Vulnerability takes courage, so does creativity.

Why is it so hard to be ourselves?

Have you ever thought, what if so and so knew that about me, what would they think? What if they knew I was judging them, or didn’t like them?

Letting down our guard is risky. It takes vulnerability. How do we respond when we are in a funk but someone asks us, “How are you?”

“Fine. Doing fantastic. Never Better.” We smile our best smile, hoping they don’t see through our facade.

“How about you?” We may ask, merely out of politeness, really not giving a rip about the other person because deep inside, we’re really not fine. We may be struggling to make ends meet. The car might have just broke down. Or, while rushing to get to work on time, we spilled coffee on our shirt when we slammed on the brakes not seeing the back up in front of us. Then, we do our best not to get more angry, even though we want to scream, ( Sometimes I do – It’s safe in the car with the windows up and the stereo blasting!) as we crawl along the 101, stuck in traffic for an hour and a half  to drive a mere eighteen miles!

To protect ourselves we don masks. Sometimes, they are necessary. After all it’s probably not a good idea to waltz into the office and dump our crappy day on everyone else. Instead, we arrive at the office with a painted Monday morning smile, “We’re fine.”

We pretend to be OK even when we had a lousy day. I get it. If we really aren’t doing fine, we don’t want to bring everyone else down especially if we are having a really shitty day.

Now I am making an assumption that we have all had to put on a happy face from time to time even if we really didn’t want to. But somehow we have to deal with that stuff inside that gnaws at us.

That’s why I am grateful that I have a couple close friends and a community that I can go to when I am walking through some challenges.

My struggles today are gold-plated compared to what they were 30 years ago. Nonetheless, I find it incredibly helpful to talk with others whom I trust to walk through some of the stuff I am going through. Case in point, I am in the midst of putting together my next book  on goal setting. Yet I keep getting stuck. My friend suggested I map it out. How ironic that the book I am writing is about planning and walking through fear, change, and setting goals, and that I have to apply what I am trying to write about BEFORE I can write about it.

So yeah, when I’m going through change and out of my comfort zone, I get cranky. Today is one of those days. It will pass.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Creativity Takes Courage.”

So does vulnerability. For now, I’ll keep on keeping on.

Hope you days are good and filled with joy.

More to come soon.

Shawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the spring tide wash away the past – How to do a 4th step.

(The fourth installment of a series)

As we move further away from the cold and damp of winter, the sun begins to shine, and the air becomes fragrant with the early blossoms of spring. Sparrows, finches, and doves  work diligently to prepare their nests for their new chicks.

Spring is full of all that is vibrant and new.  It is full of life.  A time of Easter and baseball, and, for many, it’s also a time of spring cleaning.

We throw open the rain-stained windows letting fresh air in. Old toys and clothes are hauled away to a local charity. Gardens are planted in anticipation of a bountiful harvest of juicy tomatoes and fresh, home-grown, organic vegetables in late summer.

It’s also tax season. For many businesses this is a time to take stock in what has happened over the previous year and set budgets for the new fiscal year. Some business owners may look at ways to improve their revenue or cut expenses asking: Are we better off this year than last? What do we need to do differently to change, to grow? Where can we improve? What new opportunities are there? Challenges? How about our people? Are we pouring into them, training and equipping them  to benefit all stakeholders?

The nice weather may inspire a fresh start at new year’s resolutions that were quickly kicked to the curb through the last of the winter doldrums. Ones to work out, eat better, or plan summer vacations. Every day we have a fresh start, the key though is to start.

Did you know people spend more time planning a vacation than planning out their goals for the coming years?  It is no secret that many successful people have a healthy perspective of their strengths and weaknesses, and are what many call, “self-aware” and  diligently set and achieve goals. For those with lasting recovery, it is no different. There are steps to follow if one is to achieve lasting sobriety.

In previous blogs, I have written about steps one, two and three.

