Sober for 60 Days

2469593444_d77602c6a5_b

 

I had feared that sober meant somber; that no more fun was to be had. I had a lot of fears, in all actuality, about getting sober and staying sober. I feared that I would have to be religious and follow some hair-shirt wearing order of those who literally feared a horrid, and vengeful God. I feared anxiety would once again become an overwhelming, and ruling factor in my life as I would no longer be able to medicate with alcohol. I feared living life on life’s terms. I feared that being alcohol free would dampen my creativity. I feared how people might treat me without the social lubricant of alcohol. I feared fear.

But I was already living in fear. Booze kept me living in fear. I didn’t realize alcohol was keeping me from being happy, joyous, and free. I didn’t realize that it was holding me down, exacerbating all my problems instead of helping. My notion that booze was easing me through life was pure deception on my part.

I thought I was having great fun, mixing with bar regulars, and newly found single-serving friends. In all honesty, there were great laughs, great times, and epic moments I had during my drinking career. I remember riding on the back of a friends Harley in downtown Nevada City, California, a gold rush era town that is now a tourist town, swatting tourists on the butt with a broom as we road along. It was tremendously funny, even to those being swatted. Sure there were good times. But alcohol is a progressive disease, and when drinking becomes a disease, all the fun is underscored with great depression and fear. There came a point that the only people I wanted to do was be around were other people that drank, and then, even they became just an annoying presence; all I wanted to do was drink alone.

Life had spun out of control. How fun was it for me to sit in a cold travel trailer in the dead of winter drinking vodka before anyone was even awake in the morning? How fun was it for me to not want a drink, but to need a drink to keep me from shaking, dry-heaving, and to cure ravaging headaches? Where was the fun in loosing my job, alienating good friends and family, being homeless, totaling my car and scoring a D.U.I? I was lost, alone, and afraid.

I had time to reflect on just how fun liquor had become when I was in the hospital for five days suffering from alcohol poisoning and withdrawal over 60 days ago. It was then, that a total stranger, whom only knew me from my posts in a Facebook group, came to my hospital room with hope, and was I ever ready for hope. I was so out of it, that even today I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital, nor collapsing in a Chevron beforehand. But I do remember the kind actions of a total stranger, and the one who would become known to me as my guardian angel that would eventually lead me to sobriety and a joy that I had long misplaced; a new joy and freedom that I would soon discover.

I found myself in Pathways, a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility in California, as well as a twelve step program in which I live my life by today. From day one I felt my debilitating fears begin to slip away. My life wasn’t just beginning to be restored, but a new life was being founded, one that was much better than the one I had long ago enjoyed before getting sober. I had even feared being in a live-in drug and alcohol center, but had more fun there than I thought was even likely. I also met true friends who will be with me for a lifetime. They are friends without conditions. Friends whom I would ordinarily not mix with had I not been seeking a life of sobriety. I am truly lucky.

Once I graduated Pathways, a bittersweet graduation, my guardian angel, William, once again reared his helpful head and offered me a safe place to live in a sober environment, and a job as well. I no longer feared God, that word I felt was a dirty word – God. I had found my own conception of God, the Great Spirit. There would be no hair-shirt wearing, or sour-faced, judgmental church ladies trying to direct my spiritual path. I had turned my life, my will, and my fears over to the Great Spirit of my own understanding. I even found a religious organization, the Unitarian Universalists, who embraced and allowed me to be guided by my own conception of God. It’s a church that allows me to be spiritual, not religious.

And of friends, and the fun that comes along with friends; who knew I would have so much fun? My old friends are still with me, those who accept my sobriety and embrace it. And my new friends who share the path of sobriety with me are golden as well. We support each other and share a great deal of humor, sometimes greatly irreverent and inappropriate humor; my favorite kind!

Fear is one of the greatest enemies of an alcoholic. Today I walk in the sunlight of the Great Spirit, and the company of great friends. I can also love the person I look at in the mirror each morning. My fears are processed with the tools of the twelve step program I am living, and given over to the one that can better handle them than me, my higher power.

Each day, with a clear head, I can face life, and handle life on life’s terms. Everything is infinitely easier to handle. Things seem to fall in place as they should. I have come to know life as I had never known it before. It is a joy-filled life of happiness and freedom.

I have 60 days of sobriety today. I have a lot of people to thank for it. I have the Great Spirit to thank for it. I am grateful that I have found the bright spot in my life. I am grateful to be truly living the life I was meant to have.

