Amazing banjo version of Good, So Bad by Jake from West Virginia.
This week, on February 7, 2018, I celebrated four years of continuous sobriety and I can’t express in these words how blessed I feel for this gift that I’ve been given. I have never felt more healthy and secure in my own skin as I do today. I love being a father to my two boys and the small circle of people on my life. So as I sit drinking coffee reflecting on my life today I adjust my tilted halo and smile.
Four years ago on February 7, 2014 is the morning I woke up in a Charleston emergency room with stitches above my right eye, two new colleagues in the hospital waiting room, a pounding headache and no recollection as to why. Having fallen off the wagon again for the umpteenth time in the past eighteen months of attempted sobriety I kept hearing the same familiar phrase which had become a mantra of mine; “this isn’t going to end well.” I didn’t realize at the time that this was one of the most important days of my life as it led to a change in me that the AA Big Book best describes as “the desperation of drowning men. What seemed at first a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if you prefer, “a design for living” that really works.”
I named my blog after hearing the term Ragamuffin used by Brennan Manning to describe we recovering alcoholics and addicts, including himself, as Ragamuffins; saved sinners who receive God’s mercy and grace. As I write about in most of my earlier blogs I credit a clip of Brennan from the movie Ragamuffin with changing my relationship with God and the realization that God had removed my mental obsession to drink. Manning spent his last 41 years before his 2013 death helping “sinners journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance.” He’s able to do this because he’s one of us. He writes about how we all have an ‘Imposter’ within us, “the slick, sick, and subtle impersonator of my true self.” Recovery has allowed me to take off my mask for good.
Here’s the clip that changed my life:
We often hear that someone has to hit rock-bottom before they will make the decision to get clean or sober. My understanding is that rock bottom is not jail, divorce or public humiliation but a place where you are so alone and broken, so poor in spirit, that you have no where or no one to turn to but a higher power. Manning writes, “But when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.” This is were I finally was four years ago after unsuccessful trying to get sober through willpower and ultimatums. Having already been divorced with an older son, Aidan, I carried guilt around like a 200 pound bag and now I was close to having my younger boy, Brody, in the same broken situation. I truly was finally poor in spirit with no one to turn to but God.
The three books that saved my life are The Holy Bible, the Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book and Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning has a chapter in the Ragamuffin Gospel called Tilted Halo which opens with a joke about a man who’s complaining about headaches and after telling the doctor about his perfect alcohol-free, tobacco-free, and perusing-free life the doctor replies, “Your trouble is you have your halo on too tight.” For Ragamuffins he describes, “the saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.” What does this even mean? Well I personally had no idea that through recovering from alcoholism I’d find out how to live with easy grace. I just came to AA to stop drinking yet I received a whole new life.
Once I saw that God was working in my life and that He had removed an obsession to drink after my willpower failed so many times my faith started to grow and I started a quest to change the way I lived beyond not drinking. I committed to rigorous honesty, kindness and service to others. I highlighted, re-read and dissected so many times this paragraph from Tilted Halos, “He knows repentance is not we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace.” The God Manning described didn’t involve having to earn God’s love by living a certain way with my halo too tight but instead to trust that God loves me as I am and accepting my own brokenness and wanting try my best each day to live the way He wants me too. That’s how I understand God’s grace.
I should have added a disclaimer at the beginning of this blog warning you that I will be talking about God as I realize it makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. I read an article on Facebook this week praising “evidence-based” recovery programs through disparaged Alcoholics Anonymous and faith-based recovery which they claimed had a 5% success rate. There are a lot of people who come to AA as I did for a year and half and don’t do the work as it’s laid out in the AA Big Book and they can’t remain sober or clean. I am not going to put down any other recovery programs as there may be multiple paths. However, I don’t know anyone who has rigorously followed the 12 step program as it’s been laid out for us who isn’t sober or clean. So I’d estimate the program at a 100% success rate.
Just before a Christmas it felt as if the perfect storm of life events hit me at once and it pushed me to the edge where I felt like Job from the Bible yelling at God asking, “besides my sobriety what have you done for me?” My oldest son was struggling and my younger son was scared as a result, and my employer of 21 years had informed me that it was time to be looking for a job outside of the company. I had spent the night in a NH hospital with my teen and was rushing to pick up my younger son for church when I just felt like my world was falling apart for the first time since four years earlier and still being single I didn’t know if I could manage it all alone anymore. Within the hour I was watching my son play The Innkeeper in our church’s Christmas pageant and I couldn’t help but feel joy again. Later in the service I had tears rolling down my cheeks as my friend and Hope Church Family Pastor, Andy Bauer, preached with passion and faith about his six year old daughter Ellie who is fighting stomach cancer as he spoke of God’s promises. It was exactly what I needed to hear and reminded me of all that I’ve been blessed with.
Life happens and no one ever said you wouldn’t face challenges just because you’re sober. I am a naturally positive person and rarely have I felt overwhelmed and alone in four years as I did that day in December. However since that day I’ve realized how blessed I am. I feel like I’m in the eye of a storm and am calmly comfortable here. It’s been that way for much of my past four years. The solitude of recovery plays an important as it allows us to grow our faith. I’m trusting that God has a plan for me and my role in His plan is to continue to do the work he calls me to do each day. Two weeks ago I was driving around New England looking at potential new high schools with Aidan and I remarked how this was divine intervention allowing us to spend this time together since I was between jobs.
The past year has been full of incredible experiences as I took my boys to the Florida Keys, skied down the summit of Big Sky Montana, saddled up on my new Harley with my friend & mentor Dr Tom, was asked by my church to help lead the Teen Youth Group Summer Camping Trip and our mission trips to the Bowery homeless shelter in NYC. I also have had some special people come into my life and have been given so many opportunities to serve others that Brody once complained from the couch as I informed him that we had to get out the door to help someone, “daddy, we help too many people!” What a wonderful affirmation from my son!
Reading Ragamuffin Gospel again was a reminder of the faith allowing me to live One Day At a Time; no longer carrying guilt and resentments from yesterday and leaving tomorrow to God. Everyday I wake, as a grateful Ragamuffin, and live the way Jesus would want me to. Ragamuffins have “made peace with their flawed existence. They are aware of “their lack of wholeness, their brokenness, the simple fact that they don’t have it all together. While they do not excuse their sin, they are humbly aware that sin is precisely what has caused them to throw themselves at the mercy of the Father. They do not pretend to be anything but what they are: sinners saved by grace.”
So as I enter my fifth year of recovery; unemployed and dealing with life on life’s terms I admire my Tilted Halo in the mirror and thank God for the gift of being a Ragamuffin.
Thank you for reading.
Greg, Ragamuffin Dad
Please watch & share our Narcan PSA that I made with my teenage son, Aidan.
Narcan SAVES LIVES
A couple additional notes:
-Stay with the person. The 9-1-1 Good Samaritan Law provides protection from arrest and prosecution for drug possession.
-Here are more detailed instructions on Rescue Breathing (link)
-Contact your local police department to see where you can obtain Narcan and training
-Free Narcan kits and training is available at:
In order to save lives, the Department of Public Health operates a pilot program, Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) Program, to distribute a medication called naloxone that can reverse an opioid overdose. More information and locations can be found here:
You can ask a pharmacist for Naloxone. To start the conversation, show this image on your phone. You do not need to show this image or the card to get a prescription for Naloxone, but if you are uncomfortable talking with a pharmacist, it might help you start the conversation. Most pharmacies have standing orders—you do not need a prescription from your doctor to get Naloxone however there is a cost usually.
The law protects you.
The Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law encourages friends, family,or bystanders to assist people having an overdose and to seek emergency medical assistance. The law has significant potential to help reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic and save lives.
