April 6, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’m always wary when people ask me certain questions, ones which I know are designed to elicit a stock answer so the questioner can begin his or her pitch. For instance, “Have you ever dreamed of being rich?” Or “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or “Did you know the World Trade Center Towers collapsed at free-fall acceleration rates?”

These questions always lead to awkward conversational silence, since I don’t want to get involved in a pyramid scheme, debate the meaning of “born again” or discuss conspiracy theories about 9/11. Call me close-minded, but such conversations lead me to my worst self—the one that enjoys debating these issues. As with drugs and alcohol, I must steer away from heated debate over nothing.

A variant on this conversational tack is when people start explaining life by way of quantum mechanics. The explainer, typically someone who dropped out of high school chemistry when it got confusing, uses quantum physics to explain everything from stain removal to why he’s late on the rent. Noted wise man and wise guy Richard Feynman said, “I think I can safely say no one understands quantum mechanics,” but Feynman never met the guy who uses quantum mysticism to explain some New Age nonsense.

There, I’ve laid down warning markers.  And now I’ll probably violate them.

Lucy, the dog many of you miss, and I went out for a long walk first thing this morning. As often happens on these walks, I find a creative spot in my mind and hunker down there. Don’t ask me why or how, but that part of my brain feels like the sun coming through the window at my grandmother’s house, warming just me as I lie on the floor playing solitaire.

This morning’s creative vision had to do with the pandemic and its effect on time, or at least my experience of time. When Hope was a physical spot, when I drove into work and did things and wrote emails and talked with people, time felt like a stream of water coming out of a garden hose. The stream varied, of course, but generally the flow was comfortable, slow enough to drink from but fast enough to fill a child’s backyard pool eventually. Coronavirus has changed that for me.

Now, each day feels like its own drop, not part of a stream but a self-contained bead. Some part of me misses the stream of events, but at my best moments I really enjoy the chance to live each day for its own sake, to taste every food I eat, listen to each sound the universe sends me, touch every person I (virtually) contact. I know from the minute I entered recovery people have suggested I slow down, live in the moment, experience life. This pandemic has given me the chance to do just that, and you can grab that chance too. Really. Try to live the rest of today as if you were not guaranteed a tomorrow.

A long time ago I was in a production of “Our Town,” one of my favorite plays of the last century. In it, the female lead has died and has one more chance to experience life before departing for eternity. Her soliloquy on her return to the grave sums this notion up well: 

Oh, earth you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?

Please try to realize, to experience, to live the drop of water that is today.

And with a little bit of luck, you’ll be one day older tomorrow.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
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April 5, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Here in During the Pandemic, we don’t have all that much to anticipate. I mean, I still look forward to the weekends, even though they don’t taste all that much different than weekdays—maybe slightly less aspirin aftertaste. I visualize sunny days, although this week I’ve thought clear skies are just the after-effects of a fever dream. Still, I’ve spent too much time trying to play my hand and too little trying to figure out what’s in the cards. Until now. Tuesday, April 7, at 12:30, you and you and, especially, you are invited to the best party since . . . well, at least since Hope had to close its doors three weeks ago.

This lunch is informal—shirts are required and if you’re going to stand up so are pants. Just join Hope staff and members for a meal and some community.

If you’re frightened of either magic or tickets, you don’t have to click above. You can use this link: 
Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/744943683

If you can’t make next Tuesday, but would like to be part of similar gatherings in the future, please send me a suggested date (keith.howard@recoverynh.org) and we’ll make it happen. After all

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
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April 4, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

A few days ago I talked about the Land of Before (say, three weeks ago), the journey across During (where we are now) and the land of After (what life will be like when Coronavirus has ceased to keep us locked down in our homes). My focus in the earlier letter was on our voyage across During, and how the ways we treat each other on this journey will help create the After we will inhabit.

Today, I’ve been thinking about After, particularly as it relates to recovery and the way we support each other once we arrive. For the 12 years I was in recovery in Before, recovery was passed on like a positive virus, primarily through extensive face-to-face contact with others. Whether your pathway was SMART, a 12-Step program, Three Principles or Recovery Dharma, a commonality was the gathering of like-minded folks to learn from each other, encourage one another and sometimes critique one another.

I am not a prophet or soothsayer (duh). Still, a couple years ago I was quoted in a piece out of the Addiction Policy Forum:

“Recovery is a socially-transmitted disease,” says Keith Howard, Hope for New Hampshire Recovery’s executive director. “It’s communicable through friendship, kindness, attention and love. Humans are designed to live in a community, and that’s what Hope tries to offer the sick and suffering—the power of peer-based support.”

The source of that power has always been found in one alcoholic or addict looking into the eyes of another and saying, with truth and empathy, “I know you. You know me. I know your pain, and I want to ease it. I’ve felt your aloneness and I want to help end it. I’ve seen life through your eyes, and now I want to lend you a new pair of glasses.” In short, the person in recovery was a physical transmitter of possibility, a beacon of hope over the surging storm of addiction.

Note the use of the past tense in that last sentence. I chose that because none of us can be sure that “was” can be transformed into “will be,” that recovery in three or four months will be able to return to the way things used to was. It’s likely, I think, the return from stay-at-home orders, unlike their implementation, will be slow and rolling rather than nearly instantaneous. Some folks will be deemed safe to return to the world at large sooner than others, but social distancing will still be the rule for the foreseeable future. What does this mean for the near term for folks in recovery? I don’t know for sure, but I know these are some of the challenges we face when we start to land on the shores of After:

  1. Meetings will have to be smaller if they’re to be held in the same space. I mean, NA’s Serenity for Lunch in the large meeting room at Hope averages 25 attendees and can surge to 50 or more. Given the social-distancing requirement of six feet in all directions, that room can only hold 13 people, meaning at least two lunchtime meetings held concurrently.  Multiply this challenge by the more than 50 SMART, 12-Step, Three Principles and Recovery Dharma meetings held weekly at Hope and it’s clear we’ve got some creative problem solving to do.
  2. For the foreseeable future, virtual meetings will be the primary means of recovery for many folks who are older, living with underlying medical conditions or just nervous about leaving their homes. How will these meetings be integrated into in-person meetings in a way that honors the needs of both those present and the virtual participants?
  3. The front of Hope has been the site of lots of cool stuff, from recovery-focused conversation to card games to painting to who-knows what else. How do we maintain this crucible of magic while also keep folks physically apart?

Given our joint wisdom as Hope Nation, I’m sure we’ll come up with creative and cool solutions but only if we start thinking about these things now. For all of our sake, please use your free time to ponder, analyze and offer solutions for the challenges we will face. If you’d like to talk with me about this, just give me a call (603)361-6266. If there’s enough immediate interest, we’ll set up a Zoom meeting and try to get some things down on paper.

