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.

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A Kitten, a Sponsor, and a Beer Glass

Obviously, one of these things seems out of place…or maybe they’re all kind of strange, lumped together as they are. but it’s all a matter of perspective. I’ll start backward, I think.

Teacher Appreciation Week isn’t something I’ve ever been comfortable with, maybe because (until my current job) I haven’t been comfortable in my work environment. I’ve taught at a lot of schools, and I’ve made some positive impacts, but it’s come at a cost. I’m something of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole when it comes to teaching; I’m most at ease with older adults, and yet a lot of my teaching years has been spent with at-risk and struggling public school kids. Increasing pressure from the county school board and administrators to accomplish what (I thought to be) the impossible resulted in me leaving public education, hopefully for good. I simply don’t have it in me any more.

During those tough years, I received a few gifts from students, all of which I’ve kept. My favorite are hand-written cards, but I love coffee mugs, too. I’m teaching adult ed classes now, and I didn’t expect a gift during the first week of this month. But one of my students was kind enough to give me this:

beer glass.jpg
Oy vey.

I burst out laughing, and my students assumed that I just thought the words on the glass were funny. None of them know I’m in recovery. I thanked my student for the gift and took it home to show my family. My wife and kids laughed, too. I like the glass quite a lot. The most exciting thing its seen thus far is water, which will probably remain the case until I buy some root beer. I’m not into mocktails or non-alcoholic beer. I tried out various mixed virgin drinks in early recovery, but they just didn’t do it for me…much like their alcoholic counterparts didn’t when I was drinking. Beer, wine, vodka. I was a pretty basic (and disgustingly cheap) drunk.

Moving on. Last Monday, when my wife was driving the kids to school, they spied what they first thought was a rat trying to drink from a rain puddle in the middle of the road. The creature wasn’t a rat but a tiny, wet kitten.

miles.jpg
On the count of three: awwwww….

We have quite a few animals in our house, but of course we have room for an abandoned kitten. We debated over names before finally settling on Miles. The vet thinks he’s about four weeks old. We bottle-fed Miles for most of this week, and now he’s graduated to eating solid food. He still hasn’t mastered the litter box, but at least his poops are small. Our two other cats, both of whom are old and kind of cranky, are giving Miles wide berth. They’ll get used to him after a while. Our dog Charley growls at him, but he’ll come around, too.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started therapy again. Beth asked how many meetings I was attending, and I told her, “Not many. One every other week, maybe?” She suggested I correct that, and she added that she thought I should get a new sponsor. I haven’t talked to my first (and only) sponsor in a long time. We didn’t have a falling out of anything; I just stopped calling and texting him, and I quit attending the meeting where he went. I felt it was time to move on, but the whole situation felt awkward, like I was breaking up with someone.

Anyway, there’s a guy in my home group whom I respect a great deal. I always like what he has to say, so I asked him to be my sponsor (I’ll call him Dale). Luckily, he agreed. We’ve two times so far, and I gain so much from his wisdom. Dale doesn’t play around, either. Not that my first sponsor did, but he was…easy. Calm. He was exactly what I needed when I was freaking out in early sobriety. Dale’s observations about me–my lack of discipline and sticking to a routine, black and white thinking, my tendency to isolate–are spot on, but the truth is sometimes hard to take. I’m getting the no-nonsense treatment from Beth, too. Tough love, but I need it.

I’m working on trusting myself, something I find incredibly difficult to do. That’s kind of my homework this week. I’m also trying to stick to a schedule that includes dedicated time for writing and creating music. I have such difficulty with routine, especially when it comes to my creativity. I tend to be scatter-shot and start an enormous amount of projects, knowing full well that I won’t finish them. Ugh. Progress, not perfection, I keep telling myself.

So that’s where I am on my 1,232 day of sobriety. I wish all of you a happy, sober Monday.

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.

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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:

liqour
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.

Whew.

 

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.

 

Reflections on a 1001 days of Sobriety

I recently installed Sober Grid on my phone and noticed yesterday that I had been sober for 1,000 days. That aint nothin’. Now it’s a 1,0001, which has a nice ring to it, as well. So here are some thoughts at 1,0001 days sober.

Like many recovering alcoholics (and just peope in general), I’m good at isolating. I’m very good at telling myself and others that I just need some time alone to recharge. While that’s true sometimes–say, after a long day or work or being in a hectic social situation–it’s usually just an excuse to separate myself from the world. And why not, right? Why not forgo interaction with other people in order to write poetry and music and enjoy your own company?

For me, too much time spent by myself reinforces the idea that “it’s about me.” If I stay in my head and keep my own counsel, I don’t run into trouble, but I also don’t grow. And I sure as hell dont help anyone else.

