Rejected Book Titles

The secret to having good ideas is having a lot of ideas and discarding the bad ones. Titles have always been difficult for me. Whether for songs (“Out-of-Town Tuna Fish”), albums (Songs from the Zen Baptist Tradition), poems (“Drowning in the Fountain of Eternal Life”), stories (“Let Me Begin Again”) or novels (What Trouble Looks Like), I’ve always agonized over titles. Believe it or not, the above are what was left after I’d thrown out the bad ones.

I’m currently writing a memoir, a thriller and a love story, so I need three good titles. Here are a hundred-and-one I’ve rejected so far:

1) Winnie the Pooh Goes to War

2) Exfoliating with Steel-Wool Panties

3) Things to Eat When You’re Out of Food

4) The Catcher in the Lye: Baseball Players Who Were Poisoned

5) Theoretical Knitting

6) The Naked and the Dead: Sensual Orgy Stories of the Black Death

7) French Fried French Kisses: A McDonald’s Love Story and First-Aid Guide

8) Your Rights in an Elevator

9) A Book of Common Players: NFL Linemen You’ve Never Heard of

10) Solitaire for Two

11) A Child’s Guide to the Merovingian Dynasty

12) Finding Your Whey: Miss Muffet’s Guide to Personal Transportation

13) Is Pro Wrestling Real? A Christian Response

14) Why Does Mommy Smell Like Cat Food?

15) The Wonders of Warts

16) How Many is Up?

17) When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

18) Uncle Wiggily and the Rabbit Stew

19) 125 Things to Do Each Morning Before You Get out of Bed

20) Illiterate? Read This and Solve Your Problems

21) How’d He Do That? A Magician’s Guide to the Gospels

22) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Off-Brand Scotch

23) The Little Golden Book of Necromancy

24) The Bobbsey Twins Ride the Information Superhighway!

25) Three Tips for Your Next Wake

26) How Can I Prove I Exist?

27) Fortune Cookies: Satan’s Baked Good

28) Henry Huggins: Terrorist Superstar!

29) Hanukah, Chanukah, Hanukkah—The Brady Bunch Goes Orthodox

30) Are My Memories Microwaveable?

31) Rocks: God’s Secret Weapon against Giants

32) You Can’t Be Resurrected If You Won’t Die

33) Read Your Way to Eyestrain!

34) How to Keep a Secret—A Care and Feeding Guide

35) My Little Pony—Pets for Midgets, Dwarfs and Other Little People

36) Social Security Disability: The Nondisabled Lazy Man’s Guide

37) Hearing Perfume and Tasting Corduroy: How to ‘Hack’ Your Senses

38) Alibis for Everything

39) The Gabor Sisters vs. the Kardashians: A Time Travel Throwdown

40) When Your Children are Imaginary

41) Toenail Clippings: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore!

42) Are Your Bones Made of Bone or Metal?

43) Playing the Piano in Traffic

44) A History of History

45) Dream Your Way to Sleep

46) If You’re So Rich, Why Ain’t You Smart?

47) The Complete Guide to Partial Paralysis

48) Depression and Pro Basketball

49) Negotiating Your Way into Heaven: Loopholes Edition

50) A Hole in One and a Garrote on the Other: Murdering Siamese Twins

51) Hypnosis and Property Values: Don’t Snap Your Fingers until the Sale is Final

52) Crimes You Didn’t know You Could Commit

53) When a Spouse Dies and Leaves a Crime Scene: Cleaning in a Flash

54) The Mensa Book of Pudding

55) I Wish You Wouldn’t Do That and Other Things to Say When a Gun is Pointed at You

56) The Christian’s Guide to Lawn Ornaments

57) Remembering the Future

58) Christmas Limericks

59) Learning to Walk without Moving Your Lips

60) Can You Trust ALL Your Toes?

61) How to Write a How-To Book

62) Cart Before the Whore: Transitioning from Sex Work to Hot-Dog Vending

63) Seven Secrets of Successful Beggars

64) The Hardy Boys: Transgendered!

