Where is Home?


The first time I met Shayla in her kitchen, August 2013

As many others in recovery, I spent a good bit of my active addiction taking geographic cures throughout the US – for myself this primarily meant a host of locations in the Upper Midwest and Deep South.  Over the past 30 years of recovery I have also spent a good bit of time making pilgrimages of sorts to many of these locations, looking for I am not certain what.  On those trips I have had a bunch of insights.  For example, if you want to really experience the perspective of being a kid in the old neighborhood, trying riding a bicycle down those streets instead of viewing everything from the middle of the road in a car!

I attended a family event a bunch of years ago in my hometown – or not really my hometown, but the suburb where everyone escaped from the working class A-frame urban decay of my youth.  Someone said to me “Welcome Home” to which I immediately responded, “This is not my home.  I live in Louisiana.”  And the fact is, if there is one place where I feel most free, most secure, most alive, it has always been on the streets of New Orleans – my part-time soon to be full-time residence.

But I have been thinking about this concept of “Where is home?” for quite a while now.  I bought Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again but have yet to get past the first page of the 600 plus page tome.

My colleague from Peru is living with us for two years in her first adventure outside her native country.  During her first week in the US, when we went to the Hispanic market and I showed her tangerines with “Peru” labels on them her eyes filled with tears.  A year later we were in the same market and found that on a bottom shelf of the aisle where Inka Cola is stocked, packages of purple corn for making chicha morado and bags of trigo that we had made a special trip to the mercado in Lima to bring to the states for soup making.  Once again, she was ecstatic to find a bit more of her home in Memphis, Tennessee.

I asked her when we were driving recently, when she felt the most homesick.  She said when she knew she was missing family events, or certain foods, and friends.

I reflected on that question as well – but wondered the place I felt homesick for – and realized that was actually the wrong question – it is not a place.  I am homesick for spending more time with my wife as I will not join her in New Orleans full-time until I retire next summer.  But I have also thought about my recent years of spending time in Peru and realize I am homesick, less for the physical place, but as my colleague notes, the people, events, and food.  Perhaps the most “homesick” I feel is for the daily meals at Shayla’s in Hualcayán.  The place is a large room with a dirt floor, adobe-type walls, sitting on plastic stools, and eating from tables of plywood on top of sawhorses.  The food is good, but mostly it is a time to spend time visiting with extended family and friends who happen by – drinking tea after meals.  Here is where I learned the satisfaction of just drinking hot water to have something warm to hold in your hands and drink on a cold winter night.

So home, like serenity, and recovery are more about relationships and states of mind – the physical spaces become irrelevant.


31 Sobriety Anniversaries of Gratitude

carla,luciana,kevinToday is my 31st anniversary of being sober.  Once again I am in Peru for the anniversary, just come down from the high altitude rural Andes where I have been doing field work for the past few weeks.  That environment is a good place to reflect on gratitude, beauty, life, and hope.

Gratitude for the opportunity to build relationships and make new friends in this rural place.  Gratitude for an understanding of what is important – family, friends, and place trump all the materials gadgets and other such success markers of life.

Beauty for not just the natural world but the people and their relationships too.  For people whose language I butcher quite badly.

Life is not easy in the rural Andes.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.  Although there is plenty of time for gossip and bickering, there is also a simple reality of existence – an acceptance, not excuse making – that I find very healthy and nurturing.

The Andes is about hope and the need to act on that possibility to make it real.  Whether because of disasters that are cultural or natural in making, there is a perseverance and resilience that is motivating.

I am thinking that these now annual trips I make in July-August each year to the Andes, and then my sobriety anniversary occurring as the trip is winding down and I am getting ready to return to the US – as an opportunity for reflection on the year past in preparation for the year to come.

And of course, were it not for my sobriety, if I were even still alive, I would still be making excuses on why the world is out to get me, how no one really understands, etc. etc. and drink myself into oblivion to both avoid and intensify my misery.

Today, life is good and I have nothing in the world to complain about.

Social Relationships in Sobriety

Hual-and-RCI am spending my third summer of field work in Hualcayán, Peru – a 400-person village some 10,000 feet above sea level in the very rural north central Andes. I have posted before about recovery and my time in Peru.

This morning I reflected on an event from my first summer here.  A graduate student lectured me that I should not have refused the offer of beer at dinner by our host.  He noted that in the highland Andes, alcohol is an important factor in creating social relationships. My unspoken reply at the time was that I did not buy his theory on relationship building.  In fact, if my Spanish were better, that would surely be a more effective relationship building tool. This interaction took place in 2012.

