Thursday, August 30, 2012

suit up and show up

image credit...mariano vivanco

Courage of the Spiritual Warrior

The courage that makes for a good soldier also makes for a good Spiritual Warrior, but the intent becomes completely different. A soldier has courage to face a challenge that may bring physical harm. The Spiritual warrior has the courage to question challenge his or her own beliefs. By challenging our own beliefs we can dissolve the lies that cause our suffering. To challenge our own beliefs requires courage because it means the end of our illusion of safety. When other people challenge our own beliefs we are usually quick to defend. We defend them even if they cause us to suffer. As a warrior we learn not to defend what we believe, and then to challenge those very beliefs ourselves. In this way we are able to sort out the truth from illusions.

so this month has seen me start back at the gym with cardio classes at least 3x per week, a new 2night counseling gig at an agency where i was already working 1 evening per week, began supporting a new meeting 1x per week, and the details for the long awaited recovery rally bubble up daily like a fresh bottle of pellegrino newly opened.

i relentlessly insist that all of this is within my scope, without really taking the time to assess what the cost of this responsibility, but the cost involves my peace of mind and my serenity. additionally, my good friend is preparing to shake loose this mortal coil, and i am not very present for him. he isolates and redirects and avoids. there is a part of me that feels helpless. i know he is struggling and i have little idea how to relieve this. i spend some time, but as is my way, i remind myself i am not doing enough nor am i doing it right. underneath it all is this childhood belief that my love isn't enough.

yesterday, one of my workmates repeatedly placed papers from the printer on top of other papers on my desk. i became perturbed and defensive. i  acted out. i am still prickly and on defense. i scrapped with a board member today about an issue of little import, who needs to be happy, when i should be right? just like a pitbull latches on to its adversary- clenching hard, shaking rigorously, and doing anything to avoid letting go, i covet mistrust and sulking with staunch insanity. who needs a horror movie when i have my own behavior?

how, after all these years of personal growth  work and letting go of ego, do i find myself drowning in a tumult of human weakness? i have not wanted to write about this for fear of being exposed like the emperor wearing his celebrated and ridiculed nudie outfit.

but i do know that i can't pretend that these character defects that are taking root dandelions in summer aren't real. they are. i am affected by my life and the situations around me. i don't react as graciously as i would like. it is my first response to think the worst. to run. to separate.  and this is what i have found myself doing this week.  doing what i always do.

 making things for me to then undo...

The old line says, “Suit up and show up.” That action is so important that I like to think of it as my motto. I can choose each day to suit up and show up, or not.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


hereafter image credit

I bought a ticket to the world, 
But now I've come back again 
Why do I find it hard to write the next line? 
Oh I want the truth to be said

august 26 2012 i will have my 54th birthday. it seems very surreal to even be walking in this truth. i am living well today and manage to find contentment most of time. i am happy and at peace. i went to the wedding of a friend (alone) and was reminded that deep in the recesses, there are some things i believe will never be part of my journey. for some reason i have found myself a little weepy this week.

in 1984 i was at the precipice of something remarkable in my life. i lived in chicago and held court at an after hours dance club in chicago. the party had been going for a decade, but some unexpected turns had begun. boys were disappearing like cattle in the darkness being abducted by aliens. in my world, it started with john bennet. i remember him talking with my friend blue in the loading dock recounting his fears of this virus thing. john was gone within a few months. and soon it was almost like he was never there. then there was hot rod- a dj friend of my friend mark stephens. hot rod left earth early on. i will never forget the night that mark spread his ashes on the dance floor at medusa's per hot rod's request. it was at once pagan, macabre, as well as celebratory..

a year or so later my best friend, paul pfohl, who was living in nyc and going to columbia was unexpectedly returning home to chicago. when he arrived back in town he had lost so much weight it was shocking. for so long we had spent so much time trying new restaurants and basking in conviviality, but upon his return and a gnarly case of  thrush, food made him cry in discomfort as his tongue was unable to take the stimulation.

he continued to deteriorate over the next 13 months or so. he died on thanksgiving in 1985. but one month before he did, after nearly fainting in an aerobics class, i was diagnosed with that new virus and dr. bernie blau put a check mark in a column next to my name just in case quarantine might somehow become reality. i went numb that year. not until these last few years did i realize that some old trauma was reignited and new trauma was unleashed. but paul's death that next month really sealed the deal.

i had been dating a young man named todd thennes from mchenry through about 6 months of this 1985 drama. he was sweet and definitely a welcome distraction. my drug use had already begun to morph from fun to frightening. todd was sweet and a rascal- which was kinda perfect for me. but of course with the diagnosis and the terror that came with it, i cut that relationship out just like a benign mole at the dermatologist. it sealed the deal as he informed that he had tested positive as well.  he had befriended my entire social circle by that time though and he became part of the family of choice that was ours at medusa's.

