Vacation Evacuations

Saturday, we ended a family vacation that lasted 17 nights, 5 states, a round trip plane ride, and a border crossing—greetings Victoria, Canada! It was the longest stretch of vacation I had ever taken.

This post, of course, will not be aimed at the boardwalk funnel cake in Delaware, or the Humpback Whale sighting in Alaska. While you may find some of that interesting, this blog is not a space for family slide shows. You’ve likely eaten funnel cake and seen stunning photos of Humpback Whales with their signature back flop before.

This blog puts experience through the filter of sobriety and finds a deep appreciation in the ordinary. If this is your first visit, welcome. I hope you stick around. If you subscribe, you’ll receive a new post in your email each Monday morning, with no other links or promotions attached.

 

I’m not good at vacationing.

So says my wife.

She makes a good case. In general, I don’t relax by putting my feet up. I relax by diving my feet in. I believe in active meditation, and walking prayers—the prayers you say to yourself in the car or walking down the street.

It’s not normal vacationing, in her opinion, to wake up before the sun rises each morning to write, for example. But creativity is the keystone of my recovery. It fills the void left behind in the wake of drug and alcohol addiction. My truth is that drugs and alcohol worked in my life. They satisfied a deeper yearning for acceptance—they were what made my feelings acceptable.

Take them away, and I’ve got to find an alternative. If there isn’t an alternative to make me feel good, I will drink and use again. In fact, as I am an addict, if I don’t find an alternative to make me feel better and better and better, I will be defenseless against a relapse.

So I write and read to fill the void: that void of more. I lose myself in words rather than substances.

Writing each morning on vacation is like taking medication.

Unlike medication, unfortunately for my wife, writing in the morning takes me two hours. Anything short of two hours and I haven’t really scratched that itch—I’ll experience some degree of restlessness until I find the time to finish what I couldn’t in thirty minutes or an hour. And while I sympathize with my wife—who wants a husband so anal that he refuses to sleep in on vacation?—it doesn’t change the neural pathways and dopamine receptors in my brain that determine my mood and, far too often, my actions.

 

Vacations aren’t an easy time to self-prescribe those creative reprieves that I’m so dependent on.

Moreover, who wants to? Who wants to worry about mental health when you’re watching lumberjacks compete using axes in Alaska’s first city? Who wants to make time for meetings when you’re biking to Lewes Harbor through Delaware’s marshes and soybean fields? Who wants to be chained to a screen when the misty fjords of Alaska are dappled in morning light?

The great truth of recovery is learning that what I want is not as important as what I need. It makes good logical sense. If I don’t take care of the things I need to do first, I can’t do any of the things I want to do next. But often, it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. Taken moment to moment, it doesn’t make sense to go sit in a room of strangers sipping black coffee when I could be splashing my children with seawater. Recovery rarely makes sense in the illogical heat of the moment. That’s why I need the long view of other people to guide the short-term decisions I make.

My needs—the requirements to live clean and sober—must come first.


One way to describe this long road of recovery I am on—and the miracle of the mundane itself—is as an alchemy that turns what I need into what I want.”


I want recovery. I want solution, absolution, and resolution. I want the simple joys. I want those sober sunrises. That is my life’s aim, and, I believe, my ultimate salvation.

It doesn’t come easy. Honesty is hard, so is self-reflection and the courage to do the right thing. I need those things in order to stay sober. And the more I learn that those needs are what I want—and all I ever wanted—from life, the better I feel. So I keep doing what I do, every day, even on vacation.

And I fall short, of course.

 

Let’s drop into night 16.

I was putting my son to sleep. No simple matter. He loves the nightlife. He loves to boogie. Goodnight Moon strikes him with disco fever.

“Close your eyes, dude,” I said, lying next to him.

I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I wanted to get him to bed before I pass out and my unconscious body becomes some prop in his imaginary play.

“I can’t,” he said. His eyes were glossy and red.

“Dude, yes you can. You are exhausted.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Why don’t we say a prayer?”

“Why?”

Oh, here we go, I thought to myself. Once the whys start, they don’t stop.

“Because God can help you get to sleep,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because God can calm your mind.”

“Why?”

“Just trust me.”

I said a prayer. Then I enjoyed a few seconds of silence before:

“Daddy?”

“Why don’t we pray on vacation?”

Good question. That little stinker. He was right. Our prayer routine had been completely forgotten. Usually, we pray together at least twice a day, at breakfast and dinner.

For some reason, on vacation, that routine fell off. 

We hadn’t prayed once in two weeks.

I won’t recite the watered down response I gave him that night, but to answer his question of why we don’t pray on vacation, I will offer this: we don’t ask for help in good times. Often, we wait too long. And sometimes, it’s too late.

Why is it so hard to stay in the light?

Vacations are a great reminder that comfort is not the same as spirituality. In fact, I would argue that if there is not an edge of discomfort somewhere in what you are doing, then it is not spiritual at all.

 

The next morning—the morning after I said my first prayer of the trip—was our last morning of the vacation.

I was standing in front of the book case in our rental house. The owners have a great taste in books, in my opinion. Throughout the week, I was in and out of some of my favorites, and discovering classics, new and old, that I haven’t read yet.

Something amazing happened that morning.

And to explain why it is amazing, first let’s all admit that sometimes remarkable things happen in the most unremarkable ways.

Like, under normal circumstances, I would never pick out a Walker Percy book from a collection. I’m not a Percy fan. I didn’t enjoy The Moviegoer. And when a relative was all, “You’ve got to give him a chance” and gave me Percy’s book of essays, I didn’t enjoy those either. The only reason I was interested in Walker Percy that morning was because I am listening to Confederacy of Dunces on Audible, a book I love that Percy published after John Kennedy Toole, the author, killed himself.

Are you still with me? All that matters is that under any other circumstances, I would not pick up a book written by Walker Percy.

The book was Love in the Ruins.

And of the 416 pages in the book, I opened to one in particular. And of the several hundred words on the page, I read this: “The mystery of evil is the mystery of limited goodness.”

Now isn’t that interesting? Limited goodness. The way prayer runs dry on vacation. The way complacency corrodes the spirit. The root of the fruitful question: if anyone can experience God, why aren’t we all saints?

Maybe you believe in outrageously good fortune. Maybe you believe that lottery winners are blessed.

What are the odds that on the final morning of vacation, standing in front of an estimated 100 million words of print, I discover the 10 that I needed desperately to read?

If you’re a person of faith, the odds are pretty good.


A quick writer’s note. If you like the miracle of the mundane, you may want to follow me on Medium. I am chronicling my journey to get a book published.

And, if you enjoy this website, let someone else know about it. A couple clicks can go a long way. Independent writers live on shares like street performers live on donations. Unlike street performers, you can support me for free.

24 Responses to “Vacation Evacuations

  • Two quick thoughts/observations: I am totally stuck in writing a new blog post but the one that I “sort of” started began with the fact that I’ve been meditating daily but did not at all on a two week vacation. Interesting. And I think this is wild: literally as I read your sentence about disliking Walker Percy I said to myself, “Love in the Ruins.”….and boom! Again, just interesting. Hey: people relax in different ways: what’s good for one doesn’t have to be good for the other! Sounds like you had a great trip!

    • Umm…wow. That’s the stuff of divine intervention isn’t it? It’s minor, or it seems minor but then, the creator of this big huge world intervenes to give us these incredible coincidences. Like, the same higher power behind the universe cares enough to intervene in our lives with all their petty worries and concerns?

      Oh it was a great tip man. Really good. Never had so much time to myself. It was filled with kids and activities, of course. But I had a lot of time to reflect and things like that. It was great to talk to you in the middle of it! That was definitely a highlight.

      Have a great week, HD!

  • My husband works out every morning. It’s part of his sobriety toolbox.
    So even on vacation he gets up at 5 am and goes to the gym.
    Whatever it takes….

    Plus, he brings me coffee after. Because my sobriety relies on extra sleep ins and slow mornings.

    There is a fine line between contentment and complacency. I hope that by waking up and being thankful for the day that I set myself up for contentment.

    Anne

    • Mine too, Anne!
      xo

    • Thanks Anne! I have the same hope. First things first right? Hopefully, the rest takes care of itself.

      I was exersiing too at one point. I think, like you said, that stuff is just tools for the sober toolbox. Whatever you have that works, use it! Good man, that. Bringing coffee and so forth. Constant thought of others is definitely another tool of recovery!

  • Sober in Kansas
    5 months ago

    Thank you for this Mark! I must also “create” in sobriety. I embroider and it fills my heart. Each day I also plan life around my meeting, crafting and then yoga (with someone you know and love).

    Keep it coming, your writing touches my soul as nothing else quite does.

    • You’re friend, I believe, was an integral part of this vacation! We had a blast, us and your friend. And I got to hear all about Sober in Kansas! And I appreciate your reading and commenting and saying hello.

      Embroidering? That’s awesome. I think the tools come in all shapes and sizes. Like Anne was commenting. (she’s another great blog to follow) Different tools for different personalities. But it’s important that we use something to “fix” the problem, right? A plumber needs his wrench!

  • One thing: dude . . . you’re on fire! Great insights and told in the way you always seem to accomplish. I salute you, Mundane-Man. (Vacays are hard with me, too. Mostly because they take me out of my comfortable “schedule.”)

    PEACE!! – Danno

    PS: This one stuck with me: “Why is it so hard to stay in the light?” Why, indeed.

    • The schedule is tough. I’m the same way. Everyday you have to reinvent the wheel as far as scheduling. That’s why I just say screw it, and wake up early. Although, it does get me into trouble as I get hooked on it. Sometimes I’m mumbling around exhausted and all that.

      You might like that Walker Percy book. Or his book on essays. I never got into him, honestly, but now it appears that God wants me to! So I’d better listen!

