Category Archives: Essays

Guest Blog: Carving My Gravestone by Mahala Kephart

Hi all! Last time you heard from me, I was off to Colorado to try heading down an icy mountain on a coupla personalized foot sleighs. The good news: I made it down with all appendages still attached and functioning properly. Yay! The bad news: Upon our return home, life got a little hectic. Boo!

Thank goodness my fellow LifeRinger, the brilliant Mahala, wrote and offered me the following wonderful piece to post, a response to Oliver Sacks’s moving and profound Op-Ed in the New York Times (link attached at the end) on facing his recently diagnosed terminal cancer.

– Bobbi C.



Carving My Gravestone

February, 2015

Samburu National Reserve, Kenya


Somehow, in spite of having completed two intensive outpatient programs and hours upon hours of conversations with therapists, I have managed to avoid the morbid-sounding exercise of writing my own obituary. But carving my gravestone? I’ve been chiseling away at that one for years.

When I was in the sixth and seventh grades, every week I would walk through an old cemetery, reading the gravestones and making up little stories. It’s not as ghoulish as it sounds: my Girl Scout troop met on Thursdays in a church near my school. The church was old, and so was the cemetery that surrounded it. The church, a white building that was not nearly as wide as it was tall, stood at the top of a slight hill.  The church steeple, pointing ever-skyward, was the commanding feature of the building itself. It remains so to this day.

To enter the building, you have no choice but to walk through the oldest part of the cemetery, on what must be the path of an old carriage lane … a long lane that would have allowed a horse-drawn carriage to approach the front doors of the church, its passengers to disembark (unless of course the horse-drawn carriage was a hearse, in which case the disembarking would be a different sort of process altogether), and the carriage to continue moving forward past the front doors, making a little turn back downhill, and then to proceed, perhaps clattering a little bit, down the other side through the cemetery to a little field that has been, for many, many years now, a paved parking lot. But in my daydreams, both the parking lot and the carriage lane were unpaved, grassy, and perhaps a bit rutted. Sometimes they were muddy. I share them with you today as they were in my daydreams.

Unpaved, as they were in my imagination, and sometimes muddy, the shoulders of the carriage lanes were distinctly defined by the headstones that flanked them. Each stone monument stood as if at attention, at a sharp ninety degree angle to the earth, its lettering, whether raised in relief or carved into the surface of the stone, clear and legible.  That sharpness, those angles, and the bright white of the markers, I thought, would have stood in sharp contrast to the less disciplined grasses, and perhaps the occasional dandelion, that grew between the stones.

Whatever might have been carved on those stones: a name, a date of birth, a date of death, perhaps the name of a spouse or child, perhaps a cause of death (the tiny stone of an infant who died from an unknown illness and the full-sized stone of a soldier who had died on the battlefield already distinguishable by their size) — on many stones, those individual letters and numbers, even whole words and years, had been worn away by the wind and the rain. By the time I was walking through the cemetery, nearly a half-century ago, the stones themselves were becoming weathered. Some were simply chipped or pitted. Others seemed to be disintegrating before my eyes, reminding me of sugar sculptures that had been first nibbled by the wind and then rained upon by the sky, the nibble marks left by the wind becoming rounded and blurred. How a stone had weathered, how chipped it was or broken, how much it tilted at crazy angles by unrelenting tree roots and shifting soils, how many of the few letters and numbers that summed up a life had been partially — or completely — obliterated … It all seemed random, capricious, and sad.

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Accentuate The Negative: A Word About Distorted Thinking



So, just to start 2015 off with a bang, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My mind is like a bad neighborhood – no one should go in there alone. And yet I’ve lived with it and been plagued by all manner of the detrimental, destructive thinking processes and patterns that reside there almost all of my life. Kay Redfield Jamison even wrote a book about it – “An Unquiet Mind”. Yes, like a hamster on a wheel my mind never stops, and even when there’s nothing negative going on per se, it will create something for me to be negative about, just to be sure about the inevitability of it and all.

Case in point – judging people. Ever find yourself just seething over something you perceived someone to have done to you and then proceed to mentally accuse them of this, that, or the other on top of their original “offense”? No decent human being who thought anything of you would do such such dastardly deed, because, let’s face it – people can be real assholes…Only to find out – for the eleventy millionth time – it really wasn’t anything like what you thought it was?

Conversely, have you ever given your consent, trust and/or loyalty to someone or something, all while blowing past that little voice in the back of your head or the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you that you ought do something a tad differently (or at the very least consider it more carefully), and then have it blow up in your face, leaving you with a nasty case of the “What ifs and If onlys”?

Have you ever done these things enough that you’ve come to feel extremely doubtful of your worth and abilities, or wonder why you’re scared to death of other people?

