The Devil Gives Advice

I generally publish poems and stories on my creative writing site, but I wanted to share this one here. Being back in therapy and working with a strong sponsor has stirred up a lot of emotions, and I’ve been reliving some of my darker days before I got sober. That’s where this poem comes from.

I believe poems should speak for themselves and rarely should the writer offer his or her insights into its meaning. I’m making an exception with this one…not because it’s particularly complex or hard-to-get, but I want to explain the importance of one line in particular. But first, the poem:


The Devil Gives Advice

“Take it easy,” Lucifer told me.
“Hell wasn’t built in a day.”

Easy for Ol’ Scratch to say,
he hasn’t had to do a dishonest
day’s labor in about two millennia.

“The key is to pace yourself,”
the Lord of Darkness went on.

“At this rate, you’ll die before
you have any kind of fun, and trust
me, you don’t want that to happen.”

And so I slowed my killing pace,
just to humor the Father of Lies.


The line in question is “And so I slowed my killing pace,” and it’s a reference to a line in the Gin Blossoms song “Mrs. Rita.” The line from the song goes:

I’ve been keeping myself busy with my books and with my tapes
And every day’s much better since I’ve slowed my drinking pace
There’s no swimming in the bottle
It’s just someplace we all drown…

If you’re a fan of the Gin Blossoms, you probably know that co-founder, guitarist, and songwriter Doug Hopkins committed sucicide after a long struggle with depression and alcoholism. The Gin Blossoms received a gold disc for “Hey Jealousy” and the album New Miserable Experience eventually went multiplatinum. Hopkins wouldn’t be around to enjoy the band’s success, though.

Long before I got help for my drinking, I would listen to the album and relate to Hopkins’ songs. Take the line from New Miserable Experience opening track, “Lost Horizons”:

Drink enough of anything to make this world look new again
Drunk drunk drunk in the gardens and the graves….

Dear lord, that line pierces my heart.  I get it, and what’s more, I instantly romanticize the whole damn situation. There’s Robert, drunk again, wandering around the gardens and graves. How fitting. How poetic. How messed up.

We’ve lost so many musicians and songwriters to suicide, drugs, depression, and alcohol. I wish Doug Hopkins could have gotten the help he so desperately needed. The same goes for Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Scott Hutchinson…the list goes on.

I was fortunate enough to stop my drinking pace and stop listening to the Devil. Others don’t make it. I hope and pray more and more get help.

That’s it from me. Happy sober Saturday to all.


St. Patrick’s Day? Not a Problem.

I’ve never cared one way or another about St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure I have some Irish in my heritage, but it doesn’t impact my life. Even when I drank, St. Patrick’s Day was no different from any other day. If I was awake, I was probably drinking or recovering from a bout of drinking. I didn’t need a holiday to crank things up a notch or two, and I never went out drinking in a crowd of people.

I live in Savannah, Georgia, which happens to host one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day festivals in the country. It gets crazy around here in March, and this year, things are even more hectice because for some reason, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to the parade and festival. My state voted for Trump, but Savannah isn’t especially conservative. There are a lot of folks who resent Pence coming and the extra security his presence requires. I’m not thrilled with him being here, but it doesn’t change my plans. I’m not going to the parade, and I’m not setting foot on River Street the weekend.

st patrick day
Nope. (image credit)

Even though I’m immune to the so-called charms of St. Patrick’s Day, I realize this is a holiday that others struggle with in term of maintaining their sobriety. I imagine it’s hard for extroverts who used to party with throngs of people, who loved the social interaction as much as the alcohol, to sit this one out. While I can’t relate personally, I’m intimately familiar with that empty feeling that comes sometimes when I think, A beer sounds good right now or I can just pop down to the liquor store and get a little half-pint of vodka. 

If you’re feeling that way, I encourage you to reach out to a fellow sober person. Perhaps go to a meeting. Join Sober Grid. Just don’t stay in your own head.

I wish everyone a safe, sober weekend, especially if you’re participating in St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Be well.

When Your Son’s Gotta Pee, and Only a Bar is Available

A few weeks ago, my family and I took a trip to Charleston, South Carolina to see family and tour the USS Yorktown (which was great). After the tour, we wandered around downtown Charleston and ended up at a park, where my children happily ran around and played tagged…until my youngest one had to go pee. When he has to go, it comes on like a freight train and he launches into the pee-dance. It would be nice if he would pull me aside and say, “Father, I’ll have to pass water in a little while, so be on the lookout for a restroom.” But alas, he’s six, and seems to have a bladder the size of a dime.