65) The Constitution, a Guide for the Handcuffed

66) Space Travel on a Budget

67) Face Painting the Ugly

68) A Dog in a Tree Has Nowhere to Pee But Down and Other Business Advice

69) The Wit and Wisdom of Smokey Bear

70) The Idiot’s Guide to Eating Dirt

71) A Farewell to Arms: Living with Amputation

72) I’ll Meet You in the Pasture: Rural Time Travel

73) Making Money with Play-Doh

74) Clean Feet and Inner Peace: A Meditation

75) The Pampered Hostage

76) Don’t Take a Breath Until You Read this Book!

77) The Old Man and the C+: Telling Your Dad You’re Not Very Smart

78) The Big Book of Ankle Hair

79) Marketing Organic Arsenic

80) No Green Bananas: Will You Die Tomorrow?

81) Good Buy, Columbus! Goodwill Stores of Ohio

82) Existentialism and Freezer Burn: How to Tell the Difference

83) A Novelization of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

84) Catch Phrases for Fun and Profit

85) Will Bats Eat the Bugs in Your Belfry?

86) Should Recovering Alcoholics Remove Their Red Wine Birthmarks?

87) Future Lives Therapy

88) Is Your Priest Eating Cheetos During Confession? How to Set a Trap

89) Flip Your Homelessness—The Next Real Estate Boom

90) When You Wish Upon a Car

91) Breeding Dogs vs. Bleeding Dogs: The Case for Enunciation

92) How You Take Your Coffee Predicts How You Will Take Your Life

93) Hard of Hearing? What?

94) Celebrities Without Kneecaps

95) Making Friends with Your Bedbugs

96) The Hardy Girls and the Cause of LGBT Equality

97) A Child’s Garden of Wurst

98) Count Your Freckles and Change Your Life

99) Why Can’t Grammy Talk?

100)How Many Steps to the Steppes?

101)The Dummy’s Guide to Developmental Disabilities

Ray Booska, I’m Doing Fine and Love You, Brother

I’m usually up by 6:15 or so, but I’m fighting a chest cold and stayed up late last night reading a collection of essays by Norman Mailer. It wasn’t the reading that kept me from sleeping, but my mental need to wash my brain of well-reasoned if brash thinking. After all, it’s my job to provide nonsense, not insight. Also, I woke up three or four times in the night with felicitous phrases running through my head. Well-crafted prose needed to be analyzed and euthanized before I could go back to sleep.

At 8:30, I a knock on the door of the Tiny White Box woke me up, along with Sam (is a dog)’s bark. I assumed it was one of the board members of Warriors@45North, here to move a boat or an ATV. From my bed, I can see the door, with its frosty but still transparent window, and was surprised not to a see a face peering in.

“Hey, who’s there,” I called out, sitting up with my sleeping bag over my legs like some sleepy three-legged-race competitor.

“Please open the door, Sir. Is your dog safe?” a voice I’d never heard before.

Here, I was alarmed. Strangers don’t appear at my door, especially ones concerned about Sam. Had he somehow exaggerated the one time I’d let his water bowl go dry and used the Twilight Barking Chain to call for help? Then I realized the voice was more likely wondering if Sam would attack him than if Sam had enough food.

“He’s fine. Nothing to worry about,” I said, taking the half-hop to the door and peering out.

A young cop stood there.

I opened the door, fearing some forgotten event in my improbable life had finally led to indictment and arrest. In retrospect, a normal person would likely have thought about tragedy and news of a loved one. I am not a normal person, and wondered if the cop would let me get out of my sleeping bag and into clothing before cuffing me and stuffing me into his cruiser.

“What’s up, Officer?” I asked, fearing his hand might go for his weapon if I acted suspicious.

“Just a health and safety check, Sir. Someone was worried about you,” the cop said with a smile.

