Saturday, May 29, 2010

The moment.


Graduation mania continues at the ranch. You may recall from last year around this time, I used to mention the fact that I was confined to the ranch because of the phase of the program I was in. It would have seemed like a prison had it not been for a really good group of friend, and in particular, Curtis.

All of us who came to the ranch at that time came for a different reason. Curtis was at the ranch as part of a deal to defer a sentence. One night, he was partying with a friend of his who overdosed on heroin and nearly died. He recounts the story with vivid detail – how he was running around, trying to figure out what to do. The girl he was with panicked also and was nearly hysterical.

At one point, she grabbed a tray of ice cubes from the refrigerator and he screamed at her to figure out what she was doing. She told him to shove one up the dead guy’s bum – apparently this is known to wake a fella up when he overdoses.

Curtis didn’t do this.

Instead, he grabbed the phone and called 911. When the police came he was charged with a laundry list of things including some serious felonies. He came in to the ranch, determined to get his life in order, not knowing if it would help him legally, but certain it would help him live a more livable life.

He looks back at the overdose situation as a defining moment. Curtis knew he would be charged and blamed for the drugs if he called the police, but he decided to be a man about it, and save someone’s life instead of letting him die while acting like a coward. Life had come knocking on his door and he chose to answer it.

When I was confined to the ranch in the early days, Curtis would constantly make me walk from one end of the ranch to the other – we had to touch the gate each time. I have detailed this story many times. He is also the friend whose brother died from a suicide back in November after his own long battle with addiction.

This past year, Curtis has had a series of life trials and yet, he was always enthusiastic about being alive, sober and at the ranch. I have never met anyone with a zest for living and on a quest for learning like him before and on my most intolerable of days, he was my most tolerable friend.

He spoke so eloquently at his graduation about his brother’s death and how it was the first time in his life he noticed, clearly, how alcohol and drugs would just make a situation worse. It was the moment his eyes opened, and he could, for the first time, look ahead just long enough to see that the damage behind him would only become devastation in front of him if he began to use. He has since applied this lens to the rest of his life.

He drove away in a sweet Jeep Grand Cherokee with leather seats and a 7 disk CD changer. Its super nice. I am really proud of him.

We had another graduation this week. I am not going to mention this graduate by name. This graduate had been at the ranch for two years to the day. WOW! He worked an awesome program. He was a driver and a good friend.

He came in after a long battle with alcohol – one that be felt he was losing – and he needed help. It was hard, at his age, to give everything up and start over. The ranch is a humiliating place to say the least but to try to do it when you are well over 50, well, it would seem like a challenge most people couldn’t consider, much less, do for two years.

His program was a steady one – and he was a dutiful driver. His job was to shuttle guys to and from work, school, appointments, you name it. I look at this and think how bad it must have sucked to have to be at the beck and call of 70+ whiney addicts. And he did it.

His graduation speech was short and sweet. He spoke of how the ranch had changed his life, and had given him the opportunity to remember who he truly was – deep in his soul. I was moved.

That morning, he drove away in his new Camry off to his new life. His home was only a few miles from the ranch. He would stay connected. Around five last night, he returned to the ranch to pick up the rest of his stuff.

And he was drunk.

I know you are nodding your head in disbelief but this is addiction, folks. Its real and its real hard. And the fact that this happened doesn’t mean this is the end for him. It is still his beginning. He needs to shake it off and get up. Sometimes, even the best thoroughbred race horse trips right out of the gate – but it finishes the race.

Brian and I are going to go to his new place this afternoon and see if he needs anything – even to just talk. I think he might need a reminder that he needs to get back up and keep going. I will have to encourage him to remember the work he did in the program and tell him that this is no reason to give it up. He doesn’t have to. Sometimes just hearing that is enough. There have been times in my life where I felt the shame of addiction and at the right time – the right person – reminded me that I was sick. Many times I felt that I would be in trouble for drinking, and I dreaded it, so I isolated myself.

