Friday, March 22, 2013

Walking and thinking

"Who am I to say I know the way you feel, I've felt your pain and I know your sorrow?"

I didn't walk today. I've walked every day since, well, since the last time I said I missed a day. It was gray and dreary and I was tired. I gave myself the night off.

Last night I enjoyed a solo walk. It was a lovely night, lots of people out walking and biking, and a pretty sunset on the way home.

Here's a picture of our friend, the egret. I'm pretty sure it is the same one. There's a blue heron too. I'll try to get a picture next time.

I love my walks and talks with Neil but walking alone frees my mind in a way that other solitary activities fall short of. I don't even know what I think about during my hours and hours at the torch. Probably the next step in the design, the next color, the next bead.

I tried listening to a couple of books on tape while I worked, but I missed so much that I bought the books afterwards and read them. I love to read. To listen, not so much.

So what did I think about as I walked last night?

This blog mostly, and the story I am telling, in installments, from the past. The events in the story happened almost exactly 15 years ago. I've had no contact with the main characters for a very very long time. That is not to say I don't know what they are doing today, more or less. We do have Google, after all. And Facebook.

And I'm an excellent researcher.

But I give myself a barely passing grade for sustaining relationships. I have a few friends that I go a long way back with, back to high school even, but there have been many others along the way who have come and gone. And that makes me a little sad.

I thought about why I am telling the old story, and whether I have a right to tell it. I saved the letters all this time, transferred them to new computers, backed them up on disks.

There is one set of letters that I didn't save, and I regret that. It was a few months long relationship in 2002 with a man who I was never going to marry. Just one on the continuum that ended when I met Neil, when my heart thumped again, when it dawned on me that finally, finally, here was a man who didn't need rescuing.

Health can be contagious. I'd gotten healthier and then I met a man who was healthy too.

When I ended that brief relationship in 2002, I deleted the email messages, some of which were very beautiful and I wish I still had them.

There are many gaps in the words I saved in 1998. Most are copied and pasted into word documents and some are out of sequence and I don't look at them very often. I've thought about letting them go too.

But that time, those events, in 1998 changed the course of my life. Dramatic, yes I know. But true. And as magical as that time was, I would not go back and relive it, not for one freaking minute. It was raw and it was bewitching and it was profound and it was confusing and it was exhilarating and it was demolishing.

So why write about it?

I don't know.

I just know that I want to.

And really right now, the only reason I can think of not to, is imagining the person who I am writing about reading the story. Would he be angry? Hurt? Would he think I've been obsessing about him all this time? (That's a no, for the record.) Am I violating his privacy? It is his story as much as mine.

But that would mean he still ever thought about me or looked for me in cyberspace.

And what are the odds of that? After thirteen years.

You tell me.

Anyway, there's not much point in writing a memoir, which is what this story is, really, and not telling the truth. Including the seamy underbelly, the blemishes along with the beauty. Unvarnished. The undisputed truth.

And it is my story as much as his.

Right from the start, Nick made no secret of the fact that he was seven years into sobriety, with the obvious implication that he had a history of insobriety.

Seven years is a long time. The past is whatever it is. The present and future is what matters.

I had stopped drinking three years earlier. I initially stopped because, desperate for any kind of support as my marriage floundered, I attended some Al-Anon meetings with a friend, who was both a recovering alcoholic and the adult child of alcoholics. Out of respect for my friend, I decided to stop drinking for as long as I attended the meetings with her.

I have nothing but respect for 12-step programs that work for so many people where nothing else had ever helped. I got stuck on the second step myself, and the first step didn't apply to me anyway.

1.We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

My life might have been considered unmanageable, but alcohol held no power over me. Being able to give it up with ease was proof of that fact.

I didn't stick with the meetings very long. I never really understood what we were supposed to share or not share. I kept breaking the rules by talking about the specific personal chaos in my life, my husband's anger issues, verbal abuse and rough treatment of the children.

I didn't go back to drinking either. At worst I was a habitual problem drinker, but after I stopped drinking I realized how much pouring a depressant into my depressed self had been sapping my energy.

Nick's story was different.
I was a full blown drug addict. I chose drugs and alcohol to lubricate the friction of life. I fell deeply in the pit. I lost everything.
A full blown drug addict.

He wasn't talking pot or coke or acid or speed or barbs or quaaludes or crystal.

Although some of those were his gateway drugs.

He was talking smack.

Could I still love this man?

Seven years is a long time. The past is whatever it is. The present and future is what matters.

Isn't it?

I love stories of redemption.
I am a better man today because of it. I work with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts by the score. I do it for gratitude for my own sobriety. I have told my story in a series on the radio. I am not ashamed of it, yet I know some people stigmatize it. That's OK.

Those are my experiences. Sometimes the metal must stay in the fire longer to burn off the dross. When it is removed from the fire the metal is purer.
All this I knew then. All this, and more that I intuited or imagined. Maybe worse things than I could possibly imagine. But in the end it really was OK.

Many months later he told me the rest of the story. Which I've condensed. Substantially.
I just returned from a speaking engagement. I told the story of a ten year old who felt different and didn't like the way he felt. The ten year old began a 26 year run at changing the way he felt. It took him to spooky places. He was shot with bullets. He blew out lungs.

He continued on this self-destructive path for many more years. He experienced six treatment centers. He had gone from alcohol to pot to LSD and speed to downers to cocaine to cocaine and quaaludes and valium and booze to heroin to heroin and cocaine injected into his body. He spent time in prison. Untold numbers of hospitals and jails.

He is still alive today. He's doing OK. He really isn't supposed to be alive. He's a big exception to a rigid rule.
I would have bet money on the rock solidarity of Nick's continuing sobriety. I would have lost. There was one more treatment center, one more recovery still in his future.

"You've come so far
The days are dark
You feel like turning back
But the way is black
The way is black

You can't find him
The way is dim
You feel like giving up
You ache for her
Rest assured
It's never too late for love

You say you're tired
How I hate to hear you use that word
Every time it hurts
You say you're tired
How I hate to hear you use that word
Everybody hurts

Who am I to say
I know the way you feel
I've felt your pain
And I know your sorrow
You could try to let the past slip away
Live for today
Don't stop believing in tomorrow."

(Warren Zevon)

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