Back when I was drinking, health and safety checks were a common fear. After all, by Day Three of a binge, I’d have overflowing ashtrays, empty wine boxes and beer bottles all over the floor and a perpetual half-lidded face. I wouldn’t have been either healthy or safe. Luckily, my drinking reduced the people who were concerned about me to a number approaching zero. Today, though, when I’m reasonably healthy, except for this chest cold (and a realization right it’s been four months since I consciously ate anything with Vitamin C—unless last Sunday’s Virgin Bloody Mary with my daughters counts), and more than reasonably safe.

“No reason for worry,” I said. “I’m doing fine. Who was worried.”

The cop paused and I was afraid I asked for confidential information. Then he brightened.

“It was your friend, Ray.”

Good old Ray Booska, the cook at Warriors@45North, a gifted musician and a friend. It felt good to know someone was watching out for me, even if it wasn’t necessary.

With the cold air pouring in, the cop looked around the Tiny White Box and saw the Big Buddy propane heater, with its hose curled up like a snake.

“Watch out for those things. They can take you out.”

“I know. I always keep a window open, and never use it when I’m sleeping.”

With that, the cop left me to my good feelings toward Ray, my feet inside a sleeping bag and a chest cold to fight.

Life is good.

Possible, But Not Inevitable: My Strange Relationship with Money

It’d be nice to love money for money’s sake. I’ve had friends whose happiness and peace of mind were directly proportional to how much money they were making and how much they had socked away. It’s a simple formula that yields results like:

“I’m only making $40,000 a year and I’ve only got $2,000 in the bank. What a pointless and desperate life I’ve led and what a loser I am.”

Or:

“At $125,000 per annum, I’m not doing badly. That $100,000 in mutual funds makes my life pretty, pretty meaningful.”

Unfortunately, I’ve got a much more complicated relationship with money. By itself, no matter how big or small a pile it makes, money is simply a battery of sorts, a collection of potential energy for accomplishing other goals. Better, money is gas in my life’s tank—it’s only useful when I want or need to go somewhere. Not once in my life have I thought about getting a bigger gas tank for my car or carrying around extra five-gallon jerry cans. Money is the juice that helps me do what I want to do.

Although it may not be apparent here, I write a cogent, well-documented and powerful proposal when need be.  Without going too far into the weeds, I’ve never been money-driven, per se; rather, I like freedom to follow my next hunch, and money makes that easier.  For example, when I was negotiating my salary for 2016, my goal was to walk away with enough money to finance three lengthy trips—I wanted to take each of my daughters on an eight- to 10-day trip, just the two of us, to any place in the continental US each girl wanted to go.  Rather than looking for a significantly larger salary, I wanted money for the trips.  And got it and we got them. Becca, Meri, Libby and I each had delightful and meaningful vacations together, sort of a capstone to their childhoods.

Meri, my middle daughter, got the first trip, eight days in San Diego and, more important, the desert to its east.  While Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo have their charms, as does the ocean, it was the desert that really captured us. Pulling the rental car over at 10 pm beside the highway and walking 100 feet out into the emptiness, we might as well have been on the moon—except we could breathe. And gravity was the same. Still, you get the idea. As it happened, a man I loved dearly had overdosed on heroin the day before our trip, not enough to die, but my visit to his ICU room the morning of our flight, holding his unresponsive hand and telling him I loved him, let me know he wouldn’t last long. He didn’t. His girlfriend and parents took him off life support while Meri and I were in California, and Meri and I spent a hot desert morning mourning Glen Keating’s death by building cairns in his memory. Money made that possible, but not inevitable.

Six months later, Becca, my oldest, and I flew to Las Vegas for a day, then drove to the Grand Canyon, and all over Arizona and Utah. It was a delightful and magical two weeks, including the best pie I’ve ever had in my life. Really. In a diner outside Moab, Utah, I believe, we gorged on pie, then slept the sleep of the stuffed in an adjoining motel. Much of our time in the car was spent planning a podcast we’ve yet to begin, one on history and politics where Becca would be the liberal and I, thanks to my moderate views, would be cast as the conservative. The future is a big place, though, so keep checking ITunes for a release date. Money made that all possible, but not inevitable.

