Tuesday, October 26, 2004


The fox came on quiet feet
To eat at our bird feeder,
For pickings are slim
When the rains fail to come.
Amazing what one sees
With open eyes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Recovery House Rules

Perhaps memory has grown dim with age, but I seem to recall a time when persons could disagree with each other without being believed to be and labeled "traitors," "morons," "extremist nuts," or "evil." Perhaps it was another age, perhaps I don't remember clearly, perhaps I simply hung out with a more tolerant crowd. In any event, it seemed that way. Politics, religion, whatever—so-and-so believed what he believed, and Whatshisface believed what he believed. Sometimes it led to spirited arguments, sometimes it led to fights and long, grumpy periods of silence. On rare occasion, it even led to enlightenment. In the end, however, family and friendship usually won out over opinion and the need to win..

Now, however, if you root for that team, worship God by that name, insist on voting for that candidate, or voting for that proposition, you are—at the very least—ignorant, ill informed, confused, and influenced by the dark side. At the worst, however, you are stupid, evil, and may even be the Great Satan himself! This all leaves little room for later kissing and making up.

So, what does all this have to do with recovery?

Among those in Twelve Step programs, there are, at times, disagreements about how things ought to be done. These things include service work, the conduct of meetings, working the Twelve Steps, sponsorship, complying with the Traditions, and other matters ranging from the trivial to the significant. There are tools provided by the program for handling these disagreements, the main tool being the first part of the Second Tradition: "For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—A loving god as he may express himself in our group conscience." In other words, if there is a disagreement, we vote on it. This works really great as long as we all agree to abide by the group conscience. For some, however, the Second Tradition is sacred as long as the decisions go their way. When the group conscience goes against what they want, however, it is obviously wrong and must be countermanded through other means.

One of these "other means," is to employ the same attitudes used in the world of disagreement outside the program. In other words, if the group conscience goes against what I want, then those voting "the wrong way" are obviously "evil, non-program, brainless, sick, and harbingers of the total destruction of the universe of recovery." This frequently is all the permission some folks need to employ means outside the Second Tradition to correct the error. Over the past couple of decades, I have seen many examples: Purposefully disrupting meetings disapproved of by the disruptors, character assassination, organized gossip, and "missionaries" who show up regularly at meetings to lecture the members at the meeting on how they ought to be running their meetings and their individual programs.

The results of all of this enthusiasm: Shut down meetings, disintegrating service structures, and old-timers and newcomers alike chased away from the meetings.
Here are some things I was told when I was brand new in recovery:

· It's an individual program. From everything you hear and witness in and outside the meetings, you have to piece together what's going to work for you.
· The First Tradition says that our personal recovery depends upon program unity—not uniformity.
· The sickest person in the room is the one who is focused on someone else's program.
· Addiction is slavery. Recovery is freedom—not exchanging one slave master for another.
· When you sit down, shut up, and listen, don't forget to shut up and listen.

Old-timer or newcomer, don't let control freaks and other well-meaning assholes chase you away from the meetings. Trust the Traditions. Call a business meeting, have a group conscience, vote on it, abide by the results, and everything will work out just the way it's supposed to.

Barry B. Longyear

You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. —Doug Floyd

Monday, October 18, 2004

Recovery or What?

"Man, I want to get clean, but what you people call recovery is just a bunch of losers sitting in a circle tossing platitudes at each other."

In different words, and in those same words, we've heard it countless times: I need a different way to live, but not that way. I mean, can you see me sitting in a meeting and . . . "sharing" my little story with a bunch of burnouts? And how many of these sessions would I have to attend? They're talking about ninety meetings in ninety days! I have a life. I can't fritter it away going to meetings. Besides, what if the people I work with find out about me going? It could affect my career.

So. What's your alternative? If you don't pick up, and if you do go to meetings (NA, AA, etc.) you're going to get and stay clean. There are countless gifts you'll receive upon cleaning up, but getting clean is the recovery thing. If you look for that easier softer way, though, such as moving from counselor to shrink, acupuncture to aroma therapy, while at the same time collecting prescriptions and continuing to bounce from one chemical to another, the one thing you won't be is clean. No clean, no recovery. Sorry. I don't make the rules, reality does. I am simply your humble reporter.

