Finish Lines

"the race for me had become an endless repetition,
as i made my way around my circuit of duties.
hour after hour i went thru the same unchanging tasks. [...] 
after it was all over
i went to the little house to start my update. 
the update i had been putting together in my mind was,
of course,
gone." —Gary "Laz" Cantrell, Big's Backyard Ultra Founder


"We’ve created society that mistakes the notion of hard work to mean not just dedicated work but difficult work. As if difficulty and struggle and torture somehow confer seriousness upon your chosen work. Doing great work simply because you love it, sounds, in our culture, somehow flimsy and that’s a failing of our culture not of the choice of work that artists make." —Maria Popova, The Tim Ferriss Show

"One woman venture capitalist told us, after hearing my very nervous pitch, 'I hate to say this because I hate that it’s true, but men who come in here pitch the company they’re going to build, while women pitch the company they’ve already built.' The men could sound delusional, but they could also sound visionary; women felt the need to show their work, to prove themselves. This wasn’t a note just for my style of pitching (flat, part-Troll doll); she was encouraging us to dream bigger and start anew. What would Rookie look like if we saw everything up until that point as just research?" —Tavi Gevinson, (final) "Editor's Letter," Rookie Mag

"Inactivity, inaction is discredited. Silence is discredited. And fasting is discredited." —Ulay, The Artist is Present

There's a self-seriousness that irritates me about my approach to writing in public. Here I am, trying to pair three thoughts together—and they make sense to me as a whole, which is the crazy part—that revolve around values. The Public Writer in me says, "This is some serious shit, and I should write about it in a serious way." Though opaque in their connection, the concepts of exertion, validation, and force all wind together in a braid...

"The real struggle isn't in force," a serious writer might write. "Force is easy. Real struggle is in Restraint." I mean, that's what I'm talking about. That's what I want to internalize, that particular thought. And what I want to communicate is that the words here are targets I'm aiming for, even though I might only ever be able to take aim at them after telling an imagined audience that I'm doing so. Maybe that's the delusion I'm faced with. Another? Continually starting a path before taking any time to consider the terrain. Before the first step, I'm outwardly committed to whatever may lie ahead, but after just two the entire process seems unsustainable.

"What about the assumed honor of struggle," that serious writer might continue. "Or how about what a Next Step might look like if the previous had never existed? If one actually approached each new day as something New?" A serious writer might try to conclude their thought by writing something like, "The profound resides outside the shadows of yesterday's ghosts." It's all just me trying to prove myself, in one way or another.

But I'm not good at that. In those moments, where I'm too serious, I'm serious because of fear. Fear that I won't get credit for being something I'm not. Fear that I'll be found out as a fraud, a phony, or maybe fear that I'll be rightly judged for my lack of profundity. "Silence is discredited," says the man with words coming out of his mouth.


"We really are some scorekeeping motherfuckers," he said, motioning between the two of them while standing in line at the diner. "Aren't we?" It was all about "the hit," as they called it. They've talked about it before, that feeling of validation that comes with being publicly recognized for taking action in a way that can only be understood by someone who never changes a lightbulb in the dark. "Yeah, we sure are."


"In the dead darkness of Tuesday morning, 67 hours and 279 miles after they’d started, two battered warriors shuffled to the start corral. Dauwalter said a few words to Steene. They shook hands, the starting bell clanged, and Steene tottered off into the blackness alone. In the uncompromising world of Big’s Backyard, Dauwalter quit, and was marked, like 68 others, DNF. [...] 
Typically, Dauwalter’s takeaway from the race had nothing to do with how much she had suffered and endured, nor about winning or losing or strides made for women, but about learning: "I feel pretty good about how it played out now that I’ve had night of sleep and a shower. Yeah, my legs hurt really bad and that’s probably going to get worse over the next couple days, but already I’m thinking about next year’s race, what we can do differently so we’re out there even longer. I want to come back and go into the 300s. Kevin and I have never done anything close to this. We learned so much—all the ways we can work more efficiently, gear and food that would have been helpful. To have this cool experience—I was lucky to be a part of this.” —Sarah Barker, "Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter Takes On The World's Most Sadistic Endurance Race," Deadspin


"Fuck 'wellness.' Wellness is capitalism trying to sell you back the sanity it stole from you."

"In one way or another, all of these new services generally boil down to elaborate, expensive instructions to eat more of one thing and less of another, or to make a dietary addition or replacement that will unlock your body’s true potential. Convincing consumers that this new wave of diets is somehow distinct from the diet industry’s long, pseudoscientific history is a big task, but a potentially profitable one. According to the market-research firm Marketdata, the U.S. diet industry was worth an estimated $66 billion in 2017, but the number of active dieters in the country was down 10 percent. The firm found that that was due to two things: the growing popularity of the size-acceptance movement, and dieter fatigue. For new companies, laundering what are often fairly conventional diet practices through the language of technology provides the imprimatur of newness in the eyes of seasoned dieters, as well as a Trojan horse to reach consumers who, for whatever reason, were never interested in dieting qua dieting." —Amanda Mull, "The Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Language of Dieting," The Atlantic

"That meditation and mindfulness have entered the repertoire of global capitalism isn’t surprising: In the face of stagnant wages and an ever-deteriorating boundary between work and whatever we do outside it, why not shift the responsibility of finding peace to the individual? Put another way: Next time work makes you feel less than human, should you gently speak truth to power, or should you use mindfulness to self-regulate and maintain function in an oppressive system? And should you choose to self-regulate, are you tacitly thanking the oppressive system for giving you the tools of self-regulation to begin with? Furthermore, how much of this experience—this process of spelunking into my mind—should be comfortable and brightly colored? How much should feel good?" —Mike Powell, "Meditation in the Time of Disruption," The Ringer

"Perhaps most wearying are the invasive yet distant commands from media, state institutions, advertisements, friends or employers to self-maximise, persevere, grab your slice of the diminishing pie, 'because you are worth it' – although you must constantly prove it, every day." —Ruth Cain, "How neoliberalism is damaging your mental health," The Conversation

"You know what’s actually therapeutic—more therapeutic than staring at the ceiling desperately inventing a string of 'free' associations, more therapeutic than reading a book with a vested interest in establishing your insufficiency so that you will have to purchase its string of accoutrements and sequels? Screaming where people can hear you. Weeping on the train. Indulging in the intimacy of jointly cultivated resentment. Seeing your suspicions that you aren’t a self-pitying maniac confirmed." —Becca Rothfeld, "The Promise of Misery," The Baffler

I love sharing this phrase with people, "Those who manufacture umbrellas need it to rain." It sounds really smart—and hell, it even makes sense—but it's kind of like cracking a knuckle and thinking "That feels great!" Does it, really? I mean, does it actually feel anything truly positive, or is it just audibly satisfying in a way that only a generally benign release of gas can be? Another article. Pop. More fast-acting "wisdom." Maybe it's not about umbrellas, but how much of my own "self care" is a measure of buying in to someone else's idea of what's supposed to protect me from the elements? The lines between being informed and being distracted aren't always clear.