The First Step: A Journey of a Thousand Miles
The Second Step: Came to Believe
The Third Step: Made a Decision

The steps need to be done in order to the best of your ability, before attempting the next one.

Today, I am going to talk about the 4th step:
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Like spring, the fourth step for those in recovery represents a fresh start – a way to look at the underlying causes and symptoms of our addictions – the things we “drank and used” over.

You might be wondering what a fourth step is – what does it mean and what does it require?

There’s a simple plan to properly complete a fourth step. The entire process is outlined on pages 63-71 of the basic text for AA, 4th step

In summary, to start, one makes a list of their resentments – people, institutions, and principles –  that they are angry about. In addition, it is imperative that the inventory  include sections that outline and list our defects of character, fears and sex conduct.

For those new to the 12 steps or not in recovery this may sound like an easy task right? I mean how hard can it be to make a list of some of the things that piss us off or that we are afraid of? Well, that’s usually the easy part. The more challenging part that many don’t want to address lies deeper – taking an honest look at our character defects, or sin, and our sex conduct along with trying to look at the seeming cause of, and our part in, each situation.

It is easy for the simple things like making a shopping list, or cleaning out our garage, but for the things that cause us pain, shame, or guilt or which evoke some form of emotion, even making a list can be a challenge. Those are often things we don’t want to look at, let alone make a list of to later share with a trusted friend or pastor. We procrastinate and find a hundred other distractions to avoid taking an honest look inside at what the root causes of our inner turmoil.

I was no different than many in early recovery when it came to starting my fourth step. I balked. Why? Because I thought I was alone. That nobody could understand what I was going through. I was ashamed and full of fear and guilt. I was also worried about telling some of my secrets to another, but was reminded by my AA sponsor, that that comes in the fifth step and that I only had to complete an inventory now.

For alcoholics this is a life or death step. As the AA big book says, “Resentment is our number one offender…” Holding onto resentments leads us to drink and, for us, to drink, is to die.

Therefore, for the alcoholic, completion of this step, as well as the eleven others, is critical to not only lasting recovery, but to life.

There is a specific format and instructions on how to do this in the Big Book.  As with all the steps, counsel with a sponsor (someone in AA who has already worked these steps) is highly recommended.

You’ll want to get a notebook and create four columns. The headings should be as follows:

  • Resentments (broken out into three sections)
    People, Institutions, Principles
  • Fears
  • Character Defects (Flaws)
  • Sex Conduct

Here’s a sample outline:
4th step outline

Be mindful however that the list as discussed above is only part of the solution. The complete solution as outlined in AA, is found by reading through the Big Book and working all 12 steps, with a sponsor, and developing faith and trust with a power greater than ourselves through the fellowship of AA.

The solution is spiritual.

I know I cannot get sober of my own will power. That I found, was part of the problem that keep me out there so long. I can’t merely work my way into sobriety. Don’t get me wrong, it takes effort. But for the mental transformation to bring about lasting sobriety,  I had to get to a place of surrender as I have already discussed in previous blogs; to admit my problem, come to believe in a power greater than myself, which  I call God, and becoming willing to turn my will and life over to that power greater than myself.

By design, the spiritual solution and concept of a higher power is open-ended to enable alcoholics of any faith background, or none, to get sober if they want to.

As Maxine, an old-timer, used to say at virtually every meeting, “if the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will scare you right back.”  She also would make it clear, that, “if you don’t do your 4th, you’ll drink a fifth! ”

Those words saved my life on several occasions. Usually when I was stuck in feeling sorry for myself agonizing over a new resentment that had surfaced. I knew I had work the step and pray to have it removed. I did the work, and left the results up to God. It worked.

The good news is for the fourth step we need only make the list and take a look at our thoughts, attitudes and actions and be willing to change. Faith is what relieves us alcoholics from the deadly grip of the spiritual maladies we’ve outlined in our fourth step; we see what the problem is, admit it, become willing to give it to God, and move on to the next step.

Don’t quit before the miracle. The miracle of recovery happens in the next step.

