Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rediscovering the Local Library

The library has become my home away from home. Well, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But I have been to the library more times in the last month (twice!) than I had been in the previous couple of years...combined. And I like it.

Being underemployed and working as a freelance writer/addiction forum moderator/social media person/whatever-the-hell-it-is-that-I-do has its challenges. One of the biggest challenges--right after not making nearly enough money--is working from home every single day.

Don't get me wrong. I love my home. My wife and I have lived there for 11 (or is it 12?) years now, and after a lot of family chaos during the first several years we've finally settled in and are quite comfortable in our space. Even so, sitting around the house EVERY SINGLE DAY, whether you're working or chilling, can drive a person a little bit stir crazy. And over the last couple of months that stir craziness has started to eat away at me.

So I've started coming to the local library for a change of scenery. They just remodeled this place and it's pretty nice. Lots of comfy chairs, lots of plug outlets, very fast free WiFi, etc. All the things I need to get my work done. (They have a shitload of books, too.) There aren't any cats, which takes some getting used to. But there are lots of little kids running around, which also takes some getting used to.

All things considered, the change is pleasant. Hearing kids laughing and newspaper pages turning while I sit and write is a nice respite from hearing the air conditioning cycle on and off and being forced to listen to power mowers, edgers, and leaf blowers spew their noise pollution throughout the neighborhood. (Not to mention the sounds of the occasional cat fight.)

If I get bored or need a break from writing, I can even wander off and find reference books on the shelves that have my name in them, which is one of the perks (I guess) of having worked for a publishing company for almost 25 years.

I'm at the library right now, and when I left the house a little while ago, with my little computer bag packed full of my stuff, I actually felt like I was going somewhere. It was almost like I was going to work. Which I was. Kind of. I think.

If you haven't been to your local library in a while, I highly recommend you go. I had forgotten how badass libraries are. Before I leave today, I might do something really crazy. Like check out a book.

P.S. Wait. Libraries don't have snack bars??!??!?!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crying on the Way Home from Costco

It's been just over a week since I announced some changes to this blog. In a nutshell, I've taken the focus off of my son and will be blogging more about addiction, recovery, mental health, and just life in general. So if you don't abandon this blog entirely, you'll likely end up reading about some of the things I'm passionate about, like cooking, music, or helping others. Or you might get stuck reading about things that happen to me in my everyday life. Like this post about something that happened earlier today.

This morning I decided to go to Costco to pick up a beef brisket flat to smoke sometime over the next few days. My wife and I are having an event at our house on October 7th and I've committed to smoking brisket for the occasion. Since I've only smoked brisket a handful of times since I bought a smoker a couple of years ago, I decided I'd do a practice run. It can't hurt, right? As I told my wife, "I want to do a test run before the actual cook," which sounded very Walter White-ish.

Off to Costco I went, which is always an adventure and a challenge. Trying to get out of that store without spending your entire checking account should be an Olympic event. Could that advertising tagline I see Costco using on Facebook be any more spot-on?

"Go for what you need, leave with what you love."

Right???!!!

Despite my best intentions of going to Costco and only buying a beef brisket, I did end up leaving with more than I came for. But not that much more. The only additional items I caved to were a 4-pack box of organic Triscuits (on sale!) and two pairs of Levi's (one for me and one for my wife). I consider that pretty damn good for a Costco run.

On the drive home from Costco I was feeling fine. The sun was shining and I had Matthew Ryan's May Day album blasting on the stereo. I even gave the "homeless" person at the top of the freeway exit ramp a dollar, which I never do. (I use quotation marks around homeless because I don't think the guy is actually homeless; I think panhandling might just be his job. But I could be wrong.)

But as I started traversing the surface streets on the last leg of my ride home, something unexpected happened: I started crying. And this wasn't just an I-feel-sad-so-I'm-gonna-get-a-little-teary-eyed kind of cry. It was a full-on tears-running-down-both-of-my-cheeks-while-I-bawl-like-a-baby cry.

I started crying, out of the blue.

Now I'll be the first one to admit that I cry on a pretty regular basis. Not every other day or anything like that, but at least a few times a month. I find absolutely nothing wrong with crying, or with a man crying (God forbid!). Like Anne Lamott writes, "I cry intermittently, like a summer rain. I don't feel racked by the crying; in fact, it hydrates me."