Well, what about all those moth-eaten slogans, old jokes, and boring drugalogs?
Hey, we appreciate well-done new material. Bring yours. By the way, there's another name for all those moth-eaten program slogans and old jokes: they're called "wisdom."

Barry B. Longyear

"When you have no one in your life who you can call and say, 'I'm scared,' then your life is uninteresting, unfulfilling, superficial. You need somebody you can trust enough to say, 'I need help.'" —Steven Soderbergh

Friday, October 15, 2004

What Are You Willing To Do?

Getting clean seems like a great idea up until it comes to putting down the drug. If you've tried it before, you know the universe is about to transform itself into a place where all life's problems can be solved—the important ones anyway—by picking up that drug just one more time. Pain, fear, anxiety, that clawing never-ending need, how much more important it becomes to end all that than that silly little goal of getting clean. Then, trashed once again, new crimes added to the old, overwhelming sickness driving you down, you may say again, "I gotta stop doing this." Perhaps you've said it so often by now, though, you've replaced it with, "I can't do it. It cannot be done. Why try?"

Sound familiar? Yeah, it's all well and good to hand out advice on getting clean, but we're talking about taking on a monster that doesn't know anything but how to hurt you if you don't keep feeding him his stuff. I've tried it before. I've tried it a lot of times. I can't do it.

What is being "ready?" Everyone I know who made it into recovery and stayed there was ready for recovery. When someone goes out again (relapses), odds are you'll hear someone say: "I guess he wasn't ready." So, what is "ready?"

Addiction is a disease of stages. Stage one is the yum-yum stage. Drugs are new, they're fun, they feel good, they seem to answer some very deep needs, and they come with a lot of friends and parties. Stage two is the pain collecting stage. Drugs have become a clawing need, it's all you can do to keep away the pain, all of those deep needs have multiplied, and no one wants to see you unless you come with either money or drugs. Physical problems, mental problems, relationship problems, legal problems—they stack up higher and higher until one of two things happens: Either death through suicide, murder, or physical collapse, or; The next stage: You become ready for recovery.

You are ready for recovery when you become willing to go to any lengths to recover. Willing to go to any lengths to recover.

Well, what does that mean?

If that's the question you're asking, you're not ready. Go collect more pain.

If the question you're asking is, "Okay, I'm ready to try anything. What do I do?" you might be ready.

Any lengths, right?

Try this: Pick whatever higher power you want—one off the rack, a mountain, a teddy bear, a crystal, a painted volleyball, whatever—and say to it, "I don't know what to do. Please help me."

Well . . . what then?

That's between you and the powers of the universe. Once you've collected enough pain, are ready to recover, and ask your higher power for help, miraculous things begin happening. You might hear an ad on TV, run across an NA help line number, someone mentions a particular rehab, someone else might invite you to a meeting. It can be many things, but it all comes down to the universe putting answers into your life. There is a lot of help out there for those who are ready for recovery. To see it, all you have to do is ask for it.

But, I don't believe in this crap!

That's okay. You don't have to believe in a higher power. All you need to do is use it. And when you get your answers, keep in mind that they are not suggestions or guidelines.

Barry B. Longyear

PS. No, the entry above is not a load of laughs. After my open-heart surgery two weeks ago, I had a rough night last night and was feeling good and sick today. It reminded me of another time when I was good and sick, up to my ears in pain, and was driven to ask a higher power for help. In my case, however, the HP I asked was some faceless creature at the nurses station in rehab almost twenty-three years ago. I said to her, "You know, I feel terrible." That was the best I could do at the time in asking for help. I got the help I needed and have been clean ever since.

Meeting Addiction

"I don't want to make a regular thing out of going to NA meetings. What If I become addicted to them?"

Becoming addicted to meetings is not a big risk, unless you are one peculiar addict. If, in your addiction to drugs you frequently found yourself saying, "You know, I don't think I need a drug tonight," you may well have a meeting addiction problem. The solution, of course, is: don't use, go to meetings, and ask for help.

Barry B. Longyear

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Way To Go

Any retreat can be turned into an advance simply by changing direction. —Anonymous

Barry B. Longyear

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Once upon a time there was a little sparrow who delayed his trip south for the winter so long that when he finally left he ran into an ice storm. Frozen and almost dead from exhaustion, he fell to earth in a barnyard. As the sparrow was breathing its last, a cow walked over and evacuated its bowels over the tiny bird.

