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Someone Forgot to Tell the Kids

The other day I read about racism, war, famine, drought, and depression and that was just the front page of the paper.

Earlier in the year, I had the chance to tour the Loyola Early Learning Center in Baltimore. Walking around the school I noticed student artwork, colorful learning tools, toys and areas to play. The student learning spilled over into the hallways in the best of ways – answers yelled with excitement, students accompanied by warm and caring teachers navigating their way to meet friends.

My mom taught children this age. I vividly remember visiting her classrooms. Thoroughly and thoughtfully decorated and intentionally designed with the student in mind – the space welcomed and encouraged exploration and learning. Being that a hallmark of early childhood education is the importance of play, she always made sure students had opportunities for joy while they learned their foundational skills. These games and activities were based in a pedagogy, but the kids didn’t know any of that – all they did was be themselves, silly, energetic and full of excitement. Each child was known, valued and included. If there was ever a time this wasn’t the case, she would go out of her way to make sure to invite them back in to reunite with their friends. 

The last stop of our tour was the playground. Tucked away in a city alley, was yet another slice of heaven, an oasis, a respite – a place where shouts of joy didn’t need to be hushed, a place where kids played tag, climbed, jumped and learned. Accompanying them were their teachers and parent & guardian volunteers. There were a lot of smiles as we all witnessed our future, hanging out with their friends. 

Reflecting on this time, I found myself seeing the news through a different lens. It’s one thing for me to read about what is happening and think about how I’m affected by racism, war, famine, drought, and depression and decide whether to pay attention to these issues or block them out, but what about the kids? They don’t get a choice to contribute or opt out. All they’re doing is trying their best to pay attention, follow directions and be kind to their friends. 

I think this is a great way to approach world affairs, whether it’s a political power struggle or policy decision – anything that impacts our societal structure. I might be able to stomach these things or explain away why they can be justified, but I’m an adult and my time on this earth is much less than our youth. They have to live with these choices for much longer. They should be the ones who influence and inform my way of proceeding. This realization has certainly challenged me to examine my own behaviors. I can make excuses and justify why I might want to hang on to my time, money or energy and turn my back on our youth by not addressing some of our most threatening issues. I can tell myself a million reasons to justify focusing on just me. One thing I can’t do is explain some of these selfish decisions to our youth. 

So I won’t. 

The only choice is to do my part to ensure a brighter future for our kids. There is so much more in store for them and much of their story is yet to be written. In a world where racism, war, famine, drought, and depression dominate our front pages, it’s important to remember the classrooms full of learners, adventurers, and explorers, playing with blocks, shouting out answers. 

There was a moment on the playground when I found myself thinking about the challenges and evil in our world that the news tells us about, seemingly all the time, painting a world doomed for destruction. My pessimism was then interrupted by a joyful yell – a student recognizing one of their friends. I then thought to myself,

Someone forgot to tell the kids. 

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Keep me posted

I’ve talked a lot about wanting to write a book.

I remember the reaction when I first posted my plan on Facebook.

It felt great, I was affirmed and my hopes soared.

That summer I wrote almost eighty pages and was hopeful for the future.

Recently, I haven’t made enough time for writing and other things that bring me joy. I love following and seeing what everyone is up to and it lifts my spirits to see all the wonderful things happening in the lives of loved ones and friends.

However, I decided that social media has taken up too much space in my life. I’m just cutting out Facebook for now and will post on Instagram occasionally because I really like taking and seeing photos, but I’m going to back off on that too.

When I do eventually finish this book, I hope that you find out about it and give it a chance.

This isn’t an indictment on social media, just something I’m trying.

At the end of the day, everything is an experiment, so add this to the list.

Thanks for following along for this long, keep me posted.

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brendanpatrick.okane@gmail.com

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Club soda with a lime, please.

Last night, I gratefully ordered a club soda with lime for what seems to be the 10,000th time.

Twenty minutes later I watched as a Guinness was purposely poured.  Cascading over the spoon to create a swirling work of art. It was quickly but carefully brought to a patron waiting patiently at the end of the bar.

Walking around the Milwaukee Art Museum last week, I was in awe of the eclectic collection and refreshing architectural design.

