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Real Men, Real Recovery

By: Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin has worked in the mental-health and addictions field for 17 years. He is the author of A Man’s Way Through the 12 Steps (Hazelden), the first trauma-informed book taking a holistic look at men’s experience of recovery from addictions. He is also co-author of the groundbreaking curriculum, Helping Men Recover, the first trauma-informed curriculum to deal with men’s unique issues and needs.

Dan served as state drug court coordinator for the Minnesota Drug Court Initiative from 2002-2010. He has also worked in addictions research, case management, public advocacy, and counseling. In 2010, Dan started Griffin Recovery Enterprises for consultancy and training. 

Dan has been in recovery since 1994, and lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.

Yes, you can have them, too

Mar 01, 2013

 

"Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us -— sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them."
 
The Promises end with this last stanza that perhaps is the most powerful of them all. Why? Because it is in this last statement that we hear them called The Promises. The covenant is made. The gauntlet has been thrown at our feet: Do you want this for your life? You can have it!
 
We are told that this is not a vision that is unrealistic or available only to those with enough money; or the right zip code; skin color; sexual orientation; genitalia. No, they are promises for anyone who seeks to walk the path. 
 
That is powerful. 
 
In fact, the only thing that can make you ineligible to experience the benefits of the covenant for yourself is to not do the work. That’s it. Do the work, and they are yours. Always. That is a big word. Not only do they use the term “Promises” that means a guarantee, but the certitude of it all is reinforced by the word “always.” Not sometimes. Not only if you have love in your heart every moment of every day. Not if you do them perfectly. No, simply work for them. God will always meet us halfway. What a wonderful truth to embrace. Always.
 
Of course, just because you do the work does not mean they will come true on your terms and according to your timeline. They have not always looked the way I thought they would. And as they unfold, they keep unfolding. 
 
Like recovery, there are many layers to The Promises: Right when you think you have experienced one of them, something happens in your life and you see that promise from a completely different perspective. An added nuance. A new depth. And, just as they have come to fruition in your life, so can they go away. Stop doing the work and watch them slowly dissipate like a mist that reveals a bleak and dark landscape you thought you could never possibly see again: the anti-promises.
 
I am very conscious of potentially sounding like a fundamentalist or a zealot -- or naive; Pollyannish. Maybe I sound like someone who doesn’t appreciate that for some people the best they can do is simply do everything to find something to eat; or a way to take care of their family. The pressure that some people live in seems to inevitably crowd out any possibility that they can live in any dedicated way to the principles that will make The Promises come true. I do not pretend to know what is best for someone else or what limitations might prevent them from having the life they want, or even possibly deserve.
 
But I do know that, like the sun, The Promises simply do not care about your life situation. They shine for all. They are simply there; an immutable presence in our lives. They are a truth. A law of nature. It is like asking the rain to care about whether you deserve to be rained upon. The same rain that leads to the floods that destroy homes and kill people is the rain that gives life to the smallest flower, and all life. 
 
It is the ultimate choice -- one of the greatest ways for us to exercise the free will we have been given.
 
As I said at the very beginning of this comprehensive exploration of The Promises, I understand there are promises throughout the literature of recovery, many of which I love. Other promises I strive for and have seen come true in my life. But nowhere are there 12 promises so richly and fervently declared. Nowhere is the vision of what is possible from the work of recovery so beautifully and extensively laid out. 
 
For those of us who felt like we constantly missed the mark and seemed to have an inborn sense of our own ineptness and were constantly falling short, no matter how successful we may have seemed to the outside world, this is a wonderful vision of life. The Promises bring a life that offers us peace and happiness: the same things we searched for at the bottom of every bottle, in the stem of every crack pipe, in the pull of every lever on the slot machine, every purging of our last meal, every time we found ourselves in yet another hotel room with in the grips of another tryst while the loves of our lives were asleep at home. 
 
All of those were desperate searches for something to make us okay; something to enable us to live in our skin. All of the wonderment of The Promises is offered to us, free of charge, so long as we are willing to put in the sweat equity. What an amazing opportunity to truly attain the life of our dreams.
 
It’s true. It’s real. It’s a promise. What a gift. What an amazing gift far beyond anything we deserve. A gift with the greatest value despite the fact that anyone can have it. You may be reading this wondering, just as I did so many years ago as I was slowly coming out of the fog, if you can really experience them. I hoped beyond hope they were possible for me, too. I was told they were. I was not special. I would not be left out. 
 
So I will say to any doubters or anyone feeling forlorn because you feel as though they continue to elude you: They’re true. They’re real. 
 
They are Promises. 
 
And they will always materialize if you work for them. 

Promise #12: We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for outselves.

Feb 21, 2013

This Promise can sustain us and teach us to trust in our Higher Power’s infinite support in our lives. And that is not the easiest concept to trust in.

Like a lot of young men of Irish descent, I grew up Catholic. Like many, my catechism had its positive experiences and its negative ones. One of the positives was my encounter with the story of the Footprints, which has been adopted by many people in recovery. The essence of the story: In the midst of our greatest trials and tribulations when we so often feel abandoned by God, those are the times when God is carrying us. Looking back to the most painful times of my life, I have been given some solace believing that God was not only with me but truly was carrying me.

This Promise is about faith: faith that our Higher Power, like the loving parent that many of us always wanted, is watching over us and always looking out for our best interests. We are never alone. Life will never be too much for us to handle, no matter what happens. Yes, it may feel like it at times. In early sobriety, it may feel like it a lot. But if we trust in the wisdom of The Promises and the experience of those wise elders of the recovery community, then we can trust that no matter what happens we will be okay. Our Higher Power will always meet us halfway (at least) and carry us through when we  simply allow it to happen.

The opposite of the statement in this Promise is also profound and important: God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves.

It appears to be a fairly human tendency to want to blame someone or something for the problems and difficulties in our lives. Many of us with addictive disorders are quite good at coming up with reasons as to why we can’t do something. Or we find it a little too easy to abdicate any role we have in being responsible for our lives; thoroughly responsible. For those of us who still carry the idea of God as the Great Rescuer, we need to pay attention to this Promise lest our misinterpretation of it reinforce any confusion we might have.

What a beautiful world when we begin to see that the feelings of desperate loneliness that we used to have were nothing more than our spirits crying for a deeper connection to Life. And, more importantly, that the connection – and the power that comes with it – were always available to us. And will always be available to us.

Promise #11: We Will Intuitively Know How to Handle Situations That Used to Baffle Us.

Feb 14, 2013

 

We all have an innate wisdom. In recovery, it's amazing when we begin to get in touch with that wisdom and to actually trust ourselves.
 
We don't arrive here through lip service. Rather, we learn to honor that still-small voice inside of us. We listen. We are willing to face the possibility that someone might not like us or be happy with us if we stand up for what we believe. We are not deterred because we know what we know and are not willing to turn our backs on that anymore. 
 
We are tired of turning our backs on ourselves.
 
Equally exciting, or even moreso, is when we see those we love who have been beaten down by addiction begin to get in touch with that wisdom, too. We get to see the transformation of a human being from a ìfeverish little clodî into a man. A real man.
 
What a gift when we learn to trust ourselves. 
 
We begin to know when to seek the counsel of others. We realize that our inner wisdom connects with the universe in a most profound way. Our Higher Power is with us wherever we go and provides us with a divine guidance that nobody can prevent us from accessing. We know how to take into consideration the guidance of others without letting it definine how we choose to live our lives.
 
Panic no longer drives our reactions to life. In fact, we do not react to life nearly as much as we used to. We begin to live in ìthe pauseî; in the breath. We begin to discipline ourselves to stop; to meditate; to be still.
 
We respond to life. We feel it. We wrap our arms around it and fall into it knowing that whatever the experience, good or bad, it cannot hurt us. We know we will be okay. We no longer doubt every decision we make. We see the path to solutions of problems we never thought we could overcome. At times we even find ourselves speaking, acting and living spontaneously, as though life were effortless. We begin to understand what it means to wear the world as a loose garment. And it feels good!
 
That is the power of this Promise. That is the essence of the spiritual experience that we have been given the opportunity to integrate into the foundation of our recovery. 
 
We get ourselves back.
 

Special Post: Men's treatment, for men

Feb 08, 2013

 

 
 
How much can really be done to improve menís treatment? The myth is that men have a hard time engaging in treatment. The truth is that we have a hard time truly engaging men in treatment ñ meeting them where they are at, speaking to them in their language, and listening to everything they donít ñ and cannot ñ say. We as a field have not spent a lot of time creating a true framework for menís treatment that speaks to menís unique issues and needs ñ treatment for men, created by men, with men in mind!
 
For years now there has been an expectation that you need specialized training to work most effectively with women. Despite the fact that 70% of the people going through treatment are men and 70% of the people working in treatment are women, there has never been any such expectation when it comes to menís treatment and working with men. Until now.
 
Here are five critical elements for making your menís treatment services more effective:
 
1. Menís Socialization Should Be the Context: Given how contrary being in recovery is to ìThe Rules of Being a Manî that dichotomy and the tension between the two should be a constant context for the conversations we have with men. When we embed this awareness throughout the treatment experience we give men a language for talking about the dissonance they are often experiencing without making it about them. There is nothing wrong with them ñ they are simply trying to rectify how they have spent their whole lives trying to be certain kinds of men and a core part of who they think they are with the expectations of being in recovery that can often feel quite ìunmanly.î
 
How many men are constantly fighting against the stranglehold that The Rules have over them as they attempt to apply the principles of recovery to their lives? Just look at some men in the recovery community with five, ten, fifteen or more years of sobriety who struggle to be close to someone, share what is really going on with them, struggle with violence and abusiveness, and/or are paralyzed by codependent behaviors? Guaranteed, The Rules are at the heart of so much of this suffering.
 
