Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can't wait to fail

This past weekend I went home on a weekend pass and didn’t really do a whole lot. My parents teased that I must have worked off a FEW calories while drifting in and out of sleep on one end of the couch with my laptop in my lap and, on occasion, move to the other side of the couch for a more reclined position with the remote control.

This was not my plan. I had fully intended to do stuff. Heck, I had a whole laundry list of people who wanted me to see them. My facebook dance card was full. But I did none of these things. It was nice, to recharge, to hibernate far from the ranch and from work and to just hang out. What was nice is that the weekend of sleep wasn’t induced by a week of booze. And so, the recharge was truly a recharge and not a ‘catch up’.

One of the most strenuous things I managed to do was sit through the movie ‘The Notebook.’ In its basic form, the movie is about faith in a relationship, that if the relationship is right, if Love exists, it will not only find you – even when you leave it – but it will also wait until you’re ready to have it.

So this week, we have two graduations. One was today, and it was Brian (not the Brian I came into the program with) – Brian #2 is finally finished after about two years in the program. He is the only phase 5 guy on the ranch, we jokingly called him ‘The Illuminati.’

He had a tough spell. He came in to the program after 5 years in jail. He had lost contact with his 15 year old son and daughter who is now 24 years old. His life had disassembled into nothing more than himself and a bottle of anything. And what he wanted, more than anything, out of the program was to rebuild and even reclaim his family.

This is no easy task for an alcoholic. There is a lot of damage that always comes with addiction. In my family, I tended to adopt a policy of avoidance and absence – this was in part to save the pain from watching me senselessly kill myself, but also having to avoid the responsibility of family life – a responsibility my mother never let me forget. She would often say, “You need to be here because you are a part of this family,” and once she even said, ‘The Holidays are meant to be spent with your family, not with people you like, so get over here.” Indeed, towards the end she even told me, “Look I hate to see you drunk, but if that’s the only way to get you here, then come drunk, I’ll deal with it.”

But, over the two years Brian was at the farm, he began the arduous task of reconnecting and rebuilding his family life. He even got back in touch with the mother of his 24 year old daughter – a woman he fell madly in love with two decades ago and a woman he had not seen since 1986. Over the past year, he became the dad to his teen age son that he wasn’t before, and to hear them on the phone now is like replaying old tapes of my dad’s exasperation and the complete non-understanding that comes from a father trying, desperately, to bridge the generation gap (read: chasm) and understand this teen aged human being.

Over the past year, Brian and his daughter, and her mom, have exchanged over 200 letters. This is quite the accomplishment when you consider the idea that he doesn’t know how to use a computer, so snail mail, (so 1980’s) was his method to connect.

I asked him last night how he felt about graduating and he shared to me that one thing he was happy about is the idea that his daughter and her mom were now, again, part of his life. He told me that his ex-wife had remarried, and she had built a different life, that she left him either because, or at the time, his addiction to alcohol began.

And in 200 letters, they had discovered that they remained in love with each other and now that he was a sober person, she was reintroduced to the man she fell in love with over two decades ago. So yesterday, he saw her in person for the first time in 24 years. And, today, at his graduation, he leaves with a new life, an education, a sobriety which he earned, a daughter, a son, and yes, a fiancé he met 24 years ago.

Don’t you love a good happy ending? Like in the movie, love had waited for him until he was ready to have it, and there is a significant spiritual perfection in this. I am a sucker for a good love story, and a great happy ending, so what!

Tomorrow, Bradford graduates. This was one I didn’t know would ever happen. Bradford is the guy who gave me the rain poncho I wrote about way back in June. His program has been tumultuous and extremely loud.

I say loud because he is never one who lacks something to say and he is constantly connected to the phone. Early in the program this seemed like an issue because it appeared that his life existed only off the ranch, and he made no attempt to stay connected here.

But, as he progressed, a funny thing happened. It began to appear that this was the best way to handle his program. His relationships began to improve with the people who would be his support once he left – his parents, his mentors, even his ex-wife. He also, with new sober eyes, realized that he was NOT in love with the woman he had been connected to since he was 16, for the past 20 years. He now realized the toxic relationship for what it was, and has found a new common ground with his ex wife – whereby the kids will be cared for, but they will lead different lives. Sobriety brings a lot of clarity – its sobering.

He is getting a gift vehicle. As I mentioned, there is a car awaiting every successful graduate and he is getting one. He told me that early this week, he went to get insurance for the car and gave the agent his driving history. The agent said, “Well, as long as what you told me is true, then, your insurance will be $285.”

