect man! No one, and I mean no one, could ever measure up to Brian Sullivan."

Passenger: "An amazing fellow. Was he your sponsor?"

Cabbie: "No. See, I never actually met Brian. He died."

Passenger: "Then how do you know so much about him?"

Cabbie: I'm married to his goddamned widow."
~ ~ ~

Thursday, March 22, 2012


There is an annual Narcotics Anonymous convention in Alfred, Maine mid-September every year. It's held at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center and the convention is called "The Miracle." If you're looking for king-sized beds, maid and room service, you are looking in the wrong place. At the Miracle, you make your own bed, clean your own room, and have a chance to open yourself to the worlds of fellowship, recovery, and spirituality. There are snacks, table tennis, and pool, too. Meals are prepared by the Brothers and Sisters and served at the dining hall. The food is good. No one has reported losing weight at a Miracle.

The convention is purposefully small. Several times the organizers and attendees have discussed moving the Miracle to a larger facility, and each time it has been brought up, it has been voted down. You see, at a small gathering, it's tough to hide in your room, becoming one of those invisible attendees who walk in fear of change. Those who come to the Miracle really want to get clean, stay clean, and advance in their recovery.  They may want to hide, but it's hard to do in Alfred.

The first Miracle was in 1983 and it has been going strong ever since. If my addition is correct, this coming September will be Miracle XXX. I have attended all of the Miracles, I owe much of my recovery to the things I've learned there, the friends I've made there, and the fellowship I became a part of there.  There, as well, I came to trust this Higher Power of mine who, up until then, had been a sometime figure of comfort most often lost in a cloud of my own doubts. 

At the first day of the first Miracle, I had a lousy time. The place was full of people I'd never met before, at one of the meetings I made a reference to something I had learned in AA and had been reamed out by a NAliban Nazi, the weather was gray, cold, and wet, and I was ready to get in my car and go home Saturday morning.

I remember sitting at breakfast on Saturday, huddled over my eggs and sausage, silently glowering around at the other addicts, wondering why no one wanted to sit with me. I mentally chewed over some of the things I had heard at the meetings on Friday, particularly a couple of Higher Power believers who kept repeating, if you need something from your Higher Power, all you need to do is ask.

So there I was after breakfast, standing in the rain in front of the tiny cemetery the Brothers have there, trying to decide what to do. What did I need from my Higher Power?  I needed a sign. Okay, I thought, I'll ask for a sign. Fully convinced I was making requests to a nonexistent deaf ear, I mumbled sort of out loud, "Okay, Whoever you are, give me a sign. What do I need to know."

Well, no giant finger came down from Heaven and burned my answer in the flagstones with lightning bolts. I got zip, nada, nothing, which was what I secretly expected. It was dead quiet, except for the patter of the raindrops. Maybe the sign I need is already there, I thought, giving this fictitious power every chance. So, what can I see? I looked and shivered as the icy rain ran down my collar. And I answered, "Well, I can see I'm god damned cold and wet!"

What a bunch of crap. But then I happened to look to my left and saw Denis Hall, the main meeting place and dormitory for the Miracle attendees. I was cold, wet, and all alone standing in the rain. But it was warm and dry back there with all those recovering addicts. It was enough of a sign for me. That was the moment I became a part of the fellowship of NA.

On Sunday, before I left to return home, I walked down the lane to that place near the cemetery and made two deals with my Higher Power: First, that I would try my best to stay clean and work the program, HP taking care of the rest; and, Second, if I was clean that time next year, I would be back. I've returned every year since.

Do I want to move this convention to a big flashy hotel that can serve a convention of thousands rather than the hundred and fifty or so who squeeze into the Spiritual Center every September for the Miracle?  I don't think so. But, even if at some future date, it is decided to make such a move, come mid-September every year I'll be back at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center, standing amid the towering oaks on the lane to the Brothers cemetery. I made a deal with my HP to return every year that I was clean. HP has held up his end of the bargain; The least I can do is hold up mine.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


One of my favorite movies is the first Kung Fu Panda. I like the story, the animation, the beautiful art direction and score, the message, and the laughs. I identify with Po's eating problem, but most of all I identify with Master Shifu (voice by Dustin Hoffman). In one scene, after being given the  seemingly impossible task of turning a big, fat Panda whose only skills appear to be making food and eating it into the dragon warrior, Shifu is in the temple, attempting to meditate to clear his troubled mind and regain his center and serenity. "Inner peace," he chants, "inner peace, in-in-in . . . inner peace---  Would whoever is making that slapping sound quiet down!"

