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Just One More Day

Remember when were kids, and we wanted to stay up “just a little longer”? We wanted just one more cookie.  As we got older it was just one more kiss when we spent time with our lover. Just one more day as time off came to a close. Just one more…

Our addiction was the same way. Just one more drink. One more hit on that joint. One more snort of… whatever.

Things began to change as time went on and our disease gained a stronger grip. Soon we wanted one more chance to make it right with a lover. One more chance to make it right with a friend. One more chance to make things right with a supervisor, with our families.

I’ll be there on time. I’ll spend time with the family – I won’t go out drinking and slumming. I’ll put some money in the bank. I know she’s no good for me but…

No matter how “high-functioning” or how “together” we kept it, eventually, we found ourselves in a downward spiral into the toilet and everyone saw it coming… everyone but us.

These days, I’m closer to the end than the beginning. These days I want one more clean & sober day.  In fact, I’m grateful for one more day period because I have learned that there are no guarantees. Each day now is a chance to be better than yesterday. Try as I might, somedays, I fail miserably.

And still, I want one more day…

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The Winds of Change

So, for those of you who have been following along, my previous post was about possibly losing things that are near and dear to me.

Well, Hurricane IRMA passed right over us, the eye itself in fact. We survived. While many in this state suffered to varying degrees, we came through remarkably well. Our home was not damaged. We did not lose power. We had running water. Were we scared? You bet.

As I mentioned, throughout the state, friends, and neighbors have been suffering through difficulties (some still are) including loss of power, no ice, no running water, backed-up plumbing, flooding, damaged or destroyed homes, damaged or destroyed vehicles, and other challenges.

In many ways, at least for me, this experience had many similarities to when I first got sober. Once Hurricane IRM was over, we realized how fortunate we were compared to so many others we know. There was that same sense of wonder and amazement I experienced when I came through be sober for a while. There was that innate knowledge that things could have turned out so much worse.

The hyped up-state and sense of worry and constant sustained sense of anxiety were all quite familiar, and so too was the mental and physical exhaustion that came with them.

When everything was over, there was a sense of relief, with the release all at once of the pent-up excitement, worry, doubt, and fear; a fear that was present always, no matter how much it was suppressed and pushed to the background.

Everything is not completely back-to-normal here yet. Some things are still not as abundant as they were before the storm such as gas, water, propane, and other supplies. Some are are yet without running water, properly functioning plumbing or electricity. It’s funny how much we take these basics for granted every day until we have to do without them.

Just as in recovery, there are repairs to be made, things to be put back in order, as they should be. Those basics we so take for granted become so mush more appreciated again.

This experience has once again, in a clear and practical way, shown me that recovery is just like life itself: we have to work at it, so it doesn’t fall apart and stop working.

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One Day At a Time – Again

So … 80 wildfires are burning in 9 states. Hurricane Irma is heading to us. Two MORE named storms behind that!

When I am looking at something that is heading my way that is 450 miles wide, with a sustained wind speed of 185 mph, it scares the hell out of me.

Will Irma hit my area directly? Hopefully not. Even if not, it will still have a substantial effect on me.

The thought of losing my home shook me for a couple of days.

40 years of my art and photography, that my wife was kind enough to frame after I had stopped dragging it around the world with me after I retired from the military. It’s  irreplaceable, as is the artwork of my mother and father that hangs in our home as well.

Most of all, there is the house. This house is our dream home. It is perfect for us. Never in our wildest imaginations did we think we would ever have something this well suited for us, this comfortable, in our lifetimes. One of my wife’s greatest joys is working in the yard, fussing with this or that, and fussing with the inside of the house as well.  It is our refuge from the world. We love it.

And it could all be gone in an instant. Forever. All of it.

Here are the realities:

I can only do what I can do to prepare, and then, it is no longer up to me.

As long as I have my wife, I have everything I need.

Starting all over at 57 would positively suck, but I would still be better off than most.

It is a living lesson, reminding me once again, that life truly is “One day at a time.”

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About People Pleasing

I used to be a people pleaser

In addiction, people pleasing is extremely important for a variety of reasons. If we keep those around us happy, they are less like to really look at us, look at what we are doing, or how we are doing it. The most important reason we people please in addiction is because it is a weapon; it is yet one more tool that we use to manipulate people and in turn, circumstances and outcomes.

Now, “normies” people please too. They do it for some of the same reasons addicted folks do, but mostly, to avoid conflict. For 99% of them, it is not a weapon that they rely on 24/7. Those of us blessed with addictions build our world, our survival on a few simple, but crucial principles:

Always control the situation so we are not found out, dismissed, fired, divorced, arrested, etc.

Hide our addiction(s) at all costs.

Hide the shitty things we do, physically, morally, financially, or otherwise to keep our addiction(s) under wraps. (The joke of that is that most everyone we deal with is aware of our affliction. Most often, even before we are.)

People pleasing keeps things calm, and easy. Less fuss, less muss. If we keep people happy, life is so much easier; so we believe. Now mind you, people pleasing does work up to a point. But in the end, whether clean, sober, or even as a “normie,” those we try the hardest to please so as to gain their favor, or alliance, will treat us as they would treat anyone else.

Another reason we sometimes people please in our addictions is to win friends, because we are lonely or we have a really poor self image and/or sense of self-worth.

In the end, by doing this we are dishonest with those we are trying to please, and most importantly, ourselves. Why? Because we re not being who really are. It’s the same reason we drink, dope, whatever; when we are under the influence, we can be someone, something else – anybody else but who we really are because we are not worthy.

That friends, is why addiction is such a stone cold motherfucker that takes so many lives. It’s the disease that always convinces us that we are shit, and there is no hope for us.

The beauty of being clean and sober is that we see things more clearly. In a good recovery program, we are more inclined to be ourselves, more often. We try to treat those around us as we want to be treated as opposed to currying favor being someone we are not.

People pleasing is not realistic and is not honest behavior. It has no place in a strong recovery.

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Old Friends

Photo ©Barry Kerzner

Photo ©Barry Kerzner

So I’m driving in the car the other day and my Simon & Garfunkel playlist is permeating every corner of Earl, my “Hamstermobile,” from stem to stern. It sounds really good too, and I am relishing every moment, singing along. I’m thinking, “I’ve been listening to these songs for almost 50 years and they still have as much meaning for me as when I first heard them as a child. They still sound just as good, and they still move me to tears or make me smile, just as they have all these years.”

Recovery has a lot in common with the Simon & Garfunkel songs I listen to. The things that are read and said at meetings are the “hits” I have been hearing for almost 29 years now. “It works if you work it.” “One day at a time.” “There but for the grace of God go I.” Just like the the Simon & Garfunkel songs have different meaning for me as I live more and grow older, so too do the lessons I am taught in the rooms. The lyrics of the songs haven’t changed; it is me that has changed. I have experienced more, seen more, lived more, and my perceptions have changed because of this.

The song “Old Friends” has been a particular favorite of mine for many reasons. It is a look at a day that once had seemed SO far off, and now seems to be approaching with ever more haste as each year passes. The loneliness, the change, the knowing it can never be as it once was, none of it. Not my life, my loves, my heart; the consequences of the choices I’ve made over the years are more apparent and intrusive now. Some mistakes have no remedies just as some transgressions will not be afforded the opportunity to make amends for. Most of all, looking back on a life and seeing all the missteps and the realization that most can not be changed, or made right again, and the disappointment that comes with this. Knowing that we are shadows of the strong, rebellious, vibrant young people we once were. That is gone now even though it seems like it was just yesterday.

So it is with recovery in some ways. We have to let our mistakes go if we want to move on. That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to make amends where appropriate and where it doesn’t harm others just to assuage our own guilt and/or regret. As we learn from our past, we move into the future. As we get closer to the end though, we are grateful for the time we have been given because deep in our heart of hearts we know that had we not remained clean and sober, we would not have had any of that at all.

Even as time is “running out,” we have to learn to forgive ourselves, which in some ways, if one has any conscience whatsoever, is the hardest thing to do. Once again, even now, we are left with the one basic truth:

one day at a time - serenity prayer coin pair

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The Most Important Person

spongebob scared-2

Hey Y’all, I’m back! So, this morning I want to look at something that many, especially long-time clean and/or sober individuals may have forgotten. It’s possible that these fortunate souls have forgotten because they are no longer the what they were when they first came to the rooms to heal their spirits and attempt to remain free of their addiction(s), one day at a time. For a fortunate few, that 1st day is a distant memory in the sense of having occurred a long time ago.

