Drastic shifts in thinking are the landmarks of my recovery.

“My name is Mark, and I’m an alcoholic.”

Who knew? Well, most everybody, especially toward the end of my lush career, knew I had a drinking problem except me. This was a seismic shift in my thinking. I spent years in denial of this simple fact, refusing to utter that terse statement, although undeniable. Once gained, the knowledge turned my world upside down. It shook me to the core. In fact, I was so surprised to be speaking those words that I was convinced someone hijacked my vocal chords and forced them to utter those syllables.

We like to label these moments of clarity. The exact circumstance when self-knowledge falls on us like a hammer to a nail. We are pierced by truth and changed forever.


While those moments happen, they are rare for me.

In fact, after they occur, the old parts of my mind—the parts that like to keep me safe, warm, and creature comfortable—try to cover up the exhilarating realizations with old routines and cyclic thinking. If I’m not careful, I’ll be back on auto-pilot, steering a course for restlessness and irritability, or worse: relapse.

While the seismic shift has happened a handful of times, I try to stay vigilant for the after-shocks. Those minor shifts that keep my spiritual progress trending upward.

Often, those smaller shifts happen when I change up a routine.


Far be it for me to knock on routines.

Routines like making my bed helped saved my life. I’m a nut for my routine. For example, before coaching a football game, for eight years, I went to 7-Eleven to buy the same Chicken Diablo sandwich. After that first win with a little chicken cold cut, lettuce, and thousand island dressing in my system, I wasn’t going to tempt fate by not eating one before the next game.

Without routines, my life as a domesticated male would be one of suffering. I have to get the dishes done after my wife cooks dinner. It’s part of what I need to do. I have to get the kids ready for day care and preschool. It feels good to be needed.


Sometimes, routines run dry.

Take my son’s bedtime routine. It is a five-act Shakespearean drama. He is a night-owl, a drama kid, a cinephile, a late-night snack eater, an after-dark conversationalist, a bed-wetter, a snuggler. He is afraid of the dark. He is afraid of the light if he is alone in it. I can’t fictionalize a four-year-old character more difficult to get to bed.

And for years, I’ve been trying to write, to read, to watch shows or movies after he goes to bed. “Oh, I’ll just get that done after I get the little guy down.” What a joke! Why subject myself to that torture? I am referring to hours of bathroom attending, story reading, nightstand negotiating that leave me irate by the time I get out of his room, if I get out of his room at all.

And knowing he is a problem sleeper, I kept trying to open up my peak creative hours after his bedtime. (I can’t help but notice that this blind-thinking carries over to other habits. How often should I have known that a drink or a drug cannot possibly help the situations I was in?)


A tweak in the routine can create a worthwhile shift in living.

There’s this twitter hashtag I began to follow: #5amWritersClub after I connected with Jonathan Bing. The hashtag is exactly as advertized. It’s a fun way to check in with other writers before the sun comes up. And it gives me extra incentive to wake up early and write something.

I’ve been at it for a week and it has changed my life.

I don’t feel I’m being dramatic here. Things change my life all the time. The very phrase “change my life” carries a stigma of monumental transformation, when in reality, our lives are changing all the time, in small and significant increments. Welcome to the miracle of the mundane folks, glad you’re here.

I don’t stress about working after dark. I put the boy to bed early by going to bed with him if I have to. But, I’m at the computer before the sun comes up, typing away.

It feels great.

What’s more, I’m dropping off the kids and getting to work with time to spare. I’ve even started some traditional meditation in the mornings, which, if you’ve followed this blog for long, you know are not my thing.


When I said I am marching through March, I meant it.

There is more to come.

How is your march going?

34 Responses to “Shift

  • March is going. I love this post. These changes….yeah. When I was extremely over weight I always had “reasons” aka excuses. Then, I made changes. I got up BEFORE the kids and husband to work out, I cut out certain foods. And those life changing things weren’t earth shattering, but they were bad habit shattering. I was thinking as I read your post “change that routine!” 🙂 I think our minds were insync on that.

    • I’m glad you found how amazing these subtle shifts can be. In sync definitely! I was up and at it again this morning. Wrote 1000 words before my kids got up. Now I feel ready for the day! Congratulations on your weight-management.

      • Well, that was OLD weight management. Though the habits have remained, the weight has returned gradually though not completely. It’s another ‘shift’ that I must adjust to. So here we go….continuing our individual maintenance….and ready for another day!

        Congratulations on finding something else that works! Isn’t it amazing, what we can do, when we allow ourselves to try things differently? 🙂

  • colin chatburn
    12 months ago

    a tip mark.get some of those restraints that hospitals/prisons use.should help at bed always i enjoyed that.thanks

  • The end of February was almost my undoing. Like you, I have routines. In the morning, I take my blood pressure, log it in several places (Heart360, my phone), make my Daily Reading post on WordPress, read WordPress blog posts, then fart around here and there until I have to go to work.

    For March, I’m doing a couple of new things. Today, I’m starting something new. At 12:00 pm, I’m starting a “meditation time”. I’ve always said I’m going to do it, now I am, no excuses. I also learned why I was such a mess recently; I feel back into that “control” mode. At work, I had a routine and didn’t want to break it. But I now realize, I can’t have a routine. Humans are unpredictable, so just go with the flow. It’s working. Since I’ve given up that control, things are going much more smoothly. How do I know? My blood pressure is down below 120/80 when I wake up in the morning.

