Exploring the Past in Recovery



We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it – AA Promises


Recently I had lunch with classmate I had not seen in nearly 40 years – no make that nearly 50 years – a friend from grade school.  Long story, shortened goes like this:

  • The classmate used Facebook to track down 1966 graduates from elementary school
  • occasional reunions are held but I am too far out-of-town or out-of-country when they occur
  • we stay somewhat engaged on FB,
  • I was going to be in my hometown recently, we got together  for lunch.

And there is more truth-telling in all of this.  Typically, I am absolutely petrified of such reunion experiences.  I recollect being a miserable kid, wholly embarrassed by my very existence.  I began to drink alcohol by the time I hit the 5th grade and was a total mess before graduating high school.  I am always quite nervous to walk down the memory lane of those years.

The classmate suggested we meet for lunch at a local hangout still around today.  The last time I remember being in the place was in grade school.  As extremely cool delinquents of the mid-1960s, another fellow and I had walked in, picked up some snack foods, walked up to the elderly cashier and said “Hey, we are stealing this” and we ran out, knowing we would not be caught.  The last time I saw that fellow he had a rag filled with glue in his mouth.  I am told he went on to design nuclear power plants, but I digress.

The recent lunch meeting with my classmate was quite good.  We sat and told our mutual stories for about 2 hours.  I was quite surprised by the very similar ‘philosophy of life’ directions we both ended up taking – living into the solution, not dwelling in the problem, being open to possibilities.  We were both blue collar kids that grew up in the shadow of the auto factories of the midwest.  In fact, our hometown existed solely because of employment in the auto plants.  She expressed regret that she had gone straight from high school to work.  She retired at the age of 48 and through work and pleasure has traveled to six of the seven continents.  We talked about the value of sharing meals with folks in their homes across the globe.  In our conversation, I realized we had traveled different but sometimes parallel paths over the years.

At the end of our lunch she told me that some 6 – 8 of our 1966 class get together on the last Thursday of the month at the hangout.  The next time I come up north, I will try to arrange for the trip to include one of those Thursdays.

A few years ago our elementary school was torn down.  I went to the spot and there was no trace that a building had ever stood on the spot, except for a small pile of bricks.  I assume they were left by the demolition crew for folks such as me who want to take back some bit of their past.  In recovery, I have learned to learn from and embrace the whole self of the past, present, and future.




A Different Holiday Season

recovery-scroll2This is starting off as an interesting and different holiday season.  For the past few years my wife and I have not really done much at our home in the way of Christmas decorations because we spend the holiday heading south to family in New Orleans where we will retire in the near future.  But this year is different.  My wife retired in November and now is “transitioning” to life in New Orleans about 18 months ahead of me.  She has opened up a store on Magazine St. called Uptown Needle and CraftWorks, where among other things she sells very cool “recovery scrolls” pictured here. (Great last minute gift idea for the addict in your life. Three feet of steps, traditions, promises, and affirmations.  A shameless plug.)  So for the immediate future we will have long weekends once a month together until I join her full-time in 2016.

This year, instead of us both getting out of town and heading south for a bit of relaxation, she will be heading north and I will be staying put for the holidays.  So last night I got all the Christmas decorations out of the attic, and will have them up by the end today – in a spirited competition to outdo with my next-door neighbor.

recovery-scrollThe last few weeks of reasonable isolation in our up north house with just me and the dogs has been interesting. In the past during our times apart, my wife and I keep up a reasonably regular email/phone conversation.  We now find that Facetime is the better tool so that we can actually see each other.

I find that the being apart has been a lesson in how much we really enjoy being together – not taking each other for granted – my understanding of how our mutual passions, interests, lives, do form a greater whole than our two parts.

While going through the attic pulling out the Christmas stuff, I came across the shoe box labeled “our wedding” that contains the extra service bulletins, bookmarks, wedding cards wishing us well from the event some 15 years ago.

