31 December 2006

2006: The year in milestones & miracles...

Katie got her Christmas wish. Jet Blue came through, both coming and going and both ways in one piece. Katie, there may be something to this whole "flying thing", don't you think?

It was great to see her. She looked absolutely wonderful and I was so happy to discover that her dark, sardonic humor had remained untouched by milling about in Manhattan. I think NY agrees with her.

Christmas Eve was fantastic. Katie's "other mother", Vanessa, and our buddy Joe joined us for Christmas Eve dinner and it was so great having everyone I loved in my living room - chatting, smiling, laughing, remembering stupid stuff and more laughing. Lots of laughter.

Special thanks to my Mom, Dad, Justin, Katie, Sue, Vanessa, Stephanie, Joe, Cassie, Sylvester, Felix and Princess for adding color to our holidays.

2006 has been a pivotal year in so many respects. Someone asked me how I would categorize the year's events and, as I thought about it, only good adjectives pop into my mind. Let's see...

I had fantastic writing opportunities - invitations to write for publications that I would never have been bold enough to even hope for or contemplate. NYC has been so good to me, as it has been Katie, this year. Hard to believe I used to swear I hated that place. I can think of only good things when my mind meanders toward Manhattan. I wait eagerly for my next visit.

I took on my first PC Magazine assignment in March for the 6 June 2006 cover story, "Smarter Homes". I was scared out of my wits until I got down to it, and then it was just pure fun. The only thing I needed to be afraid of was the anxiety borne from my fears and when I chased them away, it was pure pleasure. Well, except for the part where I casually asked Katie if she thought I was equal to the task of writing for PC Magazine and she looked at me and said, "I fear for you, Mom.". I admit that rattled me just the tiniest bit.

My daughter and her boyfriend, John, moved to the East Village in May and I was afraid I'd never be able to laugh again, given that Katie is the source of so much of my humor, but that was a pivotal trip for both of us. I had a productive lunch meeting with my features editor that culminated in more invitations to write, and I met John's two amazing aunts, Daria and Melanie and his Uncle Bill, in addition to his mother Nina, and it was absolute confection.

I returned home from that trip, crying on the plane from saying goodbye to Katie and, even more so, from the mess I finally realized that was sitting beside me and I think it was that trip that finally opened my eyes and informed me that I had the power and wherewithal to make the changes essential for me to move forward. I decided to clean house (metaphorically - I try never to "literally" clean house) and took charge of my life at home. I can sometimes be very acquiescent, but after way too many months with an entirely melodramatic, spoiled, lazy leech, I decided that my life and my home needed to be "streamlined", so I arranged for the removal of things that never belonged in the first place, and got down to business. My home became my home again, and I think my family collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The summer proved to be exceptionally busy with work and writing. I did stories for regional publications, two features for "Wilma" Magazine and then, NY called again and offered an impossible-to-ignore opportunity that not only gave me the chance to write again for a great magazine, but serendipitously allowed me to write about something very close to my heart. The story was entitled, "The 12-Click Program" and was part of PC Magazine's "Technology for Life" spread in the 17 October 2006 issue - it gave me the chance to see if I really meant what I said when I remarked that alcoholism and recovery aren't anything to be ashamed of and that they needed removed from the shadows and whispers usually assigned to deep, dark, down and dirty secrets.

I'll admit that deciding to "come out" in a magazine with a paid subscription of 5 million readers did give me a few moments of pause and serious contemplation and then someone pointed out that I'd always professed that it shouldn't be a big deal and, if I really believed what I paid lip service to, there should be no hesitation. When my own words came back to haunt me, I knew it was time to step up to the keyboard and that's exactly what I did. I was pleased with the final product and figured I that I must have meant what I said, that this whole "coming out" business was not a huge deal...

And then Amy Hotz, reporter with "The Wilmington Star", called to request an interview with me on my decision to write openly about my own adventures in recovery - yikes! Apparently someone at "The Wilmington Star News" reads PC Magazine. I also discovered that a LOT of people in Wilmington read "The Wilmington Star News" and don't use it simply to line the bottom of their bird cage as has often been my own experience.

