It was years ago. It was more than two decades ago to be exact. I was young teenage boy on the verge of manhood when this part of my story began. I was thin and my hair was wild and long. My eyes were half-shut in a lazy, relaxed-minded expression—tired like, and beaten with dark circles beneath them. I was pale skinned to an almost green shade. In truth, I feel as though this part of my story happened in a different lifetime.
Long ago, it must have been a different person because in truth, the details of my younger life feel like the details of a book or a movie that I watched years ago, —except I never forgot the plot to this movie and unlike most stories, mine comes with both internal and external scars.
I still havea few scars. Some of them are outwardly obvious and flesh level. I have other scars that remain unseen and deep-rooted. These are unrecognizable scars that sit beneath the flesh; these are the ones which left an impression on me.
It was a long time ago. A group of us were sitting together at a round table in a small cafeteria at an Upstate, old family resort that was turned into rehabilitation facility by an ex, new York City cop.
We were all there for the same reason. Each of us struggled with one demon or another. We were all sick and suffering.
Not one among us was sure about this thing they called sobriety. I am not sure if anyone in the group trusted or had any faith in the process, nor were any of us thrilled about the fact that the one thing, which brought us comfort (even when closest to death) was also the one thing we could never do again.
None of us were willing participants in this “Experiment.” And all of us were there under different circumstances. Take John, for example. John was young, blonde-haired, good looking and strong. He was a well-known and well-liked man from his town. No, he was not well behaved and yes, he saw his share of legal problems. John also had his share of scars. Like all of us, John had a story. He had weaknesses and struggles. If provoked, John would be quick to fight. But at the same time, as big as he appeared and as strong as he seemed; John had the ability to be brotherly and gentle.
Next to me, John was the youngest man at this facility. I was 17 at the time. John was two years, my senior. He was a friend.
Blue-eyed, and wild, John arrived at the facility only days after my arrival. Safe to say he was not only my roommate, but quickly, John became a brother to me. And without him, I’m not sure I would have ever made it
Then there was Kyle. He came from a different part of the city. Kyle was no stranger to the streets. He knew different spots in different neighborhoods and like the rest of us; Kyle did not willingly volunteer himself for treatment.
There were others there with us, and some are more like empty faces to me now. They remain in memory—however, their names escape me. Most of them are distant in detail. However, I do remember a special few who were instrumental in my early recovery.
For instance, I first met Danny in the main lobby. The lobby remained as it was, untouched since the time when the facility was a family retreat in New York’s Borscht Belt. All the decorations in the main room from the late 1960’s, through the 70’s, until shut in the 80’s were kept the same. Walls with wood paneling, country time paintings on the wall, green carpeting, outdated furniture that had seen better days, and an overall feel made up the time-capsule of a rehab. I mat Danny here in the lobby where we’d all gather throughout the day. This is where we went between meals and counseling sessions.
Danny arrived, drunk and slurring. He wore sunglasses and a short-sleeved, Hawaiian buttoned-down shirt. It was a blue shirt with a white collar, spread open across his chest and shoulders, and white and yellow flowers.designed the rest of the loosely fit top.
He wore a pair of long Bermuda shorts, khaki in color, and a pair of leather sandals.
Danny was not young by any means. He was only immature. He came from a wealthy family and if or when life became too intense; Danny would hide out in treatment for a while. He would grab some clean time, sober up, and hide long enough until he could find a way to pay off the bookies. And along with his drinking, Danny maintained his cocaine, hooker, and gambling habits too. He was the sick kind. Yet, he was the beautiful kind as well. He was comfortable to be crazy and happy to be affectionately known as “Dangerous Dan, The Marathon Man.”
We were all new to this new way of life and we were all in it together. We were all commiserating amongst ourselves. Conspiring, and conniving; we complained and we cried, —and we tried hard to find ways to occupy our minds with something other than patient life and the long countless hours of therapeutic counseling sessions.
We were gathered together in our newly sobered life in a small, short-term residential treatment facility, located in a quiet, unknown town a few miles outside of Ellenville, New York.
There were others here too. There others like Cowboy who came from a wealthy affluent neighborhood in New Jersey. Cowboy was a rich man’s son. He hated his father and he hated his stepmother. He hated his background, his wealthy home, his comfortable life, and in his hatred, Cowboy created a new image for himself. Hence, he created the nickname “Cowboy.”
There were no rodeos where he came from. There was no ranch or bull riding—but to Cowboy, to be his version of an urban cowboy was better than living as he was; a rich man’s son, angry about his father’s failed attempts at marriage and hateful towards his young, and close in age, stepmother.
There were people like him and more; however, rehab time can often be cliquish. And well, my clique was no different in this regard. But I liked my clique.
