Thursday, December 24, 2009

Contemporary Saints

{{en|Mosaic glass window on East side of Stanf...Image via Wikipedia
Tired of holiday posts yet? We blogger types can get a little carried away when there's a "big" topic, and what could be more timely for a recovery-oriented blog than the holidays? All the elements are there: emotion, expectation, booze, drugs, permission and relapse potential. It lets the blogger (me) give a sermon, preach to the choir, and tug at the heartstrings. How great is that?

For my narcissistic self, constantly craving even more attention and love, it's just swell. For my reader, (and I know you're out there!) it has to be as tiresome as a long bus ride with Joe Lieberman. So, a rest from the holidays, and a thought for the end of the year:

Contemporary Saints.

I don't mean to be sacrilegious or shocking for its own sake, but I believe that we all know saints. Sometimes we know them well, sometimes we only know them for a moment. But regardless how long or how little they are in our lives, they touch us. They make a difference.

A friend tells a story about a night that he was at a meeting, and was talking about how his marriage was coming apart. He wanted out; he couldn't take it any more. It's over, he said.
After the meeting a guy came up to him and talked about how he had felt the same way, got divorced and regretted it. "Don't do it, man," he said. "If I had it to do all over again I would have stayed and worked it out. Hang in there." My friend really took what the guy had to say to heart. He asked if the guy came to that meeting often, said he hadn't seen him before. The guy said, "Oh, I've never been to one before--this is my first one."

A saint? My friend thinks so.

My favorite contemporary saint was my best friend from New York. Call him Felix. We were peer educators in a street outreach program. Felix had been through some hard times, really hard times. From Vietnam to addiction to AIDS. If you looked at his life there would appear to be little to live for: alienated from family, addicted, poor health. He was diagnosed with the Virus while in the hospital kicking dope. He said that someone walked up to him and said, "the bloodwork's in, you've got AIDS. Here's some tissues if you want to cry."

That might sound far-fetched to younger people--anyone who worked in public health in the 80's knows it's true.

They gave Felix less than six months to live, and frankly, everyone, including Felix, doubted that he would make it that long. Why not follow the short road to death that heroin offered, rather than suffer pain and illness?

But, as Felix himself often said, you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.

He went on to live for nearly 10 years, clean and sober every step of the way. His whole life was about service. As a peer educator he was excellent. We used to go together into a hardcore, boot camp juvenile facility. I am pretty good with kids, but these kids were way past my ability to reach them. Felix, a profuce of the same mean streets as them, could have been an older brother. In a pastiche of Brooklyn-accented "Spanglish" he talked to these kids about a world they knew, but in terms of hope. He talked to them about a world beyond the crackpipe and the needle; the Glock and the Virus.

And they heard him.

Felix, who was probably a candidate for an unmarked grave in Potter's Field, died peacefully surrounded by people who loved him. The hospital corridors were so filled with people he had helped wanting to say goodbye, that they actually had to cordon areas off and limit visitors.

Felix leaned on God to help him get clean and stay clean; God used Felix to show that every life has the potential for greatness, when turned to His purpose.

So there is my candidate for a contemporary saint, St. Felix of Brooklyn.

Who's yours?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Recovering Person's Guide to the Holidays

Some thoughts on surviving the holidays clean and sober:

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUSImage by George Eastman House via Flickr
  1. If you're fresh out of the rehab, don't feel that you have to hang out with your old friends because it's Christmas. This is especially true if your old friends are anything like my old friends were. Everyone is just going to make each other uncomfortable. When you're fresh out of the rehab, everything is uncomfortable anyway. So don't make it worse.
  2. It doesn't have to be the best holiday ever. It's easy to think that way when the last twenty or so were kind of screwed up, and you're fueled by the desperate desire to make it all  better. But one Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa) is just that. One. Hopefully of many to come. Easy does it.
  3. Always have an escape route. Even when it's the most beloved of friends and family, after the sixth or seventh cup of Christmas cheer, Aunt Tootsie from Tobyhanna's hysterectomy story really loses its zip. You find yourself biting your lip and looking longingly at the bottle of Jack D over on the server. It's time to go, preferably to a meeting. 
  4. "But I don't want to go to a meeting on Christmas!" (Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanzaa.) It's going to be nothing but losers!." My sponsor periodically reminds me of when I would go out to a bar on Christmas day to buy drinks for the poor slobs who didn't have anybody. Of course, I did have somebody--several somebodies--all at home, waiting for me while I was at the bar. Just stop whining and go to the meeting. 
  5. It's not your job to educate every well-wisher you meet on addiction in general, and yours in particular. It's hard for ego-centric types like us to grasp, but sometimes when people ask  how are you, they are just being polite. They don't want to hear how the craving to smoke crack is subsiding ever since you began to deal with the childhood sexual trauma issues. Oh yeah, and the self-mutilation's improving too. They want to hear, "I'm good. How are you."
  6. Bottom line, it's just another day. We get through it like we get through all the others, with a mixture of grace and awkwardness, anxiety and exhilaration. Keep your phone handy with all the important numbers on speed dial. Hang in there.
  7. Oh yeah--don't use!
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Friday, December 4, 2009

"Why addicts like Christmas."

Celebrating Chinese New YearImage by Dmitry Chestnykh via Flickr
It's simple, really. it's because people are nice to us. You know what I mean.

The family down the street, the ones who usually turn out their lights and pretend they aren't home when you come to the door. All oif a sudden they're saying, "Oh hi! Come on in and look at the tree! Have a drink! What are you doing New Years?"

Of course, in a week or so you'll hear them whispering, "It's him! Don't turn on the light!" But it's nice while it lasts.

But wait, there are other reasons why we like Christmas. People give us stuff! Now, if they have been going to Al-anon or Nar-anon, or remember what that counselor at the rehab said, they usually are not handing out the $20.00's. In fact, to be honest, some of the gifts may have a sort of last minute feel to them, like they weren't sure if you were out of de-tox yet, and didn't check the Gift List you posted at the G.W. Hill Commissary. But c'mon, who doesn't need a new pair of bunny slippers or a slightly used set of rosary beads?

Then there is always unrehabilitated Uncle Frank who just can't figure out what's wrong with  little brandy for Gawd's sake, and the pot you feel only slightly self conscious bumming from your 15 year old neice as you convince yourself that her and her girlfriends think you are a cool old guy. (Uncle Creepy, they call you behind your back.)

I remember when there used to be real office Christmas parties. I was a good young active alcoholic in those days and did some newspaper work, and those people could drink! By about 10 AM almost everyone would be sloshed at the paper, except for one older WASPY senior editor, thin-lipped and taking names in his little black book. Especially the name of the guy from rewrrite who felt compelled to tell him what he thought about working for him for twenty-five years.There was a face we wouldn't be seeing into the New Year.

Which probably had something to do with finally getting clean and sober. Because as much as an addict loves Christmas, recovery from addiction means learning that every morning isn't Christmas morning, and every night isn't New Years Eve. People who arent addicts know there's a reason they only come once a year.

We have to learn that the hard way.

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