April 1st 1991. This was day one
I had to go back to the beginning and start all over again. I had to go back to the place where it all began. I was only six months out of treatment. I was six months away from the lessons I learned and six months away friends that were more like “Family” to me. Soon enough, however, I found myself back in trouble.
It was as if I never left.
Worst of all, I traded the one thing I had. I traded something so priceless and important. I traded my value and my dignity. I traded the work and the time I put into my sobriety. I gave away the one thing, which in my eyes redeemed me from the previous wrongs and my past sins.
However, this was not a surprise. Not at all. My downfall began long before the transaction on a street corner near Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn.
My relapse was underway far before the pipe touched my lips and the smoke filled my lungs. This is always the case with a drug relapse. Make no mistake.
I was high long before the action took place. There were clear signs of my upcoming downfall and the warnings were painfully obvious. I had legal concerns and a felony assault charge. These are not the result of sober behavior.
My fall began like a domino effect. When the last piece fell and there was nothing else to drop; there was no room left between myself and the edge. Next thing I knew, I found myself on a 24 drug hour binge. In the end, I traded in my achievements for the insatiable blitz of a terrible lie.
By the next day, the insult of sunlight came through my window shade. I saw my reflection in the mirror. Nothing changed.
In the year and months I spent away from drugs and drug behavior, absolutely nothing changed in my absence. The streets were no different and the game was still the same.
I picked up exactly where I left off. As for the drugs—the drugs were like an old friend that kept my seat warm and said, “I told ya so,” as soon as I came back.
Two things were very clear to me. I was going to either use again and die—or the depression of my failure would be too great, in which case, I would have taken my own life.With either scenario—both ways would have lead to my death.
I decided to drive up to the place where I learned about sobriety. Essentially, I went back to square one. I went back to the Farm.
I was hours away from home and miles away from my sickness. I drove down a dirt road and passed the empty fields where we used to play Capture the Flag.
Turning right and heading toward the main house, I passed the tall red and white barn. That barn had meaning to me. This was a place of purpose. I meant something here—I meant something more than just a face in the crowd.
I was part of that farm.
I was all in
I passed Father Anthony’s house and the statue of Mary standing on the lawn. I thought of a night in father Anthony’s study where I admitted to myself, to Father Anthony, and to God that I was sick and needed help. I told Father Anthony everything. I told him things I never thought I could say out loud or to another human being.
I drove towards the parking area in front of the dorm where I once lived. This is where it all began. This is where a troubled young burnout went to die and where a young man was reborn. It was hard to believe I lived in that dorm for nearly 11 months. As I pulled up, I felt the regret in my heart. I felt the jagged edges of shame tearing at my insides.
I wanted to deny the truth. Only, there was no way I could deny what I had once again become. At the time of my arrival, there was stolen equipment in the back of my car. I had stolen jewelry, car stereos, camcorders, DVD players and a few VCR machines. In addition, I had a nickel plated .357 magnum beneath the driver’s seat. The pistol was not loaded; at least not then. However, the bullets were nearby and nearly diagnosed as a path to a self-inflicted and tragic end.
I was not alone on my trip. I was with two friends that knew the area and knew me well enough to understand that I lived on the farm. What they did not understand and had no idea of is that I cheated my sobriety. They had no idea that all I had and all that I held sacred was smoked away in a millisecond of light.
The pain I felt was unbearable. However, the loving welcome and the warmth I received from my old friends were excruciatingly kind.
I could not face my old friends. No matter how I tried, I could not look any of them in the eye. The shame was simply too great and the pain was thick. I made my way in through the doors of the main house and up the stairs.
I could not even speak. I was like a diseased, runaway child returning to his mother and father. Mine was like the story of the prodigal son. I had gone away and squandered all my wealth—only to return home broken and poor.
Betty was mom to most of us on the farm. It was her. As soon as I saw Betty, I knew I could not hide what I had done. I knew I could not hide what I went back to and who I became. I knew that if I looked at Betty—she would know that I failed. As soon as I saw Betty, I buckled and wept.
There are a few specific hugs in my life that I will always remember. The first hug on this list was given to me by The Old Man when my grandmother died. The second hug on this list was given to me by my cousin Robbie just before The Old Man passed. Third is from my Mother when she told me how my Father died proud of me. And fourth was a hug from Betty.
“It’s okay,” she said
Betty wrapped her arms around me in a hug that I never wanted to let go of.
Bob was a friend. He lived on the farm and ran the kitchen. He put his hand on my shoulder and spoke plainly. “Just because you went out doesn’t mean you have to stay out.”
Bob said, “Just because you fell, it doesn’t mean you can’t get back up.”
Then he asked, “Am I right?”
Aside from the death of my Mother and Father, there was no day of my life that was as hard as this one.
That was 25 years ago.
I stay sober because I never want to lose what I have. I never want to feel that shame again. I never want to stand in a room filled with people and say, “Hello, My name is Ben. I’m an addict and an alcoholic. And I have one day back.”
I am sober 25 years today. That means something.
That means people really do get better