Know this, you’re not alone. Chances are high that we have a few things in common.

If you’d like to learn more about my own personal recovery journey, of pick up a copy of my book.

Thanks for stopping by.

God bless,

Shawn

One step at a time…

Two weeks ago I took I took a much needed day off to recharge. I had pushed myself to exceed my sales goals at work over the past several weeks and was rapidly reaching a point of burnout.

My idea to unwind was  to take a 10-12 mile hike to Alamere Falls along the Palomarin Trail of the picturesque Point Reyes Seashore in West Marin.

Ironically, I had been talking about making this hike for a long time, but never made it a priority to actually do it. I looked at pictures, maps, and blogs to plan my trip, but always found a reason why now was not a good time. Then the rains came. Which meant even more water to feed the falls. But the trail would be too muddy to hike, I rationalized, while sitting at home wishing I could do it.

One night I saw a picture on Facebook of my friend standing in front of the falls with the most joyful smile.

I have to do this soon, I thought, but never set a date. Another few weeks passed, followed by even more rain. Then, one evening, I saw a picture of that same friend standing atop the Andes in Ecuador. He looked at peace-happy. He had made a monumental climb. One that undoubtedly required, planning, conditioning, and time to acclimate to the altitude, but he didn’t give up, he had persisted.

When I saw that, I became even more motivated to make time to hike to the falls.  I finally reached the point where I wanted it bad enough-it looked just too beautiful to not experience first hand. I picked a date and committed to making it happen. Sure, there was a bit of envy and jealousy associated with seeing my friend’s glorious outdoor excursions, but I had to do this for me.

Several more storms pounded the Northbay over the weekend prior to my planned date.  I worried that I may have to change my plans. Fortunately there was only a 30% chance of rain on the Monday I’d be making the trek.

The morning came, I packed some rain gear, a delicious salami, prosciutto, and mozzarella sandwich,  Jalapeno Kettle chips, and a bottle of sparkling water and set out for Bolinas.

As I glanced at the trail map it looked a little daunting- 14 miles to the falls it said- it would take an average of four to five hours. I paused and told myself, you can do this, and stepped onto the trail.

A couple miles in my legs started to get sore. I had not hiked for more than 10 miles before and second guessed whether I was in shape enough to do this. Before long, though, I could see the Pacific ocean. It was a spectacular view and motivated me to press on.

Just past Bass Lake the trail wound through some woods. I stopped, looked up and heard nothing except the trees whispering and a few birds chirping. I held my hands to the sky and thanked God for the silence. Chills overcame me. This is what my soul craved, I said to myself.IMG_1120

Feeling recharged I continued on, winding my way out of the woods, along a narrow path, to an incredible overlook.

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The air was fresh and alive with the early signs of spring. Step by step I kept going. Much of the trail skirted the coast. I paused occasionally to drink in all its natural beauty.

Soon, I found a perfect spot to have lunch.

Eventually, I made it to Wildcat Camp, used the facilities, then backtracked along the beach. As I walked along the gravely shore, I noticed the tide coming in. For a moment, I wondered if I would  be stuck, but I could see the falls in the distance… Keep on…don’t quit before you finish, I thought.

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As I made the final steps to the falls I was overcome with elation. I felt the coarse sand  between my toes as I sat in stillness, allowing the calm cascade of the falls to sweep away any stress I had felt over the previous weeks and months. A seal bobbed its head and looked briefly toward the shore before swimming on in search of a tasty snack.

I love goals. I have always found them to be an exciting challenge. This one may not seem like a big deal for some, but for me it was. I was not nearly in as good of shape as I thought, but I made it.

Here’s to many more  waterfalls, waves, and sunsets. To open grassy fields and fresh, clean air. To letting go and letting down your hair. To leaving the stress behind, without a care. Here’s to dreamers everywhere. May you set your sights on high and take the first step to your dreams and goals, and listen to the silence with a sigh.

