Serious Jazz

Walking with my dog this morning, I saw a bumper sticker: “I love Serious Jazz!” I can’t quite infer the driver’s feelings on Casual Jazz or Irreverent Jazz, let alone Flippant Jazz. Perhaps they tolerate those lesser forms, perhaps they resent their bebased corruption of the serious form. They had no such sticker declaring their emotional affect with regards to the less stringent spirits. But their feelings couldn’t be more clear about Serious Jazz. They love it.

I’ve never been much of a jazz man myself. Perhaps I’ve never been serious enough to connect. I like some, but I’m basic. I have “Kind of Blue”. I’ll listen to a generic jazz station occasionally and skip the songs that go too far out there. I know the names Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, but if one of their songs came on, I wouldn’t be able to tell you who was playing. In fact, if a jazz song came on and you said name the artist, I’d probably just shout out one of the few names I know and hope I got it right. To be honest, I don’t know what would be distinguishing features of serious and un-serious jazz. 

I imagine my bumper sticker neighbor wouldn’t approve of my unserious lack of devotion. I am not a real Jazz fan, certainly not a serious one. I don’t have the pure adherence to the truest form. Within my heart, I don’t adhere to the principles. I don’t hold the foundations. I am casual, not devout. My soul is not pure. I’m sure my neighbor would not cast me into the flame for my sins, but I would receive judgement.  

In thinking what it means to Love Serious Jazz, I remember the Oxford Group. I am only familiar with the Oxford Group due to their influence on the foundations of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Oxford Group was an evangelical Christian group who sought to purify the souls of humanity through four principles, known as the “Four Absolutes”; absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love (the precursors to AA’s twelve steps). Along with these absolutes were standard practices that led one to clearing out the moral failings that had previously been blocking one’s spirit from a closer relationship with the divine. 

Bill Wilson, one of AA’s co-founders, was exposed to the teachings of the Oxford Group and found recovery from his severe chronic alcoholism. In Wilson’s effort to help fellow sufferers of the addictive affliction, he brought many to Oxford Group meetings. While there are definite overlaps between what would become the AA program with the practices of the Oxford Group, these early efforts were unsuccessful. Many alcoholics were unable to connect with the evangelical group. Likewise, the drying out drunks were not the typical targets of conversion for the Christian practitioners. 

Wilson was eventually successful when he connected with the failing physician Bob Smith, AA’s second co-founder, Dr. Bob. Along with other early recovering individuals, the founders set forth the program of recovery in AA’s “Big Book”. While maintaining a heavy influence, AA departed from the tenets of the Oxford Group in a few important ways. First, most notable on its face, AA proposed a twelve step plan of recovery and opposed to the four absolutes of the Oxford Group. Second, these steps were put forth as a “suggested program”. Anyone who has a desire to stop drinking is free to attend or join AA; the adoption of any belief is not required. Lastly, at the urging of then addiction specialist Dr. William Silkworth, alcoholism was presented as a possible “allergy” or disease, not a moral failing. 

You can travel around the world and find AA meetings in many different languages. The Oxford Group doesn’t exist anymore, though it does have some spiritual successors active under different names.

I’m sure that Serious Jazz is a paragon of musical mastery, tremendous technique fused with impeccable improvisation. Likewise, aspirations of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love seem laudable to me. However, the enduring prevalence of AA over the Oxford Group highlights an important component for success: recognition of human shortcomings as natural, not moral. Compassion for the compromised over exaltation of the exceptional has saved more lives and spirits than a more rigorous form. We should love more music and care less about it fitting our serious standards.

If I thought these principles were only applicable to music snobs, I wouldn’t write about it. If I thought it was only of interest in anonymous groups, I’d keep my words private. What I see daily, though, are constant assessments and presentations of a person’s seriousness or absolute commitment to purity. Every aspect of personality, personhood, and social convention has its ideal of the perfect form. Has one fit the new standards and forms? Have they sufficiently condemned the previous ones? If not, we must cast them out. This does not seem to me to be a recipe for salvation, but one of exclusion and castigation. Success will come through compassion not expulsion. Human failings are natural, to be improved, not perfected. No one can fit that form, meet that standard. You absolutely can’t be serious.

