Following the great pastry debate and my refusal to use PowerPoint, tension
hung in the air. Brittany, the world’s happiest intern, arrived with Fluffy the
Pitbull. Daniel lost his mind.
“Brittany!” Daniel said, “We talked about this. You can’t
bring that dog in here.” Brittany might have been intimidated by Daniel’s tone had
Daniel not dropped to his knees to cradle Fluffy’s face and scratch his ears. The happy dog licked Daniel’s chin. Daniel
scratched Fluffy’s back and the dog’s stub of a tail looked like it might wag
off his body.
“OK, enough of that,” Daniel said as he got up to grab a
lint brush from the conference room closet. Fluffy walked into the no man’s
land between Weedman and Devin. The two men bent down to scratch Fluffy. To my
amazement, they smiled at each other.
“Please take the animal to your cubicle,” The New Boss said,
sounding like a boss. I looked up in time to catch him wink and give the thumbs
up to Brittany. Knowing staff meetings could be tense, he’d arranged for Fluffy
to provide some pet therapy. I found a new respect for him.
When we got past the great donut debate, Jackie asked me to
update the group on my training. I told them I was revising my handout, but
otherwise I was ready to go.
Devin asked, “When you say ‘handout’ do you mean printed
copies of your PowerPoint slides?”
“No,” I said, “I mean written notes. I don’t use PowerPoint.
We discuss booklets I create.”
“Everybody does PowerPoint,” he insisted. “People expect it.”My new colleagues nodded in agreement.
There was a time when I would have said ‘I will start
working on my PowerPoint slides today!’ Instead, I said, “It’s OK, people will
remember my presentation because it’s different.”
Devin tried to draw me into an argument about it, but I just shook my head. Over the years, not drinking set me apart from many people.
I’d learned to stand my ground and not give into peer pressure. I’d come to admire
people set apart for other reasons who stood their ground.
Today I will be willing to stand apart from the crowd.
I went back to revising my training handout.The seventh question asked, ‘Are you increasingly irritable?More short tempered?’The follow-up question read, ‘Ever extended your middle finger to
another driver leaving the parking lot after a religious service?’
I wrote a margin note:
‘Anger Gap: How long after something soothing, happy, energizing, can you get
People early in recovery, going through chemical changes in
their bodies and brains, struggle with anger.They have a short anger gap. But as time goes on, people still quick to
anger have to ask themselves am I too quick to let go of the good? Am I too
quick to give into the anger?
I thought of someone who hit the lottery. According to his
wife, he complained about having to pay taxes on his winnings ten seconds
later. I was at a wedding where the bride married the man of her dreams, had
the most beautiful reception, and was furious over the color of the napkins.
(The paper coaster napkins were scarlet.She had ordered crimson, dammit.)
I made a mental note to hold onto the good a little longer,
give into anger a little slower.
Today I will hold onto the good just a little longer.
“If you were going to poison someone, how would you do it?”
Jackie asked. “Would you put something in their coffee? All at once or a little
at a time?”I waited for her to say ‘I’m
just kidding, I would never do that!’Nothing.
Like a lot of people who’ve been addicted, enraged, in love,
or otherwise insane, I’d done a lot of things I regretted. Poisoning someone
wasn’t one of them.
“I never poisoned anyone,” I said. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Me neither. It was just a thought.”
I made a list of foolish things I hadn’t done that friends
who were addicted, enraged, in love, or otherwise insane had done. I was thankful I didn’t have those regrets.
Today I’ll be grateful for all the regrets I don’t have.
The phone rang. Jackie from Human Resources called to see if
I had gotten the paperwork she sent.
“I finished it and mailed it back,” I said.
“Thank you! I wish everybody around here did their work on
time. People have no idea what a burden it is chasing down paperwork.”
I decided not to tell her that for the first twenty years of
my career my hate-hate relationship with paperwork had gotten me in trouble
more times than I could count. Or, how
I’d added to people’s burdens in my drinking days by being irresponsible, late,
“No problem,” I said.
“The next time somebody’s late turning in their timesheets,
I’m going to poison them. Not enough to kill them,” Jackie said. “That would be
wrong. Just enough enough to make them sick. Give them diarrhea, maybe.”
Do You Get My Drift? The next burnout quiz question asked if people annoyed the reader by
telling him he didn’t look so good lately.The follow-up question read, “Do colleagues call the paramedics when you
stop moving?” I wrote margin notes for discussing this question.