Inaction is discredited, but sometimes action is discredited, too.


"If there had been a predestined finish line at Big’s Backyard my money would have been on Courtney to win, she would beat me at any such race and distance. But at the Backyard you draw your own lines. As long we are at least two remaining there is a feeling of purpose, that this painful game has a meaning. That illusion disappears in a blink when only one remains. The actual winning needs to be the sole focus if that is what you’re after. That focus was feeding me and let me put all other things aside. At the moment when Courtney congratulated me and remained in the coral as I jogged away alone into the Tennessee night I didn’t feel joy. I felt empty and without purpose. You can not carry the illusion by yourself. It takes at least two to play. Thanks Courtney Dauwalter for taking us this far. We are good at playing this game." —Johan Steene, 2018 Big’s Backyard Ultra "Finisher"

A Journey Into Declutterization: Part Two

The other day I was thinking about all the domain names I've owned and the futility of the entire process... Paying money for this thing that can't possibly be maintained ad infinitum. In 2008 I had this idea for a blog called soft focus (rather: sftfcs, because I was being cute with the nomenclature) that was going to be an outlet for whatever was on my mind. Kind of like I'm doing with this space. I'd forgotten about it for a long time, but when I went searching on the Internet Archive I found a few blog posts that I wrote around that time. One was called "A Journey Into Declutterization: Part One."

From the bits and pieces of memory I have from that period of time, this post makes a lot of sense. I was twenty-five. I had recently left rehab. ("Soft focus" was a term one of my counselors used regularly.) I was emotionally molting. It's not surprising that I wanted to shed a lot of what I'd built up around myself to that point, and the idea of "minimalism" seemed as good a credo as any to hang my hat on as any.

Several weeks ago I'd made a note connecting the dots of George Carlin's "A Place for My Stuff" bit and emotional minimalism. I thought this was a new thought. Turns out, I already had it about ten years earlier. I made some fine points worth carrying forward in that article, about being "dissatisfied with the way I’ve been living - continually trying to find my happiness in external stuff," and "[upgrading] my life by downsizing and simplifying," and "as my personal cleansing commenced it became evident that it’s a tough realization to find out that the things I once placed so much emphasis in no longer reflect what I want in life"... But there was one line that made the most sense to me, speaking of "a goal with which I can no longer identify." Looking at those couple words and letting them rest is big.

A goal with which I can no longer identify...

Simplicity and downsizing have been on my mind lately, though the focus has been not what I've surrounded myself by, but what's in my head. I was listening to this podcast that posed a process, "like decluttering my house and getting rid of stuff and simplifying my life," instead "simplifying your heart and your attachments and your judgements." Damn, that's heavy.

Pivoting a little...
"It’s not that it’s bad to seek knowledge, but the idea is that if we’re just only seeking knowledge, if we’re just only looking for method, and if we’re only looking for this encyclopedic collection of technique and tools and what have you… Does the knowledge seeking enhance your knowing and harmony or wisdom...? I know a lot of people who knowledge seek as a way of weaponizing knowledge, separating themselves, [and] creating hierarchy."
Think back to how much I've weaponized information for protection? Identity signaling as a defense mechanism: If you think I'm some type of person... If I think I'm some type of person... Then acceptance? Then safety? I don't know, but it feels like I've armed myself with knowledge "about" a hell of a lot of stuff without really knowing much at all about any of it as a means of bridging gaps between myself and other people.

It's weird, feeling like I'm just starting to ask questions of myself that it (now) seems like other people my age should have asked themselves long ago. Should is a dangerous word. Does staying connected to the endless torrent of information and "content" enhance my life? How much longer can I continue identity shopping before I'll look back with regret that I never slowed down long enough to feel who I was?

This Ron Gallo song has the line, "Talking talking. Never listening. Always elsewhere. Searching searching." From the time I wrote about declutterization when I was twenty-five, so much of my aim has been focused on a wayward target. It's not so much about any possessions I have or haven't amassed/divested myself of, and it's probably not about filtering out the valuable life-affirming information from the information firehose, either. It's not this, putting these words out into the world as if doing so "helps me process" them or relates remotely at all to any long-term resonance they're likely to maintain within me. Simplifying isn't about making all of this much more complicated than it needs to be in order to sort out "the answer." It's about none of this being up to me, whoever that might be today. It's about letting go again.

Harpeth River State Park (Kingston Springs, TN)

Photos taken November 21, 2018 at Harpeth River State Park in Kingston Springs, TN.

Always Elsewhere

Tired. Dissatisfied. Lacking. Needing. Sleep. But what would all this look like if—upon waking up—the problem was fixed? What if that thing that was out of reach was now in hand? What then? What would life look like in the presence of occupied achievement? What happens in that space, feeling what's real... What then? What happens when the flag is captured? Victory? Will there be a celebration? Will you feel like a winner? How will you sustain winning? How will you resist impermanence? The drive, the drive, the drive... to Achieve, to Achieve, to Achieve.

Who Are You? Point To It!

Walking bundles of habit, I think I read somewhere. That's what we are. I get up, hit my knees, give thanks, meditate, and stretch... all figuratively speaking, of course. Many of my habits are aspirational. Some of them, at least. The others have an anaconda lock on me, constricting me slowly before I'm too light headed to realize I'm in da belly of da beast. LOL. It's a hypnotic tango with my dance partners, with fear and self-doubt mirroring my movement each time I get a craving or feel alone or start running on capital e Empty. I mean, I'm good, but if that one thing happened I'd be doing way better. Oh, man, if that one woman said that one thing or she came over and we hung out and connected like I imagine we would, I'd be great. Then I'd be alright. Alright? Hell, I'd be better than alright! Then I'd be free, y'know? That would make it all worthwhile, all the other stuff that I do that I'm not sure makes me Me. Like, I know I'm not me when I'm slaving the wage, which is what I've had to do to get by, right? I'm just trying to make sure I've got some security, but next year I'm really going to focus on being me again. Then I'll return to the things that "feed" me, but I can't do that right now because that's just not where things are at. It's like that saying I just made up: I've got to get a few more ducks in a row, then the ducks will be in a row. As for who I am though? Well, at least I know who I have the potential to become. To become. To become.

Something Wrong

The feeling is so strange, the organic and artisanal refuge communicating a message that there's goodness to be had here. I'm good because I'm here. So are you. But why? We're here, doing good for ourselves, at this place that tells us it's the kind of place for people who care about enhancing their well being. People who are mindful. People who deserve it. At that other place people just shop for food. That place doesn't smell the way that good places smell. Actually, it doesn't smell like much at all. This place smells of lavender soaps, bulk organic quinoa, fresh produce, and herbal mustache waxes. Paying more is a byproduct of treating yourself to a better life, with better scents. We're not buying products here, and maybe that's why the feeling is so strange. We're buying everything we're being sold.

