Looks Like Love, Smells Like Hell

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2016 by michaelcogdill

Hemingway said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.”

I find the world plenty interesting, and perhaps that’s why I drink like a cartoon character. One gin and tonic and I want to take a nap, or take my top off.  I know addiction only through the eyes of an enabler.  I am one.  I’ve been one since I was a boy.  I don’t know exactly why my father drank so much, but I do know it made him, and life, far too interesting.  Overstimulated.  Chaotic.


An addict will lie to you, knowing it’s a lie, knowing you know it’s a lie, but knowing you’ll believe false hope and, thus, believe the lie.   My father told me often he would quit drinking.  He told me while drunk.  I — sober as a church — believed him for far too long.  I was drunk on the wrong  kind of hope.  I had to quit the stuff.  Sober up on the real thing.

Enablers act like Gods.  We believe we can accomplish what only Higher Power can.  We can love them, cajole them, ease them, comfort them enough that the addicts in our lives will stop being addicts and become fully human again.  We think we can make life so interesting for them they won’t have to drink anymore.  That’s our folly — spending money, time, prayer, more money, more prayer, tears, tears again, pleading, begging, raging.  We do so much heavy lifting trying to make a drunk sober.  And the drunk keeps hoisting a pint — or needle, or pill or whatever elixir leads to death.  It’s not just the drunk’s death.  The enabler somehow dies first.  Stone sober and living out a living death of trying to work a miracle.

Only God works miracles.  We who enable only work that rock back up the hill, bracing to feel it roll over us again.  Sisyphus surely had an addict in the family.

The takeaway here is — stop.  Stop giving money to a drunk.  Stop giving ear to an addict. Cease to become the silo for their harvest of lies.  Stop suppressing your instincts and callusing your feet on their eggshells.  If they yell, “You don’t love me, your never loved me, I’ll never forgive you for this” as you walk away, keep walking.  You are not God.  Nor a superhero.  Trying to save another human being from himself/herself is like trying to walk on water.  Not even Peter lasted long at that.

Ask yourself how many times you tried to surround an addict with love, only to have that love of your life come staggering through the door smelling like hell.

Real love doesn’t stink to high heaven.  Enabling looks like love, and smells like hell.

My friend, Rich Jones, is a recovering addict.  He works now in addiction recovery. That means he learned enabling from the school of hard liquor.  Rich is licensed therapist and MBA, an expert in co-dependency and the specious toxin of trying to fix an addict.  He knows why you shouldn’t try to talk your daughter out of shooting up again.  Why giving your boyfriend money or your car again is anti-love.

Rich admits he doesn’t know why the following approach works, but it does:  Go take care of yourself.  Go, and be a better, healthier you.  Stop begging an addict.  Stop being with one.  Don’t pray the same old prayer with her ever again.  Take care of  you, and things with the addict will work out as they should, according to the natural law of addictive behavior, not the law of you and the world you think you can create.  Not all addicts survive, but in the absence of enabling, they tend to rise.  They tend to roll to their knees and off their sticking bottoms — high or low — and begin to live again.  Life becomes interesting without gin or heroin or Hydrocodone.  My father lived as proof.  This happened to him.  It happened only after I walked away.

And that made me a living example of this:  Life will begin to carry the perfume of real love, not the stench of hell on earth, only when you walk away.

Another dear friend of mine likes to send me the occasional text with the letters YNG/BGI.  Those letters remind me to cease the idolatry of trying to fix someone addicted to something. The letters stand for You’re Not God, But God Is.

Enablers, we carry a sickness of our own, summed up in those simple letters.  It’s the illness of the folly of playing God.  We think we can do what only God can. We believe we can stand against anything.  Tolerate anything.  Love our way through anything.

We are wrong.

Enabling is no pathway to heaven.  It is cliff we tumble down into an ass-busting hell on earth.  Lord, it smells like hell down in there.  But what’s that?  A rope, hanging just within reach.  A rope, able to hold only one.  Grab it.  Climb out.  Climb out of hell, pull up the rope behind you, and dust yourself off at the top.  We don’t want that phony love stench up in here where we belong.

YNG.  BGI.  Peace.



