Monday, January 31, 2011

The Importance of Self-Motivation

"Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly."
- Stephen R. Covey

Before I finally was able to stop drinking, I tried AA at least three different times, and it just would never stick. I wanted to stop my problem drinking and I agreed I had a problem. I set out with the best of intentions. But it took rehab and a fourth attempt at AA to finally give up the booze. What made the difference that last time?

I wouldn’t say it was rehab itself; there are plenty of people who complete rehab, go back out into the world, and go right back to their substance of choice. You get out of rehab what you put into rehab.

I think the difference is embodied in the quotation above.

The decision to go into rehab was mine. No one pushed me. I did it for me. I didn’t like the way my life was going; I didn’t like the person I had become; I didn’t like my continual blaming, angry outbursts, self-pity, lack of empathy for my own spouse, and reckless, impulsive behavior. I wasn’t myself anymore. I was fed up, sick of myself. I was unraveling.

The other times I’d tried AA, I’d done it reluctantly. I wasn’t even ready to admit I was a flat-out alcoholic; I could only get as far as “problem drinker.” I went to AA meetings only because a partner insisted. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that—sometimes it’s the urging of a partner or friend that gets you into meetings to begin with, and then your eyes can open—but mine didn’t. My mind was already closed before I even crossed the threshold. I’d look around the room at these people, many of whom looked like crap, and thought, “That’s not me.” Some had lost their jobs; some had gotten DUIs and were there because a judge had made them go; many, like me, were there because a spouse had issued an ultimatum. They told their drunkalogues and I felt like I couldn’t relate. I was insulted that my partner had dared think I was like these fucked up people. By god, I wasn’t that bad.

Ultimatums to alcoholics and addicts are like oil and water. We don’t like feeling controlled and being treated like children under house arrest. Resentment over our forced teetotaler status builds up. Finally we act out, screw AA, and get drunk; the world doesn’t end, so our drinking snowballs into a situation that winds up being worse than before.

I guess we kind of have to live through it several times before we finally get the point. And when we finally get the point, AA starts making sense. I’ve yet to attend a meeting where I couldn’t take at least one worthwhile tidbit of wisdom away.

When the student is ready, the teacher will come.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


To be at peace in any endeavour,
we must release our need
to control the outcome.

- Diane Dreher (from 'The Tao of Inner Peace')

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Image Still Gets Me ...

This is Doug Marlette's cartoon, which was reproduced just about everywhere, as he grieved with the nation over the explosion of Challenger 25 years ago.

Seems like it happened just yesterday.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miley Cyrus: "The Climb"

Yeah, I know. Miley Cyrus. I just try to pretend it's not this kid singing--but actually, she's not a bad performer. I'm posting this song for a friend who is presently going through a rough patch. And hey, the video has horses. How could that not cheer anybody up?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Musings on Empathy

I guess I first became aware of this tendency of mine when I was five or six. My friend Darlene was standing, swinging on a swing, and as she went up, her foot slipped. The swing began its travel back as she fell, not far, to the ground, but hard enough that I heard the thump as she hit. "Ouch!" I blurted, wincing. My brother, standing right next to me, however, was laughing.

Darlene was fine. She kind of grumped to her feet, brushing off her backside and snapping at Wayne to shut up. I remember I watched her to make sure she wasn't just pretending to not be hurt, and, satisfied she really was okay, we returned to our play.

Why would I remember a small thing like this?

I'm not sure, except that it's a vivid memory and it's the first I have in a long chain of recollections of what I--and what some of my friends and lovers over the years--have referred to as my empathy. Or, more often, my "over-empathy." The kind of empathy that sometimes identifies so much with someone else's fear, or pain, that, sometimes, it cripples me as well. (Feeling someone else's joy, on the other hand, is a wonderful thing. Some people are so full of joy and goodwill that I'm always happy to be in their presence.) No, it's the darker emotions, or, even worse, the scary dead shut-down of any feeling, except for some ominous undercurrent, that alarms me the most.

