What do you say to someone who’s hurting?

What do you say to someone who’s hurting?

In the wake of the tragic wildfires, I am a bundle of mixed emotions. Me and my family were spared from major loss, but thousands of others were not. At last count over 7,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. Over 43 are dead. Many families lost everything.

In many respects, we are all hurting from this.  How do we process our feelings? How do we cope?

I’m not a psychologist nor a counselor and therefore I am not qualified to give any specific advice.

I do however, know that I have to process my own emotions and do what I can to help those who need it.

Here’s what I can offer:

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Listening

Offering food, clothing, shelter and financial support are also helpful.

Yet even then, I am left with a sense of grief. How would I handle it if I lost everything? I don’t know.

A couple things that have always helped me in past personal crises are writing— journaling about my thoughts, and emotions, talking with others, counseling, and trying to offer help to others.

I was given two opportunities to talk with people in the midst of these devastating fires.

Last Saturday I had a book signing at Barnes and Noble. In some ways, it felt selfish to promote my book, but I quickly realized that I was there for another purpose—to offer encouragement and guidance to those who had family members suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and also to offer encouragement about the fires. I was able to listen to their stories and offer suggestions. Many of them also bought my book. Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness.

B&N

Two days later on Monday, I was scheduled to do my first live radio interview by phone on KZSB – 1290 AM in Santa Barbara. It was largely unscripted and conversational. Granted, I had a framework for the program including talking about the fires, ways people can help, and, of course, my recovery journey as it related to my book.

The interviewers, Ed Giron and Maria Long were both gracious and kind and asked some really good questions. Ed at one point asked me what advice I would have for those that don’t think they are ready to stop drinking or using drugs and a follow up question about what I would suggest for those who really don’t think they have a problem. I paused before answering.

You see, my experience has been that sometimes we may think we are ready to stop drinking, using, overeating,etc… and may  even go to a meeting or seek counsel, only to return to our old addictive behavior(s). Other times, we feel we still have control and therefore have no need for any solution. If you want to learn more, you can listen to the whole interview here:

In summary, I suggested that for those who don’t think they have a problem with food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc., —they may not. However, if they are causing an individual pain and affecting their relationships they may want to seek help. In response to Ed’s question about those who think they may have a problem but are not yet ready to change or seek help, I expanded a bit more but, in a nut shell said that the first step is admitting that one has a problem. Then an individual can follow the 12 steps or work with a counselor or another program to find a solution.

The bottom line though, for me and millions of others, is that the solution must come from a power greater than ourselves. We are not God. And no matter how much we think we are in control, ultimately, we are not.

That brings me back to the current state of my emotional and spiritual development. I rely on prayer and meditation to help me stay centered. I have a sense of faith. I call my higher power God. I have witnessed hundreds of miracles in my short lifetime and trust that even in the wake of these horrific fires that most of us will survive. In some respects, we have become closer as a larger community and stronger because of them. That is not to placate, minimize, or sweep away the pain they inflicted.

My heart goes out to all who lost it all. I too have lost so much in my life—jobs, health, brother, family, broken relationships. In the midst of it all, I always found hope.

My prayer for all is that we find the courage to process our emotions and continue to grow in love and kindness for each other. May we become more unified as families, community, country, and world. May we realize that we are truly never alone. That at the end of the tunnel there is always light.

Shell Beach - Pebble Beach Trail Inverness, CA

Shell Beach – Pebble Beach Trail Inverness, CA

Love,

Shawn

Find our more at

www.shawnlangwell.com

Finding Serenity Amidst Chaos

Northern California continues to be pummeled by wildfires. The wake of destruction is taking a toll.  As of today, 36 have been killed; 5,700 homes and business have been destroyed. The fires have burned more than 212,000 acres. Families have lost so much. Many, including my in-laws, have had to evacuate since early in the morning on October 9. Just this morning, residents in northeast Santa Rosa were awakened before dawn by the blaring of fire engine sirens and told to evacuate immediately.