Finally, look at any manís relapse and we guarantee that a major factor was one or multiple Rules that kept him isolated and disconnected from himself and others. When you talk to a man about his relapse in the context of The Rules you help to take away the shame and any belief the man may have about being unable to achieve sobriety because of who he is.
 
2. Safety First: You need to be focused on safety because the men will not likely talk about it but it is on their minds, in their gut. No matter how a man acts when he first comes into your treatment program ñ apathetic, belligerent, sarcastic, or overly enthusiastic ñ you should be thinking in terms of safety. If you were to do this then everything would change. The lens through which you view his behavior would lead you to respond to him differently. Your environment could not help but change as everyone, including staff, in the organization would begin to feel safer. This is a critical element in becoming trauma-informed when providing menís treatment.
 
3. Small Groups: If you want men to open up, put them in small groups. And we mean small groups, as in breaking the men out into sets of threes. The effect is transformative. Men who normally would fly under the radar or simply present as though they are less emotionally engaged will show up in a completely different way. The number three is important ñ two is too easily turned into a conversation and four can split into twos or even lose someone. But three, well there is something almost magical about it.
 
4. Letís Talk About Sex: Letís not just talk about sex but talk about sexuality ñ the whole thing. What percentage of menís relapses are directly related to sex? Close to, if not 100%! Not feeling comfortable with engaging in sex while sober, fear of sex, discomfort with themselves sexually, pain from sexual trauma, body image, and many others. Letís not even talk about menís use of pornography while they are in your treatment programs ñ let alone once they get out. Letís definitely not talk about the unhealthy use of porn amongst all of the male counselors out there working with men! Add to that our growing awareness of sex and love addiction and its impact on men and all of our relationships.
 
Therefore, the real question is: How can we not put a major focus on helping men develop a healthy sense of their sexuality? That is a primary question that everyone who works with menís treatment services should be asking themselves.
 
5. Homophobia:  How many menís treatment programs  incorporate homophobia into their treatment regimen? Very few. Of course you canít simply say to men, ìOkay guys, letís talk about homophobia.î Itís more complicated and requires a high degree of finesse. When we talk about homophobia it goes far beyond a fear or hatred of homosexuals, especially gay men ñ for us it means menís fear of men ñ our fear of getting close to other men and having any kind of intimate connection with them.
 
If you incorporate these five elements ñ just some of the elements we have discovered that make an incredible difference in menís treatment ñ into your work with men we guarantee you will see marked differences ñ if not a complete transformation ñ in how men respond to their treatment experience and how effective you feel as a clinician working with men.
 
Of course there are many other tools that will transform the way you provide treatment for men. For more information about how GRE can help you in your mission to provide the best treatment for men, please send an inquiry to info@dangriffin.com.

Special from Dan: Men's treatment, with men in mind

Feb 08, 2013

How much can really be done to improve men’s treatment? The myth is that men have a hard time engaging in treatment. The truth is that we have a hard time truly engaging men in treatment – meeting them where they are at, speaking to them in their language, and listening to everything they don’t – and cannot – say.

We as a field have not spent a lot of time creating a true framework for men’s treatment that speaks to men’s unique issues and needs – treatment for men, created by men, with men in mind!

For years now there has been an expectation that you need specialized training to work most effectively with women. Despite the fact that 70% of the people going through treatment are men and 70% of the people working in treatment are women, there has never been any such expectation when it comes to men’s treatment and working with men. Until now.

Here are five critical elements for making your men’s treatment services more effective:

1. Men’s Socialization Should Be the Context: Given how contrary being in recovery is to “The Rules of Being a Man” that dichotomy and the tension between the two should be a constant context for the conversations we have with men. When we embed this awareness throughout the treatment experience we give men a language for talking about the dissonance they are often experiencing without making it about them. There is nothing wrong with them – they are simply trying to rectify how they have spent their whole lives trying to be certain kinds of men and a core part of who they think they are with the expectations of being in recovery that can often feel quite “unmanly.”

How many men are constantly fighting against the stranglehold that The Rules have over them as they attempt to apply the principles of recovery to their lives?

Just look at some men in the recovery community with five, ten, fifteen or more years of sobriety who struggle to be close to someone, share what is really going on with them, struggle with violence and abusiveness, and/or are paralyzed by codependent behaviors? Guaranteed, The Rules are at the heart of so much of this suffering.

Finally, look at any man’s relapse and we guarantee that a major factor was one or multiple Rules that kept him isolated and disconnected from himself and others. When you talk to a man about his relapse in the context of The Rules you help to take away the shame and any belief the man may have about being unable to achieve sobriety because of who he is.

2. Safety First: You need to be focused on safety because the men will not likely talk about it but it is on their minds, in their gut. No matter how a man acts when he first comes into your treatment program – apathetic, belligerent, sarcastic, or overly enthusiastic – you should be thinking in terms of safety. If you were to do this then everything would change. The lens through which you view his behavior would lead you to respond to him differently. Your environment could not help but change as everyone, including staff, in the organization would begin to feel safer. This is a critical element in becoming trauma-informed when providing men’s treatment.

3. Small Groups: If you want men to open up, put them in small groups. And we mean small groups, as in breaking the men out into sets of threes. The effect is transformative. Men who normally would fly under the radar or simply present as though they are less emotionally engaged will show up in a completely different way. The number three is important – two is too easily turned into a conversation and four can split into twos or even lose someone. But three, well there is something almost magical about it.

4. Let’s Talk About Sex: Let’s not just talk about sex but talk about sexuality – the whole thing. What percentage of men’s relapses are directly related to sex?

Close to, if not 100%! Not feeling comfortable with engaging in sex while sober, fear of sex, discomfort with themselves sexually, pain from sexual trauma, body image, and many others. Let’s not even talk about men’s use of pornography while they are in your treatment programs – let alone once they get out. Let’s definitely not talk about the unhealthy use of porn amongst all of the male counselors out there working with men! Add to that our growing awareness of sex and love addiction and its impact on men and all of our relationships.


Therefore, the real question is: How can we not put a major focus on helping men develop a healthy sense of their sexuality? That is a primary question that everyone who works with men’s treatment services should be asking themselves.

5. Homophobia:  How many men’s treatment programs  incorporate homophobia into their treatment regimen? Very few. Of course you can’t simply say to men,

“Okay guys, let’s talk about homophobia.” It’s more complicated and requires a high degree of finesse. When we talk about homophobia it goes far beyond a fear or hatred of homosexuals, especially gay men – for us it means men’s fear of men – our fear of getting close to other men and having any kind of intimate connection with them.

If you incorporate these five elements – just some of the elements we have discovered that make an incredible difference in men’s treatment – into your work with men we guarantee you will see marked differences – if not a complete transformation – in how men respond to their treatment experience and how effective you feel as a clinician working with men.

Of course there are many other tools that will transform the way you provide treatment for men. For more information about how GRE can help you in your mission to provide the best treatment for men, please send an inquiry to info@dangriffin.com.friendship

Fear of People and Economic Insecurity Will Leave Us

Feb 06, 2013

 

Let me paint a picture to remind you of how it most likely used to be for those of us in recovery: On the outside a lot of us looked like everyone else. Inside we were terrified. There came a point when using seemed to be the only thing that enabled us to interact with the world as if we even somewhat belonged. As our addiction progressed so did our fear of people.
 
We were afraid because of how we were treating other people, what we did when we were using, and then, as our brains changed from the excessive chemical use, there was just a general fear of people, places, and things. Anxious and frightened all of the time, we felt like much less of a man. Real men donít feel fear, after all.
 
We walked around with a fear of people: fear of being attacked, beaten up, yelled at, laughed at, made fun of, rejected, disregarded, and abandoned. Though we didnít recognize it, nothing scared us more than the possibility that people would actually love us for who we were. 
 
Many of us are afraid of our power and of being powerful. When we make peace with ourselves, our fear dissipates. When we strive to act peacefully in the world, we begin to experience a world of peace -- a world where fear does not control us.
 
What about that fear of economic insecurity? 
 
Well, it took me some time before I actually heard this Promise correctly. It does not say or imply anything about us getting rich. What it essentially tells me is that I will not worry about material needs; that I will find contentment and not be driven by scarcity. I will have the opportunity to live from abundance and see that wealth is not measured in dollar signs. I will begin to value that which cannot be bought and realize the emptiness of the bottomless hole of material consumption.
 
At the same time I do not have to fear abundance or wealth. I can embrace it without attachment and without it defining me or my happiness. That, to me, is the Promise. I hope to get there someday and I am on my way. 
 
In December 2009, I submitted my resignation to a job I had for more than eight years. I had no ìactualî job lined up. Three years later I have a thriving business, a good reputation, and a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of men and all of those whose lives we touch.
 
It was a leap of faith that my wife and I took together, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they jump into the roiling Colorado river as they are being chased by the bounty hunters hired to kill them. We are keeping our heads above water and enjoying where the current is taking us. Hell, we often swim the backstroke.
 
Marianne Williamson beautifully made this point when she stated: ìYour deepest fear is not that you are inadequate; your deepest fear is that you are powerful beyond all measure.î 
 
What a gift when that fear leaves you. When you live in a world of service and abundance, knowing that you will always have what you need, there is almost nothing of which to be afraid.