A urinal! My kingdom for a urinal!

So I began look for buildings that might have a public bathroom, but the park was surrounded by upscale clothing stores and condos. I left my wife and oldest son, grabbed my youngest by his hand, and off we set in search of a bathroom.

I came to a fancy hotel and figured I’d give it a try, but I couldn’t find a restroom near the lobby. Also, there was no one around, including at the reception desk, which was a little creepy. I didn’t mention that to my son; the last thing I needed was him to freak out while having to pee.

Suddenly, a young man and woman appeared and asked me if I knew where a bathroom was. I told them we were searching for the same thing. “Let’s go up these stairs and see,” the man said in a heavily accented voice. Russian, I thought, or maybe Ukrainian? The woman giggled nervously and said she was the one that had to pee. It wasn’t vital information, but okay. Her accent was similarly thick.

On the second floor of the hotel, we found restrooms, but they required hotel passkeys. My son pinched his legs together and gritted his teeth. My Slavic friend said, “I’m going to ask a hotel guest if I can borrow his card.” The young woman gave him a sideways look, and I stopped myself from saying, “You know, I really doubt that’s going to work.” Instead, I said, “Well, good luck.” My son and I waited with the young lady, who was fidgeting and bouncing up and down on her heels.

A few minutes later, the man returned, shaking his head. “No one would give me a card,” he said. Not so suprising, but I gave him credit for trying.

“All right, let’s go,” I said and headed with my son back down the stairs. The couple followed me out onto the sidewalk, and a block ahead of us I spotted The Griffon Pub. Good enough, I said and quickened my pace, sensing my son was about to drop his pants and whiz on the pavement.

I ducked in, and the couple followed. Holding my son’s hand, we wove through tables and people through the dimly lit bar until we found two unisex bathrooms. Not waiting another second, I threw one of the doors open and ushered my boy in.

As he relieved himself (which sounded like a pipe had burst and was exploding water everywhere), I said to my son, “You know we’re in a bar, right?”

My son turned slowly to face me. “What?” he demanded. He knows I don’t drink and seems to have decided that bars are one step above Hell…or so he’s said to me before.

“Yep,” I answered.

“Why?” he shot back, but I could tell he was more curious than upset. He began looking around the bathroom, and his eyes settled in a picture of a large bottle filled with amber-colored liquid.

“That would be whiskey,” I said.

“Huh,” my son replied.

After we washed hands, we walked back into the bar to take in the sights and sounds. It was my kind of place; dimly lit, not too loud, and not too crowded. Were a still a drinker, I would have been right at home.

“This is interesting,” my son said as we made our way to the door. Before we left, I turned around and got an eyeful of all the liquor:

That’s what I like to call a f**k-load of booze (image credit)

Once we were back on the sidewalk, I saw the young couple who’d accompanied us on our pee quest. The woman looked relieved. I waved to them, and they waved back.

As I walked back to the park to reunite with my wife and other son, I was immensely relieved that I’d been able to walk into a bar, get to the business at hand, and leave without so much urge to drink. I had smelled the beer and liquor; I’d looked into the faces of people enjoying alcohol, and I’d been perfectly content to pass it all by.



A Dark Reminder of How Things Were

I was clearing out some old writing files on my computer the other day and found one entitled “The End.” I figured it was a story I’d started and then abandoned, but it was something quite different.

It’s hard to care about anything when I get like this. I’m back at the fucking bottom, and it feels like I belong there. I mean, why not? I’ve spent enough time here. At least I understand it, so why not go back to normal? Who cares if normal is horrible and isolating and will destroy my family and eventually kill me?

