Monday, November 13, 2006

Letter to a friend in jail

I've known Brett for years - probably ten years, at this stage of the game. When he came into AA, he was 18 or 19, I guess, and had a pretty good crystal-meth habit. He's been in and out of AA since then, and ended up in jail a couple times. He's now in a county jail in rural Kansas, doing a one-year sentence. He wrote to me just as I was moving, telling me what was going on, and asking me to write.

I wrote back a typical-for-Steve epistle - and then, just for good measure, included my coming-out post, too. (Can you say, "extra postage required"?) And I told him that if he didn't want to hear from me, that would be sad, but understandable. But if he wanted, I'd write him periodically, and hope he'd reply.

This is my second letter to him, and recaps life over the last two weeks since I wrote to him on November 4th. It also says some things about some realizations I had over the weekend, and some truths about sobriety and life that I am going to try to live by, today.

November 13, 2006

Hey, buddy!

Well, just a brief message to you, brother – it's been a crazy two weeks since I last wrote you.

My sister, who I moved out here to help out, has been judged "totally disabled" by the Bureau of Workers Comp for the job she had. She's been listed as "permanent light duty," so she'll probably never be able to go back to doing what she has been doing. Which sucks, big time. And of course, any retraining program she could get in won't start until the end of the month – AFTER her disability income runs out. It's pretty freakin' nuts.

Her husband, my brother in law, is not taking this well, and is exhibiting every kind of stress-related illness – stomach aches, depression, you name it. Which ain't makin' it too easy for him to show up at his work. Admittedly, it's not the best job in the world – but we need every penny we can get, right about now…

And my first AA sponsor, who I'd chosen to be my "new" Ohio sponsor, and his wife of 15 years, are separating. (Not divorcing – but they have decided for various reasons they just can't live together.) So we spent part of the day Saturday moving her out of his house. It was civil, even friendly. But it was just a lot of time, and it was sad.

And the job that I am generally so grateful for, that allows me to be here and help out – has gone south in very powerful and ugly ways this last week. It got so bad that out of desperation I started posting my resume on, an internet job board.

So yeah, things are pretty challenging. And unfortunately, the demands of work have meant that I'm not taking care of myself – I'm eating too much, and I'm not exercising at all, and that's not helping anything about my health.

But, I've been trying, repeatedly, to focus on gratitude. The job sucks, but it's providing most of the income to keep this family afloat. My sister's unemployed (basically), but she's alive, and there's hope of finding a desk job or something she can do that doesn't take standing all damn day.

And I still have options – there is a big open area around here to walk around, and as soon as I get this written, I'm going to take a shower, and then take at least a 15 minute walk. And do that several times a day. Because I won't be worth a damn to them if I'm dead, or in the hospital.

And I know that my employer isn't going to take care of me – their job is to bleed me dry, and my answer, so far, has been to let them. When I talked to my AA sponsor yesterday, and told him about it, he didn't tell me what to do. But he did tell me, "It sounds like they have found a willing mule, and they're ready to load him up until his back breaks and he dies."

Sure – the thought is always in the back of my mind. "Screw them, screw this, screw everybody. I just want to run away and hide." And the best way to do that, of course, is drinking or drugging. Or overeating. Or masturbating and watching porn, or TV or DVD's, or doing anything instead of living sober and recovering.

But if I do any of those things, I'm pissing away today. Granted, any of it sounds more fun than the day I'm probably going to have today. But I also know where that crap will take me – because I've seen it. I've seen it in meetings time and time again. And I'm pretty sure that, at nearly 50 years old, I won't have the chance to survive another run "out there." In fact, I'd be really surprised if you could survive another run out there.

Today, I choose life. With all the pain, and all the flaws, there is still much joy and much love in my life. I had the chance to spend some time Saturday afternoon and evening with some other gay Christians I'd met online, and it was enjoyable to spend time with them, and see people who were out, but not rubbing it in people's faces – and living loving, productive lives in the community. It was really cool. I got to tell Sue and Jeff about going to the Toledo Museum's new Glass Pavillion (though we missed the glass-blowing demonstration - booo....) And Sunday night, as I was racing around to get ready for the evening meeting, my sister made me a great but simple dinner, and gave me a kiss as I left.

People have been encouraging my blog-writing, too. There are folks who are really, really telling me there is a book to be published in all of this. And that I need to get busy with it.

I can't see the love of my family, the friendships I've found in AA, in the church, and elsewhere in life and not be willing to do whatever I need to keep alive – to keep living.

