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Realistic Optimism — Act Locally

Lately, I have felt strong and passionate. I feel like I’m at a crossroads again – but this time, it’s not a choice between life and death – no, it’s a choice between conformity and freedom.

What do I mean?

Well, my mind has been opened – I absolutely feel that once my brain healed from alcohol abuse – certain areas of said brain began to operate. Areas that were drowned out by cheap wine and Coors Light, left for dead, have awoke and are ready to make up for lost time.

I feel:

  • More confident
  • More able to speak my mind, in a productive way
  • More capable of achieving any goal/objective I set
  • More willing to remove negative elements from my life
  • More equipped to identify negative elements, and prevent them from entering my life
  • More productive on all fronts

I am:

  • Less sad
  • Less likely to settle
  • Less likely to give up
  • Less likely to be sick
  • Less likely to focus on the negative

I promise to:

  • Never let my loved ones’ down
  • Always try my best
  • Never take an ounce of bullshit from anyone
  • Protect my family
  • Love my family

Why does all of this matter? First and foremost, this blog is about giving up alcohol to become a better human being – and I think the aforementioned list displays progress.  It is evidence that alcohol can destroy your mind and body – but, it most importantly proves that you can change and heal.  You can rectify your history of bad decision making and absolutely become the best YOU possible.

It also tells you that if you put down the bottle, you may start to feel this way too. When I was at my worst, the way I felt would’ve been dark and hopeless and the promises I made would go un-kept (follow-through is so important to me now).  It’s amazing what good choices can produce – and if you stick with those good choices, life continues to get better.

Besides feelings of greatness – my general thoughts have been provoked immensely. I think about a better, more productive and kind world – where people don’t just think of their own space/time, but think of the community at large when making decisions.  If we all thought about our actions, and how those actions impact others – moving forward with the “treat others as you’d like to be treated” format – the world would absolutely be a better place.

However, I keep my expectations realistic. People, it’s important to be optimistic – but it’s more important to inject common sense into your optimism.

Often times, the idealists think of lofty objectives like “everyone should be housed, and have food.” Or, “no racism or hate should exist.”  While I agree with these thoughts 100 percent – I also have to inject a realistic thought process into the mix.  Yes, I believe everyone should have housing and nourishment – but starting with such a daunting goal is always fruitless.  It’s not productive or realistic.

SO, what approach do I take? The local approach.

I can’t feed all of the people across the globe or banish hate – but if I glance into my own community, I will see hunger, homelessness and despair. I can make a change right now, for those people in my community.  I am a believer that if we start small, build systems that work, then expand – we will create sustainable processes to address critical needs.

It’s not about feeding everyone in the world – it’s about starting in your community, modeling how to make a positive change – then show other communities how to do the same. It all starts at home.  I appreciate the optimism, but I’ve seen young idealists with lofty objectives never get their projects off of the ground, as their starting point wasn’t correct.

Today, you can stop walking over the homeless person in the street and ask if they’re hungry – or help an elderly community member get through the crosswalk when the impatient drivers blow their horns. Donate your clothes to a homeless shelter – or donate your child’s older clothes to a family who needs it, and will appreciate the cost savings.  Volunteer at a food bank, senior living center, tutoring center, under-served school, etc., as there is SO much opportunity to fill service-gaps, and system failures.  So much needs to be done — and I can’t ignore the child who won’t have, but deserves the same opportunities I received.

I taught the kids in Lila’s class this year to be “BIG” in their community — which means give back to a cause that is greater than you — and always be a good person.

A bucket filler.

You can show up to local council meetings — reach out to your elected officials — don’t just complain, but to propose solutions — and go a step further, and ask: “how can I assist directly?”

Lazy people expect government to solve all community issues — but in actuality, that is a false expectations…solving issues takes the entire community.

Moving forward, I ask you, just as I started:

Smile at your neighbors and say hello – build a community, and view all community members as equal, even if you have more resources.

I simply don’t need so much, when I have brothers and sisters in the community who have so little.

Humans are selfish. Yes, we are advanced, but we advanced as a species who has forgotten that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

I’m not communist – I just passionately believe that all people are created equally, and I cannot get fat or be completely happy while others are suffering. Lets’ do our part!