A Grandaddy of a Death

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2016 by michaelcogdill


Ernest Keyes lies in what’s left of a plywood coffin. They buried him without flourishes or even a vault, only a piece of tin lain across the flimsy box top. I suppose they did that because they had no money to do more. Or maybe their patience had just run dry.

Ernest Keyes was my grandfather. Paregoric took him early, my mother just a dewy teenage girl.  To ease some rock-hard hurt, self-doubt, or maybe just to feel heavenly in his private hell for a while, my granddaddy turned to opium.  All over the mountains of Western North Carolina in the early 20th Century, opiates ran on stout legs, legal and easy to get.   Opium turned my mother’s father into an addict, then turned on him, hard. He let opium cheat him out of living even before he died. He cheated me out of knowing the man people loved.

I was a small boy when my Granny told me how he died. He had come home “full of that stuff” again, worse than ever. Dressed in sobriety, she said he was kind and beautiful. That opiate made him a devil of hell on earth. She told of him nearly turned the supper table over staggering back to the bed, where he flopped, face-down. She left the house, pulling the door to latch and muttering out loud to herself, “How much longer do I have to put up with this?”

Over her right shoulder came a clear, tender male voice. “Not long,” it said. She turned her head. No one there.  The hollow where they lived near Marshal, North Carolina, lonesome as ever.

By the time she came from work, the house stood dark as a well. She got a light on, made way back to the bed. “The flies had gotten to him,” my Granny told me. “I believe he was dead before is face hit that pillow.”

That day my Granny had a metaphysical experience with a real-world ending of a man.

Drowning in that addiction, he had ended himself well before he flopped down and died.

My granddaddy, as my mother saw it in her childhood, would pump his veins full of paregoric and any other opiate he could get, any way he could take it. She told of seeing an old glass medicine dropper whose tip he shattered off to make a poor-man’s syringe. At the spring behind the house, blood would tumble down his arm and off his finger. The track marks must have looked more like the work of gun shot than needle tip.

A trip to a sanitarium in Kentucky didn’t save him. All the loving and praying and enabling of his wife and two children didn’t either. But my mother remembers seeing her daddy sitting in the sanctuary of the little Baptist Church up the road from the house. Alone in there. I have to believe he came into that church a beggar. A traveler off his way, praying down mercy. Perhaps God found that early death the only true mercy the man could have. The only gift fitting his occasion.

My granddaddy proves it can get too late for an addict, far sooner than the addict thinks. And that a man or woman can die of addiction well before lying down.

I share all this to remind us all the opiate crisis of today amounts to a spray of gasoline on an old mortal fire. Opiates are nothing new under the sun. Heroin is old and new again. It’s new companion, Fentanyl, just a reincarnation of feel-good death serum.

Thursday night on Chronicle, Chasing the High, WYFF4 will train a 21st Century lens on living death as old as my granddaddy’s. Opiates, and the chorus of lesser drugs around them, are piling up young bodies and shattering families and human hearts. The folly of enabling will make an appearance. Human love of an addict too often only ushers Death through the door. And the way opiates take form now, Death can show up well before Addiction gets its shoes on. One pill of heroin and Fentanyl can kill with equal force of a gun.  No addiction required.

You’ll see, and feel, the effect. Please don’t turn from it. Lean into it. Watch this work with the children in your life. Rest on no comforts about Christian schools and good boys and girls. They get no immunity from this. Death can slip through such doors on quiet little shoes. It has. It will again.

My granddaddy let opium swindle me out of feeling his hand to my back. I came into the world far after he died and never knew him. I wanted to, I still do, for I have heard of his beauty. The big gems of his tears he cried as he carried my mother back to the farm where an aunt and uncle were raising her. She refused to live at home.  She was a child afraid of the father who loved her.  But somehow he loved that opiate more. Needed it more. Not long after, Death became the only companion who could stand him.

My granddaddy died humbly. Quietly. His mortal being now only a strip of dirt and lingering bone under a cheap hunk of granite in a little mountain cemetery. But if one soul hears of this and turns on heroin, turns to life instead of living death, then the death of Ernest Keyes is one Grandaddy of a departing. It will matter. The prayers he prayed alone somehow answered, after all.

Chronicle, Thursday night, 7:00, only on WYFF4

Throne? What Throne? Down here!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2016 by michaelcogdill

A devotion from Richard Rohr reminds us God is not who we tend to think God is. No imperious man on a throne. No tyrant in a robe, rewarding the self righteous for how right they deem themselves in their right fighting.

