We Will Lose Interest in Selfish Things

They say, or it has been said, “That at some point, you are going to hear someone tell your story.”

When it comes to storytelling, there is not another human being, on the English side, who has a story like mine. All the men I knew, in early sobriety, who had AIDS, are long since dead. I am the last.

Which leaves a sparse gay community of men, in my social circle, who are still alive today. I don’t have anything to do with those gay men, because our community is quite fractured.

Reciprocal friendships are hard to come by.

I am grateful that I have a handful of reciprocal friends. It may be a character defect that, people might think of us, by the by, and make the out call. I don’t sit at home and wait for an out call. I cannot be bothered to do that today.

I spoke about the Old Brewery Mission Meeting, that I attend on Sunday mornings. I like my Mission folks. They are great men and women. The Matriarchs are headed to Egypt right now for a three week tour of Cairo, the Nile river, and Saqqara.

The cycle of speaker/chair was interrupted Sunday. So I stepped in to chair and one of my friends, was asked to speak, as we restart the chain again.

Like I said above, at some point someone is gonna tell your story. I also said that nobody in this city, has my specific story. But, I heard my friend, on Sunday, tell his story. There are common themes between us.

When we drink and/or use, that theme is a constant because, if you are in the room, you abused the drink and the drugs. I’ve been dissecting my story over the years, and I can say that, when I was much younger, I was a good kid. I was a good son (take that or leave it), I was a good citizen, a good employee, and I was responsible, until alcohol took over.

As a younger employee, I really was not interested in drinking all the time, it wasn’t something I did regularly. Only when invited out to drink with friends, or when we threw a party in high school.

When alcohol was present, I became absent. I know this.

I had some of the best jobs a kid could have, growing up. I did really well, under pressure, and I did my job, as was needed.

When I moved away from home, with the delusion that was given to my inner memory bank, I was of single vision.

“Drink your way in, Wait for fireworks.”

I had eyes for one particular apartment, in a particular complex, that I clearly could not afford. I had a new car, that I could not afford either, and I had a job, that I went to, but in the end, everything was lost.

It is amazing to me, how selfish I became when it came to the procurement of alcohol. You cannot imagine, the amounts of alcohol I poured into my system on a weekly basis. And how narrow my honesty became.

The alcohol might have “gotten me in the door” but it did not “keep me in the club,” so to speak. Addicts and Alcoholics will lie, cheat and steal from their mothers, to score …

I justified my alcoholism against the abuse heaped upon me by my father. I called it Pay Back. All the lies I told, to hit my father where it hurt, worked.

I got the car.

But a lifetimes worth of resentments followed. And my father went to his grave, never knowing me, or even speaking my name on his deathbed.

We believe, for a while, that the drink and the drugs work, because we are getting one over on everybody else. Until that stops working.

OR

UNTIL A STOP SIGN APPEARS….

Like my friend on Sunday, we both got hit with the Stop Sign.

We both got deathly ill, and death WAS a foregone conclusion. We were both supposed to die. Thankfully, we are both, still, very alive.

We both knew what we did, once doctors told us we were going to die. My friend had serious health issues, that he found a work around to drink. Even at the worst of times, he figured out how to get and drink alcohol.

In my worst of time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, was excruciating. I was watching what was going on around me, in real time. The very ugly, painful, miserable, march to death, for my friends with AIDS.

I knew what was coming, and I had decided from the get go that I was not going to go out that way. I wasn’t doing drugs so much, but I was surely drinking to kill myself. As fast as I could hasten death, would have been good.

My friend, at his blotto end, found recovery, via rehabilitation.

I did not.

Rehab came to me, in the guise of Todd (read:God).

I had a room to go to. And I had a job. The room was not so healthy for me, neither was the bar, because what right alcoholic in recovery, makes his money working in a bar, of all places ?

I did. Because Todd was my boss.

