Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A to Z Gratitude List

I saw someone mention an A to Z Gratitude List online and thought to myself, Why not? With tomorrow being Thanksgiving and all, I thought this would be a good exercise. So, here we go...

A = Anne Lamott. Her writing inspires me. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. Her books are my owner's manuals for life.

B = Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, by David Sheff. I still consider this the best book I've ever read and the book that literally saved my life. When I read this book, my life was a mess. I had been taken over by my own son's addiction. Beautiful Boy made me realize that I had to stop being addicted to my son's addiction and start working on my own recovery.

C = Cats. Our three cats--Mickey, Ryan, and Elliott--bring so much joy into our lives. They are members of our family and there are no words to describe the therapeutic effect they have had on all of us.

D = Dad. We had an almost non-existent relationship for years, but I'm so glad that I was able to forgive him and reconnect with him during the last few months of his life. I miss him every day.

E = Edwards, Kathleen. Her music has been such a huge part of my life from the moment I heard her first record. They say that music is the healing force, and Kathleen Edwards's music has been there to help me and my wife through a lot of difficult and painful times, when we needed "A Soft Place to Land." To top it off, the woman has such a good soul. There have been other musicians who have helped us heal, too: Rickie Lee Jones, Jim Bryson, Matthew Ryan, Ryan Adams, Hannah Georgas, The Bergamot, and a few more. But Kathleen is at the top of the list.

F = Friends and Family. Despite what a lot of people may think, I'm kind of an introvert and don't have a lot of friends I hang out with. But I have some great ones, both locally and abroad. I also have so many incredible online friends, some of whom I've never even met. (Someday, people. Someday.) And what can I say about my family? Such support and compassion from all of them.

G = Grace. I have experienced grace to the nth degree over the last few years. "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

H = Hope. If it wasn't important to me, I wouldn't have the word tattooed on my left forearm. "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott

I = In-Laws. My wife's parents have been so helpful to us over the years. They are both so kind and generous. If it wasn't for their support and generosity, we probably wouldn't have the house we're living in. Or the car we're driving. Or pants. (Just kidding about the pants, but you get the idea.)

J = Josh. My younger son. He is such a bright spot in our lives. He's intelligent, funny, a great writer, and has a heart of gold. He's been through so much in his almost 18 years, including a lot of stuff he didn't sign up for. But he still manages to have a great attitude. And he still says, "I love you, dad," followed by his trademark phrase "Forever and ever. No matter what."

K = Kathy. My wife. The most amazing woman on the planet. My rock. My best friend. The glue that holds our family together. The girl I knew I wanted to marry from the first time I saw her. I am so lucky to have her. Twenty-five years of marriage and ready for twenty-five more.

L = Leelanau School. What can I say about the best high school on the planet? If it wasn't for the Leelanau School and its incredible teachers and staff, I don't know where my younger son would be right now. Finding this amazing school, which specializes in teaching kids with ADHD and other learning disabilities, has been such a blessing. (It doesn't hurt that it's located in one of the most beautiful spots in America either.)

M = Mom. My mom is also a pretty amazing woman. She's 82 going on 52 and has always been supportive of me. No matter what I do or what curve balls life throws at me, my mom is there to tell me it will all work out. And she's usually right.

N = Neighbors. This one sounds kind of simple, but we have such great neighbors. On both sides and across the street. Great neighbors are sometimes  few and far between. Trust me. We've had our share of horrible neighbors over the years. So it's really nice to have great ones.

O = Openness. I am so thankful that I've been able to go through my son's journey with an openness and transparency that allows me to share my experiences with others. Keeping my emotions bottled up inside would've eaten me alive.

P = Pizza. I love pizza. A lot. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life. I don't eat as much of it as I once did because I've been watching my calories more closely over the last few years, but I still love it. Pizza makes everything better.

Q = Quotes. I love inspirational quotes. I comb the Internet for them and highlight them in books that I read. I also post them on Facebook and Twitter and in my e-mail signature. Reading a good inspirational quote can help me get through a tough day or just make me think about life.

