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Willing to Go to Any Length to Remain Sober…

I’ve asked a man, with direct lineage to my sponsor, Mike who passed away in 2009 to sponsor me, and he’s accepted… and made sure to point out that I have to be willing to go to any length (and put up with his bluntness). He then stated, after 30 years of recovery, I should have a pretty good handle on 1, 2 & 3, so I should probably start on 4 right away.

At first, of course, you can imagine my reaction; What?! A FOURTH Step? I’m on TEN, ELEVEN & TWELVE!

And then I thought, Well, Jim, any length is any length… and think of the good that can come from it! Let’s see just how free you can be.

I got over myself in about fourteen seconds and now I can’t wait. In fact, I’m sponsoring a new guy and he’s going through his first so we’ll be able to work on it together.

Plus, my new sponsor is one of the few people who display the ability to make other people feel better about being themselves with unconditional love. That’s what I want.

I’d have been able to remain sober another fifty years the way I was going, one day at a time, if I’d kept after it as I have in the past. But what better have I to do than find out just how good good is?

And so it begins. Again.

I love this stuff.

What Nice Thing Can I Do For My Spouse Today?

Having a penchant for being blindly self-centered, I have a little cheat that helps me remember that I’m a part of a team today.

Every Thursday at 1:00 in the afternoon, I have a reminder that pops up that says, “What nice thing can I do for Jess today?”

I’ve started driving home, only to turn back around and head back to my wife’s office to blare our wedding song on my phone as I held it above my head, standing outside the door (that one was a winner – WHAM!). I’ve stopped by the flower store a few times. I stopped by the bakery and picked up the most ridiculously decadent chocolate cake I could find. Most times it’s something simple, just to let her know I was thinking of her. Maybe folding the clothes before she gets home, or going the extra mile in getting dinner ready.

I’ve never missed a Thursday in eleven months. Almost a full year, now.

If you want to know how to let your spouse know they’re special and loved, I can’t think of any better way. Try it. You’ll like it.

The simplest (possibly fastest) way of saving your marriage. Sadly, this isn’t a clickbait post; it’s simple, easy it is not. Part One: Owning My Own

My wife has her numerous flaws. If not for her flaws, and I mean this literally, she’d have picked a better man. Every time I look at my wife’s issues before mine, or worse, as the excuse for mine, the wheels fall off.

And that’s all I’ll say in this post about my wife’s flaws, with the exception they will be mentioned once in the context of my own.

When Jess and I set about righting our marriage, I had the blessing of understanding that I was deeply flawed and self-centered. It’s almost as if I was given the reflection of myself through her eyes. I asked God to show me who I really was and “self-centered, egomaniac with an inferiority complex” was not too unkind. Sure, I’d done some good work on that through the program, but this was a vastly deeper level that most sponsors simply wouldn’t have the depth of knowledge to coax out.

And I’d be willing to guess most have this blind spot, though I call it a blind spot for a reason. You really have to dig to see it.

Anyway, from the day I saw who I really was, I set out to be accountable for that person, not the guy I thought I was. In a short sentence, “I owned my $#!+.” Now, in literary parlance, we are taught to refrain from the ease of cursing. A curse word is a crutch for conversational cripples, as they say (Easy, sparky, it just fits with the words crutch and conversational, and is used solely in terms of being conversationally inadequate. If you can’t see that, before you run to the comments section, please pull your bottom lip over your forehead and suck. Hard.) This is one of the rare occasions where the curse word is the perfect fit.

I had to learn how to worry about my own issues because those are the only issues I can do anything about.

Now, if you’re like me, and you have a problem of your own, you’re thinking, “But how do I let my spouse know when they’re treading on me inappropriately?” How do you let your spouse know what their issues are if you can only concentrate on yours?

First, if you read that second question and thought, yes, that’s exactly it! You just might have a problem. You have your own shit to deal with, and probably a lot of it but you’re not without measures to negotiate for peace on your own behalf. Nicely.

