Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes it ends uncomfortably.

Last night I skipped my work out in favor of cake and ice cream. Am I forgetting my priorities, you may ask? No way. BUT, each night before a graduation, we all gather in the West Dorm (the final dorm) and have cake and ice cream – just the residents – to give a private send off to the graduate before the ceremony the following day.

This week, we are celebrating TWO graduations. One happened today, the other tomorrow. This is a lot of cake, but well worth it. Both of these graduates are changed men – both of them I knew from when we all first arrived. It’s a little strange to think that people that were new when I started are graduating. My, how a year flies by.

“Stubby” was a hard drinkin mountain man – one time during devotions, a chaplain asked how you can tell a friend is a real friend; Stubby raised his hand and said, ‘The guy who will back you in a gun fight,” and this was the kind of life he led.

He grew up in a small mountain town, transplanted from the hills of Arkansas – Take a moment and imagine the Hatfields and the McCoys. Now imagine a neighborhood where they are the most sophisticated people on the block, and you’ve imagined Stubby’s neighborhood.

He once told me that if he met me before he entered the program, he probably would have robbed me.

He is kind these days, gentle, calm. He gave me a hand written note one day in January that said, “I think you are doing a good job.” I didn’t know what he meant, and he said he didn’t either, but he felt like he should tell me.

I can say that the fabric of my life is indeed richer by the colorful thread of friendship I made with Stubby, a man I may never have met had I not come here.

Keith was a meth user, and rough around the edges. He had no teeth when he came in because of the decades of drug abuse. He was aloof, even mean, when he got here. And he leaves with a certain amount of eagerness. His smile is huge these days, his dentures are on the way – and he has a sense of resolve about him that I find admirable.

Keith has always got a cookie to give, it’s his thing – and I have a hard time imagining the kind of person he speaks about when he tells of his days as an active addict.

During this three day celebration, there is one resident on the farm who is noticeably absent. Tom is a resident who is preparing for a planned departure. In the order of rankings, he is number one – he has been there the longest. And it is time for him to go.

There is a strange phenomenon on the ranch where some guys get cozy and feel the safety of this life, a life they can hardly think about losing, and they max out their time. The ranch allows people to extend certain phases for a long time, in fact, its entirely possible I could still be in phase II at this point if I had decided.

There is a safety in all this, a level of security. It’s a new life, and its easier to maintain when you are accountable to the ranch. But this, I say vehemently, is NOT REAL.

You can NOT live on the ranch. A man of my age, of any age, is NOT supposed to live on a rehab ranch, this is NOT NORMAL. I wrote months ago about how I feel like this place is home, and I have since rethought this attitude. It is uncomfortable for me, it is frustrating, it is a real pain in the ass to be there, and it is supposed to be.

Some might read this blog and think to themselves that it seems like I got off scott-free for all the heartache I caused through my life. I know this because I get letters all the time from people who remind me of the hurt I may have caused and the fact that I am living a fairly tale at other people’s expense, and it isn’t fair.

Perhaps this is true, maybe there should be more of a penalty for me, but the fact is, there is no excuse for the way my life played out – there is also no reason for the blessings I have received, it is what it is. It would be nice and easy if life worked on a credit system, a system of blessings and punishments – where you can add to your prosperity by doing nice things for people, bank good things, then spend them on a few things you probably shouldn’t do – but this isn’t how it works.

The truth is, I do pay for my life’s experience. I have a conscience and a memory and there are times when my past does come to haunt me. This is true for anyone who spends a year on the ranch. There is a LOT of silent time. The activity I detail on the ranch is only the tip of the ice berg of reflection that each of us does and works through.

I wrote a while back about Phil – one of my friends who broke the lamp on his step-dads head at Christmas and his parents want him to apologize before he is allowed to participate in the family again. For four years, this has been brewing, and for whatever reason, he won’t do it.

I know he thinks about it. I know he carries this burden around with him all the time. I can see the weight on his shoulders, the weight of wanting to unload this – but he refuses to apologize.

I’ve asked him why and he doesn’t have an easy explanation but it must be something. He struggles with this, and I think the refusal to apologize is only a small part of something deeper that he feels, there is some other reason he won’t do this, and so he works through this pain – this solitude – by himself – without the full participation of his family.

But he is working through it sober. And I have realized that while I am here, my problems are not going to all vanish, the slate will not be wiped clean, but I can deal with my problems without the assistance of a shot of gin (or a glass of gin), and go on. Phil is incorporating whatever pains him into a sober reality.

It’s not the clean wrap up that everyone thinks it is when families and friends attend graduation ceremonies. Inside, some turmoil is still there for many of us, but we deal with it in a different way now, we deal with it as sober people.

And so while I detail an often recreational lifestyle on this ranch, you might need to understand that there is a lot of work going on; at the heart level, in the memories, in the building of a sustainable future and coping mechanisms. Tearing down a person who has been so bolstered by the illusionary effects of drugs and alcohol, then rebuilding that person from the ground up seems like a lot of work. Now, imagine that you can not tear the entire structure down, but you have to somehow rebuild it with existing beams, a few existing walls, even some of the light switches – you don’t get to start from scratch, you have to build around these things, whether they are broken or not. It is even more daunting.

This is all a big emotional mess if you ask me!

But it is what it is, and this is the only way to have a life, they tell me. So we all do it. And on graduation days, families and friends come and encourage the newly sober graduate, the residents all know that deep down, it’s scary, and still painful to be standing up there. There is a sort of humiliation, an embarassment, to say I was successful at rehab.

We also know that sometimes in life (or on the farm), we have to move on, like Tom, because we have outlived the experience, that we are not gaining from it and maybe we even have to be sent away. When life has stalled like this, it often takes something drastic to kick start it. There is a time when you get so in to your groove that it becomes a rut, this is likely when we start drinking again.

I don’t know really what to say about all this – I tend to close this blog each week with some sort of pleasant wrap up… and I struggle to leave it open ended like this, it is within my addictive tendency to want to put it into a nice package, but I won't, its real life. Uncomfortable isn’t it.
DAYS SOBER: 290 days

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