A letter to my daughters — and my sons — about sexual assault

My beloved,

You are precious to me. My girls, you are vulnerable souls and fierce warriors. My boys, you are strong and protective, loyal and kind.

You are not however perfect. I would never place that burden on you. You are afraid, sometimes too concerned with the opinions of others, and you are prideful— you want to think you are unbreakable and invulnerable, that you got this life thing down.

photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

photo by Chip Smodevilla/Getty Images

These imperfections are part of what I love about you, but they are also dangerous vulnerabilities.

Men and women you know, friends, family members, have in the past two weeks cheered a national shaming of rape survivors. They shame for the same reason rapists rape, because they believe it gives them power.

They have blamed rape victims for the way they dress, for being drunk, for “putting themselves in a situation” to be raped. These people have even said they deserved it. I can’t convey to you how evil this is.

There is no “situation you put yourself in” that will ever make it ok for you to be harmed.

God, I hope you never have or ever will be sexually assaulted.

My daughters, I have given you practical advice. Don’t set your drink down. Be aware of your surroundings, never be alone with someone you don’t know and trust. Be alert to men plying you with alcohol and to their motives.

I have not suggest where to go if you need help, or stressed enough that you can trust my unconditional love, that there are people everywhere who will not judge you, or that you never have to be ashamed. You are beautiful spirits, the lights of my life. My hope is that you find people who light your life in the same way. It’s a father’s job to show his daughters what they deserve from a partner. I hope I have shown that you deserve respect, tenderness, love and safety.

My sons, I’m not sure I told you the most important thing.

Dont rape!

I don’t believe you would ever do anything so horrendous, but as I see people whom I thought I knew and loved joining the frenzy against survivors, I realize this is a more complicated command than you might think.

You may find yourself in a situation where a drunk girl seems compliant, it may even be your girlfriend—or wife—and suddenly what was black and white becomes gray. Or you may need to stand up and refuse to be a passive if unwilling accomplice to others.

You may have heard the expression, “No means no” as a standard for consent.

I call you to more.

“Yes means yes!”

That must be your code. An absolute, clear and uncoerced “Yes!”

But here is where it gets even trickier. You cannot stand by and watch other men do anything beneath your own code. Don’t turn your back on a woman in danger. Don’t let the repugnant stories and jokes about women go unchallenged, or tolerate the shaming  by shameless people.

It is often harder to stand up to your friends—and family— than your enemies.

But you must. Losing a friend or angering a family member is a small sacrifice for demanding respect for someone who could be your sister, your mother or step-mother, a cousin, friend or the love of your life. I have not been a perfect father. I have put you in harms away. I have been selfish. And most of your life I have not demonstrated the warmth and intimacy a man should show a woman. I have been given a second chance with your stepmother and I hope you are paying attention.

560DDB79-C7CC-4F33-B240-EDAFC2F7743FAround 35 years ago I was at a lake outside Maryville, Mo., I was 17, drunk, and staring in disbelief as a group of Northwest Missouri State University students tried to coerce an extremely inebriated girl into a “train,” a word that is supposed to make gang rape sound like it isn’t gang rape. I recall waiting for the right moment to step in and say stop, but the girl wasn’t giving in and I was scared. I like to believe I would have done the right thing.  But it was a long time ago. I’m not sure.

Make no mistake, if I did not ultimately  step in and stop them, I would have been party to rape.  The responsibility for that would not go away because “it was a long time ago” as we constantly hear from rape apologists. It would be a permanent blight on my character.

I was rescued from potential cowardice by a young lady, the girl’s friend, who waded into the pack of drooling men, and yelled, “Leave her the fuck alone!”

She gently spoke to her friend, helped her off the ground and took her away.

The circle of  men, and I use that only in the biological sense, flung up their arms and stomped away like petulant boys.

My dear sons, don’t lose your moral compass in  a moment that could devastate a woman’s life and define yours. Train each day by choosing to respect every woman you encounter. Make amends when you falter.

My dear daughters, surround yourselves with friends like that young lady at the lake—both male and female—who won’t hesitate like I did to wade in and protect you.

Please pay attention right now to what is happening in our country. Women, rape survivors, with the same decency and resilience I see in you, are rising up, casting off shame for the armor of purpose, righteousness, and power. Become swept up in this wave.

People who ignore and scoff at them,  who don’t listen and believe them, people who shame them,  do so at their peril.

I love you.

Dad

RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800-656-HOPE

https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline

The hotline offers:

  • Confidential support from a trained staff member
  • Support finding a local health facility that is trained to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams
  • Someone to help you talk through what happened
  • Local resources that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery
  • Referrals for long term support in your area
  • Information about the laws in your community
  • Basic information about medical concerns

Also visit the Website of Planned Parenthood

https://www.plannedparenthood.org

Celebrating a friend with too many birthdays to count

Happy belly-button day, Carol.

It dawned on me early this morning that this old recovery expression is necessary for a life like yours. The day you came into the world is a birthday, but one of too many to count.

Your life was an expanse of birthdays that surprised like the painted skies at sunset that captured your imagination.85814E1B-243E-41C6-A6AA-C0F238A1928D-2682-0000048BFA8DC5E8

When you braved that first day of kindergarten and realized it would all be OK. The day you met your best friend and became so inseparable that for the next 15 years you moved as one, like starlings in flight. The slumber parties, first crushes, sneaking out at night, sticking up for each other when boys were mean. Every time you discovered something new in yourself, whether strength, or joy or pain, was a birth — or perhaps I should say re-birth.

You were reborn on the day you became a mother — each time — devoted Lauren, adventurous Jack, stalwart Lexy.

A new light shone each time you bragged about “the monkeys” or told the story of some misadventure, or worried about them– each time they crossed your heart.

When you planned their birthday parties it was up for debate who anticipated the events more, your children or you, with your detailed plans and child-like impatience to unwrap their happiness.

You had a gift for making each experience feel like the first time: when you sought your parents’ advice, confided in your sister, reunited with sorority sisters, or picked up a friend at the airport after months apart. Every time you said, “I love you” it was new.

You were born again when you discovered wit and humor and laughter and their healing power.

