Hosting a pastry chef: a silver lining from my past

There’s the expression, “if life gives you lemons…”  Well, sometimes the decisions I have made in my past while using drugs or trying to save others in early recovery were more akin to inviting lemons into my house to stay for a while.  And to be accurate, I have at times been under the illusion of doing the latter (saving) while  stuck in the trap of the former (using).  Self-deception is the one of the most dangerous places for this (or any) addict to be…

Let’s just say – I’ve learned my lesson and will not be extending an invitation to “friends” to crash here, recover here, or anything remotely similar.  This needs to be my safe haven, and so far, my ability to help others in my home have been disastrous.

Having said that, I’ve often said “If ever I were to write a book…”  Well, why not share some stories here?!  Because after all, these weren’t bad people…just people making bad choices.  They, like any of us, do have gifts to offer the world.  And in many cases, I’ve learned something from them. As an empath, I’m often been able to see something worth saving, even when they can’t see it for themselves. [Likewise, of course, I can’t see it in myself at times…especially during my own using days.] I’ve often thought – if the world could just see and celebrate your “name his gift,” or “name his passion” or “name his talent”  — there might be hope for them to turn around.  [And in my own dark days…if I could see the same in myself, hope for me to stay true to my path.]

So, here is my…
Silver Lining Series – Story #1.  The Pastry Chef.

When I first met C., he struck me as confident, mature and a “winner” as they say in the rooms…someone who would make it. So years later, when he got out of prison and sought my help in finding support, a healthy living environment, and resources to get back on his feet, I shared as much current information from my network as I could. He seemed to take to it, doing the legwork to connect, get into “rehab,” and find work. As I talked with him, I discovered he was an experienced pastry chef…a baker…and that struck a chord with me. I could see his interest in getting back into that work, in perhaps even starting his own business. The future seemed promising…

C. needed some transitional living (days…) to wait out his intake for a local treatment facility and extended halfway house/program. I invited him I to my home. During his brief time, he and I shared time baking…and he taught me things about quick breads, the “chemistry” behind some baking techniques, and the value,of weighing vs measuring (European vs. American style recipes :). We even took one of my moms ‘s “mainstay” recipes – Banana Bread – and experimented with approaches, ingredients, and technique…literally “benchmarking” my normal way of making it with his “training.” And let me tell you…there IS a marked difference. Hands down, his baseline was better tasting and especially better looking. And then he built on that – adjusted some ingredients, like the sugars, and added a touch of spice…and transformed the recipe to yet another level. Amazing. So I now have a new and improved version on mom’s recipe…a gift from his time and his passion.

For that experience and that gift, I’m grateful…

I hope he makes it. I wish I now had more confidence than hope…as my one boss used to say, hope is not a strategy. Setting aside the spiritual gap in that thinking, there are dark clouds on the horizon…the lemonade is at risk of being spoiled…

I also learned that coupled with his outward confidence and “get go” came compulsive lying, manipulation, and a lack of authenticity. Those are challenging bad traits for anyone to have, but for an addict…they can be deadly. He took advantage of me while also sharing his gifts…and in the end, our friendship crumbled. He was recently re-arrested on violation of his parole, and his back in jail/prison.

Still – he’s not a bad person.  He’s not a liar or manipulator…those are labels I try to avoid (just like “good” or “bad.) Again, he’s just a man making bad choices – and I’ve been there, done that.  It doesn’t make us good or bad people.  But, his behaviors weren’t consistent with his words — and I value honesty and truthfulness in my friendships.

Like many home comers, he’s likely influenced by the “system” and the old habits and people he clung to.  Again, I’ve struggled at times with the same battles…  I’m not judging or condemning him.  In contrast, I’m really trying to celebrate and shine a light on his talents, his passions, and the growth and learning I gained from our time together.  But, he was here for a reason or a season…for now, that season is on pause…hopeful and optimistic pause, but pause nonetheless.

I hope he does make it…because he has much to offer the world. Like we each do…no matter how dark the clouds can get, they should never let us be fooled into believing otherwise.

But I am also reminded of the words of my first sponsor. “Most of us won’t make it.” Many of us won’t?! “No, most of us…”

Here’s to you C. May you find yourself before it’s too late…before this ugly disease takes you out. You’re worth it.

Am I Wired Differently? Am I Really? Two words remind me…

We know well the two things that make up true addiction: obsession and compulsion. Obsession—that fixed idea that takes us back time and time again to our particular drug, or some substitute, to recapture the ease and comfort we once knew. Compulsion—once having started the process with one fix, one pill, or one drink we cannot stop through our own power of will. Because of our physical sensitivity to drugs, we are completely in the grip of a destructive power greater than ourselves.

The physical aspect of our disease is the compulsive use of drugs: the inability to stop using once we have started. The mental aspect of our disease is the obsession, or overpowering desire to use, even when we are destroying our lives.