Take as much time to yourself as you need, my brain says. You’ve got two little kids who take up a lot of energy. And if you don’t have time alone, when will you write? 

Valid points, but that doesn’t mean I get a pass. It doesn’t mean that I get to extricate myself from the world and carry on like I have nothing to offer anyone except my family. Ugh, it’s painful for me to write this, but I have a lot to offer people. I just read that sentence and shook my head. Gah! What’s that line about an egomaniac with an inferiority complex? Maybe that is the line. I think I’m pretty darn great, but that’s fine because think that. Anyone else who would willingly spend time around me must be weird, and if they knew better, they’d steer clear. It’s like I have a monopoly on me being a good, talented person, and I’m automatically suspicious if anyone thinks that. Weird shit, I know.

I wasnt always like this, but I became more and more convinced of my worthlessness the more I drank. Depression and anxiety certainly play a role, too. One of the reasons I drank was because alcohol deadened the negative voices…for a while. Like they say, it worked until it stopped working, but that didn’t mean I stopped drinking.

I have to go forward acting as if I have things to offer people. Not being disingenuous or manipulative, but kind of faking it til I make it. To that end, I’ve started going back to meetings. I’m going to church and making an effort at talking to people, though the idea freaks me out.

Most importantly, I’m not drinking. It’s tempting every now and then to take a break from myself, which alcohol could certainly offer, but the price I’d pay is too dear. I’d pick back up where I left off and would drink with a fucking vengenence. No thanks.

That’s all from me. Happy sober Monday to you fine folks.

Musical Interpretation of Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Disorder

As I’ve indicated before on this blog, I write instrumental music as part of ongoing personal therapy, and for the simple joy of it, too…it’s usually not a chore, but it can stir up strong and not-aways-pleasant emotions. Ultimately, writing music is cathartic for me, even if the process is sometimes painful.

When I wrote the first part of a piece I’m tentatively calling “Losing the Sky of my Mind,” I didn’t expect it to cause such an emotional reaction in me, but in listening back to a rough cut of the track, I felt uncomfortable, uplifted, scared, anxious, and happy all at once (perhaps because I haven’t been able to refill my medication?). Like I do with poetry, I’ll go where the music takes me, though I suspect I’ll write two more parts and combine them all in one piece.

Until then, if you’re curious, you can check out the track on my SoundCloud page.

 

Anxiety Continues to Rear its Dreadful Head

“Dread” is quite an appropriate word with it comes to anxiety, at least for me. Usually, every day around 9:00 AM, a pit of cold dread forms in my stomach. It’s the same feeling I’d get before teaching a class of middle-schoolers. Since I no longer do that (the story of that year will have to come in a series of posts when I’m ready to think about it again), I was surprised when the anxiety struck with the same ferocity and at the same time. I suppose there’s no rationale for irrational emotions; I know I’m fine, I know I don’t have to be in battle/survival mode for eight hours a day, I know that my family is safe and healthy, and I know I’m on the right track with sobriety.

sober time
Sadly, this pic is from two days ago…it’s not a drunken selfie.

As I’ve said before, I see a psychiatrist regularly and am on a good combo of meds. I try to remind myself to breathe properly, and I’ve started using essential oils to help combat depression and panic. I also gave yoga a shot for eleven day before concluding that it wasn’t for me. Writing poetry and music also helps, but I’d really, really like to avoid anxiety altogether.

I know that’s unrealistic, and it’s one of the reasons I used to drink. I could change my mood in under five seconds by taking two or three shots of vodka; I could be pleasantly numb to most things by drinking a bottle of wine. It’s tempting to think that I’d drink like a normal person again if I ever picked up a glass, but that’s utter and complete bullshit. I’d drink my face off and would do the same thing the next day.

So I do what I can to curb the anxiety. I began this post a few hours ago, thinking the dread would pass like it normally does, but it’s still with me. Slightly lessened, thankfully, but hanging around like an unwanted guest.

Such is life these days. It will still be a victory to put my sober head to sleep tonight.

Thanks for reading. Happy sober Monday.

me and the lady
After looking at the picture above, I shaved and got a haircut. And then cut my eyes at the Lady of Shallot

 

 

Sober but Twitchy Christmas Eve

There were many Christmas Eves when by this time (1o:45 AM) I would have already been on my way to being drunk. If we were visiting relatives, I’d have little wine bottles hidden in my bag, or I’d sneak into the kitchen and find whatever liquor was available and have three or four shots. I’d keep a good base-line buzz until after lunch when I’d find myself alone as family did Christmas things, and then I got down to the real drinking. I’d chew gum, brush my teeth, drink water, even take an alcohol-induced nap…and no one seemed to notice. Perhaps they were so used to be isolating myself–even during Christmas–that they didn’t notice or get to close to me. I spoke little for fear of slurring my words.

