Lights, Fixtures



With all due respect to The Moz, there is a light that goes out. This past January was a dismal 31 days in my city, weather-wise. We had the lowest amount of sunlight recorded- 48 hours to be exact – in a month. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I had to crack out my Connie Francis, Nick Cave and Elliot Smith albums just to brighten the mood. Now I’m not one to be afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), in fact I have always reveled in being in the dark side of the moon (in a non-Pink Floyd way). But this winter, I’ve just felt…smaller, more confined, a bit weepier. Which surprised me because as a card-carrying Scorpio and lover of things un-Disney, I never thought a few overcast days would zing me in the bad teenage angst poetry part of my brain.

Growing up, I loved rainy days. I loved the idea of what was in the shadows. I harnessed my imagination to create dark worlds in my writing, and read books which made the Saw movies look like Sesame Street. I was fixated with the undercurrent of the soul and that stretched out into everything in my world – my choice in music, my friends and my clothes. I can recall my mother arguing with me to just purchase one item of clothing that wasn’t Death Metal Black. You know, a pop of colour when you do your ritual sacrifices in your bedroom, dear. And of course that darkness eventually manifested itself into alcohol and tumultuous relationship I had with it. Not all goth kids turn into drug addicts and alcoholics, but this kid who loved Slayer and The Punisher comic book series certainly played the part. Until it played him.

As God as my witness I will find any reasonable excuse to use this picture.

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself riding home from work in not only a bright and sunny day, but also in the warmest day in February we’ve ever had. It was magnificent. I was surprised by just how the weather was affecting me. I felt a lightness, an unburdening occurring, and even though I was battling a cold, I felt a pureness piercing my body. I stopped several times to absorb it all and take pictures. Breath is all in. I felt renewed and restored.

As I rode, I thought of the light that is shot through my life as it stands right now. Of course I can talk about spirituality and recovery and all that, but I thought of something else. I thought of the light that others bring to my life. I thought of the people who I surround myself with and what warming rays they beam my way, nourishing me and my spirit. I began to silently appreciate those who are in my circles who add to my life and bring me joys both subtle and profound.

I listen to a lot of spiritual teachers and motivational speakers. One message I hear over and over again, both from a divine and practical level, is that we need to surround ourselves with people who have what we want, who are an extension of our goals, who are doing the things we want to do in our lives. Gurus, mentors, peers – call them what you will – but those who show us the way, by deed and by word. Those who gracefully guide us and paint our landscape in colours we never knew were in the palette.


Bishop TD Jakes uses the example of ghettos as how it works the opposite way. He discusses how the idea of putting people of the same low-earning bracket together only created a bigger mess because there are no examples of what it is like to “make it”. People are surrounded with like people which only propagates negativity and depression. There is toxicity in despair and no matter how enlightened one may be, it’s difficult to emerge from the canopy of darkness. I understand this, as I look back at who I surrounded myself with in my drinking days.

I was a sarcastic, cynical and negative person. It wasn’t that I was horrible to be around, but I wasn’t an enchanted pixie either. I made sure, unconsciously and consciously, that I surrounded myself with similar folk. We fed off one another’s pessimistic energy. We never lifted one another up. Emotionally, we kept our cards close to our chest, fearful of showing a flash of vulnerability which others would jump on and attack. I made sure the people in my circles were deeply flawed and wounded and showed it. I felt the same and wanted to belong.

When I got into recovery, I started to tap into the part of me that was unexpressed – the feeling of wanting to connect, of seeking light and inspiration, of being grounded in sanity and goodness. And as I proceeded to (very) slowly move through the work, I found myself unable to bear the very attitudes and actions I showed with regularity in the past. The idea of lying, cheating and stealing made me ill. Gossiping suddenly felt vile. I couldn’t stomach people backstabbing one another or spreading destructive rumours. This was a great shift in my internal landscape, and it would eventually show itself in who I chose to spend time with.


Luckily, my drinking and the isolating that came with it removed many people from my social rolodex. I shed many drinking buddies and friends during my lost years, so I wasn’t left with much after I started the healing process. In the last few years, I have had to remove myself from people’s lives and vice-versa. Not in a judgemental or harsh way, but in a way which was kind to myself. I no longer held on to a misguided notion of loyalty for loyalty’s sake. I had to break up with friends and long-time acquaintances. I had to ask the simple question – were they adding to my life, or were they sucking the air out of my lungs?

These days I am blessed to have the people in all my circles – family, friends, recovery folk, professional comrades. I don’t have a large posse, but they have my back, and I have theirs. And that’s most important. They add to the mosaic of my experiences. They show me the way, even if they don’t know they are doing it, like my children who show me how to truly live. These are the fixture in my life, exuding brightness and authenticity. They bring me up, and encourage and support me. They are the physical demonstration of the spiritual principles I seek to live by.