Until then, remember

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
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April 3, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Many of us are now spending 24 hours a day with people we would not have chosen, or would have chosen until we actually had to spend 24 hours a day with them. Musical chairs is not a fun game when the rules are altered to remove all the open chairs and to require sitting in the same damn chair day after day after cursed day. While loneliness can be a challenge, in a lot of ways it’s easier than being lashed together with people who annoy the hell out of you.

I’m thinking particularly of folks living in so-called “congregate facilities” and the like—treatment centers, recovery residences, transitional living situations. I spent five years as director of a small veterans housing program—the program was small, not the veterans, who were all different sizes. At least daily, I’d have one resident come to complain about a housemate or, particularly, a roommate.

“Keith, you don’t understand how awful Tony is! He’s a mouth-breather who never brushes his teeth. Our whole room smells like whatever he last ate!”

“You’ve got to do something about Wes He uses up all the toilet paper in the second-floor bathroom and never replaces it! And he lives on the first floor, so I know he’s just doing it to annoy me.”

“Please kick Aaron out! He never does any work around here—never cooks, never cleans, never puts anything away. Not only that, he always shouts out the answers during Jeopardy. “

During my own time living in a shelter, I know how little things can build and snowball and multiply until they are absolutely huge—at least in my mind. At least I was always able to leave for work or meetings. With most workers furloughed or fired, with meetings only available online and with a state stay-at-home order in place , the stress of sharing limited space must keep tick-tocking away. I know of only one solution for anyone trapped in that situation.

Begin with yourself. Work on yourself. End with yourself.

You are the only thing in the world over which you have any control—not coronavirus, not your past-due rent, not your sponsor, not your crummy roommate. For what it’s worth, here are some thoughts worth considering—instead of exploding or imploding:

“I can’t change the world/but I can change the world in me/if I rejoice”—U2 “Rejoice”
“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”—William James

“Self-observation is the first step of inner unfolding.”—Amit Ray

“If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be content to take their own and depart.”—Socrates

“You’re twice as dumb and half as smart as you think you are.”—my old Army roommate

Taken together and well mixed, the message above is I (or you) (or anyone) can’t know what demons plague our fellow humans, can’t see the apple on our own heads. We see the outside of others but the inside of ourselves—and are only too prepared to offer excuses, explanations and special pleadings. So . . . the next time you’ve had it up to here with your roommate, housemate, cellmate, husband or anyone else, remember the best revenge.

They have to live with YOU.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith

__________________________________

April 2, 2020

aDear Hope Nation,

One of the beautiful things about working in a peer recovery center like Hope is I don’t have to pretend to be anything more or less than I am. I am a person in long-term recovery who has had love affairs with all kinds of chemicals over the years. With each new chemical, I thought I’d discovered the thing that made life make sense.

The first time I smoked weed, or at least the first time I got truly high, I never wanted to feel any different than that ever. I then spent years chasing that first high. Likewise with acid—where I ended up in an emergency room pumped full of Thorazine and raring to trip again. Each time I dropped acid after that, I was searching for that first magic. Moving on through pills and meth and dope, I kept thinking I’d found the One Ring to control all of life, only to discover I was back in the emptiness inside the ring. My love for booze lasted longer—until I was 47—but drinking never brought on feelings of completion or accomplishment. Drinking brought being drunk, which was its own reward. Until it wasn’t.

Working at Hope, I am a peer—as are you and you and, especially you!—a man who’s taste for escape led to the need for recovery. Some of you may have noticed the only certification of any kind that I keep in my office is a gag diploma from the “College of Bad Breaks and Misunderstandings” declaring me a Formerly Homeless Drunk. That’s what qualifies me to be director. Forget about education, experience, extraordinary good lucks and my other attributes—if I weren’t a formerly homeless drunk, I would not deserve to be here.

This is all a long way around to get to the point. The Hope staff has been having lunch together every day for the past week or so. Using the magic of Zoom, we all log in at the same time and shoot the breeze, tell some stories, mock each other’s taste in foods. We are a community.

And we’d like you to join us. Next Tuesday, April 7, at 12:30, we’d love to have any Hope members, visitors or wanderers to join us for friendship, conversation and whatever food you’re eating for lunch. Just click on this

Magic Ticket

And we’ll see you then, because

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
_____________________________________

April 1, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

In a previous life–and I know this is hard to believe–I was a Baptist minister, a born-again Christian. Really. Today, my spiritual life is very different, and not something I’m going to bore you with right now. Suffice to say I am not a traditional praying man, and would be loathe to prescribe any spiritual practice for anyone else.

 I don’t begin or end my days on my knees, don’t face Mecca five times a day for Salah, don’t pull out the siddur to guide my prayers. Instead, my prayer life is more like what St. Paul describes in First Thessalonians, my prayers constantly reoccurring (not “ceaselessly” as often mistranslated). All day, every day, my mind is flooded, and my lips are moved to say, “Thank you, God.” Really. It has become an automatic response to each change in events, even if that change is just my getting bored. This simple “Thank you, God” has replaced my previous mantra: “I f-ing hate this.” Whether this change is a cause or an effect is up to the theologians to decide, but I know my life is significantly better than it was 13 years ago.  Gratitude is powerful stuff.

My prayer life suffices for me for now, but I know many folks in and out of recovery like to keep a prayer list, an actual inventory of those for whom they intend to pray. If you are one of those folks, may I make a few suggestions for additions, folks for whom you may wish to pray?  Like many of you, I’ve lived in each of these circumstances, and may again. My possible additions to your prayer list:

  1. Pray for the institutionalized mentally ill. Twice in my life I’ve been in psychiatric hospitals for two months or more and a third time for a couple weeks. Each time, I wanted to be dead. Each time, I felt alone in the world. Each time, I never thought I’d feel any different, and certainly couldn’t picture feeling better. Pray for strength for these folks, to keep holding on—until their pain subsides, their meds kick in, they find the therapist who can help them unlock the solution. Pray for them at night, when things are often worst, and even more in the morning, when things are supposed to feel better but don’t.
  2. Pray for the actively addicted who are jonesing this very minute. Think of needing to catch your breath in a vacuum and you’ve got some little idea of separation from the substance that keeps you human. While much of humanity is worrying about the effects of Covid-19 on life, the addicted live in an eternal unbearable NOW where each shot simply resets the timer for the onset of the next dose of hell. Pray their needs are met, not necessarily for that next shot but certainly for an end to the pain and the beginning of recovery. 
  3. Pray for the homeless, whether sleeping outside or in a shelter. Either way, it’s hard enough to have no home, but imagine being part of a group that’s seen as high-risk vectors for this pandemic. Not only are people around you judging you for your attire or the bag on your back, they now see you as today’s Typhoid Mary. Please pray these folks find homes and peace and respect.
  4. Pray for those in early recovery, who began this journey within the past few months. They’ve gone from being told “meeting makers make it” to needing to physically distance themselves from all those who have what they need—the secret to staying clean and sober for today and to reducing the odds they’ll use tomorrow. Please pray they recognize that while online meetings are not an acceptable long-term substitute for face-to-face meetings, they will help save your lives. Online meetings are not what we’d like, but they’re what we have for now. We live much longer on reduced calories than on no food at all.

