From the Heart: Getting Sober


Ruud Merx, 47, was a beloved trombonist.

I recently learned of the death of a musician I admire. Ruud Merx was a trombonist in André Rieu’s orchestra. Besides being a talented musician, he was something of a comic spark plug, performing clever antics in skits the orchestra wove into their performances. I enjoyed watching Ruud on YouTube for years. He died suddenly at a relatively young age.
I was surprised at how moved I was at the news of Ruud’s passing. I found the incident sobering. We usually use the word “sober” as the antithesis of being drunk. When an event sobers us, it dashes cold water on our face to extricate us from the drunkenness of the meaningless activities we often engage in. We are awakened from the addictive behaviors we use to distract ourselves from our pain. The list of our addictions, hard and soft, is substantial: Drinking, drugging, email, Internet, smartphone, gaming, anxious eating, overworking, compulsive shopping, disconnected sex, neurotic cleaning, mindless babbling, arguing, continual drama, and on and on and on — all tricks we play on ourselves to stay hypnotized by emptiness. We each have our preferred escape.

Then something happens that forces us to face ourselves and our lives. A death, divorce, accident, business setback, health issue, legal problem or weather disaster. Some crisis or emergency. Then we have to think about what is really important and what our priorities are. While such challenges are painful, they are also liberating. They jolt us to dig into our soul rather than hang out at the shallow surface of our lives. When we go through such difficulties, we resist and curse them. After we graduate from the lessons they bring us, we find deep gratitude.

None of us knows how long we or our loved ones will be here. It could be a very long time or a short time. Some people disappear quickly, without notice. For that reason we must appreciate the people and gifts in our lives while we have them. Don’t take anyone or any situation for granted. Bless it while you have it. Tell your close ones that you love them. Thank them for the good they bring you. Imagine that you might not see each person after this encounter. What would you say if you knew this would be your last meeting?

Hopefully you will have lots more time with your loved ones. Just don’t wait until they are gone or almost gone to express your heart to them. Likewise, don’t wait until you find your soulmate, lose 20 pounds, get your ideal job, make your first million, or attain nirvana before you appreciate who you are. Now is your big moment to fall in love with yourself. Right where you are. As you are.

In Arthur Miller’s play After the Fall, a character says, “I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw that it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept into my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent over the broken face, and it was horrible…but I kissed it. I think that one must finally take one’s life into one’s arms.”

We all have traits in ourselves, our relationships, and our lives that we believe are unlovable. But if we can find beauty and goodness in ourselves and others, even with those traits, we find release that does not come as long as we use judgment to separate ourselves from healing.

We are now heading toward the holiday season, which brings unique joys and challenges. Family issues arise and unhealed relationships get in our face. Perhaps you had a loss or a relationship end during the past year. The season conjures countless distractions — shopping, parties, social obligations, travel, lavish food, financial issues, and many other temptations to stay foggy. Yet, we also have many opportunities to get sober, to get clear on our values and the kind of relationships and activities that are truly meaningful to us.

In my town during the holidays the police set up roadblocks to check for drunk drivers. Likewise, it might not be a bad idea for each of us to check in with ourselves occasionally to see if we are staying sober, remembering what is real in the face of illusions to the contrary. A Course in Miracles tells us that we have set up the world as a place to hide from ourselves, each other, and love. The Course also tells us that we have many invitations each day to cross the border between illusion and truth, connect, and live in ways befitting the noble, magnificent spiritual beings we are.

When André Rieu learned that his beloved trombonist of 22 years had died in the midst of the orchestra’s tour, he cancelled the remainder of the tour — a bold move when many thousands of fans were waiting and millions of dollars were on the table. But André decided it was more important to honor the orchestra’s fallen brother and be there for Ruud’s family. He reminds us that every moment of life is an invitation to get sober.

André Rieu and his orchestra will be in the U.S. for a rare tour this October and November. He is one of the great souls on our planet at this time. He has changed my life, and I heartily recommend you see him. You will love his program and be glad you went! Visit

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Alan Cohen
Alan Cohen is the author of many inspirational books including A Course in Miracles Made Easy. Join Alan for his life-changing Holistic Life Coach Training beginning September 1, 2020. For information on this program and Alan’s books, videos, audios, online courses, retreats, and other inspirational events and materials, visit


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