May we all remember to take the time to stop and hear the roar of the falls or the crashing waves in our ever increasingly busy lives.

Love ,

Shawn

Made a decision…

Everyday we make hundreds of decisions – choices. In fact, according to various sources on the internet we make an average of 35,000 decisions EVERY Day; over 276 involve food. Not all require a grand analysis. Many are routine like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. These simple choices have become so automatic they require little, if any thought, for most. Others, like deciding which is the fastest way to get to work, or where you would like to take your next vacation, require some analysis, planning, and weighing of pros and cons.

When it comes to recovery, the road map for many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts is laid out in the first 164 pages of the AA big book. There are 12 steps to follow.

Like many important decisions it wise to seek counsel and/or feed back from someone with experience regarding the choices and actions that need to be made. In AA that counselor is called a sponsor. A sponsor in AA is someone to  guide your through the 12- step program of recovery. Yet even with resources and support at our side, many stubbornly declare, “I can do it on my own.” My response is, yeah you could, we have have the freedom of choice, but the odds are slim to nil that you will stay sober if you don’t seek help, not only from a sponsor, but also from a higher power.

As it says in the preamble of the Big book, Chapter 5 “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…”
In recovery, being honest can be the difference between life or death. Can I be blunt? If you want to get sober, follow and work the steps,preferably with a sponsor. Don’t bullshit yourself thinking you can do it alone. Half measures  will avail you nothing.

In my previous two blogs of this series, I discussed steps one and two:

1-Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

2-Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Now, I address step three:

3-Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

What does this mean “a God of my understanding?” It means a power greater than yourself. Something that is not a derivative of your self will.

Why not be more specific? Because the founders of AA wanted to be as all encompassing as they possibly could with respect to varied religious and spiritual leanings. One thing they found to be true was that lasting sobriety required reliance upon a “power grater than ourselves.” In the Big Book they devoted several chapters to  a deeper explanation of this topic.

How does one do this in AA? That is, how do you make a decision to turn your will and life over to something can’t see? That is a fair question and one I struggled with in early recovery.

In my memoir, Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace , Love and Forgiveness
I talk about the fear I had at my first meeting. During the reading of the steps I heard the word God and it scared me. I didn’t really have any frame of reference or reason to fear it, yet my own conception of what I thought it meant was enough to scare me away and back to the bottle.

Eventually I found my way home, back to the rooms that eventually became an integral part of saving my life.

It’s funny but it’s also sad how much we fear things we really don’t fully understand. In the early days of recovery there was an old-timer named Maxine who used to say for the benefit of the newcomers in the room, “If the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will frighten you right back.” In the first 120 days of recovery those words saved me on more than one occasion.

Even though I was doing everything that was suggested: I went to ninety meetings in ninety days (as an over achiever full of fear, I actually went to 180.), I had a sponsor, I read the Big Book, had commitments at meetings and, most importantly, I was not drinking between meetings, even though I still thought about alcohol all the time. i heard others in meetings tell how they were sober; how the obsession  was lifted from them. I was impatient. I wanted to be free from that demon so bad. I longed for the  obsession to be removed from me. There were occasions where I lay on my back at night shouting in my head, sometimes out loud to take it away. I was still operating under self will. My knuckles were white from hanging on so tightly.

Finally the day came when I was ready to do my third step with my sponsor.

The weight of all that I thought I had drank over for so many years; my dad leaving and the multitude of anger and resentment, which I would later discover was just another form of self-centered fear, was weighing me down so heavily I worried if I would make it.

It was a sunny day and my sponsor had suggested we meet on the dusty hillside behind Mt. Carmel church in Mill Valley. I had done the first two steps to the best of my ability but was not confident that I would experience any grand miracle by just becoming willing to believe in this so-called “higher power.” But, honestly, I had no other choice.

Earlier we had read how it works and page 60 of “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Now in the bright sun my sponsor and I walked along the small path behind the church. He told me what we were going to do,”See this garbage can?”  He asked, lifting the lid to the steel can.

