Wednesday, October 16, 2013


A visit from an old ghost

Updating the Webmansion, I was looking through some old photos for my site biography when I ran across an old photo from shortly before I went into rehab. This was taken at a World Science Fiction Convention in Boston in 1980. It was first thing in the morning at an autograph session after a night of drinking and about half an hour of sleep. I was looking at the line of fans waiting for autographs, my brain leaking out of my ears, and one of my fans took this picture and mailed it to me.

Amazing how finding this picture brought it all back: My head ached so badly I thought my scalp would shatter, and I was speculating how far down the line of autograph seekers I could reach with projectile vomiting. Everything hurt, I was so very weary, and the prospects for the future looked so very bleak.

Hard to believe it was at that convention where I won the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, making me the first (and perhaps still only) writer to win the Hugo, JWC, and Nebula awards all in the same year. I had talks with editors and publishers who wanted my stuff, and the hoard of booksellers at the con twice sold out of my latest SF novel, Infinity Hold, and had to restock. And right in front of me was a respectably long line of my fans who wanted my autograph on books of mine that they had paid for. It would seem that things in my life were going pretty well.

Three days after that picture was taken, I was back home, sitting at my desk, a gun in my mouth, getting ready to end it because everything in my life felt like shit.

"Don't you miss it?"

I've been clean and sober for thirty-one years. Every now and then, a drinker will ask me, "Don't you miss it?"

Let me look at that photo again. Yeah, it's what they mean when they say it's the difference between "Good morning, God," and "Good god, it's morning!"

Do I miss it?
Not today, Jack.
Not today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


For Your Information.

For regular readers of this blog and for the surfing curious wondering what "Life Sucks Better Clean" means, I thought I would share with you where our current bunch of fellow page viewers are located.

The Big 10. 
Although we get occasional visits from Israel, New Zealand, Mexico, Belarus, Malaysia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam, in descending order here is the Life Sucks Better Clean Top Ten:

United States
United Kingdom
and India

Aside from the U.S., I have no idea why the page views are distributed in the above manner.

The Meaning of Life Sucks Better Clean
Wherever you are in the world and in life, there are problems. Everything from little frustrations and worries on up to lethal threats and painful disabilities, deprivations, death, and disease. It easy to look at all of these negative things and say, with a fair amount of certainty, that life sucks.

It's like that joke about the Irish greeting card. On the front of the card it says: "Man is born in pain, lives in despair, and dies alone." Then you open the card and it says: "Happy New Year!"

That's what many people mean when they say "Life Sucks." For those in recovery from addiction, however, there is at least one thing they can do that is absolutely guaranteed to make whatever the problems they have much worse: Picking up and using that drug. The bottle, pills, herbs, powders, rocks - It doesn't matter what. For the drug addict who isn't frustrated or depressed enough or in enough pain, there is always that decision that leads straight back to the nightmare.

Yeah. There are problems. You have a better chance of surviving them and dealing with them if you don't pick up and use a drug. Life sucks sometimes, but every time it does, it sucks better clean.

Monday, October 14, 2013


It was a stupid nightmare. Somehow I had managed to lose the top of my skull, exposing my brain, and the first thing that pops into my remaining gray matter is: "Now my sponsor and me will have the same amount of hair."

Then I'm stumbling around the corridors of some sort of hospital trying to get someone to do something about what seems to me to be a significant injury, but no one seems concerned about contamination, infection, blood loss, or my continued existence!

Then I'm tired, but I can't risk lying down to sleep in case my brain rolls out of my brain pan, and then I woke up. I looked at my nightstand clock and it was a little after three in the morning.

I try to get back to sleep.
Back pain. I roll over
Neck twinge. I adjust the pillow.
Someone is snoring. It's the dog.
I'm wide awake and getting really bored.

My brain starts wondering about the dictionary definition of "Honor." In my latest novel, the word "honor" figured significantly. I know what the word meant to me during the writing, but I never looked to see what the dictionary definition was. My pad was there on the night stand, I turned to my dictionary app, and looked up the word.

Yeah, it pretty much meant what I thought it did.
Now I'm really awake.

Me, alone with my own thoughts, in the dark. These were the hours I feared the most back when I was using. I hardly ever experienced them because, between the pills and the booze, I pretty much went through my nights in a coma.

Sometimes I would awaken. Then it would be a frantic search for something to put me back into that dark unfeeling nothingness. Pills, the bottle, food---anything to numb my brain so it couldn't think or feel.

