Step by Step

Six years today …

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Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same dark punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a weird ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the weirdness, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
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A Day (Un)Like Any Other

No other word will do. For that’s what it was.

Gravy.

Gravy, these past ten years.

Alive, sober, working, loving, and

being loved by a good woman. Eleven years

ago he was told he had six months to live

at the rate he was going. And he was going

nowhere but down. So he changed his ways

somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?

After that it was all gravy, every minute

of it, up to and including when he was told about,

well, some things that were breaking down and

building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”

he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.

I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone

expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”
—Raymond Carver, “Gravy”

“Gravy” was not published until after Raymond Carver’s death in August 1988. It appeared in The New Yorker that month and it is on his tombstone in Ocean View Cemetery in Port Angeles, Washington, along with one other poem that is given the title, “Late Fragment.” Either Carver himself or his wife Tess Gallagher—who was also his literary executor—treated his tombstone as a final publication, which, at its plainest, a tombstone indeed is.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
—Raymond Carver, “Late Fragment”

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An Open-and-Shut Case of Something or Other

Although I have been told that I have “loud” facial expressions, my pleading eyebrows were easy to ignore this morning. I guess my eyebrows were not loud enough.

My eyebrows were requesting conversational assistance … no, they were pleading for a rescue, stet.

One of the great parts of a life in recovery is the fact that I have a network of people with whom I can share some of my day-to-day difficulties. My friends in recovery remind me that there is really only one thing I need to understand: I am my only problem in my life. Anything that I feel is a problem is almost one hundred percent of the time a repercussion from me reacting to a person or situation as if it was the problem. My reaction is the problem, not the person or situation.
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Getting By

I never fooled myself into believing that I was indispensable, but did I have to prove it so often to the world at large?

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There is a phrase one hears in recovery circles: “Pulling a geographic.” While sharing their stories about the past and the inebriated life, many addicts and alcoholics learn that they have done similar things, like move across the country because they thought that a change would do them good.

One of the things that many of us did, many times, when we were trying to exert control over life was run from it. Move. Sometimes across town and sometimes cross-country. There was nothing so bad it couldn’t be fixed without filling out a change-of-address card.
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Hope Springs Internal

Doctor’s office, circa a few years ago.

I was sober for over a year at the time, but my life was still far from a day spent with a unicorn spitting candy as it carried me on golden highways that I thought some people were trying to convince me that their (new, sober) life is like. I had asked to see a therapist, and bureaucracy provided me with a pretty good one.
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One of Life’s Curveballs

On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who would go on to some success and much controversy, threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. No-hitters are headline news but not usually career- or even season-defining.

If you are a baseball fan, you may know why Dock Ellis’ no-hitter is remembered, 45 years later. If you are not, please keep reading, as this is not a post that is about baseball.
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Oh! The Places You Won’t Go

Mistakes suck. Errors do, too.

Adverbs will never go hungry for a lack of work in many writers’ drafts, including mine, but that part of speech demands erasure whenever one encounters it. Adverbs are the empty calories of the English language: They are tasty, and they appear to be helpful when we want to bend a verb to do our verbal bidding and guide our eager reader(s) to share our thought-patterns, when context and the verb itself are capable of handling the task just fine on their own. They are potato chips and cotton candy blended into a linguistic smoothie.

All of the personal errors in my history can be described with an adverb, colorfully. Merely an adverb minus a verb or other details, so no personal stuff, no self-incriminating or embarrassing information might be revealed: complacently, awkwardly, abruptly, vigorously, languorously, braggingly, disgustingly, violently, wrongly. Timidly. Brazenly. Very. Many “verys” in there.
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Thank You, Charlie B.

Two years ago today, a friend of mine passed. Charles F. Brennan, III—my friend Charlie (November 2, 1960 ‒ April 7, 2014)—was my sponsor for a time.

His funeral mass card carried a quote from Emerson: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

At the top is a copy of The Serenity Prayer in Irish, whoch we found in his apartment:

An Phaidir Suaimhneas
A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú,
misneach chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.

What follows was first published two years ago. Thank you for reading it:
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