I recall the night when we kicked back and stared up at the stars on the old Arkoe road. Mind you, we were looking through the windshield of my parents’ station wagon, which you had crashed backward into a ditch after a 360 degree spin on ice. We landed with the front end jutting straight toward the sky like a rocket ship awaiting launch. You sobbed, “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!” But we both giggled when I said, “Hey, look, there’s the Big Dipper.”

Over the years we would laugh our way through worse predicaments.

You were renewed every time you laughed–and when you made all of us laugh.

Especially your capacity for finding humor in dark places, when you didn’t know if you could go on. The laughter that brought moments, days, weeks of healing, helping you loosen your grip on a life that demanded more from you than was fair.

There were sobriety birthdays when you found reprieve, and a deeper kindness. The first day you asked  for help was a new beginning as was each moment of grace that followed. And those courageous re-birthdays when you shouldered massive decisions to stand up for yourself and start over.

The times when life abused you and knocked you down were relentless, but you were reborn, sustained mostly by a love that was more relentless–for your children, your parents, your sister, all the people blessed by your playful, generous spirit.

Today is the first time that we celebrate the anniversary of your birth since you were taken from us. A band of your high school classmates are gathering to celebrate the day and all those unmarked moments that created you. Facebook posts are calling out to you. Phone lines are connecting your friends.

However, we haven’t seen your last birthday. They will continue to come too fast to count.

When your children remember a surprise party or an adventure with a mom who never forgot what it was like to be a teenager, you will take on new life. When someone shares a piece of advice from you, hard-won wisdom, it will be like lighting a candle. Even now as we grieve, you are vivid and alive in the tears and smiles, in the way we miss you. We long for the celebration we experienced when we were with you.

You came alive last week when I told the story of how loud you screamed when I donned a ski mask and tapped on your car window with an axe after a night watching horror movies. And again when your friend shared with me your last breakfast together, what she had learned from you and how you held your mother’s hand in your final days at the hospital.  When your friends gather and inevitably remember a night on the town, or a Royals game, or a simple “no hair, no shower” breakfast between two friends, there will be more reasons to celebrate your endless births.

Happy belly-button day, for now, my friend. Until you are born again tomorrow.

 

 

My flawed tattoo: A reminder that letting go may be the only way to hold on

The artist wasn’t accustomed to creating imperfect tattoos, but I asked for imperfection; a single word scribbled on my forearm like a IMG_0902note from someone – a note too someone.

No computer font, so precise and formal, or florid script, so graceful and expressive, would do. I explained why my tattoo should be flawed. As artists are want to do he found meaning in my request.

He went to work with pencil and talent and returned with something perfectly imperfect, precisely imprecise.

My dearest friend died recently. Her body gave out and for the final two weeks her only response to doctors and family was a strong heartbeat.

I called from 2,000 miles and a friend placed the receiver to her ear and promised that she could hear me. I sang Bob Marley, off key.  Don’t be afraid I said, I love you, it’s ok to loosen your grip now. Then I joked that she was never much good at letting go.

In our marathon conversations we often talked about the word, now as permanent to me as addiction.

I promised that after our final farewells I would get the tattoo in honor of her and how hard she tried, but also as a warning to me. My friend died because she was sick, but her illness was a wild animal feeding off fear, more aggressive as her trust in the taming power of the word faltered.

The cunning baffling demon – our shared peril – conquered her because she thought she could conquer it.

It’s Ok to go, I told her again — we will all be fine. Your fight is ended.

I have to believe that she came to understand. As her heart weakend, she became resigned to her fate. She finally let go; somewhere beyond the silence, her ragged breathing and failed body, she accepted the blessing.

She was powerless and her life had become unmanageable.

Now we who love her are left to find our way through the over-analysis, guilt and regrets of grief. Or we can find acceptance in all that she was: vibrant and ill; strong and weak; engaging and lonely; a beautifully imperfect person who sought — too often — to please everyone she encountered, blinded to the impossibility of such a feat.

I must not be deceived; I look at the word on my arm to recognize the arrogance of believing I had the power to save her, to prevent her suffering and death.

She and I used to joke that people who are able to drink in moderation have a superpower. They might as well be able to fly, because we can do neither.

My tattoo is fresh and new today, the single word is simple and rough-edged. I remember my friend and long for one more phone call, to laugh and cry and learn answers to unanswered questions.

I try my best to reconcile her struggle against life and escape from herself with the liberation in death from all fear and torment. Maybe the word, so elusive to my lost friend, will provide me with faith, or maybe not.

I look at the tattoo and one thing is certain.
For today, “Surrender” is my superpower.

Mysteries

I am grateful for forgiving children

That the hangover this morning was allergies

My son called me a hero today

Though I was the source of his greatest pain

Those who love me say congratulations

But pride in myself is misplaced, even dangerous

Today I am a miracle, a mystery beyond

Intelligence, will power, character or discipline

It is best not to ask too many questions

 

 

Jacob’s reminder to dance

Yesterday I wished my cousin Brian happy birthday on Facebook.

On his page I saw a photo of a younger Brian, but the photo was too natural, not like the posed senior picture’s of the 1980s. It was Brian’s son Jacob. I sagged at my computer. Father and son shared a birthday.  Jacob leaned easily against a brick wall, tattered jeans and flip flops. He didn’t appear to have a care in the world

The tears surprised me.

Jacob died a little over a year ago after a struggle with substance abuse.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know Jacob as well as I would have liked.  We talked when I ran into him at the grocery store where he worked and we occasionally joked around during the time he played soccer with my son.12631559_1224193100928116_8414144582599671273_n

He never knew about my strongest bond with him, a longing from afar to reach out and help, to let him know I had been there. I fantasized that he might see it in my eyes, or feel it in my passing presence.

I wear a red band on my wrist with Jacob’s name on it. It’s also inscribed with the words, “Forever laughing,” a reminder of a young man who glowed with humor and irreverence.

Tugging at the band, I realized the sudden tears were for loneliness.

Jacob was alone when he died. His father was alone when he found him. Loneliness can swallow entire families.

I remember the depths when no one could reach me. I was alone in a room full of people who loved me. No matter how many reached out to me, it didn’t matter until I decided it was time to reach back. No one could have lifted me up until I was ready to be lifted. Then there is the loneliness of the ones who strain and long and ache to help, and are filled with fear and regret and helplessness. 