“This is a terrible way to die,” thought the bird, but as the heat from the manure seeped into the bird’s bones, it warmed him and life began to return to its body.

The sparrow was so happy at being warm and alive, it began to sing. At that moment a large cat heard the singing, dug into the cow pie, uncovered the bird, and ate it.

This story has three morals:
1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.
2) Not everyone who takes shit off you is a friend; and
3) When you are happy, even if you are in shit up to your eyeballs, keep your damned mouth shut.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


First, the plan: There's an NA retreat (the Miracle) I go to every year because it's an important part of my recovery, I love the friends I have there, hence I always look forward to attending. Friday Sept. 17th, I put my plan in motion, arrived at the Miracle, and had a fun, very important opening day. Then came Saturday.

Midmorning Saturday, I was attending a meeting when I realized that I had forgotten something up in my room. I left the meeting, got about three quarters of the way up the stairs and, to my dismay, ran out of air. I was out of breath, told a couple of friends, and they sat with me while I tried to make up my mind what to do. A half hour or so later, I still hadn't gotten back my breath, so I asked my friends to take me to the Maine Medical Center in Portland, which was nearby. My Plan had a hitch in it. "Why now?" I asked HP.

The Prayer: For many years I have been plagued with intermittent bouts of profound weakness and fatigue that doctors simply couldn't diagnose. The weakness was so profound that, at times, I literally could not get out of bed, much less work or otherwise function. These bouts were so abrupt and unpredictable that in the middle of a ski run the fatigue would hit and the next thing I knew I'd be doing turns on my face. These bouts were so frustrating that anger and bitterness eventually evolved into tears. I had been tested and treated for everything and nothing worked.

On the morning of the 17th of September last, I was in the middle of a mild version of this affliction. I was taking our dog, Ti, out for his morning bladder gladdening. Ti wanted to go up our road, which begins with a bit of an uphill grade. I couldn't make it up the hill. Again I broke down in helpless frustration, but I also prayed to my particular HP for an answer.

The answer, it turned out was multiple blockages in a heart that was running at about 20% efficiency. Personally, I think 24 hour service is pretty good. But, as I was being carted off to the hospital by my friends, I had asked why that particular day, which was right in the middle of a retreat I had so looked forward to attending. The answer came to me several medical tests and operations later: At that particular moment I had been close to the Maine Medical Center, which includes one of the two best cardiac units in the United States.

Right now I am more weak and tired than I have ever been in my life, but I now have hope that once I regain my health, health is what I will have.

So, you don't believe in prayer? Well, personally, I'm having a tough time calling this coincidence.

Thinking of getting clean? Having a tough time humping your stuff through Step Four? You're up against it, you're all out of answers, and you don't know what to do? There are answers out there and they are patiently waiting for you to ask for them. And, no, you don't have to believe in the power or the process.

Prayer is like electricity. You don't have to understand or believe in electricity for it to work for you. All you have to do is turn on the switch.

Barry B. Longyear

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves. —The Koran

Barry B. Longyear

Monday, October 04, 2004


An elderly lady phoned her telephone company to report that her telephone failed to ring when her friends called - and that on the few occasions when it did ring, her pet dog always moaned right before the phone rang.
The telephone repairman proceeded to the scene, curious to see this psychic dog or senile elderly lady. He climbed a nearby telephone pole, hooked in his test set, and dialed the subscriber's house. The phone didn't ring right away, but then the dog moaned loudly and the telephone began to ring.
Climbing down from the pole, the telephone repairman found: 1. The dog was tied to the telephone system's ground wire via a steel chain and collar. 2. The wire connection to the ground rod was loose. 3. The dog was receiving 90 volts of signaling current when the phone number was called. 4. After a couple of such jolts, the dog would start moaning and then urinate on himself and the ground. 5. The wet ground would complete the circuit, thus causing the phone to ring. Which demonstrates that some problems CAN be fixed by pissing and moaning.

Barry B. Longyear

Sunday, October 03, 2004


1. Don't let being tired pick the kind of day you're going to have.
2. Don't let pain pick the kind of day you're going to have.