(Click Here for local or regional online meetings

Since I began writing this, I’ve made a decision I’ll now translate into action. I said truthfully I don’t pray in the morning and evening. Until Hope reopens, whether that’s three weeks or three months from now, I vow to begin and end my days with prayers for the four groups listed above. At some point habits become identity become character. Maybe when this is over I will have become a traditional praying man. Regardless, we know

Words matter. You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
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March 31, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Three weeks ago, without knowing it at all, we lived in a different world, the land of Before. In the land of Before we could live our lives without compulsive hand-washing, daily government briefings and closed everythings. With a few government edicts, we departed Before and we’ll never walk its shores again. Before is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Today we sail the Sea of During, having set sail from Before. Our trip across During is not just uncharted but would have been nearly unimaginable last month. Other than survivalists, few of us dreamed During even existed—until we found ourselves gone from Before, the knowledge slowly dawning that we’d never said goodbye; in fact, we’d never even known we lived in Before.

Before is behind us. During offers the only route to After. Unlike a journey from Spain to the New World, though, traveling from Before to After isn’t simply a matter of arriving and discovering. Columbus sailed looking for copper and ended up finding gold, but that’s because the gold was already there, buried in the ground. Instead, it is how we enact our journey to After that will determine the copper, the gold or the wasteland we will find there. Columbus didn’t know what he’d find when he set sail, and neither do we. Columbus’ journey, though, didn’t determine destination—ours does. Let me try to explain.

None of us knows how wide the lake or ocean of During is. We can’t guess how long we will be locked in our cabins or, better, our individual boats lashed together by history, by circumstances, by the universe. If on our journey across During we are kind, considerate, gentle, loving and lighthearted, we will discover an After where these things are valued and encouraged. Likewise, if our journey values selfishness, blame, shame, anger and deceit, that is the After we will discover, for that is what we will have created.

On this journey we test drive the philosophical system on which to build our After.  If we search the history of Before, we can find justification for an inhuman utilitarian model.  From Robespierre (or Napoleon or Lenin, depending upon whom you believe) we have, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” From Machiavelli the same sentiment “The ends justify the means.” In both, we find the greater good, as defined of course by the speaker, outweighing the value of the individual or commonplace ethics. This “greater good” always fails to define either “greater” or “good.”

On the other hand, our journey can be person-centered, ethical and joyful. We can be the action we want, we can model forgiveness, we can stretch out our arms to the world while maintaining a six-foot distant. We can know the means are the ends, what and how we live the journey determines where we will arrive.

A few days ago, I quoted Walker Percy at some length, words some correspondents thought were dark or harsh. I thought they were stoic, but that’s a different conversation for another day. Today I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors. Please sew it into pillows, write it on your lintels, engrave it on your heart.

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”—Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Followed by a quote from one of my favorite songwriters:

Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight
Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Warren Zevon

Amen and amen and amen.

Be kind. Make us play nice. And remember

You matter. I matter.  We matter.

Keith
____________________________________

March 30, 2020

Not well but enthusiastically. That’s how I paint and, most times, live my life. And that’s good enough for me. 

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve learned a lot in recovery—about the universe, about humanity and, most of all, about me. Learning about the universe has been almost uniformly delightful; practicing acceptance and gratitude really does make a difference. Learning about humanity has been enlightening, given that I’d viewed all the other folks in the world as impediments to me getting what I wanted. By the end of my active use, of course, what I most wanted was to find a way to escape the toxic swamp of my existence. Oh, yes, the learning about me. That was no fun at all, since I’d been running from myself for 33 years of active use, using chemicals of all kinds to create various Keith escape vehicles. Most of what I learned about me was difficult, painful and required me to change the world by changing myself.

Today, though, I’ve come to grips with both my strengths—and I do have a few—and my weaknesses. I’ll never be—no surprise!—perfect, but because I can love your imperfection I can love mine. To, allegedly, quote Marilyn Monroe: “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” I am imperfect with a touch of madness and a willingness to be ridiculous. And that’s okay.

Today is Day 15 of Hope’s closure, which makes it also the 15th day I’ve been home with few visitors and few excursions out. This experience has taught me one thing I’d never really accepted before. I am embarrassed to share this with Hope Nation, but I do want to be transparent, do wish to reveal myself, warts and all. Please don’t laugh or mock when you read my confession, Dear Reader, but accept it the way you might a revelation of a secret shortcoming.

My secret shame?

No matter how hard I try, I can’t watch television or movies. There. I’ve said it. I find video of all kind boring and unwatchable. As I talk or otherwise communicate with friends, they’re all full of chatter about the shows they’re binge-watching on Netflix or Amazon Prime, the movies they’ve discovered or the YouTube tutorials they’ve learned from. I’ve got nothing to bring to the conversation, because I haven’t watched much of anything, even though I’ve tried. Really I have.

When I moved from the Tiny White Box into a house, I bought a large television and a Bose soundbar, intending to discover the joys of video. An Amazon Prime member, I also signed up for a free two-week trial of Netflix. Day after day and evening after evening I meant to devote at least an hour to watching television, but the world always held something more interesting. Washing dishes, walking Lucy, listening to music, writing, reading—all these things kept me from my appointed task—learning to love video. Within 10 days, when I hadn’t watched anything on Netflix, I cancelled my subscription. Still I had Prime, but video never made it to the top of the list.

Then 15 days ago, Hope was closed. I was self-quarantined. Now, finally, I would have the time to embrace video the way everyone else did. Except . . . I haven’t. In the last almost 350 hours, I’ve watched about 20 minutes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and . . . nothing else. That third of an episode was entertaining enough, but I lost interest when I remembered my paints and easel. I turned off the television, put on some music and painted, not well but enthusiastically.

Not well but enthusiastically. That’s how I paint and, most times, live my life. And that’s good enough for me.  And you, because

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
___________________________________

March 29, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Today is Sunday, a day of rest, so my message will be a series of short sharp shots.

