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Aloha: Embracing a New Way of Life on My 9-Year Sobriety Anniversary

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

LAHAINA, HI — Feb. 6, 2021 — Aloha is an ancient spirit that lives and breathes within the Hawaiian Islands. It exudes passion, pulsates with energy and erupts with joy. It is encircled in light and undaunted by darkness. Aloha is love. Aloha is life. Aloha is empathy.

I got sober exactly nine years ago today. And, as I check off another year, I am basking in the glow of the Hawaiian sunshine, relishing the joy of my natural surroundings and enjoying the company of my mom and dad, with whom I have a real and meaningful relationship now that I’m sober. I know what you’re thinking. I’m high on Maui Wowie, and surfing an endless summer. I am not.

This winter season, I have chosen to come to Maui for six months, pretty much because COVID-19 infections and deaths are very slight — 411 deaths in all the Hawaiian Islands at the time of this writing. I am dually diagnosed — a recovering alcoholic with bipolar disorder.

There’s a reason why I’ve been spending my winters on Maui. I visit my parents who have retired here to help them around the house with grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, walking the dog and some light gardening. It also helps with my seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Winters in my home of Chicago don’t agree with my mood disorders. So Maui is my happy place for the winter season.

I’ve also been traveling to Hawaii since I was a kid. Nowadays, I can easily complete my writing duties and promote my memoir The Bipolar Addict from my laptop. So it’s OK if I am away from the freezing temperatures and snowstorms of Chicago. I know I am lucky.

Being More Kind

The word “aloha” is an ancient and abstract Hawaiian expression as well as a virtue with many meanings, as you can see. It literally means “hello” and “goodbye” but in essence, it means “love.” Right now — nine years sober from alcohol and drugs — I am declaring “aloha” as my battle cry. I love my family now more than ever. I love my friends even though we can’t see each other. I love music.

My new lease on life also includes a soundtrack. “Be More Kind” by English singer-songwriter Frank Turner is my new anthem. The lyrics:

“In a world that has decided

That it’s going to lose its mind

Be more kind, my friends

Try to be more kind.”

In the realm of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is common for sponsors to ask their sponsees to make a gratitude list. It doesn’t matter how big or small each item is on the list. If it comes from a place of love, or aloha for me, it counts.


I stop and smell the plumeria, flowers that grow in trees here and have a heavenly fragrance. In fact, I love the scent of Hawaii in general. The minute you get off the plane in the open-air airport, it permeates. If it’s possible to smell colors, I always smell green when I step off that plane.

I am grateful for my mom and dad, who have supported me financially during the writing of of my book and offered more empathy, kindness and help than a son could ask for. I love our deep conversations during candlelit dinners on the lanai

I am grateful for my sister, who, despite some reticence about accepting my conditions, grows more sympathetic day-by-day.

I am extremely grateful for nurses and doctors on the front lines fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m grateful for the scientists who have researched and created five vaccines to tackle COVID-19.

I am grateful for essential workers now more than ever – the grocery clerks and delivery truck drivers that nourish our needs.

I am grateful for the aina, which is the Hawaiian word for land or earth. I once saw a sign on the highway that reads “Take care of the aina, and the aina will take care of you.” I couldn’t agree more. 

I am grateful particularly for a friend who will remain anonymous because she is in the AA program. Like me, she also has bipolar and offers empathy, words of wisdom, as well as thoughtful greeting cards and gifts of food. This friend is the most selfless person I know.

I am grateful for my home and my neighborhood Andersonville, somewhat of a gay enclave, one of the friendliest hoods in Chicago, and with its numerous gardens, also one of the prettiest.

I am grateful for Chicago, the place where I grew up. I am always astounded the city’s towering skyscrapers, beautiful lakefront and vibrant neighborhoods.

I’m grateful for Iowa State, where I went to college and honed my skills as a writer.

I am grateful to The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN — news outlets that provide the reporting we need to hear each day.

I am grateful for the opportunity to cook for my elderly parents, whether it’s tomato-feta pasta salad or lemon-basil chicken.

I am grateful for iced coffee — my favorite afternoon treat. 

I am grateful for live music and festivals even though I can’t enjoy them now.

I am especially grateful for music. I’m constantly making Spotify mixes for my 12-year-old nephew. I also dedicate mixtapes to my mom, soundtracks to our daily aerobic exercise routine.

And I am grateful for you, my readers. Without you, my life would be futile.

But most importantly, I am grateful for my sobriety. Who knew living a life without alcohol and drugs could be so fulfilling?

No Aloha

My past is checkered and without gratitude. Up until my sobriety, I neglected my body and soul. I was an antisocial, sub-humanoid with stale-beer-odored dragon breath. I did drugs — hardcore, illegal drugs. I drank beer and wine to the point of obliteration every night. And I didn’t care about myself or others. My family was unaware. Nor was aloha.

Kindness is a virtue that, for me, is inherent. I always aim to be empathetic, smiling and say “Hi, how are you?” to everyone I meet, stranger or not, from the coffee shop barista to the customers I’ve had at jobs. Aloha has been in short supply during the past year, with police killings of Black people, frequent protests for racial equality, natural disasters, lies and toxic campaigning in the presidential election, culminating with the riot on the Capitol last month. But we continue to persevere, living our lives with purpose and joy. In a country divided, I’ve pledged to “always look on the bright side of life,” as Eric Idle of Monty Python famously sang.

Living Aloha

In my quest to live and practice aloha, I commit to constantly refer to my gratitude list and to purge all negativity from my life. I won’t pick political fights on Facebook, Twitter or otherwise. I will live and let live. I promise to love all — even those who don’t agree with me, to respect all, and treat others with compassion and hospitality — central tenets of the aloha spirit. Some people embrace namaste. I embrace aloha. I am living aloha and I am loving it.

Image via contributor

Originally published: February 6, 2021
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