Embracing Option B: A Fresh Perspective on Loss, Adversity & Change

Something clicked for me last month. It was a combination of conversations, experiences and ultimately, coming across a book in the airport. It’s all given me a fresh perspective on how I’m living life today – and facing the future. That fresh perspective is bringing about greater confidence, hope and inspiration.

A year ago, I made a decision and commitment to pursue my passion for photography as a business, with the goal of being profitable in 2-3 years. As I’ve shared before, that is a big step for me – and a big departure from the first half of my life, where I spent my working time in corporate America. But even with that decision, I’ve struggled to see this step as anything other than a step down – something less than – not as good as – my “first option” – the career path my education and early choices led me into.

It’s also been hard to fully embrace this path because it comes on the heals of a significant loss and setback in my life in 2010, when I lost everything I had been building, because of my addiction. Even though the loss came because I got into recovery and started dealing with the underlying issues that led to my addictive behavior, it has been hard at times to fully accept the loss and change as healthy and in a better direction overall for me. I know it sounds crazy. But in addition to losing a well-paying job, house, and friends – I lost much of my identity, because it was largely wrapped up in my career – and the material things and money!

This journey I’ve been on since 2010 has been about rediscovering who I am, what I believe and how and where I find my identity and purpose in life. And although it came from a dark time of great loss, I can already see that I’m not just getting by, or surviving in this new way of living – but I’m actually growing as a result. This became even more clear as I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

In her book, Sheryl Sandberg shares how she deals with the unexpected and sudden death of her husband. She “combines her personal insights…on finding strength in the face of adversity.” She shares the moment of truth she faced just weeks after losing Dave:

“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the shit out of Option B.” Live is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shout of of it.

She shares a lot of amazing research and studies, along with her personal insight. Some of the highlights for me are (with credit going to Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant):

  • How people deal with setbacks:  personalization (the belief that we are at fault), pervasivenss (the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives) and permanence (the belief that the after shocks of the event will last forever.)  from research by Martin Seligman
  • As psychologists have studied people who have endured all kinds of trauma, they most focused on two possible outcomes of trauma: those who struggle, developing PTSD, depression and anxiety or had difficulty functioning or those who are resilient, bouncing back to their state before the trauma. More recently, research has revealed a third possibility: those who are resilient, bouncing forward, finding post-traumatic growth. This manifests itself in five ways:
    • finding personal strength
    • gaining appreciation
    • forming deeper relationships
    • discovering more meaning in life
    • seeing new possibilities
  • Parents can build resilience in their children through opportunities and relationships – with a focus on four core beliefs:
    • we have some control over our lives
    • we can learn from failure
    • we matter as human beings
    • we have real strengths to rely on and share

As I reflect on my journey and how this concept of an “Option B” plays out, I can more confidently each of these elements at play.

I have been guilty of the “three P’s” as Sheryl calls them. Her insights and tips have helped me already reframe thoughts that come to mind about my situation.

I can also see where I’ve been stuck in PTSD mode – perhaps hoping to “get back to where I was.” But, I now see that where I was was still unhealthy, steeped in addiction, lack of connection or community, and unresolved loss back to my childhood. Now I see a third possibility – and know more clearly that this last year of so has been about taking steps towards “post-traumatic growth,” seeing possibilities in all the areas Sheryl mentioned.

I’ve also added these new “core beliefs” to my earlier post, where I’m collecting beliefs as I work through this journey of rediscovery.

So, this book not only gave me tools and insights I was missing before, it underscored the work I’m already doing! and helped me frame where I am in a new, fresh light. So, thank you universe – and thank you Sheryl Sandberg! To learn more, I encourage you to read her book, and check out her Facebook Groups related to Option B (which is also the name of a non-profit she started, with all of the proceeds from her book being used to support this broader effort of finding post-traumatic growth.)

An honor to serve? How about a fair chance at a job, or housing…

Society doesn’t trust me to use federal assistance for food or school tuition, is willing to refuse me housing and employment simply and solely based on a background check with no discussion because of my criminal record, and some countries won’t let me cross their borders…

…and yet you trust me with the “honor” to be on a “jury of peers” and serve jury duty?

Really.  I find this ironic and hypocritical.  What do you think?

Shame on Hoosiers, Shame on America!  Give us a break!  (Read on to learn more…)

An honor to serve? I’d rather have a fair chance at a job, or housing…or other assistance granted to other citizens. Thanks!


I’ve learned a lot in the last 5 years about the barriers our society puts in place for people living with a criminal record.  I was as surprised to learn about them as many people I talk with about my experience.  I guess “ignorance is bliss.”  But ignorance also keeps the status quo in place…  Which is why I try to talk about what I’ve learned, in hopes that education and awareness might help remove the stigma and perhaps even help to change laws or rules to make re-entry easier.