I wrote this some time in early sobriety. As near as I can tell–I saved over the original file and forgot to look at the date–it was February 2015. Maybe about a month or so sober? It goes on:

God, I hate weekends. I hated them before I got sober, too, and I used alcohol to drown everything out: my wife, my kids, life. Alcohol can still make it all go away. All I have to do is get in the van right now and drive to the store. The cure is waiting for me, just like always. Hell, I could go and drink half a bottle of wine before people knew I was even gone. And I’d get that warm, comfortable feeling. All my broken pieces would snap back into place. I’d feel stronger, healthier, stable. I could write again. I have a book waiting for me, don’t I? All I seem to be able to write about is this: drinking, not drinking, getting sober, going to meetings, going to rehab night classes, sharing with groups…

…and it would be nice to take a break. Just a little break, mind you. Maybe just drink enough to take the edge off. Make life a little blurry once again so I don’t have to see the problems in such stark relief. I don’t have to get drunk. Just have enough to loosen up again, be more active around my kids. And I can write music again that isn’t so fucking depressing. Well, okay, it’ll always have a tinge of sadness to it, but I can write different songs. I can do all of that with just the bare minimum of alcohol in my system.

Without it, I don’t know who I am. That’s such a scary thought that it makes me want to drink. And forget the bare minimum, I’d dive back into it with a fucking vengeance, man.

It occurs to me that I might have posted this on my first sober blog, recovery101. I’m too lazy to check. Either way, I won’t post all what I wrote. I ramble on for quite some time before painting a bleak picture of what my life might look like if I start drinking again:

Pass out. Get up. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Fucking repeat until wife has had enough and kicks you out. Finally call your sponsor. Hate yourself for being a terrible father, husband, and human being. Throw the biggest fucking pity party on Earth, making sure to invite only yourself. Sleep in your car. Sleep in your office. Get fired from job. Stop going to AA. Get a job at a grocery store and an apartment in a shitty part of town where you’ll get mugged twice and have your stuff stolen once. Find a roommate who’s worse off than you. Pretend your kids don’t exist. You don’t have a phone, so you’re wife doesn’t call. Get a used bike to ride to and from work. Drink your pay checks away.

Ride by your old house and discover new people living in it. Briefly wonder where family went. Question if your ever had a family in the first place. Decide you didn’t, but if you did, they’re better off without you. Throw another pity part and wallow in it for days. Get fired. Get a job at a gas station. Get fired from that.

Start living on the street during the day and sleeping at the mission at night. Continue questioning your sanity. Get jumped almost every day for a week and finally learn how to fight. End up in the hospital twice, strapped down because you keep ripping out IVs. The second time, they just let you leave.

Discover crack is pretty good, but tell alcohol you’re not being unfaithful, just trying new things. Stumble in an AA meeting and leave before the preamble’s over.

Continue getting high and drunk every day. Wake up four years later in incredible pain and go to the free clinic. The nurse says you look like shit, so you find a mirror. You don’t recognize yourself, and your skin is yellow. The doctor says you’re in the early stages of liver failure and nothing short of a transplant can save you.

He asks how old you are. You don’t know. He asks if you want any family notified of your condition. You say you have no family.

You’re in the hospital for three days, experiencing the worst detox you’ve ever had. You see and hear shit; you have a seizure. They give you medicine to control the seizures, but they don’t touch the other symptoms.

Doctor says you’re going to hospice and they’ll make you as comfortable as possible. You ask if you’re going to die. The doctor nods.

And so you spend your last days on Earth unsure of who you are and what happened. In the end, you tell yourself it’s better to be dead anyway because you have nothing to live for. In the middle of the night, you stop breathing. No one claims your body, and it’s cremated.

The end.

I got chills when I read that the other day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I would go off the rails if I started drinking again. Drugs weren’t part of my story, but who knows what horrors would spring up if I picked up a bottle again?

I began editing this post earlier today and stopped when it was time to pick up my children from school. I deposited them at home and hopped back in the van to go get some grocery (which, sober or drunk, can be a nightmare with kids). So there I was, toodling down the road, singing along with Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” when the thought hits me hard:

I could pick up a bottle of wine. Or maybe dash into the liquor store. I haven’t seen the inside since they remodeled.

Talk about a “what the fuck?!” moment. I had read that account of me dying from liver failure and still, the urge to drink hit me. The feeling passed, and I didn’t have a problem walking down the wine ailse. I glanced at the beer for a moment, but that was it.

Now I’m back home, finishing up this long post, and sipping some coffee.

*shudder* That’s all for me. Happy sober Friday, folks. Keep fighting the good fight.


The Ol’ Alcoholic Brain

I went in this afternoon for my yearly physical which included fasting bloodwork so I could see how my cholesterol levels are. Not that I was terribly worried. I don’t have the worst diet in the world, but it could use some tweaking. I’ll admit a penchant for Eggo waffles in the morning.