Self-Seeking Will Slip Away

Jan 25, 2013

Promise #8: Self-seeking will slip away

A picture that I love shows two scenes: one of Heaven and one of Hell. In Hell, everyone is seated at a table with grossly elongated spoons that they simply cannot fit into their mouths and despite the futility of it they continue to try. They are gaunt and clearly starving. In Heaven, everyone is seated at a very similar table with the same exact elongated spoons. The only difference? They are feeding one another from across the table.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/help-others-250x250.jpgThis Promise reveals the wisdom that a better life for you means involving others and being of assistance to them. “Self-seeking will slip away” is a release from a self-imposed sentence.

If you see the world as a place in which you never have enough, you will always be trying to meet your needs but without success. Seeking to fulfill only your needs is like digging a bottomless pit or trying to feed yourself with a spoon you could never fit into your life. There is no happiness to be found on that path.

In reality, you have everything you need right now. It may not feel like it. I have struggled with that Truth. I remember when my friend would tell me that exact thing while I was working at a coffee shop, barely paying my bills, no girlfriend, feeling isolated as hell, and wondering if I would ever know what it was like to be happy. And at peace. Yet, he had the audacity to tell me that I had everything I needed?

It is easy to say that we – or anyone else – have everything we need but truly believing it is another story. We have been programmed to want – more and more. We have been programmed to believe that we are somehow incomplete or less than if we do not have certain things. So long as I am in search of that which will make me happy and fill me up I am seeking on behalf of my self. It is through the program of recovery and learning to be of service that I get to discover the paradox that when I reach out to you, I get connection; when I give to you, I get; and when I seek to be of service to help you in your journey toward happiness, I am filled.

When I focus on others and what they might need I realize that I have everything that I need. And so much more. I always have. I trust that I always will.

 

We Will Gain Interest in Our Fellows

Jan 17, 2013

Promise #7: We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Are men naturally self-centered? Sure. Are women? Yes, though they may express it differently. What does it even mean to be self-centered? Mostly, it seems to mean that we are human. We are more worried about ourselves than others. We focus more on our problems – real and imagined – and any of the drama that goes along with them. And even those of us who are more focused on others and their problems are often doing it so that we can get something out of it – feel better than the other person, feel better about ourselves, or any number of other machinations that sometimes belie the seeming selflessness of our actions.

What is clear is that few people are as focused on themselves as we addicts are – focused on our pain, on our needs, and our wants. What we deserve and what we will never get. What we have done that reinforces our feelings of worthlessness and uselessness and what we will someday do to let the world know we matter.

As I have mentioned throughout these essays, fear often seems to be at the root at much of our self-obsession. Fear has an amazing ability to convince me that what is not real is real. In fact, one of the many acronyms for FEAR that I learned very early in my journey in the recovery community is False Evidence Appearing Real.

The illusion of a world viewed through the lens of fear.

The more I focus on how I feel and the thoughts inside of my head, by definition, the more self-centered I become. While self-awareness is critical to my recovery, self obsession is disastrous for it. It does not matter how long I have been in recovery – should I start to worship my emotion-driven perception of the world then I will inevitably be inviting unnecessary suffering into my life. It is a bottomless pit and there is no true happiness that comes from our attempts to feed the rapacious – and insatiable – needs of the Ego. Forty years on this earth, eight years of suicidal addiction, and eighteen years of bumpy-ass (I believe that is a clinical term) recovery have made it clear to me that misery begins in the self.

The discipline of working the Steps and applying the principles to our lives teach us how to be selfless in our service to others. What exactly does it mean to be of service? Being of service is sacrificing our immediate needs and wants in order to serve a greater purpose. Every time I do this – without exception – I forget about myself and my petty, annoying, and peevish problems.

One of the best, and probably hardest, ways to be of service is to go out of our way for others – with no expectation of acknowledgment or reward. Maybe we even do it anonymously. In recovery something happens – sometimes in spite of ourselves – and we lose interest in our selfish pursuits and gain interest in our fellows. We realize that the freedom of recovery lies in our commitment to service and that which is bigger than us. We are not saints, however, as they say; it often takes a long time to eliminate all of the cancer of self-centeredness. But we grow and our world expands as we join hands with those around us. We get to be a part of the community once again.

That feeling of uselessness

Jan 09, 2013

Promise #6: That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear

There is a theme throughout the Promises, Twelve Step literature, and the Twelve Step community in general. This theme is “selfishness and self-centeredness are the root of our problems,” and it abounds in people with addictions.

Dan Griffin's Promises SeriesWhen you read closely, the founders of AA are clear that such selfishness is part of the human condition – but addicts seem to be examples of “self-will run riot.” Self-centeredness on a grand scale.

Such a hermetically sealed self-obsession manifests in many ways, but often it shows up as self-pity. Even when the front – especially for men – is bravado and arrogance, often underlying it are deep feelings of uselessness, worthlessness, and self-pity. Several of the Promises have already touched upon this idea probably because it is so central to our recovery. If we do not overcome this particularly solipsistic affliction we are sentenced to a life of misery and alienation if we are even able to stay sober. As the old adage goes: “Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink!”

In light of the fact that this is Step One month and that two people in my life have recently suffered vicious relapses, this cannot be overstated. These negative thoughts and feelings living in the darkness of our minds are like vampires feeding off of us that will always devour us if they are not brought into the sunlight of the Spirit.

These feelings do not vanish as much as they slowly fade away like a fog dissipating. This idea that they can actually disappear – that we can be rid of them – what an amazing Promise to hold in our hearts! To work toward. And that is how we get there – it is not a secret or some complicated formula: we do the work. We get out of ourselves. We reach out to others. We stop thinking about ourselves and begin to see that we do not live in a vacuum.

As we connect with others we not only see that we have something to offer but we see the effect of our behavior. We see that there can be no humility in thinking that we are useless as much as when we think we are God’s gift to this world. When we truly begin to experience these feelings leaving us, this is how we begin to be who God has always intended us to be.

There is no better feeling nor greater contribution we can make to the world.

How our experience can help others

Dec 20, 2012

Part of Dan Griffin's series on The Promises.

Promise #5: No Matter How Far Down the Scale We Have Gone, We Will See How Our Experience Can Benefit Others

The hallmark of Twelve Step recovery is sharing our experience, strength, and hope. This, of course, implies that you have something worth sharing. Regardless of how gregariously I acted and how much people complimented me on my talent and skills, I often felt as though I had little to nothing to offer. So, when I found myself at six months sober sitting with Gene, another newcomer, telling him my story I unexpectedly got a chance to quiet the voice inside of me that was constantly diminishing me—telling me I did not belong and never would. Telling me that I indeed had nothing to offer. I decided to take a risk and open up to him because he was newly sober and he looked lost. Underneath the scowl and the sarcasm, he looked lost. And me? Well, I was maybe just a little less lost.

Gene stood out like a sore thumb in the small Virginia town. At the age of 19 he was even younger than I, who until then was the youngest in the club – by far – at the age of 22. He had bleach-blond hair cut in a flat-top style, wore gold chains, listened to gangsta rap, and was from up North (read: A Yankee). The blue-haired teetotalers might as well have been talking to an alien. And then Gene had the nerve to refer to himself as “cross-addicted” because he had also used pills. And this new drug I had never even heard of: meth.

Half of the members of the group protested profusely that he had no business introducing himself that way or talking about some of the things he did because they only ever drank alcohol (because they somehow conveniently did not include all of the “mother’s little helpers” they popped like candy for decades, all of the “harmless” pot they smoked, and the numerous other substances they had ingested over the course of their dance with addiction.) Ultimately, Gene was just another suffering addict in need of love and compassion. I knew that as much as I knew anything.

Lending a Helping HandThe most important line that came to me, through the cacophony of self-righteousness: What would the master do? The answer was clear. Despite the fear, I reached out my hand.

Later that week, I drove him back to his mother and step-father’s home after going out to the local diner with some of our “sober crew” after the meeting. As we sat in the den that was doubling as part of his living quarters, I told him my experience up to that point and how I had gotten into the program. I had no idea what I was doing but I had been told that all I had to do was tell him what it was like for me. We began to talk and something began spilling out of him because it had been backing up for years. He simply opened his mouth and it came out. He had no idea what it was just that it had to come out. I knew that feeling well. 

Surprisingly, when we were done talking and I was leaving, Gene thanked me. I can still remember the visceral reaction of confusion as to why he was thanking me. I had just spent the last two hours thinking of someone other than myself. And, he had listened to me. As I drove away, my tires crunching against the stone driveway, on my way back to my little apartment where I would struggle once again with the cutting feeling of loneliness that had been haunting me for years, I realized there was value to my story – I had something real to offer another suffering human being. I felt connected at a level I had never felt before. Ever. And, it felt good. It was real and it was what I had been searching for years.

That is the gift we are given when we take the risk and reach out our hand to another man who is drowning. Though we may be soaking wet, still catching our breath from having just been pulled out of the water ourselves, we can reach out to the ones still fighting to keep afloat—the ones still not in the boat. And when we do that we realize the whole reason we were given this second chance was to stand ready at the edge of the boat and look for anyone we can out in there in the treacherous waters of addiction and pull them in because there is always more room on the boat.

We will know peace

Dec 12, 2012

I am convinced that we are all looking for the same thing: Peace. Calm. Serenity. The Buddha said that life is full of suffering and all of us are searching for a way to free ourselves from the wheel of that suffering, or samsara. For millennia, the vast majority of humans have only used material means to find that freedom. Addicts have gone to extra lengths to attempt to find freedom from that suffering – only to perpetuate it and let it bleed into the lives of others. The wheel of suffering is a very insidious thing.

