VULNERABILITY SUCKS…but it’s also the “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had a friend staying with us who is in early recovery from addiction. It’s been refreshing to talk with him about his new pair of glasses through which he sees himself. It’s also been challenging and rewarding because it’s caused me to look in the mirror and reflect on where I am today, vs. my own early days of recovery. And it’s been reenergizing to learn some fresh perspectives on addiction and recovery. For all of this I’m grateful.

One of the best insights he has given me is how he spends his free time. He doesn’t watch much TV. He plays some games on his iphone for fun. But he also listens to inspirational and motivational speakers from TedTalks and other sources, including audio books. He fills his mind with positive, sometimes game changing ways of thinking about self, community, and the world.

One of the speakers and authors he introduced us too is Brené Brown. Her insights into fear, shame and vulnerability are nothing short of game changing, particular how she ties them to addiction, depression, anxiety and other ills that plague our world today…ills that plague me today.

I’ve included two of her powerful TedTalks. Please, take time to listen to these…

Where these have touched me today have to do with being an entrepreneur – a small business person. Because for me, much of this is new… I was raised by parents who “worked for the man” in large corporations or universities…being a small business owner is new for me… Making a living as a creative photographer and technical consultant is all about change and innovation as I figure out my brand, my unique niche…  Honestly, it’s scary as hell…  (there’s my vulnerability for today…)

I have so much fear of failure, and fear of success, that sometimes I’m paralyzed. And I have failed. Many times. Just today, I was frustrated with a project that has been full of challenges, mistakes, and research…and also one from which I’m learning a lot. If I had been counting, I’ve had at least 27 bumps in the road… But my reaction too often is “I’ve failed…” or worse, “I’m a failure.” (there’s my shame for today…”

This afternoon, I threw up my hands in frustration and said “I quit.”

Then, I was reminded of her TedTalk on shame that I had just watched last night. (Oh, how soon we forget…) Brené reminds me of some truths I’m wrestling with as I throw my hands up and quit...(ok, so I won’t quit…)  

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.

You know why [TedTalks] is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on the stage, so far that I’ve seen, has not failed. I’ve failed miserably, many times. I don’t think the world understands that, because of shame.”

Brené Brown

So, I guess it’s time for me to put on my big girl panties, put this Edison quote up on my wall, and get back to that damn project. Because I haven’t failed 27 times… This is just a “creative process with 27+ steps…”

As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Here are the two TedTalks I mentioned.  Enjoy…you’ll be uncomfortable and may even want to stop midway through.  But, I promise you – she has powerful (and funny!) insights to share. So please make some time to listen to her…

People can change…why faith is their bottom line and telling our story is so vital to changing public perception…

President Obama’s speaking engagement at the National Drug Abuse Summit this week in Atlanta has created a week-long focus on our national opioid painkiller abuse epidemic, among other recovery and/or substance abuse related topics.

A friend of mine, Kim Manlove, was invited to be on the original panel of some 40 speakers from around the country. President Obama was a recent “surprise”addition to the stage, joining a panel with Sanjay Gupta, an ER doctor and two people in recovery from addiction. 

Amazing conversation with President Obama at this year’s National Summit on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse

Making in-roads on all cylinders, on all fronts…

Doctors resist new painkiller prescribing procedures

Several stories on or related to the topic are floating around this week’s new cycle:

The first news piece outlines new procedural recommendations as well as mentions the availability of a national database to assist doctors in discovering potential abuse signs. Although I’m sure it will take doctors a little more time in their already busy routines to add these checks and balances, I believe it’s worth it.  And, let’s be clear – this is not an easy or perfect “silver bullet.”  But, it seems to me if we’re going to make inroads to eradicating this epidemic, we have to hit on all fronts, on all cylinders and try anything and everything we can to turn the tide…

I believe every citizen of our country is worth it.

I believe every person in our neighborhood is worth it.

I believe anyone in our family is worth it.

I believe even the “outcast” and the person “on the fringes” of “society” is worth it.


Like Edison, we may need to try 10,000 ways that won’t work in order to find a couple that might work…


I know Bob S.’s friend’s grandson is worth it.

I know my mother was worth it.

I know I’m worth it.

This is no longer a war on drugs…it’s a war FOR recovery!
Treatment works!  Recovery works!

Our new “recovery czar” Michael Botticelli coined this shift in language as one of many ways to start to change perception, to shift our emphasis and to reduce stigma in America. He is the FIRST person in this position (formerly known as “drug czar”) who is a person in long-term recovery.