3. Don’t let fear, disappointment, sadness, or depression pick the kind of day you're going to have.
4. You pick the kind of day you're going to have.
5. If you can't figure out how to do that, ask your sponsor.
6. If you don't have a sponsor, go and get one.
7. If you can't find one, go to a meeting and ask someone with time
8. If there is no one with time at the meeting, go to another meeting.
9. If you do not know where the meetings are, go to the NA website.
10. If you don't have access to a computer, ask someone who does.
11. If you don't know anyone with access to a computer, ask at a police station.
12. And if you have outstanding warrants and are tired of these suggestions, see Step (1), above.

Friday, October 01, 2004


Do I choose to grow up and relate to life directly or do I choose to live and die in fear? —Pema Chodron in The Places That Scare You.

I’ve always been afraid of angry people. I used to think that it was their fault, and it was up to the angry people to change, thereby relieving me of my fear.

The fear is mine, however, and that makes dealing with it my responsibility. Short of actual physical threats, which I can either handle or avoid, the rest is me allowing the past to vibrate my present, bringing old fear to life.

My choices are to attack, defend, or offer love by asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Thursday, September 30, 2004


A drunk staggered into a cathedral, reeled down the aisle, looked around bleary-eyed for a moment, and at last stumbled into a confessional and closed the door.

“This is certainly a cry for help,” said newly ordained Father Mortimer to himself after observing the poor fellow's behavior. Father Mortimer entered his side of the confessional, sat down, and waited for the man to speak. Time passed, the unfortunate fellow said nothing, but Father Mortimer waited to answer the cry for help.

After a very long silence, Father Mortimer finally asked, “May I help you, my son?”

“I dunno,” said the fellow on the other side of the screen. “Got any toilet paper on your side

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


After thirty years clean, Bill the program old-timer died, and because of a clerical error, he was sent to Hell. The Great Satan met him at the gate and said, “Bill, this is the world of hurt, terror, destruction, and endless pain.”

“Golly,” said the addict from Massachusetts as he hugged the Devil, “I can’t tell you how glad it makes me to meet someone new, and thanks for greeting me. It reminds me of my old home group back in Boston when I was the greeter. Those were wonderful times, and thank you for reminding me of them.”

Satan staggered back, grabbed his chief demon by the arm and said, “This one we have to crush. Put him on the rock pile.”

The demon put Bill to work on an enormous pile of granite boulders making little ones out of big ones with a twenty pound sledge hammer in intense heat and high humidity. At the end of the day the Devil went to see how the addict from Massachusetts was doing only to find Bill smiling and humming a happy tune as he pounded the rocks.

“Why are you smiling and humming?” the Devil asked Bill.

“Man, I’m psyched! This reminds me so much of when the recovering addicts in my beloved Boston home group got together to help clear some land out there in Gloucester, Massachusetts for a program weekend campout of fellowship, sharing, and beans. It was such a terrific time, and I’m really grateful to you for reminding me of it.” Then Bill hugged the Devil.

“Do not do that ever again,” commanded Satan pulling himself free from Bill’s hug. The Prince of Darkness turned to his demon, grabbed him by his shoulder, and said, “Turn up the heat and the humidity!”

The Devil left and the demon had all the condemned souls shovel coal on Hell’s fires until the walls glowed red, then he had more souls throw water on the rocks until the air was choking with blistering hot steam.

At the end of the next day, the Devil was stunned to find the addict from Massachusetts still swinging the sledge hammer, but now singing out loud a song of joy.

“I don’t understand,” said the Devil. “Why are you singing?”

The addict from Massachusetts wiped the perspiration from his brow, leaned on the hammer, and said, “You know how hot it is here? Well, it’s got nothing on that program campout in Gloucester. Now, that weekend was hot! This reminds me so much of that weekend, and I had such an incredibly good time, I can’t help being grateful for all the trouble you’re going to make me feel at home.”

The addict from Massachusetts reached out to hug the Devil, but was halted as the Evil One held up a clawed finger and said, “I told you not to do that.”

“Of course,” said Bill, “and I respect where you are.” He then went back to the rock pile, picked up the hammer, and continued smashing the boulders, his voice raised in song.

“Dude,” said the demon to Satan, “This not working.”

The Prince of Darkness grabbed the demon by the throat and said, “It’s the heat, you idiot! He thrives on heat. Make it cold. Suck every last little particle of warmth from my domain and cover it with ice.”

Upon being released, the demon put out all the fires of Hell, opened the windows, and turned on the liquid nitrogen spigots. The temperature dropped, the winds blew, and soon Hell was covered with ice.

