No Straight Lines

August 12, 2017 Leave a comment

stalker_sableLast week I had a chance to see Stalker movie (1979) for the first time on a big screen after watching it on home video about three times. I went with two friends who spoke no word of Russian so it was nice that there were subtitles, no? I kept catching myself checking out subtitles too, just to see how they will translate idioms and the metaphoric stuff.

If you never watched the movie, it was very loosely based on the book “The Roadside Picnic” by Strugatsky brothers, probably most important Soviet sci-fi writers. The main idea of the movie is after a mysterious visit of the out-of-space forces to a particular European territory, there came to existence is a place in the ET-penetrated territory (called the Zone) where all sacred desires can come true. Stalker (very strange name for the job, because he’s not really stalking anyone) is a guide who takes people through the Zone to have their wishes become reality.

Now here’s the thing. The guide (and whoever comes with him) has to travel through the Zone in a strange way: never straight. Although it seems it will be much faster and easier to go in a direct line from point A to point F, you can’t. The Zone is filled with ET aura, some uncertain intelligence that goes through the air and soil and affects everything around. The landscape changes daily and there are all kinds of traps that may seriously damage you, physically or mentally, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. It is no longer the man’s land. In the Zone you’d have to ask permission to enter and proceed, so Stalkers throw objects ahead to verify they can pass. Another thing they do is use a detour all the time.

I was watching the movie this time, and I got the thought that to be crossing the Zone is the same as living in recovery.

Here’s how. In recovery, whether from a car accident, appendix, or substance abuse there is no such thing as getting from point A to point F in a straight line, now is it? Every person have their own unique body that responds to traumas and changes in a unique way. On top of that, every one has their own unique immune system to fight with viruses and harmful bacteria that a person may become exposed to. So for different people, recovery would be taking place in different ways, on a different schedule.

Now, as if that was not enough, for substance abuse recovery all the steps you take can have detours in the middle because of whatever things and changes and obstacles happen in your life as you detox and learn the life skills to get better. If you join AA, you are still doing the Twelve Steps, and it’s still designed in a specific order for a good reason, so don’t deviate, but the gaps in between will take longer sometimes.

I heard in a meeting once, “the elevator toward recovery is broken, so take the stairs.” I think this is one of the smartest and witty recovery expressions I ever heard. Those curveballs that life throws at you will make you stumble every once in a while, and there will be places where the bridges are broken and you would have to cross the river with water reaching to the chin, and you’d tread along uneven bottom, and then climb the steep hills toward the shoreline.

Now why would that happen? Why would we need these friggin’ obstacles?

Part of it is because, like I mentioned earlier, the body and the mind are their own systems with their own laws of work and healing processes. Another part is if we could just take the elevator to where recovery is located, it would be too easy and we’d never learn about the difficulties of recovery. And although it may sound absurd at first, we need those. With their help we can remember the obstacles we met on the way and stay away from making more mistakes. As well, going through this experience we build up the character, forged in struggles that the journey involves.

First rule of sociology is “things are not what they seem.” It works well for how you cross the Zone in both the book and the movie, which could be a good metaphor for what our lives are. Everybody has their own strange territory to go through. We need to keep watch on where we step so we don’t step into traps, and sometimes we need to pause and ask permission to pass (aka request advice or opinion).

And no, there are no straight lines in recovery. And everyone’s life is recovery, really. We always have to deal with something and fix something. And if we work at it with understanding there is a certain plan beyond our understanding, a Zone way, or God’s plan, if we sometimes take a step back and see what happen, things will work out even better. And they will. As Big Book says, “sometimes faster, sometimes slower, they will always materialize, if we work for them.”

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must talk

August 2, 2017 Leave a comment

A friend of mine said earlier this week: “I talk to strangers and go meet people in recovery not because I like them, but because I don’t. I have to.”

You know, I agree. I don’t like people much. People are rude, absentminded more often than not. People are arrogant. And I am part of the “people”, so I realize that I could be part of the absentminded and arrogant as well. So I don’t like people much, although I try to like myself. And still… I try to spend less time with people. But…

But I have to be communicative and open. I welcome others to my opinion and give advice when asked to and I have to listen to what others say otherwise I will not learn things that I may benefit from. That is good for my recovery and keeping it healthy. Thus, I have to talk and meet. Often I don’t want to and I tell myself I don’t need to, but I always end up reminding myself that when I do follow up with this practice, I enjoy it 95% of the time. So I keep doing it. And I am still here, alive and healthy and moderately happy, am sure because of that.


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Yesterday was a good day to be sober. Important too. Yesterday we had Canada Day. Celebration.

