290 Days Sober: The Patience of a Teacher

For a week I thought I’d write about vanity, addiction and discipline. For my post (and a little bit to irritate Jenn Ciccarelli) I set out to take the yoga picture that would capture the story. After looking at the photo, my heart had something else to say.

I met Kathy over about 4 years ago, a few months after I entered recovery for substance abuse and a few weeks into starting yoga. I started an 8 week basics of yoga class at small shala in Buckhead. I knew next to nothing about yoga. My only exposure to yoga was from a girlfriend in graduate school. The teachers used words I didn’t understand: Ashtanga, Mysore, bandhas. Little did I know this would turn my life upside down.

There were two teachers Jennifer and Kathy. My schedule was such that I went to Jennifer’s class. She was amazing, funny and very patient with me. Then one day, there was Kathy. Maybe she was subbing or maybe I showed up on a different day. I don’t remember. I just remember her class being harder. I think her usual cohort was further along in the sequence. The slightest adjustment from her caused sweat to pool on my mat. There was no pausing; just moving from one asana to the next. She was trying to get me to take controlled long breaths. I was just trying to breath. I made a note. Avoid Kathy 🙂

That was so long ago. She unknowingly was about to embark on a life changing journey with me over the next four years. A journey where I battled addiction, struggled with identity and behaved selfishly.

She has consistently been there; always in the room to lead practice.
I have given her plenty of opportunities to give up on me:
Showing up for practice hungover, if I even showed up.
Quitting for weeks at a time.
Barraging her with texts of drunken gibberish and sadness.
Refusing to move to the front of the room 🙂

I whine. I fuss. I don’t always want to do the work, yet she meets me with patience and kindness.
She taught me to keep showing up.
She reminds me to breath.
She holds me accountable.
She is a great teacher.

Kathy Cushing Koher you are one of the most amazing humans I know. Thank you for believing in me.

Day 280: The Weekend that could have never been

Dr. Flores asked last week how I felt about everything. He meant the last 3 months where I truly had to face myself, the last 9 months since I got completely sober, the last 4 years since I entered recovery and the knowledge of why I drank away the last 20 years. I replied, “If the cost of all I have gone through is the man that is sitting here today, I would gladly pay it again.”

This is the healthiest – physically, mentally, spiritually — I have ever been.

Patanjali tells us in Yoga Sutra II.21,

Tadartha eva drsyasyatma

The seen exists only for the sake of seer. (Sri Swami Satchidananda )
Nature and intelligence exist solely to server the seer’s true purpose, emancipation (Iyengar)

What Patanjali is saying here is that the universe exists to help us find our true self. We just have to be willing.

We can learn and be shaped by our experiences or we can succumb and give up. Only after I stopped trying to escape from life was I able to begin to learn about myself. I had to listen and surrender to the lessons I was being taught. I had to face hard facts, take action, and ask for help. I had to do the work. I have to continue to be refined.

My studies in chemistry tell me the universe will always spontaneously move towards disorder and chaos, and only by putting in energy in can you reverse it. This has been my experience. Once I started putting the work in through therapy, yoga, philosophy and loving others has the chaos begun to subside.

My life is not what I thought I wanted 20 years ago or 3 months ago, but I would not trade who I am today for anything. I was selfish then. I am grateful now.

“Yes, getting your wish might have been so nice. But isn’t that exactly why pleasure trips us up? Instead see if these things might be nicer — a great soul, freedom, honesty, kindness, saintliness. For this is nothing so pleasing as wisdom itself.” Marcus Aurelius Meditation 5.9
Today I choose wisdom, good character, sobriety and kindness. Last weekend, I made a new friend, began to heal an old wound, and fully experienced meeting my friends’ child. Before I was sober, this level of joy would not have been possible.

Day 230 of sobriety: What is in a moment?

I love this photo. It was taken weeks ago. On that day I chose not to share it. I felt posting this picture would be misrepresenting the struggles I was having in sobriety and life, and would dishonor the support so many were providing. I actually thought, “How dare I smile?” But in this moment I was happy. In the middle of all my questioning, I felt joy to spontaneously visit my dear and amazing friend. In this moment I was present and safe.

Pictures are just small snapshots of our lives. You cannot look at this picture and know my struggles on this journey. It would be easy to make assumptions about my life. We should all be mindful of this as we interact with each other. We cannot know a person’s past or the circumstances that led this to a moment. We do not know their stress and anxieties; their experiences or biochemistry. We must meet them with kindness and patience and try not take take things personally if negative reactions arise.

