When to Speak

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I changed up my routine today, to make time for a noon time meeting, because a lady friend I adore was speaking. The first time I heard her speak, at the Thursday meeting one night not long ago, I was transfixed by every word she said.

Some of our women friends have similar tragic stories that have downward spirals that, at one point listening to her tell her story, I was saying to myself, “there is no way she can pull out of this death spiral she is in…”

Everybody around me is holding their breaths, waiting for the Miracle to Occur.

And for each of them, the Miracle really did happen. Miraculously !!!

Today I heard something I did not hear before …

At her worst, after loosing her kids, and in a funk, trying to get it together, her sponsor tells her … “Just call home, let your kids know you are still alive…”

Little pieces of advice that seem innocuous at the time, turn out to be the beginning of the building of the bridge, that will eventually lead her back to her kids AND sobriety.

She and I have something in common. A very special education in sobriety.

She came in twenty-five years ago, and I, almost seventeen years ago, respectively.

We both came in bedraggled. And we walked into a room and were overwhelmed by the people in those respective rooms. And by the grace, we both DID what we were TOLD to DO.

Without question. Without argument.

Because in her words from the other night …

YOU WANT TO ARGUE WITH HAPPY ???

The goal in this life is to be happy. Across the board, in all our affairs. Some find it, others do not. Some take the long road, others, get it right away and walk the short path.

She said to me today that, sobriety is too loosey goosey. People are too easily distracted by shiny things and their phones. Nobody wants to follow the simple plan that we both know works.

People want to argue semantics and Happy !!!

UGH.

Yesterday I was grocery shopping, as I am wont to do every few days. We collect plastic and we recycle at the store before we shop. While standing at the machine I noticed a familiar face at the can drop next to me.

I knew this man. He was sober, when I first came in, almost seventeen years ago, and worked at the rehab center I was affiliated with back then, where I had after care and my counselor sessions.

Key words … He WAS sober.

I’ve seen him around over the years. Many of the men and women I knew from those years back then, have all mostly disappeared from the area and the rooms. There aren’t many people from the Old World left in Montreal.

Yesterday, he was disheveled. His clothes were torn and dirty. He was wearing a white sneaker on his left foot, and a green high top sneaker on his right.

While I was depositing my bottles he stopped me amid swing to ask me why I was putting metal into the plastic machine. I stopped and responded with, “why would I put metal in a plastic machine?”

He turned away and walked ahead of me into the store. I did not follow him around, because I don’t know him, like I know my friends in town, so striking up a conversation would have been awkward to say the least.

I kinda wanted to ask him where he had slept the night before and had realized he was wearing two different shoes and why his clothes were ripped and dirty.

You kinda know the answer to those questions pretty quickly, on the first pass.

He had a bag of cans he probably collected from metro bins and garbage cans on his way into the store to get his meager change to buy whatever he could afford for that trip.

Outside the store another friend of mine who does outreach to the Indigenous Community here in the city, was standing guard in the hallway outside, watching his people gather.

Where ever people gather, there is bound to be strife among them. Thankfully he is armed with burger vouchers for McDonald’s in the mall right in that area.

People are more amenable when they have food in their stomachs. So before he steps in the say anything, he hands out food vouchers to anyone who wants them.

He does more than that. He is counselor, medic, affairs officer and the grand poobah of the downtown core.

There is suffering all around us. for those of us who live in this neighborhood. I’ve been here seventeen years now, and I know how bad things can get on a good day. Even worse on a bad day.

Sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all. And for the most part, not saying anything is the best policy, because you don’t know the back story you are witnessing at the moment.

Rather not embarrass people on the down and out with observations, they probably already know about themselves, so they don’t need a reminder of how rough they might look at the moment, even if what you want to say would be meaningful to YOU.

So I say hello. I nod. I observe. And I record data.

I know how many of the people I knew who were sober once, are out there on the street today, down and out.

Why some people fall through the cracks and end up back out on the street I don’t know. Some people just fall away. Was it because of people, from the past, who shunned folks away? Those of us who did not attach to certain cliques ?

I met a man who had fifty-eight years of sobriety today. He knew the Montreal Founders. Men and women who are still around from THAT FAR BACK, are few and far between.

They usually come out of seclusion for their cakes to show us, that you CAN be sober for decades and be happily married and happy in general.