(About the photo. Canon EOS Rebel X 35mm,  with fine grain film, Kodak CN400)

Why I Am No Longer a Mortician

2681109465_a13242c081_b

Dawn was streaking between the towering buildings of downtown Denver as I drove under them on 17th Street on my way to work. The music in my car was loud and I sang along. I’d be directing a funeral in Boulder that morning and I was dressed for the part. Amanda, my favorite barista at St. Marks, a blue-haired girl with a big smile and a pierced face would be handing me my morning Americano while asking for the gory details of my job. Sometimes I obliged her, and although unprofessional, I didn’t really care because Amanda was my de-facto therapist.

I was operating on three hours sleep. In the early morning, I was called to do a removal as the guys that usually did so could not be aroused. All the funeral homes in the Denver metro area took turns dealing with unclaimed remains of the homeless and that morning was our turn and I worked alone. The hospital morgue held the body of a man whose family basically said he wasn’t their problem and that morning he was mine. He weighed close to four hundred pounds. A couple of security guards instead of orderlies were summoned to help me slide the body on my gurney, but I had no help on the other end of town where the gurney gave way, spilling the bodybag onto the ramp of our mortuaries back entrance. I tried, but there was no way I alone could lift the body. I made several telephone calls for help. Again, no-one could be woken up to help me. I resorted using a cherry picker to get the man off the ground before I could wheel him into the icy atmosphere of our cooler with the other bodies awaiting cremation. But before I did all that, I had to franticly build a makeshift barrier using cardboard from the recycle bin to shield the body from view of passengers aboard an oncoming Amtrak train. That’s the last thing tourists and commuters needed to see on their way into Denver was a body bag laying on the ground outside a mortuary. Sleep wouldn’t come until around 2:00 A.M.  Amanda would have a story that morning, that was for sure.

Once in Boulder, I was alone; found a note that said I would be working alone because my young boss decided to go skiing. I didn’t know much about the family I would be counseling so I did a little research on them, reading their file before I would meet with them later that morning. It was all typical.

Mr. and Mrs. Bradford, as I will name them, were surprisingly well composed. Earlier, before they arrived, I had set all the floral arrangements sent by family and friends out where I thought they looked best and placed the cremains of the decedent near the alter of the the church at the rear. Mrs. Bradford said everything looked beautiful. I was pleased with myself. I thought the funeral would be simple and smooth. Then a group of the decedents’ class mates entered the room with their teacher. They were all special needs kids wailing like teething toddlers. They were around the sixth grade level. Several were downs syndrome children. They could not be consoled. I wanted to hug each and every one of them but that was considered unprofessional and not allowed.

Later, a little downs syndrome girl took to the podium. I lowered the mic so she could reach it. She started speaking with her impaired, downs syndrome voice, “Joey was a friend of mine. He helped teach me to ride a bike. He good guy…good friend. He’s my best friend…” Then I heard a little boy ask his teacher a little too loud, “When’s Joey coming back?” I lost it in front of everyone in the church audience. I was balling. The little girl was quivering, saturated in despondency. Her voice was shaking. I grabbed her hand and lead her to her teacher. After a moment, I walked back to the podium and asked the crowd if there was anyone else who wanted to speak.

Back at the funeral home, I gathered my thoughts in the office. Why oh why am I doing this?  I asked myself. It was clear the children could have no concept of death, or the afterlife if there was one. After all, how could a God do this to the children, much less a very innocent child and his friends? I decided if there was a God, he must have a very sick sense of humor. The little boys’ question haunted me the entire day, “When is Joey coming home?”

My boss came in drunk just then. I had scolded him over the phone earlier and he left the ski slopes to get back to business. I yelled at him for the lack of support lately and the omission of facts I needed to mentally prepare myself for the services that took place that morning. I had gotten used to scolding my boss. He was a young idiot. I sent him home. His own employee told him to take a taxi home, and to get out that instant. He was only 23, the child of a mogul who owned a drug store chain in the Midwest whose Daddy bought him several funeral homes in Colorado and Wyoming. I managed his Boulder location. I was hired with no experience or schooling in mortuary sciences. In Colorado at the time, one needed no license to be a mortician. I had been a Walgreens manager prior to be hired at Boulder mortuary and was pretty much hired on the basis that the owner thought I looked good in a suit. Days after I left Walgreens, I was embalming and cremating bodies. It’s unconscionable that he thought this was a good idea. This was an example of his professionalism and how seriously he took his work. He was a morbid little male bimbo. But it was also crazy on my part to take the job.

That day just kept getting better. A man entered my office without notice. I apparently left the outside entrance unlocked. He was visibly upset.