His story is powerful…

A frank conversation on recovery, the so-called “war on drugs” and other important topics –  between two individuals in long-term recovery

As in war, some are fighting to maintain control,
their position of power,
the status quo…

Rather than own their own part of the sidewalk, and work in tandem with, and not against, our government allies, the industry lobbyists are having a field day this week.  They are reacting in full force against the government’s meddling in their sphere of control and power. Whoops, I meant influen$e…my apologies.  [sarcasm duly noted, for clarity]

One reaction, from the American Pharmacists Association (APA) on their Facebook page, starts with a question (and then force feeds us their opinion as the one any only answer):

Health officials are calling on physicians to use new painkiller prescribing procedures designed to prevent the abuse, misuse and death from taking high-risk and addictive drugs. However, some physicians say new process is burdensome. What, if any, impact would these new procedures have on pharmacists?

Thanks, but I’ll look more deeply and more broadly before I form my opinion…

On an individual level,
it’s still easy to oversimplify the issue,
to deny one another’s humanity…

It feels like this week is “three steps forward” in some areas, and two steps back in others….

Having said that, I stumbled across several painfully sincere comments about “druggies and dealers” among the online comments following one of the articles I included in an earlier section.

One of the commentators believes the following “is at play…”

…I started having chronic pain over 10 years ago and the tears from the pain flow daily. No one really cares. They are too worried about the druggies and dealers, so who has time and enough compassion to help those in real pain??? NO one !!!

~ Tina Dinnler, Facebook

My summary of the theme across many of the comments is:

…the medical community has influenced our government leaders to put the interests, safety and needs of “druggies and dealers” before that of other [more well-deserving] citizens [higher on the social ladder] who have valid life-changing medical pain and needs.

my summary interpretation from the article and comments regarding the new recommended prescribing procedures, from the APA’s Facebook page [sarcasm duly noted, for clarity]

Of course, the commentator is one of those more valuable citizens to which she refers. And her needs or the needs of people like herself are far more valuable than anyone else’s (especially the bottom feeders of our pristine, Puritan-like society) — the “druggies and dealers.” 


How easy it is to label, then dismiss.

We all do it at one time or another.  We turn our backs on our fellow human being.  We observe a behavior, and quickly assign motive, intention and eventually blame. We avoid owning our side of the sidewalk and cleaning it up as and when necessary, and instead direct everyone’s attention, sometimes cleverly and with great intention and manipulation, to the other side of the street.  Thus, nobody ever sees us as human.

And, we can therefore deny another’s humanity.


How easy it is to give up.

It’s easy to say people can’t change, because it protects our emotions, our heart, our vulnerable nature as caring, compassionate and trusting beings. If we say people can’t change, we somehow feel safer…and we don’t have to look at our own “shit.”  At least for now…eventually, we all hit our own “bottom” of despair…we start to lose hope…

Without hope, there is no trust…and without trust, there is no faith.

And without faith, there is no love.


How easy it is to give up on love.

And without love, there is no hope for change.

People can change…

Like many “druggies and dealers,” I have a past.

Like many “druggies and dealers,”  I have a story.

My story of early recovery in 2010

Todd, most of us don’t make it…

I’ll always remember those somber words from my first sponsor.

When I echoed his words back incorrectly with a naive “yea, I see what you mean…many of us don’t make it,” he corrected me with firmness and importance “No, Todd – most of us don’t make it…”

Like most, my roommate at Fairbanks Michael B didn’t make it….
Like most, my mother didn’t make it, dying alone on the floor of her family room…
Like most, a friend and former using buddy of mine Graham didn’t make it…

Like some, a friend and former dealer Jake did make it…
Like Jake, I’m making it…but only one day at a time.

Like Michael B.’s father questioned me on the phone, can people change?
Like my mother, most of us don’t want to change…
Like Graham, some of us want to change…but lose the battle to chance…

Like Jake has shown his two toddlers, born after he got clean, that people can change…
Like Jake, I’ve started to change…after almost 5 years of playing with chance…

Center for Disease Control clock of prescription drug and Heroin deaths so far this calendar year


Like her grandson who will get out of jail in May…
He will faces his own opioid and heroin addiction as a homecomer

he will need love, trust, faith…

and a home where people care about him.

Together, let’s keep him from becoming number 6,893…

Trust, Faith, and Coming Home…

People CAN change…

You already have a home.
Right here.
You have people that care about you.