First, if you didn’t see any of the Sicker than Most Show last night, you missed a great example of community gathering together. Not an example of a well-organized video production. Not a thematically-linked evening of performances. Not a group of exquisitely talented artists—with a few exceptions—demonstrating their skills. It was a community gathering together; around isolated glowing screens a couple dozen folks had a chance to connect—talking crap about each other, joking, and sharing some time as well as some talent. From Nicholas’ poetry to Bionic’s playing and singing to Nate’s a capella singing from his basement bunker, it was all good and everyone was beautiful, whether we’d showered or not. While I hope next month’s Sicker than Most will be at Hope, I know this tradition will continue online if necessary. That makes me very happy indeed.

Second, many folks have inquired about Lucy’s safety and physical and emotional health. (Not to focus on resentments, but significantly more than have asked about me. To be fair, I am a human and in regular communication. Lucy is a dog who can’t even talk on the phone much less text. Finally, she is way cuter than I.) So . . . Lucy is doing grandly! As some of you know, we left the Tiny White Box a little more than a month ago and have settled in to a log cabin in the woods across the street from a pond. It is, in short, a perfect home for Lucy. Thanks, all, for asking.

Finally, A few years ago, before I went into seclusion in Pittsburg, I traveled to London for a couple weeks. This was right after the London Bridge killings where more than 50 people were killed or injured. Call me morbid, but I sketched out funeral plans in case I died in London. Part of that plan was a reading from one of my favorite authors, Walker Percy. This passage sums up my view of life in a nutshell, and while it may seem fatalistic, it’s also a dummy’s guide to Stoicism.

“I don’t quite know what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe. That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me.

Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fiber of my being. A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”
— The Moviegoer

In conversations with many of you, whether through text or phone, it is clear to me we are combatants fighting the good fight. Keep up your spirits and keep on battling. After all

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
____________________________________

March 28, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

In recovery, we are a people of that name. We carry hope, that spiritual virus that drives despair into the light, where it is revealed as nothing more than the scary shadow play of our childhood beds. Having clung to despair ourselves, using it to fuel our addictions, we recognize it was all along a wet blanket, drawing heat and leaving no comfort.

No matter how unusual and frightening our current circumstances may be, we choose hope. Covid-19, unemployment, self-quarantine, social isolation and the other surprises of today suck and we can’t control how all this will unfold. We do have control over our response—and that response is ato ccept events with hope. Given the same set of facts, the story of hope leads to life while despair’s story can drive us back into our old dead existences.

We reach out to the silent sufferers, offering concern and support to our friends and those we’ve never met who still use. We remember active addiction, the loneliness and despair it breeds, and identify with that pain. Identification, though, is never enough—we also bring a solution, not just for the addiction but for its root. Alienation, the sense one is different and incapable of being one among many, is that root, and the Hope community demonstrates the lie at the heart of that alienation.

As Hope nation, we have learned not to entertain despair, not to offer it a cup of coffee and an easy chair. Despair is the enemy, and we know how to drive it away. Despair has been our companion, but now we live in a community that reveals the false promise of despair. As a people, we have made a truly radical choice—hope is possible and despair is unconvincing.

Please excuse the preaching in this message. Some things need to be said repeatedly and very clearly. One of those things is:

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith
____________________________________

March 27. 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

We all have heroes, sung and unsung. Today, I’d like to tell you about one of my strangest personal recovery heroes, describe what he’s doing tomorrow night and invite you to be part of it.

I am a 61-year-old man in long-term recovery from both opiates and alcohol. Think of it—61-years-old! When I was shooting up, we actually used glass syringes, the same kind used back in the 1600’s. Artisanal addicts we were, able to trace our history back to opium dens and Civil War veterans strung out on morphine. In fact, before I ever shot heroin, I spent a long time smoking opium to come down from meth runs. But I digress. Before even beginning.

Given my history, you might think my  heroes would exclusively be Ebby Thatcher, a pre-founder of AA, or Charles Anderson, one of the first Washingtonians. but you would be wrong. My current recovery hero is a bizarre man in his 30’s with a taste for disturbing/disgusting art, filthy language and multi-colored Mohawks. Andy Ryan (aka Ragety Andy aka the Big Andizzle aka whatever nonsense springs to his mind next) represents my ideal of what recovery can look like. Andy is as straight-edge as they come in his recovery but as f-ed up as can be in his art and life.

Andy is also the artist behind my favorite album of 2019—“Better Days” by Ragety Andy. A weird combination of Michelle Shocked, Lou Reed, Billy Bragg and John Prine, Ragety Andy sings his heart out, having used his mind to craft funny, sensitive and insightful lyrics. Really. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and whatever torrent service your currently stealing with. Listen to it. Whatever Andy does he does with passion, although often without focus or the stick-to-the-damned-script mentality that makes it easy to work with an artist.

Andy Ryan and Duke Mulberry are the visionaries behind “Sicker than Most,” the long-running music show at Hope. Sicker than Most presents a stage for people in recovery to play and sing music, perform standup, read poetry or juggle goldfish. All it takes is showing up and signing up. While shows are typically from 7:30ish to 10:30ish the third Saturday of each month, last week’s show was cancelled due to Hope being closed and the end of the world. This Saturday, March 28, Andy and Duke present a first in tasteless entertainment and gratuitous swearing: “Sicker than Most” online.

While there is a Zoom invitation for YOU at the bottom of this page, details on the show itself are still sketchy—have I mentioned Andy is notoriously opposed to any kind of normal planning or foresight?—please watch Hope’s Facebook page for more details on how to log in, become offended, log off in disgust, then log back on because what else is there to do on a Saturday night? The show will begin at 7:30ish, and Andy claims to have talent from all over the western world.

Oh, yes, he’s even got a submission from a 61-year-old man in long-term recovery performing an original song. Not good. Not even really listenable. But original and called “Pus Theory.”

Do be there. Be prepared to sing. Or dance. Or just clap.

At Sicker than Most, as in all of life,

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith

Join us!
Sicker than Most
Time: Mar 28, 2020 07:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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March 26, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

 “There is nothing new under the sun.” King Solomon in Ecclesiastes

Old Solomon was absolutely right, on this and many other topics. As long as people are people and the earth is the earth, nothing new appears, just the same things in new relationships. Likewise, in recovery on whatever pathway, the foundation doesn’t change over time. From SMART to Three Principles to AA to NA to HA to Recovery Dharma to any other mode of recovery a through-line exists: the importance of gratitude, a fundamental endorsement of identifying and listing things for which we are grateful. I don’t keep going to meetings of various kinds with the hope I’ll learn something new. I do it to prevent my forgetting the things I’ve already learned, to remind myself of what has worked in the past and is likely to go on working.