Many people at that noon meeting suffer needlessly.

They just don’t connect, even though they know where to go and who to talk to.

And for that we are grateful for small mercies of sobriety. And we utter that slogan, that people usually ignore or don’t know what it means …

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD …

I could be one of them.

Thursday: Nobody’s Listening …

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I am very sad. I just cannot understand how people skate under the radar with their assorted issues, and go to their deaths, and nobody knew ???

I’ve been listening to Chester sing for years and years. I know every song, every word, and every feeling. This morning Chester was found dead, by his own hand, hanging in his home.

Nobody’s Listening …

Listen to Hybrid Theory. Listen to every word on that album and tell me, was anybody listening ???

Now Chester is gone. He took his own life. He is dead !

His new album dropped not long ago. I’ve listened to it over and over. The band was to embark on a World Tour next week. They were slated to play the Bell Center here in Montreal on the 10th of August.

Who is out there who could hold a candle to Chester’s voice ? NOBODY !

Listen to Chester sing about pain, loss, being hurt and abused. Listen to all those songs play over and over, and not think … Was anybody listening ?

Mental Illness. I know it. I live it every day of my life. Not only myself but in the life of my husband who is Bi-Polar. I am not immune to suffering by any stretch of the imagination.

I am all too familiar with mental illness.

And I also know that mental illness is not a solitary endeavor.

You cannot do mental illness ALONE.

It is so important to have a second set of eyes on you every day.

Someone in your corner who knows you and loves you and can be there when times get very dark, and things go south, so quickly, there is no time to react.

If you are alone in your pain, who is going to stop you from doing something devastating, like kill yourself !

Who was in Chester’s life ? Who was listening ? Why did nobody do something when it needed to be done ? He’s dead now, and we can ask all these questions now, since the words Molestation, Abuse, and Mental Illness have been tossed into his obituary discussions. Chester suffered greatly as a child, and I can bet that the pain of that abuse probably drove him to his death.

I know what that kind of abuse is. I suffer my own demons … Men suffer in silence because nobody wants to hear our pain. For many we sink into drugs and alcohol. Chester, they write was sober. Still he’s dead now.

It begs another question, how can a sober man take his own life ? Was he not connected to others like him, soberly ?

My demons of abuse haunt me to this day, so I CAN imagine what he was going through and just how bad the pain, suffering and RAGE can get. I’ve been in RAGE mode for a long time now. Still dealing with the wreckage of my past.

I’m sure Chester never got over his own wreckage.

Listen to Chester sing and him scream and rant and rage at abuse and sorrow.

It’s a fucking SHAME …

There are some sick FUCKS out there, who denigrate a man who suffered greatly, and sang the blood of his suffering in his music.

Listen to Chester sing now, listen to Hybrid Theory or Re-Animation, and tell me, what do you hear ? Are you hearing the same words I am ? or …

Is Nobody Listening ???

I don’t get this fascination of high powered entertainers who take the Hanging way out ?

Once you slip that noose around your neck, there ain’t no going back.

Such a Fucking God Damned SHAME …

We have the famous Twenty Six Club.

Over the last few years, we have the Hanging Noose Club.

  • Chris Cornell
  • Robin Williams
  • Chester Bennington
  • How many others can we add to this sick list of men who hung themselves ?

Mental Illness is the Scourge of the entertainment industry. Listen to Howie Mandel talk about his mental illness and how many comedians suffer from depression and use humor to bring themselves some light, fighting the darkness, bringing LIGHT in the form of comedy.

Mental Illness is such a solitary killer. People suffer in silence because the world wants to shut its eyes and close its ears because it is just too difficult to be our brother’s keepers.

Open your eyes, Open your ears, Pay Fucking attention to your brothers and sisters.

How many more really great men and women have to die needlessly when we have the power to do something for them …

I am fucking shattered.

Chester is Dead. Thank God his music survives him.

Now every time we listen to him sing, we will ask ourselves, is anybody listening ???

The songs are there, the words are written. The PAIN is real.

Now it is to late to save Chester.

He’s gone – there will never be another Chester, ever.

My heart is broken …

Sunday Sundries: Uplifted …

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It is Sunday, the sun shone. It sprinkled a bit, otherwise it was a great day.

Read: A great day is a day that I can sleep in and enjoy my bed.