Finally, in early 2017, Libby and I flew into Phoenix and drove straight to Sedona for a few days, where Libby fell in love—with the town, not some danged boy. Strange memory I know, but I can’t forget Libby standing for an hour on a large sidewalk with a man who rescued snakes and reptiles and bunnies, a snake draped around her neck. We then took the train into the Grand Canyon for another couple days, where it was cold at night, but we hiked after dark along the rim, with a bowl of ink below and a jeweler’s cloth spread with diamonds above. After driving into Utah for a couple days, and eating pie at the same place Becca and I had six months before, we finished up in Sedona again, riding horses. Money made that all possible, but not inevitable.

With just two days left in 2017, I can look back over the past four months, the first third of my sojourn in the Tiny White Box, and know I’ve made hardly any money since coming up here—you can change that by buying On Account of Because through Amazon! On the other hand, I’ve hardly spent anything on living, so my bank account isn’t in danger. It’s 17 degrees below zero outside, Sam (is a dog) looks at me like I’m crazy whenever I open the door, and I haven’t properly washed since returning north. Still, I’m pretty, pretty happy.

Money makes the Tiny White Box possible, but it can never make happiness inevitable.

 

Cute, With a Side of Evil

My grandmother, Barbie, died within days of John Kennedy’s assassination, although without the conspiracies, the wall-to-wall television coverage or the grassy knoll. I had just turned five in November, 1963, and had the mumps when Kennedy was killed and Barbie died of breast cancer. Since I had to stay home from kindergarten, my only strong recollection of the period is the cancellation of Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room, which seemed a bit dramatic to me. I was sorry that Barbie—and for some unknown reason, that’s what I called her—was gone and that the President’s kids were so sad, but that was no reason to deny me children’s programming.

I have no real memories of Barbie, and that makes me sad, especially since she created two of my most prized possessions in the world, ones that sit right now over Sam (is a dog)’s head as he sleeps on our bed. For the years 1921 and 1922, Barbie kept diaries which somehow got passed on to me. She’d grown up in Manchester, NH, a doctor’s daughter, and apparently kept diaries throughout her girlhood. These two, though, happen to be from when she was a student at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She lived on campus during the week, and went home every Saturday at noon, after classes had ended, giving her one foot in the cosmopolitan if backward city of Manchester, and the other in the very beginnings of the Roaring Twenties in a college town, where many of the male students had been part of the War to End All Wars. Heady stuff indeed.

After these two diaried years, she married my grandfather, a distant man, moved around the state with his career, had a daughter (my mom) and a son, and settled in Durham. She went through my mom’s bunch of miscarriage-laden pregnancies and supported my parents when they threw in the towel and adopted me. Then I got the mumps, JFK was assassinated and Barbie died, leaving Gramper alone in the world.

Although I never talked with my mom about it, I’m sure she and my dad felt an obligation to include Gramper in every family activity. After all, he was a widower in his late 50’s and needed to be kept busy. Luckily for me, his busy-ness consisted mainly of drinking Old Fashioneds, talking about fishing spots in New Hampshire’s North Country, and donning a silent look of disdain whenever he saw me. I said “luckily” for a reason—being looked at with disappointment by my angry grandfather was much better than having him talk about my shortcomings, which were many, and suggesting to my parents I needed more “discipline,” which I suspected meant punishment. As I’ve said elsewhere, Gramper was not my favorite relative.

Still, I never wanted to make him cry.

It was a Tuesday evening some months after Barbie’s death. Isn’t it odd I’d remember that, but there it is. Gramper was having dinner with my parents, my kid sister, Jennifer, and me, and I was trying to make conversation. Gramper’s favorite sound was silence by a trout stream, so he didn’t appreciate my effort all that much. Still, I beat on, prattling on about this and that.

