Do the Right Thing

Doing the right thing is like exercise.

Your mind will never tell you it wants to do it, but you do it anyway. And, if you do it for long enough, you learn to love it. In recovery,

I’ve learned to love to do the right thing.

I’ve learned to love myself.

I’ve learned to love.



Denver’s light-rail began in 1994, with a five mile track in downtown.

It has since expanded. Most recently, the W-Line in 2013 set total track distance to forty-seven miles, servicing Denver and the surrounding suburbs.

Customers are expected to purchase tickets for the train, although there is no manager to check that ticket. I took three rides before I grew curious and asked a Denver resident, “Does anyone ever check your ticket?”

“Oh, the police board every once and awhile and ask for it.”

My old self would have taken the chance and skip the fair even if he had the money. He was the one, after all, who jumped the subway turnstiles in New York, ran away from cab fair, and smuggled dinner home from the company kitchen.

But that’s not me anymore. I try to always do the next right thing.

When trying to do the next right thing, my mind can be my greatest enemy. This is why, on the morning of my departure from Denver, after not having my ticket checked for three days, and needing only to travel two stops and pay $1.25 to reach the bus that would take me to the airport, I walked to the Belleview station platform with an itch to steal the ride.

The old me is a ghost with a voice, a trembling specter bent on survival. I thought, It’s only two stops—just get on the train, man. They haven’t checked you yet, why would that change now?

My body approached the pay station.

My mind said, What are you doing? You fool!

My fingers found the $1.25 in spare change.

My mind said, What an idiot.

I boarded the car.

By the next stop, three police officers patrolled for tickets.


“Yes, sir.”

My laughed to myself and smiled at the officer.




The right thing is a muscle, atrophied by the long road of addiction.

If exercised, doing the right thing becomes instinct—muscle memory, whereby I act regardless of thought. To stay sober, I do the next right thing, often in spite of my mind’s reservations. I show up to meetings when I don’t want to; I tell the truth with a dozen lies in my head; I say no to hits of a joint when my mind conjures the delusion that I am sober enough to deserve a toke.

What good is gaining anything, be it the whole world or five quarters, if it could cost me my sobriety?

26 Responses to “Do the Right Thing

  • “Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness.
    Listen to it carefully.”
    ― Richard Bach,

  • Thank you for this my brother it is soooo good to hear that even the ones you aspire to recover like like. live like, and be as outstanding as, struggle at times with doing the next right thing. Very refreshing, it is always such a good feeling when your reminded that you’re not in this alone and your twisted thoughts are not uniquely yours, they are shared by many, whew!! Love ya man!!

  • Great post! And so vulnerable. I think if we are in recovery or not, many of us would have the same struggle!

    • That’s good to hear. I always need the reminder that I am not as unique as I once thought. Thanks for the comment!

  • Train jumper !?!

    This is hilarious and I’m glad you did the right thing. But I almost wish you hadn’t so the cops could have busted you ?

    After I read the Steve Jobs biography, I started parking in hanicap only spots. It wasn’t for fear of walking, I was a long distance runner. I just wanted to tell the world to fuck off. That seemed like an easy way to break another rule, especially when I was drunk driving anyway.

    I’m glad that kind of thinking sounds dumb now.

    Doing the next right thing, sounds like something a smart AA guy told me.

    • I heard this story once about a guy who called an AA friend because he wanted to drink. The friend told him “quick, throw a brick through the window?” The man said, “Why?” and the AA friend replied, “then you’ll go to jail and you wont’ take that drink.”

      Thought you might like that one! Anyway, speak soon Tony!

  • This is hilarious in that you questioning doing the next right thing for yourself caused me anxiety. I am still such a Al-Anon that I read and thought, “don’t do it, don’t do it”, instead of waiting impassively to see the outcome of your choices. My own next right thing has always been following the rules….my problem?…..wanting everyone around me doing the same.

    • Don’t feel bad about feeling a bit of tension with the “will he” or “won’t he”. I think anyone would feel that tension. I know a little about Al-Anon’s core principles, and I know it would want to “let go with love” the whole decision-making progress for the addict. But, that ain’t easy. Even if you have Al-Anon to help guide you.

  • Really a good un. Today is my day one. It is the right thing. Any other “right thing” is just putting frosting on manure.