Unless there was some life-changing upheaval like an injury, most people didn’t
become overwhelmed, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, overnight. Usually
they stopped caring for themselves a little at a time.They drifted into exhaustion.
Being tired and drifting are part of life. Unless the oldest child was a terror, the
youngest child enjoys freedoms his siblings only dreamed of.His parents have drifted as they aged. (A
comedian once said when the first child drops the pacifier you boil it. When
the second child drops it, you rinse it in warm water. Should the third child
drop her pacifier, you let the dog lick it - their mouths are cleaner than ours.)
Too many recovering people drift into relapse.They don’t take care of themselves and they get tired of the struggle.
They have one little drink. They place one bet just to break the boredom. They
text the abusive ex because it’s just a text, really.
I’d presented this training many times before.Most people would agree they needed to take
better care of themselves. They’d admit they tended to drift into self-neglect.
The majority would know they needed to
beware of this drifting.And at least a
few would drift into not watching for drift.
The next day I pulled up my handout for the burnout
training. The audience would be the management team for a large conglomeration
of methadone clinics, mental health centers, and a few abstinence-based drug
and alcohol rehabs.
The training would begin with a burnout quiz.The first question would read: ‘Do you tire
easily?’ A follow-up question would ask,
“Ever tried to inject the coffee directly into your veins?”The follow-up question was tongue-in-cheek of course, but
aimed at an important point. Chemical solutions don’t work for lifestyle
issues. Coffee and energy drinks don’t replace sleep, at least not for very
Likewise, while Prozac may help a depressed person living a
reasonably stable life, no amount of antidepressant was likely to lift spirits
of somebody living with a stable full of jackasses.
Today I will ask myself if my issues are tied to my lifestyle.
“A guy named Wedman that everybody calls Weedman.”
“He smokes a lot of weed?” Brat Boy asked.
“He weeds a lot. He’s into gardening. He’s also in recovery from a porn addiction.
Said pulling the weeds of that obsession meant getting rid of files on his
phone and laptop, his work computer, and stuff hidden on his wife’s computer.”
“His wife’s computer? Seriously? Why doesn’t he just not use
“He said if you don’t pull all the weeds, they grow back,
with deeper roots. He had old magazines hidden in the garage,” I said. “They
were his father’s.”
“And all you’re leaving me is a broken down lawnmower,” Brat
Boy said, laughing.
“The first guy I met was Daniel,” I said.He’s sort of an office manager,
trouble-shooter, den mother, and warden. He was cleaning his windows when I got
there. Daniel told me he adopts elderly dogs. He always has two of them.And a hand held vacuum in every room.”
“Sounds like he’d be fun to live with,” Blondie said. “He’s
I said, “He was engaged. She told him it’s me or the dogs.
Said putting down a dog every two years was just too sad.”
Blondie said, “Aww – he chose the dogs.”
“I have to admire him,” Brat Boy said, “But you can almost
see her point.”
“For about a decade I worked with people both addicted and
schizophrenic. I loved it, but the sadness got to me after a while. God bless
people like Daniel who wade through the sadness to help.”
“Have you met anybody from your new job?” Blondie asked.
“The guy next to me hung a wooden plaque at the opening of
his cubicle,” I said. “It reads ‘Please Knock.’ He won’t talk to you if you
“He’s got serious issues,” Brat Boy said. “Does your new
boss just ignore it?”
I shrugged. “People ignore the obvious. I knew a woman who
couldn’t find a spoon or her lighter.She ignored her husband’s relapse until the paramedics gave him Narcan
in front of the kids. Said she had no idea he was using heroin again.”
"Before she knew he'd relapsed, how did she explain the missing spoons?" Brat Boy asked.
"She found a burnt spoon, and he told her he'd been eating soup. The soup got cold. He was too lazy to get up and reheat it, so he was warming it with the lighter a spoonful at a time. Pondering that explanation distracted her from the missing spoons."
“Wait,” Brat Boy said, “They have to give up a weekend, to
listen to you talk about burnout? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?”
“That’s what I thought,” I said. “But my friend Ryan the
corporate trainer said weekend retreats are common.”
Blondie said, “That’s crazy. You need a break from work, not
a weekend about work.”
“I agree,” I said. “You need a break from most challenging
things in life.Yesterday I read a
couple of articles on addiction and brain chemistry for work. It took me a long
time to get through them.Do you know what I did after that?”
“Forgot everything you read?” Brat Boy asked.
“Fell asleep with your laptop open,” Blondie suggested.
“You’re both grounded,” I said. “I watched some funny animal
videos.I needed the downtime.”