Gimme Noise

I remember an old blog post I wrote somewhere in 2008 when I first caught some of Jay Smooth's Ill Doctrine videos. I can't find it, but I'm sure there was little to it beyond: 1) Jay's great; and 2) I'm a fan. Sometime this past week I saw a link to this Columbia Journalism Review profile piece, "The Complicated Philosophy of Jay Smooth," linked from (the blog, not the Twitter page, but the Twitter page is where they keep an archived list of links shared on the blog), and today I read the article. It's well written, weaving the righteous figure's private and public lives together in a story that portrays Jay as someone attempting his best to live by virtuous means. Good enough.

When I finished the article there was just something empty about it. I couldn't place it, and I'm still not sure I can now. It wasn't the article, just the process. What did I get from it? When Jay's on, he's one of the better social critics I can think of. I like his videos but haven't really followed him much since Ferguson. (That time feels so distant, yet so present.) The point is, I appreciate him, but I'm not sure what the value is in reading the article. I gained some history into the man's background, but I didn't need it, and knowing the things I read doesn't particularly endear me any more or less to him. But I wasn't thinking about him with that feeling that followed, just this sort of thing. These articles, all of this...

In the time where my mind needs something to focus on, while being entirely unable or unwilling to focus on my school work, I've been working on a process of dusting off old blog posts from around the web and republishing them here. Like it's a scrapbook or something. There are a bunch of reasons why I told myself there was value in doing this, but I think I'm going to find something interesting that I don't anticipate learning once it's done. 

The first thing is the volume: I've been blogging now, off and on, for about fourteen years. In that time I've had several blogs that lasted a while—,—and a whole bunch that came and went pretty quickly—,,,,, and, with a several Tumblr and Blogger sites thrown in there, as well. Not a single one of those websites is still online. Some domains were sold, a couple redirect here, and the others abandoned outright. I could have paid for hosting and renewed domains, I suppose, to keep websites online. But where does that end? When do you stop?

Elsewhere, there is a great deal of "content" I've produced for websites that no longer exist on other people/company's sites. Dozens of episodes of a podcast I contributed to are no longer available to listen to and a couple of appearances on Huffington Post's HuffPost Live network are gone without a trace (which are just a few of the several years worth of original content that is no longer available online, as best I can surmise). Beyond that, a few websites I contributed over the years are no longer online (a Nashville music blog, The Smoking Section, and Brite Revolution, to name a few.

For about a year, I wrote for the Minneapolis Village Voice outlet, City Pages, which included a daily news column called "Gimme News" which was featured on their "Gimme Noise" music-centric blog. Gimme Noise is no more, absorbed back into the larger body of the brand's website (a brand which has been sold... twice... since 2008), and the several hundred articles and blog posts I wrote have been run through several site redesigns, leaving them barely indexed, largely unformatted, and buried deep in their archives (which is inarguably where they belong: buried). 

It was announced this month that flickr will be reconfiguring its platform, rightly setting a cap for its "free" users to 1000 photos. It was the right thing to do, both from a business and community perspective, and the only reason I re-signed up for flickr in January (which, I think, was probably my second or third time around on the platform) was because they essentially offered unlimited uploads for free. I'm not a "user" of the service in any other sense that I used their services. I'll be transitioning those photos from my account (which I've started doing) in the next year, or so, before they vanish, too.

I've followed for years, as many of the links, articles, and videos shared on the blog are interesting to me. I like the general aesthetic of it. It's progressive-leaning. It's interesting. And it's safe. Very little I come across there challenges who I am as a person or confronts me with ideas, concepts, or ideologies I disagree with. That's not what the site is, for me. It's the kind of site that shares a link to a profile piece of a social media critic who I respect. If I read it, and like it, I might remember I was introduced to this great article because of If I read it, and don't like it, I might recall that was looking out and connected me to that bland article about that guy I like. Even if I don't read it, if I acknowledge the article by reading about it on the blog or bookmarking it to return to, doing so will probably reinforce that is a safe place for me to find articles that bend toward my interests.

So much of what I've written isn't very memorable. The majority of the articles and blog posts certainly don't deserve the respect I'm paying them by bringing them back to life here. Respect is the wrong word, probably. I have an idea of what my intention might have been at the time I spent time on them the first time, and in reflecting on that I'm learning about how little value there is in the "thing." It was almost always process. Maybe that's what I'm doing: Tuning into the process. What is all of this that I've dedicated so much time to over the years? The most "valuable" article I ever wrote was a review of one of Eminem's albums which garnered a couple hundred thousand pageviews. But I can't tell you a goddamn thing about that article or the album, in hindsight. I can tell you about how those posts contributed to creating my own "Nashville music blog" a few years later, which led me to an email exchange with someone I'm still trying to reckon with. I can manufacture "process" with the best of 'em.

There's not a logical thread that winds through all of this, but that's where my thinking is right now, and I want to just get that thought, itself, down here. The value of recording it seems just as important as the value of recognizing that I'm not getting much out of reading profile pieces. I don't really know that I ever fucking did. There's a freedom in accepting how impermanent all of this is—writing, blogging, putting it all out there if only to potentially gain from the process, before Google no longer wishes to host millions of free blogs online and folds the very platform that I'm using at this particular moment to publish these particular words. And if process if where honest value might reside, maybe returning to the same online time-wasters to reinforce my own cultural sensibilities under the guise of expanding my understanding of the world (whose world, and which part of it?) is opening up a window to questions more important than those that can be answered by a professional link-hawker.

Stepping Stones

The first photos here were taken in March 2017, with the brick patio project running from May 2018 into November 2018. Essentially, I finished the project last week, when I brushed out and set a layer of cement sand across the patio to lock it, but I'll return to the back yard in the Spring to build out some raised plant beds. 

I took the job on as I tend to do with big jobs: Without much of a plan and no idea how to accomplish my goal. And once I got going it quickly became overwhelming. There was an unanticipated volume and density to the roots that needed to be excavated from the surface layer of the ground, for example. I transported the entirety of the gravel base and the bricks into the yard by hand using five gallon buckets, pounding down the remaining tilled dirt and gravel before using a rubber mallet to install each brick, one at a time. It was a lot.

I'm sure there's some fantastic metaphor at work here for how the year has gone, but I'm just glad it's done. Every so often it's nice to reach a finish line.