1985 signaled the onslaught of the tsunami that was the holocaust of our time. hot rod, mark stephens, todd thennes(who did a lot of the holiday decor at the club and for david), neil adams (nealina), bruce bliss and rick(who did much of the styling for the club the first couple of years), paul pfohl, sugar(medusa doorman), michael hamburger, jc, chicky are only a handful of the medusa boys who went to carousel. there's a scene in the beginning of "hereafter" where a tsunami hits a beach town in thailand and washed over people and takes them with it. some are gone and some miraculously are not touched. this is precisely how it felt. once we were all there, but in what seemed an instant they were gone. and there i stood in a holding pattern.

it took awhile for the fear to recede - about 12 years actually. research, science, and advocacy changed the course of that story. after i started meds, i found myself really angry. angry because i didn't have a plan, i had spent 1/3 of my life waiting for that tsunami to take me. and it fucking didn't. out of that anger came a decision to move to san francisco. albeit an incredible city without compare, it took me on a darker path than i had traveled. and it left me like wicked witch of the east, crumpled up silently by the weight of a dark empty house.

in my recovery- which started in september 2004, i have made a conscious decision to not be like some men i know in my long-term position. i don't want to be bitter, burnt out, sarcastic and cranky queen. it wouldn't seem respectful to all those boys that got swept away. what would it say if i was a complete asshole when i had been granted an opportunity that they were denied? no better to embrace joy and work for happiness and to give care and love to others. besides, with all my experience in the darkness i can understand  fear, denial, and drug abuse in a real and connected way. so that is what i do.

i was 27 years old in 1985. that was exactly 1/2 my life ago. i have traveled the world, laughed out loud, cried in silence, made messes and cleaned them up, engaged in 2 careers, gone broke, started over more than once, and still i am here.

i have been weepy this week, mostly thinking about those boys i loved that went missing 1/2 my life ago. i don't ever want to forget them. it is by grace that i am still here. that is the only explanation that makes sense. and believe me boys- i haven't at all forgotten about you. this much i know is true.

Friday, August 17, 2012

the anonymous people

image- greg williams.. the anonymous people

i came across this vid on kickstarter by a guy named greg williams. it is a testament to the burgeoning social change movement that has been kicking up its heels on the eastern seaboard over the last 10 years. addressing the undeniable stigma of addiction as well as highlighting the lackluster outcomes of our now traditional substance treatment, the film asks questions about the invisible block of americans who have moved beyond their addiction and become happier and more productive members of society. this fact, of course, never getting much airtime or front page coverage, unlike the devastation and drama caused by active addiction.

the film clip stirs so many emotions in me. i believe that the wonders that have touched my life in recovery have rocked my world. it's hard to imagine that others wouldn't  want this if they understood it, even if they  only got a fraction of the relief i have found.

none-the-less greg williams is tapping into something greater than himself here. i encourage any readers to watch his clip and consider a contribution to his efforts. the local recovery organization i volunteer with has decided to donate enough to snag a private showing next year with a guest appearance by greg as well as a q&a. i fully support recovery coming out of the shadows and into the light.

here's the link for his kickstarter project.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

alien night light... back to mine..

Back to Mine is a series of mix albums, usually (though not always) mixed by renowned DJs or composers of electronic music. The compilations usually feature artists other than the artist compiling the album, and are based on what the artist would play at home after a night out, rather than as part of a nightclub session.

The first volume was released in February 1999 by DJ Nick Warren. Since volume seven, the albums have borne the subtitle "a personal collection for after-hours grooving".