And please don’t forget to register to vote as a non-partisan voter – lets’ disrupt this unproductive two party political system that has forgotten its people.

Be blessed. Be happy.  Be you.

LC

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Why Do the Rich Hate the Homeless?

I noticed a friend from Canada visited my blog – I appreciate your presence, and hope that my experience has provided some comfort and guidance.

Life has been a bit up and down lately – I actually feel like I regressed, in terms of managing anxiety related to my Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis. One thought creeps into my mind, and that one thought splits into many – which causes a feeling of being overwhelmed.  I’m trying to find the root cause, or reason that my anxiety has reemerged, but I’d be naïve to say I don’t already know the reason. Selfish people (I’ll elaborate below)!

The challenge with feeling overwhelmed or anxious, especially when regular exercise doesn’t remedy the issue, is in the past, I would turn to the bottle. Since the bottle isn’t an option anymore – I feel a bit helpless.  I know, I know – I should reach out to a therapist, but honestly, the thought of that makes me even more uneasy.

I’m feeling a lot of pressure at work – as I’m currently in an ethical conflict with my department. My job consists of developing affordable housing for the low income and homeless populations – and in the Bay Area, where the wealthy control our politicians, it’s a volatile business.  I have heard thousands of well-to-do white and Asian people, literally, discriminate against the homeless population – spewing lies and misinformation to spread fear in their neighborhoods.  I’m not afraid of our homeless population, as I know the vast majority aren’t the criminal element – but all homeless get generalized, and lumped into one category.  It sickens me that in one of the wealthiest areas in the world, everyone is so fucking selfish – and would rather families sleep in cars, then have a bed to rest their heads.

I see kids jumping out of RV’s, as their parents dump the honey buckets (honey bucket = toilet) –the kids are dressed for school, the parents for work – but due to the cost of living in the Bay (average rent for a one bedroom, $2400/month) – we have many “working homeless.” It breaks my fucking heart.  I do my job for them – as when I was a sloppy mess, I was also close to being homeless.

The thought process in the Bay Area is that “poor people should move.” AND, I say to them – “kiss my ass.”

Our elected officials in San Jose don’t have the backbone to stand up to their constituents – they fold to the political pressure, even if it’s unreasonable. My thoughts are overwhelmed by the old prejudice people who say – “they will increase crime, drop property values, kidnap our children, etc.”  They are wrong.  They have no data to support that stance – and there is an abundance of data to the contrary.

Some rich people make me want to drink again – but fuck them, I won’t. Instead, I will build housing for our extremely low-income families and homeless – because it’s the right thing to do.  These folks sit in church on Sunday’s and obviously don’t understand what the Bible teaches – they are asked to have compassion, and help the poor/less fortunate – instead, they make their situations worse.  Human nature, in my observation, is one that doesn’t focus on community, only on self.

For example, take driving. You’ve sat in traffic jams, idiots honking their horns and tailgating on your bumper…they expect you to somehow drive through the cars in front of you, so they can get to their destination faster.  OR, the drivers who go 70 MPH through residential, unaware that they are putting a community at risk, just so they can sit at a red light down the road.

Now, take ants. Where each individual functions as a larger network for the greater good of the colony.  In my opinion, ants have a better understanding of community than humans.

My team of sober fools – I’m approaching 4 years sober – and I won’t let the shitty people of the world drive me back to the bottle. I have to stand strong and be a steadfast leader – an advocate for those less fortunate.  Maybe the wealthy in the Bay Area can take a page from Pope Francis, who has opened the Vatican to the homeless.  He feeds the homeless, builds clinics for the homeless and truly practices what he preaches.

Stay sober, my friends!

Life Puzzle

To me, life is like a puzzle.  I’m sure you’ve heard that before, or something similar about life — but my description of the “life puzzle” is a bit more detailed, and thought out.  The way I think of the puzzle is in phases — filled with trial and error.  AND, through those phases of trial and error, we ultimately work out how our “life puzzle” is supposed to come together.  I don’t know the end product, and how it will look — or how many pieces my puzzle will have — but I do know that patience and strategy is required to assemble your puzzle correctly.

Now, if you try to bypass the steps between the beginning and end — your puzzle will always have gaps, missing pieces and simply won’t be complete.  You will feel somewhat erratic and out of sorts — your purpose will remain unclear.