In AA it is said that “The newcomer is the most important person in the room.” In NA it is said that “The newcomer is the most important person at any meeting, because we can only keep what we have by giving it away.”

For many of us, it took a long time before we really understood this. One thing I remember very clearly is being told that “For every ten people that come into the rooms, one will stay. For every ten of those, one will stay sober (clean) five years.” Upon hearing this, my first thought was, “That’s not very good odds!” My second thought was, “That’s bullshit!”

But I wanted to to get sober. I wanted to regain at least some measure of respect for myself, and I wanted to earn back at least some respect from my peers and superiors. I was hanging on to my “career” by the slimmest of threads. When the kind folks at rehab actually come to believe what you are telling them with regard to your indulgence(s) as far as amounts and frequency, and then tell you that if you continue at your current pace you’ll be dead in four months, any sane person says to themselves, “Time to quit.” Of course, as we have seen, many people are not sane enough to get it, and deal with it. Many of those that are still somewhat sane can’t deal with it. Many die.

The more time we spend in “The Rooms,” the more we see. Every now and then we get a glimpse of who we were, and how quickly and easily we are capable of becoming that person again. All we need do is stop working our program of recovery and stop giving away what we have.

There are days when I remember SO vividly who I was when I came into the rooms. Outside, I was calm, cool, and collected. Inside, I was scared of my own shadow. I was desperate to be able to at least look myself in the eye again. Who knows; I might even like myself again. But that fear stayed with me for a long time. The people around me thought I was doing great because I had embraced recovery so whole-heartedly. Inside though, I was scared shitless for quite a long time.

That fear, that desperation, that self-loathing, indifference, and lack of self-esteem and being void of any sense of self-worth was so palatable, I am instantly transported back to it even now, all these many years later. It still makes me shake and gives me chills; my heart still races, my head throbs, and I get that feeling in my gut; you know the one. It’s a tightness that binds you up and won’t hardly let you breathe.

When one comes into a meeting for the first time, (or any time we have relapsed and are starting our journey anew), these are some of the things we experience. Some of us want our jobs back, or our families back, or maybe even ourselves back. Sometimes we “bargain” with ourselves or the universe, or the Gods, or whatever: “If you let me have my family back, I promise I’ll stop (fill in the blank).”

On the other hand, some of us that come into meetings don’t make it and we wind up in jail, mental institutions, (Do they still even have those?), or just dead. Spend enough time working a program of recovery and we see everything.

After all these years, two things are certain in my mind:

The person that is here for the first time is the most important person in attendance.

The further I am from my last drink (fix, pill, snort, affair, whatever), the closer I am to my next one.

— “It works if you work it!” —

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What The Hell Happened to You?

Revere-House-Door_5488

It has been just shy of 11 months since I have quit smoking. Last time I wrote here, I was full of a sense of accomplishment. It had taken me 43 years to quit. That’s over four decades of wasted time, wasted money, and in the end, wasted life. Still, I felt good about myself because what kind of recovery would I be working if I could quit drugs, and booze, but not cigarettes?

Since having quit smoking, I have been sick with bronchitis, chest infections, and a persistent “pneumonia” that my healthcare providers are just starting to consider is not really pneumonia.

I look in the mirror these days and I’m thinking, “What the fuck happened to you?” I am not healthy. My sleep pattern is lacking, to say the least. I weigh 40 pounds more than I would care to… I have let myself go.

I think part of it is the realization that maybe the glory days are gone. I appreciate that I am not 20 years old anymore, but I am not ready to be in my mid-fifties either. (Is anyone ever ready for that?) Yes, I am extremely grateful that I am here at all; really, I am. I think I had been hoping that perhaps I might have accomplished more.

I was able to get a job earlier this year but that turned out to not be a good fit, and not the right job for me. On the other hand, I have been promoted to Editor-in-Chief of the music magazine I have been involved with for the past 4 years. In this context, I continue to meet new people, and help musicians and artists where I can. I learn new things about people, publishing, writing, and the music industry every day. I cannot express just how much I am enjoying this particular aspect of my journey, and the personal growth it brings to my life.

So, while “gratitude is the attitude,” I am slowly coming to terms with what is. It is time for a turnaround. I am going to reach deep down, and dig deep one more time and start anew. Physically, I must get into shape, change my diet, and get better quality sleep. Mentally, I must challenge myself again. I think I am finally going to actually make a concerted REAL effort to learn to play the music I enjoy on the guitar, at least passably. I am going to get better at being an editor every day too. Spiritually, no more letting assholes live rent free in my head. Usually, I am pretty good at that.

Part of all this is that I think somewhere deep down inside, I never thought I’d make it this far. Now that I have, I have to plot a course. Again, I am very grateful. I live in a modest home that is the home I always dreamed of. My wife knows me and loves me anyway. She is the best friend I have. I am still crazy about her. I have food on the table, access to healthcare, and always, an ample supply of my own, hand-blended, Happy Budah coffee. Life is good. I don’t have many friends – true friends, but the ones I do have would do anything for me, and they love me, warts and all.

Most importantly, I am still clean and sober. Without this, there can be nothing else. Nothing.

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Today’s Post 42 Years In the Making: I Quit!

camel-no-filter-regular-cig

Yep folks, today’s post has been in the making for 42 years. I started smoking when I was 13 years old. That was a long time ago. At various points in my life, I smoked as much as 2 packs a day, either Pall Malls or Camels. Yes sir, 2 packs a day of non-filter cigarettes while I was stationed near the DMZ in Korea when I was barely 18. That went on for maybe a year.

I was the type of smoker that really enjoyed smoking. The draw, the taste, that first smoke of the day with that first cup of coffee. Oh yeah baby!

At various points in my life there were “warnings” that perhaps I should quit, or at least slow down a bit.

Like when I went into rehab to address my alcohol addiction, I should have quit.   Later, when I was diagnosed with “exercise induced asthma” by the military, I probably should have quit then too. Then of course, there was the first time I got pneumonia. I could barely smoke 3 cigarettes a day, and it was like getting stabbed in the lungs with long razor blades, but there I was, smoking those 3 – 4 smokes because I “had to.”

Last year, around Father’s Day, I decided I was really needing to quit. I got winded just tying a pair of shoes! I was thinking, “This is freakin’ ridiculous!” There have been various points over the course of the past year where I would go one, two, sometimes even three days without smoking. Invariably, I would always start smoking again because I felt like I was missing something. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I couldn’t tell you what that something was, but by God, I was missing out on it!

It’s amazing to me that no matter the addiction we are dealing with, the behaviors are always the same. We will try to “control” the addiction; “I’ll only smoke 7 a day.” “I won’t smoke before 10:00.” “I won’t smoke in the car, truck, etc.” Actually, that one I adhered to.

Then there was “I’ll only smoke filtered cigarettes.” “What will I do with myself if I don’t have that first smoke/after dinner smoke/I’m going to bed smoke?” Yep, it was the classic, “I’m losing a friend” insanity. Shit … addiction is SO insidious!

Then there is the also classic “Fuck You!” conversation that you have with yourself xx times a day:

Me:  I am not gonna smoke dammit!
My Addiction: You want one! Think about how good it will taste!
Me: Fuck You!
My Addiction: No, Fuck You! Have one! There now; Isn’t that better?

Well friends … today is the eighth day I have not had any cigarettes.

There are still times when I can not breath as well as I could be, but to some extent, that will improve.

I’ve saved $25 not spent on 3 packs of Camels. I have not had to wash and dry my face, neck, and hands every time I had a smoke because, well, I’m not smoking. The clothes I wear each day do not smell of cigarette smoke, and neither do I!

There is still that nagging feeling of “wanting one,” but now it is a more subdued, quiet, in-the-background kind of whisper I have not answered for eight days now. That unanswered whisper is becoming more and more faint as each day passes. I am still trying to find things to do with my hands! I am drinking more of my beloved Imperial & Dragon Well Green Teas, and much more water and coffee as well.

For now, as with my program of recovery remaining clean & sober, I will take this not smoking challenge “one day at a time.”

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It Works If You Work It

39-next-to-Hotel_4312-desktop

Folks in recovery will hear this, or some variant over and over throughout their journey of recovery. It almost sounds cliche. Take heart though; there is a reason this phrase is repeated and “preached” so often. For one thing, it’s the truth. For another, it follows another basic “rule” of the program: “Keep it simple stupid!”