So today, I'm gonna get showered, get dressed, take a walk, and then get to work. I'm gonna work as hard as I can, knowing that tonight, "work" will end about midnight or 1 AM, and that Tuesday and Wednesday will probably follow suit. I'm gonna do my best to get through this with a couple more bouts of physical activity, and I'm gonna call my sponsor in the middle of the mayhem tonight. I'm having to go back to absolute basics – stuff as simple as remembering to make my bed, and to shower AND shave each day (because as a virtual worker, I don't have to do any of that). But as a sober member of life, I do.

I'm gonna get this in the mail on my walk, brother, so I'm gonna wrap this up. You don't have to write a 5 page monster letter or anything to me each time you write – even short notes will be great. And, of course, you may not have gotten the balls up to say, "Stop writing me," from my last "little" letter. I recognize that might also be the case. But I have to admit that I hope it's not the case at all.

When our buddy Mike T. was in the federal pen in California, I suggested that he write about what was going on right that day, and then at least one question or topic about sobriety that he was struggling with. And that he treat it like a journal – write a page or two, send it off; write a page or two, send it off. I'll send 'em all back to you when you get out, so you can have a kind of journal of what happened to you while you were in.

OK, that's it. So much for "brief message," eh?

Zen hugs across the miles, Brett.

Now, God, help me to make it, and always.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Saturday is Veteran's Day in the US, and Remembrance Day for my friends in Canada and Australia. And this day finds me making a confession, and hopefully making amends.

I am a child of the 70's. My father was a very Republican, "my country right or wrong" guy in the middle of the Vietnam War and Watergate. I was a stubborn, opinionated, "what the hell did Nixon think he could get away with?" high-school student who would have gladly wrapped himself in the Constitution the way some folks did with the flag. I had no use for the war, the "military industrial complex" or most of the US Government at the time. And for one summer, I protested the war, the military, and almost every damn thing I could. If there was something to be against, I was against it.

My confession was that I was stupid enough to lump the servicemen and women of the armed forces in with their leadership, in my head and in my heart. I generally despised what I believed was the mindless mentality of the armed forces, and their involvement in what I believed was a stupid war.

That was wrong. Period.

Now my other confession is this: I don't think any more of the war in Iraq than I did of Vietnam. But my amends is that I'm not about to debate that, today. Because Veteran's Day, and Remembrance Day, is not about national policy, or politics, or posturing or photo ops or sound bites.

It's about the men and the women of the armed forces. Committed, brave, talented men and women who believe enough in what they are doing to live, and breathe, and fight...and suffer, and the service of their country.

It is to remember the sacrifice of soldiers who served, and fought, and lost limbs, and died in the service of their country. And to remember, support and encourage all the families and friends, who struggle with their loved ones' woundings or who mourn their deaths. That's who we remember, and that's who we honor, on this day.

It is a tradition in Canada and Australia to remember veterans who have served with two minutes of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (originally, when the World War I armistice was signed). I like that idea a lot. I think it's a tradition that is overdue in the US as well. And that brings me to Terry Kelly and "A Pittance of Time."

A year ago, I heard Kelly's story:
On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the store's PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the store's leadership role in adopting the Canadian Legion's "two minutes of silence" initiative. He felt that the store's contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven o'clock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the "two minutes of silence" to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terry's anger towards the father for trying to engage the store's clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was channeled into a beautiful piece of work called, "A Pittance of Time." Terry later recorded "A Pittance of Time" and included it on his full-length music CD, "The Power of the Dream."
I'd urge you to take a couple minutes to go to Terry's site and watch the video. I don't mind admitting that I've seen this video a dozen times - and it still brings tears to my eyes. (Then click on the link that says, "Click here to view a clip from the concert production" - some great insights on a play produced around the theme of Kelly's music.)

And on this Veterans Day, I leave you with the words of Abraham Lincoln, whom I hope spoke for us all....
... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, / for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV)

"Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary... The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' - which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions; but the second half goes on, 'for it is God who worketh in you' - which looks as of God did everything and we nothing."
(CS Lewis, "Mere Christianity," chapter 12, p. 131)
In the Hyde Park area of Chicago, there was a group of young Lutheran men and women who all had the same t-shirt. On the front, it just said "Both...." and on the back, it simply said "....and...."

"Both...and....?" I eventually asked one fellow, feeling like I'd slept through a class somewhere. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Turns out it was a reference to Lutheran doctrine - being BOTH saint AND sinner, BOTH dead in sin AND justified by faith, BOTH bread AND body-of-Christ. And while that doctrine meant a great deal to me (because I had often experienced this simultaneous nature of "both/and" in my life), I wondered why it wasn't applied to the ongoing struggle between "good works" and "faith in Christ" - a struggle that has been going on between branches of Christianity for hundreds of years.