“This is not my mother. She was taken away in a nightgown.”, he said, red-faced with a tinge of anger. He then unscrewed the top of the urn and pulled out an ashy, destroyed mans watch. He laid it down in front of me on my desk. And then, from his pocket, he produced a ziplock bag with a couple of buttons in it. “There were also Levi 501 buttons in there.”

I didn’t know what to say for the longest time. I just stared at him. It was all I could do. I had nearly cremated my boss over not labeling people before. I really didn’t think it could ever come to that level of horror. I thought my boss had gotten it together. I seriously did not think that would ever happen. No human being could have let that happen.

It took me about ten minutes to come to a deliberation. I decided to take this incident and other complaints to the district attorney. I also went to O.S.H.A over the fact that we were breathing in formalin during the embalming process without being provided masks, and the eyewash station blocked with books, and showers were being used as storage.

“I’m sorry Mr. Barry. In the state of Colorado, the consumer has no recourse. According to the law, Mr. Stevens has done nothing wrong other than violate some consumer protection ordinances, a misdemeanor. However, there is a woman on the state legislature who wants to talk to you. She’s been trying to get the funeral industry regulated for years.” the district attorney stated.

I worked with representative Debbie Stafford, testifying on the floor of the Colorado State Legislature for two years before the governor finally signed the act to enact regulation for the funeral industry.

I was inundated with phone calls from the press. News stations were outside my house for days on end. I did several interviews on television, and the newspapers were full of headlines about the story.

But with all that drama, the most haunting part of that whole experience were the people, soaked in inconsolable sadness -peaces of their wholeness dead – over the loss of their loved ones. That would get at me most. And then there was the mentally retarded little boy, “When is Joey coming home?” The bewildered wife whose husband was killed days before in a car accident. The list goes on. I was saturated in despondency myself.

I remember sitting out on the patio of a Denver ice cream parlor the day after the bill was signed into law, staring out into the air thinking about the whole experience of being a mortician. These memories would soon be formidable ones in my psyche. They would be key players in the start of a future drinking career. One that would last a long time.

The Many Layers of Homelessness

2469628160_d401c11925_b

Last week I volunteered at a local homeless shelter cooking and serving dinner to the residents. Earlier in the week I had attended a meeting for a local organization, Sierra Roots, where before the photoshoots took place for volunteers, we served lunch for the local homeless. What I noticed is that there were people there whom I observed on the streets a decade earlier; people who were getting drunk, and/or using drugs, creating public nuisances, or whom I saw being hauled off by the local police in public parks, and the Streets of Nevada City and Grass Valley. These homeless men and women, many of whom can also be seen panhandling outside businesses, and along the sidewalks are the faces that we often associate most with homelessness. However, in my experience in working with the homeless, particularly those in shelters, I’ve encountered many faces we can’t put to the stereotypical branding of the homeless. I’ve met the newly unemployed, families with children, the gravely disabled, seniors, teenagers, traumatized victims of crimes including human trafficking, over the years I have been observing homeless people and families. Quite frankly there are people who want to be homeless. And then there are those who don’t. I’m addressing the needs of the latter.   I personally am formerly homeless having suffered from mental illness, addiction, and job loss.  I didn’t want to be homeless.

Many if not most Americans are only two paychecks away from being homeless. Our economy forces many families to live hand-to-mouth. Downsizing, jobs that relocate to foreign countries, businesses that go bankrupt, businesses that pay their c.e.o.’s exorbitant salaries while underpaying their base workers all contribute to the problem of homelessness, as does greedy medical insurance companies and big pharma.

In dining with the homeless during one of my volunteer shifts, I met a family who was very low income who were displaced because their landlord decided to sell their home and the family has no funds for first, last, and deposit towards a new rental, and yet another individual who lost his place to live because his landlord decided to turn his studio over the garage into an airbnb. Again, these folks were only two paychecks from being homeless.

The prevalent services to the homeless lack depth. We aren’t simultaneously treating mental illness and co-occurring addiction disorder. We lack follow-up. We aren’t making sure those who need medications are receiving them or taking them properly. We aren’t issuing temporary passes on public transportation to get them to work, pharmacies, medical, psychiatric, social services, and work.  We are lacking, or limited in the areas of vocational training.  We are lacking in facilities for them to bathe even.  Some non-profit organizations, and cities have addressed these issues, while there remains a majority that do not.  All we seem to be doing on the large scale is feeding them or throwing money their way without looking at the bigger problems or providing a path to a permanent solution.