That is the great terror of parenting. My kids are grown and I can try to teach all the lessons I have learned from horrible decisions. They have witnessed some of my worst. But they must make their own way and their own mistakes. They must solicit my advice before they will receive it.

No matter how much we love others, they must want help. That can be a paralyzing proposition. Our peace depends on staying in the moment, doing the next right thing, neither regretting the past nor agonizing over the future.

The red band reminds me of acceptance.

Khalil Gibran wrote: “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

From what I have heard and witnessed, Jacob lived his life with a reckless charm that drew people to him. I’m sure only those dearest to him knew his fears.

I try not to let fear govern my days and I often fail.

I must find a way to live like my cousin Brian who, even in the aftermath of the greatest tragedy a parent can endure, still smiles and bursts forth with a laugh that must ring truer than any to grace the ears of God.

There is an afterlife, right here and now. Our loved ones walk among us in the stories we tell.  Jacob’s friends are still posting photos and jokes Jacob would find hilarious, and stories of his exploits still make the rounds. No doubt he still breathes life into water skiing trips, holiday dinners, and family milestones.

The red band reminds me of joy.

I remember as a child, I used to find comfort at funerals. Even though it was a time of haunting sadness, there was something sheltering about the way my expansive family set everything aside to turn its sympathies inward, like a huge canvas tent in a purple storm. It is good to know we are not alone when we are lonely. Even if no one can truly reach the depths of our pain, it is good to know that so many want to suffer with us. Priests called it the Paschal Mystery. The Buddhists simply say “Life is suffering.” God didn’t want us to suffer, but he showed us that we could find some semblance of meaning in it. We can stay in the moment and hold those we lost close. Someday, someone will ask us for help, and instinctively we will be ready because we have suffered, because  we have lost, because we have mourned.

We will be ready because we have been there before them.

The red band reminds me of compassion.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Anne Lamott

Like so many people, I long to reach out and ease my cousin’s pain. I am content to know that he is sheltered by a great tent. I hope that he finds strength in family and friends. I hope he remembers that many people want to help carry his burden even when they cannot possibly understand the depth and breadth of it. And I know that he will repair his injuries by caring for others.

The red band reminds me of healing.

Jacob was a special young man and one doesn’t ever recover from losing someone of his character. But imagine how Jacob would laugh to see his dad dance.

 

The Hole

Man falls into a hole.

The walls are too steep, smooth and high to climb out. imagesH1HEWJDT

Soon a priest comes along and the man yells for help. The priest scribbles a prayer on a scrap of paper and drops it into the hole and goes on his way.

The next person to come along is a doctor. The man hollers from the darkness, “Can you please help me?” The physician writes a prescription and drops it in.

The next person to pass by the hole is the man’s friend. The sun is setting and the man is anxious. He cries for help.

The friend jumps into the hole.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” the man asks. “NOW WE’RE BOTH DOWN HERE!”

“Yes,” said his friend, “but I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”

 Author unknown

Surrender is my superpower

There’s a certain surrender to a criminal background check. Even if I know they won’t find any sexual offenses or violent crimes, I hold my breath when the woman takes my fingerprints. I guess that feeling will never go away.images (1).jpgsurr

The woman smiles and says, “That’s it.” I joke about the high-tech way they do it now days,  like a mini-copy machine. No ink to wipe off my finger tips. I smile slightly as I reach my car. It’s nice to go free this time, clean fingers and a clean conscience.

The late great comedian George Carlin said, “I get a nice safe feeling when I see a police car and I realize I’m not driving around with a trunk full of cocaine.” 

That’s sort of the way I feel these days. When I see a police car, I enjoy the way my heartbeat remains steady.  The DUI is too old to be a concern on background checks. No beer cans to hold below the line of sight, no bottles under my seat.

Six and a half years ago, I really had no choice but to surrender. The highway patrolmen, his face about three inches from mine, demanded, “How much have you had to drink, Sir!” I think he already knew the answer well enough for his purposes. When you’re drinking out of a Big Gulp cup, you really don’t know how  to answer that one. I replied, “I don’t know.”

A few weeks later a group of people listened as I said those words in a different context.

“I don’t know how I  got here.”

“I don’t know how to stop drinking.”

It would take a while longer, but they nodded and smiled when I admitted “I don’t seem to know anything.”

I grew up in a culture of self-control. When I failed, I was told to work harder. My teachers, at every parent-teacher conference,  said I simply needed to apply myself. I tried and too often failed to “win” the pretty girl. My church told me to suppress my urges. I used to wonder if my good deeds would outweigh the impure thoughts and “self-abuse” when it came to the question of hell. When I developed “nervous tics” in junior high (not until my 30’s would I learn it was Tourette’s), a neurologist told me I was high-strung. Mind over matter. I could will myself to stop.

Surrender, quitting, giving in, was a sign of weakness.

I am not complaining. My childhood was like most. However, there are times in life when self-control, will power, hard work or mind over matter are not the answer.

For me it was drinking. I worked hard, didn’t show up late at the office. I didn’t even get hangovers. I told family and friends I could control it. I think people who are not alcoholics have a superpower. They might as well be able to leap a tall building in a single bound. They don’t have to say, “I can control it” anymore than they would insist that they can control themselves at a water fountain.

I could drink in moderation. Of course my idea of that was four drinks a night. I would stop at four each night until one night I didn’t.  I plowed on through to eight, or nine or maybe even 12. I gave it up for periods to show others that I could. Once I gave it up for Lent. It was pretty easy. But on Easter I embarrassed myself. I had willpower. Actually most alcoholics do. Problem was, for the stretches that I wasn’t drinking, all I could think about was that I wasn’t drinking.

I wrestled with this cunning, baffling chemical like Jacob and the angel. It’s been said that alcoholism is a low-level search for God. I believe that. Once in a while I would find that perfect buzz for a few precarious moments.  There was a longing in my drinking that felt sacred and traditional.

“If I had to offer up a one sentence definition of addiction,” said author Ann Marlowe, “I’d call it a form of mourning for the irrecoverable glories of the first time…addiction can show us what is deeply suspect about nostalgia. That drive to return to the past isn’t an innocent one. It’s about stopping your passage to the future, it’s a symptom of fear of death, and the love of predictable experience. And the love of predictable experience, not the drug itself, is the major damage done to users.”