The law protects victims and those who call 9-1-1 for help from charge, prosecution, and conviction for possession or use of controlled substances. The Law, Chapter 94C, Section 34A: “Immunity from prosecution under Secs. 34 or 35 for persons seeking medical assistance for self or other experiencing a drug-related overdose” can be found on the Massachusetts Legislature General Laws website.
Thank you for watching, reading & sharing.
Published at Newburyport.com, September 9, 2017
September is National Recovery Month and being in the middle of an overdone epidemic it’s important to not just to talk about addiction but also to shine a light the recovery. There is a lot of Seacoast Recovery, stories of hope, going on here in the Newburyport and the Seacoast region.
Addiction comes in many forms and the most deadly today are alcoholism and the skyrocketing opioidepidemic. “A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month finds that the rate of alcohol use disorder, or what’s colloquially known as “alcoholism,” rose by a shocking 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s. One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study.” The study also reported that alcoholism with women has rose over 80% during the past decade.
At the same time the opioid epidemic is growing fast with almost a daily report of more deaths from overdose. Many are thankfully being revived with Narcan, an antidote that most first responders now carry, however OD deaths continue to rise. Last year MA reported over two thousands deaths from heroin although in over 70% of the deaths it was fentanyl and other synthetic opioids being added to heroin. Opioid-related deaths in MA were more than four times higher in 2015 than in 2000. This recent rate of increase is several times faster than anything seen here before. In 2013–2014 alone, opioid-related deaths occurred in two-thirds of the cities and towns in Massachusetts. Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, up 22% from 2015. SIXTY FOUR THOUSAND AMERICANS. That’s more than the AIDS epidemic at its peak and more than ten times American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11th or during the entire Vietnam War.
Locally, at least every other day I see new post about another death of a New Englander from overdose. Why should you care, right? It’s your neighbors; business professions, soccer moms, cooks, veterans, students, nurses, elderly…most starting their addiction with pain prescription medication. The amount of painkillers prescribed in the United States have quadrupled between 1999 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In 2015, nearly one in six Massachusetts residents obtained an opioid prescription from a health care provider. Those receiving prescriptions obtained more than three filled prescriptions on average. Once you’re hooked the financial cost of addiction becomes overwhelming leading the cheaper heroin often laced with the deadly fentanyl, 50-100 times more potent than heroin or morphine. Alarmingly, fentanyl is now being found in cocaine, black market prescription opiod pills and even marijuana. To make matters even worse, recently deaths are being traced back to drugs laced with carfentanyl, a synthetic cousin 100 times more potent than fentanyl, both more profitable for the drug trade. That is why we have so many deaths and an epidemic growing faster than AIDS during its peak.
Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth is a authorized NH distributor of Narcan. They are providing a brief overview on their distribution and training. You can find Safe Harbor at SafeHarborNH
Yet we are not talking enough about addiction or recovery. Cancer used to have a stigma that led to people not wanting to talk about it. Referred to as “the C word” in the past, today communities appropriately rally around their adults and children suffering from cancer. There is still a stigma around alcoholism and addiction today despite the majority of families impacted. According to the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health released last year, “few other medical conditions are surrounded by as much shame and misunderstanding as substance use disorders. Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms.”
It took several years for me to admit that my drinking was controlling me after many failed attempts to control my drinking. I tried to quit for almost two year using my own willpower. Like most I first tried to control my drinking by swearing off hard alcohol, then limiting myself to x number of drinks, only drinking on weekends, only drinking wine, …but as as the saying goes, “once you try to control your drinking you’ve already lost control”. The same strong willpower that had helped a barely athletic youth become captain of my Marblehead High School football program, pay for my own education at UMASS Amherst and travel around the world in a successful finance career in one of the top global companies …that same willpower.., was useless with my addiction. As a ‘functional alcoholic’, I had received several ultimatums from my wife and tried casually going to 12-step meetings but I couldn’t stay sober for more than a couple of months at a time. As much as I wanted to quit and knowing all I had to lose I still couldn’t stop on my own. I had been living with the guilt of having my oldest son being from a broken marriage and I didn’t want my youngest to suffer the same fate. I wasn’t going to let that happen. Yet it wasn’t until I lost my second marriage that I finally gave up my own ideas of how I’d get sober and joined the local recovery fellowship.
As of today I’ve been sober exactly 43 months, 1,309 days, thanks to God and the large group of sober & clean friends from the Seacoast region who have also found the same hope and success in their recovery. I didn’t do anything more than follow the same program those with longtime recovery followed. I attended local twelve step meetings almost everyday, following the program as it was laid out and finally it worked. The mental obsession to drink was lifted and I haven’t had an urge to drink since.
I’ve met so many wonderful people up and down the seacoast, from old Marblehead high school friends reaching out for the same solution to several leading the effort in the Portsmouth region through organizations like Safe Harbor Recovery Centers in Portsmouth and Seabrook and the SOS Recovery Community Organization in Somersworth. I also can’t sit in Market Square of shop at Market Basket in Newburyport without receiving a hug from someone from our local recovery community.
So many families in our town and region are being torn apart by addiction. People are dying from it. Divorces, arrests, loss of licenses, jail terms, homelessness, debt …yet the spouses, family and friends don’t understand how the addict keeps using. I’m not going to debate here whether addiction is a disease however once an alcoholic/addict is being controlled by their drug of choice they rarely can stop on their own. Despite the damage caused, the negative consequences and all that they have to lose, like me, they’ll keep going back to the drink or drug. We hate ourselves, isolate from others and lie to those around us.
We promise to stop yet then we hear a voice in our heads whispering in our own voice that this time it’ll be different. But it just keeps getting worse. However, for some unexplainable reason when we hear another alcoholic or addict tell their story most at some point will hear our own story through that person. We also hear stories of HOPE and a solution. We see others getting back lives they lost and more. We see the unimaginable, that life can still be fun and even better without alcohol or drugs. Yes alcoholics, like me, no longer drink. The addicts stop using drugs. Hope comes back. Lives get better. Families heal.
I Am Not Anonymous is a movement started by Kate Meyer and Tom Goris as a mission to break the stigma of addiction. “Our mission is to bring the SOLUTION into the conversation in hopes of helping the millions of people who remain untreated and help the world understand that addiction is not a moral failing.” They stress how the stigma can be as deadly as the disease itself. They also write this about Recovery, “I felt a new kind of freedom. I could picture a life without drugs or alcohol. I was exposed to a vibrant, compassionate world full of people in recovery. I heard my story in their story. They helped me find my voice. I now use my voice to bring recovery into the light. Stigma only grows in the dark. Together, we can put an end to it.”
Earlier this year a young professional who I worked with from my hometown drank himself to death alone. Attending his funeral, I couldn’t help but question if I could of helped him if he had only heard my recovery story. This is why I, and many others in Recovery, choose to be open about our addiction. We want to help shine a light on the Recovery and the HOPE. It’s why I write a recovery blog, RagamuffinDad.com and am part of a closed (to protect anonymity) Facebook group called Seacoast Recovery where you can privately interact with 250+ locals in recovery.
This Seacoast region has a vibrant social life for those who enjoy drinking and partying. We also has a supportive, successful and fun recovery community. If you, a family member or friend need to learn more about recovery please reach out to me, others you may know that are part of this recovery community or ask to join Seacoast Recovery on Facebook. There is hope. Please come join us.
September is Recovery Month. “The world has seen addiction but not recovery…and Recovery Is Everywhere.”
My name is Greg Kelly, I’m a recovering alcoholic and living proof that recovery works.
My boys, my motivation
They say in recovery that you can’t get sober for anyone but yourself. I agree with this to some degree although if I didn’t get sober primarily for my two sons, Aidan and Brody, they were certainly my main motivation. My own father was an alcoholic. He never got sober and he was also never much of a father. I can’t help that I’m an alcoholic but I can own my Recovery and the type of father I am to my boys.
