Tag Archives: rehab

The kindness of saying no

I think I missed the memo. Somewhere, someone must have published a book, perhaps it’s called MissManners2.0 or some such thing, and within it we are told that the “polite” thing to do these days is to never, ever, say no.

It is now a reasonable expectation to be ignored when making a request.  Enough time goes by and we accept the answer was no. It is now common to send off emails requesting a response and simply never hearing anything. People will go to great lengths to avoid simply being honest and saying, “No, I’d rather not.” We run from any potential confrontation to the point of talking so much more about people than to them. We explain to others why we won’t respond and then simply don’t.

Then we tell ourselves we are being kind. On the surface, such dishonesty being labeled “kind” is laughable, which is why I must have missed the memo that declared it so. Laughable? What, too strong? I don’t think so. Without honesty, we can’t be kind. We perpetuate misunderstanding that ripples out in countless hurtful ways.

I ran across this little saying from something called “Peaceful Warrior” the other day.


The last line jumped out. We could save people so much trouble with honest communication. “Painfully” honest works when coupled with humility, which is why I think we decided it’s no longer polite to be honest. Humility is nearing extinction, crowded out by the epidemic of narcissism.

This might sound overly complicated, but perhaps it’s not. Perhaps its as simple as this: If I’m the star and cast of my own reality show, if other’s don’t play a critical role, then my decision to respond has nothing to do with them. It’s how I feel that matters. I feel responding to an email with a polite, “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not,” makes me uncomfortable. What will they think of me, I wonder?  If I just don’t respond, it’s easier for me. I can ignore it. I can ignore the conversation. I can ignore having to disappoint someone. I may even avoid conflict or further conversation.

I feel better.

And that’s what matters, right?

If I make excuses to avoid doing what I don’t want, it’s all the better than the truth because A) I don’t have to say “I’d rather not,” which might just be well, awkward… ick, but also, B) I tell myself they will feel better with my excuse, so I’m actually being nice! I like thinking of myself as nice. It’s a win-win.


Well, the star of the show is happy, so I guess so.

I’m convinced all of this must have been explained in the memo I missed, which is I am so hopelessly out of touch. Worse, because I keep breaking the 2.0 rules, I’m the one who is not very nice.

The irony is my entire life I hated saying no. I wrote an entire chapter of a book about my desire to say “yes” as often as I could.  In rehab I learned that saying no and saying it honestly would have helped me avoid some of the worst behaviors and worst outcomes of my life. I vowed to live sober and truthfully. I learned to say no. Yet, somehow in that transition, someone issued a memo and I missed it and once again I feel out of step.

But this time, I feel a foundation of truth under my feet. I may be 1.0, but I am comfortable in my skin. I am now an ardent fan of “the courtesy of a reply.” I still prefer yes. But I’ve learned no is necessary at times. Or just the best choice. Or simply OK. In every case it is far, far better than simply ignoring the need to respond or to respond dishonestly.

I am not the star of my own show. The ratings were bad and it got cancelled. I hope a lot of “shows” suffer the same fate. Maybe then we can rediscover the healing power of honest communication even when difficult.


A morning run finished, a milestone awaits

Several years ago, I ran my first half marathon on Easter Sunday, the last day of a long six-month slog through rehab. Next week, I’ll run my fourth half marathon but the first with The Bride. Back then we often dreamed of running together and celebrating health and happiness and sobriety. I ran endless loops around the track envisioning someday when we would run across the Golden Gate Bridge in celebration of God’s redemptive work in my life.

Next Sunday, I’ll realize that goal.

So this Easter Saturday, The Bride and I decided on a fun run as a final day of training.

We hit T minus 7 for the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in San Franciso. We needed a final run just to make sure we were ready for what will surely be a windy, hilly, challenging, trek over the Golden Gate Bridge and into city center next week.

For our final long training run, we wanted to get out early because the damn race starts at 6:30 a.m. The Bride and I run early most morning, but not that early. We need our first cup of coffee and general waking up time before we lace up the shoes. This practice became a key point of emphasis, much to my dismay.

We also wanted to keep moving past as much different terrain as possible. Coit Tower’s Filbert Steps, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and back up into the center of town. In a word: challenging.

We also wanted it to be fun. So we set the finish line at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in the Tenderloin, for its famous Cruffins.

A Cruffin at the end of miles through the beautiful city of San Francisco was meant to be a reward.  This might have been the only flaw in otherwise beautiful Saturday morning plan. I felt regret in my gut as we ran by Mama’s in North Beach early on. That should have been the finishing line.

