Addict. On July 10, 1999, I lost what felt like everything. Accused of felony crimes, arrested in for fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance and within 48 hours, defrocked, I lost my 15-year career as a pastor with the United Methodist Church. I was unemployed and every family member and friend saw me with tenuous acceptance … and those were the very loving ones.
It makes sense, really. I had been arrested. I had lied to my family, parishioners and friends repeatedly about my opiate addiction. I had “borrowed” money with no real way of paying it back. Being an addict means so much that is negative in our lives. Lies, stealing, distrust – we wrap addicts in all of these things. However, I would like to believe that that is only part of the truth.
One of the major obstacles to recovery is public stigma. The stigma comes, in part, from the way we talk and think about recovery. Addict. Junkie. Druggie. These terms carry with them the Hollywood scenes and dramatic memories of the underbelly of alcoholism and addiction. These words cause us to ignore the people like myself who are living in recovery. These words and prejudices cause us to objectify the addict and the alcoholic. We can then easily place them in the box with the “town drunk” as too often incurable. As a result, when I sought help, the help that was available to me existed only in church basements, amid bad coffee, smoke-veiled doorways and broken stories of destruction and carnage.
The good news is that for whatever reason, I was able to let myself go there and get help. I found some remarkable and wise people. The bad news is that many other people know they need help and even seek help from medical professionals, only to find that they must cast themselves into the realm of the least, the last and the lost of society in order to get it.
Hospitals could only offer me a short-term plan. Treatment facilities, which were much better funded in 1999 than they are now, could only offer me 30 days of treatment, after which I could “graduate.” But then what? I’m one of the fortunate ones who somehow managed to get through this scant offering of treatment and recovery.
According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.1 million people ages 12 and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem last year, but only 2.5 million received treatment at a specialty facility. About one-quarter of those who need treatment but do not receive it lacked insurance, according to the article.
A few years ago I watched a movie that I believe everyone should watch: The Anonymous People. The film goes into detail about the common struggle of recovering people, and their families, health-care professionals and friends. We need a transformation, a uniting of minds and resources to change public perception and policy. We need to claim the reality that the old adage, “Once an addict, always an addict,” is false. (To learn more about The Anonymous People, visit www.manyfaces1voice.org)
There are an estimated 23 million people in the United States who are living in long-term recovery. I am an addict, but I’d prefer to say something different.
I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I haven’t had alcohol or other drugs since July 10, 1999. This has allowed me to become a better person, a loving father, grandfather and husband. I have established myself as a productive member of my community and a successful business leader. What is more, I have found space for my own creative expression. I write poetry and published a book.
Sounds much better, doesn’t it?
We are people you may know, but you don’t know about our recovery, the anonymous people. Here's to 18 years of recovery and counting...
The Solution: Simply move?
Hanging on the wall in my office, there is a picture of a tree that changes color and definition to reflect the four seasons. As you walk by the angle of the print causes the tree to shift from a winter scene of bare branches and snow, through sprouting spring foliage, the full greening of summer and then the autumn leaves of fall. From my desk seat, it always looks like autumn.
I like seeing the different images of the picture. The variety, changing colors and images offers a nice change from what is often the static unchanging art of an office space. There are times when I will just move to a different place in my office to see and enjoy the picture differently. It isn’t that I don’t like seeing the fall tree, I do. I like seeing the other images, too.
Here’s my thought: My living is often the same way. It is easy to settle into the same routine, the same patterns of moving through life and soon – everything seems to look stagnant. In the same way I have to get up and move to a different place in my office to see the variety of the tree picture, I can move to a different place in my living to see life with new colors.
From a simple move, like visiting a different coffee shop, to a more dramatic change, like ending or starting a new relationship, we can experience the very different seasons of our living. I’m not advocating change for change sake, but I am encouraging myself to remember that sometimes I need to move a little and change my perspective in order to appreciate the rich variety of life.
I sat in a meeting yesterday with a successful local entrepreneur – a very rich man. He was clearly tired, almost exhausted throughout the meeting. After we had finished our business discussions, the conversation shifted as he explained his fatigue. He had spent the previous evening volunteering at a local homeless shelter. As he begin to tell the tale of his time helping others that night his energy lifted, his spirit soared and the conversation moved me to a different place. The business of life glowed more brightly than the drab hues of work...the previous conversation about his business.
Get up. Move. See. Enjoy.
Over the past year and the last 4 months, in particular, I have been giving thought to the basic need of human beings to create and experience intimate, personal and fulfilling connections with other people. My posts here have certainly touched on the topic of #Intimacy and Life Pacing. It seems that much of what we do - productive and not - is driven by our need for meaningful, intimate interactions. We will seek out people who we believe will connect with us in positive ways and if those aren't available, negative ways.
We all walk around in a state of connection deprivation. We need, no long for, more connection.
Remember this song?
All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow... -Gary Jules
It's a bit ironic that in a world where we are more connected than ever, we seem to continually suffer from a type of connection lack. I remember reading "Hamlet's Blackberry" by Williams Powers. The book, as explained in the subtitle "Building a Good Life in the Digital Age," attempts to address our need to manage our digital lives and activity in a balanced fashion. To his credit, he calls "foul" early on for those who are proclaiming the fall of our humanity at the rise of abundant technology. Powers gives a reasonable and wise map for understanding our journey into this new relationship of an abundance of screens and taps. More on his book later...
Still, I'm wondering, do you struggle with an abundance of connectedness? What have you tried to manage the frenzy of your daily digital diet? What has worked? What has not worked?