Often times I’m drawn to bright colors and vibrant pieces, but linger at simple ones, depressed in tone. They’re the ones that evoke my raw emotions.

At first, this was not one of them.

In fact, I walked past it and when I circled back I noticed something – it was in disguise.

I saw a chalkboard, hastily washed, with a small box and a line under it – etched like someone who was in a hurry.

When I got closer, I read the description and examined the canvas. It was an oil painting.

What a trip.

Immediately, my opinion was transformed. From nothing special to wow – just because I knew the ingredients.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a saving grace of maintaining my sobriety in social situations has been ordering a club soda with a lime.

You might be thinking – what are you doing in a bar anyway? – and I get that. I do consider myself an alcoholic.

I’m also grateful that I’ve been able to be in social situations, sober for over seven years, and I haven’t felt an unmanageable desire to drink. Many of my friends, or people I know in recovery, do not share this level of comfort. It’s something I consider a luxury and work very hard at maintaining.

You might be thinking – didn’t he begin by saying he was in awe of a Guinness being poured, I don’t know how comfortable he really is? – I get that too.

The desire is there, sure.

I mean, I went to Ireland, was in Dublin and people in the bar even thought I was Conor McGregor, and wanted to buy me a drink.

That’s one of the lighter moments where I had to decline, despite wanting to take them up on their offer. There have been some really tough times too.

I’d much rather not have to manage my time at happy hours, depending on how comfortable I’m feeling.

It would be nice to be part of champagne toasts at weddings.

However, if someone told me I could go back – I wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t because before, my life had many moments of chaos, confusion, uneasiness, regret, and despair. Not to belabor a point but, like I’ve said in previous entries – most people would have never known.

Our culture is pretty accepting of alcohol abuse. But I knew.

Deep in my soul. I wanted more out of life.

Maybe that explains my taste in art. I appreciate and am drawn to color but I’m in awe of the simple, the honest and the raw. I’m in awe of interior struggle and I’m committed to maintaining the level of quiet peace that sobriety has given my soul.

The club soda with a lime isn’t flashy and doesn’t grab attention. It could even be seen as deception, but upon further investigation – it’s shouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s simple and if I give it a chance, it’s exactly the right ingredients.

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On Recovery

My road to recovery began with AA. Early on, especially in my first year of sobriety, I leaned on it, clung to it. I would not have been able to make such a big change without the tremendous support I received. AA took me to school and taught me about judgment, acceptance, trust and deception.

on recovery

Judgment: When I walked into my first meeting, I was surprised to see people who looked like they were happy, healthy and thriving. Growing up, I knew people that had problems with alcohol but I still had a face of addiction in my mind and it didn’t look like me. Yes, there were people in the meetings who were visibly struggling, but it was not always clear. I quickly learned I had underestimated the reach and power of addiction.

We’re all possible candidates, no matter how much love we have received, no matter how much money we have earned.

We’re all possible candidates.

Those church basements, dining halls and conference rooms felt like classrooms. Anxious and afraid, I listened to stories, recited mantras, read books and took notes. The people in those rooms became my teachers and for one of the first times in my life, I understood the importance of learning.

We learn so we can identify and implement the positives and negate the negatives.

We learn so our lives can be more fulfilling.

We learn so one day we can become the teachers.

Even a case for Geometry can be made here because the learning of something difficult (for me, Math) is a reminder that we don’t know it all. There’s a big world out there and learning something we previously didn’t know is a gift.

Unfortunately, because of judgment, often times we don’t make space in our lives for learning. When I walked into the basement of building in downtown Baltimore I had to be open and accepting of each person because I never knew who was going to save my life that day. No, they weren’t physically stopping me from harming myself but their stories, smiles, and suggestions gave me life. They gave me hope.

If I spent my time judging people about how they got to where they are, if they’re telling the truth or exaggerating (thoughts that would run through my head from time to time) then I would miss the valuable lessons.

Acceptance: More times than I’d like to admit, I have looked at my life and said, “Wow, this isn’t how I planned it would look.” I’m ashamed to say that it is because of hubris, entitlement, whatever you want to call it, it’s because I didn’t think it could be me. I am so happy with how things are now, but I never anticipated experiencing many of the struggles I’ve faced.

The following statement is drenched in arrogance, “Well, I mean, I’m not an alcoholic.”