  • Vacations are great, but hard at the same time.
    I need routine too, and that takes me out of it, but at the same time we need the novelty vacations bring!
    I miss reading my sober blogs and commenting when I am on vacation, so I try to make that part of my routine if I can.
    xo
    Wendy

    • Somewhere in that mix of routine and novelty lies a good vacation. I didn’t think about the other part of that, the novelty part. You’re totally right though. We need to change it up while we keep it the same! There’s another whole post in there methinks!

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment, Wendy!

  • The same miracle that brought you that quote, brought me your post.

    I’ve been struggling with ease and complacency. Life was so chaotic for so long that I am now content just kind of bobbing along. The problem is it isn’t getting me anywhere. I need my purpose front and center, like it was when I quit drinking. I have a new purpose now, so at 5 am, you (and the universe) have given me permission to pursue it with the passion it deserves.

    Thank you. ?

    • Wow. Sometimes, things just click! I’m so glad this post was a part of your day.

      I can relate to your struggle very closely. Comfort, at least too much of it, isn’t good for my recovery. It’s that old phrase: “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” That’s true for me. And, like you, I grew accustomed to the ups and downs of active alcoholism. I never knew a middle ground existed in those extremes. Now, I am navigating that middle ground. That is what the miracle of the mundane is: the middle ground!

  • Now this, is my favorite work of yours. The need to write, for your reasons, resonated with me and my need to write for my reasons. I not only enjoy it, I need it.

    • I think we’re the lucky ones in that regard. So many people don’t find the things that they, at once, both want and need to do. Searching for it has been a rocky road, but here we are, exchanging what we want and need to do with each other. That’s really special.

      Favorite work! Wow, thank you! We’ve been corresponding for a while so that means a lot to me. I’m glad you found it so worthwhile!

  • Love this post. Going on holiday next week. Camping is great but will need all my tools out for that. Lots of drawing and writing. xxx

  • More layers than an onion wrapped in puff pastry. Astounding post, Mark. The one thing about always coming late to these is that I get to see how much your spectacular writing resounds with everyone. And it does. So much to mine here, so many directions, and yet you keep it in focus. That is something I admire about your work (among other things) – you don’t branch off and dilute the content. You introduce things, but they get tied up. I need to study this! I wander down paths! But again, this is wonderful, and amazing that of all the books you “found” that one – I would put it to you that your HP handed it over to you. At the right time, of course. We all find the things we need at the right time. Like this post, because I have struggled with finding a routine like yours, to get my fix, to stay focused. But we all have our own meds!

    Blessed work, Mark.

    • Thank you Paul. It was, without a doubt, a higher power moment. It’s those moments that God confirms you are on the right path, whatever mistakes and wrong turns you’ve made. You are where you need to be now.

      I think we all (the nook plus crew) have our strengths. I’ve learned so much about blogging from you. In fact, I wander down paths because that’s what you do. You’ve taught me how to stretch the small stuff. I mean it. That Is post of yours, for example, taught me that a good post isn’t done until you’ve set something down (such as a saying) and examined it from every angle.

      I wouldn’t even mentioned the book thing in this one if I wasn’t telling myself to keep digging.

      Thank you for your friendship, support, and leadership…and for your craftsmanship.

  • I think what draws me to returning to your blog is not just the level of depth in your writing but the frequency of high-quality posts. I mean, all your posts are pretty damn high quality. What fascinates me, Mark, is how much discipline you must have to write .. and to not be lazy about it… And to be consistent.

    I don’t know – I think I’m just in awe of how effectively you convey seemingly mundane or small interactions with your family and just… it feels like this is what being alive is, being aware of oneself.

    • Wow, thank you so much Nicola! Well, it’s damn hard work, no doubt about it. I was up at 430 again this morning, for example. But this stuff, this writing gets me out of bed most mornings. And the mornings it doesn’t, my alarm clock does, and on the mornings neither of them do, the auto-brew coffee pot does.

      And then there are those long stretches. I’m always tired. I can’t write. The inner critic is kicking the shit out of me. I’m in “this too shall pass mode”. I’m miserable. Like I can’t see past the screen in front of me.

      A big part of what keeps that boogeyman away is the support from you, Nicola, and other readers, who make me feel like I’m on the right road, even when I’m taking a few detours. So, thank you. Stopping to drop a line means everything to me. So does sharing and meeting new people!

  • Does he refuse to ask directions too?

  • Damn you are an amazing writer! Mark-this resonates for me. With my husband in early recovery, I fear complacency as a precursor to relapse. I know fear is not healthy, but I often worry about just this. The bliss that comes with early recovery, leads to joy and comfort that is so light-filled I wonder if it’s blinding. Are we doing the work? Are we digging? Can we remain in the light? You certainly put in the work and its an inspiration. All the best.
    Mara

    • Wow, thank you for that generous note, Marahu!

      I’ve heard it (and I believe it) that the key to recovery is eternal vigilance. Leave it to an addict to talk in extreme terms like “eternal” but I think it’s true. I need to stay vigilant.

      We’re all doing our best with this thing. There’s no doing it perfect. But not doing it is potentially fatal. So it’s usually good to be doing something. My best to you and your husband, always,

      Mark

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