In 2015:

  • The graduate student has not been back.  I doubt his social relationship building went much beyond our host noting that gringos will generally accept a free beer.
  • This summer our very small two-person crew eat all of our meals with the same host as in 2012. We have conversations about everything from farming, Huayno music, the electoral process, and more.
  • I have spent hours with the youngest in the house playing the Spanish language children’s apps I loaded on my iPad before leaving for Peru.
  • Last year, there was some dissension from US students because of the number of children that play in the afternoon in the lab courtyard.  The concern is they are distracting and make too much noise. This year, from 3 – 5 PM every afternoon, 5 – 15 of the nearby children come to draw, watch videos, and create other crafts in the same courtyard and empty dorm spaces. One of the best ways for me to learn Spanish is to work with the children. So, I have now more-or-less translated/adapted a bead bracelet program used at my museum in the states for the kids down here and play other word games based on a gringo who speaks very poor Spanish.
  • I now have a godson in the community.
  • The list goes on . . . and my Spanish slowly improves.

The lecturing graduate student was simply uninformed on addiction issues and misguided on building social relationships, though he is certainly not an alcoholic (to the best of my knowledge) or an advocate of excessive drinking. However, during my drinking days I would certainly have latched onto his suggestion as an excuse to drink. But I also know full well, that my interest in social relationship building at that point would have stopped as the only relationship I would have been interested in was with the beer and how I could get more.

I am incredibly grateful for my sobriety today. I would not be in Peru today were it not for my sobriety. If I were not sober, I would not have married the woman I did some 16 years ago, then met my step-daughter’s childhood friend some 12 years ago, who ultimately went on to do Peruvian research, who over 4 years ago I interviewed about her work for my other blog, and accepted her invitation three years ago to come to Peru and work with her organization on some cultural heritage development projects, and I have now made 4 trips in the past 3 years doing just that. Were it not for my sobriety, besides the logistics and circumstances not lining up, I would not have an interest or the ability to carry out such projects.

That path all began on August 4, 1984 when at the end of my work shift at the paper bag factory, I checked into a detox center instead of going home and drinking myself into oblivion. I enjoy that I will spend my 31st sobriety anniversary this year hanging out in Lima with folks I have built social relationships with over the past few years – all without alcohol as an intermediary.

Illusions in Recovery?

mardisgrasHere is a reflection I wrote about 10 years ago while on a “retreat” in New Orleans . . . 


With my hands gripping the hot iron bars of the gate, I stare into the Washington Street Cemetery, looking for that brick wall where I used to sit and lean, drinking myself into oblivion when I lived in New Orleans over 30 years ago. I am not certain whether the oppressive late afternoon August heat and humidity or my failing memory keeps me from pinpointing the spot. I turn and walk down the uneven sidewalk jumbled and cracked by the roots of centuries old live oaks. The heat is so oppressive I feel faint. I approach the corner of Prytania and Washington and look toward the blue and white clapboard of Commander’s Palace and the Garden District mansions. I reflect on my changed vision with some 20 plus years of sobriety. As I turn on to Washington Street, a man in his mid-20s, dressed in a white t-shirt, blue jeans and ragged tennis shoes approaches. His hair and beard are cropped short. He gets to the point. “Hey man, can you give some money, I need a drink.” I am shaken from my reverie, caught off guard and silent. ‘I really need a drink,” he pleads. I get back in the moment, say that I am a recovering alcoholic, that I won’t give him money but I’ll take him to an AA meeting. I tell him about my recent reflections about 30 years past. He responds “Man, not drinking for 20 years don’t mean nothing to me, I can’t quit for a week – I’ve tried.” He offers excuses, and I remain adamant, reciting my recovery clichés. He relents, offers me a hip and overly complex handshake that I cannot quite get right, and heads down Washington St. I turn away to collect myself and hear his voice start his next hustle “Yo man . . . “ I turn to look and no one is in sight. The street is quiet and empty in the afternoon heat. Is this all an illusion, a daydream in my head, looking into a mirror from long ago? I continue on, now embraced and nurtured by the heat and humidity of the New Orleans that I have come to savor.

Taking Responsibility in Recovery

luminoussunriseI have stayed friends with the woman with whom I had a relationship when I got sober some 30 years ago although we split up shortly after I was released from detox.  We have seen each other maybe 5 times over that period and every six months or so will have a back and forth on email that will last for perhaps 4 or 5 exchanges.  Most recently, I spent an afternoon with her and her husband while attending a conference in California, which then prompted a follow-up back and forth on email.

Our interactions today are about our lives today.  Generally, we have made peace with the past, but we do have some constructive discussions on that long ago period.  During our recent conversation a couple of things stood out.  First, how much I really just do not remember from my drinking days.  I have never been a big fan of the “drunkalogues” that often comprise 90% of an AA lead.  I am much more interested in the what happened, and most interested in what it is like today.  But in my recent conversation, I was amazed at how entire chronologies of events, pets owned, and so forth were completely forgotten by me.

