Thursday, July 31, 2014


August 1st, 2014


Life on Life's Terms

Search and Research

""Suppose I'm right, and the magnets don't work," I said to Julie, "what then?"

"I don't know, but I'll keep looking," she said.  "I don't think AA and NA are for me, but I know there's something out there that will keep me sober. I will keep searching 'til I find it."

"Do me a favor, before you try something new, read what the critics have to say about it.  Don't just read what the people trying to sell you some new diet or device have to say."

"Why are you so negative about new things?" she asked.

"I'm not negative, I applaud people who search for ways to better themselves.  I just think they should see if the new thing is worth the time and effort.  Otherwise they live their lives like the zombie audiences on infomercials, thrilled to death by whatever new thing is being sold."

"I say keep an open mind."

"I say search, but research."


Today I will search and research.
Life on Life's Terms (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose


This week's freebie is the Kindle version of The Road Way Less Traveled: Starting Recovery Young, is available at

To read Kindle books on a PC or Mac, you can download a free app at:




Burnout: Clinical, Ethical, & Supervisory Issues
September 12, 2014 at Greenbriar-New Kensington
9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m
$30 payable in advance, at the door, or by invoice after the training

This three hour training is accredited for:

  • Addiction Counselors by the Pa. Certification Board
  • CRCs  by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification # 11938191652 and 11938191653 (one hour Ethics portion)
  • Counselors by NAADAC #477 and NBCC #6352
  • EAPs by the Employee Assistance Certification Commission
  • Social Workers by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Other Blogs

 AArdvarks, a daily messages blog about a group of young people in recovery can be found at:

Smart Bears, Angry Rats

Progress not perfection

"Uh oh," my wife said.

"Uh oh what?" I asked.

"Yesterday's message has you quoting your daughter 150 years in the future.  Modern science might extend her lifespan that far, but your life?  Kinda doubt it."

"Dumb mistake," I said, wondering why I made so many.

"And you italicized yesterday's quote.  Before yesterday, conversations and events that happened in the present weren't italicized."

I muttered something to myself, then asked her, "Anything else?"

"Stop beating yourself up.  What do they say in AA about progress?"

"Progress not perfection."

"So every day you write a little more.  That's progress.  Do you want to stop writing because you're not perfect?"

"No, you're right."
"Of course I'm right.  Nobody's perfect, but one of us has progressed a lot more than the other," she said with a smug smile.


Today I will remember to look for progress I've made.

Smart Bears, Angry Rats (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose


July 31, 2014


Life on Life's Terms


The next day Julie, a young woman who had relapsed and dropped out of treatment years earlier, called to get my opinion on magnets.

"I'm drawn to them," I said, "but they can be polarizing."   Not even a chuckle from her.

"I'm serious, what do you think about magnets?" she asked.  Before I could answer, she said, "Thanks to brain scanning technology we know where to put them.  I think they're going to replace counseling, AA, rehabs, and medications.  No offense."

Her explanation of how the magnets worked sounded like junk science, wrapped in a gross distortion of Eastern philosophy. 

"Do you remember your theory that wine from locally grown grapes would cure your addiction the way honey from local hives was supposed to cure allergies?  I think the magnets will be even less effective."

"Magnets and grapes are completely different," she said.

"They're different paths to the same dead end."


Today I will beware of taking a different path to the same dead end.

Life on Life's Terms (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose


This week's freebie is the Kindle version of Home Groupies, is available at

To read Kindle books on a PC or Mac, you can download a free app at:




Burnout: Clinical, Ethical, & Supervisory Issues
September 12, 2014 at Greenbriar-New Kensington
9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m
$30 payable in advance, at the door, or by invoice after the training

This three hour training is accredited for:
  • Addiction Counselors by the Pa. Certification Board
  • CRCs  by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification # 11938191652 and 11938191653 (one hour Ethics portion)
  • Counselors by NAADAC #477 and NBCC #6352
  • EAPs by the Employee Assistance Certification Commission
  • Social Workers by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Other Blogs

 AArdvarks, a daily messages blog about a group of young people in recovery can be found at:

Smart Bears, Angry Rats

Somes   150 Years from now

"If the world is as bleak as you paint it to be," my daughter asked, "then why does Sonya seem sorta happy?"

"She believes in 'somes'."

             "Somes. Somebody, somewhere, working on something better. When your grandmother was a little girl, cancer was a death sentence.  She was diagnosed at forty-five lived another thirty-five more years. Why?  Somebody, somewhere, working on something came up with better cancer treatment."

"Wasn't it somebody working on something in a lab that caused the whole world to collapse in your story?  In fact, wasn't he working on a cure for cancer?"

"Yep.  You can focus on bitter ironies, or you can have hope.  Sonya has hope."

Today I will have some hope, and hope in the somes. 

Smart Bears, Angry Rats (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


July 30, 2014


Life on Life's Terms

Frozen smile
            I was sitting in the sports medicine center, less than 100 yards from the Monongahela River.  A group of middle-aged joggers whose outfits made them look like a rambling garage sale slogged by the window.  The temp was 13 degrees with a wind-chill of 0, cooled further because the wind was blowing across the river. 

A lady not wearing a ski mask was either smiling or her lips were frozen into a happy looking grimace.  She turned to share a joke with a slow moving man jogging behind her.  He stopped in mid-stride to laugh.  A minute went by before he stopped laughing and started jogging again.


Today I will stop what I'm doing to laugh at something.
Life on Life's Terms (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose


This week's freebie is the Kindle version of Home Groupies, is available at

To read Kindle books on a PC or Mac, you can download a free app at:



Burnout: Clinical, Ethical, & Supervisory Issues
September 12, 2014 at Greenbriar-New Kensington
9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m
$30 payable in advance, at the door, or by invoice after the training

This three hour training is accredited for:
  • Addiction Counselors by the Pa. Certification Board
  • CRCs  by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification # 11938191652 and 11938191653 (one hour Ethics portion)
  • Counselors by NAADAC #477 and NBCC #6352
  • EAPs by the Employee Assistance Certification Commission
  • Social Workers by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Other Blogs

 AArdvarks, a daily messages blog about a group of young people in recovery can be found at:

Smart Bears, Angry Rats

The Rat Race  150 Years From Now

Sonya had enjoyed the march.  She always did.  It was going home afterwards that always depressed her.

In newer homes you couldn't see the wire mesh, except where it covered the doors and windows.  In older homes like Sonya's, the wire was more obvious.  Sonya's bed was enclosed in a wire mesh cage.  At night she brought the dog into the cage, made sure she had a chamber pot and a glass of water, and locked the cage.  Near the base of the cage sat a car battery and a set of jumper cables.  If the rats trying to get into the cage got too noisy, she could connect the battery and electrocute them.

"People living in rat cages," Sonya said to her dog, a terrier named Casey. "It used to be that drugs funded organized crime and terrorists.  That was bad enough.  Now, because of one man's drug use, we live in mesh and the rats stalk us."

Today I won't underestimate the destructive power of drugs.
Smart Bears, Angry Rats (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose

Monday, July 28, 2014


July 28, 2014


Smart Bears, Angry Rats

              Did you get help when you got sober?" my son asked as he read over my shoulder.

"I did," I said.  "I didn't like asking for help, but I did."

"What made you ask for help?"

"I'd hit a ledge on my way down into my addiction.  I was afraid I'd go even lower.  But, I was more afraid I'd get used to living on the bottom.  People have an amazing ability to adapt. Sometimes that's a good thing.  Sometimes it lets them adapt to situations they'd be better off changing.  Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yep!  It's like when you and mom had Blondie, you realized you'd hit rock bottom.  For a couple of years you lived in misery.  You were afraid you'd get used it, you'd adapt.  So you had me, the perfect child.  We swam toward the surface, dragging whatshername behind us."

"You're killing me."

Today I will beware of adapting to situations I'd be better off changing.

Smart Bears, Angry Rats © 2014 by Ken Montrose


This week's freebie is the Kindle version of Home Groupies, is available at
To read Kindle books on a PC or Mac, you can download a free app at:



Burnout: Clinical, Ethical, & Supervisory Issues
September 12, 2014 at Greenbriar-New Kensington
9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m
$30 payable in advance, at the door, or by invoice after the training

This three hour training is accredited for:
  • Addiction Counselors by the Pa. Certification Board
  • CRCs  by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification # 11938191652 and 11938191653 (one hour Ethics portion)
  • Counselors by NAADAC #477 and NBCC #6352
  • EAPs by the Employee Assistance Certification Commission
  • Social Workers by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Other Blogs

 AArdvarks, a daily messages blog about a group of young people in recovery can be found at:

Life on Life's Terms

             When I got to the AA meeting that night I sat in a chair at end of a long table in a corner of the room, by myself.  I closed my eyes, sipped my coffee, and tried to let go of the day's frustrations.  No doubt alarmed by my isolation, a regular named Smiley came and sat by me.  He was one of the perkiest human beings I had ever met, and he wanted desperately to help others. 
"What are you doing here all by yourself?" Smiley asked.
"Practicing acceptance," I said.  It just got harder.
"You don't need to practice, you just need to accept," he said with absolute certainty.
"Sometimes I have to sit quietly and ease my way into accepting whatever frustrates me."
"You just have to accept," he said.  "Just accept."
I started to say 'go away you yellow-haired Yoda wannabe,' but instead I said, "I will try."
"Just accept," he said.
When he finally did go away, I was able to laugh at my harsh reaction to someone who was equal parts sincerity, certainty, and cluelessness.   I was also grateful acceptance didn't always come easily.  Experience had taught me things that come too easily are easily abused and often not appreciated.
Today I will be grateful acceptance is a process.
Life on Life's Terms (c) 2014 by Ken Montrose

Thursday, July 24, 2014


July 25, 2014

Smart Bears, Angry Rats

Help  75 years from now
             "If you test positive," Ubutu said, "I would like you to go to a rehabilitation center.  The corporation will pay your expenses, and maintain the lab until your return."

"I'm going to test positive," Sammy said, "but I don't need rehab."

"This could be the dawn of a new day for you." Ubutu said to Sammy.  "So much about you could change.  Getting clean would change your attitude, your vision, and the way you hear things.  You'd approach the research with a fresh set of eyes – your own. Someday you would look back at this and say 'one step backward, a giant leap forward.'"

"You can't make me go to rehab," Sammy said. "Besides, I only took the Lil' Bit to help with the research.  You should be thanking me."

"I cannot make it any easier for you to get the help you need," Ubutu said.

Sammy shivered again. 'The Lil' Bit is really kickin' in' he thought. It gave him the courage to say, "What I need is four more mice and some time.  A little gratitude on your part wouldn't hurt either."

"Get help," Olsen said to Sammy, thinking about how many times his father had rejected any assistance that was offered.


Today I will remember there are none so helpless as those who won't accept a little help.  