    • Wow. That’s incredible! Amazing how much a little meditation can do. I know what you mean about routines being your undoing. I can let them totally consume me. Take hold and not let go. I think that’s why it’s so helpful to swtich them up every once and a while.

      So, I didn’t mention this in the post, but part of the new morning thing for me is meditating as well. I don’t do it often. I wrote earlier about this, called “my write mind” about how I don’t get the formal meditation thing, at all. I’m trying to. Let’s keep trying it out!

  • Gosh you wrote down the thoughts and experiences I was pondering on!! Routines for instance help me a lot as well. Sometimes I get bored and angry because I want better ones…sometimes it is boring to make the bed 🙂 But then I realize that those little actions provide a form of structure that I need

    • No coincidences here. Unless you believe in coincidences. Then this is a nice and happy coincidence. Is there a little change you can do to your routine to make something helpful a priority? That’s one way to think of it.

  • Oh boy, sounds like you and Adam Mansbach have the same type of child when it comes to bedtime! (Or is Adam M. your pen name and it was you who wrote the book “Go the f**k to sleep”? 😉 )

  • I like structure…but hate routines. I’m difficult that way.

    We’ve finally structured a course of treatment for my husband’s end stage kidney disease – but I hate the routine of it.

    And so it goes.

    • I’m so glad to hear about your husband’s positive progress! That’s great, Felicia. And thanks for your support here, as well.

  • Love this post! May I join you at 0500?

  • My son is a shocking sleeper too. I honestly have run out of ideas. He just doesn’t get tired till so late in the evening. I just had to learn to switch off regardless.

  • I am the problem sleeper in my house!
    My sleep got all mixed up, so I am seeing a sleep psychologist. It’s helping.
    My hub has to suffer a bit, but he’s hanging in there!

  • Holy crap!! I didn’t know that you had connected with Jonathan Bing! You know he’s in the Twin Cities too. (And now, I’m beginning to wonder… did I connect you guys?! I’m nuts.) Glad that routine and structure are helping you. I’ve found that as well. Although I have to confess that I’m needing to make a change (transformation?) once again. Several of my habits aren’t sustainable (napping, social-mediaing). Love your writing, Mark! Keep it up!

    • Haha. Yes. You connected us ! And that’s how I first saw the 5am hashtag. Thanks Dan! I want to hear how you’re change goes.

  • Great post and writing as always, Mark. I’m really interested in the 5 am writing initiative you joined. I really want to get in on something like that. Once this baby eases up on me I may give it a try!

  • I am amazed at your 5 am writing club there, Mark. I am up that early only for work. I have thought countless times that perhaps I should get up early to get stuff done, but I am up early enough, and that would mean getting up at 3:30 or 4 am and I am not willing to go that far, considering I go to bed around 10 because my kids keep me up. It sounds excuse-y, but that’s where I am now! But I commend you big time!! I am in awe of you doing that, and sticking to it. And as for the meditation thing…I don’t do it early because I get mucho sleepy if I wake up, then try to meditate! Anyways, wonderful stuff as always and can’t wait to read what you’re working on!

  • Kim Schell
    12 months ago

    “When the student is ready, a teacher appears.” This is exactly what I needed to hear to help me get back into balance. My early morning routine has gotten off track and it affected everything in my life. Thanks for sharing.

  • Marilyn L. Davis
    12 months ago

    Hi, Mark. Those shifts in thinking do happen for us when we finally face, “I am the problem,and drinking and drugging only exacerbate it”. I’d like to tell you that I went from addiction to awake, but rather like the alarm clock that notifies us to stop sleeping, it was others who, not so gently forced me to see through their eyes. I’m forever grateful for that intervention in 1988.

    About getting up early. I’ll have to check out the 5amwritersclub. I don’t know if I’m completely delusional, but I think some of my best – or at least the most prolific writing is before the sun rises.

    Thanks for all your sage counsel, advice, and tips – whether it’s recovery or writing. I think we both know that they both heal the heart.

    • Marilyn. Thank you so much for the visit! I hit a brick wall, like you, in 2007. Instead of an intervention it was a stay at a psych ward.

      Please check us out in the mornings! It is a great routine. Be it writing, or whatever your passion is, knock it out first thing and he rest of your day will fly!

  • Good stuff I relate with: the routine, making my bed, waking up with the sun. These things keep me sober. But more than anything, I learned the flow of a good blog post. Thank you!

    • Appreciate that Tate. Blogging, like sobriety, doesn’t happen overnight!

      Nothing like waking up with the sun rather than howling at it after a night out, right?

      Hope you have a great week.

      • Yes, lots to learn with blogging, its a fun ride. In the morning my thoughts are clean; I feel fresh. Thanks Mark, have a good week, let’s finish March strong!

  • I know of the shifts you are talking about and I am glad you were aware enough to notice them. Sometimes it is adversity and the tough times that teach us the greatest lessons and mold us into the person we are suppose to become. You are well on your way and you are making people proud with all you accomplished so far. Keep going.

  • Beautiful insights….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: