Decision Tree

This is a pretty simple concept. When I was in fifth grade all of the kids in the neighborhood decided we were going to steal alcohol and cigarettes from our parents and throw a little party. Needless to say, my best friend and I were the youngest, 9 and 10, while the other kids were almost in high school. Because they were much older, the told us we should bring the beer and cigarettes. If I remember correctly, I volunteered to bring the cigarettes and my friend stated that he would bring the beer.

Later that night, we met in the middle of the cul de sac, our loot in tow. We ventured out to the woods and began to have our party. I think we might have lit one cigarette and shared a fourth of one beer before a parent found us and the party was busted.

Being the my parents had recently divorced, but continued to always parent on the same page, my mother called my father. Later that night he showed up. I don’t remember much about what happened that night but I do remember sitting on the steps in our entry way talking to my parents. Although I cried the entire time, my parents were not harsh or bitter, only asking me to be as honest as possible about the activities of the evening and who decided what was to be brought to the party.

I didn’t know it at the time, but every other kid involved lied and placed the blame of the evening on me. Apparently I was the one who came up with the idea. I was the one who volunteered to bring the beer and the cigarettes and I was the only one who drank or smoked. Funny…I didn’t remember it that way?

My parents asked me only once, “Are you sure that’s the truth?”, and I answered yes. “If you say it’s the truth, then I believe it’s the truth.” My father said. “We raised you to be honest and I believe we did our job.” There was some discussion about what I thought my punishment should be and then I was dismissed while my parents sat on the front porch and talked about the incident…while drinking a beer.

For the rest of that summer, all of the kids in the neighborhood were unable to play with me because their parents had termed me a “bad influence”. They would ride up and down the street and shout “smoker, smoker” and “drinker, drinker” at me, knowing they had been part of the party as well.

I was 10. During that same summer, my friend and I had been caught by his father dressed in drag in the front yard of my house. My mother took a picture of us, every bit the Kennedy clan in wide brimmed hats, smoking tree twigs as cigarettes. His father had been furious. My mother laughed as our neighbor hauled my friend away while tripping on his long gown.

When I was in high school I got in trouble for another drinking party. While talking to my father over dinner he brought up the incident from the summer of my tenth year. “You know, I was always very proud of you for that night.” He said. “The other kids were rewarded by their parents for lying because those parents couldn’t deal with the fact that their children could possibly engage in such behaviors. They received new hockey equipment and shoes while you were punished for your involvement. Their lies will haunt them.” He told me.

“In life, there is a decision tree. The tree grows into a trunk which supports the rest of the tree. This is the foundation of your morals and values given to you when you are young as well as any of your genetic makeup. Next, we have the branches. Each branch splits in two eventually. Each branch represents choices you make in your life. Each choice leads to two or more choices and so forth. As you grow, your decision tree grows and all of your choices compound on top of one another. I wish I could show you my decision tree, and explain all of the good and poor choices I made in my life so that you could live your life to the fullest based on my experience. Unfortunately, you have to grow your own branches. Your mother and I always understood that which is why that evening, whether you had been telling the truth or not, we knew your choice would ultimately affect mostly your life. One lie would lead to another lie and to another lie. As life moves forwards, those kids who lied that not will display similar behaviors but you will be a finer human being for telling the truth and moving through difficult choices.”

And then he patted my back and the lesson was over.

I won’t bore you by telling you I became one of the most prolific liars this century has ever seen or that I had countless arrests and addiction treatments. I won’t bore you with how I treated people horribly, felt that I was owed something from my family and blamed other people for all of my mistakes. I won’t bore you with the countless drugs I did or how much alcohol and cigarettes I used over the years. I definitely won’t bore you with details about how I didn’t care about others’ feelings for years and only, selfishly, thought about my wants and needs.

But I will tell you that because of those years, I do not behavior in any way like that today. In fact, I attempt to live such a right life by the standards I set for myself that I am completely offended when others challenge these values. About a year ago, a business associate accused Alex and I of lying about how we had witnessed an event and reported it. I won’t dredge up the past because, as I stated, I’ve learned from those behaviors and don’t react the same way today, therefore we are friends again and both apologized for hurting each others’ feelings.

