Tragedy twists some of us so savagely that a retreat from the pain at a level deep within becomes imperative. It may be aided by the hand of the unseen, or the broken yet enduring spirit that resides in our innermost recesses, using the survival instinct in some crude yet merciful way to preserve a fragile life. So it was with me.
A deadly farm accident I witnessed when I was in my early teens inflicted trauma that cut too deep for time to heal. However, alcohol and the other substances I later used to mask the pain were marginally effective in calming my internal storms. Though limited in its scope, even a temporary reprieve from the past I was chained to was powerful and welcome. Old memories that haunted me faded.
Even so, part of me died inside on that fateful day when I was fourteen—the priceless vessel that contained joy, wonder, love and the capacity to dream. The crucible of tragedy burned deep and white-hot, robbing me of the things everyone lives for. Brokenness permeated me to my core, but God would come one day to replant those seeds again.
Meanwhile, fear and sadness were the prominent elements of the dross that remained. They would mix well with alcohol—it instilled the turbulence that made me feel alive, and forged a necessary but polluted state of wonder that eclipsed my feeble reality. Life had to mean something. Until then, it was all grey—ashes and clouds.
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God writes straight with crooked lines.
My case history began at sixteen with my first Big Wow, a mind-blower that turned a nobody going nowhere into somebody who was going somewhere. After a pick-up football game, I followed a bedraggled group of teenagers to a nearby basement, where I was handed my first beer. Soon, we were laughing, cussing and telling lies, and a corner was turned in my tiny, dreary world. Something clicked—it was significant and would not be forgotten. I went from being on the outside-looking-in to smack dab in the middle of life. That bottle was the ticket to fun and friends, and my outlook surged in a positive direction. It was some kind of wonderful.
Booze– the answer was so simple. Why didn’t anyone tell me? It fit perfectly in my life, but nobody I knew could begin to understand why. It did something for me that it didn’t do for most people. It was life-changing. Bulletproof barriers were breached, and I began to bury a tragedy. The veil was lifting.
I relished the excitement ignited when a case of beer turned weekends into epic adventures, and there were many. Naturally, when the guys called and said, “Hey, let’s go out drinking”, they never mentioned anything about puking. But selective memory had already begun—I never asked, “Go out drinking? Why?” It was only “Where, and when?” I was ready. Let the good times roll.
My next epiphany hatched at a Saturday night bash with loud music, pretty girls and plenty of booze. As the night moved, girls noticed me and vice versa, and before long, a cute girl and I were chasing each other around on a secluded couch. In a hot minute, clothing began to fly. After less than a pint of Schnapps, I went from wallflower to chick-magnet, and discovered the booze-girl connection—the ultimate Big Wow—and wanted to get connected and stay connected. Hence, another issue was born. But now I could forget about square-dancing and Twister, and realized spin-the-bottle wasn’t the only way to get to first base. And besides, second and third were way better.
However, there were drawbacks, as usual. Every time I turned into a chick-magnet, I came-to the next day hung-over and demagnetized.
It was only temporary magic. But with the unexpected power a few drinks gave me, I laughed and loved like never before. Random glory found me often. I always wanted to be somebody else, and suddenly I fit in with the guys and could talk to the girls, and much, much more. Finally, I was one of them—I was somebody else.
I enrolled at a local community college after graduating from high school. By the second week, I switched my majors to foosball, carousing and extra-curriculars in the parking lot. My minors suffered. Some friends-turned-freaks introduced me to the reefer solution, already trying to fix my drinking. They were my hippie sponsors, and I embraced their underground wisdom. Everything looked to be on track, but after two semesters of sinking grades due to higher living, I was done with the college experiment, and the school wrapped up theirs on me. They didn’t want my money. You know it’s over when that happens.
I hired into a few factory jobs after that—nothing lucrative, or even worth keeping. However, one was like quicksand and I wallowed in its rut of convenience for five years before I escaped to something a notch better. In the meantime, I met an attractive blonde at a party and we were moved-in and married before we knew it. Although it was invisible to us, I was looking for someone to fix me, and she found someone to fix. She had no idea what she got herself into. Alcohol hadn’t taken me prisoner yet.
Nevertheless, by some miracle I landed in the perfect spot for when I hit rock bottom ten years later—she had family members in a couple of twelve step programs, hardly a requirement when I was interviewing for in in-laws, but I decided to ignore it. Unbeknownst to me, the spiritual geometry of crooked lines aligned them in incredible order at vital points in my life.
Meanwhile, we hung out with a local rocknroll band I wrote lyrics for, and started going nocturnal on weekends. We rocked—we were ‘In with the In-Crowd’. All-nighters were for the coolest of people, and we were all-in. My ego started acting up.
During this period, my boozing escalated and technical difficulties cropped up amidst my drunken splendor. Sometimes I wiped out if I didn’t compensate for the earth spinning, and my supernatural bowling skills would expire around midnight, when I became a slurring, rubber-kneed acrobat. And I fell out of my car occasionally too, but it was much faster than getting out, although there were side effects. Some mornings I looked like an escaped human sacrifice to the Driveway God. But it was my driveway, and everyone in the neighborhood was sleeping. Get off my back.
To make matters even worse, when I was seeing double, I couldn’t tell which one of the two was the one, which made smoking dangerous and peeing tricky. Innocently enough, drink–trouble arrived.