Three Jewish men, all of the Hasidim faith, walk into a meeting. One is new and knows God, The second is sober 6 years, and knows Spiritual Experience and God, The Third a man of faith says … “He does not know God, an does not connect to Him, and firmly believes that Once you’re dead, it’s Lights Out and nothing more.”

It was a bright Sunday and I wore my brightest and flashiest Flower Basket pants, and after the meeting, that man walked up to me and said:

I Feel Uplifted because of your presence…

We read from Bill’s story and the last few pages, where Bill explains his spiritual experience and his witness of God in his life. He had that conversation with Ebby T. in his kitchen, and that night, has his first radical spiritual experience in his journey.

He makes a sundry pass at the steps, within his story, Steps that will be fleshed out much later as the book comes into fruition.

I like to tell my friends that if they need proof that there is a God, they need only to look at me and listen to me talk. On Saturday, I will pass my twenty-third anniversary living with AIDS, and Mark and I are still alive to this day, when over 200 of our friends went to their deaths miserably so many years ago.

One of my elder friends went to a meeting this morning and heard an old-timer with 45 years sobriety talk about Meditation. For this man, the steps are there, but the ONLY step he concerns his life with is Step 11.

Prayer and Meditation.

Prayer and Meditation does not come easy to anyone. I’ve heard many, many, long sober people talk about attempting meditation on retreats, in religious communities and still, so many years later, they cannot connect like very few can connect with meditation.

Our man lives and breathes meditation. His story strikes many deeply, when we sit with him and he talks about just how deep his meditation changed his life, and has carried him through some of the worst times in his life, we are amazed.

Because many of us, cannot even begin to know, what that feels like.

In my life, to this day, I don’t connect to deep meditation beyond the practice I do daily. I can sit still, I can be quiet, but I cannot sit for an hour at a time stilling my mind all the way through. Because I don’t know how to shut it up for that long.

I can say that, in my stillness, I can connect to God. I can connect to the Spirit. That feeling of connection is familiar to me, and it comes and goes. When it does come, I can hear the voice of God, and I hear what it says, and I listen attentively.

Inspiration comes at the oddest times, usually, in my morning meditations, and more often, at the end of the night, when I sit down to compose my Pastoral Letters to the Pastors I have in my circle. When I sit and read scripture, and write my Elder friend Spencer, or even, as I sit here, where I am right this moment, writing here.

Sometimes words come, that are not my own, they come from a place of inspiration and God. That is my belief.

I know that if I don’t hear from God directly, that I need to go to a meeting, and listen to my friends talk. My friends come from varied backgrounds. Some are just simple men and women, and some come from deeply religious communities.

Our man, this evening, who could not find God himself, just showed up, because his friends, other Hasidic men, in the program, bring him with them. They minister to him in their own ways, and do not push orthodoxy upon him, but they allow him to find his way, on his own steam.

He got to read part of Bill’s story, and he heard each of us share about God and Spiritual experience. Simply being present for a fellow-man on the path, sitting with us, after the meeting, he found the blessing of being uplifted, by a simple piece of clothing.

That simple piece of clothing I own is a story maker. Because it came from my friend Jeffrey, when he sent me them, saying that if I wore them, I would feel really good about myself, and I do. And in being in public feeling good about myself, others see and they feel good about themselves, because it seems, in recovery:

That we are so sunk in our disease, that at some point we need permission to feel anything other than self loathing and being depressed about ourselves.

I am in this place where I am more open to feel emotions. I am a bit more outspoken and rigorously honest, to a degree that sometimes scares my friends, but it is what it is.

I am more apt, not that had ever been different, to really tell you like it is, based on my life experience. I’ve been witnessing my friends fuck off on me for a long time, so I can tell you just what I think, in real-time.

July is a hard month for me. Because I am reminded of just how bad my life really got and how I almost went to my death, several times.

It is also a testament to the work that Todd (read: God) did in my life, to keep me alive, and the testament in the fact that ONE HUMAN BEING can definitely change a life.

And keep another human being alive, when all the odds are stacked against him/her.

It is also my birth month, and this year I hit the Fifty mark.

Another HUGE accomplishment, because I am still alive, all these years later.

There is definitely a God in Heaven.

This is my testimony. It is honest and true.