During the evening, when it was more acceptable to drink wine, I’d knock it back and replenish myself by darting upstairs and drinking more. To anyone paying attention, I had no more than two glasses of wine on Christmas Eve. I knew the truth, though I vigorously blocked it from my mind: I was probably bordering on alcohol poisoning, as I had many times before. I’m amazed that my drinking history doesn’t include a trip or two to the hospital.

On January 5, 2017, I’ll have two years of sobriety…and I have no plans of fucking that up. But under the guidance of my psychiatrist, I’m in the process of switching anti-depressants. I’m tapering off one, and it’s a quick taper. I spoke to my psychiatrist before leaving down because I felt I was going to explode out of my skin…I also felt like running into a brick wall repeatedly. On top of that, I felt like I had an enormous hole in the middle of myself that I desperately needed to fill. I know what I would have filled it with before, and the thoughts whizzed through my mind, but I didn’t act on them.

Today is hard, but I feel better than yesterday. I have an anti-anxiety pill if things get to bad. I wanted to type this entry to hold myself accountable and reach out to some fellow alcoholics.

I hope this finds you all well. Merry and sober Christmas Eve.

 

 

Dragging Myself into the Light

I’m still here, still sober…and still overwhelmed. Well, I’m less overwhelmed now because we have our winter break coming up. I should already be on vacation, but our school system is making up for days lost due to Hurricane Matthew. It’s okay–my students and I can make it through two more days.

I think because I see a break coming up, I’m willing to get back on WordPress and interact (at least on social media…I have a spotty record at best when it comes to real life interactions).

I started seeing a new therapist whom I like very much, and now I have a psychiatrist managing my medication for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. It’s not difficult for me to go to therapy or to see my psychiatrist…but it’s hard as hell to talk to other people in person. I can’t use that awkwardness to avoid socializing. I have to remind myself, as silly as it may sound to some, I’m a human being. Due to basic biological programming, I need people. I have my wife and children, of course, but I need to be part of a bigger tribe. Otherwise, I get trapped in my head, and that can be bad despite my effective medication.

My sobriety is in a good place. I think about drinking at least once or twice a day, but the thoughts are passing. If I’m at the store and pass a bottle wine, I might think Man, it would be nice to drink that like a non-alcoholic person.  And then I move on.

I hope this post finds everyone well. Happy sober Sunday.

A Recovering Alcoholic Walks into a School…

…and to be more specific, “A recovering alcoholic with clinical depression, OCD, severe anxiety and bi-polar spectrum disorder walks into a school and does the best he can, and soon discovers he needs a lot of help.”

I’m out sick today, as I was yesterday, with some sort of illness that may very be the accumulation of stress at school. For those new to the blog, I teach English to 8th graders. The situation is, in a word, awful. I left public school years ago for definite reasons. Also, I was drinking myself blind in order to get through that time, a pattern which stayed when I moved onto a less stressful job environment.

I’m a good teacher, but my strength isn’t with middle-schoolers. It probably isn’t with high-schoolers, either, since I did that before and left completely disillusioned. Of course, I taught at an alternative school then, with an administration that supported only certain teachers. In my current situation, not only are the students a serious challenge, the county’s requirements for the teachers seem impossible to reach. I do best when I work with adults, teaching reading and writing, but there aren’t any schools in the area except one that offers that as a job. I worked there for five years and left because of the insane demands placed on teachers (seven classes per semester).

I wish my summer job search had yielded different results, but it didn’t. I took this job because I needed money. I was hopeful that I would find my niche in middle school, but that isn’t the case. I’m on the verge of severe panic attacks nearly daily and relying on a new medication to prevent them. Before work, I’m nauseous and sometime throw up. One morning, I sat in my car, pounded the steering wheel, and burst into tears.

I’m going to the doctor in a hour to see if I can get another effective medication that doesn’t carry the risk of dependency like the one I’m taking as a last resort (which is quickly becoming the only option). I’m also in the process of getting a psychiatrist to manage my meds.

I have to make it through the school year; breaking my contract isn’t an option. At this point, I’m not concerned about flourishing; I’m concerned about maintaining my sobriety and surviving. The only bright spots at my school are a few of my fellow teachers who know my situation and are supportive, and my great administration. I’m aware that I’m quite fortunate in that regard.

Perhaps if I can get my meds right, I’ll be able to move out of survival mode. I’m trying to be hopeful, but it’s hard.

I’ll take any positive thoughts, good vibes, and prayers. Thanks.