I hope you don't think I'm crazy. I'm simply the kind of person who can go into a room, be there for ten minutes, leave and be able to tell you not one single detail about what was actually in the room--but I could tell you with great accuracy what that room FELT like. I'm one of those persons who can tell if someone is on the verge, say, of some kind of explosion. (Maybe I just got tuned into this stuff because I had an unpredictable stepmother.) Sometimes these people just need to be touched. Human contact, the briefest hand laid on an arm, can elicit a storm of tears or a heavy sigh or fury. And how else to explain? Sometimes it's like you can absorb some of their crap, let it flow out of them into you. But then the problem becomes one of having to feel their feelings. It can be like being throttled.

Or maybe I've watched too many episodes of Star Trek or something, and all this is totally my own imagination. Still, there's something to it, because more than one person has told me that just being held briefly by me soothes them, or that they can feel me even if I'm not there, or a touch from me can help reground them. How much of this is them and how much is me, who knows? I used to do a flying meditation with my ex, Beth, that used to be pretty remarkable. Every last person with whom I've ever done any bodywork has brought up, without my even having to mention it, the openness of my heart chakra. I seem to be capable of an endless number of deep loves, which may shift and change, but they never go away, and sometimes, I've been told, I bear the curse of caring too much.

And I do absorb love like a sponge, crave it like a drug, so I always have to be careful. You can get lost in that stuff, like a dope fiend huddled for days on end in the corner of an opium den.

I suppose this adds yet more dimension to why I tried to shut the valve off by addicting myself to alcohol for so many years. Booze either numbed me out entirely or replaced real feelings with fake, imagined, or inflated ones that meant nothing to me at all. Nothing at all, when it really mattered.

Maybe feeling others' feelings is rather like Blink and it's not really anything psychic, but it's just a quick sizing up of body language, facial expression, and the terseness of a reply. But since I've gotten sober, I'm more tuned into people, and consequently they are coming to me more often. Maybe it's my own body language, me looking more open, more curious, more empathetic and willing to help.

But some days, it's hard to not feel overwhelmed. I'm reminded of that scene in Wings of Desire when the silent library is full of the anguished thoughts of humans, audible only to the ever-present watching angels. It's glorious and horrible at one and the same time.

So human cruelty knocks the breath out of me because I wonder what part of his or her own humanity that person has switched off, and why; what happened to them that they felt they had to tighten that valve so much?

And why on earth is it we think a person who has opened the valve completely is weak?

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I heard from an old friend from college this morning, who's flying out here with her mom because she just found out her 35 year-old brother died suddenly. Unexpected, out of the blue, here one moment, gone the next.

Death and loss are hard enough as they are, without them having to upset the natural order of things. Your children, your younger siblings, aren't supposed to be gone before you are.

I could think of very little to say in the way of consolation, other than to scrawl something lame about God needing him home now for some unexplainable reason while still needing her to fulfill some purpose on this earth.

Life doesn't make sense to me sometimes.

And then, out of the blue, somebody on Facebook posted some wisdom from Lao Tzu. It's about acceptance, the futility--and even the harm that you can do to yourself--by always seeking more.

Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
...The only path to serenity.

No matter what we do to control things outside ourselves, things are not under our control.

I'm dealing today with my own loss of sorts, a change in the nature of a friendship. Funny how our first inclination is to always latch on, resist change, fear that which is different. And yet change, loss, suffering, are the only things you can rely on. It is the human condition.

We grieve, we mourn, we accept, we endure, we heal.

And we move on, a fact that makes all of us beautifully and tragically noble.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Fray: "You Found Me"

"I found God on the corner of First and Amistad . . . " This song reminds me of how God always shows up just when we most need God's presence, and then we realize that God was actually there all along. Something in us finds God in our moments of greatest crisis.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Slogan Slapper

This thing could actually come in handy!

Hey, if you can't laugh at yourself, you are missing one helluva joke.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My New Favorite Race Horse

Actually, he's long gone, but when Chelle and I saw this horse's name, we just had to have one of his winner's photos. This one's from 1959.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Zenyatta: Horse of the Year 2010!