When I first got into recovery, my first mentor uttered a sentence that would have been true for Solomon, applies today and will likely work for my great-great-grandchildren: “a grateful heart will never use.” That’s so important, let me repeat it. “A grateful heart will never use.”

I know life in the US today is tough, with millions out of work, almost a hundred-thousand infected with coronavirus, thousands dead and an uncertain future. Still, when we reflect on our blessings–and we still have many—we find comfort. When we complain, we find none.  Given the choice between warm comfort and cold judgment, only a fool would choose the latter.

Let me take the example of coronavirus in New Hampshire today and try to squeeze some joy out of this seemingly poisonous fruit. My gratitude list, with no items that were true 13 years ago.

Gratitude List 3/26/20

  1. I can call friends and fellow recoverees for support, friendship or just to shoot the breeze.
  2. I have enough food to last me for a while. None of it is outdated or just plain disgusting (e.g., no canned beets, canned meats or leftover Halloween candy).
  3. I have enough clothes to wear, sometimes for two or three days in a row. Still, they keep me warm and are in good repair.
  4. My house is heated.
  5. I have a flush toilet and a working shower.
  6. I have a dog who really loves me.
  7. I have enough money to get through today
  8. I can look myself in the eye with pride rather than disgust.
  9. I can finish each day with pride and begin each day with excited anticipation.
  10. I don’t need to drink or use today.

And neither do you! If you’re feeling like using, please, please, please reach out for support and help. Go to Hope’s website (hopefornhrecovery.org) and get hooked up with a recovery coach! Text or call a friend. Text or call your sister. Hell, if you’ve got no one else, text or call me (603)361-6266. You don’t have to use.

Be thankful for today. It is a beautiful day! Really! None of us have seen this one before and none will ever see it again.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 25, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Keith trying to grow a beard

After 10 days of seclusion, I’ve recognized one lie I’ve told myself for years. Back when I was using, I assumed I’d eventually be locked up by the state for some period of time. My vision of, say, five years in prison—always, for some reason, in solitary–would be that I’d spend 12 hours a day doing sit-ups and push-ups, six hours a day reading the classics of literature and six hours a day sleeping. By the time the warden gave me my walking papers and bus ticket, I’d be insightful, witty and buff as hell. When I got into recovery, I changed the scenario so I was now falsely convicted, but I still worked out and read and got released a new man.

Ten days into my solitary sentence, though, I’ve yet to do a single pushup or sit-up, and the closest I’ve come to reading the classics is listening to the audiobook of an old favorite. However long this period lasts, I’m not sure I’m going to change myself completely, whether physically or intellectually. I do, however, have some lighthearted suggestions for ways to pass time as we await whatever the future holds.

  1. Discover if you have a green thumb! Plant whatever seeds you have lying around into dirt and see what happens. (If you’ve chosen a path of abstinence from weed, please do not look through your old hoodies to see if any seeds ever dropped down into that mysteriously deep fold at the bottom of the pocket.) I am not able to try this, although it sounds like fun, because the only seeds I have around are poppy seeds, and I’m in long-term recovery from opiates.
  2. Grow a beard! What can be more exciting than springing out of bed each morning to see if the unshaven mug you laid down with has been transformed into a beard? This activity is even more challenging for women, making it suitable for longer-term isolation.
  3. Tag for 1! Everyone’s a winner is this variation on an old childhood game. Sit or stand with at least one finger extended. Touch yourself on one part of your body and shout “Tag!” After cursing your luck, tag another part of your body, shouting, “Tag!” This game offers both upper body exercise and a chance to meet the authorities likely to be called when your neighbors hear you.
  4. Word Games! Try an old favorite like many as many words or phrases as you can out of a phrase. For instance, given “Hope for NH Recovery” and a bit too much coffee, I came up with:
    –Phony chore forever
    –Honor chef over prey
    –Very hoof horn creep
    It troubles me to say those three lines are as poetic as any I’ve ever written in my life

I do hope these activities will help you pass the time. Even more, I hope this silliness helps you recognize how much you miss gathering together with other folks in recovery and sharing that energy we generate as a group. In the meantime, please, please, please reach out a hand to others, whether to offer or to ask for help. We are all in this together. Really.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 24, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

By the time you finish reading this, you will have experienced the creation of a new word! Read on to become the first kid in your neighborhood to utter these syllables and grasp their meaning.

My friend, Tito, is very impatient, so I know he wants to read the word first, then learn what it means. For Tito:
Hopemore.
Hopemore.
Hopemore.

Now, a brief introduction.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved words, oftentimes to my detriment. When I was four, for example, my maternal grandfather, an inveterate outdoorsman, took me fishing for the first and only time, bringing me home after 15 minutes on the water because I would not, could not shut up. I imagine my chatter went something like this:
“This boat is red.”
“Apples are red and they float, like when you’re bobbing for them.”
“What other red things float? Goldfish aren’t red, they’re gold. And they don’t float. They swim.”
“Think there are any goldfish in here, Gramper?”
“If you painted a goldfish red, do you think it would float?”
“If you painted me gold, do you think I’d know how to swim?”
“Where do you keep your gold, Gramper? Do you remember pirates?”
“Did pirates all know how to swim? Did the gold help them?”
Et cetera.

I have no memory of spending any time alone with my grandfather during the next 30 years of his life. Because of words.
Hopemore.
Hopemore.
Hopemore.

I love the sound, the meaning, the feel of words. Among my favorite-sounding words are: slither, serendipity, epiphany, defenestrate, plasma and cashmere. Each one of these (or all of them together in a bouillabaisse—and add that word to the mix) can be used as a meditative aid. Simply say them calmly over and over and they’ll lose all meaning, helping you to relax into the mystic—or get locked up as a lunatic

Some very pretty sounding words, though, can carry dark potions indeed. While “defenestrate” above means “to throw another person out a window,” it’s not a poisonous word—who, really, worries about windows? No, dangerous words suck the life out of you, convince you you’re not any good, born to lose, bound to lose. It’s those words I hate, and those words I aim to replace.
Words like: meaningless.
Words like: useless.
Words like: hopeless.

I know they’ve each got their antonyms, their opposites—meaningful, useful and hopeful–but the three poisonous words have so much power, drain so much out of the human spirit, those -ful words seem like empty boasts. Although all of us have experienced a complete emptiness, a void of meaning, a vacancy of use, a vacuum of hope, few of us have experienced being filled to the brim with any of them and none save the saints have lived life full of them .

The best most of us can hope for is more: more meaning, more use, more hope.
Hopemore.
Hopemore.
Hopemore.