Toward the end of my drinking, I feared I might have ruined a good thing. But I refused to give up. I knew when the time came I would be able to stop.

I grew up understanding surrender as weakness, and I don’t believe I’m alone in that. However, nowhere in the dictionary definition is weakness mentioned.

Merriam-Webster: “to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed.”

Jonathan Franzen said, “It’s healthy to say uncle when your bone’s about to break.”

The second definition: “to give the control or use of (something) to someone else.” Alcoholism is a lonely condition. For that matter many of life’s travails are. Rugged individualism is overrated.

An Alcoholic is often described as a person with a huge ego and a tiny self-esteem. The ego said I have this under control. The self esteem said I can’t go on without it. Surrender said, I’m defeated, please help.

Surrender is a great relief in a world that demands that we hold onto life tightly with both hands. Surrender gives us permission to let go. It says we don’t always have to win. Today I can surrender the last word in an argument. Surrender allows me to slow down and let the aggressive driver have his waysurrender on the road. Surrender gives me patience. Surrender provides the humility to make amends. Surrender is the wisdom to go through grief rather than around it. Surrender is falling in love.

Perhaps its greatest gift is the ability to acknowledge fears and failure without dwelling on them.

It’s OK to look at the past, but it’s not polite to stare.

Surrender is the willingness to be rigorously honest.

Walt Whitman rejoices at the scientific spirit, “the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”

My background check hasn’t come back yet. There will be a six-year-old DUI on there which could cost me the job.

But on the bright side, I don’t have any cocaine in my trunk.

The Divine Revelation of Suicide

Suicide occurred to me like divine revelation–obvious, certain and irrefutable. I was lying in bed next to my wife when I realized that all those well-meaning people who say it “is not an option” are wrong. Of course it is. I recognized so clearly that I had been granted too much life span. My capacity for joy, my talents, my ability to provide for my family had been finite. At 46, a bipolar episode and the subsequent depression had exhausted me. For months I had been crashing deep10563127_10202444202846230_1914226759642794028_n into sleep, or medicating myself with midnight Netflix.
Self-absorbed and terrified I devised the obvious way to slip out of the picture, a one-night relapse. Binge drink myself to death.
Instead, like I have done for years when the urge to drink has come over me like religious fervor, I told someone. This time it was my wife. I told her my whole plan. Inside my head, my self-worth was self-evident. As soon as I spoke, I recognized the path of destruction I was preparing to leave behind.
I haven’t considered myself a good father in the past year. I told my wife my kids love the idea of who I was before. She told me I was wrong. But even that is better than what I would be leaving behind.
I told my wife she deserved better than me. That’s when I experienced the truly divine revelation of what it means to be loved.
I am still battling the depression, with the help of puzzled doctors. Of course, the death of Robin Williams last week gave me pause. I mourned his genius but more important I wondered if he like me felt like his time had run out. I of course am no Robin Williams but I shared with him a history of addiction, which is a disease of loneliness. I was saddened by his death and the loneliness of it.
It is a common saying that the mind of an alcoholic is like a bad neighborhood, you shouldn’t go there alone.
In recovery we rely on one another to fight the cunning and baffling demons. We pick up a phone. We go to meetings. We talk to sponsors. With luck we have the support of family. Yet suicide is not uncommon in our ranks.
Some would call such an act selfish, for the grief and suffering it leaves behind.
I would not judge so harshly, because in my encounters with clinical depression, I have become self-centered and isolated, turning harshly upon myself to the point of obsession. I don’t think the Catholic Church teaches this anymore, but when I was growing up I learned that suicides went directly to hell. Some religious people still believe that.
Addicts often choose “spirituality” over religion. It has been said that religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell.
Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

Mining for Lithium in the Red River Valley

There’s something lonely about tail lights. They pass in the night without even the blink promising they might turn off and wait.

I pull onto Highway 101 in San Rafael, California, and ease into a river of red. The music on the radio is gentle country, but
I’m headed north to become a Nirvana song.

rainy-tail-lights-at-night-400x265The traffic is dispassionate and sluggish like my emotions. I slow down and gaze ahead at a valley of commuters, trying to imagine the car lights as festive. They are people who care nothing for my pharmaceutical pilgrimage. I have to be at the Rohnert Park Costco by 7 p.m. to fill a prescription of Lithium.

As I drive I worry. There are so many side effects I can’t keep them straight in my head. And there’s Kurt Cobain’s ghost sitting in the back seat. But I’m turning my will over to what monks call obedience. My doctor and my wife and friends say I should give it a try. I’m taking it on faith.

As they said when I got sober, what I’ve been doing hasn’t been working.

At a 12-step meeting a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the terrors of my bipolar break and how Alcoholics Anonymous had helped me prepare for it. I knew I couldn’t handle life alone. I knew my life was unmanageable. I had learned the Promises: “We will know new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

These did not seem extravagant, but they did seem hazy.

Following the meeting, two kind women approached me and thanked me for revealing my struggle. They, too, were bipolar. The rooms of AA are full of our types.

I remember a day at the beach when my break was at its worst. I felt the need to alter my mind. It didn’t need to be alcohol. I felt like anything: codeine, Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, weed, meth would have made the slightest crack in in the fear clamping my soul. It would have been like that first crack of light that buried coal miners see. From there all it would take would be a few more cracks.

Fortunatelly, I waited for a medically approved cracks.

Now, I push through Novato traffic, where it routinely bogs own just after dark.  I am nervous, tired and sad. I still haven’t been handling work situations and conflicts as I used to before my Christmas crash. My doctor says I’m getting better, but there’s still something behind my eyes, a look of fear that something is waiting to take me again.

Lithium is a the standard med for treating what has been happening to me my entire adult life. The side effects sound like one of those TV commercials for erectile dysfunction medication, where the guy reads so fast you can’t possibly hear them all.  None of them are worse than the panic and nightmares and that feeling of permanent startle.

When I told my daughter I was bipolar she cried. “It’s a lot to take in,” she said.

“I’ve  always been bipolar,” I said. “They just gave it a name this time and they can better treat it.” Then I went into the bedroom and held my head in my hands. I try to protect my children from this but they deserve honesty.

Traffic slows to a crawl through Petaluma and the two lanes in the final stretch to Rohnert Park. I will pick up more Klonipin for the anxiety and Clonidine for the tics from Tourette’s I’ve had since Junior High. I chuckle at all the drugs that have replaced booze.

When I pick up the meds, the paranoia flickers. I expect the pharmacist handing me all the medication to glance at a nearby security officer. We’ve got a live one here. Instead, she smiles, asks if I have a Costco card and rings up my order. She pleasantly says, You have a nice evening.”

I pull out of the Costco parking lot to more lonesome tail lights. The only meeting I’ve been to  in a week has been to see my psychiatrist.

I have a bag full of pills and a pit in my stomach. I open the bag and look at the bottles.

I think I’ll wait until morning to explore the promise of Lithium.

Son of a Bitch, Everything’s Real

I don’t know why I went to the meeting.

After a two-hour drive in traffic to reach the Costco pharmacy in time to buy anxiety medication, I meandered back through more traffic and arrived at the Church five minutes late. I felt a chill dark and cold like the winter night. I vowed to sit in the back and not participate. Like a kid whose parents made him attend Mass. “I ain’t singin’ and I ain’t listenin’ to no pastor!”

Bbx45RRIYAA5kUKI tugged my stocking cap down over my eyebrows and punched my fists into my pockets. Leaned back in the church pew and closed my eyes painfully. Luckily I was late enough I had missed the reading of “How it Works.” The first person started to share: Something about being grateful for this program and about how good it was to have this meeting to come to. I wasn’t really listening.

I looked at the time on my phone. Fifty more minutes. Fuck, what was I doing here!

More sharing. One guy had lost someone close to him and proceeded to relapse. He was back– starting over. I think he said he had 10 days sober.  I sat up and golf-clapped for him. Then I leaned back and closed my eyes again. The guy sitting next to me got up and moved to another seat. I was putting off an uncomfortable vibe.

I was better than I had been a few days earlier. The terrors of the bipolar episode weren’t paralyzing me anymore, but that didn’t mean the fear was gone. All the character had drained from me. I had become the center of my own universe and it was a universe without texture or excitement or tenderness.

I sat fidgeting as voices droned on about gratitude, acceptance and promise.

I couldn’t hear the voices over the question in my head, “Why in the hell am I here?

For some reason a memory bubbled up through the poisonous thoughts in my head. It was from the last months of my drinking. It took a lot to get me drunk back then and it really wasn’t much fun anymore. I walked into a liquor store near Atchison, Kan., and stood, staring at the shelves. Nothing looked good. But I stared and stared. For a half an hour I stared at beer and whiskey and rum and tequila. I stared until I finally bought a cheap bottle of rum.

I drank that bottle on the way home to my family.

To my surprise, I raised my hand and spoke. “I’m Dan and I’m an alcoholic.”

”High Dan!” the room responded. I felt irritated.

“No offense,” I admitted, “but I haven’t really been listening to you all tonight.”

I briefly mentioned that my holidays had been kind of crappy and that I didn’t really want to be here.

I told the story of long ago standing in the liquor store trying to decide what to buy.

Whether I wanted to or not, drinking had become a habit, I said.

I think that’s why I ended up at the meeting. Habit.

I remember a lot of 12-Step meetings where my heart was lifted, or I felt embraced by fellowship, or where answers to my problems mysteriously arrived just when I needed them.

This time, not so much.

Someone once told me that sober stands for “Son of a Bitch Everthing’s Real”

I laughed lamely, “I guess it’s better to be at a meeting in a shitty mood than to not be here at all. I hope by the time I leave I’m grateful for coming.”

As I slinked toward the door,  a tall man with silver hair approached and said, “Well, Dan, quite a share!”

I grunted.

He said, “So you had a bad Christmas?”

I knew he was trying to be helpful, but I wasn’t having it.

“How long you been sober?” he asked. I told him and he looked surprised by how long. He asked me if I’d done the steps,

“Yeah,” I said, anxiously turning toward the door.

I shook his hand, said thank you, and walked to my car.

Some will tell you that you never feel worse after a meeting than you did before.

On that night, I would have disagreed.

But I did drink a Dr. Pepper on the way home to my family.

Polar meltdown: A startling view from the paranoid side

Last night I dreamed that small children were plummeting from the Golden Gate Bridge. I tried to catch them but they were just beyond reach.

Ripped awake, I began sobbing quietly.

Something menacing followed me out of the dream and beckoned me to return and jump, join the broken little bodies in the black water. I wanted to go.

17E5FAF0-A7F4-45D5-9CE9-1A41718F76EA

The moonlit room at 3am was colorless. Terrors swarmed into my mind, and poisoned my lungs.  I clawed at the stabbing pain in my chest that had been there all week — the feeling of being stuck in a constant startle.

Only the faint warmth of my wife sleeping beside me reminded me that a deception might be at hand. Another sob escaped my lips. Exhaustion dragged me back to sleep.

This morning I am still clenched with fear– fighting an eternal panic attack. I  can’t place the day or time, can’t find my phone or keys. I try to construct my day but it’s like doing algebra in a tornado. I try deep breathing but I can’t stop gulping oxygen. I try to stay in the moment but I either sprint past it in a panic to wrestle made-up demons, or lose track of it staring at old ones.

I try to gather up runaway problems like spilled marbles. Attempts to make me see logic or find Jesus anger me.

I call in sick to work, but I do not rest.  I dive down rabbit holes of fear. Will I be able to work again? I tell my wife she should find a man who can take care of her, who is strong and attentive, someone who can stop cying.

She is abruptly in front of me, clasping my face in both hands, staring into my eyes. She gently growls, “I’m not going anywhere!” She promises me this will get better, it will end.  I nod, but I don’t believe her.

“Are you suicidal?” My doctor asks. I’ve seen that fear in my wife’s eyes. I tell him it’s tempting. Life has no texture, no color, no joy.

One person who had been through this describes it well: “Even at my best life feels a little rickety, like I’m here but not quite here, like I’m just a stand-in for my real self, like someone could just reach over and pinch me and I’d deflate. I thought I was feeling better, but I don’t know anymore.”

