Sunday, September 24, 2023

California Clean and a Brief Peek at Reality


Denial, that old Egyptian river. It is the principle symptom of active addiction. This is why addiction is often described as the disease that tells you that you haven't got it. Denial often sneaks in after entering recovery. When I went in rehab my addictions were to what I called a beverage and little items I always referred to as medicine. In rehab I learned that a mood altering drug (MAD) is a drug. Still, in those early months of recovery in NA, various complaints came out of my mouth as though I was impersonating a stupidity generator:

"When I got clean there were no wine spritzers, and that was before Coors came to my state."

"In rehab I learned about a whole lot of drugs I never got in trouble with. Maybe . . ."

"I know a guy in Al-Anon who told me he goes to Al-Anon so he can get the program and he doesn't have to stop drinking."

And then I listened to my sponsor who quit Narcotics Anonymous and joined Alcoholics Anonymous so that he "could smoke pot and it would be okay."

That was a rough number of weeks for me, but not quite as rough as it was for my ex-sponsor. It took three weeks, but during that period his wife left him, he lost his job, he dropped out of AA, and he seems to have vanished. No one who knows him knows where he is. Perhaps he returned to the program. It's a hope. What he was doing so many years ago is what a famous country singer has recently referred to as being "California sober," which is defined as "Not drinking or using hard drugs, but continuing with marijuana and psychedelics." By that token I suppose "California Clean" would be putting down pot and mushrooms and confining one's use to fentanyl laced alcohol and compulsive gambling.

It was dangerous forty-one years ago when I got clean. Dragon smoke always comes in the form of denial: rationalizing dangerous drugs into that group of things that it is okay to use. The consequences now, in the end, are the same: The Graybar Hotel, the padded room, or the graveyard. The consequences today, however, come quicker and more severely. Way back alkies, potheads, methroids, and pill poppers on average had a good many years to collect data such as unemployment, wrecked relationships, heart attacks, liver problems, money problems, a tour or two in the House of Slams, and eventually all the freedom, joys, and infections to experience in curbside living. I can't say that we had it easy, but we had it more slowly.

Today's addicts, many of them, do not have the time to put together a war story for when they finally make it into the program. That is mostly because they are dead. The  fentanyl miracle: For many it is a one-pop solution to all of one's problems. It may not work as quickly as sodium cyanide, it might feel better for a moment (I don't know. Dead dudes tell no tales), but it all winds up in a hole in the ground. On top of that is the well publicized abilities possessed by everyone to become whoever, whatever, and wherever they want simply by playing with words, particularly definitions. 

Each person, you see, can develop his, hers, or its individual "truth." Such "truths" have little to do with empirical evidence, and anytime you feel the need to be called a terrible name, point out most of these "truths" have nothing to do with reality. I mention it here because in recovery from addiction, the addict cannot afford to play around with semantics. The recovering addict needs a firm grip on reality. There are some hard truths we have to live by if we want to live, grow, and be happy. If you do not know what these truths are, go to a meeting, call your sponsor, work the Steps. If you do not go to NA meetings, or you do not have a sponsor, or for some reason haven't gotten around to the Steps, it would appear to be time for a change. Don't pick up, go to meetings, ask for help. That is the beginning lesson in fighting the meanest and sneakiest disease on the planet: Addiction.

 I pray for the best for everyone who reads this, but if you are an addict, if you are not on your own team, my prayers won't do you a lick of good. You can pick your age, your sex, your occupation, your lifestyle, and political leanings. If you are an addict, though, your disease has picked you and it does not care at all about the identity you picked. What you do about that in the real world will determine the kind and degree of fantasies you can bring to reality in the future.

Stay smart, stay safe, and stay clean. And if the idea of California Clean begins to look appealing, take a look at California's definition of "clean." Our brothers and sisters in the homeless encampments may be willing to give you a tour.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Wishes, Resolutions, and Pleas