This part is simple, too, though a little hard to live by. For the first four to six months I didn’t get to say a word about my spouse’s flaws. I had been an arrogant, ignorant fool and my wife deserved to see the new me for a while; to see that it wasn’t just a gimmick. I worked on my own stuff and owned that stuff when my wife brought things up. Without fear but also without taking a lashing for it… but oddly enough, I didn’t have to worry about taking a lashing. I think Jess was so surprised she just rolled with it. A simple, “You know what, you’re right. I’ll look at it and make the necessary changes.” was all it took. I simply try to remember this; I was blind to my behavior and my wife put up with it for a long time. She is trying to help me move through the marriage less stupidly.

That’s what works for me.

After that period, I learned how to nicely ask my wife to help me understand her words or actions better. I’d start with “This is how I perceived [insert what she did or said here], help me to understand what I’m missing.”

If putting it like that starts a brawl, I’m out. I have no idea where to go from there. My wife was so over the moon that I tried to understand her before jumping to conclusions, she talked about it for weeks.

The One Hardest Issue In Our Marriage to Get Right… But We Did.

I’m just going to get into this, because this is a short, simple post. My wife and I both have multiple decades in recovery. We’re almost sixty years between us, so the one thing you’d think we could get right would be communication. Our lives literally hang on being able to communicate unflinchingly with other people about our thoughts, emotions, fears, regrets, faults and flaws. We have to master this or we relapse. Well, so I thought, at least.

In our marriage, however, we had years of misunderstanding the other on a regular basis which led to building up of what I understood as being protective walls for our emotions. For me, they allowed me an impenetrable zone of what I understood to be “being okay”. And I was okay. My wife and I built a “fair” marriage around that. It was good, but not exactly great. We were relatively content, with the occasional donnybrook that could last as long as a week or two before we forgot what we were angry about and made up. Well, I forgot what we were angry about. My wife seemed to be able to remember that stuff for a millennia. Every now and again, say four or five times a year, I’d run into a silent treatment that would last a week or two but I could usually weather those.

We’d been to marriage counseling where I was told in private sessions that I really didn’t have much to work on, that I was a generally good guy and that I simply wasn’t perfect. I don’t know if I had the counselor snowed (doubtful), that he was setting me up for the big reveal that I had a truckload of $#!+ that I was hauling behind me (plausible) but he passed away before he could get to the good stuff, or that my wife and I simply had a major communications problem.

Whatever the case, I “came to” almost a year ago, now, and realized there was a lot I could do better. My wife joined in with the changes a short while after me and we crafted something together that we could both love. I’d say we worked hardest on learning how to communicate effectively, nicely and safely. I haven’t seen a silent treatment in almost a year, and I’m here to tell you, I don’t miss them a bit. I’ve had to change how I communicated with my wife entirely… and truth be told, I’m still learning.

For my part, I used to think there were too many rules and those rules were routinely thrown on the table to make things difficult enough to say what I had to say so that I’d simply give up out of frustration. That wasn’t so; the problem was I had to change three things – and this is the important part:

  1. I had to listen.
  2. I learned to assume that my wife was simply trying to help me move through the world a little less stupidly, that she didn’t want to hurt me or shut me down.
  3. I had to let go of the fear that my wife would win. Neither wins if one wins. The only way one can win an argument is if we both win.

Once I got those two things down, I could calmly communicate what I had to. And I could listen to my wife calmly enough to understand.

With no fear to get in the way, I could see my part better and change. My wife felt that safety that I found so difficult to share with her, and our marriage flourished. And it is awesome.

Learning To Meditate (Better) After 30-Years Of Recovery

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for about six months and it finally hit me this morning while laying in bed while I was trying to fall back to sleep on a Holiday day off. So, here I am at 4:23 in the morning, writing this post.