If not for Bill and Doctor Bob, we would all not be here, save for two drunks who happened upon one another, one night in Akron Ohio in 1935.

We are truly Blessed …

Suffering and Sacrament: On Finding Connection as a Grocery Store Cashier

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Borrowed from: Stephen – S. Bradford Long Blog – Daily Reflection.

Every day, I go to work as a grocery store cashier at a family-owned business in a prosperous region of the more generally depressed Appalachian mountains. This work has transformed my life, not because it is the exciting, high-impact, high-power job so many of us dream about in our twenties and thirties, but because it brings me into direct contact with humanity.

I am sometimes astonished by the suffering, just beneath the surface, that permeates the air. I see it in the grocery store in a way I might not see it in other careers, because all humanity – the miserable and the joyful, the ill and the well, the rich and the poor – need to eat. Therefore, the grocery store is a gathering place where all social lines breakdown. We are united by the commonality of food.

I see a young man – eyes drooping, so thin I can see his spine poking against his teeshirt, dragging himself through the aisles as if he is dragging a tank behind him. I watch him through the aisles, I check him out at the register, and he is often rude, empty. Being a depressive myself, I know the marks of an inner Hell that is tearing him to shreds.

I watch people dying slowly and miserably of terminal illnesses that they cannot afford to address. Some are full of bile, their regret cast before them like a long shadow, while others are trying to soak up as much life as they can.

I remember the old woman who received a phone call while in my line to inform her that her grandson had just committed suicide. She wept, and I listened hard to her stories of her grandson. She thanked me, and went on her way.

I remember the man who wandered through my line, tears in his eyes. He looked at me as if he were starving for something I couldn’t give him, and he said, “My best friend just died of a heroin overdose. Please, please, value your friends, value every moment you have on this earth.” He wandered out the door, lost in his grief.

An old woman came through me line once, and her cart was full of frozen cakes. She met my eyes. “My daughter just killed herself,” she said. “These frozen cakes were her favorite. I will save them, I will keep them forever.”

I see meth addicts, skeletons of their former selves. I see alcoholics, the smell of whiskey heavy on their breath. I see the mentally ill, talking to people who aren’t there, and I see the homeless, wandering in from the street because we have air conditioning and cheap food. I see shreds of humanity abandoned and forgotten.

I see joy, too. I see the old woman who had finally, after years of saving money, finally got teeth. And, to top it all off, she got an aesthetist to remove all her facial hair. Now she flashes her brilliant smile at everyone she can, and she is radiant with joy. All she ever wanted was teeth, and now she has them.

In this setting, in which new suffering walks through our doors every day, mixed in with the mundane, the regular, the blithely happy, feeding the public is transformed. It’s no longer a chore, but a sacrament. When I hand people whatever nourishing food they’ve chosen off the shelves, I hear the words of Christ, “This is my body, broken for you.”

That everyday moment is transfigured into something sacred, for it is full of the recognition that this is another human soul, and that this human soul is capable of galaxies of silent suffering. That connection with suffering, and that offering up of nourishment – that is holy, that is sacred.

Every day, I am reminded that we all feel pain. We all suffer. We all yearn to be seen. And this realization fills me with a tenderness that words cannot express. I can’t put it into words, this seeing of humanity. I wish I could share this tenderness with everyone I can. I wish I could tell everyone who seems dubious of my work, “no, you don’t understand. Working in a grocery store is not a waste of time. It’s not a waste of my talents. If only you could see what I see.”

Friday: Extra-Ordinary Night

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After a day of insanity and politics, we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve said what I am going to say.

It is an odd thing that happens, not very often, but tonight, we had one of the deepest meetings, we have sat, in a very long time. So many people are suffering. From a great many things, not necessarily drugs, or alcohol, or sex.

And it was mentioned after the fact, from friends, that when we compare notes, some of us are seeing and hearing the same things from many places. It is terribly unnerving to me after so many years, that so many of my friends are hurting, and there is nothing I can do for them, until they ask.

It is a very good thing that there is a handful of us on Friday night, who are tight. My Greatest friends, those who have been around the block and then some, those friends who at times were at odds with each other, have found that we want friendship more than anything else.

When the chips were handed out at the start of the meeting, two men got up. One, sitting behind me reeked of alcohol, and was sobbing in his beer all night. He said …

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And he SOOOO wanted to stay in Vegas, but he decided to come into the hall tonight and take a chip.”