Step Eleven says, "We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious with God, as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out."

The meditation part of Step Eleven, is every bit as important to our recovery as is prayer. The serene have no excuses, no reasons, to go and use. Inner peace. Inner peace.

Serenity, eh? So what do we do about all the drug substitution, quack rehab, guaranteed addiction cures, and self-appointed do-it-yourself sobriety gurus making money and gaining notoriety at the expense of many active addicts and alcoholics whose first efforts at recovery become misdirected by unprincipled charlatans and the well-meaning but ignorant?

Addicts die. Nothing anyone can do about that. Addicts who honestly want help know where to get it: the halls of NA, AA, other Twelve Step programs, and treatment centers based on the Twelve Steps. Addicts who look for that easier, softer way will often fall prey to the willpower illusionists and to those selling "cures." 

It sounds cold, but the program of recovery isn't for those who need it; it's for those who want it. As recovering addicts, our job isn't to engage in controversy, publicly arguing down those who hold differing views. Our job is to get into recovery, stay there, get on with our lives, and by our example carry the message of recovery to the still suffering addict.

And those commercials promising a guaranteed cure for addiction ("not based on any Twelve Step program"), when they come on the air?  "Inner peace, inner peace, in-in-in . . . inner peace---Would whoever has the remote please change the damned station?"

Monday, March 19, 2012


The Ability to resist impulse can be developed through practice. When you’re faced with an immediate temptation, remind yourself of your long-term goals—whether they be losing weight or getting a medical degree. You’ll find it easier, then, to keep from settling for the single marshmallow. —Daniel Goleman

"One is too many and a thousand never enough."

If you have ever attended Twelve Step meetings of almost any kind, you've heard the above quotation. It makes no difference what your addiction or collection of addictions consist of, it's all the same: Abstain, and you can be making progress toward your long term goals; Use, and it's back on the treadmill of addiction.

"I'll never use again." We've heard that, as well. Often these are the ones who, if they ever do manage to make it back through the doors of recovery, begin by saying, "I had no intention of using." The whole point of Step One is that addiction is more powerful than you are and if you tangle with using again, you are going to lose.

"What's your poison?" the bartender used to ask. It's a good question, the answers to which are important to those who want to reach for better lives free from addiction. Gambling, alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, food, tobacco, nail biting, sex, controlling others, work, cutting ourselves, down to and including the darkest extremes of addiction as with compulsive rapists and serial murderers. In my own case, that first drink, that first prescription drug, that first puff of tobacco, that first bet, that first bite of food outside my food plan, and I'm back there once again, racing to keep up and going nowhere except deeper into addiction's hell.

Here is another quote, one of the Twelve Step program slogans: "Think." In some programs it's phrased, "Think First." In others it's phrased, "Think it through." They all mean the same thing: Engage brain before operating body. If you don't pick up the first, there is no need to go through the humiliation and punishment of the second, the hundredth, or the ten thousandth. If I don't pick up the first, I can still move toward accomplishing my long term goals.

"Oh, but what's the use? Why try?" We've heard that, too, and sometimes from ourselves. What do I do then?
Call my sponsor.
Write a gratitude list
Go to a meeting
Read the program literature
Write out my feelings
Do something nice for someone
Call someone else in the program
Get back on working the Steps

Once in recovery, I have the choice whether to pick up that first or leave it be. The choice is mine until I pick up. I need to keep my long term goals in mind and not pick up that first, because all the things I could now put on a gratitude list are what I might lose should I con myself into thinking, "One won't hurt."

I've experienced the slavery of addiction and the freedom of recovery; Freedom is better.

Think it through.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


A few of us were standing around in the hall of the hospice waiting for a dear friend in the program to die. Understandably, the mood was somber.  One of our number had something his daughter had written and he read it to us. I asked her permission to reprint it here.

Twenty or so adults stand in a circle with their arms entangled. I wormed my way into the circle. All heads look to the floor. There is a moment of silence before they begin:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
Heads raise. Everyone smiles as they break their embrace.

Whether it be a church, friends, or relatives, everyone is born into a community. When I came into this world, my community was Narcotics Anonymous. My most vivid memories as a child were in church basements. Not on Sundays, but at night. I would sit in between my parents among the adults in the folding metal chairs. The smell of coffee and cigarettes wafted through the room as I listened attentively to the stories.