I used to be a little prejudiced against meditation because I wasn’t ever going to be one of the hokey “ohoooooom” people, though my semi-ignorant disdain for what I used to believe were fake people has loosened over the last year. I look at the ohoooom folks like I would a fake martial artist who claims he can knock people out of a fight with his mind. Unlike the one-inch punch, the “no punch” is pure bullshit. However…

I learned to find me in meditation, though. I can still be the ruggedly handsome fella I am, without having to tip over to the odd.

For the longest time, I would filter my thoughts through a big sifter. Anything I didn’t like, including looking at whether or not my actions were decent, wise, good, or even worthwhile, would be thrown out as a useless thought. I became so good at this, my Tenth Step work took a matter of a minute a day, often resulting in me coming to the wrong understanding that I didn’t harm anyone or do anything worth reproach in a day. I’d come to the conclusion that, if I’d harmed someone, it was on them.

F***in’ hell, that was ignorant. And quite a bit narcissistic.

One morning, about ten months ago, I opened my eyes and found out just how wrong I was. The wrong-headedness was so steep, I couldn’t keep order to my thoughts and the way I perceived them. It was like one of those sleeper waves that looks to be harmless as it approaches but all of a sudden you realize it’s breaking three feet over your head and it flips you for a loop. If you’ve never been hit by one, you’re missing out. It’s a fun ride. As long as the wave is tumbling you helplessly over sand.

The only thing that brought order and peace to the wave of thoughts was meditation. I learned how to pay attention to what was happening in my melon (and in the melon committee) and sort everything out. At first, with all of the activity, it took upwards of an hour. After a time, I managed to get that down to ten to twenty minutes.

Today, usually right after I’ve written a post in the morning and while I’m shaving and showering for the day, I get into reviewing the day before. Did I wrong my wife? How about my kids? Did I do anything wrong to any friends? How about co-workers? Did I speak too quickly, or say something incorrectly, or carelessly? [ED. Normally we do this at night, but I fall asleep easily enough I don’t have to, and I’d rather work on such things when I can do something about them – the morning works better for me]. Then I turn to my feelings. Do I feel I was wronged? Was there anything I left unsaid out of fear that will lead to resentments later? What am I afraid of right now? How are my emotions holding up? Are they holding me up? What could I have done better yesterday? What can I do about that today?

Then, after I’ve cleaned myself up inside and out, I head off to wake up with my wife. I review where I went wrong the day before, if there was anything that needed tending to. We talk about anything in our marriage that needs looking at. Rather than dismiss everything I don’t like as garbage, I assess everything we talk about. I own all of my stuff and tell my wife what I will own and what I don’t, and why I don’t. Perhaps she misperceived something I did, or improperly ascribed motive to something I did. I handle all of this without lying or trying to hide bad intentions with good. Truth is subjective. Not lying and choosing to not be manipulative isn’t. [ED Your truth can be different from mine, but everyone knows when they’re lying or manipulating with untruth to skew an outcome]

What I’ve learned over this time is that I operate on a lot of fear. Fear that my behavior was bad enough that I pushed my wife out of our marriage was massive early on in this little experiment. I held fear that my wife wouldn’t change, of what things would look like if only I changed… I was driven by a hundred different forms of fear, as they say. With my new meditative inventory, I learned to live fearlessly. The easiest way to do this was to acknowledge my fears and talk about them with my wife… and yes, there was plenty of fear in that as well!

As we progressed, though, I learned that my fears were mainly what we call False Evidence Appearing Real. I chose to look at things differently. What I once thought was my wife attacking me (or weaponizing my words against me, as they say) was really my wife trying to help me move through the world a little less stupidly.

Once I took the fear out of moving through the world stupidly, I came to learn that I didn’t have anything to fear in trying to be a better me. I could lay anything out there and we’d come up with a solution together. Shortly thereafter, my wife was talking about her fears, too. And we’d work on those.

It didn’t take long to dispatch with much of the bullshit we used to sweep under the rug out of fear… to a point we had to walk around the freaking rug because it was too high to climb over.