R = Recovery. My son's recovery is one of the greatest gifts I've been given. So is my own recovery. And my wife's recovery. And our family's recovery. We are living in the moment, one day at a time.

S = Sam. My older son. He's so smart, talented, and caring. I can't imagine going through everything he's gone through over the last eight years or so. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But I am so proud that he has come through it and is in recovery. He's one of the strongest "kids" I know. I'm so happy that he has a job and a girlfriend who is head-over-heels in love with him. He's come such a long way.

T = Treatment. If it hadn't been for the treatment my son received for his addiction, it's hard to say where he'd be right now. Treatment works. Maybe not for everybody and maybe not the first time, but it works. I'm grateful we had access to it and wish that everyone who wanted/needed treatment could get it without the issues that so often make the process so incredibly difficult.

U = Up North. The beauty of northern Michigan--"Up North" to Michiganders--is so stunning that unless you've seen it in person, you can't truly appreciate. To be able to get away to see such beauty on a regular basis makes me feel so fortunate. It's so great to have friends and family who live up there so that we can visit without breaking our budget. And the fact that my younger son goes to school up there? Icing on the cake.

V = Volunteering. Being able to volunteer for organizations like The Partnership at, as part of their National Parent Network, allows me to feel like I'm giving back to the addiction/recovery community. I've developed a passion for helping others who are experiencing what I have experienced.

W = Writing. I know I'm not the best writer in the world, but writing is therapy for me. This blog has helped me so much over the last few years. Getting my "stuff" out into the open, knowing that maybe someone out there might benefit from reading what I've gone through. That's huge to me.

X = X-Ray Vision. Okay. So I don't really have x-ray vision. But I don't have a xylophone either. And I couldn't think of an "X" word that I'm grateful for.

Y = Yarn. My wife is a power knitter and crocheter. She gets such joy out of creating things from yarn. And she donates a huge percentage of what she makes to charity. There is yarn everywhere in our house: in closets, in drawers, in the freezer. But that's okay, because it gives my wife such pleasure.

Z = Zoloft. Interesting that the last thing on my gratitude list is a drug. But I suffered from major depression for many years and tried just about every anti-depressant out there. None of them worked. Until I tried Zoloft. I've been on it for a few years and it's really helped me.

The cats: Mickey, Ryan, and Elliott.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving is coming

As I lie in bed writing this blog post, Thanksgiving 2013 is still four days away. But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it a lot already. After all, my wife and I attended an amazing Thanksgiving Feast at our younger son's school this past Thursday. And we bought our way-too-big turkey at Trader Joe's yesterday. Today we'll make our final shopping list so we can start picking up the rest of the things we'll need to cook our own Thanksgiving feast on Thursday.

We will definitely be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in our house. Big time. You can count on that. And this is the second year in a row that the day will be just a little bit more meaningful for us. You can count on that, too. Because this will be the second consecutive Thanksgiving that our son will be clean and sober.

Unless you have had an addict child, there's no way you can feel what my wife and I feel these days. After years of living a nightmare almost every single day, and just going through the motions at holiday time, we are finally able to appreciate and give thanks. Not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.

Yes, Thanksgiving is still the fourth Thursday of November, just like it's always been (well, at least since Congress made it law in 1941). And you should get together with your families this week and celebrate the big day. But you should also remember to be grateful the other 364 days of the year, too. Despite what the calendar may say, every day should be Thanksgiving. Just because you're not eating turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie doesn't mean you can't give thanks for all the wonderful things in your life, no matter how small.

"Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back." --Anne Lamott (from her book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers) [Note: I know I have posted this quote before, but it is so meaningful to me I had to post it again.]