Smart Bears, Angry Rats © 2014 by Ken Montrose


This week's freebie is the Kindle version of Hauling it to the Curb: Cleaning up your life in early recovery, available at
To read Kindle books on a PC or Mac, you can download a free app at:


Burnout: Clinical, Ethical, & Supervisory Issues
September 12, 2014 at Greenbriar-New Kensington
9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m
$30 payable in advance, at the door, or by invoice after the training

This three hour training is accredited for:
  • Addiction Counselors by the Pa. Certification Board
  • CRCs  by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification # 11938191652 and 11938191653 (one hour Ethics portion)
  • Counselors by NAADAC #477 and NBCC #6352
  • EAPs by the Employee Assistance Certification Commission
  • Social Workers by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Other Blogs

 AArdvarks, a daily messages blog about a group of young people in recovery can be found at:

Life on Life's terms

AA has a slogan Life on Life's Terms.  It means getting clean and sober doesn't exempt us from life's challenges. Sometimes the challenges are monumental.  Sometimes they are minor.  In either case, they are Life's terms, and they must be met.  The trick is to meet them with acceptance, humor, and determination.
Life's Terms
That morning my son missed the bus.  I suggested he walk to school, but my wife felt a ten mile hike up a busy interstate in the cold might be teaching him too much of a lesson.  "Besides," she said, "the weatherman said to expect freezing rain followed by snow."  I agreed to drive him there.
I missed my exit and had to take a long looping route back to the school. My son blamed me for being late.  I wrote a note explaining his tardiness.  He read the note and handed it back to me.
"Are you trying to get me detention?" he asked. 
"No!" I lied.  "Here, I'll write you another one." 
Needing a smile, I tried to send my wife an "I love you" text with a kissy face. Somehow I sent it to my son's former basketball coach.  He texted back that while he was fond of me, he thought I should try to work things out with my wife.
I sat in traffic on the way to work.
"Is this really a good day to start a new writing project?" I asked myself when I finally got there.   Just then, an old man with a cane hobbled by my office door.  He smiled and waved as he passed by. 
"How you doing today?" I asked.
"Great to be alive!" he said with a broad smile.  I knew he was right.
Today I'll be grateful I'm alive to accept Life's terms. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

g-NAts: The entire series

Six months after all the AArdvarks graduated from treatment, I was asked to run another group.   At the first meeting of this group I told them about the AArdvarks and how the first two capitalized letters were a tribute to AA.

"Oh, I like that," an extremely tan, older gentleman said.  "But we should go with something that starts with NA since most of us go to those meetings."

"Narwhal," a middle-aged man named Mike said.  I pointed to the obvious mound of snuff in his lower lip and he left the room.  I hoped he was getting rid of the snuff, and not leaving treatment.

"What the hell is a narwhal?" someone asked.

"How about gnats?" a young man in a hoodie suggested.

"Gnats starts with a silent 'g'," Tan Man said.  I thought the young man might be a little embarrassed, but he embraced his mistake.

"Even better," we can un-silent the g and be the g-NAts" The rest of the group liked the idea and from that day forward called themselves the g-NAts."


Today I will try to embrace my mistakes and make them into something positive.



Mike, a huge man wearing a camo t-shirt, walked back into the group room, a scowl on his face.  He pulled out his lower lip to show me he had gotten rid of the tobacco.  "When I start smoking again, it's your fault!" he said. 

"You were smoking out front when I got here this morning," Tan Man said, chuckling.

Camo laughed, looked at me, then back at Tan Man.  "Still his fault.  I don't take no responsibility for my actions.  That's what they told me at the inpatient place, and that's what I'm sticking with!  Hell, I ain't taking no responsibility for taking no responsibility." He laughed again.

"At least you can laugh at yourself," I said. "That's a start."

"I know I'm ridiculous," he said.  "It keeps folks guessing."


Today I will laugh at my own ridiculousness.



The Whole Truth

I went over the rules with the group, covering the usual ground.  At the end, I added my own rule. "I will assume everything you say is true, but I reserve the right to investigate what you are saying.  If I find you're misleading the group by leaving out crucial information, I will ask you to tell the whole story, or leave group."

"Why would you do that?" Tan Man asked. 

"Years ago I had a nurse complain bitterly about the politics at the hospital where she had worked.  She spent a lot of group time exploring her feelings about her firing.  I learned from her family she had been stealing medications.  I gave her the choice of coming clean with the group or leaving.  She refused and I asked her not to return to group.  She was furious, threatened to sue me, the hospital where I worked, the company that owned the hospital, and my mother.  I told her what I'm telling you now – the group is here to help you, but you have to be willing to tell the whole story.  If the story is too painful for group, talk to me in private or get an individual therapist."

"Still sounds a little cold," Tan Man said

"Listen," I said to the whole group, "telling me only the parts of your story that make you look good, or paint you as the victim, is just a way to get sympathy. Telling the whole story is how you get help."


Today I will ask myself: am I looking for sympathy or help?



Better late than never

The next time we met, I asked them to tell each other a little bit about themselves. 

Tan Man told the group his wife's dying wish was for him to stop drinking.  "I made the arrangements when she was near death," he said without a hint of emotion.  "As it turned out, I was able to go straight from her funeral to detox.  When my brother announced at the wake I had gone to rehab, my other brother said 'I'll drink to that.' A fight broke out between those relieved I was getting sober and those who thought I'd betrayed family traditions by not hastening my own death through cirrhosis, pancreatitis, or bleeding ulcers."

An elderly woman sitting to his left put her hand on his forearm and said, "You did the right thing.  People who care more about you than having a drinking buddy, will be happy for you."

"Better late than never," the young man in the hoodie said.  "No offense, but your other brother needs his ass kicked."

Tan Man laughed, and said, "better late than never for me, and for my other brother getting the beat down he so richly deserves."  He paused for a minute or so, then added, "I take that back.  I hope he gets sober.  Better late than never for him too."


Today I will remember: better late than never.



The Chase

Without any introduction, the kid in the hoodie said, "I learned a new word when I was down the inpatient.  Self-loathing.  No, see, it's two words.  I'm so stupid.  Lady down there said she never met nobody with so much self-loathing.

"Do you think you did drugs because you hate yourself?" Mike asked.

"No, I hate myself because I did drugs, not the other way 'round.  I loved myself once upon a time.  I'm off the charts good with math, and I know I'm only talking like a low-life because that's who I hang around with.  When I was a sophomore I had offers for wrestling and academic scholarships to some big name schools.  First time I got high I fell so in love with the feeling I knew the next day my life was over.  I woke up at noon, said I would never do that again, and was high before dinner. I dropped out of school my junior year to be a drug dealer.  I love drugs and I hate myself for loving 'em so much."

"I don't think you're the only one here who likes drugs," I said. 

"You don't like drugs, or you wouldn't be runnin' the group," he said. "Even if you were addicted to something, you don't like it any more."

"I like booze.  I think I was born with a taste for it.  I don't beat myself up for liking booze, but I avoid it.  I haven't had a drink in almost twenty-five years because I don't like the man I am when I drink."

"You gotta be miserable if you like booze and you don't drink."

"No, I'm very happy.  I like a lot of things, but I'm careful about which ones I pursue.  I don't chase booze, but I seek out the best life possible for my family.  I work on my career.  I try to be useful and grateful.  It keeps me smiling and moving. I hope you can let go of some of that self-loathing and chase something a little more rewarding."


Today I will chase something rewarding.  I will accept not pursuing everything I like.



Scared straight

"You don't remember me, but we've met," the well-dressed, elderly woman said.  "Sarah was my sponsor.  We met once in the lobby of the hospital where she died."

"You're Violet," I said, a little embarrassed.  "Now I remember you.  Sarah was so happy for you because your son and his family were moving into your neighborhood.  What happened?"

"I missed Sarah even more than I thought I would.  I started drinking a little wine at dinner.  My son and his wife encouraged me.  They'd say I'd earned it after spending all day with the grandchildren.  I don't think they understood why drinking was such a bad idea for me.

Tan Man said, "I'm impressed you’re here.  It must have been so tempting just to sink into a chair and drink away your final years.  Sounds like your son and daughter-in-law would have taken care of you."

"That's what I'd do if I was your age," Hoodie said. 

"And that's what scared me into going to rehab.  I'm not going to die in some armchair, pickled in wine and gin! No sir!" she said with such force she startled the other group members.


Today I will be grateful for whatever scares me into action.



Dark Roads

"I remember what you said last time about the whole story, so here goes," Barb, a 55 year old redhead said.  In hindsight, I would have cautioned her about sharing so much so soon.

She spoke slowly at first, but picked up speed as she went on.  "In my little town the local pharmacy delivers.  I had gotten another prescription for Vicodin, and somehow the kid who delivered it knew something was up.  He said, if I ever had a problem getting these he could smooth things out with the pharmacist, and he gave me his cell phone number and I said thanks, but I was sure I wouldn't need it, and  I thought I'd just throw it away when he was gone, but I couldn't and about three months later the pharmacist told me I couldn't get my prescription filled early, and the other pharmacy told me the same thing, and I called my doctors and none of them could help me, but the one said I should come in to talk, and I knew, I knew, they wanted to talk about getting off the pain medications, and I was just feeling worse and worse and I remembered that kid's number and I called and I hung up and I called and I hung up and he called me and when I told him who I was he was so nice, he was so nice.  He said it wasn't my fault that I was in pain and the doc and the pharmacist weren't to blame either they had to follow the government's rules and nobody really was to blame because the government had to make rules to deal with real addicts not people like me and he said he could get me something, but I had to pay cash and the pharmacist would give me samples in an unmarked bottle but because of the government rules this would be something only the pharmacist and he would know about and I believed him! " 

She wiped her eyes with a tissue, paused for a moment, then continued at a much slower pace.  I thought recalling the first part of her story was like reliving the injury, but the next part was her being in shock.

"I paid him cash from our vacation fund, then from our house account, the two accounts in my name.  When I started dipping into our savings my husband asked me why, and I knew I couldn't get more money there.   I tried to quit on my own but I got so sick.  I called the kid and asked him if I could have some pills on credit, until my husband put his bonus check in the vacation account.  He said he'd be over and we could work something out.  When he came over he was like a different person.  He called me names and told me next time I better have cash the kid held up the pill bottle and told me to put my elbows on the table.  When he was done he put the bottle on the table, told me this was a one-time deal because he felt sorry for me.  This punk felt sorry for me! My husband is an attorney.  I live in a beautiful home.  I drive a Lexus." She trailed off into muffled sobs.


Today I will remember dark roads lead to dark places no matter who travels them.



Means to an end

The group comforted Barb as best they could, but she was clearly struggling.  We eventually moved on to Bob, a middle-aged black man going gray at the temples.  He had a wide smile and a salesman's upbeat demeanor.

Bob owned three quick oil change franchises that also sold tires and batteries. He had three months clean and sober, but still had traces of THC in his urine.  He couldn't be released from treatment, per a court order, until he was completely drug free.

"You know what's funny?" Bob asked the group. "I hate tires, batteries, and cars. I hate all three garages, I really do. Six months ago, if I didn't have my buzz on, I didn't want to go to work."

"But now you like going to work?" Hoodie asked.

Bob laughed. "Hell no! But I like what I can do with the money I make.  Last week I had a home theater system put in.  Big plushy chair, huge screen, eight speakers, even a popcorn machine.  I don't even know what I used to do with my money, but now I'm having a good time with it."


Today I will accept some things are a means to an end.

I will enjoy those ends as much as possible.



Quack, quack

"How about you?" I said to the young woman sitting to my right.  She had her hair back in a ponytail, was wearing a Hofstra University t-shirt and faded jeans.  Wendy embodied the girl next door, especially if your neighbor was a drug dealer.

"Hi, I'm Wendy," she said.  The group waited. "That's all I have to say."

"Could you tell the group a little bit about why you’re here?" I suggested.

Wendy shifted in her seat, then smiled.  "Big misunderstanding.  I ran a red light while I was helping my old boyfriend move.  Some of his stuff got me arrested.  I got house arrest and court-ordered to treatment because I might have been a little high that day."

"Cops," Mike said in a tone that suggested he too thought he had been misunderstood by law enforcement.

"Men," Violet added, smiling at Wendy. 

"Duckling," Hoodie said to Wendy.  Everyone stared at Hoodie for a couple of seconds, wondering just what he was trying to say.  "You know, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck? Well maybe she's not a full grown duck yet, but she's a duckling.  Her old boyfriend is the dealer, but she helps out."

After a lot of back and forth between Hoodie and Wendy, she admitted, "I just drop stuff off, I never take money." 

"Ducklings don't fly, but they sure as hell grow into ducks that do," Hoodie said.