It has to be said in the “better than you” way that these statements are said. It comes from a place of perceived dominance and false security. It’s to say, “yeah I know those things happen, but not to me.”

Throughout my life God is constantly saying, “Oh yea?”

Believe it or not, I didn’t plan on being almost seven years sober by the age of 33.

The people in AA with me didn’t plan on their lives turning out how they have either but there can be beauty in the shared disruptive experience. We all experience some sort of destruction. It disrupts our perceived natural order of things.

Often times because of drinking, relationships fall apart, money is lost and pain is caused. It’s not something dreamt of as a kid, nor is it discussed in our ten year plans. The antidote to this way of proceeding is acceptance.

Acceptance purifies.

Often we might have a weak connotation with the word acceptance, but I look at it as full of power. I found the strongest people in the world in those meetings. Powerless over the control alcohol has? Yes. Powerful and able to accept that truth and make something out of life rather than dwelling on what could have been? Absolutely.

Often times when things happen to us we think, “Why me?” as if another person is a more deserving instrument. This stems from a seed of belief that God built a hierarchy which protects all the “good” people and wreaks havoc on the “bad.”

The sooner we get over this and get over ourselves, we’ll be able to live the serenity prayer.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

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calm amidst chaos

Trust: Today it’s often perceived as weak and simple minded when someone places complete trust in God.

Many people I’ve talked to say that faith takes the place of reason because basically your reasoning muscles are weak so you rely on trust instead of doing the work. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. I don’t think it is, and based on my experience, this is largely an unfair assessment because I see people who trust in God as people who are extremely rational because in my eyes, often times life is irrational.

Whether you believe in God or not, sometimes life gets to the point where we start to look for answers and yearn for guidance.

In AA, recovery doesn’t happen without trust in a higher power. An entity to which we can turn and with which we can struggle. It’s not a safety blanket or a cop-out, it’s a source of power greater than anything this earth has to offer. When you think about it if the goal is to initiate a transformation can you blame someone for looking up for guidance instead of just around in the environment that contributed to the need for the change? This doesn’t mean that people can’t help bring change to our lives, AA wouldn’t be anything without the people doing the work. However, addiction wreaks so much havoc that sometimes fueling the soul while working on the body and mind is a rational way to combat such irrationality.

For me, trusting in God is the only way I’ve been able to be sober for so long. This trust has empowered me to take time to pray or go to mass every day, read the Bible, self-help books and poetry, exercise and commit myself to continue working in schools (something that keeps me honest). I ask more questions now than I did when my faith was absent. I struggle with controversial Bible passages, pastors, and the myriad of issues that come with being a believer.

Thankfully this trust has also allowed me to see the beauty in the people around me, knowing that they are all a part of the bigger picture, no one better or worse than the other.

Deception: We’re great at tricking ourselves and that is both positive and negative. I learned this in both Africa and AA.

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Mt. Kilimanjaro

Deception for the better – I had to go to Africa and meet a man named Juma to learn this lesson. My uncle, a role model of mine, is an adventurer. He has climbed many of the world’s tallest mountains and is not afraid of a challenge. When the invite to climb Kilimanjaro came my way as a junior in college, I didn’t hesitate to accept. At that time I was in shape because of Cross Country and I believed I was ready to make it to The Roof of Africa.

In the months leading up to the trip, my father and the rest of the crew spent plenty of time in the gym and REI.

We were ready.

Fast forward to the final 24 hours of the climb which included the summit. Juma, our guide, gave us updates on how far we had to go and because we were tired, he was getting peppered with inquiries. Most of the time he would smile and say, “Forty-five minutes.” Two hours later I realized he had told us the same answer a few times now. I remember being so angry at him. I thought to myself, “Why would he lie like that? Maybe I was planning my nutrition by how long he said he had to go? How inconsiderate!” Sure enough, he got us to the top.

It was a very difficult day because after the summit we needed to descend because of the altitude. Later that evening when debriefing about the climb I came to a realization: Juma’s deception was essential.

