Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’

ball and chain

Todd was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Not in the broad sense of those terms that people tend to use in a weird form of negative exaggeration, but in the truest sense. He spent most of his life, starting at age 14 up until age 29 in a holding pattern of booze, drugs and the down and dirty lifestyle of a starving punk rock musician. Eventually, he quit them all. Not before he cheated death a couple of times. Not before an expensive stint in rehab. Not before jail and homelessness and a night that found him in an alley bleeding, dying and then pronounced dead.

That was over six years ago. In those six years, he cleaned up, sobered up, became an AA sponsor, got a degree, started a new career. In order to do that he had to sacrifice being a musician – the only career he had known til then -, he had to give up his friends, his hangouts, his life. He had to change his whole world. And he did. He moved farther north, away from the people and places that urged the old lifestyle on. He started a new life.

A few months ago, Todd’s parents came to visit us from California.

When his parents took the "tour" of our house, I pointed out all the work Todd did on the inside and outside. They had already seen the before and after pictures, so they knew the bulk of what he did. But still, for them to see all of it – the new living room, the perfectly landscaped lawn, the transformation of the backyard from weed and vine infested jungle to a suburban dream with a patio and pond and beautiful flowers, with all the woodwork; the planters, the fence, the waterfalls all built by their son’s hands -some deep realization hit me as I looked at his parents and saw the pride light up their faces. It wasn’t just the work he did, but how healthy and happy he looked, how my kids interacted with him, how he made our house a home. They were seeing the culmination of six years of sobriety. They were seeing the potential they always saw in their son fully realized.

It was a bittersweet moment for all of us, I think. Later on, we realized we had both been thinking the same thing. After all he put his parents through – the drugs, the alcohol, the failed rehab, the absent son – he had finally found that place in life that they always dreamed of for him. A regular life, one with a career, a family, a home. And here he was, happy and content with all those things they wanted for him, and here he was, sober and straight and able to have a normal, healthy relationship with his parents. And he’s 3,000 miles away. They don’t get to spend these years with him. They don’t get to enjoy the person they knew Todd was, but took all these years to flourish.

I think – no, I know – his parents pride is important to him. And he has that. But I also know it’s sort of sad to him that he’s so far from them now. In a way, he owes them the pleasure of these years, when he can sit with his father and have a conversation about capital gains tax or spend the day with his mother, reminiscing about his childhood. I can see where his mom skips some parts and glosses over others when talking about the past, but I can also see that she always had high hopes for Todd. She never gave up on him, even when he was at the bottom. In her heart, she knew he was the kind of person that could do better, and would do better.

She was right. It takes a lot for a person to be at the lowest place they’ve ever been and pick up from there. It’s easy to give in and say, well I’m here, might as well stay here til I’m dead. It can’t be easy to walk away from the only life you know, the only friends you know, the only things you know how to do, and try to start over.

This is something that is with him every day. It never leaves you. You never stop wanting a drink. It’s the proverbial ball and chain around your neck all the time.

(photo title inspired by Social Distortion’s Ball and Chain)

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