But that made it worse – and people would come down my rabbit hole to find me. Those people – my family, my friends, Alex – would make sure I didn’t get lost down there. Not even when I wanted to. This is what I will do for the graduate. We aren’t angry. We aren’t even disappointed. There is absolutely no room for a single bad emotion from anyone when you are so fresh into sobriety. A molehill truly is a mountain when you are just remembering how to walk. So, our emotions are hopeful, excited, and confident. These are the emotions which he needs to know about.

You know, yesterday, Lane and I had lunch. It was great. We talked, laughed. I am so happy to have friends from the ranch who will be my friends when I leave. We began talking about our lives, and not ranch/addiction/resident gossip stuff.

We dropped his girlfriend off at the mall and went to Chilis and has the lunch special. We even sat in the bar and watched sports center while we talked. Back in the early days of the ranch, Lane said that he regrets that he would never be able to hang out in the bar at Chilis with friends after work for happy hour or do those kinds of things that you see ‘dudes’ doing on movies.

So when I suggested Chilis yesterday, he didn’t have a clue that I was taking him there to demonstrate that he can still have all those experiences, and we’d leave sober, richer, and able to drive.

But it was the first time since I had been on the ranch that I truly did not want to go back. I really did NOT want to go back. It was dreadful, confining, such a waste.

My usual 15 minute drive home had extended to about three hours. I couldn’t convince myself to get there. I thought about my life. I thought about what it would look like in a few weeks when I left. I thought about how much had changed and how desperately I never want it to go back to what it was. I flirted with two girls in a car next to me and one blew me a kiss. I thought about how my confidence had returned. My aunt Sherry wrote to me a couple weeks ago and said, “I kept looking at your photos, and I couldn’t figure out why I kept looking at them. You’ve always been handsome, but now, you have a glow.” I feel this glow.

And I didn’t want to go back. Grrrrr…. It was awful. I could finally see my life as a sober person, and I felt alive because I was not dreaming of this life, I was ACTUALLY LIVING IT! For the first time ever, the overwhelming chill of my new reality took me, it was a high like I have never experienced. My dream of living sober – well, this wasn’t something I was trying to reach – I AM THERE.

I cried a on that drive. Tears of joy. I laughed hysterically for about 10 minutes and then sobbed like baby. I wasn’t going to tell this part of the story but I think that anyone who may ever wonder what the realization of a dream feels like, or anyone who thinks they need to stop with an addiction, or anyone who has ever felt chained, shackled, confined, tortured, held back, shamed, destroyed, unworthy, unloved, or uncontrolled reads this needs to know – the moment you realize its over – you can’t plan for that epiphany, it’s a moment I never even saw coming – but that moment – its an emotion without a name.

In the beginning, I wrote about my quest to slay the demon. Yesterday, for the first time – alone, while on the side of some old farm road, hot, and dusty – I felt like I could put the sword away, the demon is dead.

All the anxiety I had been feeling, all the frustration I have been writing about the past few weeks. All the emptiness, the wonder if it was worth it, the uncertainty of what my future held, of my direction, of the value in all this -washed away in a flood of salty tears and silenced by a booming laughter that sounded so sweet, so melodious, so symphonic, I can’t believe it even came from me.

My fall has been broken, I’ve put an end the end, I’ve changed my routine, my normal. I don’t understand what the universe has planned for me but I am starting to understand what is within my power. All the in-between years are over.

I can’t believe it, the work is done. I did something not many people could do, would do, dared do. I took myself apart and rebuilt myself. I left my life to go live on a ranch with a bunch of strangers for a freakin year. I got there thinking I was weak, a failure, alone, and realized that I am bold, courageous, and part of a group of people, family, friends, who love me.

At that moment, I understood that I have shed the weight and baggage of an addiction that I carried for most of my life. The torment is over, I don’t have to run anymore.

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