A celebration, although usually an exciting event, always bears certain stress with it for all people. And it is a challenge to stay put for people who struggle with staying put. Among others, for people who party or run away from reality. Some people run away from reality for a little bit but always come back stronger and get back with life. Some can’t. I was always one of the latter. I am very happy to be sober for the last twelve years, because there is no way I’d be spending any celebratory dates sober, and for me not sober means not just a couple of drinks. It means a drinking spree and disaster always followed in toe.

I still don’t dig the patriotic ideas and “proud to be [citizen of this or that country]” or anything similar. I don’t get it. I never did. And it’s OK. I am glad I live in the country and in the city that is stable in many regards, although it is not perfect. I am still grateful. But I don’t go and celebrate it with masses of people. It is not my thing. And it is OK too. And although that idea is always present on a date like July 1st, still, that is not exactly what I’m talking about. It is not politics or social issues. I am talking about how weak humans can be with celebration in front of their nose (I live downtown right by where celebration is held) and still have forces not to freak out and go party like a madman. Not all of us can easily say “no!” to a beer or a glass of wine or a joint. Many of us are weak. With years of sobriety and clean time life becomes better and responding to challenges becomes easier, but there is still danger to fall, especially when the stress of everyday life (and special occasions) are not watched closely and dealt with properly.

yesterday I watched movies and played video games and hung out with my girlfriend and listened to the music loudly played outside and it was a good day. I enjoyed being away from the celebration and still having a sober day and the weather was nice (well, it rained in bits on and off, but it was still nice, although the folk on the square dancing to the music pouring off stage may think different).

So for all those vulnerable people who, like I used to, feel rather emotional and nervous about the national/social celebratory dates/events, like Canada Day, Mothers/Fathers Day, Xmas, Easter, etc., stay strong. There is always another one coming around the corner, so watch out. Talk to your support network and share how you feel. The stress and vulnerable states need to be gone, because they multiply every day. The longer we keep them inside, untold, un-faced, the stronger they will become through time. Getting rid of them will help celebrate life better. That is an event you don’t want to miss, even though sometimes it may feel rather mundane. That is your real life, and with more clean/sober time it does get more fun. I never believed it. And I was proved wrong so many times.


Here’s a story I kept in my head for a long time and only know I figured that it may have shed a bit of a light on who I am, or at least who I was for a long while.

It came to me after watching the Jackass movie couple weeks back. If you never watched one, it is a real events show where people signed up for being subjected for all kinds of crazy and often physically painful ordeal that are fun, but also sometimes stressful to watch. After watching that I started asking myself, what kind of experiment of the kind would I allow myself to participate in, how much embarrassment and pain can I take. Then this memory came and I started to dissect it, and what came out of it was no longer a potential Jackass material. It was a look into more of a insanity and recovery material. I think I learned something from that.

What happened was in 1998 I went to Crete Island with a group of people. The idea came from my Mom who used to work with one of the organizers, a school teacher. The group consisted of high school kids. So there were about ten of them, plus two teachers, and then there was me. I was in the second year of university, and age-wise I was in the middle. Thus the kids looked up to me as one of the teachers, only I wasn’t. Not really. I was already enslaved by alcohol quite a bit, and I was enjoying life too much to be looked up to in terms of being some sort of example of what another person could aspire to grow up to.

We flew from Moscow to Heraklion which is in the north of the Crete island, stayed a night in the hotel and the next day we took a bus all the way down to the south coast. From there on, for over two weeks we were to do a backpack hike back to Heraklion along the west coast. Sometimes we’d take a bus, but most of the time we walked. And we camped a lot in the middle.

On the third day of the trip, after we spent a couple of days in a camping area (terrorizing local five-star hotel with our taking over their swimming pool, haha), we moved out into the wild, which started with hitting the mountains. We walked for a several hours. All was well, but around five pm a nasty thing happened.

I was walking with everyone, I think in the middle of the group that stretched out for about 15 meters long line. I was getting more tired, and walked slower. Very soon I started to let people behind me walk past me and before I knew it I was way behind everyone. Then I stopped.

It was a hot day still, probably about 30C degrees. I felt very tired. I leaned against the rock we were circling on a long serpentine walk. That’s when I lost sight for several seconds. Everything went black, literally. I was so amazed I didn’t even panic. When the sight came back, that’s when I began thinking a lot of stupid shit.

I must say I used to hike before, but there were longer and longer gaps between those trips, so I think I started to lose the skills. For example, how to distribute the backpack weight, or how to drink water often, and things like that. By the time I was at a high point on a Crete mountain in a 30 degree heat at five pm, I was out of water and my back pack was heavy and I was carrying a bag that belonged to one of the kids, I think. So I screwed myself up. That happens. It is one of those things you learn from. But that is not what was troubling me. It was mental stuff that was kicking my ass.