We came from different parts of the state and different parts of the country. We spoke differently and we looked different from each other. We had different lives and lifestyles and we came from different backgrounds. We were all different and yet, at the same time, we were all the same for similar reasons. And behind all of these reasons was a key, identical ingredient and chemical reaction, caused by, created, and connected with addiction and alcoholism.
We were all junkies in our own way. John had his demons and I had mine. Kyle had his too, and so did Danny. None of us knew what we wanted. And all of us wondered how anyone could live their life, one day at a time, sober, and away from drugs and alcohol. To us, this not only seemed absurd. It also seemed impossible
Rehab time is a strange time. The people you meet ingrain in memory. They leave behind an imprint on our lives. In a short matter of time, not even days—it seemed as if I knew these men more than I knew my own family. They understood without the need for me to explain anything. And I understood them. If something were to happen to one of us, the others would instinctively know how the other was feeling. I tell you above all things; this is what made this experience magical for me. At last I was not alone or misunderstood. I was part of something and to come from feeling like a part of nothing, being a part of something means everything.
We lived together here, far away from the streets we knew. We were far away from the crack houses and dope dens. We were far from the old stomping grounds, the dealers we knew and the friends we had.
Our day was made simple and routine. Simply put, we would wake up, go to breakfast, go to group and then break before lunch. After lunch, there was an hour or two of free time. Often, this is when we had one-on-one sessions with our primary counselor. After which, we were off for an hour or so. Then came dinner, and afterwards, there was a break before our nightly meeting.
And sometimes, we would get together and talk. We would share war stories and talk about the places we used to go. We traded neighborhood spots and talked about the better places with better drugs, which of course, were all conversations frowned upon by the powers that be.
It was long ago. I was young and stupid. I was angry and scared. I was frightened of my own shadow, painfully thin, and sickly. I had no idea what sobriety was. I certainly saw no benefit of a life without any mood altering substances.
I saw no reason for anything like this. Why would anyone remain as they are when they could simply turn off the feeling machine and numb the mind or euthanize boredom, calm the process, and sparkle the unremarkable moments that come along with life on life’s terms.?
With one dose, suddenly, the concerns of the mind and heart were no longer a burden. The threats were less threatening and any pain or discomfort was quickly dissolved like a droplet of water into the mouth of a great big sea, —and finally, all would be relieved to an exhale that sounded more like a sigh of relief or a celebratory, “Ahhh!”
Once the drug was underway, I could allow myself to drift off. I could allow myself to be outside the atmosphere, and while elsewhere, I could slip into the carefree, weightless abandon where nothing was so bad. No one was that much of a threat; my scars and insecurities were no longer an issue and my inability to speak without struggle was no longer an inability at all.
There was a night that I remember. And I think about this night from time to time. It was the night when Dangerous Dan had us pick a few names out of a hat. Each name was a popular horse’s name. (Horses were a big part of Danny’s problem. According to a source, Danny was in the middle of a big, six-digit gambling debt, which was to be paid by Danny’s father upon completion of Danny’s treatment)
We sat around the table and picked names. We placed the names in a hat and Danny picked three names; one name would win, another would show, and the last name would place third.
This is why we named Danny, “Dangerous Dan, The Marathon Man.”
I tell you he was crazy . . .
In all his excitement, Danny sounded like the announcer at a horse race. He called the names of the horses, remembering each one, and then took the horses from the starting gate to the finish line. If you asked us, Danny was better than any announcer in history. He called the race perfectly and for the moment—we all felt like we were someplace else.
I remember this night because it was a part of my beginning. I remember the heartbreak that came in my early sobriety. I remembered the lessons I learned and the good times like this one. I remember the hard times too. And I remember the promises we shared between each other. We all took a vow to keep in touch. And at the time, we meant every word. We swore we would keep it up and how we would all make it. The truth is, aside from my friend John who adopted me as a kid brother, I have no idea what happened to anyone else from that time.
If you would have asked me then, “Do you think you could do it?”
I would have told you “No”
I couldn’t understand why anyone would stay sober or how this could happen. Maybe someone else could do this, but not me. I understood drugs are bad but drinking (at least, from my standpoint) was as American as apple pie. How could I go without this for the rest of my life?
They told me, “Don’t think of it as the rest of your life.”
They said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow so much.”
They told me, “Just worry about now.”
“One day at a time,” they said.
“Every day, for the rest of your life, just take it one day at a time.”
I cannot say that I’ve always followed suggestions. I haven’t always done the right thing. I’ve been in trouble, both legally and financially. I’ve had hard times and I’ve lost, I’ve fallen, and I’ve been hurt. Also, and consistently, I have persistently lived my life one day at a time for the 9,496 days.
That’s 26 years to you and me.
26 years sober since April 1st, 1991
One day at a time
It works if you work it