Monday, January 19, 2009

Beacon of Hope

It's been a YEAR since I blogged!?!? Holy mackerel, time flies!

There's all kinds of new buttons on Blogger I don't know how to use.

I have "follower", whatever the hell that is. Please stop by her blog and give her some good recovery-blog cheer!

I love you, too, JJ!!

So what's new with me? NOTHING! I am thriving in a drama-free, routine, just-for-today, yet busy, productive and hectic, lifestyle. My son is six, he lives with me half time. The ex and I are getting along great, we are joined at the hip in our passionate commitment to our son; and other than that we leave each other alone. (She has a boyfriend now, which helps A LOT! LOL)

I just celebrated my fourth AA birthday. And I have been free of nicotine for over a year. Thank you, God, for these gifts of Your grace!

I seldom make it to AA meetings these days. I've started going to a new Celebrate Recovery group. My old one was getting strange for me, since the ex was a regular. Plus, there were hardly any drunks, either -- quite a few self-identified "sex addicts" dragged there by their girlfriends who not only don't put out but don't want them masturbating, either. It got kind of creepy listening to these guys surrendering to their pussywhippedness. "Jesus doesn't want me to beat off." I'm as evangelical as the next reluctant Christian drafted by God as a result of recovery, but fercrissake... I took a hiatus from Celebrate Recovery and in the meantime a guy started going who became the ex's boyfriend. If I were to go back, it surely would make for some awkward moments in the group sharing. All in all, it looked like God was leading me elsewhere. So I was kind of out of the recovery community awhile. Then I got the idea to bring Christmas dinner to the guys at the sober living residence I lived in. I did, and one of the guys invited me to his Celebrate Recovery group. I love the way stuff like that happens, all the time, every time I make any effort to give back, to be of service: I'm always the one who benefits most.

I take nothing for granted. I'm genuinely grateful for every blessing God has given me. I haven't been active lately in AA, but I always remember that you guys in and around AA gave me a way to live a life worth living; and I try, every day, to practice the principles in all my affairs and carry the message, mostly by example, of living a good and great life, to everyone I encounter, because it's not just for us drunks. For example, our message beats hell out of the cold showers those poor "sex addicts" at CR are condemned to. Shit, don't even get me started on the homophobia the Saddleback curia attempts to parachute into CR -- fortunately, I haven't seen that get any traction at the CR grassroots, particularly among those of us grounded in AA.

Well, I'm just rambling here. Let this post be a beacon of hope to the newcomer: even when your sobriety begins to be measured in years, it is perfectly possible to remain as crazy and stupid as you were when you were drinking.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rigorous Honesty

It seems a good way to start the new year by implementing yet another form of rigorous honesty here on this blog.

For over three years, I have used an avatar that is not actually me:

This handsome gentleman is, of course, Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. I admire him very much, and I do, honestly, try to live by the principles he and the other good oldtimers laid out for us.

He is also a lot better-looking than I am.

I think, though, it's time for me to have an avatar that reflects who I actually am, so that with a glance a reader can get a sense of how I really think and act. In the spirit of rigorous honesty, here is my new avatar:

I actually look more like this than I do like Bill, anyway.

Happy New Year! May God shower you with blessings throughout 2008!

Friday, December 28, 2007


I hope everyone is having great holidays. I sure am! I was in Chicago with my son for Christmas with his Grandma and Grandpa. This was the first trip back there in three years. Three years ago today, I had just gotten back to California, after taking my son there for Christmas. Hmmmm...

(No, no, don't worry, I have a good chance of staying sober today. I have one of those pesky meeting commitments tonight, that always seem to get in the way of a quick bender.)

Anyway, it was one of the best Christmases I can remember. Seeing it through the eyes of a five-year-old brings out the magic of Christmas. I reluctantly gave up "magical thinking" when I got sober. You know: "If I do this one dramatic/decisive/astonishing/brilliant (i.e., ridiculous/crazy/stupid) thing, everything will get better and I'll be happy." I didn't have to do anything to make the magic happen this Christmas -- it just happened!


It's been 34 days since I had a cigarette. Pretty soon I just may change my little smoking counter from hours to days.

I've frequented an online smoking cessation forum, and it helps a lot. I've hooked up with a few people, "Quit Buddies" they're called, and we stay in close touch by email. It seems to informally replicate some of the sponsor/sponsee relationship in AA. Except there's no steps, it's between equals, and none of my quit buddies has demanded that I wash their car or has asked to borrow money. Other than that, it's pretty much the same! LOL

Anyway, the forum reminds me of how much time I devoted to blogging in my early months of sobriety. I miss it! Why don't I get back to spending more time blogging with the wonderful recovering people in blogtopia!? Oh, yeah -- I have a job now. Oh, and 50% custody of my son. And then there's the fellowship commitments. I suppose these are all good things... but I still miss blogging with everyone! :)

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I've played with statistics here before, and I tend to be pretty skeptical of statistics about prevalence of substance abuse. How do you define and measure recovery? How can you believe what an alcoholic/addict tells you about their alcohol/drug use?

