Keeping It Green



A little too much “Type A” for my liking, although I give him an A for style points, intensity and his enthusiasm of things green.

At work I am in charge of recruiting in my department.

That means I sift through hundreds of resumes, make calls, set up interviews, interview folks and do all the paperwork.  I am also in constant communication with HR and am also in charge of getting them on the schedule and general hand holding until the new hires are up and running.  I also do the firing – not a pleasant task.

The one thing in being the “go to” guy in this regards is that it paints a target on my back when the new hires don’t rise to people’s expectations.  I get to hear the complaints and the general moaning that comes under the guise of “feedback”.  A typical conversation would go something like this:

Worker / Proletariat: Hey that new guy isn’t very fast.  I don’t know if he’ll make it.

Me / Bourgeoisie: He’s only been here two hours.

W/P: I know, but he also goes to the washroom a lot.

M/B: I guess you’re not the busy if you’re counting how many times he is going to the loo.

W/P: And the other thing is-

M/B: It’s his first day.  Don’t you remember what it was like on your first day?  Or have you forgotten?

[M/B leaves and gets a delicious coffee and muffin]

I'd be sad if I were a cucumber too.  Gimme the damn muffin, yo.
I’d be sad if I were a cucumber too. ‘Cause you know…boring. Gimme the damn muffin, yo.

The point being is that there is quickness to judge and to categorize.  The “slow one”.  The “loud one”. The “quirky one”.  The “lazy one”.  Judgement by people who have been at the same place of work for 20 or 30 weary years.  Years in which they have seen more people come and go than they can even bother to recollect.  Years in which have eroded any passion or self-motivation.  Years which cloud that idea of what it’s like to walk through the doors and quell fear, see potential and ride forth into a new way of being and doing things.

I mention all this because there are times where I am that judgemental or impatient one. I am sometimes the one who forgets what it’s like to be new to sobriety, to have that fear in the belly sitting like a lead weight.  To be on the verge of crying or vomiting or wanting to throw oneself off a building.  To sit in the unknown and have it stick to the skin like a toxic film of sweat.

There’s a phrase that is sometimes used in recovery – “Keep it green”.  It means to not forget what it’s like to still be suffering from alcoholism.   While I am not one to sit in the problem (I prefer talking about the solution), there are times I really need to keep it green.  There are times when I forget what it’s like to be a newcomer, or when I get frustrated with someone who just doesn’t seem to “get it”.  There are times when I pass the wand of judgement over someone and get a buzz from being self-righteous or feeling superior to someone who is ill and suffering gravely.

Keeping it green...indeed.
Keeping it green…indeed.

I was riding my bike the other day and saw someone from the 12- step fellowship riding his bike ahead of me.  I saw him stop in front of a not-so-reputable tavern and lock his bike up.  I too had stopped, and kept a distance behind him. I watched as he walked in and bellied up to the bar.  I don’t imagine it was a Coke that he ordered (or maybe he did – I don’t know).  This was an older gent who I have seen in many meetings.  I have also spoken at a meeting at a detox and saw him there, coming off a bender.  He relapses often.  I have seen many guys from the program coming out of liquor stores with bags, or stumbling out of a bar late at night.  Breaks my heart every time.

So it was a quick lesson for me, this “coincidence” of me running into this rapidly degrading gentleman who I know to be very intelligent and having a powerful aura.  Intelligent men and women die from alcoholism daily.  It’s not about IQ.  We’re often too smart for our own good, don’t you know.  To see this man walk into the bar was a great reminder for me.  A reminder that I could easily be that man.  That I have no place to judge this man.  My only job is to love that man.  And to carry the message of hope to him.  To love him for the alcoholic he is.  For the alcoholic that I am.  A reflection of where I have come and where I could easily land.  We are the same.  Except I am not walking shamefully, yet with defeated purpose, into oblivion. I watch, hopefully, from a place of empathy, not finger pointing or tsk tsk’ing.

It is said that our past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.  I remember (most of) the crappy things I have done in my past – drunk, hungover or in the midst of insanity.  I know that what I have done was not done out of anything else other than just being sick…and selfish.  I am not proud of what I have done.  I have forgiven myself for what I have done, where I was back then, and how I came to do what I did.  I didn’t even have to fully understand to forgive myself.  I just knew that I was an ill man, and I am in a different place these days.  But I don’t shut the door on it.  I don’t regret my experience, as painful and humiliating and damaging it may have been, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without those rich experiences.  So I don’t put it in a black velvet satchel, weighted with the stones of remorse and shame, to be sunk into the recesses of my soul.  No.  I keep them in the corner, under glass – where I can see them and gain access to them when I need it.

You want pain?  It's ripping that tag off in one shot.  That's Motrin type stuff, pal.
You want pain? It’s ripping that tag off in one shot. That’s Motrin-type stuff, pal.

And when do I need to pull on that reflective dome to open up those ugly experiences?  Why do I need to hold them up to the light of scrutiny and sharing?

When dealing with another alcoholic in distress , is when.  When they don’t know if they are in the right place, or if they are reading the right blogs, or when they don’t know why they are even standing in front of me.  Reaching back into my past and offering it up is all I can do to show them that I too used to be in pain, that my world too escaped through my trembling, dirt-crusted fingers.  That I drank like they did.  That I drank for the reasons they did.  That while the circumstances were different, there is no ownership or monopoly when it comes to being hurt or being in despair.

This is what I need to remember when I run into someone who isn’t adhering to my timetable about how and when they should get well.  This is what needs to be front and center when I work with someone who is back and forth to the bottle and doesn’t seem to “want” it enough.  Keeping it green allows me to shift from a judgemental stance to an empathetic pose, to see things through their weary, glossy eyes.  It keeps me grounded spiritually and gives me a dose of gratitude that might be missing in my mental and emotional space.  It shows me just how far I have come, and yet, how much further there is to go.  I am a lamplighter for the guys and gals behind me, as I too seek the coveted light of kindness glaring up ahead of me.

An example of a lantern lighter. So very butch, yes?

I am sure that I had eyes rolling at some point in my tirades and escapades in early recovery.  I am sure that there were many men in the fellowship who heard my garbage and strong viewpoints and inconsiderate rantings and just let me, knowing what they knew about serenity and spiritual growth.  There were so many folks out there and here who have seen me at low points and just let me run them through without pontificating or grandstanding.  Not speaking at me from a spiritual pulpit or hilltop.  Just letting me be, so that I could learn and experience things first hand.  And that has been my lesson – something I still need to learn more of – to just be there sometimes, to just listen, to just understand and nothing else. To guide and mentor when needed, of course, but to just allow someone that breathing space so that they can find the cracks to fill.

But I can’t live in perpetual chaos, mine or someone else’s.  I can only be immersed in the drama for so long.  I can only visit those places that I crawled out of for so long before I lose sight of the real goal – recovery of mind, body and spirit.  To continually live in the solution, and not the problem.  I won’t get all ethereal and rhetorical – the spiritual life is one of action.  It’s not something that is merely discussed – it is lived.  So helping another man or woman understand this means taking actions and it also means coming to terms with the past…as I had to.  Keeping it green is about acknowledging the past, touching upon it when needed, and respecting it.  But it’s not about bronzing it or worshipping it or staying stuck in the feelings surrounded it.  My eyes need to rove the fertile ground ahead of me. That is the only way I grow.

No one likes a show-off.  So can it, flower car boy.
This is just ridiculous.  I have no words (except for the ones right here).  Done.


Ultimately, to be of any use or service, I have to put myself in the shoes of that frightened, wounded person who just walked through the door.  Who is fearful.  In pain.  Not sure what they want, but knowing that they see the potential in the room, through the laughs and smiles of those who welcome them.  I have to remember that before I did all this internal work, before I did the external stuff, before I got a blog and spoke to groups and did work with treatment center alumni, before I sponsored other men, before I putt 100% into my own recovery…before all that, I was green. Bile green.  And if it weren’t for the men and women who saw in me what they used to be, I would be dead.

I welcome my past.  I welcome you to use my past as needed.  And then we get passed it all and look ahead.  The future looks pretty bright out there.  Get your sunglasses.







35 Comments Add yours

  1. afteralcohol says:

    Love this post. One of the things I like about keeping a blog is that it’s rather like a high school diary – not only is it a useful space to let out your (at the time) Very Important Insights, but I imagine it’s also a good record to look back on later and smile, ruefully, at how young and naive you were. Most of my posts, here in early sobriety, are probably utter nonsense to someone like you. Which is fine. Which is great! It’s that mix that’s important, and blogging keeps a record of how far we’ve all come and have to go.

