Four Years Sober

It's the fourth anniversary. What a sentence to write. The first year of sobriety snuck up on me. It was September 21, 2014, a day that grabbed me from behind, reached up and wrapped its hands around my throat. It’d been the hardest year of my life, and the thought of running dry for another sixty-or-whatever years threatened to choke the life out of me.

As it went, though, I kept on living, and in that living, I added a few days to that year. Then a few months. The second year passed with less violence. Then the third. Today, the fourth year snuck up on me, but it’s not threatening to choke me. It’s a sweeter day, somehow gentler. Four years without approaching even tipsy, and I’m most grateful. I might even say I’m at peace.

From that well of gratitude, I’ve decided to give away 10 copies of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith to one person. Winner-winner-chicken-dinner, use them however you wish. Use them in a group study. Give copies to friends in AA or NA or SA or any other twelve step program. Gift them to your business or church. Whatever. It’s up to you.

If you want to be entered into the drawing do any of the following (you’ll receive an entry for each):

1. Drop me a line in the comments below, letting me know you’d like your name entered; 2. Sign up to receive my bi-monthly TinyLetter; 3. Become a patron of my work (any level).

All the entries will be sorted in a virtual hat and the winner will be drawn at random.

Thanks again for reading along, for following me in this journey. You’re good folks.



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To The Depressed, Drunk, and Suicidal--There is No Shame

Last week, I sat across the table from a soul-eyed woman who shared her story of faith. She told me of her walk into, through, and back into depression. She painted the most vivid pictures of the dark days that roll, the days that threaten to bend her back to ash. On those days, the voices come calling her home, home, home. Where is home?

"Let's find out," she'd like to say on those days, razor blade in hand. Except she never has. The darkness hasn't yet won. And so long as she's honest enough to tell her story, it never will. Sixty years of living has taught her this.


Last night, I read a friend's story of her own bout (bouts?) with depression, how the soul's moon waxes and wanes. The waxing, though, it's a hell of a thing.

From her piece, I suspect she's been dry--so to speak--for a few months. She's found relief from depression through the help of some good medicine, a good doctor, perhaps a few good friends. But more than that, she's outed her would-be killer by naming it. She writes:

"Shame is the killer weapon of depression, the thing that keeps us from telling anyone all the crazy things we’re feeling, for fear they won’t want to be our friends anymore." --Janna Young

All the crazy things--don't they make us all feel so ashamed? All the crazy shame--doesn't it make us feel so alone? I suspect, though, that as she keeps telling her truth, she'll find this twin truth--every-slap-one of us is just as crazy alone. My crazy might look different from yours, but if there's one thing the spin-cycle of this earth has assured us, it's that we all lose our equilibrium from time to time. We all spin into crazy. We all spin into isolation. At least, that's been my experience. And if it ain't yours--good on you. But if it is, believe the gospel according to Janna--there's no reason to be ashamed of losing your footing.


Over the last week, I've considered my own bout with "lots of big feelings..." (as Janna writes). I've considered the alcohol abuse I hoped might quell those feelings. I've considered my own misplaced dependency. (Didn't the bottle taste so much better than the blood of the Christ for so long? And what was the blood of Christ, even? What was Christ? What was?). I've considered the season of sickness that was, and perhaps that season of sickness that might return. (Aren't I human? Aren't you?) I've asked whether I'd be bold enough to bring the darkness of my own relapse into the light of conversation with friends, or into the written form (thanks, Janna). I've boiled these quandaries down to the dregs and read the leaves. The tea leaves tell me that shame hunts, sure. The leaves tell me that love hunts harder, that it's the shame killer. And so, what's to fear in the confession of the darkness of my own heart?

What's to fear?

What's to fear?

What's to fear?


Finding Light.

If you struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, consider dragging it into the light. How? Consider these suggested steps:

1. Tell a trusted and safe friend, a spouse, a confidante, maybe even your dog or cat. Speaking it aloud makes it real. And supposing you tell a human (which I recommend), said human can help you work the process of coming clean.

2. Find a licensed therapist. They've been equipped to understand your "great big feelings," your darkness. They deal with the stuff every day.