I posted the following on Facebook on December 31st, 2022: 
2023, huh? Well, may the forces of stupid become self-aware, the forces of the power hungry find self-worth, and all those offended by words, dress, occupation, faith, skin tone, merit, and belief become themselves Awakened.
Happy New Year, and for those who use words to inform, entertain, educate, or manipulate others please note an ancient plea known as "The Three Gates of Speech." For your own peace of mind and in aid of the peace of the world, before what you say or write is made available, the words must pass through three tests or "gates."
The tests are:
1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary? and
3. Is it kind?
In the event your communication fails to make it through all three gates, employ the wisdom of Will Rogers: "Never miss a good chance to shut up."
In my early years I was a great one for turning pages. Each time I would be sent to a new school, or a new school year would begin, or New Years would come, and I would take the old page crowded with my failures, wreckage, crimes, and shortcomings, turn it, call it "the past," put it behind me, and set forth upon my fresh new page ready to record upon it the new me and my shining new future of accomplishment. Then would come the next New Year's Eve, my page littered with the same or worse failures, wreckage, crimes, and shortcomings as the previous year. It was the same with the endings of school years and new school stays.
The disease of addiction loves such moments. How small can I make myself feel? How worthless? How Evil? By the time I reached the weeks before January in 1981, I attempted suicide for the second time. I had given up page turning and resolutions. I had given up hope. The payback, of course, was using. Facing the darkness of the endlessly deep hole I was in, I gave up.

Friends and family pulled an intervention on me, I spent that New Years in rehab in Minneapolis, got out at the end of January confused, frightened, angry, and convinced that I was in big trouble and not at all convinced that staying clean was an answer nor that Twelve Step programs were an effective way to stay clean should I wish to do so.

I stayed clean and continued going to meetings until what I should do became clear for me. It eventually did become clear: Stay clean and continue going to meetings. One more thing: Learn all I could about the program of Narcotics Anonymous and put what I learn into practice. At the end of December, 2023 I celebrated forty-one years clean. 

I once asked my sponsor about "special" days: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and the beginning of a new year. He said they are just like any other day: twenty-four hours long and filled with miracles, hope, promise, love, and growth. After all this time, it still works and so does my life.

My prayers and best wishes to any and every one taking this moment, this beginning year, to begin taking that first step out of the nightmare.


Friday, March 12, 2021

This One Is For Everybody

 Depression and unhealthy ways of addressing it has become a worldwide problem made worse than usual due to the Covid-19 Pandemic shutdown.  Those in Twelve Step Recovery programs are more fortunate than most because Twelve Steppers have the tools with which to start over a bad day making it a positive day. The problem here is choosing to stay in depression rather than doing what needs to be done to turn things around. For those with obsessive compulsive disorder (drunks, junkies, overeaters, etc.) the payoff for remaining in depression is to become miserable enough to have a relapse ("If you felt as bad as I do, you'd use too.") Great excuse with only one problem: Using again returns to the nightmare driving what was depression down into degradation and horror. For those without OCD problems, unaddressed depression is a terrific excuse to develop a drinking problem, chemical dependency, overeating disorder, gambling or video game addiction, and so on. If that fails, there is always making everyone around you miserable with the hopes of violence, incarceration, and even suicide along the way. The way out for everyone: TURN YOUR DAY AROUND!

Misery Is Optional! Starting a crappy day over usually requires action. Left on its own, depression has no reason to get any better. Here are some tools Twelve Steppers use to break the cycle of misery.

Call Someone. Twelve Steppers have sponsors and telephone numbers of others in recovery they can call when the walls begin closing in. "I feel like crap." "I'm afraid." "I just don't know what to do." and "HELP!" are all valid ways to begin such a conversation. Those not in Twelve Step programs can call a relative or friend. Those who do not know anyone, have no relatives, and have no friends, look in a phone book or go online and get the number of a hotline. After talking out your problem, start thinking about making a friend you can call.

Make A Gratitude List. Depression tends to take small problems and inflate them until they cover the universe with hopelessness. A gratitude list helps to let the air out of depression and balance your perspective by listing the things that are going right. I usually begin with "I'm still here." That means to me that I am still alive, I'm still taking care of myself, and I am reaching to get out of my depression rather than sitting and wallowing in it. There are people I love (list them), there are people I believe love me (list them), I pay my bills, live in beautiful Maine, am going to get a working knee later this year, and am getting my second Covid-19 vaccine shot today! My work is going well, at this moment my chronic migraines have taken the morning off, I had a good night's sleep last night, and so on. You beat down depression with gratitude. I'm still here, and that is all kinds of victory for me. Do your own list. If you are reading this, you too can begin with, "I'm still alive."