Crying helps me. It always has. I consider crying to be my body's way of cleansing itself of an overload of emotions. Most of the time those emotions are negative, but I've cried a lot of happy tears, too. Regardless of what I'm feeling, if I'm feeling too much of it, crying always helps. So much so that back when I had an actual job and I was going through some tough times at home, I would book a conference room on occasion just so I could go sit and cry in private. (You've gotta do what you've gotta do.)

There was no particular reason why I started crying on the way home from Costco. I think it was just an accumulation of some very emotional stuff that's been going on in my life for the last few weeks. I was feeling too much, and my body decided it would open the relief valve and let the excess emotion out.

My cry only lasted a minute or two, but damn--it made me feel rejuvenated.

My penchant for crying might be strange for a 54-year-old man. I don't really know, and I don't really care. I'm an emotional person, and I'd rather "cry it out" than keep everything bottled up inside. Lord knows that's not healthy. I also kind of wonder where I picked up my crying gene (is that a thing?), because I never saw my dad cry. Never ever. I can't even imagine my dad crying. That just wouldn't have been manly. Come to think of it, I don't think I witnessed any grown man cry until I was in my mid-20s and saw my mom's father cry when his wife died.

My grandfather was overwhelmed with emotion. He felt too much and he cried to let it out. I'm so glad I got to see that, because it taught me something about life:

There's nothing wrong with crying. No matter who you are.

"Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots." --Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love

Friday, August 5, 2016

Runner-Up Essay: "Two Years" by Katie Walker

This is the second-place essay in the 2016 My Life As 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. Our runner-up this year is Katie Walker of Clay, Michigan. She is a student at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, where she is studying political science. Katie will receive $550 to help pay her tuition costs this coming year.



Two Years
By Katie Walker

I don't want you to die thinking that I hate you, but I'm afraid it will happen. I don't want you in my life anymore, but I still love you. I’ll admit, there was a time when I didn't care if you lived or died--at least I told myself so--but I was really angry with you. It felt like you'd ruined everything and I really thought we were going to lose our nephew. Sometimes it's still really difficult not to blame you for Joel's mom leaving--you did have a meth-crazed affair together, after all. You did bring an armed drug dealer into our house who threatened to shoot all of us, including the baby. But, most of the time, I miss you. I miss you, not the addiction. I wonder where you end and where the addiction starts. Are you still the little boy who won the lead in the community play, singing "Reach for the Stars"?

Writing this, I realize it has been two years since I last spoke to you. You've tried to contact me. You still tell Mom to say hello to me. You still tell me you are proud of me through comments on Mom's Facebook page, even though you've gotten nothing in return. I'm sorry I'm still mad. I'm sorry I can't be there for you.

Katie with her brother.
For the last four years, I've watched your addiction consume Mom. That's not your fault, she is free to make her own decisions, but it still hurts to see. In my angrier stages, I couldn't understand why she kept "wasting" Dad's money on you, in and out of rehab every few months, and every few months you'd relapse, bringing some other druggie to my grandmother's house to overdose in her bed, or a band of troublemakers to the party of a friend of mine where they could destroy his house, spray painting the walls and starting fights. Sometimes, I think maybe she is a better person than I am, for never giving up on you, no matter how many reasons you give. I'm not always so sure, though. It took a lot of effort to let go and live my own life, to accept the brother I once had wasn’t there anymore and didn’t seem to want to be. Or is that even true?

Addiction is such a mess. Who are you? What actions were you and what actions were addiction? Who lives in your body now?

It's hard to believe the boy who tried teaching me to skateboard, who inspired me to try out for the theater, who shared such wonderful music with me is still inside of that body. It's hard to see that person when you steal from me and our parents, when you punch holes in walls in drunken rages, when you take advantage of our grandma's hospitality and unconditional love, taking her money and turning her home into your own personal drug house. I'll never forget it, and I don't know if I can forgive it.

I know you will read this and think I'm a monster, a selfish person who abandoned a loved one who needed me. Sometimes, that's how I feel, but I would not give up the life I lead now. I love that, without you poisoning my life, without fearing to come home, I can be there for people who want help, and help myself. Did you know I felt like I had to hide my depression and suicidal thoughts because Mom and Dad were preoccupied with trying to keep you and your girlfriend clean? That was a fun birthday. My 21st. Mom and I were on our way to Red Lobster to chow down on crab legs, as was our ritual. I told her then. I couldn't stop wanting to die. I couldn't stop wanting to escape. No, don't worry. It wasn't just you, but your violent outbursts certainly didn't help. Seeing my hero fall certainly didn't give me hope.