Needless to say, in being called a liar I explained that I was completely offended because that challenged the foundation of my sobriety and my values. If I am a liar, then the rest of it is a scam true; my recovery, my relationships…all of it. I might be a lot of things. But I am not a liar. Those behaviors of yesteryear were my picking the wrong branches to climb. Today, I choose different branches because I’ve learned…and my dad was right. In looking at his choices and the choices of others, and learning from one another, I’ve been allowed to live a better life.

While dissecting your life, ask yourself, Am I happy? Are there things I want to change? Are there things I believe are out of my control? What would I change today that would make me happier?

Now look at your choices!

You have many choices. The fact is not that you don’t have choices. The fact is that you don’t like where your choices lead. Many of us don’t like our choices, but sometimes choices we didn’t want to take led us in the right direction. I had no intention of staying in treatment on December 17, 1994 but by going I’ve been allowed to have the most amazing life possible. While working in treatment, I was adamant I was not going to participate in a new family group therapy program that had been designed, but after making the choice to participate rather than be fired, I learned I loved working with families. I was also forced to do an internship in an inner city elementary school. I begged and pleaded with my dean to let me do another internship, but due to my lack of planning, it was all that was left. During that internship, I met my mentor and had some of the best life change experiences ever!

It is easier to let go than to resist.

That branch was my most important.

My parents were very wise. They knew how to raise me with enough liberty to become the person I was meant to become while guided enough to have the values and morals they had learned would further me the most in this life. They were wise because they never allowed me to see them argue, with the exception of a few occasions, and they never spoke poorly of each other. They never made parenting decision without consulting one another. They did this because they loved me. They were the best parents any kid could wish for in life.

My mother was very, very wise. She never threw anything away in fear of possibly needing it again someday. Downstairs in our basement, right on top of her old Smith-Corona typewriter, sits a gorgeous photograph of the Kennedy sisters, both draped in beautiful dresses, wide-brimmed floppy hats shading their faces as they drink lemonade and smoke cigarette tree branch twigs.

I might post that picture someday…hell, we’re on borrowed time as it is!

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Thoughts on Turning 40…Fear and Change.

I really hate when people say they get me or they understand. They don’t. They don’t understand what I’m going through just like I can’t necessarily understand what they’ve gone through with their life experiences. It is the pivotal differences between sympathy and empathy; neither of which I want. And I desperately don’t want pity. Not about turning 40…that’s a good thing.

It just so happens that I’m turning 40, an epic age, at the exact same time I’m going through a major transition in my life. For those that don’t understand transitions please let me define. I’m not talking about leaving a relationship or quitting a job. While those are perfectly fine transitions, I’m talking about something much, much deeper.

Have you ever been driving around town, running errands, listening but not really listening to the music and all of a sudden you realize you’ve ended up somewhere you never meant to go. Maybe you completely forgot you were on your way to the grocery store. Have you ever sat on the front porch and watched the stars overhead and wandered what your life would be like if it were different. When it is different. There is a great scene in Texasville where Jeff Bridges walks in on his wife, played by Annie Potts, laying on the bed. He asks her what she’s doing and she answers, “thinking”. When he asks what she’s thinking about she explains that women think millions of things in a day and go through millions of changes in a day. Well, I don’t think this is just women…I think all of us go through similar changes. But we perfect our lives in a way that we become accustom to these changes and don’t challenge what we really want in our lives, because, we are too afraid.

In the last week, all of my friends and family have asked me on a pretty consistent basis what I want to do for my birthday and the answer is that I’m not really sure. I’ve never been a party person so I know I don’t want a party. We’ve just spent the last week celebrating Alex’s birthday at numerous birthday dinners, so I don’t really want to go out to dinner. We were supposed to go to Vegas, but have decided to wait when we can spend a little bit more money. I thought about driving to Chicago for the weekend but we were just there for a bachelorette party. I entertained the idea of renting a lakeside cabin and taking the dogs for the weekend but after processing the packing, etc I realized we have a pool here and my dad lives on a lake, so we might as well stay home. Nothing seems right for my birthday.

And then I realized the reasonp.

