I've been hearing a lot of folks say, 'Don't post political stuff' on your FB. One went so far as to say very specifically - 'Don't post racist stuff.' There are lots of reasons; it does you no good, it makes you no friends or new customers, it looks bad for the rest of us. All those are pretty decent, practical reasons to be careful with what you post, and just for fun, let's take it a step beyond what you post, to what you say and do. In other words, these folks are cautioning us to Do no harm. I'm going to up the ante. Do no harm, and be kind. I see you there, you human being, you. You're in the midst of lots of folks. You don't know their deal, or maybe you assume you kinda do, but you don't know all of it. Or quite possibly you just don't have time to care a whole lot. That's how the world works. We don't typically walk around with the entirety of our suffering writ large enough on our sleeve for everyone to read, nor if we did, would most folks stop to read it. They're usually too wrapped up in their own stuff to pay a whole lot of quality attention to anyone else. Do no harm. Be kind. Sure, right? Best of intentions. But hey, we all know we're going to goof it up sometimes. There will be that time when you blurt out an unlovely opinion about your horrible colleague only to find out that you're speaking to her daughter. You're going to rage on about the sanctity of marriage to someone who just endured a horrific divorce. You're going to obliviously serve BLT's to your kid's new sweetheart who keeps kosher. You're going to ask an Atheist for prayers, offer a drink to an alcoholic, or brag about your son to someone who has lost a child. We can't get it right always, but we can try. Do no harm, and be kind. Trickier than it sounds. You can't just NOT do or say or be. That's not an option. You are a living, thinking, communicative creature with beliefs and opinions, needs and wants. Complete neutrality isn't really an option. However, paying attention, particularly to those we are near each day, being open and kind, and being generously able to cop to being wrong, those are all things you can do, if you choose to. Do no harm, and be kind. The reason I am bothering to preach this particular sermon, is because I was asked to write about my experience being sober, and writing sober characters in my novels. *For anybody who doesn't already know this, I'm a raging alcoholic, and I've been sober since May of 2000.* So let's talk about the grape, shall we? And how our relationship with said fruity nectar works in the grand scheme of things? Hang with me here, the connection will become clear. I've written a couple of sober characters now, Kate, in We Could Be Heroes has her poop pretty much in a group - at least in the first book. Gwen, in Collision Course (co-written with David Owain Hughes) has far more of a struggle. Gwen, at the beginning of Collision Course, is a hot freaking mess. She's lost her father and grandparents - the only support system she had. Because of the booze, she loses her job on the police force after causing the deaths of an old woman and a child. When we first meet her, she's contemplating suicide. Kate has been sober for many years. She's doing pretty well, succeeding at some really positive things in her life. Now though, she's taken on a whole new adventure, and despite being "Called" and gifted with some pretty fab superpowers, the urge to drink was not completely eradicated. It's still there. Alcoholism, in my not-so-fictional experience, is a bit like hosting a dragon in your moat. You know he's in there. You know he's dangerous. You think, oh yeah, it's cool, he's serving a purpose, I can handle him. And eventually it occurs to you that you can't. If he pops up out of there, he could very easily kill either the people around you, or - sort of accidentally - you. One of the fun parts about an addiction to alcohol, is that since lots of folks have had experience drinking it - lots of folks think they know all about it Hey! You have a dragon in your moat! I've seen dragons too! Even petted one once! I can totally relate! Let me take this moment to insert a BIG A$$ DISCLAIMER: I am no expert. I'm not a health professional, I'm not a therapist, I'm not your mom or your pastor or anything else. I'm just a drunk who writes stories. You shouldn't take what I say as gospel. And that goes hand in hand with my theme here. When it comes to your battle with your dragon, you shouldn't take what anybody else says as gospel either. Because people may think they understand the dragon in your moat, but it's unlikely. No two dragons are identical. And furthermore, that means their understanding of your dragon is often not: right, well considered, harmless or kind. Let me give you a few examples of things folks have said and done to me personally, that fall, intentionally or not, well outside the realm of doing no harm and being kind. •You don't really have a drinking problem, you just need to slow down some. Um, yes. That's exactly what I cannot do. Thank you. •If you want to call yourself sober, you have to quit EVERYTHING I SAY, which could include everything from weed to aspirin to caffeine to your antidepressants. *Quits taking antidepressants. Kills self. Problem solved?