Wednesday, August 20, 2014

College Bound

It seems like only yesterday that I was blogging about my younger son graduating from the Leelanau School. But in reality it was 74 days ago, summer has flown by, and fall is almost upon us. So tonight we will load up the SUV, and tomorrow morning my wife and I will take our "baby" to Aquinas College--a small school with a gorgeous campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan--so he can start the next phase of his life.

As some of you know, I didn't go away to college. Neither did my siblings. Or my mom and dad. Or my older son. So this whole "heading off to college" thing is completely foreign to me. Luckily, for the past two years we've had the experience of having our son away at boarding school, so him transitioning to a dorm environment away from home--and us to "empty nesters"--shouldn't be a problem. The academics, I'm not so sure about. But I'm doing my best to let go of the worry and keep the faith.

Like a lot of kids his age, my son doesn't know yet what he wants to do when he grows up. He's a late bloomer, so that's perfectly fine. One class he's taking that he's really excited about is Japanese. He's a big fan of anime (Japanese animated productions) and has expressed an interest in studying in Japan. If that were to happen, that would be badass. We'll have to wait and see.

I suppose sending your child off to college for the first time is never easy; especially when it's your youngest. It's a little more challenging for me because I'm still unemployed (eight months and counting...ugh) and keep thinking about the money aspect. But my wife constantly tells me, "It'll be okay," so I'll assume that she's right and we'll see how things go.

Just a few short years ago I really couldn't envision a time when my older son would be more than two years clean and sober and my younger son would be college bound. I'm not exactly sure how we got to the place we are today, but I'm grateful as can be that the stars, planets, and universe finally aligned. I will not take these days for granted and will enjoy every little moment as much as I possibly can.

Needless to say, I am proud as hell of both my boys.

Peace.

"And you may ask yourself, 'Well...How did I get here?'" --Talking Heads

"I do not understand the mystery of grace--only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us." --Anne Lamott

P.S. Here's a video that shows the beauty of the Aquinas College campus.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bucket Lists

Over the years I've heard so much about bucket lists. You know, those lists of experiences or achievements that someone wants to accomplish before they "kick the bucket." But do many people really write out such lists?  Personally, I think I know of one person who might have an actual bucket list. I myself had never given any thought to making such a list. Until recently.

I was incredibly moved by the story of Kristina Chesterman, a 21-year-old California nursing student who was killed by a drunk driver last September. While cleaning out her room, Kristina's parents came across her bucket list. Her family has vowed to fulfill as many items on that list as they can as a tribute to Kristina. Not only that, friends and total strangers from around the world have offered to help fulfill the list, too. That really touched my heart. It also made me think I might be a little behind on making my own list.

I'm going to be 53 years old in a few weeks--before I did the math I thought I was going to be 54, so yay for me...I gained an extra year--and have been thinking lately about things I've always wanted to do but haven't done yet. Yesterday I decided I was going to write out an actual list.

Two things immediately came to mind, and they now occupy the top two spots on my bucket list. These may seem like trivial things, but I don't think there are any rules about bucket list items having to be monumental events. (Hell, maybe there are. Should I Google it?)

In any case, here's my bucket list so far:

1. See a baseball game at Fenway Park.

2. Travel outside of North America with my wife.

Pretty impressive, huh?

Regarding #1: My dad, who's been gone for about a year-and-a-half now, idolized Boston Red Sox right fielder Ted Williams. I grew up hearing story after story about "Teddy Ballgame" and how he was the greatest hitter who ever lived. The first (and only) book my dad bought me was The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. I was a Little Leaguer at the time and I think he thought that book was going to turn me into some kind of baseball phenom. (Note: It didn't. Total number of home runs I hit during my five years of Little League? One.)

After all those years of hearing about "The Splendid Splinter," I bought into the Williams hype (I even have a Ted Williams bobblehead on my mantel) and developed this strange connection to the Red Sox. And Fenway Park. I've wanted to go there for years now, but have never done it. By putting it at #1 on my list, I figure I pretty much have to do it now. Hopefully Fenway sticks around long enough for me to get my butt into one of its seats.