The journey of recovery is like a Zen riddle, a paradox if you will. Staying sober, for the most part is easy, and yet, at the same time, it can be be excruciatingly painful and difficult. Add to that not drinking and maintaining sobriety are two completely different animals.

For many, it is not that hard not to drink. Some, like myself, don’t miss the alcohol, the bars, the driving drunk, hanging out with ass hats, and spending money being with people we don’t want to be with, doing what we don’t want to do, where we don’t necessarily want to be. The only thing I miss personally about drinking is the actual taste of my favorite Scotch. That’s it.

So, not not drinking is one aspect. Staying sober is an entirely different issue. Just because one doesn’t drink, doesn’t mean you have sobriety. You might be “sober,” but that is not the same as sobriety; not by a mile.

Sobriety is about working the program, working the steps, and “putting in the work.” Note the use of the word “work.” Sobriety is about addressing and resolving the issues that were the root cause of your addiction, whether drugs, sex, booze, gambling, whatever. Our addictive behavior is only a symptom of deeper issues and problems. Without addressing these, we can not be free of the addiction. Hence the phrase “dry drunk.” A dry drunk is much worse than a practicing drunk because a dry drunk believes they are making progress simply because they don’t drink.

So what is this work of which I spoke earlier? Read The Big Book. Get a sponsor. Go to meetings. Can’t make a face to face (F2F) meeting for whatever reason? There are video meetings on line. There are AA help lines. There are AA chat rooms as well, local, and international. If you are remotely located or home bound for whatever reason, look into AA Grapevine – AA’s “meeting in print.”

You will only get out of sobriety what you put into it. Maintaining quality sobriety is a lifelong journey. A lot of drunks and addicts don’t make it … put in the work and enjoy a second chance at life.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous

Read The Big Book

Read the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

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2 Chairs At Sunrise

A New Viewpoint …

©Kerzner 2002/2012

©Kerzner 2002/2012

*** As you may have noticed, I have been absent for a while here. Not to worry, all is well! I just elected to step away and take care of some other pressing matters that needed attention in one form or another. So, I am back. Thanks for visiting here with us. ***

It has been several months since I have posted here. I have been thinking over some things, working through other things, and just assessing where I am at in my life, and my recovery.

One thing I have noticed is that I try to be more thoughtful before taking a course of action. In my experience, as I get older, the consequences of a decision seem to have more impact and last longer than when I was younger. As a younger person, much more of life seemed to be “black and white.” Now, there are shades of grey that in my mind, figure into decisions as well.

Time seems to be moving faster as I age. I think about events, and then pause and realize that so and so happened 25 years ago, and yet, to me, it seems as though it was only yesterday.

Friends have come and gone. “Friends” have come and gone as well. I am more particular about whom I share time with, and/or devote my time to. I have done some “shit-canning,” or 86ing as most would refer to it; it is the practice of divesting one’s self of baggage. People, places, and things that are not constructive to me, or my recovery are being cast off. One sided relationships have become fewer and fewer, not because I am an asshole, but because some people and places are just not worth my time anymore.

Another reason I have not written is that I have been working on quitting smoking cigarettes for over a year, and still have not quit. For a time, I thought I was being a hypocrite writing about addiction and recovery, and here it is I have not quit the smoking yet. After all, I have been clean and sober since 26 December 1988, but this smoking thing … I have cut back to under 1/2 a pack a day. I have even gone 1-3 days without any. I have concluded that I will quit completely when I am ready, and apparently, I am not ready yet. But, I am working on it.

So, there you have it. I am still evolving, growing, and working on maintaining my recovery. I will continue to work on the areas I am not satisfied with, realizing that some things take time.

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Gratitude Is Still the Attitude

eleanor roosevelt - discuss

Hello to all!

Hope this post finds everyone doing well. Yes, I have been gone for a while, haven’t I? No excuses; it has been far too long!

It has been an interesting year, and I began to concentrate on other things. While I have not neglected my recovery, I obviously have neglected this site. To those who were following me, let me offer my apologies. I will make a renewed effort to write more often in this, the New Year.

This year, like any other was filled with many obstacles I’ve had to navigate; some ethical, some social, some business, and some spiritual.

There have been times this year when I had to make decisions that have put some people off. This is unfortunate, but in the end, I did what I thought was right. Those that were put off can either do their best to see my perspective, even though they don’t agree, or, they can just be put off. Their choice.

In the course of writing, one has to be ever mindful of political sensitivities, as well as personal viewpoints. I have striven to write quality content that is honest, on message, without unnecessary distraction(s) in the outlets I write for. If something is not on point, relative to the story, and the message or theme, I do not bring it into play. In these outlets, I am writing for a specific community, and I see it as my job to be informative, honest, accurate, always moving conversations forward in a productive, positive way. I do not feel I’m be duplicitous by doing this; it’s my responsibility, above all to be professional.

On the social side of things, I have made some changes; some small, and others not so small. I have not been a person that gives with the hope of “getting something in return.” There are those who can not really do anything for me other than be positive, and encourage me. To some, that might not be much, but to me, that is huge! My greatest joy has been to help these people in whatever way I can, even if it is something small, but I know it means a lot to them.

There are others that have helped me in ways that I can not ever repay, tit for tat. As I am usually the one saying, “Don’t worry about it,” this has been difficult for me when I am the one that can not pay someone back, in whatever way. I am getting better though. And, it makes me feel good inside that people care enough to help me achieve my dreams and goals.

There are some adjustments I have made this year as far as dealing with people during the course of “doing business.” Naturally, if a situation becomes intolerable, and the relevant issues can not be resolved in a mutually acceptable manner, one must simply walk away, moving on, and be thankful for the lessons learned. Sometime however, it is not best to move on, if there is a possibility that issues can be resolved.

The biggest issue I’ve dealt with this year has been with people taking me for granted. (Yes, I know that sounds so self-absorbed, but in reality, it is just a matter of practicality, truth, and self-respect.)  In the past, I have given people the benefit of the doubt, but this year, for some reason, I am less and less inclined to do so. There are two ways this happens: Those who just get busy and caught up in their own lives, and those who consciously do it just to squeeze the most they can get out of someone.

If the person is someone close, and someone who is important to me, I’ll see what’s up because maybe there is some serious shit going down in their lives I was not aware of. If I can assist them in some way, and they want my assistance, I will give it.

If it is someone with whom I must do business with, then I am inclined to bring it up and discuss relevant issues. If there is no change, then I speak through actions, or more appropriately, lack of action. Just as silence can be deafening, and as Miles Davis aptly said, “Less is more”, I do not do the extra I had been doing before. I don’t pick up someone’s slack anymore. I carry my weight, and I execute my responsibilities to the best of my ability, but everything else is no longer my concern. (Yes, I am concerned about it to the extent I want it to work out well, but if it is beyond my control, I have to let it go.) And lately, I do not feel angry, nor do I feel guilty. I have worth, as do we all. That’s not conceit, that’s fact. So, for those who no longer value my efforts on the team’s behalf, I guess they will have to pick up the slack, or show me they value my contributions.

As for me, just as me, I have made some strides. On the plus side, I am meeting new people, learning new things, and visiting new places. My recovery is in a good place, and on the 26th of December, I celebrated 26 years clean and sober.

Things I need to work on: Quit smoking and lose weight. Learn more, do more, be more.

The best thing about 2014 is that I am ever more grateful for my wife, Teresa, who encourages me, kicks me in the ass when I need it, and knows me, and loves me anyway. Sure, there are days we drive each other batshit-crazy, but in the end, she is my best friend. I am grateful as well to have a roof over my head, food on the table, and the opportunity to write about the music I love. I am grateful for these past 26 years that I have had, which I would not have lived had I not sought sobriety and recovery.

So, in the end, Gratitude is still the attitude!

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About Addiction …

the shining

The recent death of celebrated actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has sparked a very public conversation about addiction. Some of the opinions expressed have come from people who are informed about the many facets of addiction, and some have come from folks that have no clue what addiction is about.

Personally, I have found this public conversation eerily similar in nature to the public discussion of mental heath. On one side there are the professionals that deal with the many aspects of these two diseases on a daily basis. On the other side are mostly well-meaning, but uninformed people.

If someone’s life has not been touched by addiction in some way, then they have not experienced the often gut-wrenching, frustrating agony this disease inflicts on individuals, families, and society as a whole. They have not had to rebuild in the wake of the destruction the disease leaves in its wake.