That being said, I started wondering about smoking among alcoholics -- specifically, how many smokers are alcoholics/druggies? So I found some statistics.

I've seen statistics, and heard anecdotes and observed, that 80%-90% of alcoholics are or were smokers. Let's call it 70% for the sake of argument.

Government statistics indicate 21% of adults smoke. Let's call it 25%, since the respondents probably lied.

Now the really tricky piece: what percentage of the population is alcoholic/addict? This is pure guesswork, IMHO. I've seen guesses range from about 10% to about 25%. Let's call it 15%.

Okay, using these guesses: of those ten people freezing on the loading dock on their smoke break, four are alcoholics and/or druggies. That's right: crank through these not-unreasonable numbers, and you can expect over 40% of the smokers you see to abuse other substances.

I don't know about you, but I never really thought about smoking as an indicator of other addictions. Turns out it's probably not a bad clue that someone has serious problems with more than tobacco.


Which gives me additional perspective on the smoking-cessation support forums on the web. The one at is great, the people are terrific, it really helps me a lot. The approach is so different from 12-step recovery, though. I keep wanting to post, "Of course we can't quit, of course we relapse, of course we don't have the will-power, of course we're too weak to stop, of course we are picking fights with people. We're addicts and we're powerless!" There's no way I can approach cigarettes as anything but incinerated alcohol.

It's fascinating to me that 12-step recovery dominates overcoming every addiction you can name -- except smoking. There is, in fact, Nicotine Anonymous, but it has nothing like the status of 12-stepping for other addictions. Why do we turn alcohol, drugs, over-eating, sex obsession and codependence over to a Higher Power, but depend on self-will to overcome nicotine?

I'm not saying it's good or bad, it's just interesting that we, as a society and culture, treat nicotine differently. As for me, as I said, I have to 12-step my smoking or I'm lost.


I've been reminded of some of our AA sayings about days and years. You sometimes hear, when an oldtimer relapses, "He had too many years and not enough days." I've heard, and said myself: "The years come easy. It's the days that are hard."

I've got my smoking counter on this blog in hours. My sobriety counter is in days, but I can only remember my days to the nearest hundred or so.

A day is a BIG deal to me again! :)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No Smoking. Inventory In Progress.

This is the longest I've gone without smoking in years. Today is Day 11.

It reminds me a LOT of early sobriety. I don't know what to do with myself, because my routine is disrupted and I'm consciously not doing what comes naturally to me. I tell myself the familiar lies, and I still believe them: "Just one pack, then I'll never have the urge again." It's a good reminder to this alcoholic of how my brain works and that I can never, ever take my sobriety for granted.

I'm grateful to find myself putting recovery to work with smoking. I can recognize the lies I tell myself. I can take it one day, one hour, one moment at a time. I let God handle it, because I can't. I don't worry about smoking tomorrow. I'm a smoker, an addict, and smoking is what I do -- there's no reason to expect I won't smoke tomorrow. But I'm not smoking right now, this minute, and that's a gift from God and I will be grateful for it. I will pray for the willingness to let God handle it when tomorrow comes, too.

The obsession to smoke has not been lifted yet. It's good to be reminded how it was before the obsession to drink was lifted. And it's good to have the experience of having that obsession lifted, so I know it can happen with cigarettes, too.


I'm leading a step study (which basically means I have the key to the room we meet in), and we're on Step Four. Last night we had an inventory-writing session. I looked at my first fourth step from three years ago for the first time since doing steps six and seven. How marvelous to look at the resentments and fears I had, to acknowledge them again, and to recognize how many of them I have let go of! I know I need to dig a little deeper, and get beyond the general feeling of relief and well-being I have since the recent resolution of the main issues of my divorce. Even so, it's gratifying to see this fourth step looks a lot like a tenth step.

It's astonishing. I don't work anything like a great program -- I think it's pretty half-assed, actually. All I bring to it is a little willingness, a little humility, a little service I do resentfully, some inconsistent gratitude. In return, I've been showered with blessings totally out of proportion to the effort and commitment I put into it. The blessings and miracles are so plentiful I end up hardly noticing them a lot of the time -- yes, take them for granted -- until I take a good look with something like a step-four inventory.