And that brings me right back to this post. I’ve been trying to work out how to write this little bastard for months. And there I was, just laying in bed, meditating… and it hit me.

That’s how it works. Happy New Year’s Eve, eve!

30 Years Clean and Sober: A New and Fantastic Path Appears… for the Love of My Wife.

Most of my first 29 years, when I got my coin, I’d spout a few clichés in a meeting after my wife said a few heartfelt and meaningful words about how far we’d come in our marriage and recovery. Every now and again, I’d have something important to say, but I’d normally keep it fairly short and simple. Something about trusting God and helping others, I’d hug my wife and accept my coin.

Not this year. This year, my whole recovery was turned on its head when I asked God, “How deep does this rabbit hole go”? He proceeded to show me.

From November 19th, 2021 until late February, my story was the first paragraph. Rinse and repeat. I’d had one of the best sponsors AA had to offer about ten years earlier, who passed from lung cancer, who would light up a room when he walked in. He had a gift for making everyone in that room feel better about being who they were because he simply loved everyone. It was amazing to watch the dynamic of a room change when he walked in the door. He gave me some of the best marriage advice I’d ever received and I still use it today. Sadly, I had no clue how I’d get from where I was to where he was on the path I was on when he died. And I was no closer in late February until I had a conversation with my daughters. They were worried about Jess and I and how we would do after Josie left for college (she’s in her junior year), without the distraction of having kids around. They brought up an interesting point.

And gave me a new goal.

A short while later, driving to work listening to the local news show on the radio (npr or talk radio, take your pick, doesn’t matter – most left or right extremists want to know whether it was a lefty or righty station so they can form a summary judgment of who I am based on politics… those freaking people are sick). Anyway, it occurred to me I was listening to the same damned news story for the last 25 freaking years. There had to be something better I could do with my time! Something that would help improve my life. But what?

I asked God for some inspiration. Twenty minutes later I was listening to a psychology professor’s lecture on YouTube. He was talking about arguing with people. I thought this will be great! I can learn how to argue with my wife and maybe win once in a while! He spoke about doing the least amount of damage possible in order to get your point across, and let the other person show who they are and let them expose their agenda which should be easy enough to dispense with. I loved that concept! A couple of days later, a video on implementing that in a relationship, only in this case we don’t try to win. We do the least amount of damage possible and negotiate for peace. My mind was completely blown. The idea was to not fight. I tried it on my wife. We started out arguing on the way to a concert and by the time we got to the venue we were having the best time we’d had together in YEARS. It was magical.

Another video about narcissism a few days later. I was sure I was going to learn a lot about my wife from this one. The first three things were absolutely my wife. The next three, were me. What an eye-opener! I immediately asked God to show me everything. The emotional barriers and walls I’d built over the years crumbled and I was laid bare. I called her in tears and apologized for who I’d been and let her know things would get much better. I explained in detail what I’d learned.

I started working with a new sponsor shortly thereafter and he helped me navigate some of the tougher waters, including a massive bout with possessiveness that struck me to my core. He helped me to pray and meditate, and listen to what was going on inside me so I could ask God for direct help where I needed it. When I found I’d wronged my wife throughout this time, I immediately went to her and took ownership of where I was wrong and pledged to mindfully do better. Then I did better. In the meantime, she began her own changes, once she saw that what I was going through was real and safe.

We had some intense negotiations over the next several months but we didn’t fight much. On the rare occasion a fight was necessary, we always remembered to come back to doing the least amount of damage possible and negotiate for peace. We grew closer than we’d ever been. She was amazing and challenging at the same time.

I started talking about the changes at meetings, because they were all centered around the tenth and eleventh steps. Bringing it up at meetings was part of twelve.

All of a sudden people started asking me to sponsor them. I’ve worked with more men in the last six months than I ever had in the past. My wife and I have reconciled to a point our marriage isn’t even recognizable in its current form from what we had last year. There is peace, happiness and contentment… and joy.