Even when there isn’t trust, there’s always faith.
Faith that whatever the other is doing, it’s for a good reason.
As long as he has faith in me, I’ll faith in him…

Hey, hun…your trust is too important to me…

I have faith in you…just like mom had faith in me…

This is an angel from from my mom’s garden. She sits up in the rafters of our porch, looking down on those who come and go from our house watching over us with peace, love and light.  I love you mom.  I will also be your little boy.

A gay engagement breakfast at Tiffany’s – our ‘aha’ moment at sea!

Part One

I returned this week from an amazing seven-day cruise – relaxing, entertaining and fun. It was also particularly special because I proposed to my boyfriend on Day #2. I joked with another couple on the cruise beforehand that I’d either be the happiest man on the ship…or be looking for a cabin/couch to “crash on” for the rest of a VERY awkward vacation!

Fortunately, “he said YES!”

So, the roses that were waiting for us as part of the ship’s “romance package” didn’t go to waste…  

The dinner at the Italian restaurant was both delicious and romantic; I found the “right moment” to transition on to one knee and ask Brandon to “take our relationship to the next level!” (Yep, I’m a hopeless romantic, and wanted this to be memorable!)

In traditional terms, it was an engagement proposal to marriage – and was very memorable and meaningful for us both!

Just so you don’t get the impression this was a “storybook” unfolding of events, it came with a VERY stressful lead up to the dinner because of a hasty “last minute” read on my part about the detailed arrangements included in our romance package and dinner reservation…

Yes, I messed up – “life happens” as they say,
and I went from “0 to bi&%^” in about 2.3 seconds!

Thankfully, Brandon gently “led me” through my pre-dinner meltdown to  a heartfelt “moment of truth”
(aka ‘come to Jesus’ session) on the ship’s aft stairwell,
helping me to regain some perspective.
(One of the many reasons I love this man…)

What he didn’t fully know at that moment was…
…I had hidden motives for wanting everything to be PERFECT!

Thankfully, I humbly walked through grace
to accept the wisdom of the Serenity prayer…  

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…
and the courage to bust someone’s ass if they get in my way

Well, something to that effect…

Honestly, this prayer is one of the most powerful tools I learned during my recovery and I’m grateful Brandon helped me “return to center…” because the rest of the evening, thankfully, was PERFECT!

Part Two

Fast forward from “YES” to our aha moment!

We enjoyed the rest of the cruise together, along with a short visit to Miami afterwards. During that time, we found simple “engagement rings” to wear until we figured out the timing and specifics of our wedding. Without thinking much about it, we bought matching rings on one of the islands, and went on about celebrating life, love and our engagement.

I have to admit, it was pretty cool.  I understand the “power of a moment” – shared between us, as well as with others both on and off the ship.

We had people on the ship, who “witnessed the event on bended knee,” who congratulated us on our engagement.

We showed others on the islands and in Miami our rings, proudly announcing that we had gotten engaged aboard NCL’s Getaway and were looking to “get married” sometime in 2016. We even posted a couple of pictures on Facebook about our news during a brief “wired session” at an internet café on St. Thomas, as well as via the ship’s “onboard postcard” iSnap booth. Like any “young couple in love,” we were giddy with excitement and glad to share our news.

Side note: I’m sure I’m not the first guy who ‘jumped the gun’ by sharing his news via Facebook…and upsetting some family members in my haste. We were both so wrapped up in the excitement and – as you’ll see this unchartered territory – that we didn’t even think about “how to share the news” with family.  This was made more complicated by limited phone service / internet access on our cruise.  But, all excuses aside, regrettably and understandably, I ruffled some feathers And it was all my fault – I screwed up.  Argh.  I’m sorry!  I hope to mend those bridges soon, and get things off to a better start with some of his family…  

but for now, let’s get back to the fun part of the story!)

He said YES!
He said YES!
Our "Sugarmoon" kiss!
Our “Sugarmoon” kiss!
Rings to prove it...
Rings to prove it!  (But…what is “it” exactly?!)

We got some questions along the way, as you might expect…

Fortunately, the response from friends, family (and strangers who’d listen!) has been 110% positive.

