The first step on a very long path

long path_zOn the night of April 21, 1981 it was raining in Englewood, NJ, not a drenching rain but an insistent, nagging, East Coast, “just deal with it” kind of rain.

I had been sitting in my car for about 20 minutes; a debate raged on in side my head – do I go inside or head back home and face the consequences. Neither option appealed to me.

That day I had promised a cop that in order to avoid a very ugly arrest for drugs and alcohol that I would go to a 12-step meeting and then call him with the names and phone numbers of at least 5 people I had spoken with there.

Let me back up in this story a bit…

I had been drinking – and later drugging – for years. I was functioning at that level so many alcoholics and addicts do in which they believe they’re getting by because nothing has yet stopped them and they have been able to hide the worst of their degradation from the majority of people.
It’s a dangerous place for the user and a frightful place for anyone who cares about him or her.

I was out of control with alcohol by this time, drinking at work (when I went to work) and using drugs as a way to animate my ever more emaciated body. Like many addicts I had the misfortune of being able to hide in plain sight: I had a job which provided three different possible work locations. I lied about which location I’d be in to each of the locations so it was easy to avoid suspicion. The work I did was so specialized and I was so good at it even impaired as I was that people couldn’t tell if I was doing a good job or not. I became a master of illusion; like a magician I could distract my audience and manipulate them as needed.

Fortunately, illusions eventually fall apart: someone sees the man behind the curtain, or peers behind the facade, or, as in my case, the illusion simply was too complicated to uphold any longer.

I had been seeing a therapist who knew about my drinking and drugging and had been working on getting me to see the depths into which I was spiraling. She finally convinced me to go see a friend of hers who, she assured me, would understand my situation and lend a helping hand.

That was how I met a man I’ll call Frankie. Even though both that therapist and Frankie have long since passed away, I want to ensure their anonymity.

I went to see Frankie and, as was my norm by then, had to use both alcohol and drugs to be able to “clear” my mind before I knocked at his door.
Frankie was a little guy, thin and compact, about as threatening as a cub scout, and he smiled warmly as he welcomed me into his modest home.
He asked me what was going on for me and even though I knew that my therapist had already spoken to him, I started to hedge and started a much scaled-down version of my addictions.

Frankie just looked at me and said he wanted to tell me what his story was, so I sat back and got ready to pretend to listen.

The story he told was not a lot different from the one I was not telling him. He spoke about how he had been able to break free of that life (if life is even a reasonable word for it) and I found myself drawn into his narrative as it got worse and worse. I started to think that I could actually tell this guy about what it really was like for me because he had done worse! MY story wouldn’t sound nearly as bad and my therapist was wrong! This was setting up perfectly.

So I poured it all out, every bit of it. It seemed like the more I spoke, the faster the indignities, the lies, the anguish, the pain, the deceptions, and the degradation poured out of me. I would say it was as if a volcano had erupted but in truth it was more like vomiting, or a waste pipe, vile and toxic.

By time I was finished I was shaking, sweat pouring off me and I felt sick. I needed a drink or drugs or something. Frankie suggested that we go to the hospital where he had to go to get a B12 shot. He told me he then he had cancer and was dying. There were no more treatments to be had but he got regular B12 shots to try to keep up his stamina. I agreed to go with him.

Once we were inside I looked around and realized the “hospital” was a rehab center – strike one, Frankie.

I would have bolted right then and there except Frankie had driven and I had no idea where his house (and my car) was.

The nurse who greeted Frankie was genuinely pleased to see him and she smiled warmly at us both. He introduced me as a new friend who was here to get a B12 shot along with him since I was clearly under the weather. Wait! I was going to get a shot too? No way, strike two, Frankie!

He and the nurse saw the panic in my face and got me to calm down. The nurse filled two syringes from the same bottle as I watched and Frankie got his before I agreed to mine. I can still smell the alcohol on the cotton swab and remember thinking that I really needed a drink.

Frankie suggested that I check out the rehab program and sign myself in that day, that moment. The nurse excused herself and stepped out of the room. There was no question in my mind that I was leaving that place then and there but Frankie was hemming and hawing and I lost it. In a total panic I rushed at him and grabbed a hold of his jacket and said I wanted out…NOW. As I had said, Frankie was a small guy. I’m 6’2” tall but at that time in my life, emaciated as I was I weighed about 130 pounds. Not exactly a powerhouse but I was field by panic and let’;s face it, I was squaring off with a man who was actually very near death. Just another disgrace in a life filled with disgrace at that point.

When we got back to Frankie’s place I stood outside and smoked cigarette after cigarette before I could go back to get the car keys Frankie had somehow squirreled away.

Frankie wanted me to guarantee I was going to rehab and I told him basically to go **** himself. He then reached into his pocket and flipped open his wallet with the NY detective’s badge. Strike 3, Frankie…

He gave me a choice – go to some sort of 12-step or rehab program that night or go to jail since I had confessed to quite a few crimes, misdemeanors and more.

Was this actually legal? Probably not but it did what it needed to do.

I went home, raged and screamed, and cried but eventually found my way to that dark, wet parking lot.

I found a door and wandered around aimlessly until two guys who looked like bouncers asked if I was looking for “the meeting”. I said I was and they brought me to a huge auditorium filled with laughing, smiling people – a raucous crowd filling every table in the place with many more people clustered about. Clearly I was in the wrong place, this must have been a VFW meeting.

Someone saw me trying to blend into a wall and asked if it was the first time I was at that particular meeting. Before I could answer he asked if it was my first meeting ever. Nodding, and inexplicably (to me) weeping, he got one of the “bouncers” (actually a greeter) to bring men to the newcomers’ meeting.

That night I took my first steps on a journey which has brought me more joy, more success, more beauty than I could ever have imagined.

Did it go from ugliness to beauty in that magical moment? Hell no, there are many more stories to tell.

But here I sit, 33 years later, a roof over my head, living a comfortable life, doing for a living what I love to do.

If you’re struggling, know that the possibilities for a good life are unlimited if you’re open to change and willing to accept the help that’s out there.

About zolfw

I am an avid trail runner and fitness enthusiast, an accomplished cook, a lover of cinema and literature (although I read everything from graphic novels to professional psychology tomes, neither extreme being literature in the strict sense) . I am a retired Health and Wellness Coach. I am a husband, father, grandfather, and uncle.
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3 Responses to The first step on a very long path

  1. Anne says:

    I thank God for Frankie and his influence in your life. I thank God for you finally taking the steps that you needed to start your incredible journey. 33 years in the right direction. 33 years of unlimited possibilities. Thank you for sharing your story Zo.


  2. Phoenix says:

    Thanks for sharing. Hugs.


  3. Hugo F. Melo says:

    Thanks for sharing very useful.


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