Life is just pushy. Life is demanding.
During my past life as a pastor and my current role as a manger in the business setting, I've been privileged to stand with people during all manner of crisis. From being confronted with critical illness, accidental death to suicide and addiction, I've witnessed people walk through harsh situations. Life is demanding.
I've walked through the normal stresses of life with others, as well. We all experience the demands of relationships, illness, job transitions, aging and even the stress of our own feelings and thoughts. Life pushes on us – sometimes hard.
What to do? How about three things?
- Know that it’s part of the process. In the same way that hiking to the top of a mountain requires effort, even discomfort life requires effort. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have gotten this idea that life is supposed to have a particular mix of easy and hard; more easy - less hard. Right?. Not true. This moment is our work, our living and it’s often hard, sometimes painful work.
- Do a self-care check. Years ago someone introduced me to the acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. HALT and see if you’re dealing with any of these. If more than two of these is the case, you could be in trouble. Make sure you have as many of these things taken care of as possible – and the good news is, most of these are within our power to address.
- Use the buddy system. Why is it we so often go into hiding when we are struggling? Isolation isn’t helpful for managing life’s pushiness. Get with someone else and push back! Throughout every religious expression the importance of community remains constant. As the often quoted, but seldom studied words of the poet remind us,
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. - John Donne
When life pushes, we can know that it is momentary, take care of ourselves and tap into our community for support.
Who are you? Really. Ponder that for a moment. We all, no doubt, have familiar labels based on our relationships, vocation, accomplishments, hobbies, gender and age. These labels are important to communicating an understanding of who we are, but what about the uncomfortable labels that are part of us as well? Do we own those, too?
Do we live a life such that we are honest about our full humanity?
William Sloan Coffin once said, "You are all so interested in putting your best foot forward, when it is your other foot that is far more interesting."
If we are honest, we all have 'the other foot,' those labels that represent another part of who we are. Try on a few of these: divorced, addict, depressed, confused, failure, angry, hurtful, prejudiced... you get the idea. How willing are we to let others know the full truth?
Do we allow our children to see us struggle with our limitations? Can they ever learn to deal with failure if they don't see us fail and recover?
"Your children need a model of honesty. If you pretend you have no weaknesses, and cover them under masks and facades, your children will learn to do the same and the game will go on. Begin today to see, and accept, the real you beneath the role." - William Martin
As a former pastor, I recall yielding to a similar fallacy. My belief was that if I allowed too much of my humanity to be known, I would not be accepted, liked, loved by the people I served. The trick was not to look perfect, but rather to look just a little bit human, a slight bit flawed - but not reveal the true depth of brokenness that I felt and believed every day. Instead, I played a self-inflicted game of privacy and loneliness. It is impossible to have deep intimacy when we hide our complete selves.
It seems to me that when I truly listen to others, when I get the gift of connecting with other people on a deep level, we are all deeply broken and sincerely fearful of our true selves.
What say you?
The call of the Divine to us is one of acceptance and knowing, that no matter how bad we may believe we are, no matter how misunderstood or broken we may think ourselves to be, we are nonetheless loved. Ours must be a journey of progress, not perfection, of trying and failing and trying again. Ours is a tale of human imperfection and amazing accidental moments of goodness and badness. We are all of the labels - those we cherish and those we fear revealing.
In the words of Ferris Bueller , "Life moves pretty fast." I dare you to slow down. I double dog dare you.
I drive too fast and too aggressively, rush in and out of stores, text instead of talk, grab and go instant/fast food, multi-task my way through the day, gulp instead of sipping...Sound familiar? I know I'm missing out.
I dedicate myself today to doing less today
I cook a meal on the stove not in the microwave
I chew my food and focus on tasting it
I pull over to the right lane and pace with the traffic
I do one thing at a time...ONE THING AT A TIME from start to finish
I call instead of texting
I visit instead of emailing
I look at the people around me and consider them as, well, people who are also living too fast
I linger for a moment longer in a conversation...somewhere past the 'Hi. Fine. Good. Nice weather" phase of the conversation
What is, just for today, I slowed the F&$%k down?
I had lunch with a dear friend today. She recently lost her brother, at the age of 29. In sharing her journey - her very sacred, tender journey with me - she mentioned a poem which she shared with me later.
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
This "poem" wasn't really a poem at all, but rather it was originally part of a sermon delivered in 1910 by Henry Scott-Holland (1847 - 1918), a priest at St. Paul's Cathedral of London. The excerpt has long outlasted it's original message ("Death the King of Terrors"). I found it comforting.
Thank you, my friend. All is well.
Allow me to ramble a bit...
It isn't about the famous, the known, the popular, the powerful... Your life, your capacity for love and light and even the darker side of your humanity is what it's about. In as much as we can manifest our best self, the next level of self, in strength and compassion there is the IT of living. The distractions of others avail us little. Be you. It's what matters. Share you. Care with you.
While this may sound self centered, it really isn't. The one job that I have that nobody else can do is the job of being me, living my life, caring for me. True there must be a giving, serving expression of my living and often in the serving I find out much about myself...
Serve food to the homeless. Help someone change a flat tire. Visit the sick. You'll soon learn a bit about what it really important - still...
This giving needs to come from the solemn and wondrous responsibility of becoming oneself. It is far easier to spend my time and energy caught up with external political events, natural disasters, jerks in the coffee shop and other matters which require none of the work or discomfort of paying attention to my part in all of this and growing to be the next best version of me.
I need a walk in the woods...