Sobriety & Mardi Gras


On duty at the Port-o-Potty station at Rayne Memorial.

Where we live in New Orleans is referred to as the Mardi Gras Box.  That means we are boxed in by the Uptown parade staging area and the parade route that have been very active for the past ten days.  The mode of transportation that works best is a bicycle.  Although I enjoy the season a lot, by a couple of days ago I was pretty much Mardi Gras’d out and look forward to a quiet Lenten season beginning this Wednesday.  This year is the first time since the mid-1970s I have been in New Orleans for the entire Mardi Gras season.  Like the Christmas season that extends well into the pre-Thanksgiving period, the same is true for Mardi Gras parades.

Yesterday I had a revealing reflection on Mardi Gras Past and Present.

I took a geographic cure out of New Orleans in the fall of 1975.  I remember a couple of distinct events from that year’s Mardi Gras.  I had been suicidal from the absolute depths of depression but had kept from effectively acting on same.  On Mardi Gras day as the parades ended, I remember running as fast as I could down Tchoupitoulas Street because I was afraid if I stopped running my brain would leave my head and I would never be able to get it back – demonstrating my ability to hallucinate from alcohol consumption beyond the imaginary cockroaches and tremors when I tried to detox on my own.  I don’t remember much else from that day, except I was apparently responsible for “borrowing” a neighbors car without their knowledge, and woke up on the river levee sometime later.  After leaving New Orleans in 1975 I still had another nine years of drinking left before I got sober.


Initial fitting a month ago of my coat of many colors.

Mardi Gras in 2017 is quite a bit different.  This past Thursday I was volunteering at the port-o-potties that my church sets-up as a youth fundraiser on the St. Charles Avenue parade route.  My church, Rayne Memorial, is also located within “the box” and just a 10-minute walk from our house.  During my five shifts of directing folks to an open unit or in administering the post-use squirt of hand-sanitizer, I experienced friendly convivial festival folks, mostly families – the antithesis of my drunken state over 40 years ago.  At our church service on Sunday, the spirit was one of celebration.  Tomorrow, is Mardi Gras and my wife and I will join another couple and take a slow walk along the St. Charles Avenue parade route to the French Quarter, watch parades along the way, have lunch, and then with any luck get a taxi back uptown, or walk if need be.  I will be sporting my “coat of many colors” that my wife made for me, and will dye my hair and beard blue.  I will remember it all and expect to have a thoroughly enjoyable day.

My wife and I will wake up the next morning to the peace and quiet that only Ash Wednesday brings to New Orleans.  I will start transplanting the germinated cucumbers, okra, basil, and other herbs and vegetables I started a couple of weeks ago.  There are sunflowers, purple cone, and bunches of other stuff to get going as well.  We still have several raised beds that we want to build this year near our citrus trees.

I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to return and live in my favorite city in North America and experience a Mardi Gras of celebration, knowing fully that I am one drink away from the hallucinations and insanity of the past.


My view as I write this from our porch with a view to our back yard with in process raised beds and gardens.




What Do I Want From Life In Recovery?


Stop what you are doing. Take several deep, cleansing breaths. Ask yourself: “What do I want for my life?” Listen for the initial responses. You can even jot them down. Keep asking yourself, “What is beneath that? What is my heart’s deepest longing?” When you finally hear the response at the bottom of your soul, write it down. Keep it simple. Say it in one sentence: “I want….”

Then begin to meditate on the phrase that comes to you. Do not try to figure it out. Do not get caught in the mind’s resistances, the many reasons why that life is impossible. Do not waste time wondering what people will think. Do not try to figure out how that life can work practically. The soul is not practical. The soul simply wants what it wants. Life will dance with the soul to find a way.              ~ William Thiele


The above quote is from a blog post written by William Thiele, the founding Spiritual Director of the School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans.  If the above resonates with you, I urge you to read William’s entire post.

Here is why the exercise William proposed resonated so much with me – When working with young adults, I encourage them to think long, hard, and broadly, about how they envision their ideal career.  We go back and forth over multiple sessions examining possibilities of how to have their deep passions meet the needs of the world.  But for myself, I have not thought that through deeply for my life beyond career.  At the age of 64, my standard response to the question posed by William “to have meaning” is not adequate.

This question applies to my addiction recovery life too.  I have blogged before how the AA Promises have certainly come true in my life.  I recollect quite clearly laying in a detox bed on August 4, 1984 and only wanting to be a normally functioning member of society.  Since that time I received so much more.

But today in retirement, I find that I can replace my freedom from all those dreaded meetings and reports of my work life with a myriad of other tasks and projects that divert and frustrate me – and I wonder how I got into this or that commitment that does not really feed what I seek in life.

Here are some cases in point:

  • This morning I overheard someone of about my age who recently spent a couple of weeks in intensive care, now in full recovery, comment how for years he kept an Atlas under his bed and would take it out and dream of places he and his wife could go.  He noted it was now time to stop dreaming but doing.
  • My wife and I have had dreams, many that we have lived into and made real.  Yet we realize the continued need to be very intentional about how we spend our most precious commodity, time, as we live into the future.
  • Today in the U.S., there is a pressing need for action on a very broad range of social, political, and economic needs.  Where can my skills and passions be best used?
  • Living into my Christian values and responsibilities of justice for all of God’s creation certainly can take me down many paths.

And the list goes on.  I commit in the coming months to follow William’s exercise, to think mindfully and meditate on the phrase or thought that arises, and be willing to live into what comes forward when asking “What do I want for my life?”

What does all this have to do with recovery? Had I not started down a recovery road over 30 years ago, I would not be asking myself these questions today.  I fully suspect I would be dead.  If still living I would be in such deep throes of my alcoholism that such life affirming questions would be the furthest thing from my mind.