At Mr. Holmes, the wait was long, the cruffin itself a poor proxy for the trend- and taste-setting expertise of the cronut and the unnecessary calories a week before a huge run combined to take the luster off the visit. But hey, at least we can say, “we’ve been there” for whatever that’s worth.

And next week, we will truly cross a landmark off the bucket list. I’ve been sober almost seven years. This run is a highlight of just how unexpectedly wonderful this second chapter of my life has been.

Easter touchstones in my long road to redemption

In this seven-year work of grace and redemption in my life, God has used Easter as a powerful touchstone along the way. I spent the most significant Easter of my life running a personal half-marathon and in fasting the day before my release from prison rehab. Everything I thought God was doing my life was wrong. I could never have predicted the arc of suffering and spiritual work that lay ahead, and that too was grace. Had I known, I may have just surrendered and quit the journey, u-turning back into a bottle of ego and self. But that’s a story for another Easter. This Easter, I celebrate the one before that one. A dark day brightened by a visitation from a humble man of God who I’m blessed to call my friend. In that visitation, God visited me as well, and I re-opened my heart to what God may want from me in this life. This is an excerpt from a book I will soon be releasing on EffinArtist.com.  I wish you a blessed Easter and ears tuned to what the Spirit of God is doing in your blessed life.

*An Easter meditation

My close friend Mike is a conservative. I’m a liberal. Yet we don’t clash over our faith. We celebrate it. It’s why he’s like a brother to me, or, at least, one of a gajillian reasons and why I am like a brother to him.

We were both athletic in our heyday. We’re both driven. We both work with a passion to succeed. I trash talk. I can’t bait him to return the fodder, even though it’s far more his culture as a black man than it is mine. Every time I jab at him he says, “Oh man,” Eyes rolling as a huge smile lights across his face. “Oh man. We’ll see about that. Yes, we will.”

He just won’t take the bait.

A couple of times in the years I’ve known him, I heard him gently suggest I should take a look at my pride. It can trip you up, he’d say.

I’d shirk it off. Pride to me was thinking you’re better than you are. That’s not exactly my thorn of the flesh. I felt confident in my skills and comfortable when others had skills different or better than mine. Ambition shouldn’t be confused with pride, I thought. And it shouldn’t. But he was talking about pride, not ambition, not confidence, not esteem. I should have listened.

Because the next time we talked about it was when Mike came to see me through a visitation window behind bars.

For eight months I had been smashing my head against those walls that hemmed me in. Every ounce of the make-up that is me fired furiously against my powerlessness. A born problem-solver couldn’t solve anything. Anything. And in that conflicted state I grew weary. In the weariness, I opened my ears to the spiritual truths I’d long ignored. In my ears, I heard Mike’s voice. “Be careful brother. Be careful.”


As he came to see me we sat across from each other, a glass wall dividing us. He smiled that huge smile. We picked up our phones.

“How did you know it was my pride?” I asked before we even said hello.

He was speechless. Then he laughed. Then he said, “God is good.”

“Yes,” I said “He is he’s pretty tough too. Believe that.”

Mike just shook his head and then looked in my eyes.

“You’re doing good. I can see it.”

“I am. Barely”

Before he left, he vowed to do anything I needed to get on my feet when I get out.

“What is your goal?” he asked. “What do you want to do? I’ll help you.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me think about it.”

And I did. Back locked in my cell, I meditated on the question. I breathed it in and out during yoga over and over. I sifted my thoughts. I’ve always just wanted to write books. I wanted to be a daily person of calm for my children. I wanted to be with my wife every single night when my head hit the pillow. This was still what I wanted.

Then I tried to listen. “What is my goal?” I asked.

I recalled a memory verse I learned at 16 years old. It had a tune to it that I recalled. I couldn’t, at first, recall the verse. I took a guess and flipped to Micah. It was right there, where I had left it so many years ago. I picked it up and breathed it in and out the rest of the week.

Mike came back to see me the very next day. Easter Sunday.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Why aren’t you in church with your family?”

He spread his hands wide.

“This is church,” he said into the receiver, looking at me through glass. “You are my family.”

I felt my throat grow tight. He noticed and tried to make easy conversation. I cut him off.

“I know my goal,” I said.

He nodded, go on.

“Micah 6:8, ‘He has shown thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee. But to love Mercy, and to do justly, and to walk humbly with thy God.’”

I could hear that faint crackley, echoey sound that makes visits like these difficult and distant. But this silence transcended the thick glass and the circumstance. This silence allowed God to join our visit, to celebrate Easter Sunday with us.