Back to Mine was published by the Disco Mix Club (DMC), but ended the series with Volume 28....wikipedia...

of course, nick warren did not request that i compile a "back to mine" set. luckily i didn't wait for him too. instead i decided that i would make a mixtape for my friends and family as a birthday gift. i turn 54 in two weeks and i do like to do things for others now when the birthday month comes. i decided to go back to the 1970's when i first really spread my wings beyond suburban white boy rock. i moved to chicago and got exposed to all sorts of sights and sounds and such things have continued to shape my perspective and my reality since then. i have a few chill or kickback tunes from each decade since then. it's only a snapshot, but i really love all the tunes on this playlist.

if you don't have spotify, maybe you should consider changing that. happy birthday from you madly.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

recovery is my double helix

i wanted to just give an update on the things happening in my life. i have realized that this blog has become a bit watered down. i journal here now and again about some personal process but with a vague quality because i am an addiction counselor and there is necessary confidentiality. sometimes my days are challenging with the people i counsel- maybe more than sometimes. but i also find that i have just as many challenges (if not more) with the structure of my workplace and the colleagues and policies i work with. these are day-to-day challenges that i often need to process, but when i blog about them i am as vague as possible so as not to implicate anyone in particular. this style waters down my posts and i assume they seem bland and hazy. certainly they do not mirror the frank qualities of my early posts before i entered counseling or healthcare. i used to have the freedom to write my truth. i have spent the last couple of years trying to develop a style that will convey a perspective as well as the "zoom out" quality that my spirit and my life have taken on with ongoing recovery.

opportunities have made themselves available to me on a steady pace since i got clean. and challenges have made themselves unavoidable in tandem. these seem to co-exist in my recovering life just as a double helix is part of my dna. as opportunity and success careen forward, it becomes necessary to address character defects and re-examine old wounds and current motivations regularly in order to avoid meltdowns. i have begun to share in meetings that one of my greatest barriers has been my own ability to be ordinary. so much of me carries a belief that i am less than (or not as good as) others. since this has been a lifetime belief developed from the times i was 9 or 10, fatherless and yearning for male companionship, sexually active with older peers and publicly humiliate by those same peers for the same activity, i also developed a keen ability to tune out or shut down my feelings in order to keep going and not fall apart. it seems no wonder now that i chose getting high as an alternative to living in truth. it allowed me to transcend  the brokenness i felt.

you know- the funny thing is that i didn't understand any of this about myself until i was 4 or 5 years clean. the denial was so embedded that it took time to bubble up to the surface. and believe me when i say there was not a party when i first encountered these ideas. it was reliving the trauma of it all first and then finding a way to climb out of the ancient emotional  hole i had again crawled into. doesn't this sound like a hella lotta work? it is. and i can't be anything but grateful because i had no idea i had carried that crap around all those years.

so here's the flip side of my sober life experience. while i am helping myself grow emotionally from the 10 year old boy who was riddled with self-esteem issues and enough defense mechanisms to keep palestine safe, i also came to understand that the emotional landscapes i had traversed such as having a mental health diagnosis, being hiv positive, being gay, being fatherless could become assets and sources of support for others. and i now believe that the reason that i survive all the things i have is because i have experienced all the things i have. my challenges and tribulations have become my assets.

and while all this ancient history is rewritten and re-edited, i have managed to accomplish the following:

i am part founder of an organization called TEN - i started a newsletter in 2008 for HIV positive individuals in Colorado and it is still being published.
i author 3 blogs - The Climb, TEN, and After The Pop!
i am board chair for AFR- Advocates For Recovery.
i have chaired AFR's annual Rally For Recovery for the last 2 years.
i am on the BHPAC- Colorado Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council.
i am on a team working on BRSS TACS- Bringing Recovery Support Services To Scale in Colorado
i co-chaired the Denver HIV Planning Council for 3 years.
i have introduced peer coaching and peer mentoring to a large Colorado Public Hospital SA clinic

for me this seems a solid amount of service work. not amazing, but solid. and when i couple it with the internal work that has been done, i am reminded that i am not in charge at all and that i am so grateful i have a spiritual program to keep me somewhat balanced. i have developed a buddhist sensibility somehow- probably because the buddhists are so sensible when it comes to drama. recovery has become a lesson in letting go of drama for me. or at least not being caught up in it.