And at the heart of it all is our Higher Power and steps ten, eleven and twelve. It was just a couple of months ago, now, that I sat down with my wife and talked to her about something that had changed in me. I told her I’d just realized that earlier in the year I had no idea how I would get from where I was to where my old sponsor was. All of a sudden, after everything had changed, I knew there was a lot of work to be done, but I could at least see the path. All I had to do was walk it.

And so I have, and so I will.

Thanks God. Thanks, Sunshine. Anything is possible in recovery. Anything. As long as I keep coming back and work the steps.

Why You Should Fix Your Broken Marriage, In a Simple Nutshell.

So you and your spouse are in the range from “Not Exactly Happy” to “Miserable and On Our Way to Divorce”. It happens. We let all of those little resentments build up between us and pretty soon it seems we can’t even communicate without fighting. We get to a point where we simply sweep it under the rug and hope for the best.

The only problem is we keep looking at that pile under the rug and think, “Damn, we need a bigger rug”. My wife and I know this pain.

Now, for this to work, it’ll take both of you. Think back on the early days when you couldn’t get enough of each other. You’d hold hands everywhere you went, you were able to actually look each other in the eyes when you said, “I love you”, and you had the world by the horns. Together. You can have that again.

So, if you want to give it a try, two things are going to have to happen:

  1. You’re going to have to concentrate on your flaws (and there are a lot) and your spouse will have to concentrate on their flaws. If you ever start a conversation with “You know what’s wrong with you?” Well, just skip that first question and go sleep on the couch till you come to your senses. It doesn’t work like that.
  2. You’re going to have to master forgiveness. Accept that you’re just as flawed as your partner and you’re both worth forgiving and you’ll be well on your way.

Then, learn how not to fight with each other. Once you learn how to negotiate for peace instead of dropping the gloves, life gets easier in a hurry.

But why, you ask?

What else better have you got to do?

Get on with it. Eat some crow, ask your spouse to join you on the feast and make some whoopie. Life is to short to not give it your best.

A Perfect Bike Date Weekend

I woke up at 4am Friday morning and got right to work. I do this so I can justify an early ride Friday morning. Depending on how soon the sun comes up, wheels will roll between 7 and 8 am (this late in the season, it’s definitely 8). Jess and I rolled out on the gravel bikes as it was way too cold for road bikes, for about an hour-and-a-half.

We laughed and had a wonderful time of it.

Saturday, we woke to cold-induced fog. It was so damned cold out, it was foggy. The dew clung to us as we rolled. I worried about that inevitable moment where the water penetrates the clothing and allows the cold a direct path to our skin but it never came. We ended up having quite the enjoyable time of it, too. I’d ride with friends, then pop over and put my hand on the small of my wife’s back to have a connection to her. I didn’t use the connection to help her up hills till the end of the ride. We both glowed all day about how much fun that ride was. We had a blast together – and my wife came up with a perfect way of washing the incidental dirt off the bikes before we took them in the house. She took her water bottle and squirted it at the standing dirt, rinsing it away. I’d never thought to do that, or I figured that would make cleanup worse, but it was perfect. All we had to do was wipe the bikes down later.

Sunday was a little warmer and with no fog. It was still cold but I managed to take off my glove a few times to take some photos. There were only four of us crazy awesome enough to brave the cold starting temperature, but we had a fantastic time cruising around the dirt roads. As has become quite common, I’ve been riding a lot with my hand on Jessica’s back, whether to add extra wattage on a hill, or to just ride so we’re connected for a few minutes. Jess loves it so much, she’s taken to riding with her hand on my back as well – and now I know why she likes it so much!

While I suppose we’ll have to be careful because there could be some people who would say there isn’t supposed to be any of that on a bike ride, I see it a little more simply; the world could use a little more love in it. Not less.

