Impact StoriesLife-changing stories of hope, healing and wholeness
I grew up in a family of 9 children with both parents. My father was an alcoholic who drank frequently. Mother was present but was mentally abused and physically battered along with the rest of us. We scraped by, our physical needs met but emotionally my parents were unavailable.All of us, save one, developed issues with substances.
As a teenager in the 70’s I was employed as a Team Leader for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Drinking, speed and all the accoutrements that go with it were the order of the day. Actually, I had gotten fired from BCBS’s service division for calling into work sick from hangovers. It was a problem that I got fired but I didn’t think I was an alcoholic. At that time disco was in, the party was on, so I continued my use. I didn’t learn a thing.
In 1979 I left after being appointed to the Boston Police Academy. I graduated as Vice President of my class. I went to rehab for the first time in 1981. I got drunk, blacked out and came to at home. Oh God, where was my gun? It was on the dresser. I picked it up and opened the cylinder. All the rounds had been discharged and I could not remember where they had been shot off. I made a phone call to my comrades who came to save me. They took me to Spofford Hall in New Hampshire. A premiere alcohol rehab akin to a resort. I stayed there for thirty days of fun in the sun and got fattened up for the kill. Still, I didn’t learn a thing.
Eventually I was arrested in 1983 for crimes directly associated with my substance use disorder. Seven warrants for seven prescriptions I had forged and cashed. I lost that career. But I gained all the guilt and shame, sense of failure and self loathing my illness could give. I rolled around in it. This set me up to keep on using alcohol and drugs and years went by. I figured I’d try to get sober again. It was 1993.
While in the hospital detoxing, I came to around the third day, feeling clammy, sweaty and dirty. I gathered my things to go take a shower. On entering the bathroom I passed a mirror to my left and “pow”, in an instant, a twinkle of an eye, my whole life flashed before me and it scared me nearly to death. I fell on my knees and I cried like a baby. It felt like the weight, guilt, shame, I was hiding, was lifted from my shoulders. A warm feeling passed over me, from the center of my head down through me, like warm water. The feeling said everything was gonna be alright.
I completed a six month halfway house, got housing and was hired at the program I had completed. I was promoted through several positions and advanced over time to the position of Program Director. However, I failed to enlarge my spiritual experience.
Ten years later, my relationship broke up, and my back started hurting. I started self medicating and was unable to recall all the pain and loss I incurred previously.
When I relapsed, I left my family; my daughter was five years old and I moved to New York. I spent time homeless in the Bowery of New York. Got arrested for facilitating drugs to an undercover detective and was set free from Superior Court without prosecution. The judge would not issue the complaints. Grace of God and I couldn’t see it.
In 2012 I was homeless. I recalled a guy telling me that if I ever needed a place to stay, to go into the emergency room at any hospital, tell them I had passed out in the street and they would admit me. I did this and it worked. So there I was in a hospital bed, off the street. I had a flat screen t.v., meals were coming, a phone, a shower and I could wash out the clothes I had on my back. Not bad for a bum which of course, I was not.
The guy laying across from me was legitimately sick. He was frail, jaundiced and weak. Droves of people were visiting him and bringing him fruit baskets which I eyed because I wanted some of it.
The doctor came, pulled the curtain and began examining him. I could hear the doctor tell him he had tumors on his bladder, something about a biopsy, and that there were no guarantees; he was a very sick man. The curtain went back and the doctor left. The patient saw me eyeing his fruit and invited me over to his bed offering me some. On sitting down he said to me: “So, what’s your story?” Well, I figured I would pour out my tail of woe, how I once was somebody and now I was nothing, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, swing low, sweet chariot, poor me, etc.
He looked straight at me with yellow eyes and said rather plainly but directly: “You may feel hopeless but you’re not helpless.” What I heard was I feel for you but what are you gonna do about it? Then I thought, here’s a guy that might die and he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, he’s helping me. Kapow!!! He talked to me further, convinced me to come back to Boston and gave me the bus fare to return to Boston. His name was Dennis Collins, an Angel. I don’t know if he lived or died. All those people visiting him were from the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Most people don’t know that AA is a spiritual program.
I got involved with the Ignatian Spirituality Project when I returned and was in a shelter on Long Island. I heard about the retreats and wanted to get away from the craziness in the shelter. On attending, I was reconnected to a power greater than myself. The prayer, exercises surroundings, silence, and camaraderie with my fellow retreatants helped me to recognize the love and support that is present to me everyday. All I have to do is access it. ISP allowed me to learn, give suggestions, participate, facilitate and over the years mentor newer retreatants by being an example and telling my story.
All through my life while I was condemning myself, Jesus was there. He showed himself quite often in my life. I didn’t recognize it then but I do today. I believe my job is to be an honest, compassionate, empathetic human being whether I’m counseling or cleaning toilets. This is the linchpin for me. I truly can’t keep what I have today unless I am actively getting out of my own way and helping someone the way God has helped me.