In my 12-step program we mark sober milestones with a chip. The program for drug addiction uses colored key tags. I’ve told the story before about how during my first year of sobriety every month when I’d get a new chip I’d pass my one to my sons. Handing out chips during meetings is a bid deal and for me a reminder of how you can achieve a life free from addiction if you work hard but also what can happen if we drink again. At the meeting they start with ‘the most important chip’ and ask if anyone has been sober for twenty-four hours and if so they’d come up and receive their 24-hour chip. Then they’d ask for monthly anniversaries up to eleven and again they’d come up and get their chips. When you reach twelve months sober you get a one-year medallion. Every time I picked up a new chip Aidan would get my old one. This became our ritual and there was no way I was going to face my son and give him a 24 hour chip again! After a few months Brody, as any little brother would, got jealous of his older brother getting the chip so I’d have to hit two different meetings to pick up a second chip for him.
I used to keep my most recent chip in my pocket at all times and whenever I would hit a rough patch or sticky situation such as a work happy hour I would grab that chip out of my pocket and squeeze it in my fist so hard that I was surprised it wouldn’t turn to dust. I once heard an ole’ timer say, “If you want to drink put that chip in your mouth and when it dissolves you can drink!” It remains a big deal for me. During the first year and a half that I tried to get sober I wouldn’t be able to confidently tell you how many days I had. I’d stop keeping count because I would pick up a drink and not tell anyone but continue to lie about being sober. Once or twice and I could keep track of that fake sober date but after a while I’d loose track of the lie. Since my last drink on February 6, 2014 I’ve never lost count. This past week I celebrated 40 months sober. As I write this I’m 1227 days or 29,444 hours (there’s an app for that ; )
My homegroup, What’s Good About Today, will have anyone with an annual anniversary start the meeting and pass around a card which will be presented to them, along with their medallion at the end. Much of the meetings, which in a round robin format allowing everyone speak for a few minutes, will focus on the individual celebrating the ‘birthday’. Both of my sons attended my one year anniversary and at least one of them has attended my other two. During my anniversary meetings my sons heard others talk about their father and how hard I’ve worked being sober, the program and helping others. I hope each time that it leaves a lasting impression on them as it does for me.
Bob Kelly wasn’t in my life much. He came from a large, Irish family of four boys outside of Boston and had four sons of his own. Intelligent, well-read due to Catholic school, Bob had an Irish wit and excelled at three sports growing up. While attending law school he taught high school and coached varsity football for Norton High School south of Boston. When Coach Bob had four boys of his own it was seen as every coaches dream. Before I was five years old he was on his way out of my life. He climbed into a bottle and could never get out. I was fortunate on one hand to move north of Boston to Marblehead where my mother remarried. For several years I would visit him south of Boston and we’d likely spend the day in a bar playing with the waitresses, the pool table or arcade games. Still to this day the smell of vinegar on my fries is nostalgic of one of his haunts where we’d spend hours.
My brothers and I shied away from playing sports together for probably obvious reasons. I never remember throwing a ball of any kind with an adult so I was terrible at sports. I don’t want to offend (micro-aggression alert!) but you could say I threw like a girl. The only sport I did well at was football where I was voted as co-captain of my varsity team more due to my heart and will-power then talent. I always used to look up in the stands during games and wonder if my father was in the stands proudly watching his third son. He never was.
As I grew older I saw him less and less. I don’t recall ever seeing him over my high school years. The last time I remember seeing him he had one of my cousins, who had never been north of Boston, and I in his big boat of a car declaring we were driving to New Hampshire to go camping. He was hammered. Swerving he barely made it around the rotaries at Bell Circle and Wonderland in Revere before stopping at a red light where my cousin jumped out of the car and ran. We ended up in my Marblehead as I convinced him that I need to pick up my camping gear (I had never been camping in my life). He fell asleep in the car across from my house sounding the horn with his face as my neighborhood friends who were playing in the hot summer night kept running up peering in the car and running away. When they told me about it I replied that I had no idea who the strange man was.
We were raised by my mother and step father in Marblehead. My father, I was often told, was a ‘dead-beat dad’ and a drunk who never paid any child support. Occasionally I’d get a letter from him. My mom contacted him when I was in college asking him to help me as I was paying for my own tuition and room & board at UMASS, Amherst with student loans. I remember twice receiving an envelope with his return address on it and I surprised myself at being excited to hear what he had to say however there was only a check for $100 wrapped in an blank piece of paper. I think I ripped up both checks.
During my final year of college I took off six months to work at Fidelity for work experience and to earn money for my final year of tuition bills. I was working in Boston so I called my father for the first time in years. I told him that I wanted to see him. I was told later that he called one of his brothers to ask if he could stay with he and his family to ‘clean himself up’. Within a few days on Feb 15, 1992 he was dead.
My father’s vice was always alcoholic. I learned from the police that he died from a heroin overdose. It’s ironic that Bob’s son is in recovery twenty-five years later in the middle of a heroin epidemic where today heroin is now the leading cause of death in Americans under 50. According to an article last week in the Huffington Post, “The Unites States of America is facing the worst health care crisis of our nation’s history. Over the past two-year period, more Americans died of opiate addiction than died in the entire Vietnam War. Drug overdoses now cause more deaths than gun violence and car crashes. In fact, accidental opioid overdoses are responsible for more deaths in 2015 than HIV/AIDS did at the height of the epidemic in 1995.” Today it’s fentanyl that is killing heroin users. In the roughly 2000 accidental overdose deaths in MA for 2016 75% were caused by fentanyl. Back in 1992, I was told by police that it was a bad batch of heroin that spiked OD deaths in New England that year. Regardless, I see addiction as addiction and feel I need to play a part in breaking the negative stigma of the addict whether the vice is alcohol, heroin or any other drug.
The Father Effect
The Father Effect Video (please click hear to watch)
I first saw the video, The Father Effect, back in 2014 during my first few months sober and it added to my motivation. Knowing that if I wanted to be the father God intended me to be I would have to be a better man first. That meant beating this addiction.
This powerful fifteen minute short film attacks one of the most significant issues we deal with today which is the lack of father’s involvement in their kid’s lives. 1 out of 3 children in America live in homes without their biological father. John Finch has been on a mission to shine light on this issue and there are countless stats in this film that highlight the societal issues it causes including substantial probability of crime, addiction, incarceration and teen pregnancy. John talks about having to work hard to forgive his own father for not being there for him before he could have the freedom to be the father God intended him to be. Since this short film John has come out with a full length movie. Visit http://thefathereffect.com to learn more.
Mary Forsberg Weiland is the mother of the late Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland’s teenage children, Noah, 15, and Lucy, 13. She wrote this with their help in the days after his death on Dec 3rd.
“December 3rd, 2015 is not the day Scott Weiland died. It is the official day the public will use to mourn him, and it was the last day he could be propped up in front of a microphone for the financial benefit or enjoyment of others. The outpouring of condolences and prayers offered to our children, Noah and Lucy, has been overwhelming, appreciated and even comforting. But the truth is, like so many other kids, they lost their father years ago. What they truly lost on December 3rd was hope.”
Mary continued, “You might ask, “How were we to know? We read that he loved spending time with his children and that he’d been drug-free for years!” In reality, what you didn’t want to acknowledge was a paranoid man who couldn’t remember his own lyrics and who was only photographed with his children a handful of times in 15 years of fatherhood.” “Our once sweet Catholic boy refused to watch the kids participate in Christmas Eve plays because he was now an atheist. They have never set foot into his house, and they can’t remember the last time they saw him on a Father’s Day. I don’t share this with you to cast judgment, I do so because you most likely know at least one child in the same shoes. If you do, please acknowledge them and their experience. Offer to accompany them to the father-daughter dance, or teach them to throw a football.”