First and foremost, yes, it is a disease. Wikipedia defines a disease as:

A disease is an abnormal condition that affects the body of an organism. It is often construed as a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by factors originally from an external source, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune diseases. In humans, “disease” is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes paindysfunctiondistresssocial problems, or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person. In this broader sense, it sometimes includes injuriesdisabilitiesdisorderssyndromesinfections, isolated symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts and for other purposes these may be considered distinguishable categories. Diseases usually affect people not only physically, but also emotionally, as contracting and living with many diseases can alter one’s perspective on life, and one’s personality.

There are many who believe that addiction is simply a matter of “will power,” and can be turned on and off at will. In the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman, he was clean for over 23 years. What a lot of people don’t understand is that there two distinct sides to that statistic.

The first side is that yes, he did stay clean for a considerable period of time. And yes, he stayed clean because he didn’t use. Simple, right?

The other side of this statistic is all the work that Hoffman did to stay clean. He changed his playmates and playgrounds. He didn’t place himself in positions where he was overly vulnerable to the temptations of using, or where his drug of choice was easily obtainable. He probably maintained some schedule of attending meetings in a 12 Step Program. He valued himself as a person, and he valued the life that he had, and was continuing to build. Being in recovery, staying clean, is work! And, it is work that must be done every day. There can be no days off in recovery.

A person in recovery is always vigilant. They are always on the lookout for signs of “stinking thinking.” They, more than anyone, can not afford the luxury of harboring resentments. We all have those voices in our heads that say silly things to us at one time or another. For an addict, these voices can be deadly because they tend to tell addicts how undeserving they are of what goodness they have in their lives.

Someone who is not an addict, and/or not in recovery will never understand this because to their mind it would be absurd to give in to these voices. They understand that everyone may have a bad day, or a “rough patch,” but in their mind they deal with it, and move on. It does not fester like an untreated wound.

With an addict, doubt festers, and without attention, it begins to infect the addict’s well being. This is where the work involved with a good recovery program is so important. Just a little seed, a little crack in the armor, unattended, will often lead to catastrophic failure. It doesn’t matter whether the addiction is drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or whatever it may be; if you are in a recovery program, you have to work that program faithfully, honestly, and judiciously.

Addiction is sneaky. Relapse is really a slow process that begins when the little things that combine to make a recovery strong are taken for granted, or not done as they should be. Every time an addict “gets away with” not working their program, they are one step closer to relapse because they become more emboldened. “Well, see, that wasn’t so bad,” or “Hmm, nothing bad happened there.”

So, little by little, Mr. Hoffman succumbed to his feelings of doubt, loneliness, and pain. He was still wondering if he really was “good enough.” Good enough as an actor, partner, father, friend, human being. All of the above or some of the above, it really doesn’t matter. He did not work his program. To the uninformed, and those unfamiliar with the struggles of the addicted, this seems utterly insane. Welcome to the world of addiction. It is insane! That’s the point. Addiction is not a rational process, so how could rational people understand? They can empathize. They can sympathize. They will never understand.

Several “good” things have been salvaged from Mr. Hoffman’s untimely death. There is now an ongoing public conversation regarding addiction, treatment, and even to some extent, the mental health issues that are extremely relevant in this context. There is a beginning here. People are starting to at least realize that maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to judge another until they have walked in their shoes, and fought their battles. Maybe a new understanding will come from this tragedy.

The real tragedy is that every death from addiction is an unnecessary waste that possibly could have been prevented.

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Still Learning, Still Growing

"A long long time ago, I can still remember ..."

“A long long time ago, I can still remember …”

Buddy Guy taught me how to fight for my dreams. Johnny Cash taught me how to live a full life. Muhammad Ali taught me how to stand up for what I believe in, and be true to myself.

If you don’t understand this, go and read about how these gentleman have pursued life, and the obstacles they conquered.

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911: Two Decisions That Saved My Life

View of the Twin Towers site from in front of the Flatiron Building at noon on 911.

View of the Twin Towers site from in front of the Flatiron Building at noon on 911.

There were two decisions I made that saved my life (and my wife’s as well) on September 11th, 2001. We had planned a trip to  New York City so we could see various sites and I could photograph them. Of particular interest were the newly restored Grand Central Terminal, and the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center. Having grown up in and around New York City, it was always good to go back and visit periodically; lot’s of good memories in and around the city.

My wife had made reservations for us to stay at The Marriott World Trade Center, at 3 World Trade Center, with the towers rising above it. She thought this would be a great idea. I however, did not want to stay in the financial district. Previously, we had stayed at the Grand Hyatt New York, on East 42nd St, approximately 2 blocks from Grand Central Terminal. I liked the surrounding area there, and the fact that when you walked outside, the Chrysler Building rose right in front of you in all it’s Art Deco glory. As things turned out, the Marriott World Trade Center was destroyed when both towers fell on it in turn: Falling first, the South Tower split the hotel in two, and then later, the North Tower destroyed the remnants of the hotel except a small section in which 14 people survived. (They only survived because that particular section had been reinforced after the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center.)

That Tuesday morning was a clear; a beautiful blue sky, and not overly warm. We were excited about visiting Grand Central Terminal in particular because they had recently completed the restoration project that Jacqueline Kennedy had been deeply involved in; and they did an astounding job. About two weeks before the visit, I had contacted the Operations Manager of the terminal and told him I was going to photograph the building for a possible showing I had wanted to do. He was very gracious about the whole thing and said to find him when we got there and he would give us a tour! (My apologies, but his name escapes me now.) So the plan was to shoot the photos at the terminal on our little tour, hop a train, and head to the Twin Towers observation deck to get some panoramic skyline shots.

When we arrived at Grand Central Terminal, we located the Operations Manager who gave a really extensive tour, including areas not accessible to the public. One of these areas was a catwalk up above the main lobby. The walls were made of marble and the floor was made of 10″ thick quartz. On the left wall, the window opened to Vanderbilt Ave and on the right wall, the window opened to the beautiful lobby we are all so familiar with.

GTC: Main Lobby as viewed from above.
Grand Central Terminal, Main Lobby as viewed from above. 08:30 hrs 9.11.2001
Grand Central Terminal: Catwalk above main lobby. 08:30 hrs 9.11.2001

So having finished photographing the building, I decided we would drop by our hotel room real quick and download the images to my laptop so my memory card would be empty. (Remember: This was 2001 when 4GB and 8GB compact flash cards were not generally available.) Upon exiting the terminal, a passer-by asked if we had heard that “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” So we are thinking, a Cessna or some small type plane must have hit it. When we got to our room, we promptly turned on the TV and saw that it was a jumbo jet and I looked at my wife and said “This is an attack.” We sat there in disbelief. As we are watching this, the second plane hits the South Tower. Now consider that we are in a hotel room, but I swear you could almost hear the collective sigh and gasp of the city’s people when that plane hit the building. It was almost as if time itself had stopped. Had I not stopped to download my memory card, we would have either been in the elevator on our way up to the observation deck, or just stepping out on to it.

Like everyone else, we sat and watched as events unfolded in stunned anger and amazement. As I sit and write this, 11 years later, I am crying, even now. Having grown up in the area, I have many memories of The World Trade Center. There were gatherings of friends on the observation deck; time spent at Windows On The World; shopping in the vast underground station and “Mall” at World Trade Center. I remember when I was a child, driving past the immense holes being dug that eventually became the “bath-tubs” that keep the water out. We took dates up to the roof for a kiss and maybe a picnic (yes … a picnic … and that usually went over well, even with having to fight the wind). It was as if our heart was being ripped out.

Later on, we eventually found a place to grab some Chinese food and then went uptown. The whole scene on the street was surreal. Military jets overhead. Because police, firefighters, etc. were all at or headed to Ground Zero, Auxiliary Police, academy cadets and National Guard had been dispersed and were all over. Everyone was shocked, concerned, and dazed. After walking around a little, we went back to our room and spent the rest of the day just watching the TV.

So, was it fate or divine intervention that we were not killed that day? Whatever the explanation, I often think how fortunate we are compared to so many others. It has definitely given us a different perspective on life: what’s important and what is not.