Celebrating my birthday this year is not a superficial surface passing. Celebrating my birthday this year is the coronation of a major transition in my life. A transition of the mind, body and spirit. I have been very sad and unhappy for some time because I have allowed myself to become someone I don’t really know anymore. And with the exception of Alex and probably two or three other friends, I don’t know that anyone else really knows the real Peter either. I put on a very good act.

The real Peter doesn’t give a fuck…but then again he does. He cares deeply about things that matter and pays very little importance to things that don’t. I’ve spent the last several years caught up in drama and ridiculousness that doesn’t matter. The real Peter tells it like it is and isn’t worried about someone’s reaction because typically, that’s what people have learned to love. The real Peter loves the smallest details in life. The real Peter does not change the radio station for anyone because people used to love his singing to country music. The real Peter loves country music…and folk music, dance music and rap. The real Peter will try almost everything once unless it may risk his life. The real Peter takes his recovery and sobriety very seriously and wouldn’t have put himself in half of the situations he’s put himself in over the last several years. The real Peter respects the sanctity of marriage and has very little respect for those that don’t. The real Peter is very opinionated. The real Peter will smoke a cigarette if he wants to smoke a cigarette…unless you kindly ask him not to smoke. The real Peter is comforted with the safety of a clean home, dogs who love him, a loyal husband and does not care for change. The real Peter is terrified by change, which is why is he so resistant to life transitions…but it’s time.

During the last week, I’ve explained to people that starting on my birthday on Friday, many things will be changing in my life. I think they are a little bewildered and unsure what this may mean and how it will affect them. Let me make this very clear…I’m not moving, leaving Alex and making any drastic changes in my surface life. It is what lies beneath that will change. And as I sit on my front porch late at night, typing at my computer in my garden office, I have outlined the next year of my life. The best year of my life…hopefully.

While talking to my best friend the other day, and I say best because she has been the one constant best in my life for the last 15 years, I asked her what she wished she had known at 40. She explained that she probably wouldn’t have spent as much time with people that wouldn’t matter to her on an intimate level later in life. We also talked about my constant need to explain myself…an art I have learned to master only in the last few years. It is these kinds of changes I will be implementing in my life, along with a laundry list of goals, hopes and dreams I will accomplish!

Please follow me over the next year as I write daily posts and do daily videos about my life and the lessons I learn, on and off the couch. Maybe you’ll learn a few things from me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn a few things from you too…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

So Fat Weight Loss Challenge! Day 1

I am so tired of being fat. Fat, fat, fat. I will be 40 this summer and I want to look the best I’ve ever looked! I help people every day achieve their dreams and get over their problems but I can’t seem to beat the one thing that brings me down the most. So, I’ve decided, after having seen the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead(which you can watch on Netflix or visit there website to learn more), to begin a juicing reboot for 10 days and then work into a vegetarian diet. Every day I will be writing on here and making videos to update my progress. I’m asking for help in my journey as well as hoping some people might join me. I don’t care if you have the same plan as me as long as your plan is for the well being of your health, not just a diet because lets be honest…diets don’t work! I plan to be ruthlessly honest about my journey, including my struggles, my weight and what things I hate about making these changes. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping and praying…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Please leave me comments…offer me suggestions, or whatever and maybe together we can make a change!

Help the Kids!!! All of the Secrets Revealed!!!

Please Help the Kids…Serve as Hope for Someone Else!!!
Contact me and be part of the movement!
petermonnmsw@gmail.com

My Twelve Steps Companion iPhone application tells me that as of today I’ve been clean and sober 16.76 years or 201.14 months or 6,122 days or 146,927 hours. That’s a lot of time but honestly, sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I was with my friends in high school drinking and partying. For years I worked with teenagers in an inpatient, addiction treatment center but today I am a private practice therapist who works with clients with varying issues and ages. Pain is universal.