No More ‘Father Wounds’
I never blamed my father for being a drunk, never getting sober or for not being a dad. But I definitely have a ‘father wound’. I remember feeling a sense of loss and feeling sorry for him. I always thought he was as addicted to his own self-pity as much as the booze but I know better today. I would picture him in one of his bars all day staring into his mug listening to Sinatra’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ which he once shared was his favorite song. It did shape who I am, playing the role of ‘pleaser’ in my family (every alcoholic family has one) but that’s for another blog. I have learned through writing my fourth-step that much of my motivation in life has been based on the fear of being like my father. I’ve overcompensated in every relationship because of this which hasn’t been healthy.
I know today that I share this disease with my father, Bob, and although the genes have passed on to another generation …to my boys …I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they witness through their father more recovery than the addiction. They’ll also continue to have an involved, healthy, principled, loving father as God intended. No more ‘father wounds’.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.
Happy Father’s Day!
Today, February 7th, marks my three year soberversary. Some stop counting however I feel the need to celebrate my milestones. So I will pause today more than a few times to thank God for opening my heart to Him, removing the obsession of my addiction and providing me with the strength to remain sober for 1,097 days. Most importantly I thank God for continuing the journey past the sober-thing and allowing me to grow closer to Him everyday which has made me a better man and father.
I’ll also give myself some credit. I was down on myself for several years for not being able to stop drinking and allowing it to destroy the things I valued most in my life. So I know I deserve to have some pride in my accomplishment. My tendency is not to mention or remind anyone of the anniversary but I’ve learned that is a trap leading to self pity or resentments.
The reminders will be all around me along with four hundred collegues at a annual conference this year at Auburn University in Alabama. There will be a lot of drinking at this event and even the interactive app they’ve asked us to download for the conference has a brewery theme this year. Cheers!
It was at this same conference three years ago when I woke up in a Charleston, SC hospital with stitches over my eye, no memory of how I got there and two new collegues uncomfortably waiting for me in the waiting room.
This year, as with the last two in Dallas and the gulf coast of Alabama, I’m prepared with local AA contacts, a list of meetings, and permission from myself to leave the drinking events as soon as it gets a bit uncomfortable. Today I carry a faith & hope with me.
I’ll also spend much of my day reflecting on all of the people who have stepped into my life and helped me get to three years of recovery. I no longer believe in coincidences and truly trust that God sends people into my life so that we can do His work in eachother’s lives.
This Saturday I’ll receive my 3-year chip surrounded by my two sons and my local AA family at my home group meeting, “What’s Good About Today”. This morning, I’m starting my third recovery anniversary waking on the campus of Auburn University, saying my prays, working out and then attending the Eye Openers Group AA meeting on campus…let’s see who God brings into my life today.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. In faith,
If I had to pick one image to represent the last three years of my life during which I finally was able to beat my addiction to alcohol, through the grace of God, it would be this image by my friend Brittany Shelton.
I choose …
Breaking generational cycles
Addiction Stops Here! #Prevention
I met Brittany on twitter as one of my #RecoveryPosse friends. She writes a wonderful recovery blog, DiscoveringBeautiful.com, which struck a nerve in me. Brittany was also one of my first friends in my recovery communities who wore her recovery on her sleeve. She was not anonymous. She was recovering, candidly, out loud. Her bio states, “10 Years Sober. Wife. Mom to 3 Boys. Introverted People Lover. Book Hoarder. Restored & Recovering. Gratefully Imperfect Jesus Follower. Self-Proclaimed, Former, Chronic Fuck-up. Here to encourage you.” …and she continues to encourage me.
They say around Alcoholics Anonymous that you can’t get sober for anyone but yourself and I understand the point. Again, it wasn’t until I was dropped to my knees in desperation that I was finally to beg God for help. That’s when the program started to work. However my two sons, Aidan and Brody, were very significant motivations for my sobriety. During my first year every time I’d earn a new chip Aidan would get my previous month’s chip. Once I finally was sober and actively working AA I was never going to put myself in a position to have to explain to my sons that I was starting over.
My father was an alcoholic. I swore my entire life that I’d never be like him. Bob had been a very bright, witty, intelligent and loving father … but climbed in a bottle and was never able to climb out. He was not in my life. I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my boys didn’t have that same experience. When I finally realized that I was on the same path I fought like hell to change it. Being the father my boys deserve was and remains a primary motive for my sobriety.
Nature vs nurture has been debated for all of time and both applies to alcoholism. The first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health states clearly released last fall states, “Like other chronic health conditions, substance use disorders are influenced by the complex interplay between a person’s genes and environment.” I was predisposed to be an alcoholic because my father was an alcoholic. It’s in my genes.
I also grew up around heavy drinking. Alcohol was part of my environment. Growing up in Marblehead in the 80’s parents drank socially … a lot. They may have been called cocktail parties but there was as much alcohol consumed as you’ll find at a keg party. Having two older brothers, my younger brother Jeremy and I were drinking in our early teens. In Marblehead, a self-proclaimed ‘drinking town with a sailing problem‘, drinking was everywhere. It was the home of famous bars Maddie’s Sail Loft, famous for the strong cocktails served in a pint glass, Jacob Marley’s and dive bar, The Rip Tide (the ripper), and many others stuffed into the four mile plot surrounded by water on five sides. When I first arrived to UMASS Amherst for college, nicknamed Zoomass at the time, kids would shake their heads when you said you were from Marblehead, “you Marblehead peoople are out of your minds.” Seriously the police would always end up involved when friends visited from home. Drinking was definitely in my environment. It was a fun time and place to grow up however along with my alcoholic genes the drinking environment played a significant role. For most of my life drinking was an essential part of every activity.
Breaking generational cycles
Today I’m blessed that by the grace of God my sons don’t have to experience the same environment. Aidan is old enough to remember the heavy drinking at birthday parties, family events, or even extended family dinners. He remembers some of the chaos that would follow. He claims today that he doesn’t ever remember seeing his father drunk. Brody will never remember me drinking at all. They both have the alcoholic genes but I’m doing everything in my power to change the alcoholic environment. At least when they’re with me they will not be around the binge drinking that used to be a normal part of my life, my family & friends’ lives. I just don’t have it around me at all today and won’t allow them to be around it.
I wrote a blog last April in which I discussed the warm feeling I get when I see children at AA meetings.
“There is something warming that I feel in seeing children at meetings. I don’t shy away from bringing my own kids. My seven year old Brody will sit on my lap lost in his iPad until I hear the occasional snicker when someone cusses through habit. My older son Aidan has been to each of my anniversary meetings and has recently joined a group of us at a commitment where we spoke to a group at a local detox facility, most of whom were young opiate addicts. I don’t find this unhealthy at either age. Aidan and I always have open discussions about what we hear each time. There’s a stereotype of AA meetings being desperately sad, smoke filled rooms where you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. That couldn’t be further from the truth. And the alternative is far worse…”
Today I’m so grateful that my boys experience Recovery more than Addiction. Having also experienced the miracles God can provide in your life if you let Him in, I’ve since made my church, Hope Community Church, my second home. Brody has practically grown up at Hope attending both services every week so I could attend one and teach Sunday school at the other. We also show up at all the events, camps, trips, volunteer events or even once the plea to help shovel the roof during the blizzards of 2015. I continue to do everything I can to have Aidan involved in the strong Hope youth group, Hope Elevation. Aidan & I climbed Mt Washington with men from Hope last June and joined a group from Hope in November on a trip down to the Bowery Mission in NYC, the oldest homeless shelter in the country. Next weekend we’re all traveling with the youth group up North for the weekend. It’s so important to me that they learn early on that they’re never walking alone through life. I want them to have Faith.