Even in these uncertain, dangerous, calamitous, insert your own adjective here, times, we need not be hopeless. We can choose hopemoreness over hopelessness, can opt to focus on the good that exists and may yet populate the earth.

My wish for each of you is that during those moments of feeling hopeless you remember you can choose to be hopemore.

And that you remember you read it here first.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith

March 23, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

One of my favorite books of all time is Middlemarch. Written almost 150 years ago by a woman whose pen name was George Eliot, it tells the story of a small English Midlands town, primarily through the eyes of Dorothea, an orphaned young woman who has an impact on the lives of many folks in the village. Here is the concluding sentence of that masterwork:
“[T]he effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

You are, I am, we are lucky enough to be in contact with a number of folks live faithfully hidden lives, or at least not lives filled with showiness, histrionics or fuss. Instead, the staff members at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery quietly and responsibly make sure that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been.

In no particular order, I want to hold up the staff and volunteers for, if not a standing ovation—for who would hear it but your neighbors—at least a tip of the hat and a prayer of thanks.

First, Bob Mortimer, who’s been with us for about 11 months. Bob is a man in long- term recovery who has been able to expand his understanding of any and all pathways. Also, although he looks much younger than I, he is actually a little older, keeping me from being the lone old man here.
Second, Dawn Desjardins, who started as an employee about the same time as Bob, but who had been volunteering here for more than a year. Excitingly, Dawn has just become a student at Southern New Hampshire University, demonstrating how her recovery has an impact not just on drug use but on opening up options that had seemed closed to her.

Jill Kyzer, a teacher by day and recovery coach by night, has been at Hope since nearly its beginning. Jill is an avid student of the recovery process and provides some of the formal supervision required for recertification as a Certified Recovery Support Worker (aka Recovery coach).

Those are the paid front-end staff, but we’ve also got three practically fulltime volunteers who also performed unhistoric acts like greeting newcomers and oldtimers, making coffee and keeping things positive. I use the past tense of “perform” because none of us knows what the future may hold, but now each of them is chomping at the bit to use the telephone to provide recovery support to our members and potential future members.

Sharon Vertigans has been a Work Employment Program (WEP) volunteer for a few months now. Energetic and bubbly, Sharon is open about her own recovery and has a gift for developing relationships with other young mothers in recovery.

Ashley Papatola just began as a WEP volunteer shortly before the recent events, as did Lissy Mudgett, but both are in recovery and wanting to share what they’ve been so freely given. In Berlin, Lisa Kenney holds down the fort, providing recovery support to members and visitors alike.

Finally, Dave Cote and Karla Gallagher, the smartest and most levelheaded of Hope’s three-person leadership team. Each of them has been with Hope since nearly the beginning, each is a talented professional and each works hard to get things done, Dave with art and social media and Karla with money and personnel and all kinds of things I value but don’t understand.
Please, please, please . . . add these folks to your daily gratitude list—and you ARE physically writing out that gratitude list, aren’t you?—knowing that they are the ones that keep Hope alive so the rest of us can keep hope alive.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 22, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

It’s Sunday, so this letter will be a bit shorter than previous ones. One other difference is it’s taken completely from things I’ve heard in various church basements, meeting halls and repurposed classrooms. Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but usually, I try to rearrange thoughts and words to make some kind of point. Here, the words are the point.

One of the first people I met when I got into recovery told me about a slogan he’d printed and taped to his bathroom mirror. When I heard the slogan, I thought, “What a complete lack of self-esteem this guy has! Why the hell does he want to begin his day with that thought?” Over time, as I cracked and peeled off my outer shell to discover the nut within, I recognized his wisdom and today it is taped to my mirror. The slogan?

“You’re looking at the biggest problem you’ll face today.”

Today, in this world where unknowns rule and knowns terrify, that slogan is still completely true. It is my response—spiritually, emotionally, physically—to the world that controls the problematic nature of the universe. Whether it’s a temporary lack of flour, the possibility of coronavirus infection or the certainty of death, I alone respond—with anger, denial, acceptance, resignation, gratitude, curiosity or wonder. While I want to see what tomorrow holds, even more I’m glad to be present and alive today.

And I’m happy you are too.

Slogans are recovery’s shorthand. Phrases that can sound hackneyed and shopworn when repeated over and over in a particular meeting by the same person can take on new wisdom when given a new setting. Here are some slogans I’ve picked up, authors unknown to me. Take what you need and leave the rest behind.

  1. Drugs gave me the illusion that I might be alive.
  2. The secret to long term recovery: Don’t use, don’t die.
  3. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides
  4. Our defects of character are the bars of a cage. The central point is not to study the bars, but to get out of the cage.
  5. Take an action, then let go of the results.
  6. If you hang around a barbershop long enough, eventually you’ll get a haircut
  7. Expectations are preconceived resentments
  8. Addiction is nothing but voluntary madness
  9. The chains of addiction are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.
  10. It’s hard to spot a spiritual crisis: Usually it is disguised as a crisis in our relationships, finances, career, or family.
  11. Look for the similarities, rather than the differences
  12. In recovery, first we remove the anesthesia, then we operate
  13. Relapse begins long before you pick up the drink/drug
  14. I thought I wanted to commit suicide, but all I needed was a cheeseburger.
  15. The most natural state of an addict is irritable, restless, and discontented.
  16. Every recovery from addiction began with one sober hour
  17. The road to disappointment is paved with expectation
  18. If you want what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.
  19. You are not responsible for your disease, but you are responsible for your behavior.
  20. Insanity is not doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results; insanity is doing the same thing over and over again knowing full well what the results will be.
  21. The healthy person finds happiness in helping others. Thus, for him, unselfishness is selfish.
  22. You don’t get drunk making mistakes – you get drunk defending the mistakes you’ve made.

I hope one or more of these speaks to you, helps you make wise choices or at least reminds you that online meetings are WAY better than no meetings, and at least you’ll have a chance to see a new face passing around the same old wisdom.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 21, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I think we can agree these are not the best of times. Many of us are out of work. Many are forced to stay inside, away from others. Many are broke without a vision of how to get unbroke. Regardless of our material condition, an anxiety blankets the earth unlike any in my lifetime. No, these are not the best of times. Neither, though, are they the worst of times. Really.

Those of us in recovery have the memory of active use, particularly at the end of our addiction, to look back on. Those were my worst of times. I remember the knowledge, deep in the bone, that there was no friendly direction anywhere, that no human would be happy to see my face, that I was alone in a lifeless land with booze my only companion. That was a legitimate worst of time, desperately crawling through a void. Today, cradled in the recovery community, I can get through just about anything, and so can you.

