Is your foundation prepared…

Sitting on an airplane, flying from Chicago to San Francisco. For a wine dinner. I used to love both. Sitting in the middle seat next to steroid – muscle flexing – fidget the whole time – scratch your disgusting skin – bad breath mouth breather guy makes me hate flying. I still love dinner though!

Hi everybody! It’s been a really long time since my last post but there’s a good reason, I promise. Really been focused on the book and thanks to my manager, I’m back to making progress. Real progress. Like, I’m taking the month of December off to finish writing so we can publish it progress. No self induced pressure at all. The good part is, now that it’s written here, I am accountable and have to get it done. Or else!

My time at the cement plant project in Charlevoix is winding down and I’ll be starting a new one in January. December is dedicated to finishing the book and the rest of November will be tightening up loose ends to make December possible. It’s kind of strange how the closer I get to the end of my part of this project, the more I realize I will miss parts of it and the people. There are things I’ve learned on site that I never dreamed of. I definitely learned that I still have a ways to go with the whole sobriety thing. Enough stress and mental exhaustion allowed me to forget that each person is fighting a battle unknown. That each person experiences good days and bad. That each person deserves kindness. It also allowed me to slide back into thinking I’m closer to being the center of the universe than just a tiny part of it. The Old Timers say that the drinking is just a part of our condition and they are right. It’s keeping our head and heart in the right condition that requires the most work. The thoughtful mind is the foundation that my sobriety rests on and like all important structures, it requires maintenance.

I was walking the site the other day and came across a familiar structure that caught my eye a different way. The new perspective made me think of the pieces and parts that make a building are much like the pieces and parts that make up a happy, healthy person. This structure houses enormous machinery with incredible temperature swings and vibrations. It’s tall and wide and catches every ounce of breeze coming off Lake Michigan. The closer you get to the top of it, the more you can feel it actually move when the wind is up. The loads on each piece of structure have to be immense. It is a fascinating piece of engineering. Each piece is designed to work together and even though there are failsafes built in, none would function without a properly prepared foundation. Kind of like each of us!

This picture is important because what caught my eye that day was a guy tightening the nuts between the steel and the foundation. The way he was tightening them is what caused me to think about each of our own personal foundations and that I was clearly in need of a tightening up. He had a giant wrench attached to a nut and was striking it with a sledge hammer. Each time he hit the wrench, there was a unique sound. It wasn’t some obvious clank or bang but more of a pronounced “tink”. The only way I can describe it is an industrial version of the ubiquitous tapping of the water glasses at weddings. Not sure if that translates.

So here is a guy, dressed in full Carhartt bibs and jacket, tightening these giant nuts onto their respective bolts. What better to do than stop him and ask what he is doing? He was cool about it. Mostly. He said because of the newness of the structure, the vibrations caused by the machinery, the expansion and contraction due to heat and the harmonics caused by the wind, that the nuts needed to be tightened regularly until the building took a set and the siding was put on. The sledge hammer and specialized wrench was the only way to accomplish it properly. I have no idea how many hundred thousand pounds of steel are in this building but to see how important the small attachment points are made me think.

What have I been doing to maintain my sobriety foundation, much less continue to tighten it up? The honest answer is, not enough. Lately I have been in “good enough” mode. Haven’t had a drink in almost 21 months but I have cut back on the things that made that beginning of a foundation possible. One of my bigger flaws is that I tend to find a process or procedure that works really well and once found, I immediately try to find a different way. It’s a known flaw but a bastard of a flaw to fix. Sledgehammer worthy.

I’ve found my excuse generator has been re-fired. Lots of hours on-site coupled with wrapping up two external projects before December 1st, coupled with adding a self imposed deadline to complete a book, coupled with trying to make sure I make time for others, coupled with just not enough down time. There is zero time for rest and even though I know it is short term now, it has been a long year. Working on sobriety tends to take a back seat to the “important” stuff when the important stuff pays the bills and keeps loved ones happy. In reality, the foundation of sobriety is what allows me to function at a level to pay the bills and keep loved ones happy.

It seems that I usually need an experience or event to alert me to the fact that my foundation is in need of maintenance. Cracks form over time and they are expected and can be planned for but they must be addressed before they become structural. The problem with neglected cracks is that “stuff” gets in them and can force them into bigger cracks. Some of the “stuff” is random. Events that pop up or situations that are out of your control. Gunk that can be blown out easily with a 10 minute walk outside. No phone, no nothing, just taking your brain for a walk. Remind yourself of the good things you have going on, remind yourself of the good people in your life and the gunk is out of the crack. Recognizing what upset you, assessing the actions you took to remedy the situation and making a plan for what to do if it happens again allows you to clean out the crack, put some sealant in it and move forward.