WTC Harbor View 10:00 10 September 2001
World Trade Center:  Harbor View 10:00 10 September 2001
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About Heroes …

Johnny-Cash

*** As you may have noticed, I have been absent for a while here. Not to worry, all is well! I just elected to step away and take care of some other pressing matters that needed attention in one form or another. So, I am back. Thanks for visiting here with us. ***

I have noticed that lately, every time I turn on the TV, some media outlet is telling me that “so and so is a hero.” Possibly this has been going on for a while, and I am just now noticing? There are reasons that I am not having any of this. First of all, when did we relinquish our perception, our moral standard(s), and our choice to the great void out there that is “The Media,” including so-called Social Media? Secondly, the entities that are held up as heroes today are, for the most part, “the flavor of the week.” Whatever is being pushed down the public’s throat by someone’s agenda, whether that agenda is political, financial, religious, and/or corporate, somewhere in that agenda resides a genuine “hero” by golly!

In my mind, Johnny Cash was a hero. He stuck to his guns and advocated for the prison population at a time when doing so was very unpopular. (It still is!) He fought his way back from the bottom that comes with the self-destructive behavior that often accompanies addiction. He rebuilt his life from the bottom up. He fought for the love he wanted in his life, even though he had to win her back. Although he was not a perfect man, he was an empathetic, giving, humble man.

I have a friend who is a musician. He used to play guitar, and then he was injured in an accident and can’t play anymore due to lessened mobility in his arms. Although he is now in a wheelchair, he rebuilt his his career playing harmonica. He does as many live performances as he can. This past spring he was nominated by his peers for the Best New Artist CD Blues Music Award. That is someone that doesn’t let life get him down. My friend triumphed in the face of adversity. He is a hero.

Helped fund treatment for a friend or donated an organ to save a life? You are a hero!

To me, a single mother who works two jobs, goes to school, and still finds time to guide and raise decent human beings is a hero.

To me, every soldier that fights for our country, and returns to a mostly indifferent nation, is a hero.

To me, Mohammed Ali is a hero. He stood up for his convictions, even when it cost him the Heavyweight Championship. He took his case to the Supreme Court, and won.

To me, people that stand up for what they believe are heroes:

People that advocate for a Woman’s Right To Choose

People that advocate for Voting Rights for all

People that advocate for Marriage Rights for all

People that advocate for those that are less fortunate than themselves

The teachers in Newtown, CT that sacrificed themselves to save their students from an insane gunman are heroes

Mothers, Fathers, and caregivers who go to work each day, hating their jobs, working long hours for dismal pay, trying to meet their responsibilities at home and pay for schooling to advance in life – they are heroes.

People that advocate hate are NOT heroes.

Politicians that disregard the poorest among us are not heroes.

Those who endeavor to treat women as second class citizens by paying them less than men for the same work, limiting their access to health care and birth control, and forcing them to have unnecessary medical procedures prior to obtaining medical care, are NOT heroes.

I am a firm believer in “I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it.”

Underneath all the bluster, social media, and BS, we all know who the real heroes are.

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Learning To Let Go …

let go or be dragged

One key to a good recovery is freedom from our past.

We can take experience gained and lessons learned, and file them away.

If we have some good memories in the past, we can file those away as well.

What we can not do, and should not do, is constantly second guess ourselves about decisions we made.

What’s done is done, and if amends are required (and possible without causing harm to others), we should attend to that when we are ready to do so.

As people in recovery, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up over past mistakes, which really serves no purpose.

If we live in our past constantly, how the hell can we expect to move forward in our lives and grow in our recovery?

We can not let fear and/or the voices of our own demons and detractors (or abusers) keep us mired in things we can not change.

Letting go does not mean we have forgotten; it does not mean we don’t care.

Letting go means we are growing, evolving, and moving on.

Hopefully, we are making progress.

Have you learned to let go yet, or are you still coddling your past?

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Against All Odds

Standing Your Ground

Standing Your Ground

For those who have not experienced addiction, it is hard to understand why a person can not simply “say no,” or “stop” their addictive behavior when they choose to do so. To a person who has not experienced the struggle of addiction, stopping is just “a matter of willpower.” I can not tell you how many times I have heard this. If only it were that easy.

Even if the addicted individual could just stop, they would not, simply because they fail to see the real cause of their difficulties. It is not the booze, drugs, sexual liaisons  gambling, etc. that is the problem; no, these things are relief from the real problem(s). In their addiction afflicted mind, the real problem is the boss at work, the wife at home, the troublesome kid in school, the multitude of people that “do not understand” them. The universe is against them. The world is out to get them.

AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) does not call alcoholism a “cunning and baffling” disease without reason. Addiction is one of the few diseases (maybe the only one) that actually tries to talk its captives into staying addicted until they lose their mind, go to jail, or die. Loosing jobs, family, homes, status, money doesn’t matter because the disease convinces us it is not the addicted person’s fault. The goal is triumph of the addiction over the soul of the afflicted; the ultimate result of this is death. This scenario can be applied to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex addiction, and many more addictions.

What makes addiction unique among diseases is that the addicted is the major catalyst for their own recovery and sustainability. They have to fight every day to succeed in staying clean/sober, etc. I was told more than a few times in the rooms of recovery that “For every 10 drunks out there, 1 makes it to the rooms of AA. For every 10 of these, 1 will stay sober for five years.” That is some scary stuff.

If someone wants recovery, they have to work at it … really hard … every day. Every day we are in recovery, we are basically granted a reprieve from our disease, for that day. The next day, we start all over again. If the work required of each individual for their successful recovery is not done, every day, the foundation of that recovery will erode and become unstable. Remember: Our disease is “cunning and baffling.” Our disease waits for these opportunities to undermine our progress in recovery.

So it is that we must stand our ground, and fight every day for our recovery. Sometimes, even in recovery, we are still going to have hard days. Some days will even be downright shitty. Life does not stop because we choose recovery. The assholes of the world are not going to stop being assholes. How we deal with all that is what makes recovery the better option for us. If we want to live, and have a chance for a better life, then we must fight the demons of our addiction(s), against the overwhelming odds that face us. Some of us will even succeed.

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The Winds of Change

Firecracker_4896-online

Muhammad Ali once said “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” This is especially relevant to anyone who is in recovery. Most “normal” people change and modify their viewpoints as they travel through the various experiences that life sends their way. On the face of it, this seems very natural. Why shouldn’t this so?

Think about it. As we grow from child to teenager, to young adult, to adulthood; then on into “middle age,” and finally old age, we find ourselves dealing with people, places, and circumstances we could have never imagined. As we progress, life becomes more and more an adventure. We are tested daily. Our threshold for ignorance, hate, stress, indifference, and apathy are pushed to the limit. More and more, we come face to face with our shortcomings and deficiencies. We also (hopefully) experience a deeper appreciation for the good things that come our way. Births, weddings, vacations, or even just a quiet day to ourselves.

So what has really changed? Certainly, the world has not changed. What has changed is us!

For those of us in recovery, this change is one of our saving graces! If we are in the midst of a strong recovery, we have grown spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Fear no longer rules our lives. We are no longer running from our past and its demons (mostly). With every day, we become more and more at ease with who we are, and we strive to become who we have the potential of being. We put in the work. More and more, we believe we do deserve a better life than the one we were living in our addictions.

Being a non-addicted, thriving, giving, grateful, productive, content you – isn’t that what recovery is about?

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So You Think Recovery Is Going To Be Boring?

Mary-Kate-040313

A good number of people who are new to the rooms of 12 Step recovery programs have a preconceived notion that recovery is going to be boring. “No more fun of any kind!” There are many reasons for this. For starters, everyone is told straight away that they must change their playmates and playgrounds. Well then, whatever will you do? Where will you go? Who would you go with? How are you going to fill all those hours that you previously spent feeding your addiction(s)? For most, spending time at home was not a priority, and for some, that was avoided as much as possible. Yep; recovery was looking more and more like a very boring proposition. On top of that, there is the fear of the unknown. Living clean and/or sober is such a distant memory for most. Addiction, even with all its associated detriments was familiar. Familiar almost always trumps the unknown because familiar is a comfort zone we know.

I have been clean and sober for 24 years. In those 24 years I have accomplished and experienced the following, in no particular order …

I divorced, married, divorced again, and have now been married 15 years. (Practice makes perfect, right?) I helped my current wife raise our youngest son. I finished an Associates Degree. I found out that I could draw and paint without being drunk, stoned or a combination of the two. I earned a level of proficiency in martial arts. (That’s actually still kind of amusing to me because some days I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time!)