“John McDonald threw up at school today. It made the whole corner of the room smell bad until the janitor came in with a mop and some other smelly stuff to clean it up with. I wonder how one smelly thing can disappear another smelly thing. I’m the best reader in kindergarten. Mrs. Granger even said so. Then she said if I was half as good at behaving as I am at reading, I’d be an angel. The thing is, you have to die to be an angel, right, Mom?”

My mother looked uncomfortably at me, nodded, and suggested we change the topic. I thought the topic was either my reading ability or the smell of vomit, so I continued talking.

“Speaking of dying . . . Gramper, do you think Barbie is coming back or is she dead for good? I kind of miss her.”

In my memory, my motives were pure, so I was shocked when my father grabbed my tiny wrist and pulled me away from the table, while my mom wrapped her arms around Gramper, who’d dissolved into weeping. Jennifer, being three or so, started crying too, so we had the oldest and youngest people in the room with tears and moans coming out of them. I was in the next room, my father looking at me with a mixture of sympathy and horror, wondering, I’m sure, how one little boy could be so cute, so innocent and yet do such an evil thing. I wanted to say I was sorry, but I didn’t know what I’d done, except make my grandfather finally show an emotion other than disdain for me.

Cool Cats? Yes. Cold Dogs? No Thanks.

When it’s 17 degrees below zero, with a projected high of -6, everything changes. Even dogs.

This morning, when Sam (is a dog) and I woke up, it was 40 degrees inside the Tiny White Box. Sam, who doesn’t complain much, looked up at me to ask, “What the hell? If it’s that cold inside here, what’s it like outside?” I’m better at understanding Sam than at communicating back, so I scratched him behind the ears and turned up the electric heater to high. Of course, that takes a good 20 minutes, even when it’s a balmy 15 degrees above outside, so I also cranked up the propane Big Buddy heater that doesn’t usually get used unless we’ve been gone for the day and left the heat off.

Like most scientific matters, my understanding of heat is more metaphorical than evidence-based, more a matter of analogy than formulae, but I believe Big Buddy puts out the heating equivalent of candy. It heats things up right away, but that heat is short-lived and dissipates almost immediately once Big Buddy loses its flame. The electric radiator, on the other hand, is more like a bowl of oatmeal—there’s no immediate rush, but it provides slowly released energy over a long time. Day trader vs. investor. Sprinter vs. marathoner. Crush vs. marriage (with divorce being an unpaid electric bill). Again, metaphors.

With both heat sources on, the temperature quickly rose to 60 inside. And stopped rising. Because Big Buddy is plastered with warnings about my imminent death unless I provide adequate airflow and because I don’t fully trust my carbon-monoxide alarm (it never goes off, so how can I know it works?), I always keep the front- and back-door windows wide open while it’s running. Unfortunately, this morning’s airflow was enough to achieve a Tiny White Box equilibrium at just below comfortable. I needed to kill my Buddy, close the windows and let the electric heater do what it could. In the meantime, Sam and I could go for our walk.

Since Sam and I moved here at the end of August, we’ve averaged between six and eight miles per day hiking. Even on rainy days, we typically get in at least four miles. The cold, however, is killer for both of us. Yesterday, for instance, we took only 3,300 steps, about 1.4 miles. Pathetic. My dad had a leg amputated above the knee a dozen years before he died, and I’ll bet he walked that much every morning. This kind of cold gets your toes sore, your fingers numb and your nose, runny or not, to freeze, so the hairs inside are doing nothing but providing a frigid wind tunnel for cold air to shoot down. For Sam, below zero is worse. Much worse.

First of all, Sam is a boxer/lab (again, I will not use boxador), a dog with lots of energy, but no fur to speak of—despite that the inside of my Jeep looks like a cough drop rolled on a barber-shop floor. As soon as we stepped outside, Sam relieved himself, and headed back to the Tiny White Box, standing outside the door and saying, “Hey, Fool, it’s too cold out here for man or beast. I may be the beast, but I’m not an idiot. Use those opposable digits of yours and open the door!” Or I think that’s what he said. My ears had already frozen, making dog words sound more like whimpers. When I started walking down our dirt road, Sam ran over to the Jeep and stood by the door, something he’s never done before. Because my ears were already ice-encrusted, I had to read his lips, which seemed to say, “If we’re not going inside the Tiny White Box, at least get inside this black one. Turn the heat on and we’ll go for a ride.”