I’ve noticed that humans yearn for immediate gratification — but sustainable gratification and the feeling of being content only comes from a slow and steady approach.

This whole life puzzle notion occurred to me during a project i’m currently managing.  It is a complex project, equipped with many stakeholders, opinions and varying perspectives on what the timeline should look like.  I explained to the group that managing the project is like a puzzle — as we have thrown many pieces (a wealth of feedback and knowledge) on the table, and the pieces all come with their own specific directions (various levels of expertise and content that needs to all come together) and objective.  At some point the differing specialties and viewpoints must be synthesized, or connected into a final product.

The project is a new idea or concept in the housing industry — and with anything new, comes a lot of evolution in the project.  SO, i told the group — here we are, partners at the table, trying to figure out how the pieces come together.  If we rush it, we’ll fuck it up — but if we take the time, like a puzzle, exploring different angles and options to connect, we will eventually and subconsciously come together as one.  It happened!  Like life, a puzzle comes with many pieces — and all of those pieces have a specific place and purpose within the larger, complete picture.  Sometimes you have to try several times, in several places before the piece fits — but through that trial and error, it becomes undeniable once you find your home.

Don’t expect the entire puzzle to come together when you empty the box.  Realize it takes time, effort and most importantly, mistakes to get to the end goal.

Know your missing pieces, and take the time to figure out where they fit — patience is essential.

A Half Cooked Thought

I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with loved ones.  I spent the holiday down in Long Beach, CA — and it was 90 degrees…so we went to the beach.

Hands

I was dealt a hand today, just like every other day. The hand was ok –but it could’ve been better, especially if the hand included seeing Lila.

I can’t predict if the daily hand i’m dealt will make me smile, frown, cry, or heck, if that hand will take everything from me without a moments notice.  Life is beautiful like that–life is ruthless like that, and i’m willing to accept whatever comes my way. The one thing I can control in this life is how I react to situations — good or bad.  My goal is to be at peace and content, with no regrets, when that last hand is thrown on the table.

(This is a half baked thought — my brain is a bit dead from work, so i’ll resume later.  Any ideas are appreciated).

 

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Remember to Breathe

Initially, when you stop drinking, the absence of alcohol can create cognitive and physical stress.  It is intense.

In time, I literally felt my brain, in all its plasticity, healing each day I didn’t pick the bottle up.  Toward the end of my active alcoholism, I became afraid of the negative impact excessive alcohol consumption was having on my mind.  I had terrible migraines (and still do — just a bit less terrible), was forgetting things (a lot) and always felt sick.

An indication that my mind was healing came about 7-9 months after quitting.  I started dreaming again — old drowned out memories started to resurface — with those memories came little spurts of happiness.  It felt good.  I started to feel like, and remember myself.

Now, years later, I sleep even better — and I dream more frequently.  My senses have become a memory resurfacer (not a word, but it makes sense to me).  A smell can bring me back to my parents kitchen table with my sisters — and the sight of children playing makes me stop and think of holding my nephews.  I wish I could see them more.

Today, as I ran, a song brought me back to my college cafeteria….

(setting: cafeteria table with my best dude friends, 2001, Indiana University of PA, Summer Session)

“Guys, there she is.  Oh my god!  She is so fucking hot.”

“Leif, she would never get with you.  Forget it.”

There she was, is right.  Elana.  The most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my 20 years on planet earth.

Literally.

She reminded me of a Disney princess — Jasmine from Aladdin to be precise.  Elana is Cuban and Colombian — she had long, jet black hair, which shined so bright.  She had these cover-girl eye brows, and always wore tight athletic pants — and that backside was nothing short of spectacular.  Her smile?  It was as big, beautiful and sweet as her lips.

I. Was. In. Love.

I thought about Elana all of the time, and I not only saw her in the cafeteria, but she was living on the same floor in the dorms as me.  All of the guys wanted to ask her out — and I wasn’t sure I could compete with the Delta Sigma’s or Theta Chi’s.

Fucking douche bags.

One day, I was eating some shitty cafeteria food with my friends who literally had no confidence in my game — and, as expected, Elana came walking in looking SO fine!

Today was the fucking day!

“Guys, i’m asking her out.  Fuck it!”

“Yeah right.”