Reporters at the Marin IJ and hundreds of news outlets including my wife and her team at the Press Democrat, have spent countless hours sifting through the updates to keep the public informed. Our city and local police and sheriffs have done a great job of notifying the public immediately through Nixel alerts.( text 888777 and enter your zip code) Our Councilman Mike Harris shared these numbers from county Supervisor David Rabbitt

Tubbs Fire 34,770-25% contained
Pocket Fire 9,996-5% contained
Nuns Fire 44,381- 5% contained
Presley Fire 473- 10% contained
Total acreage 89,620

Expected Full Containment 10/20/17

Pocket Fire active overnight burning in southern and eastern edges

Tubbs burning on northern and eastern edges

Nuns and Presley burning in heavier fuels

272 Engines
29 water tenders
12 helicopters
6 air tankers
62 hand crews
23 bulldozers
2,333 personnel

Fire fighters and Police officers from all of California have pulled together to protect people, homes, and attempt to contain the growing inferno.

Thousands of businesses and volunteers have donated food bedding, clothing and supplies to local evacuation shelters.

There is connection, compassion, and care unlike any I have ever experienced. The outpouring of support is amazing. So much so that some shelters have had to turn away volunteer help and donations.

Other churches, like Glide Memorial, have sent teams to serve at New Life Christian Fellowship in Petaluma and later in Napa.

There is a sense of unity among people. My family and me have been spared for now. Yet I still am trying to process all of this. It is too much to process 24-7.  Where do I help? How do I deal with my anxiety?

I turn to prayer. I try and find a quiet place to enjoy nature. I want to find a bit of quiet and tranquility among all this chaos. Then I feel guilty, like I should be helping someone, serving others. I have my own facemask. And have others for the family.

Yesterday I needed to find a bit of solitude and also wanted to see if I could get to my in-laws home to see whether it was still standing and to quiet my anxiety.  After driving by several roadblocks along Petaluma Hill Road, I landed at Howarth Park at the northern edge of Santa Rosa. Much of the area had already been evacuated the day before.  The parking lot was nearly empty. It was like a ghost town.

I snapped a few photos to capture the still lake. Several miles northeast the fire blazed on. But for a moment, I felt calm. It was eerie.  A lone man sat in a canoe on the glassy lake, fishing.

 

Howarth Park

Lone man on Lake – Howarth Park 10-13-17

 

I then wanted to see how far northeast I could go. I drove along the heavily wooded road along Spring Lake. It looked like an oak-studded tunnel. I worried that if the fire were to come down this road could quickly become a fire tube gaining momentum as it raced toward more homes and businesses.  I reached the end of the road at Highway 12 and Melita Road, then looped back down highway 12 past Calistoga Road and stopped to snap a shot of the famous Flamingo Hotel. I wanted a shot for my wife and family, just in case.

Flaimngo Hotel, Sant Rosa CA

The air was still, as if a calm before the next fire storm. The hotel had already been evacuated.

Then this morning I saw the Nixel alert that that very area was being evacuated at the crack of dawn.

My heart goes out to all. We will get through this.  I am glad that I took a moment to pause and be grateful that I was alive—that our family and home was safe for the time being.

I encourage everyone to pause, if you can, and take a moment to be grateful to be alive. Take a moment to get outside to a calm area—to give yourself a break from the turmoil. It was healing for me. Yet tensions persist. I snapped at my wife on our anniversary. We made up. I need to be cognizant and mindful that we all are in this together. I have no idea what others are experiencing. Yet, for me, a little serenity in the midst of chaos can do wonders for my soul.

In 1987, while processing my own inner chaos during my first year of recovery, I wrote this poem.

           Serenity

 

Serenity is soft like a warm summer breeze

Serenity is the warmth of a fire on a cold winters day

Serenity smells like the blossoms of spring

Serenity is radiant like the setting sun

Serenity is peace when we are alone

Serenity has a place in my heart and my home

Serenity is a friendly smile when we feel blue

Serenity is acceptance of things as they are

Serenity is a phone call from a friend afar

Serenity is love of myself and my friends

Serenity is a feeling that doesn’t have to end

 

May God bless and protect us all as we go through this together.

Love, Shawn

For more insights on serenity and life, please visit https://shawnlangwell.com/

It’s never too late to say, “I love you.”