“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
Given the choice of picking up a drink …
I choose …
Breaking generational cycles
Addiction Stops Here! #Prevention
Thanks for reading,
“I Am Not Anonymous …kinda” is a very true statement. If you don’t know me, haven’t heard from me in three years, or only know me professionally my name is Greg Kelly and I’m an alcoholic. I have spend the last three years of my life in recovery getting sober and healthier; physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’m a recovered alcoholic as I no longer have the obsesssion or desire to drink or put any other drug in my body. That would change the moment I ever do drink or drug.
I Am Not Anonymous…kinda as I’m very active in the local, vibrant Recovery community in the Newburyport area. I attend meetings regularly and speak at them often. I’m quick to give out my phone number to others in recovery and usually will give both my first and last name or pass them my business card. I also try to volunteer regularly at local rehab hospitals to speak with others dealing with addiction in order to share my story of hope & recover. I’m not shy about using my full name or where I work in order to make a point that addiction affects all walks of life. Anonymity is very important in AA and I would never intentionally break that trust. However I choose to be open about my addiction and my identity in the rooms and parking lots of AA or when I bump into friends from AA in Market Square, local offices or Market Basket. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
I also have become a very active member of my church, Hope Community Church of Newburyport. At the rock bottom of my life, when I was dropped to my knees broken, alone and shattered, I asked God for help and was Saved. He took away my obsession with alcohol. I shouldn’t have been surprised as the AA Big Book said it would be taken away right there on pages 84-85. I wasn’t expecting it to work but despite my fake faith I still dropped to my knees each morning asking Him to take it and He did. Despite all of my efforts nothing had previously worked until I consistently prayed to God for help. It was as if our pug Coco had all of a sudden spoken with a winning lottery number and I won. You don’t think I’d ask Coco for another lottery number the next night just because everyone says your crazy to think a pug can talk? So I jumped in with both feet and started teaching my youngest son, Brody and his kindergarten classmates Sunday School. Having grown up Catholic I had walked (or sprinted) away from the church during the pedophilia scandal and honestly never truly knew who God was anyway. I now had a newly found relationship, a personal relationship, with God that I never knew I could have. Yet despite years of CCD, first communion and a confirmation I had never read the bible or knew how relevant it was to my life. As I tell people today when I share my testimony, I learned the bible reading The Kids Storybook Bible and other kids bible books to Brody each night he was with me those first months and years of my recovery.
In the Fall of 2015 I made the decision to be baptized by the Hope Church. I had been baptized as a baby however I wanted to make the personal decision as an adult. As part of this I was asked to be in a video to be shown during services the day that a group of us were to be baptized. I stressed over what I would say in my video message. Would I ‘come-out’ as a drunk in front of my entire church? How could I skip that part of my story? In no way did I wake one day and decide to become religious. I got there through desperation. I was at war and was left backed into a corner with no choice but to surrender. I did chose to tell of my addiction, loss, desperation and my rebirth thanks to God.
God was also responsible for putting the right people in my life when I needed them. As this blog is named I’m a self proclaimed Ragamuffin. Another alcoholic, Father Brennan Manning, coined the term Ragamuffin for we recovered addicts, we saved sinners. He is the first to change my view of my relationship with Jesus, who he says is daring us “To trust that I love you. Just as you are. Not as you should be. Because none of us are as we should be.” So that’s what I said in my video testimony shown at two church services that Sunday morning before I was baptized in the stormy surf of Plum Island. Following those services I was surprised to be approached a half dozen times by others who themselves or family members where struggling with addiction. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
I’m also very active online in the Twitterverse. I use Twitter. A lot. I’m very involved with a Recovery community on Twitter. We call ourselves #RecoveryPosse and interact throughout the day, everyday and anyone is welcome to join us. At any hour of the day, we share our stories, fears & struggles, strength & solutions. Often for me it’s at 3am when my head and internal alarm clock collude to wake me & attempt to torture me with regrets, resentments and guilt. My defense is reading tweets and blogs while also posting my own thoughts or retweeting messages I think could help others. We have a meeting going on 24×7. Twitter introduced me to a new world where I didn’t “know” anyone yet we could be open about our recovery, our feelings, struggles and progress. In doing so we help each other. Today I know more about some of these twitter friend’s lives than I do about people I’ve known my whole life…yet with only a few exceptions we’ve never met. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
You see, three years ago when my personal life crashed down in shattered pieces I dropped off all social media. I had been trying to get sober for over a year and a half, regularly attending AA meetings, but I just couldn’t avoid a drink for more than several weeks or months at a time. I was trying to white-knuckle my way through recovery using only the strong willpower that had allowed me to achieve everything in my life before this. I would go to AA meetings but I’d stay in the shadows and not interact. I wouldn’t raise my hand or put my hand out to meet those who I’d seen have success. I truly didn’t want to drink again. I wanted to be sober for my wife, Sarah, and my boys, Aidan and Brody. I wanted to be sober for myself too. I knew what I had to lose. I had already been through a divorce and carried guilt for years that my son Aidan had a broken family and slept most nights under a different roof. I knew I was torturing Sarah, who would have to smell my breath to see if my actions truly matched my words. Or I’d blow into a home breathalizer I had purchased after another ultimatum and more broken promises to quit drinking. I knew the fear she carried that her whole life could come crashing down again if I drank. Yet I would pick up again with the phrase “this isn’t going to end well” replaying in my head.
My final drink was on a business trip to an annual leadership forum in Charleston, SC the first week of February 2014. I had just started this new role in the same company with new colleagues who weren’t aware that I obstained for ‘health reasons.’ So I drank. And the final morning just a few hours from my flight home I woke up in a hospital with stitches over my left eye. I had two new colleagues worried overnight in the waiting room and no idea what had happened having blacked out. I flew home telling myself I’d be honest with Sarah yet out came another lie and eventually the end of my marriage.
Those first hours, days, weeks and months I had so much anger at myself and so much hurt and shame that I wanted to shut off the world around me. I dropped off of Facebook as I couldn’t bear seeing all of those happy, problem free families who were my ‘friends’. Obviously I knew that we all post only the highlight reel of our lives on social media yet I still wanted to shut myself off from it. Just this past week I’ve opened a new Facebook account for the first time in almost three years. My first ‘friends’ were the people in my daily life today; members of my church and both my local Newburyport area and Twitter Recovery communities. Quickly though that circle has been expanding with family and old friends from my hometown of Marblehead and the Newburyport area that I haven’t spoken to I three years. I found myself questioning what to post or share about my addiction and recovery. Two friends I admire and try to emulate most from my Twitter world, Melissa Johnson (mytruthstartshere.org) and Tami Harper Winn (drunkless.com) encouraged me to share my blog on FB but I hesitated. Once again, I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
Then there’s work. In my career there are only a select few who knew that I landed in the hospital at an annual leadership forum in 2014. Few knew I am an alcoholic who was struggling unsuccessful to not drink for the first two of the past five years. Or that in the early days of the past three years I would lock myself in a bathroom stall near my office to cry or fiercely pray for this obsession to end or beg God for my marriage to be saved. Few knew that I was an active member of AA, a born again Cristian or even divorced for the second time. My office walls still displays those happy family portraits from years ago.
Throughout my career my drinking was in sync with the work hard, play hard atmosphere of the business world and my company. I lived on expense account for several years and have been fortunate to live and travel around the globe. I’ve lived in Holland for a year, Brazil for six months, NYC for three years and drinking was how I blew off steam with my colleagues. In one role as an internal auditor we travelled 100% of the time and had weekly edicts to have an ANO, auditors night out, which usually involved the best restuarant in town, lots of cocktails and expensive wine …and then binge drinking. I drank differently than most peers, although many did drink like me.