Three Years

The other day I was sitting at the library, studying, when I got a call from a manager at work. There was miscommunication about who was covering which responsibilities and something important had fallen through the cracks. Several days prior I’d moved on from the job where I had been reporting to him, the ownership of this task was never mine in the first place, I took his hostile tone as a challenge of my motives, it was my day off, blah blah blah. The point is: I did my best to listen, I didn’t try to throw someone else under the bus, and I didn’t react defensively and lash out at him or pay that bullshit forward onto some other underserving soul. How much of a miracle all of that is is probably a testament to the blessings of sobriety. It’s not perfect, but a lot has changed for the better.

I was studying at the library because I’m in school. I’m going to school because I’m working toward a master’s degree in counseling therapy. I’m working toward a master’s degree with the goal being to become a therapist. I’m becoming a therapist because… woof.

A few weeks ago my therapist asked me that same question, the “why?” After piecing together something resembling the story I’d written on my admissions letter, he said that was nice, but what are the real reasons I want to go in this direction? The perfect answer is that I want to do it for thoroughly virtuous reasons, to become the best helper I can in providing the most help I can to those who need that sort of help. Perfection and truth aren’t really aligned here though…

A few days ago I revisited something I’d written after watching Mike Rugnetta’s 2013 XOXO presentation. I think it’s relevant. Here’s a blurb:
“It's difficult to confidently construct oneself without placing it alongside others. […] You want to be true to yourself but you might not know what options are available for inclusion in that truth unless you go ‘shopping’, I guess, is one way to put it. But are they true if they came from somewhere outside of your own brain? And this is actually a big important question: is there a truly and totally internal self? Or, put another way, would everyone who currently self-identifies as goth, or pro-life, or Democrat, or an Evanescence fan, or who identifies as a furry have come to that conclusion independent of the actions or preferences of others? I don't have an answer… because one doesn't exist.”
I’ve done a lot of window shopping when it comes to aligning identity with a profession. I’ve tried being a retail worker person, an office worker person, a freelance writer person, a marketing person, a personal trainer person, and plenty of other persons in between. The term “tried” takes on a range of meaning in looking back though, and for the most part it aligns with results consistent with someone who is unwilling to commit themselves beyond a point of resistance.

I’ve been remarkably lucky. And with that luck comes the privilege of ease. And with ease comes an expectation of continued ease. When it comes to transitioning from an old identity to who I’d like to try being next, I haven’t dealt with considerable barriers along the way. Generally speaking, I’m a fine-looking, cisgender, white North American guy, and with the way our society’s structured, I don’t have to overcome an infinite torrent of bullshit every time I’ve decided it’s time to “start over” in life. Which is just to say that most of the time, despite acknowledging how ridiculously good I have it, I’ve stopped caring to try once I have to really try. I’ve walked away from plenty, but am embarrassingly inexperienced when it comes to actual sacrifice. The point of this, I think, is to recognize that in the past I’ve approached identities with an eagerness to own them so long as I don’t have to give up anything to buy in. (Again, privilege.) That’s the dream, right? And that’s where I’m at now, again.

The last few weeks I’ve started to see this in real time. My priorities haven’t been particularly aligned with that of the type of person I’ve told people I’m becoming. I got here by verbally committing to a new direction, but am not really sure what being “all-in” actually looks like. Last night I took a midterm exam and achieved results consistent with the minimal effort I’ve put into that class. Something happened before I took the test, though, which feels more important than any grade I’m going to receive from it. I had a spell of energy, renewed by some sense of ownership over how little I’d prepared for it, and an acceptance and desire to work through this without giving up. I screwed this one up, for sure, but I can make it up before the semester’s over.

There are a lot of angles to the real reason for why I want to get into counseling. Genuinely, I like this stuff. In the moments where I read for fun, I usually read pop psychology books. It’s interesting to me. I like talking with people, I like helping people, and by way of about fifteen years of personal experience, I’ve got something of a background in “addiction studies,” which stands to help me when it comes to empathizing with the struggles others are facing. And I’m working my way toward forty without anything resembling focus, purpose, or meaning in my life — so this seemed like as good a horse as any to saddle up with as that milestone approaches.

I’m scared as hell to commit myself to these words, especially here, because it’s not the perfect answer. There’s resistance to put any of this here because it feels like committing to more than tidy identity sculpting, which is shamefully my default when writing online. I sold myself on the idea that I was writing [on] as a way to stay connected to my own continued pursuit of recovery, but haven’t been particularly thrilled with the sterilized sense of authenticity that’s made it onto these pages. Moving beyond lusting after the perception of identity and toward actually becoming someone is going to take work. There’s a lot of fear in committing to change. And of all the sacrifices I’ve been unwilling to make to this point, letting go of misguided perceptions surrounding what it actually takes to do so is hovering somewhere around the top of my list.

"A Spiritual Axiom"

“[W]hen a person experiences nearly identical events and reacts two different ways, then it is not the event which is of prime importance, but the person's spiritual condition. Feelings come from inside, not from outward circumstances.” —Daily Reflections, October 9
There’s this guy at work who leaves his cell-phone ringer on whenever he’s visiting the office, upwards of three or four times a week. The phone receives a text message and a surge of vibration rattles his desk. He picks the phone up, replies, puts it back down. Another text message, another earth-rumbling vibration, another reply.

Elsewhere someone has left a notification on. I can’t tell if it’s a computer or a phone, but it’s without consistency, all throughout the day. There’s a chirp. There it is again! Did anyone else hear it? Am I going crazy? Don’t they recognize that if everyone left all their notifications on, we’d all be drowned out by the ensuing cacophony?! When will these inconsiderate monsters make the madness stop?!

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90) Some days the noise pollution doesn’t bother me at all. Some days it does. (A lot.) These are just a small things, and I know we’re not supposed to sweat the small things, but in the past it’s been the small things that have led me to making some really poor decisions.

What it comes down to is usually the bottom line of where my level of self-care is that day: Have I done the things I know I need to do for myself? If I have, experiences are less likely to conjure the worst of me in response. If I haven’t, someone’s cellphone vibrating can leave me anxious and feeling resentful of their even being born. It’s pretty simple.

Shut Up and Dance

In a meeting yesterday, noting their history in theater, someone said, “As they say in my world, shut up and dance.” I’m paraphrasing, but it rattled me.

As people were sharing their thoughts, the Daily Reflections book was being passed around, with the October 6 reading titled “Facing Ourselves.”
“How often I avoided a task in my drinking days just because it appeared so large! Is it any wonder, even if I have been sober for some time, that I will act that same way when faced with what appears to be a monumental job, such as a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself? What I discover after I have arrived at the other side—when my inventory is completed—is that the illusion was greater than the reality. The fear of facing myself kept me at a standstill and, until I became willing to put pencil to paper, I was arresting my growth based on an intangible.”
That’s it: The fear of facing myself. This still happens all the time. When I face myself I see the potential for something greater. I should want that, but it’s still not what I’m used to. I’m so comfortable with viewing the world with fear that the prospect of seeing it with optimism and potential carries an absurd weight. Through that lens, I see capability and love and friendship and fullness… and it’s intimidating.