Today I will remember what I'm doing now says a lot about who I'll become.



Got a problem with that?

The last person to introduce himself was Calvin.  Calvin, a thirty-three year old with a master's degree in bio-engineering, loved his job with a company that made artificial knees.  He loved working with the surgeons.  He especially loved working in the hospitals affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center because of their close proximity to one another, and to college bars.  

"I know what my problem is," he said with a look of absolute certainty. 

"Two DUIs in two years would indicate a pretty serious drinking problem," I said thinking the answer was fairly obvious.

"No!" he said laughing. "The DUIs are just a symptom.  Sheesh, Ken how long have you been doin' this?  The real problem is it's time for me to move on.  I'm thirty-three.  I got my masters from Pitt eight years ago.  It's time for me to grow up and drink in grown-up bars.  It's time for me to drink like a grown-up and call a cab when I've had too many."

The group tried to convince him his choice of bars wasn't his real problem, but he wouldn't budge. 

"We have our work cut out for us," I said.


Today I will remember focusing on the wrong problem can be more of a problem than not seeing any problem.



Do you see what I see?

The next time we met Tan Man said he wished he had quit drinking when he was Hoodie's age.  He asked Hoodie what prompted him to come to treatment so young.

"My baby's momma's momma wants me to be more with the baby.  I don't want to be around the kid if I'm high."

"You are so responsible," Wendy said, clearly impressed. "That's such a great reason to get clean."

"If I was responsible, my girlfriend and me wouldn't have gotten hooked and we wouldn't have a kid," Hoodie said, staring at his shoes. "My mom wants me to be more involved too.  I don't know why."

"When I was much younger," Violet said smiling at Hoodie,   "I was in a dance company.  There were girls there who I thought were prettier or better dancers.  I sang a little but I didn't like my voice.  One of the other dancers saw something in me I didn't see in myself and pushed me to audition for a Broadway play.  To my amazement, I got the part.   Maybe your child's grandmothers see something in you that you don't see in yourself."


Today I will be grateful for people who push me.

They may be seeing something in me I don't see myself.




"Whatever my baby's momma's momma sees in me she don't see in my baby's momma," Hoodie said. A long sad silence drifted over the group.  I thought people might be looking for something supportive to say to Hoodie, but not knowing him well, couldn't think of anything heartfelt or convincing.

"Could we assign some names to these folks?" Mike asked, breaking the silence.  "'Cause I'm gonna be real confused if you start talking about your baby's momma's momma's man."

"My baby's momma is Nora.  Her mom is Kitty.  Her dad is Matt.  My mom is Michelle.  We named the baby Ambrosia, but everyone calls her Amber."

"Let's get back to what you said earlier," I said.  "What's up with Nora and Kitty?"

"Kitty doesn't want Nora anywhere near the baby.  Says that Nora isn't serious about getting clean, and Amber is better off without Nora until Nora gets serious."

"What do you think?" I asked.

"I love Nora.  I loved Nora when we made the baby.  I love Amber.  Seems like with all that love we ought to be able to be together." Hoodie said.  His gaze returned to his shoes.

Tan Man said, "Love conquers all, at least according to ancient Roman poet Virgil."

"Sometimes love just ain't enough, least according to the 70's singer Patti Smith," Mike said.  "Sorry kid," he said directly to Hoodie.

"Combine them and you get 'sometimes love conquers all'," I said, "but love ain't enough to conquer both your addictions all at once.  You're going to have to be work hard and be patient."


Today I will remember to be patient, that even love doesn't conquer all at once.



Promises, promises

"Hey Hoodie," Mike said, "I got a little girl too.  Only she's not so little anymore – she's twenty.  I told her I'd find the money for her to go to college if she got good grades in high school."

"Did she?" Hoodie asked.

"Mostly, but here's the thing.  She had some kind of trouble reading.  Nothing came easy for her.  She worked hard.  When she graduated, I told her to give me another year to raise some money. The next year I asked her to do the same, saying I had almost enough.  Truth is I drank and gambled away whatever I had."

"Why doesn't she work her way through college?" Tan Man asked.  "I did."

"She needs extra time to study 'cause of her reading problem.  If she works, she won't get the time she needs," Mike said.  "She can borrow some money, but not enough."

"Did you get sober so you could keep your promise to your little girl?" Calvin asked.

"I did.  Out of the blue she said she knew where the money went.  She told me if she could get through high school, I could stop drinking.  I told her I would if she'd give me more time to keep my promise to her."

"And live up to your own promise," Tan Man said.

"Huh?" Mike asked.

"Promise also means what you are capable of.  You are going to be the good man you were meant to be."


Today I will be grateful for second chances to keep promises, and live up to my own promise.



Letting go, balance, and potential

"Do you ever think not doing everything you're capable of is a better way to go?" Bob asked the group.  Are there times when you're better off not doing everything you're capable of?  Maybe not living up to your promise?"

"Is there something specific you want to tell the group?" I asked.

"Three established oil change franchises are up for sale on in the Pittsburgh area.  My friend at company headquarters said they'd like me to take 'em over. They'd make me a special deal on the financing.  I know I could run them, but I'm not sure I want to.  But if I don't, it might feel like I'm not doing what I'm capable of."

"I used to coach football," Mike said.  "You only got so much time to practice.  If you spend all your time practicing defense, you'll live up to your defensive 'promise,' but you probably won't score a lot.  Same if you spend all your time practicing offense.  Seems to me you'd live up to your promise by balancing your life a little, Bob. Manage the ones you got, and get more fun outta  your down time."

"I know what you're saying, but how do I pass up an opportunity like that?" Bob asked.

"By reminding yourself that you don't like managing these places, and taking over these franchises means you'll have to take a pass on the parts of your life you're just now learning to enjoy," Tan Man said.

"Sometimes by letting go, we get more," Violet said.  "Sometimes we get balance, and that helps us live up to our promise."


Today I will look at what I'm holding onto, and why.

I will seek balance in my life as a way to reach my potential.



Grateful 'cause it coulda been worse

"You don't coach anymore?" I asked Mike.

"I drank my way outta that job," Mike said.  He laughed a little, but a sadness wrinkled into folds around his eyes.  They seemed to act as baffles, trapping whatever joy the laugh might have held, making it ring hollow.   

"What happened?" Calvin asked.  "Did you show up drunk?"

"Thank God, no.  I didn't show up enough.  After a while the school decided that if my assistant was going to do most of the coaching, they didn't need me."

"That's so sad," Violet said, seeming to feel Mike's pain.

"It coulda been worse.  I coulda showed up drunk and made an ass of myself in front of all the players and coaches.  You got no idea how grateful I am that never happened."


Today I will be grateful for the times things could have been worse.

I will be mindful of how my faults and vices might have lead me into even more embarrassing, dangerous, or damaging situations than I actually faced.




Even stray dogs wag their tails

When I got home that night, my teenage daughter's boyfriend was sitting at our dinner table.  Being the father of a teenage daughter made boys his age my natural enemies.  This boy was a young shark who swam into my little dolphin pod.  It was time to break his spine with my hard-nose attitude.

And I might have given him a roughing up, except I really liked him.  He was polite, helpful, and fun to have around.   He met one of my most important criteria, he made my daughter happy. 

I would have been happier had I not talked to my friend Tom.  He reminded me that when I was in high school I was polite, helpful, fun to have around, and girls' fathers tended to like and trust me.  I was also, as Tom described it, 'stray dogging it,' and generally up to no good.


Today I will be grateful for people I like, especially if I didn't want to like them.



The Wrath of Grapes

Julie, a woman who had attended a previous group, called to get back into treatment.  Her attempt to cure her alcohol allergy by only drinking wine from locally grown grapes hadn't panned out.

"I think they must have mixed in some imported grapes," she told me.  "I kept having bad reactions to the wine."

"Bad reactions?" I asked.

"I got drunk, even when I planned to have just a glass or two."

"What a surprise," I said.  "Josh is doing evaluations today.  Do you want me to see if he can squeeze you into his afternoon schedule?"

"Don't you know what day it is?" she asked her voice rising an octave.  "It's Friday the 13th!  I'm not driving anywhere today.  Why take the chance?"

I wanted to point out that driving on any given Friday was much less dangerous than an active alcoholic drinking wine, no matter where the grapes were grown.  "OK, call the main office and they'll get you an appointment for next week."


Today I'll be less superstitious and more aware of real threats to my well-being.



Mirror, mirror on the screen

The group was discussing movies when I sat down to begin group. 

"I just saw Project X," Calvin said.  "It hit me."

"Project X?"  Bob asked.  "Isn't that movie about a high school party that gets out of control?"

"What message did you get from that?"  Mike asked, laughing.  "Don't park the car in the pool?  Alcohol and flame throwers don't mix?"

"No, I got a look at myself.  You know the older neighbor who crashes the party and starts drinking with the kids?"

"What a loser!" Hoodie said.

"Exactly," Calvin said.  "I'm that loser.  Watching that movie held a mirror up for me."

"You already knew you were getting too old to hang out in college bars," Bob said.

"It's one thing to know something, but something harder to see it in high definition, clear as day."

"I'm sorry you had to see yourself like that," Violet said.

"I'm not," Calvin said.  "I'm grateful.  It helped me get rid of any doubt I had about who I was and how I needed to change."


Today I will be grateful for mirrors held up for me to see myself clearly.



Looks aren't everything

Hoodie came to group fifteen minutes late.  There were dark circles under his eyes, his hair was at war with itself, and he had a brown stain on the sleeve of his hoodie that might have been chocolate, but probably wasn't. 

"Amber was crying and puking all weekend.  Kitty said she'd take care of her but I couldn't put the baby down."

"Kitty is your baby's momma's momma?" Mike said, joking but making sure he knew who Hoodie was talking about.

"Kitty is my baby's momma's momma.  Damn, how many times I got to repeat stuff for you old dudes?" He said, too tired to manage more than half a smile. "I look worse than I did in detox."

"I was an inpatient when you were in detox," Violet said.  "You look older, wiser, and more handsome now than you ever did then." 

"Once you get past the smell, this whole 'taking care of the baby' thing makes you seem hotter," Wendy added.


Today I will remember how I look to others often has very little to do with how I look.




I woke up that night in the 'Daddy' chair, a recliner where I spent many hours trying to write.  My laptop was back in its case, power cord wrapped neatly and tucked into a side compartment.  I realized I had fallen asleep, and my daughter had put my toys away, wrapped me in a blanket and tucked a pillow under my head.  How many times had I sat in that chair while she slept on my shoulder, I wondered.  She was nowhere near ready to leave home, and I wasn't ready to be put into one, but a transition was starting.  Hopefully we'd have decades to make the switch.  She'd become more concerned about my well-being, and I would be more confident in her ability to look out for herself.  


Today I will be grateful for gradual transitions, ones that allow me time to adjust.




"I have to testify against my ex," Wendy said to the group the next day.  She bit her lower lip, wiped away a tear, then added, "If I don't, I could end up in prison."

"You should be grateful you can get a drug dealer off the street!" Barb said with real menace. "I hope he rots in prison."

"He's not a bad guy, he just has a bad job."

"He's the scum of the earth.  He should be locked away with the other drug dealers, including the ones with a prescription pad, and the ones who fill the prescriptions!  If I could put them all in prison I would."

This didn't sit well with Wendy.  "Why don't you call the police about your delivery boy?  You gotta believe he's breaking some law."

"I don't want to lose my marriage.  I don't deserve to be punished. I'm not a drug dealer, like you!"

"I may have delivered some drugs, but I never paid for them with my …"

Violet cut her off, "Ladies." The authority in her voice made Wendy and Barb stop bickering and look at her.   "Do you want to fight, or do you want to help each other get better?  You can't do both."


Today I will try to help people get better.