All those negative things we do in active addiction, at some point, comes to a halt. And we have a choice to make. Go on to the bitter end, or we decide to live.

Selfish things, became something I was made aware of early on. The easiest way to change this tape, in our heads, is to actively do work against our wills.

Those would be: Hitting a meeting, or working with others.

I did hit meetings. but more importantly, I did not only work with others, I worked for others. Todd knew, that the less I thought about ME, or thought about what was going on in my head, the better.

The Brain/Thought Partition method worked wonders.

My friend having lived this long, volunteers several days a week, at Hospitals, Rehabs, and the Old Brewery Mission. He knows what to do today, to lengthen his life.

It was through hard work, on a daily basis, that saved me. You cannot avoid the specter of death, when everyone around you is dying. And selfishly, they choose to drink and drug themselves sick, into death. I watched this selfish behavior go on under our roof.

True, that family, friends, lovers, and employers had tossed all of these very sick men to the curb to die alone. We could not care for so many, all at once. It was way too much to take in and handle.

It was truly the worst of times.

But, there were some of us, who did whatever we could, on a nightly basis, to ease the pain, somewhat. We had what were, at the time, the best healthcare providers, we could find. Because there were NO dedicated doctors or clinics.

Hospitals would begrudgingly take AIDS patients into lock down, sterile wards, as nurses and doctors would MOON SUIT UP to touch us, fearing for their own lives, like we were there to INFECT THEM, by our mere presence in their wards. That was truly heartless and cruel.

Friends, seeing what had gone on with patients in hospitals, decided that they would never go to a hospital. But die, outside, on their own terms. Is that selfish ? I mean, really, when you have no choice, but to take what is left of your life, into your own hands, what is the other viable choice?

Todd knew many things about me. He knew how destructive I could become, if left alone. He also knew, the dark inner sanctum of my heart, and he went to great lengths to keep me at arms length from any man, who walked into the bar on any given night.

He was protecting me from myself, across the board.

You cannot remain selfish, when the work you do, every night, is working with others, or for others. I had a job. A really great job. I loved that job.

I wish I could go back in time and revisit that time, with one proviso: All the people who were there, need to be there again.

The Promises speak of many things changing, as we get sober. They don’t all come at once, and for sure, they might take a lifetime. I know how long they took to come to me.

The job we have in sobriety, is to be vigilant, on all those warnings that the Promises speak of, as changing. If we remain in our alcoholic stupor, we will suffer the negatives, for as long as they are given fuel.

We have a choice in sobriety, which wolf we are going to feed.

Illness, with a death diagnosis, does not discriminate.

When it comes to death, when someone mentions that word within a share, I sit up and listen. That commonality, is stark among us. People get sick, some get better, or end up in remission. But a good percentage do die.

Death is the end for everyone.

For some of us, we have faced our death days, and lived to tell the tale.

Which I do proudly, whenever I get the chance.

If you want to get OUT of yourself, work with OTHERS.

When Hope Fails …

This piece was written by my Spiritual Director. I wanted to share it, AND write on this subject, because I have experience with Hope.

When Hope Fails

I was talking with someone who has decided not to hope any more. “Why?” I asked. “Because when the hope is unfulfilled, it hurts too much, so it’s better not to hope.”

There’s something wrong with that. But I understand it.

Proverbs 13:12
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy.”

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
“but when dreams come true, there is life and joy”

I want to talk about hope a bit today. And I want to start in the Psalms.

Psalm 33:13-22
13 The LORD looks down from heaven
and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory– for all its strength, it cannot save you.

God has a wonderful perspective of us and our little things. Nothing is hidden from his eternal, creating eyes.

He is able to see the whole human race, every heart, every mind, every one of our thousand secrets.

He’s able to see your motivations, that indeed you meant well even if it didn’t come out as you had hoped.

He created the hearts of men and women, to beat and beat and beat and give them life and breath. And Hopes and Dreams.

So, it says, “He understands”. Like no one else in creation.