  • Interesting that you posted this because I just left a client’s home. Part of my job is to cook breakfast and do dishes associated with meal prep. My stepdad dad taught me to leave everything better than you found it. For months now I have been doing the dishes from the night before that the able bodied family members leave in the sink. (Not associated with meal prep or part of my job.) I have been doing them because I felt it was the right thing. But this morning, I felt like I am being taken advantage of. I left them. But now I feel guilty for not doing the right thing. What would you do?
    Yeah. I need to go to an Al Anon meeting. So codependent. ?

    • Tough one. I commend you for washing them all that time without it being a part of your job requirement.

      I find myself going above and beyond to try and “do the right thing” all the time. And invariably, it is always easier to do the right thing now, rather than worry about what I could have done later.

      Birdie, your response reminded me of monk story I heard at a meeting one time:

      Monks in this region weren’t allowed to touch women under any circumstances. So, two monks were at a river. An elderly woman had to cross. One monk refused to help, the other picked her up and carried her across. Later, after the monks and the woman split up. The monk who didn’t touch her said, “Why did you carry her across the river?” And the other monk said, “I carried her across the river. But, you are the one who must still carry her.” (meaning carry the guilt I guess)

      I may have butchered that one. But, just making a point. I don’t know what I would have done, but I know, in general, it is better to do the right thing now, than worry about what you could have done later. I think about this ALL THE TIME when my friends relapse and die. It’s like, what COULD I have said; what COULD I have done.

      • I absolutely get your story. My problem is, I am carrying the woman no matter what I do. Agh. I don’t know. I will be back in the home tomorrow. Not sure if I will do the dishes or not.

  • Now, seems like a good time to examine my life-exercise, and pull out the weeds of complacency. I need to stay on them, or they seem to get out of control. Often we slip without knowing. Thank you, you are on fire my friend!

  • stepsherpa
    10 months ago

    Honesty, sobriety.. Good stuff thanks for the read.

    From the “was”, a no account, dynamite on the tracks to derail my own alcoholism, alter my train of circumstance wannabe crowd pleaser, me.. To accountable, a face in the crowd offering the world a freedom to pass without notice. Fear is not my fragmented master this minute.. This Friday morning. I’ll stay. No reason to bet. Like the Big Book says “we have ceased fighting”. To me? We ceased stealing. No need to seek control. I am grateful to participate. I feel valid upon awakening.

    What is and isn’t selfish? Mine to “give or take” is still mine.. How long before I stop using this emotional currency? When will the Spirit allow me the courage to stop buying time and renting the people in it. How does a greedy extremist learn to give without expectation? Is it even possible. I only know what I don’t know. This is a start. I will take responsibility for my own life. This is my beginning, stop this all or nothing investing in my extreme self. Empowering myself with more chaos. A harsh reality often misunderstood. Would I bet on a horse named “losing streak”? I can’t say.. Not sure. Of course not. Maybe. It depends…

    A life bound by my constant arrangement of people in hopes of a higher level of self importance has rendered me powerless. Actually? I have beat myself senseless. Full circle really. Years of my life’s drunken wisdom have left me quite mad.

    Am I alcoholic? What am I doing here? Unbridled freedom is my loneliness and despair as I find my seat. There is no peace for me sitting with her, I can see that now. I will use her up quickly..It will be her fault. More betrayal. She will leave and take me with her. Then more of the same. I will surely die crying in self pity, wishing to change the past before I go .A Spiritually empty man searching desperately for something to sacrifice and has nothing but others forgotten offerings. Doomed to an alcoholic death in the front row center. A heart and arrow fingernail carving on a styrofoam cup.. I am in AA and wallowing in my condition amidst others war torn delusion. A room so self centered that anything I do is quickly forgotten.

    It’s time for the 12 Steps “NOW”, or more of the hallow hope of some different faces to mirror myself. The innocence of fellowship awaits? I’m afraid..This is the end and I am afraid.

    So yeah, AA Big Book 12 Steps.. Surrender. Willingness, a decision, action. Still not really sure how it all happened. It’s a God thing. A Higher Power thing. Clearly not mine and I for some odd reason have reason. Reason tells me there’s no reason. I’m all over the place yet safe and protected. Is this the Spiritual realm?. Should I sit or stand? How should I act? It doesn’t even matter.