Surviving Guilt

I was seventeen when my grandmother died. It was not a particularly traumatizing death: she was older, had smoked her whole life, and battled with complications from emphysema. It’s always sad when a family member dies, my mother and her siblings were upset, but it was not a shocking death. There is a sort of inevitable justice when someone from an older generation dies. You hate to see them go, but we all have to go at some point and at least they got a full ride’s worth.

During the funeral, I linked up with two cousins of mine, David and Brandon. David was a little older and Brandon a little younger, but we were all essentially the same age. I saw David fairly frequently growing up, Brandon a little less due to his growing up a few states away. I hadn’t really kept in touch with either of them as we all went through our respective disillusioned teen years. At the funeral, someone suggested that we leave the ceremony a little early and go back to my grandmother’s house. Frankly, we were bored by the proceedings and wanted to get out of the grave yard. Our parents needed to stay on the grounds for a little longer, but were fine with the idea, as everyone would be meeting back there for reception. 

The three of us talked a bit on the ride and caught up on our respective lives. Brandon was more into sports. He and I both played golf. Though I wouldn’t admit it then, he was better than I was. David was more into music. Though I played in a band, when David talked about the punk shows he went to, I felt insurmountably less cool for not having heard of his favorite bands.

We were all into booze and drugs.

To varying degrees. We all had some chemical experiments. I got the sense that I had traveled the furthest down the rabbit hole at that point. It’s hard to communicate to an outsider, but when you find a certain substance common place and others react with too much enthusiasm or trepidation you know who’s had more trips around the ferris wheel. It’s hard to say who was the most accomplished drinker. We were all experienced. 

I don’t know who suggested it first, but someone had the idea that we should go in and tap into the liquid resources for the reception. Being underage, we would have to get some drinks in before everyone got back to the house and be discreet about it. The idea sounded good to all of us. We poured some drinks and commenced to do what we did. 

The funeral proceedings ended up taking our parents and family members a while, so we had longer than expected with the bottle. By the time everyone arrived, there was no hiding how much we had drank either by the amount of booze drained from the bottle or our hazed condition. Our parents weren’t necessarily happy about it, but I don’t think there was a single family member shocked that we had drank. Given the day’s occasion, we were given a pass for drinking underage. 

I can’t speak for the other two, but I blacked out. I came to in a sleeping bag on my grandmother’s living room floor. My cousins were on the couches and floor around me. I certainly hadn’t expected, planned or wanted to drink to that degree, but it was the sort of thing that just happened. I felt guilty for drinking that way at my grandmother’s funeral, but it was the sort of thing that just happened.

To be honest, I don’t know if I ever saw Brandon and David at the same time again. I know I saw David at a couple of weddings thereafter, but we didn’t stay in touch.

Brandon and David are now dead. Brandon died a few years ago, he was thirty one. David died this past year, he was thirty six. Both as a result of the abuse of drugs and alcohol. I have been sober for over nine years. 

As I write that, I feel the guilt come on. There is no justice in that reality. When I think back to that meeting of teenagers at our grandmother’s funeral, we were all in the same boat. I distinctly remember that my own drug taking was a bit heavier than the other two. To think that of the three of us, I am the only one who survived, I am the only one who made it out of the mess of drug and alcohol abuse… Why am I the one who got sober? Why am I the one who got to live? I did nothing special to merit the gift; they did nothing wrong to merit the punishment.

I feel particularly guilty to their parents. Sometimes I see them express their pain on social media, how they miss their child who they outlived. Who I outlived. I imagine they ask themselves all the questions I ask myself, what could have been done differently? How could it have been possible for their children to grow older and see more of life? And yet, here I am, growing older, seeing more of life. I got sober out of what feels like dumb luck. I went to a twelve step meeting and listened. I’d been before and not listened. It’s hard to pin down why that even worked out for me when it did. 