We Will Know PeaceI was seven years old standing in the basement telling my father I wished I was dead. What can be going on in a child’s life that these words would come out of his mouth at such a young age? I knew nothing of serenity. While it took me many more years to name it, growing up in a violent, alcoholic home takes an immense toll on a child.

At that age you aren’t aware of these things as much as you feel them. And so I found myself having lost touch with any sense of serenity and peace. I learned quickly how to hide the pain and despair with a smile. And at this point of my life, years after my father’s death, I cannot help and imagine him at the age of seven and what his life was like. I know so very little other than the bits and pieces I have learned from my mom, sister, my cousins and other family. Just two people stuck on the wheel, lives overlapping in less than a cosmic blink of an eye.

It is clear that peace comes from the inside. When I have no internal peace it is too easy to project my inner chaos onto the world around me. A lot of us have likely spent much of our lives dealing with – or not dealing with – our pain. Some of it internal and some of it external. You can learn how, after years of being controlled by your pain, to make it work for you. When you do this, the outside world changes as if it has been magically repainted by an invisible artist’s hand. Suddenly the world that seemed so hostile and scary is a place of wonder and awe.

Peace is a real possibility.

When we accept ourselves, others, and the world around us as they are, we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. When we see ourselves for who we are not for what we have done or what we do, we will know peace. When we stop fighting everything and everyone we will know peace. When we surrender to the mystery of life and live each moment to its fullest we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

Don't forget or shut the door on the past, learn from it

Dec 07, 2012

Part of Dan Griffin's series on The Promises.

Promise # 3: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it

Promise # 3: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on itWhat man does not want to make peace with his past? After talking with so many men over almost two decades, the true question is: Do I deserve to make peace with my past? In other words, can I—that piece of proverbial sh*&-- be forgiven? Can I forgive myself? Interestingly, the principles that correspond to Step 8 (justice and brotherly love) and Step 9 (self-discipline and good judgment) are not focused on forgiveness, though forgiveness is identified as part of brotherly love. That is very telling. As always the focus is on how we can be of service and live in right action. The process of forgiveness is a result – or byproduct – and cannot be the sole aim.

But, again, I believe that The Promises and the vision contained within them are so much bigger than the 9th Step. They area vision for life in recovery. At some point, then, we must be able to forgive ourselves if we want to fully experience the power inherent in The Promises. To avoid this important part of the process leaves us feeling as though we must continue to suffer for behaviors from long ago. There is absolutely no benefit to us wearing the hairshirt of recovery that fits so many of us so well. We may be able to develop a recovery persona which will help us to establish some precarious footing in sobriety – possibly even a modicum of true happiness – but until we truly face ourselves we cannot be free. Truly free from the incessant and brutal voice of self-loathing and criticism.

We enter recovery with deep feelings of shame for how we have lived. Rightfully so, in many ways. If the shame goes unaddressed it keeps us acting out in ways that tell us that we do not deserve forgiveness or to even get better. Which keeps the shame alive. It is a sad and vicious cycle. I have sat with many a Big-Book thumper and quote-er of the library of Twelve Step literature who was absolutely drowning in shame. Much of the shame being a result of unaddressed trauma. Hell, I have been that man! It is a horrible way to live. The recovery persona, this false identity where we hide who we truly are behind someone purporting to have mastered the program of recovery, is perhaps one of the most dangerous. Talk about cunning, baffling, and powerful!

You may have heard the saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” That is one of the main reasons we are told to remember our last time using. But remembering our past versus allowing it to hold us fettered against the whipping pole – are two entirely different things. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. The past is done. Over. It cannot be undone. We learn from it and move on or it controls us. Destroys us. We do not seek to forget the past, merely to let it go. In fact, the Past is not the one holding on!

There is also the time-tested saying that we “are as sick as our secrets.” The secrets we carry around with us weigh us down. The same secrets that we promised we would take with us to our grave are the keys to another lost soul’s freedom. They are the key to our freedom. That which caused us so much shame becomes our greatest way of authentically connecting to others, showing our humanity to them, and helping them to feel free enough to do the same. This Promise tells us we can face our past, not live in shame about it, and not runaway from or deny it. Our past does not have to define us, who we are, or how we live our lives. We see this Promise come alive the first time the haggard newcomer whose soul has been ripped apart stands up with his hand out welcoming another. We see this Promise come alive every time someone from the recovery community tells his story with his head held high. We see this Promise come alive as we watch men in recovery rejoin the community – building families and giving back, being of service in ways that go beyond the Twelve Step community, and simply living Life.

More:

If we are painstaking

We don’t crawl before anyone

The Promises: The start

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness

Nov 28, 2012

Part of Dan Griffin's series on The Promises.

Promise #2: We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness

PromisesAs a result of recovery, I am free to live my life the way I see fit and I do not have to let others or society – even my recovery community – tell me what that has to be. I can choose each action I take and I can be responsible for every action and its consequence. And because of that freedom I am able to be a part of the human community in a way that I never thought possible. And that freedom has been one of the keys to me finding a happiness that is lasting.

The problem is that it seems not a lot of people today know what happiness is. Or perhaps said better – know what will truly make us happy. We feel a fleeting rush and confuse that with happiness. We give others the power to make us happy – and therefore also the power to make us miserable. We believe that satisfying the bottomless desires within us will bring us happiness. We think happiness is something we should just expect and are disappointed, and even resentful, when it does not come to us as a gift from the Heavens. “After all,” we say “I am sober…don’t I deserve happiness?” As if happiness is an entitlement. The founding fathers of American democracy talked about the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right. But happiness itself? Well, nobody ever promised us rose gardens despite so many of us in recovery seeming to think that. I know I did for the longest time of my recovery. Of course, most of us have one thing going for us when it comes to the proverbial garden – a bounty of fertilizer!

What has been most difficult has been admitting when I am not happy. It almost feels there is this unspoken obligation to be happy in recovery – paint on a happy face. I see it all of the time – as if having problems or being unhappy somehow means you are not doing your recovery “right.” I can’t count how many men I have spoken to with years of recovery who have come to believe that there is something wrong with them talking about their pain because they have 20….30…even 40 years of sobriety. Just the other day I had breakfast with just such a man – with forty years and when he faced incredible adversity at 35 years he had convinced himself that he was supposed to be the elder and being the elder meant he wasn’t only free from problems but superhuman.

I have spoken with others who feel like they are breaking some unwritten rule if they talk about wanting to use or act out with their addiction after they have been sober a certain amount of time. Just another kind of insanity. All of this is ego. And pride. And….BS! There is no freedom when we feel like we have to put on an act in order to fit in the one place that is supposed to be safe enough for us to show up however we need to. There is nothing that is more valuable than us having a place where we can be authentic. When we don’t have that, what have we got? I don’t know about you but painting on that happy face gets me drunk – after I have decimated every relationship that means anything to me. Sad but true.

In my tenth year of sobriety I admitted I was not very happy in most of the areas of my life. As a result I was exposed to the possibility of true happiness. I gave myself permission to stop pretending. Again. When I was desperate in that first year I did not care about fitting in because I was desperate to learn how to live. Plus, I was still convinced deep in my heart that I did not fit in. At ten years it was different and it strengthened my muscles enough so that I was able to do it again at fifteen years and even seventeen years. Today, I do know a new happiness, and that it comes through the “right living” laid out in the Twelve Steps – and that happiness is not an end in itself. That facing my unhappiness creates space for my happiness to deepen and to be longer lasting. The true freedom has come in realizing that I will not always be happy and I do not have to pretend.  

There is nothing wrong with being unhappy – it is what makes happiness meaningful. There is something very liberating when you come to realize that you are as free to be unhappy as you are to be happy.

More:

If we are painstaking

We don’t crawl before anyone

The Promises: The start

If we are painstaking

Nov 21, 2012

Part of Dan Griffin's series on The Promises.

Promise #1: If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.

When we are painstaking, or careful and diligent in our attempt, it means that through the pain, disappointment, and suffering we experience in the crucible of our recovery, we do not give up. We have some faith that this is not wasted effort – there is a higher purpose to which we are dedicating our efforts.

We pick up the phone instead of dancing one more time on the edge with the addiction that was destroying our lives. We ask for help instead of isolating ourselves or pretending we are not in pain. We tell on ourselves to our sponsor or in a meeting, even if it means our voice is shaking and our heart is ready to jump out of our chest. Regardless of how much sobriety we have, we tell the truth about ourselves and risk being known. We do this because we have already been amazed. We know that we have been offered a way out that we, alone, could never have found—and cannot keep if we do not give it away. We know that this pain – the pain of redemption and repairing our wounds and the wounds of others got in the middle of our affair with self-destruction – has a purpose.

The Promises are not static; they live in the present moment. Whatever phase of growth and development we are in – and if we are painstaking about our efforts – we will be amazed before we are halfway through. There is when we are halfway through with our amends but it does not end there. There is no clear marker telling us when we are halfway but if you believe, as I believe, that the Promises apply to Life then "the halfway point" is constantly moving.

As we set out upon the path and trudge our way to happy destiny, we will be amazed at the vision of the mountaintop from miles away. We rest and take in the beauty of this glorious site of God’s creation. And then, we return to the stony path and continue to trudge, knowing that, as breathtaking as the sight is, it is the journey itself which is the greatest reward. It doesn’t even matter if we make it there. Perhaps, it is another mountain to which we are headed. It simply doesn’t matter because it is the amazement that moves us forward and our ability to suck deeply from the marrow of the present moment. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is necessary. In fact, nothing else is.

All we have is Now. It is all amazing if we just pay attention.

More:

We don’t crawl before anyone

The Promises: The start

We don’t crawl before anyone

Nov 14, 2012

Part of Dan Griffin's series on The Promises.