Yaaaaaasss. (image credit)

Anyway, my doctor pulled up the results of my bloodwork on the computer. The screen showed my bloodwork, liver function, and all manner of things for the last few years, going back to before I got sober. My cholesterol was a tad bit high, just as it was last year, and the year before. My liver function was fine, just as it was last year, and the year before…

…and the same when I was drinking, except for one July when the functions were a little elevated, but not an insane amount. “That’s weird,” I said to my doctor. “My liver functions weren’t all that bad when I was drinking, and there’s not much difference now.”

“Well, there’s a difference, but it isn’t huge,” my doctor agreed.

“Huh,” I said. We moved onto other topics, but my alcoholic brain began whispering, Hey, man, looks like you weren’t that bad off. You didn’t ruin your body. That liver has some good drinking years still in it.

“It’s not like I’m going to start drinking again,” I blurted out, apropros of nothing. My doctor gave me a quizzical look and said, “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea.”


There were a few seconds of silence, and we picked up our rhythm again. She’s a good doctor and a nice woman, though I don’t know her well. She’s not like my last primary physician, who specialized in addiction (and was fantastic). There’s no reason my current doctor would know how much I drank and how wrecked my life was. I’ve never told her, and I don’t see a reason to. She just needs to be accepting of my quirkiness, which she is, and know that I’m in recovery, which she does.

The rest is up to me, with the help of my AA home group and others in recovery (I’ve found SoberGrid quite useful for inspiration and for positive, encouraging feedback). I didn’t shut down the lies my addiction started feeding me in the doctor’s office and that continued on the way home. I let my alcoholic brain say what it would, and eventually the voices subsided. Now I’m going to go make supper for my family in a kitchen blessedly free from alcohol. It was a very different scene this time in 2014.

As you were, folks. Happy sober Tuesday.



Of Writing and Music

I’ve considered myself a writer since I was thirteen and I wrote what I thought was the beginning of a novel called The Quest of the Golden Dragon. It was a Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons rip-off. I managed 32 hand-written pages, and my mother was kind enough to read it and offer encouragement. I can’t imagine the experience was pleasant for her.

I was going for this and fell decidedly short (image credit)

I started writing music when I was sixteen. I took piano lessons and was a mediocre student. After I quit, I didn’t touch the piano until one day I sat down and out poured this long, rambling, dark song I called “Bury Our Bones at Sunrise.” Once again, my mother had to listen as I cranked out song after song and recorded them my battered tape-recorder. I have those old tapes somewhere, and I wince when I listen to them.

My writing and music composition has changed over the years, and both have improved dramatically since getting sober. Both still serve as personal therapy as well as channels through which I express myself artistically, and I’m not so attached to my art that I can’t stand make and evaluate it critically and objectively. But if no one ever reads another poem or listens to another song, I’m okay with it. I average about three listens per song on my Soundcloud page. I post the songs there and forget about them. I can’t even perform the songs I’ve written; once I record and post them, they vanish. It’s good thing I have no ambitions to become a performing musician.

Artistic expression is hugely important to my continued sobriety. If you’re curious what that looks like, I post poems and stories here and post instrumental music here.

That’s all for now. Happy sober Monday to all.

Sunday Morning Courage

I woke up this morning and meandered downstairs. The rest of my family was still asleep, and the house was quiet save for our two indoor cats demanding food. The dog was still sacked out with my oldest son. I also fed our two outdoor cats, a big tomcat named Ben who’s missing the tip of his left ear and has world-weary eyes. His voice belies his size; he has a tiny, sweet meow though he looks like he should growl like a bear. The other cat is Sara, and we think Ben’s her father. She’s not thrilled with his relaitvely new presence; she lowers her head and makes a low, moaning sound which I interpret as I know who you are, but you haven’t been around for most of my life, and now you come in the backyard of my human? In my territory?! Not cool. Ben just blinks at her.

sara and ben.jpg
Sara and Ben

I put on my cozy robe and started the kettle. I looked around my kitchen and once again found myself enjoying the silence. And then, this thought: a shot of vodka would be nice. Hell, maybe two shots.


There was no vodka on hand, luckily, or anything remotely alcoholic (I’m not even sure if mouthwash is a good idea to have in the bathroom. Though I never went that route, I get it). I let the thought play out, and eventually it went away. I made some oatmeal and a cup of coffee and started my day.

