Friends With Benefits?

“Friends with benefits”

When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”.  The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship.  When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.

It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking.  What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view?  Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone?  What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.”  Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace.  It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.

The Wedding

I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery.  They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.Wedding 1

Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction  tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine.  It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives.  Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.

The Job

In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable.  Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives.  Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.

Courtesy of

I ran into a young adult in town a while back.  She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while.  I came to find out that she has a new job.  It’s a better job.  The job carries more responsibility.  She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank.  While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading.  I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image.  The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.

The Love

I was at a meeting recently.  A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones.  One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot.  Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past.  She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money.  It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.

We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again.  We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again.  We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery.  We just learn how to get through those tough times.  We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too.  Mom had the opportunity to say a few words.  The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now.  I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.

“I love you Philip.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hugs and kisses across eternity.

Friends with benefits? No.

Friends with blessings.  I like that much better.

The Secret Life

Creative Commons, open license

As you may know, my Dad lives alone now and he is getting on in years. As a result, he had someone come in once a week to clean and tidy up. Her name was Lily (not her real name). She was the mother of two kids and was recently married. She was in her mid-thirties. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), domestic violence costs exceeded $8.3 billion in 2003 dollars.

I had the good fortune to meet her several times over the past four months; just a few times but enough time to see that she was a good person. She was kind and easy to talk to. She cared about the well-being of Dad. I believe that Dad considered her more than just a “cleaning lady”; he relied on her a lot – for small tasks, sure, but more so for someone to talk to. She was a friend. According to the CDC, the physical costs (bruises, broken bones, wounds, etc) of domestic violence are often accompanied by psychological and emotional trauma (addiction, anxiety, homelessness, dysfunction of various sorts, etc.).

Monday night I received a phone call from Dad. I could tell right away that something was wrong. I braced myself for the worst and was completely taken aback by his news. Lily was dead. Lily was killed as a result of domestic violence – shot to death. Supposedly there was an argument (allegedly one of many in the relationship) with her husband which ended with him allegedly robbing her of her life. Allegedly there had been a history of domestic disputes during the course of their relationship and at one point Lily had sought out a protection order against him but never followed through with it. Police eventually arrested the husband and he is currently in custody. According to the CDC, almost 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the U.S. are victims of severe violence at the hands of their intimate partners.

Dad was dumbfounded. “What could they have fought about? What was so terrible that he would kill her over it? Why did she stay with a guy like that? I had no idea that she was going through that.” No idea what was happening on her home front. She had a secret, a dark secret, side to her life. I never would have guessed that she was victimized by domestic abuse. Not in a million years. She hid it very well. According to the CDC, 241 males and 1,095 females were murdered by their intimate partners in the U.S. In 2010.

6597736735_5bdc129acd_mIn recovery, we are told that our secrets will make us sick. If we hold it in, if we hide what we are struggling with, if no one knows we are in trouble … then we are very likely to relapse. For Lily, she kept that dark secret well under cover. I don’t pretend to know if her airing her troubles would have prevented this tragedy; maybe not. All I do know is that keeping that kind of stuff secret is never good. Lily paid for it with her life. Her death leaves an awful hole in many people’s lives – her parents, her siblings, her kids, her friends, her community.

If you are reading this and you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is struggling with this issue call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit  Talk to someone! You are not alone and help is available.

I didn’t get the privilege to know Lily very well but I am nevertheless wounded by the loss of a kind and lovely woman to senseless violence. I am grieving over this tragedy and struggle with answers that don’t seem to come.  Lily, I am fortunate to have met you. Thank you.

Next Door

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was …

A time of innocence, a time of confidences …

Perhaps it is because these two people unknowingly played such an important role in my early life.  Perhaps it is the fondness of looking back on a time when i10945655_10205115657027541_9203176891511721601_nnnocence abounded.  Maybe it is my belief that the good Lord placed this family right next door and He knew that we needed them long before we knew.  Maybe it because this woman next door was my Mom’s best friend.  That could be why I am getting all choked up.  I seem to be drowning in a flood of rich, warm memories.

Jack and Jeanette Pulsifer, and their kids – John, Nancy, Karen and Kevin – lived next door to us in Highland Mills, NY.  Our two families spent a lot of time together.   There were countless days at the community pool together, dinners and backyard barbecues and cub scouts and girl scouts events.  There were picnics by the streams at 7 Lakes Park near West Point.  There was even a vacation at their cabin at Chateaugay Lake in upstate New York.  Most of all there was the love and friendship.

I remember Mr. P smoking his pipe, swirling entrails of cherry-scented smoke making their way from the pipe to the ceiling.  Sometimes he would thrill all the neighborhood kids when he would drive his new car carrier truck home on the rare occasion. We were in awe of the sheer size of it and the fact that Mr. P got to drive it!1005792_791907814160366_1615309082338346649_n

Mrs. P  would talk in her down-east Maine accent as she would knit or crochet.  She loved to chat with Mom.  They seemed to talk about everything and anything and never run out of things to say.  Oh my goodness could she laugh.  She would throw her head back and laugh, laugh, laugh.  She was my Mom’s best friend, for sure.

It is so hard to put emotions and impact and lives into words.  The words are just too limiting.

Mrs. P passed away several years ago – a few years after Mom passed.  Mr. P left us earlier this week. Both of them were such sweet people and filled with love and genuineness.  They will be sorely missed but their legacy lives on i1238815_651987608152388_471995484_nn our hearts.

I think Simon and Garfunkel got it wrong.  The photographs are not all that is left … there is the deep etching of love, friendship and kindness carved on our very souls.  Unerasable no matter what the world throws at us or the passing of time.

Thanks for being part of our lives Mr. and Mrs. P.  See you in the hereafter.

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph …
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.