A couple of months ago I wrote a living eulogy which was actually a lot of fun to write, and in that I said I really only wanted one “gift” if I died young. I wanted somebody to pay for my website hosting until all my kids got old enough to appreciate their father’s words. Kind of an odd request, right? Not even a little bit.
I just think this idea of blogging this past year, of essentially keeping a public journal of addiction recovery and sobriety and dreams and regrets and rediscovering life and even some topics that do nothing more than allow me to rant a little bit, has been absolutely amazing, even if my kids are the only ones to ever really value my words. For them to be able to sit back one day and visit my blog and just immerse themselves in a gigantic piece of their father, well, it just puts a smile on my face. They might never miss me or they might miss me every single day, and regardless of the frequency, I’m always right there at the click of a button. I just think that’s so cool.
One reason I will never regret putting my life out there and publicly admitting that I’m an addict is because I never want my children to live a lie. There are plenty more reasons, of course, especially that amazing fact that I have actually made an impact on at least a few people’s lives by telling my story, but living in a chronic lie, whether they are lying to themselves or to their loved ones, is one thing I pray my children never find necessary. Or, as was the case for me, living a collection of lies.
But now, for the first time in my life, I am not living a lie, and I have to tell you that it is the most amazing feeling in the entire world. I don’t have to lie about alcohol anymore because I don’t even crave it. There’s no more hiding beer in the most asinine of places. There’s no more daily fights with my wife. There are no more days where addiction leads my mental health down a very dark path. I still suffer a little depression from time to time, but I can handle it now.
I was also a lover of Kodiak smokeless tobacco, and the other day I caught myself rubbing my tongue on the outside of my teeth into that “pocket” of my jaw on both sides where I used to keep dip. I literally smiled when I caught myself doing it. I was driving down the road on the way home from work, a time when the “me” of two and a half years ago would have been spitting nasty brown stuff in a cup all the way home from work, and I smiled because I didn’t miss it. Like AT ALL!! It was amazing. And then I stuffed two M&M’s in my face.
I admit that I still struggle with food on a near daily basis. And if it’s not food, it’s sweet tea. I could literally drink a gallon a day if I had it available to me all day. But even though I’m 20-25 pounds heavier than I was the day I got sober, I know I am mentally strong enough to one day live a “forever” diet. If a man can quit drinking and dipping on the same damn day, food should be easy.
And yet it’s not. The biggest hurdle is mental because after food, what is the replacement addiction? I mean, I’m already a workaholic. On Monday of this week, I literally worked from 6:00 a.m. to just after 11:00 p.m. With no break. And I barely ate. I simply drank half a gallon of sweet tea during the second half of the day.
But being a workaholic is not a consumption addiction like the rest, and I still don’t know how to fill that void of not consuming an addictive substance (and yes, sugar and caffeine are both highly addictive.) But I know I CAN do it, and since I’m not hoarding Snickers bars in shoes or filling water bottles with sweet tea to hide around the garage like I used to with the beer, it doesn’t cause me to live a lie. I’m hiding NOTHING from my wife and family. It might seem meaningless to you, but to me, that’s pretty dadgum cool.
But here’s the thing. Addiction isn’t the only way we lie to ourselves and our loved ones. For those of us who have been affected by addiction, it’s simply the worst. But it’s most definitely not the only way.
In the ten years prior to getting sober, I quit dreaming, and that’s a pretty big deal for a guy who was born a dreamer. If that is not the epitome of lying to oneself, it was only surpassed in my life by lies borne of addiction. It took sobriety to show me that refusing to become the person you were born to be is one step shy of throwing in the towel altogether.
And the reason that is so? Because if you stop being the person you know you were meant to be, who the hell are you? I would imagine that person spending the rest of their lives trying to find the person that deep down they already knew. People always talk about “reinventing themselves,” but I’m skeptical of that. I think the person they finally became was there all along, and I think that person always wanted to become this reinvented version of themselves. They simply had an epiphany and said, “Screw it, I no longer care what the world thinks; this is who I was meant to be.”