So to clarify – we are talking about someone like myself who is no longer on parole or probation, but has “served the time” for his or her crime.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to not do any actual time in jail or prison, apart from a couple hours around my original arrest.  (So I haven’t experienced the “full force” of “re-entry” – of returning to society after serving time for a crime.

For a lot of reasons, including a Higher Power who was looking out for me and some “next right things” I did when I hit bottom and sought help for my addiction, I was fortunate enough to be given a plea bargain and a chance, through probation, to have my felony charges dropped to misdemeanors – if I met the conditions of my plea bargain.  I was doing well at first in 2010, but was over-confident in my ability to stay clean for the first year of my recovery (while I was on probation) – and ended up blowing the terms of my plea bargain.  While I successfully completed the balance of my 12 month term without issue, I found myself “living with” a felony record.

So, what barriers are in place for someone who has served their time, but still lives with a felony record?  In the State of Indiana (some of these are Federal issues, some are State-specific):

  • I can’t get a student loan for tuition assistance to go back to school
  • I can’t get food stamps
  • If landlords run background checks, I’m likely to face barriers securing an affordable, well-maintained place to rent and live
  • If employers run background checks and aren’t educated with new(er) guidelines related to “ban the box” and fair hiring practices, I’m likely to face barriers getting a job.  Learn more at:


  • I can’t travel to some countries in the world, including Canada (note: the same is true for individuals convicted of a DUI in the US…no travel to Canada!)
ReEntry Scorecard for the Midwest (click on image for details)
ReEntry Scorecard for the Midwest (click on image for details)


Two overarching principles emerged as key criteria in the grading system (with 1 being best and 10 the worst):

• State and federal laws should require individualized determinations about the suitability of someone with a criminal conviction for the opportunity, benefit or right sought that takes into consideration the nature of the conviction(s), the time that has elapsed since the conviction(s), the age of the person at the time of the conviction(s) and any evidence of rehabilitation.

• State and federal laws should prohibit government agencies, public and private employers, and others from considering information about arrests that did not lead to conviction when making decisions about a person’s eligibility for employment, housing, or other benefits.


Note: since I completed my probation, Indiana has made some steps in the right direction.  After ~8-10 years, under certain conditions, felony records can be expunged – which makes some of the issues/barriers I’m going to talk about mostly disappear.  Records are still accessible to law enforcement of course – but issues of employment, housing, travel – largely become a non-issue.  But, it’s still 10 years until I reach that point…so around 2021.  For details, see:



To learn more, check out:


Thanks Ryan, Bill, Alice, Joe, Barack and others for “changing the odds” for people living with HIV/AIDS in Indiana

A friend of mine, Mike Mather (@rovlist) paraphrased a text by John McKnight (from “The Other Side” magazine) into “Five Rules to Protect Yourself from Being the Agent of the Devil in the Middle of Your Community.”

One of the phrases is: “ask whether we are changing the odds for everyone, or helping a few people beat the odds.”

Five Rules for Community
“Five Rules for Community” Greeting Cards – J. McKnight/M. Mather (commissioned work)


I was diagnosed with HIV in 2012.  I’ve written about my experiences in other posts here – I’m blessed in many ways: by the community of support in my family & friends; in the amazing care I receive from the Damien Center; in the care of my Higher Power throughout my early diagnosis and treatment; in being able to share with my mom days before she passed away that my viral load had quickly been lowered to undetectable…

Today, I want to shine a light on a few people who have changed the odds in Indiana for those of us needing care.  This is the month I get my twice-annual check-up, as well as my new insurance cards from the State.  So, it seems like a fitting time to celebrate these heroes…


Ryan White

When I was first diagnosed, my care co-ordinator shared that Indianapolis, Indiana are one of the best places to receive care because of our history with the disease in the “national spotlight” as well as behind the scenes… She specifically mentioned Ryan White

….an American teenager from Kokomo, Indiana, who became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in the United States, after being expelled from middle school because of his infection. As a hemophiliac, he became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment and, when diagnosed in December 1984, was given six months to live. Doctors said he posed no risk to other students, but AIDS was poorly understood at the time, and when White tried to return to school, many parents and teachers in Kokomo rallied against his attendance…A lengthy legal battle with the school system ensued, and media coverage of the case made White into a national celebrity and spokesman for AIDS research and public education.

[Along with others, Ryan helped to shift the] perception [of the disease by appearing] in the media to advocate for more AIDS research and public education to address the epidemic. The U.S. Congress passed a major piece of AIDS legislation, the Ryan White Care Act, shortly after White’s death. The Act has been reauthorized twice; Ryan White Programs are the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.