But before I get too deep into the background story…for those of you who just want to be part of this project, let me take a moment to pause and explain. Daily I’m asked for advice on the strangest, but most honest, parts of the lives of teenagers using drugs and alcohol. Most days I receive phone calls from teenagers asking me how to talk to a friend or what drugs are safe for them to use. While my answers to these questions varies, I rarely give advice on safe drugs to use, what is apparent is most kids feel they have nowhere to turn for the real answers. Parents, teachers, other counselors, nurses, etc…call me daily too asking all kinds of questions about new over the counter drugs, or how much certain drugs cost or what boundaries they should or shouldn’t set. I have decided to begin a project where all of this advice can be easily accessed so parents and teenagers can be more successful and have the lives they dream of having. You want to be the next Jennifer Hudson, Kurt Cobain, Kid Cudi or Lil Wayne…it’s all waiting, you just have to reach out and grab it. I am asking anyone who had drug and alcohol problems as a teenager but is successful today to be part of my project. I am also asking anyone affected by these teenagers drug or alcohol use, but learned what worked and didn’t work to be part of this project. If you’re interested, please contact me at petermonnmsw@gmail.com for more information…but I encourage you to read on!

I can still remember being on the adult unit of the hospital where I got sober and listening to the teenage girls while they smoked on the patio at night, laughing with each other and talking about the dude’s number they got at the AA meeting they had gone to earlier. I remember watching in disbelief as the counselor monitoring them sat inside writing group notes, not paying attention to the girls or they mindless chatter. How could she not want to be part of this mesmerizing conversation? For years I had therapists who would fall asleep during our sessions or would trust the word of my parents instead of mine, never attempting to relate to my youthful beliefs or even remotely trying to see things from my point of view. So I thought to myself, I could do this. I could be that counselor or therapist I never had when I was a teenager. I could relate and show kids that adults can relate to them. Adults can be wrong and apologize first. Adults can listen to the same music, watch the same music and watch the same movies and television shows…not because they’re fake, but because that’s what they enjoy. (I can’t stand anyone fake so in my years of working with teenagers it’s been vital that when I am uneducated on a certain band or movie, to honestly more about their interests and ask for suggestions so I can decide on my own if I like a certain band. Some I’ve loved…some I still can’t stomach.)

Years ago I read a book by the editor of Sassy magazine where she described her attitude towards putting a magazine out for teenage girls. She described how her reader was the girl who walked down the hallway and had freckles or underdeveloped breasts, or overdeveloped breasts. Every boy looked at her or no boy looked at her. These girls didn’t feel they “fit it” and for them, this was traumatic, much the same way we consider sexual or physical abuse. She talked about sitting down on the floor and pulling her jeans up and getting down on their level to talk. Later, I had a professor who worked at Indiana Girl’s School who shared that she had a huge basket filled with cheap bottles of cheap nail polish. In exchange for talking to her, the girls were allowed to paint her nails. Often, she walked out of those sessions with a different color on every fingernail…but the girls talked…and they eventually felt better. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

And then the boys. The forgotten diverse population of our times. After 15 years working in the field of teenagers I have realized we assume our boys are going to be just fine because they’re boys. We make statements to boys like “grow up” or “be a man”, but nobody teaches them how to be men. They are afraid of growing up in a world without instructions and therefor front to make it appear they have a clue about the real world. Most do not and we are setting them up for failure. It is our job to hold their hands, even if they are resistant, through the dark, guiding them until they find their way. As a gay counselor I was apprehensive at times to work with male clients, but even to this day, I’ve always had amazing trusting and therapeutic relationships with the hardest core teenage men. They don’t care for bullshit and I do not bullshit.

Parents have asked me for 15 years what my secret has been working with teenagers. I just think like a teenager. I don’t have to try because honestly, most days I feel like I could wake up and this could all have been a dream and I’m still in high school myself. I try to treat teens the way I wanted to be treated, while still setting limits, boundaries and structure because I believe that’s what I wanted and needed. I had a mother look at her daughter during family group while she was discussing the love she felt for her boyfriend and the mother shouted “you don’t know what love is! You’re 15!” Let’s be honest. Love doesn’t feel a whole lot different at 15 than it does at 50. Quit lying to your kids. They know you’re full of shit when you do!

And that’s really the secret. Really listening to what the kids are telling us.

This has never been better stated than in the movie Bowling for Columbine when the director Michael Moore interviews singer Marilyn Manson whose music supposedly served as inspiration for the violence.
Michael Moore: If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
Marilyn Manson: I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.