    1. Never utter nonsense! I don’t have a lot of time (3 yrs +) in the grand scheme of things, so I consider myself a newcomer in different ways. What I have come to see is that it’s not always the length of sobriety, but more of the quality of the sobriety. I know some dudes who haven’t picked up in decades, but live with fingernails on the ledge. Angry still. Unloving. So I would gladly take the gal with 30 days and living like a charm compared to Mr. Grumpy Sober Dude.

      So, don’t be hard on yourself. I have read your words, and they aren’t nonsense at all. Of all the sober blogs I read (and I think I catch most of them), most are from those who are new to recovery. And I love them – I get so much out of them. As I do yours. It keeps me juiced and connected. And I need that as much as anybody. Keep writing – it’s important not only to me, but everyone else. You are needed 🙂

      Thanks for being here – means a lot.


      1. afteralcohol says:

        Oh, goodness, I wasn’t being hard on myself really, though – I’d expect most of what I think and say to be tripe, because I’m ‘young’ in this world. I don’t expect 15 year olds to be particularly skilled at social interaction and social nuance, and I don’t expect me to be particularly insightful about sobriety. But thank you!

        1. One person’s tripe is another person’s treasure 🙂

          I would be curious to see what I would have written in my first year (I didn’t start the blog until I had a year or so sober)…probably would have edited it or erased it…ha ha. But that’s how we grow…I can imagine there is some long timer reading my stuff and saying “yes, but wait until such-and-such and you’ll see things differently…” about me, etc. We are where we are, and some “get it” more than others. But it’s not a race – we go where we need to go and just go from there.

          As for 15yr olds…I am probably just as awkward now as I was then!!

  2. I was listening to an AA speaker while I ran today. He likened AA to a big chain, we are all linked together to try to he one another, and to stay strong. I really liked that imagery, similar to what you are saying in your post.
    You are a very storm link in my chain Paul. I am glad to have found you and your wisdom. It is so helpful, especially as a fragile link in the newly sober chain.
    Grwat ost.

    1. Funny – I was listening to a speaker this afternoon while running too! I’ve been on a Don P. streak for a bit now. Love that old coot. Who were you listening to?

      Thanks for the kind words – I feel that all the links are important, regardless of how strong they may be. In fact, it’s the ones that are rusted and barely holding together are the most important, as that is where the other ones come in to help bind it 🙂

      You’re not as fragile as you think, my dear friend. You’re much stronger…and I can see that in you. Keep at it…I love watching you grow 🙂


      1. I listened to Craig F. on Wednesday. I then figured out he was Craig Ferguson. He was funny. I heard the chain comment from a call Paul McQ-A New Direction, A New Life. I am sure you know there is a great youtube page called Odomtolgy-12 Step Recovery. It is loaded with speakers. I download the video then make it an MP3 to load on to my Ipod for running. I enjoy the people that have a sense of humor. Maggie at Sober Courage sent me a bunch of Sandy Beach, I loved him. I found his website, Stories of Recovery, and have plowed through all of those. (I run a lot, keeps me from killing, crying and drinking.)
        Where do you get Don P?

        1. Sandy Beach is a dream. Love him – goes WAY beyond what is in the BB, and yet is grounded in it. Craig F might be him – gonna search it. I am familiar with Odomology – they have some great speaker “videos” (ha ha) that I can’t find anywhere else. I need to revisit it, as there is one guy (Steve? I can’t recall) who I just loved and need to relisten to.

          Don P. was found at the amazing If you don’t know it, go there NOW. ha ha. Thousands of tapes there…and they also do other fellowships. it’s brilliant. Thanks for the recommendations…gotta reload for the next runs!

  3. mishedup says:

    keeping it green….never heard that one before! I like it.
    It appeals to the eco-cognizant sober alcoholic that i am! lol…
    but the point is well taken, and I will work to remember this when i do get into judgment or even worry about someone else…I need to remember what it WAS like so I can help them with what it IS like.
    Great post Paul, as usual.

    1. Thanks M. I don’t hear it that often up here, but have heard it. It comes up a lot on speaker tapes, so perhaps it’s a regional thing.

      I love the line about what it WAS like and what it IS like. Very deep 🙂


  4. Good morning Paul!

    This is a great reminder, and has me navel gazing (to use one of your great’s!) a bit. I have seen that judgmental type you describe above many times in the meetings, and it drives me crazy. I have also, to a smaller extent, been that person (I don’t have enough sober time to really be that finger-pointing, evangelical type, although I suppose it could come in time, although I sincerely hope NOT!).