Two months later, I had an escape plan. I wouldn't be trapped in that house with you anymore. I'd get out, by just any means necessary. Even living in a house with no appliances and no heat in the middle of winter. Living with you was terrible. Having no heat was better, for the time being.

Yet, still I tried to be your friend. I remember visiting you a few months later in your three-quarter house. We went to see a concert, and I was excited to have a night of clean fun with you and your friends. I was happy to bring people who you used to love to come see you. Maybe that was a mistake. Old habits die hard, I guess.

I know it's been hard for you. I've watched you go through withdrawal, and lied for you to family friends, hiding what was happening because everything was still so fresh. I've gone to meetings with you. I lived with you for a time during your recovery and I've seen you cycle through stages of determination and depression. I did everything I thought I could to distract you from your symptoms. You taught me guitar; we planned art projects; we did whatever we could do that didn't involve substances. It hurt to find out that you'd been sneaking liquor, beer, and heroin the entire time. I thought we were doing well, but then you kept nodding off. I guess you weren't ready. I needed you to be ready.

Katie and her brother as young siblings.
You know, I took a break from writing this to check on your Facebook page and see what you were doing. You have a new girlfriend. I hope she's good to you, and I hope you're good to her. That would be pretty new for you. You have a big heart, you love hard, but you get nasty when you don't get your way, and that isn't something that is easy to look past. In some ways, even though you're four years older than I am, you're still a child. It's like the addiction took hold and you stopped aging. You're still a 16-year-old boy. I see the mother of your child, also an addict, turning her life around, starting college and doing well, raising your beautiful daughter, and boy, is she doing a great job. That little girl is so smart. Your little girl. She looks so much like you, it hurts.

I know we don't talk, and I know it's my fault, but I hope you know it pleases me that you are proud of me. I'll admit, I try not to hear about you, but when I catch wind of you holding down a job for over a month, I feel pride too. I know what you're going through isn't easy, and it's hard for both of us not to want to be selfish. I'm sorry for being selfish. I think I'll come back to you, one day, when I feel less fragile.

For now, I'm glad I get to live my life for me. I'm glad I can succeed in college without distraction and without worrying about having a safe place to study when I get home. You had me captivated when we were young, and I did everything I could to be just like you, no matter how damaging it was. I miss you, but it's a good thing you have no hold on me anymore. I am my own person.

Still, it'd be a lie to say none of my actions are influenced by you. You taught me to be my own advocate with your unfailingly strong-willed demeanor. I use that now to help myself and others get what they need. Although our political views have gone in drastically different directions, I still owe my courage to you. I still use your strength, bravado, and generosity to help those who need a shoulder, a hand, or a voice. Now, I know I can do these things, and it's a good thing too, because I can't imagine doing any other kind of work. I will always strive to be a servant to the little guy, or a hand for the downtrodden.

I know it will help me find my way back to you.

Katie working at an LGBTQ event.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Winning Essay: "Healing with Love" by Carolyn Robbins

This is the winning essay in the 2016 My Life As 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. Our first-place winner this year is Carolyn Robbins of Chelsea, Michigan. She is a junior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she is studying political science and history. Carolyn will receive $1500 to help pay her tuition costs this year.


Healing with Love
By Carolyn Robbins

If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "Wow, you two are polar opposites," then I wouldn't be writing this scholarship essay. My brother Eric and I grew up with both of our parents in recovery. Because of that, we were constantly reminded that we had a ninety percent chance of developing an addiction at some point in our lives, most likely to alcohol. Growing up, I took this warning very seriously. Eric, however, was a little more adventurous.

When Eric was in preschool, my mother started to see that he didn't learn the same way that other kids did. His teacher said he was "On the high end of active," which my mother tells me is "Politically correct for 'Your kid is a real spazz.'" By the time he was five years old and starting kindergarten, he was taking medication for ADHD. Being seven years old myself, I thought this meant that Eric just wasn't as smart as I was. As time went on, my understanding of Eric's disorder began to develop and I realized that the traditional sit-down-and-learn schooling environment just wasn't suited for him. However, there was already a divide between us in that I was the overachiever and he was the troublemaker. By the time we were both in high school, this was a full-blown dichotomy.

From years of observing my brother's behavior and knowing that he didn't always fit in with kids at school, I wasn't shocked the first time I caught him smoking marijuana. But I was heartbroken and scared. In a typical "hero child" fashion, I blamed myself for not being a good enough influence for him. At this time, I thought I could keep him away from drugs. I thought I could convince him to turn around. I knew he was starting to fall in with a rougher crowd of friends, and I encouraged him to cut ties. Of course, Eric was having none of that.