Fear brings illusion, and the illusion bears weight. But once I step out from under that weight and take action, that unknown takes a form, and it’s in seeing things for how they really are where fear disappears. It’s in that space I’m free. It’s all a matter of taking that first step… Shut up and dance.

Getting Lost

“How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you? […] That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.” –Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Some time ago, within this past year, I was asked to lead an A.A. meeting. I’ve led several before, and after, but at the time I was deep in reading this book by Rebecca Solnit, and wanted to focus on something more immediate and personal with the meeting than whatever reference to The Big Book I could muster. I used A.A. literature as a platform, but jumped off at some point in making reference to this quotation, using it to relate to where I was at at the time.

I wasn’t “lost” in the sense that I was losing myself to addiction, and wasn’t sure about how to proceed in recovery, but I was lost in that I had never been to where I was before. I was in new territory, exploring ground which was completely foreign to me. I was in the unknown place of being healthy, productive, and stable, and not being sure of what to do with any of that. Lost in recovery.

Several people came up to me after the meeting, consoling me as if I had just told them I was suicidal. I guess I didn’t do a good enough job in explaining what it was I was trying to communicate.

There’s a different feeling to that quote today, though, as what sits with me is a recognition of how much now calls to go back to the safety of the harbor, rather than once again push off into the sea of the unknown. It calls to me, that “safety,” the allure of the known entity, no matter how little I actually want that sort of “stillness” in my life. It’s a safety I can do without. But how do “you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” You let go. Damn, there’s a lot of resistance to that some days.

Imperfection in Recovery

“Never in our lives, long before we had a drink, were we able to settle for status quo. Nothing that was normal ever merited our attention for more than a split second. If it wasn’t better than normal, we didn’t like it. And that’s before we ever had a drink. So, we had better jolly well grasp and develop, because a happy sobriety will turn into a drunk unless we develop.” —Chuck C., A New Pair of Glasses
I know that voice. The one that says it’s never enough. Only, it’s not a voice — it’s a hum. It’s a feeling. It’s a reverberation that rings heavier with each echo. It is words, it is tension, it is desire. And there’s a gravity to it. But that gravity’s conditional: It gains strength only when leaned in to.

I can lean in — believing the status quo isn’t worth settling for, the moment is flawed, the results aren’t coming fast enough, the potential for change is limited — and by feeding that voice of what it wants, that gravity gains in force. That feeling becomes an obsession. The options for escape become limited. The discomfort, if I can call it that, becomes something that needs to be turned off by something outside of myself.

Or I can lean out — believing the current state of affairs isn’t that bad, the results are coming as fast as they can, the potential for change is evolving — and by starving that voice of what it wants, that gravity loses force. That feeling of obsession drifts. The options for escape become vast. The discomfort, if you can call it that, becomes absorbed by something greater than myself.

It used to be that if the voice got too loud and the moment got too heavy, the best way to turn it off was to drink. To drink heavily. To drink when I woke up, and continue drinking until I was no longer awake. Because drinking to a point of oblivion made me feel better than normal in both times of success and times of failure alike. It made me feel above average even while life was anything but. But that doesn’t happen now. And that hasn’t happened for a long time. And it all began when a friend helped me lean out when I couldn’t do so by myself. Then, with the help of more friends, I was able to lean harder. I didn’t think leaning out like this was possible, or that I’d even ever want to. But here we are.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still know what that voice sounds like. I know, because that voice continues to exist within me. The voice that says nothing is ever enough. That’s the insidious nature of this thing: It always seems like it’s gone forever… until it isn’t.

Sometimes I lean in. When I do, it isn’t for long, because a puzzling side effect of knowing better seems to be doing better. And recovery is teaching me the knowing better part. It’s teaching me to take positive action when I need to inspire positive thoughts, and rely on others when I feel like I should go it alone. And in doing so, the occasions which prompt me to feel like I can do nothing else but lean in seem to come at far more infrequent intervals than they used to. But they still happen. Because I’m not perfect. I’m human. And my recovery is a human recovery. The wonderful thing is, I’m starting to learn that means it’s enough.

Courage and Self-Kindness

“Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are.” —BrenĂ© Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
While an undertaking the likes of making a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” brings with it a tremendous potential for self-knowledge, participating in such a thorough appraisal also tends to encourage an influx of guilt and self-loathing. And if reflecting on past misconducts is proven to produce any consistent feeling in those who venture such a path, that feeling is shame.

This isn’t specific to a single step, but so much of working through A.A.’s framework has to deal with developing a sense of forgiveness of oneself. If I could have truly absorbed the ways of kindness and self-love by reading about them on my own, those lessons would have sunken in years ago. But such is the case that it took working with another person to begin the process of learning how to be gentle and kind to myself.

Working with a sponsor in this way helped me put a lifetime of resentments and fears aside long enough to see that underneath them all was a person who was just trying to do their best. The principle behind Step Four is recognized as courage for numerous reasons, but one that sticks out to me deals with the courage it takes to open your heart to self-forgiveness. That takes courage because once the seal on self-kindness has been cracked, it’s hard not to start seeing the world through a similar lens. And for anyone who has gotten used to the cold and lonely spiral of addiction, letting go of self-hatred can be truly terrifying.

Resisting Gravity

“Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. […] What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well.” —Alcoholics Anonymous
It seems like such a laughable concept, resisting gravity. But how many time a day do I try to do just that? The laws of the universe aren’t as malleable as my place in it, yet from time to time I tend to get that confused.

How Life Should Be

“Egocentricity is having a better idea about how this moment should be. […] Ego talks in terms of ‘This is right… This is wrong… I have to do this… A person must…” — phrases like that. When we are listening to egocentricity we have the feeling that we know beyond doubt how we should be operating and how life should be.” —Cheri Huber, That Which You Are Seeking is Causing You to Seek
A therapist once told me that if we start ‘should’-ing everywhere, eventually we’ll should all over ourselves.

Every single day at some point in time should returns, steadfast with its reminder of the way things aren’t. The thing is, how life should be will never compare to how life is because should is a trap. And as long as the voice of should is fed, now will never compare to what could be, friends will never be friendly enough, work will always be too much work, and I will never hold a candle to what “living up to my potential” might look like. But should doesn’t exist anywhere but in the mind. Whatever this is though, right here and now, actually does. And that’s OK, even though should would never agree to as much. Should is a feeling of scarcity, self-doubt, and fear. Should measures the value of life relative only to my place in it. Should isn’t aspirational and should certainly isn’t certainly constructive. Should is only a saboteur.