I’m on the phone with a counselor. She says this is like an asthma attack. It comes on for no reason but it does end. A friend, who has suffered mightily from bipolar disorder, compares it to diabetes. I just need the right treatment and long-term management and I won’t ever have to suffer like this again.

I wish I could believe them. What else are the going to say.

I am afraid I have lost the best of me. I don’t think it will be back. What piece of me will fall away next.

Writer Amy Reed described her bout with bipolar disorder this way: “I feel like I’m a snow globe and someone shook me up and now every little piece of me is falling back randomly and nothing is ending up where it used to be.”

This happened before; seven years ago. Before that was 2003, following an encounter with violence that stole away two friends. When I think of those times, my heart pounds and my hands shake. I want to go to sleep and never wake up. I came away from those encounters feeling like I had lost something of myself, like life had worn me down. This time I have a clearer diagnosis, a better support system. I am sober. But I can’t help fear that I will still emerge—if I emerge—even weaker, more afraid, more exhausted.  The people around me talk of asthma attacks, diabetes. I think of a knee injury. After three, can I ever run the same again.

There have been moments in the past week when I have laughed, engaged in lucid conversation. At those times I doubt this whole things is real. I wonder if it is all something I have created to avoid responsibilities. Im lazy and disorganized. Am I running from the world? But like the ocean’s tide the darkness surges back. I think of my little girl, a sophomore in high school, playing basketball 2,000 miles away in Missouri, or I see the date on a calendar when my son who is visiting will leave, and I fall apart, sobbing with despair.

I have a cup of anxieties that is normally about half-full. Through the past five years, during alcoholic recovery,  a nasty divorce, a year of unemployment, a difficult move across country away from my children, it has stayed pretty steady– no unexpected spills. Now, suddenly, it is filled to the brim. The slightest upset– real or imagined– a minor work concern, a lost set of keys, an unexpected envelope in the mail, and the cup overflows spilling composure to the floor.

My wife tells me to be patient, so do doctors and counselors. But I don’t trust them. I wonder if there is something they aren’t telling me. My bosses at work say take my time, get well. But how long will they put up with this? I used to be a patient person. I sat quietly in traffic and weathered disputes calmly. When I made mistakes, I usually made amends and let what was out of my control happen in its time.

But this kind of fear is not a patient place to be.

I started a new medication this morning. So far I haven’t seen much difference. My wife embraces me and reminds me again to remain patient.

Tonight I hope to sleep better.

Without the nightmares.

Whatever is following me out of those dreams is wearing down my resistance.

Getting past this ‘God shit’: Recovery of an agnostic

Lost-Highway-In-Blogging

I believe in prophecy. Some folks see things not everybody can see.
And once in a while they pass the secret along to you and me.
I believe in miracles, something sacred burning in every bush and tree.
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing.
I believe in God, and God ain’t me.

Steve Earle

I didn’t have much starch in me the night I went to my first meeting. I had publicly humiliated myself, and more important, lost my way as a father, the only true moral compass I had left.  Alan (not his name), a recovering alcoholic, was gentle with me as he picked me up in his car. I was talking rapidly, nervous and eager to do this thing right, afraid of looking foolish. As we approached the doors, I stiffened and found what little bit of defiance I had left. “I don’t want any of this God shit,” I said.

Alan grinned kindly and said, “That’s Ok, you don’t have to think about that right now.”

No one enters those rooms on a winning streak. It was a strange mixture of fear, anger and brokenness that led me to the tables after 23 years of very determined and passionate drinking. A looming court date, a waiting jail cell, and a brutally honest court-ordered drug and alcohol counselor left me little wiggle room.

At the time I thought my agnosticism was principled. But If I’m honest, I was probably still looking for a way out. I had known for some time that my drinking was a problem. I had said it aloud to myself late at night when I was alone and at my worst. But now, despite all the evidence to the contrary, my brain was telling me to run.

I stayed that night. I kept coming back for a variety of wrong reasons. I wanted to show people that I wasn’t that guy, the drunk fool. I wanted to prove to my kids that I could change. I had to get that damn sheet signed for my probation officer. Through it all I flinched at each mention of God.

Eventually–I’m not sure when it changed–I was coming for the right reasons. Not for other people, but for myself.  I realized that if I didn’t stop drinking I was going to lose everything–even my life.  Tolerating a little God talk seemed a small price to pay.

Today, five and a half years later, I am still sober. I’m still not sure about God.

Almost a year into sobriety, when I was on the pink cloud of recovery, a friend who is a Benedictine monk asked me to define God. I said, “Oh, no, I’m not touching that.”

I felt my heart pounding as he pressed me: “Come on, try!”

I insisted that I was perfectly comfortable not naming my higher power. I’m not superstitious but I was still pretty fragile. I didn’t want to mess with a good thing.

But my friend wasn’t letting me off easy.

I thought for a moment and then looked at him. “It works,” I said, “That’s my answer. Whatever is keeping me sober is not me and it’s working.”

He grinned broadly, like I’d passed a theology exam.

I remember when I struggled with the second and third  of the 12 steps, I considered returning to church. A Catholic priest, who had been in recovery for a long time, warned me, “Don’t let it interfere with your sobriety.”

His message was that my relationship with the Church and my relationship with a higher power were two entirely different things and I shouldn’t confuse them, especially when the most important thing in my life was on the line.

For those who are curious, alcoholics and addicts who have found a daily reprieve through the 12 steps have admitted, in Step 1, that we are “powerless over alcohol and that our lives are unmanageable.” In Step 2 “we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

The italics are mine. Frankly, I never have gotten past the possibility and mystery in the word “could.” And I never needed to. My first sponsor asked me if I could accept that it was possible, not even likely, that something greater than myself could restore sanity to my life. Of course, I admitted, there was the slightest possibility.

I’ve stayed sober for a lot of 24 hours on that slightest possibility. For a while, my God was a Group Of Drunks who didn’t judge me and expected better from me. Sometimes it was the Great Out Doors. It didn’t really matter what or even if I believed as long as knew God ain’t me. I learned that almost everything in my life is beyond my control. One thing I was certain of: what I had been doing wasn’t working. I had to change my entire way of thinking, let go of self-will and accept life on life’s terms.302811_3913001063340_2085956480_n.jpg

In Step 3, “we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

These days I meet people who want to stop drinking. But like me five years ago, they say they are turned of by all the God talk. My response is that perhaps the 12 steps isn’t for them. There are other options. Or maybe if a little God talk is too much of a burden, then perhaps their not ready to quit yet.