Regarding #2: This might sound crazy for someone my age, but I've never been outside of North America. We never traveled much when I was growing up. A car trip here, a car trip there. I think Pennsylvania was the farthest I ever got. As an adult, I've been to California a couple times, New York, Florida, Texas, and several other states. (While attending my brother-in-law's wedding, which was held in New York, just a few miles from Connecticut, I woke up early one morning and drove to Connecticut to get a newspaper...just so I could say I've been to Connecticut.)

I've also traveled in Canada, albeit almost exclusively in Ontario. (My wife and I ventured into Quebec briefly one night to see a friend's musical performance.) Anyway, I want to go on a vacation with my wife to somewhere outside of the only continent I've ever seen. It doesn't have to be far. Hawaii--even though it's part of the United States--would count. So would Puerto Rico. Europe? Shut the front door. That would be amazing (although completely out of our budget). I just want to get off this giant land mass I seem to be stuck on.

So that's my bucket list so far. I'm a pretty simple person, so I don't know how much I'll be adding to this list in the days/weeks/years to come. And the list will only consist of things I can control. So there will never be stuff on there like "See my sons get married" or "Become a grandfather." Because, quite frankly, that stuff isn't up to me. (Geez...maybe I should start a separate "wish list"?)

I'm almost 53 and my bucket list contains a whopping two items. This should be a piece of cake, right?

Maybe I need to become more adventurous. Or not. We shall see.

Peace.

"Just do it." --Nike, Inc.

P.S. Do you have a bucket list? I'm just curious. Maybe I'm the odd man out here.

The actual list. (Serious question: Where does one keep something like this??)

Bucket list inspiration from my dad.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

Yesterday's tragic news about the suicide of Robin Williams--a man who was afflicted with both addiction and depression--was hard to hear.

So many people suffer from mental illness, yet it is still highly stigmatized in our society. Addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., are still the big elephants in the room that people don't want to talk about. That needs to change.

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by Robin Williams's death; especially his family. They lost someone who meant the world to them much, much too soon.

If you haven't read it already--or maybe even if you have--please read my blog post from back in May entitled "Depression and Addiction: We Must Break the Stigmas." 

Peace.

"Get help. I did. Be a resurrection story, in the wild non-denominational sense." --Anne Lamott

P.S. If you or someone you love is suffering from a mental illness and needs help, here is a great list of resources from To Write Love on Her Arms. And if you or someone you love is suffering specifically from addiction, call the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids' Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Tough Day Put into Perspective

Yesterday was a tough day.

As you may recall, back in February I wrote a blog post about wanting to find a job that I'm passionate about. "After spending a lot of years working just to get a paycheck, I think I owe it to myself to follow my heart now," I said. Little did I know just how hard following my heart would be.

But last month I interviewed for a job that would've totally fulfilled my passion requirements. It was a position with an organization that I'm truly passionate about and believe in 100 percent. They do amazing things for people. I was incredibly confident that I could land this job and thought I did great in the interview. When I left their offices that day I was pretty damn optimistic.

This feeling was kind of new to me, at least when it comes to employment opportunities. For a lot of years, I lacked confidence in myself when it came to work-related things. I tend to be a perfectionist--not as much now as I used to be--and I found it hard to believe that I had talent and skills people appreciated. I was, by far, my harshest critic.

So I was proud of myself and of how I felt after the interview. I interviewed with three different people simultaneously and spent more than two hours answering questions and talking about myself. Surprisingly, when it was over I didn't second guess a single thing I said. In my mind, I nailed it.

Yesterday I talked to the person doing the hiring. They hired someone else.

When I hung up the phone, I felt all kinds of emotions: disappointment, shock, inadequacy, etc. I wasn't bitter, though. I respect the organization's decision and hope the person they hired turns out to be exactly what they were looking for, because I want the organization to continue to succeed and move forward.

I think my youngest sister put it best when she replied to my email that told her I didn't get the job:

"I think I know how much you wanted it… Mentally, you seemed to be there already, so it’s almost like someone took it away from you."

Yahtzee!