I can't believe it! She deserved this award, and I couldn't be more delighted that she won Horse of the Year. Congratulations to Zenyatta and to all her connections.

500 Days of Sobriety

Chelle got me a dozen roses in honor of my 500th day sober.

All I can say is that everything in my life is better without a drink in my hand. AA's Promises, which end every meeting, are true.

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Martin Luther King: "I Have a Dream ... "

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Simple Truth

Before enlightenment:
Chop wood, carry water.
After enlightment:
Chop wood, carry water.
— Zen Proverb

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lifehouse: "From Where You Are"

A good song for when you're missing someone. But for me, it's also about resignation to the reality that you will never see them again: a sweet, longing, gentle sadness.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Steer Clear of Henry the VIII

I don't know whether this is on my mind because I've just blasted through all four seasons of the Tudors over break, or if it's because nothing is on tv during the day but soap operas, or what, but today I find myself musing about relationships.

In the Tudors, my favorite of King Henry VIII's wives turned out to be the one wife he didn't want: Anne of Cleves (played by a very endearing Joss Stone). She was such a generous, happy soul (and Joss isn't famously horse-faced as the real Anne of Cleves was said to be), free from malice and ambition, so that even Henry was eventually won over by her and enjoyed her company. In contrast, the strikingly gorgeous but slithery Anne Boleyn lost her head (not for the reasons of which she stood accused, but because she alienated so many with her behind-the-scenes machinations), as did the teenage trophy wife who was guilty of nothing but naivete and an insatiable need to be loved that the older Henry couldn't keep up with. Jane Seymour was probably the wife Henry loved best--who knows, she may have forever kept her head had she not died after giving birth to Edward, but Henry did seem to tire of women fairly quickly, changing wives as quickly as he changed mistresses.

Maybe sobriety has just made me wary of drama; it has certainly made me more cognizant of how much drama is unnecessary and tends to be totally self-created. In love, we tend to create drama by trying to force outcomes--or at the very least, becoming too attached to a particular outcome (an expectation). Truth is, you either love someone, or you don't, and vice versa (no one can make themselves feel a certain way). But people will do things like set their sights on someone and then try to act like they think that person wants them to be, like a chameleon. Or others will set their sights on someone and start trying to change them, mold them into what they personally want them to be. Both tactics normally require a fair amount of manipulation and lying in order to be subtle about what is the intent, and sometimes people do these things without even being aware that that's what they're doing. And, of course, both of these tactics are doomed to inevitably fail anyway, because nobody can pretend their whole life to be something they're not, and nobody can be made to change to suit anybody else.

But one thing's for sure: you attract to you precisely the thing you are putting out there. If you're a strong, self-confident person, you're going to attract other strong, self-confident people. If you're not but pretending to be, you're going to attract someone else pretending to be something they're not. Or you'll attract the opposite of what you're putting out: say you're insecure and needy; you'll attract someone who likes to think they're strong and decisive and everything you're putting out there that you're not (and that they're probably not either, in reality).

Another thing to pay attention to is how people speak of their exes and what they see to be the reasons a particular relationship ended. Take heed, because one day that will be YOU they're talking about. So, be wary of the person who is never at fault and is continually a victim. Be wary of the person who has a history of infidelity (if sexual fidelity is important to you). Be wary of the person who has a habit of getting involved with persons who are already in other relationships. And so on. There is seldom a healthy person behind any of these patterns of behavior.

We all make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. There is probably no one out there who is totally free from at least one red flag. But someone who seems reasonably self-aware, doesn't have an addiction problem, doesn't wallow in self-pity or anger, who can admit to their mistakes and can elaborate on what they learned from them, and who isn't still stuck on their ex, is probably a worthy prospect. The best thing you can do at all times is to be completely honest, with both them AND yourself. If the relationship is off to a good start like this and there is a genuine mutual attraction, be glad. You actually have something pretty rare, and pretty remarkable.

By far the biggest thing to always bear in mind is, if it takes another person for you to feel complete and happy, you're always going to wind up disappointed. Nobody can make you happy. That has to come from within yourself.