ShameBefore we encounter the Ninth Step, Promises in the process of recovery, there is an important declaration: As God’s children we stand on our feet; we don’t crawl before anyone. I have always believed the Promises begin with this sentence. Why? Because in our sobriety men are vulnerable to hiding the shame of our behavior while active in our addictions in numerous unhealthy ways.

In fact, shame seems to be at the heart of many of our worst secrets and our worst behaviors. Shame is a very powerful emotion; it can control our lives long into our recovery. At this point of our recovery we need to hear that we do not have to be servile or fawning in our attempts to right our wrongs. We do not have to accept unacceptable behavior nor walk around with our tails between our legs. We deserve love and happiness as much as those who we are approaching.

My wife, Nancy, and I were talking the other night and she asked me: “Is there anything positive about shame?” I am not sure if there is.

Some people say there is a healthy shame that is different from toxic shame. But there is no question that shame destroys men’s lives - piecemeal. We act out of shame, suffer consequences in our relationships, and continue to act out as the shame keeps us isolated, separated and lost in our secrets. And when men’s lives are destroyed women’s and children’s lives are often part of the collateral damage. Every time we share a secret or a part of ourselves we have been hiding, we move further from shame and take one more step into the community.

Stand tall knowing that you have been willing to take responsibility for the pain you have caused in your community. Despite what we have done we belong. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – we can do to lose our divine birthright as God’s children.

And so, this prelude to the Promises is what tells us that, despite everything that we have done, we deserve the Promises to come true in our lives as much as anyone. Not only that but they will come true in our lives just as they will come true in anyone’s life. And that is a tough thing for many of us to believe. It is a lot easier to believe that we are irreparably broken as we are hounded by the lies that shame is constantly whispering in our ears – and sometimes even screaming at us underneath the smiling façade we present to the rest of the world. But you belong – and you deserve to be a part of the community. You always have. 

 

The Promises: The start

Nov 07, 2012

One of the chapters of my book, A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps, that did not make the “final cut” was on The Promises – these golden words of the Twelve Step community that serve as a beacon to so many coming through the rooms of recovery. In the next 15 entries, I will be reflecting on the meaning the Promises hold to so many men in recovery. Enjoy! And please comment and share with others. Thanks, Dan


The Promises have a special place in my heart simply because of the role that they have played in my life. Yes, it is true these are only some of the many promises in the Big Book; though, it is also true that nowhere else in the Big Book are there 12 promises presented in such a beautiful vision of what is waiting for you in sobriety if you do the work. The Promises hold such a valuable place for so many men and our recovery in the Twelve Step community because of the powerful statement of hope that they offer. In the context of the Big Book, The Promises begin to play a role when you are making your Step Nine amends. What is more humbling than the first time you approach those you have harmed and offer yourself in the spirit of peace and personal accountability? For men in our culture, admitting to mistakes seems like admitting that we are “weak.” Our humility, however, is the mark of a real man.

When I was young and just coming into recovery, I read these words on Pages 83 and 84 and saw for the first time what my life could be some day. In the midst of my deep insecurity, shame, fear, and hopelessness, these words were a beacon. I took very seriously the fact that they are called the Promises, not the Maybes or the Might Happens. I went to meetings where men and women talked about how The Promises had come true in their life and so I held onto them as a covenant between me and the fellowship. They have come true for me. And, they will come true for you, too – so long as you are willing to do the work.

 

Gratitude is not a gift, it’s a decision

Oct 31, 2012

I’ll never forget my first recovery meeting when the topic was gratitude. Gratitude? Really? What on Earth did I have to be grateful for? Being 22 years old, sitting in a smoke-filled room with a bunch of old losers (you know, 40 and 50 year olds?) Or maybe the fact that I was not able to go out with my friends from work because all they did was drink and I was so unstable and afraid I thought the alcohol was going to pour itself down my throat. Or was it the fact that I was working for minimum wage at a restaurant in Staunton, Va., with a double-major degree from James Madison University – cum laude even (somehow!) Or perhaps the fact that my father had relapsed – again – and was clearly drinking himself to death. The list could continue. No, I knew I had nothing to be grateful for and nobody was going to convince me otherwise.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/fbca042193364264a85df7507f5122681.jpgLong into my recovery, after learning how to embrace gratitude as a very pragmatic tool, I found myself blocked in certain areas.

I still wore the Scarlet V — as in Victim — I wrote about in the first part of this series as it related to my childhood. So many experiences that had such a formative impact on me that I had no perspective on. I did not seek to understand. I did not seek to find gratitude for all of the things I had. And, most importantly, I was not willing to let the pain and self-pity go. It had defined me for so long. I’ll never forget only three years ago when the wonderful and incomparable Earnie Larsen, sitting at our dining room table with his wonderful wife, Paula, looked me square in the eye and said: “Dan, you’ve got a lot of that ‘Why me’ identity – it’ll keep you stuck.” And it was doing just that. But that identity was rooted so deeply within me it was not something that I could see as separate from me – it was just who I was. It was a part of me.

The last three years have been some pretty hard work. Challenging myself to see the good in my childhood and all that I had that was positive even if starting with the small things. It has been a constant decision to dip into my past and look for all that was good and slowly chip away at the “poor me” persona. For instance, I recently repurchased one of my first music albums, The Eagles Live, and I remembered how my Dad would go into the basement, lay on the floor and listen to the Eagles. I would sometimes come downstairs and lay my head on his stomach and listen with him. As I write this I experience my head against his stomach, feeling it rise and fall with each breath. Those times with my father were precious – even more so because they were rare.

There is another piece to those memories, however. It seems pretty clear to me that deeply connected to gratitude is grief. When I have given myself permission to grieve the losses and the hurt that I carry with me, then I am truly able to begin to let them go. As I let them go and they lose their power over me and I am naturally brought to a place of peace and with that has come compassion, understanding, and even gratitude. Like an extremely attenuated muscle, weak from neglect, my gratitude is something I must practice every day to build strength so that it begins to become the default. But that means a constant decision to pick up the weights and exercise that muscle. And if I stop exercising it? Well, we know exactly what happens. Nobody is going to do it for me – they can’t! Someone else’s gratitude can do nothing else for me other than show me the way, point me toward the possibility.

As a man, a husband, a father, a member of the recovery community, a citizen, and a human being I have felt compelled to share my story over these past four articles in the hopes that it might help anyone, especially other men who are still being haunted by the trauma of growing up in addicted family systems. They might not even know it.

I cannot count how many men I have spoken to over the past several years who never knew that their pain was caused by past trauma. They knew they were unhappy or felt disconnected but they couldn’t put their finger on it. Other men – for various reasons – have rejected the idea of trauma or abuse because it sounds inherently weak to them. It hits them square in their ideas of being a man. You may love a man who suffers daily because of his not being able to exorcise the demons of his past. And he won’t be able to do it – not by himself.

I’d be lying if I finished this series of posts saying that I have completely made peace with the pain caused by growing up in a violent alcoholic home. I have not. I believe there will always be a space in my heart from that pain. There will always be something missing from my life, Grace’s life, and even Nancy’s life because of my father’s death. I believe that trauma has forever changed me. Much of that for the better. I do not know that I will ever feel as safe in this world or trust people the way others seem to do. The way I want Grace to. The way every one of us should be able to live. I have always been an optimist. Somehow. Even when depression comes over me or I feel so anxious I want to jump out of my skin I know that I will be okay. And those darker days are few and far between anymore. I have an appreciation for life I do not think I would have had I not had the experiences I had. I have great compassion for people’s pain and how it hides in so many situations.

I have heard many people be thankful for the “gift of gratitude.” I understand what they are saying. They mean that having it in their lives has been a gift because of how such a relatively simple change in attitude has transformed their lives.

Personally, I have to be careful. There is absolutely nobody in this world who can keep me from being grateful just as there is nobody in this world who can make me grateful. Yes, it is a gift but more than it is a decision. Every day I get to decide how I respond to life. I have made the conscious decision to search for understanding and compassion for myself and others as relates to the pain I have been through in my life. Like any gift, gratitude has value only if I appreciate it, use it in my life, and share it with others. And only I can make the decision to do that.

Fathering to heal

Oct 24, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/5c19594afd9f4d448107d3b26da6ff261.jpgFew things have changed my life more than being a father and I am only three years into the journey! In keeping with the latest theme of articles, what does it mean to me to be a father in recovery from addiction and the son of an alcoholic?  Seems like two strikes – certainly it is hard to see them as strengths. If you have been following this series and read the first and second posts you know that I did not have a loving and connected relationship with my father.

I grew up as a child terrified of my father, then my home, and ultimately, the outside world. I do not mean I was scared. I felt terror and panic on a weekly if not daily basis into my thirties as a result of the trauma that I had experienced. That sickness calcified into anger and rage. That’s at least two more strikes against me. How could such a scared and angry man, haunted by countless ghosts from his past, ever be a good father?

For those exact reasons I did not want to have kids. My wife, Nancy, and I had many conversations about it. She had a deep yearning in her heart to be a mother and she loves me. She has always seen the best in me despite how many times I tried to push her away and convince her otherwise. I would get annoyed when a friend – or someone who didn’t even know me – would say, “You would be such a good dad, Dan!” The truth was it was not that I didn’t want to have kids or be a father. I was scared to death because I did not want to do to a child what was done to me. I did not trust myself not to hurt a child. I was not going to have a child because that’s just what you are supposed to do when you get married! I now know many men feel this way, whether they can articulate it or not. 