That kind of light will always guide me. Even on the dark days.


(And speaking of lighting up my life, thank you for checking out my 40th Buzzkill Podcast!)

28 Comments Add yours

  1. Roderick says:

    Darkness comes in many forms, all of them concealing the light.
    One form is a cloudy day. There are no shadows, and the sky is not blue. Cars look dirtier, and people shuffle more, with their heads down.
    A month of cloud gets me down. Old people look paler and more gray.
    The snow is not white. Bars are more alluring. Friends are harder to find.

    1. Paul S says:

      I agree Roderick with your description there. I feel it a bit more on those days. Today is one of them. That sunny day I mentioned in the post has been an anomaly. It’s been cloudy, cold, windy and just…meh. And that is how I have felt as well (plus I am sick, so that adds to it!).

      Bars can be more alluring, but in the end, they are self-destructive to this guy here. It’s hard for me to reach out, believe me, so I just have to do the thing which is actually harder for me to do, but I know in the end pays dividends. I took the softer, easier way and it got me into some serious pain.

      Hope you are feeling better today, brother.

  2. bgddyjim says:

    I felt that same lightness walking out of my office the other day, just to walk in the grass and be in the sun while I was talking business on the phone. I love the first warm days of the new year.

    1. Paul S says:

      It’s fabulous, isn’t it? It turned sour here after that day, but I sense we’re getting closer to more and more of those kind of days. Puts a spring in the step!

  3. I Quit Wineing says:

    I love this and will make sure I remember what you said when winter hits here. SAD is something I have struggled with in winters passed.
    I like what you said about hanging out with a variety of people. I am doing more of that and it is enlightening. For so many years I locked myself in a space with like minded people. Like minded in religous extremes. No wonder it took me years to see the light and walk away.

    1. Paul S says:

      I know many people with SAD who use those lights on their alarms or at their desks. Says it helps at times. Vitamin D is something I take too. But in the end, I need to try and get out and at least move around to feel like I am getting something out of the day, rather than it sucking me dry. Hard to do sometimes.

  4. I went for a long walk in some rare winter sunshine this morning – it worked wonders on my mood. I also notice other people’s influence more now I’m getting sober. Where I work is a hotbed of gossip, negativity and backstabbing. I say enough to be polite and smooth over basic working relationships but stay the hell away from the nastier stuff – nobody needs that extra negative energy in their lives. I’m happy for you that you’ve got your tribe sorted right. This was a great post, thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks for the read and comments! I am glad that the long walk helped. Sometimes that is all it takes for me. Time is a luxury for me, so doing that is something I have to try and shoe horn in.

      I have had to walk out of the office at times when things get catty. It’s hard to discern between talking about a person’s performance at work, and their personality and then their personal life. I get caught up in at times, but I have to leave the situation. It’s old habit for me to talk poorly of others to bolster my own esteem.

      Glad you’re aware of the nasty stuff – it rubs off. Stay in the light 🙂


  5. Hi Paul!
    I do suffer from SAD and it’s very hard.
    Gray days make it harder to do things, and my energy and mood are low.
    Today was one of those days.
    But overall, I am happier and lighter than when I was still drinking.
    I have found some wonderful people in recovery.

    1. Paul S says:

      Hi Wendy – so sorry that you have SAD. I have a small taste of what it’s like and I can’t imagine feeling so demoralized about something that we have no control over – weather conditions. It’s tough especially when we have one of *those* winters. And we had one. I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark and sometimes I am ok and others it’s like “can I get just 10 min of sun?”

      Glad you have found some groovy folks in recovery. We’re blessed!

  6. This is a great post & I love your pics! Especially the graffiti one! I had one of those light moments today – I walked out of the computer lab at school and the quad was pretty much empty. I just stopped in my tracks to marvel at the beautiful clear day. I actually sat near the fountain & chilled for awhile! Ahhhh….

  7. Paul, thank you for describing the Goth phase and what made you gravitate to other ‘wounded’ people. I have a daughter who went through a similar phase, and I understand her motives and state of mind so much better after reading your blog. It makes me wish I could go back in time and be less worried about the dark music and friends, and just make her feel loved and accepted the way that she was. After dealing with her parents’ divorce and a change of schools, she was just hurting and trying out new identities.
    By the way, is that you in the photo? I have to know. ; )

    1. Paul S says:

      I wasn’t a goth, but I was certainly a death metal guy. Very similar. I was finding my way, like most teens do. I was obsessed with death and all that stuff. But I wasn’t necessarily morbid, if that makes sense. I was a nerdy kid in the end. I played a role.

      I love what you said about going back and making your daughter feel loved. And I knew I was loved by my folks…but as a teen we try to carve our own path. But in the end, I knew I was cared for.