As I was dehydrated and tired, I was also getting heavily resentful and afraid. Resentful at my Mom because somehow it was her “fault” that I am now here, all alone, unable to move, hot as hell, and everything is going weird and I am now weaker than anyone else, including the younger kids in the group. Afraid of everything – of what is to come, of what others will think of me, of not going to make it through, and that’s just beginning of the trip! So I had some sort of nervous breakdown, and I was not enjoying it at all.

The leaders of the group came back several minutes later and had a chat with me. They’ve shared some of my load and walked me back to the rest of the group. I had some water. Then we all went together again and I made sure I didn’t separate.

Around sunset we came to our point of destination, a restaurant with a camping area. We ate and hung out and had some wine and it was a good time, but before dinner I was still stressing out. I smoked nervously. The record that was now playing in my head was “the greatest hits of poor me.” I felt like no one in the group really felt what it was like for me to be there on the mountain all by myself, scared, possibly sun struck, and all messed up in the head. I only shared a little bit with one kid who I befriended at the beginning of the trip, but even to him I didn’t talk about the mental stuff. Which probably did both of us a lot of good.

The next day we moved on for more adventure and the rest of the trip was excellent. I certainly had a great time and still remember it all with smile on my face. We hiked a lot, I climbed mountains, we cooked great food and we chased each other in the valleys for the fun of it, and it was probably one of the best times I ever had, period.

Now that I am thinking of it, it looks like that very negative experience was some sort of a trial I needed to go through to have a good time later. That is possible. But at the same time, there was a lot about that evening that makes me think of my journey of recovery.

How so?

Well, to start with, it was my own fault that I didn’t save enough water, carried too much crap in my back pack and have physically distanced myself from the group, without warning anybody or/and asking for help. How often people who suffer from addictions of all kinds do that? Right. Check.

Secondly, the resentment part. It was certainly not my Mom’s fault that I ended up in Crete on the top of a mountains, scared shitless. I made a choice to be there. I was happy to go. So blaming it all on someone else is wrong. As for fears, we have a lot of that in pre-recovery, and in recovery, and all the way after too, yes, but it is in recovery that we have a chance to look at most of those. I guess I didn’t really look much into my fears up to that point. Well, after that I did none of that either, honestly. So, resentment and fear. Check.

And the drinking part is big. I was drinking for several years by then already. I was drinking each time I could get my hands on booze and I set no boundaries. So my alcoholic mind went raging when confronted with unwanted stressful situation, loaded with fears up to the rim. Booze and outrage. Check.

And then what? That’s when the recovery-related part came in. The leaders who came to check up on me cared for my well-being. They wouldn’t leave alone because I was a part of the group, yes. But they could’ve just told me to get my shit together and get moving. Instead, they shared my load and went with me. That’s what people in AA do, and that’s what they helped me with when I came to AA twelve years ago.

My mind was still crazy after that evening trip. I was full of pity for myself, because I felt alone in my misery and no one seemed to know the depth of that pit. So I remained sick for a while.

And then I had rest. And I allowed myself to be a part of the group. I communicated with others. And I enjoyed that immensely.

I went on drinking for the rest of the trip. Never too bad until the last night, at Heraklion. That was a mental disaster, although at that time I could still handle it well on the outside. It was later when both physical and mental states of my life went completely wacko. I could’ve learned from many experiences, including that Crete one. I haven’t until it almost got too late.

Is this a story of recovery? Well, maybe metaphorically, yes. There is lots to learn from here, for sure. These are the ones I need to remind myself of on a regular basis. They help me keep myself in check. These are my hidden lessons to benefit my life time study of concrete recovery. If I forget how much pain and embarrassment, feign or real, I had to deal with in the past, there is a big chance that I will keep welcoming them back into my life and it will hurt way more and compromise the good life that I’ve been having thanks to choosing sobriety and accepting and working on the help I asked for.

Violence and Mercy

paint-paintball-1132429I went playing paintball with friends and spend about half a day doing it. Or so it felt. Besides the bruises from being shot many a time, the “game” also gave me some food for thought and as I was recalling of how we played and how we tried not to play, I got myself thinking that it was all us guys in recovery in one team. And from there somehow I wondered if recovery is kinda like playing paintball. It may sound far fetched, but hear me out.

In paintball you can’t play alone. It’s not a computer game. You could plan, do your strategy homework alone, yes, but you always need somebody with you or against you, otherwise, what’s the fun? And that somebody who’s playing with you will watch over you while you’re learning to shoot and run around, and cover you when you go on a “mission.”