Sometimes when we are faced with the gravity of the entire challenge ahead of us, we fold. I think Juma knew we were intimidated and knew we were nervous. By telling us we didn’t have much more to go, he made us think we could do it. I’ve implemented this strategy in my marathon training, often times before my early morning workouts. I say that I’ll run a mile and see what happens, maybe I’ll even run home if I’m not feeling well. Well, because it’s only temporary weakness, I never end up turning around after that first mile. Just like Juma, I think God helps us believe we are capable of more than we are.

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At the summit!

Through AA I also learned how good I was at deceiving myself, but this time it was the negative kind that kept me at the bottom of the mountain. Meeting after meeting I heard people talk about how we often tell ourselves things like “Oh that will never be me!” or “I can back off when I want to.”

These false mantras lead to destruction because the reality is quite the opposite. So many of my brethren in the room that were there by mandate by the law or a significant other and maintained the same lie, this is temporary.

Like I said earlier, I didn’t think I belonged in those rooms and for some warped reason I thought addiction was below me. Many of the older guys in the room would often chastise the ones who seemed to be in denial. They’d tell stories and say things like, “You say you will never drink and drive or you will never steal to support the habit and then your ‘nevers’ turn into reality.”

Thankfully that hit home with me because it illustrated how we’re not automatically safe from ourselves, it takes awareness and work. The intricacies of deception are vast and I certainly never want to be someone who can’t see what’s right in front of me.

A lifetime of sobriety seems daunting to me, but I’m just focusing on hanging on for another forty-five minutes.

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On Drinking

Before I begin I need to acknowledge a few things:

#1. I’m in recovery and have been sober since 2011. If you are reading this and you are not, that is a blessing! Rest assured that the following story is helpful (at least I hope it is) for anyone, really.

#2. I know that being sober doesn’t make me an authority on addiction or make me better than anyone.

#3. I do not claim to understand what it is like for all people who are fighting for freedom from whatever drug or alcohol that controls them. What I do understand is how powerful we are and what it feels like to be powerless.

All my life I’ve been a follower. I give way too much credit to people, build others up to mythical status, and defer to others’ opinions rather than trusting my own. This became really clear when I started drinking. I was the stereotypical spineless teenager that cared more about being accepted than doing what was right.

Despite having a childhood and a family filled with love and direction, the only way for me was wherever my friends were going. Mix in some bad skin, poor hand-eye coordination, a mediocre intellect and the recipe was complete.

To the outsider, I probably seemed like I was relatively happy. Yes, I had bad skin but it wasn’t so bad. Poor hand-eye coordination, sure but I still made the freshman lacrosse team. A mediocre intellect, but I earned B’s and kept it moving.

My issues were never to the point where I’d ask anyone to feel sorry for me. But see, the thing with issues is when they are yours, they are all you can see.

I must have been such an enigma as a kid because I had such low self-worth despite being showered with love and attention.

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When I looked in the mirror I would only see my imperfections, not my cool blonde hair and blue eyes. I only talked about the times I was cut, not the teams I made. When I reviewed my report card I only saw the D’s not the A’s.

I also rarely acknowledged the faults in my friends and constantly deferred to their opinion. When I started drinking it was because my friends were, and I had no idea who I was, so I followed. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a victim.

After a night of drinking in New York City, my father picked me up from the train station and I reeked of booze. Knowing I needed an excuse, I told him that a drunk guy bumped into me and spilled his beer. He didn’t hesitate. “What’d he spill it down your throat?” Point taken. Like I said, I wasn’t a victim.

So often I tried to deflect blame for things for which I was clearly in the wrong. I’d come home from school with a bad grade, “Everyone did poorly!” or come home from a night out drinking with friends, “Well maybe if you didn’t get in my business so much I wouldn’t feel the need to go out with my friends!” Granted, sometimes excuses are valid, but most of the time I was just trying to avoid blame and responsibility.

It’s an extremely detrimental way to go through life and I fell into the habit of making excuses for my behavior. Why did I drink? “Well, do you see my skin? I’m so insecure. It’s the only way I can fit in!” Why did I lie? “Come on Mom, all the guys were there!” It’s really depressing.

As an adult, now when I see students fall into this trap, I can’t help but feel sorry for them. At the time, to them, it really seems like it’s the way to go. Deflect the blame and get through to the next day. The problem with this way of proceeding is that we never really leave those disappointing moments. They stay with us because they are unresolved.

