Hello, my name is Ben and I a member of Christmas Anonymous, which means that at one point, I had a problem with the Christmas season. This is not to say that Christmas Anonymous is a real thing but for the moment it is.
The following is my qualification for membership, which, I have learned to overcome. And so, with hopes to reach those who’ve been through their struggling similarity; I offer this message of hope because although heartfelt, the truth is we can all overcome anything, should we so choose to.
I hadn’t been home in a three months, which does not sound like a tremendous amount of time, but yet, at the same time, a lot can change in an hour, let alone three months. Life can change in a split second, which it does —and all this takes is a word, and next, every plan and every idea we grew to believe is altered by a circumstance beyond our control. This can go either way too. This can be either be good or great or bad and worst.
I was home though, in any case, and everything about my childhood home was different to me. I suppose this was the case because it was me that was different —at least in some way.
I wasn’t sick anymore. I knew this was true. My room was redone, but not completed and temporarily used as a home office for my family’s business, which was fine with me because my whereabouts were going to be uncertain for a while.
Safe to say, I was in a holding pattern. For lack of better terms, I was almost on a shelf of some kind —and meanwhile, life was moving on without me.
But me, I was undergoing a process that was not within my control. I was “Away” as they say and fulfilling a legal commitment to say the least, which was either drug treatment or the more deliberate form of punishment behind bars and locked in concrete rooms.
I was away but the powers in charge of my stay were generous enough to allow me the time for a home visit. They gave me this to settle the affairs of my Father, who was sick and laying in a bed at some hospital’s coronary care unit.
He was tied to machines, and weak, and gray. He was everything else we hate most about this final chapter of life because above all, he was dying and although the doctors came in to pull their trick; I knew what was coming.
This was Christmas day, 1989. What amazed me most was the unmercifulness of time. The entire world just kept on going. Nothing stopped. No one paused for a moment —the world just kept on being the world, which was cruel in some ways, but yet, I supposed this is the way life is.
Some suffer, some celebrate, and meanwhile the rest of our crazy world has no idea what goes on in the minds and hearts of anyone else, nor does anyone care. Life is just life and the painful truth is life is only a temporary stay for us all.
Still though, there was something so painfully unnatural about this. How can anyone be sick on Christmas Day?
I remember how cold it was. I remember the feeling of the cold December air. My town which is where most of my young life took place was almost a stranger to me. I knew the homes and I knew the streets but everything was different to me now. Life was different to me now.
I had seen things and met people which proved that perhaps the ideas that I believed were true, in all actuality, were not true at all.
And the truth is I believed in lies for song that I was unsure what the word “Truth” meant. Besides, is anyone really truthful about themselves? Does anyone even know who they are at the age of 17 or at any age, for that matter? I had seen many live there life, completely oblivious to their truth, and yet, the go on as they are, living a lie (just like I was.)
I had no idea about much of anything. I never thought much about the world outside of my own. I never thought much about anyone else or their feelings.
I suppose there was a piece of me that never believed life was real, nor was love, nor was the hearts and thoughts of other people.
No, I suppose my small view of things were blinded by my low self-esteem. Maybe my view was blinded by my interpretation of others.
Maybe I internalized everything. Maybe I just wanted things to be a different way, but they weren’t, so then it came to this for me —if I did not like my choices, I would be sure that no one else around me liked them either, which was sad because of all the things I missed —and here it is, life stepped in to disrupt the natural ideas of what Christmas Day means. There it was, Christmas Day, and the man that I idolized and valued most; the man that I wanted to accept me most and be proud of me, and yet, the man that I resented most, the man that I was angriest with, and the man that no matter how I tried, in my heart, I believed I could never please, and with all of this out in the open, the man I knew as my Father was about to pass away.
Safe to say this altered my perception of the holiday. Safe to say that perhaps if none of this happened then I would never be the man I am today. Safe to say The Old Man and I were able to lay our differences to rest. And safe to say that I should be grateful for what I had and what I still have, which are irreplaceable memories that surpass his moment of death.
I swear though, on that morning of Christmas Day, 1989; I stood in the doorway of my bedroom, a stranger to myself, and a stranger to my own home. I had no idea how to interpret this moment.
Everything was too surreal. I was partly afraid to step in my bedroom. I was partly afraid to look around and recall a stash spot and find something—partly afraid of the urge, partly afraid to feel, partly afraid of the pain, which was apparent to me because, after all, all of my wounds were certainly self-inflicted.