At the end of the next day, smirking with confidence that the addict from Massachusetts would be miserable, the Devil went to the rock pile only to find Bill marching up and down the pile, dancing, singing even louder than he had before, and twirling the sledge hammer like a baton. The addict from Massachusetts saw the Devil, dropped the hammer, ran down the pile, and gave the Devil another great big hug along with a great big kiss.

“What are you doing?” screamed the Devil. “How can you possibly be happy now?”

“Are you nuts?” said Bill. “It’s a cold day in Hell! The Boston Red Sox must have taken the World Series!”

We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.
—The Talmud

Thursday, September 16, 2004


“Why ask for help and listen to these old geezers? Clean time means nothing,” declared Willy, a ninety-day wonder, at a meeting. “It’s all one day at a time, right? And my day began at the same time as everybody else’s, so that means my clean time is as good as anyone else’s.”

After the meeting, two old-timers glanced at each other. The one called Pete asked his friend, “Harry, should we invite him to go fishing?”

Harry nodded in agreement. “Out at Old Bluff Pond.”

The two old-timers asked Willy if he wanted to go fishing with them. “I don’t know,” answered Willy suspiciously.

“Is it because you aren’t very good at fishing?” asked Harry.

“I can fish just as good as either of you two,” Willy declared.

“Then come along,” said Pete.”

Willy agreed to come. Early the next morning Willy showed up at Old Bluff Pond with his fishing gear, and the three of them got in the boat and paddled out to the middle.

After a few minutes Pete said, “Harry, I feel like a fool. I forgot my tackle box.” As Willy watched wide-eyed, the old-timer stepped out of the boat, walked across the water to the shore, picked up his tackle box, and walked on the water back to the boat. He got in the boat and began fishing. Willy stared at the man, but refused to ask what he wanted to ask. He gripped his fishing pole tightly and remained silent.

About an hour later, Pete broke out his lunch and began eating. Harry looked around in the boat and said, “Now who's the fool, Pete? Would you believe I forgot my lunch? I must've left it in the car.” With Willy looking on in amazement, Harry got up, climbed out of the boat, walked across the water to the shore, got his lunch box from the car, and walked back to the boat across the water. He got in the boat, sat down, and began eating his lunch.

Willy stared at the two old-timers. He had his lunch with him in his tackle box, but he was determined to show the old-timers that he could do anything they could do. With his eyes narrowed and his jaw set, Willy said, “I must've left my lunch in the car, too.” With that, he stepped out of the boat and went into the water right over his head. He came up, gasped for air, struggled forward another step, then went under again, just a few bubbles coming up until the next time he broke the surface gasping for air, his arms flailing at the water. Refusing to look back, Willy struggled toward the shore, every now and then going in over his head, choking and coughing for air.

As Willy fought toward the shore, Pete said to Harry, “Think we ought to tell him where the rocks are?”

“When he asks," replied Harry.

My spiritual awakening had a snooze button. —Overheard

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Harvey had been thinking about getting clean, but decided he could think a lot better if he could score a little something. Jesus, his childhood higher power, certainly wasn't going to get him some stuff, so he turned his back on Jesus. Desperate for money to buy his drugs, Harvey broke into a home by climbing through a window in the rear. As soon as he was inside, he stood quietly to make sure no one was there. Just then he heard a voice say, “I am watching you, and so is Jesus.”

Harvey froze, his heart beating with fear and shame, his soul weeping with remorse. True, in all that he had ever done, Harvey’s savior had been watching him, yet how many times in his darkest moments had Harvey refused to ask Jesus for help. And now he had once again turned his back on his higher power, yet Jesus had sent him a messenger to turn his life around before it became too late. Resolving to walk a new path, Harvey turned on his flashlight and played it around the room to see who had spoken those words of comfort. On a wrought iron stand there was a big green and yellow parrot looking back at him. “I am watching you, and so is Jesus,” said the parrot.

Harvey started to laugh at how silly he had been. Higher power indeed. It was all smoke and mirrors, empty words and talking birds. Harvey opened up his swag bag and started putting the household silver into it, when he heard the parrot say again, “I am watching you, and so is Jesus.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Harvey, playing the light on the parrot. This time, however, the parrot wasn’t looking back. Instead the parrot was looking down. Harvey pointed the flashlight down at the bottom of the stand and saw a huge pit bull glaring at him with red eyes and drool dripping from its exposed fangs.
And the parrot said to the pit bull, “Sic ‘im, Jesus!”