However,my career was one area of my life that wasn’t being impacted negatively by my drinking. At thirty four I was plant manager of a life sciences manufacturing business with 120 employee despite being the youngest one in the building. Together we turned the business from a loss to a profitable business while applying my companies approach to to Lean Six Sigma, EHS and financial accountability. We also reversed the long held no drinking policy and started hosting wine events when leaders would visit and serving beer at our annually summer picnic.
Since finally getting sober the two colleagues who had spent the night with me in the hospital were very supportive yey kept our secret. After several months I reluctantly asked to speak to a senior executive whom I supported to let him know why I wasn’t always easy to find having disappeared to run to an AA meeting or to school to pick up one of my sons being again a ‘single parent’ with set custody days. I was pleasantly surprised. Actaully I was blown away when he sat back after hearing my tale of recovery from alcoholism and the loss of marriage and he asked, “How is your faith?” I talked about how my relationship with God had grown strong as part of my recovery and he countered that he had his own but different struggle that led him to God and how God’s grace made him a better man today.
I remember my first business trip following my rock bottom like it was yesterday. I stressed for weeks over how I would explain to my collegues that I wasn’t drinking. Did I have to tell them everything? Would they be horrified that I was an alcoholic? When the moment came during our preflight drinks at Logan airport before boarding a plane for Europe they all ordered craft beers. I ordered a ginger ale. And no one said a word. At our layover in Europe more drinks were ordered and still no explanation was asked of me. So happens that during the trip I kept getting bumped to first class and they laughed, remarking how it wasn’t fair that the guy who doesn’t drink gets first class! It wasn’t easy though. We sat at a Paris cafe in the May sun for over three hours while they drank. I didn’t drink. As I watched them sip and somewhat nurse their drinks I had tools to remind myself what would happen if it did have one drink. I remember thinking I’d be doing it different and it wouldn’t end well.
It’s still not easy at work today. I attend work events regularly that center around drinking. I attended a year end celebration at a brewery one night this week. I’m on a plane writing this blog post now for Montana where every night will involve drinking.
I’m used to the quick puzzled glance or the sarcastic comment when I order a non alcoholic drink. Since I have chosen not to be open at work with being an alcoholic their comments are not meant to be mean. It is still odd today not to drink. Many hotels I stay at have stocked mini-bars. Some of the countries I travel to order shots for the entire group after dinner and its almost looked at as rude when I deny one. A group I travel with today all use the app Untappd so we end up bouncing to different pubs or breweries so they can check in with a new beer & selfie. I know you can see me & my soda water or La Croix in the background of some of the pics on the app. I’m considered funny or quirky to travel with as I will often get up and walk out of the bar we’re camped out in to go on a walk-about by myself. In the Polish city of Wroclaw I’d disappear only to return with dozens of pictures of hidden gnomes they have around the city to send to Brody. They’d just look at each other and roll their eyes. They’re not being insensitive. I don’t share that I’m an alcoholic. In Paris a year ago, I confided in the same colleague who had been with me that night, and then snuck off to the American Chuch in Paris where I received my two year chip surrounded by a about a hundred expats. I’m comfortable in those situations today, traveling with colleagues who drink. I carry this secret struggle giving myself permission to take myself out of them as soon as I need to.
I don’t talk openly about being an alcoholic at work because the stigma still exists. When alcoholism comes up I’m never shocked that the stigma of a lonely, depressed, derilict is the picture many see. There’s an affinity group for everyone in my company but the corporate world doesn’t seem ready for the #RecoveryPosse just yet. A year ago I sat with a union leader and expressed how sorry I was to learn that his son died from an overdose. We talked of the opiod epidemic and he claimed that at least four families who had attended his son’s funeral had since lost kids to this brutal disease. I learned that he was also a “Friend of Bill W’s” having been sober for over twenty years. Early in my attempts at recovery I also met another hourly colleague, Tom, at an AA meeting in Newburyport. The big, burly, blue collar guy suggested I visit him at work during a break. I didn’t see Tom again until the days after my last drink. He asked where I had been and again I promised to visit him in the shop. He then bragged that he had since retired. Despite me being in ‘management’, Tom texted or called me almost every day during my two years of recovery providing constant support. God provided me with a colleague I could talk to, who knew my work environment and my addiction struggles, even if he was retired. Tom presented me with my one year chip at the home group AA meeting we share.
I pray to God often on whether or not I should just be completely open about my addiction and recovery at work. Whether I should help develop a platform at work to share my story and bring awareness to this issue. There aren’t many families who remain untouched by the wreckage of addiction. An estimated 21 million people in our country are living with a substance use disorder yet only one in 10 substance abusers is receiving treatment, according to the the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health released this past Fall. “One in seven people in the U.S. is expected to develop a substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives,” Dr. Murthy said. “Alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year; 1 in 10 deaths among working adults are due to alcohol misuse. Seventy-eight people die every day in the United States from an opioid overdose, and those numbers have nearly quadrupled since 1999.” Yet the report continues, “few other medical conditions are surrounded by as much shame and misunderstanding as substance use disorders. Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms.”
I recently brought up a ‘you know you’re old when…’ you learn Harry Potter (actually the actor Daniel Radcliffe) is an alcoholic who admitted being drunk on the set of Harry Potter and who would lock himself in his hotel to get drunk alone. Yet today he’s blessed to be ‘One Of Us’ and sober by the grace of God. The reply I got was how terrible that is. I smirked, “what is terrible; that he’s an alcoholic or sober?” And she replied, “he’s so young and can never drink again”.
Two weeks ago I received a message on Twitter from a young Newburyport women who wrote that although we had never met she was reaching out because she had just dropped her husband off at rehab and didn’t know what to do. Just yesterday, two weeks after I received her message, Brody and I picked her husband up early Saturday morning to attend What’s Good About Today, my home group and favorite AA meeting. It was his first AA meeting since being released from detox a few days ago. He was brought to tears as he saw several people he knew and picked up his first chip. Brody and I patiently waiting for him as several regulars wanted to talk to him and share their contact information following the meeting. None of this would have happened, at least God wouldn’t have used me in this young man’s life, if I hadn’t been open about my recovery on Twitter. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
In three weeks on February 6th I fly off to my third leadership forum and not by coincidence I’ll celebrate my 3 year sobriety anniversary on February 7th. Each of the four nights will be scheduled with cocktail receptions and dinners where waiters will constantly ask if I want another drink or to fill one of the two empty wine glasses in front of my place setting. The final night we’ll have a smaller team meeting after the conference ends at a …you guessed it…a brewery … #untappd. There’s nothing wrong with executives coming together and alcohol being served and enjoyed responsibly by most.
Yet somewhere in the rooms each night will be an executive holding a drink in their hand despite the ultimatum from the spouse at home for the family holding on by a thread. The voice in their head is saying they’ve earned it for all of their hard work and it’s telling them they can drink like the others …just a couple of drinks and they’ll stop. Despite the willpower they’ve used to propell themselves in to a leadership role in one of top companies in the world it’s useless for the first time in their life. Despite every best intention walking into that room they soon have another drink in their hand. Even if they do avoid alcohol they’re already planning an early exit instead of wearing the scarlett letter of a gingerale in a big plastic cup. They Are Anonymous …and alone.
I Am Not Anonymous is a movement started by Kate Meyer and Tom Goris as a mission to break the stigma of addiction. “Our mission is to bring the SOLUTION into the conversation in hopes of helping the millions of people who remain untreated and help the world understand that addiction is not a moral failing.” They stress how the stigma can be as deadly as the disease itself.
They also write …
“Addiction is not just about drugs and alcohol. I drank to fill the cracks, the emptiness. I drugged to feel ok with myself. I felt weak, broken and all alone. My solution turned into my biggest problem. I was afraid my dirty little secret would drive everyone away. I was never a bad person. But a soul with no purpose. I wish someone told me …. I have a disease that talks to me in my own voice. And tells me I’m not sick. Help me. I can’t stop. For the first time, I was honest with myself. It was time to face the fear. The shame. …and find recovery.”