I remember a couple years ago when I was talking to my parents about how I behaved in high school and my mother revealed to me that she knew all the times I was drinking. All the times I lied, she knew. All the times I used my insecurity or depression as an excuse for my behavior, she saw right through me.

The fact that she redirected me, without complete embarrassment, is magic. I was so lost and vulnerable and my parents did just the right amount of correcting. I had plenty of room to find out who I was, but not enough room to feel like I was alone or unchecked. This middle road served me well, especially when encountering the tough issues associated with addition, the toughest for me – telling the truth.

A colleague of mine once said, “See the thing about drinking when you’re young, is that you have to be a liar.” Even as adults, any time we have an agreement with someone – avoiding smoking, gambling, or talking to an ex, whatever it is, if we aren’t going to fulfill our half of the agreement, then we need to become comfortable with being liars.

As an underage drinker, in order to continue, I had to keep up the lying. I wasn’t of age, I didn’t pay the mortgage and I was dependent on staying in good graces with my parents. Unfortunately, the real person I was lying to was myself. I always had fun when I went out, but if I did something wrong, I would feel an extreme sense of guilt that was more vivid than any crazy night.

So many people would tell my parents that I was a “good kid” and talk about how proud they should be, except my behavior was not reflecting what they thought about me. I was being sneaky, doing whatever was popular, and ignoring a lot of the great advice I’d been given.

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Throughout my life, I have always viewed myself as a moral and just person, but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I learned in order to be seen as moral and just all of the time, acting that way most of the time doesn’t cut it.

It pains me to this day that there are people out there who only knew me as a drinking buddy or in that context that think I’m a jerk or worse.

We don’t get free passes because we’re stressed, drunk, high or angry at someone else.

We don’t, because the people on the other end of those interactions have a hard time unseeing or forgetting our actions.

Now, yes we all need to practice forgiveness, but no matter what the circumstances or conversation afterward, words can’t be unsaid, feelings can’t be unhurt.

I’ve been working with middle and high school students since 2007. For the first part of my career I was drinking and it interfered with my job. Not in the way that I was drinking before work or was drunk while teaching, but because having it as a part of my life held me back from being the best role model I could be for the students.

Over time I have found the easiest way to connect with someone is by being authentic, no one likes a hypocrite. So when I was teaching Theology classes speaking about how we need to live the Good News and treat one another with respect, I can imagine some students saw through me. I had issues that needed attention before I could practice what I was preaching.

A turning point in my relationship with drinking was when I realized I was sacrificing what I really cared about for something that gave me nothing but fleeting satisfaction. I had attempted to cut back a few times to no avail.

My Sunday mornings were filled with apologies and anxiety.

I’ll never forget finally dropping down to my knees in my bedroom, distraught and defeated.

That evening, I walked into an AA meeting and with the help of God, my friends and loved ones, I’m free.

Now I have no excuse for the things I say or actions I take, there’s nowhere to hide and no place to run. This is a raw and intimidating way to go through life but it’s also fulfilling.

I no longer need to give alcohol any credit for my courage or creativity.

I can no longer blame something else for how I am.

I now own everything I do.

If you are reading this, are of age, and can casually drink without it getting in the way, please don’t think I’m speaking down to you. It’s not something I’ve been able to do. However, I think regardless of where we are on the spectrum of use, we all need a thorough evaluation of any substance, emotion or person that has power over us.

Things, thoughts, and people should add value, not cause destruction.

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On Love

Movies and television make relationships out to be full of extremes. Amazing or broken. Beautiful passion or deceitful destruction. I think this is why we are all so fascinated with marriage. Two people making the decision that even with the possibility of potential tragedy they see on display in movies, television or even some of their friends’ lives, the possible amazing is worth the risk. For a long time I thought this assessment was pretty spot on, but boy was I wrong. Love doesn’t live in extremes, it might visit, but it spends most of its time in the middle of the give and take that’s necessary to sustain something truly beautiful. These are the marks of true love – mutual respect, selfless support, boundless belief. I know what you’re thinking. What do I know, right? Not much, but have I paid attention. Believe it or not, I had a third row seat.

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Always my biggest fan.