Because part of our morning routine is driving to use the free and fast Wi-Fi atTreats and Treasures, the gift and variety store three miles away, I did start the car, but didn’t open Sam’s door. I wanted it to warm up a bit while we walked at least a quarter-mile down the road. Sam typically runs 40 feet ahead of me, then 40 feet behind, but this morning he acted like a show-dog, staying right at my side. Unlike a Westminster competitor, he was muttering the whole time about how cold it was. After our half-mile death-march, Sam and I got in the car, and his mood had not improved.

“Why do we always listen to your music? Stupid Ani DiFranco? Whiny Smiths? Oh-so-deep Bruce Cockburn? Heavy Lou Reed? Why don’t I ever get to choose? Huh?”

I picked up my phone and selected my favorite Americana band. Sam lay down happily as The Lost Dogs started singing.

Swimming Together, Not Drowning Alone

I really like Christmas, but I know not everybody does. One group that Christmas can attack with a vengeance is people who are early (for this, let’s say 1 day to 2 years) in their recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Another group in danger is folks who are solidly recovered and at an intermediate point, say 2-10 years. A final risk group is those people with 10 or more years of recovery. In short, Christmas/New Year can be a hell of a hard time for anyone who’s discovered the joys of use and the sorrow of addiction. Non-addicts may have a hard time understanding why this is so, so let me talk from my own experience.

Feelings are really scary things for all of us. They come out of the blue and fill us with positive or negative juice, fill us or empty us of ourselves. I learned a long time ago how to control this random influx of emotions—I drugged and drank. When I was afraid feelings might be on the horizon, I reached for beer, wine, whiskey or, later, mouthwash, and experienced true ease and comfort once I got three drinks in me. This feeling I was on top of the world, six feet tall and bulletproof, might only last for 20 minutes or 20 seconds, but it overrode the complexity of natural emotions. Once that initial rush was over, as long as life was going as it should, I would have enough additional alcohol in my system to achieve numbness. It was an easy connect-the-dots: imminent feelings connects to drink connects to euphoria connects to more drink connects to numb, a pattern I followed for years. Even at the end of my drinking, homeless and hopeless, I still felt that surge when I got the right amount of stolen generic mouthwash in me.

When I got sober, I had to figure out ways to manage this whole process without the drinking steps. For non-alcoholics, that’s part of growing up, part of learning how to be an adult. For me, at 47, that seemed insurmountable at times. Luckily, as soon as I’d detoxed off alcohol I was introduced to a program of sobriety that remains central to my life. Through friendships with other recovering drunks, a strong relationship with a man I respected and lots and lots and lots of listening at meetings, I learned how to do slowly what booze had enabled me to do immediately, only now I was experiencing feelings instead of painting over them.

Which brings us to Christmas and New Year’s, a one-two punch filled with feelings. To a drunk, the fear of feelings doesn’t differentiate between joy and terror. When I see a bear in the woods, I don’t try to identify whether it’s black or brown, male or female, well-fed or famished—I flee. Same with feelings. The fear I hadn’t bought enough or the right Christmas presents? Drink. The painful nostalgia of childhood Christmases? Drink. The joy of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story”? Drink. The upcoming party to celebrate the New Year? Drink. The sense my life wasn’t adding up to anything, as evidenced by the nothing I’d accomplished looking back? Drink. The excitement of waiting for midnight? Drink. Every oncoming feeling could be avoided by drink—until I got sober. Then, like a boy raised in a bubble and released, I was faced with viral emotions and an immune system that had no way to process them. It took a few years for the holiday season to lose its ability to bat my sober gyroscope around, for me to learn how to deal with each second as it came and as it went. Luckily, for those years—and ever since—I had the emotional support of an Alcothon—first in Nashua, then in Manchester.