Giving help, providing meals, money, and medical services isn’t a bad thing at all, we just don’t realize that those things are not the broader overhaul badly needed to provide the means for the homeless to become self-sufficient. If we invest in the broader picture of solution, we will save money in the long run, improve our economy, and can feel good in helping our fellow human beings.

(About the photo: Homeless man in San Francisco, Canon Rebel 35mm, Kodak Portra 800, f8)

Letting Go

2714418811_c0341b705a_b (1)

If you’re not an alcoholic, you don’t know what it’s like to NEED a drink. It’s quite normal for people who are non-alcoholic to say, “I need a drink” at the end of a bad day. Maybe they do. There’s nothing wrong with someone who can handle their booze winding down with a pint of beer, glass of wine, or a cocktail. I’m not referring to that. No, the kind of practicing alcoholic like I was truly NEEDED a drink. In fact, I could have died from withdrawal had I not thrown back a half glass of vodka when my body began to sweat and tremble. Non-alcoholics might experience a mild to heavy hangover, but it’s not possible for them to know the physical pain that sat in with me, or the helplessness of being so fearful, I could hardly think of anything else – the paranoia. Nor can they realize the intensity of my dry heaving that left me feeling like pins and needles were penetrating my skin – or the co-occurring migraine level headaches. And what a non-alcoholic doesn’t experience is the shame an alcoholic like me felt like handing over my last twenty to buy booze at a liquor store at seven in the morning; hands shaking so violently that I could barely place the money in the hands of the cashier. With vodka in hand, I remember the feeling of not being able to look at anyone in the eye as I left the stores. I hated myself.

In the wee hours of the morning, when I got to wherever I was calling home those days, or sometimes even beforehand, I would take those first couple of drinks. I felt more relief than any non-alcoholic can possibly imagine. It was then that the shakes would subside. My headaches, and body aches would go away. I’d stop throwing up. I would feel as though I had returned to some semblance of a human being who was well. But it would take more, and more alcohol for this reprieve of my sickness to happen. That is the progressive nature of alcoholism.

It was the increased need for alcohol that would eventually land me in the emergency room. It happened over and over until one day I was hospitalized or five days from severe alcohol poisoning and withdrawal.

Like many people suggested I do, I just could not simply stop. I could no longer live with it, or without it. I needed medical attention in order to live, in order to stop.

Today is day 50 of being stopped. I do not need to go to the liquor store at dawn anymore. I can look people in the eyes.

Alcohol was but a symptom for me. There was a lot of me that was sour underneath the mask of my alcoholism. I had deep emotional problems. I was battling bipolar disorder. I had a spiritual malady. I had strong resentments. In order to stay sober, I have to deal with all of that. I have to find out where I have been self-seeking, dishonest, and afraid. Setting this to paper hasn’t been easy. It has required a lot of soul searching.

I’m currently setting this all to paper. Its part of my recovery in a twelve step program I am in, and I have to share it with my sponsor. It requires rigorous honesty on my part. It requires a thoroughness from me that is sometimes hard to swallow. But I remember how sick I was and the uncomfortableness of this process is quite worth it all to me. Some of the resentments are surprising like I have a resentment against my dear mother who has passed. I resented her not going through with a surgery that could have added many years to her life. I resented my sister in law for the same reasons. And then there were the resentments that were easier to put down, like horrible bosses, friends who have wronged me – these resentments are seemingly ad infinitum.  At this point, it’s quite clear that I was angry at nearly everything and everyone. Resentments will take an alcoholic out quicker than anything else. We simply cannot afford to harbor them.

Resentments are like chewing on glass. While I am doing so, the person I resent has no clue; he or she might be at home chewing on popcorn watching Jerry Springer for all I know. The point is, resentments are only harming me.

In setting all my resentments down on paper, it becomes easier for me to see exactly where I’ve been self-seeking, dishonest, and afraid. Had I not been self-seeking in harboring resentments against my mother and sister in law? Sure I have been. Was I not dishonest and afraid in the areas of my resentments I carried against my bosses as well as those friends who I thought had wronged me? Sure I was. This soul searching is hard work, but it was much harder to live like I had been for so many years. I embrace this step with all my heart. I can begin at once to be free of all those cancerous resentments and emotions. I can begin to let go of the dishonesty, the fearfulness, and strive to be non self-seeking.

Life has taken on new meaning for me. When I look in the mirror, I see a noticeable sparkle in my eyes that have been missing for years. My whole being has changed. I am happy, joyous, and free.