And Bradford said that, for the first time in two decades, he was calm. There was no lie to uncover. There would be no disappointment, there would be no attempt to get out of there before the agent discovered the lie so he could take the proof of insurance to get the plates, only to know that, probably by the time the plates were screwed on his car, the insurance would be cancelled.

He told me this was an amazing feeling. The feeling of knowing that you are doing what you are supposed to do, and that life is unfolding how it is supposed to unfold. It seems like people who try to get away with something should feel a relief when they do, but, through sober eyes, we discover, deception, shame, lies, trickery – these things kill your soul a little bit until you have nothing, until you ARE nothing.

He leaves tomorrow with a new life, an education, two marathon medals, a fully insured car, a new relationship with God and his parents, and…. Something he’s not had in a long time, his dignity.

I am proud of these guys and I can’t wait to watch their lives unfold. The night I got to the City for my pass I had dinner with my parents. I had one of the most perfect dinners I have ever had. Just the three of us (you must understand, with 5 grandkids, and my siblings who are never far from home – a quiet night out, just my mom and dad is a rarity and a gift) –

At dinner, we began to speak about what I would do once I left the ranch. I began to unveil my plan which looked absolutely nothing like they expected. But I have given this a lot of thought. I think it’s great that my brother and sisters have decided to raise families and buy houses and go to karate practice and have swing sets and school plays and Chem-lawn accounts, but this is not for me.

You see, I have thought long and hard about this. I did not go through all this self discovery, all this examination of myself, this tear down – rebuild myself from the ground up, to have that life. I was lamenting a couple weeks ago about the purpose of this whole thing and here it is: My heart is finally free – free from addiction, free from sadness, free from the limits I placed because I was consumed by the joy of a bottle of gin. My heart is free and it is time to follow it.

Where will this lead? I have no idea, but, gladly, I see a lot of failures in my future. And I am so excited to have them. Maybe I will try to hot air balloon across the French countryside and it will crash, maybe I will try to start a business and have to file bankruptcy, perhaps I will somehow get stranded in New York City with nothing but a guitar which I can’t play and my awesome beagle and have to figure something out. I don’t know – but I can tell you, my life is open, free, and a blank slate. I worked pretty frickin hard to get it like that and I just don’t see the point of chaining myself to something else, like a mortgage.

I know, there are a lot of people out there who were hoping that I would find a nice cute suburban house, a pretty wife, my dog, our 2 cars (1 import, 1 domestic), and a flat screen TV, and back yard BBQ’s and Halloween candy on October. But, that’s not how I see it.

Its like this, I have been chained, shackled, I have been imprisoned by a crippling addiction for 1/3 of my life. And, I am free. While this isn’t something I am going to do right away – I need time to adjust to life off the ranch, life as a sober person, the fact is, it will be my goal to live this life that I have reclaimed. Its mine and I feel like I own it again. This is a powerful feeling.

My mom shed a tear when I unveiled this plan. I don’t know if it was a tear of worry or a tear of disappointment or a tear of hope. She said, “You have always been different from the other kids, you’ve always been easy to reason with and you’ve always been older than your years,” and my dad, well, he basically said, ‘I am glad to see you fail,’ he encouraged the idea that life is meant to be lived and secretly, I think he was proud that I decided to take a few risks. My mom asked me, “But you might go back to drinking if your life isn’t settled,” and he calmly reminded her, “It’s the people who live unchallenged and unfulfilled that are likely to drink.” And he is right.

I did not come to this idea lightly, mind you. I had a lot of thought, a lot of wrestling, a lot of fear about losing people, friends and opportunities. But these things don’t go away, not if they have been built on a foundation of love and hope. Like Brian #2 and his wife, like the movie, if it’s right, it will find you and people you love manage to stay with you, somehow.

Will I be tempted to drink again. HELL YES! I am sure of it. I can just see it now, the dingy motel somewhere in the Moab. My dog and I watching the setting sun over the desert, and I get the thought, “One icy cold beer won’t hurt.” The way I look at it, if you don’t run into the devil on your journey through life, it’s likely you’re traveling in the same direction. So bring it on. Sobriety is my gift I gave myself this year and I never return a gift.

There you have it, I finally have a destination in mind – and the destination is appropriate considering this past year has been a seriously long look at my failures. What I realized is, I survived them. All of them. Every single thing I failed at, I survived it. And the decision to leap into more of them? Well, the adventure is part of the fun and if it proves to be too exhausting, I know I have a family with a comfy couch where I can recharge and sleep on one end of the couch with my laptop, and the other end with the remote control – then go back at it.

And that, I hope, is how I have my happy ending. Will love wait for me? My hope is, I keep it with me the whole journey. Peace all and have an awesome week.

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