by Matt M
What did I use to be like, what happened, and what it’s like now? Every story has a beginning and mine starts with a 14 or 15 year-old mother and a 21 year-old father. I can’t get into full details because I don’t know them. I was a few weeks premature and spent time in an incubator because my lungs weren’t fully developed. My family moved to Texas from NYC, and my sister was born shortly after. At some point, all very quickly, my first half-sister was born. My full sister and I were promptly left on our grandmother’s doorstep, and I wouldn’t meet my parents again for 21 years (mom) and 32 years (father). My grandmother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To say she didn’t want to be burdened by me is an understatement. Around age 10, she decided it was in her best interests to find a way to get me out of the house, but only far enough so she could collect government assistance. As soon as the government assistance was threatened with being decreased or taken away, I would promptly be returned to her care from whatever institution she had placed me in at the time.
I was 13 years old, and back in NYC when I placed in a residential rehab clinic, because my grandmother was convinced, I was on drugs. I wasn’t, but my natural stubbornness and belligerent attitude had shone at a young age. Suffice it to say, I was given a crash course on drugs then. At 14, a family court judge (I won’t name him here, but I will NEVER forget his name), with the advice of several therapists concluded that my home life was incredibly abusive. I was sent to a boarding school and awarded property of the state of NY. I did well and left against the advice of the Judge who placed me there at 18 and returned to the city. I missed my friends back home and the joys of being institutions had taken their toll. I wanted to be like my normal friends and graduate from a normal school, after all there was nothing wrong with me. Not mentally anyway. I say this not to say a sob story, just to give background. I had smoked marijuana at this point, and tried some other things, but outside of cigarettes I wasn’t really addicted to anything.
Fast forward to 22 years old and I met an extremely beautiful young lady, who informed me “no more drugs” if we were to date. She was out of my league, so I gave it all up (minus nicotine) without a second thought. The relationship ended after six months and to ease my broken heart, I got the bright idea to join the U.S. Army. I fit in immediately, after all I had grown up in systems of discipline of “don’t do this,” “do this,” etc. Following the rules was entirely too easy. I finally felt as though I was doing something bigger than myself. Something that mattered. I volunteered (yet another bright idea) for a 6-month tour in Iraq where I ended up loading coffins onto return flights home. It was a sobering experience to say the least. I returned to my unit in S. Korea with $40k. This is the beginning of my affair with alcohol. I didn’t know anyone, wanted to make friends and all everyone did after work was go to bars, drink, and try to meet members of the opposite sex. I was binge drinking every weekend, a few times during the weekdays. I ended up getting married to my best friend. Shortly after getting married, its time for another deployment to Afghanistan. This is where things took a turn on me.
Upon my return, sleep eluded me. It became a lost love to me. No matter how much I wanted its embrace, she turned her back on me. Alcohol, which I never cared for to begin with, offered me that much needed relief and the sleep that comes with it. It had now become a nightly endeavor. Somehow, I still managed to function on a higher level than most. The environment of my profession at the time was work hard, play harder. In hindsight, I know some people were catching on to my nightly consumption but being a stellar performer and never staying anywhere long enough to warrant negative attention, I seemingly slipped through remaining at the level “among the best”. The military is like that at times. I could’ve sought help; I knew it was there. I had taken soldiers to seek help, but I’d be dammed if I needed help. I was stronger than everyone given the circumstances of my childhood. I say this not to warrant any sense of sympathy, but to show that I wouldn’t accept the things around me. I couldn’t. I was the master of my world. I had everything.
