I feel the need to start this with an apology. I’ve written, read, re-written and re-read this piece since 8 am. I’ve tinkered and toyed with it, trying to get it to say the thing that I want it to.

I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that goal. It feels, at times, insufferable, which is the opposite of what I mean it to mean. If you can grant me that at the beginning, I shall try to make it up at the end.

***

Two years ago, the thing that happened this weekend wouldn’t – maybe couldn’t – have happened.

It’s a simple thing, actually. I’ve told the story a few times now and the response has been under-whelming. Not because my friends weren’t happy for me. They are. More because what I did is what normal people do.

But “what normal people do” hasn’t been in the lexicon. Not in the tool belt.

When it comes to human emotions – particularly mine – the default mechanism for years has been to filter whatever was happening around me through its effects on me. How would I be affected? What does this mean for me?

There could be no explanation that didn’t involve – somehow – it’s affiliation to me.

It’s exhausting to think about now. I can’t imagine what it must have been like within the vortex.

***

I’d like to blame this particular character trait on my alcoholism, but I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair.

Certainly it exacerbated the problem. My life was an embarrassment, a tragedy of errors, bad decisions and missteps that needed constant covering. I was a Plumber , constantly on the look-out for anything that could potentially destroy me. There was never a time my defenses weren’t up, my guard keenly tuned to how the people around me could influence my life.

It’s sick. (And, for the record, why we have the Amends process.)

When I quit drinking, those characteristics didn’t just disappear. They have, in some ways, flared up even more because I was suddenly vulnerable. More than ever, the vindictiveness of those around me – the people who I’d surrounded myself with because of my drinking – scared me as much as my sobriety.

There was no time to relax.

Or so I thought.

And for some time – who can put dates on these things – I existed in a hyper-state of awareness, always measuring and calculating my relationships.

***

Slowly, though, I began to realize that when you start trying to live right, the world is far less scary than I’d imagined.

My friends reached out from around the world, offering support and – maybe more preciously – their time. People came to help for no reason. Strangers in my meetings would grab me in a bear hug, unsolicited, and some of the misery would go away. People would laugh with me, listening to my angst-ridden sober chatter, and then share their stories.

Somewhere along the way, I found myself not. I wasn’t worried about what was happening around me because I was simply engaged in it. Because when you’re doing The Next, Right Thing – when you’re working on doing right instead of doing wrong – you don’t have to worry about what people are going to say about you or do to you.

When that happens, you begin to see the people around you for who they are and not who they are to you.

***

Which brings us to this weekend.

The specifics are unimportant here, and frankly they are not mine to share. But it ended this way: “Maybe,” she said, “this is just the cosmic way of saying we shouldn’t be dating now.”

My heart sank for a moment. Nobody likes to hear those words, the rejection of yourself. The end of the possibilities that just moments before spread across the cosmos.

This was the culmination of a series of moments throughout the last few days. The moments that give you pause, that make you want to run and hide. Because these things are not supposed to be hard.

Then, for the first time maybe ever, something clicked.

It wasn’t hard. At all.

I just had to put down the Brad filter. To not hear what she was saying through me.

In the last few days, I’ve had chance to hear several women say they just wanted someone to “hear” them. Before this weekend, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Not consciously. Not consistently. Certainly not willingly.

There’s no way to write about our conversation without spilling beans that aren’t mine to spill, without sounding trite and sappy. There’s no good way to explain this.

Fortunately, I am okay with that. Because she and I were there, together, during  that conversation. And I suddenly – and in that moment – understood what it meant to hear somebody else. And I wanted to hear it, all of it.

***

Of course, there’s no telling where this is all going, she and I.

It’s out of my control and I’m okay with that. I’ll let the future take care of itself when it arrives. For now, I’m just marveling in today. In the conversations and the little notes. The frustrations and the happiness.

In her. And her her-ness. I get a front row seat to learn about her, listen to her and talk with her. Not in relation to me. But simply for her.

This idea, which seems obvious, is why my friends are non-plussed. For me – for an addict – it’s revelatory.

Because today there aren’t brick walls.

There’s only possibilities.