True to self one day at a time

There is no place for perpetual cruelty, dishonesty or disrespect as constants in my life, no matter the perpetrator, even when the perpetrator is someone I love very much.  Having been all three at times in my life there is nearly always an open door to my life for someone willing to take responsibility and makes amends. Absent that, no healthy relationship with the person is possible. I am a realist. I know the best of us get angry and may say things or do things in a moment of anger (or fear) that are mean and nasty. One is responsible for recognizing these moments, owning them, and meaning it when they apologize. Dishonesty is another ball of wax altogether. And one worthy of real attention.

It is important to note that dishonesty serves a real purpose. First, when someone is being dishonest they are not being truthful about who they are and there may well have been a time when being truthful about who they were was dangerous. Dishonesty became a kind of armor, a survival mechanism that had to be used simply so the person could survive, so the child could protect himself or herself from abuse, for example. What is so terribly difficult to learn is the defense system that was once your greatest protector  is now one of of you greatest vulnerabilities. I have great compassion for those who include dishonesty in their life-management repertoire. This does not mean I’m always able to have them be constants in my life, nor does it mean I don’t hold them accountable.

Having a healthy relationship of any kind with someone who uses dishonesty is like to trying to sculpt solid objects out of smoke; it can’t be done. One of the things I am most appreciative of in my life is people trust me because they can. They really can. Believe me when I tell you this was not always the case. I’ve been sober now a few strides past 11 years and I can tell you there was a time I thought no one would ever trust me because there was a time there was little reason to. I remember being dishonest in ways in which raised my own eyebrows. If I’d read 31 books one year and someone asked me how many books I’d read that year, I’d say 32.

It is easy  to get angry when someone is cruel, disrespectful or dishonest in their behavior towards you. A former girlfriend of mine (now a close friend) once asked a friend of mine we were having dinner with, What do you see make Peter angry? His answer was spot on. Two things mainly. Being treated with disrespect or seeing someone being treated with disrespect, being denied their rights.  It’s true.

A short time ago I wrote a piece for this block called Beware the distance makers. Distance makers are not people, at least not in the context that essay and this one is talking about. Distance makers are habits, patterns of behavior that, by default, prevent others from getting close to us. Individuals laden with distant makers are engaging life with highly edited and twisted versions of themselves.  Stepping into the open as our true selves, flaws and all, can be a steep climb. Tragically, too steep for some, or so it seems. But, once achieved, it is a wonderful place to be. Far less stressful. Your relationship with the world around you and those in it becomes healthier, more loving, and more fulfilling.

The most painful thing of all for me is when someone I love, someone I genuinely care about, is trapped in this kind of destructive lifestyle. I can’t be close to them because it is dangerous for me. But, even more painful is witnessing people whose real truths are breathtakingly beautiful go through life trapped in the exhausting and endless task of juggling untruths, and, in doing so, confirming their inaccurate self-image that they’re not worth very much. Many reach the grave that way. I still love them, deeply so, and the door to my life is open. And while I can’t make another person get well, I can always believe in them and pray for their capacity to do so. And, if they do so, or truly start to do so, I will be there to embrace them, encourage them, and help them reclaim, or, perhaps for the first time, lay claim to the life they truly deserve. A life where they can be true to themselves, one day at a time

Goodbye My Sponsor

Note to reader: The following was first published on May 25, 2011.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

Only moments after finishing a speech today I learn you died. For a moment air leaves my world and then, standing outside minutes later in the sun, I hear you saying, “Remember, Peter, the moment you’re in is the only place you have to be.” And the air returns and I thank the sun for being there.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

In our first days together you over and over again say keep your head where your feet are, stay in the moment. Over our first coffee together you tell me you want me to stop biting my nails. I am perplexed. Why? Because you’ll have to stay in the moment you’re in.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

Once just before a meeting I tell you I didn’t feel like coming. You smiled and said, “There are only two times you should come to a meeting, when you want to and when you don’t.” Being a typical alcoholic I say, “What if I’m not sure,”  and you smile at me with so much love and say, “I stand corrected, there are three times.”

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

Walking together to the parking lot after a meeting one evening you touch my arm and say, “Look up, Peter. Look over there.” And you are pointing at a white church steeple and the beautiful blue-black sky beyond sprinkled with stars. “Don’t miss it,” you say, and I didn’t.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

You teach me to look for my unhealthy patterns. You may not get free of them right away, but when you begin to notice them you’re breaking their grip. And remember, alcoholism is like a sleeping dragon, every once in awhile it will open it’s eyes to see if you’re paying attention to your sobriety.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

I am doing my best one day at a time and I am alive today so much because of you and yes I am present and accounted for in this moment, and you are here with me.