Among those stories, I have listened to a man once living on the streets who now owns his own barbecue stand, a woman with two children, no teeth, and Hepatitis C who still finds hope at every meeting, a woman with one lung who hikes four thousand foot mountains, and a man with one eye and stage four liver cancer who spends his free time tending to his honey bees. These people have demonstrated that although addiction does not have a cure, it is not a terminal disease. As a child growing up in this community, I have learned that setbacks are not all there is and a person never stops growing.

One would think that Narcotics Anonymous meetings are a place of despair and misery; but really, they are a place of empowerment, and hope. As a child, I used to hope that I would be an addict when I grew up. Hoping that one day I could participate in these meetings, myself. The truth is, though, I have gained so much knowledge and wisdom from Narcotics Anonymous without having to go through what it takes for most people to end up there. My parents have raised me in an environment full of recovering drug addicts and, surprisingly, they are all my role models. Not for what they did, but for what they have done and continue to do for themselves and others. These people have been in a harder place than I have and still came out the other end not only alive, but loving life. They have demonstrated the awareness, courage, and drive that it takes to become better people and a contribution to their community. As I grow up and move on from this community, I will take the lessons learned from Narcotics Anonymous and for that, I trust that every problem I face, I will handle with grace, maturity, and responsibility.

                                                   ~Hannah Huggins

It was the beekeeper with the cancer, Uncle Jimmy, who was in the hospice dying of cancer when Hannah's father read the above to us. I've thought long and hard on it, but I cannot think of a better advertisement for getting and staying clean in the program of Narcotics Anonymous.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Feeling quite ill, I answered the telephone and it was a fellow in the program. He asked me how I was doing. "I feel like shit," I answered.

Being teddibly adult and program correct, he said, "I don't know how shit feels."

"It's an acronym," I said. "It stands for Sore, Headachy, Infirm, and Tense."

Curiously enough, "SHIT" originally was an acronym standing for "Store High In Transit." In the days when fertilizer was shipped in leaky wooden boats, getting the stuff wet could have rather explosive effects. So, longshoremen were instructed to load the stuff in the ship's upper reaches. "Store High In Transit" became abbreviated to "S.H.I.T.," and the rest is history.

There are many program acronyms attempting to make it easier to remember a slogan, some fact or guiding principle, such as the familiar "KISS" = standing for, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Here are a few others that have been sent to me by Twelve Step program members over the years:

ASK = ass-saving kick.
BMW = Bitch, Moan, & Whine.
DAMIT = Dreams of Absent Minded Transgression.
DENIAL = Don’t Even kNow I’m Always Lying.
FEAR = False Events Appearing Real. Also, Fuck Everything And Run.
FINE = Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, Evasive (also Emotional) and Feeling Insecure etc.
GOD = Good Orderly Direction, Group’s Outstanding Direction, Good Old Doubt, Group Of Drunks, Group Of Druggies, Gathering Of Desperates.
HALT = Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
SLIP = Sobriety Losing It’s Priority.
SOBER = Son Of a Bitch, Everything’s Real!
TENSION = Temporary Effect of Nervous Stress I Openly Neglect.
TIME = This I Must Earn (also) This I Must Excrete.
WBBB = With Bill Before the Book (old-timer).
YET = (As in "I haven't done that yet") Your Early Termination.

By the way, check out today's Just For Today reading (link over there on the right), especially if you have a lot of clean time.

Now, go make a good day.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Todays Just For Today reading has to do with resentments and what a burden they can be to those who carry them. In meetings they have been described as putting poison in a glass, drinking it, and saying "Take that!" to the person resented. It's also been described as hitting yourself in the head with a fist or hammer, and doing the same thing as the poisoner: saying "Take that!" to the person so resented. There are three points to make here:

1. Resentments don't affect the person resented.
2. Resentments hurt the resenter.
3. The disease of addiction uses your resentments to fuel your way back to the nightmare.

What's the big setup? If I get miserable enough, eventually I'm going to use. My disease, therefore, focuses on ways that I can make myself miserable, resentments being number one on the going-back-to-Hell hit parade. In early recovery I thought I understood this. That's why I developed my Passive Shit List.

Here's how it works: I'm not going to give this person free room in my head, deviling my thoughts from sunup to sundown. For all practical purposes, I've let go of that. However, if the guy should be crossing the street in front of my while I'm driving a car, how much trouble would it be to run over the sonofabitch!

When I explained this new letting-go program tool to my sponsor, he stared at me for a full thirty seconds, stared up at the sky for another fifteen, then looked back at me and said, "The main thing to learn about letting go is to let go!  Now, let's go and work on that."


A few minutes after meeting my new sponsor at his home, he sat me down at his dining room table, put a piece of paper, and a pencil in fron...