When I got into the program of Narcotics Anonymous and got clean, funny thing: I couldn't sleep more than an hour or so at night, if that. It was me again, all alone with my own thoughts, in the dark. Eyes-open nightmares, and there is nothing that wakes me up more thoroughly than trying to go back to sleep.

So the pills and potions were thirty-one years ago, and packing my face with food would only distress my cardiologist and physician. So. What do I do?

I reviewed some of the feedback I got at meetings and from my sponsor three decades ago:

"No one ever died from a lack of sleep."
"It's amazing what you can accomplish working twenty-four hours a day."
"Read some N.A. literature."
"Write on some of the Step work you've been putting off."
"Take the opportunity to meditate."
"Do a gratitude list."
"Take up a hobby." (I began wood carving)

The one that is working for me tonight is: "Patience is not waiting; Patience is doing something else."

Well, now that I finished that super long novel I was writing and the publication is complete, I could continue with the mind-numbing chore of rebuilding my website, I thought. On the other hand, I could read this morning's meditation in "Just For Today."

I called up my "Life Sucks Better Clean" blog, clicked on the "Today's Just For Today" link, and read the piece on loneliness, and how once we become part of the fellowship of a Twelve Step program, loneliness becomes a choice rather than a fact of life.

Those in recovery are men and women, young and old, from every walk and station in life, who basically do every day what my friend Jay calls "the most unnatural thing an addict can do: I didn't pick up." It comes from a conscious choice each day to stay alive and live life.

A number of them read this blog, and the stats show that "Life Sucks Better Clean" gets page views from all around the world just about every day. Some days fifty page views, some days a hundred and fifty page views. That's a pretty good-sized meeting.

As long as I had my blog open anyway, I wrote this posting. It's almost time for my alarm clock to go off, I made it through another night without using, and---wherever you are---I wish you a day clean, productive, and filled with gratitude and hope for the future.

Somewhere in the world it's still the middle of the night. Let's hear from you.


Friday, October 11, 2013


Want to get clean?

  1. Look in the phone book or online for your local Narcotics Anonymous hotline.
  2. Find out where your nearest meetings are.
  3. Ignore all your excuses and rationalizations and make plans to attend a meeting.
  4. Put down the drug(s), unload all the powders, pills, and potions from your clothing.
  6. Do what they tell you to do.

Want to stay clean? 

  1. Don't pick up.
  2. Go to meetings.
  3. Ask for help.

So, what do I mean, "Ask for help?"

  1. Don't have a sponsor? Ask someone to be your sponsor.
  2. Having trouble working the Steps? Ask your sponsor to help you with them.
  3. Having a bad day? Call your sponsor, Share with the meeting group.
  4. Having a good day? Call your sponsor, Share with the meeting group. The rest of us might need a little brightening up.
  5. Beginning to think you can do without meetings? Maybe you can safely have one or two? That there is some corner of the using nightmare you haven't yet explored that might be okay? Call someone in the program. Don't know anyone you can telephone? Don't pick up, go to a meeting, and ask those at the meeting for telephone numbers.

The help is there.

There is a lot of helpful information, armies of recovering addicts willing to share with you their experience strength and hope, and things that are more powerful than your addiction. No one in my experience who followed the steps above ever used again. No one. It works for a great many men, women, and young teens and preteens. You, however, have to be on your own team. If you aren't, there is no one and no power on earth that can keep you clean.

It is worth the ride.

Saturday, October 05, 2013


New in recovery, stumbling along, frightened, wanting to be anybody but me. So-and-so seemed to have it together, that other guy was awfully serene, there was someone who sounded very wise, and there was a whole planet full of people who never were addicts and could drink a beer, have a toke, pop a pain killer and not have the Dragon take the act as a contract to become a forever slave.

And then there was my profession. This writer was a billionaire, this other guy got in before male protagonists went out of favor, the President of the United States gave a shout out to one guy, making his career, a writer friend of mine landed a great teaching position at a prestigious university, another landed a six figure contract advance, this other one wrote crap and seemed to have no troubles selling his crap to publishers, and hell . . . I was still me and there didn't seem to be anything I could do about that except rail against the injustices of the universe.

Then I got a sponsor I actually used. He introduced me to "Addictions Rules For Me."

The first rule is, nothing comes between the addict and the drug.
The second rule is, if the first rule is violated (by abstaining or getting into recovery), addiction will use the entire power of my own mind to make me miserable enough to go and use again.

