“He’s sick, and he needs to go get well,” said my aunt. She said this as I stood in my empty apartment bewildered that my father was not there. I was seven years old at the time, and had just got off the school bus. That is when I learned to run from it. My mother had been sick with cancer, and not gotten well. She had died a month before my fifth birthday. I wondered if my dad would die too. He didn’t look sick though like Mom had. He didn’t need a wheelchair, or chemo treatments. It felt like a lie, that he was sick. Whenever he was sick, he wouldn’t come home for days. He would call my Papa’s house and say with shame and guilt in his voice that he drank again. I always knew that meant we wouldn’t get to see each other for a while. I can remember seeing anger and pain in the eyes of my family members; not pity or understanding of someone who is sick. Why did he do that? If it hurt me and it hurt him, why was he choosing to drink?
At an early age, I remember seeing how my father was treated by family members for being an alcoholic and an addict. At holiday parties, the tension was palpable. Words would be said about how he wasn’t living up to his role as a father, and he would react with rage. Everyone would look at him, not with compassion for his disease; but with absolute disgust for his choices. I saw my father judged and cast into the role of black sheep in my family due to his poor decision-making. I knew that would not be me. I would not make those decisions, and I would learn how to be loved for making the right choices.
This set off my belief in the stigma of alcohol and drug addiction. I would be “better than that”- I would be careful when I drank. I practiced controlled drinking until I went off to college. College was a place where I felt like I could drink without judgment. When I was 8, I ran away to the end of my street. When I was out of high school, I ran to Hawaii. The surfing movie “Blue Crush” had just hit theaters, and Jack Johnson’s music was all the rage. I felt like I could relax in this slow paced tropical environment. I could relax and drink like I had always wanted to. And drink I did. I drank with my college friends, and I drank with my friends in the Marine Corps. It’s where I acquired my taste for bourbon and whiskey. There was never a problem of “too much” for me because I was surrounded by people who drank just as much as me, if not more. Whenever drinking began to affect my life, I ran.
This time I ran to California. I joined AmeriCorps program, and began my journey as a VISTA in San Diego. I was excited to be starting over in a new place where nobody knew me. I went out to bars every night to “meet people”. I hit an emotional bottom in San Diego, and knew I needed to get sober. Without alcohol in my system, my life immediately improved. I could feel the sunlight on my skin, and I could smell the ocean air. I had never had senses like this before in my life. I did things that made me happy, and I accomplished successes I never knew I could achieve. My motto became “Do it,” and I did it because I was sober. I realized I could do anything.
What I didn’t realize was that “Do it” became my ultimate distraction. I may have stopped physically running for the time being, but I was running from myself and how I felt. I distracted myself with starting a non-profit, helping others with their problems, going to the gym and eating healthy. It looked good on the outside, and I did it all so I wouldn’t have to revisit the pain of my past. I didn’t think I could survive that pain. Eventually, the pressure got to me and I ran again. This time I drove across the country back to Boston (where I’m from). I left my car and flew to Germany. I then traveled around Europe on the euro rail for the next 7 weeks. I drank again in Croatia, and I thought I would be okay.
Beaten down and defeated I got off the plane after my escape to Europe. I confessed to my father (who has now been in recovery for 20 years) that I once again needed to get sober. I knew this time it needed to be different. I needed to stop running. I have remained sober and stationary since arriving back in Boston in September 2012. This time around I’m no longer choosing to “Do it”, and distract myself in recovery. Today I’m choosing to be with the feelings, the fear, and the discomfort. Today, I’m choosing to be with myself. Today, I’m choosing to “Be with it”.