Find A Happy Place and Go There. I have several "happy places" I can go when my edges begin growing dark. When in season and when my health cooperates, I love downhill skiing. Going for a walk is another happy place. There are wild turkeys in our neighborhood and I love feeding them and having them gather about me like chickens. Indoors there are movies guaranteed to make me laugh. Two of them are Galaxy Quest and No Time For Sergeants. Depending upon my mood, binge watching certain TV series can chase away the blues by filling my head with other times, characters, and places. Two I have in mind are Wolf Hall and the Vikings. These fit my personal tastes and quirks. You need to find your happy places, and then go there.

Do Something Creative. I write books, I do wood carvings, I paint pictures, I do woodworking, and one of these days I will complete this bloody damned Jolly Roger pirate ship model I purchased. This all has to do with a very important thing to know about patience. Patience is not waiting; Patience is doing something else. If you sit there in black gloom waiting for "something" to lift your depression, you are going to be depressed or dead for a long time. Do something else: a hobby, dance, play uplifting music, fix a leaky faucet, stop that floor from squeaking, oil a hinge, make your bed, clean your room, MOVE YOUR ASS!  Remember, if depression is out to get you, it is harder to hit a moving target.

Laugh. How can you tell a bank robber in a line at the bank? He's the only one not wearing a mask. Everyone's life has in it, funny moments. The world has funny moments. The Covid-19 Pandemic has funny moments. There was a politician on a video platform interview who interrupted one of his own answers by farting. The fellow's party spokesperson attempting to explain away the fart by saying the sound was produced by someone moving a coffee cup was even more hilarious. Have fun with the inconveniences. Humor has been the difference between staying alive and ending it uncountable times in my life.

Look For Beauty. Part of being grateful for being alive is to be able to appreciate beautiful and amazing things. Feeling miserable because of the cold and snow, look into the form and structure of single snowflakes. The wild turkeys feeding outside my window are some of the ugliest birds in creation, yet when the sunlight strikes their feathers they reflect amber, gold, and reddish brown colors. A happy face, someone who does a nice thing, someone wishing you a good morning: Beauty. I was told that if I look for shit, shit is all I am going to find. By the same token, if I search for beauty I am going to find a bunch of it, the existence of which helps make my life worth living.

If It Won't Cause You To Burst Into Flames, Pray. Twelve Steppers have what they call "Higher Powers." There is a very wide variety of entities that serve as HPs from off-the-rack (provided by religions) deities to various and sundry items from a piece of paper and teddy bears to the sky, mountains, rivers, oceans, runes, and amulets. It is the act of reaching out to something other than oneself for help that produces results. It is probably the most important tool in my getting out of depression toolbox, and it is usually the last one I try. I spent almost forty years in a war against the gods of humanity, and now, almost forty years later, I am still uncomfortable praying. I do it eventually, however, because it works.

 Stay Safe, Stay Smart, and Choose Happiness.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020


"Isolation" by Aidansane
 I have communed with the birds and squirrels, taken even more pictures of my dog, made home repairs, stayed in touch with the NA program and its people, I go to NA Zoom meetings and wait along with everyone else for things to go, well, not back to normal. But at least to lighten up. It is astonishing the complainers and foot draggers who cannot wait to return to jobs and schools they thought they hated. It was like when I got injured in the Army. I couldn't think of anything better than being in hospital with a (not too serious injury), lying around in bed all day, meals brought to me, and so on. After three days of that I was fit to be tied. After nineteen days I so grateful to get back to work upon my return I almost hugged my sergeant.

By occupation, I am a novelist and short story writer. It is not considered an essential occupation. What I can do, for those who like a good story, is fill up a stretch of time every day until the all-clear with some readings at no cost. The readings use the Zoom platform. Download the video conferencing app, and this will open a number of useful and entertaining doors. Once you have it on your device, click on the app, click on "Join Meeting" then enter the meeting code (see below).

I will be reading from Saint Mary Blue, the story of a group of patients going through rehab for addiction (researched the hard way). Curiously enough, one of the patients is a science fiction writer.