The first time I held my daughter Grace, though it may sound melodramatic, something opened inside of me for the first time. It was not just my heart opening but it was my whole experience of life. All of those strikes against me seemed immaterial, as if some judge had ruled them to be inadmissible or at least only taken under advisement. Holding that tiny defenseless creature and realizing that she was going to be relying on me to keep her safe and guide her on the journey of her Life meant that I had a chance. Nancy once told me that there could be some pain and experiences from my relationship with my father that I could only heal by being a father. It was as if the words were straight from God and even my father, though long dead, trying to right some of his wrongs.

There is no way I can understand who I am as a father without understanding who I am as a son. My friend, Allen Berger, and I were recording a CD for a book we will soon be releasing and were talking about being fathers. Allen and I had very different relationships with our fathers and as a result he could not wait to be a father. I told him my experience and he said something very profound as we were talking about men’s natural disposition toward being protectors as fathers: “You see, Dan, what you were doing in not having children and not wanting to have children was the greatest form of protection because you wanted to make sure ‘your’ children were safe.” I had never thought of it that way but he was absolutely right. It gave me a great sense of pride – before that, all I had connected to that experience was shame and even believing that at some level it was the truth.  

The greatest gift of recovery has been beginning to become OK with the fact that I do not know how things are going to turn out. I do not know what is around the corner in my relationship with my daughter, Grace nor with Nancy. What I do know is that I have been given a chance to be a father where any and all of those strikes against me don’t matter. Grace doesn’t have to know any father other than the man I have become. The man I have worked so hard – with the incredible support of other men – to be. The only one she has to see. The man I was and the boy who felt so scared of the world have been the building blocks for the father and the husband I am today. But like the foundation of a house all she has to ever see is the structure I built on top of it.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com

Healing the wounds that built the man

Oct 17, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/man-in-mirror.jpgMany of the memories I have of my father are when he was either angry or drunk. Not the only memories, but the most defining and salient ones to be sure. I have worked hard over the past decade to invite as many pleasant and happy memories into my life as possible. He was the primary example of “being a man” I had in my life for many years. Sure, there were peripheral men but obviously they did not carry near the weight my father did. I was afraid of my father for the longest time – until I then became the person he feared. Such is an all too common, sad and pernicious cycle of violence in addicted families, particularly between sons and their fathers or father figures.

As a result of those experiences, I spent much of my life afraid of men. That fear led me to view men as a constant threat or someone for me to dominate. One or the other – no middle ground. Compounding the issue was a physical development problem I experienced where I had to be medically treated with shots of testosterone from the age of 15-and-a-half until shortly after my 16th birthday. The distorted belief in my smallness and weakness became burned into my consciousness for many years.

I lived with a constant voice inside of me that told me I was not a man. I didn’t share that with anyone; it simply followed me wherever I went.  And so I was mostly afraid of men and didn’t feel as though I could dominate anyone. I hated weakness – in other men, women or children. I would often have a strong emotional urge to destroy it. I wanted to destroy that which my father had tried to destroy in me. I hated it because I hated that wounded part of myself that I had turned my back on so many years ago.

Those formative experiences – many of which were quite traumatic for me – defined the world of masculinity in which I lived.  So, many years later I found myself asking in a fairly profound way: What does it mean to be a man who is in recovery and a child of an alcoholic? When you look at my website and the work I am doing in the world today it is all centered around that core wound of mine: trying to see myself as a man and have a healthy view of what that even means. The core of my recovery from the effects of growing up in a violent alcoholic home has been attempting to develop a healthy and mature masculinity. Most of that has been trying to unlearn all of the ineffective and disconnecting behaviors I learned in that environment. That is a lot easier said than done.

What does it mean for me to say as a grown man that I struggle with the pain from childhood?

There is sometimes a macho posturing in recovery meetings that keeps men in their pain. What, are you going to cry about your sad childhood? Are you going to whine because Daddy didn’t love you enough? Or perhaps there are the less obnoxious reactions such as: There is no use spending time in the past – live in the present. The core message is the same: Get over it!

Sometimes these comments are well-meaning by the men who have seen so many men stay in the “victim” in their recovery. They know how crippling and self-defeating that can be. Other times, perhaps more often than not, it is men speaking from the depths of their own wounds – the trauma they have not yet healed. They are afraid to acknowledge that pain themselves so they shame others. There is no question that we are a traumatized community of men trying our very best to create healthy and fulfilling lives. For many of these men at the heart of their suffering is the unresolved pain from their childhoods. The wounded children who are still searching for peace.

Speaking from my own experience, a huge barrier for me doing the depth of work I needed to do to begin to find true peace in my recovery was all of the shame and judgments I had about my experiences. Every time I would try to be more honest about my experiences growing up I would immediately be assaulted by the voice saying: “Don’t be such a ________ (fill in the expletive.)”  I struggled so desperately to have compassion for myself and the little boy who had experienced so much pain growing up. I couldn’t get past the harsh judgments that I was just being weak and exaggerating what happened to me. Mixed into that struggle was the sense I had of how badly behaved a child I was, thereby leading me to do what so many men have done – and have had done to them – conclude that I was at fault. I deserved to be treated the way I had been.  That judgment lies at the heart of many men’s abuse – it was your fault.

Let me be perfectly clear: It is not true. No matter what you did or what anyone saidit was not your fault. It is impossible for a child to do anything that would cause the people who are supposed to love and protect him to betray him. To abdicate their responsibility as parents and as caregivers. Yet, how many MILLIONS of boys grew up with this experience? How many men are still haunted it from it? We have to continue to talk about this and create a space for men to heal the wounds that are not only hurting them but eating away at every relationship we have. That is not OK. We deserve better.

We will not regret the past

Oct 10, 2012

I want to thank Sis Wenger for asking me to write this next collection of essays about growing up as a child of an alcoholic. You can find this series on the National Association of Children of Alcoholics website. In a series of four essays, I will be talking about my general experience growing up with a violent alcoholic father, how it has affected my ideas of masculinity and sense of being a man, what it means to me to be a father in light of all of those experiences, and the deep sense of gratitude I work hard to feel for all of it.

I will never forget the day Brother Paul, my guidance counselor at Bishop McNamara High School, looked at me and said, “I think your father is an alcoholic.” I was 15 and a sophomore in high school. I had no idea what he meant. I knew of only one alcoholic – Otis from The Andy Griffith Show and my father did not look at all like him. Yet, a part of me knew exactly what he was talking about. Something was not right at home and it couldn’t all be my fault! I was already starting to experiment with alcohol and I was a mess. One of the smartest in my class and one of the worst behaved. Foulmouthed, impudent, and a vicious sense of humor. Underneath it all I was scared, miserable, and hopeless. I had lost belief in any kind of God that cared about me after only having the year before professed my interest in becoming a priest. I can still feel twinges of the pain of that time of my life as I write this despite it being so long ago.

A crucial part of the healing process necessary for my recovery has been dealing with the trauma that came from living in a violent alcoholic home. I first feel the need to clarify what I mean, however. I do not mean that my father, the alcoholic in our family (at least until I started drinking,) was evil, the only source of conflict or violence, or that, most importantly, he ruined my life. I wore that narrative for a long time – long into my personal recovery for alcohol and pot addiction – as a badge that was shaped like a giant V as in “Victim.” It got me nowhere. It gave me nothing – especially peace of mind, happiness, or a way to create the kind of family I have always wanted.

I gave my power away to anyone and anything I thought might save me. Or destroy me. I have come to believe with all of my heart the worst thing we can do is support another human being in feeling like or thinking they are a victim. Living in an addicted home it is all too easy to take on that identity – without even realizing you are doing it. I have come a long way in 19 years but that pernicious identity has been so deeply rooted inside of my soul that it still affects me much more than I wish.

By the time I was 14, my father’s alcoholism was in its advanced stages. He was only 46. I feared my father and, by the end of his illness the hurt had calcified and turned to hate. The fear turned to rage. By the time I was 20 my father was a severe chronic alcoholic, yet somehow still a high ranking civilian working for the United States Naval Research Laboratory. I lived several years afraid that the call ringing in my apartment was the one announcing to me that he was dead. And, then it came. By the time I was just past my 23 birthday, on Sept. 29, 1995, my father died – for only one reason: chronic alcoholism. I was haunted by him for years. In the first five years after his death I had regular dreams where he would appear, back from the dead. My happiness and excitement about having a second chance with my father would be decimated when I would notice something funny about the way he was walking. Or talking. I would smell the alcohol on him in my dreams! Sure enough, he would be drunk again and clearly going to die again. I cannot say how many times in those first five years I had some version of that dream. I would wake with my heart racing overcome with sadness and anger left with the painful realization that there was to be no second chance with him. That was just one of the ways that my father haunted me.

While it has been some time since I lived in the incredible insanity of an addicted family system, I will never forget the pain that I experienced. The loneliness. The fear. The hopelessness. The confusion. That time of my life has defined a major part of who I am. I have done my best to live so that those experiences have made me a better man. My heart goes out for the millions of children today growing up in similar situations, painting the smiles on their faces at the church services they are forced to attend to keep up appearances. Or the fear of coming home after school. Or the terror, the absolute terror, that so many children have of night time – the time when so many of those caregivers who are addicted slide their farthest into the abyss often dragging anyone caught in their wake with them. I wish I could talk to every single one of them and tell them it is not their fault. They can survive the insanity. Their loved one is sick. And most important, I would tell them: “You are not alone!”

I can honestly finish this essay with the true and heartfelt love I have for my father. I write it still with great grief and loss for the relationship I was robbed of by alcoholism. I write it with great understanding and compassion for my father’s pain and his own dis-ease. I know what it is like to stare into the mirror and not only see my father but see what I hated most about him. And as I have come to love that part of me and begin to have compassion for the beast that lives within me it has inevitably led me to my father and much greater understanding of him and his life.