3. Surround yourself with a community of support. Perhaps this means joining a twelve-step group, a local support group, or group of like-minded church folks. Find a group of folks to whom you can confess without fear of judgment. Find a group that's content to support without trying to "fix" you.

4. Rage against shame. Feel the love and support of your community. They love you as you are. No shame. No shame. No shame.


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The Recovery Room: An Awkward Instagram Grace

I’ve been writing a series on recovery. My particular bag of choice was liquor, but yours might be different. Perhaps you’re into pills, or eating, or not eating, or materialism. No matter; we’re all in recovery from something. Welcome to the Recovery Room. (And while you’re here, please consider liking my Facebook page to receive Recovery Room updates.)


On an average Monday evening, my Instagram feed is composed of the following: three selfies of women in various department stores modeling dresses; five children with spaghetti-smear warpaint; six plates of slimy, grey, meatish substances tagged #foodporn; and, fifty-two adult beverages, most of which are red wine, some of which read "wine-thirty," or "it's 5:00 somewhere."

My social media feeds are a veritable booze blitz, a virtual bar without the tacky smooth jazz. All my favorite lovers are there--wine, beer, whiskey, and the occasional gin cocktail from the more discriminating drinker (I follow a few classy instagrammers). Yes; I called the booze my lovers. What of it? I've said it before: I have an unhealthy relationship with the bottle.

In a truthful moment, I might tell you that the Instagram photos set the butterflies in the stomach to fluttering. The sides of my tongue tighten and draw inward in a pavlovian response to the thought of supple tannins. I can smell the rosemary drifting from the gimlet, the caramel rising from the bourbon. The fire of desire rises and my breathing quickens. This is the mild anxiety of desire.

Perhaps you are, at this particular juncture, accusing me of hyperbolic overstatement; allow me to assure you--it ain't.

The truth is, the social media universe has never contextualized well, and oft fails to consider that one man's freedom might be another man's bondage. Photos of everything from liquor, to food, to quippy fundamentalist church signs might bear the hashtag #trigger, and so long as you participate in the medium, there's no hiding. Perhaps that's okay, though.



Perhaps it's okay because it teaches the dependent a curious thing.


We often associate grace with forgiveness and acceptance of the one with The Problem. It extends from the place of power, from the place of health. The healthy extend grace to the ragamuffin on the down side of self-control.  That being said, in this particular space, through flash-fire desire,  I'm learning that grace flows upstream, too; the sick can extend grace to the healthy.

Certainly grace gives space for my own desire, allows anxiety to trigger simple prayers, like "have mercy on me." In these moments, too, grace extends to those who do not understand the way the dominoes fall when they post a photo of a mega-rita. (After all, it is for freedom that the imbiber has been made free; right?) Grace holds the tension in check, asks me to examine my own problem more than the wielding of their freedom. Yes, grace asks me to let them have their drink, and post about it, too.

It's true; you wouldn't ask an alcoholic to the bar, but the rules of the internet are a bit different. We're living in a brave new world here in this age of instant communication, and the ethos of digital sharing is an ever-developing thing. That being so, those of us who struggle with dependency--with food, or drink, or materialism, or any other socially acceptable vice--must develop a thick-skinned grace, one that extends both to the self, and also upstream to the healthy.

Yes, this is an other-side-of-the-coin type of grace. But, as old Pete once said, "we give out grace in its various forms." I suppose I count my self lucky to be learning this form of grace.

Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

On Word Meanings--Recovery

I’ve been writing a series on recovery. My particular bag of choice was liquor, but yours might be different. Perhaps you’re into pills, or eating, or not eating, or materialism. No matter; we’re all in recovery from something. Welcome to the Recovery Room. (And while you’re here, please consider liking my Facebook page to receive Recovery Room updates.)


Today’s piece is brought to you by the word recovery, and its sister verb recover.

Many claim the word, or some derivation of it. “I’m in recovery from addiction,” or “I’m recovering from abuse,” we say. It’s an equal opportunity word, one used by the substance abusers, the depressed, the over-eaters, the under-eaters, the sex, the self-loathers, the people pleasers, the happy-plastic material folks, the struggling perfectionist, the over-elevators of theology, the worshipers of the church idol--all addicts alike.