“This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”

I think sometimes when we feel one way, we think it is wrong to feel another. Pain and joy can coexist. You can be happy and sad at the same time. No one thing defines you. Feel it all.
When life is hard, it can be easy to be ashamed of the happy moments. Don’t be. Allow yourself to be happy. Even for a moment.

Seek the moment. For in a moment you can remember.

How to breath…
Why you are doing this…
How to feel happy…

Sometimes a moment is all you need.

My goal is to write something lighter and more inspiring 10 days from now. As much as I tried I just kept coming back to this topic. Thanks for letting me hold myself accountable to you.

Day 220 of Not Drinking: No BS

butler raines

I stopped drinking 220 days ago. Recently I questioned my decision. I am recounting these events to remind myself why I chose this path; why it is necessary.

By May of 2016 my body was falling apart. After practicing yoga for 3 years, my progress halted. A chronic shoulder injury, tendonitis and weakness plagued me. I collapsed on Peidmont Road sober one afternoon. Blood work showed a major vitamin D deficiency. After some research, I was pretty sure I had alcoholic myopathy. It takes months of not drinking to reverse. If drinking affected muscle this way, what was it doing to my heart?

In September 2016, I read, “A ‘Memory Hacker’ Explains How to Plant False Memories in People’s Minds“. This stood out, “The world as you know it only exists to you, [as you are] right now. Every day you wake up a new person,” with a different brain.” I could to wake up with a new brain! Just feed it goodness not whiskey. It gave me hope I could change.

A few days later, an article, “I HATE saying I’m SOBER,” appeared on LinkedIn. Jenny Schatzle‘s story resonated with me. I could identify. I wrote her. She was very kind to respond. More hope.

I attended a close friend’s wedding in November. I disgraced myself. I got into a heated argument with my friend, the groom, at rehearsal dinner. I got blackout drunk at the wedding. The next morning I woke up sickened with the feeling of not knowing what I said or did or how I embarrassed my friends. I am still ashamed.

George Michael died on Christmas Day. His death hit me harder than any other death that year. I had already been drinking most of that day, and upon arriving back in Atlanta I listened to his music, drank myself into a stupor and cried. He died at age 53. It seemed so young.

At 11:03 that night I text Mama, “How old was daddy’s daddy when he died? He had a problem with alcohol right?” “57, heart damage from alcohol”

“How long had he been sober?” “15 years.”

Will I live to 57?

For me, there is only one choice. Stop drinking.

I never met my grandfather. He died 8 days before I was born. I want to thank him for helping me do what was necessary so I can become the best man I can be. I love you.

I know change is possible.

Here is what I know. My transformation started when I entered a beginners yoga class in Atlanta GA. Little did I know I would be introduced to Ashtanga yoga. Little did I know what yoga would do for me. I was 240 lbs and drunk most nights when I started my journey.

1) You have to take action if you want to make a change.
2) Transformation is hard work but can be achieved.
3) Use an established system with teachers and proven results.
4) Don’t expect results overnight just trust the system.
5) Find a loving community that will support you and hold you accountable.
6) You can start exactly as you are.
7) Just show up.

On day 210 of not drinking, I am a humbled man.

“Transformation isn’t sweet and bright. It’s a dark and murky, painful pushing. An unraveling of the truths you’ve carried in your body. A practice in facing your own created demons. A complete uprooting before becoming.” -Victoria Erickson

Arrogance told me I could do this on my own. My ego demanded it. The truth is even though I am surrounded with the most amazing and supportive friends and communities anyone could ever hope for, I often feel alone. Drinking was such a part of my identity. I had no choice but to ask for help.

In the last 10 days, I found myself unconsciously walking to my favorite bar — fortunately having the strength to sit on a bench and write instead. I have had to asked friends to give up their personal time to just sit with me without being able to explain. I conceded and asked strong men and women I know in recovery for guidance. I went to AA for the first time because an angel of a friend reached out at just the right time.

I’ve been been drunk for more than 20 years. I remember being on front campus of college in my 20s, and after a short pleasant conversation this acquaintance commented, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sober before.” Back then I foolishly saw it as a badge of honor. Hearing this 20 years later at the age of 40 was a wake up call that helped set me on this journey.