 

It's time to tell the truth

Oct 03, 2012

This is the first piece in a series about looking back on our home lives and how they were shaped – often in a crucible of pain – by the presence of an alcoholic parent. 

 

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/queen-hearts-half-250x197.png“Our home was a violent home. Period. How he treated you and how he treated us. It was violence.”

The words had never come out of my mouth so clearly and so directly. As my mother sat across from me holding the playing cards, I watched her face. That statement just came out. One minute we are sitting there playing Gin Rummy with fours as the wild card and the next thing we are in a homemade therapy session. I did not want to offend her, hurt her feelings or cause her to be defensive. We had been having fun playing a card game I first learned from my mom and my grandmother when I was a little boy. Nothing serious. Just small talk, like the way it used to be. In fact, it had been a long time since we had just been able to be with one another without the specter of some part of the past hanging over our every interaction – usually because of me.

In the blink of an eye, I scanned her face to see how those comments landed on her. I quickly added, “I am not saying that to make you feel bad or because I am trying to blame you. I know that we all were just trying to survive as best we could.” It was true. Those words helped her to be able to hear them and perhaps even allow her to see the truth a little better. It was the first time I had ever spoken the truth of our situation without “the victim” being responsible for writing any of the words on the teleprompter.

This was a major and somewhat unintentional step forward. Part of the protracted pain for me has come from how much my family has avoided talking about the insanity that we all survived in as best as we could. Some of it has been related to my mother’s reluctance to acknowledge how incredibly inappropriate it was for us to grow up in that environment. But some of it has been my lack of willingness to acknowledge the fact that I wasn’t the only one who lived through it.

The truth is it has taken me a long time to be able to talk about the violence in our home – honestly. That means without minimizing it or exaggerating it. I brought it up–perhaps that was enough.

So, then I said the next thing that came to my mind: “Your turn.”

 

‘I think it’s trauma’- Part II

Sep 26, 2012

Click here to read 'I think it's trauma' - Part I

John called me somewhat out of the blue. He had never called me before though we almost always said “Hi” at meetings. He had been reading my book about a year ago. As soon as I heard his scratchy voice on the message I knew exactly why he was calling and who “he” was. This was the man that Edwin had been talking about just the week before. I called him back and we made plans to talk after the meeting that coming Saturday. When the meeting was over John and I stepped outside and walked over toward the side of the church and sat on the steps. He didn’t hesitate to go right there. He was ready because it has been killing him.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/Depression-facts-depressionisreal-1-250x250.jpg“I’ve got five years of sobriety and I feel suicidal. I think I’m about to relapse. I’m just not happy. I can’t keep living like this, Dan.” I smiled just a little because I knew that place all too well. A lot of men do. The demons from his past were trying to escape and he did not realize that he was the one holding them inside because it feels more painful to let them go. Or so we think. That is the pain of trauma – we wear it like a skin and think it is us.

He was saying what so many of us have said at different points of our sobriety. He was at a place that is extremely painful. In my heart, I know this is how God/Life/HP invites us closer and to deepen our recovery. To free ourselves from another layer of the shit. But it hurts. It feels worse than getting sober. It is opening the door to emotional sobriety. It is hard. It can feel quite lonely. The truth is many don’t make it.

My heart broke as I listened to his story of growing up in multiple violent, alcoholic homes, witnessing violence against his mother on a regular basis. Crying himself to sleep. The violence he experienced. Being abandoned by – and years later brutally rejected by – his father. There were parts of his story that he had never really considered as that big of a deal because that was the hell that he was simply used to living in. A part of him knew that it was not OK. We all always have that part and that is the part that we need to listen to more and more on our journey of recovery from trauma. My mind vacillated between seeing images of my own experiences growing up in a violent, alcoholic home and what it looked like for him as he shared certain details. I could see him hiding in his room. I could hear the yelling voices. I sat there breathing. Deeply. One long breath after another. I was being triggered and needed to pay close attention to how I was doing. I wasn’t in danger of reacting to him or taking it out on him – no, it doesn’t usually hit me the moment. But two or three hours later when I was with Nancy and Grace it could. And breathing through it now would help greatly reduce the chances of it coming out sideways on them. And when I say sideways I mean like T-boning a car in an intersection.

“I get it, I really do. I didn’t have the exact same experiences but I can hear how hard it was for you.” I saw the tears forming in the corners of his eyes and how he was fighting to keep them from exploding out of him.

“I really don’t think you want to die. I think this part of you that is drowning in misery and haunted by pain and suffering long into the past wants to die. I think you want the pain and the suffering to end. I want that for you as well. That is the part that needs to die so that you can awaken to a new life. A life free from the demons. To truly experience the Promises and know what it means to be happy, joyous, and free. I’ve been there. It sucks. It fucking sucks.”

As we prepared to say goodbye, I stood there hugging him, grabbing him tightly wishing I could squeeze all of the pain out of him. I encouraged him to let the tears come. They had been trying to get out for so long. I encouraged him to let that little boy who was abandoned and that young man who gave up on the world because he was convinced it had given up on him – to have their tears. Honor their pain. That is part of the healing.

The paradox of healing from trauma is that on one hand it has to be all about us – telling our story, reframing it, going into the pain, talking to a therapist, going out of our way to do nice and fun things for ourselves, and doing other intense work – and on the other hand it can’t be about us. We can’t lose ourselves in the pain as we open the wound. It can be a bottomless pit. We have to get to more meetings, reach out to the newcomer more, call more people, work the Steps more rigorously and constantly think of how we can be of service to others, and any other way we can get out of ourselves. My friend and mentor, Earnie Larsen, told me I should get a trauma sponsor – a man who knew the pain of trauma and the power of recovery. So I did. I highly recommend it. It has made a wonderful difference for me. We need to see what we have to offer the world and how good life can be. We want to revisit the past so that we can let it go.  That was the wonderful part of the conversation for me and the time I spent with John that day – I walked away having been given an opportunity to continue to heal. I got to see how far I have come in my journey of recovery from trauma and my greatest hope for John and any other man starting the journey of their recovery is that they stay in it long enough to experience the miracle. You truly get to keep it by giving it away.

'I think it's trauma'

Sep 19, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/trauma-250x250.jpgI was playing golf with my friend, Edwin, last week and we were waiting for the rest of our foursome to arrive at the course. “I’ve been following your blog but I gotta tell you I just don’t get this trauma stuff. I can’t identify with it. That wasn’t my experience.” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this but he then began talking about one of the guys he sponsors. “There is something else going on with him and I can’t help him. I really see that now. I don’t think that working the Steps more is what he needs. It’s something else – I think it’s trauma.”

Edwin is one of those guys who gets it – not because he has the background but because he listens with his heart to what people are saying. He appreciates and honors his limits. Edwin and I have had multiple conversations about the work I am doing – from a professional standpoint and a personal standpoint. He was visibly moved one day when I described some of my experiences growing up and some of the psychological struggles I had in my adolescence.

With tears in his eyes he said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Edwin purchased a workbook from the Helping Men Recover curriculum hoping that might provide some additional support. I told him I’d be happy to talk to the man, too, and chances are he will want to see a therapist trained in trauma.

In this conversation with Edwin is where it all makes a difference. I and others of us who are trying to spread this awareness about men, addiction and trauma can have all of the great things we want to say and all of the wonderful ideas we want to share but if men (and women) in the recovery community don’t hear about the ideas and embrace them then, in many ways, it doesn’t matter.

There are millions of men like Edwin’s sponsee all over the world being killed by their addictions as they attempt to exorcise the demons of trauma tearing them apart from inside. And then there are the multitudes of men in recovery, some for many years, having worked so hard to slay the dragon of addiction only to realize there is another dragon – much more destructive and much more tenacious. And it is heartbreaking because men tend to cast long shadows and that means more people get hurt. I don’t know if Edwin reflects the average man in recovery. I don’t know if those men all across the country get it or will get it – but we sure need them to.

If a man you know is in recovery and is struggling with severe depression, anger/rage, other mental health issues or other addictions your first thought should be trauma. Help him find help.

Love, sex, and intimacy

Sep 12, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/in-love-250x250.jpgIn our addiction we are often disconnected from our bodies and disconnected from life. That makes it difficult to experience sex as something other than an act. It certainly was difficult for me. It was primal. With enough liquid courage I could talk to women. With enough luck they would be interested in me. Then it was game on. And it literally was a game because it was all about winning and getting what I wanted so that I could briefly feel better about myself – with little to no real regard for the other person.

I was scared to death of intimacy. I had no idea what it was. The best I could get was while I was under the influence and what that looked like was best parodied by some of the commercials of one of my greatest enablers, Mr. Bud Weiser: “I love you man!” I wanted it. We all did. That was why we had parties. That was why we would find ourselves having deep conversations despite our slurred speech. That was why we would scope each other out at parties – to find someone with whom we could connect. I found myself talking to prospective partners for the night about my home life, my challenges with school, my hopes and dreams. I did not see it as manipulative but I always had an agenda.

I wanted love but my heart had hardened. I had no idea how much so, but 18 years of sobriety have not completely healed the wounds. It does seem that until you are dead – unless you are a sociopath – you cannot completely turn off our innate human desire for love. To love and to be loved. How many times did I fall in love in college? Sometimes for the night. Sometimes it was an unrequited love where I did not even have the courage to talk to the woman. But the desire was always there. The want was there.