I earned an MCSE from Micro$oft. I taught myself how to use and hack MACs (“Once you go MAC, you never go back.”) I taught myself Photoshop, some InDesign, and I am now working on Illustrator. I earned a diploma from New York Institute of Photography. I retired honorably from the military at the rank I wanted to retire at when I first entered the service.

I walk away from trouble as much as humanly possible now because I have nothing to prove to anyone and it is just the prudent thing to do in the long run. As much as I want to tell some people how much of an asshole I think they are, I don’t unless I am left with no other recourse because I have learned that most of the haters in this world really hate themselves and take it out on everyone around them.

My wife married me because she loves me (bless her silly heart), and because I am the only guy she has met that actually keeps his word. She thinks I am a “stand-up guy.” That means the world to me. My two stepsons and I get along well. I never tried to replace, nor did I badmouth, their fathers, and they respected me for that. They think I am a cool stepdad. My friends think I am a “stand-up guy” too. My wife and I managed to move into our dream home a little while ago. It’s not luxurious, but it is everything we ever wanted, and it is ours. I have also been able to spend more time with my brother, who is ten years younger than I. We were estranged for a time. Of special note: We saw David Bowie together, on the beach, in New York City, at night, and Earl Slick was his guitarist. This was our first concert together, and one week before Bowie had his heart attack and stopped touring.

I have been fortunate enough to have acquired a couple of guitars and amps (again, my wife humors me, silly girl), and I am learning to play guitar again. I am a writer and editor for the premier online blues magazine and have been able to meet and interview several musicians of note. I’ve had several wonderful experiences having my guitars signed too. Roy Clark said he thought my Strat was beautiful and wouldn’t mind having it himself. Duke Robillard signed it and looked at me and gave me a wry smile. Jimmie Vaughan gave me an approving nod as he signed it. When Willie Nelson handed my Strat back to me and I thanked him, he stepped back, held his arms open in a big hug, and smiled at me. Everyone in the room applauded – it was just an amazing moment. By the way, I named my Strat “Mary Kate” because in my twisted mind, I pictured Scarlet O’Hara’s father calling it “Mary Kate” in that Irish brogue of his.

Nowadays there are people who trust me with their livelihoods, their families, their vehicles, their property, and their friendship. This is no small thing because when a drunk/addict first enters recovery, most often, no one trusts them. Now don’t get me wrong: Recovery has not always been a picnic. There are struggles too; life doesn’t take a break just because you are in recovery. There are still disappointments. There are still things I have not accomplished yet. There are definitely obstacles in my path at times. The difference is that I am better equipped to deal with them now. My perspective and outlook have changed. I have better tools to deal with life’s trials now. I don’t beat myself up over what could have been, or stupid, selfish things I did. I can’t change the past. I have made amends where possible and appropriate. I live in the present and work toward the future. I do my part every day as well as I possibly can. Most importantly, I try to give back and help others in any way I can. Most importantly though, I am grateful for everything I have and get to experience every day. Every new day is a day I might have never seen.

Given everything I have discussed here, if you think recovery has been boring for me, well, nothing could be further from the truth. You are in for the ride of your life and it will be anything but boring, I promise you!

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Recovery As The Great Equalizer!

-- Image ©Kerzner 2012 --

— Image ©Kerzner 2012 —

Spend and invest any amount of time in recovery and you soon discover that it is a way of life. Very quickly you come to realize that recovery is something that you will be engaged in for the rest of your life (if you want to live any kind of quality life). Over time, you may have other realizations. The other day it occurred to me that recovery is an awesome equalizer!

There is a line in the movie “New Jack City” where Judd Nelson’s character says “This drug thing – it’s not a white thing, it’s not a black thing. It’s a death thing. And death doesn’t give a shit.” In a lot of ways, recovery is similar. Rich, poor, CEO, line worker, housewife, married, single, man, woman, child; if there is addiction involved, then an opportunity exists for recovery.

Everyone that enters “the rooms” of a 12 step program has the same opportunity as everyone that came before them. The 12 Steps apply to everyone … no exceptions.

The pain, anguish, uncertainty, dejection, and surrender you feel is just as real for the person sitting next to you (whether you believe that or not, and whether they admit it or not to themselves). The bottom each person hits is different, but hitting bottom is the same for everyone, once they reach that point. Sadly, a lot of people don’t reach their bottom; most will wind up in jail, insane, or dead before they do.

Recovery requires that everyone works to succeed. You can proceed at your own pace, but doing the work is the glue that holds your recovery together. Slack off, ease up, throttle back just a little, and it will show regardless of who you are. Recovery does not care what else is on your agenda, where you come from, where you have been. Recovery knows that if you do not put in the effort, you will not succeed.

Recovery IS the great equalizer. It brings humility to egos run rampant. It can bring peace to the emotionally torn and spiritually bankrupt. Just like our additions, recovery is not a black thing, or a white thing. If you don’t do the work, and don’t make the effort, your addiction will become a death thing.

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Meteors, Dash-cams, and You

Fest Monster

On Friday morning, February 15th, 2013, a meteor exploded over a fairly remote Russian town. There was an abundance of video of the event due to the fact that most Russian drivers have a dash-cam mounted in their vehicle. Why is that, you may ask? The reason is surprisingly simple: In court, dash-cam footage is the most reliable way to prove what actually occurred in any given incident. Also, dash-cam footage is the only way to substantiate your claim(s) in a court of law. Another interesting aspect is that dash-cams protect people from bribery, bullying/beatings by traffic police, believed by many Russians to be among the most corrupt institutions in their country.

So, what if that were the case in this country? Better still, what if everything you did all day long was recorded and you were forced to watch that at the end of each day? Would we like what we saw? Would we try to do better because we know someone is watching? Would we change what we do, and how we do it? Would we change whom we do things with, and what we do with them? … All because someone is watching?

Well, guess what? Recovery is a 24/7 proposition. There is someone watching, and that someone should be you! When we enter recovery, we are told that we need to change our playmates and playgrounds. We have to shed bad habits and bad behaviors that are entrenched in our makeup, for whatever reason. We are told that we need to work on our recovery every day, and eventually we may get to a “good place.” Even then, we will still have to work at our recovery to maintain it. Recovery is really a relationship that we have with ourselves, and as with any relationship, if we want this one to reach its full potential, there is always work to be done. Just like any other relationship, if we take recovery for granted, it will begin to fray around the edges. As time goes on, piece by piece, our recovery will unravel.

Now it isn’t that there is someone on our back cracking a whip. The situation is more like a parent watching their child, guiding them, encouraging them, even admonishing them when needed. Just as a child needs nourishment, so too does the person in recovery. Our nourishment is more of our soul and spirit, which more often than not, was beaten into submission, maybe even destroyed. As our recovery progresses, we gain strength of spirit, mind, body, and begin to deal with the world as it is in a much more realistic, constructive way.

Unlike a lover or partner we have tired of, we can not just get a divorce. In our case, divorce is equivalent to insanity, jail, or death. That seems to be a powerful incentive (you would think). Sadly, sometimes addiction wins and we die. We should work on our recovery because for us it is the same as drinking water, eating, bathing, and sleeping. It isn’t a burden; it’s a joy because it assures us of a better life than we had. We should do it gladly, not because anybody is or isn’t watching.

 

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Guest Post at The Daily Gallen: Perseverance

 

Please visit Tim Gallen’s great site, The Daily Gallen, to read my take on Perseverance.

While you are there, read some of his wonderful posts and observations on life.

 

©Kerzner 2002/2012

©Kerzner 2002/2012

 

“Perseverance” at The Daily Gallen

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Gratitude: Happy Valentine’s Day Dear!

Vinoy-Hibiscus

So: What do Valentine’s Day and gratitude have in common, you may ask? In my case, quite a lot actually. This is my third (count ’em folks, that’s three!) marriage. You know what they say: “Practice makes perfect!” Well … I’m not sure about the perfect part, but on the whole, it is pretty damn good.

Consider that my wife could’ve had anyone she wanted. No, seriously. She was hotter than hot (as in “Finer than frog hair”). She had a great job, her own house, a killer vintage hot rod, and a good head on her shoulders. It’s not like she needed a man, or a husband. I, on the other hand, was a train wreck! There were a number of issues I was procrastinating in dealing with because I did not want to admit defeat and failure. I was an amusement, something different. I was cocky, ballsy, and wicked funny. I also kept my word, as things turned out. I had a sense of honor.