Today…I am listening. I have cleaned my ears out and I am listening like I have never listened before. For years I have been frustrated with the lack of resources for teenagers, parents, siblings and everyone who has been affected by drugs and alcohol as a teenager. The parents have no clue what to do and what decisions are right and the kids think what they’re doing is normal. I get questions daily like, “Since my son is in treatment, should I pay his dealer because he owes him $1500.” or “I don’t really care that she hangs around Sally. They’ve been friends since they were in 7th grade and Sally is a really good girl and comes from a good family. What about the other friends.” First of all, don’t ever pay your kids drug debts, you might as well have bought the drugs, which indirectly you did so own it. And second, Sally isn’t as pure as you think she is but that’s not the point. Your daughter is the worst friend she’s ever had so stop focusing on her friends.

But where is this advice? Where is the truth from kids, teachers, drug dealers, parents, siblings, therapist, probation officers and cops that everyone searches for and ends up calling me or some other therapist. It doesn’t exist…yet.

Every day I am contacted in some way by past clients or patients who I worked with as teenagers. Not all of them liked me when I worked with them, but somehow, they made it out and are successful today. Not all are in 12-step programs and not all of them are clean and sober, but ALL are successful in my book! I had a passing thought of starting a small project and so I chose ten of these young people and contacted asking for their help. ALL ten immediately responded and said they would be more than happy to help. Thus grew a larger idea and a larger idea and a larger idea. At this moment, I have a project in place to provide this advice and guidance my past families and patients have been looking for but couldn’t find.

This is where I help YOU to HELP THE KIDS!!! I am looking for anyone who struggled with drugs and alcohol as teenagers but made it out and is successful today. This does not necessarily mean you are clean and sober, but I am encouraging those people as well. I am also asking parents, sponsors, teachers, probation officers, therapists, counselors, doctors, friends, siblings, neighbors…anyone who experienced working with a teenager suffering from drugs and alcohol who has the inside scoop on what did and didn’t work for you that helped them be successful. If you are interested, please contact me at petermonnmsw@gmail.com with your name and email and I will forward you the outline for the beginning of this exciting project. And let me be very clear! This by no means is an attempt to replace any 12-step program. I am hoping that members of 12-step programs will also assist to offer examples of what works for them to be successful as well. I no longer want anyone, no matter their age, to feel that they don’t know where to turn for an honest answer about addiction and recovery.

Please help the kids! Serve as hope for someone else!
And if you have any questions or need immediate assistance you can always reach me at 317-796-3101.

Happy Father’s Day, Love Dad…Get Up, Show Up…and Don’t Whine!


I rarely write about my father. People often ask me if I have any kind of relationship with him or if we’re close at all and the funny thing is, although we have our differences in politics, literature and opinions, we’re a lot closer and a lot more alike than even we like to admit at times. He often tells me, “you’re more and more like your mother every day. You don’t know how to pick your battles.” He’s probably right. Humorously, I was recently in line at Walmart and had waited with approximately 10 other customers in the 20 items or less “speedy checkout” lane while a grandmother and her 5 grandchildren piled over, and yes I counted, 150 items onto the conveyor belt, as she screamed at the checkout lady, “Faster girl!” The groans and moans of the other customers were heightened by the grandmother’s need to put back items such as Kool-Aid and Turkey Bacon, “NOT my pork rinds and sour cream…they’re for my diet!”, due to the lack of credit on her food stamp card. She continued to bark orders from behind an oxygen tank and mask while sitting in her electric wheelchair packing a box of Newports against her hand. “We only need to get down $16 more dollars!” she screamed at the kids. Quickly I reached in my wallet and took out a twenty and handed it to the cashier and smiled. It was truly only an act I could have rehearsed by witnessing my father in such moments, who would have done it, not altruistically, but because he had been “cooling his heels” for quite enough time. The woman turned around and smiled at me, “Bless you”, she whispered as she took the three dollars and some change of MY twenty dollar bill from the cashier and tucked it, tightly, into her bra. As she scooted off, the patrons behind me began to clap.