Carolyn with her brother Eric.
I was also worried because I knew that marijuana is a gateway to other drugs, and I didn't see Eric turning anything down. I felt scared that Eric would encounter law enforcement. I was also selfishly worried that his habits and attitude would begin to reflect poorly on me. Deep down, I still hoped this was only a phase.

It wasn't a phase. One year later, I heard some noise outside of my bedroom at 2:00 AM. I knew it was Eric, of course, but something about it seemed strange, so I went to see what was going on. I found my brother stumbling around between the bathroom and his bedroom. His movements were very fluid and it seemed like he didn't have control. I asked him what was going on and he slurred the words "drunk" and "Jack Daniels" to me between giggles. It wasn't hard to put two and two together, so when I finally got him to lie down, I was determined to stay up next to him all night and scold him in the morning. Somewhere along the way, he stood up, fell, and hit his head on his dresser. My initial plan to cover for him and scold him myself in order to save my parents some heartbreak was foiled. We ended up in the emergency room. Eric was half passed out, half kicking and screaming. The nurses told me my brother had a Blood Alcohol Level of .244. I knew this was only the beginning. Eric had shown no signs of slowing down when it came to experimenting with substances, and at this time he still had three years of high school left ahead of him.

At this point, I had been facing my brother's growing addiction for about three years. Around this time, I began to experience panic attacks regularly. During these panic attacks, I couldn't catch my breath. Only one thought would go through my head, "Something really bad is going to happen." When these attacks were almost daily, I began seeing a therapist. I was pretty resistant to therapy when I first started. I didn't want to be helped. In my opinion, Eric was the one who needed help. My therapist helped me to recognize the different roles and co-dependencies in my family. She helped by giving me strategies to break these molds, and to detach when necessary.

Our whole house could smell like marijuana, but no one would admit that they noticed. My clothes smelled like smoke, the car we shared smelled like smoke, and I worried people would begin to wonder about me and whether or not I was using like my brother was. One of my biggest fears was getting pulled over and having my car searched. I knew there was marijuana hidden somewhere, but I could never find it. I was worried a police officer would find it and I would have to face charges myself. I was constantly told that I was imagining things, that I was crazy, and that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I myself have never smoked marijuana.

There were many times I felt betrayed by my parents. It always felt like they weren't acknowledging the problem, which was extra painful because they are recovering addicts. There was excuse after excuse. "You two are different." "He has ADHD, it's harder for him." "At least he isn't drinking." And my personal favorite, "He’s a boy." I would be the only person to acknowledge that Eric had a problem with marijuana, alcohol, and eventually with prescription drugs. As a sibling, I was helpless. Over time, I learned that my influence was not enough. I didn't have the authority to punish Eric, or anything like that. I felt like Eric hated me for getting in the way of using and my parents resented me for criticizing their parenting. For me, all of this culminated in feelings of isolation, hurt, and most of all, anxiety.

My therapist encouraged me to "detach with love" from my painful family situation. Starting college was a great time to do this. I was finally attending my dream college, the University of Michigan, and even though it is only a half hour away from home, it was distance enough to begin to detach and try to grow independently as a young adult. My main focus was to succeed academically and build a financially stable life for myself so that I ultimately would not have to rely on my parents. I wanted to escape the toxic family dynamic back at home as soon as I could. The summer after my freshman year of college, I moved home again. My plan was not to involve myself or start any arguments when I knew Eric was using. That plan didn't last long, as I was still clinging to a hope of getting him into recovery, or at least admitting there was a problem. I went to my first day of my summer job at a bridal shop smelling strongly of marijuana smoke, despite my attempts to cover it up. I was incredibly upset and embarrassed about it. When I brought it up to my parents, it was the same argument over and over again, "You're imagining things."

One night, Eric and I were staying at our family's cottage. Eric had
previously been staying there alone for a couple of days, with my grandparents next door on one side, and my aunt next door on the other side. It was his favorite place. Because my parents are in recovery, there is never alcohol in our cottage. However, other family members do drink, so there is alcohol accessible to a determined and sneaky teenager. When I went to put a soda can in the recycling bin, I opened it to see that it was filled with beer cans, top to bottom and side to side. It was not an "I had a couple," or a "Well I’ve been out here for a week" amount of cans. It was an "I cannot stop" amount. That's when I began to see my brother's drinking habits as something I would not be able to stop, something my parents would not be able to stop, and something that required a twelve-step program. I had stopped seeing this as an experimentation phase for my brother and started seeing it as the disease that was already so prominent in my family. He wasn't going to stop until he wanted to. And at this point, he didn’t want to.