      And as for the photo…no, that’s not me. But I LOVE that pic. I have used it before. It just makes me happy…that kid hated every minute of that watering of the flowers (or secretly didn’t mind it!) Either way it’s hilarious.

  8. I got to see Moz in Manchester two days before Christmas in 2006. A concert I will never forget! But I digress…

    Living in NE Ohio where we have a year round high number of cloudy days, I am especially vulnerable to the winter doldrums. Yesterday was amazing here! Broke all kinds of records. #climatechangeisreal

    In my recovery, I am also moving towards the light. In October 2015, I had to drop my best friend of 14 years. As I was getting well, I finally saw what a toxic person she is. It was effecting my serenity on a near daily basis, which meant that it was a threat to my sobriety. I absolutely cannot have that. In the meantime I’ve had to detach from others with love, because their negativity is too much for me. I used to always say that I wasn’t a pessimist, I was a realist! Ha. It’s amazing to live life as a “glass half full” type of person now. That’s one of the many gifts of sobriety.

    Thank you for sharing, friend!

    1. Paul S says:

      I am so jealous of that concert! (I am listening to Moz as I type this, by the way). As for the climate change…oh yeah. As “fun” as it was to have that kind of day, it does worry me.

      I know a lot of folks who have had to drop long-term friends once they get into recovery, and even years later. Same thing with romantic partners. Some things just aren’t the same when one or both are in some sort of transformation or change. I have a friend who I had to slowly release as well. They spoke endlessly of themselves and I rarely said a word. They weren’t malicious or anything, but I felt drained after I would meet for coffee. That isn’t too bad when you hear about what you mention having toxic people. I just can’t deal with that any more!

      Glad we’ve reconnected! You add light!

  9. Paul JFT says:

    Love you Paul.

    1. Paul S says:

      Back at ya, Paul. Blessings to you 🙂

  10. byebyebeer says:

    Fantastic post, Paul. A sponsor once told me she tried to surround herself with people that fed her spiritually. I thought that was the neatest thing and never forgot it.

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks K! I understand what your sponsor means – why get dragged down with negativity and pettiness? I used to be immersed in that for the longest time. I was the king of being a sarcastic jackass. That doesn’t work for me any more, nor do I have the wherewithal or interest in being surrounded by it.

  11. OMG I love that photo of the goth watering the plant, I want to frame it! I’ve shed so many layers of drinking buddies. I love this post, you explain the whole process of ‘shedding skin’ as it were, so well. I used to surround myself with damaged people because the victim in me could find ego strength complaining back and forth with the victim in the other person. My ‘drinking/complaining’ friends fell away naturally, I didn’t even need to do anything.

    1. Paul S says:

      I know – that photo is seriously one of my faves ever off the interweb.

      Very true about surrounding self with damaged folks – what a great way to either feel good about ourselves, or to commiserate! I found that like you, most of those people disappeared. Most of the heavy lifting was done for me!
      Thanks for the read and the comments – always glad to have you here 🙂

  12. saoirsek says:

    Sober Smiths fans, doesn’t get any better😀Have seen Morrisey live a couple of times, absolutely wonderful. Great to connect

    1. Paul S says:

      Hazzah to the sober Smiths fans! I am so jealous you’ve seen the Moz a couple of times. I have never seen him, can you believe it? I have watched many of his concerts online – love his stuff to bits. Thanks for being here – I am looking forward to reading more on your blog! Runners unite!

  13. stacilys says:

    Hey Paul, great article. Very raw, real and super well written. Wish I could write like you.
    I completely agree that we become who we hang around. I remember when I moved out to Ottawa. I had gone with a completely different goal in mind than what ended up happening. It was there that became a Christian and stopped smoking dope and doing drugs and all. It’s as if God knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it if I stayed in Vancouver. He had to pull me right out of it and take me to the other end of the country.
    On another note, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!! Love the pic with dark guy and the flowers. Love your caption below even more. We can always count on you to weave a great bit of humour into your deep and serious posts Paul.
    Hope you are well. Are ya?
    Btw, I did respond to your comment on my last post. I’m curious to know if it showed up in your notifications. WP is doing some pretty wacky stuff. Some of my comments are showing up in people’s spam folders, other bloggers responses to me are not showing up in my notifications. It’s a real bummer.
    Have a great day.

  14. Such a beautiful post, thank you Paul.

    1. Georgina19 says:

      “Ya took the words right out of my mouth!” (Meatloaf)
      That post made my heart ache and I silently wept actually.

      1. Paul S says:

        Thank you Georgina! I am so touched that it resonated with you 🙂

    2. Paul S says:

      Thank you – so sorry about the delay in getting back to this!!

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