Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day Three Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Three . . . The Plan.

I had a plan.

Oh man, oh man, did I have a plan.

I was going to get my shit together and clean up my act. After twenty years of debauchery which began in high school--a lifestyle which kept evolving and growing slowly but surely from teenage experimentation to full-on, ugly, self-destructive and morally compromising co-dependence--I was going to kick it all.

I was going to enter an outpatient program in Florence, Mass (just a couple miles from where I was living in Northampton, and coincidentally where I live now) and get on some craving-reducing medication, clear out the old liquor cabinet (read: freezer) and start living life better and cleaner.

That was my plan.

Hell, I had only been in the habit of ruining gig after gig with my band at the time. To the point where I had to be physically taken off stage at one show in Boston and made to watch the quintet which was now four people work their way through songs I co-wrote and played an important role in. I don't remember riding home in my friend Paul's car, leaving my car parked outside the club near Fenway Park overnight. I barely remember waking up the next day and--finding my car gone--figuring out what had happened and sheepishly taking a cab to the New Bedford bus terminal where I somehow got to Boston and on a Green Line and found my way to the club--in the middle of December--and got my keys back from the bartender (a good friend, Matty C) who I promptly asked to spot me a drink as I had spent my last dime on the subway (he told me he was broke, thank goodness, and couldn't help with the booze). I had shown up to the show in a tattered and oversized Minnie Mouse tee shirt and sweatpants and Steve, my bandmate, made me ask to borrow a staff shirt from the club. Then, after realizing I didn't have a guitar to play, making friends with the opening band and getting them to agree to lend this guy, who could barely stand, a guitar for a 90 minute set which turned out to be--for me--only about ten minutes long. Thank God I don't remember much of that because that kind of stuff is just so hard for me to believe I lived through. But I know it happened and I remember how I felt--cold, alone, but connected to the one thing that made everything else seem okay: alcohol.

I had only spent a week continuously fucked up at my aunt's house while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. This was a time I was supposed to be taking care of her cats (one with a very serious medical condition requiring eye drops) and watching the house while at the same time pilfering the pill collection I had amassed from the remnants of a family friend who had recently passed away. There was no need on her part to feel like she had to get rid of the Klonopin. I mean, she knew that her nephew liked to drink too much and smoke some weed, but he didn't know anything about pills, right?

And on Christmas Eve I had only waited for 45 minutes at the wrong hospital entrance to pick her up--the reason being because I had a head full of those little green devils. When I finally rolled slowly up to the right ramp and found her sobbing hysterically and she saw my face with my sunken eyes and blotchy-red skin, that was a horrible moment to have to remember. I can almost still hear her scream, "Oh Alex, what is wrong with you? You look like a monster!"

And when we sat face to face later that day, and I admitted I was taking pills on top of the alcohol I remember her getting madder and madder and seeing her head shaking violently, finally ripping open the top of her pants to reveal her wound from her surgery and screaming, "I have half my guts taken out and spend a week in the hospital trying to save my life and you cope by popping pills to get through it all?"

I don't remember anything about Christmas Day that year. Not one goddammed thing.

All I remember thinking--in general--was how much easier all of this would be to deal with if I had some vodka.

But I told her I had a plan.

I was going to start right after Christmas. Shortly after Christmas I was going to get it all going and try this thing for real.

I had even called that outpatient clinic in Florence and made an appointment to begin the course. I wanted to learn more about how to live life on life's terms.

But before all of that happened I was going to go out for one last night.

I was going to spin the wheel and see where it landed and make this one last night make up for however many nights I was going to stay sober for in the future.

So on the evening of December 26 I picked up a .750 of Smirnoff--my all-time favorite--and drank half of it (in a rocks glass with ice, nothing else) in about an hour.

I called up my buddy, Paul, and had a short conversation with him. We had been friends at that point for twenty years and he had been sober for a while. I shared with him some of the worst of my problems. We were in it together and he understood.

I told him that I was going to get my shit together the following week but--as I swept up a handful of pills from my table into my hand and brought them to my mouth--I was going to go "out with a bang" or something to that effect. I think I even made an audible "glug glug" noise on the phone with the cold-as-ice vodka as I let the pills slide down.

I don't remember what he said to me. I wish I did. I'm sure he tried to warn me against driving--or walking for that matter. I'm sure he told me he loved me and that he was worried about me.

But whatever he said to me didn't matter because I had a plan.

I needed to go to _____'s to get a little bit of _____ to keep the night going. Mind you, my idea of a night out on the town was basically spent in my bedroom with the windows covered with a heavy blanket so that when the sun came up I might be able to get an hour of sleep before calling in sick to work. I don't really want to get into too much of that part of the story. I never got into that stuff so heavy because I didn't know enough of the people who could get me it to get to the point where it was a serious issue, if you know what I mean.

But this night I had called a friend and asked if The Guy was there and he said yes.

So I got in my car and peeled out of my driveway. I only know that I peeled out of my driveway because my former neighbor told me so afterwards. I owned a Subaru Forester at the time. These cars are not known for being the best at peeling out.

But I had a plan.