"I'm sorry," Barb said.  "I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at me.  My marriage is over, my husband just doesn’t know it yet."  The group waited for her to go on, but she shook her head and stared at the floor instead.

"I'm sorry too," Wendy said.  "I don't want to testify.  Why should I?  He's not some street corner drug dealer.  He's just a guy making ends meet until he can find another job. 'Drug dealer' is just a label."

"How long has he been looking for a real job?" Mike asked.

"Five years, off and on," Wendy said. 

"He's been selling drugs for five years and you don't think of him as a drug dealer?" Mike asked.  "That's like saying 'he's not a serial killer, he's just somebody who murdered one person after the other.'"

"I'd say the drug dealer label fits," Calvin added.  Wendy stormed out of the room.


Today I will take a thorough moral inventory, knowing that sometimes the label fits.



Honest with myself

A moment later Wendy stormed back into the room.

"I hate you all," she said.

"Is that your way of saying we're right?" Calvin asked.

"That's my way of saying…" she finished her thought with a lengthy stream of obscenities. "And you're right.  He's a drug dealer.  I've found a thousand ways to justify what he does.  He can't find a job.  He has an upscale clientele.  He's a businessman.  It's all b.s.  He might as well be on a street corner with a gun and a stolen cell phone."

"That was hard to admit," I said.  "I admire you for getting honest with yourself and the group."

"Getting honest with yourself is the hardest part," Barb said.  Barb and Wendy exchanged weak smiles.

"Are you going to testify against him?" Bob asked. 

"I don't know," Wendy said, starting to cry.


Today I will try to be honest with myself.



Funny old ladies

It wasn't until much later that I noticed Violet's sweatshirt.  A picture of candy and flowers was sandwiched between the lines: 'You can't get me drunk, so you'll just have to work a little harder!'

"Cute sweatshirt," I said to Violet.  "Where'd you get it?"

She laughed.  "We had them made.  There's four of us.  We call ourselves 'The Booze-less Biddies,'  we're all in our seventies and eighties, and we're all sober."

"And you've all kept a sense of humor," Mike said.  "Gotta love that."

"Getting old isn't for the faint-hearted," Violet said.  "A sense of humor helps us get through the rough patches."


Today I will be grateful for a sense of humor, and hope I hold onto it into old age.



Anxiously focused on deadlines

"I got some news," Bob said to the group.  My friend at company headquarters said I have a month to decide about those franchises.  The last thing I needed was a deadline!"
"Nah, that's exactly what you needed," Mike said.  "Bet you're a little more anxious, but a lot more focused."

Bob answered, "I am more focused, but I could do without the anxiety.  I thought I had all summer to think about it.  Now I've got to crunch the numbers, talk to my wife, and make a decision.  I could do without that stress."

"It's like this, if someone has anxiety, but no deadline, he'll put off a decision for way too long, and worry the whole time.  If he's got a deadline, but no anxiety, his decision will be like tossing a coin.  He just won't be focused.  But, if he's got a deadline and anxiety, he'll get serious sooner, and likely make his best decision."

Bob didn't seem convinced, but he did manage to say, "Lucky me, I've got a deadline."


Today I will use deadlines and other milestones to stay focused.



The right thing to do

The next time we met was on a Monday.  Wendy told the group she had decided to testify.

"I'm proud of you," Violet said, smiling at Wendy.  "Doing the right thing is so much harder when it involves the ones we love."

"I don't love him," Wendy said, "but thanks anyway."

Violet cocked her head to the side and smiled at Wendy again.

"OK, maybe I do still love him a little," Wendy admitted. "Maybe that's why I'm struggling with this."

"I was sober a long time before I relapsed," Violet said.  "I stayed that way by not spending much time with my family.  I loved them all, but they were heavy drinkers.    I always wished I could see them one more time before I passed on.  Staying away from family at my age wasn't easy."


Today I will try to do the right thing, even if loved ones disagree with what I'm doing.



Eye opener

"I saw my girlfriend over the weekend," Hoodie said.  "It was bad."

"What was bad?" Tan Man asked.  "Did you two fight?"

"So I go over there with Amber.  My girl is so happy to see the baby.  I'm thinking we're gonna be the All-American family," Hoodie said.  "Maybe a minute into our visit she starts asking for money.  Her mom pays her rent and her utilities.  Her grandma buys her food.  I know why she needs money." His pained expression made several group members look away.

Mike said, "You hang in there buddy.  Things will get better.  You'll see."

"That's the thing, I did see.  It was a real eye-opener.  I saw blood stains on the bathroom sink, burns in the carpet, a pizza box sticking out from under the couch, no spoons.  I wouldn't have even noticed those things before I got clean. "

"I see somebody who got his heart broke, but didn't get high," Mike pointed out.  Hoodie's surprised look told me he hadn't seen himself the change in himself.


Today I will be grateful for eye-openers, good or bad.



Cat and mouse

"I did something I shouldn't have done," Hoodie said, smiling.  "I stole Nora's cat."

"Is that what the kids are calling it these days?" Mike asked.

Hoodie laughed.  "No!  I stole her cat.  You know, a cat – a grown kitten. He looked skinny and there was no food in his dish.  Nora said he ran out of cat food, but she let him outside to hunt mice.  I told Nora I'd take the cat, but she wanted to sell him to me.  That was Saturday.  Sunday morning I went to her apartment, opened the door and the cat came to me."

"Awww," Barb purred. "What's the cat's name?"

"Mouse," Hoodie said with a chuckle.  "I gave Mouse to Kitty.  She just loves him."

"So now he's Kitty's cat, Mouse," Barb pointed out. 

"I feel bad about stealing Mouse, but I doubt Nora will miss him. If she does, I'll have to pay her, and I know what she'll do with the money," Hoodie said with a sigh.


Today I will accept doing the right thing can bring complications.



Better you than me

"You're quiet today, Violet," Barb said.

"A friend of mine fell and broke her collarbone," Violet said.  "At our age any fall can be the beginning of the end.  Her accident has made me consider whether I could have been a better friend to her."

"That kinda thing only makes you sad if you're a good friend," Mike said. "If you weren't a good friend, you wouldn't care."

"If I was such a good friend," Violet said, "I wouldn't be so grateful it wasn't me."

Bob said, "I think being grateful it wasn't you is human nature.  You're being a little harsh with yourself."

Calvin, who was sitting to the left of Violet, put his arm around her and said, "I'm grateful it wasn't me sitting on the banks of the Allegheny River for six hours on Saturday, catching nothing!"  He pointed at Bob and laughed.

Bob snorted and replied, "See Violet, it's OK for me to be grateful it wasn't me drinking Pepsi in a college bar all Saturday night, hoping nobody noticed my bald spot."  Everybody laughed, except me, and Violet, and Tan Man.


Today I'll be grateful it wasn’t me.



Reckless endangerment

"What?" Calvin asked when he noticed my expression.  "I just drank Pepsi."

"I believe they sell Pepsi and other soft drinks in supermarkets and vending machines," Violet said, sounding almost sincere.  "You may want to buy some to drink at home."

"I know what you're saying, but I go to bars because I like company, not to get drunk."

"Have you ever heard of 'reckless endangerment'?" Tan Man asked Calvin.

"What does reckless endangerment have to do with relaxing – but not drinking – in a bar?"

"If your irresponsible behavior puts people at foreseeable risk, you are guilty of reckless endangerment."

"Drinking Pepsi is not irresponsible, and nobody was in danger, foreseeable or otherwise."  "You're a little old to be such a drama queen," Calvin said testily.  "Are you an attorney?"

"I am," Tan Man said.  "But that's not the point.  Keep hanging out in that bar and you'll drink.  People will be in danger, danger anyone could see coming."   

"Whatever," Calvin said, clueless as to how much he sounded like a bratty teenager.


Today I won't be reckless, I will consider how my behavior might affect others.



Dogs and fleas

"I'm scared," Wendy said out of the blue.  "My ex told me I'd be smart not to testify."

"What do you think he meant by that?" Tan Man asked.  He was smiling with no teeth visible, his eyes drawn into gunfighter slits.

"It was a threat," Wendy said.  She shook a little.  "I couldn't believe it.  I thought he was one of the kindest, sweetest, men I'd ever met.  Now I'm checking my door locks. I'm afraid of him, but I'm more afraid of the people he works for."

"You'll be OK," Tan Man said.  His voice was so authoritative the tension seemed to drain from Wendy's face.  

"I should have gotten away from him as soon as I found out what he did for a living," Wendy said.  "Now I'm in deep.  I guess it's true what they say about lying down with dogs.  Especially if you spend years in the kennel."


Today I will remember the longer I lie down with dogs, the more fleas I'll get up with.

(And, the longer I lie down with dogs, the deeper under my skin the fleas will burrow.)



Dogs, mules, and 20/20 vision

"It's funny about me saying he was a dog in a kennel.  A kennel is where they keep more than one dog.  That's the reason he's my ex.  He had more than one girlfriend visiting his kennel.  He was so nice at first, none of us knew he was treating us like dogs."  Wendy stopped.  Her expression reminded me of a woman who was jogging toward me on a path near a stream and swallowed a gnat.  "I just realized something.  He didn't have more than one girlfriend, he had more than one drug mule.  I wasn't living in a kennel, I was part of a stable.  How could I have been so stupid? What the hell is wrong with me? Why didn't I see it?"  She started to cry.

"You're not stupid.  You just didn't want to see," Tan Man said.  "The good news is now you do see.  Many people go their whole lives without seeing the world as it really is.  They miss out on the good because they don't see the bad coming, and they can't get out of the way.  Be grateful."


Today I will try to be grateful for seeing the bad and the good.

I will try to keep my eyes open to painful truths and my heart open to joyful ones.



Mountains in the way

"How are you holding up?" I asked Barb.

"Just dandy," she said.  "Just *&^## dandy!"  She paused for a moment, and I noticed her hands were balled into tight fists.  "I have herpes."

"That sucks," Calvin said, "but it's not the end of the world."

"It's the end of my marriage," Barb said.  "It might as well be the end of the world."

"I know you don't want to hear this," Tan Man said, "but people have survived much worse."

"Oh, am I supposed to be thankful I don't have cancer or AIDS?  Well I'm not.  Now go ahead and tell me I'm just feeling sorry for myself.  Go ahead --I dare you!"

"Seriously, would you rather have cancer?  Would you rather have AIDS?" Mike asked.

"If I had cancer, my husband would support me.  When I tell him I have herpes, he'll know I cheated, and he'll have every reason to leave me.  He'll get the house and the cars and I'll end up living under a bridge somewhere, spreading herpes to all the homeless men I'll have to sleep with to get food."

"I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself," I said.  "This situation isn't a molehill, but let's not jump off the mountain just yet.  Let's talk about this."  Barb refused to discuss it any further.


Today I will accept there will be mountains I can't go around, that I have to climb.

I will not give into despair, I will not jump off them.



Bumper cars

A long, sad silence hung in the air until Calvin said, "I know who you are!  I finally recognized the voice!"

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

He pointed to Bob and said, "He's Bumper Car Bob!  There was an amusement park in the middle of the state that didn't have much, except this huge bumper car ride.  When I was a little kid a teenager ran the ride.  He'd go through the usual safety b.s. – keep your hands in the vehicle, don't get out of the car until the ride stops, and stuff like that. Then he'd say a few words about treating people kind, passing on the left, allowing one car length between cars, and how we were all God's children.  It was so out of place, it just made you laugh, no matter how many times you heard it.  He'd bow his head, pull the switch, and the mayhem would start.  People loved his routine."

Bob smiled, "I can't believe you recognized me.  That was a long time ago."

Calvin smiled too.  "You know what I liked?  You took this boring job and made it fun.   Just that little bit of enthusiasm made the ride ten times better."


Today I will approach the world with enthusiasm.