NA Basic Text

After my initial arrest and sentencing to probation for illegal possession, I found myself in a relapse last year which resulted in six months of house arrest for probation violation.  A friend asked me, “Didn’t you know the legal consequences of doing illegal drugs?” When I answered yes, she couldn’t understand why — knowing that — I would continue to use.  That’s when it first really sunk in for me and I understood that I am really wired differently.

The mental obsession, the physical compulsion…non-addicts just don’t have it.

Around the time of my last hearing for my probation violation, a friend who is not in recovery said something to the effect of, “It’s just eight more months. Wait this out and get on the other side of probation clean without any other violations. Heck, at that point if you want to have the biggest using party go ahead – just don’t do it while you’re on probation.” While I know that is ludicrous and goes against every grain of my recovery and self-awareness, that comment hasn’t left my mind in over two months!  I don’t think of it daily – but probably at least a couple of times a month it’s come back to me. I know that wasn’t his intention – and this isn’t about everyone becoming P.C. and having to censor/watch what they say around me. It’s my addiction, my responsibility for recovery. However, that it’s engraved in my mind is another sign of the mental obsession.

I’m wired differently.

Then today, out of the blue – after almost five months of no contact – I get a text from an unknown number. It’s clearly my former dealer. Pushing his wares. I was in the middle of a meeting a church when the text came in.  And I had to fight for the rest of the meeting to stay focused. I could feel a slight ‘rush’ in my system when I read the text and figured out what it was about. As I walked home, I told myself to delete the text and number right away. But, this addict mind hesitated…played out a couple of scenarios of how I might be able to grab something, use it in a controlled fashion, slip under the radar screen of probation. Really?  Wow, I’m wired differently. Then, I applied the tools of my recovery – the ones I failed to apply when I relapsed last year. I played the tape through and reminded myself how ugly things had gotten. I replied, “Please delete my number and do not contact me again.”  I prayed. I called my sponsor. I had a message from another addict (who called during the same meeting) who was in need of help – I called him back. I will share it with other addicts throughout this week to keep me honest.  I am even writing this to keep me honest in a way and remind me that yes – it’s a real battle out there. But, if I apply 100% of the tools I’ve learned, 100% of the time – if I rely on my Higher Power because ultimately it’s not my strength that gets me through – if I’m vigilant in working this simple program on a daily basis – then yes – just for today, I can stay clean and sober.

Am I wired differently?


Am I a victim of that situation?

Absolutely not!

Feeling the pain I caused others

I’m an intellectual, analytical sort of guy by nature. So regardless of my addiction – or perhaps in addition to my addiction – I don’t connect well with my feelings. I can analyze a situation, describe the feelings I am, was or should be feeling…but I haven’t always connected with the emotions involved. I think it’s part of my coping mechanism for life. Coping with isn’t the same as living, just like tolerating someone isn’t the same as loving them.

I want to experience life – live life – love others…not just cope and tolerate.

I’m learning how to these days in recovery with a lot of tools and help.

This week, I realized how strong that coping mechanism has been.  About a month ago, a friend told me stuff I never knew that was going on around me and about me while I was in my last years of active addiction. In my selfish, self-centered world, I didn’t think anyone knew about my using — nor cared. Secretly, there were times I remember hoping someone would care, would say something — but I also know that most attempts to “help me” would have just driven me further away, strengthening my denial and the grip drugs had on me.

This friend told me about how people very close to me were aware of my using, sometimes in surprisingly graphic and real detail. But, these same folks knew that in most cases, the best thing to do is to let go, and let someone’s Higher Power guide events. Knowing and yet not being able to help was painful for them.  The helplessness, the despair, the concern, the fear.  And, I was oblivious to it all.

But, my analytical mind had really only processed this on one very intellectual level until this week. I filed the “news” away in my memory – didn’t talk about it with anyone really – but it would surface from time to time. Yesterday, I was talking with my sponsor and told him about this realization of the world around me – of the pain and worry I caused for some of the closest people in my life. Even then, I honestly felt little – it was a story, seemingly someone else’s.

Last night, I had some dreams that brought this awareness to light. I awoke and lay in bed thinking about what I shared the day before.  I saw the people involved in my mind, and started to cry – sobbing heavily as a greater sense of guilt, regret and sadness came over me. It finally all hit me — and I simply allowed myself to feel the pain and sadness.

I know the outcome is amazing – we’ve survived this and they continue to be in my life. I will make amends when the time is right.  But, the self-awareness from this is a great gift of recovery. The fact that these two folks courageously faced this situation with appropriate “detached love” and continue to be in my life is an even greater gift.

But perhaps the greatest gift was the reconnection between my intellect and my emotion. I understand better how important it is to live more authentically with the union of heart and mind, living through and experiencing the feelings of joy, sadness, fear that come with the events in life.  For now, for me, this takes conscious awareness and an effort to remain open to possibilities, to new world views, and to a maturing capacity to feel. The “lag” between events and feeling them is growing shorter, but it’s still there. My ability to detach is so strongly rooted in my way of living that it will take time to grow.

But, baby steps.

Today, I can see it for how it should really be.

Today, I feel the pain I cause others.  And for now, that is a wonderful gift.

To be continued….