P.S. This will be my first Thanksgiving without my dad, who passed away in February. It will definitely be different. Despite the many years of pain he and his alcoholism caused me, I did make peace with him shortly before he passed, and I truly miss him now. A couple of weeks ago, I was outside raking leaves in the backyard, turned my head, and could've sworn I saw my dad standing there. (The mind works in mysterious ways.) Yesterday I spent the afternoon putting his Army patches and medals on display in a shadow box, which I will give to my mom today. I also put the Bible that was issued to my dad by the Army in October of 1944 in a special place. I am truly thankful that we reconciled before he left us.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Love this quote

From Anne Lamott's new book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair...

"When we try to see a damaged person as one of God's regular old customers, instead of a lost cause, it takes the pressure off everybody. We can then loosen our death grip on the person, which usually results in progress for everyone, also known in certain circles as grace."


Thank you, Anne.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Goodbye to a four-wheeled friend

This past Monday I took our 2002 Pontiac Montana minivan in for service because the heater hadn't been working right for a week or so. When I turned the heat on, I'd get cold air. I discovered if I fiddled around with all the heater/fan controls like a little kid trying to break them, warm air would eventually start blowing. But then it would stop just as soon as it started. Not a good thing with winter approaching.

So I took the car--affectionately known as "Tony Montana"--to the dealership's service department and explained the funkiness that was going on with it. The service advisor said they'd check it out and give me a call. "Could be the thermostat," he told me. "Or something with the heater core. Or it could be the controls. It's hard to say."

As I walked home from the dealership, I had six blocks or so to start "running the numbers" in my head. Since I know absolutely nothing about cars, my "calculations" were anything but that. I was simply trying to answer the "How much is this going to cost me??" question. A hundred bucks? Two hundred? Three hundred? I really had no idea. I just didn't want it to be a big number because things are always tight financially in my world.

When I got home I Googled "Pontiac Montana heater core repair" and found some site that estimated the cost at about $600.00. Ouch. That was not what I wanted to see. But I remained cautiously optimistic and got my work day started while I awaited the call from the dealership.

A few hours later, I got that (as it turned out) dreaded call. You know it's bad when the service guy starts out the conversation with "I don't think any of these things are things you're gonna want to take care of." Ohhhhhhh, shit.

He then proceeded to tell me all of the "things" that were contributing to my heater not working properly. The radiator was leaking. The head gasket was leaking. The intake manifold was leaking. Something called a bypass tube was also just about shot. And, as a special bonus, whatever the power steering fluid runs through? That was leaking, too.

As the patient's diagnosis was recited to me over the phone, my heart sank. "This is it," I thought. "This is the end of this car." Mr. Goodwrench finally told me that he ran a rough estimate of what the repairs would cost and came up with something in the neighborhood of $4,000.00. "But it could be more," he added, because the car was old and deteriorating and once you get in there and start messing with stuff...well, then other stuff can break, too.

I was heartsick. I know: A car is just a car. But we got that minivan in December of 2001. Almost 12 years ago. It was a part of the family. It took us all over. To Florida and back for an awesome vacation. To the Little League Great Lakes Regional tournament in Indianapolis after my son's team won the Michigan state tournament. To my wife's family cottage in Canada many times. To New York several times, to visit my sister and for weddings. Hell, my younger son grew up in that car.

It was indeed like losing a member of the family. That car held sooo many memories. Including one of the worst memories of my life: When my wife and I drove our son to rehab while he was in the throes of heroin withdrawal. I'll never forget seeing him in the back seat, shivering, shaking, sweating, and moaning from the pain. It was all so surreal. (That is definitely one memory I hope will fade away someday.)

So after 12 years and 182,717 miles, Tony Montana was toast. I thanked the service advisor for the call, hung up the phone, let my wife know the bad news, and then called Volunteers of America to tell them I had a car to donate. Hopefully they can get some money out of it. After all, I just put a brand new set of tires on the car in August (ouch). At the very least, maybe they can sell the thing for parts and help some needy people out.

When they came to pick up the car last night, I got a little choked up. I watched the tow truck driver load Tony onto the flat bed and all the memories of my family's times in that car raced through my head again. Except that one. Oh, it tried to sneak in. But I wouldn't let it.

Rest in peace, my friend.