Things that never get old

That night I sat on the couch with my laptop, working on the follow-up paperwork for several trainings I had done earlier that week.  My teenage daughter curled up beside me, a thick American History book on her lap.  I thought about how many times she had done this. 

When she was a toddler we had shared picture books. I'd ask her, where are all those dogs going?  Where's the mouse?  Picture books gave way to story books; story books gave way to school books. 

"Did you vote for Truman?" she asked, poking a little fun at me.

'Spending time with her never gets old,' I thought.  "No, but I will be voting for a proposition to extend school hours. Ten hour weekdays, and half a day on Saturdays."

She snorted.  "You'd be too depressed to get out of bed if you thought me and Brat Boy wouldn't be around when you got home from work."  She turned sideways, resting the back of her head against my shoulder. "Love you," she added, "even if you really are a silly, old man." 


As I age, I'll be grateful for things that never get old.




The next time group met, Hoodie had a worried look on his face.

"What's up?" I asked him.

"Nora's coming to live with her mother, the baby, and me," Hoodie said.  "Kitty was against it.  I played on her guilt, asking her how she could let her own daughter end up homeless."
"What worries you?" Violet asked

"Kitty took me in instead of her own daughter for a reason.  Maybe she knows something I don't.  I'm feeling bad 'bout making Kitty feel guilty.  What if having Nora around the baby is a bad idea?  Being on the birth certificate don't make Nora a mom."

Mike looking serious as a heart attack, said, "Nothing will make you feel more uneasy than trusting people maybe you shouldn't trust.  Especially when there's children involved."

"I know," Hoodie said.  "I love Nora, and I want Kitty and Nora to work things out. Moms and daughters shouldn't fight.  But deep down I wonder if Nora's ready.  I'm afraid we're giving her enough rope to hang herself."  He let out a sigh drenched in weariness and wariness.


Today I will not trust the untrustworthy, for my good and theirs.



Lucky you

"You seem a little happier today," Violet said to Barb.  "I hope things are looking up for you!"

"Things haven't changed," Barb said, "but my perspective has."  She paused for a moment, seemed to collect her thoughts, and said, "My sister was a wild woman.  We shared an apartment before I got married.  One Sunday she got dropped off after spending the weekend in a tent with some guy from work.  Walking into the building, she runs into this guy from down the hall.  She tells him she was hiking all day and needs a shower.  He asks her if he can join her, and of course, she says yes."

"Is she still single?" Mike asked.  "Does she live around here?"  The group laughed, and Wendy went on.

"She was lucky.  She never caught a disease, never got pregnant.  When I first found out I had herpes, I was furious with the punk who gave it to me.  I was surprised at how mad I was with my sister."

"Oh honey," Violet said, "life's too short for holding a resentment like that."

"And that's the good news.  Now I'm happy she cleaned up her act before her lifestyle caught up with her. Her good luck has nothing to do with my bad luck."


Today I won't resent other people's good luck, no matter how bad my luck might be.




After group, I asked Bob if he had called Tamika, a friend of mine who was a florist and an entrepreneur like Bob.

"I did," he said.  "She had a lot of good things to say."

"Like what?" I asked.

"That I should take a moment to be grateful I had choices before I started thinking about what choice to make."

"Good idea."

"I liked her analogy.   She said there was more prestige in managing the orchard, but some people would find taking care of the trees more rewarding.  I'd have to decide if I wanted to trim trees or manage the orchard.   Only a few detail-minded people could do both."

"A lot of unhappiness comes from trying to be all things to all people," I added.


Today I will take stock: am I trying to trim trees and manage the orchard?

Have I bitten off more than I can chew?


Good job!

The next time group met, Mike announced his brother had offered him a coaching job.  He was beaming. After the congratulations died down, an almost painful silence engulfed the group as they waited for him to talk about the job.  Instead, he said, "I know he offered 'cause I'm his brother, but it was still a nice gesture."

The sadness in his eyes jarred loose a memory – I knew his brother.  My daughter and his daughter had played on different teams in a basketball league.  After my daughter had played a really good game, a father from the opposing team asked me what drills she ran.  He wanted to know if she was on a special diet, had I started weight training with her, and if she played other sports to prepare for basketball.

I remembered him, because this in-house third grade league was known more for giggling than intense preparation for Division I college scholarships.  Sometimes the referee would stop play to explain to all the girls why he had called 'double dribbling', or 'over and back.'

"Is your brother shorter than you?  Stocky?  Intense? Really, really, Intense?"

"That's him," Mike said.

"He doesn't strike me as someone who would offer you a coaching job out of the goodness of his heart."

"Not really," Mike said. His smile made me think he saw my point.

"Apparently your brother remembers the good job you've done, or he wouldn't ask you to coach with him."


Today I will do a good job, hoping to leave others with a lasting impression.



Live a little

Violet told the group it was her 75th birthday.  She also told the group one of her children bought her a bottle of wine to celebrate.  The child in question was 55 years old, old enough to know better.

"Why would she buy you booze?" Calvin asked.  "Was it a joke?"

"No joke, she thought I deserved a drink.  She said at my age I might as well live a little."

"What did you say?" I asked.

"I said there's many ways to live a little, but I want to live a lot.  I have a bucket list as long as your arm.  If I go back to drinking, I won't get to any of them."


Today I will live a lot.



Here comes the choo-choo!

"What did you do with the wine?" I asked Violet.

"I gave it back to her.  She was quite angry with me.  She wanted me to share a glass with her, as we had done many times before I got sober."

"You drank with her a lot?" Wendy asked.

"From the time she was fifteen until she was almost forty. After my husband died, we pretended we were drinking to drown our sorrows.  We were just drinking.  It almost killed me."

"If it almost killed you, why the hell would she want you to drink again?" Wendy asked.

"She doesn't understand how addiction works.  She sees me standing on the tracks, but she thinks because I'm old and sweet, the train will swerve to miss me."

"That's crazy," Calvin said, referring to the idea Violet could drink safely.

"Yeah, thinking you're sweet," Mike joked.  "Old yes, but sweet?"


Today I will remember the old adage about not playing on the tracks….



Nothing to do

A week later Hoodie told the group Nora was gone.

"She took off," Hoodie said.  "Kitty went to work and forgot her purse.  Nora took all the money and the credit cards and just took off while I was in the shower.  I called Kitty at work and asked her to come home and watch Amber so I could go after Nora.  Kitty cried and said if I left I might not find my way back."

"I'm glad you didn't go after her," Wendy said.  "There's a good chance you would have gotten high with her."

"I wanted to, but Mouse sat on my lap.  He's a ten pound cat but he felt like a boulder, I couldn't move.  I got no heart."

Bob told Hoodie he admired him for not going after Nora, "Nah, I think you have heart. You may look like a stick in a sweatshirt, but I see a real man who looked after his kid first."


Today I will remember that sometimes nothing is the hardest thing to do.



Spare change

"I thought she had changed," Hoodie said.  "She sounded like a different person."

"What did she change?" Violet asked.

"The things she said were different.  She seemed to know what she had to do."

"What did she change?" Violet asked again.

Hoodie stared at her for a long moment.  "You want to know what she did different, not what she said different."  He looked at his shoes for an even longer moment.  "She changed her address."

"My father had a saying, 'word change is short change,'" Violet said.

"What is 'short change'?" Hoodie asked.

"Literally, short change means getting back less money than you were due from a purchase.  Figuratively, short changed means not getting what you deserve, or putting less into something than it deserves.  Your girlfriend short changed her recovery by changing the way she talked without making other changes. "


Today I will remember word change is short change.




Barb said to the group, "I told my husband about the herpes.  I thought he had a right to know."

"How did he take the news?" Violet asked.

"He called me a tramp, a whore, and a harlot," Barb said without a trace of emotion.  I guessed she had cried herself tearless.

"Who says 'harlot' anymore?" Tan Man asked. 

"Did you tell him about your addiction?  That you never would have cheated if you hadn't gotten addicted?" Violet asked. 

"I did.  He said junkie was just another name for whore.  I knew he'd be angry, but I thought he might feel some compassion.  I couldn't have been more wrong."

"What now?" Mike asked.

"Now we get divorced," Barb said.   She started to sob.  "I think he's totally overreacting, but I can't do anything to change his mind." 


Today I will accept I have no control over how people react, especially if I have wronged them.




"Somebody shot out my porch light," Wendy said.  "Pretty sure it was my ex."

"Hmmm," was all that Tan Man said.

"You know I'm not scared as much as I would've predicted.  The more he harasses me, the more determined I am to testify."

"You are a brave young lady," Violet said.  "But if you ever do get scared, you're welcome to stay with me for a while."

"I never would have described myself as brave.  I'm like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.  I didn't know I was brave until I was pushed a little."

"Having a baby made me grow up," Hoodie said.

"I was fast and loose with my money until I started running my own business," Bob added.  "Going into business pushed me to be a lot more responsible.


Today I will be grateful for being pushed a little.



Lesson of the lookout crow

That evening I was supposed to be writing, but instead I watched a flock of crows eat bread thrown out for the birds.  One crow had his back to the rest.  He seemed to be scanning the surroundings for signs of danger.  In a few minutes he turned to the bread and another bird took his place as lookout.  It struck me that even these scavengers, with their mythological ties to death, looked after each other.  Shouldn't I do the same?  I thought a donation to a reputable charity might be a good way to look after my fellow man.

 I remembered what Ralph Waldo Emerson said about helping others:  “It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”


Today I will look after the well-being of my fellow man.



Hanging on

Hoodie's girlfriend OD'd, but didn't die.  She hung onto the thread we addicts fray further every time we use.  He missed a week at the rehab because he wouldn't leave her side.  When he finally came back to group, he said he knew she would OD the moment he realized she was gone.


Today I will remember some actions are tied to inescapable consequences.



Decisions, decisions

After Hoodie spoke, the group's mood was down.  Mike didn't help matters by telling the group his brother wasn't speaking to him.

"Why not?" Tan man asked.

"He's furious I haven't decided to take the coaching job he offered."

"You haven't decided not to either," Tan Man pointed out.

"To my brother, not immediately accepting is the same as rejecting his offer."

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"I'm going to decide when I'm ready.  If he withdraws the offer before I'm ready, that's out of my control."

"A wise non-decision," Tan Man said.


Today I won't make decisions I'm not ready to make.




After group, Hoodie told me Nora was just hanging on.  He recited a long list of medical complications.  I didn't need to be a doctor to know any one of them could be fatal. 

"What are her chances?" I asked. "I don't mean to sound cold, but I think you owe it to yourself to have a realistic outlook."

"She might die," Hoodie said.  "She probably will.  I'm holding onto hope, but I know it don't look good."  He paused for a second before asking, "Am I the cold one?  Should I just think positive?"

"Maybe we're both a little cold, but I think false hope does more harm than good."

"What's the difference between 'hope' and 'false hope'?" he asked.

"False hope ignores the obvious, like pretending Nora's not really hurt. True hope lies in knowing the odds, preparing for the most likely outcome, but not giving up hope. False hope borders on being delusional, but true hope takes acceptance and strength."

"You think I have true hope?"

"I think you are wise beyond your years.  I have great hope for you, even though your life has gotten off to a rocky start."

He smiled and said, "Thanks.  I still think you're a little cold, but thanks."


Today I will hope for the best, but not ignore the obvious.



Saints and sinners

A week went by.  Barb asked the group if she could speak first.

"You'll never guess who called me," she said.

"Who?" Bob asked.  "Your husband?"

"No, not my husband.  His girlfriend."

"He has a girlfriend?" Bob asked.  "Did you know he had a girlfriend?"

"I didn't know he had a girlfriend, and she didn't know he had a wife.  She did know he had herpes, because he gave it to her about six months ago.   Which means I probably got herpes from him."