If you want to succeed in a paintball mission, you need to watch your step. Besides being shot when you are not paying attention to your surroundings, you can also trip and fall on your face or run into a wall and hurt yourself in ways you wouldn’t think of. It is the same thing in recovery, – you need to know your boundaries and be aware of people you can no longer associate with. You got to know your limits, safe zones, and pay attention to what your ego may want you to say or do that is counterproductive to your recovery.

In a paintball game you got to keep your gun loaded and check the pressure. In sobriety your guns are recovery books and things you learn in meetings and conversations. Your prayers and meditations. You got to be stocked on the good stuff and you need to know how to deal with all kinds of pressure, including the stuff that keeps you going right and the stuff that drives you nuts. Your positivity and reflections, – keep them in check and keep the good stuff handy.

Being on a fighting mission you got to watch out for your team mPlay-Paintball-Step-20ates. Being on a mission of living sober, you need to be the helping hand and listening patient ear to others in the program, especially the newcomers. You were one of them in the beginning, so they maybe experiencing things you had trouble with. Be of service to them.

A paintball shooter may happen to get close to the enemy (about three meters or less) when they least expected it, and in that case they have a right to yell for “mercy” and that should be respected, so here’s the example of proper communication helping you not to get shot. It works the same way in real life, including living in recovery. Communication is our everything.

You need to play safe and watch your sides, but you are allowed to have fun. A paintball game is about having a good time through some stress, lots of physical work, and because of that lots of sweat. Life in sobriety should be fun as well, otherwise why make the change?

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Man Insane

April 23, 2017 Leave a comment

The sharing at the meeting today was whirled around Step One and particularly the reading of an excerpt from “Bill’s Story” in the Big Book of AA, the part where he sits at home drinking, waiting for his friend to arrive. He calls his state at that point “insidious insanity” with his family and friends worrying for his mind.

It is a really good expression they got there, that insidious insanity. It spoke true to me when I read the Book for the first time, and it rings true to me now. In the last years of me still drinking I was doubting everything, but particularly how every day would go. I could see how drinking affected everything in my life, yet I couldn’t let go off booze.

Life is so weird when you look back at things that happened. How could I even imagine back in 1996, enjoying my first beer in a company of friends on the Red Square in Moscow that in 10 years I’d be sitting in a mental ward in a hospital in Edmonton, all thanks to my drinking? Bizarre. And yet it happened. At the hospital doctor and several medical students would come over in the morning and check me out and ask me to stretch my hands and watch my fingers tremble still, after three days of abstinence. Abstinence that was only possible due to hospitalization. What a sad state, what a sad place in life to be. There is no way I could predict that. I could’ve learned something in the past to prevent that by then.

Of course, I had no idea how catastrophic it could be. We never do. And what we often do is just brush that thought off and make the first step down the hill not knowing the hill is there to begin with. We just go.

I did, anyway. And with each time I expected it would get better. And this is what they call insanity -doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. I was insane alright. Not really diagnosed, but insane I sure was. I kept expecting things to be different, but I did nothing to change that.

I am now looking at the twelve years of sobriety and marvel not just at the accomplishments, but at how many years I simply did not drink. The evening before I quit for good I met the guy who later became me guide in recovery and he said then he was 19 years sober and I thought “Bullshit! How do you even do that?!” It is insane to think of it, but it is real and it is a sane life. I hope it will keep going that way. I know that if I keep doing what recovery prescribes me to do, I might as well keep going sober and well for a longer time.

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Fool to Drink?

foolThere is an expression in Russian “выпить не дурак” (“vypit’ ne durak”) that means “wouldn’t mind to drink a lot” or “would drink a lot and have a good time with that,” but the literal translation is “not a fool to drink.” Bizarre imbalance of meanings, no?

Anyway, I was a fool to drink. I don’t blame myself, because for a long time I was clueless what was my problem when it came to have one drink and then I wouldn’t be able to stop. Nevertheless, the blame is on me after all, because I was an irresponsible person when I drank. I am not pissing on my past. It happened. There were good times too.

But the difference I feel now, compared to the crazy times of intoxication, is I don’t want to be around people who drink. If I go to a concert, I can’t avoid people drinking, so I have to settle down and be patient. At other setting, don’t expect me to be OK with going out and hang out with a friend at a bar or a restaurant where people tend to drink often and loud. As they say, it is not about you, it is about me. I have this thing, you know, called alcoholism. I do things differently.

At the same time I often wonder why would people drink anyway, whether they have problem with it or they can handle it really well without becoming abusive, or offensive, or destructive. I mean, besides maybe wine, all natural kind of stuff, every other alcohol beverage has so many elements in it that human body just doesn’t need. Why bother? Who’s really fool to drink? All of us?

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