He disappeared after the meeting, after one of our women said no to him when he asked her if he could drive her home.We got her a taxi instead. But the man slipped out before we could stop him driving home, being intoxicated as he was.

A second man, who was terribly plastered hung back, had driven to the meeting intoxicated to begin with, instead of allowing him to drive home, at the end of the meeting a group of us, (we never travel 12 step alone) decided to sober him up a bit over coffee at a coffee-house not far from the meeting.

We drove him home. Because he was in no shape to drive.

My friends are suffering. And as we listen to each other, when we talk, there is so much more shit going on than we can address in any meeting. It was spoken tonight that the holidays were not kind to our men and women. And now we are reaping what has been sown for months and months.

People are beginning to crack around the seams.

I’ve been saying this for weeks and weeks … Months really, I’m not sure what I am doing right, or what my fellows are doing wrong, but I am in a totally different place, than many of my friends who have comparable time in the rooms.

And it’s not a point of judgment, just plain skills of observation and listening.

GHOSTS IN THE ROOMS

At this point in my journey, after listening to people talk for the last few months, I have seriously worked my ass off for the whole of my sobriety. What I am hearing and what I am seeing is that there are too many GHOSTS in the room.

I can share with you this poignant story …

There are some of us, who are still alive, twenty-five or more years after the AIDS crisis. In many big cities, Ft. Lauderdale, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc … Thousands of people died, ugly, serious, and terrible deaths.

Handfuls of men survived. We are a new breed of men. About five to ten years ago, we crossed a new life line. Those of us who had survived the carnage and are still alive.

Twenty plus years away from the epicenter of AIDS.

Some of those men, who had seen the worst, and lived, did not integrate back into society, they became GHOSTS. Many of them did not find their way back, after all the suffering we witnessed. And in many places, we know who they are. We can see them, but you might not necessarily be able to distinguish them, but we can. They walk around alone, lost.

Today, in the rooms … There are GHOSTS among us. People who have some serious issues that have never been dealt with. Yet they are in various lengths of sobriety. They might have the time, but, like I have said before, many times, many of my friends are cracked emotionally. I’ve been hearing these ghost stories for months.

I don’t know what to do any more. I know so many people, because I hit the same routine meetings week in and week out. I see them and have watched them for a long time. And you cannot connect with everyone. Not everybody wants to know you past the chair you are sitting in on any given night. There are only so many people who want to invest.

But I am told, by a good friend, that there are certain men with some time from the Friday night meeting, that when we talk, people listen. They might not say anything to us, but when I talk, I am honest. I tell the truth. I only talk about what I know, and what I have observed and heard, and how all that information relates to me soberly.

I want something more. I have worked the rooms for everything they can give me. I’ve pounded the pavement for the whole of my sobriety. And now, at this point, I know, for certain, just what a good chunk of friends have been doing. Because I listen to them talk.

I am told, by my friends that I’ve walked a certain path, that has brought me to this point, that my journey is unique. From the very beginning, I made a decision, that I would listen and observe my friends. And from that, my sobriety would be built by what my friends were either doing well, or not doing well. I think I’ve made wise choices, because I see where my decisions paid off, in the ways my friends are cracked today.

I made sure that I was never alone. That I wasn’t making decisions on my own, and that I had people, across the board to talk to about various things, along the way.

Not everybody took that same route. And now I know that for sure. I’ve got enough time and the skills to hear it for myself, just how cracked many people are, and just how hard they are suffering. And for many of them, I can do nothing but listen, and where possible say something that isn’t stupid and pithy.

The rate of return for those folks who went out over the holidays are low. And we are working very hard to keep those men and women “In the Loop.” But some of my friends are still walking around shell-shocked. One of my friends in particular, is just a mess, but he is hanging on by a thread. I say very little, beyond Hi and Nice to see you again.

I don’t know what is worse … Being sober, where I am right now, or not being able to do a God Damned thing for the many who need it. I don’t have the ability to help everybody and not everybody wants help.

Some just want to be left alone. And we have to respect that.

When people need us, they will say so. We just need to keep showing up.

And we need to be honest and willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure, that when needed we step up and do what we need to do to safeguard the lives of those who come to our rooms.

As was the case tonight.