Anti-Sobriety Myths

At this writing, I’ve been sober 16 years.

Getting sober  takes time.

I’ve seen a few myths derail more than one person’s chance at getting sober.

One myth says: “I am sober when I stop drinking.”

Wrong. Not, somewhat wrong, or a little wrong. Wrong. Dead wrong. You’re clean, as it were, when you stop drinking, not sober.

Here’s the reality (fact) that replaces the myth. You have to stop drinking in order to get sober. Getting sober takes time. Trust me.  If you’re fortunate enough to be in your early strides of the experience, you don’t yet realize how unwell you are.

Another myth says: “I can do it alone” and yet another is some family member or loved one thinking that they can save the alcoholic-addict.

Reality says: “Not only are you wrong, but don’t you think it’s nice to find out there is at least one massive life challenge you don’t have to face alone?”

I do.

There is another unflinching fact. Being an active alcoholic results in one of three endings: jails, institutions, or death. This is fact.

One other thing, another expression I learned. You’re not allowed to kill yourself in your first three years of sobriety because you’ll be killing the wrong person.



Responsibility, Accountability, Amends, Healing

When I took my first stumbling steps toward sobriety I still pointed my finger at everyone and anything but me when it came to the troubles in my life. That’s not how it works, not if you’re interested in living a healthy life, a life where you are free to be you one day at a time.

If you hear  a hint of the cliché here, so do I. And it’s okay. Once, when I was a boy, I moaned to my father about something being a cliché. He smiled knowingly and said, “Well, Pete, there’s a reason they become clichés.”  True that.

Today I read in the New York Times that the Catholic Church is going to work on ways of regaining the faith of its followers. Apparently Rev. Federico Lombardi “said that the church should cooperate with civil justice systems in the handling of priests who molest children, as well as following its own law.”  Not enough. The only way to truly regain the healthy faith of anyone is to accept accountability for your actions and hold others accountable for theirs.  Were this to happen in the Catholic Church, people like Benedict and others should be fired and, if the statute of limitations have not run out, arrested and charged. There is no shortcut around reality and their is certainly no shortcut, legally, intellectually and morally around child rapists, pedophiles and those that aid and abet those who have committed or are committing these crimes.

You can’t, as they say in the rooms of a 12-step program I go to, play the cracks, meaning play the angles. You accept responsibility in part by holding yourself accountable, you make amends, and then the healing begins. Anything short of that, the bleeding continues – and the children suffer.


Honesty: Addiction’s Greatest Fear

Addiction has one simple goal – murder life.

In the meantime, it will feast on your life, people in your life, and destroy anything and everything in its path. As discussed in the previous blog post, secrecy is its favorite fuel. The extent of your silence, the degree to which you are leaving things unsaid, the measure of your dishonesty is, in truth, an accurate measure of the distance you need to travel to get well, to be free. Free to be you, finally and gloriously, you.

Honesty is, if not the most powerful weapon, one of the most powerful weapons you can use in your war with addiction. Addiction cannot survive when faced with honesty, real, rigorous honesty which includes being open about what is going on.

Know this: whether you are the alcoholic-addict or you are a friend or family member, the extent to which you hide or don’t admit what is happening reflects the danger you are in. The sunlight of honesty slays the vampire of addiction. Let the light in. And if you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, consider two things. I am seven years sober because I have learned what an extraordinary and honorable friend honesty is. My younger brother could never get himself into the light and I missed the signs. What happened? When he was 23 he put a rifle to the side of his head and fired. I was 24. There are no happy endings without honesty. and openness. You drive away or hide from the honest people in your life, you drive away and hide from your allies.

A warning. If you do call attention to the presence of the addiction, you may get wounded. Some find it easier to shoot the messenger than deal with the message. But mark my words, however difficult the message may be for you to deal with ain’t shit compared to the wrenching pain and destruction addiction will inflict on your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Do you hear me?

Secrecy: Addiction’s Favorite Fuel

Hoping to heal from the deadly grip of addiction without revealing what is going on in your life is like asking a doctor to make you better without revealing your symptoms, or asking firefighters to put out the fire without telling them where the flames are. It can’t be done.

Addiction – which includes alcoholism, folks – is a vicious, nasty, deadly, thing.

There is a well worn and accurate expression in 12-step programs that says, You’re only as sick as your secrets. It’s true. The extent to which you are keeping things hidden may be an accurate measure of how far you need to travel to get well. A simple fact to understand? Yes. Simple to reveal what is going on in your life? Anything but.

For the moment, think of secrecy as darkness, the absence of light. Addiction grows with a vengeance in the darkness that is secrecy. It sinks its poisonous tentacles deeper and deeper into the flesh of your being and workings of your mind until it is the conductor of your daily life. Conversely, if the movements and patterns of addiction are brought into the light, it will perish if it is kept there. Keep in mind though, when first brought into the light it will get angry and strike back, often attacking those who’ve revealed its presence in the hopes that they will be villainized and driven off so addiction can slink back into the darkness of secrecy and resume its role as the daily conductor (destroyer) of life.