* •So, you don't drink. So you can just go to the bar with me and drink water, right? Sure no problem. The fact that I would be surrounded by the very thing I WANT MOST IN THE WORLD AND CANNOT HAVE would be SUPERFUN! •You're sober, so it's a done deal, right? No more problems. You've quit, so it's okay for me to put this bottle of wine here in front of you and walk away leaving you alone with your thoughts? Ooooh, yeah. I'd really rather you didn't do that. Temptation is hard, and I'm strong, but I'd like to stay that way. So today strong means you take that and put it someplace else, kthx? •You've proved that you can control yourself by quitting. That means you can totally control how much you drink, and you can have just one, right? Nope. Not for me. A friend once said to me, "There's not enough beer for me." Enough does not exist. That's a good representation of my relationship with booze. There is no amount that is ever going to be enough, not 16 years ago, not 16 years from now. Pro tip: Being sober doesn't mean you've solved the problem. Being sober is more to the tune of, I'm nervously and joyously walking this tight rope between a pretty great life and absolute burning, smoking ruin. Please please please do not wiggle my tight rope. *inset dragon swimming around ominously here* That stuff other people say to me is a result of their perceptions, their experiences. Their perceptions may be considered and thoughtful, or they may be totally careless and clueless. Either way, they're mostly wrong about me, and their words can be hurtful, and harmful. In a worst case scenario, fatal. Do no harm and be kind. Thing is, that makes sense to me. The fact that so many people completely misunderstand it tells me that they have their very own relationship with their brain, their drug, their relationship with everything. It's them talking, using their own experiences and knowledge to interpret me and my deal. It also means, I CANNOT listen to them. My dragon. My moat. Their lack of understanding of me and my dragon means the situation is ripe for screwups. I get it. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. In the interests of laying it all out there, here's me. Me and my dragon. Our relationship is totally unhealthy. He loves me, and I love him, but he wants to kill me. He can't be reasoned with, and he can't be controlled. ALSO, he can't leave my moat. He's mine forever. I can stay in my keep, I can come and go over the bridge. I can treasure my loves who stand guard for me when I'm weak, but I know that the final line is drawn in my soul, by my hand. They can help, but I'm the only one keeping me whole. Keeping that dragon in that moat, and keeping me whole is hard. It's every single day hard. Sometimes it's utterly exhausting. I live every day with the fear that I might come crashing down. That my dragon will come raging out of his moat and end me. Or possibly, end you, or whatever poor random soul is in my way. Back to the fiction- Gwen, in "Collision Course", fell off her tight rope. Shit happened, like, a lot of shit. She lost one of her treasured loves, she killed a guy who she found out was responsible for her father's death. Lots and lots of shit blew up. And Gwen went back inside her bottle. Kate, in "We Could Be Heroes" has more distance on it, more experience with her sobriety. And she has her pack. But neither of those always keep you safe. She's *book 2 mini spoiler* about to come up against a really horrific situation, and she's going to be facing it alone. We, Kate and Gwen and I, would love to think that we can handle this. That we can keep the beast controlled, live a normal life, be safe. But the simple fact is, it's not guaranteed. My dragon. I bet you have a dragon. You have one that is usually hidden in his moat, but who takes up your time and your energy and strength to battle. I don't know your dragon. But if I love you, or interact with you every day, or even just ride the bus with you a few days a week, I promise to try. I promise to listen and watch and think, I promise to do the best I can in my weak and fractured way, to do you no harm. I promise I will try to be kind. Addendum:
Just finished reading another article about a dude getting sober on his own terms. In this guy's case, without a church element. In his case, his history involved a pedophile priest. The FIRST COMMENT after his story was by some other dude saying blah blah, making a mountain out of a molehill, blah blah just ignore the God stuff.
Again my point about not listening to other people's advice. Your dragon dude, your moat.