Those three words have the ability to change someone’s life, or, at least their day.  They are three of the most important words to a child’s ears.

wp-1464277254498Simple loving acts of kindness can also spread joy. Watch how much another lights up when you smile at them. Or when you show genuine interest in another or listen intentionally.

Though all are free, each requires a conscious effort to intentionally take our eyes off of ourselves and put them onto another for a moment, without expecting anything in return.

Yet, often what we get back in terms of joy is invaluable.

 

Two nights ago, while on Vacation in Maui, I stood at the sand shower by the pool hosing off my sandy feet. A small toddler walking with his mother paused for a moment to watch. He was clearly fascinated by what I was doing. I looked at him, then his mom. “It gets the sand off,” I said to the little blond boy, pushing the button and dangling my feet beneath the light spray.

“Wanna try it?” I asked, smiling at him.  He hesitated for a moment then stepped closer. He balanced on one leg and placed his tiny foot under the shower. Beaming, he looked at me for approval. “Good job. Pretty cool eh?”

He beamed and stepped back as I rinsed my other foot. He then moved forward again to do the same.

This was a moment, frozen in time, which I will probably remember for the rest of my life. Will the young lad? Perhaps.

The point is, life is too short to miss opportunities to spread joy; to be loving and kind.

It also made me miss my own son and my dad.

In February of this year I delivered a five-minute talk about my memoir, Beyond Recovery.

My goal wasn’t to convince anyone that they need to get sober. No, my goal was to share that it is OK to let people know you love them and that forgiveness is one of the most powerful ways to do that.

Several close friends and family sat around a long table listening intently as I began reading an excerpt from Beyond Recovery entitled Second Chances. As I scanned the audience, I noticed others leaning in. Some even had tears welling up.

I never really know what will reach someone. Each time I practice telling my story I have to try a few things before I know what works.

I took my seat after answering several good questions then listened to a few other speakers.

When the event was over, the soundman approached me as I began to leave.

He asked if my dad had always said I love you. I paused for a moment, “Yeah, I guess so.”  I replied.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because mine never did,” he said, eyes looking away…

He talked a bit about it. I listened, but didn’t press. I sensed that it was still a sore subject.

He thanked me again for sharing a piece of my story—said it touched him.

“You made my day. Thank you!” I replied, shaking his hand.

We all yearn for two things: Love and Acceptance

Father’s day is this Sunday. Even if your relationship is less than perfect with your father, I encourage you all to let him know you love him. If he is no longer here, perhaps you could write a love letter. Trust me; it will change your world.

If you are a dad, most kids will always love you.  It’s OK to say I love you to them. They need to hear it. If you are a single mother encourage your kids to talk to their dad, if possible.
My hope and prayer and goal by sharing a piece of my heart, that you too will find that which you seek. Sometimes you have to give it before you receive it.

Here’s the excerpt I read.  You can order Beyond Recovery through any local bookstore or on amazon

 

Beyond Recovery A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness

Chapter 25
Second Chances

 

Miracles and Milkshakes

Whether you believe there are no mistakes or not, I do. I have seen things happen so many times that seemed wrong or painful or didn’t make any sense. When I looked within, prayed, or talked it out with another, I learned to walk through whatever it was that was causing me agony inside. I came through. I survived. …

Miracles happen every day. So do tragedies, I wish I could say the story ends here and we all lived happily ever after…that’s only in movies and fairy tales.

In October of 2005 I got a call from my mom …

“Your aunt called and said that your dad is very sick. You should go see him,” she urged. “He’s at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.”

Shit. Here we go again. Another hospital visit. Why me? Why now?

“Okay. I’ll stop by after work.”

My heart pounded as I parked the car.

Is it too late? What if he’s going to die? How am I going to handle this?

Suffocating from the ‘what ifs,’ I said a short prayer.

“God, please grant me the strength and courage to face this situation. To accept it for whatever it is. To come from a place of compassion and let my dad know how much I love him.”

I walked into the hospital and asked the receptionist which room he was in.