I had become my father…

Later, when I read my best friend the following letter, she smiled as she watched me finishing it, tears streaming down my cheeks, having waited so long for this wonderful acknowledgment. “Between your mother and your father”, she said, “you never had a chance.” And we both laughed. She had met him the summer before and told me how she watched him as I swam in his pool and how excited he was to talk to me and debate over issues. And in thinking back on this and all of the years before, I think what you must understood most about my father, is that he is completely misunderstood. While trying to find pictures of us from when I was younger I came across hundreds and hundreds of the most amazing photographs, but none had him in them. I only realized later this was because he had taken all of the photographs. The ultimate observer of life.

One year, this man known for his creativity, imagination and stealth risk taking abilities, made a Press Pass for the US Open and walked straight into Flushing Meadows, court-side, with his large Nikon camera around his neck, very much the image of a professional photographer. I used to receive tee shirts from places like Honduras or Banff Canada, where he would go sailing or hiking, typically by himself until he met other lone travelers.

At my age, he wore old tee shirts, faded jeans ripped in the knees, square toed boots, trucker hats, Porsche Carerra sunglasses and he sported a short beard. Today, he can often be found in some of the same attire. He can charm you with discussions of anything from native languages of several countries, the politics of Islam, Ann Coulter or tell you a joke he heard in surgery. He is happiest at home on the lake with his dogs, smoking a cigar, watching nature explode around him. My dad knows the words to tons of Willie Nelson songs but performed surgery, probably yours, to ZZ Top. He has sculpted and painted with movie stars, written books, made his own wood-cutting pressings and saved lives…mine, most importantly.

I guess, for quite some time, the hardest thing of all…is that I’ve wanted to be him. And if not be, than be accepted, because after all, don’t we just want to be loved and validated? So what I’m really trying to say, in this long winded introduction, is…thanks Dad! After everything you’ve ever done or given to me, this, by far, was the greatest gift of all!

A Dad’s Letter on Father’s Day

I have a description of Holidays: If the mail doesn’t come, the trash is not picked up, the banks are closed and you are off work, it is a Holiday; if not, it is a Hallmark Day!! Hallmark Days do not require any special attention other than what the guilt trippers of society wish to impose on us. That being said, I would like to reflect if I may on this artificial holiday.

When you came into this world, I was knee deep in a very demanding and competitive residency. Other than taking care of middle of the night feedings and walking you around Evanston when I would get home and your mother would say to me, “Here, you take him, he has been crying all day!” I must admit that your mother did most of your care for the first two years. There were good times obviously, I well remember you trying to knock my drink off of the round coffee table we had so I would divert you by letting you tear up newspaper in front of the fire place.

Later I remember I won a Santa Visit at a charity auction and when he drove up in front of our house in a Ford Bronco, you questioned his authenticity. I kept you believing in Santa a couple of more years by telling you that he got into our house the same way the radio or television signal did, and that we only gave you the chimney story because the microwave theory was above your level of comprehension.

I remember too, having to reschedule surgery so I could make it to your Epworth pre-school to enjoy crackers and butter you and your classmates made. Later on when you were involved in all the usual school activities I tried to do my part. Your mom enrolled us in a group called Foolish fathers. This group was set up by moms to make dads get the kids out of the house on Saturday morning. We had wonderful mornings together on gray rainy days having a hot dog cook out at 10 in the morning at the Noblesville Pumpkin Farm followed by a wet hay ride. Oh! The joy. When it was my turn I rented a Noble Romans and we all made pizza at 10 in the morning.

Later on when you were in Hockey I remember those 5:30 a.m. Saturday mornings getting you into your hockey uniform. You never could understand why you needed a cup in your jock strap. I said just do it. And then there were all those wonderful times we went twice a year to visit Phil, Sue, Shelly and Betsy. The time we went to Hawaii and our numerous skiing trips to Vail together. What great memories.

Later when Debbie(my stepmother)came into our life we had trips to the Caribbean and that really special trip to Williamsburg!!(Family joke!) How many trips to Chicago and of course the shopping for Gucci watches. Our Christmas in London and New Years Eve somewhere outside Oxford. Now that you were older and school involved more planning, it was Debbie who scheduled your flights and tutors and whatever. How fondly, I remember your school concerts and violin practice. (ee ah, ee ah, ee ah) Actually they became quite good and I even embarrassed you once by shouting out at the end of your recital; Bravo, Bravissimo!