Me? I was a dreamer. I dreamed of being a professional baseball player, a professional basketball player, a professional golfer, a famous singer, an acclaimed novelist, a motivational speaker, and the list could stretch the length of this page. Those last ten years of drinking, all I dreamed about was getting remarried and stopping all my addictions, or that death would simply kill those dreams altogether. But I thought those first two – the marriage and the sobriety – would not only precede death, but I thought they would happen simultaneously. I was wrong. I had to almost lose the new marriage first. But I’m so damn glad I woke up and saved it. Once again, it’s just so cool to finally wake up, even if I slept til life’s version of early afternoon.
As I’ve aged, to be “famous” isn’t so much the goal of the dreams anymore. I think it has more to do with being someone meaningful. I’m still searching for contentment, and I’m getting closer, but I think one step towards that goal is to make my life feel like it has more meaning.
When I decided I was meant to be a teacher, I did it because I knew I would be great at it. Young people gravitated towards me, they talked to me, they understood my awful jokes, they knew I understood them, heck, my daughter’s little elementary school friends absolutely LOVED me and she even loved that they did until she hit middle school and became embarrassed so very badly by me being the goofy dad that always tried to impress her friends.
But to say teaching has made me content with my life is taking it a bit too far. It’s added meaning, but I have to stop short of saying it’s added contentment. There’s simply more to my life than my job, and for two and a half years of sobriety, I just couldn’t put my finger on why this didn’t help my goal of true contentment (if that’s even possible.) And ya’ll, I truly love teaching. It was my calling. But it has not created a proclamation within me that screams, “I am now content with my life!!”
But what IS cool is that there were times in those first five years of teaching – because they coincided with the LAST five years of drinking – that teaching probably saved my life. It wasn’t just the fact that getting up at 6:00 a.m. meant I needed to consider the severity of my hangovers, it also helped knowing I was doing something important and meaningful with my life.
It also meant I wasn’t completely lying to myself anymore. I was born to teach, and not doing so would have been lying to myself. Now after doing it for eight years, I’m not sure I was born to do it for 30 years, but I was supposed to teach for a little while. I know that. It has also shown me that in many ways, I feel too constrained in a classroom all day. I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something more. I’m still supposed to be helping kids and making their journey through life a little smoother and more meaningful and I’m most definitely supposed to be motivating the ones who struggle, but there are far too many days that I feel like a babysitter ten times more than I feel like a teacher.
And for those unaware, teaching carries with it numerous hats that are all just as important as delivering the curriculum. You’re a motivator, a life coach, a psychiatrist, a bouncer, a judge, a Dr. Phil, an Oprah, an Ellen, and even a Simon Cowell. But as I’ve entered my eighth year in the classroom, I feel like most days I’m stuck wondering why I’m just a glorified babysitter of kids that have no idea how to be students and could not give a rat’s ass if I’m there or not.
In other words, it’s been a good run, and I don’t really know where the end is yet, whether it’s next year or ten years from now, but I’m done lying to myself. My teaching career probably has an expiration date. Last year was my toughest year in the classroom. By a mile. With two days left in the spring semester, nearly 50 out of 82 students were failing. I was so sick of the chronic and contagious apathy that most days I would find myself at my desk at the end of the day completely exhausted and deflated saying, “I’ve tried everything; literally everything. I just don’t know what else to do.”
It may not be the most physically taxing job in the world, but teaching 82 kids, about 80% of whom live in poverty, is one of the most mentally disruptive jobs on the planet. It’s flat hard. In other words, I’m not done with education. I never will be. That’s where my heart is. But my days in the classroom might be numbered. The dreamer in me just needs to explore a little to see where my passion for education might land.
And it’s pretty cool that I recognize all of that at a young enough age to do something about it. And herein lies my exploration.