Part of my health insurance coverage today is provided by the Ryan White Care Act; and the awareness (and acceptance) in the Hoosier State was dramatically changed by this brave young man.  So thank you, Ryan for being a “John McKnight Hero,” changing the odds for everyone…


Bill Brown

Another part of my health insurance coverage early on was known as ICHIA (Indiana Comprehensive Health Insurance Association).  This vital program “offers insurance for people with health conditions who are unable to buy private health insurance coverage and for people who are HIPAA eligible. “  Being HIPAA eligible in Indiana in 2012, I was “guaranteed the right to buy an individual insurance policy plan from ICHIA and are exempted from pre-existing condition exclusion periods.”

Through this program, people with HIV/AIDS are able to cover the cost of medication ($2500/ month, for the rest of my life…), as well as other comprehensive medical care (medical, dental, vision).  Why is this important: to keep us healthy (low to undetectable viral load and healthy immune systems), and reduce the spread of further infection through education and treatment. 

Healthy: “your CD4 count is in the normal range (500-1500).”  Undetectable “your HIV viral load is undetectable (depends on the test used, but today this means generally <20 copies of the HIV virus / mL of blood).

What does “healthy and undetectable” mean? This means your immune system has not sustained any significant damage yet and your HIV treatment has been effective in reducing your viral load. (for current information, refer to TheBody.com.  Read more here…)

I learned last year that a friend of mine (small world!), Bill Brown, was the Board Chair for ICHIA for many years.  So, Bill and others who fought to ensure this and similar insurance coverage in Indiana are my other “John McKnight Heroes,” changing the odds for everyone…


President Barack Obama

Although programs like Ryan White Assistance, ICHIA, ADAP and many other acronyms I don’t claim to fully understand are / have been important parts of my health insurance coverage (I trust my care coordinator and ask her what I need to do, or refer to TheBody.com…), with the passage of the Affordable Care Actthe landscape has changed.

IN: ICHIA program to end

…With the upcoming availability of health insurance coverage through Exchanges, the ICHIA (Indiana Comprehensive Health Insurance Association) program will be terminated on December 31, 2013.  The Legislature passed HB 1328, and it was signed into law by the Governor…

Although I get into heated debates with my dad about the effectiveness of President Obama, with this act and the ongoing intent of the State of Indiana (led by my two prior heroes!) – I am included in the National Health Plan.  My premiums via “the marketplace” of $400-500/month continue to be paid by the State of Indiana.  For this reason, in addition to Ryan and Bill, I consider President Obama to be a “John McKnight Hero,” changing the odds for everyone…”


Alice Langford

Another hero (and friend, and member of my church!) is Alice Langford.  A recent Indianapolis Star article does her story justice, so I’ll refer you to “A Place At the Table for those who have HIV/AIDS.”

Alice Langford -
Alice Langford greets dinner guests with a hug upon entering her home on dinner evenings. For the last twenty years on the first and third Friday of every month Alice Langford, age 82, has been hosting bimonthly dinners for people who have AIDS or are affected by someone who is HIV positive. (Photo: Frank Espich/The Star) 

Due to her own health, Alice’s home-cooked meal “legacy” came to an end.  We celebrated her years of service to the community at Broadway with a special blessing and recognition (listen to her story here…).  But for this reason (and her dancing at Greg’s / OP’s through the years,), Alice is another “John McKnight Hero,” changing the odds for everyone…”


Joseph Miller

In 2010, I had the fortune of working on a video documentary for the philanthropic work of the Joseph F. Miller Foundation.  Joe Miller had a major impact on the HIV/AIDS community in Indiana.

Joe was generous to a fault when it came to his money. His JF Miller Foundation gave to many charities to champion causes dedicated to AIDS prevention and education, homeless and underprivileged children, and social injustice. He was a founding member of the Indiana Stonewall Democrats, a board chair for Indiana Cares, the nation’s second oldest HIV/AIDS education and prevention organization…and a board member of the Indiana ACLU.

Joe Miller has been making meaningful contributions to dozens of groups since the 1970’s, and his 2005 gift to the Damien Center to underwrite the Joseph F. Miller Center for HIV Testing and Prevention, has played a powerful role in the fight against HIV and AIDS in the central Indiana community…

Unfortunately, shortly after the documentary he commissioned was completed, Joe took his own life.  I’ve written here before about the difference between suicide and depression – in the hopes of educating folks on mental health issues.  Like so many who suffer from some form of mental illness and choose to take their own lives, Joe was a hero who deserves to be remembered for the ways in which he changed the landscape for the HIV/AIDS community.  For that reason, he is one of my “John McKnight Heroes,” changing the odds for everyone…”


There are MANY others I could have mentioned…but I’ll stop here.  Feel free to share your own thoughts, heroes, etc.  And keep Mike and John’s thoughts in mind…

“ask whether we are changing the odds for everyone, or helping a few people beat the odds.”