Restoration vs. Renovation

I heard someone comment on an interesting distinction last night, noting the difference between a renovation and a restoration. The latter is a reclamation of a past state, a return to its former self, and a way to make new again, while a renovation is really just the process of fixing something up. In a renovation, we're probably not going to outfit the project with top of the line materials, or ensure that the work is always done with precision and care — the goal is to simply get things looking better. With a restoration though, we're going deep. We're stripping away years of build-up and refining the foundation, rejuvenating it, and bringing what once was back to life.

In looking back, for a very long time I've gone about healing by way of renovation. Where things were broken, surface-level repairs were made in my life that afforded the appearance of improvement. The goal was to look passable to the outside world. The aim now is a deeper transformation, a reinstatement of self. A thorough restoration. Recovery.

Addiction Creates Suffering

"Suffering is the stress created by craving for more. Suffering is never having enough to feel satisfied. [...] Suffering is the thought that I cannot be happy until I get... Suffering is the anguish and misery of being addicted." —Noah Levine, Refuge Recovery
With each return to addictive behavior there's an implicit denial of self acceptance, which boils down to some type of self-rejection. It's hard to think that the habits that lead us to those places weren't always there. Things didn't always work like this, and we didn't always flail, reaching for something external to satisfy some underlying internal feeling of incompleteness. In part, that's what recovery is: A reclamation of what once was — that feeling of being whole which has been drowned out by a constant craving for more.

Numb the Good, Numb the Bad, Numb the Ugly

"We don't want to feel the hurt anymore. And so we numb it. And we numb it with everything you can imagine. But what happens when you numb the hurt and you numb the grief, is you numb the joy and you numb the light. You cannot selectively numb affect." —BrenĂ© Brown, Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice
One of the best parts of an addiction-riddled mind and body sobering up is that, in their return to health — their recovery, their ability to feel feelings is restored. One of the scariest and most painful parts of an addiction-riddled mind and body sobering comes in the reality of what it feels like to actually feel those feelings.

The Elephant and Being

"Becoming becomes a denial of being." —Bruce Lee
A few weeks back on a trip to New York, I was explaining my elephant tattoo to a new friend. It's not always easy to articulate ideas that have rattled around in your head for a long time, and admittedly I probably did a poor job at explaining the aim of it. For clarity's sake, the idea here is based off a passage from Leo Babauta's The Power of Less,
“Choosing the essential is the key to simplifying — you have to choose the essential before you simplify, or you’re just cutting things out without ensuring that you’re keeping important things. 
How do you know what’s essential? That’s the key question. Once you know that, the rest is easy. 
Once you know what’s essential, you can reduce your projects, your tasks, your stream of incoming information, your commitments, your clutter. You just have to eliminate everything that’s not essential. 
It’s like the old joke: how do you carve a statue of an elephant? Just chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Well, first you have to know what an elephant looks like.”
Several years ago when I first read that, it coincided with a time in my life where I was ripe for leaving things behind. I had moved on from my job, said goodbye to friends, and was heading back to Canada to start fresh in a return to my hometown. What I was really doing, though, was bailing on my work, abandoning friends, and fleeing a city with the hope that old habits wouldn't migrate with me to new surroundings. Either way, I was "cutting things out" in the name of essentialism, while entirely missing the point of what that's all about.

In explaining the story of how this translates to a tattoo, I might have focused too much on the idea that there was some sense of further action required (more chipping away yet to be accomplished) before that sense who I was could really be felt. Rightly so, the new friend challenged it and asked why I couldn't just be? Why was there such a drive to eliminate and refine in an attempt to discover what's already present?

I remember the feeling in that moment. Something clenched up in me because I felt like I was wrong: Why hadn't I thought of that in the eight years I've been considering getting this tattoo?!?! I felt embarrassed and tried to back-peddle to an explanation of what I meant, but no one cared as much as I did and discussion rightly moved forward.
"The problem with the Western approach is that it attempts to explain life, as opposed to revealing how to experience it. [...] If the goal of dancing were to reach a certain spot on the floor, then obviously the fastest dancer would be the best. The point of dancing is the dance itself. And so it is with life." —The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee
Maybe what's impacted me most, since then, about that feeling is the realization of how true that idea is: I really don't spend enough time be-ing.

To me, the elephant has come to represent the process of becoming. The most difficult part in explaining that to someone who hasn't struggled with addiction, though, is communicating just how strong the desire is to shed its heavy burden. To change, really. The elephant signifies growth, both the nurturing and development of what I truly want out of life, as well as the stripping away or elimination of that which isn't. But in all of that constant "doing," what might be most essential of all here is being present and aware while the shape of that statue continues to find its form.

Believed to Be Seen

Believed to Be Seen is a writing project I published in February of 2013, when I was twenty-nine. At that time, I surmised its aim to be that of documenting “my evolving experience with the American addiction treatment industry, and how I finally found my way out of its maze.” The obvious angst of that statement might speak to where I was at in my own recovery at the time: I was frustrated; I was searching for an identity; I was rejecting my past; and I was rejecting “the system.” In essence, I used it as a means of researching my way sober.

When writing of my experience, at that time, the extent of my exposure with Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Steps was reading The Big Book and reaching the "second step" before parting ways with my short lived “sponsor.” I still hold many of the positions explained in Believed to Be Seen (I still struggle with the “disease concept of alcoholism,” self-admission of being an “alcoholic,” and a relationship with a “higher power,” just to name a few) but have now “worked” the steps all the way through. This time I did so with a new sponsor, who has since become like a brother to me. I've also paid that service forward by walking someone else through the Twelve Steps as they were taught to me. I recognized, and wrote of, the value of working with others to get sober at the time of writing the book, but still neglected to take advantage of that, myself. In doing so I missed out on some of the potential for real connection which lies at the heart of A.A.’s “Program.”

Certainly, after its release, I became confused about what the unforeseen consequences might be related to sharing “my story” online in that way. I was fearful about whether it would show up on an employer’s background check, or what others might think of me if it showed up in a Google search for my name. So I deleted it and removed it (where I could) from the online outlets where it'd been published. Around that same time, though largely unrelated to that decision, came a move to drink again. I was sober for nearly two years at that point in time and what followed was a year of mayhem which nearly led to my end.

In hindsight, my intention behind the book feels flawed. I used it as a means of defending why it was I thought I didn’t need anyone’s help getting sober rather than what it could have been: An outreached hand extended to others who also need help. I regret that decision, but recognize that's what I needed to do at the time to get where I'm at. And in this space I hope there's value in sharing it now. I wrote my way into sobriety only follow that up by nearly drinking myself to death. Looking back, I feel like that happened because I tried to recover on my own. I couldn’t. I still can't. And if anyone who reads this is struggling with that same challenge, please reach out.