Suicide Is Not For Me

6879929620_043245072d_o

Before I got sober, I contemplated suicide. It was crazy. I was crazy. Now, I can’t believe I ever actually tried to end my life, but I did. As it’s said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I don’t want the permanent solution these days. I’m in my right head. The idea brings a rightfully so terror in my mind theses days, and it took some counseling, sobriety, and a great deal of inward reflection to rid myself of suicidal ideation.

While going through deep bipolar depression, and in the midst of my alcohol addiction, is when the ideas were strongest in my troubled mind. The ideas were potent and powerful. They were overwhelming. They led me to the edge, quite literally.

I was in my mid twenties and distraught over a relationship gone south. The end of the relationship was to me at the time, infinitely too big for me to handle on life’s terms. And so I sat, on the edge of the window of my San Francisco apartment looking down onto O’Farrell Street eleven stories below. The thoughts of unworthiness, hopelessness, and loneliness raced through my mind, and were in a collision course with my residual sanity. My legs dangled out the window, and I had pretty much worked up the nerve to jump out. The situation reminded me when I was a teenager at the edge of a high rock at the South Yuba River in my hometown in California, feeling the peer pressure to jump off into the water one hot summers day. When I worked up the nerve, the spontaneity of it surprised even me, I just suddenly jumped, seemingly without self will, and found myself submerged in cool water before I knew it. I told myself to just do the same thing on that ledge of my San Francisco high rise that day – just find the courage to jump, and soon all my pain would be over. I thought spontaneity would take my life at any moment. I would be free.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a small puff ball was ambling towards me. It was the new kitten I had rescued on Haight Street from an animal rescue group. “Alice GET DOWN!” Alice was unsteady on the ledge. I crawled back into the apartment and coaxed her back down. I shut the window, sat on the floor cuddling the kitten, and just wept for a really long time. Then I could hear keys jingling and the door unlocking. I collected myself.

“Woha. Are you ok?”, Lisa, my roommate asked.

“Yeah.”, I weakly replied while getting up from the floor to run to the bathroom. My stomach was tight. “Just a little sick.” I wasn’t lying. I threw up in the bathroom. Nerves.

I had been up all night. I was weak and tired. I grabbed Alice, went to bed, and slept soundly for many hours.

It wasn’t the first time. My Father drove me to the hospital, racing through red lights of busy intersections after he found me in a bloody pool when I had slashed my wrists the I-mean-business way; up and down, and sideways. I was in my early twenties. I don’t even remember what was the triggering point of that attempt. The horror of a hospital stay, many psychiatric interviews, a five day stay at a mental ward in Placerville, California, and dealing with the tattered remains of my self esteem are indelibly stamped in my head.

February of 2017, I found myself once again thinking my life wasn’t worth living. I sat in a fifth wheel trailer, drinking alone. I lived with friends, who owned a bar and restaurant, and lived upstairs from it. I started drinking in the bar one night, Burgee Dave’s at the Mayo in Camptonville, California, when my friend Sandy, one of the owners, asked if there was something wrong with me, and added that she was concerned about my drinking. So, I had retreated to the fifth wheel where I could drink alone, undisturbed, without judgement. I drank a liter of vodka on top of my antidepressant and mood stabilization medications. I was then out of vodka. I decided to run to the  neighboring community to get more. I was going to take more of my medication and add a bottle of valium to get some permanent sleep. While on the way there, I ran my car into a ditch and totaled it. The CHP arrived, gave me a field test for alcohol, which I failed. I was handcuffed, fingerprinted, thrown in the drunk tank, and slapped with a D.U.I. As terrible as a D.U.I, and the wrecking of my car sounds, I am lucky to be alive. For that I am grateful.

People are trained to look for warning signs in those about to carry out the act of suicide, but those who really are planing to do it, are pretty clever. I tried to put on a much different face amongst my friends and the community I lived in. Nobody, not even my therapist, could have known that I was planning such a thing. I hid it well.

Bipolar depression, and hardcore alcoholism were once again the monkeys on my back, pulling at my hair, while pounding on my back trying to end my life.

I got help, but if was purely by accident. If left to my own devices, I’d probably be dead. I was pretty downtrodden that I was homeless for months, couch surfing from place to place, spending a few nights in my car, all the while telling people I had a permanent place of residence. I thought about these things as I laid in my hospital bed. Days before I found myself in the hospital, I had stayed with my former roommate, Jen in Grass Valley, California and then collapsed at a service station before I could say “help.” I had alcohol poisoning after drinking 1.75 liters of vodka for days on end prior. I had to be detoxed over a period of five days.