I can’t pin it down to intelligence. Smart people die of drug overdoses. People who have displayed no intelligence their whole life get sober. Trust me, I’ve met both types. It’s not that I possess some greater will power. This is a common misconception about sobriety. I drank every day not wanting to drink. I couldn’t stop using my will power. I tried for years. I knew I had a problem. Anyone who reaches the everyday or truly self destructive level of drinking knows that they need to stop to live, but stopping based on your own mind just doesn’t seem to work. I wasn’t sent to any facility, there was no intervention, no dramatic event that preceded me getting sober. It just happened one day after years of it needing to happen. 

Why did it happen to me and not my two cousins? Why are they dead and why am I alive?

Of course, I’ll never know the answer to these questions. I can only know how I will respond in the absence of an answer. I can be grateful that I am able to live life today, even if it is possible because of an unmerited gift. I can share my story. I can do my best to try and help others who are getting sober. I can live my life fully. Play the sports I want to play; listen to the music I want to listen to; doing the work I want to do. Even if I don’t know why I have it, I can make the most of this chance that I’ve been given. It’s clear that living life is no guarantee, whether you are guilty or not.

The Mundanity of Dramatic Change

I have seen many people make dramatic changes. I work in the fitness industry. I am in long-term recovery from addiction. I have seen people undergo physical transformation. I have been witness to spiritual awakenings. In all such cases, I find a common thread, an essential component to lasting dramatic change: mundanity. The practice of undergoing a meaningful change is largely comprised of mundane events and choices.

The imagery and testimonials in various media forms, however, present a different story. According to many soothsayers and sages of nutrition, physical practice, meditation and (gasp) self-help, there are books, diets, and mindsets that will instantly change your life. Of course, this is what we want: an instant, bloodless revolution that will lead us to a new physical and psychological freedom. A bolt of lightning, a flash of light, a moment of clarity that will forever change the way our lives are lived. I’ve witnessed moments that seem like that, even experienced mild versions of the sort, but they’ve never had the deep effect of a true dramatic change.

Let’s look at the common example of someone who wants to lose weight. Someone with the dramatic goal of losing one hundred pounds. A generally accepted healthy rate of losing weight is one to two pounds per week. That’s it. One, maybe two pounds. Over the course of seven days. A sustainable and healthy change of behavior that leads to the loss of one pound, maybe two over the course of seven days can be very small at first. It’s not a radical elimination of a class of food or enrolling in the most grueling exercise regimen there is. It is a small behavioral change that is repeated over the course of seven consecutive days. If someone is able to keep this sort of behavioral change up for an entire month, they will have lost somewhere between four and eight pounds. For someone who wants to lose one hundred pounds, this will not even be noticeable on sight. For thirty days our subject has made small decisions each day that has led to the loss of weight that will not even be noticeable to others.

What will happen though is that after a few months of diligent work to making small behavioral changes, there will be moments of recognizable progress. Maybe the first one is about three months in when an article of clothing fits noticeably different. That’s ninety days. Ninety days of decisions to go left or go right. To take the stairs or the elevator. Add cheese or not. Drink soda or water. Take a walk or stay home. Day after day, for the one day when a shirt fits differently. This fitting will feel profound and perhaps provide motivation for the next ninety days of continued mundane decisions.

If our subject stays on the path for a whole year, they will hit their goal and lose a total of one hundred pounds. The decisions will vary. Some will be more difficult than others, but the end result will be a completely different person. Perhaps an outsider will see a picture from one year’s Christmas party to the next and be astounded by the dramatic change. They will assume that there must have been a drastic change and serious tumult for such a change to result, but they will be wrong. The number of profound moments will be dwarfed by the number of small, mundane choices.

I sit here writing this with over nine years in recovery, working on ten. From the perspective of the self-destructive, everyday-drinker, that is miraculous. What a dramatic change, but that is only looking at the two data points farthest from each other. Day one was not incredibly dissimilar from day two. Yesterday was not much different from today. I like to say that the night before I got sober, I got drunk. There was nothing in the night of my last drink that I hadn’t continued to drink off in years past. The difference is, the next day I didn’t. I went to a place where people get help to stop drinking and got help. It was harder at first, and got easier as time went on. I was told that it would get better, and it did.  