One man I spoke with whom I spoke on the ship is a strong Christian. Admittedly, I was a little weary of how he might respond given my bias/prejudice at times towards the more conservative right.  Of course that’s my “shit” – my baggage – my “narrative” based on some events in my past. But more often than not, my fear of rejection and shame is usually unrealized – as it was in this case.  The man spoke of marriage as a “visible celebration of a couple’s love for one another” and could see that as worthy for anyone in love – gay, straight, bi, Thai…  How healing that conversation was for me, given my own lingering shame and internalized homophobia (on which I’ve written here before…)

But the question we probably weren’t ready for was
“Did you guys get married too?”

Huh?  What?  Married?!

It struck us both as a little odd – though given our reality, we could understand how some might think we jumped head on into this and tied the knot right away!

But it still “ate at me” a little – like “really, do you think we’d elope?!” (putting it in traditional terms) right there on the Norwegian Getaway!?!

Of course, that would be ok…but it started to reveal a deeper truth – giving us insight into a “new era” in LGBT relationships that, at least for us, was playing out for the first time.  Like much of my “coming out,” there are few role models for us to look towards.  That’s both exciting and scary at times!  Let me explain…

Gay marriage has been “in the spotlight” for several years, as countries across the world have been evolving into accepting the reality that gay couples deserve to be recognized just like straight couples.  Setting aside any religious or faith-based aspects of a ceremony, there are some very real, practical benefits to being legally married.  (And, some real, practical risks as well!  To death do us part…)

However, what we’ve largely seen (at least what I’ve largely seen…) are “existing couples,” many of whom have been living and loving together for years, formalizing what most of their family and friends already know and accept.  They may have been in a “domestic partnership” (legally) – but marriage is only a recent option for many (at least in parts of the US). So, there’s been, if you will, a “backlog” of marriages, where folks are simply are simply catching up to where they could have, should have been all along.  It’s like playing Monopoly – they were able to pass through “Go!” without collecting $200…they had essentially “already been there, done that” but now had the “marriage T-shirt” to show for it!

Grand Marriage Equality Wedding Event

But, what about the “rest of us!” who are still in the courting, dating phases of our LGBTQ relationships…who are weighing the spiritual, societal, physical, emotional and financial “benefits” of “popping the question” and taking our relationships to the “next level…” – from “dating” to “engagement” – a step that traditionally comes with an engagement ring.

But, our path is far from traditional!

For many of us, myself included – at 46! – we’ve never even thought about the possibility of getting engaged (in the traditional sense), because it was never an option!  Like much of our “coming out stories,” this is new territory…something for which most straight men and women are prepared, and perhaps “take for granted.”

As we thought about this more, we started to realize that the question “did you guys get married, too?” was coming from the “traditional frame of reference,” because we had “shown the world” our two rings!  And this would normally symbolize marriage!  Wow!  Aha!  Now I get it…wow!

Part Three

Now we’re faced with more questions than answers!

After all, what do you do when a man proposes to another man?  Who gets the ring?  Do both get a ring?  How do our “engagement rings” compare to or evolve to our “wedding bands?” Does one wear the ring on the right hand, or the left hand?   Do we start with the right, then switch when we get married to the left?

So many questions…so it was time to Google!

Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time
Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time

And the results only underscored our personal “aha! moment!  And thankfully, we’re not alone!

This is unchartered territory (for us at least) – and for many others.

Our society is “getting used to” gay marriage, and I believe it’s only a question of time before all States in the US recognize it (at least on paper).  We’ve “broken the race” barrier and (finally) elected a Black President.  African-American parents no longer have to raise their kids, telling them “you’re smart, you’re kind, you’re important” – and can be or do anything you want in this life….except become President.

It’s only a question of time before parents will also be able to give their children guidance on engagement and marriage, whether that be gay, straight, or bi!

This was emphasized at the start of our cruise, when I read about the White House’s brief to the US Supreme Court, outlining why the various State bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional.  We even referenced the 36-page brief as we shared our news – not realizing that as that reality “settles in” to our collective conscience, we now have this new pre-cursor as well…

“Gay Engagement!”

As with much of our narrative, there are no rules – no traditions.  For better or worse, it’s up to the couple to create our own traditions, our own reality.  Of course, in doing so, sometimes, we will either have to explain or clarify things to others, who may see things (as they have) through their own filters, their own “traditions.”

But I’m ok with that…as is my fiancé!

Hmmm…I do like the ring of that…pun intended!

I’ll close with a collection of links I found from my Google search on “gay engagement.”

Thanks for walking with us from “YES” to “aha!”

 May we all continue to inspire each other to greater understanding, peace and health.

Gay Engagement