In a cold, dark, and anonymous room in 1997, after a night of debauchery I had participated in hundreds of times previously, I decided I did not want to leave my three boys a legacy of failure and death.
Alone, on a bed of sweat and bodily fluid, I went into seizure back to back. In fact, I went into seizure six times after twenty plus tequila shots, multiple grams of cocaine, and a pack of Sudafed. My body was dying. My heart was exploding, my chest was breaking, and my legs were rigid. Six times. For over an hour. I still don’t know how I crawled out of that room.
I do know I prayed to a God I left behind in the Catholic classrooms of my childhood. I prayed to God that I did not want to leave my sons a memory of a dead, loser, drug-addict father. With my last breath, as I felt my body giving up and my heart stopping, I begged for another chance. I could feel a single tear on my cheek. The salty drop revived me. I was dead, but I had survived. I was given another chance.
Three days later, I went out and did it again. As I snorted another line in another inner Sydney toilet, I thought, “What the hell? Who gives a damn? I’m not scared of death.” Crazy? You bet.
The experience I went through, the near-death scare, the love of my sons, and the utter despair of me dying as a drug addict and alcoholic were not enough. I was gone. It was done. I was a walking two-line obituary and funeral card. When you know all hope is gone, and no one and nothing can save you, you give up and commit yourself to the end. It sounds dramatic, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a fact. Alcoholics and addicts in the final throes of active addiction are living refuse. Refuse gets thrown out. The very stuff that sustained us becomes our rubbish tip. We are born to die, but not this badly, and the sad, single fact is that when addicts die, they take down all the unfortunate people hanging onto them.
For me, when it seemed hopeless, it happened.
After another drama-filled and noisy failure of a night, I careened into my third rehab. I was sharing a room with two heroin addicts and a park drunk. We were all in withdrawal, none of us could sleep, and I was still hanging onto the thought that I was too good and too successful to be sharing a room in a psychiatric ward with a bunch of losers.
Denial is a powerful friend and a dangerous enemy. It will ride with us into the gates of hell.
During the third night of no sleep, as I watched the park drunk from Newcastle strike out in the shadows to a ghost in his dreams, the metaphor of his sallow fist hit me.
I could not go any lower.
This was my last chance.
I had no more excuses. I was alone in rehab, ignored by my wife. My sons were shielded from me. My parents were in shock and utter pain at the shell their boy of so much promise had become.
My beautiful sisters could barely smile at me, and they held me like a brother they thought they may lose.
This is not a Hollywood movie or a reality TV show, where you build a house or walk out of a staged marriage. This is life. Real life! Each city in the Western world is dotted with rehabs full of alcoholics, addicts, anorexics and the mentally unwell. Rehabs are the garbage bin of society. Like it or not, the need to succeed is also the seed to despair.
It is the same impairment, just different strokes. Show me four CEOs, and I’ll show you an addict or two. Work obsession can be camouflaged by share prices and large, bank accounts. Camouflage tends to make the ugly pretty or the dangerous invisible. I can see through camouflage because I hid behind a number of dappled nets.
Victories in this world are made by little people, and this little man made a small step.
I decided I had to have a go at recovery. I gave in to what people call my disease. I put down my gun and took off my body armor. I stepped out from behind the nets.
It was May 7, 1998, and I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since that ugly night. It’s been over twenty three years.
I have made many mistakes since then, lost many things, hurt people, and used other forms of addiction just to get through days I thought would never end.
Some days, I yell at the sky and rage against the very earth that sustains my life.
I have met lawyers, bankers, and dentists who make the worst Kings Cross drug dealers look like playful puppies. Envy and greed can make the ugly seem attractive.
I have lapsed into depression, despair, and self-pity, but the legacy of that night and those three men is a legacy I cannot and will not forget.
I am the only man who walked out of that room into a future—out of the night and into the light.
Those other three men all succumbed to their addiction. I shared three weeks of laughter, tears, and bad coffee with those brave and amazing men. They became my foot soldiers. We made promises to each other that we would share birthdays and Happy New Year’s celebrations. Sober. Together. In that nuthouse camouflaged with Laura Ashley window drapes, we all chose life.
But they are fallen, and I got through. Go figure. It just is. There is no rhyme, no reason, no divine intervention, and no pretty bow to wrap it up with. It just is, and that, my friends, is the way of the world. My world. Your world. Our earth.
One day, one life.