One thing I have noticed, and I am quite sure I am not the first to notice it, is this. The use of secrecy is often driven by the wish to avoid the anger of others. I know this to be true because I’ve lived it. Anything, please, but having someone angry at me. Anger becomes the controlling presence and, in doing so, promotes the use of secrecy. You’ll hear, I drank today but please don’t tell my wife, she’ll get mad at me. And so you don’t tell his wife because, you tell yourself, you are keeping a confidence. I actuality, you have chosen not to tell his wife that her husband is continuing to take poison. And what is the underpinning for your secrecy? Your fear of enduring the anger you will no doubt absorb when you make the sober choice and let his wife know because if you don’t tell her you are enabling the disease that is trying to kill the very person who confided in you in the first place.

It is hard, deeply hard, not to take the anger personally. Anger hurts when it is aimed at you. Even when you know it comes from the addiction, it is deeply painful, especially when it is inflicted on you by people you love. But there is another expression common in 12-step programs: this too shall pass. And it will. In the meantime, use love and patience and honesty to the best of your ability. Stay in the moment you are in. As a close friend once told me, the moment you are in is the only place you have to be.

Look, none of this is easy. There are no pain free ways of freeing yourself from addiction. I wish there were, believe me. I recently celebrated seven years of sobriety and it has not always been a cakewalk. Helping others, while anything but a cakewalk at times, is well worth it, and helps me shore up my own sobriety, even when I make mistakes, albeit honest well-intentioned ones, along the way.


A friend of mine just e-mailed me and let me know Dan Fogelberg died from prostate cancer at age 56. I am stunned. I love his music, in particular a song named, “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler.” He died at 6 a.m. Sunday morning in his home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. I can’t stop the tears.

As I write these words through cloudy eyes I find myself thinking about people who rush through their lives driven by various arrays of fears and anxieties, needs and wants, some driven by believe systems driven by greed and or lust for power or the misguided belief that they can and must control and manage every aspect of their lives and thus miss so much of life itself.

I know I lived like this for years. And while the last few years have not always been easy, all in all, life is good. Even this year, despite some grueling times emotionally, physically and spiritually along with some hefty doses of the rugged terrain of change, has been a good one.

Though you might not think so at first (or, for that matter, second) glance.

Other than the year I was shot in the head, 2007 has been the worst year for my health. As I mentioned in an earlier essay I almost died in an ER in June. And while I am better, I am still not out of the woods. I am, however, still sober. And that, for me, is more important than anything else. As I heard a woman once say in the rooms of a 12-step program, “Anything you put before your sobriety you lose.” Truer words were never spoken.

This year I have had to step back from some people I love and care about deeply. This group includes my 30-year-old daughter and as a byproduct of this reality, my two grandsons. It also includes a truly remarkable woman and her two remarkable sons. But in sobriety I have come to learn (grumbling and griping all the way, mind you) that I cannot rescue everyone, even though when people you love are struggling it can be mind-splitting painful and heartbreaking to see. As I said in a previous essay, and learned from Michael, the person I am closest to in the world, a friend for well over 30 years, all you can do is keep the door open and food on the table. But in sobriety you don’t stay seated at the table staring at the door wondering what will happen. You remember to live and do so.

When I got sober on July 12, 2002, I remember being in 12-step meetings listening to people with many years of sobriety talking about some pretty rough things in their lives: cancer, the death if a loved one; I remember one man talking about how his son was killed by a drunk driver and how that driver was now out of prison and living just blocks away from him. Others talked about going through break-ups, losing jobs, struggling with children who were in the vice-grip of alcoholism and addiction, and still they were all sober and vocal about being damned glad they were. And, most baffling of all, they were happy!

I thought they were all nuts.

I mean how on earth could someone go through the kind of things these people were enduring and not fire up a joint or toss back a shot or two? I mean, my God! Wouldn’t those harsh realities, as I’d come to believe, erode your body, mind and spirit if you didn’t find some way of escaping them, some way of taking a break from them?

The internal fear driving my thought process being, if I don’t get high and lapse into my well-learned patterns of enabling and dishonesty, reality will wash me away into nothingness.

Not true. It might have felt like it was true, but was not.

In fact, sobriety has allowed me to be me again in the world around me. Now my life is my own. Like anyone else, I have my fair share of problems and struggles. But no longer do they drive my days or dominate my every waking moment. I am not missing life anymore. I am grateful for sunsets and sunrises. I am grateful for thunderstorms and snowstorms and sunny days and cloudy days. I am grateful and filled with paternal joy watching my six-month old puppy Charley disappear headlong into a snowdrift only to come bursting out of it seconds later, shake himself free of the snow, giving a loud yip that clearly signals he is having a blast. He then does what any upstanding six-month old puppy would do in the first snow storm of his life, he dives right back into the snowdrift. I am grateful for my love of books and writing and a home that is toasty warm.

I do not run or hide from life anymore. I can’t pretend to know what’s around the corner in life and I’ll be damned if I’m going to worry about it. I don’t have time. I have to go to the store and replenish my supply of Dan Fogelberg albums and listen to them and cry tears of sadness for his passing and tears of joy and gratitude for his being here in the first place.

Life is good. I’m glad I’m in it.