In late March thirteen years ago, though, life was very different. I’d started–through theft and cunning–to organize the materials I’d need to destroy the world, or at least the Keith portion of it. I’d put together a suicide plot, or at least the best plot I could come up with. By May, I was ready to implement this plan.

From my journal on my first day in recovery, a recovery I didn’t think I needed and I suspected was impossible:

May 21, 2007
When I got out of bed this morning, I had a plan. Not a perfect plan. Not a foolproof plan. Hell, my plan could have snapped apart like a small tree branch trying to support a bear cub across a swollen May river. Still, it was a plan.
I was going to take a bus to Dartmouth College, start heading south on the Appalachian Trail and not stop until Georgia. With just dried fruit and oatmeal to sustain me, I would walk the bottom four-fifths of the AT in two pairs of sneakers and a pair of sandals.

Every plan has loose ends, space for contingencies, room left to breathe in the design. In an excellent plan, the paragraph above would present the final problem: How will I equip myself for this three- or four-month journey? The perfect plan would include the application of a credit card or cash to expenses at an outdoor apparel shop. A good plan would answer the question in a thornier manner, involving difficult budget decisions and a willingness to compromise on any given food’s flavor for calories.

Now that we’ve covered what that second paragraph would be in a perfect and a good plan, let me now share with you what living on oatmeal and ending up walking a hundred miles barefoot is in a truly fucked-up, horrible, wretched plan–it is the heart, the clockwork, the settled part of a doomed plan. That was my plan.

I was going to walk away from everything I’ve known, take on a fake identity, a “trail name,” and, eventually, kill myself out on the trail, thereby saving my three beautiful daughters from the shame of being related to a suicide. Instead, they would have been related to one of the disappeared. That was my plan.

Instead of following out one of the stupidest plans I could have come up with, I checked into a VA hospital for treatment for my depression. I had tentatively called my trail journal, “Tomorrow is a Good Day to Die: the last days of a suicide.” I’ll now have to come up with a new title, something with a similar pizazz and, dare I say, optimism.

I’ve mentioned working on an incomplete memoir. It may never be completed, but it does have a filename. What is that working title?

“Today is a Good Day to Live”

And it is.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 20, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

This morning I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine, a minister who also works in recovery. Michelle, who is much smarter and kinder than I—but not as funny—expressed her concern for folks who have never had to be alone before, but now are living in, for all intents and purposes, isolation. Maybe you are one of those people, a born extrovert now looking only within. If so, I may have a trick or two, based on years of experience.

That experience is not in life as an extrovert. Those of you who know only the glad-handing, back-patting, chucklehead on the outside may not know how I prefer to be alone, with at most one or two others. On any personality inventory, I’m in the 99th percentile for introversion, drawing energy not from others but from recharging in solitude. How else explain the Tiny White Box (TWB) and my 30-month affair with it?

Many of you know I lived alone in a six-foot by 12-foot converted motorcycle trailer, the TWB, first for a year in Pittsburg about five miles from the Canadian border and more recently in Manchester. (Those of you unfamiliar but interested can go here to see a video. The new photo header at the top of the page is the home I just moved into a month ago.) That time alone in the Great North Woods helped me learn a bit about being alone but not lonely, being productive with no paid work and being happy without distractions.

  1. Self-labelling matters. Take the difference between “isolation” and “solitude.” Isolation, I think, brings with it thoughts of desolation, confinement, forced separation and punishment. Solitude, on the other hand, seems like the choice of a well-rounded human, Thoreau going into the woods, Jesus going into the wilderness, Superman going to the Fortress of Solitude.
    I live in solitude and so can you.

  2. Learn to laugh at yourself. Really. Be willing to observe yourself, looking for the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies that make us human. Alone in a box in sub-zero blizzarding weather on the outside, I loved the power of self-directed belly laughs when I’d look in the mirror and wonder if my hair looked goofy. It did, of course, but that I would care still makes me laugh.

  3. Define your day in advance and take pride at nightfall in accomplishing what you’ve completed. In the TWB, my daily tasks might be as simple as a) writing a 750-word column/blog post and 3,000 words of a still-incomplete memoir, b) making a meal that included vegetables (frozen and outside, natch), protein (from a can, of course) and starch (crackers, usually), c) bundling up to walk at least four miles on the coldest days and d) driving the three miles to the nearest Wi-Fi spot to post the column to my website . No matter your situation now, you can set and accomplish goals and pat yourself on the back for doing so.

  4. Maintaining communication with distant others. For most of the time I was in solitude, I didn’t have onsite phone or internet service, so I’d write emails to friends off-line and send them when I posted my blog. Almost every day I’d find emails awaiting me, sort of like . . . what’s that called? Oh, yes, the mail.

  5. Express gratitude. All day. Every day. The Apostle Paul got it right when he told the church at Thessalonica to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Letting thankfulness flow out of you is the best spiritual enema imaginable.

    In closing, let me give you one question to ponder: the future can be reached by two different paths, hope and despair. The choice is completely yours. Which will you choose?

    You matter. I matter.  We matter.

    Best,

    Keith
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March 19, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’re alive! Most people aren’t. The BBC estimates about 107 billion people have ever lived, EVER. If there are about 7 billion people walking the planet today, about 15 people are dead for every living soul, and you’re one of the lucky ones! Maybe life is not all you’d dreamed it would be—and if this time IS your dream time, you may want to have your medications checked—but life still goes on and you’re still on its team. Again, congratulations on being alive. Give yourself a pat on the back and keep on going.

On that pat on the back business, last night I had a dream come true, a real dream, a good dream. For silly but necessary reasons, I had to fill up the Hope van—the Barneymobile typically parked across the street from Hope—and I walked into a 7-11, clean rag in my just-washed hand to open the door and pick up a receipt. Out of the blue, a hand clapped me on the back and a voice said, “Has anyone given you one of these today?” It was Don, a Hope member who’s returned to recovery and seems to be doing well. He worked yesterday, he was abstinent and he had the kind of smile dope and booze just can’t manufacture. That pat on the back made not just my day or week, but my whole year! Small acts of kindness like Don’s, Mitzvoth to my Jewish friends, lighten the world and brighten our existence.

Many of us have been displaced from work, from shopping for chocolate chips for cookies, from our friends and from Hope—but not from hope, for our separation is finite but our hope is infinite. This period will end just as Before ended, for all of life is endings and beginnings, but the hope of a better future is “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” the gumption we need to keep on going. Our hope in recovery, to paraphrase a government definition, is that we may change, improving our health, living self-directed lives, and reaching our full potential. In short, hope is the fuel that animates our days, drives our recovery and makes life worth the living.