OK, I admit that it slightly took my breath away to realize that I could wind up on the front page of my hometown newspaper, a self-confessed alcoholic by my own admission, and that people might possibly cast a critical eye if they knew my not-so-secret secret! I batted this back and forth for at least 24 hours - I consulted a couple of friends including Bruce, my sponsor, my family, Celia Rivenbark and then out of nowhere I was struck with the memory of what it was like for me in those dark, early days of January 2004, when I felt more lost and hopeless than I'd ever experienced in my previous 44 years. Nothing came close to the fear, disappointment, confusion and disorientation of my first week between my last drink and my first AA meeting. Terror!!!!!! Sheer terror.

When I thought about what it might be like for someone else in the position and situation I found myself in almost three years ago, it was a no-brainer. I certainly would have given anything to read that story back then. Given the wide-spread prevalence of alcoholism and substance abuse, I couldn't help but think there might be other people who would benefit from it. It needed to be told. And so, I did. My "virtual recovery" became public record. One month after publication, I have absolutely no regrets.

Recalling that period of time not so long ago, brought back some pushed-aside memories. I remembered looking for anything I could get my hands on to read, ANYTHING that might offer me hope, that I could carry around when my courage was MIA and my doubts were threatening to overtake me. There were a couple of books by celebrity alcoholics, but my life bore no resemblance to those stories.

I decided early on that someone should write about an alcoholic of non-celebrity status, someone that was far more representative of the kind of people most of us know and many of us are! The problem is that most of us aren't all that comfortable writing about the missteps, embarrassing stumbles, the really bad decisions and wrong turns that deliver us to the unique place we eventually refer to as "bottom"; The painful realization that we have reached the point where we find ourselves in too much pain and destruction that it's finally apparent that it would be more painful NOT to change; that we are powerless to repair any of it on our own. That's such a horrible, excruciating place to land, much worse than labor and childbirth and kidney stones, but it's essential and the best motivation possible. I'd basically be dead if I hadn't landed there and, most of the successful people in recovery that I personally know, seem to agree.

So, long story short, I met with Ms. Amy Hotz and I purged. I really purged. I divulged pertinent details to her that I'd shared with only a small circle of friends and close family. Amy and I spent a little over an hour together in the post-lunch coziness of "The Courthouse Cafe", we traded business cards, shook hands and then parted ways - she to enjoy the beginning of her weekend and me to wonder, "What in the heck did I just do?".

The story ran on the front page of the Today Section of The Wilmington Star and I have to say that Ms. Hotz got it right. I was impressed with her reporting and she accurately represented the facts as I shared them.

Of course, I woke up at 5:00 AM on the morning of Tuesday, 14 December, ran to my computer and pulled up the story and right after I recovered from reading about my recovery, I opened the only negative e-mail, from a very raunchy, wrinkled, arrogant, harley-riding, thirteenth-stepping asshole who wrote one negative sentence which basically made no sense whatsoever, much as every diatribe he delivers in any meeting I've ever been to where he's been present. I laughed and then I decided it had to be a good story if he didn't agree with it. And of course, I wrote him back - took issue with his statement but left him with the suggestion that he consider writing a book on a subject he knows a great deal about; hitting on women in the first few months of recovery. I mean, write about what you know best, right Paul?

I know a few men like Paul, including one who was so proud of his achievement in successfully 13th stepping that he once started a blog on it, regaling his experiences. The blog never really went anywhere and, like most things in his life, he didn't finish it. I kind of doubt he'll be writing about his current situation - he now lives with his doting 71 year old mother in a duplex near Raleigh. I'm sure this is just a temporary situation until he can snag another "early in recovery" female he decides to "help", who owns her own home and can pay the bills. God bless her.