Best wishes to those seeking love in the new year. Steer clear of Henry the VIII. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nightnoise: "The Cricket's Wicket"

This is one of my favorite tunes ever. The video quality is absolute crap, but the music is live, after all. My favorite part is when the guitar joins the violin and flute, and the ending brings a soaring message of hope.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Alcoholics Drink

Short answer: because they're alcoholics.

I know, that sounds flip. But it's the truth.

I've blogged about this before, but it's something that bears repeating. For the longest time, I thought my alcohol abuse was due to circumstances, things outside myself. Problems made me drink, stress made me drink, people and situations made me drink, my childhood made me drink. I kept thinking that if I could just pinpoint that overwhelming REASON, that kernel inside me that led to my occasional problem drinking, I could deal with that reason and my drinking problem would go away.

I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels, trying to cure myself. I'd go through periods of self-reflection, restraint and abstinence, then commence drinking again with the sincere desire to moderate. Inevitably it would all fall to shit. I'd start binging again and my problem would once again spiral out of control. Friends would ask me, "Why do you drink?" and enable me (unknowingly, of course, and certainly not intentionally) by trying to help me pinpoint the REASON. It was Chelle; it was where I lived; it was child sexual abuse; it was my mother's suicide; it was whatever seemed convenient to blame after any given drinking episode. Therapy, medications, exercise, nothing seemed to get rid, though, of the REASON I drank (whatever it was).

In rehab I finally got it. Looking around at different people running the gamut from a cardiac anesthesiologist to a football coach to a housewife to a high school student, I could see that the only "reason" we had in common was alcohol itself. ALCOHOL IS THE REASON.

We just can't handle alcohol.

Get alcohol in us, however, and we all acted in amazingly predictable ways. Then we had tons of things in common. Hilarious drunkalogues, blackouts, frustrated attempts to control our drinking, hiding our booze, lying about our booze, hangovers, distorting situations, feeling picked on and controlled, finding excuses to drink, planning when to drink, and so on. Every last one of us was in there because we (or our families) were absolutely desperate and at the end of our tethers.

That was key for me finally getting better. I finally let go of the idea that something outside myself, some external thing that I could fix, would get rid of my problem drinking. That is utter bullshit. The reason for the problem is alcohol itself.

If there's a problem drinker in your life, there is no "fixable" REASON they abuse alcohol. They abuse it because they're an alcoholic.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rascal Flatts: "Life Is a Highway (Live)"

Honestly, I think I like Tom Cochrane's version better, but this is fun. Actually, when I was working as a personal trainer in Spokane, Rascal Flatts came in to work out at the Oz Fitness downtown where I was. So did Harry Connick, Jr. We were right around the corner from the Davenport Hotel. Just so you know, Harry Connick was doing 60 lbs preacher curls with his own private trainer. The man has guns.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thought for the Day

"Why do we close our eyes when we pray? When we cry? When we dream? Or when we kiss? Because we know that the most beautiful things in life are not seen, but felt by the heart."

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I can't find words for what happened in Arizona yesterday.

I've passed along a few articles on Facebook, but arguments over free speech and who is "more culpable" (the left or the right) ensued. I removed one thread altogether.

I'm not into pointing fingers of blame today.

I am grief-stricken that this tragic event has happened, and all I have to say about it today is that we Americans need to do better. We need to be more attentive to making judicious, responsible decisions when we speak. We need to focus more on what unites us, not on what divides us.

That's all I have.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dealing with Feelings

I was watching "The Buddha" last night and was reminded, yet again, of how difficult it truly is to allow yourself to be fully human. And what makes us human? Really, it's the range of emotions we feel. Life is a struggle of coping with our own feelings. Alcoholism or addiction is merely the hallmark of a person who has never learned to cope effectively with feelings.

We're taught as children that our feelings are "bad." Don't get angry, don't cry, buck up, grin and bear it. So many people learn to stuff everything they feel, or lambast themselves for feeling a way they don't want to feel.

Sobriety has taught me that stuffing feelings, bucking up, acting like you don't feel something when you do, and the like, are the things that make me drink. Feelings are not facts; they're just feelings. Even the Buddha felt sad or felt despair. It is the human condition. We all suffer.