    Now, I’ve tried to keep the extra change and forget about it? more than once. I’ve tried to control others with the best of selfish intentions believing myself justified with moral philosophy in countless relationships. I’ve counted my money in an effort to succeed until I had none left. I have believed myself so unique I was invisible to my own eyes, left only in the mirror image of others. A frustrated dictator perched at his podium above all understanding. I have been over paid and lost respect for the money I earned or grand objects purchased. I have stood alone under the hot shower dreaming of past love in an effort relive it, only to watch it spiral away down the drain. I have been an extreme example. I have suffered in my self.

    The change for me, the big difference? What has given me the willingness to live and be grateful for my part in life? It began with willingness to believe, and this encouraged more willingness to take inventory of grosser handicaps. Yes. The willingness to go backward. The magic combination to hells exit gate? The labyrinth of life’s pain and self loathing, my terrible self destructiveness. The invisible barbed wire fences of adolescence that left me bloody and hurt relived. The child born of the Spirit of all things. Back to the beginning. Here I was at 27. Born again into the world of the Spirit. Born into a new attitude and outlook on life..

    Wilson was right. “give freely of what you find and join us” we shall be with you in the fellowship of the Spirit. And you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the road of happy destiny. Well? I believe that stuff. Ya know, balance..Sometimes to be a power of example? I say nothing at all. I can simply listen for an opportunity to serve that while talking I may not hear..

    • Reminded me of the old-timer phrase: “take the cotton out of your ears and put in your mouth.” But yes! I’m old school as well in how I stay sober. At least, compared to what I see and read as alternatives.

  • Hi Mark!
    Today I did the right “little things”.
    I made the bed, cleaned the shower, opened the windows!
    I did this BEFORE I went on FB, or played my games.
    I felt really good about this.
    I love being sober right now.
    Even with no sleep, worries about stuff, I am glad I don’t drink.
    I hope you get some downtime this weekend to have fun!

  • This is exactly what they talk about “cash register honesty”. I never understood it, and I separated that kind of honesty from the type that they talk about in the program, but really they are the same thing in many ways. Or at least on the same sliding scale. Like you, I had no problem in the past with stealing. Booze from work, mostly, but anything would do. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford it – but I was lazy and I just liked to take. I was selfish and self-centered, right? I can be now too.

    I relate to that question of that $1.25 ticket. I have had similar things happen to me. Should I just sink down to my old ways, or do I rise above it? Do I return the $10 the guy at the corner store gave me extra? Do I take advantage of something that no one will ever *really* find out? Often I take a deep breath and do the right thing. Even if no one is watching. Not because I’m a stud, or the reincarnation of Ghandi, but because I know it’s a slippery slope for me. If I start to be okay with that, then who’s to say that little lies start to escape me. Then it falls apart. So I have to keep on the high road. I sleep better that way too.

    Anyway, thanks for this, Mark. Glad to read your work again. I am going to catch up. You are a fantastic writer dude.


    • Thanks Paul. It’s always great to see your name pop into the comments. I know that I’m going to get someone genuinely engaged in the post, and in life!

  • I’m starting to do the next right thing more and more even under enormous stress. This is causing such a shift in me. As if for the first time in my life I’m actually being a grown up! (shhh don’t tell anyone)

  • Oh gosh, I have to say I just cringed at the thought of you having to suffer the humiliation of saying, “uhhhmmm I don’t have a ticket.” Big wonderful, brilliant, you feeling embarrassed over 1.25 ticket. What a relief! LOL

  • So true. For so long it was all about the little lies. An extra top up of wine in the kitchen, hiding a bottle, paying cash so something didn’t show up on a credit card statement, popping the painkillers before the family saw the hangover, skipping something because I had had too much to drink and blaming it on the kids…… Gosh, my list is long and thats only going back the last few years. But now, I do just what you said and remind myself every morning, every night, and sometimes every 20 seconds, minute, hour of a quote I read in Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. It goes, “Just do The Next Right Thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way….”

    So far, it seems to be working.

    • Wow is that Glennon Doyle Melton quote perfect. It is all about that next thing. I think of the serenity prayer often with this. There is so much going on that I have no control over. When I’m honest and real with myself, in fact, there’s hardly anything that I DO have control over. What I do have control over is the next thing I do. That’s it! That’s all.

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