I think too of how none of this would have come to pass were I not sober.  And I recollect how some of our first conversations when we met over 15 years ago included me being upfront about my alcoholism and that I had been in recovery for some 15 years by that point.  In response, she told me how she had started the first Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting in the state a bunch of years before.

So, this year we will start a new tradition – and remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same.



Blogging as a Recovery Tool

IMG_2536I spend about one hour each day in some combination of reading, commenting, or writing on/about recovery blogs.  It’s generally the way that I start out each day.  I have come to realize how integral blogs are to my recovery.  For many this realization might sound like a pretty ridiculous statement.  I realize that for many folks blogs have been integral since the first day of their recovery process.  For me, that has certainly not been the case, as blogs and the internet were unknown back when I first got sober in 1984.

What got me to thinking about recovery blogs more was some recent conversation with folks struggling in their early recovery from Thailand, to England, to California, where I am able to comment and say – Yes, I can completely relate – and then share my experience, strength, and hope.  As in an AA meeting, the approach is not – here is what you need to do.  Rather comments on blogs are from a “carrying the message” and “practicing these principles in all our affairs” perspective that I learned early on in Alcoholics Anonymous.

In 1997 I was living in a rural northeast Louisiana in the U.S. where the nearest AA meeting was about a 20 mile drive.  During this period I went many months and even years without attending an AA meeting.  But during this period, I was on a quest for something, I am not certain what, and was doing an incredible amount of searching.  I also quit smoking during this period following a twelve step program.  In previous years I had attended two Smokers or Nicotine Anonymous meetings, in one case driving 90 miles to the nearest gathering.  In 1997, I logged in daily to an IRC channel whose name I have forgotten but was something like Smokers Anonymous or Stop Smoking.    For an extended period, this became my Twelve Step meeting to become abstinent from nicotine.  That tool launched me into my now 17th year of abstinence from nicotine.

I mean this post not to be a walk down memory lane of my recovery tools and changing technology.  Rather, I have profoundly come to believe that every day I must be actively mindful that I am an addict in recovery with choices to make.  I have sometimes thought that my approach was rather fickle and that I should have a consistent “recovery tool” I could point to.  But I also reflect on a comment Joe Iverson, my detox counselor made in 1984: “Alcoholics want things not to change, to be stable and flat.  However, the only time you get a flat line is when you are dead.”

The punch line for me becomes that the consistency in my recovery is the daily and intentional choice to live in recovery and not active addiction.  The tools are plentiful and evolve.  What I must remember is that if the tool I am using is not working, then it is time to get another tool from recovery kit.

My Many Recovery Tools


I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail – Abraham Maslow (ref)

 I have not been to an AA meeting for about six weeks, and I am not feeling bad about that.  My recovery is based in trying to live the Twelve Steps of AA – none of those steps mandate regular meeting attendance.  Yet I also know that in the future, I will attend AA meetings, perhaps with a good bit of regularity, as I have done in the past.

I view AA meetings as a recovery tool.  Other recovery tools include writing this post, commenting on other folks blog posts, being of service to other addicts, being of service to non-addicts, reading recovery literature, reading non-recovery literature, being accountable for my actions on a daily basis, being mindful and intentional, going to church, not going to church, writing a gratitude list, to name a few.  A common theme I find in all of these recovery tools is that they allow/force me to get out of myself.

I enjoy knowing that there are many tools that are essential for my recovery.  On my recovery road there are many that are tried and true, like:

  • Whenever I go to a recovery meeting, I learn something, whether for the better or worse, that is useful in my life.
  • Whenever I have perform any type of “service work” my recovery is enhanced.
  • Whenever I start reading the Twelve and Twelve on page 1, the solution to any issue I face is addressed before completing the Twelfth Step reading.
  • Whenever I write anything, whether a gratitude list, blog post, comment on a blog post, journal entry, essay, or fiction I receive insights on my recovery path.
  • Whenever I share my experience, strength, and hope, whether directly in recovery, or simply living life on life’s terms, my recovery is enhanced.

Sometimes the hammer works, but sometimes another tool is needed.  What are your go to recovery tools?