No, it’s more complicated than that. And more simple.

Ever wonder why the people living in the afterglow of a great fall can seem so spiritual? So comforting? There’s no small evidence it’s because they met our ageless, gender-free Maker in their humble brokenness. When they fell, God didn’t fall with them. God was there on the concrete tarmac of their dark landing. Waiting. Humble. As if to say, I knew you’d get here. Now, let’s go home.

It takes a big God to live in every human frailty. We have screw-up down to a science, and think of how many across the ages.

Here’s a frailty of just sitting, doing nothing. In America, we take clean water for granted. In other parts of the world, clean water might as well flow from the very temple of a God who seems to have forgotten that corner of creation. But alas, we are all remembered. And in the poorest of the poor, on the hard ground of their world, those of us rich who seek God will find God. Perhaps then we might hear God say, I knew you’d come, carrying water. Welcome home.

An Ugly Dog, The Perfect Gift, and a Perfect Day

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2015 by michaelcogdill

John Wooden said there’s no perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

Most of us do this without knowing. We do it with tax money, charity giving — both best done without grousing. A scowl over a gift renders the gift a mute. Runs joy off with a meat cleaver.

But how many of you thought instantly of money at seeing Wooden’s idea? Easy, isn’t it, to assume the word repay must come with a wallet attached?

In my father’s lifetime, I saw often what a conversation could do. My dad could talk about anything with anyone, often in a language anyone could grasp. Yes, that means what you think it means. He could make his presence a gift. A Divine one. I miss it even now.

Ever make someone laugh without intending? Ever see the laughing Buddha? Think Jesus didn’t laugh? Think God has no sense of humor? Look at a donkey. Watch an otter pick a fight. I need merely see my dad get mad at a lawn mower, again, in my mind’s eye.

What brings another human being comfort, a moment’s joy, an unexpected cackle — these don’t get repaid. Or do they? The receiver need not pay it back. The payoff comes by some ethereal way. No need to believe in magic to feel magic.

My parents once parented the ugliest dog in canine history. A chihuahua crossed with a pekingese, a mating surely blessed in hell. A neighbor said she looked like a Dr. Suess medical experiment. She was ugly, malodorous and loud. She carried the halitosis of a lion and the charm of a badger. But she was loved. And even she could love in a way no human could repay. She made my father howl. My mother deemed her adorable. Blessed woman of the Lord. In their home she did for them what all their love could never quite repay. When she died, we all grieved. I was married and long gone by then. I still grieve her. I do.

We needn’t be beautiful to matter. To perfect someone’s day. We needn’t. even smell just right. We need merely be. Human beings, not human doings.

Our being a gift, no one can repay.

Be a Horse, Not a Horse’s …. Well, You Know

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2015 by michaelcogdill

A horse will not resent you for naming him Jubel. You can name a horse Cathead Biscuit and call him Horse’s Ass for short with narry a problem. The horse is unaffected. He’s a creature who lives by feel, not by label. He’s not self-conscious.

He knows you love him by what’s in your eyes. The touch of your fingertips. The sound of you more than the words of you. The miracle of your caring presence matters more than the horse’s very own name to the horse. He has a stellar ability to let go of all else that doesn’t matter. Thats just a name.

What people call us — the ugly and the lovely — doesn’t make us that thing they say we are. But simply to be present with someone, mindful even across time zones, this makes us intimate and well with one another. This warms our inner hearth.

Find the labels people give you worrisome? Tending to believe all the praise? We’re all tempted. Let’s give in — instead — to letting go. Release the worry of what people say.

Then, eye up that fence. You know the one. The fence that hems you into relationships that wound. Those that hinge on labels instead of love. Jump that fence. Don’t wait for someone to cut a gate.

Judeo-Christian Jefferson?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2015 by michaelcogdill

“For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”

Thomas Jefferson said this as a visionary, a thinker, and a wildly imperfect man. If you think he shared your religious values, I would dare say, probably not. Jefferson was a Deist. A man of reason in pursuit of what humankind could understand.