It is a word for the broken; isn’t it? The word is bandied about in twelve step meetings and therapy sessions, sometimes rolls of the tongue with twinge of guilt and sorrow.

But though it may carry a culturally implied sense of shame, the word recovery is a beautiful. It is pregnant with possibility.

As first used in the English language, the word recover, carried with it the notion of regaining consciousness.  It was derived from the Old French “recovrer,” which meant “come back, return, regain health….”

At it’s essence, the word recovery contemplates the following: (a) the subject was once healthy and fully conscious; (b) the subject fell into a thick, sick sleep; and, (c) the subject is finding his way back to full consciousness, to being healthy and awake!

I suppose it’s understandable—recovery might be used to infer shame by some. After all, didn’t we choose to go the way of the addict? Didn’t we choose to elevate our vices—liquor, sex, food, theology (mull that one over for a bit)—over substance (the abiding present God of our waking)? Didn’t we eat the poisoned fruit? Didn’t we self-induce our own comas?


But consider it another way.

Jesus once said the healthy have no need for doctors, for recovery. His house call was for the sick, for those who wanted to return to health. He came recovering sight for the blind, health for the leprous, and life for the dead. He was recovery personified, and he visited it on those small enough to see their need.

I’m owning the word recovery. It’s mine, and it carries no sense of shame or guilt. Instead, I'll wear it as more specific nomenclature—I am in the company of those whose houses have been visited by the best of doctors, the doctor who need not waste his time with the healthy.

Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

On Addiction, Dependency, and One Less Despised Thing

I’ve been writing a series on recovery. My particular bag of choice was liquor, but yours might be different. Perhaps you’re into pills, or eating, or not eating, or materialism. No matter; we’re all in recovery from something. Welcome to the Recovery Room. (And while you’re here, please consider liking my Facebook page to receive Recovery Room updates.)



It has been 206 days since my last good drunk. In fact, it’s been as many days since my last drink altogether. The early days of beating back addiction are something akin to swimming up-waterfall in a river of tar. It’s long, slow, intentional, relentless, gutsy slogging.


Words With Friends is a good game, and well-meaning folks love to play it with their addict friends. I don’t suppose this is a thing limited to those with alcohol dependency; I suppose the cutters, sex-addicts, pill-poppers, and those with eating disorders have noticed it, too. The well-meaning advice pushers offer wise words. “Just stop it,” they say, or “have you considered a twelve step program?” They ask whether you’re harboring secret sins, sometimes mistake your desire for solitude with the hiding of a bottle, a blade, or a barbiturate.

Friends of Job, what if I just need space to process?


Addiction is a tricky bitch, which, after convincing you she is safe, jumps in your lap and nuzzles your free hand just before biting off the tip of your nose (despite your face).


There were twelve men at a table, of which I was one. The head, with squinted eyes and cocked head, wondered aloud whether a drunk could take the Eucharist, wine and all. I chuckled, said, “my protestant Eucharist consists of tiny crackers and individual plastic chalices of grape juice; why not?”

He laughed, retorted, “no… but seriously.”

It is no laughing matter. Can’t all things be redeemed?


St. Francis expounded upon the great teaching of Jesus--blessed are the pure in heart. He wrote, “[t]he truly pure of heart are those who despise the things of earth and seek the things of heaven, and who never cease to adore and behold the Lord God living and true with pure heart and soul.”

I read Francis to say, “blessed are the recovering addicts, because by their recovery, they have one less thing to despise.”


A friend asked me yesterday what I’ve found in my ever-awakening sobriety. I told him that both spirits and the hope of spirits help keep anxiety at bay. Between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. a functional dependent can dull anxiety with his drug of choice. Between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the same functioning dependent can overcome anxiety by fantasizing about the next fix. By comparison, the sober mind can have no fantasy, no hope of any anesthetizing agent. The sober mind has only the full illumination of all its anxiety, doubt, and pain.

This sounds like a terrible curse, save for that particularly overlooked promise of our little brother Johnny--if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship and are purified. And through the purification, awful as it may be, there is gratitude, joy, and peace.

Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.