"Every time history repeats itself the price goes up." —Anon

What has four legs and an arm?

A happy pit bull

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Thomas was about to lose his job and his family because of his drinking and smoking. He tried to stop many times, but was never successful. Desperate for an answer, he walked into a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. In the meeting he was told to get a sponsor, so afterward he asked a serene looking fellow named Roscoe to be his sponsor, and Roscoe agreed.

“Thomas,” began Roscoe, “If you want to stop drinking and doing pot, it will be necessary for you to turn your will and your life over to a power greater than yourself.”

“I don’t believe in any of this spiritual crap,” said Thomas. “What should I do?”

“Are you willing to go to any lengths to recover?” asked Roscoe.

“I think so.”

“Very well,” said Roscoe. “Until you can come up with a higher power of your own understanding, you can borrow mine, the Great Juju.”

This sounded very weird to Thomas, but he asked, “So, how do I use your higher power.”

“It is very simple,” answered Roscoe. “First, go pee in a cup. Take that cup of urine to the Juju. I keep it in my back yard. After you give the Juju your gift of urine, it will tell you what your problem is and what you can do about it.”

Thomas thought this sounded ridiculous, but he had agreed that he was willing to go to any lengths to recover, so he decided to try out his sponsor’s higher power. He peed into a cup, took the cup of urine to the shrine of the Great Juju in his sponsor’s back yard, poured the urine into the receptacle, and stood back as the fires of the Juju consumed it, its eyes, fangs, and horns glowing bright green. Just then a deep, booming voice came from the shrine.

“Thomas,” it said, “you are a druggie and a drunk. Don't pick up, go to meetings, and ask for help.”

Thomas thanked the Juju, didn't pick up, went to a meeting, asked for help, and had his first day of abstinence. Thomas came to believe in the power, the mercy, and the wisdom of the Great Juju.

Sometime later Thomas had a sore elbow. He was thinking about taking some pain killers for it, but asked his sponsor instead. Roscoe told him to consult the Juju.

Thomas took a fresh cup of urine to the shrine and poured it into the receptacle. The flames consumed it and the Juju spoke: “Thomas,” it said, “you have tennis elbow. Ice your elbow, wear a pneumatic armband, and avoid heavy labor.”

Thomas did as the Juju commanded, and in two weeks the pain in his elbow was almost gone. Instead of praising the wisdom and power of the Juju, however, Thomas began to doubt. It was, after all, just an ugly statue in his sponsor’s back yard. What if this was all coincidence or a hoax? He half suspected that it was his sponsor’s voice he had heard when the Juju spoke. Thomas decided to test the Juju to see if it could be fooled. He mixed some tap water, a urine sample from his dog, and urine samples from his wife and daughter into the same cup. Finally, he masturbated into the concoction. He took the mixture to the shrine, poured it into the receptacle, and stood back as the flames of the Juju consumed it. Then the Juju spoke:

“Thomas,” spake the Juju, “your tap water is too hard—get a water softener. Your dog has worms—get some pills from the vet. Your daughter is into cocaine—send her to rehab. Your wife is pregnant and it isn't yours—get a lawyer. And if you don't stop jerking off, your tennis elbow will never get any better.”

Monday, September 13, 2004



September 13

Life sucks. Oh, yeah.

Jammed up. Depressed, sitting there at the bottom of a hole trying to figure out how to stop digging while an annoying little voice asks, “Is this why I got into recovery?” It creeps up on you like a shadow in the night, then all of a sudden it’s towering over you like a like a tidal wave, this helpless endless gloomy desperation in which all of the tried and true answers that sustained you for so long suddenly don’t seem to work anymore. You look to your higher power and it feels like nothing’s there but a ceiling, a sky, air, a couple of trinkets, or a few scraps of plaster and wood. You leaf through a big book or a basic text, meditation books, program pamphlets, and the answers are all there but they just don’t seem to mean anything.

Sooner or later, if you call someone or keep going to meetings, you’ll hear about faith, gratitude, acceptance, living life on life’s terms, and trusting in the process, but the words fall flat. The specter of the big setup—if you make yourself miserable enough, you’ll go back and use—sits on your shoulders like a row of vultures waiting for you to fall, confident of the coming feast. And you know it’s coming, too, this breaking point where the pain of not using overcomes fading memories of how bad things used to be.