Recovery -- particularly AA and the doors it has opened -- continues to amaze me, surprise me and exhilirate me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

K-Fed and Me

My divorce is coming to a head. It started about 6 months ago when the Qualifier hit me with a county child support suit -- from the agency that is designed to establish paternity and go after deadbeat and runaway dads. I coaxed her into dropping the suit and going to mediation. She bolted from mediation and reinstated the county suit when she discovered it wasn't all stacked to give her everything she wanted.

So I hired an attorney and filed for divorce. The Qualifier went ballistic when she was served. She really thought I would hold still while the county gouged my eyes out. She didn't really want to resolve anything -- she wanted child support as a single mom, and health benefits as a spouse. Every which way.

She hired the most expensive lawyer in town -- and this town is LA. She has the same attorney as Britney Spears is using right now in her custody case with Kevin Federline. But trust me, not nearly as much money. The attorney burned through her retainer on a response that basically argued that she's really, really pissed, she doesn't like me at all, and therefore I should have no access to my son. Then we went to the court's custody "conciliator" and the Qualifier agreed to everything I wanted -- which threw out everything her attorney did. Next week we will go to court to determine child support and property settlement. This is the property settlement equation: (0+0)/2. Meanwhile, my attorney got the county to drop their suit since it's all being handled in divorce court. Since she's out of money, the Qualifier is talking about going to court without an attorney.

It's kind of sad. Granted, next week is a long time away and anything can happen, but right now it looks like, three months and thousands of dollars in attorney fees later, she's going to end up with a much worse deal than I was ready to make with her when she walked out of mediation.

From what I'm hearing, Britney isn't making out much better than my Qualifier, either. Yo, K-Fed, you and me, dog! (Of course, Britney is the only one who can make this decision, but it looks to this alcoholic like the girl could use a program.)

I'll see how it all falls out, but I will feel bad if the Qualifier gets screwed. I have an idea of what a fair outcome would be, and I think my attorney may be good enough to produce an outcome more favorable to me than a fair outcome. Once I make allowance for my attorney fees, I would consider giving my son a gift, care of the Qualifier, in the form of a gift card to Target, or something like that. Just to make up some of the ground I think the Qualifier should, in fairness, get. Is that codependent? Cross-talk invited, please.


Every now and then I hear someone taking a birthday token talk about the rough year they had, staying sober through divorce, illness, deaths of loved ones, and financial crisis. I'm always pretty impressed with that, wondering how they do it. Now, I'm a couple months from my third birthday, and if I stay sober each of those days between now and then, I'll be talking about staying sober through divorce, ongoing financial crisis, and job insecurity. I guess the other folks do it the same way I have: one day at a time.

What it shows me is that, these big life events are not enough to make me relapse. To take this alcoholic out, it will take something truly, momentously, insanely trivial. Divorce? Serene and calm. Financial crisis? Happy, joyous and free. My truck overheats? Look out below.


My hit rate is going to skyrocket with all this (relevant and on-topic) blogging about Britney Spears and K-Fed. I bet I come out near the top of searches for "recovery blog life verse romans britney spears k-fed." It would increase even more if I brought up that other poor kid, Lindsay Lohan. Early 20's, on the slippery slope of substance abuse, keeps leaving rehabs, seems to want to stop, but not really. How many of us in the rooms don't have a story a lot like hers?? I wonder how I would have handled my early runs if I was famous and had way too much money. I pray that she -- and all the millions of other kids just like her, except they're broke and unknown -- will find her way in from the storm.

UPDATE-----UPDATE----- November 30, 2007 -----UPDATE-----UPDATE

Divorce court went as well as can be expected. The Qualifier showed up with TWO attorneys in tow. But the five of us sat in the courthouse cafeteria and hammered out an agreement acceptable to everyone. There are still a few loose ends to tie out in the next couple months, but custody and child support are settled. I'm delighted to have 50% custody. As I expected, financially the deal is much more favorable to me than what I was ready to agree to in mediation.

It's a HUGE relief. I've had a lot of anxiety the past few months. Having some resolution and reducing the uncertainty and chaos makes a big difference.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Yesterday I happened to be in part of Southern California that was close to one of the fires, and I went to a meeting there. A lady compared the fire to herself when she was drinking, how similarly she affected the people around her, and I understood exactly what she meant.

You never know where the fire might start, but if the situation is just exactly wrong, it rapidly turns into an uncontrollable conflagration. Depending on the wind, one spot escapes without damage, and a few feet away is total destruction. Even if your own house is spared, it is terrifying, uncertain, and chaotic. You have to flee from it in a hurry, in a panic, instantly choosing a handful of precious items you can save. The air is poisoned for days. Rebuilding can take years, and the memory will never go away.

So many people had to respond to me the same way people have to respond to wildfire.