Perhaps there were outside motivations for my behavior, but still, whatever self-destructive method I chose was still chosen by me. There was no one else to blame anymore. Blaming anyone else was just another lie I told myself.
I had been away for three months. I was clean from the drugs but not cleaned from my mindset. The coloration of my skin had improved. I wasn’t green anymore or pasty looking. I gained some weight. In fact, I gained more than 30lbs. once the drugs left my system.
There was another cruelty, by the way, which I realized once I returned home. No one really cared that I was gone.
And what I mean is no one looked to find me or send me a letter. No one really thought much about me, with the exception of (I’m sure) a few laughs at my expense.
The truth is the people I believed were my friends were still doing business as usual. Nothing changed for them —only me. I was the only thing that was different. And aside from the unmercifulness of time; there was also the unmercifulness of truth, which is life goes on, relentlessly and without stopping to ask us about our concerns or opinions.
The Old Man passed away on the 29th of December, which I will talk about more on the anniversary of his passing; however, for now, I will keep with my moment of realization.
After he passed, I was up in my bedroom, which was half changed and half the same, while in mid-construction that had to stop when The Old Man had his first heart attack.
My bedroom light was on. Mom was home but she had not been for several weeks.
Mom did not leave my Father’s side until she knew he was gone. She didn’t come home. She never left the hospital to eat.
Instead, she ate whatever they offered her on the hospital trays with a plate beneath a sad looking imitation of Tupperware cover. The food was equally as sorry presentations of food, which was not really food at all.
My brother would go out though and bring in hamburgers or whatever fast food there was at the nearby places.
When The Old Man passed, Mom finally returned home to plan the burial and funeral arrangements.
It was late. I’m sure of it but the phone rang. The voice on the other end asked for me, which I was nearby when Mom answered the phone. I can recall the look of terror in her eyes. I suppose she was afraid that I would take off and run.
I didn’t know who it was—at least, not at first. But then Mom gave me the phone. I heard the voice and I knew.
I knew who it was. I knew he wasn’t alone. I knew the people he was with and I knew what they wanted.
In this case, however, the names of them all are unnecessary and will not be used to protect the less than innocent.
“Are you home for good now?” asked the voice on the phone
“No,” I answered.
“We drove by and saw the light on in your bedroom.”
“I had to come home to bury my Father,” I said.
And this is when I knew exactly what the life was about. This is when I knew how unmerciful the addict world is.
“Do you want us to come get you?”
“No,” I said. “I’m good.”
Now, in fairness, these were kids I knew all my life. I did good things with them and I did bad things too. The person speaking on the phone knew my father very well. We used to have sleep-overs together as kids. In fact, we went through everything together as kids.
And he never said “Sorry, man.”
He never said anything like, “I’ll be right over,” or “Do you need anything?”
Instead, he told me, “Do you want us to come get you,” which in his language was the same as asking me to go get high with them.
I knew what he was asking. I knew they had a ride and I knew where they were going. It was then that I realized the person was not my friend at all —instead, he was just an opportunist looking for an opportunity to spread the social infection, which I was free from, and if he could, he would have come to get me with hopes to get more money to buy more bags and then get me high.
Even if I cared about the life I lived before my entry into sobriety —that life did not about me at all. The fact became abundantly clear. I was more loyal to that life than it was to me.
At the end of 1989, I had lost my Father. However, I had to do more than say “Goodbye,” to my Father. I had to say goodbye to my personal lies and my private demons. I had to say goodbye to people that were more loyal to a lifestyle than their care or friendship with me.
And, admittedly, this is not an easy holiday but fortunately, I eventually learned to string together this thing called emotional sobriety. I learned that above all, The Old Man only wanted the best for me. And the reason we couldn’t get along was only due to frustration. He couldn’t fix me and I couldn’t fix myself, and between the two of us, we lacked the ability to communicate this to one another.
Hard to believe it will be 30 years since this happened. I had a slip once with the drugs at the end of March in 1991. I had other slips that questioned my emotional sobriety. But I learned to have friends. And I mean real friends. I had to learn to make new memories too. And I mean good memories; I mean the kind that will keep me warm from now until the hour of my death.
It is Christmas day, today, December 25, 2019.
I will be heading over to a jail where I hold one of my empowerment groups. We’ll sit for a while and talk, hopefully freely, and then I will take a drive back up to my spot in the mountains. I will step outside to say a few things to The Old Man (wherever he is) with hopes that he hears me and gets this message.
And if he doesn’t hear me, I guess I’ll just leave it here:
I did just like you said, Pop.
It hasn’t been easy. But I did just like you said.