Call your sponsor? Share at a meeting? Do something for someone else? Make a gratitude list? Lose yourself in service work? Take another run at working the Twelve Steps? Try that higher power again and see if the sonofabitch finally showed up for work?

The problems are real, they are massive, and they are crushing. Those storm clouds gather, the thunder rumbles, the hail and lightning strike all around you and you’re sitting on your ass in the center lane of an urban expressway just before rush hour trying to think of a reason to get up and get out of the way.

The dragon blows smoke in your ear, and maybe you listen. You don’t have to be this miserable and clean both. Ooo. There’s that big setup again. Perhaps you know better. You know where picking up again will leave you and those you love, so picking up is not an option. Instead, your fallback position is the Big Nothing, the permanent solution to the temporary problem: suicide.

“I’m clean now, I’ve been in the program so many years, and this is not supposed to happen anymore.”

If you listen very hard you can hear the dragon laughing.

A very important truth begins to make itself clear: Life didn’t change because you got into the program. The only thing that changed were your tools for dealing with life. Your only choice: Use them, or not.

When bad things happen to recovering people. It's called life. There are enough loose cannons rolling around on life’s deck that at some time or another you are going to get hit, overwhelmed, jammed up, and flattened. Really bad news from the doctor, the death or injury of loved ones, not being able to find work, all the bills come due, a good friend with lots of time goes back out, little children are snatched from their front yards and damaged, thousands die in disasters natural and unnatural, and whatever safety net you thought you had suddenly has a big hole in it. And, no—not a single damned soul on earth knows how you feel. Their memories of being jammed up are way back there in the “Whew! I’m glad that’s over,” bin. When you are on the griddle of depression and despair, you sizzle by yourself no matter how many are around you dishing out slogans, advice, pity, or hugs.

You might be lucky enough, however, to have some irreverent politically incorrect old bastard lay on you the Big Truth of all Twelve Step programs: Life Sucks Better Clean. There are a lot of different ways to say it, some are even conference approved. It is, however, the core reason in every program for continued abstinence—not picking up: Whatever your problem or problems, no matter how big the crime, how many the victims, or how devastating the result: The one thing absolutely guaranteed to make things worse is using.

Hang on.
This, too, shall pass.

And, hang on!

A Thank You Note. The most recent time the cannon rolled over me, it backed up and rolled over me again and again: Health, career, finances, relationships, world events. No single thing. Getting out of bed in the morning, though, was like coming back from the dead. Tired, constant pain, no interest in work or anything else, an outlook that could see nothing but flaws, frustration, and failure. I’ve stepped in it again, and after beating myself up for stepping in it again, it was one foot in front of another muttering, “Life sucks better clean,” until, in my office checking my Email, there was a letter that had been forwarded to me, and the subject, of course, was gratitude.

Yeah, faith not fear, keep an attitude of platitude, and if you had any idea how deep my hole is, you wouldn’t offer me this pitiful little string. Even so, I read it. The willingness to go to any lengths is a hard habit to break. It read:

Someone who teaches at a middle school in Safety Harbor,
Florida forwarded the following letter which was sent to the principal’s office
following a luncheon the school had sponsored for the elderly:

Dear Safety Harbor Middle

God blesses you for the beautiful radio I won at your recent senior
citizen’s luncheon. I am 84 years old and live at the Safety Harbor Assisted
Home for the Aged. All of my family has passed away. It’s nice to know that
someone really thinks of me.

God blesses you for your kindness to an old forgotten
lady. My roommate is 95 and always had her own radio, but would never let me
listen to it, even when she was napping. The other day her radio fell off the
night stand and broke into a lot of pieces. It was awful and she was in tears.
She asked if she could listen to mine, and I said fuck you.


Edna J.

I burst out laughing and for the next two hours I could not stop giggling. Yeah, I know. Seek through prayer and meditation, asking only for his will—

—Yeah. And thank you, HP, for Edna J. and her letter to the Safety Harbor Middle School. It was a bucket of cold water in my face, a kick in the ass. It shocked me right out of the emotional hole where I was being suffocated.