“The world has seen addiction but not recovery. …and Recovery Is Everywhere.”
“I felt a new kind of freedom. I could picture a life without drugs or alcohol. I was exposed to a vibrant, compassionate world full of people in recovery. I heard my story in their story. They helped me find my voice. I now use my voice to bring recovery into the light. Stigma only grows in the dark. Together, we can put an end to it. Recovery is not a consolation prize. It’s about rejoining the human race. As a full participant. …and contender for life’s greatest prizes. I want to give a voice to the voiceless & inspire hope. I want to advocate for my rights. In recovery I’ve got everything back and then some.”
My name is Greg Kelly, I am but one of many recovery stories.
I Am Not Anonymous
Thanks for reading,
We all know the story of The Little Drummer Boy about the orphaned drummer, Aaron, who befriends animals and is lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time so he decides to play for the baby Jesus since he has no other gift. Of course it has a deeper place in all of our hearts to be that simple. Heck, even Bing Crosby & David Bowie discussed the place this story holds in our annual Christmas ritual with our families.
…but what’s with the tears?
The story of The Little Drummer Boy always has made me tear up in the final scene when he meets the baby Jesus. As long as I can remember I’ve had this same reaction. I remember being embarrassed as a boy however despite watching it hundreds of times I’d still mist up and get a rush of the chills through me as Jesus smiles at him. And it’s not just the Rankin-Bass Christmas special. Even books and the songs, whether the Harry Simeone Chorale or Bing & Bowie’s version always brings out the same emotion in the final scene. [trivia: the song was first recorded and released by the Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame]. I’ve also had this same reaction as an adult and both of my boys recognize this as my favorite Christmas story and song. They both now love it too. Yet, I still cry and I’ve seen my sons sniffle too.
It’s not that I was raised very religious as we went to Catholic Church every Sunday growing up thou I in no way “knew” God or had a personal relationship with Jesus. Maybe it had a bit to do with how close the boy got to Jesus as it felt to me as if their was the whole Catholic hierarchy of priests, bishops, cardinals and the Pope between me and God. But that wasn’t it.
It certainly is a heart wrenching story as the boy’s parents are brutally murdered by men and he’s left alone with pain and hatred in his heart. He carries that anger through his young life and it grows as he is kidnapped and forced to perform his songs against his will. But that wasn’t it either.
There was something about that interaction between Aaron and “the babe”. Remember, Aaron’s life is falling a apart after his best friend, Baba the lamb, is struck by a chariot and is dying. He sees the Wise-men and hopes they can save his friend however one of the Wise-men tells Aaron that he is only a mortal king but there is King among kings who could save his friend, gesturing towards the baby Jesus.
Three years ago was the hardest Christmas of my life. I was ten months sober and separated from my wife and still very raw emotionally. There were no pink clouds in my first year of sobriety. However I was holding on tight to my two boys, my sobriety through my AA program, and my growing relationship with God. I was all-in with God and boy was I feeling the Reason for the Season that December. I remember being snuggled in bed with Brody, my then five year old son, and reading the Little Drummer Boy book to him and feeling that same rush of emotion. Misty eyed when finished I grabbed my phone and pulled up a clip from the movie of the last scene. By the end of the scene tears rolled down my face and I had to stop myself from sobbing.
As I’ve written about I tried, using all the will power I could muster, to quite drinking for a year and a half and could not stop. I would achieve months and then it would overtake me and I’d drink again. I was attending AA regularly but still couldn’t stop. I kept telling myself and even admitted to my wife that I wasn’t doing it right. I wanted more than anything to never drink again. I knew all that I had to lose if I kept drinking but I just couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until I took that last drink, the bottom fell out of my life and I was left living alone with stitches over my eye in the nightmare that had become my life. Yet it was the best thing that could have happened to me. To quote Dicken’s as it is Christmas morning:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …”
I had officially hit rock bottom. Bounced. And slammed back down several times again.
I had no where to go but to God. I was told to read the Big Book (which I’d had in the back of my jeep unread for 36 months) and follow the steps. I rolled out of bed onto my knees every morning and prayed to start my day, begging for God to take it away from me. I had no idea if He would. I don’t even think I had faith that He would. I didn’t understand how God could take it away. But the book said to do it and I was desperate. So every cold, New England morning in February and March of 2014 I rolled from my bed to the floor and prayed.
So when the Wise-man gestured towards Jesus, Aaron questioned “the babe? But I do not understand.”
The wise-man replied, “It is not necessary to understand. Just go to Him.”
So he picked up his broken lamb in his arms and desperately begged for help. Just as I picked up my broken life in my arms and begged for help. Both of our prayers were answered.
Brennan Manning referred to us recovering alcoholics as saved sinners and as Ragamuffins. One of my favorite quotes from Brennan is, “the Ragamuffin knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” The order is so important. I have such strong faith in God today and every day wake up, pray, and aim to live like Jesus. It’s not so God will accept me. I do it because He already did. He saved me when I was at my worst. God took away an addiction. The obsession towards my next drink was gone. I looked back at the worst, loneliest three months of my life, full of hurt and self pity, hatred for myself and accountable to know one for the first time in over ten years when I got home alone at night….yet not once did I consider drinking. The only answer I had was the prayers. God took it from me.
…and “the babe” saved us.
I can’t tell you why this story brought me to tears long before I was Saved. We Ragamuffins ask and God saves us from our addiction. He saves us from our broken lives, consequences from our own self will and a broken world. Whether an addiction, depression, history of abuse, guilt, resentment or fears we each carry our burden like a heavy, broken lamb. Who isn’t a Ragamuffin, a saved-sinner in need of God’s grace? Aren’t we all sinners carrying our broken lamb desperate for God’s grace? I am a Ragamuffin no different than The Little Drummer Boy. Aaron was also a Ragamuffin.
Don’t take my word for it. As I rewatched the video with my son that night laying in bed, which I had seen countless times since I was a child, I noticed something I had never heard before and it spoke right to my heart. Notice the first line in the clip, as the chariot driver screams at Aaron, “Out of my way Ragamuffin!”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
Merry Christmas and may God bless us, every one!
I’m not sure if I keep finding songs about recovery or if they keep finding me…
A few weeks back I turned on the radio in my jeep and heard the type of song that makes me pull over so I can take in the lyrics. I don’t usually listen to music while driving as sport radio or political talk shows are usually raising my blood pressure or making me laugh. If I feel a need to be lost in lyrics or connect with God I usually go to a playlist of Christian or Country that help me meditate and shed my worries.
But this day I chose the local country station. As I listened to the song, I googled a line in the song that jumped out at me, “To be wrong all along and admit it, is not amazing grace” to which Google replied with the rest of the verse, “But to be loved like a song you remember, Even when you’ve changed.” I was now introduced to the singer Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile) and her song, “That Wasn’t Me”. Brandi caught my attention with her soulful, bluesy voice similar to when I first heard Melissa Etheridge, Susan Tedeschi or Bonny Raitt.
It was the lyrics of the chorus that made me pull my jeep over. There are some words that can only be stringed together by someone who knows the trauma caused by addiction and the recovery path we’re on.
“Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you’ve seen, that wasn’t me
That wasn’t me, oh that wasn’t me”
Those words tore right through my heart deep into my soul. I’m not exaggerating. The shame came flooding through me. Did I bring shame on my family? The feeling of shame from having someone who depended on me having their world collapse because of my inability to stop drinking is hard to get over. As the late Robin Williams said of the demise of his second marriage in 2008, years after he’d managed to get sober again:
“You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it. It’s not coming back.”