We didn’t know it, but a lot was born that Easter Sunday. I began my rise from the dead. That alignment of priorities opened the way for God to begin a new, terrible, necessary, painful refinement in my life. Exactly one Easter later I fasted for 24 hours, preparing to leave prison. I thought a new day was about to be born, and I guess it was. But it wasn’t what I had in mind. I was banned from seeing my wife on my release. I was put in a difficult trans-leave program with the odds of success stacked against me. Little did I know it, but I’d return to prison, I’d do the entire sentence all over again without having committed any new crimes, still paying a long, difficult, extreme price for my pride.

But it took all that to learn something of humility that Mike suggested I learn years ago. It took all that to learn fully you have to confront your pride. It took all that for me to align my life with God’s plan, to learn to walk humbly. It took all that for me to accept this new phase, to break through my unwillingness to serve, to let the vision of Criminal U, of service, of reconciliation and reform, to emerge. It took all that for me to find this path.

Finally, Mike broke the silence.

“Yes,” he said “Yes. That’s a good goal.”

It was, one I once believed in. If only I hadn’t left it behind so many years ago. Thank God for a brother like Mike that helped me find it.

Dream big. Live well. Be a success. But always, always, check yourself. Confront your pride. It truly does go before a fall.

Long odds pay off with release of ‘Fixed’

Doug Piotter beat long odds in life. He continues to do so, as the release of his comedic memoir attests. A guy who lived the life that my friend Doug has, shouldn’t be breathing, let alone publishing books. But here he is, as of today, a published author.

I’m honored to introduce to you, Fixed: Dope sacks, dye packs, and the long welcome back, by Doug Piotter.

Doug’s story is compelling. The Seattle native’s unique perspective and gratitude for the life he has helps also make it funny. Very funny, which comes through in his quirky writing style.


It’s staggering to think Doug came out the other side of harsh addiction, a bottom-feeding, crime-riddled youth and a decade in prison. It’s literally miraculous that he came out the person he is, enthusiastic, positive, driven, successful and still, after more than a 22 years of sobriety, giving back in service to us fellow addicts.

Back when I first entered rehab, I thought anyone who went to rehab was weak. I looked down on them and really didn’t like them very much. So as I started rehab, it was the one time in my life where I really didn’t like myself much at all.

The blessing came when I realized how absolutely EFFing stupid I was about the people who went to rehab. Within the recovery community I found examples of transformation, strength, grit, gratitude and courage that I had rarely seen before. Not only did I find a better version of myself, I met a whole community of people who inspired me to be the best self I could be–and to do it joyfully!

Doug is an example of the type of hero I meet every day in recovery. He’s a stellar craftsman, an honest businessman, a mentor to addicts, husband to an incredibly talented artist, Terrell Lozada, and now a published author.

So many people would hear the stories about Doug’s life and tell him, “You oughta write a book.”

I know a lot of people who think that. Many start writing. Very few finish. Doug did.

He beat the odds for those recovering from addiction. He beat the odds for those sent to prison. He never again used or committed crime. He beat the odds by building a successful business. He beat the odds again today by publishing a book.

In life, we are afforded few times to let others know they matter. For an unsung hero like Doug, this is one of those times. Click here, spend a few bucks on a book to celebrate a true Effin Artist. Write an honest review, comment here, and/or visit his web page.  Share Doug’s book on social media, by posting this blog, or sharing the link to his book.

Effin Artist is about the transformation of the human spirit. So is Doug Piotter, an example of how vast that work of grace can be. Let’s celebrate him with our support.

Doug, you’re an EFFin Artist, man!

Cheering other writers toward their own Ah-ha moment

A couple of weeks ago I went over to a neighborhood park where a handful of homeless folks hang out. As I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve recognized many come and go, but some are neighbors in the truest sense of the word. Many have ambitions and plans and even hope for whatever comes next.

One woman’s personality burst through the normal routine with enthusiasm. Soon she was grilling me about why I spent my lunch with them, who were my family and eventually what I did for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Me too!” she said. “Well, I want to be anyway.”

“That’s what it takes, the desire,” I said, seeing she had plenty of that.

“I’ve started  my memoir,” she said.

She even had a name picked out, Cry Baby, Cry. It’s a good name, I thought.

“Wanna help me out,” she asked? “I’m on Facebook and all that.”

“You have email?” I asked.

She had to have been a regular down at the library. I love libraries for exactly this and a hundred other reasons.

“Of course, man,” she said.

I handed her my card.

“Email me the first few pages,” I said, an offer I’ve made to countless people in countless difference situations.