I nodded.

“I want you to take all that anger, fear, hurt and resentment you’ve been carrying around like a sack of rocks, and imagine yourself dumping it into this can. Then we’re going to get on our knees, hold hands, and say the third step prayer out loud. Afterward the compulsion to drink will be lifted from you.” He offered with compassionate certitude.

Despite being briefly distracted with worry over what passers by may say or think if they spied two men kneeling  in the dirt holding hands under the summer sun, I did as he suggested. My sobriety was more important. We said this prayer:

The Third Step Prayer
from page 63 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Amen
I spoke the words and let go.
As we stood  I felt a peace wash over me. I had “dropped the rock.”
I felt protected, even if I didn’t fully understand what had just happened.
Being willing to let go was the cornerstone upon which I was able to continue along the path of recovery. That is not to say that the thought to drink was completely removed. That day though, I was given a reprieve from the mental obsession over alcohol.
It stuck. I have gone back to that hillside in my mind many times throughout my life. It symbolizes a safe place of letting go.
The next step would require more than just willingness, it would require deep introspection, faith, courage and work.
I was now at step four, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Stay tuned for step four.

Came to believe…

When I staggered into my first AA meeting in July of 1986 I didn’t know what exactly to expect. I had a few friends who’d managed to stay sober but knew nothing about what it took. Like many before and after me, I heard the word God in the reading of the steps  at that first meeting and immediately bristled. Why? I don’t know. I was not brought up with any religious background and really had no reason to be afraid of the word God, but, nonetheless, it bothered me. In fact it bugged me so much that I went back out and tried to control my drinking on my own for another three months after that initial meeting.

On sheer will power, I managed to string together a few days of sobriety but, inevitably I started up again. I quickly realized that my own will power was not enough for me to stay stopped. I had to find a power greater than myself. I found that in the second step of AA:

Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The founders of AA understood the varied dynamic of people’s spiritual, religious, agnostic, and even atheistic leanings and address it in great length in the basic text of 12 step recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, aka the “Big Book.”

In fact, they discovered that those who managed to stop and stay stopped had a common thread-spirituality. This was baffling to many in the medical community at the time.

As I mentioned in my  previous post, I had no problem with the first step when I finally had been beaten. I knew I was powerless over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable.

But, when it came time to work the second step, I struggled.  Even after reading “More about alcoholism” and “We agnostics” in the AA “Big Book,” I didn’t know if I could “get it” and worried I would drink again. These chapters address very real concerns for those struggling with a concept of a higher power. My sponsor at the time said that I didn’t have to fully explain it or even understand it. Rather, he asked me to address this short question from page 47:

“Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?”

When I was willing to believe, my life began to change.

At first my higher power was a doorknob-something to focus on besides the floor, when I sat in a meeting.

After a month or two, I began to feel better on the inside. The mental obsession to drink began to wane. Soon my eyes lifted up from my shoes or the doorknob and I began to witness the “lights go on” in other newcomers who came in after me. I saw them smile. I listened to their stories and those of others and identified with what they were going through. In the meetings, many AA’s talked about a “Higher Power” or spirituality as the key to their sobriety. I listened and began to believe that this “Higher Power” would work for me too.

As a reminder to the steady stream of newcomers in meetings, one old-timer used to say,”If the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will scare you right back.” His statement always got a chuckle, but it was true. It took me awhile, and the word God scared me away at first, but I had nowhere else to go. I was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober, even if that meant developing a better understanding of the spiritual experience necessary to stay sober in AA.

Today, I honor my faith daily. I nurture it and maintain constant contact with my higher power whom I call God. It has become a regular part of who I am.

The benefits are clear:

Not only has the obsession to drink been removed, but when I maintain and grow my connection with God, my days are good. When I don’t intentionally practice a spiritual way of life, I drift along in self-will. I quickly become selfish, self-centered, and self-seeking and my days turn to shit in a heartbeat.