Alcothons, the things that helped me save my sobriety, are 24-hour meetings for drunks in recovery. Typically, they run from 7 pm Christmas Eve to the same time Christmas night—the prime hours for alcoholics who are just keeping their noses above the waves to whisper a quiet (or loud) “F” it—and take a drink. Instead of giving in to that self-destructive drink, though, the recovering drunk can be surrounded  by others who face the same struggle, and we swim together instead of drowning alone.

Swimming Together, Not Drowning Alone

I really like Christmas, but I know not everybody does. One group that Christmas can attack with a vengeance is people who are early (for this, let’s say 1 day to 2 years) in their recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Another group in danger is folks who are solidly recovered and at an intermediate point, say 2-10 years. A final risk group is those people with 10 or more years of recovery. In short, Christmas/New Year can be a hell of a hard time for anyone who’s discovered the joys of use and the sorrow of addiction. Non-addicts may have a hard time understanding why this is so, so let me talk from my own experience.

Feelings are really scary things for all of us. They come out of the blue and fill us with positive or negative juice, fill us or empty us of ourselves. I learned a long time ago how to control this random influx of emotions—I drugged and drank. When I was afraid feelings might be on the horizon, I reached for beer, wine, whiskey or, later, mouthwash, and experienced true ease and comfort once I got three drinks in me. This feeling I was on top of the world, six feet tall and bulletproof, might only last for 20 minutes or 20 seconds, but it overrode the complexity of natural emotions. Once that initial rush was over, as long as life was going as it should, I would have enough additional alcohol in my system to achieve numbness. It was an easy connect-the-dots: imminent feelings connects to drink connects to euphoria connects to more drink connects to numb, a pattern I followed for years. Even at the end of my drinking, homeless and hopeless, I still felt that surge when I got the right amount of stolen generic mouthwash in me.

When I got sober, I had to figure out ways to manage this whole process without the drinking steps. For non-alcoholics, that’s part of growing up, part of learning how to be an adult. For me, at 47, that seemed insurmountable at times. Luckily, as soon as I’d detoxed off alcohol I was introduced to a program of sobriety that remains central to my life. Through friendships with other recovering drunks, a strong relationship with a man I respected and lots and lots and lots of listening at meetings, I learned how to do slowly what booze had enabled me to do immediately, only now I was experiencing feelings instead of painting over them.

Which brings us to Christmas and New Year’s, a one-two punch filled with feelings. To a drunk, the fear of feelings doesn’t differentiate between joy and terror. When I see a bear in the woods, I don’t try to identify whether it’s black or brown, male or female, well-fed or famished—I flee. Same with feelings. The fear I hadn’t bought enough or the right Christmas presents? Drink. The painful nostalgia of childhood Christmases? Drink. The joy of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story”? Drink. The upcoming party to celebrate the New Year? Drink. The sense my life wasn’t adding up to anything, as evidenced by the nothing I’d accomplished looking back? Drink. The excitement of waiting for midnight? Drink. Every oncoming feeling could be avoided by drink—until I got sober. Then, like a boy raised in a bubble and released, I was faced with viral emotions and an immune system that had no way to process them. It took a few years for the holiday season to lose its ability to bat my sober gyroscope around, for me to learn how to deal with each second as it came and as it went. Luckily, for those years—and ever since—I had the emotional support of an Alcothon—first in Nashua, then in Manchester.

Alcothons, the things that helped me save my sobriety, are 24-hour meetings for drunks in recovery. Typically, they run from 7 pm Christmas Eve to the same time Christmas night—the prime hours for alcoholics who are just keeping their noses above the waves to whisper a quiet (or loud) “F” it—and take a drink. Instead of giving in to that self-destructive drink, though, the recovering drunk can be surrounded  by others who face the same struggle, and we swim together instead of drowning alone.