"He's the guy who called you a whore, a slut, and, what was the last thing?"

"A harlot.  That sneaky weasel called me a harlot.  I thought he was a saint, and I judged myself so harshly because I wasn't.  I let him judge me for the very same reason."


Today I won't judge myself harshly in comparison to people who claim to be saints.



Hairy ears, surprises, and gratitude

I was half asleep when a knee on my chest and a violent tug at me ear woke me.

"Got it!" my daughter said, holding a pair of tweezers up to the light.

"Have you lost your mind?" I asked.  "I was sleeping!"

Without an ounce of remorse, she said, "You had a hair growing out of your ear. Good thing I saw it!"

"Stay out of my ears," I said.  "Or at least wait until I'm awake to pluck any stray hairs you find there."

"I wanted to surprise you," she said.  "You should be grateful I'm so attentive."

"I'd be grateful if you stopped trying to surprise me." I hugged her, and took the tweezers away.

"OK, but when people start calling you Sasquatch ears, don't come crying to me."


Today I will be grateful not to encounter any nasty surprises.




Nora, Hoodie's girlfriend, Kitty's daughter, Matt's daughter, and Amber's mother, died.  Although they all grieved in their own ways, they shared a similar sense of opportunity lost.  None of them would have a chance to reconcile with Nora.


Today I will remember what I do will likely affect others.



Money laundering

Hoodie said, "Kitty will pay for the funeral, but I wish I could pay for a headstone.  I wanna do something."

"I will give you the money," Barb said.

"You don't have to do that," Hoodie said.  "Money might get tight, with you and your husband splitting up.  But thanks for the offer."

Barb snorted.  "Didn't I tell you?  My cheating husband hid a gazillion dollars from me.  I'd never have known if he hadn't cheated on his rich girlfriend."

"Why is your husband's girlfriend being so helpful?"  Calvin asked.  Shouldn't you two be natural enemies?"

"She's furious.  He said he was broke, so she gave him money.  He got caught spending her money on another woman.  The private investigator she hired found me and his hidden stash.  The whole time we've been married, I've scrimped and saved.  All the while he had money coming in that I didn't know about.  Lots of it."

"So what are you going to do?" Calvin asked.  

"I'm going to take that bad money and do something good with it.  Pick out whatever headstone you like, Hoodie.  My husband's paying for it."

            Today I will be grateful at how good often comes from bad situations.



Happy Headstones

Hoodie seemed stunned, but said, "Thank you!  I mean thank you so much!  But you know I can't pay you back.  I got nothing, I don't even have a place of my own."

Barb laughed.  "Nothing's free in this life, kid!  Bring Amber to the NA meetings we go to and I'll call it even.  I could always make room for another grandchild, even if we're not related by blood."

"I will so do that.  If that's all it takes to pay you back, I will bring her every time!"

Barb and Hoodie hugged.  Tan Man said to Bob, "Ever known a headstone to make people so happy?"

"Truly amazing," Bob said, smiling at Hoodie and Barb.


Today I will be grateful for things that aren't supposed to make people happy, but do.



No strings attached

When it was Wendy's turn to speak, she looked directly at Tan Man and said, "I got a strange phone call last night.  My ex-boyfriend called to apologize for harassing me.  He said he was going to accept the plea bargain.  For some reason he insisted I tell you he had called me."

"Good to hear he's come to his senses," Tan Man said, smiling at Wendy.

"What made him see the light?" Wendy asked Tan Man.  Other group members leaned forward in their seats.  I felt as if I were part of a crime drama. 

"I called in some favors," Tan Man said with a shrug. 

"I appreciate it, but why?  Do I owe you?"

"I helped you because I could.  You owe me nothing."

We were dying to know what Tan Man meant by 'favors,' but if Wendy wasn't going to ask, nobody else wanted to either.


Today I will be grateful for people who help others for any reason.



Downward and outward

I turned down the coaching job my brother offered," Mike said when it was his turn to share.

"How'd he take it?" Calvin asked.

"I hope he wasn't too upset," Violet added.

"He called me an ungrateful drunk," Mike said.  "Told me he'd make sure I never got a coaching job anywhere near here."

"Well, you just tell him to pull down and outward," Violet said with an exaggerated smile.

"Down and outward?" I asked.

"Cleary his panties are in a bunch.  A gentle tug may help the situation," Violet answered.

Mike laughed, and said, "I don't even care.  If I'm supposed to coach again I'll find a position.  The fact that I've stayed sober this long has restored a little of my faith in myself."

"What about your brother?" Calvin asked.  "Can he really keep you from getting a job?"

"Maybe," Mike said, "but I'm going to bet on me.  My brother isn't the only one who knows I'm a good coach, at least when I'm sober."


Today I will have a little faith in my sober self.




"You seem a little down today," Bob said to Violet.

Violet said, "This is the anniversary of my sponsor's death.  Sarah was my best friend.  She was so kind and so wise.  I can't believe I used her passing as an excuse to drink.  It's the last thing she would have wanted me to do. I've been kicking myself about it all week."

"Listen," Mike said, "there are people who find themselves in a hole and do nothing.  There are people who kick themselves for being in the hole.  There are people like you, trying to climb out, who stop every now and then to kick themselves. Why? What purpose does it serve?  You already acknowledged you're in a hole, keep climbing."

Violet smiled and said with complete sincerity, "You're right, coach."


Today I will climb, not wasting time kicking myself.




"Did you make any decision about the franchises?" I asked Bob.

"Sometimes I have to laugh at myself," Bob said.  "Just yesterday I was talking to my friend in the main office.  He was talking about another guy who ran a bunch of garages from his home.  It dawned on me that with a couple of more tire and oil change places, it wouldn't make sense for me to work out of any one store. I can't afford it now, but if I had four or five more stores, I could hire someone to run them for me."

"Sounds good, but why would you have to laugh at yourself?"

"Because the answer was right under my nose, and I couldn't see it.  All that worrying for nothing!"


Today I will look for obvious solutions to needless worrying.



I hear you and you're wrong

When it was Calvin's turn to speak, he looked a little embarrassed.  I noticed him glance over at Wendy, who nodded.

"OK, Ken, you may not like this, but I thought I'd tell you before I told Krista," Calvin said.  Krista was the therapist who ran the evening program. Calvin was about to be transferred to her program.

"If it's something you have to try out on me before you tell your therapist, maybe you shouldn't do whatever you're about to tell me."

"Maybe not, but try to keep an open mind.  I'm dating Wendy."  He went on to tell the group why he thought this was a good idea.  Only Wendy agreed with him.  I tried to tell him why I thought their romance was a bad idea.  He wasn't convinced.

After a long discussion, I told the group it was time to move on.


Today I will accept others won't always accept what I have to say.  I will move on.



Dry land

Before we could move on, Wendy said, "I’m dating Calvin because I like him.  I like him enough that I'm willing to do anything to pull him out of the mud.  If he's dating me, he won't be going to college bars, which are muddy, muddy places for him."

"Getting someone out of the mud takes two things," I said.  "The person in the mud has to keep his feet moving toward dry land.  The person pulling has to be standing on dry land.  I don't see Calvin's feet moving.  He's not working very hard to get clean.  No offense Wendy, but you haven't been clean and sober very long.  You're not standing on completely dry land yourself."    

She just shrugged, Calvin looked away.


Today I will stand on dry land and help people trying to get out of the mud.




Two weeks went by before Hoodie said much in group.  When it was his turn to speak, he told the group about going bowling with Kitty and his parents.

"It was this big charity event called the Bad Bowling Bonanza.  The bowling alley gave all the money to feed the homeless over the holidays.  I had a great time."

"So why the long face?" Victoria asked.

"I feel like I'm doing something wrong.  Like I shouldn't be so happy so soon after Nora's death."
"Life goes on," Victoria said. "Enjoying life is not a slap at the departed."

Mike added "If you brought a date to her funeral, I'd say that was disrespectful.  But I think fun is like gratitude, if you need a lot of both when life is rough, or you'll die, go crazy, or drink."


Today I will have a little bit of fun regardless of whether life is easy or hard.



Down but not out

That night I typed, deleted, and retyped the same paragraph for two hours. By 10:00 I was ready to pull my hair out.  At 10:30 I finally admitted I had nothing to say.  I set my computer beside my bed so I could try again in the morning.


Today I will admit when I'm beaten, but make plans to fight again tomorrow.



Rude Awaking

I was late for group the next time they met.  They were talking about remarrying.  Tan Man said he might remarry, but he doubted it.  Violet said she never had any desire to remarry when her husband died. 

Barb said she too had no desire to date or remarry.  "And that's what amazes me.  When I thought I'd destroyed my marriage, I was devastated.  I couldn't imagine how I'd make it on my own.  When I found out he had been cheating, my eyes opened.  Just like that, I saw myself so differently. It was a rude awakening, but I'm glad I'm not sleepwalking anymore.  In a strange way he did me a favor."

The group talked about other 'rude awakenings,' like not making the team, birthdays that ended in zeros, or getting bad news from the doctor.  They agreed they hated them, but better a rude awakening than sleepwalking through a life, not knowing where we stand, or who we really are.


Today I will try to be grateful for rude awakenings.




"Are you going to hang any more Christmas lights?" my wife asked.

"I wasn't going to," I said.  "I don't want to have to sell my blood to pay the electric bill."

"I'll let you pick the movie tonight." It was her turn to pick, but she knew there were several new releases I wanted to see.   She had me.

"You can't bribe me with some silly movie," I said.  "I've got a little more spine than that." We both knew I was kidding myself.  She held the silence just long enough for me to see the hopelessness of my situation.

"Could you grab a box of tissues from the pantry?  There's a real tear-jerker on HBO tonight. It's about the lifelong friendship of two schoolgirls who meet in postwar Europe.  It's French with English subtitles."

"You're making that up," I said. 

"Am I?" she asked.

Later, when we sat down to watch a sci-fi action thriller, I saw her looking out the window at the lights.  I would have hung twice as many lights just to see that smile.


Today I will be grateful for smiles.



Where were you

Patty The Office Manager Who Really Runs The Site was off.  Josh was doing an evaluation and The Other Ken was running a group.  I was the only one available to answer morning phone calls.  I thought about resigning, or at least hiding under my desk.

A woman called about her son.  Her anguish broke my heart.  A second caller complained that another rehab had wanted him to quit smoking weed and drinking, when all he really wanted to quit was heroin.  I told him we also stressed abstinence from all drugs.  He cursed us, the other rehab, and a methadone clinic.  Apparently the meth clinic wasn't open at 2:00 p.m. when he got up, didn't want him to smoke weed, and didn't deliver.  The third caller wanted to tell staff he was celebrating a year clean. 

As the morning went on, the calls went from the inspiring to the infuriating.  In between calls I made a note to make sure Patty knew how much we missed her when she was gone.


Today I will thank someone for the job they do.



Slow learners

"Where's Calvin?" I asked as I walked into the group room later that day. 

"He was arrested for supplying alcohol to minors," Wendy said.  "He bought beer for some kid in a bar and the kid got into an accident on the way home.  We're through."

Wendy looked dejected.  Violet said, "I know this hurts and disappoints you, but maybe Calvin has learned his lesson."

"No, he really hasn't," Wendy said with a sigh.  "He blames the kid.  Calvin is just like my ex.  No matter how much trouble they get into they blame someone else.  They never learn their lessons."

"You should be grateful," Violet said.

"For what?" Wendy asked.  "For being a loser magnet?"

"No.  For being a faster learner than Calvin or your ex.  You're still clean and sober, and doing the right thing by dumping Calvin and testifying against your ex.  You have learned your lessons."


Today I will be grateful for lessons learned,

especially if they were learned sooner rather than later.