There have certainly been moments of profundity during my recovery, but most moments have been made up of mundane behaviors such as going to work, going to the grocery store, putting on a nicer sweater than normal for a family function, nothing in and of itself revolutionary. It was just one small step at a time. No step a large departure from the preceding step. I know predicate felon heroin addicts who now have good jobs and warm families. They did the same thing I did. It’s not a unique story and the steps taken are not mysterious, mystical, or ethereal; they are concrete, logical, and well established.

While the notion of dramatic change through adopting one extreme practice that leads to incredible results is appealing in the short term, that is not what I have seen work. What I have seen work is plain work itself. More people fail from boredom than from lack of ability. The exciting choices don’t last. It is the dull day in and day out commitment to simple practices that lead to dramatic change. 

Meeting Introductions

I am an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for a long time now. I got sober by attending twelve step meetings. As many people know, when you identify yourself in a twelve step meeting, you say, “My name is ‘X’ and I’m an alcoholic.” For many, this simple identification is a powerful event in itself. Many people who struggle with alcohol have a hard time admitting that they are an alcoholic, sometimes to themselves, but certainly to anyone else. The simple act of identification allows a person to name their problem, accept it for themselves, and recognize that they are amidst a group of people who all have the same issue. There are many different formats to meetings, but in some there is simply a group of people sitting in a circle who share their experience, strength, and hope on a certain topic. As we go around the room, everyone says their name and that they are an alcoholic.

It’s been a while, but I have also worked in a large professional organization. We had a lot of meetings in that setting as well–one on one meetings, team meetings, interdepartmental meetings, and working group meetings of people assigned to a special project. Often times we would start the meetings by going around the room and having everyone say their name and their job title and function, so everyone would have an idea of who was at the table and what they did. Everytime we had one of those meetings, as the introductions were going around the room, I would tell myself, “Don’t say ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’ Don’t say ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’ Don’t say ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’” I’ve identified in one way so many times, I didn’t want to fall back on the habit. The embarrassment and shame that would ensue!

If you work in a large professional organization where there are meetings where people go around the room and identify themselves, there is a good chance someone in that room who is repeating that same reminder to themselves. You have no idea who it is, but I guarantee you someone is living with that same low grade anxiety each time the introductions go around the room. What is more, to avoid the shame and embarrassment, I’m sure there’s a host of other identities that people are holding back. If you don’t feel that same twinge of anxiety, know that the meeting is starting out a little easier for you.

Making Space for Redemption

Everyone loves a good redemption story: the reformed criminal who services the community, the recovered addict who helps others find sobriety, or the once greedy financier who sheds the pursuit of money for the pursuit of a deeper calling. There is no one moment that defines a person and it is in fact possible for people to change. Even a long period of time spent in terrible pursuits, life can be redeemed. 

A redemption story is the redirection of narrative. In order for this redirection to take place, the story’s hero makes an internal change before it is recognized by anyone in the outside world. The outside world, though, must make some affordance for this redirection; if the ship is to be turned around, we have to allow for space for the about face.

This week’s episode of the Making Kairos podcast gave a great example of that. Mike Dunford lived his first thirty-six years going down a certain track. A track that many people never return from. He was abusing drugs and alcohol and had been arrested a number of times. This is the start of a story that encaptures an incredible amount of men who are now incarcerated for the rest of their lives. Mike’s story, however, did not follow that line. His ship made an about face. He got sober. He got a job. He got an education. He got a new job. He is pursuing further education. He now is completing law school to become a civil servant. It is an incredible story of redemption.

Mike’s story, though, is not one of blazing his own trail to recovery. In the justice system, he was sent to Drug Court as a way to possibly divert him from a life of crime and punishment. He went into a halfway house system that progressed him to societal reintegration. He was given a chance at a job where he was able to establish himself through years of steady performance. He was admitted to higher education despite previously poor academic performance. While he put in the work, there were institutional avenues that provided space for him to redeem himself. What a benefit for not only him, but society who will now have a trained and passionate individual looking to pursue justice, rather than wasting away in a life of petty crime.

Mike’s story is an easy one to see value in. We should rehabilitate and not punish. Likewise, in episode six of the Making Kairos podcast, Michael Gropman made this case for juvenile offenders. He cited statistical data that youth offenders who are entered into the system only get worse. However, when society takes on an engaged and integrated plan of development for these young individuals who have shown great signs of risk, we can facilitate the process of an individual turning their life around.

Both Mike’s personal story and the statistical story of youth offenders lends credence to the notion that we should forgive and assist, rather than punish and ostracize. Great justifications for a progressive system of criminal justice. These sorts of stories and arguments bring me back to my days of studying political philosophy. They shed light into a system of public policy led by rational compassion. 

The goal, however, for the Making Kairos podcast and blog is expressly non-political. My goal for Making Kairos is to identify principles that can be applied to life broadly and steer clear of potentially toxic political debates. 

Redemption, though, obviously need not be a political concept. In thinking about redemption, I also remember an experience I had with some old friends: 

I once worked with a guy who became a close friend for a time. One night we went out on the town and he met a girl that I’d been friends with for a while. The two hit it off and they started dating. I felt like I was at a bit of a dilemma; this girl had once dated another friend and there was some static from my friend that she had conducted herself in a fairly reprehensible manner. Should I tell my new friend? I did. I didn’t want him to get blindsided by the same behavior when I felt like I had information that he’d want to know.

When I sat him down and told him, he made an incredibly laudable statement: “Thank you for telling me. She’s told me some about that past relationship. You know, I’ve done things in my past that I hope wouldn’t be the summation of people’s judgement of me. I’d like to be able to have the chance to grow as a person, so I’m going to give her that chance as well.” He was affording her a space of redemption.

I was blown away by his compassion. 

I must admit, it is easier for me to make the compassionate case in the instance of public policy, but harder in the instance of personal discretions. I can deride retributive notions of justice based on an enlightened ideal of rational compassion, but give a person a second chance to do right in their next romantic relationship? I find it easier to make a space for redemption in a large abstract sense, but harder in personal interaction  

I’m sure my personal history influences my leanings, but I’m also sure that I’m not alone in finding it easier make space for redemption in a social case than a personal one. If a principle is sound and just, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If there can be space for redemption in the world of crime and punishment, I should be able to make space for redemption in personal endeavors. If I am to be so bold as to judge someone’s behavior as wrong, I should be brave enough to ask how can I make space for them to redeem themselves. While I may be guilty of hypocrisy when applying principles in one area of life and not another, I hope to grow and be better, to get my own chance at redemption.

Redemption with Mike Dunford

My guest this week is Mike Dunford. Mike was introduced to drugs and alcohol at an early age and the progression of addiction took off from there. Mike bounced from job to job and soon found himself having experiences with the wrong side of the criminal justice system. Mike eventually found sobriety, one day at a time, through the drug court system, a half-way house, the recovery community, and the chance at an honest job. Over the years, Mike worked his way up through the ranks professionally, went back to school to get his bachelor’s degree, and is now attending law school with the aim of practicing as a public defender. Mike’s life has come full circle and he is a powerful example of Redemption at any time in life. Available on iTunes, Stitcher, or listen here:




Further show notes available at 

A Way of Life (AWOL) meetings defined (author’s note: this is one of many different twelve step traditions)


Michael Foucault “Discipline and Punish”

The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous

JRR Tolkein “The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings”

Love Them

I currently work as the Head Coach and General Manager of a CrossFit gym. It is a great opportunity to lead a community, serve others, and practice one of my life’s passions. To be successful in the fitness industry, you must provide a competent technical service that gives people results. While many point to the gimmicks or fads as evidence to the contrary, such products and services simply don’t last. Results are king. The fitness industry is, however, most certainly a service industry. That means that a results oriented program is key, and it must be accompanied by customer service that makes people feel welcome and cared for. As someone said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

I have heard a number of top level strength and conditioning coaches, Eric Cressey and Mike Boyle to name a couple, who say that they would rather hire a coach who connected with people first, but lacked some technical knowledge; as opposed to exercise science wonk who is unable to connect personally with their clients. The thought being that you can teach up the technical knowledge, but engendering personal connection skills can be a more difficult task. I have even heard the recommendation for aspiring coaches and trainers to take an improv or stand up comedy class in order to learn how to lighten up the client’s moods in what is often an uncomfortable environment.

My gym has about one hundred fifty members. I know every member by name. I try to know what they do for work, a bit about their family life, where they grew up, and maybe some of their interests outside of the gym. Though the guidance of “Not everyone is going to like you” seems to be prudent life advice, I do make it my task to try and get every one of those members to like me. Not in a need for personal validation, but out of business necessity in a relationship driven service industry. If the members don’t like the head coach, it’s unlikely they’re going to like the gym enough to keep paying their monthly membership dues.

It is easy with people you like.  No problem, these people are like your friends and the fact that you get paid to help them in the gym feels like scam. But then, of course, there are some people who you just don’t like from the jump. They rub you the wrong way for whatever reason a person can rub you the wrong way. I’m not even going to put it on them. If “not everyone you meet is going to like you,” is a statistical truth, so is “you’re not going to like everyone you meet.” What then do you do with the people you don’t like?

You love them.

“You don’t have to like someone to love them.” I’ve seen this sentiment put a few different ways and attributed to a few different sources, but I first heard it from a man speaking at the podium of an twelve step recovery meeting. Twelve step fellowships are an amalgam of disparate people who otherwise would not be associating with one another. It is only a life or death scenario that has brought them together to find some common ground. As you can imagine, some extreme personalities can inhabit those halls and clashes can ensue. Despite this fact, twelve step meetings and groups function fairly harmoniously. There is a common bond and a genuine love for anyone going through the same struggle that will generally override conflicts of personality or the fact that you just simply wouldn’t hang out with this person in any other circumstance. I think of it often like an ornery family member: you may have an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or sibling who really is kind of a jerk or lacks a sense of humor, but you want to have them around at holidays all the same because they’re family and you love them. 

I may not like every member of my gym, but I certainly love them. I don’t like that some of them never listen to instruction, are always late, or act like they know it all already, but I love that they are showing up to better themselves, have decided to embark on a difficult undertaking, and have acknowledged, if only tacitly, that they can’t do it alone. Is it hard to love people based solely on abstract principles? At times, yes. However, I’ve also found that when you get to know someone’s family life, work struggles, and where they find joy outside of the daily scrum of life, you can’t help but appreciate them for being a person who is forging their own path as best they can in life. Maybe I don’t like the way they go about everything in life, but I can love that they are doing the best they can with the life they have to live.

Please note: everything in the last two sentences applies outside of the gym or any industry.  

Moved To Tears: Joy and Pain

“I’m such a baby, yeah the Dolphins make me cry” –Hootie

I recently admitted something embarrassing to my fiancee. Maybe I’m not so embarrassed. It was embarrassing to admit at the time, but if I was truly embarrassed, would I really be writing about this publicly on a blog? Perhaps a better way to put it is that I’m a bit embarrassed, but not ashamed. What I admitted is this: sometimes when I watch an audition for the Voice or American Idol, I cry. I cried during the Live Aid performance of Bohemian Rhapsody; an awkward situation when watching on a plane full of people who were focused on the quality of their inflight wi-fi and a bit perplexed by the man with the aisle seat and tears in his eyes. Sometimes, I’ll watch musical performances on Youtube and just well up. And by well up, I mean cry.

It’s definitely not a sad cry. While I do sometimes reflect on the somewhat bleak outlook for this incredible performer who’s shining moment will be the audition footage of a reality television show, I’m not crying about that. I am crying first and foremost out of appreciation for the beauty of the expression. I am also crying tears of joy that this person who could easily be the person on the plane next to you struggling with their w-fi has this incredible expressive capacity within them and they, even if for one brief reality television moment, are able to showcase that ability to the world.

After having these tears in private for a while, I am growing out of my embarrassment for probably two reasons. One, I’ve admitted it in the open and once you have been vulnerable in some capacity in public, it’s simply easier to do so in the future. The initial fear is gone and you know that such a public admission won’t lead your fiancee to return the engagement ring. Second, I’m actually quite grateful that I can be moved to tears through appreciation of the beauty of artistic expression. 