During my hospital stay, with and IV in my arm, and oxygen under my nose, I had moments of clarity. I realized how much alcohol had played a part in my suicidal ideations. It had to go. I opened up my laptop and shared with friends and the community that I had bad thoughts in my head and I had a problem with drinking. A stranger who found me on Facebook, came to my aid with a powerful message. He shared his story. It was not unlike mine. He went out and took care of things I was worried about, arranged for a county social service worker, alerted  behavioral health, and had arranged for my stay at a drug and alcohol treatment center. The stranger had done all that. I dubbed him my guardian angel.

Today, I am 42 days sober and happier than I have been in a long time. Me and my cat, Isabella, have a permanent place to live, I have a job, a huge support network, in a twelve step program, and live happily, joyously, and free. I have a newfound spirituality. The monkeys are off my back, but as I have said before, they lurk in the shadows waiting for me to let my guard down. I must remain forever vigilant. I have to think about those I love; those I would leave grieving for their lifetimes should I choose to exit this plane in such a horrific manner. I’ve seen what suicide does to those who are left behind, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone; especially my little brother Gordon. As long as I can keep the plug in the jug, me, those who love me, and Isabella can live happily ever after.

(About the photo: I shot this using 20 year old Chinese made film. The numbers are the film back of the camera that have been burned into the film by decaying chemicals. Shot with a Diana at F11. )

Me and the Ex-Con are Sober

4685438101_152585e460_b (2)Today, I have 30 days of sobriety. I just returned from alcohol rehab at Pathways in Marysville, California. I have a shiny new coin with Pathways logo on it, and the serenity prayer on the reverse. Pathways give these coins to clients on successful completion of the program. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot to me. I met some of the finest people I have ever met in my life down there – people who ordinarily would not mix but share one thing in common; we are all alcoholics. I lived with my peers in alcoholism for 24 hours a day over 21 days. All of them, ten in all, have become some of the finest friends I’ve ever had. It was hard to fight back tears for everyone involved in my exit ceremony. It was a hug fest.

One of my peers who was of the greatest inspiration for me was an ex-con, who, for purposes of anonymity, I will call James. Under the three strikes law years ago, James was sentenced to life for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. Then California passed a proposition overturning three strikes and James was set free. Meanwhile 22 years went by. Yeah, this guy spent 22 years in upper levels prisons for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. James had racked up over ten years of sobriety being in Jail where one can still get homemade liquor and drugs from the outside. When he was released, he went immediately to rehab to reinforce his abstinence so he would never be sent back to prison for parole violation for drinking or drugging. Today he is 56.

I was afraid of him at first, he’s full of muscles, and covered with prison tattoos. But he quickly showed his vulnerable side and was always smiling and joking with me. He is not an angry person, but a grateful person. We would go outside under the sun and lift weights in our spare time. He was determined to make a muscle man out of me. He was determined to stay sober. He didn’t read all that well, so I helped him study the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. We picked each other up often.

But it wasn’t just the love of my peers at Pathways that kept me going. It takes a village sometimes, and man do we have a village. I was informed that throngs of support came my way via Facebook while I was in Rehab. When I opened my account up, it was filled with hundreds of kind hearted messages from the Nevada County Peeps page serving Nevada County, California residents, most I didn’t know. Some amazing strangers showed up to support and encourage while I was in the hospital detoxing at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. They knew me only from my posts on Facebook. This speaks volumes for our spirit in the Gold Country.

Desperately Seeking God

3039798100_ffa907ede0_b (1)

 

I had trouble with the God thing. You see, in my twelve-step program of alcohol recovery, seeking a power greater than myself is vital. This is the second step; “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This was a stumbling block. I am a logical pragmatic person and I just don’t buy into, nor can stomach organized religion. I take my recovery very seriously, so this God question took many days of pondering and soul searching. Then, in my Big Book of my twelve-step program, I stumbled on the words that read something like: we only have to believe in the God of our own understanding, that is, our own conception of God to begin our recovery. And we don’t have to “find God”, we only have to seek him. This is the only thing we need to do to form a foundation for spiritual growth necessary for recovery. That I could stomach.

I am Native American. I lived on Tulle River Indian reservation near Porterville, California, the summer of 2002. I am Miwok, native to the Yosemite State Park area. They believe in an all encompassing Great Spirit, or Grandfather if you will, that is pure energy present in everyone, every animal, and every thing. This is not in collusion with my scientific mind. I believe in the pure energy that is present throughout the universe down to the smallest atomic sub-particle. I had found my higher power.

This lead me to the third-step; ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” The third step was easy for me because I no longer wanted to carry my big load of baggage with me wherever I went, nor could I. It’s all in the hands of the Great Spirit now. Having done this, I have found inner peace. I can begin to live now, walking in the sunlight of the Great Spirit whom I only have to seek.