Prologue: Letting Go
Chapter One: Surrender
Chapter Two: One Nation Under the Influence
Chapter Three: Untreatable
Chapter Four: A Crisis of Identity
Chapter Five: All or Nothing
Chapter Six: Reconsidering A.A.
Chapter Seven: Adaptation
Chapter Eight: Clarity

The Downside of Getting My Way

From Believed to Be Seen,
"When I was in high school a teacher asked our class to look at our futures and think of what goals we would like to achieve. Being seventeen years old I felt life would be complete if I could see some of my favorite bands perform live and own a big-screen TV. While I vividly remember daydreaming about how great it would be to see a few concerts and bask in the luxury of a massive glowing screen, my goals have evolved slightly as my understanding of what is possible has. [...] In his 2011 Dartmouth College commencement address, Conan O’Brien spoke to this process, explaining, 'It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.'"
From time to time it dawns on me just how terrible life would be if all I ever got was my way. I like to think of myself as some kind of Big Picture thinker, but when it comes right down to it my imagination is pretty limited. What I mean by that is: The universe seems to have a way of providing a richer life for me than the one I imagined as ideal for myself.

What I mean by that is, whatever version of an ideal life I'm able to come up with – my imagination almost always falls short of what life actually offers me. And what life tends to offer me is far more challenging, rewarding, terrifying, and satisfying than anything that I'd have come up with if I was running the show. (If I'd have gotten my way when I was young, my life would have been forever confined to the hopes, dreams, and imagination of a seventeen year old... what a sad state of affairs that would have been!) Therein lies the beauty of not getting my way: The majority of the time I end up in a better place because of it.

The Elevator to Success

This evening, at a meeting, an older guy shared an experience he'd had earlier in the day. Reading the newspaper (which, as he said, is how you know he's old), he was doing one of the word puzzles – the type where it provides the first few words of a phrase, leaving you to solve for the remaining blank spaces. "There is no elevator to success," the solution began, "you've got to take the steps."

What continues to resonate with me now is that if "success," serenity, or well being are to be had on the top floor, whatever that might be, I recognize that I go looking for the elevator when I'm thinking only about my success, my serenity, or my well being. And for some unknown reason – when I make my life all about me, there's typically little of any of them to actually be had.

Taking the steps to success requires effort, and it's in such spaces where so much of life is to actually be experienced (even though I'm pretty good at convincing myself that what I really want is to never have to put any effort into anything...). That's where success, serenity, and well being begin to be redefined though, and are often done so with an increasing emphasis on the someone who isn't named Me. Not unlike how taking the steps goes a long way in achieving success, working the Twelve Steps is a fine way to challenge that me-voice and begin recognizing that it's only through putting the work in that we begin to understand what "success" even means. There's little gratitude to be found in the elevator.

Fear of the Dark

"The things we want are transformative, and we don't know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation." –Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Embarking on any kind of new direction can be, and often is, overwhelming. A new beginning can come with fear - the What If? being a mysterious darkness where the unknown is yet to be characterized as either a friendly or fearful place... and until that journey is flowing and momentum begins to further light the way forward, my mind tells me that place is to be feared.

No matter what the goal of the pursuit might be, the unknown of what is to follow casts a shadow. And in that shadow, a monster exists. Past experiences have proven that the monster is never as big as my imagination tells me it is, but still I fear it. Past experiences have also shown that the growth that potentially awaits is always significantly more transformative than my voice of self-doubt would have me believe, but still I discount it.

Transformation awaits, but without stepping into the unknown we'll never find out what it looks like.

Right Action, Right Thinking

It's often said that "right action leads to right thinking," meaning that positive feelings often follow positive actions, rather than the inverse. For so long though my thoughts either led me astray from what that right action really was, or they rationalized questionable action in the name of something "right enough." Such is the plight of an addict, I guess – not always being aware of what right action even looks like. And what's developed out of that state of delusion is a general uncertainty of self, one which still exists to some degree despite having a few years of sobriety in the rearview.

To this day I interpret A.A.'s "my best thinking got me here" phrase with a little condescension, but I also recognize the truth behind it: Had I been open to asking for, and actually accepting, a little more help along the way, maybe life would have gone differently. Thinking back, I didn't reach my low points by asking for help, soliciting advice, or listening to feedback from others – I reached those places when I cut myself off from others and listened exclusively to the feedback loop spinning between my ears. Right action leads to right thinking, but sometimes the most right action is asking someone else what that right action might be. And when that action is taken, right thinking is often soon to follow.

A Return, A Renewal

The first time I visited New York City was in December 2005 as part of a class trip. This was prior to TSA laws tightening up, and on the morning of our flight I loaded up two water bottles with vodka for our trip. I remember making a makeshift Bloody Mary on the plane with tomato juice as I played peek-a-boo with a small child who was sitting in the seat in front of me. It was all downhill from there.

For about half of the trip I drank, which meant for half of that trip I was in and out of blackouts. It was ugly - I pissed myself one night, but managed to clean myself up before calling too much attention to myself. Or at least that's what I thought at the time. About half way through the trip our group changed hotels and I took advantage of the transition by drinking the day away. After landing in the new hotel, we took a group tour of Madison Square Garden before a New York Rangers game. I don't remember any of it.

An Irish pub was stationed across the street from our hotel, and after the game I decided I hadn't had enough. That's where my memory begins to flicker on and off: I met a pair of English tourists and we bonded over jukebox picks before we wandered in the direction of Times Square, leaving a mess behind us as we went. But when we split up it became clear I didn't really know where I was. This was before I had a cell phone and I didn't have a good grasp of direction, considering that when the group checked in to our new hotel I was already drunk. A flash of me trying to figure out which floor my room was on, trying and failing at getting my key card to work on several doors. Another flash of dozing off in a bathroom stall in the bar next door, only to be shouted at by one of the kitchen staff. Then a period of unknown before I somehow landed back in my hotel room.

Late in the afternoon both of the chaperones, each professors of mine at school, knocked on my door, sat down with me, and in gentle terms cut me off from drinking. They didn't know what to do with me and as they were liable for my safety; it was either that or I went home. That night I rejoined my classmates at a crowded restaurant table where I tried not to appear nauseated as I hunched over what would otherwise be a delicious bowl of French Onion soup. We went to The Late Show with David Letterman after. Pierce Brosnan was a guest and we sat in the balcony. Once I detoxed and my sickness passed, the rest of the trip went pretty well.

I returned a little over a year later, in January of 2017. I met to hang out and meet some people in person who I'd only known as online contacts. It was a short trip and was great, but on the last day I began drinking on the way to the airport. When I arrived (just how I arrived, I'll never know) I sat down for a couple shots at a tequila bar. That was all I remember until the next morning, with the exception of a confused late night call to my dad, trying to piece together where I was and how I'd gotten there. Then nothingness.