When I went back to U of M in the fall, I became a part of the Students for Recovery group on campus. I became friends with numerous young people in recovery. I knew that it was best for me to remain healthily detached from my painful family situation, but I was beginning to understand the need to lead with love rather than trying to force Eric into recovery. I even went to my first Al-Anon meeting. I really liked the people I met and I planned to keep going. But six days later, Eric died in a drunk driving accident.

There's something about a sibling that's different from any other relationship. You can laugh and joke, you can scream and fight. And at the end of the day they're still in your life because they have to be. Siblings just are. Siblings have a connection whether they want to or not. They're one of the few people who really know you, because they've known you since the beginning. I don't have a single memory of my life before Eric. We were only two years apart. When I was in tears after my high school boyfriend cheated on me, 15-year-old Eric was first on scene to offer to beat him up (as brothers do). We drove to school together every day in our red Jeep, either bickering or shamelessly singing along to the radio. Eric was the first person I told when I was accepted to my dream school. He extended a silent but genuine "fist bump." I have millions of funny jokes and memories from growing up together. When we fought, we were constantly reminded, "It’s just the two of you, so you'd better find a way to get along." I had complete faith that Eric was eventually going to recover, and I was excited to embrace a healthier relationship when he finally did. Unfortunately, we never had that chance.

I could have said, "I told you so." I could have said, "I tried and you didn’t." Because I did tell them so, and I did try. I felt like I made my whole family hate me because I was trying so hard to change Eric, and it was all for nothing. But I didn't say those things, even when I really wanted to. I realized that even though they may not have handled things the same way I did, neither of my parents wanted to see Eric fall into the same world they worked so hard to escape. We all wanted to see him recover and we all handled it differently. It’s never fair, but the timing of this felt particularly unfair. Eric was seventeen years old when he died. He was a senior in high school. The fact that it was Halloween gave it an even eerier feeling. I woke up that morning and he was just gone. He had died instantly upon impact with a tree, drunkenly driving our Jeep. We were all thankful that he didn’t suffer or take anyone with him, but the fact that it happened so quickly gave the situation a sense of urgency and shock that I couldn't shake for close to three months. It took a long time for me to feel safe again.

Carolyn with her dog Teddy.
I backtracked on any progress I had made with my own depression, anxiety, and overall mental health. I wanted to drop out of school, I wanted to drink for the first time in my life, and I even contemplated suicide. But none of those things happened. Nine days after Eric's accident, I was back in class. I lived my days in a fog. At night I either couldn't fall asleep, or I was woken up by graphic nightmares about my brother's accident. I was acting out all the time. I was very irritable, depressed, unreliable, and often physically ill. I could barely complete my work. I felt embarrassed and ashamed for not being able to bounce back and compete with my peers at the level that I had before Eric died. But something in me told me to keep going anyway. Even if my work was low-quality, it was important that I keep doing it. It was important to maintain contact with the friends I had made in recovery, and it was important to keep talking about my grief, even if I didn't want to. I always found an open ear in the recovery community.

It has been eight months since my brother died and I'm still not sure how to live my life without him in it, but I am trying to grow and develop despite my ongoing grief process. I've found that the most comforting way to do so has been to embody the traits that hid under Eric's disease. Eric was persistent, loyal, funny, optimistic, and most importantly, he was kind. He would jump at the chance to help anyone who needed it. I wish he could know that he was able to give the ultimate gift of kindness to many people after he passed. Although his organs were not able to be donated, his corneas have helped two people gain sight, his tissue has helped people regain mobility, and his skin has helped countless burn victims.

One of my dreams is to live a full life for myself, but also for Eric and all of the years he missed out on. My family is lucky enough to have some of Eric's last writings, which came from journal entries for his "Senior Seminar" class at school. One of these journals included a bucket list. While I don't intend to own a bar, and I'm pretty iffy on the whole skydiving thing, there are a few things from Eric's bucket list that match dreams of my own. I hope to experience them for the both of us. The first is to fight poverty. I thought this was a cool and somewhat unexpected thing for my brother to have on his bucket list. Little did he know that for the last two years, I have been a part of a group on campus (the ONE campaign) that works to fight extreme poverty. The next thing on Eric's list was to spend a year in Ireland. I never knew that was something that both of us wanted to do. While I may not be able to spend a year in Ireland, I do plan to travel there someday to see where our family came from. The last thing on Eric's list that I would like to do is give back to my parents. I'd ultimately like to pay them back the money they've contributed to my schooling, because I know they've always done everything they can to make sure Eric and I had everything we needed.