You are alive. Check. You have hope, or at least most of the time you have some hope or know where it can be found. Check. With life and with hope you’ve got all the ingredients you need. Maybe you’re lacking the chocolate chips, but life and hope are all that’s needed to make that future a better place.

You can begin with a verbal (from six feet away) pat on a stranger’s back if you’d like.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 18, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Although these days are dark, we still have each other, even if the word “have” exists only in a virtual sense. Still, think of how lucky I am to be able to write these words, far away from you, and know they can reach your eyes. The telephone can be a moon coming out of the blackness. How miraculous I can talk with you, you can talk with her, they can talk with us! Goddammit, let’s use this tool not just for checking Facebook for the latest rumors or snapping pictures of ourselves, but to connect as best we can with others in recovery or having a hankering to get into recovery.
Some phone calls I’ve had over the last day.

–A woman trying to support people in recovery through phone calls, emails and Facebook. We both delighted in the fact that although we are segregated from the world at large we can still find meaning in our days and sleep in our nights. Because of the work each of us can do in reaching out, we can lie down at day’s end, looking back with a sense of accomplishment and forward with a sense of anticipation. That experience is available to each and all of us. All it takes is a desire to help. Really.

–A delightful and spunky woman, living in recovery housing, saying almost everyone there had been laid off from work and their food supplies were getting low. She’d gone to the local food pantry, but a bag of groceries doesn’t go far among eight women. Luckily, the house she lives in belongs to NH-CORR (NH Coalition of Recovery Residences) and help of some kind is on the way, not quickly enough to make supper tonight, of course, but at least a sense people care.

–A man who’s been in and out of recovery for years, the allure of crack and meth always drawing him back in. He’s working (for now—a phrase that can be added to any statement today), he’s in recovery and he’s trying to address some of his mental health issues. The last time I talked with him, he’d been tricking for drugs or money to get drugs, so this news represents progress, not perfection.

–A woman whose partner, and the father of her children, overdosed 11 years ago. She’s working for a political group that wants to increase support for folks in recovery. Even though we’re both working from home, sheltering in place, we both believe we’ll meet on “other side” of this pandemic and that the planning we do today will be meaningful.

–A government official checking up on the health and safety of folks in recovery in Manchester and the surrounding area. I had to say everyone we’ve heard from is doing at least okay, but that many folks may have slipped through the cracks. If you are one of those who needs help or assistance, please contact me (603-361-6266) keith.howard@recoverynh.org so we can try to help.

Yes, the days are dark, but each of us can spread a little light. After all, looking back on the various wreckages of our pasts, each of us has a 100% survival rate so far. Let’s maintain that record.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,

Keith
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March 17, 2020

Dear Hope Nation:

True Confession: I am an odd man with odd interests, particularly when it comes to history. I know more than any normal person should about major-league baseball of the 1920’s, the Washingtonian Movement of the 1840’s, and controversies in the early church.

More darkly, I’ve read much too much and spent more than a reasonable amount of time studying the Plague (aka the Black Plague, the Pestilence, the Great Bubonic Plague and the Blue Sickness). While I could bore (or intrigue) you with details on the Plague’s spread, its societal or economic effects or the church’s response to it, I instead want to share some of the proposed cures for the disease:

–Rubbing a chopped-up snake on the buboes
–Drinking arsenic, mercury or 10-year-old treacle
–Living in a sewer
–Becoming a flagellant, whipping yourself with ropes or branches
–Crushing jewels, particularly emeralds, and eating them

Today, in our enlightened age, we recognize the nonsense of these “cures.” Unfortunately, we may be enlightened but we’re still terrified of the unknown, and no one knows nothing about Covid-19, its future spread or its long-term impact on society. Without leaving home today, I have been emailed, messaged and texted the following bogus information:

–FALSE drinking water will protect you from Covid-19
–FALSE garlic prevents the spread of Covid-19. (This may be partially true, in that eating raw garlic contributes to social distancing.)
–FALSE the United States government created and spread Covid-19 to “cull the herd”
–FALSE inhaling hot air from a hairdryer will cure Covid-19

Luckily, we do know some things that will slow the spread of Covid-19, potentially keeping us from grinding our jewels, living in sewers, or burning our throats and lips by sucking on hair dryers.

These things are:
–Stop handshaking! (Try encouragingly patting people on the back instead.)
–Wash your hands!
–Keep your hands away from your face!
–Stay at least three feet away from other folks, especially if they’re sick!
–Don’t gather in groups larger than 10! Period!

This last one is hard for many of us in recovery, I know. It’s just not the same to have the “meeting before the meeting” in a Zoom space. There’s no pleasure in asking folks after the meeting if they’d like to group text about the good times they had at Chili’s or the pizza place. I do understand. Really.

My first year in recovery I went to a meeting every single day—or went to two meetings today to make up for one I missed yesterday. Meetings kept me sober, and I feel for those new to recovery whose meeting schedules have been disrupted, whose chance to develop face-to-face relationships has been ruptured, who have to rely on real support in a virtual setting.

“It sucks.”

Yes, it does.

“It’s not fair.”

You’re absolutely right.

“And don’t give me that crap about ‘acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.’”

Whether it’s crap or not is open for argument. Let’s go with “We are here. It is now. The rest is all moonshine.” Choosing to live in reality means, unfortunately, living in reality.

Please, Hope Nation, stay away from gatherings of more than 10 people, but don’t stay away from the support they used to offer—and will again! Reach out and support each other. Call a friend in recovery. Call your old second-grade teacher. Hell, if you don’t have anyone else, call me (603)361-6266.

Also, don’t suck on hairdryers.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Best,
Keith
____________________________________________

March 16, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

As we await the unfolding of the coronavirus here in the United States, I want to remind you of something you know but may be in danger of forgetting: You don’t have to use.
If your work is canceled and you’ve got time on your hands, you don’t have to use.

If you’re working 16 hours a day at your job, you don’t have to use.

If you’re tested for coronavirus and the results are negative, you don’t have to use.

If you’re tested and the results are positive, you don’t have to use.

As a man in long-term recovery from opiates, alcohol and any other damn substance I could use to escape myself, I know the temptation to pick up. I, like you, know how to feel significantly better for a short time—using a needle, a bottle, a straw or other instrument—but I also know I don’t have to use.

And neither do you.

Please, please, please don’t pick up anything but a telephone, and use it to call for help and support. Call a friend in recovery. Call your sister. If you don’t have anyone else to call, call me (603)361-6266.

Just don’t call your dealer or the liquor store.

We’ll get through this. Really we will. We just need to stick together emotionally and spiritually, even while we remain physically apart.

You matter. I matter. We Matter.

Best,

Keith