Mentally, I was already there. In fact, I plead guilty to the charge of being a little over confident. But after so many years of not having a whole lot of confidence in myself, feeling good about myself was a pleasant change of pace. And I think now that I'd rather have a little too much confidence than not enough (or none at all).

So, yeah, yesterday was tough. So was last night. My wife took my younger son and a friend to the mall last night and I was home alone feeling pretty low. I called my wife and asked her if she could stop at the grocery store on the way home. "What do you want?" she asked. "Don't judge me," I told her. Then I asked her to pick me up a jar of Nutella and some Nilla Wafers. Yes, this is what I "drowned my sorrows" in last night (while lying in bed, no less):


Today is a new day and when I woke up I still felt some disappointment. But several things are helping me work through that disappointment and move on.

First of all, I know deep down in my heart that I did the absolute best I could've done in that job interview. I did nail it. I just happened to run up against a candidate with more experience in some very specific areas. While that sucks for me, I totally "get" it and wish nothing but the best for the person who beat me out. And for the organization. They made the decision that they felt was best for them and I respect that.

But above everything else, a little bit of reflection on my life is helping me ease through the sadness.

I didn't get a job I really wanted, but:

*My older son is more than two years clean and sober, working full-time, and is a tremendous young man.

*My younger son leaves for college in less than two weeks, is maturing more every day, and is a tremendous young man.

*My amazing wife continues to be more supportive than I could've ever imagined and still puts up with me after more than 26 years.

When I look at those three things above, I come to this conclusion: Yes, I am unemployed. But, damn...I am incredibly blessed.

I will continue to keep my faith and hope alive, and maybe my higher power (are you listening Anne Lamott????) will send that perfect job my way. Or maybe she won't, and I'll have to suck it up and go back to working just for a paycheck. In any case, I will continue to be grateful for the blessings that have been bestowed on me.

Peace.

"I don't know what obstacles you are facing in your life right now. But whatever they are doesn't matter. What does matter is that your life can change if you're willing to look at failure differently. You have the potential to overcome any problems, mistakes, or misfortunes. All you have to do is learn to fail forward." --John C. Maxwell (from his book Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes)

P.S. When I woke up this morning and scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, I came across this image that someone had posted. I found it rather appropriate after the events of yesterday. And it made me chuckle. Maybe some of you can relate to it, too. :)


P.P.S. If anyone out there thinks they might want to hire me, feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile. (#ShamlessPlug)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Update on the Goals I Set for Myself in January

Back on the second day of January, in my first blog post of the year, I stated six goals I was setting for myself for 2014. I thought I'd go back and revisit those goals today to see how I'm doing so far.

As a reminder, I set "goals" instead of "resolutions" because a resolution is, by definition, "A firm decision to do or not do something." As I see it, with a resolution you either succeed or you fail. It's an absolute. If you resolve to quit smoking and 10 days into the new year you light up a cigarette, you're done. You did not stick to your resolution.

A goal, on the other hand, is "The object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result." A goal is not an absolute. It's something you strive for. You choose something you want to do or accomplish, you see the end result, and you take steps to get there. If you don't reach your goal--at least in theory--you'll have made significant steps toward getting there. "Progress, not perfection" is perfectly acceptable.

So, with that in mind, here's my update:

1. KEEP LIVING IN THE MOMENT 
I think I'm rocking this goal. For the most part, I approach each day for what it is--a gift. I don't dwell on the past or worry (too much) about the future. I take things as they come, deal with them, and try to stay positive no matter what. Example: I left a 24-year career in publishing back in December and am still looking for work. But even though it's been eight months, I'm not letting it bring me down. One day at a time. It sounds cliche, but we don't even know if we'll be around tomorrow. Best to live life to its fullest every day.

2. START WORKING FOR "HEROES IN RECOVERY" AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE 
I've been a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery since early this year. Along with the four other lead advocates, I've spent a lot of time collecting stories of recovery for the Heroes website, writing blogs, and doing events. All of this activity is intended to spread the word about the Heroes movement, break the stigma associated with substance abuse and mental health disorders, and encourage people who need treatment to seek it out without being ashamed or scared. Am I making a difference? That's hard to measure, but I certainly feel like I am. And I will continue to work hard as a lead advocate until my term is up.