Jefferson understood the classic languages. He read the Bible in its myriad translations, and sought to comprehend its mysticism and its human creation by way of the mind. Someone once argued with me that America was founded on Judeo Christian values. This is as true as saying the stars come out at night. But why do they? How far away do they glow? The values of Jefferson are those of a seeker, a man who sought to know what he did not know, and stopped short of believing much of what he couldn’t. Jeffersonian Christianity would set off shouts of heresy in the vacation Bible school of my upbringing.

I say this to speak here of my faith. This is a commentary on religion, yes I dare. I say this as a caveat against thoughtless following.

Think before you believe. Think upon the times of the writings that cause you to believe. Understand that much of this life — often its most beautiful mysteries — will always lie beyond the reach of our understanding. Those who protest to know everything, to understand everything, understand poorly. Theirs is a poverty of seeking. Of yearning. They refuse to know that they do not know.

The Jeffersonian Bible is a document of assiduous hand, of assumptions and the refusal to make assumptions, of crunching under the shoes of the mind the oats of a harvest we did not sow.

If Mr. Jefferson’s view of the omniscient and omnipotent Watchmaker is true, I believe the Watchmaker tends to the gears, oils the machinery, perhaps winds us up into a tension between love and evil, knowing love will prevail. Knowing that Love made the watch.

The sun sets each day upon the Tidal Basin in D.C., its quiet water and the rush of traffic flowing around Mr. Jefferson in his memorial, standing in repose, upright, yet dead, clothed in his time, yet timeless in the country he helped bring out of the ground. We are his America, and an America beyond him. He envisioned, brilliantly, so much of our need, and could not see some of what would come against us. Mr. Jefferson, in all his flawed humanity, lives in the vitality of the documents he made and the nation we keep making.

And I believe if he were alive today, Mr. Jefferson would say — seek. Seek before you claim to know. Seek to try to know. Then accept what is unknowable. Accept and have peace, beyond a simple word of the mind.

To believe in God, without claiming to have God in a box somewhere — that, perhaps, is the culmination of the Age of Reason. And true faith.

I believe Mr. Jefferson followed truth to the cliffs of mystery, paused to reason for a while, then took the leap.  We all will take it upon our final breaths.

Thank you, Mr. Jefferson, for America, greater now than she was. I am thankful, too, for a Christian faith that deems it reasonable to believe only God is good at being God, after all.

Media Bias? Ready? Set? Empathize!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2015 by michaelcogdill
To be blind….but worse is to have eyes and not see.
Helen Keller
I’ve just listened to a 911 call about a 2 year old accidentally shot to death. At the network affiliate television station I serve, we will not air this excruciating outflow of human tragedy. Yet as I sit here listening, I’m reminded how so many see us. They believe mainstream media sit around dreaming up ways to oppose their agendas and inflict harm. They are utterly wrong. We are no machinery of sadistic madness. We seek to serve as a Constitutionally mandated tool of expansive and questioning minds. We hear and see so much we protect you from out of decency. But we will never protect you from the truth.
We nurture the vine of human fact without adding the barbs of human indignity.
The next time you hear someone speaking of the so called biased media, ask for an example, quick. Don’t accept one from Fox Newchannel, MSNBC or National Review. These are outlets that live on advocacy journalism. And then look up a dynamic called motivated reasoning. It’s the seed of so much of the blind railing you’ll hear on cable and in the cubicle next to yours.
When you see a reporter covering something that breaks your heart, consider the reporter’s heart. The photographer’s heart. It is as yours. And chances are good that crew has seen or heard something that to share would amount to tragedy voyeurism and exploitation. We do not do this. We never will. It’s no cause for a merit badge. It’s simple human decency.
We remove the gore, but not the truth. And often, we take home with us what does not enter your home. To see the news is to require more than the naked eye. It demands a seers soul. A quiet connection to another’s suffering.  As a journalist, I will never objectify the suffering of another.  I will seek to feel it, and to report on it with due journalist detachment, never losing attachment to my humanity, or yours.
Do not spare your children from the news. Those who grew up on the Vietnam images, the Kennedy funeral and MLK assassination, the collective anguish of 911 are not emotionally scarred. They are broader of heart. They are the lesser naive. And I’ll dare say they are truly hopeful. They know love is no emotion, but an action. A state of being and doing. Truly human. They dare to be. And to see.

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