This is all not to mention the main event – the judging you do of yourself, just to be completely thorough; I mean, no one beats me up like I do. For example, I’ve judged myself almost non-stop throughout the writing of this piece over every…little…detail. Oh, dear, is there a warehouse located somewhere in, say, Greenland that I might be able to store all of this in instead of my brain? Yeah, I didn’t think so…

And all that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To say these unfortunate distortions of reality are bewitching, bothersome, and bewildering is like saying Debbie’s a bit of a downer, or that wild cats have a few sharp claws. And some teeth. Oh yes, they do have teeth.

You know what else these unfortunate distortions of reality are also like, almost exactly in that they seem to occur organically and naturally and therefore I buy them as authentic and pure without question? They’re a LOT like the addict thought process, and the results are quite similar – they are cyphers designed to keep one clinging to them as a barnacle to a ship, but that get one nowhere of their own volition. Oh, and they make you feel bad. 

But grinning and bearing it aside and in spite of all this, every once in a while an inspired thought grounded in truthful clarity elbows it’s way through the crowd to me, and it’s in those moments that I cling to the belief that it really doesn’t have to be this way. And I don’t know about you, but I’m damned tired of it, so I declare to you all here and now that in addition to what I hope will be helpful, inspiring and useful posts throughout the New Year, I will be concentrating a great deal of my energy on learning how to think in new, different, vastly better ways. Because if I learned one thing about myself in sobriety that I never knew before, it’s this: I can.

Hope you’ll come along for the ride and maybe even share some of your own stuff, too. :)

Guest Blog: Badassery, By Dennis Meeks

This is our final blog post of 2014, and we’re proud as peacocks to present a special contribution chronicling a truly remarkable first year of sobriety, authored by our own fellow LifeRinger and blog supporter and frequent commenter Dennis Meeks. Our many thanks and heartfelt congratulations go out to Dennis, and here’s to another great New Year for us all!

Dennis’s medals cache, displayed on a walker incurred by developing a bone spur from all his badassery. ~ Photo Courtesy of Adalyn Meeks



When I tell non-runners that I run marathons, the first question I get is “Why?”   And it’s a very good question.

I have always been running from something, most of us have I think.  Now I am running toward something, sobriety, but to get there I have to run through a ton of bullshit to get to the other side.  And I needed help to get there.

At the tender age of 63, after finally (hopefully) getting off the crazy-go-round of serial relapses that had been ongoing for 3 years, I decided I would run 6 marathons in 6 months.  The first 2 or 3 went well, so I upped it to 12.  But, then I thought, “What if I get injured and need some time off?” So I added one more, #13,  and just in case I had to skip one, I could still finish 12 in 12 months.

Running – now I am speaking literally; feet pounding the pavement running  – and getting sober are not that that dissimilar.  I’ve been running on and off for decades, but for the last several years, especially 2010 through 2013, my running was mostly off.

I started training again in July 2013 after quitting drink and drugs on June 29.  Some may think it borders on masochism to train for one marathon, and just plain craziness to train and run one every month for a year.  But, not so fast….I had been drinking myself senseless with alcohol for years,  so why not run myself sober?  I needed a goal to strengthen my sober resolve.


Running became my go to therapy.  Running, hurting, growing,  and getting stronger with every training run and my self-confidence shining in the sweat of my contorted face at the finish line of every marathon.  It’s difficult to drink (like I drink when I drink) and exceed at anything other than resolute failure and regret.

So,  my first marathon time this year was a 4:23,  not bad for the aged among us.  I was stoked.  And 6 months later, I had a personal best at 4:22.  And I kept going.  Running.  Not drinking.  Repeat.  I ran in the rain, sleet, and the heat of the Tennessee summer, when I came to understand the splendid relief that shade trees and sobriety offer.  I ran when I didn’t want to run,  I ran when my feet hurt, when my calves cramped, when all I could do is put one foot in front of the other and I ran when I didn’t like myself and have kept running now that I have discovered that , hey, I’m not so bad, I’m actually a pretty good guy.   I have endured.  By god, that’s what I do, I endure.

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Clean and Sober: The Holiday Edition

Louise Hay Quote For many of us, the holidays in America are fraught with tension, expectation, fear, uncertainty and above all,  an overwhelming sense of obligation. “We have to do this, that or the other, or X will happen,” we say to  ourselves (and very often to one another), and no one wants the dreaded X to happen- no one.

Otherwise, it’s delightful fun and the most wonderful time of the year!

So imagine my own surprise when I stopped drinking – again – on November 28, 2007 and found that it stuck.  By that point I’d tried on several other occasions throughout the calendar year and failed, so I most certainly heeded the addictive voice when it warned me that anywhere on, around or near some holiday, event, milestone or other anniversary – let alone any day that ended in ‘y’ – was the absolute worst time ever to give up drinking.

