Zen, Sobriety and life with a Traumatic Brain Injury

I feel I owe you an explanation. See, over the last month or so, I have been acquainting myself with Twitter and LinkedIn pretty habitually (I already knew Facebook as well as I needed to) because I am working on creating a brand called My Zen Brain (and believe me, I shudder at my own use of the word “brand” because it just sounds so superficial and since I started this blog, I’ve strove to maintain an atmosphere of informality and “brand” just sounds like a buzz word that spawns conferences and conventions and bake sales and stuff.

But it is what it is. Frankly, the moniker “brand” is probably the most apt representation of what I am trying to do. Because I don’t really produce anything.

The point of My Zen Brain is to bring to my audience what I’ve learned in the School of Hard Knocks ([Shudder] there’s another buzz word I can’t stand. I don’t even know what it means. Let me go check, be right back …)

Okay, so Wikipedia says “’The School of Hard Knocks’ is an idiomatic phrase meaning the (sometimes painful) education one gets from life’s usually negative experiences, often contrasted with formal education.

Well, okay, that one is accurate, but I still hate the actual term. Let’s come up with a better one. How about …

In the traces. Confused? So was I, but my Da used to refer it to what he did when he went to work. Once again, the Interwebs gave me an answer:

“Day after day, Buck toiled in the traces

This means that day after day, Buck exerted himself on the path, pulling the sled.”

Man, I like that one a whole lot because basically it summarizes what I’ve been doing for the last 14 years. Pulling a bloody sled. I’ll explain, but not in my usual fashion of trying to make dry material user-friendly. In these cases, the definitions I found work. In chronological order, these are the 3 things that have shaped my life really for the last 15 years:

Traumatic Brain Injury: Traumatic brain injury usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. An object that penetrates brain tissue, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull, also can cause traumatic brain injury.


Sober: 1) not intoxicated or drunk.

2) habitually temperate, especially in the use of liquor.


Zen: A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition.


So, really, the point of My Zen Brain, whether it be its presence on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, the blog itself, the podcast I hope to start before the end of the year (though, don’t hold me to that one) is to facilitate. I don’t offer a “product” per se, although a case could be made that the “product” I provide the people that care a lick to pay attention is my writing and who knows, maybe sooner than later the product will be a book or article or something tangible.


Anyway, as I said, I can tell from my WordPress Stats that there is a markedly different and diffuse nature to my audience than it was when I first started this blog. So, in service to the evolving nature of my audience, I present to you how the 3 factors mentioned above have shaped the meat sack currently writing this post.

  1. I had bacterial meningitis 15 years ago. That required hacking my skull open and removing some gunk from on top of my brain and stapling my head back shut. The meningitis, the craniotomy and the resulting brain damage I call, collectively, “my TBI.” Now, I didn’t suffer a blow to the head, but my neurosurgeon equated it to like going through the windshield of a car. So I think that qualifies me.
  2. I got sober 8 years after my TBI sent me down into a plane of hell Dante neglected to include in his Inferno. I got sober for one reason: I had to. I stayed sober because of a mountain of reasons that really all are derivative of something my late friend Bernie from in the Program (that’s what people in the know call AA and its offshoots that also employ the 12-step method of recovery) said simply “I like being sober better than the life I had when I wasn’t.” Although the definition above doesn’t get really get the truth of it. It isn’t temperance and it isn’t moderation. It’s abstinence. Like, not drinking at all, ever.

I became a devotee of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as The Buddha, 6 years ago. In particular, I became enamored of Zen Buddhism, which, boiled down to its core, literally means “sitting meditation.”

Now, I can hear you asking yourself “Okay, yeah, but so what? Life dealt you a crappy hand. Get over it.”

Well, it’s not that simple, because I am reminded every single day of my life, the moment I open my eyes, of these three things simultaneously. How, you ask? I am partially blind in my left eye as a result of a series of mini-strokes I had while the bacteria were feasting on my brain. As soon my legs hit the floor, I’m staring at my meditation alter with a little statue of the Buddha my mom made for me. The fact that I have woken up sans hangover this morning and every other morning for 7 years reminds me how great it really is to be sober.

So, back to being a facilitator. I read all the time. Right now, I’m reading Meditations by Marcus Aurellius, The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. and, this time tomorrow, I’ll be at one of hundreds of AA meetings I’ve been to in the last 7 years. These three things, my TBI, my sobriety and my practice of Zen have changed my life in so many ways, enough that I want to share them with anyone who struggles with the effects of their TBI or their sobriety or desperately needs a course correction in their life that meditation (not necessarily Buddhism, but meditation) will provide. This isn’t a personal testimony either. There is a scientific canon on the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of meditation just a Google search away, I promise you.

So, that’s it. My Zen Brain, in all its forms, will be about providing my audience with literature, TED talks, photography and anything else I think might further the causes that have come to mean so much to me and hopefully I can pass them along to other people who struggle with TBI, sobriety, and the perils of life in general and I hope to do it in a definitely informal, hopefully funny, and ambitiously cocky way.

All I ask of you, constant reader, is to share what I give you with others. And just to be clear, I’m not an expert (In fact, I tossed around the idea of using that as the name of my brand.) What I am is a guy who has enough arrogance to think I have something to add to the conversation on these three subjects and the humility to acknowledge that if you find a better way to deal with this reality, by all means.

See you soon.

One thought on “Zen, Sobriety and life with a Traumatic Brain Injury

  1. Hello sounds like my story just add 28yrs more if sobriety & head on collision in 1982…so only 2 yrs of hell, dx with apost TBI just the last 3 years…so life has been interesting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s