The Wooden Nickel

once upon a time I thought that simply getting clean and staying clean would be some kind of answer. that it would just some how make life easier. That all I had to do was “play the country song backwards”(get the girl, the dog, the truck, etc…) and life would just be hunky dory. Boy was I mistaken…

When I was working at my first intervention company, when we were slow we would all wheel our chairs by each other to talk and goof off. We were all in our own respects- recovering addicts. So we referred to our down times as “the meetings in between meetings” and this is when we all really bonded and got to know each other. One gentleman that I used to work with and still hold dear to this day, used to talk about life “in nickels”, increments of five years at a time. And he used to always seem to spin it in a negative way, “beware of the nickels”. He would say, or, “I’m approaching my 5,10,15 year Mark’s- so I need to be vigilant because things happen in nickels.” And boy do I understand that now.

I got clean in jail. Most people know that. And I stayed clean in jail, people know that too. And I spent my first clean year in the free world at The Respite House in Valpo. People know that as well. And during my first couple years, in spite of the countless exposure to people in recovery that I had- I really had no idea what living a new life would entail.

My first five years in the free world- my first “Nickel”, for the most part was like a dream come true- to the outsiders looking in that is. And it was, I’m not gonna lie. Although there were hundreds and thousands of hours of hard work involved, it was worth everyone of them. To so many, people watching on Facebook, or Various Social Medias; it may have seemed like I have been on some kind of Rocket Ship headed for the fourth dimension and with very few obstacles along the way. And that is a HUGE problem in today’s society, and especially in the recovery, professional, and social cultures across the globe. We hand pick the happy moments for all to see and we end up viewing the results, and very seldom get to see the pain, suffering, hard work, etc… That goes into creating those happy moments. And this is very dangerous to those who may be struggling in any way- because we as humans have this almost default setting of “judging our insides by others’ outsides”. Ya know, the whole “keeping up with the Joneses type setting”.

But let me be the first one to tell you, in all honesty- There have been times, more so than I care to recall- where I have just wanted to stop. I just wanted to give up. Throw the towel in, and go back out and get high and say fuck it.

Life is fucking hard man. And getting clean and staying clean, is just the beginning. Especially, and from my experience, during the first five years. “Yeah right dude, how fucking hard can it be?” This is coming from the guy who wrote a book, and (Seemingly) turned his life around in no time flat. Must be nice…(I’ve heard it all before, all the way down to Herb must not really be an addict then if he ______) whatever dude. I don’t care.

Yes, God has been very good to me. I have been incredibly blessed and still am today. But I have sacrificed so much in return to make these things happen. Friends, Family, Social Life, Hobbies. You name it. I didn’t do shit for a long time because I was bound, set, and determined to put my head down and get shit done. And I did. * This is some side bar shit now, and Ill get back to the point of the blog here, but I saw a video the other day by a- what appeared to be old (possibly) indian/middle eastern Man, ya know, the old “Shaman/dali llama” type old man- and He was talking about the difference between time and energy. You know, how two equally gifted and talented men or women can have the same amount of time, but one will excel and get more done in a fraction of the time it took the other to- because one put more energy and determination into the same amount of time. Something like that. Well, that’s what I believe I did. In five, almost six years I have experienced some truly amazing things, feelings, accomplishments, and triumphs. But in those same five years, I have experienced some truly awful parts of myself, of others, and been through the most difficult times I could imagine.

They say that you can judge a tree by its fruit. Obviously we know a peach tree, and apple tree, and a coconut tree when we see them, because of the fruit that they bear. So, looking at our lives, it may seem like shits pretty sweet. And it can be. But life sucks sometimes man. I just wanted to not get high any more, and I have accomplished that so far- God Willing. But how fucked up is it, that I can get to this point in my life, And just wanna put a fucking gun in my mouth? Wait What? Yeah, bet people didn’t know that did they?

I always wanted a nice life, Ya know, with all of those “Symbols” that I wrote about earlier? The white picket fence, the beautiful wife, the back yard, the kids, the dogs, the cars, the status. And I have all of those things now. But it’s not about OBTAINING, its about MAINTAINING. And I fucking suck at that most of the time, thank God for my wife and the couple friends that I do have today. I lost 99% of my friends in this process of making something of myself, and that’s okay. The way I see things today, its all about Family more so than friends. But having a couple friends to play golf with is cool too. But anyways. The Symbols, the life, the climb, is wonderful so long as we are taking care of ourselves enough to enjoy them. And not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