More importantly, the second point that stood out was how I had blamed the individual for the loss of a pet cat.  I could not even remember the pet in question, but importantly too, was the reflection of my old “blame game” approach.  Needing to take accountability for my actions and not blaming my circumstances on others is an issue that I have dealt with throughout my recovery – whether employers, professors in school, family, and so forth.  I am also pleased that this area of life – being accountable for my own actions – is where I believe I have and continue to take increased responsibility.

And then there is the line that when you are pointing your finger at others, there are four pointed back at you – explaining perhaps my low level of tolerance for folks who want to consistently blame others for their circumstances.  I appreciate too that just by wishing it so, does not make it so.  But I believe for all in recovery, there is a starting point – a ground zero as it were, where we make a commitment and choose to move forward, from which we cannot go back.  I appreciate and am grateful that recovery gives me a choice where I can make a decision for taking responsibility for my own actions – imperfectly and flawed – and to share that experience, strength, and hope with others in a recovery that is truly a process and not event.

Progress not Perfection – Is that the Problem?


cover copy

I have been reasonably quiet of late in blogging.  I have just come through a rather hectic work life, my wife and my personal existence is chaotic to say the least as we both transition toward our retirements – although she has just opened a new storefront and I am lining up projects that will keep me nearly as busy as I am today.

In my 30 years of sobriety, two of my favorite AA clichés have been “Process not an Event” (hence the name of this blog) and “Progress not Perfection (the title of this post).  Both concepts are mainstays of my recovery.  They remind me that if I continue living into recovery, then I will continue to make progress every day.  I should not expect perfection just because I no longer drink or drug.  Rather recovery is all about process, the growth.  I can very honestly reflect back on any period of time and see where that growth has occurred – consistently and without question.  Like almost everything else in recovery, these sentiments permeate all aspects of my life.

That leads me back to the topic of this particular post – and I am wondering – when is it good enough?   I don’t mean this as a matter of resting on our laurels and proclaiming myself “cured” of alcoholism.  But as an employee in higher education, and I am certain this holds true in many or most careers these days, I am wholly bored with the notion that what we produce is never good enough – that there is always one more class to teach, one more article to publish, one more conference to attend – in that perpetual progression toward an unattainable perfection.

Instead, I am coming to see the process less as a conscientious move in a progressive direction but rather, simply being one with the progress.  That is, perhaps it is time to stop pushing and dragging on the progress process, but simply and actively being the process along a nonlinear circuitous path.  I am grateful that recovery has provided me with that opportunity.

Sister Loretta Rose


Brick from St. Peter and Paul Grade School

Through Facebook, I tangentially keep up with the news from the grade school from which I graduated in 1966.  None of my classmates from that year like the page, but some of the last names are familiar and I assume to be their siblings.  Through the FB page, I learned that the school had been torn down a few years ago, nothing but a small pile of bricks left for the sentimental such as myself.

A couple of days ago on FB, a woman says she was thinking about my 6th grade teacher – Sister Loretta Rose.  The woman said she knew that she had changed her name to Sister Margaret Zureick – and what’s that all about, new identities, life phases, etc.?


Sister Margaret Zureick

So the woman does some sleuthing and locates this nun who ministers at the St. Joseph the Worker Mission in Elk Horn City, Kentucky.  Here is a youtube link about the place.  That all got me to thinking about a few things.

  • If you do the math, the former Sister Loretta Rose was in her mid-20s and I was maybe 11 when she was my 6th grade teacher.  I always thought of the nuns as being so old.  In fact, looking back with over 50 years hindsight, we are much more of the same generation, nearly peers.
  • Within 10 years of my graduating from the school, Sister Loretta Rose gave up the teaching gig and plopped herself into the economically devastated coal fields of eastern Kentucky.  In fact, the urban blue-collar area of southwest Ohio in which I was raised was, and still is, largely a migrant Appalachian community.
  • To a certain extent, Sister Margaret Zureick and I ended up in a similar places – she in Appalachia, myself in an underserved African-American community in Memphis, supplemented with my  now regular gigs to the impoverished regions of the Peruvian Andes.
  • I have taken a bunch of detours along the way.  By the 6th grade, I experienced the freedom that alcohol brought from my childhood depression and angst.  I bounced all over the country with my self-will run riot leading the way on a path of destruction for nearly two decades until I started down a path of recovery.  Sister Loretta Rose seems to have started out as a young woman with a vision who has lived a life of service from the start – though I suspect the story is not really that neat and clean.

The woman on FB noted that Sister Margaret does not have an FB account, but she got the nun’s phone number, called her, and the good sister remembered fondly her time at our grade school and “talked her arm off.”

I feel a road trip coming on for the eight-hour drive to Elk Horn City to visit Sister Margaret Zureick at the St. Joseph the Worker Mission to find another piece of life’s puzzle.