Method Acting

We paid off our car this month, something that would have surprised me five years ago. We’re frugal in the summer, so instead of paying cash and emptying out our reserves, we elected to finance it. I figured at some point over the next year I’d just pay it off; it’s crazy to finance a car for five years, which was the term, even with a very low rate and a small monthly payment. We’d be underwater soon and stay that way, a risky situation for anyone.

But things happen, and other things don’t. No use crying over spilled interest; it’s not in great shape but really, we haven’t put a lot of money into it, not nearly as much as we should have given the mileage we put on it. Now it’s all ours, woo-hoo.

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I really dislike this car. For one thing, it’s a coupe, with only two doors, a huge hassle. Also, there’s a spoiler on the trunk that seriously interferes with sightlines. Backing up is an act of faith, and my faith is sometimes a little shaky.

But at least it forces me out of The Game.

There are lots of games. In the past week or so, I’ve finally opted out of the Facebook Game, although I’ve done that before. I changed settings, deleted a few “friends” who, in many cases, I don’t really know, and arranged it so I can still check in with family and authentic friends, but I can’t spend more than a minute on the site before getting bored. No more yanked into anger or frustration by opinions that are none of my business.

The Parking Lot Game is another. I hate grocery store parking lots; as with social media, I tend to focus on the worst aspects of human behavior when I engage them. So I try not to engage, staying away from the busy sections and adding a few steps to my Fitbit day. Good for the cardiovascular system, burn a few calories, stay out of the fray. Win-win.

And parking in the back of the lot allows me to pull-through park, meaning I don’t have to back up and hope for the best.

So I passed a prime spot the other day, right near the front of the store, and headed for the boonies. I noted that the driver behind me seemed a little shocked by this, inching closer and trying to sneak into that special parking spot before I noticed (I assume) that I’d missed it. As tends to happen, I was already out of the car and about to walk into the store when this driver was just getting out of his vehicle.

This man, about my age, a little shorter and about 150 pounds heavier, sort of waved and made a comment. I can’t hear a damn thing anyway, but I got the gist. He was cheerful and friendly, and obviously felt as though he’d won the lottery. My misfortune, then; he got the sweet spot, and all I could do was grin and try not to think Yeah, and you weigh over 300 pounds, dude. There might be a method to my madness, you think?

This is part of the game, then, and why I try to avoid it. I’m not the slightest bit interested in fat shaming, or sedentary shaming, or parking shaming for that matter. It takes eternal vigilance, though, to stay away from judging. He seemed like a nice man, with a slightly different philosophy about parking.

But there is a method to my madness, which is, I guess, the point.

I slept better last night. It’s been a rough couple of weeks in that regard, and early mornings are now part of the routine, given that I need to be awake in case my son wants a ride home from work instead of an hour walking and bus riding after his shift. I’m happy to pick him up, wanting this to work out, glad to assist in the transition, but I need to be conscious.

This is one of his days off, so I slept until 7:30 or so. Eleven years ago, not so much.

Eleven years ago, I had a restless night, finally getting up early and wandering around. An older man spotted me and took my blood pressure, which pretty much has only happened the one time.

But it was my first day. After quite a stretch, it was the first day that I wasn’t opening my eyes and thinking about a drink. I was probably thinking about it, actually. I just wasn’t planning. It’s been over 4000 of those days, so far.

My methods have changed over the years, helped along by the calendar. It occurred to me early on that there was a binary component to sobriety, at least the way I saw it: I could not think about drinking, or I could think about not drinking. The former felt passive and dangerous; the latter made more sense, so that’s what I focused on.

Time is key, or was for me, though. The calendar will always do the brunt of the work. I just had to focus on (and yes, duh) one day at a time. I had to seek out wisdom from those who’d been in the hole and knew the way out, some of them 70 years in the past. I had to dive into my life, weed out the resentments and frustrations and triggers that took over my behaviors. I had to fix myself, and there was little time to fix anyone else.

I had to take my selfish behavior and double down, placing the oxygen mask over my own mouth first. Almost everything I did in that first year or so was about me, and my sobriety. It had to be. I tried not to be a jerk about it.

And so on. A year later, I tackled more positive changes. Crises and tragedy would force my focus, eventually, but by then my methodology had paid off in a big way, laying the groundwork for coping with our blunt existence, rather than dulling it. I am frustrated, broke, lonely, angry, scared, and a little desperate these days, sometimes all on the same day. But I am sober. Doesn’t mean things aren’t bad, or won’t get worse. It just means that they have the potential to get better, and potential is all any of us have.

Spring 2006

Spring 2006

I see this guy very well. I have to. My rearview mirror has to be unobstructed, and I keep it that way. Eleven years ago, at the age of 48, I was as close to death as I’ve ever been. I have no greater gratitude than the understanding that I was just as close to life. New life, better life.

And if I could show you a single picture that tells my story, it would be this one.



Two people I admire and love are serving me communion. It’s my bread, baked in my oven, kneaded with my fingers, but it’s not really mine. Communion has always been a moving sacrament for me, just the way my faith is built, my need for ritual holiness and reminding myself that it comes in ordinary, mysterious ways.

Rev. Anderson there has handed me a big chunk of bread; there was plenty, and I need plenty. The abundance is humbling, the act is inspiring. The result is always what it is, and I’m better for it.

None of the people in this picture knew me 11 years ago. Their view is obstructed by a rear spoiler, years of sobriety, a new man, a different man. Better. Stronger. A little faster.

Older. Not so much wiser, maybe, but with his eyes on the road and an occasional glance backwards. Just to see, just to remember. Just in case.

Chuck Sigars3 Comments