He understands our desires. He understands our wishes. He understands our hopes. He understands our dreams.

He understands, and wants to remind us that sometimes our perspective isn’t great. Sometimes we can only see from here to the other side of the room. He see’s into eternity.

See, we often place our hope in the wrong things.

He reminds us…
A powerful army isn’t strong enough for a king. A good horse won’t give you victory, it can’t save you.

Strength won’t save us, neither will might.

The health system, blessed as we are to have it, won’t save us.
The government can’t save us.

We place our hopes in these powerless things.

We hope in due process. In the legal system.
We hope in our money, to provide a way out.
We hope in others to help us out.
We hope a relationship will work out.
We hope for a great job.
We hope in our children to make the right choices.
We hope for great presents.
We hope in our parents, to be perfect.
We hope that the pastor will have some answers.
We hope to roll up the rim and win!

Yet John 16:33 says “In me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Take Heart!

What happens when our strength isn’t enough? When our armies fail and our warhorses are not enough? What happens when hope fails and is deferred?

Lets continue in Psalm 33

18 But the LORD watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.

Remember the one who’s perspective is from eternity?
The one who see’s everyone, who knows your heart?

He says he will watch over those who respect Him.

Those of you who rely on his unfailing love.
He will rescue you from the anguish of death. He will keep you from eternal death, and provide you with eternal life.

And, he will keep you as you live through seasons of famine. Not just physical hunger, but emotional hunger, spiritual dryness.

He won’t always stop the famine from coming, but he is able to keep you alive through it!!!

He won’t always stop the illness, or the poverty, or the joblessness, or the dryness. But he can keep you alive through it.

He will walk with you through the hopelessness. Through the heartsickness of unanswered hope.

You see, often we place our hopes in the things that can’t save us. In the temporary things that we can’t change. In our power and might.

We may even place our hope in Christ to change the story, the situation, yet that may not be the very best for us.

When our hope is deferred…
When it feels like God has not heard us…

We have 2 choices.

1. Get bitter
-Get angry. At God and humanity. And yourself.
-Never hope again because it always fails you anyway.

Or

2. Trust in God. Refocus your hope.

Remember, the one who loves you, who knows you, who made you.
When hope fails, we need to raise it up a level.

PSALM 33
20 We depend on the LORD alone to save us.
Only he can help us, protecting us like a shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we are trusting in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.

When our only hope is in man’s strength and ability, and that fails, it means we’ve been aiming to low. We need to lift our focus higher.

Only He can help us. Only He can protect us as life goes on all around us.

Because our hearts rejoice in him. They find life and meaning in knowing Him.

A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a friend who had been ill for some time.
1970’s heart attack. Heart disease for years.
Put on a heart transplant list, became too ill for that.

As he was dying, and his human hope was deferred a final time, he was able to rejoice and be glad. Because he knew the one who knew him. He trusted in God and his heart rejoiced.

For his family too. The funeral was a real, true celebration of hope. And Gods faithfulness through life and in death.

This is how it is possible for those who have experienced tremendous brokenness and hopelessness, to actually rejoice and be glad. Because they knew the maker of their hearts.

Where is your true hope? In the things of this earth? Or in the things of Heaven?

Have you had hope deferred, even by God? He who knows and created your human heart understands.

Lift up your eyes, your broken hearts.
Trust the one with the higher perspective. Trust in God.

This is my story about HOPE.

When one is faced with a terrible situation, and the end of the line is your next stop, one really learns about hope. When we are faced with odds that are against us, we learn about hope. When doctors tell you that you are going to die, go home, kiss your ass goodbye, and wait to die …

You learn what hope is. Because before you get there, hopelessness really does set in, because there is no light at the end of the tunnel. And the light you do see, is the train coming at you, at 100 miles per hour.

