I left New Orleans in the summer of 1987, I was put on a plane to Oklahoma City and I remember virtually nothing about the experience other than it was hot as hell. Within a week I found out that my insurance wouldn’t cover the cost and I was sent to St. Paul, MN to Teamhouse.
Teamhouse was a halfway house and the typical stay was for 6 months, which was cool by me. For all intents and purposes it was just going to be a long vacation while I figured out what my next move was going to be. Whether I was an alcoholic or an addict didn’t really matter at that point. I just needed to be away from my former life and frankly, all of the things that were holding me back.
I knew nothing about St. Paul or Minneapolis other than the fact that Prince was from there.
The only other thing that remotely intrigued me about the place was that the Minnesota Vikings played here and when they were on TV I would watch, mostly because of the snow which I had never seen in real life.
Now here I was, it was five below and I was on a bus staring at a billboard, the billboard was a liquor advertisement.
There were probably 40-50 people that lived in Teamhouse at any given time, what I remembered the most was the amount of rage most of the people had in them. I am a pretty intense guy but I was probably on the bottom 10 in terms of rage. I think mostly because I thought all of it was a joke.
Until that billboard and that day. My sobriety date is February 11th,1987 but it was on that random day when shit got real.
Alcoholics and Addicts hate it when I say this but I don’t TRULY know if I am one of them. I was 18 at the time.
What I do know was that what was on that billboard would fix the hole inside of me, if not forever at least for that moment.
There was a stark difference in who I was before that billboard and who I would start to become. I was fake, I was a poseur and I was pretending so I could stay there while I sorted out my life.
I didn’t know if I believed in god or not but someone told me to pray each day and so each morning before breakfast I would roll out of my bed and hit my knees and ask for direction for that day.
I did that every single day.
My counselor Jerry would call me on my bullshit and he knew I wasn’t serious until I was.
Jerry was a homosexual man and probably the first gay man I ever interacted with up to that point. There was one other gay man that was a counselor and it was common for all of us to dismiss them and their advice. I would love to tell you that I stood up for these men but I didn’t, I laughed behind their backs and laughed at the jokes just like everyone else.
It doesn’t excuse it but I didn’t make the jokes. I didn’t make the jokes because Jerry believed in me and when I got serious Jerry pushed me to keep getting better.
I loved him for that.
As I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life I had a few epiphanies. As part of the program you had to sit down with someone (I chose a priest) and confess the things you did wrong to people. While I am Catholic I was not accustomed to doing this. It was very freeing to say these things out loud.
It cleansed me in a way and I eventually got to make amends to everyone I harmed along the way.
But there was one more person I hadn’t addressed at that point, the person that I let down the most.
That person was me and that’s where Jerry made the biggest impact on my life.
It was about a month before I was supposed to leave the house and I was scared, that billboard was blocks away and what it represented was attainable. Would I have a weak moment where I was alone and have some kind of setback? I had come so far. I was finally starting to realize how vulnerable I was as my heart was opening. It was like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where for a moment it seems like everything was going to be great.
But that scene didn’t turn out so great in the end.
I was talking to Jerry and started to lay out the plan for getting a job and getting an apartment.
Jerry wouldn’t hear any of that. Here is what he told me….
“You weren’t supposed to be here, so we are signing you up to take classes at Minneapolis Community College and you are going to fulfill your potential”.
And I did.
This year was my 33rd year sober if I have the math right.
I have seen a lot of people struggle with their demons and many of them didn’t make it.
I am going to tell you something right now that I don’t think I have ever said. When other people relapsed I took that as a sign that my odds just got better each time someone else didn’t make it it strengthened my resolve to continue on and do the work.
“The Work” by the way is not staying sober, “the work” was building a life, it took me about 5 years of sobriety to realize that too. As my life continued to get better the easier it was to avoid drugs and alcohol.
I feel like I need to add something here that is important because over the years I came to know a lot of people that relapsed and also went on to build great lives. So I now know that some of them weren’t just a statistic I beat. They beat that same statistic with me because in the end not drinking or not doing drugs doesn’t mean as much as most people think. Certainly for some it matters a lot but even in those cases eventually you have to move on from not drinking and not doing drugs and build your life, in fact, the faster you can do that the better chance you have for recovery.
So thank you Jerry for kicking me in the ass and telling me the truth. I was supposed to be someone and you didn’t let me forget that. I think you would have been proud of what I have became.