There’s a difference between periodic thoughts of drinking and the obsessive drive to drink, the drive that would have forced me to arrange plans to sneak off to the liquor store after 12, get some vodka, hide it in the back of the freezer, and then start making bargains with myself that I’d only drink half of the bottle, only to drink the whole damn thing and then drive to get another one under the pretense that we needed something at the store. Dear lord. I don’t miss those days.

The thoughts of drinking are still whispering in the back of my head, so I’m digging into myself to find some Sunday morning courage. Coffee helps. Writing helps. My family and the animals with whom I share space help.

Deep breaths. I’m a recovering alcoholic, not a practicing one. I will get through the day and night without drinking. And tomorrow, I’ll do it again.

Cash for Pills

The medical saga continues…well, it’s not really a saga, but it kind of feels that way. Both the insurance company and doctor’s office are closed for the holiday, but I just got off the phone with my pharmacy. Since I’ve had a prescription for Cymbalta before, they’re able to sell me a few pills rather than fill a prescription. It’s without insurance, so I’m paying cash for three generic pills of Cymbalta. $30 for peace of mind and spirit, I suppose.

Even though my prescription is for 90 mg, I’ve been taking 60 (due to another doctor/insurance kerfufle) and that seems to work. Rather than taking one pills a day, I’ll have to take one every other day until Wednesday, when I have my annual physical.

When my medicine is ready, I’ll zip over to Publix and get it…and start monitoring myself thoughts and feelings to see if I need a pill today or can wait until tomorrow. I can usually skip a day without feeling any side-effects. It’s not ideal, but I’ll make do.

I just wish I didn’t feel like I was self-medicating. Perhaps that’s not the correct term. Managing my own medicine? Perhaps. It’s better than being in the Upside Down, which is what it felt like a few days ago.

Hurray, it’s my untreated, unhealthy mind.

Grinding it Out

I haven’t felt this way (mentally, that is) since early recovery. More specifically, I haven’t had such negative thoughts. On top of that, I’m mostly emotionally numb with periodic burts of overwhelming emotion. As Ron Weasley would say:

bloody hell

As I told a few people yesterday, I’ve gone through enough episodes of withdrawal to know the difference between the physical symptoms and the unhealthy mental processes that have begun to creep in (and that hopefully won’t stay). The circular, hateful thoughts that say things like, “Robert, you’re a shitty excuse for a human being. You know that feeling you have right now that there’s no point in writing stories and poetry? Go with that. While you’re at it, stop doing everything worthwhile, because you’re doomed.”

Sigh. I recognize none of that is true, and right now, I’m strong enough to shrug it off. Not diminish its importance as a warning sign, but learn to exist with it. There’s a story related by Pema Chodron about learning to live with our demons, which makes sense to me, as does this quote:

pema 2

Right. I agree with her, but perhaps I’m not there yet. At least, not there enough to give up my medication.

It’s been seven days today without Cymbalta. And it’s Thanksgiving, to boot, and all I want to do is crawl in a hole and lick my wounds. I’ve decided to call my insurance company again and go through the necessary hoops and try to at least fill the medication. That way, I’ll have it on hand. I can discuss with my family how they think I’ve been without the medicine. That’s a huge part of this equation. I know how awful it is growing up with a mentally ill parent who didn’t recognize the need for treatment.

In the meantime, even though my creative writing seems to have given me the middle finger, I’m still able to write music, which helps. Here’s a recent song that depicts the suffocating sadness that overcomes me…oh, at least twice an hour. Weee.

ray of pitch black
I am, at that.


Not from alcohol, though. That would be awful. This time, due to a snafu with insurance, I haven’t been able to take Cymbalta. I’m on day six and am incredibly dizzy, cranky, fatigued, and am having difficulty thinking straight.

None of this is surprising or unexpected, so I’m not freaking out. I’m resigned to it, and I’ve decided to stop taking Cymbalta altogether and use other methods of treating my mental health.

What I didn’t expect, though, was the almost complete loss of interest in writing. Not on this blog, which I rarely use, but creative writing. I sit down at the keyboard and write, but nothing decent comes out. Writing is one way I deal with my mental illness, and I’m bummed that it isn’t doing the trick. Even writing this post is difficult…not because of the topic, but because my brain doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

So it goes. I’ll keep hanging in there. I’d appreciate good vibes and thoughts and prayers.