None so blind

A week later Calvin was out of jail and back in group.   He was disgusted with the court system, which thought had targeted the wrong person. "I shouldn't have bought beer for that kid, but shouldn't he be responsible for his actions?" Calvin asked the group.  "He drank the beer.  He drove the car.  He hit the tree."

Nothing the group said seemed to sway Calvin's opinion.  Group members grew frustrated with Calvin's refusal to see the obvious, that he had no business being in that bar, let alone buying beer for a minor.


Today I will remember the old saying, 'there are none so blind as those who will not see.'



Every opportunity

Two days after that group, Calvin ran a red light, nearly killing a Chatham University student out for an afternoon run.  Marti was a petite girl from a high school so poorly run it had to be taken over by the state.  On her third birthday, her father's truck had jackknifed on a patch of ice.  He never drove again, and her family lived on his disability check, food stamps, and a small Teamsters pension. She had struggled to get into college, but hoped to be the first person from her family to graduate.  She was in her final semester and had been accepted to Duke's Law School.

When he was interviewed on the news, Marti's father said his daughter would overcome this setback.  He said he hoped Calvin got the help he needed.

Wendy told the group she had called Calvin in jail.  She had asked him how he felt about almost depriving the world of such an inspirational young lady.  Calvin's reply was 'would you be happier if she was a total loser? She'll miss a little school, but I've set my career back five years.'

I thought it ironic how some people make the most of whatever chances they're given.  Some will be given every chance, but never understand the advantages they've had.


Today I will be grateful for whatever opportunities come my way.




Bob told the group he was still questioning his decision to expand his business.  He had thought once he made the decision his anxiety would vanish.  "I still worry, but I haven't had a drink over it."


Today I will accept making important decisions doesn't often produce immediate peace and serenity.



Ashes, ashes, ….

"I bought a house!" Barb told the group.  "I took some of the money my lying, cheating husband squirreled away and bought a house.  It's tiny – one bedroom, one bathroom, one floor and an unfinished basement, -- but it has room for a garden and a fenced-in backyard for the dogs.  I can't believe, after all that happened, I'm going to start over in such a cozy house.  I thought my life had burned to the ground."


Today I will remember today's ashes may be tomorrow's fertilizer.



Shop 'til you drop

I took my dog for a walk on Black Friday.  Despite the cold and the early hour, a long line snaked around the building of a huge toy store.  The toy everyone had to have that year was in artificially short supply, driving up the price and the hype.  Folks who didn't get to the store early enough were likely to experience something akin to withdrawal.  Many of the early birds were going to spend money they didn't have for something they wanted infinitely more than they needed it.


Today I will remember shopping can be an addiction.



That's nice

"Why are you smiling?" my son asked as he sat down next to me on the couch.

I showed him a card I had been reading. "I got a thank you card."


"So you'd be surprised how many agencies pay for my trainings and send a thank you.  They don't have to thank me, but they do. I'll bet they send them to other trainers as well.  It's good to know niceness isn't dead."

"Sounds like that card put you in a really good mood," he said, smiling.

"It really did."

"Then it wouldn't be right for me to spoil it for you.  I'll tell you later."

"Always thinking of me," I said, giving him a look that made him slide away from me.

"Just trying to add to the niceness."


Today I will be grateful for niceness.




The next day at work I tried to print something on the new Sharp copier.  Nothing happened.  I pulled out the manual and followed the step-by-step directions.  Still nothing.  I cursed the copier, the Sharp Corporation, its board of directors, and their CEO.  I tried again, following the same step-by-step directions. 

I whined to Patty The Office Manager Who Really Runs The Site about the new copier.

"Did you follow the directions?" she asked.  I bit my tongue and went back to my office.  When I was halfway through writing a sarcastic email to Sharp, with cc's to our IT gurus and our CFO, I noticed the cable connecting my laptop to the copier network wasn't plugged in.

I plugged into the network and heard the familiar whirring sound of pages being printed. 

The email was still on screen, including the part about the copier being something I might use a stick to scrape from the bottom of my shoe after visiting a dog park.  So was the line claiming they should return the CFO's check, apologize, cut his grass, and wash his car. 

I could picture the IT guys driving 45 minutes from the main office to this office only to plug in the cable.  I don't think they would have been pleased.  And I'd have to write a huge apology letter to Sharp. 

After deleting the message without sending it, I added 'seeing the unplugged cable in time' to my gratitude list.


Today I will be grateful for anything that saves me from putting my foot in my mouth.




The next time the group met, Tan Man had a broad smile.

"Don't you look like the cat that ate the canary," Violet said to him.

"I'm going to retire," Tan Man said with a broad smile.  "I've made all the arrangements."

"What will you do?" I asked, concerned about someone so new to recovery having so much time on his hands.

"I'm going to spend some of my time volunteering at a free legal aid center, and the rest fishing, golfing, and playing with my grandchildren."

"Sounds like heaven," Bob said.

Tan Man said, "I feel like a pilot in an old movie who pulls his plane out of a dive just in the nick of time.  Makes me think I may even want to learn to fly."

"What turned things around for you?" I asked, hoping he could provide the group with something to think about.  "Was it the death of your wife?"

"Her death was a slap in the face that woke me up enough to look around.  I saw a law partner die at his desk.  His whole life was nothing but working and drinking.  That wasn't going to be me. I'm sorry he died, but I'm also grateful it wasn't me."


Today I will be selfishly grateful for people whose lives serve as a warning.



Happy and healthy

"Don't want to jinx you," Bob said, "but retirement killed my dad."

"How did retirement kill your dad?" Mike asked.

"He was a cook in a neighborhood diner.  He loved his job.  He loved the customers, he loved flirting with the waitresses, and he loved joking with the owner.  When he hit 65, my mom started pushing him to quit working.  When he hit 70, the owner said he should think about hanging up his apron.  When he was 72 he let them pressure him into retirement.  He moped around for two weeks, had a stroke, and died."

"That mighta just been coincidence," Mike said.

"Maybe," Bob said, "but I think he was heartbroken.  And I know he was mad at himself for letting them push him out of that job.  That's what I think killed him."


Today I will resolve to do, for as long as I can, whatever keeps me healthy and makes me happy.  I will not let others decide what I should be doing instead.




The next morning, the dog woke me up at 6:00 a.m. with a bark and a tiny paw to my chest.  She wanted to play before she went outside, and then had her breakfast.  Once again, I was amazed at what animals had to teach me.  What better way to start the day than being playful with someone I loved?


Today I will try to start my day as playfully as possible.




That day I found a book I had read twenty-five years earlier after buying it for $1.00 at a garage sale.  It was the best $1.00 I ever spent.  The book was full of wisdom.  As I shuffled through the pages, I realized I didn't remember much of what I had read.  Reading it again after so many years made me grateful that wisdom has an extremely long shelf-life.    


Today I will be grateful for wisdom never grows old.



Theory of reactivity

"You're never going to believe this," Barb said to the group the next day.  "You just are not going to believe this!"

"Believe what?" I asked.

"She shot him!  She shot him in the thigh!  Can you believe it?"

"Who shot who?" Hoodie asked.

"My husband's rich girlfriend shot him in the thigh," Barb said.  "She called me from jail.  She was aiming a little higher, but she missed! I can't believe it."

Wendy laughed.  "Not that I blame you, but you seem really, really happy he got shot."

"I am.  I know I shouldn't be, but I am.  I do feel bad for her," Barb said.  "He's slime, but she overreacted."

"Bet you're glad you didn't shoot him," Hoodie said.  "Can't picture you doing well in jail."

"I wanted to shoot him.  I understand why she did it.  But like I said, she overreacted, and that almost never turns out well."


Today I will be grateful for the times I didn't overreact.



It could have been worse

After group I was still thinking about Barb's husband getting shot, and not paying attention to what I was doing.  I spilled coffee all over my calendar desk pad.  Rather than kick myself, I was grateful it was December.  I would be replacing the coffee-stained calendar in a few weeks.  Had I spilled the coffee in January, I'd have to live with the stain all year.


Today I will be grateful for accidents that could have been worse.



I'm happy for you

Mike told the group his friend had gotten a prestigious coaching job.  "This is the guy who took over for me when I was fired," Mike said.  "He had a couple of good years and a bigger school took notice."

"You mad 'cause that coulda been you?" Hoodie asked Mike.

"Two years ago I hated everybody who coached at a bigger school, won more games, or got more notice in the papers.  Now I'm genuinely happy for the guy."

"Hey Ken, do you think Mike's attitude is better 'cause of a change in his life, or 'cause of a change in brain chemistry?" Hoodie asked.

"Probably a little of both," I said.  "There's less pressure on Mike these days, and his brain has had some time to heal."

"I ask 'cause I notice I'm not as jealous of other people as I used to be," Hoodie said.  "I like it."


Today I will be grateful when I can be happy for others.




"There's more," Mike said.  "He asked me to be his assistant."

"Won't that be strange since he was your assistant two years ago?" Tan Man asked.

"Sure will, but I like the idea.  I'll have to get a little humble.  Other than getting sober, that will be harder than anything I've done so far.  I may have ended up a falling down drunk, but I've always loved a challenge."


Today I will be grateful for anything that challenges me to develop my character.




"How'd your brother take you turning down the job he offered, but accepting a coaching spot from your friend?"  I asked.

"About as well as I'd expect.  He called to tell me never to call him, and he hoped to coach against me so he could run up the score."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said.

"He also told me I should start drinking again, that he liked me better as a drunk."

"Ouch," Tan Man said.  "That's harsh."

"Oh, I expected worse from him."

"You OK?" Bob asked.

"Funny thing, I'm more than OK.  My brother is an obnoxious jackass that I've spent years trying to please.  In a strange way he did me a favor.  I finally see there's no *&^$@ point in trying to please him.  What a relief."

"Sad favor," Bob said.


Today I will be grateful for favors, even sad ones.




That evening I was writing sitting on the couch, writing my daily message.  My daughter was peering over my shoulder, reading previous messages.

"Weak," she said.

"What?" I asked.

"The spilled coffee one.  You used that one before."

"No I didn't," I said with absolute certainty. "How is it you remember something I may have written a year ago, but can't remember to take out the garbage?"

"Hey Brat Boy," she called out to her brother, ignoring my question.  "Daddy's using the one about spilling coffee on his deskpad again."

"Weak!" he yelled from his room.

"Let's see you find something to be grateful for now, writer man!" she said with a smirk.


Today I will be grateful gratitude can be recycled.



For real

The next day Wendy told the group Calvin had found God in jail.  She was skeptical to say the least.

"Why don't you believe him?" I asked.

"He had no use for anything spiritual until he got in trouble.  Now he's reading the Bible every day.  I'll bet he quotes Scripture when he goes before the judge."

Most of the group shared Wendy's suspicion that Calvin's new found belief was more convenience than conversion.

 I said, "I had a friend LeVaughn who was a kindhearted science teacher, and an absolute atheist.  Whenever someone would doubt another person's religious sincerity, LeVaughn would ask that person, how do you know? Then he'd say it made no sense to assume something negative about someone without evidence."

"I will try to be happy for him," Violet said.  "I hope he is sincere."

"If he has found a new path," Tan Man added, "it's got to be better than the one he was on."

"Don't cost anything to believe he's for real," Hoodie said.

"If he's not for real, that'll come out eventually," Mike said.


Today I won't assume the negative about anyone.

I will reserve the right to change my opinion if new evidence appears.




"We need more LeVaughns," I said to the group, venturing off-topic. "LeVaughn believes in principles.  He says that people who bend principles with prejudice, emotion, and self-interest dig their own graves, but bury generations with them. He even stands up for people he disagrees with. His favorite quote is 'I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'"

"You gotta like that," Hoodie said.

"I do.  People like LeVaughn make the world a safer place."


Today I will be grateful for people who stand up for principles.