It started me thinking about the number of times we show at meetings feeling that life on life’s terms is a rigged game, only to be snapped out of our misery by a comment, a story, or a joke that strikes right to the heart of a problem or is so outrageous all we can do is laugh. And the dragon hates laughter. You can’t laugh and wallow in helpless despair at the same time. To do it your brain would have to explode. And people who are laughing aren’t miserable enough to use.

Yesterday's Tomorrow. When I got clean late in 1981, haunting the halls of AA and NA, a number of us hard cases realized that laughter, irreverence, and poking fingers in the eyes of pompous blowhards were among our most valued unauthorized recovery tools. There were jokes, sayings, puns, and stories around the halls that kept us laughing, and clean, and I collected a number of these and showed them to the folks at Hazelden. This original collection became Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Recovery Meditations for Hard Cases (Hazelden, 1997). In the introduction to that volume I asked hard case readers to send in their own experiences, sayings, and little bits of grit that helped them through the moment. Hard cases are those men, women, and young folk who take on the mission to give everyone else in the program an opportunity to grow. As a young friend of mine put it, “If I don’t drive my sponsor to call his sponsor at least three times a week, I feel like I’m letting him down.”

The response from readers was tremendous, and most of this blog, at least at the beginning, will be made up from their contributions. There were additional benefits I received from soliciting their contributions. The benefits were all of the sharing letters sent by my fellow hard cases out there, and for them all I am very grateful. We are something of a tribe, hard cases, and there is nothing more important in recovery than knowing you are not alone. For the past few years, because of the hard case mail, for me it’s been like one long meeting.

This is part of what I hope to accomplish with Life Sucks Better Clean. It's a way to jump-start your sense of humor, to turn around your day, to flip a finger at the dragon.

Thinking of getting clean? Soon I will be adding a feature addressing those users who are tired of being losers and who are thinking about getting clean. Addiction, what is it? Recovery, what is it? Where to go to get help, and why an addict who relies only upon himself for recovery has an asshole for a sponsor. Meanwhile, grab your phone book, call Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, find out where the nearest meetings are, suit up, show up, sit down, shut up, and listen. No one's going to throw a net over you. All they're going to do is introduce you to something called freedom.

Send me your best and funniest. If you were helped along the road to recovery by a different way of looking at things, inspired by a rubber chicken, or have something that made you laugh, blush, think, chuckle, or howl, send it to me: Email bblongyr@tdstelme.net or Snail PO Box 100, New Sharon, Maine 04955. Stuff that you send in, maybe I use, maybe I don't. Maybe I rewrite, maybe not. Lots of folks send in different versions of the same thing, so credit lines, generally, are out. Mainly we're trying to keep these little treasures from getting lost in time's dust, keeping them available to inspire, tickle, and kick ass.

Contributions. You knew this was coming. Okay, to keep this blog going and refreshed daily with new stories, jokes, information, and brain burners, we're going to have to bring in enough to pay for the person who is going to do all of the filing, posting, correspondence, and so on, as well as make it possible to take the time away from my regular writing (Check the website out for info on that). I know what early recovery is like, and when life on life's terms gets lean and mean. Don't take food out of little Bunky's mouth to contribute. But, if it's a choice between contributing to Life Sucks Better Clean or buying a new video game, Life Sucks will probably lose that contest. But, after you get the video game, slip a few bucks our way to keep the blog going and free from adverts. How much? Let's see. How much do you hate pop ups? Send that much. We'll get in a PayPal button soon. Meanwhile, send your fending-off-bankruptcy contributions to: Barry B. Longyear, PO Box 100, New Sharon, Maine 04955. Remember, each contribution goes to help an addict in recovery.

Your posted comments. We'll try this for awhile and see how it works out. Push the right button and let all of us in on what your thinking (If it's too raw, I'll get rid of the posting. If it keeps being nasty, we'll lose the feature altogether. Help, laughs, a little inspiration is what we're looking for here. Bad moods you can get anywhere.).

BLOG Dedication. I'm a writer, so I got to do a dedication, and I don't care if it isn't done. It's being done here. Just like with Yesterday's Tomorrow, this blog is dedicated to all those anonymous recovering angels of the dark side who authored or brought the laughs and irreverent comments into the meetings with them, brightened up so much gloom, and are one of the main reasons why life sucks better clean.

Barry B. Longyear


For our first posted bit of wisdom, this:

Be grateful for how crappy things are. If the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off. —Anonymous

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