They say that we are the age that we started using at- when we get clean. I believe this is called “arrested development”. Meaning that we actually stunt our growth mentally when we start using chemicals and then we don’t resume developing until our brains have a chance to heal and get back to firing the way that their supposed to. And this makes sense, Just ask my wife- She Always says that I’m Immature, and gets mad because She is light years developmentally ahead of me. That I can’t handle an adult conversation. Ugh. Guilty! Well, what do you expect from a guy who used to smoke crack, shoot dope with puddle water and eat out of garbage cans? But I have made some tremendous progress. And that’s what it’s all about right? Progress over perfection. And I have NEVER and will never claim to be perfect. I will never claim to be anything other than what I am. A grown ex/former/recovering addict with a horrible past, trying to grow up, take care of my family, do the best I can and not fuck anyone over in the process. I Just do my best daily to be a good person. Some days I succeed some days I fail. But I stay clean long enough to have another shot at it tomorrow. But I just never could wrap my head around this whole life on lifes terms thing. I was never really exposed to “healthy” Family systems as a kid, adolescent, or young adult. And I had absolutely zero template or example on how to lead a normal healthy life now. I have been kind of learning as I go here, which is what I think they mean when they say “fake it till you make it”. I don’t know if I’m making it or faking it most of the time, but I show the fuck up, and that’s half the battle. But anyways: So I had no clue was I was in for. Just that I wanted to work and be a normal adult. I wanted kids, and still do. And I love my life. But life on life’s terms- especially during this first nickel is tough man. And if I’m comparing my own outsides with my own insides; translated into the idea of a Nickel- the idea of a monetary item- then that fucking nickel aint worth the paper its printed on. And what I mean by that, is that the internal- the life lessons. The growth. The tears. the pain. The sleepless nights. Having to overdraft a bank account to pay a bill. A custody battle. Crying in the shower so no one sees me- only to come down stairs with a big smile and help clean the house or take the kids somewhere fun. Bills, mortgage, court, kids. Its fucking awful most of the time, but that is whats worth the most. That is how we grow and learn. The good times, the happy moments on Facebook, are hand selected and few and far between. Yes, overall my life is awesome and I praise God every day for it. But there were times, on my way to this very moment, where I actually just wanted to Divorce my wife, take my Dog, leave the house, and run away from it all. I told you I would be honest in the beginning and I am now. But I ended up in a very dark place for a while man, All of these incredible blessings coming down upon us, from out tireless hard work, and all I could do was think about hanging myself. Kids are difficult man. No one will test your will to go on, or your patience or your moral compass like kids. Especially in a mixed house hold. They don’t appreciate shit, and they want everything. They have no concept of money, time, work, sacrifice, etc. But that’s their innocence showing and I would never rob them of that. But Fuck it itsnt a pain in the ass sometimes. And I always vow to give them, show them, and teach them all of the things and Ideas that I never was. And life itself man. Is hard. I realized a long time that no one was going to make it for me. So I was on my own. And that itself is a gift and a curse. Yes, the older I get the freer I feel, but at the same time man, fuck. These bills dont stop, and the kids keep growing up. And the wife…well I’m Just gonna say that I am the most blessed man on earth when it comes to her. She has carried me through some shit. You have no idea and she has put up with some shit from me that she definitely didnt have to. I have broken down in ways I didn’t think were possible and it is humiliating to me to think about. But I am human and the past isnt changing, so all we can do is learn and keep going.

Back in 2014, I was right at 9 months clean when my mother died. And I INSTANTLY got high. It was fucking awful and I didnt stop using until I got arrested.

Well, with almost 6 years this time, I lost the most important person of my entire life. My older brother Josh. He is, was, and always will be- the Male figure in my life. He is my role model. He is my biggest supporter, cheerleader, and my life long best friend. He died from COVID at the age of 41. This has been the most tragic and devastating event of my entire life. And I didnt use. And I didnt want to. But I did have the thought that maybe, just maybe, ONE would help take the edge off, help ease the pain a little bit. And to be honest, it would have. But why would I honestly consider poisoning myself, when Me being clean was one the things that my brother was proudest about? That’s insanity. So I didn’t. But God does my heart ache and break constantly that he is gone….

Kids. Bills. Dogs. Dog food. Gas. Picture day. Spirit day. The kids always want something and never appreciate anything. Cleaning. Weekends. Grocery shopping. Cutting the Grass. Cooking dinner. Painting fucking everything with chalk paint. Not having friends. Not having a life. Being diagnosed with depression- Having all of these wonderful humans in my life and all of these wonderful things, but not being able to enjoy shit. Just kind of going through the motions. Being put on an SSRI, which was a game changer for me and now I feel so much better and in love with life again, just in time for my brother to die unexpectedly. *FUCK* This is life.

This is REAL LIFE. This is not what I got clean for. But its what we get. We get the Real. The whole thing. The ups and downs. The ebs and flows. The good and the bad. The laughter and the tears. This is my first nickel. And it is not the happy times, it is not the Good that has made me into to the man that I am this morning. Its the fires. It’s the tears. It’s the pain.

My grama used to tell me the parable of the silver smith. How God would refine us in the fires, pull us out and remove the slag, then put us back in. And he would repeat this process- knowing that silver was pure ONLY- when the silver smith could see his reflection in it.

And I think thats it. I think thats life. Thats recovery.

I used to think that Life and recovery would be this magic carpet ride of happiness and bliss. But it has been that, plus shit. And that’s what its all about man. Surviving the lows, and celebrating the highs. Putting as much energy into the time that were given, to enrich the lives of others and ourselves, to leave a lasting legacy for others to exemplify and carry on in our memory and break negative cycles and turn them into beautiful ones. Just like my older brother did.

My first five years in the free world clean?: If I’m comparing the internal growth and conflict to the external success? hasn’t been worth the metal it was stamped on. It is because of the relationships that I have with God, my wife, and my family that I have been able to survive myself, life, and its circumstances to THEN achieve the things that we have. We are forged in the fires, and we shine when the slag is removed and we reflect the one who made us. Everyhing else is just symbols and bullshit.

The first five years has been truly bittersweet.

jokingly, like a wooden nickel.


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