A Goat Story

So, a goat wanders up to the fence at Tender Acres, aka, The Manor, the other day.  The dogs were outside and promptly went into a barking frenzy. 

The goat was a beauty, as goats go, tan with thick, curved horns and the expected wirey goatee.  He (only a guess, but it did have horns) was clean, well-manicured for a country goat and had a stubby little hairy tail that flicked nervously.

Every few seconds he bared his teeth and slightly opened his mouth.  Was I really hearing a tiny bleat?  I don’t have a lot of experience with livestock but even I knew that this goat was out of place at The Manor, that someone must surely be out looking for their missing agricultural exemption, I mean, goat.

I do have experience showing up in places where I haven’t been invited and or where I am not especially comfortable.  In either case, like the goat, I’m usually there because I want to know what’s on the other side of the fence. 

Unknown places–and circumstances–usually cause me to feel out of my element.  In the old days, I would mosey up to the bar, order my 7 & 7s or Jack & Cokes, and wait for the alcohol to raise my comfort level.

Once that level was attained, look out.  Who knew what fun and excitement was about to spontaneously erupt.  I’m being sarcastic, of course.

Back to the goat.  As I watched him eye-ball the dogs in his uncomfortable, unfamiliar surroundings, I didn’t notice him sucking down any cocktails to become more comfortable or to have fun. 

I knew one of two things would likely happen, and happen quickly.

Scenario #1:  Mr. Goat would get mean and belligerent, jump the fence and pick a fight with all three dogs, in spite of being outnumbered.

Scenario #2:  Mr. Goat would try to stare-down the dogs (crossing his front legs across his chest if he could) and puff himself up into goat-righteousness.  After a bit, when there was no clear winner of the staring contest, he might shrug his goat shoulders, turn and nonchalantly (but with attitude) walk away.

And that’s exactly what he did.  If he shrugged, I missed it.  If he threw his goatee in the air, I missed that too.  He just sort of left.

Huh.  Can a goat be a teacher?  If you have a goat-like experience in your life, would you jump the fence or walk away?

Circle of Hope

Last week, I had the honor of attending the Circle of Hope Dinner benefiting Fairbanks Treatment Center in Indianapolis (http://fairbankscd.org/).

Some 400 people celebrated the institution’s 65-year history of providing treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.  One of Fairbanks’ shining programs is its Hope Academy, (http://fairbankscd.org/highschool.htm), a tuition-free recovery high school.  Two of its graduates, one an 18-year-old who began using heroin at the age of 14, spoke movingly during the dinner of her gratitude to the academy for providing a curriculum and recovery program that inspired her to get sober.

Can you imagine being a parent or caregiver of an addicted teenager who receives this incredible gift of hope?

Can you imagine being the teenager feeling the hope of a new life?

Earlier that day, during my flight to Indy, a front page USA Today article described a program in Michigan called the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative where released prisoners collaborate with cops and receive help finding jobs so long as they stay out of trouble.  This unusual arrangement assists many career criminals turned ex-con obtain well-paying employment and reengage in a society that may not otherwise want them.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to come out of prison, having served time for a decade or more, and a cop–of all people–believes in you enough to help provide a fresh start?

Can you imagine being that ex-offender feeling like life has begun anew?

Hope is a powerful motivator when you have known so much hopelessness. 

Most of us in recovery have experienced both; for me, it was the hopelessness I felt about a year ago that catapulted me into life circumstances where only two things remained consistent–my employment and my sobriety.   

The thing about hope is it has a way of leaking in around the edges of hopelessness when we least expect it. 

One year ago, I had no way of imagining that my circumstances would be what they are today.

I think God graced me with hope in spite of my best efforts to thwart it.  Like a hibiscus beginning to bloom in summer, each day found hope opening a bit more in my life. 

Like the Hope Academy graduates and the recently released Michigan prisoners, hope is the foundation on which my new life began.  Hope is a circle that reconnected me to my beginning, to the innocence of infancy and the humility of renewal.

Do you have a story of hope to share?

Dog Therapy

I’m thinking about brown dogs, three special brown dogs, one the color of lightly toasted bread, one the color of chocolate dipped in copper and the third colored like milk stirred with Hershey’s syrup.

Mugsy the Pug, Maggie, the Lab/Corgi mix and Snickers, the Schnauzer.  If it’s true that the eyes are the window to the soul, these three, the latter two still living, must be centuries-old souls.

I am an overall dog lover–Fancie, a vivacious and spirited Pug puppy bounced into my life as my first dog shortly after I got sober.  Mugsy arrived shortly after and it was his pleading eyes imploring me to rescue him that sealed our bond forever.

He’d been emotionally and physically scarred by a previous owner and saw me as a savior of sorts, I believe.  His past hurts really affected his ability to trust and caused him to be a bit timid.  He had a big bark when he was uncertain about something or didn’t understand a situation and was most comfortable in familiar, quiet surroundings.

As a person trying to find my way in new sobriety, I could relate.

Most days, we’d spend a bit of time nose-to-nose, me lightly caressing the top of his head as he gave me those oh-so-special wet Pug kisses.  The eye contact though, endeared him to me.  We had a connection that required no words, no verbal communication.

Maggie was about a year and a half when she found me online.  She is a beautiful girl with the best combination of both her breeds.  Her Humane Society photo emphasized her eyes–big and brown and soulful.

Like Mugsy, Maggie is sensitive and appears to sometimes be deep in thought about a philosophical canine conundrum. 

My human sensitivity empathizes.

She and I also spent a lot of time eye gazing, again, with no words; we were simply being with each other.

If I am fortunate, perhaps I’ll get to see her and her brother, Porter, a Chihuahua/Jack Russell Terrier mix, from time to time as a part of visitation rights.

Finally, there is Snickers, one of three pups I occasionally get to dog-sit for a few weeks at a time while their parents travel.  Snicks’ sisters, Dora and Whistles, are terrific dogs, but it is the quieter, wiser, more humble Snickers who grabs at my heart.

She comes at me through those doe eyes and grants me adoration and plenty of unconditional love.

For me, animals, and these three dogs in particular, offer a haven against the complications of being human and in recovery.  They live simply and serenely and for the most part, get their needs met on an as-needed basis.  They show me what it’s like to languish and live and love in spite of what may be happening around them. 

How has an animal affected your life?

A Father’s Gift

Adapted from a poem I wrote for my dad in 1998 in honor of his 60th birthday; Here’s to celebrating fathers past and present . . .

Either the years grow kinder or my heart becomes softer

As the light in the eyes that watch you fades from child-like wonder into the gentler gaze of a woman.

For the differences—and indeed, the distances—between us don’t seem as vast.

The man I watch today is far removed from the man I remember.

No longer taskmaster, disciplinarian, timekeeper or conservative banker,

No, those are long gone, replaced by a sometimes crusty and colorful, yet lovable gent

Whose greatest pleasure is derived from seeing his family solid, safe, secure.

I pay tribute to that man, the man you’ve always been, the man I’m just now seeing, though I’ve watched for decades.

For the tough times, the disappointing times, the times you haven’t understood . . .

I’m truly sorry for the part I played.

For your ageless wisdom, the values you hold dear, and the ways you teach me to live and love life . . .

Thank you.

I celebrate you. I respect you. I am blessed because of you.

Most of all, for now and for always,

I love you, Dad, with all my heart.

Childhood Dreams

As a little girl, Mom and Dad promised I could be anything I wanted—police officer, teacher, journalist—and that no matter what, my life would be a good one if I followed my heart. Hard work, dedication, honest effort and the Golden Rule were required, but according to my folks, were a small price to pay for happiness.

Their words, spoken in earnest belief to their oldest child, fell across my ears and under my radar as the years passed. Conceptually, I referenced the ideas from time to time, but my world was much too complex to be reduced to old-world, Horatio Alger charm.

I did work hard. I did get the coveted college degree from the prestigious undergrad program. I did score the first job in my field two weeks before the commencement ceremony. I did return to my home town in triumphant victory as the first of my mother’s kin to brandish the sheep skin of higher education.

I landed back in Independence, MO, anything but free, as a 23-year- old, full-blown alcoholic with a lot to show for my school career but little recollection of how I got it.

Mom and Dad never said anything about becoming a drunk.

They didn’t say, “Honey, you’ve met your prerequisites and will breeze through Alcoholism 101 with flying colors.”

Or, “Sweetheart, don’t worry about following your dreams, they’ll be waiting for you at the bottom of the toilet bowl.”

And they damn sure didn’t tell me that big girls DO cry little-girl wails when, on each morning after, I swore to any and all gods that I would not drink like that again. I would make sure I ate something that would coat my stomach, something besides beer nuts and pretzels. I would be more aware of my surroundings. If I left a party with anyone, I would make sure I could pick them out of a lineup. I would leave a trail of breadcrumbs so I could locate my car.

Each day found me desperately trying to fit in while setting myself apart from the crowd. I thought myself intellectually superior to the people with whom I interacted, yet I seldom felt worthy of anyone’s attention. I fancied myself a big shot traveling the country on an expense account, but continually placed myself in potentially dangerous situations.

I covered my intense loneliness with a party-girl persona. I felt a vague sense of irritation, sort of like when walking on the beach and a small pebble gets lodged in your shoe. You try to continue walking but ultimately you end up with a big blister and a hurting foot.

Life was good. I had arrived. What then was gnawing at me? Instinctively, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know until a God-moment on a spring day in 1991. On a whim, I made a phone call to an old friend; ended up seeing that friend after no contact for several years, and as we caught up, listened to her describe her son’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

Her son had just been released from a treatment center. I knew him well and wasn’t at all surprised to hear that he was messed up with drugs and alcohol. I figured he would eventually end up with a problem, because I had partied with him. I had seen him in really bad shape.

My friend planted two seeds with me on that day. Something rang familiar with her description of her son’s behavior and resulting consequences. That was the mustard seed. The bigger seed, one more like that inside a peach, was that she spoke about his spiritual awakening, about how he came to understand that he was powerless over his addiction and that by admitting powerlessness, he was able to embrace a new way of life that included an awareness that God was guiding him to become a better person.

He admitted he couldn’t control his life and with that admission, gained a new way of living.

I’ll be forever grateful that my old partying buddy connected with a higher power because his connection led me to mine.

And my spiritual connection—what I call being “plugged in”—is my lifeline in this day-to-day crazy world. I’m learning at a turtle’s pace that there is very little in my existence that I can control, including the people who grace my life, the circumstances in which I find myself and the places where I appear (or don’t).

There is one thing, however, that moves me to feel a little bit of heaven in each day. It’s the God current that flows freely and readily through me whenever I seek the outlet and become willing to connect.

That connection has made all the difference to me.