Elana was putting vegetables on a plate at the salad bar — and I slowly walked up next to her, and started putting vegetables on my own plate.  Finally, in front of the cherry tomatoes and mushrooms, I mustered up the balls to talk to Elana.

“Hey, I see you around all of the time and wanted to introduce myself.  I’m Leif.”

I pissed my pants a little.  I immediately went to the bright side and was grateful I didn’t shit myself a little.  Rational, right?

Ok….

“Hi Leif, my name is Elana.  How are you?”

Those two sentences became the beginning of a two year relationship, and a now 10 + year friendship.  I proved all of my friends wrong, and believed in myself enough to take a risk — it was a baller moment.

The point is, I never forgot about Elana, as I said, she is still a good friend of mine.  BUT, I did forget some details of our time together — details that surfaced in such a vivid way, sparked by a song during a morning jog (Dashboard Confessional, Remember to Breathe.  College, right?!).

It’s just another example of the many benefits of treating your mind and body as you should, and I consistently look forward to the next memory that surfaces…along with the other amazing benefits of cleanliness.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

My Daughter

She is my purpose, my reason,

She is why i’m breathing.

She will change the world, and it’s my responsibility to show her how.

She fills me with love, then and even more-so now.

No one has accepted me, believed in me, like her —   no one sees what she sees in me.

I never knew how to love unconditionally. But.

When I first heard her heart beat, then I loved absolutely — everything about her.

Smiles, cries, sadness and happiness.

A spectrum of emotion —  added stress.

At times, a mess — right?

But, she, has always been worth every sleepless night.

Holding her, soothing her — love silences the fuss.

From conception, to that first ride on the school bus.

She is my purpose, my reason,

She is why i’m breathing.

She will change the world, and it’s my responsibility to show her how.

She fills me with love, then and even more-so now.

I love you, Lila 🙂 ❤

 

April 2014 to November 2017

April 2014

  • Weight: 198lbs
  • Blood Pressure: about 140/90 +
  • Gross annual income: 65K
  • Attitude: Complacent and miserable

November 2017

  • Weight: 165lbs
  • Blood Pressure: about 118/75
  • Gross annual income: 98K
  • Attitude:  Determined and much happier

As I approach four years sober,  I am reaching new heights physically, psychologically and professionally.  My confidence has come back full swing after being drowned out for so many years.

I smile, and it’s genuine.

I laugh, and I actually feel the joy.

I say what I mean — I don’t lie to myself or others anymore.

I respect myself and others around me.

I don’t stress about items out of my control, instead, I work hard and prepare everyday to minimize the presence of stress.

I sweat, as it is my therapy.

I think for myself — therefore I am my own completely.

No one or no object, especially a can or bottle, will interfere/disrupt my ability to be the best version of myself.

As I write this entry, I feel butterflies.

I feel excited about the upcoming holiday season. I will be able to visit Pennsylvania.  My parents finally stopped enabling my older sister, who is now in a treatment facility somewhere in Philadelphia.  I hope and pray for her sobriety — but I am certain she will fall back into old, destructive behaviors.  I hope that i’m wrong.

I also pray that my mom isn’t drinking as much, after spending seven days in a treatment facility for alcoholism a few months back.  I have given up on my mom completely giving up alcohol — I just hope she can cut back.  I told her that if she gets back to the level she was drinking before, I will no longer be able to see her.  It was effective when I refused to come home while my sister was  being enabled — so I hope my mother takes me seriously.

For my daughter, I am breaking the cycle.  Like I did, she won’t see death by one thousand needles — like I did when my uncle Johnny and Aunt Marianne died from heroin overdoses.  She won’t see her father drink beer after beer, day after day.  She won’t see medicine cabinets full of orange containers — little tablets that make eyes droop and speech slur.

No, she will see me being me — free from the corruption of some fucking substance.  I want substance in my life, but fuck substances.

I’m not a fool though — as Lila is heading toward the emotional monstrosity that is adolescence.  Will she go down the same path as me or her Aunt?  Maybe.  I am preparing for this now by ensuring my daughter feels comfortable talking to me about anything.  Anything at all.  When and if the time comes, like anything else, we will work through it together.  I pray that preparation goes unneeded –but it’s better to be safe than sorry.