We’re No Longer Homeless

13698207_10154466394878083_8773117199924817283_o

 

Yesterday, Isabella and I got a home. We are no longer homeless. I started a new job yesterday too. I have so much to be grateful for receiving. I have the bottomless support of the community I live in. I have people in my life who love me; people who have given of themselves through kind actions. For this, I’m grateful.

Today is day 35 of continued sobriety. I am grateful. I grow stronger in both mind and body every day.

When I was detoxing from alcohol poisoning at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital for five days, a man came to see me. I was a shaking, vomiting, unlovely creature. He was completely unknown to me. When I asked him who he was, he answered he found me through my Facebook posts. He said he felt that faith without works is dead, and he wanted to go beyond thoughts and prayers by helping me anyway he could. I called him my guardian angel. His name is William W.

William quickly got to work for me, making phone calls setting me up with drug and alcohol program. He tidied up loose ends that were impossible for me to accomplish in my state, things that were causing me great worry. He plugged me into county resources. He ran around town, and took the time to do things I couldn’t do myself, nor even knew I needed. He is the most giving, selfless man I’ve ever met in my life. For him, I am grateful.

When I was in rehab, William was still acting behind the scenes taking care of my needs. He called my counselors and case worker, Fred, to both see how I was doing, and to arrange aftercare for my 21 day program. When I graduated from Pathways, a drug and alcohol residential treatment facility, William came to my aid once again, coming to see me at Insight Respite home, a temporary shelter for people in crisis, with an offer of a place to live, employment, and even offered to help me replace the vehicle I had totaled, and accident that landed me a D.U.I.

I had turned my will and my life over to the Great Spirit weeks ago. It is He, who is in everyone, and everything, that brought me to the happy, joyous, freedom I am enjoying today. I had found my Higher Power during a desperate time. For this, I am grateful.

I’ve Got a Lot to be Thankful For

1644871516_b42ced2f46_b

Today, I cease fighting anyone or anything. I’ve come to know a new peace. It’s not just a rainy, cloudy, cold day here in my hometown in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – it’s a beautiful spring day as far as I am concerned. The rain is bringing renewal. The wind is spring cleaning. Both the wind and the rain feel exhilarating when it hits my face. From what my doctors have told me during my hospital stay last month, I’m lucky to be alive. This morning, during the predawn hours, I sit with my whiskered friend, Isabella, with a warm cup of coffee nearby, and gratitude in my heart.

I know there are horrific things going on in the world. I did not, however, start my day by reading the news in the Huffington Post; not today. I do not wish to have my blood boil. I don’t wish to participate in any negativity at all. Instead, I turn all that over to the Great Spirit. He’ll sort it out. Just for today, I will stop and see the beauty in what is clearly all around me. Everyday, even when its dark outside, the sunlight of the Spirit shines brightly through the clouds and I am grateful to be walking in it.

Today I am 37 days sober. This morning, I thank the Great Spirit for continued sobriety as I did yesterday. And yesterday, I stopped the day for an afternoon in my own Utopia as well. I noticed the little things I would never have noticed when I was hammered on alcohol. I let a Daddy Longlegs Spider crawl up my arms. I noticed its many black eyes and the grace and perfection of its design. I noticed the small, bright red berries on a shrub in the garden that nourish the birds, and bring new growth. And all the things I detest, I almost liked; the country music coming from the neighbors sound system even – I noticed the slide guitars playing in harmony, and the talents of a fiddle player. The crowded, noisy grocery store, a place that usually offends my senses, was a place to connect with my fellow community members and share a joke or two. I even see the positive aspects of my Bipolar Disorder which brings with it creativity, energy, and talent, allowing me to channel it for the betterment of my fellow humans in anyway I can.

I am about to begin another work day that will allow me to learn new skills, and to shelter me and Isabella in a beautiful home that is new to me – something we didn’t have in the preceding months. But, before I do, I will ask the Great Spirit with gratitude, peace in a restless world. I will hear the Great Spirit’s voice in the smallest things, and try not to drown it out with all the noise I like to make. May you find peace too, today, and every day.

Living on the Ceiling

Under the Bridge

I walked around angry and sad for years. I walked around with a monkey on my back that was tugging at my hair, pounding on my back, and blocking me from the sunlight of the Great Spirit. The monkey was vodka. Vodka was also my God. I worshipped vodka around the clock.

I had another monkey on my back that occasionally caused me to be either deeply depressed, or highly manic. The two monkeys are evil twins, although not identical. This second monkey is named manic-depression, or what is now known as bipolar disorder.