Your announcement to us that you were gay and our total acceptance. Your earlier boyfriends and now Alex, your fiance. All of whom have added a dimension to you and our lives that can never be replaced. And probably most of all your sobriety which took so much personal courage and commitment and has taken you so far from those black days that started at Perkins Restaurant on that cold wet December 17th morning. (I will try to forget your DWI attorney who charged us $2000 up front for the worst defense ever offered by an attorney anywhere).

Your successes at Fairbanks and now in your own very successful practice there are so many elements of which a dad can be proud. I just thought it might be worthwhile to reminisce on this “Holiday” dedicated to dads. As dads go, you could have done a lot better than you did, but you could also have done worse. As a dad whose dad never once hugged me or said he loved me I believe he did. He just did not have the ability to show that side of himself. He did give me however a great gift. Get up, Show up and don’t whine.

Love Dad

My mom would have loved this. Especially that he said it before it was too late…because we’re on borrowed time as it is.

A Piece of Good News…

Tonight I got a special surprise I hadn’t expected. Alex is part of a dance group that, from time to time, gets asked to perform for special events. Tonight they participated in a fundraising event called Change4Change to benefit The Freedom Writers Foundation. First of all, if you haven’t seen the movie with Hilary Swank, do yourself a favor and go out and rent it ASAP. It is a must see. The mission of The Freedom Writers Foundation, in their own words, is: “It’s time to publicly and systematically promote an educational philosophy that honors diversity in the classroom. It’s time to give students the opportunity to reach their full potential and aspire to higher education. It’s time to remind them that they can deeply impact their communities and the world. The Freedom Writers Foundation believes the time has come. And by empowering students and teachers alike through outreach, curriculum, and scholarships, the time is now.”

If you don’t know the story, the students and their teacher, Erin Gruwell, inspired by the stories of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic, began keeping journals to chronicle their lives. “We discovered that writing is a powerful form of self expression that could help us deal with our past and move forward.”

Hmmmm…

So, Alex ran off with his team to get ready for their part of the event and I went and took a seat in the auditorium, not expecting to be impacted much by what I was about to see. These days, I tend to aim low on expectations always hoping to be somewhat surprised. Boy, was I ever!

After Aron Christian, the teacher of the college class who organized the event, explained the purpose of the evening and Change4Change, several of the students stood on top of tables and began reading from journals, scripted from the actual movie I believe, and the actual story, which can be found at The Freedom Writers Foundation website.

I looked down at the pamphlet in my hand and read the Anne Frank quote printed on it’s page “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

As the first girl began reading, talking about her mother who was a “professional alcoholic” and the impact on her tumultuous life, the other students began chiming in, reading from their journals as well. It was as if all of them were speaking at once inside of my head. And suddenly, tears began streaming down my face.

Now remember, I’m in the middle of a college campus auditorium with lights blaring and I wasn’t about to become a spectacle so I wiped away the tears and tried to push them back into my eyes…but I couldn’t stop.

You see, for 13 years I worked as an inpatient therapist on an adolescent inpatient program for kids with drug and alcohol problems. We’re a special group who work with these teens day in and day out, getting to know their families, their probation and parole officers…their innermost secrets. And every single one of them for 13 years journaled for me on a daily basis. I read about rape and molestation. Crystal meth use and binge drinking. Absent fathers and neglectful mothers. I also read about teenage love and hopes for better futures. And sometimes…I even was allowed into their dreams.

And over the years, some of those kids have stayed in my life, contacting me on a regular basis to let me know how their doing. But others, many, many others I’ve lost touch, or they’ve passed away, much is the disease of addiction.

But I know many are success stories and have become productive members of society, improving their lives and, well, improving mine by allowing me to be part of their journey. Because, you see, it’s a powerful thing to see someone change. You can’t be witness to it and not be affected by it yourself. Right now, I know a beautiful, young lady that will be graduating in two weeks who is finishing up her last semester in college by a semester abroad in Italy. I know another who beat all kinds of odds to get a 3.9 in college and is pursuing a degree in substance abuse counseling. I know a young man who works for the treatment center now where I worked and another who is a manager of a major corporation. And many, many more. They have boyfriends, girlfriends and families who respect them.