Getting sober is not an easy task. It takes work. You may think that after thirty years of sobriety it is automatic for me to be nice and “spiritual”. Hardly. I have days where I am a complete asshole. Fortunately, I am much quicker to recognize it and change my attitude and when I don’t, I have a wife who is not too shy to let me know.  Like anything worthwhile, I must practice spiritual living daily. When I do, I am filled with joy and gratitude and life doesn’t seem to be such a struggle. Today I choose to be happy, joyous and free.

For more on my personal journey, check out Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness.

Peace.

Shawn

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” – Lao Tzu

The first step in any endeavor is always the most difficult.

For some the fear of failure keeps us stuck where we are and trying to find the courage to begin often becomes paralyzing. We think of all the things that could go wrong and may worry that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough, brave enough, educated enough or whatever.

For others, the converse is true. It may seem silly, but there are many people who are actually afraid of success.

It doesn’t matter what it is that we seek,the reality is that it takes courage to start.

When it comes to addiction this can’t be more true. Millions have vowed to never drink again or ____ (fill in the blank). Yet, for those, like me who have addictive tendencies, the day comes again when temptation and desire overpowers any modicum of self will and, once again, we’re off and running.

For me this was a vicious cycle that, though it only lasted a short time, brought me to my knees, begging for help.

When I was nearing the end of my drinking career I vividly recall the utter insanity in my head-

It was a summer day in 1986. Stoned, coked out, and drunk, my heart pounded inside my chest.  I laid on my back in my 8′ x 8′ room staring at the 7′ wainscot ceiling above gasping for each breath, afraid that if I fell asleep I would not wake up.

My mind raced. Voices entered into my head as if they were speaking to me. I heard my mom telling me to get help. Others- my grandmother, my brother, and close friends and relatives, all implored me to get help. They were all talking over each other. I got scared. The room started to spin and I couldn’t shut the voices off. I put one foot on the floor hoping it would stop the room from spinning. It helped for a bit but the voices clamored on- “You need help.” “We love you!”  “Hang on.” Each one seeming to call out to me like angels from on high.

I heard them but wanted them to go away. I thought I was either going insane, dying, or that I may have a problem with drugs and alcohol.

“God help me!” I cried out. “Make it stop!”

That incident was the catalyst that brought me one step closer to seeking help.

As many before me, I wasn’t done yet. I thought I could control it. I would stop for two or four days then be right back at it for another week or more.

Near the end, I recall actually going to a bar one night with the intention of getting wasted. I ordered a double-nothing. I ordered two more. Still nothing. Alcohol had stopped working.

Why? Because I was an alcoholic; I had lost the ability to control my drinking.

But I had not yet been beaten down to the point of admitting it. That would take a few more crazy episodes, one in which I literally hallucinated that my mom had called an insane asylum. They were going to put me in a straight jacket and take me away.

Eventually I gave in. I admitted lost the ability to control my drinking and checked into a 28 day rehab. That was on October 10, 1986.

After three days of detox, I was introduced to the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Step One:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives were unmanageable.”

I was beaten and fully surrendered to taking the first step toward a journey that would change the course of my life forever. For that, I am eternally grateful.

This is the first of  twelve posts, in which I will outline a portion of my experience with the twelve steps for one sole purpose- to carry the message of hope for those who still suffer.

If you or someone you know has struggled or you are currently in recovery, I encourage you to follow this series. Share it if you want. I am just another alcoholic who has not found it necessary to drink or use drugs, one day at a time, since October, 10, 1986.

Step One
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—
that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Expect a miracle, every day.

Miracles happen all the time. Regardless of whether we choose to call them miracles or chalk them up as mere coincidence, one has to admit that some things are beyond logical explanation.

I have experienced so many miracles in my short time on this planet that I literally could write a book about them. Perhaps, someday I will.