And so it was sex that I used to try and meet the needs for intimacy and love. But it didn’t work and it doesn’t work. I do not think it works for anyone, personally. I have had many men try to convince me otherwise but their arguments and their evidence are not compelling. Don’t get me wrong, sex can be whatever works best for you. There is no rule. Do what is best for you, but I warn you about doing what feels best for you. I have worked with men for 18 years now and I know very few men in recovery who are able to drown out their conscience and just sleeping around with no consequence. I’ve tried. I have watched many try. Some right into their arms of whatever addiction had been killing them. Others simply at the expense of having love in their lives.

My experience is that sex, intimacy and love are separate phenomenon that when brought together are amazing. I describe it as having spent my life eating McDonald’s hamburgers thinking they were filet mignon until I actually had filet mignon. In other words, until I had experienced sex in the space of love and intimacy, I had no idea how good it could be. Until I had experienced love in a relationship where sex and intimacy accentuate a connection unlike anything I have ever known, I had no idea how good it could be. That is my experience and my message in this particular post: it takes a lot of work and it may even be quite painful to experience the synergy that occurs with sex, love, and intimacy– but it is worth it. And, until you have experienced it you have no idea what you are missing. You’ll just keep eating McDonald’s hamburgers thinking they are best thing out there.

This is the third of a series of blogs focused on sex. It’s all leading up to the Sex and Recovery Forum Patty Powers and I will be holding Sept. 16, at 9 p.m. EST on InTheRooms.com. Please join us!

The Sex Funnel

Sep 05, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/sex-on-brain.jpgFirst, this is not a blog about the newest sex toy you can purchase on Adam and Eve dot com. It is about a core concept from our groundbreaking curriculum, Helping Men Recover, describing the vehicle through which so many men experience all forms of intimacy. When feelings of closeness, affection, attraction, love, and connection pass through the “sex funnel” they become interpreted through the lens of sex. We are mostly unconscious of it but it affects so much of how we behave in relationships. While women are also impacted by this idea, they are not raised to view sex as something that will literally save them and solve all of their problems. I don’t know how much of it is nature and how much is nurture, but I do know that when I was getting married and the husband and wife couple leading our marriage class told us, “Women have sex when they feel loved and men feel loved when they have sex,” I had not heard any other maxim that felt truer for me. That remains true for me. And, as I have spoken to other men, that idea has resonated greatly with them as well, and it seems to have little to do with whether a man is an addict or not.

Think about it.

If you are a heterosexual man, how many times have you felt close to another man and held back from expressing those feelings? Said differently, how many men feel attraction to or affection for a man and recoil or instinctively distance themselves, if only momentarily, from the man because they are not able to separate the feeling of affection or closeness from sex. For some men it is not momentary but rather a constant saboteur of their relationships with other men keeping them at arms distance, at best. This is not a cognitive experience – it is deeply rooted inside of us and operates on a visceral level. But it is there for many of us, keeping us from experiencing the depth and power of connections with other men. Of course, this concept overlaps with homophobia – a huge issue in the recovery community – but that is another blog unto itself.

The sex funnel also interferes with our relationships with women. One way this happens is that many men have difficulty simply being connected to women without letting sex get in the way. Sometimes it is just the thought of sex. Or the inability not to have sexual feelings come up and interfere with our interactions. Of course sexual feelings and thoughts are going to come up at times and there is nothing wrong with that but when we attach to them and let them slip into the funnel, we head down a path that complicates our feelings. This may sound a bit over thought but when we create a space for men to talk about this, it is amazing how many see how often it operates in their lives.

What’s my point?

My personal experience has been that awareness of the sex funnel and being able to notice when basic feelings of connection and intimacy are about to slide into the narrow and limited confines of the funnel I try my best to notice them and simply be with the feeling without judgment. This practice works with my wife as much as it does with women I meet in the trainings I do or at the conferences I attend. Whether it is thinking that sex is the connection I need from my wife when it is not to thinking that a woman who is attractive is worth more of my time than a woman I don’t find attractive, I am constantly navigating the impact of the sex funnel. I have discovered after many years of trying that sex alone cannot create the connections I desire. I also know that when I don’t allow myself the full spectrum of feelings of intimacy I limit my relationships with men and women and when I do that I limit my experience of life. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of that.

This is the second blog focused on sex. Yay! So, just a reminder that Patty Powers and I will be holding a forum on the topic of recovery and sex September 16, at 9 pm EST on InTheRooms.com. Please join us!

But how am I supposed to be with her sober?

Aug 29, 2012

The next several blogs will all be focused on sex. Yes, sex! The topic that is on all of our minds but rarely talked about in meetings. Patty Powers and I will be holding a forum on the topic of recovery and sex Sept. 16, at 9 p.m. EST on InTheRooms.com. Please join us!

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/NervousGuy-resized-600-250x250.jpgShe was beautiful. A few of us were eating at a restaurant in Harrisonburg, Va. Our server had a wonderful smile. I still remember her name even though it was 18 years ago. Khirsha. Olive skin, black hair, a small stud in her nose and a beautiful body. I was with friends so I had enough confidence to joke with her and even flirt. She flirted back. It was obvious to them that she was into me. I could even feel it! So, buoyed by the support of my friends, I asked her out. She gave me her number. I couldn’t believe it. The first woman I asked out in recovery and she said yes!

But as I drove back to my apartment in Staunton, about a half-hour from Harrisonburg, I thought about what had just happened. I was going to have to call her. I was going to have to deal with the possibility – that in my self-loathing and insecure mind was more of a probability — that she gave me her number with no real intention of going out with me. And what if we did go out? What was I going to do? How was I going to talk to her without alcohol or something in me to enable me to contact that part of me that women seemed to like? And what if I wanted to kiss her? Or if it led to sex? It had only been an hour since I had asked her for her number and my mind was spinning. I was flooded with anxiety as I imagined every scenario from ridicule and rejection to marriage; falling asleep at dinner to impassioned sex in the car outside of the restaurant.

I had been on a date about three months before when I had been trying to get sober and it was a train wreck. A complete and utter train wreck. I was determined this would be different. I knew I had to wait at least 24 hours. That was a given rule. No hint of desperation. So, I waited and I called her. And she seemed happy to hear from me. We had a nice conversation and then arranged to go out. I was nervous as hell when she showed up. I had no idea what to do before, during or after dinner so I just faked until I made it. It would have been so much easier if I were drunk.  I can still remember the palpable feeling of panic that had been sitting there since the moment I had gotten off the phone with her and set the date. It stayed with me through dinner as my nervous joking and self-deprecating defenses kicked in.

We went back to my place and sat talking on my sectional I had just purchased for the grand total of $20 from the local Salvation Army. I moved to kiss her and she kissed me back. Before I knew it she was on top of me and we were grinding our bodies together. It was intense. I was shaking.  I do not know how long we made out. I moved my hands to her breasts and she held one of them there lightly. I could feel myself continuing to shake not used to experiencing the intensity of sexual energy without the dulling effect of alcohol or pot. After 30 minutes or so she pulled away. I sure as hell was not going to. At that point of my sobriety I literally did not know how to stop. If I had an erection and was making out with someone it was supposed to lead to sex. Period. She said that she needed to go because it was getting late and things were getting pretty intense. She kissed me as she moved away from me and got off the couch. I got up with her trying to conceal my obvious erection.

“I had a great time tonight. I am so glad you called me.”  She smiled and kissed me one more time as I opened the door for her to leave. Her eyes said it all. She was smitten. She liked me.

A day passed. I thought about calling her.

Then a week.

Then a month.

I never called her back.

She called me twice and I did not return her messages. That was the end of Khirsha as I turned back toward loneliness and isolation.

If you are reading this and thinking that makes no sense you would be right. And that is the point. I liked her. While I was able to go on the date and go back to my place and make out with her, it was all I could do not to spontaneously combust as a result of the anxiety and insecurity I was feeling. The truth is I had never been with a woman sober. I had only made out with a handful of women when I was not drinking or high or my whole life and I had never had a relationship where alcohol and other drugs didn’t play a part at some point to help me interact. I had never had sex sober other than my first time when I was 16 and that was such a catastrophe that I had a fairly large imprint saying: “Avoid sex sober at all costs!” I could only see this in retrospect years later as I reflected on why it was so hard for me to date women or keep girlfriends.

What I had determined at that point following that first date with Khirsha – mostly unconsciously – was that something seemed wrong with her (after all, she liked me.) It was her neediness. She opened up about her family and I decided she was too wounded. She wasn’t a good enough kisser. I wasn’t really attracted to her after all, I told myself, coming up with a few things I could use to convince myself that I wasn’t into her. But it was all bullshit. The biggest issue was my fear. I had never learned to interact with women sober. I never dated when I was in high school. The only thing I ever did was hook up. I did not know much about being with a woman more than one night. I was as scared of relationships as I was of being lonely for the rest of my life. It took several more years before I would even be able to have a girlfriend longer than 30 days let alone a wife.

Though it often isn’t malicious, we so often forget that our fear affects others. It hurts. I can only imagine how Khirsha felt. I certainly gave her one less reason to feel good about men. My hope is she didn’t spend much time worrying about any of it.

When I was interviewing men for my book and I asked them about sex, I realized that there were a lot of men that had similar struggles in sobriety. The funny thing is that we never talk about those struggles and fears in meetings. Nor often with our sponsors. We joke about how we still hook up with women. We joke about sex in a crude and childish way. Or we feign bravado unable to talk honestly about our fear and ignorance. We laugh nervously at the fact that we feel so inept when it comes to being in healthy sexual relationships. But rare is the man strong and courageous enough to admit that he is scared shitless of being sexual without some kind of drug in him. And that is precisely what needs to change.

 

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