Years ago I was at a wedding where the bride and groom wrote their own vows. Not only were they heartfelt and personal but they both mentioned the importance of building each other up, never tearing the other person down, and they meant it. She spoke about how much she admired him and with a purposeful smile on his face, he looked right into her eyes and said he would always be there for her. In that moment, I remember thinking, “THEY are in love.” They spoke with calm, but excited, conviction.

The focus on mutual respect and support is something I witness with my own mother and father. No matter what is going on, something that isn’t tolerated is breaking down the other person. There are stressful arguments at times, but it never devolves to personal attacks. Before it gets to that point it is almost as if they look at each other and know. Arguing is one thing, but desecration is another. Devolution to disrespect is off the table. They teach me that we don’t need to worship the person we are with, but we need to cherish them, at all times.

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Always putting people before him.

My father works with contractors and knows a lot about the intricacies of how things are built. Once he told me about a building in NYC – 432 Park Ave – that is extremely tall (425.5m) but has a base the size of a postage stamp (comparably to what it could be). The building has a 19:1 ratio of height to width and because of this, there needs to be built in floors that are open in order to let air flow. If architects didn’t include those, then the building would not be able to stay standing if there were strong winds. They also have a humongous suspended weight at the top of the building that in order to maintain balance, moves as the building sways. In order to create something so awe-inspiring, a great deal of effort needed to go into creating an intricate design that would stay standing in a storm, just like my parents’ marriage.

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432 Park Ave.

In the grand scheme of this world, they occupy a postage stamp. Neither has interest in notoriety, nor do they feel the need to take more than they need. In raising my sister and me, they give their time, effort, emotion, resources and most importantly, they share their foundation. Their values influence the way they live their lives each day. When my mother was a teacher she emphasized the importance of empathy and respect. Whether the students were four or fourteen, she made sure they knew how important they were to her and that if they focused on the golden rule, their life journey would be filled with meaning.  She brings that same attitude home and always makes sure my father feels loved. He does the same. Thoughtful gestures, kind words and relentless support are hallmarks of his love. Together they spend time on making sure there are those built in spaces that allow the both of them to be their own person. They sway and at times it takes the great weight (their faith) to keep them balanced, but because they have dedicated their lives to building one another up, it’s going to take a lot more than some wind to bring them down. This allows them to stand tall, together.

Scratching and Clawing

I’m constantly in awe of TED talks. 

Whenever I listen to them or watch them, I am always inspired by the mastery of content matter, the confidence in the delivery, and the importance of the message. They have a way of making sense of complex topics. 

Yesterday I was walking home from getting dinner and was feeling a bit down, a bit lonely, so I decided to listen to a podcast – on happiness. 

Usually I don’t like to have my headphones in while walking anywhere at night because it makes me more unaware of my surroundings and calls attention to the fact that I have something valuable on me, but I lowered the volume, hid them under my hoodie and tried to learn a little more about what makes us happy or unhappy. 

One of the fascinating insights (the podcast is titled “Simply Happy”) was that our minds are often wandering. This might not seem like a big deal, but part of the research showed that we are most happy when we are most focused

When I used to teach, I would often have a lot of trouble getting the attention of my students when trying to deliver a lecture on topics like checks and balances rather than an engaging activity. This usually culminated with them solemnly leaving class, probably yawning on their way out the door. I’d return to my desk and on my really close minded days probably lament to a co-worker some version of, “kids these days” while letting out a frustrated sigh.  

Upon further reflection, it all makes perfect sense. If I was giving a lecture and it wasn’t engaging, most likely there were a lot of wandering minds which meant a room full of unhappy students.

Not giving them opportunities to be focused meant I was robbing them of happiness. 

In a previous post, I mentioned that before I decided to back off social media that I’d even be on my phone when I watched TV. It’s really interesting to think about the fact that maybe part of the reason that I felt even more empty after an hour of watching TV while also on my phone was that yes both of them can qualify as distractions but the truth was I wasn’t focusing on either of them

I know that sometimes this is going to look like scratching and clawing. Just like my students in History class – some of them really fought to pay attention even when their compatriots had thrown in the towel. Maybe their reward for this was a better grade, but looking back on what I know now, they were also creating more happiness. 

Thinking more on my life and relationships, I already know that giving attention, simply to the primacy of focus will have an impact on my future happiness. The people in my life that work to do this, especially when I am sharing a particularly long-winded story, are not only being kind and patient, they’re choosing to be happier.