There are a wealth of miseries. The one concerning us here is ENVY.

Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."   While I was being myself, though, I was wishing I was someone else. More accurately, I was feeling hopeless because the universe's magic wand seemed to have missed me when it was handing out the magic gifts.

Twenty-seven years ago, my sponsor suggested I make a list of all those persons I envied.
I did that, and said, "Now what?"
He said, "Now nothing. Every couple of years or so, take out that list and look at it."

I did and the results have been both instructive and chilling. It is almost as though I had written a hit list of men and women I wanted taken out and destroyed. This one got a disease that made it so he could no longer work, that one went permanently on street drugs and died of an overdose, another went blind from a stroke, another went to prison, several became homeless and died in pain, many died of cancer, one died in an airplane crash, and last month the last three persons on my list died.

And . . . I am still here!

Almost three decades of pain, suffering, and death. The lesson for me was not to abstain from making lists. The lesson was and is that there is no one in the world I know well enough to wish I had his or her life instead of my own.

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." And that's a good thing.

If you woke up this morning alive, congratulate yourself. You have another chance.

Thursday, October 03, 2013


Recovery from addiction is a team effort. Some addicts choose to go with a short team (themselves and meetings only); Some addicts go with a long team piling on everything and everybody that might help achieve another day clean. My team consists of myself, meetings, a Higher Power, some relaxed Step work, a bit of service work, a sponsor, and using all of the above. My team, sometimes with gaps, more often full, has kept me clean for thirty-one years, thirty-two years come this December 30th. It saved me from the nightmare and has given me a life of honor, fulfillment, and big gobs of joy. So, why mess with it?

My sponsor of twenty-eight years died. His name was Larry, he was old, had health problems, but he inspired a lot of lives and helped keep many of us on track with his wisdom, experience, humor, and occasional ass kicking. He was a very valuable person, one of those who seemed indispensable, but the powers that govern such things didn't see things the same way we did, and he died.

Ask the manager of any baseball or football team, or the captain of any military combat unit: "When a member of your team goes down, what do you do?"

You replace the missing member. Duh!

So, what did I do? I left that position open for a year waiting for God to admit his blunder and return Larry to me. This, of course, was my disease using my grief as an excuse to whittle away at my reasons for staying clean. That's Number One in the Addiction House Rules: If I get miserable enough, I'll pick up that drug and use.

It took exactly one year for me to catch on to the game I was playing and with whom I was playing it. It was way past time for me to get a new sponsor. The disease was right in there advising me, too. Well, it should be someone older than me. I was seventy at the time. The one guy I knew in the program who was older than me was Larry. It should also be someone who had more clean time than me. There was someone I knew who had a few more months clean than me, but I was already sponsoring him.

My disease wanted me to look upon my quest as hopeless. But long ago Larry taught me, whenever I was painted into a corner, to walk through the paint. Whenever I am good and miserable, to ask myself: "Why am I doing this to myself?"

Why do this to myself? To make myself miserable enough to go and use; That's why.

So I picked a fellow in the program with fewer years, less clean time, and less hair than me, but is someone who works a good program, is the most sensible and even tempered person I know, he is one hell of a great skier, and I already loved him. He is a good man, and being a good man is my purpose in staying clean.

My team is back to full strength again and it looks like another winning season ahead.

Don't have a sponsor? Yours died, went out again, fired you for some reason? Fill in the missing member of your team. We are in a game that has no second place.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


[This was originally written for my "For Writer's Blog" on my authors website (see Links), but I think this piece has to do with a lot more than just writing. BBL]

Wiggle room: It has a lot to do with getting the story finished.
Okay, in Twelve Step programs they have a bit of advice that goes like this: Live in the solution, not the problem. So, what does this have to do with getting the words into the manuscript?

List your reasons for not writing. Go on. We'll wait for you, and here are a few to get you started.

Nobody believes in me.
I just can't get started.
There are too many demands on my time.
I just can't seem to sell a word.
My ideas don't seem to go anywhere.
No support from my family (friends, parents, spouse, partner, bartender, etc.)
Poor health, low energy, can't concentrate, the neighbor's dog keeps barking, my dealer really wants to get paid, it all seems so hopeless.

Here is an example of living in the problem: "Look at what's happening to me; I just can't win! Boo hoo!"

Here is an example of living in the solution: "This is standing in my way; Now, what can I do about it?"

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...