As things progressed, I keep chasing her and chasing her. One day her best friend sat me down and basically said that I had quite the set of balls to be expecting anything in the way of a permanent relationship until I took care of the issues I was procrastinating on finishing up. Me being me, I made a list as this person sat there reading me the riot act, saying that without these things being dealt with, there wouldn’t be a permanent relationship. Now, my wife and her friend didn’t believe that I would take care of all these difficulties at all, much less do it in a relatively short amount of time. But I did. I said I would, and they had laughed; but I did it.

So, after chasing and chasing, she finally let me “catch” her. Interesting. Anyway … so here we are, many years later, and still married! Amazing. We live in our dream home, with beautiful, peaceful gardens, and inspiring artwork. We share the mornings (when the sun fills the house with light) over a cup of my hand-blended Happy Budah coffee. She handles the linear logic, and I handle abstract logic. We discuss politics, art, history, travel, and laugh at The Big Bang Theory. We discuss finances together (whereas before, I was lost in this area). She has been kind enough and smart enough to allow me to pursue my dreams (writing and artwork). She has also been patient with my acquisition of guitars and amps, which we both hope I’ll be able to play fairly well someday. (I’m working on it!) While I am still not allowed to use power tools, I have been known to change out faucets and repair toilets. We are both at a point where it is OK to have some alone time without feeling jilted and neglected.

So, everything is honkey-dory, right? Silly people! This is a marriage, not a fairy tale. There are things that she will never understand. She knows my recovery is important to me, but to her, it shouldn’t be a difficulty to stay clean and sober. She is proud of me for doing it, but does not see where the difficulty is in doing so. For those of you who are with someone who is right about things 99% of the time, you know how frustrating that can be. For my part, she will never cease to be frustrated by me getting lost in a paper bag, or trying to visualize how to put something together. In fairness though, she has become somewhat more patient over the years. Are there days that we wake up and say “What was I thinking?” Sure – you bet. But she has been the best friend I have ever had. She always has my back. When life and the universe kick me in the nuts, and I dust myself off and get up, she is there to give me a hand. As much as I drive her crazy sometimes, she respects me because I have always kept my word whenever I have given it. I don’t quit. And she loves me because I still make her laugh and smile. I am very grateful to have her in my life. Best thing to happen for me so far.

To Teresa I say, thanks for letting me “catch” you. Thanks for being in my life. Thanks for sharing the day-to-day with me. Loves you mucho!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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My Guest Post at River of Thoughts

Please check out my guest post at my friend Christine Royse Niles’ blog, River Of Thoughts.

Watch What You Say (Because YOU Are Listening)

Brooklyn-Bridge-IYA-010413

Thanks … and while you are there, do check out some of Christine’s excellent posts!

Thank you Christine for having me post at your blog; very kind of you.

 

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Baggage

Hidden Faces

So, you’ve been on the road to recovery, working your program diligently. Things are going well for you. Seems like there is light at the end of the tunnel. You are working the steps, going to meetings, and things have improved.

There is still a nagging feeling though, like you have forgotten something; something is still left undone, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it might be. It really should not be that hard to figure out, and it is the one thing that will bring you down even faster that guilt. What can this thing be, you ask? Baggage!!!

Baggage is the tattered remains of your past. It is the wreckage you left behind in your wake as you blew through people’s lives. It lives in you, rent free in your head, 24/7. It is all the aspects of your life from the past, waiting to be resolved. They speak to you when you wake and as you lay down to sleep each night. Sooner or later, they must be dealt with. This is where the 4th through 10th steps come into play. Taking inventory, making a list of persons we had harmed, trying to make amends to those we had harmed where possible, asking our higher power to remove our shortcomings. These things must be done in order for us to heal and move on.

There are going to be things we did that can not be undone for a variety of reasons. People die, they move, or, maybe they just do not want any part of us anymore. We must make every effort to make amends where possible, without causing harm when we do so! We will not absolve our souls at someone else’s expense. For those who do not want to accept our apology, or give us a chance to make things right, we have to respect that. We can not fixate on it; we accept it, move on, and hope one day for the opportunity to make that amend. Perhaps when the party we have wronged sees that we really are trying to live a life in an honest recovery, they will afford us the opportunity to set things right. However, we can not beat ourselves up over things we can not change. If a person we harmed has died, obviously we can not make an amend there, can we? In this case, the best thing we can do is live the best life we can, being the best we can be every day, clean and sober.

We can not let our baggage sit, tucked away, collecting dust, buried somewhere in our heads while we say we will deal with it “another day.” This will destroy us completely. Moving forward in our recovery means facing our fears, confronting our past, and setting things right as much as is possible. So, claim your baggage, unpack it, sort it, deal with it, and move on.

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“It’s A Selfish Program.”

-- Image is ©Kerzner 2008 --

— Image is ©Kerzner 2008 —

We hear many things over the course of our recovery in our respective meeting halls (or “in the rooms,” if you prefer). These often include “It works if you work it!”, “Easy Does It!”, and “It’s a selfish program.” I am still surprised in many ways how often “It’s a selfish program” is misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. It IS a selfish program in that the main priority is achieving and maintaining quality sobriety. However, this is not accomplished to the exclusion of all other aspects of our lives. Also: AA is a selfless program. The two work hand in hand, along with gratitude, and a willingness to do the work.

When we are new in our recovery, we see the world as both scary and full of possibilities. Most want to embrace their recovery with a vengeance, almost as if they can get back all the wasted years of their addiction(s). Most are more than willing to try recovery as they have run out of plausible options. Sometimes, lacking the learning, experience, and wisdom that comes with long-term recovery, some take “It’s a selfish program” to mean that it is all about them. They are thinking “I come first. My recovery comes first. It’s all about me.” Yes, recovery comes first, for without sobriety, where will we be in our life’s journey? Recovery should be the priority, but not in place of, or to the exclusion of our other responsibilities. IF we are fortunate enough, we are still husbands, wives, partners. We are also fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. If we are fortunate enough to still be employed, we are also employees, team members, bosses. None of these go away just because we have seen the light and decided to work on being clean/sober. The world goes on, and we must function in it. These responsibilities are also part of our sobriety, believe it or not. Working an honest recovery means being “honest in all our affairs”; this means we honor our obligations and responsibilities, at home, at work, wherever.

As mentioned earlier, AA is also about being selfless. This is what is meant when we speak of serving others and “giving it away.” Helping around the house will get noticed. Participating more in your home group is noticed. Giving your boss and teammates at work an honest day’s effort will get noticed (and will be appreciated too!). The idea is that we don’t think ONLY of ourselves and OUR needs. We help people where, when, and however we are able and willing to do so – even in the small things. We begin to give away the possibility and promise of the stability, and hopefully, peace, we have found in our own sobriety. We are a beacon to our fellow human beings of what is possible through recovery. This is what we give away most: The idea that anyone can experience a better life through recovery, if they are willing to do the work. We give away the idea that a new beginning IS possible.

Now, all this does not mean life is a bed of roses and all our difficulties will vanish. That is a fairy tale that no one promises. AA promises hope, a new beginning, possibly sanity, and hopefully peace and contentment. There is still all that wreckage from our addiction(s) and their consequences scattered throughout our lives. We have to clean that up as much as possible, and some of it can not be completely made right. There will still be haters and knuckleheads in our paths daily, and we learn to deal with this in a constructive, positive way. We will still have setbacks. Recovery is about learning how to deal with all this and not lash out, pawn it off on others as being their fault, and/or crawl inside a bottle, or drop pills, hit the casino, or just run away. Recovery is hard. No one said it is easy. The key to a good working recovery is balance. Balance between prioritizing our ongoing recovery efforts, honoring our responsibilities, AND serving others. This is what recovery is really all about.

 

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New Year, Better Me In 2013

 

-- Image ©Barry Kerzner 2001, 2012 --

— Image ©Barry Kerzner 2001, 2012 —

For me in 2013:

1. No more drama!

2. If you don’t enrich my life (spiritually, mentally, educationally); if you cannot be my friend because you accept me as I am,faults and all, you are gone. I refuse to carry any dead weight on my back for another year!