Eric probably never even thought to put "graduate from high school" on his bucket list, but that was where I took my first steps to truly moving forward and living for the both of us. When they called his name at Chelsea High School's graduation ceremony last month, I walked across the stage and received Eric's honorary high school diploma from his favorite teacher on his behalf. It felt a lot like when I stood up to read at his funeral. Everyone was watching me. And to be honest, I hated every second. But I know that Eric waited his whole life for that moment, and it was important that someone experienced it for him. And even though it was going to be difficult for him to battle his ADHD, I had complete faith that he was going to graduate just like I had faith that he would eventually make it into a recovery program.

I also intend to pursue dreams of my own. Some have changed since Eric passed, but many have stayed the same. I intend to graduate from the University of Michigan with two majors, history and political science. I have always wanted to pursue work in counterterrorism. I would like to see the world, raise a family, rescue animals, and tell my story by writing a screenplay. A dream of mine that has developed since Eric died has been to increase my presence in the recovery community. My experiences so far have helped me to cope with my loss in a healthy way. I would love to be an open ear to people who have similar experiences to my own, especially siblings of addicts. The recovery community is gratifying for both those who seek help and those who receive it, and I would love to become more involved in Al-Anon.

My biggest dream is to live a life free from anxiety. I hope that one day, I can be free from my feelings of regret surrounding my brother's addiction and death. I was fighting an impossible battle, and that battle wasn't even mine. It can be very difficult not to look back and think of what else I could have done, or blame myself for not doing more. However, I hope to one day heal through a process of self-acceptance and love. I know that increasing my involvement with the recovery community is an excellent place to start.

Carolyn accepting her brother's honorary high school diploma.
(Photo by Junfu Han of the Ann Arbor News.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Announcing Our 2016 Scholarship Contest Winners

First off, I want to apologize for taking so long to write this post and announce the winners of the 2016 My Life As 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. Sometimes life just gets in the way and that thing on the top of your to-do list keeps getting pushed further and further down the list by other pesky little tasks that come up out of nowhere. But anyway...

As I posted a few weeks ago, this year's contest had 29 entries from 15 different states, stretching from California to New Jersey. The topic for this contest was How has your sibling's addiction impacted you and what are your dreams for your future? All of the essays were amazing and it was incredibly difficult to pick the two best. But since I don't have money to give to everyone--believe me, I wish I did--there can only be one winner and one runner-up.


(Drumroll, please.)

This year's first-prize winner is Carolyn Robbins from Chelsea, Michigan. She will receive $1,500.00 to help pay her tuition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she is studying political science and history. Carolyn's essay, entitled "Healing with Love," is about her little brother Eric.

This year's runner-up is Katie Walker from Clay, Michigan. She will receive $550.00 to help offset the cost of her tuition at Arcadia University in suburban Philadelphia, where she is studying political science. Katie's essay, entitled "Two Years," is about her brother.

Both of these young women submitted essays that are beautifully written and full of honesty and emotion. When you read them--and I'll be publishing the essays on my blog very soon--I advise you to have some Kleenex handy. You're going to need it.

My wife and I would like to thank everyone who took the time to write an essay and enter the contest.  Writing about a sibling's addiction takes a lot of courage and we think you're all pretty special people. We wish you nothing but the best going forward. And by all means, keep on writing. Thanks to the judges, too. We so appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to read and judge the essays.

Peace. And remember: #SiblingsMatter

"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul." --Anne Lamott

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes for My Blog

Today is a day of change for me and this blog. As I type this post, my blog is still called "My Life As 3D: 3D-mensional Musings from the Father of a Person in Long-Term Recovery from Addiction." But as soon as I finish, I'll be deleting the subtitle from the header. Starting today, the name of this blog will simply be "My Life As 3D." At least until I maybe think of some other witty subtitle to go after a colon.