Writers, I have found, are everywhere. Writers wanting help, any help, are everywhere too. Whenever I offer to read their words — their art — it is almost magical. Some feel energized, others bashful, some worried, and a host of other things. I’ve always felt it an honor to share their words on a page.

“Alright then,” she said. “Fuck it. Let’s make a million dollars. It’s a good book.”

“A million dollars sounds good,” I said.

Why not, I thought on my way home, with just a mild sense of trepidation that my volunteering could open up a whole host of complications I’m not sure I wanted.

Turns out I haven’t heard from her yet. Like many, many budding authors I run into, desire and enthusiasm are often high, but the follow-through can be quicksand.

I’m reminded of another guy who asked me to read some chapters when I was in rehab. I said sure. He told me his plan for his novel. He had big plans. He asked me to offer advice to help him accomplish those plans.

A few days later he brought me more than 100 pages. I sighed. I didn’t have time to read 100 first draft pages, much less give serious editing and coaching tips. But I had said I would. I was learning service had a lot to do with sobriety. I dug in.

It wasn’t terrible. I could tell he’d read a lot of John Grisham and wanted to write like him. My first advice on the page was crucial: Find your voice, I wrote.

I had only planned on reading about ten pages. Soon I had read it all, complete with red line ideas and a laundry list of things to do. It wasn’t that the book was so compelling. Rather it was selfish. The work for me was compelling. I had missed it.

I treated him like the pro he aspired to be, telling him in clear instructions the work he had to put in.  I recall one of them distinctly: “Take Chapter two and tear it up,” I wrote. “You lost your focus entirely and your writing shows it. Jump to Chapter 3 and then refocus the organization.”

The bad news was chapter two was bad. The good news was chapter three showed promise. He had a bunch of stuff to go on. The work could progress. I gave it all back to him and even offered to spend some time over a cup of coffee explaining any of my comments.

I learned later he lost interest in the project. I retraced my steps. Was I too harsh? As an editor in a newsroom I didn’t learn manners. And I know I can be a bit of a diva when I’m working. The last thing I wanted to do was crush a writer’s spirits.

But after a time of critical self-evaluation I realized this man was like so many writers: Full of desire to “be a writer,” but short on the trudging work necessary to become one.

I’ve never stopped helping writers try to discover their art. Recently a book proposal I helped an author finish snagged the first agent he approached. I am not sure if I was more thrilled than he was when a short while later his book sold to a publisher. His agent wants to help him craft a plan for his next books. He’s on his way. I played a very, very small role, but I wouldn’t have missed his “I’m an EFFin Artist, man!” moment for the world.

Yes, I’m a writer. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be and I’m blessed to be one of those people who make their living banging words onto a page. But I’ve realized that I am also a coach, and even more so a cheerleader. I love to spur on others to find their voice and tell their story in whatever fashion it may be.

That’s really what EffinArtist is all about anyway.

Test kitchen to return to artistic pursuit of chocolate

We mess around with a lot of different things in the test kitchen. We can be so all over the map that it’s hard to remember this whole thing started with the idea of experimenting with chocolate. We launched the test kitchen to simply experiment with the artistic expression of chocolate– art you can eat, we called it, because we don’t like the clutter of most types of artistic expression.

The idea for all things Effin Artist came to me in rehab. Needless to say, the food sucked. Hell, everything sucked. But my daughter sent me books on artisan chocolate. I had mentioned in passing the idea — virtually clueless that the trend was long established — and she sent me the books to encourage me. I’d lay there and look at the incredible pictures of different chocolates with exotic flavors and beautiful expression and I simply wanted to make those things. Losing wine and cocktails and happy hours I was desperate for something I could call mine. Chocolate — the idea of it anyway — became “mine.”

Now nearly five years into sobriety my life is rich, full and expressive, in direct contrast to the narrowed, limited and depraved life that came at the end of my two-decade long dance with the bottle.

Here I sit on the other side of those perilous mountains of recovery that I simply couldn’t imagine crossing and life is good. EffinArtist is more than I ever dreamed it would be. Life is too. Health is great. Creativity is the key to sobriety. Blessed, I think daily. Blessed.

But those original pictures of chocolate art remain beyond reality and it’s time to change all that, I think.

As the test kitchen evolved, we went where our interest took us and so far, most of our chocolate remains entirely experimental and not very artistic at all.

2013-11-03 13.57.48

This summer we resolve to return to the original mission for a basic reason: A piece or two of beautiful, hand-crafted chocolates satisfies on so many levels: artistic expression, sweet tooth cravings, but also maintaining a healthy approach to food. And because it’s not easy, we have the blessing of Jimmy Dugan, and the interest to see it through.