“I mean, it’s like deciding to go on a diet the week of Thanksgiving: You are automatically doomed to failure, and it’s hard enough as it is, so why put yourself through that on top of it?” it says in it’s most reasonable, dulcet tones. (“And then another six months can pass unabated, and all will be well. And all shall be well,” it also doesn’t say, but is precisely what it unequivocally means.)

But I’d had enough – I was “sufficiently horrified”, as they say in one of my groups – and I didn’t give a rat’s patootie if it was Doomsday, it had to stop some time, and I had to be the one to stop it.

So I did what I had to do: Get up in the morning. Go to work. Come home without stopping by the Quickie Mart for a six pack, and park myself in front of my computer, where I spent the great majority of my evenings all through those first days and weeks, relying heavily upon my e-mail groups and the LifeRing online forum. In the meantime really didn’t worry myself a damn about the Ghost of Christmas Pending. I didn’t decorate my apartment that year (I didn’t clean it, either, but that’s another story). I shopped only as much as I had to, which wasn’t much but enough to let the people I loved know I cared. I spent time with my Mom, for whom the holidays were always a very big, huge deal enough not to worry her that I’d given them up, but I also didn’t hang around long when her traditional Christmas totty started to take its toll.

And since I’ve always been a film fanatic, I remembered with renewed clarity a scene from the movie “Clean and Sober” – starring Michael Keaton as Daryl, the addict who’d never grasped the concept that he was an addict, and Morgan Freeman as Craig, the counselor at the rehab Daryl had checked himself into to get out of one of his addict driven jams. Daryl had picked a fight with Craig and thus got himself kicked out of the rehab, but then came back when he found he was in his bullshit so deep he had nowhere else to go. So while Craig has Daryl pee in a urine sampler for him – standard rehab operating procedure when an addict’s been left to his own devices – he asks him a few pointed questions, including whether he knows how addicts get clean, and what he had to say became a mantra that ran through my mind over and over and over again throughout those first days (and mercifully in that gorgeous, velvety Morgan Freeman voice to boot.):

“You know how we do it, Daryl? A second at a time. A minute at a time. An hour at a time. One day at a time.”

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Hazle Settlement A Victory For Secular Recovery

The following piece is submitted by long-time and very active LifeRing Member Byron Kerr, discussing a landmark case won by Barry Hazle, Jr. against the State of California which is also a victory for secular recovery for all who want it in California.

For more information, please reference the San Francisco Chronicle’s article about the case here.

All of us here at LifeRing extend our sincere gratitude to Mr. Hazle for his incredible tenacity and best wishes in his ongoing recovery – thank you Barry!


In 2007, Barry Hazle, Jr. of Shasta County, CA was charged with a drug offense in Shasta County Superior Court of California. Mr. Hazle pled no contest to the charges and received a sentence of one year in state prison.

After serving one year in prison Barry Hazle was released on parole. A condition of his parole was that he attend a ninety-day, residential drug treatment program. Barry Hazle immediately said that he was willing to undergo drug treatment, but specifically desired a secular approach to treatment.

Westcare, Inc., the state contractor that was enlisted to procure a treatment facility for Mr. Hazle ignored his request for secular treatment and placed him in Empire Recovery Center that used 12-Step facilitation exclusively. Mr. Hazle objected immediately to both Westcare and his parole officer, a Mr. Crofoot. Barry Hazle was told that he must participate in the 12-Step program or risk charges of parole violation.

Barry Hazle was expelled from the treatment program at Empire Recovery for being, “disruptive, though in a congenial way” according to court records of Empire staff testimony. Mr. Crofoot arrested Barry Hazle on charges of parole violation and forced Mr. Hazle back to state prison for an additional 100 days.

Barry Hazle filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for eastern California, claiming violation of his constitutional rights under the First Amendment.

In the mean time, Mr. Hazle’s original criminal conviction was thrown out and the original conviction no longer stands.

John Heller was the lead attorney in the federal lawsuit and was one of the featured speakers at our 2014 LifeRing Conference in Santa Rosa, May 31, 2014. Marty Nicolaus introduced Mr. Heller. One of the high points of the entire conference was when John Heller introduced Barry Hazle to the LifeRing audience. Mr. Hazle received a very welcoming ovation from the LifeRing crowd.
At the time of the LifeRing Conference, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had already ruled that the case must be re-tried and that compensatory damages were mandatory. Other issues surrounding the State of California and Westcare, Inc. were also ordered re-tried due to improper instructions given to the original jury.

The final settlement, reached on October 14, 2014, was reached without a full re-trial. It was apparently reached by way of a settlement conference. While the $1,950,000 settlement is significant, the victory for choice of recovery support is the most important aspect of this settlement. The fact that the State of California is paying half and a private company is paying half is also important.

Barry Hazle has stated that he intends to remain active in the recovery community. He has also stated a desire to build a home in the mountains. His bravery and courage in standing up for his rights certainly entitles him to a home in the mountains.