Detritus aside, the newspaper article went well and the feedback was heart-warming, touching and reaffirmed that I made the right decision to allow the story. In fact, it was a necessary experience because, if I'm working on a book proposal about my "virtual recovery", I certainly needed to get over any trepidation in discussing my story with a local newspaper. Like most things in life, the only scary thing about it was the scenarios that played out in my mind in the hours leading up to publication. Much ado about nothing, really.

And then, there was Christmas. I had a great holiday this year - much more fun than in recent memory - in fact, my Daddy remarked last night it was the happiest Christmas he could remember in years. And it was. It absolutely was. On every single level.

The presents were well-received and graciously accepted. The people I shared my time with were purposefully chosen and there was no downtime suffering the company of uninvited guests. It was joyful. Katie was radiant and Justin was beaming and my parents were, well, my parents, and so it was close to perfect. The added gift of friends made it even more memorable for all the right reasons. I can only say thank you.

So I finish this last day of 2006 filled with a lot of gratitude, funny memories, and more blessings than I have any right to count.

I was never all that big on noting blessings, and I've always been reluctant to subscribe to the "everything happens for a reason" theory, but I just have to say that so much of this year, particularly the past six months has generously consisted of one thing leading to another, and another; people criss-crossing my path; opportunities which have lead to other opportunities; one thing building on another; angels dropping in my life. There is no reasonable explanation for ANY of it and so I have say that 2006 leaves me not simply subscribing to the "everything happens for a reason" mode of thinking, but believing it with my heart and my soul. I know it's true. The evidence is too compelling and unquestionable. There's not one doubt in my mind that it's all "A God thing".

I truly believe that whatever happens in 2007, with enough prayer and celestial guidance, and a sincere desire to do what I do best and just let go of the results, will all turn out just the way it's supposed to. Never have I been a person of such conviction. I don't even question the things that are happening now because I know that much of it is being guided by a more powerful, brilliant hand. On my own, my power and influence is limited at best. With the proper direction and divine guidance, I've found myself steaming in directions I didn't even know existed.

Believe me, I'm not bright or powerful enough to have affected the blessings that have visited me this past year. I really suck at creating a shopping list, much less a string of miracles.

It's my nature to be skeptical, and so many of my closely-held beliefs have required logic and concrete facts. Part of why I've never read fiction is because I like facts; I love knowing that life (as I thought I knew it) was built on reality and not whimsy, that events can be traced to truth and knowledge and irrefutable, predictable, solid, unquestionable evidence.

You know...point A leads to point B and if you make it to point B it will undoubtedly lead you to point C and, before you know it, you realize, a lot of it is rote and pointLESS.... At least, that's how it used to look from where I formerly sat. And then, well, I changed seats. I upgraded.

I didn't find faith. In fact, faith found me.

I like puzzles that can be solved with no left over or missing pieces. I love Sudoku because it makes sense and, though at times frustrating, offers a predictable outcome. I never truly thought there was anything more powerful than one's mind, that intelligence is the ultimate answer to everything, that life can be distilled into a handful of universal realities. For me, Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law was my blueprint for living and covered just about everything - that his postulate stating that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, was basic to every point of life.

As the curtains close on 2006 and 2007 is poised to make its debut, I can only conclude that such black and white thinking, all of that logic and predictability and all of that fact based stuff is just brimming with...crap.

All of the logic in the world can't explain away many moments of my own 2006. In so many respects, it has undoubtedly been my very best year. Somewhere along the way I slipped and was unwittingly swept away by unexpected miracles. So many miracles. I don't think one of them could have been predicted and I'm sure they fly in the face of Newton's Third Law. Faith has replaced fact in "the world according to me". I couldn't have designed 2006 to turn out as it did and, well, I couldn't have dreamed it either. But I did live it and, I am compelled to report that "things" do happen and these "things" don't always come attached with easy-to-understand explanations and logic, as it turns out, is frequently missing and highly overrated.

I know this to be true. I would stake my life on it.

In fact, I have staked my life on it.

Happy New Year and here's to more "things" that happen for a reason.