My wife and I had three bike dates over the weekend… and they were awesome. If there’s no place for it on a bike ride, well, I’ll take my lumps for it.

100% worth it.

Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last? Maybe Not…

If you check out the self-help gurus on YouTube, most of them will tell you nice guys finish last because women can sense a lack of confidence in that niceness and will literally run the other way.

This isn’t untrue, but I think the notion is couched in misunderstanding.

My wife will be the first to tell you this nice guy will finish first. Allow me to explain.

My wife had what the self-help gurus say women want. I’m handsome but not too pretty, I’m capable, and I thought I treated her very well. I had complete faith that I was a good enough husband that, should my wife choose to cheat on me, she’d have to live alone with the choice because I’d be gone and it would be on her.

Well, I’d say I was above average, for certain, but there was a lot of room for improvement. I was cold, a little mean, a bit of a bore, a little angry, and not attentive to my wife’s needs. She got what I was willing to give her, but there’s a big difference between that and what she wanted or needed.

Then, earlier in the spring, I had my eyes opened to who I really was. I had a massive change of heart and my behavior toward my wife, kids, and even random people, began changing. It’s been a steady diet of progress, and I am unmistakably a nice guy. So much so, I actually started seeking advice on how to toughen up a little bit out of fear I’d run my wife out the door because I was either too suffocating or I gave her the impression I’d put up with anything. This is a flaw in me, folks. They happen.

Anyway, rather than just go about changing things, including how I treat and interact with my wife, I decided I’d talk to her first. Imagine that.

I brought it up, almost exactly how it was written in the previous (second to previous) paragraph. Matter of fact and to the point, though I tried to be careful.

My wife responded that there was a time where I was a little suffocating in this journey but I’d corrected much of that and what was left, the “nice guy”, was what she’d been looking for and there was no chance she’d run the other way from the new me.

I think, maybe, where this gets a little tricky for we men is that we’re less dimensional than women and while we have to dance a certain way in courtship, it doesn’t necessarily work that way once the ring is on the finger. Maybe it’s just that my wife was used to me one way for so long, this approach to me is such a vast improvement over such a short time that it’s exciting and fantastic and wonderful for her. Anyway, if anything, I’ve gotten vastly nicer and my wife has said in no uncertain terms (which is rare for the fairer sex), “Don’t change a thing, buddy. You’re doing great.”

I’m choosing to take her at her word. More later.

Goodbye Second Summer, You Weren’t Around Long Enough… But We Appreciate the Tandem Ride(s)!

Jess and I were in shorts and short-sleeves yesterday afternoon/evening when we rolled out on the tandem. We talked about heading up to Lennon for the Tuesday night ride, but chose instead to ride just the two of us so we could hang out and talk. It was also appealing that we’d be home early to get dinner ready rather than pay an arm and a leg’s fee at a fast food joint for dinner. We’d had an intense discussion the evening prior and I think my wife wanted to be able to cruise… well, for the most part (I’ll get to that in a minute).

We headed for our old weekday haunt, the Jimmer Loop as it’s been named. The once-worst road in our county was repaved last week and our route is now a complete joy… because the second-worst road in our county was repaved earlier this summer as well. We only have about a quarter-mile of choppy pavement on the entire 20-mile route.

Unlike the evening before, we didn’t talk about anything heady; we’d worked it all out before we fell asleep, something that we’ve become quite good at and fond of.

Last evening’s ride was, as my wife put it, a fantastic date on a bike. We talked and laughed, we went for (and acquired) a QOM for my wife (we’re now tied for second on the segment), then we took it easy for a bit before putting some leg into the pedals, then we eased up and talked some more. All the while my wife would reach up and pat me on the hip and I’d reach back and squeeze her hand.

Friends, they like to say that, in relationships, nice guys finish last. I think they’re talking about dating because my wife disagrees vehemently… and I’ll stick with her on that. And, well, anywhere else. I’ll get into this more in a future post.

As for last night, we let summer slip away with a wonderful evening together.