    But what I’m introspective about is the putting the memories under glass in the corner. When I read, I reacted immediately… no! Not under glass in a corner, because I will keep looking over! And I realized my strong reaction was because, for reasons unknown, I have been revisiting the past mentally a bit. Nothing horrible, just a touch uncomfortable.

    So I wonder if all this is wrapping back up into one of those moments… maybe I need to get out more and be of service? Because, although I still go to meetings, not nearly as many as I used to, and I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a newcomer in months. So maybe I do need to put these memories to good use and get to a newcomer’s meeting.

    Something to think about, anyway, and I thank you for challenging my mind, as you always do!

    1. I get into those memories too, Josie. I think it would have to be normal, even for normies, yes? That cringe when you drive past that place where you did *that thing* once…ha ha. I did a run a month or so ago where I passed no fewer than 5 or 6 cringe-inducing places. ugh. But for the Grace of God go we, I suppose. I read a line today – we aren’t defined by what we did, but what we overcame. Maybe I need to get more of that in my brain.

      You have been going to more meetings than I my friend – that’s service alone! I am promising myself that I will go tomorrow afternoon. no excuses. And once I do I will chastise myself for not going sooner…the usual Paul BS.

      Thank YOU for your wonderful comments – as usual. I get the feeling that if we ever met for coffee, we’d be there all day. 🙂


  5. runningonsober says:

    Love this post, Paul. A timely reminder too. I’ve not heard the saying about keeping it green, but I like it. Similar to “it takes what it takes.” Some people have to fall on the butts repeatedly and bounce a few times. Some people barely skin their knee and they get it. Not my place to judge, or even to butt in, just to share my story if they want to hear it.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. thanks Christy. It takes what it takes also works…same sentiment, yes? 🙂 And you’re right – some take to it immediately, and some need to get banged up pretty good before we all arrive at the same place – wanting help and knowing that we can’t do it on our own.

  6. Paul says:

    Great post Paul. I’m new here and enjoyed the read.

    1. Thank You Paul (groovy name). I have seen you around the other blogs – honoured to have you here, kind sir. 🙂

  7. Love this Paul. My ethos is that your past doesn’t have to define my present, but that doesn’t mean I ignore what happened. I love how you touch base with those times in your own past so that you can be more compassionate and less judgemental to others. That’s true recovery 🙂

    1. Oh thank you Carolyn – I am so happy that it resonated with you. I certain don’t want to ignore what happened – it’s part of my history, but not a part of my present and future, in terms of it weighing on me. I read someone yesterday on Twitter saying that part of why they drank is their history – I just want to say “it doesn’t have to be!” – but to each their own journey.

      Thank you for the kind words – hope you are having a fantastic weekend 🙂


  8. jrj1701 says:

    Wish I had seen this before yesterday, got into a bridge burning mood and did not catch myself, and so either have to rebuild, or let it remain burnt to the ground, at least God held my hand and I didn’t do more that I would regret, yet it was pretty ugly, a cascade event that I am good at getting myself into, and leaving the field of battle in disgust with myself. Yet I stayed sober, and I haven’t given up. You help me with that and I Thank you and God.

    1. I have to admit, JR, that I am on a small bridge burning tear myself. I am sorry to hear that things haven’t been well there, and at least God has held you back from doing more permanent and lasting damage. He certainly does know what is best for us, yes? And I totally understand what you mean about leaving in disgust…once the dust settles, you look around and ask “I did this?”. I am trying to get back in touch with the Maker so that I can get out of this funk. Not sure what it is. I will probably write about it, but knowing that I am not the only one takes some of the sting off of it. We can do this together, brother. Oh, and with some help from God. Let me never forget that 🙂

      Hugs and blessings,

  9. Laurie Works says:

    Paul I LOVED this post. I’ve really been resonating with this lately; helping the newcomer, etc. I watched Thank You for Sharing last night (a movie about sex addiction recovery) and it was so interesting to me to see how much the newcomer in that movie had to offer. They had a great character portrayal of him and it really got to me. I’ve also just really resonated with the idea lately with some relapses of people I know – I could SEE myself in them so clearly and I totally understood why they did what they did. It’s put me in a whole new place of humility and given me so much more ability to be of service and to sit with them as they need it.
    Thanks for this post… this is the stuff I’m mulling over right now. Peace.