She gave me the number and pointed to the room. I walked down the dimly lit hall. It was quiet. The room was dark. My dad lay in a hospital gown. He’d lost forty to fifty pounds since I last saw him three years earlier. Salt and pepper stubble covered his gaunt face. He looked very frail.

Our eyes met. His warm smile melted away all the pain and hurt and anger of the past thirty-five years.

My heart glowed with his beaming smile. He was truly delighted to see me. In that moment he showed me what it was like to let go of the past. In that moment, despite his body giving up, he was radiant.

His smile filled my heart with so much joy. I was so, so glad it wasn’t too late. I really don’t know how I could’ve handled it if I was too late.

“Hi Dad!”

“Shawn,” he chuckled, “you look good!”

“Thanks Dad,” I said, giving him a hug. “So what’s going on?” I asked, trying to be strong.

“Some infection…they don’t know.”

“Wow. You’ve lost a lot of weight,” I remarked, feeling a little uneasy and very concerned about his health. His smile didn’t match his body. But he was at peace—I could see it in his warm brown eyes. He’s letting go, I thought.

The stubble on his face reminded me of all the times he’d given me a hug and a kiss goodnight as a kid. I felt safe. I looked up to my dad so much as a young child. I could brag that my dad was a fireman! When he left us, all that changed. The love I felt was replaced by anger and hurt. He had abandoned me and my two brothers, and I let it imprison me. I drank over it so I wouldn’t have to face the feelings. But now, the love we shared for so many years was stronger than ever. It enabled me to push through the layers of resentment, like a seedling reaching for the sunlight in spring.

As I held his hand, I felt all that love come rushing back. Fond childhood memories rushed forward. After baths as a child, he would dry my hair by vigorously rubbing it with a towel. I loved that. Now, as we talked about life and how much I loved him, once again, I asked for his forgiveness for all the anger I had held from the past.

Without thinking about it, I began to rub his head—a comforting gesture he had done for me so many times as a kid.

“Dad, I love you.”

“Ha!” he chuckled. His eyes expressed peace, love and care. “I love you, too, Shawn. I’m sorry we lost Seth.” His voice trailed off a bit. (We hadn’t really talked about the loss of my brother since the time several years earlier. I had made amends with this as part of my recovery.) Still, his words touched a piece of the wound that still existed.

“Please let Kelly know I love him, too,” he continued. “Even though I never got to see you boys much, I thought about you often. You were always with me,” he said, holding his hand close to his heart, smiling. Tears streamed down my face. “I know, Dad. I know. It wasn’t easy, but we all turned out all right.”

“Yeah, I’m proud of you, Shawn.”

I wiped the tears from my face. “Thank you. I love you, Dad. Is there anything you’d like?”

“A milkshake,” he replied quickly with a childlike smile.

“A milkshake?”

“Yeah—chocolate.”

I smiled at the simplicity of the request.

“I’ll get you a milkshake the next time I come back, okay?”

“I’d like that.” We hugged and said our goodbyes.

That was the last time I saw my father. He passed shortly thereafter.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t make it back to get him his chocolate milkshake. I feel a little guilty. I could’ve just gotten it that day. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I see him again. Now, every time I have a milkshake, I think of my father. I imagine us sitting on a park bench watching the ducks, sipping on a milkshake together. Somehow, that helps assuage my guilt. I feel blessed that I got to say goodbye. This experience also serves as a reminder to make peace with those closest to us—to cherish the time that we do have. Our life on this planet is so very brief. Depending on your beliefs, there’s plenty of time for milkshakes in Heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Longing for a white Christmas and a holiday of joy

Christmas is supposed to be a joy and a celebration right? Then why does this time of year have me all knotted up?

I long for the memories of a white Christmas past.  Like the story I shared in my book…

White Christmas

It had snowed like crazy in the middle of the night. The branches of towering Ponderosa Pines that lined their property sagged under the weight of the snow. The five ton granite boulder that sat outside the dining room window, looked like part of a gigantic snowman. A blanket of virgin white snow surrounded the ground and patio outside the cabin. Untouched—it was calling our name. The gifts would have to wait.

My brothers, two cousins and I couldn’t wait to make tracks and have a snowball fight.