I’ll go one further on the scale of embarrassing male (there is certainly a gender component to my embarrassment) crying: I’ll cry at the sports clips of the team manager with a developmental limitation that gets to go in to the game and live their dream of scoring a basket or touchdown. I’ll cry when I see a video of a senior dog who was passed over for year is finally adopted and lives a happy life with their new family. I’ll cry, and this may be the most embarrassing revelation of them all, when Will Smith or the Rock goes out of their way to be nice to a fan and the person is overcome with gratitude. Not every time I see one of these clips, but it’s always a possibility. I wasn’t always this way, but I might now be a bit of a crier.

Again, I’m grateful that this is the case for me and I almost feel bad for people who are not so profoundly moved with these displays of humanity. This could be the result of my personal history. At this point in my life, I have a job I love, am getting married to a woman I love, and feel respected by my friends, peers, colleagues, and clients. There was a point in my life, however, where all this seemed not only far away, but impossible to attain.

I drank from age thirteen to twenty six. Aside from the first drink being on the early side, I thought my drinking progressed early on in fairly typical ways: parties in the woods with my high school friends in Maine, frat and house parties with my college buddies, and hitting the clubs and bars in my early twenties. I did have periods of drug use and a marijuana habit that bent towards the extreme, but while I knew that my consumption was heavy, I was also able to keep up performances in school and some work where I felt that I was at least able to hold it together. This was the case until I started drinking alone and drinking every day. A full account of the progression from that point is outside of the scope of this writing, but suffice it to say there were many moments and periods worthy of tears.

For quite some time, perhaps three years, during the latter part of my drinking, I knew I was an alcoholic and that my drinking was beyond salvageable. This was akin to hearing of a death sentence. I had a few half hearted attempts at getting sober during this time. Once one has tried to get sober and then gone back to the bottle, the drinking takes on a solemn isolation that is particularly wrenching. For myself, this period consisted of benders for undefined periods of time that rotated from not wanting to drink, to convincing myself to drink one more time, drinking in pursuit of oblivion, regretfully regaining a dried out consciousness steeped in self-pity and dreading that whole wheel had spun again. 

On one day or night (I can’t remember which) towards the end of my drinking (I’d love to say the last, but, again, I can’t fully remember), I was sitting with some pretty terrible thoughts. Thinking of the futility of my existence at that time, I certainly thought that my death would be preferable to the repeatable pain of regret and remorse I was caught in. The thought of suicide was not new. However, I always guilted my way out of the endeavor by thinking of the family, particularly my parents, that I would leave behind and how sad they would be. I didn’t want to die and be mourned; I wanted to cease to exist, be wiped away. In my self-pitying, remorseful way I reflected on what a said state that was and I began to cry. Crying felt in line with my appraisal of myself, so I continued to cry and, of course, continued to drink until blackout.

Upon awakening I was struck by, in addition to my usual physical hangover, distinct feelings of self pity and self loathing. I was reflecting on my personal sad state of affairs: sitting in my room alone drinking and crying. That action, crying, felt incredibly fitting. Of course my life was tear worthy. So, I set out to simply dwell on my distinct sadness and have a good cry to myself again. Wallow in my isolation and loneliness. I dwelled and dwelled, but I could not be moved to tears. I knew why. It was because I was dry. When I was drinking, I wanted it all to stop so I could only cry. When I was dry, I wanted to cry but couldn’t, so I wanted to drink.

A short while after that emotional crash, I was able to get sober. The process of getting sober is just that, a process. There are times early on where a cascade of dread is followed promptly by an eruption of hope and joy. The Twelve Step process that I underwent certainly had transformative moments. Due to the tumultuous internal dynamics of a newly recovering alcoholic, many of the real life changes are subtle and go unnoticed in the beginning. Some of the moments, however, were clear revelations. I was able to see that my life was not a series of personal catastrophes, but choices of how I chose to meet my circumstances. I could see the personal injustice and unhappiness or opportunity for spiritual growth. With each step forward I tried to move towards that growth and away from the cycle of self victimhood. This process opened me up to possibility and purpose. 

I don’t know exactly when it was that I started to be moved to tears so easily while sober. I don’t remember what it was that caused those first tears to fall. I know that now, when I watch those audition tapes of artists who were previously shrouded in obscurity and seeing the public expression of their beautiful work brings me to tears. I can be fully present in love and appreciation. I hope that I am able to keep that openness and the ability to be so easily moved to tears.