    1. So glad that you got something out of this, Laurie. I know of the film you speak, but haven’t watched it (I watch maybe 3 movies a year, so it’s not unlike me to not watch a movie). I too can see how relapses happen. It’s a process, not an event. One doesn’t just wake up and relapse. In any drug / chemical / behaviour. It takes time. It’s a slow dismantling. We lose it emotionally, spiritually and mentally before it happens physically. Great that you see this, and you are right – it does humble us.

      Thank you for the wise and insightful words.


  10. Mrs D says:

    Oh that kind of broke my heart.. that image of the guy walking in to the bar.. you are so right.. we should never ever judge anyone for being a boozer.. relapsing or never even getting sober in the first place. We should always remember and understand. It’s such a mind-fuck of a problem… alcoholism.. a really twisted awful problem.. so hard.. so heartbreaking. I’ve not heard of that ‘keeping it green’ saying before but I like it. Great post Paul. Hope you are well… love your work xxxx

    1. Thanks Mrs. D. Gotta take all your kind words before you run off and be a famous author and on the interview circuit…ha ha. But yeah, sad to see the relapses. It’s never easy, and yet it’s so common. Makes me grateful to be sober. Some of us never even string a few days in a row. That’s the tragedy. But we’re here, Mrs. D. What a place to be – and you’re a great part of my recovery out here.


  11. lucy2610 says:

    Man I always find a killer line in one of your posts – this time? ‘our past is a place of reference, not a place of residence’ Love this, thank you 🙂 xx

    1. I would love to take credit for that, but it’s someone else’s words…ha ha. Glad you liked it 🙂

  12. REDdog says:

    Always with the good stuff with you, isn’t it mate.

    1. Thanks REDdog…always a pleasure having you here. Thanks for the kind words, sir. Hope you’re having a great weekend…vrooommm….ha ha.

  13. stephrogers says:

    It’s not easy being green, but someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me!

    Loved this post. Empathy is so undervalued these days.

    1. Thanks Steph – and so glad to see you back on the blogosphere! You’ve been missed. Will catch up on your latest when I have a sec.

      And yes, empathy…something I never had, or at least never admitted to. Makes life a bit softer, don’t ya think?

      Have a groovy weekend my friend 🙂

      1. stephrogers says:

        Thanks. It’s good to be back x

  14. stacilys says:

    I really love your posts Paul. I love the sincerity and vulnerability in them. And I’m not just saying this to butter you up or fill your head. I can never open up to a post of yours and just read it quickly and give a response. Sometimes I open in up and then only get around to it a few days later, when I really have time to dedicate to reading it closely and consider my comments.

    “To see this man walk into the bar was a great reminder for me. A reminder that I could easily be that man. That I have no place to judge this man. My only job is to love that man. And to carry the message of hope to him”
    –You know, the Bible says, “Be careful when you think you stand, lest you fall”. There is also another part that says, “Pride comes before a fall”. It is so easy to look at the faults of others and totally forget about our own. Or to remember from where we came. Today I watched, for the first time, the feature length film that my husband created, produced, directed, co-wrote called, “Internal Mazes”. It was at the premiere showing of it. I cried at the end. I thought to myself, “Wow, all of Brazil needs to see this film- he gets it. My husband really gets it. He understands what it means to really value a person. What it means to show grace and unconditional love”. To understand what it really means to value and love another. What God’s love really means. And how great and unconditional and how pro-active it is. I was so touched, I cried. And that’s just it. We are no better than anybody else. Even if we think or meditate upon something, even without committing the act of it, it’s still as if we have done it.
    You know, I think I can really connect to things you write about because, from what I know of AA and its principles and values, they all come from a Christian base and format. The whole idea of the 12 steps and what they entail. I guess you would know better than me, but I what you write about really resonates with me, my friend. You’re one blogger I would really love to meet – Big smile 🙂

    Hugs and affection

  15. Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Author & Columnist says:

    LOL! Love this post! Unfortunately, I AM THE LOUD ONE when it comes to recovery! LOL. I have a good excuse, though….I’m Italian! We are allowed to be LOUD…


    1. Paul S says:

      Cat!! So very, very wonderful to see you here! I hope you have been well, my friend. I love loud recovery, so keep it up. I grew up with a lot of Italians, so I am well versed in the loud!! Blessings to you, Cat – I have missed you.

      1. Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Author & Columnist says:

        LOL! I have missed YOU as well. I promise I won’t stay away SO LONG…LOL 🙂 CaT

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