Today I am 39 days sober. And of my manic depression, I am symptom free. The monkeys are off my back and hiding somewhere in the darkness waiting for me to let down my guard. Psychiatrists have named the twin monkeys Bipolar 1 with Co-occurring Substance Abuse Disorder. I am the type of alcoholic that the Big Book of a twelve-step program I am working reads “There is the manic-depressive type, who is, perhaps, the least understood by his friends, and about whom a whole chapter could be written.”

When I would have bipolar episodes of either mania or depression, I would often self-medicate with booze when prescribed medications failed me. Alcohol could mask or exacerbate the symptoms. I’d often lie to my psychiatrist when he asked if I used alcohol, causing him to scratch his head in wonder as to why medications were not working.

Manic-depression and alcoholism have amassed much havoc in my life. I was a tornado in the lives of others as well. I had lost jobs, friends, vehicles, family and a whole lot of dignity. By the time December of last year rolled around, I was homeless too. My drinking entailed swallowing 1.75 liters of vodka over a 24 hour period.

I was lost, alone, and afraid.

I had crashed my last vehicle into a ditch in Camptonville, California and was arrested for a D.U.I. After I got out of jail the next morning, I went straight to a bar and spent the afternoon throwing back long island ice teas, then straight Stolli. I was soon, mercifully, hammered again.

I spent months couch-surfing at the homes of friends. Then, when I felt my welcome was wearing thin, I’d resort to staying with other practicing alcoholics and addicts where I wouldn’t stay long because no one cared. Finally, a friend, a good friend, my ex-roommate Jen, offered her home up for a few days. She was shocked over how much I was drinking. She left me alone one morning and I slugged back nearly half of a 1.75 bottle of vodka in record time for me, and ended up having great pain in my chest. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I thought that maybe another drink would take away the delirium tremors, but the pain was new and different for me. I stumbled across the street to a Chevron on South Auburn Street in Grass Valley, California where I had collapsed before I could even utter the word help. I found myself next at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, admitted to a room, with and I.V. in my arm, and oxygen under my nose. I would stay there for five more days before a living guardian angel, William W, arranged for a bed in a treatment facility for me.

When I entered the treatment center’s, door, Pathways in Marysville, California, the first person I ran into was a homeless person from back in Nevada City, California who looked pretty good for himself. This man, who I will call Bob, was arrested 156 times for being drunk in public. He was arrested in front of me at least twice. He was the cause of public nuisance over and over, and could be seen panhandling for booze outside Bonanza Market as soon as the store opened every morning. My own cousins took him in once, and after a few weeks, had to ask Bob to leave as he was drunk all the time. Bob made no attempt to quit.

I was in disbelief when I ran into him in treatment. I was happy to see him sober! I was so happy to see him looking great and speaking with coherency. I thought him an intelligent man – a kind man, a well mannered man.

Fast forward to last night, day 38 of my sobriety. I was volunteering at a warming shelter for the homeless in downtown Nevada City. The temperature outside was in the low 30’s and the skies had begun spitting out snow. Our curfew is 10:00 P.M. and I had begun to lock the doors, and dim the lights. Then, someone knocked on the door. I was horrified to find Bob outside, dripping wet, and stinking of booze. What had happened? I was instantly depressed. I had such high hopes for Bob. But I knew this was the vicious cycle of the chronically homeless.

When we were in rehab, I had shared with Bob that I suffered from a mental illness, and he relayed that he did as well. He suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. When I had begun to feel symptoms of my own illness begin to manifest, I asked the treatment center’s doctor for a medication adjustment. I was told that I needed to focus on my sobriety and to talk with my doctor after I graduated from treatment.

It is clear how Bob fell through the cracks of the system. Currently there are very few alcohol and drug treatment centers that treat both addiction and mental illness at the same time. I feel that residential drug and alcohol treatment programs should be denied of any state funds unless they offer treatment for co-occurring mental illness as well. It’s a what-comes-first, the chicken-or-the-egg situation. Does mental illness cause alcoholism, or does alcoholism make mental illness worse? They go hand in hand, and it’s not rare at all for people to suffer from both, in fact, its common.

Today, I walk around with a heavy heart, and angry thoughts even though as an alcoholic I can’t afford resentments now, or ever. For Bob, I’m hoping for the best but expecting the worse; jails, institutions, and death. Today, I only ask one thing of the Great Spirit; to save Bob. The Great Spirit can move mountains, but unfortunately, he will still expect Bob to show up with a shovel. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.