Did I lie through my teeth? The lies that I’d hear coming out of my mouth during the final years of my drinking were insane. I’d lie for no reason about the silliest things. I learned in AA that the lie is a symptom of alcoholism. All alcoholics lie. All addicts lie. I heard my mom say of my alcoholic father, and Sarah say to me, that the lying was worse than the drinking. It’s a symptom of any addiction or I’d guess any behavior that goes against own own moral code. You can’t put lying in a box and only lie about that one thing you’re doing that you shouldn’t be doing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re drinking, watching porn, sneaking a cigarette, having an affair, or cheating on expenses. You’ll lie about that area of your life to whomever you’re accountable to but the lie is contagious. Soon you’ll be telling a lie about how you paid that bill still in the unopened envelope (yep, that was me). It’s like a wild fire. I recognize it all the time now when I hear someone lie. I can smell a lie from a distance.
My last drink on February 6, 2014 led me strait to a lie. I came home from a business trip and blamed the stitches above my left eye on a sober accident. The whole trip home I kept rehearsing how I’d walk in the door and admit that I fell of the wagon. Yet when I opened my mouth out it came, “I wasn’t drinking. I swear!” I couldn’t help lying through my teeth. I haven’t had a drink in over 2.5 years or 936 days to be exact. I’m just as proud that it’s been 935 days since my last lie to anyone.
So this song by Brandi had me hooked! After I listened to the song over and over for the rest of the day (seriously, I get crazy like that) I was convinced that Brandi was ‘one of us.’ The next song I selected was “The Story” in which she has as equally beautiful yet gut wrenching lyrics:
“You see the smile that’s on my mouth
It’s hiding the words that don’t come out
And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed
They don’t know my head is a mess
No, they don’t know who I really am
And they don’t know what I’ve been through like you do
And I was made for you…”
Wait minute … you had me until that last line. Let’s listen to the chorus:
“All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true… I was made for you”
There it is again! “I was made for you?” Seriously? A love song? But I could feel the pain before she went and got all sappy on us. Doesn’t Brandi know we alcoholics end up alone???
Well that love song didn’t dissuade me from hanging onto “That Wasn’t Me” being about the wreckage caused by addiction.
As she told HeadButler.com the song’s lyrics were inspired by the addiction and recovery. Brandi wrote the song from the viewpoint of the alcoholic, and the healing and reconciliation that comes with overcoming addiction. About not being as bad as you are on your worst day, about acceptance. “It’s about addiction, what’s happening in my family. An addiction recovery and the reaction people are expected to have after one recovers from an addiction after years of turmoil.”
“When you’re lost you will toss every lucky coin you’ll ever trust
And you’ll hide from your God like he ever turns his back on us
And you will fall all the way to the bottom and land on your own knife
And you’ll learn who you are even if it doesn’t take your life”
That’s pretty much how it works. Unless you’re lucky to be one of the few that find the solution before losing everything. Most of us hit rock bottom, bounce around and then keep falling lower than before hitting our head on every rock on the way down. And everyone around you suffers with you and as a result of you.
But she also accurately describes how we do everything we can to hide from God which is the only proven solution.
“The sorrow of God lies in our fear of Him, our fear of life, and our fear of ourselves. He anguishes over our self-absorption and self-sufficiency… God’s sorrow lies in our refusal to approach Him when we sinned and failed. – Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child
Why do I connect so much with music about recovery?
I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things. -Tom Waits
I guess finding songs about recovery for me is similar to hearing someone capture my story through there own at a meeting. Alcoholics, addicts, are such loners and we carry this burden as if we’re the only one in the world who is this bad. The stigma of addiction continues to make it a moral issue instead of how we look at any other sickness. It’s why it’s so important to share our own stories. It’s why the fellowship is so important. For me, my Newburyport recovery community and my twitter #RecoveryPosse community is so important. It’s why I started this blog in hopes that I can both release these thoughts out of my own head while hopefully passing on this ‘healing gift’.
“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child
Waiting for My Real Life to Begin
Another artist who had this impact on me was, Colin Hay, who you may remember as the lead singer of Men at Work. My older son, Aidan, and I were listening to an acoustic concert of his to hear old classics like Down Under, Who Can It Be Now and Overkill.
One of his newer solo songs, Waiting for My Real Life to Begin, made me stop and play it again and again. “This has to be an alcoholic!” I explained to Aidan. What I didn’t explain to him was how the lyrics I was hearing described the purgatory I was keeping myself in.
“Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
I’ll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me
And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin”
I was trusting God’s plan for me but I still wasn’t letting go of the repaired marriage that I felt had to be part of God’s will. Colin captured this feeling of hanging onto our preconceived notion of God’s wil perfectly. In the chorus someone is telling him to trust God and let his light shine in to which he replies, “I already have a plan. I’m waiting for my real life to begin”. It only took my listening to the song enough to decide that just maybe I should start truly trusting God and His will…completely.
And sure enough after listening to hours of Colin, who is one of those fun performers who talks a lot to his audience in between songs, he did speak of his recovery from alcoholism. His Aussie dry wit will make you laugh a lot too as he pokes fun of himself and others. In his song Beautiful World he describes his recovery.
And still this emptiness persists
Perhaps this is as good as it gets
When you’ve given up the drink
And those nasty cigarettes
Now I leave the party early, at least with no regrets
I watch the sun as it comes up, I watch it as it sets
Yeah, this is as good as it gets
When I was still in my first year of recovery I found this song by a teenager named Chantelle Castello (@FayDay270) from Kentucky who thanks her mom and her home group before going into one of the most desperate depictions of addiction I’ve heard. Listening to her sing the words feel as if she’s opening a vein. The desperation in her voice is so painful as she describes all that she’s lost, “I’ve never been so low in my life, I was ’bout to be a mother, I was ’bout to be a wife, Now my only fuckin’ friend is the poison in my hand, And the gun under the bed to bring it all to an end.”
However she just can’t quit. “Now that’s deep, but it ain’t deep enough to make me quit.” We’ve all been there but Chantelle nails how alone we truly are when it has us in it’s grip. It has nothing to do with will power or morals. Hearing someone else paint the dark picture we lived in helps us see that this addiction thing is not who we are. It’s not Chantelle or Colin or me. It’s what we suffer from. If a relative get’s lung cancer do we stop calling them because we know they were a smoker?
What I love about this video is that you feel her joy when the story turns and she finds God. “Cause when my heart stopped, I got a new life. Now I get to see my kids, and I get to be a wife.” The first part of the song, the addiction, moves you to tears but the recovery gave me goosebumps and tears of joy because I’ve felt both of these feelings myself. Another of Chantelle’s song, Beat Me, deals with the trauma of domestic abuse and breaking its chains. I’d recommend that you share it with anyone who has suffered from domestic violence as it’s no less powerful a song. Such a talented young artist.
That will be me
This brings me back to Brandi and her song. I appreciated the reminder of the shame that flooded me which I never want to forget. And how I also hid from God at my worst and that feeling of being weak, the lost willpower, for the first time in my life. I kept letting down the people closest to me and no matter how much I wanted to stop I couldn’t. I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror looking back at me. I hated that person. But you know something? That wasn’t me.
Do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that’s what you’ve seen, that will be me
That will be me, that will be me
That will be me”
Thanks to God that truly wasn’t me. I don’t lie through my teeth. I don’t shame my family. And despite being caring, emotional, and easy going … I ain’t weak. Thanks to God, AA, and the wonderful Christian and Recovery community in my life …that wasn’t me. Everyday I try to be a blessing to everyone I meet. Everyday I try to stretch out a hand to help others get to their feet. Every day I try to share my ‘healing gift’ with others in hope of helping them. I talk about when I was weak and how God helped me gain strength I’ve never had before. Everyday I try to spend time with my boys being the father they deserve.
So when that’s what you’ve seen, that will be me. That will be me.