Later that afternoon Tan Man poked his head into my office.  "Every time I walk past I see you staring at your bulletin board.  What are you looking at?"

"Oh, it's a list of my goals for this year," I said pointing to a folded sheet of paper tacked to the cork.

"Why is it folded in half?" he asked.

"The other half lists the goals I reached.  I've been trying to figure out which of the remaining goals I can accomplish before the end of the year."

"Why would you cover up the ones you've finished?"

"Because they're done," I said, not sure what his point was.

He shook his head.  "Folding that list is like building a house then tearing it down before you build the next one.  I say leave yourself a reminder of what you've done before you move onto the next project."

"Good idea!"

"You guys should be paying me to counsel you," he said with a smile.


Today I will remember what I've accomplished as I look at what I need to do.



Specific Change

When I got home that night I found three quarters, a dime, and a penny on my nightstand.  I called my son into my room.  "What's this?" I asked pointing to the coins.

"Your change.  Didn't you say you wanted change?"

"Yes change.  Change from a twenty.  A five dollar bill, a couple of ones.  Real change."

"You should have been more specific," he said.  "When you said 'change' I thought you meant coins."

My daughter poked her head in the room.  "Everyone knows change means coins.  You should have said you wanted paper change."

"Is there a reason you're agreeing with your brother?" I asked, more than a little suspicious.

"No, but I need money for the movies," she said.

"I need change. Real change.  Paper change," I said.


Today I will be specific about what I need.




The next morning my wife had to get to work early. "I'll set my alarm for you," she said as she left.

The alarm went off and I rolled over to hit what I thought was the snooze button.  An hour later I woke up, looked at the clock and cursed.  I had shaved the night before, and laid out the clothes I wanted to wear.  My wallet, cell phone, and keys were sitting on my schedule, which was sitting on my laptop, ready for me to grab on my way out the door.

"I had planned to get in early today," I said to the dog.  She just yawned.  There wasn't much on her agenda.  "I'll have to figure out what I can do from home and what I can put off until after the holidays."  She wagged her tail.


Today I will accept plans may change, and adaptation can be as important as preparation.



I was curious as to the meaning of 'excelsis' from the hymn "Angels We Have Heard on High."  I made the mistake of asking my son and daughter, who both took Latin.

"It means Fahrenheit," my son said.  I looked to my daughter, who just shrugged.

"It does not mean Fahrenheit," I said.

"'Ex' means something isn't what it used to be, right?  An ex-football player is someone who no longer plays football. Ex-Celsius is something no longer measured in Celsius, so it has to be Fahrenheit."

"Could be Kelvin," my daughter said.

"I don't think they had Kelvin back then," my son answered.

"I'm going to look it up online," I said.


Today I will do a little research, I will look a little harder for the truth.



The beginning of the end

When I walked into the break room, The Other Ken and Krista were discussing the daytime clients.  The gist of their conversation was most of the daytimers were ready to be stepped down to weekly sessions.

I really liked this group.  Being in their company had taught me many valuable lessons.  But, I had to agree with the two therapists, it was time for many of the clients to move on.

"Who is going first?"  I asked.

"Probably Violet," The Other Ken said.  Krista nodded her head in agreement.  And so it began to end.


Today I will accept most good things come to an end.



Thank you for your support

The next day Violet told the group she was leaving.   The group was happy for her, at least until she asked for a favor. 

"I want us all to stay in touch with Calvin," Violet said.  A stunned silence followed.

"Why?" Barb asked.  "He ignored every bit of advice we ever gave him.  He killed a young girl."

"He's learned his lesson too late," Violet said.  "He's done something terrible.  But, the court will punish him.  He's one of us. It's our job to support him."

"You know we love you, Violet," Tan Man said, "but I don't like being lumped in with Calvin.  He knew driving drunk could kill someone, and he kept doing it."

Violet looked at each group member in turn. "If you've driven drunk once, you could be in his shoes."  Another long silence followed.

"What do you think Ken?" Bob asked me.

I wasn't sure what I thought.  Eventually, I said, "There's no way to enable him now, but I'd find it hard to support him."

"How many people would get sober if they never did anything hard?" Violet asked.  I knew she had a point.


Today I will try to support people, without enabling, even when it's hard to do so.



No wasted talents

When it was his turn to speak, Hoodie said he ran into a college scout who had seen him wrestle as a sophomore.

"He told me to call him when I got my GED," Hoodie said.  "I can't believe anybody still cares about my wrestling. When I dropped out of school, I thought all the studying and all the wrestling had been a waste of time."

Violet said, "As I've gotten older I've learned there is very little useless knowledge, only skills and information waiting to be used."

"A year ago, my uncle fell down a hillside on a hunting trip," Mike said.  "I used first aid I'd learned in the Marine Corps when I was eighteen."

"I play the flute," Barb said.  "I've played more since the breakup of my marriage than I had in the past twenty years combined.  It's so soothing."


Today I will be grateful for whatever I've learned,

no matter how useful or useless it seems.




Tough guy

"Where was the scout from?" I asked Hoodie.

"Duquesne," he said.  After a pause he added, "Tough to go back to school now."

"Tough to quit drugs, bury your girlfriend, and hold onto your kid, but you did," Mike said.  "You got a plan?"

"It will take me about a year to get my GED.  In the meantime, my old high school will let me practice with the team, see if I'm still any good.  I'll have to take the SAT's."

"You'll make it," Violet said. "I have faith in you!"

"If you get into Duquesne, will you live on campus?" Barb asked.

"No, I'll commute.  Couldn't imagine living in a dorm, away from Amber. See, there again it's gonna be tough.  Somebody's gotta play with Amber when I'm studying. Amber's grandparents can't do it all."

Mike looked around the room and laughed.  "Wonder where you might find someone willing to play with Amber while you study?  Listen kid, I've learned some things from coaching.  You're tougher than you know.  Having a solid plan makes a big difference.  And, there's probably someone willing to help, if you're willing to let them."


Today I will accept I'm tougher than I thought, and go from there.




"We have to write an essay on why New Year's resolutions fail," my daughter said to me when I got home that night.  "We get bonus points for using good examples, double bonus for metaphors, similes, and analogies.  You do know the differences between the three, right?"

I pretended that I did, even though I had no clue.  I said, "Three guys are trying to start their lawnmowers.  The first guy pulls the starter cord again and again and again without any success. He quits.

"The second guy pulls the starter cord and nothing happens.  He checks the gas tank and pulls the cord again.  Nothing happens.  He checks the spark plug and pulls the cord again.  Nothing happens.  He checks the oil and pulls the cord. Nothing happens.  Finally, he cleans the air filter, pulls the cord, and the lawnmower starts.

"Before he pulls the cord, the last guy does everything the second guy did.  He pulls the cord and the lawnmower starts."

"You're saying before you start something, make sure you have all your ducks in a row," she said.  I hoped she wouldn't ask me if the ducks were a simile or a metaphor.

"If you're going to lose weight, get rid of your binge foods, buy a pair of comfortable sneakers, figure out what kind of cardio and weight training works best for you.  Do those things first."

"So how does AA fit into your analogy?"

"AA is where I found the sobriety duck herders.  Almost every endeavor has someone to help you get them all in a row. "


Today I will be grateful for duck herders.




"I can't sleep," a voice said.  It took me a second to realize the voice belonged to my son.

"You woke me up to tell me that?"

"I thought you'd want to know."

"Well if you can't sleep, you might as well study for your History test," I said.  Even in the dim light I could see in his facial expression a lack of enthusiasm for this idea.

"Never mind," he said.

I waited fifteen minutes before I checked on him.  He was fast asleep.  In the morning he was his usual upbeat self. 


Today I will be grateful for a good night's sleep.

(If I can't fall asleep, I will do something I really don't want to, until I'm ready to sleep.)



For you

The next day Hoodie got to group early.  He was carrying a fluorescent pink sweatshirt with "Boozeless Biddies Bowling" on the front, and "We may be old, but our minds are still in the gutter…" on the back.

"I'm guessing you got that for Violet," I said, stating the obvious.

"It's that kind of insight that makes you a good therapist," he said, laughing.  "I was just going to get her a box of chocolates as a going away present, but I really wanted to surprise her."

"Did you come up with the saying on the back?" I asked.

"I did.  I'm not a real creative person. It took me a long time."

"I'm sure she'll appreciate the effort."

"I'm sure she will, too," Hoodie said with a smile.  "I'll be OK even if she's not grateful, you know?  I wanted to do this, no matter how Violet reacted.  Does that make sense?"

"It does," I said, "maybe because I have such keen insight."

Violet loved the sweatshirt.


Today I will do something nice for someone regardless of how I think they'll react.



Bradley and Stalin

Tan Man told the group he was done at the end of the week.  I told him he could do a lot of good for his fellow recovering addicts.

"How so?" he asked.

"It's all about leadership," I said.  "Bear with me, it's a little complicated.  Some leaders need only walk in front to have others follow.  Omar Bradley was that kind of general.  Some leaders need a threat to make them move.  Typically it’s the one threatening his people who builds the most statues of himself. Think Josef Stalin."

Hoodie looked at me intensely.  "I get it," he said.  "I do know what you mean."  He was clearly pleased with himself.   "The guy who's like Stalin doesn't threaten anyone with a gun, but he makes it clear not following his direction is a sure ticket to a relapse.  He doesn't build actual statues, but he dominates every conversation, and he needs people gathered around him."

Bob picked up the thread.  He turned to Mike and said, "Omar Bradley is like the guy at our Wednesday night NA, meeting.  The one with the scars who sits there quietly until someone asks him a question.  That man has been through it all, but he's as happy and calm as anybody I've ever met.  And wise.  He's so wise."

Tan Man said, "I don't see how that's me."

"No dude," Hoodie said, "that's you. You're Omar."  The rest of the group agreed.  Tan Man was the type of quiet leader that good groups depended on.


Today I will be grateful for those who set good examples, who quietly lead.


The next challenge

Over the next two weeks all the g-NAts moved onto individual therapy or aftercare.  A year later I ran into Bob at an AA meeting.

"How's the car business?" I asked.

"It's good.  I have somebody running that end of things."

"That end of things?" I asked.

"The oil change places were doing so well, I bought a couple of carpet cleaning franchises.  I'm managing that part of my business.  It's a challenge."

I was happy for him, but I had to ask, "What happened to kicking back and letting someone else worry about business?  Wasn't that your plan?"

"The more clean time I got, the more I needed to be doing something."

"So, do you like the carpet cleaning business more than the oil change garages?"

"Not really.  But once they're up and running, I'm going to try something completely different!


Today I will look for the next challenge.



Too Happy?

Not long after I spoke to Bob, Wendy called.  She said she was doing well, and so was Barb.  Barb was dating Wendy's dad, and Wendy was thrilled.

"It's the happiest I've seen him since my mom died," she told me.  "I can't believe how things have fallen into place."

"Do you think some of his joy comes from you being clean and sober?" I asked.  I meant it as a rhetorical question, but Wendy sounded surprised.

"I guess so.  I mean, he told me he was proud of me, but I just thought that was what a dad was supposed to say.  I'm thirty-two – it's not like I'm his little girl and I brought home a good report card."

"I have a daughter," I said.  "She will always be my little girl, and I'll always be proud of whatever she accomplishes.  I'll bet your dad is more proud of you now than he was when you made good grades."

I heard her crying quietly.  She said, "I'm so happy, but now I'm scared. What if I'm getting too happy?"

I laughed. "As long as you're not overconfident about your recovery, there's no such thing as too happy."


Today I will enjoy whatever happiness comes my way,

remembering that my happiness depends on my sobriety.



Nice guys

A couple of years went by before anyone heard from Mike.  The local papers announced he had been re-hired to coach football by the high school that had fired him three years earlier.  His brother had also applied for the job.


Today I will be grateful when the good guy wins.