After we pelted each other a few times with snowballs, my Grandma Pauline beckoned us inside to breakfast and then to open gifts. We inhaled our bacon and eggs and pancakes and took turns shredding open our gifts. All the boys got Pogo sticks and my cousin Sheila got a bike.

“Let’s make a snowman!” Aunt Bonnie suggested to my mom…

Kelly started to make a snowman, but thought it would be better to chuck a big snowball at Seth—“Snowball fight!” Kelly cried out as he pummeled Seth in the back.

We laughed and giggled chucking snowballs at each other.

My cousins, Michael and Sheila, joined in, while my mom and aunt finished their snowman. They had already made arms with branches and put a carrot in the middle of the head for a nose.

“Hey, want some coal?” my grandpa asked as he handed them two lumps of coal—he had disappeared a few minutes earlier get some from the big sack that sat near the pot belly stove used to heat the upstairs bedroom area.

That was one of the best Christmases ever!

I have been blessed with so much. More than I ever imagined as a teenager. Then why do I feel empty inside, like something is missing?  Perhaps its tough because I miss those who are no longer here to celebrate the holidays and life: my dad, my grandparents, and my brother, Seth. Perhaps it’s residual feelings  I’ve held onto like this story of my early teens that  I shared in Beyond Recovery

Lost Christmas Joy

I have spent many years trying to get past my hurt and anger, primarily toward my father for leaving us. As a kid from a broken family, it was hard to not hold a grudge. Especially when the rent was due, my brothers and I had to wear hand me downs and needed new shoes, and there was barely enough food in the fridge. Early on, there were times when we’d open the cupboards and they were practically bare.

People step up when needed—my dad’s parents always gave my mom five hundred bucks at Christmas so we could get clothes. I took on more responsibility. Her boyfriend helped with more firewood. We made do. We survived. However, winters were difficult for me, especially around Christmas time. What once brought me great joy with food, family, presents, and at least one snowball fight, became a day I dreaded. Most of this was perpetuated by an overwhelming lack of gratitude and focus on what we didn’t have rather than being grateful for what we had. We could only afford a small four-foot tree that we propped up on a coffee table to make it look bigger. To make matters worse, our sole heat source was a wood burning stove upstairs and a toxic kerosene heater downstairs. We had no money for firewood, so my two brothers and I cut bay trees that were so green they hissed when we tried to burn them. Pat, my mom’s new boyfriend, would collect scrap lumber he found in dumpsters for us to use as kindling, and my grandpa let us use the discarded oak parquet tiles from his work. Those would burn hot enough to get the green bay going, but the tar backing and finish made some nasty smoke while the fire was starting.

I’m grateful that our home was not condemned. It had been built as a summer home and had no insulation. There was no bathroom downstairs and the single wire, ungrounded 110 amp electrical almost killed me; I was taking a bath one day, and while standing in a tub full of water, reached over to turn on the electric heater—bad idea.

 Our roof was shot. It leaked like a sieve, and we had no money to get it repaired. Instead, we stapled plastic sheeting to the ceiling to collect the drips, then poked in the low spots and placed buckets underneath to catch the drips in four spots instead of twenty. If my dad were still around, we could have fixed all these problems. But our limited resources stared us in the face anytime we needed repairs, new clothes, or saw how many presents our friends and relatives got at Christmas. How could a mother not feel resentful about the lack of child support? How could us kids not be pissed about a father who was not there to take us to baseball, basketball, or soccer games? I missed my dad. It sucked.

I don’t share this to be a downer. I  share it to let others who may also wrestle with joy and  discontentment around the holidays, know they are not alone. On one hand I want to be cheerful yet on the other,  I wallow in grief over family members, and sometimes feel all alone.

The struggle is real. Talking helps, so does writing it down. I figured if maybe I shared a little of my heart, it may help another realize that they are not alone.

So what do I do to get out of the holiday blues? I try to smile more. I give more. I try not to think so much about myself. I give more hugs. There’s something magical about smiling at someone that lifts their spirits and in turns lifts mine. Hugs do the same thing. Physical contact is known to improve mental  well being and health.

So for the next two weeks I am going to try and smile more and give more hugs.

 

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