Change.

Wow, how powerful. So thanks guys, for allowing me to be a part of all of that. As my life changes and I take on new ventures, I look back and realize how each one of you molded me into the person I am today. It’s been a wonderful journey…and it’s not over yet.

And as I sat there tonight, and watched the young dancers, so beautiful and eloquent, and the students, so inspired by their teacher, and the models of the fashion show…proud and confident; I realized what each of us has to offer this world and how little it takes to make a positive influence in another person’s life. And then suddenly I’m reminded of another Anne Frank quote that has stuck itself inside my head from a long time ago…”Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

Help now…because before long it could be too late…because we’re on borrowed time as it is…

Awwww…Sweet Dedication…


Years ago, I fell in love with the movie Mask starring Cher which tells the story of Rocky Dennis, a teenage boy suffering from a rare condition known as craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. To this day, I’m not really sure why I love the movie so much, if maybe it’s the fact that I relate to Cher’s addiction issues in the movie, the difficult love relationship between he and his blind girlfriend or the amazing soundtrack sampling songs from Bob Segar. At the end of the movie, Rocky dies due to complications of his disease and when his mother finds him in bed, the song Ripple from The Grateful Dead begins playing in the background, as she puts pins into a map sobbing, “Now you can go anywhere you want, baby.”

It’s always these melodramatic, sad Terms of Endearment/Color Purple type movies which cling on to my soul and make me feel alive. And yet, from time to time, I find that life, is so much more real than the films which those emotions.

I knew a Rocky in my own life. He struggled hard with addiction and held several long periods of sobriety. About two years ago he called me and we started meeting once in awhile to talk about stuff in his life. When we would meet he would tell me everything that was going on his life and ask for advice on how to improve his future. He would read me his songs or tell me about his children and his ex-wife who he dearly wanted to reunite with but realized that he wasn’t good for her at the time.

And then he stopped calling. I didn’t hear from him for almost six months…until two weeks ago. I was out with some friends and Rocky called me late one night, leaving two consecutive messages telling me he was doing much better and he wanted me to know that he wanted to come in some time and say hi and let me know how he was doing. I never heard from him again.

Today, his ex wife called me and told me that he had overdosed yesterday and died. And when I got off the phone with her, I sat outside behind my office and wept. Maybe at the fact that I would never get to see him again or that he was leaving behind two beautiful children and a family that cared deeply for him, but also because addiction had yet again gotten someone I cared about so deeply.

I called my best friend in recovery and told her and she said, “I think we forget everyday that this is life or death.”

Life…or death. We’re promised those things by this disease but I forget those things regularly. I forget when I’m working with someone that has relapsed, trying to get them into treatment or trying to help them with legal issues…that this could have been the end of this life that they know. And none of us are bad people…we’re all good people trying to get well.

I’m tired of losing friends and people I love to addiction. But on the other side of the knife, I wouldn’t be where I am in my life if it weren’t for this disease, so it cuts both ways. I just know I’ll keep on doing whatever I can to keep one more person around and try to live my life to be an inspiration to those that don’t think it’s going to get any better. It’s all I can do.

When I first got sober, I lost a friend I had made in treatment to an overdose. My sponsor told me at the time, “some people have to die so that other’s may stay alive. Learn from this.” And I did. And hopefully, someone will learn from what I’m writing and allow Rocky to be an inspiration to them. Because this didn’t have to happen. And it’s no one’s fault. He’s just one that got away.

Which is why today, I drove home from work and blasted “Ripple” by The Grateful Dead and wiped tears from my eyes in honor of my good ole buddy Rocky. May you meet Jerry Garcia and my mom upon walking on those clouds, paint words on the sky for everyone to hear and always, always continue to smile that quirky, little smile! And as the AA texts says…hopefully we’ll meet again as we trudge that road of happy destiny! I dedicate this song to you…because how poignant that, like the song, you’ve made such a powerful impact, or ripple, into the lives of others!

I dedicate this one to you!

If you know someone who has a problem with addiction, if it affects their life in some small way, DO NOT take it lightly. It is life or death. Contact me or someone to help…because, we’re on borrowed time as it is!