It was in motion.

And so was I.

I took the back way through the industrial park area so as to evade whatever police might be lurking. I knew how to get around under the influence. I must have done it more times than not.

But this time was different.

And as the pills kicked in I found myself not at the edge of the parking lot of the place where I needed to go. I found myself in front of a main Northampton thoroughfare. Because, of course, I had to stop at the ATM down the road to get money for my guy.

I was only about 800 feet from where I needed to be.

If I just took a left and then pulled into that parking lot . . .

The police report that Officer Satkowski and Officer Liptak filled out said they observed me exiting the parking lot at a high rate of speed.

They said they saw me cross the white fog lines on the right and that's when they put on the blue lights for me to pull over.

And that's when my plan merged with their plan.

Among my possessions I have a photo of me taken shortly after December 26th turned into December 27th, 2007. Almost a year since my mom had died at 65 and just about nine months before my aunt would join her--the youngest of three--at age 60. It was taken by the cops and it's not a pretty sight. 

When I blew the breathalyzer my blood alcohol content was .25%--three times the legal limit but pretty standard for me. I think that was more or less my goal on any given night of drinking, sad but true. 

I probably would have never made it to 40. Hell, who knows if I would have made it to 38 (I'm 37 in the photo above). My guess is that I would have tried to clean up--again--and done well for a while. Maybe I would have gone back here and there and used and maybe I would have bounced back. Maybe it would have stuck this time, who knows?  

Anyone who has kept up with my story over these past ten years will know that shortly after my aunt passed away in September of 2008 I had a bout with Oxys which had been delivered to her (or me, really). So I can't claim ten full years of sobriety. That comes in the fall and I don't really celebrate the date. Alcohol was my demon and that demon stopped terrorizing me on December 27, 2007.

Since then I have rebuilt my life. 

I found the joy of all joys in Jodi, my amazing wife and best friend. 

Together we cleared out and sold my family's home on the Cape.

I began my new musical venture, Colorway, and have put out two albums with a third in the works. I don't wear my heart on my sleeve in my writing, but I do touch on issues of recovery and the joys of a life spent free from my vices. 

I have begun sharing what I know about the guitar with students of all ages. I've even seen some go from knowing absolutely zero about how to play, to becoming the proficient lead guitarist in a popular teen band in the area. My mother and aunt--lifelong teachers--would be so proud. 

I have been a big part of the Young@Heart Chorus pit band. I luckily get to travel the country and the globe on a regular basis making people of all ages happy. 

I have, for almost two years, hosted a weekly open mic night at a local brewery (ironically enough) showcasing the amazing talent that exists here in the valley. 

And I have helped many people who thought they were too far gone to change their ways and seek help for addiction. Some of them have written me and thanked me. Others I know are struggling and may be reading this at this very moment. I am always here and easy to find and will lend a hand to anyone who may need help. 

And, of course, there are far too many friends of mine who weren't so lucky. I haven't updated this blog since this past June. That's because one of my former bandmates--a guy who had to play on that stage while I was forced to watch from the audience ten years ago at that Boston club--died from complications of pneumonia that stemmed from a lifestyle that his body just couldn't sustain. 

His name was and is J. Scott Brandon and he was a beautiful, kind, compassionate, funny and insightful man. When I last saw him he was in a bad way and I wish I had made more of an effort to try and help him. But people who were closer to him than I say they tried and tried and nothing was working.

We had discussed getting clean and what it would take to change his lifestyle but it never ended up more than talk. 

My last post was inspired by that last run in with him. Shortly after I posted it his sister wrote me to say he was in the hospital. 

He never made it back home. I will miss that man forever. 

We all have our directives in life. Some people figure these things out early on. I was always jealous of the people who knew what they wanted to do in life and then just went for it. They knew what schools to go to (or try to get into anyway) and how to climb whatever ladder their profession entailed. Some made it and some didn't. But at least they had a plan. 

I just knew I wanted to have a good time. I wanted to make music and be funny and be around funny people. I never really thought too hard about how I was going to sustain that directive. But alcohol kind of provided a goal for a while--make enough for rent and beer and the rest will fall into place. 

My plan came later in life, as happens sometimes. 

And it's still not clear cut. I'm getting older and feeling the effects of middle age settling in. 

But my plan is sturdy.

My plan is strong.

My plan will hopefully carry me the rest of the way through life.

Be good.

Be kind.

Stay clean.

Remember that no emotion or moment--no matter how awkward or uncomfortable (or amazing, for that matter)--lasts forever. 

Stay strong.

Love fully and with all my heart.

Do not fear death.

Remember and cherish those who shaped you, whether that was when you were younger than you can remember or even just something small that happened yesterday. We are all products of our environment and we are evolving every second of every day. 

And finally, try to the best of your ability to help those you can, and remember that we are all here on this crazy planet trying to get by in our own way . . . 

We all have a plan . . .  even if it takes someone else to reveal it. 

Here's to the plan and the next ten years.

Thanks for reading,



Marian said...

Beautiful, so hopeful. Thank you.

Tanza Erlambang said...

God bless you