More focus = more happiness. I know it’s not infallible, but it makes a lot of sense to me. 

Dull idea

Excitement can be crushed in seconds. 

Have you ever had someone express a new endeavor or way of thinking to you and your response be an unnecessary critique? Something like this:

Person A: I’m thinking of starting a garden. I’ve always enjoyed helping out with them and think that my own would provide me a positive outlet, a new hobby.

Person B: Sounds like a lot of work. Gardens are fickle. 

I’ve certainly done it before, thankfully I’ve finally figured out why. 

‘Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) [idea] by Joseph Kosuth’

When I was twenty three or so, I woke up after a late night of hanging out with my friends. We had gone out downtown, had a bunch of drinks and ate late night food. 

I woke up feeling awful. 

Seeking a change, something that might improve future nights out – I told some of my friends that I was going to stop drinking hard liquor. The responses to my idea varied drastically – some chuckled and others just nodded their heads. One even said something to the tune of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” 

I remember being so upset. Here I was with an idea for self-improvement and even some of my own friends didn’t believe in me. For many years I have been hurt by this, but as I’ve grown older and wiser I better understand their responses. 

So often we hear people around us or see people online talking about making a change and often times those changes never come. Often times our pessimism is based in facts. 

I had been regularly drinking with my friends for a few years at the point when I started talking about cutting back, they didn’t exactly have reason to believe I was actually going to do it. Why would they? Recent evidence pointed to anything but that. 

Turns out that they were right. This conversation was about two years before I actually stopped. I’ve already written in the post On Drinking about how people reacted when I told them I was quitting drinking completely – it was a spectrum from disregard and disbelief to total support.

Now I don’t blame anyone for their actions or hold resentment because I’ve taken ownership of my own. If their reactions were more positive, could this change have happened earlier? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it was just a matter of not understanding the whole situation or maybe I never provided the real reasoning behind my idea. Looking back, I never shared with them how desperately I wanted this change. How much I wanted a different life – one filled with confidence and fun that didn’t involve drinking. Part of the problem was I didn’t think this life existed. I thought everyone’s social lives revolved around drinking and drinking a lot.

Regardless, life isn’t about talking about change, it’s showing the change. People shouldn’t have to take my word for things or be convinced, they should plainly see the efforts and intentionality. It needs to come from me and it is not their responsibility.

All this being said, I know I do have the power to brighten or support ideas shared with me. So why does this dulling or disbelieving of ideas happen, and why have I done this to others up until my recent realization? Well, for me my reactions are often most negative when someone is discussing a change I haven’t been able to get myself to do. For you, it might be a different reason, the reasoning behind being negative can be complex and can also involve mental health. Often times it is easy to bring others down when I’m going through tough times – maybe you feel the same way. 

I’ve been the person who laughed off or gave a snarky response to someone saying they were going to make a change. Just thinking of doing this eats at me, and it should. 

Finally, there is a big difference between this negative response and one that is filled with constructive criticism, suggestions, and care. I’m not advocating for simply agreeing with every idea that is shared. I do know that being honest and sharing my opinion can be helpful – often someone who speaks helpful truth can be rare. Having people who proceed like this in my life has certainly helped me grow. 

So what am I saying? I’m saying excitement can be crushed in seconds, it can also be created. 

I need to let ideas grow.

Starting your own garden? So cool. That sounds like a bright idea to me!

Open Doors Open Arms

I wouldn’t be here without the care, love and concern showed by the LGBTQ+ community.

One fact I omitted from a previous blog about my recovery was that the first AA meeting I went to was specifically for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I had no idea.

All I knew was that I made the decision to get sober and wanted to attend a meeting that evening.

Apprehensive about embarking on a life without alcohol, and not sure if it was even possible, I walked in the room and took a seat in the back.

Immediately, I was greeted by an understanding smile. My uneasiness must have been visible because the leader of the meeting approached me to check-in.

He gave me a copy of The Big Book, even after I told him I didn’t have any money.

He knew I needed it and was there for me.

No judgement.

All understanding.

Soon after, I found my home at a morning meeting close to my apartment, but it was because of the initial open door and open arms and the acceptance of the group that allowed me to begin my recovery.