I've decided to permanently take the primary focus of my blog off of my son. I know the focus has shifted off of him in recent years anyway, but this is my way of making it "official." It's time to move on. From here on out, my blog will still concentrate on addiction, recovery, mental health, and other things I'm passionate about, but it will be from a more general perspective. Hell, I may even start posting about other stuff I love, like cooking. (You've been warned!)

This isn't the first time I've thought about making this change. Back in June of 2009, in a post titled "We Gotta Stay Positive," I wrote the following:
I've also been thinking about taking the main focus of this blog off of my son's issues and throwing in some more stuff about me. Yes, I started this blog to loosely document what goes on in the life of a parent of a recovering addict who also suffers from severe depression. And since I started the blog, writing about that stuff has been good therapy for me. But lately I've been coming to terms with something: Even though my son's issues are a huge part of my life, I've got to work harder to see past the negatives and not let my son consume me 24/7/365. If I don't, I think it'll kill me. 
Granted, I'm not the most interesting person in the world. But I do love to cook. And I do love music. So if I blogged about the latest hunk of meat I grilled, or posted a favorite recipe, or recommended an album that I'm currently digging, would that be such a bad thing? I'm thinking it still might be kinda sorta interesting to the two of you. And even if it wasn't, maybe the different subject matter would help generate some positive vibes inside my tired, too-often-negative mind. That would definitely make it worthwhile, no
So stay tuned for the new and improved (and perhaps slightly more upbeat) "My Life As 3D" blog. Coming soon. I think. 
Obviously, I wasn't ready to make the change back then. That "I think" at the end of the third paragraph was my way of saying "I reserve the right to change my mind"; and I did. But here we are, more than seven years later and the time has come.

The biggest contributing factor to me making this decision now is a piece in the Well section of the New York Times that I read this past Sunday. Penned by writer/blogger Elizabeth Bastos, "Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children" really hit home with me. Especially this paragraph:
"So began my wrestling with my relationship with the Nora Ephron line, 'Everything is copy.' Until now it has been my battle cry and artistic excuse for printing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with very blinkered vision. Maybe, in fact, not everything is copy. Maybe it’s people’s lives, and we should be considerate and loving and respectful of their privacy. It’s a new point of view for me in our clickbait culture of confessionalism and parading nakedness."
Bastos went on to admit, "I was working out my issues. My kids were always satellites to the big round-faced moon of me."

I could definitely relate to all of that.

One of the reasons I started this blog back in December of 2008 was to help other parents who were struggling with a child's addiction. I thought my experiences could help those parents realize that they weren't alone; that other parents were in the exact same boat as they were, suffering and trying to figure out how to get through another day of hell on earth. And I think I did that.

But I also know the primary reason I started this blog was to help me. Writing about my son's issues was cathartic for me. It made everything more bearable for me and gave me an outlet for the feelings I was feeling. It felt so good to get things off of my chest and onto "paper." Writing about things like my son's relapses didn't fix anything, but it made me feel better.

Maybe that was selfish. Maybe putting my son's life "out there" for the world to see was exploitive. That was certainly not my intent.

In his book Neil and Me, newspaper writer and author Scott Young--father of rock and roll legend Neil Young--talks about his hesitancy to write about his son, even though he constantly received requests to do so.
"Apart from a profoundly impressed column I wrote about his first Carnegie Hall concert and a few other newspaper mentions, I had consciously avoided exploiting our relationship....I told [Neil] that, despite my rejection of these advances, sometimes I was tempted to write about our original family relationship for my own purposes, to help me figure some things out, to come face to face with myself and my part in breaking up our home....He thought for a moment or two, then glanced at me sideways and said, 'Well, it's your life too, you know, Daddy.'"
Whenever I wondered if I should write about certain things in my blog, I remember thinking about Neil Young's "It's your life too" comment to his father and using it as justification for continuing to write about my son. A passage from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life popped into my head on a regular basis, too:
"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
I've been incredibly transparent throughout everything that's happened to my son and our family. I wanted to be, because I think too many people keep their family's experience with addiction and mental illness behind closed doors. I believe that helps feed the stigma that's still attached to these disorders. (Don't get me wrong: I understand that everyone's different and that a lot of people aren't at all comfortable with wearing their family's problems on their sleeve. I'm just not one of those people.)

So, what's done is done. From this point forward, I'll still write about addiction, mental health, problems with "the system," etc. You just won't hear specifics about my son. His life might be my life too, but at this point I'm going to let him decide what parts of it he wants to share. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this blog interesting enough for you to keep stopping by on occasion. If so, that will be great. And if not? Well, then it's been a good run.