I woke up by the ticketing counter and my laptop was gone (I'd apparently left it at security) and had missed my flight home. Maybe I had been prevented from boarding, maybe I simply lost time and missed my plane. I still have no idea what happened. I just remember the shame, knowing that my dad and little sister had driven to the airport to greet my arrival, only to have had to deal with the fear and frustration that came as a consequence of my actions.

The third time I was in NY I had been sober for almost a year. I had been invited out by a friend who was in a rough spot, herself, but I wasn't much for company as I shared her depressed state. I felt lost the majority of the time I was there, and I remember considering on a few occasions just giving up and drinking. I didn't. I figured it would have pushed me over the edge. A little over a year later I did drink again though, and in the year that followed that decision I ended up slowly falling over that cliff.

This past weekend I returned to the city, helping my sister as she moved to Brooklyn. There was so much to be grateful and thankful for with the return to the city. Beyond being appreciative of the opportunity to make the trip and safely completing the move itself, many times it was simple moments of just being around people and seeing the moments for what they were that filled me with emotions. Without the protective armor of alcohol or the hazy mask of depression, I was just feeling raw this time around. Exposed. And grateful for that.

The best part about the city might be how its scale can recalibrate the scope of a person's outlook. Soaking in the breathtaking magnitude of the Oculus, spending time at the 9/11 Memorial, people watching in Central Park, returning to the beautiful Museum of Natural History, and viewing the immaculate creations on display at The Cloisters... it all just made me feel so... small. And of all the feelings I've experienced in New York City, that's the one that left me feeling the most whole.

New York City, NY

Photos taken around New York City, NY in August 2018.

And Then What...?

"The honey doesn't taste so good once it is being eaten; the goal doesn't mean so much once it is reached; the reward is not so rewarding once it has been given." —the Tao of Pooh
It came up in conversation this morning, the idea of "And then what?" Let's say I find an ideal job, that pays enough to sustain me, aligns with my values, and feeds my soul - and then what? Or a woman comes into my life who checks all of the boxes: she's funny, smart, sexy, kind, genuinely amazing - and then what? Or what if I miraculously achieve dietary perfection and tirelessly work toward building a chiseled physique - and then what? And then I still have to live with myself. No matter where you go, that's where you are, right?

Being the Party

"I can be the party, but going to the party's difficult." That line says so much for how I've felt for most of my life. When people ask me what it was like when I was drinking, they don't always seem to understand the isolation that was a part of it. Going all the way back to high school when I started drinking - I felt I had to drink more to be comfortable around other people at bars or parties. There was no way I could just be there and be myself, as if I had any kind of idea who that person was. I had to be extra, and that meant drinking more.

Many times I'd write a story in my head about how it was socially acceptable to drink more when at a party, or that the social etiquette of a party called for certain people to drink extra hard to help balance the room out, and certainly I was willing to help the group out by carrying the burden of that cross. But that's just it: I could be the party, but I could never be part of.

Replacement Therapy

Within the context of recovery, the word "renunciation" is a new phrase for me. In Refuge Recovery it's explained as "the practice of abstaining from harmful behaviors." Similarly, the term's Wiki article pins it as "the act of rejecting something, especially if it is something that the renouncer has previously enjoyed or endorsed." In looking back on my own life, some fifteen years or experimenting with binge drinking is probably as fine an endorsement of alcohol as any.

Through my own path of recovery there has been firm use of renunciation when it comes to alcohol, as abstinence has proven the only viable solution for me in moving beyond it in search of improved well-being. Removal of a vice isn't removal of the feelings or emotions that feed the craving however, which is where the concept of replacement therapy takes form: the trading of one destructive habit or pattern for another. In lieu of having the option to use alcohol (or drugs, or sex, or whatever that primary vice might be) to mask feelings or modify a mood, the same drive for pleasure or desire to escape negative feelings, begins to breathe through other mediums in search of the same result.

For some the trade-off seems harmless, but for myself the same behaviors and feelings are simply manifesting themselves in different forms of self-harm. Now abstinent from alcohol for the better part of three years, little has been done to curb or even address the abuse of food and pornography which are now used to gain the very same relief that alcohol once delivered me.

"Renunciation alone is not recovery, however," continues Refuge Recovery. "It is only the beginning. Those who maintain abstinence but fail to examine the underlying causes and conditions are not on a path to recovery. They are simply stopping the surface manifestations of addition, which will inevitably resurface in other ways."

Renunciation alone is not recovery. The absence of harm is not to be mistaken for the presence of health. Today is not the beginning, but another step in a process.

The Willingness

Willingness might well be inversely proportional to how well things are going in my life. Then again, even in the challenging times, when my ass is wholly engulfed in fire, sometimes it's hard to find the willingness to do what it takes to put out the flames.

Why does the shelf life of my willingness expire daily? Why is my willingness not renewed for a season, or even a year? And why, when I lose sight of the present moment, does future willingness tend to become predicated on an expectation of results? When I get lost, why do I become only willing to keep doing what's right for myself and those around me if the outcome of that applied will is to be exactly as I desire it to be? Why is it that if the potential results of my willingness-in-action waver whatsoever from my impossibly rigid expectations, I tend to become unwilling?

Speaking directly to this, The Big Book reads, “We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable.” Well, no shit. If transformation is the goal, a willingness to change is essential. But before taking on the world and welcoming any sort of renewed outlook on the matter, it's worth asking whether I'm willing to let go of who I think I want to be and accept whatever form my metamorphosis might take? Look back three years and it's easy to see that it if I'd turned into the person I wanted to be three years ago, that person would be nowhere near who I am today. Why, then, can't I look forward with the same willingness? Why can't I accept that letting go of this death grip I have on expectation is the only way of getting out of the trap of dissatisfied complacency? Letting go of who I am, which is who I no longer want to be, means accepting that I must be willing to change despite not knowing what the outcome of that looks like. As far as words go, those make sense - the reality of internalizing what that actually looks like and taking that action, however, is absolutely scary as hell.

The Illusion of Relief

The illusion of relief goes beyond "self-sabotage" or an internal voice of doubt - the illusion of relief goes deeper. The illusion of relief masks its harm as a justified solution. The illusion of relief sells itself as the only viable option. The illusion of relief looks like a safe harbor in the midst of a storm. The illusion of relief feels like the answer. The illusion of relief feels like relief. But the illusion of relief is not relief. The illusion of relief is just an illusion.

Yet the illusion of relief has me sitting here, typing all this out, and still considering how eating a pizza and a box of cookies in a single sitting would probably be OK because I'm hungry, it's Sunday, and at least cookies aren't liquor. Even having a logical handle on the situation, and knowing that the outcome of taking such action has only ever resulted in rapidly compounding levels of guilt and shame, the twisted aspect of all this is that the illusion of relief still seems like it's worth a try.