“When’s your first training?” my daughter Blondie asked me.
I’d retired a month earlier to focus on writing and discovered working from
home wasn’t all I thought it would be.
“I’m doing a weekend on burnout in a month,” I said.
“So why’d you go back to working for someone now?” Brat Boy
asked. “I thought you’d stick it out a little longer, plow through the tough
times to get to the good.”
“There’s a difference between getting through tough times
and being miserable,” I said. “I waited until I was miserable to stop drinking.Just prolonged the suffering. I wasn’t going
to wait until I hated working from home to go back to work.”
Today I won’t wait until I’m miserable to make changes.
Brat Boy and Blondie both came home for Sunday brunch.
Sitting with my family, I was a little sad for all the people I knew still
fighting their addictions. Drinking my coffee, surrounded by family, I didn’t
have to scam someone’s pills, borrow money I’d never repay, sneak into work
because my frazzled brain needed seven days to do five days’ worth of work,
apologize for the night before, hope I didn’t get sick, sell my body to pay for
it, steal, lie, deceive, wonder where I was and who I was with, hope I hadn’t
gotten Hep C or HIV, find my car, sell drugs, etc.Because I was drug-free, I got to enjoy my
morning and make an announcement instead.
“I’m starting a new chapter,” I said. “I’m going back to
work. I’m going to train part-time for a company that does corporate
Today I can turn the page or start a new chapter in my life.
We were sitting in the stands for the semi-final round of
the volleyball playoffs. Brat Boy’s team was playing the team with kid with the
gold head band, bad haircut, and worse attitude. Gold head band’s team lost.
The players lined up to shake hands, but he walked to his bench and sat down,
glaring at his teammates.
“Talk about a sore loser,” I said, louder than I intended.
Because God has a sense of humor, the people sitting behind us were gold
headband’s parents. And of course, they heard me.
“Well,” his mother said spitting out the word and a few
drops of saliva, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a LOSER!” Her husband
cursed, and called me a loser.
I could have pointed out that their kid’s team had just
lost. I could have cursed them. Instead, I pointed to Brat Boy. After shaking
hands, he was talking to the opposing players. “Show me a gracious winner, and
I’ll show you a winner,” I said. They stomped off.
“Where have I seen that before?” I asked my wife, remembering how gold head band had stomped off after the first match with Brat Boy.
“Kids learn by example,” Dr. Deb said. “Their kid’s just
The anger swept over me like a wave of broken glass. “How
the (*&$#@ am I supposed to find any gratitude in this?” I yelled. I sat
for a long time before I knew. “All the friends and family who aren’t addicted,
strange and wonderful people that they are.”
There were so many people in my life I’d never have to worry
about OD’ing. Quiet people, thoughtful people, people who held strong opinions
based solely on emotion. People of faith, atheists, agnostics, and people who
worshiped chocolate and coffee. Friends whose sometimes annoying peculiarities
put the ‘irk’ in ‘quirk.’ Family, by blood, marriage, and the closeness that
comes from long friendships.
Most of them would never touch a drug, and for that I was
Today I will be grateful for all my friends and family who
“I almost forgot,” Jill said, handing me an envelope with my
name on it. “I found this in his desk. It was sealed.Do me a favor. Don’t tell me what it
says.I couldn’t stand being angrier
with him than I already am.”
I opened it when I got home. ‘If you’re reading this, I
probably OD’d. Truth is I knew this was how it would end. I ran into my old
dealer. He’d relapsed after ten years clean when his wife died. We cried
together and shooting up with him seemed like the most natural thing ever.
‘Before you judge me, put yourself in my shoes. What was I
supposed to do when I knew I was hooked again? Go through detox? Get my 24 hour
coin after all those years clean? Tell my wife and kid that just as my career
was taking off I’d pissed it all away? I was hurting and humiliated. I couldn’t
stand feeling that way again after so many years.
‘Irony of ironies, my dealer OD’d, now I’m scrounging for
whatever I can get until I find a new supply. I will, and it will kill me.I bought some life insurance so my family
will be taken care of. I won’t have to feel this way. Everyone wins.’
I tore up the letter. I thought of all the people who go
through chemo, knowing they’re going to feel terrible now, but better
later.I thought of Phil, facing yet
another painful operation and rehab, hoping it would ease some his pain down
Staring at the shredded paper, I said, “You can’t make
decisions about your future based just on how you feel now.”
Today I won’t make decisions about what I’ll do in the future
based on how I feel now.