Goodbye my sponsor I love you.

for E. L.

Special Favors Threaten Lindsay Lohan’s Life

If news reports that Lindsay Lohan is receiving special favors in jail are true her already at-risk life is even more at risk. I say if because if there is anything I am sure of, it is the penchant of some members of the media to close-dance with rumor rather than spend time in the world of reality. The latter being something someone facing the challenge of addiction must do if they want to stay alive –and free.

Anything that gives someone facing the disease of addiction the message that they do not have to deal with reality is, in short, life threatening.  Like cancer and other diseases, addiction doesn’t give a rat’s ass if the person it has hold of is famous. Addiction knows no bigotry. It simply destroys everything in its path.

One news report claiming Ms. Lohan is getting special visiting privileges says that whenever she leaves her cell everyone else is placed in lockdown. Another report says she has been given a special room with a TV, hospital bed, and a dresser for her clothes. If any of these reports are true, Ms. Lohan is being put in real danger. In order for an addict-alcoholic, like me for instance, to get well, they must fully experience the damage the addiction is inflicting on their life. To spare someone this experience is to empower the addiction and put the person at greater risk.

Ms. Lohan is not her fame, she is not her looks, she is not her addiction. She is a human being who, unless she fully experiences the damage be inflicted on her by addiction, is, in a word, doomed. 

For those who continue to use the story never ends with, they lived happily ever after.  For the most part the media doesn’t give a damn about Ms. Lohan.  In fact, you can be sure some members of the media would love it if she died from an overdose of some kind because oh my the papers they would sell, the ratings they’d get.

Ms. Lohan, like anyone facing the challenge of addiction, is in a fight for her life. If those who love her give a damn, they will allow her to fully experience jail, and not seek to create an abbreviated version of the experience. After she is released, she should go right into treatment, her father should get his self-serving ass off the talk show circuit, and those who love her should show their love by supporting all things sobriety.

Ms. Lohan deserves to get well. And she deserves  people around her who empower her, not the addiction.

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Addiction and Accountability

It is no more accurate or fair to villainize an addict or alcoholic for their symptoms than it is to villainize someone with the flu, multiple sclerosis, or brain injury for their symptoms. To do so is wrong, often heartless, and as absurd as deciding someone is a failure in life because they have a fever.

What the person with the addiction has to fully digest is this; they are accountable. Just like anyone else with an illness or medical condition, they are responsible for taking the steps necessary to get well. The kindest, though not at all the easiest thing for loved ones to do, is hold the addict or alcoholic accountable.

Lindsay Lohan’s situation, now being chewed on by the ratings-mean-more-to-us-than-human-life members of the media, is a case in point.  Danny Bonaduce, who, as a child starred in “The Partridge Family,” reportedly said the fear that comes with a stint in jail might be a healthy thing for Ms. Lohan – true – but added that “rehab does not help” – not true. Ms. Lohan’s father, who apparently has done anything but pay any real attention to his in-danger-of-dying daughter is romping around the talk show circuit. The point is, we all have people in our life who are so tangled in their own dysfunction that their influence on us, if we accept it, is anything but helpful. Surrounding dysfunctions of people and circumstance aside, the addict is the one responsible for getting well.

As an alcoholic I hit my “bottom” in 2001. I was arrested, fired from a job, and destroyed a five-year relationship. That the circumstances surrounding the arrest were linked to a set-up was what my mind chose to focus on. They set me up, the bastards. Case got thrown out of court didn’t it? All conveniently true. Had it not been true I would have lied and said it was true anyway.  Truth was something I aligned myself with only when it worked for me, or so I thought.

Anyway, in my first months in a 12-step program I was talking with a NYC Firefighter who had something along the lines of 20 years sobriety under his belt. I spun my tale of they-set-me-up woe to him. He listened patiently until I’d finished. “Okay,” he said. “I’m going to believe you. But here’s the real question, it’s a yes or no answer. Was there anything about Peter Kahrmann that contributed to these things happening in the first place? Yes or no?” I knew the answer and said it. “Yes.” Had I not been drinking, had I not been active, none of what befell me would have happened.

And so when Lindsay Lohan or anyone else facing addiction bemoans the circumstances they find themselves in, Ms. Lohan recently referring to her jail sentence as “inhuman and degrading treatment,” what they need to get, really get, is the simple but difficult to digest fact that had they not been using, they wouldn’t be in the pain they are in. Had Ms. Lohan stayed sober, she would not be going to jail.

The real inhuman and degrading treatment is inflicted by the addiction. The addiction, not the legal system or the drug rehab system, is the enemy.

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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.

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