I slept past noon most weekends during that era; I wasn’t one of those boring morning people, anyway, anyhow. What was I supposed to do, get up and eat corn flakes, drink beer and watch cartoons? Not a chance. Instead, I’d come-to with a hangover that felt like a cement block crawled inside my head and slowly rotated on its axis. Cartoons and corn flakes would have just compounded the suffering.
As the years passed, my drinking accelerated; sometimes I’d get thirsty and drink way past drunk. I nosedived from smart ass to sad sack to prick of misery to a remorseful “I’m Sorry” machine. A heart once capable of some semblance of love was extracted one small piece at a time by fear, regrets, and finally, apathy, until it became a cold, calloused vessel. It just pumped blood—the person I was, not that long ago, now just a ghost.
The smirk, the grimace, the leer and the frown were the unflattering masks I hid behind—they kept others at bay while I played with powerlessness. And a perpetual but warped pretzel logic cemented my fate—I reasoned, “If I can quit, then I can drink, because I can quit.” So I did. I wasn’t like those lab rats that mad scientists turn into addicts. I wasn’t that bad– they can’t quit.
Meanwhile, back at Pavlov’s Doghouse, every method I could conjure up to drink with impunity was attempted. You name it—none were foolproof. But abstinence, white-knuckle style, was the flip-side of the curse, and the great unrest inevitably demanded a drink; it pervaded my thoughts and became the bigger problem, the Now problem. My life was getting away from me and there was nothing I could do—I was too jaded, and resigned to an unhappy fate.
Near the end, blackouts randomly came to pass. One morning after a wretched one, when I came-to and found out again, I parked my car in the garage and left it running, thinking carbon monoxide was the answer. Unsuccessful, I swore off again for good, but drank in three days. Now I was beyond human aid. Who would drink after that? A few more miserable months back on the relapse rodeo and the last drunk arrived, with another pitiful stab at suicide. But I missed. I was chicken.
Desperation engulfed me, borne of the grim reality that I couldn’t quit, no matter what. Maybe I did have that lab rat mentality? Fear had always been with me, but a great new fear settled in. Now I was afraid to live and afraid to die. If I was still breathing, I would drink, and it would get worse. Finally, I was utterly powerless. On a desolate Christmas morning, I begged, “God, please help me.”
Although the words were simple, they delivered an agonizing surrender at a level I had never experienced. Perhaps an overwhelming fear squeezed them from that unreachable place, a territory I ultimately called my soul. I didn’t know my long journey, walking barefoot through hell, had ended, and a new one had just begun.
Apart from alcohol, I knew a hollowness and brokenness I never wished to face. There was no sign the pain would subside, and no pretense of another chance at life. I was trapped. Until I met you.
The day before New Year’s Eve, 1986, I was nudged into rehab at the urging of my in-laws. I suspected I’d be locked in a padded cell forever for my own good. What would become of me?
Day after day, people from the Outside came and shared their recovery stories, giving me something I thought I lost for good– hope. The amazing message carried by God’s Repo-men was the spark that preceded a new beginning for me and many others.
I wanted to live—one more chance. I surrendered to the fact that I’m an alcoholic, which was better than being nuts, though I’ve never been to any of the nuts’ meetings. Or have I?
After my release, I couldn’t avoid Divorce Court, which wasn’t surprising. My marriage was in ruins because of my inability to stop the drink insanity. I went to meetings daily; each one was the doorway to another chance at life. I didn’t pick up the next first drink and I began to take the Twelve Steps, knowing otherwise I wouldn’t recover.
Soon, I had a powerful feeling that the program was going to work for me. I was not beyond repair. A meaningful sobriety had taken root, and would one day flourish.
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Looking back, there is so much to be grateful for. I’ve been sober for over thirty-one years. I married my wife Danette at year six, and our daughter Lauren was born a year later. Our home is nice and I have a good job.
There were ups and downs as with any life, but they were weathered. After being a victim of cutbacks and the bottom line at a job I had for 21 years, I was pressed back to college to re-invent myself when I was fifty. I was sober fourteen years, and everything I had worked for was threatened. I was aging in dog-years, but persevered and graduated with an Associates of Applied Science degree, and now work at a hospital—more perfectly crooked lines.
I’ve been blessed to have had great sponsors and real friends throughout this exceptional journey in recovery. The pain I carried for years has left me. Many miracles steered me to where I’m at today, and the story of my life, once destined to be a tragedy, has been rewritten. I’m somebody else at the very nature of my being, and my life has been transformed.
On this sacred path, people and events were inserted in my life with uncanny precision. At an unknown crossroads, a direction would be changed, a byway uncovered and a maze navigated through a valley of fear; setbacks, turned inside-out, yielded unexpected wonder. Something new would be borne from under the ashes of calamity.
Produced by grace, there were path-changers that created stepping stone coincidences, hinting at the synchronous anatomy of a grand miracle.
The tapestry of my life is wrought from a sublime design, but is only discernible through hindsight. That’s the way it must be—with some degree of faith, it’s one foot in front of the other, walking into the unfolding wonder. In spiritual geometry, our paths intersect; crooked lines quietly interweave through this journey together, One Day at a Time.
How else could I have gotten here?