Peace.

"Moving on is easy. It's staying moved on that's trickier." --Katerina Stoykova Klemer


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dave Cooke: Cycling 3,600 Miles for Recovery

(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site under the same title: "Dave Cooke: Cycling 3,600 Miles for Recovery.")


Dave Cooke and I have some things in common.
  • We're both from Detroit, Michigan.
  • We both have a son who has battled addiction.
  • We're both recovery advocates trying to make a difference.
  • And we both like to ride our bicycles.
But whereas I enjoy hopping on my Cannondale hybrid bike and riding to the grocery store, or going for a leisurely ride of five, six, or maybe a dozen miles tops, Dave likes to ride his road bike long distances. And this summer he's embarking on the longest ride of his life: a 3,600-mile ride across the United States.

Dave is the founder and board chair of 100Pedals, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to bringing awareness, advocacy, and inspiration to the issue of addiction in our society. Through speaking programs, collaborative community activities, and a commitment to sharing the truth about addiction, 100Pedals empowers individuals and families who have been impacted by the disease. The result is a unified movement working to provoke change and break the stigma associated with addiction.

Like most parents of children struggling with addiction, Dave was devastated when he found out about his son's heroin dependency. And like many parents--myself included--he set out to rescue his son from addiction and to fix things. Unfortunately, over the next fifteen months Dave discovered that addiction isn't something parents can make go away, no matter how hard they try. It's a family disease that affects everyone; and it was affecting Dave. In fact, it was destroying him.

That's when Dave made a decision that completely changed his life. He challenged himself to do something that would help him regain control and clarity in his life. That challenge? To ride his bike for at least 1 hour for 100 consecutive days. On January 1, 2011, Dave went on his first 60-minute bike ride.  On April 10, 2011, he completed his 100th consecutive ride. All told, Dave spent 141 hours on his bike and rode 2,360 miles over the course of those 100 days. Mission accomplished, and 100Pedals was born.

Dave's accomplishment of pedaling 2,360 miles in 100 days was impressive, for sure. But those numbers are nothing compared to the numbers associated with his latest endeavor, "Cycling for Recovery 2016". On Saturday, July 30th, Dave will climb on his bike in Santa Monica, California, and set out for the Big Apple. His path will follow Route 66 to Chicago, go through Michigan to Detroit, to Pittsburgh, up the New Jersey coast, and end in New York City. The plan is to cover the 3,600 miles in 64 days, and to stop in various cities along the way to share messages of love, hope, and encouragement with people who are living with a loved one’s addiction.


"Our children, our families, and our communities can no longer be victimized by the continued, tragic growth of drug-related addiction in our society," Dave says. "This bike ride is a manifestation of my commitment to educate those who need to better understand this problem. God called me to take action and make a commitment to share his message through my story and my family’s experiences with addiction. At his urging, I accepted the challenge."

"It is my plan to have one-on-one conversations with those who are struggling with the addiction of a loved one or those individuals who are battling an addiction," Dave adds. "I see these interactions as a wonderful opportunity to hear their stories while offering them a message of God's love. I will also be giving presentations and talks in churches and neighborhood organizations."

This may be Dave’s "big, bold, crazy adventure" (as he described it to me in a Facebook message), but he won't be doing it all by himself. There are donors who have contributed to the Cycling for Recovery GoFundMe campaign (after all, a trip like this doesn't pay for itself); a support vehicle has been donated; and volunteers have stepped forward to drive that vehicle for each of the nine one-week legs of the tour. (Note: I'm proud to say that I’ll be behind the wheel of the support van for the Detroit to Pittsburgh stretch.)

Dave says that he's as physically and mentally prepared as he'll ever be for his biking adventure, which he calls a bucket list item. "I have always envisioned taking a cross country bike ride," he recently wrote. "When I realized I was focusing on this individual adventure and accomplishment in a self-glorifying manner, I declared I would not do this unless there was a higher purpose behind it. That’s when I heard God say to me, 'It's a ministry, not a bike trip.'"

Dave Cooke is a man on another mission, and this time he has an important message to spread. If you're out driving on the highway sometime between July 30th and October 2nd, and you see a determined guy riding a bike from west to east while being followed by a support van, make sure you honk and give him a thumbs-up. Or, better yet: Sign up to ride your bike alongside Dave during a segment of his journey.

Yes, addiction is a beast. But we're incredibly lucky to have warriors like Dave Cooke fighting the battle against it.