3. Endeavor to improve my writing skills!

4. Secure a job I WANT to actually be doing!

5. Continue to work a good, healthy program.

6. Continue to let my friends know that I value their friendship.

7. Not be silenced, subjugated, bullied, or forced into political submission by/to the forces of evil.

8. Do what I can to improve the lot of my fellow mankind.

9. My abilities have value and I will act accordingly.

10. I will NOT listen to ANY “auto tune” produced music.

**** When Jimmy Page tours this year, I WILL be there! *****

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When You Write …

"Free Your Mind"-- Image ©Kerzner 2012 --

“Free Your Mind”
— Image ©Kerzner 2012 —

 

When you write, it comes in waves.

Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don’t.

Some days it flows uncontrollably; so much so, you can hardly keep up with yourself!

Sometimes it says what you want, sometimes not.

Sometimes, we play hide-and-seek with ourselves too.

When you write just for YOU, that’s the best!

It’s raw and uncensored.

It’s all the things your right brain has been hiding from your left brain.

It’s the “Wow” instead of the “How.”

Best example: Check out Lenard Cohen’s “The Famous Blue Raincoat”

Did he write this for us or himself?

Do we know?

Do we really care?

So: Just write, dammit!

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Don’t Wait To Say “I Love You”

Sculpted-Sun-Revisited

— Image is ©Kerzner 2010 —

 

Last Friday, 14 December, 2012, an unspeakable horror was visited upon the town of Newtown, Connecticut. At the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the day started like any other. Everyone was involved in the course of learning, and going about their normal routine. The teachers and children were looking forward to the holiday break, and spending time with family. Everyone was looking forward to wonderful meals, maybe some traveling, but mostly, just some relaxation. Everyone expected their families to be home for dinner.

All of that changed in the blink of an eye when a mentally unbalanced young man entered the school and shot to death 20 children (ages 6 – 10), and 6 adults. I will tell you that as I watched this unfold (along with most of our nation), I was in tears and could not even speak. Six -year-olds? Really? I felt so bad for those parents who would find out that their child wasn’t coming home that day … as would the families of the principal, the psychologist, and the teachers. I felt for the police and first responders who had to go in and see that carnage. And then, there were the people who worked tirelessly through the weekend doing the tasks none of us would ever want to do, so that the families might have any semblance of closure, and could begin to grieve.

Since then there has been a lot of discusion regarding ways we might prevent this from happening again. I will NOT address those issues in this space. One positive consequence of this tragedy is that it brought the country together, if only for a short time. What I have not seen discussed is just how fragile life is.

People in general, and especially those with a little bit of quality recovery under their belt, tend to take things for granted. We assume we will wake up tomorrow. We assume that we will drive to work and arrive safely. We put off playing with children and spending time with them because in our mind, there will be time for that. We put off saying “I love you” because that person we would say it to knows we love them. So many things we do or don’t do, because we are so sure there will always be time later.

As we have seen, there are NO guarantees in life. Period. Tomorrow is NOT an iron-clad promise. That is why it is so important not to waste a single minute on useless nonsense like worry, fear, and hate. That is why we should make everything we do count for something in the best possible way, everyday. Even the things we think are little things, might mean so much to someone else. So … remember to spend time with your kids, and your partner. Remember to let them know how much you care and what they mean to you. And … don’t take anymore days for granted.

 

 

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Let People Know You Care … Say “Thank You”

— Image ©Kerzner 2012 —

If you are one of those people that think that little things don’t matter in relationships, then you are “daft” (as our British friends are so fond of saying). In today’s busy lifestyle of work, family, and technology in general, it is all the more meaningful when someone takes time from this busy day of theirs to tend to your need(s), even in some small way. They might offer encouragement, a gentle rebuke, advice, love, assistance, or even a kick-in-the-seat-of-your-pants that is needed!

When someone does take time from their day for you, that means they care. This is not something to be taken lightly! It means that they value you and your presence in their lives, if even for a moment. Just as a smile goes a long way, so does a “Thank You.” It makes them feel better for having done something for someone else, and it makes you feel better for acknowledging that gesture. For a person in recovery, gratitude is especially important. Gratitude reminds us that we are NOT the center of the universe, and it keeps us humble. Gratitude encourages us to help others, also an important part of any recovery.

So remember to let people know that you appreciate their help, and their service: say “Thank You.”

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Take A Chance … On You!

Steps

Steps (St. Augustine, FL) Image ©Kerzner 2012

What am I gonna do now? Where am I gonna live? Are they gonna keep me at work? Is s/he gonna divorce me now? What then? What about the kids? What about insurance? How am I gonna show my face at work now? Jesus: playing this game straight? How the hell am I gonna do that? What the hell am I gonna do now? I’m done. Jeez …

We all remember those thoughts going through our heads when we hit bottom, no matter what the situation was; drinking, drugging, gambling, sex, abusive relationship … whatever. We were at Ground Zero. We were lost, scared, confused, and a hair’s breath from hopeless! Think about that: It’s probably as fresh and real now as when we went through it, however long ago. We had to start all over, with the very basics! We had to unlearn all the dysfunctional personal and social habits that were ensconced in our very psyche. In some cases we had to learn other basics that had been denied us due to circumstances: reading, writing, or balancing a checkbook (because we couldn’t, didn’t and/or were not permitted to handle the finances). We had to learn how to relate to people without our charades, crutches, and facades; you know, all the lies we told ourselves and everyone else. Oh, and by the way, we had to find new playmates and playgrounds too. Now, who wants to stand up and say that all of that was not a terrifying mess!

Guess what? We picked up the pieces of our shattered and damaged souls, and with the help of others, we traveled the road to rebuilding ourselves. That has been a lot of hard work and we did most of the heavy lifting. Hopefully, we are now at a point in our recovery where we are minding the basics and doing daily maintenance. Life isn’t roses every day, and some of us lost a lot (maybe even everything); but things are a lot better than they were. Best of all, we now have hope.

So friends, realizing all of this, why would you tell yourself you can’t go after the dreams you have for a better you? Having done all you have done (believing at the time that none of it was possible), why would you doubt yourself? Go ahead: Take a chance on you!

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“You can’t stay sober today on yesterday’s sobriety.”

The Voice

“You can’t stay sober today on yesterday’s sobriety.” I saw this today and thought to myself “Boy is that the truth!” It really does not matter WHAT we are recovering from, we can not rest on yesterday’s progress, can we? Could be a car wreck, bad relationship, really bad, abusive relationship; drugs, sex, booze, gambling … it really doesn’t matter, does it? So, the question arises, “Why not? I’m doing OK. Why can’t I take a breather and take it easy a little bit? It isn’t going to hurt anyone.” In AA, we refer to this as stinking thinking, and this is precisely the thinking that will get you dead.

Think about where you came from … the hole you had to claw your way up and out of. Think of the pain, the struggle, the education. Perhaps you only had a few people care enough to help you, or maybe you were one of the fortunate ones that had family and friends rally around you, give you a hand up. Maybe you were never in jeopardy of losing your job, your home, your way of life. When I hit bottom, I was facing losing everything. The only friend I had was me and that was doing me a whole world of good (sarcasm!). A couple of my superiors took pity on me because they thought I had potential as a human being and I made them laugh: they thought I was redeemable, and repairable. I busted my ass to get sober, go through withdrawal, get educated, go through counseling, confront the truth.

The day after Christmas this year, I will have 24 years of being clean & sober. Every day, I STILL have to work to stay clean & sober. Things are good now. I have accepted who I am, shortcomings and all, and I try to better the things I can. I still work on educating myself, doing the steps, trying to help others, and staying clean & sober. At this point it would be really easy to ease up a little and not stay buckled down on it. Deep down though, I know that that is the voices calling to me. Those voices are calling me back to places I never want to go again. My recovery has meant that I do things that people do not understand, and often take the wrong way. Once I got squared away, I made up my mind that never again would I be with people I didn’t want to be with, in places I didn’t want to be, spending my money, and wasting myself and my time. To this day, I don’t do this and sometimes that causes friction. I am extremely particular about who I call a friend; not because I am stuck-up, but because I don’t settle anymore. I do my best to live up to the standards I hold others to. Somedays I fall short; but I do not make it a habit because now I care.

Addiction and codependency are sneaky: they will lie and cajole you. They will caress you with lies and a false sense of independence so that you let your guard down, becoming less vigilant. They will say “It’s been a long time, it’s OK. Live a little. Have fun.” There is nothing fun about being in a shitty relationship, even if it is with yourself: actually, especially if it is with yourself. After all the work we did and continue to do, one day at a time, we owe it to ourselves to continue working on us. Don’t give in – don’t rest on the success of yesterday. It will kill you.