Being Worthy with Iona Holloway

Iona Holloway started out life as a classic all-around overachiever. Despite excelling in school, art, and athletics, playing field hockey at a national level in Scotland and an All-American level at Syracuse University, she developed a crushing eating disorder. While keeping up external signs of achievement, Iona suffered in silence until she could take it no more. Today we discuss her ongoing path to recovery. If you know someone struggling, please share. Available on iTunes and Stitcher. Listen here:






Discussed in the episode:   

Hungry for Happiness


The organization that helped Iona find recovery

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Phillip Mckernan

The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Body of Work

The movement studio Iona and her partner opened 

Scottish Junior Field Hockey

Syracuse Field Hockey

Self Direction or Hearing the Call?

In my recent conversation with My Friend Bill on the second episode of the podcast, he noted that his life had really been a series of unplanned events, rather than adherence to some calculated plan. Even the instrument that he has played for nearly sixty years, the bass, with hallowed musicians such as Buddy Guy, he only started playing it because his father wouldn’t buy him a drum set. Given his life long music career, it seems that following the path laid out for him rather than strictly adhering to his intended direction worked out pretty well.

In my own life, I can think of some times where I tried very hard to live a self-directed life. I entered a PhD program after college because I was trying to direct myself into a laudable intellectual position; I pushed myself up to a director level position in an administrative role because I wanted be seen as valued and important; I would even say that I tried to keep on drinking despite a number of indications that I should stop because I had a romanticized view of a thoughtful drinking man who could at worst be a tortured thinker. In all of these cases I tried to force my way into being something that I was never truly meant to be. The persistence of adhering to my self-directed plan only left me in psychological shambles in the case of the PhD program, wholly unfulfilled in the administrative position, and darkest of depth of despair when it came to drinking.

I have now, however, been able to find a life where I am incredibly more fulfilled and happy. It started with getting sober. While many could view that as a self-directed act, such a depiction would overlook the fact that none of ideas, practices, or methods used for me to stay sober came from me. I followed a path laid out for me by the twelve step community. What is more, I didn’t adhere to this path out of any self-generated discipline. When I was confronted with the principled path laid out in front of me, I felt the truth in that wisdom; it called me. This was all after years of incidents, embarrassments, and talks with friends and family that told me I should not be drinking the way I was, but I persisted on. 

When I made the transition from working in a typical office environment to working in the fitness industry, I certainly made a leap. One could view the leap as a self-directed act towards a new career, but honestly it was me answering a call that I’d been hearing for quite some time. I was late to respond to the call, to be honest. Before I even got the job at the university where I worked in the administration for years, a friend of mine suggested that I become a trainer knowing that I had a passion for fitness and that there was viability in that path. I rejected the idea as impractical. Eventually, the call grew so loud that I couldn’t close my ears any more and I had to make the move. My self-direction actually blocked me for more years than I care to admit. 

Lastly, I now have launched this blog and podcast as a creative and thoughtful expression. While it took some gumption on my part to assemble the necessary pieces, these endeavors have similarly been calling me for quite some time. I have not had an outlet for any writing; I’ve wanted one, but rejected the idea of having a blog because it seemed a fleet of fancy, not a true thoughtful endeavor. Likewise with the podcast, I’ve had thoughts of what it would look like if I had one (and was even encouraged to start one), but I rejected the idea of starting one as being unrealistic.

In each of these cases, my thinking self held me back from a true calling. I held on to the idea of being a drinking man, wearing smart clothes to the office, who kept his thoughts to himself in the interest of preserving my image of self to the world. I heard a calling to be sober, work in the physical realm, and express my thoughts, but resisted for years. It is only after letting go of certain notions of what I should be that I have been able to make strides towards what I am supposed to be. As satisfied as I am now with my current endeavors, I cringe to think how many times I heard the call, but didn’t answer it. I once wanted to direct the band, I am now hoping to move where the music takes me. I hope to be better at listening and speak less, to look more and try to be seen less, to search more and fixed to a destination less. 

After all, it is easier to sail with the wind, rather than against it.