Through this experience, I was reminded of what it really means to love and respect one another.

The leader of that meeting was there for me simply because it was the right thing to do.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? – Luke 6:33

I was truly being treated as the people in the group want to be treated.

No judgement.

All understanding.

I learned that often times when I’m in need, and I am honest and open to receiving help, it’s there, like God, waiting for me.

If I’m whispering, I’m speaking too loud

Sticks and stones may break bones but what about whispered words?

They burn bridges.

I’ve written on gossip before and how damaging it is to both parties, but this whispering isn’t the make sure the door is closed whispering, it’s the things I tell myself.

The other day I saw this sign and thought it was eerily poignant.

IMG_0953 (6).jpg

I’ve been going through it.

Call it what you want it – you all know what I’m talking about.

Recently, I decided to get rid of social media as an experiment to see if it would help. Lonely at times? Sure. Liberating? Absolutely.

I’m seeing things differently.

Yesterday I watched T.V.

Yeah I know, wow Brendan you got off social media to watch T.V.

I mean I really watched. Not watched five minutes then grab my phone and check Instagram while the episode played in the background.

Yesterday I drove my car.

Really drove. Not get to a red light, check my phone, put it down, keep driving.

Yesterday I took pictures.

Just took them. Didn’t post or share.

Yesterday I walked.

Just walked. Not walked while scrolling or listening to music.

These might seem trivial, even laughable, and that’s okay, but it’s a seemingly small shift that has been seismic.

After a lot of prayer and reflection, I’ve realized the most important commodity, feeling, emotion, state of mind – whatever you want to call it – is freedom.

Before social media, it was having a beer.

Clean up the apartment, and have a beer.

Play video games, and have a beer.

Read a book, and have a beer.

Sobriety has also been freeing. Lonely at times? Sure. But I enjoy not having a substance that has control over my words, emotions or actions.

There doesn’t have to be an and. We can all just do. Just be.

Society tells us we need to multitask. Maximize each hour. Grind.

The catch is that often times, in that pursuit, I forget to look both ways.

Look back to what has brought me to this place – what’s coming down the road.

Look ahead to what could be – what’s next.

We’ve all closed the door and shared something with someone we trust. This is a good thing, privacy and honesty are important. However, I’ve found when I’m looking around to see if anyone is listening or watching – the words or actions that follow can hold more weight than shouts of joy.

Now I know that when I close my door, in the privacy of my own soul, what I choose to tell myself has great power, and if I’m not careful it can lead me astray. But, with awareness, trust, and courage, I can make progress.

I can be free.

Long Division

I was never too good at Math.

One aspect that confounded me was long division. Ending up with a remainder and still having the right answer somehow felt like cheating. I didn’t think there should be any unfinished business. A remainder? C’mon.

I know, not sound logic, like I said – not my strong suit.

Round numbers, clean results, no remainders, if it were only that simple right?

When I get in heated situations or when it’s been a day and I let my defenses down, sometimes I’ll say or do something I wish I didn’t.

Hopefully, I’m not alone in this.

Recently I went to a leadership seminar and when we discussed managing conflict, I told my group the most important lesson I’ve learned (through trial and error) was to respond with kindness.

Another group member spoke up and said, their most important thing was to first do nothing.

Don’t respond.

Do nothing.

This allows the space for a proper plan to develop.

It could look like cutting a conversation short, saying you need time to think, whatever it is – it’s better than what was about to happen!

I liked this so much, so I added some steps to it and posted it where I can easily see it.

Here’s how I see this playing out for me:

Refrain – Do nothing. No matter how much I might want to, leave it alone.

Reflect – What just happened? Take a while to go over the details – review the evidence.

Respond – With kindness (I still think this is the way to go) even if it’s a response that contains some harsh truth or maybe an apology.

Remain – Be confident and stick to what I know is right. Don’t second guess. If new information presents itself and I need to alter my course, fine, but I need to be good with my choice.

For me, the toughest part of this process isn’t the first step, it’s the last one.

I need to be okay with unfinished conversations or unresolved issues.

Sometimes there isn’t a tidy conclusion.

At 33 I’m finally embracing this whole concept of remainders.

Still awful at long division.