What started as a 120 days experiment became a choice to stop drinking. I choose to face my past, fully experience the present and become the best man I can be. The man I want to be.
I feel I have a lifetime of lessons to learn and behaviors to unlearn. It is daunting and recently feels like I’m at war for my soul. But this is why I chose this path — to, for once, feel the things I need to feel and make the changes I need to make. Being honest with yourself is brutal. Regret fucking sucks. Pain is necessary, and it is ok to ask for help. I will endure, and I will do the hard work required.

There is no going back; there is only through.

Thanks for letting me hold myself accountable to you.

200 Days Sober: Really Facing Yourself for the First time

Warning: Awareness may come with pain.

I’ve been completely sober for 200 days. The last 10 days have been the hardest since I entered recovery 4 years ago. I spent 20 years numbing pain and excusing behaviors I did not understand. I lived a persona who pretended not to care.

I thought addiction was the problem. It was but a problem.

I thought drunkenness was the problem. It was but a problem.

But when you are sober and willing to be aware, only then are you truly forced to examine yourself, see the truth and own it. And that truth for me is old and painful. My truth has to do with accepting myself and believing others willingly accept me. Unfortunately, as life goes, this type of understanding came only in hindsight and at a great cost.

My philosophy teaches me that since you can’t change the past, you can only only learn and move forward. The Stoics make it seem like it is an instant pivot, but I believe the powerful lessons come when you pause and let yourself feel and admit your new understanding of yourself to the universe. Don’t numb it!

“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances but unwilling to improve themselves.”

I’ve recently been forced to see myself for the first time. To recognize some harsh truths about some behaviors. I am now aware and committed to correcting these behaviors I previously could not see or understand. It fucking sucks, it hurts but it is necessary. Just when you think you have tackled the hard stuff you have to tackle the really hard stuff.

I am mad at myself for not seeing this before. I am mad I did not give up drinking years ago when Walker encouraged me. I am mad I did not have the foresight to be patient on this journey. I am mad I hurt someone special. It is hard to looking back on the last 20 years of my life and see these patterns in every relationship. But here we are and forward we go.

In six months from now what will I have learned about myself? What man will I be? Hold me accountable. I am still learning a lot about myself. Please be patient with me.

I love y’all.

Six months since I stopped drinking

It has been over half a year since I stopped drinking (190 days). This is an attempt at an honest reflection. Is it worth it? Absolutely. However, it is not easy or without pain. For me. For those who love me. If addiction is a wave of destruction, sobriety is a rollercoaster of emotion, shortcomings and learning. Joy and Pain. Like sunshine and rain.

Ashtanga yoga was essential to my decision to stop drinking. Yoga helped me understand what was wrong in my life and what needed to change. I have made more progress in 6 months of not drinking than the three years before.

I experience joy, much joy. I was unfamiliar with the emotion. I think I had the happiest days of the last 20 years in the last 6 months. Taking my niece and nephew to the Renaissance Festival is the best day I’ve ever had.

I rediscovered a passion for learning and study, and unearthed a love for philosophy. It now sit and learn from the likes of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Pantajali daily. Living is an art.

I love being present when I am with people. It is the greatest gift I can give. It is a struggle in this age of distraction, but I do my best.

It has not been without pain. It is hard it is to love someone who has chosen to get sober. We often don’t love ourselves. Even in sobriety, I can leave a wake of destruction as I struggle to figure out who I am.

I now know what it really feels like to hurt and disappoint without my armor of whiskey to protect me. I have no way to hide from it. No substances to blame for my behavior. I have no excuses. I am left wishing I had done things differently. I carry the responsibility to learn from it seriously.

I vacillate between being open and vulnerable and being scared and needing to protect myself. I now exist with the same thoughts and feelings that drove my addictions but without a way to numb them. I am raw and exposed, often flailing.

But above all I am grateful. I am grateful to all of my friends who love and support me. You continue to love me even when I don’t love myself. It has taken an army of people to get to where I am today. Thank you. I hope I am honoring you with the path I am on. I will not let you down.

I love you.

Day 170 of not drinking: What matter most

In 170 days of not drinking the hardest part so far is realizing how flawed I still am. I still make huge mistakes. I still hurt others deeply. I still hurt myself. I still don’t know myself.
Sobriety did not fix me.

However sobriety has made me more aware. Sobriety has given me the opportunity to take an honest look at myself. Sobriety has given me the space and energy to work towards becoming the person I want to be. Sobriety has allowed me to take responsibility for the outcomes in my life.
I cannot undo mistakes I have made in the last 20 years. I can’t even undo the mistakes I made last week, but I can now admit my mistakes and move forward with these learnings and strive to be better than I was.

I love you.