My prayers continue for my neighbors in California who lost loved ones, lost homes, were injured, or remain in shelters. Grateful thanks to the firefighters whose courage and skill kept the injury and destruction to such astonishing minimums.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How It Works

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it--then you are ready to take certain steps.

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember that we deal with alcohol--cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power--that One is God. May you find Him now!

Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. we asked His protection and care with complete abandon.

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Many of us exclaimed, “What an order! I can’t go through with it.” Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventure before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Knuckle Under

The last couple days have been one of those glorious moments when serenity and joy wash over me, for no particular identifiable reason. I've just felt good and happy. It's such a wonderful gift from God, to be willing to turn my anxieties and fears over to Him, and simply enjoy His grace like a walk in the sunshine.

Not that people and events around me are particularly going my way. In the middle of divorce and custody games, doing my best to help my 5-year-old adjust to spending nights with daddy, and his mom's unpredictability, while he deals with starting kindergarten next week. On top of which, the company I work for is coming apart -- the CEO was removed by the board this week, putting the medium-term independent existence of the company (and therefore my job) in doubt.

My response was interesting to observe. On one hand, there was one brief episode a few nights ago that I got the "fuck-its" and started thinking that a twelve-pack was a really good idea. (I didn't act on it.) Not a big deal, I get that now and then -- confirmation, if anyone is in doubt, that, yup, I'm still an alcoholic. I look at these urges as signals that I'm off-center, out of focus. Usually when I'm "off-center" it really means I'm putting Phil's will at the center, rather than seeking to align my will with God's will.

I realized that I was merely irritated with God's timing. I already have my hands full, Lord -- dealing with my job and career aren't on my schedule for another few months. I also realized, to my astonishment, that my irritation did not escalate to full-blown resentment toward my company, my boss, my wife, my son, the clerk at 7-11 or other innocent bystanders. Not even toward myself or God, my two favorite targets of resentment.

And I ended up just feeling good. I even filled out a prayer request card at church for the acting CEO, that God will guide him, and grant him wisdom, courage and integrity.


I'm leading a step study, and so have the privilege of working the steps again myself. We're on Step Three, and I credit this step working on me for my strangely serene response to my circumstances. Until recently, I've looked at Step Three as telling me, "The party is over. There is no more fun any more. You have to give up all the stuff you want to do, and knuckle under to the demands of what God requires of you. It's time for obedience to the stuff you don't want." But my experience over the past three years is that, yes, I DO have to give up "what I want," but the outcome is not slavery and misery, but freedom and joy.

There's a popular Christian song that I now see as a marvelous Third Step prayer:

I'm trading my sorrows, I'm trading my shame...
I'm trading my sickness, I'm trading my pain.
I'm laying them down
For the joy of the Lord.

When the Third Step suggests that I make a decision to turn my will and my life over, all it is asking is that I let go of the sorrow, shame, sickness and pain that Phil's Way demands I carry around. The care of God as I understand Him is nothing less than accepting the amazing, radical gift of freedom and joy that He has been offering me all my life. Step Three is not, as it turns out, a demand and requirement to be an obedient slave who will be punished for stepping off the straight and narrow. It is an invitation to conform myself, however imperfectly, to the person God desires me to be -- and God wants me to be happy, joyous and free.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Divorce Mediation

This is what divorce mediation is like:

Imagine playing a board game with a child. When the child realizes the grownups aren't letting her win, she gets mad, tells them they're being unfair and ganging up on her, then tips over the table and runs away.

Back to square one, this time with adversarial representation.

It's been a lousy few days...


At 8/20/2007 02:26:00 PM, Phil said...

Thank you all for your sympathy and support -- it really helps!

You know, it just deepens the truth of the program and the fellowship -- I'm not alone, I'm not unique, many have walked this path before me. That comforts me a lot. Just like with the booze, many have walked through the same storm and are now walking in the sunshine. If I follow in your footsteps, I will get to the sunshine, too.

And, once again, I find myself challenged to work the Third Step: how much of my will and my life am I really willing to turn over to the care of God? How much am I holding back, without even realizing it?

I continually discover more of myself that I have refused to abandon to God. I consistently practice insanity, doing the same things again and again expecting different results. I consistently base my actions on my fear, on my distrust of God and His purposes, believing in the face of all evidence that I have to do "this one thing" my way, because God's way will cause me pain, it won't work, not this time.

The truth is, I don't think any of you are walking in the sunshine now by acting on your fears, distrusting God, or indulging in "alanonic" behavior. If I want to join you in the sunshine, I have to follow in your footsteps by giving it up to God, do the next indicated thing, trust that God will make all things right if I surrender to His will.

Some hypocrite I know once told his sponsee: "You don't have to understand it. You don't have to agree with it. You don't have to like it. You just have to do it."