I grew up in a family that was certain about God and religion. I, however, have grown comfortable with doubt, with mystery and uncertainty. I have accepted the fact that I will probably go to my death unsure of God’s existence.

My higher power could be sobriety. Sobriety is not simply abstinence. It is knowing that each day is another chance to get it right. It is letting go of resentments and fear, trying to make amends where I can, and to live with gratitude. It is seeking not to judge lest I be judged.  I find it liberating to make decisions by asking whether I will be more sober. You could say it’s a form of prayer. I get into fewer conflicts. I’m a better husband, a more patient father. I’m even nicer to referees when I coach basketball. I’m more honest, more aware of my shortcomings and more willing to acknowledge my strengths. I tend to be more forgiving, less anxious about tomorrow and less likely to regret the past.

There have been times in the past couple of years, mostly during financial crisis, that sobriety was all that stood between me and the abyss, when sobriety seemed to be all that I had, when sobriety got me out of bed in the morning.  If that isn’t a higher power then I don’t know what is.

I told Alan I wasn’t having any of this God shit. But I endured, I tolerated, because my sanity and my life depended on it.

God isn’t necessarily the word I use, but a lot of people on this journey with me do. And they have convinced me that it is a miracle I’m sober today.

I guess you could call that faith.

How to win an argument

Pulling into the stop light I scrolled through the third page of a text from my ex-wife lecturing me about my anger.

Whenever my ex tells a story, she has a way of going about it that starts way back at the beginning and takes a while getting to the point. She’s building dramatic tension. When she’s lecturing, she use my name a lot like she’s scolding a little boy. “Danny, my attorney and I agree that you need to do better…” On this particular night, she was inspired, letting me know that I could learn from her and how she had moved on. If I couldn’t figure out a way to handle my anger, she and her attorney were going to have to take severe measures against me. Then she repeated her “concerns” and informed me again how angry I was.

Sitting there at the light the giggle started deep inside me. By the time the light turned back to green I had clicked my response into the night.

“Fuck you!”

I was still grinning when I pulled into my driveway 15 minutes later.  I was told later by a friend that I was immature. My defense: “It was funny.” Well maybe not to everyone. Certainly not to my ex wife…and her attorney. I considered the maturity of my text before I sent it, but the sudden halt to her lecture was a victory of brevity over verbosity and too tempting for the writer in me.

I haven’t lobbed an F-bomb at my ex-wife again since that night. First, I could never capture that spontaneous spark– it wouldn’t be funny. But more important, it wouldn’t be good for me.  Where would I be if I went around saying “Fuck you!” every time someone bugged me? Disciplining my children would certainly be a different experience, and I don’t even want to think about traffic stops.

I don’t like my ex-wife; that’s why we’re not married anymore. Manipulative relationships feed off of emotion,  whether anger, tears or domination.

So, how do you win an argument?

The right answer is “You don’t.”

Early in my divorce — no, long before it — I wanted so bad to win arguments. I would seethe that she couldn’t get it through her thick skull, whatever it was. Later, it became serious–the custody of our precious children — and how those children perceived me, even how other people perceived me as their father. It became a danger to my soul. That’s when the battles changed into crusades–obsessions that threatened to change the essence of who I was. I was fortunate enough to have people around to remind me sternly and often how much was out of my control — and that I should be grateful for that. I was reminded that winning should not be my goal, that anger is not only bad for me, but fatal. Righteous anger, perhaps the most seductive, is the most poisonous.

I heard the words, “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I longed for that, the comfort with people who loved me and the ease of irrelevance with people who judged me. It’s easy to talk it, but walking it with easy confidence still eludes me.  It takes daily practice and my gait still has a hitch in it.  It requires listening over and again to people who have walked there before. It means sitting down next to that person who seems to have it down. That guy who shrugs and says, “Eh, what are you gonna do?” when you bitch about something that’s eating your lunch. It requires seeing yourself honestly in those who are sputtering and raging and finding peace in the fact that you really aren’t so good at this after all, but knowing, too, that you aren’t alone.

I’ll admit, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly in the right spirit. I would let my ex or whoever else was disturbing me have the last word in conflicts, not out of magnanimity but because I enjoyed the thought of leaving them dangling. I imagined them wondering when I was going to respond to their meanness. They weren’t quite irrelevant. But now I look back on that as a good start. I was still playing games, manipulating, but less so. I was practicing, getting my reps, for truly letting go.

There is such freedom in not having to win. It doesn’t serve very well in coaching basketball, but it ain’t too bad between games. In daily life, conflicts with other people, concerns over performance or appearance, judgments of the behavior of others, what is to be gained? I have found that being right isn’t worth a damn in the long grind. Trying to pick up nuggets of healthiness from those people and passing on as much of it as I can is a more worthy pursuit. Let anger and discord drift out of my life like a bad storm along with the people infested with it– be they old friends, family, or strangers on the highway. When it bubbles up in me, I try to make amends with conviction and integrity and do the next right thing. If I miss my chance, not to worry, it will come around again. My kids and I have good relationships. I don’t lie to them, even when I look the fool. I apologize, a bit too much my daughter tells me. We talk about deep things in their lives and sometimes they don’t talk to me at all, as it should be. I am not the slightest bit cool. I don’t believe I’m mean or dishonest or perhaps even interesting. There was a time when I could be all of the above. I never demand that they respect me. I figure once I start doing that the good fight is lost.

I don’t need to win anymore. If you’ve read this space before, you might know I used to drink a bit. I have a new drug of choice. It’s a lot like booze. Anger can feel good. I drink it down easy with a burn and a shudder. It comes on with a rush akin to joy. When I’ve decided to stay with it for the evening, I can marinate. There is a singular pleasure in the fearlessness of turning an anger drunk on some deserving soul. But the buzz never lasts. The high subsides and as with whiskey, fatigue comes on and then regret. Why, oh, why did I say such things? There is even the hangover. Next morning I might even avoid the target of my drunkenness, ashamed, acting like the night before never happened. Then resentments. Hold on to those long enough, I’ll be back with my old D.O.C.