Eventually, I end up on recruiting orders to NYC. A stressful job, especially in that city. My drinking had progressed from a few nightly drinks to a pint a night. Sometimes two. Handles of liquor on the weekend. Somehow, I still managed to outperform. Until I didn’t. I don’t remember the first seizure. I was just happy it wasn’t my turn to drive the carpool. I woke up in a hospital, and four days had passed. I don’t remember what was said to me, and it doesn’t matter. My pride and ego wouldn’t have listened. I was drunk the first night I got home. My disease was progressing faster now. My wife left to stay with my sister unless I went to rehab. She didn’t want the kids to witness their dad die. So begrudgingly I went. I sat there and knew how to skate through the 30 days without being discovered. I had been raised in these types of situations after all. I returned home, and at this point I knew wholeheartedly I was in fact an alcoholic. I was arrogant enough to believe I could get it under control again, a lie I would constantly tell myself for the next five years. I had a long list of “yets” I hadn’t completed. I didn’t try to work a program. I found out that my beloved wife had been cheating on me. Oh, how quickly I would use that as an excuse to return to my drinking. I could’ve turned to a thousand and one different things, but that sweet mistress had me in her grasp and I welcomed it. Shortly after, she returned to S. Korea, kids in hand, never to return. For a while, I blamed her and the resentment towards her was in full effect. I had been abandoned by everyone my whole life, and now her. I wouldn’t abandon my kids. The lie in my head was me believing I would always be there for them; we would work things out. I could drink freely; she wouldn’t know. I will quit when she returns. Oh, what a fantasy. She knew. Alcoholics aren’t very good at hiding from others, no matter what we believe. Just ourselves.
Finally, the depression set in. I’m alone, again. Alcohol kept me company. It was a never-ending cycle of pulling myself up, just to drink uncontrollably and attempt suicide. I won’t get into the last part as details are unimportant. For five years, I tried to lift myself up, only to fall. Every time was a complete failure. With each fall, where I landed was much worse than the last. Divorced, any sense of parental rights was non-existent (international divorce is tough, especially when you aren’t told about your divorce). Hospital stays became an almost bi-monthly occurrence. I didn’t care. I was praying to not wake up. That seemed so much easier. I could control how it would end. I was defiant to the end. The kind-hearted young fellow, who saw beauty in everything, understood through self-reflection, through prayer and meditation, wanted everyone to laugh and enjoy life, was covered by the defiant, ill-tempered defeatist, arrogant and controlling parts that exist in all of us, took second stage.
It was mid-august of the year I became sober, that it would begin to change. I drove myself to the ER, carefully, for what I thought was a bad case of pink eye. I was admitted before the swab test results for Covid were finished. I was about to have a stroke, apparently. I had been through this before, didn’t scare me. Two weeks, numerous tests, and on my birthday, I was informed of nodules in my lungs that the physicians believed to be cancerous. Defiance played a role yet again, I didn’t care. I was going to drink it away. I tried. Enter yet another seizure, alcohol related, and another hospital visit. My aunt offered me a chance to seek help in Texas, and against my wishes and at the pleading of my daughters, I set off. I ended up in Florida. Alcohol poisoning, a contusion on my heel and yet another two-week hospital visit. I was offered another chance for an alcohol treatment facility. With nothing better to do, I accepted. I was offered thirty days inpatient, after all my medical records show that I am an extreme alcoholic. I laughed and asked, “You don’t have anything longer?” Remember that list of “Yets” I hadn’t completed? I had every box checked, some circled, some filled in so many times I couldn’t remember. I still don’t know what happened in Turning point, outside of the facility being aptly named as it became the turning point for me.
What is it like now? That kid who wanted to change the world, who believed that with love anything is possible, who cared for his fellows indiscriminately, who saw the good in everything and knew that light comes with the darkness found his footing again. Mr. Hyde would return often and throw his stones, but Dr. Jekyll was slowly resurfacing. I discovered no matter how dirty we allow ourselves to get, it’s possible to get clean again. The person I was, full of laughter (albeit sarcastic and self-depreciating), of love, who wants to wrap the world in a loving embrace has returned. I still worry about the future, still feel everything in all its connotations, still stress over silly things, but I know in the pits of my soul, that it’s all worth it. I still feel lonely at times, but because of my connection being restored to God (call it what you want), I know I’m not alone.
Through the AA program, my sponsor, a wonderful community/fellowship of other men and women, and my time in Turning Point, I have been restored. I am a beautiful disaster, and I enjoy things in life again. I liken my experience to a closet where the light wasn’t on. I didn’t care if it ever turned on. Someone came along and said, “it’s fixable”. Sure enough, there’s a soft glow now. Everyday it gets a little brighter. Page 417 (the whole story) no longer irks me. I no longer want to shove my middle finger at the sky. There are times, yes, but I have learned to embrace what life is going to throw my way. I get weird with it. I enjoy it. I get lost in parking garages and laugh. Life is beautiful. Through God, today I can accept the things I cannot change, He gives the courage to change the things I can and provides the wisdom to know the difference.