I knew when I was 19 years old and interning for the summer at a congressional office in Washington DC that I would run for political office one day. Politics just fired me up in ways nothing else could. It’s kinda weird looking back on that summer now, though. I remember less about the politics and more about the drinking. It was already having a dulling effect on my dreams, even well before I realized I was a problem drinker. I got a fake ID from a dude on the street in Georgetown early that summer. I drank a lot in DC. It was awesome. It was also a glimpse at what was to come. And now it’s come full circle. And the drinking is no longer awesome.
My dad was on the school board in Johnston County in the mid-90’s. My granddad was the mayor of Four Oaks for nearly forty years. My great grandfather was a state representative in the ‘30’s. It seems it’s just in my blood.
What was NOT in my blood was my obligation to join them in the Democratic Party, a party my father has also since left to become unaffiliated for reasons that no doubt differ from my own. It was never one thing so much as it was my desire to see and understand the other side, a side that has slowly become a lot more than just “the other side” to me, and after more than a decade unaffiliated, I’ve spent so much time trying to understand both sides that I simply found that most of the answers to most of the issues reside right smack dab in the middle.
But to find those answers, you MUST understand and empathize with both sides of the political spectrum. I don’t think you can truly call yourself unaffiliated unless you know what it means to be affiliated. And it sure helps to understand it to such a degree that you will never again BE affiliated. And it ABSOLUTELY helps to understand that it doesn’t require a party to be a decent human being and want the best for every single person in this country, no matter how much they differ from me.
To me, political parties do nothing more than give us the boundaries to our divisive issues. It’s almost like saying, “We could go this far right and completely please 30% of the population, we could go this far left and completely please 30% of the population, or we could find a place in the middle, where most people would be pleased and all people couldn’t really bitch too much.
Over the last several years, we’re starting to see some chatter in that direction, even though the screams that drown out the chatter are malignantly divisive. It’s only on social media, but that chatter is there. Our politicians don’t attempt a centrist position, however; the media sometimes tries to report unbiased stories – and they are capable of doing so from time to time – but their livelihood is in you watching or clicking, so they have to be provocative to earn eyeballs. Being rationally in the middle is boring.
But to me it is the most amazing kind of boring I could ever imagine. It can be transformative if you love politics, not only for yourself, but for how you view our country in these troubling times. And for me, as the years progressed and I sought to really understand what unaffiliated meant to me, getting sober helped me see it so much clearer and so much more realistically because suddenly I realized how apathetic I had become towards something I used to care so much about.
And I kept saying to myself, “I think most people are like me. I think they say they are Democrat or Republican simply because that’s what they’ve always been. I think most people want decency and unity and compromise with their government so long as freedom and liberty are protected, but since they’ve always associated with a party, they’ve never challenged themselves to see if it’s still required of them. So what if they sat down and really did an inventory of who they are politically? I think most people would be just like me.”
Soon this feeling turned into the rekindling of a dream I first had 23 years ago, but making dreams come true requires action, so with the twinkling of this long suppressed dream, I was soon tethered to fear, and that meant I was lying to myself. Again.
So here I sit, a week after I announced that I am running for the North Carolina House of Representatives, and I am free. I have no more lies. I’m finally living exactly the life I want to live. I have a mutually incredible marriage with a wife that most of time actually adores me (and I her,) I have three kids who I usually adore (we’re being honest here; the two little ones can be quite annoying at times,) I have a job that I was meant to do (if only for a little while,) and now I have a dream that I rekindled from the memory of a boy who did nothing BUT dream, and I am finally living the life that I want to live.
I actually do care what people think about me – I’m human, after all – and the fear of what “they” might say gave me my biggest reservations about taking this plunge, but “they” didn’t stop me, and I am immensely proud of that. Running for office and losing the election never bothered me even a little bit. If I ran the right way, I knew I would forever be proud of that.
What scared me was always what “they” would say. But dreamers dream and good dreamers take action, and for the first time in more than a decade, I took action. It meant I took a twenty year detour, and it meant I was all the way back.
How cool is that? I’m back. Win or lose, how effin’ cool is that?