Like I said, I used to like the feeling of letting someone have the last word for the wrong reasons. In some arms-length way, I was still fucking with them. And it worked. I don’t mean it worked on them. It worked on me. Believe it or not, I was growing. Pretty soon that habit evolved, somewhere between my old ways and the new. Pretty soon, conflicts weren’t worth the price of my serenity. Soon enough, I grew intentionally more concerned with my response to troubles than with the troubles themselves.

Oh, I still get pissed off. Especially when people hurt someone close to me. But there’s a beautiful sliver of time called the “million dollar pause.” In that moment– which sometimes can last a few precious minutes or at other times deep into the night– I may sit in stillness or talk with my wife until I’ve talked myself out of something stupid. It is worth more than a million dollars. It has saved my relationships with my children,  my sanity, my life. If I take this pause, without fail, I come out the other without anguish, anxiety and fear, understanding that the reason I needed it has lost all power over me.

“Whoever angers you controls you.”

I don’t know who originally said this, but it has been repeated to me time and again, and I have likewise repeated it to my children.

One night, on a darkened playground, I shot hoops with my son as he raged against his high school coach. I pointed out to him that on that night, at that moment, the coach who incensed him was the most important person in his life. More important than his girlfriend, his family, his friends. “Is that what you want?” I asked him. He slowed down. His voice quieted. In his own way, I think he paused.

How do you win an argument with someone you despise? To be honest, I’m not the right one to ask. I am grateful to be out of practice.

I’ve thought about that text I sent to my ex-wife those years ago. I still think it was good comedy. But not good sense.

If I had waited until the next stoplight, maybe I wouldn’t have sent it.

Oxytocin, poor people and chocolate

“I try to hold fast to the truth that a full and thankful heart cannot entertain great conceits. When brimming with gratitude, one’s heartbeat must surely result in outgoing love, the finest emotion that we can ever know.”

Bill W.

Someone once asked me how I knew I had a problem. I said the handcuffs hurt when I leaned back in the seat.

It’s a joke tinged with sadness, regret, and if I don’t do all the right things — relapse.

The handcuffs hurt my wrists, yes, of course, but they hurt up into my elbows, where the patrolman awkwardly jerked me into the backseat of his car. They hurt up into my shoulders upon which the weight of the world was descending. The cuffs strangled my heart as I stared back at my sons standing on the side of the highway, looking so lonely and scared.

They eventually took the handcuffs off. The red, coarse rings on my wrists faded. I had to go back to jail later for 15 days of what they appropriately call “shock detention” (my breath still catches in my chest when I remember it). The day before I went in, a friend said to me, “Well, Dan, look at the bright side, if you don’t drink again, you might not have to go back.”

It’s been five years since my last drink. When people hear that, they say, “Congratulations” which still makes me a little squeamish. As the actor, Christian Slater said to an interviewer, “It’s nothing to be proud of. It’s like running out of a burning house.”

I don’t want to go back, and I don’t plan on it. But you never know. In the meantime I’ve learned there are other kinds of handcuffs. Anger, resentment, FEAR! They bind me and hold me back. I’ve gathered that I’m on a chain gang with a lot of other people these days.

So many things to be afraid of. Climate change, Republicans, immigrants, unemployment and money or the lack of it. Demons! A vengeful God, religion, religious people, terrorism…Satan and He Who Shall Not Be Named (depending on your stripe this could be Obama, Cheney or Voldemort). Most of us are afraid of being wrong, or of someone else being right, or of not being with the right person or of being left all alone. We are afraid of closets and who might come out of them, and ghosts — in the attic and in our minds. War, flag burners, liberals, guns, sex, men, women, even poor people and chocolate. We are one frightened and pissed off world, handcuffed together, straining against one another like the Defiant Ones. As I write this, my chest aches and I’m not sure why.

On that highway that day, with my kids looking to me to be a dad and me failing miserably, I didn’t know it but I was on my way to some answers. At that moment I hated the bottle of rum churning into a DUI vapor in my belly, but I would soon come to believe that every dollar I had spent on alcohol was a dollar well spent.

I met some wise people. For a while it would be a condition of my probation to come back and see them. I had to get this sheet of paper signed each time I met with them. But eventually, I forgot to bring the sheet.  I would just forge random illegible signatures. Don’t tell my probation officer but I wasn’t going for him anymore. Once, when I lost the sheet and turned up at the probation office afraid, he said, “Don’t worry, we can tell you’ve been going.”

I found out that I will always wear handcuffs, but handcuffs have keys.

Each day when I get up I can do my best to accept people and situations as they are. I can live and let live. Try to do the next right thing. Don’t get too far ahead of myself. Stay in the moment. All I have to concern myself with is not taking a drink and helping the person next to me not take a drink. The simplicity is breathtaking.

Or I can put the handcuffs back on.

I love to laugh. I love to fucking swear. I find beauty in small things and big bold things. I love my amazing children who are stronger than I will ever be. I also get my heart broken easily. I get scared. I get angry. My wife says she feels it when the darkness comes. I love to kiss her. They say kissing releases something called oxytocin, which is like an antidepressant. I think I might be faking that darkness when she’s around.
I love words. I love to play with words. I love listening to the worn words of old timers who have walked ahead of me and the shaky words of those who remind me of where I’ve been. Even hateful words of fear mongers, rude parents at soccer games or meanness close to home serve their purpose. They provide perspective, a reminder to be accepted like inclement weather for which we should prepare. The ability in the moment to find my tumbling mind’s angle of repose is a fleeting gift handed down. Words free me, whether it’s whispering the mantra of the “Serenity Prayer” so the world and I can relax our death grip, imagining a campfire and the lustful prose of Edward Abbey, or driving to the soulful wail of Bob Marley as the wind blows through what hair I have left.

When words and people come together they make stories. Stories make us free. Stories freed me from my handcuffs five years ago. I kept coming back and hearing stories and telling my own. It’s a truth as old as humankind. Without stories there is loneliness, isolation, and fear.

I will write this blog about handcuffs – things I observe in the course of my 24 hours that might hold me back or that I think might be holding us back. More likely I’ll write about keys — things that free us from our cuffs — humor, community, family, love, romance, nature, beauty.

I love words. I like to take them off their chains and hold them up to the light. I like the way they jingle against each other.