3. FIND A JOB I'M PASSIONATE ABOUT
Back in January, I wrote: "It took a long time for me to figure it out, but life's too short to spend the majority of your time working at a job you're not crazy about. I've decided it's not all about money. It's about enjoying what you do and feeling fulfilled." Unfortunately, I'm still looking for a job I can say I'm passionate about. I've inquired about many jobs in the last eight months, and applied for a few of them. One of them was a true "dream job": it was an editor position at To Write Love on Her Arms. I have mad respect for that organization and would've loved to have worked for them. But, it wasn't to be. Maybe my higher power thought relocating to the east coast of Florida wasn't the best thing in the world for me. Or maybe he or she has something better in mind for me. Regardless, I am keeping the faith that I'll be able to land a job that has meaning to me. Like I said in January, "Setting out to find a job I'm truly passionate about at my age might be nuts. But that doesn't mean I can't try." I'm not ready to give up just yet.

4. SEE MY YOUNGER SON GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL IN JUNE
This goal was accomplished on Saturday, June 7th. On a beautiful, sunny day in Glen Arbor, Michigan, I got to sit outside and watch my son graduate from The Leelanau School, a school I dubbed "The Greatest High School on Earth" in a blog post back in April. The day was everything I thought it would be...and more; especially because my older son was there with us to witness it. Surprisingly, I didn't bawl my eyes out as I suspected I would. But I did feel an enormous sense of pride, especially when the headmaster read my son's name and he walked up on stage to get his diploma. The accomplishment of this goal even came with a bonus: My son applied to and was accepted by Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and will be starting there later this month. We move him into his dorm on August 21st! I truly believe this would never have happened without The Leelanau School. I am forever grateful for everyone associated with that amazing institution.

5. CONTINUE TO HELP OTHERS AS MUCH AS I CAN
Like I said back in January, "My wife and I are 'givers' and try to help people as best we can." We continue to do so and I don't think we'll ever stop. This year we have counseled more parents who are going through their child's addiction, cooked Sunday dinner for the men at a sober living house (twice), done many random acts of kindness, and donated what we can to causes and organizations we believe in. I also recently became a parent coach for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. In this role I will provide peer-to-peer support to parents who call the Partnership's help line and want to talk to a parent who has been through what they're currently experiencing. I am humbled by this opportunity I've been given to help others.

6. TRAVEL MORE
My exact words in my January post were, "In a perfect world, I'd love to be able to travel as much as I wanted." Well, as we all know the world isn't perfect. I've gotten to do some traveling this year, but not as much as I'd have liked. On the other hand, the traveling I have done has been incredibly rewarding:

*In February I got to go to Nashville for our first Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate Summit.

*In late February/early March, my wife and I drove to New Castle, Delaware, to attend the inaugural atTAcK addiction 5K race. (I was even chosen to be one of the two guest speakers at the pre-race dinner.)

*In June I got to go to New York City for parent coach training with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Center for Motivation and Change.

*And just last weekend I went to Helen, Georgia, for our second Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate Summit.

(One of these days I hope to take my amazing and beautiful wife on a trip that's nothing but pleasure, to a place we've both always wanted to go. Maybe even somewhere outside of the United States or Canada. But I don't think 2014 is going to be the year we do that.)

So that's my update on my six goals for 2014. Overall, I think I'm doing just fine. If I had to give myself a grade for the year so far, I think I'd go with a B+. But there are 147 days--exactly 21 weeks--left in 2014, which is plenty of time for me to bring that grade up.

"You must never doubt your ability to achieve anything, become anything, overcome anything, and inspire everything." --Tasha Hoggatt


Goal #4: Check!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Heroes in the Mountains of Georgia

Whew!

I've been trying to catch up and rejuvenate a bit over the last 48 hours or so after spending a long and productive weekend in the Helen, Georgia, area with my fellow Heroes in Recovery lead advocates.

The five Heroes lead advocates and our two supervisors stayed in a lovely cabin--more of a luxury home, really--and had the opportunity to bond and get to know each other better over the course of the weekend. It was a great time, and a much better experience than staying in a hotel. We even cooked our own meals!

