I got married the first time because it was expected that I would when I reached a certain age. It was a lousy match, and ended in divorce — for good reasons. (I got two wonderful kids from that marriage and I don’t regret it at all, but it wasn’t exactly my choice — more a matter of the path of least resistance.) Continue reading
My friend Rodney died a year ago today. He wasn’t defeated by his addictions, because he had plenty of experience in dealing with them both inside and outside of treatment. He was killed by his choices.
Rodney and I were roommates in treatment. I was there — after 23+ years “sober” in the beverage and pharmaceutical programs — to deal at last with my sex addiction issues. Rodney was an equal opportunity addict like myself. He had varying lengths of time abstinent in AA and NA (several years, this time), but had never dealt with the feelings surrounding his sexual issues, including early abuse. He knew his triggers, too: he’d pick up the wrong guy, have a little liquid courage to facilitate the relationship, and eventually they’d end up doing drugs together. That had led to HIV and acute pancreatitis, among other things. He could not afford to drink again.
I don’t know what demons of his remained to be exorcised, but a few weeks after leaving residential treatment but while still in Intensive Outpatient, he made the choice to work on his chemical addictions while “taking a break” from his sex addiction program. A couple of weeks after that, he began avoiding my phone calls, and within a few more weeks I heard at a meeting that he was dead. He’d been found in his apartment, surrounded by empty beverage containers.
My friend knew that a relapse would kill him. He had trouble managing his physical issues when he wasn’t drinking. He also knew, from many previous relapses, that his Achilles’ heel was relationships. He sponsored people in AA. He was active in his fellowships. But for whatever reason, he failed to heed the multiple warnings of his experience, his therapist, his medical team and his friends in the program. He made the wrong choices, despite knowing better.
I’ll never know why, but I can make a pretty good guess. As a gay male, he had faced harassment all his life, including both sexual and emotional abuse from childhood. He had sought solace and to silence his demons through drugs and sexual acting out, but whatever those demons were, he ultimately made the choice to do the very things that he knew would probably kill him — and I know he knew, because he said so to me on several occasions.
We are powerless over our addictions, but we are not powerless over our choices. Relapses occur before we act out, and there is always a point where we can head in another direction, choosing our recovery over our fear of discovering more about who we are. Rodney taught me that, and a lot more. I miss him every day.
Rest in peace, my friend. You were a powerful support for lots of folks, including me. I sure wish you hadn’t chosen to be an example as well.
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I used to tell people that I had no choice about getting sober — that I knew if I didn’t I was going to die. But that’s not really true; I did have a choice. I could have said no. The fact is, I was scared not to, but that’s only because I was lucky. “Scared” could have gone the other way. I could have been more afraid to give up the life I knew than I was of whatever was ahead.
I don’t believe in gods. But I believe in miracles. The very fact that I am not a believer keeps me in awe of the amazing set of circumstances that led up to that moment of — not clarity — of simple willingness to quit fighting. The wrong words, the wrong combination of chemicals that day, the wrong look on someone’s face. That’s all it would have taken. It was sheer luck. The right things were said to me at exactly the right time. Had it been otherwise — well, I know I was right about the dead part.
I had a choice. And here I am.
Here’s one of my favorite poems:
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Robert Frost — from Mountain Interval (1920)
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.