Feelings must be endured. Acknowledge them, acknowledge where they come from, and little by little they lose their power. A fresh hurt is like a burn--extremely painful. But you don't ignore a burn; you treat it. Eventually it gets better. So, too, with feelings. You treat feelings by allowing yourself the humanity of experiencing them. If you must act on them, you try to do so in a constructive manner. Many times, just vocalizing how you feel is enough to take away a feeling's power.

We err when we try to convince ourselves we don't feel a certain way or that we shouldn't feel a certain way. We attach judgments to our feelings (right, wrong, bad, good) and that is a mistake.

Learning to live with your feelings brings you to a place of accepting reality for what it is. You ride with the tide instead of against it. One of the biggest things to accept is the transience of everything. All things come to an end. Things run their course; people change; we get old; tasks are completed; people die; we die. Nothing lasts or stays the same forever. Everything in life is impermanent.

So where can joy be found? Only in the here and now. Marvel in life's daily miracles. Live in the moment. Be conscious of the moment. Appreciate and enjoy what you have while you have it. Acknowledging that it's temporary will only make you value it all the more.

Thus, everything is as precious as a porcelain vase.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Evanescence: "Anywhere"

There is no official video; this is a fan-made one and heaven only knows who Christy is. I can't see that this song by Evanescence is available on a CD anywhere. So I'm curious to know where it's from.

Haunting and beautiful. And you know how I feel about medieval things, knights, wizards, strong women of court (who always run the real show). These scenes are taken from Lord of the Rings or one from that series.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

RIP Gerry Rafferty

"Baker Street" is the song by him most of us will remember, that and "Right Down the Line" and, with Steelers Wheel, "Stuck in the Middle with You."

He was 63 and died of liver disease due to long-time alcoholism. Damn disease. It's true what they say: untreated alcoholism leads to one of three places--death, jail, or a mental institution.

Here's the Proof!

That is some fabulous sweaty bed hair!

Well, I only went a little over a mile, but as I was telling Facebook friends yesterday, I don't want to start out too aggressively and overdo it. So I put the incline on just 2% and did a walk-jog (basically jog four mins, walk one, jog four, walk one) etc for about 25 mins. Enough to get my heart rate up and break a good sweat.

Then it was down to the floor for a giant set of crunches, side crunches, reverse crunches, and bicycles. Will work up to three giant sets of those.

Time for a shower. Ugh.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Best Laid Plans ...

Well, in keeping with my resolutions, I have now unburied my Power Blocks and weight bench:

and my treadmill:

Today will be an upper body workout, Tuesday treadmill, Wed lower body workout, Thursday treadmill, Friday upper body, Sat treadmill, Sunday sit on my ass. And so forth as my joints allow.

Wish me luck.


Cavalia was extraordinary. If you can envision a blend of Cirque du Soleil performers (gymnists, acrobats) combined with trick riding, jumping, and dressage, that is the really the only way I can think of to describe it. There were 52 horses altogether: 12 stallions and the rest geldings (no mares for the obvious reason), and numerous breeds were represented. The backdrops were gorgeous and the performers did everything from Roman riding to trick riding to gymnastics on the backs of horses. For me, the most remarkable segment was the young lady who trained a group of about eight young geldings. They were so well-trained that it was almost as if she could psychically communicate with them. With the flick of one of her hands or a gesture, the horses would run in a circle and suddenly change direction, or a horse would bow, or lie down and roll, or they would split off in fours and circle each other in alternating directions.

If you love the beauty and majesty of the horse, this is the show for you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tigger Goes on the Record

Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal put out a call for racing fans to weigh in with their thoughts on the Zenyatta vs. Blame debate for Horse of the Year. Naturally I had to put in my two cents. She decided to print a selection of quotations from some of her responses, so you'll find me (Joyce Luck) quoted towards the end of the article, which is here.

I'm sure what I had to say surprises no one.

Speaking of horses, we're off to Cavalia today to see the last San Francisco show. I'm sure I'll post about that later as it is supposed to be spectacular.