Before hope sets in, if the odds are really dire, you think to yourself, that “no, I’m not gonna die that way, so I am going to take matters into my own hands, and do what I think is best for me.” ” No, I am gonna kill myself, my own way, so as to defer sickness and pain, in the short term.”

Then, GOD steps out of Heaven, and says … STOP !

Heaven is always respectful of our free will. Heaven never pushes itself on us, but holds its breath, to see which way we will choose ?

I had two choices. I could STOP, or I could go to the bitter end, and blot out the suffering, until Death did come for me, on my twisted terms.

I know God. I’ve met Him. I walked with Him, and I communed with Him.

God had other ideas. Hope was not one of them, because there was no hope. True, I was gonna die, sooner or later. I knew that. But words were spoken, out of love and compassion.

Those words told me that I did have a choice, about how I was going to attack death, and live to tell the story. That was he decision I made.

God was there. I was not alone. All I needed to do was follow directions.

Now, you might ask, how did you find the path to hope ? I didn’t.

I don’t know how you bounce back from being told, “You are going to die, there is no hope, so get on the ride, and ride it.”

Sometimes, when you are marked for death, there is no return. Sadly, the percentages of life after death diagnosis are slim. I’ve seen both sides of this coin in as many years. I know, that sometimes people die. That illness and sickness is capricious.

I can tell you what I did, every day.

Inside the four walls of the bar I worked in, was a safe space. The good thing about psychology is this, “sometimes it works.”

I had much going on in my mind at that time. Worries that were beyond my capacity to grasp them. I had serious issues. Death, was just one of them. My alcoholism was the other. I had to attack BOTH at the same time.

Needless to say, life had become Hopeless.

I was not moaning over the fact that I could not drink any longer. Once I got passed the point of acceptance, drinking became a non issue. I was working in the belly of the beast, in a BAR, for God’s sake.

Really, death was the only dance I had to dance.

I had to start stacking alive days. So we could say, in Jimmy Settle terms, was that July 8th 1994, was my first death day.

Every day forwards would become another “death day.”

I came to work. But the day this all began, it was a challenge. I was loved, and that’s what mattered. I was told that I could follow directions, and if I did, I would live. I was down for that from the get go, no matter how hard I battled against my worse nature, because I kicked and screamed and cried an awful lot, in those first few months.

But I listened to advice, and I did what I was told. And every day that I lived, I trusted in the advice given. Come to work. Leave the baggage of the outside world, OUTSIDE the door. When you cross the threshold, the only thing you need to think about, is the job you are given, on any given night, and ONLY that.

Getting to shut off my brain, for a few hours, on a nightly basis, worked.

I did not have to think about dying, inside. Because I watched it come for everybody else around me, in the patrons who were sick, who patronized the bar I worked in.

They all Died. I survived them all.

I stacked enough days, that when I got to my literal “death day,” and I was still alive, I went on with life. I don’t think you can call this hope, because, I was still very sick, and death, was still a “Clear and Present Danger.”

When you live with “Clear and Present Danger” one learns how to govern expectations, and life itself.

I have twenty five years of living with Clear and Present Danger.

I take nothing for granted.

I’m no longer hopeless. I don’t suffer from a three fold disease, Mental, Physical and Spiritual disease. Alcoholism is an every day job. Living is a bit higher on that list. As long as I live, and I don’t drink today, I have a fighting chance.

If I take my will back and decide that I am going to go it alone, I am literally FUCKED !!!

I know God. I’ve met Him. If I close my eyes, and sit still and be quiet, I can see Him in my minds eye, and I can even hear His voice.

I’m alive. And if you find hope in this story, then I did my job.

Hope comes, when you stack enough ALIVE DAYS together, and you live, longer than you thought you would, not only does hope come, but more importantly, GRATITUDE comes.

Gratitude does amazing things when you have no hope. Because if you can be grateful for one thing a day, there is hope.

You cannot have hope and NOT be grateful, because a by product of gratitude is hope.

That is my story and I am sticking to it.