Sometimes the “stuff” that gets in the cracks is more aggressive. Sometimes it can dissolve the sealant that you used on repaired cracks. This “stuff” gets down deep and tries it’s damnedest to force the crack wider. A quick sweep of a broom or blast of air from a nozzle isn’t going to get this stuff out. You have to dig deep and use bigger tools. The 10 minute walk is a good start but this might take dinner with a friend or a call to mom or maybe even a meeting to clear out and repair. We are surrounded by people that are pulling for us to succeed. When they say to reach out if you need help, they mean it, so do it. I don’t think these cracks are unique to people in recovery. Ever get to a point where you are so frustrated or angry with someone or something then take a look back and wonder if it was that person place or thing that was actually what was bothering you? I have to do that all the time. Maintenance.

Not long after I started getting sober, a friend of mine who is an expert in the field of addiction started having once a month extra credit meetings after Saturday AA. One of these meetings, he handed out a relapse prevention plan worksheet. I liken the plan to a set of maintenance blueprints. If you study the prints, you can avoid serious damage to the foundation and actually start to build on that well maintained structure.

Having that set of prints and studying them helped me figure out that I have some work to do. Sitting in the middle seat of that airplane next to the guy I described at the beginning of this post was a huge red flag. I wasn’t in control and the guy had the audacity to do things that bugged the hell out of me. Who’s problem was it? This guy was just living life. I was creeping back to being the center of the universe. It was time to clean out the cracks and get to building again.

So I did. Did some reading while I was in Cali. Had a great dinner with a new friend. Started reworking this post. Got in touch with some loved ones from my past. Maintenance.

My journey back to Michigan was just as chaotic as my journey out and it didn’t have to be. I like schedules. I like structure. I like control. I had zero influence over any of those things. Confused planning made for a stressful ride to the airport. I made my flight back to Detroit from San Fran by seven minutes. SEVEN!!! Smooth flight back to MFD only to find my connecting flight to Traverse City was delayed. By three hours. Seriously??? Why are they doing this to ME, the center of the universe??? Remember, I just started to repair the cracks, they weren’t fixed, just identified.

I grabbed a bite of grease at Chili’s then headed to my gate. Found a seat at the end of a row away from all people and sat down to be pissed off and tired. Solid plan to work on stuff, right?

I sat there texting friends and fuming. I just wanted to go home and be surrounded by my stuff. My tunes, my snacks, my people and my bed. Then something incredible happened. Someone invaded my area of disgust and forced me to have a great trip in three little hours.

There was a young lady sitting at the opposite end of my row, waiting out the long delay. She is the type that forces you to do the embarrassingly obvious double take. I’m not even sure what transpired or why but as the gate started to fill, she ended up sitting one seat away from me. I offered the seat between as the “stuff chair” so she didn’t have to have her bags on the floor. And maybe as a reason to say hello. We started to chit chat and she told me she was coming back from a girl’s weekend in Nashville. My expertly honed sense of judging went to work immediately. Super cute girl, girl’s weekend in Nashville, lucky little thing hasn’t a care in the world. I was as wrong as I’ve ever been.

As we got to know each other bit by bit, she forced me to become a better person. It seems that my new acquaintance had a tragic story that she built her own foundation of triumph on. She told me a story that made me want to just scoop her up and save her but by the end of our visit, I learned that she didn’t need saving at all. She explained that she was a war widow. She’s a single mom with two beautiful little girls, four and five years old. Her girl’s weekend was a getaway with other war widows. Like people sharing like stories of strength and hope. And sadness. She also told me how she’s spoken to groups in Austin about her journey. She’s taking her tragedy and using it to help others. She’s a foundation repair person and I’m guessing a life saver to the people she speaks to.

A sobering thought hit me as we chatted. In the “old days”, I would have been pissed off about the delay and found an airport bar to get hammered in. I wouldn’t have started off with the intent to get hammered but it would have happened. Then drive home after getting to TC. I would have never met this person and would have lost out big time.

My new state of living allowed me the opportunity to meet one of the most incredible people. Without knowing or trying, this airport girl that I got to share the stuff chair with made me better. Inspired to work on my foundation again and to build on it. She made me realize that the work is important but it can be fun, too.

Hopefully this rambling tale lets some of you pull back, read your blueprints and get back to the rewarding task of foundation preparation. Imagine the things you can build!

Thank you for getting me back on track, airport girl. You are appreciated more than you know.

Stay sturdy!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lori says:

    I needed this reminder today. You put into words what I have been trying to tell myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Derek Chowen says:

      I’m so glad this helped you out! We definitely have to stick together. Thank you for your nice comment. That helps me more than you know!

      Like

      1. Lori says:

        I have been remiss on blogging and commenting lately and trying to go it alone. It’s amazing what comes back when I put some real honest effort into this journey.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Derek Chowen says:

        Yes! I’m the same way. We get out so much more than we put in. I need that reminder more often than I realize.

        Like

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