It is a very important story to me and to many of my readers. So, the following announcement:

●Beginning Thursday, March 16th, 2020 at 12 Noon EDST (-4 GMT) I will begin reading a chapter a day every noon from my recovery novel Saint Mary Blue (Internet willing and the creek don't rise). SMB is a story of very early recovery filled with laughs, tears, warnings, and hope.
●The Zoom reading meeting code is 292-024-0794. At the end of each chapter reading there will be some time for questions and comments. Hope to see you there.
12:00 noon (-4 GMT) beginning April 16th, Zoom 292-024-0794.  

Pass it on.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020


Scary times: invisible death stalking the streets, jobs lost, businesses going under, world and local disease and death tolls on the rise, meetings of all kinds---business, church, Twelve Step, Scout, National Guard, even boot camp---being cancelled, it's the Covid-19 Boogie. These are the kinds of times that remind me of early recovery when I couldn't work, all my remaining relationships were like walking through mine fields, I was frightened of everyone who I needed to ask for help, waiters in restaurants and friends at parties kept offering me drinks, and every cell in my body was demanding a return to business as usual. Then I would call my sponsor or a program old timer, lay my bucket of woes on him, and invariably the return comment I would get was, "Look for the opportunity."

Opportunity? My disease had latched onto twenty excellent reasons to feel terrified and miserable enough to use, and this guy wanted me to dig through all the horseshit to find the pony? 

Well, yes. See, a grateful addict doesn't use. And although times may be tough, the tough times contain and even generate opportunities. For example, at last night's video conferencing meeting of the Farmington, Maine Dragon Slayers Group of NA, a newcomer at the meeting from Pakistan shared that he was only a few months clean and was pretty much limited to one meeting a week in his area, which was not enough. Then came the pandemic, physical NA meetings around the world shut down, Zoom and other video conferencing platforms began holding NA meetings open to the world, and now he can do numbers of meetings every day. He found lots of opportunities.

I even found a couple of opportunities myself. At the three Farmington meetings, we had been pretty much limited to our local recovering community along with the occasional visitor. Now the number of those attending has increased quite a bit, and with recovering addicts attending from outside Franklin County, Maine, from all over the United States, and from many countries around the world. In the past week we have had recovering addicts from Iran, Australia, England, Iceland, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and Pakistan. The stories shared are both familiar and new. We are indeed a fellowship bound by a common disease arrested by the mechanism of one addict helping another through the program of Narcotics Anonymous. What's more, now the number of addicts who I can help and who can help me has increased enormously.

There was another opportunity I found for me. I have seen a lot of faces and heard a lot of voices in the virtual NA meetings, men and women, young and old, of many nationalities, religions, political persuasions, colors, and economic stations. Instead of focusing on those differences, at the NA meetings we focus on the common problem: Staying clean and growing as happy productive members of society. It shows me that we are but one race: The Human Race. And we are all in the same little lifeboat, Planet Earth, sailing through space. It shows me that if we focus on our common problems and treat each other with compassion and respect, there are answers to be found.

Times are tough, but there are many opportunities within and around you. You can find them if you look for them. If all you look for is pain and disaster, of course, that is all you will find. Or, as an old timer once advised me, "If all you do is look at an asshole, sooner or later you are going to get an eyeful of something you really do not want to see."
Be careful out there.


Saturday, April 04, 2020


Social distancing and staying home and what to do about those whose lives depend on regular meeting attendance? Modern technology provided us with video conferencing, and Many Narcotics Anonymous meetings are on Zoom. You have a screen with a lot of faces, the hugs are virtual, but the sharing is still the same, except now with people from all over the world. This morning, April 4th, at the Ninish Group of Narcotics Anonymous, we had at one point 80-90 persons logged in from all over the United States and Canada, as well as England, and even Iran. It was a terrific meeting. And then it was Zoom bombed.

Zoom bombing, for those who do not know, is disrupting a meeting by loud language, profanity, and putting up genuinely gross porno clips that essentially make it necessary to shut down the meeting. From eighty recovering addicts dealing with life and maintaining being clean and serene by getting in touch with other recovering addicts, it went straight down to . . . well, it was another opportunity to use the Serenity Prayer, call sponsors, and dust off that list of things I really needed to let go of.

The easiest thing for an addict to do when Zoom bombed is to judge, condemn, and begin turning that old rage crank. The disease loves that. Make yourself miserable, and the payoff is what? Using. On the other hand, a whole bunch of other addicts take such virtual violence, become frightened, and swear never to go to another meeting again. The disease loves that, too. Make yourself miserable, deny yourself the program, and the payoff is what? Using.