That's why when I first read CS Lews' classic book Mere Christianity, this passage (and the passage from Philippians it refers to) seemed so crystal clear. It really IS like trying to cut with just one blade of a scissors - without the other, it's pretty much useless. So, too, faith and works - if you really believed in Christ, how could you not be called to feed the poor, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, and care for the disadvantaged? And if you were truly doing good works (rather than doing nice things so people would see how good you were), how could you fail to see the active spirit of God at work in the world around us, leading us to faith?

So much of the breakdown between Christian sects comes down to either/or thinking - it's my way, or your way. These people are in, these people are out. Pre-millenialists versus post-millenialists. And so on - with the only assumption that the views are opposing, and irreconcilable. But so many times, the God of creation didn't create just black or white, but an incredible rainbow of choice.

That's why, whenever a group of Christians want to include or exclude people based on one particular verse of Scripture, I am reminded of the instruction of Micah 6:8: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly AND to love mercy AND to walk humbly with your God." (emphasis mine)

I'm called to act justly, but in administering justice I also have to be committed to be merciful. And given the power to both judge and administer mercy, I have to maintain humility, remembering that judgement and vengeance ultimately reside at the throne of God, and not in my hands.

God of the universe, help me to remember that you are greater than any definition we can create and any box we can try to put you in. Help me to remember the lessons of your servant Martin, that I am both dead in me and alive in you. And help me remember to see my brother and sister humans in exactly the same light. Amen...

Friday, November 03, 2006

A storm front comin'

We were almost all the way home from Sauder Village on Saturday when I remembered that (in a fit of inspiration) I had thrown my camera in the trunk of the car. And that's where it stayed throughout the visit to Sauder - in the trunk.

But driving home, through the cornfields surrounding our neighborhood, I saw this scene, and it just captured my imagination. Big storms getting ready to hit now, and far off on the horizon, a hit of clear skies and a pink cheery glow.

It's come to symbolize life for me, right now.

For the last two weeks of my stay in Chicago, I developed a stubborn, miserable skin condition on my face - seborrheic dermatitis. Think of your worst case of stubborn, teenaged acne, with flaky dry scaly skin on top of it. Ever since I've been in Ohio, it's been like I've been 14 again - and trust me, if I ever thought (at 14) that I'd be developing horrific facial skin conditions at nearly fifty years old, I'd have probably taken my life in despair. Steroid creams (not the GOOD kind of steroids, unfortunately) seem to help - but if I even miss one application, any progress I've made slips away like sand out of a broken hourglass. Ick. And the steroid creams that help the dermatitis seem also to irritate the original acne rosacea that I've been struggling with for years.

So that's been fun.

Work at The Evil Empire has reached a fever pitch of insanity, again. We currently have more than 240 problem tickets that really, really, really need to be fixed by Monday - or they'll just get worse. And a new payroll processing schedule that needs to be developed, tested, and implemented. And a massive upgrade to the payroll processing system, ditto, ditto, ditto. Year-end processing that needs to be set up and evaluated, ditto, ditto, ditto.

And I'm at the heart of all three, by virtue of skill, experience, and role in the organization. There's just not enough of me to go around. It's buffered, somewhat, by not having people standing outside my cube - but it's nuts.

::: sigh :::

I know that if we can get past this, get the necessary automation in place, and get stable, this can be a much better place to be. But right now, it's pretty awful. I was instant-messaging with one of my co-workers, saying, "There has to be a way out of this mess," and his response (after working here since June) was scary:

Coworker: /slips one bullet into revolver, spins cylinder/

Another co-worker's comment was, "I really hope North Korea doesn't drop the bomb - because I'd hate this to be the last day of my life." I've had occasion to repeat his line a number of times since...

So I just keep on keepin' on, and try to pray that when the absolute last straw has been drawn, I'll have the wisdom and the courage to take the right action. It's not yet, but it's coming.

My sister's condition is not improving, and her mental attitude is rocky, at best. Of course, if I was being jerked around by the medical institution while my worker's comp paid-time-off was draining away, and even the most dramatic efforts seem not to be producing any results, it can get demoralizing. So I'm very glad to be here - my presence seems to be a help both to her, and to her husband as well.

Storm front's comin' on, to be sure. I'm tryin' to just keep my eyes on that pink patch of sky out ahead, and just keep trudging the road of happy destiny.

Gratitude is often the key - when I list the difference between my life in Chicago the last month and my life here, I'm loads better than I was. Just the quality of life things make the move here much, much better than the life I had in the Big Windy. So (at least when I think of it) I'm grateful to be where I am. And that's good enough for now.