One that comes to mind was on a trip to Disney World fifteen years ago. After months of planning and preparation, the big day had arrived. My first wife, son, and I boarded a plane and flew to sunny Orlando. Even though I was a little edgy from not getting to smoke for nearly five hours, my excitement overshadowed my nicotine withdrawals, or so I thought.

We climbed into our rental car and began our way to the condo in Celebration, FL. That’s where things started to go sideways. I was aware that there were several toll roads in Florida and had packed change to pay for them. What I didn’t realize though, is how many there were from our short drive from the airport to the condo. It seemed that every mile or two I had to reach for more small bills or change.

Most of the toll booths were unmanned and required you to toss change into a scoop. Somewhere around the second or third one I started to get frustrated and was running out of small bills and change.

With my wallet in my lap for easier access, I approached yet another toll booth. This one required me to toss coins, not bills. I was out of change and had to pop the trunk to get more change  from my luggage. I grabbed a handful of change, shrugging my shoulders at the driver behind me, then dropped some in the big scoop before getting back into the car to pull away.

It wasn’t long before we approached another toll booth. This one required bills. I reached down to pull some singles out of my wallet and it wasn’t there. I panicked. I asked my wife to look on the floor. It was nowhere to be found.

A line of cars began to form behind me. My blood sugar was crashing. I was tired and wanted a cigarette. I felt so helpless.

Now what?!, I thought. We came all this way and now I’ve lost my wallet. This is a disaster. I am a F**K up. How could I be so stupid? I probably dropped it on the ground at the last toll plaza. How do I get out of this? 

“Dammit, I lost my wallet” I cussed. “I have to go back,” I said to my wife. So I blew through the toll crossing,  flipped a dangerous u-turn to head back to the previous toll gate.

I parked the car on the shoulder and searched anxiously for my wallet, but, it was nowhere in sight.

I began to sob. Once again I had let my family down. My irritation and impatience had gotten the best of me.

“Now what?” my wife asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes.

We found a diner, ate something, and got cash using her card. Shortly after we ate, we checked into our condo. As soon as we got inside, I grabbed the local phone book (this was before smart phones and the internet) to look up the local police dept.

Long story short, a miracle happened. As it turned out, a woman behind us had spotted me dropping my wallet, picked it up, and turned it into the local authorities. She happened to work as a nurse, mere blocks from our condo and, fifteen minutes later, an officer came by to return my wallet. Nothing was missing.

Miracles do happen.

Three days ago I received a text from my half-brother, Tyler, whom I had not spoken to in over twenty five years. My step-sister, Lori had reached out to me a year or so ago on Facebook and was instrumental in reconnecting me with Tyler. They both had read my book and Tyler sent me a text the day before yesterday thanking me for sharing some of the family history that he was not aware of. He also sent me a text asking for my opinion about “something.”

Now, my mind was reeling with all the what-ifs that he may want to ask, not to mention what I may say to a brother I barely knew.

Sometimes we have to take a deep breath and trust that the right words will come out and walk through any fear or apprehension and make the call. So I did.

We started talking and within minutes, I felt connected. I felt like I knew him. He is my blood. He is my brother.  We chatted for a bit, before I asked what advice  he needed. Tyler said mentioned that he has a friend  who is struggling with addiction and wanted to know what to do.

I shared what I could  from my experience and suggested that he offer to take him to a meeting. And, if he doesn’t want to go that, “all you can do is love him, but maintain your own boundaries.”

“I don’t want to enable him. I may have to give him some ‘tough love’,” he said. I smiled. He knows a little about this stuff. How cool, I thought.

Folks, this conversation and the re-connection with my brother is a miracle. So is the fact that my primary purpose of writing Beyond Recovery was to help at least one person. It appears to have done that.

Tyler and I will plan to hang out in the months to come as soon as this nasty storm passes.

In the meantime, may we all face the storms of our own lives with the quiet confidence that there is something far greater than us guiding us, watching over us, and protecting us. We need only trust in that power and learn to expect a miracle everyday.

Love,

Shawn