In addition to our time at the cabin, we also spent all day Friday and part of the day on Saturday at Black Bear Lodge, one of Foundation Recovery Network's (FRN) treatment facilities.

On Friday morning we heard people from FRN speak and practiced our individual presentation skills. After lunch, we were treated to an incredible talk by the chief operating office of Black Bear, who has been in recovery for 27 years. She spoke for about two hours, but I swear I could've listened to her all day and night. That's how riveting her material was.

Saturday morning we were back at Black Bear and hiked into the woods for some team-building exercises with the facility's clinical director. It was my first experience with a low ropes course and it was pretty badass. The workout--which was both physical and mental--really tested our mettle as a team. (I have to say, I think we did a damn fine job.)

I know I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: the Heroes in Recovery organization is something very special. Everyone affiliated with Heroes truly cares about breaking the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues; and helping the 20 million people in this country who need treatment find it.

It was a terrific weekend and my body is still feeling the effects of it today. But every little ache, scrape, and bruise was well worth it. I'm a better person for having experienced the low ropes course; and our team--which was stellar to begin with--is now even better than it was.

Thanks to my fellow lead advocates--Hillary, Mary Kate, Pam, and Susanne--and our fearless leaders--Heidi and Andrea--for an incredible weekend in the mountains of Georgia.

Peace.

"The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." --Phil Jackson

P.S. If you want to be an inspiration to others and share your story of recovery on the Heroes in Recovery website, that would be awesome. By sharing your story, you may inspire others to seek treatment for the first time. Real stories from real people about real recovery save real lives. If you'd like to share your story, you can contact me through my blog (use the "Contact Form" on the web version) or through Facebook. We need to speak out so that others won't be afraid to. If you'd like to check out the stories 700+ other people have already shared, go to this link. You can also share your story directly via the Heroes website by clicking the "Share a Story" link. If you do that, please let them know that DDD referred you. Thanks so much. I hope to hear from at least a few of you soon. We all have our stories. Don't be afraid to tell yours.

One helluva team.

Testing muscles I didn't even know I had.

The ropes course was worth every scrape, bruise, and sore muscle.


At Black Bear Lodge.

Getting educated.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Greetings from Northern Michigan

I've been up in northern Michigan for the last few days, spending some time in my favorite place in the world. Visiting great friends, taking in beautiful sights, walking on the beach with my wife, even interviewing for a job; I've loved every minute of it. The stress just drains out of my body when I'm up here. It's like heaven.

Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of waking up and seeing an interview I did with Beth Wilson posted on her fine blog B Here Today. Beth chose to honor me as her "Recovery Carrier" for the month of July. As noted on Beth's site, "William White defines recovery carriers as 'people, usually in recovery, who make recovery infectious to those around them by their openness about their recovery experiences, their quality of life and character, and the compassion they exhibit for those still suffering.'" (www.williamwhitepapers.com, 2012)

Those are pretty lofty standards and I am humbled that someone believes I live up to them. As I mentioned on Facebook last night, "I'm a little surprised when people think I'm interesting enough to write about. I'm just a dad trying to make a difference." Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful to Beth for the opportunity to share my thoughts on her blog.

When Beth asked me what my favorite part of all the work I do is, I referenced this blog.

"My favorite part of the work I do is when someone takes the time to contact me to tell me that something I wrote helped them or just resonated with them in some way. For example, I got an email from someone who just happened to 'stumble across' my blog the other day. She’s the mother of six kids, five of whom are addicts to some degree. She opened up and shared with me, and then ended her email by saying, 'Thank you for sharing yourself and your journey in this forum. I look forward to reading more. It helps with my healing.' That right there is why I do what I do. To know I am helping other people is so gratifying to me.

So if you read my blog regularly, please keep doing so. And if you know someone out there who might be helped or comforted by what I write here, please share my blog with them. No one who is dealing with the addiction of a loved one is alone; and if there are people out there who feel like they are, they don't have to. Together,  maybe we can ease their burden a bit.

Peace.

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." --Charles Dickens

Lake Michigan, from the beach in Leland, Michigan (7/24/14)