There is a bone in every recovering addict that has to vibrate at such disruption. Don't these people know they are costing lives? Have they no clue what is at risk? 

I believe that no one enters a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous by accident. See if you can relate to the using addict terrified of getting clean. If he or she can destroy recovery, then there is no point in putting down the drugs. I've seen this countless times over the years, mostly in school kids trying to get clean. Their using peers in school use all the pressure they can muster to drive the clean kid back into using. Don't these kids know they are costing lives? Have they no clue what is at risk?

All a using addict can see is that nothing comes between the addict and the drug. The law, health, family, future, loved ones, the respect for human life, none of it matters to one attempting to remove the threat of recovery from their lives. So, have I just inventoried a bunch of folks I don't know? Other than having been one of them at one point in my life, yeah, I guess I am. I think I'm pretty accurate, though.

The point is letting go: Accepting the things I cannot change (them), having the courage to change the things I can (myself and the settings on our Zoom meetings), and understanding that the best way to screw up your own day is to try and change someone else's.

I saw a terrific poster. It said, "Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.

The meetings, with new settings, will continue as usual. It took learning a lot of technical stuff no one was interested in, and a few tests, and we will see how it goes at our next Zoom meeting on Tuesday. And when you send a prayer to your Higher Power, throw in a thought for those terribly frightened addicts driving themselves to despicable depths to run from recovery. Pray for them and be grateful you are not one of them.

Serenity, and . . . be careful out there.



Friday, March 27, 2020


 When in danger
When in doubt
Run in circles
Scream and shout!

Big worldwide health problem, really bad numbers, stock portfolios and paychecks in the tank, massive government solutions, many ignoring the health safeguards and spreading the disease because some folks think, "Everybody is making too much of this." On the other hand, many panic causing shortages and even spreading the virus attempting to get away from it. 

It is a war, and just as in the more traditional military and anti-terrorist kinds of wars, this war has the potential for many to fall through the cracks and get impoverished, lost, or killed because of drastic measures not specifically tailored to certain classes or segments of society. Recovering addicts and those wanting to enter recovery are such a segment. We have special needs, and the most important of them is not using. The isolation requirements of the health safety measures interfere with one of the program's most important tools to keep from using: program meetings.

I do not know what the rehabilitation centers are doing. Some may be converting to treat the Covid-19 patients, others might be simply shutting down until the all clear. In our local area, all the physical locations where AA, Al-Anon, and NA meetings were held have cancelled all meetings until further notice. Schools, colleges, theaters shutting down, as well. 

I call my disease "the dragon," and the dragon was the originator of the saying, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." This is because any crisis, any change, any bad thing happening anywhere in the world is, as far as the dragon is concerned, fuel for its favorite fire: reasons to pick up and use again. I remember sharing in my rehab patient group about the things troubling me and making me feel guilty. I still remember my group counselor, June Qualy, saying to me, "Barry, it's not your fault that the Soviet Union occupied Poland." That was true, but it was an awful thing, and the dragon loves awful things, as well as things it can make look awful. Troubles, folks. Real troubles. We got 'em. Now, the dragon wants to know, what are you going to do about them?

In my area and in much of Maine we are getting the meetings going again through video conferencing, particularly using the Zoom App. We are using the telephone more staying in touch with sponsors and others in the program. Those not computer or smart-phone savvy can get and stay in touch through the NA helplines. Mostly we recover by not picking up and doing what we need to do to stay grateful. If the walls feel like they are closing in and the dragon is blowing smoke in your ear, drag out that gratitude list and begin again. You can start with, "I'm still alive." Call a sponsor, someone else in the program, and if you are reading this you have access to the Zoom NA meetings. 

The great part about Zoom meetings is you can be anywhere in the world and join a meeting. NA Web Servants are busily getting the Zoom NA meetings up on the NA state and world websites. The point here is the same as it has always been: Willing to go to any lengths to recover from addiction. You ever wonder why this blog is titled "Life Sucks Better Clean?" That's because, like now, problems make it so life sucks. The one thing guaranteed to make it worse, though, is using. That's why Life Sucks Better Clean.

Be careful out there.


California Clean and a Brief Peek at Reality

  Denial, that old Egyptian river. It is the principle symptom of active addiction. This is why addiction is often described as the disease...