A Look Into The Past
Some of life’s most defining moments end with a spectacular crash, resulting in a mess of destruction and rubble. Often, we find ourselves walking away from the rubble, believing we are unscathed, only to discover later that we have a rock in our shoe. This small, sharp pebble is left behind to remind us of where we have been and are going. My story is about learning to name these rocks and making peace with what I’ve left behind.
As a musician and songwriter, I came to Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife at the time, Tricia, in the fall of 1987. Over time, I had two different publishing deals as a songwriter and had traveled to nearly every corner of the United States and over 15 countries around the world.
I had three piano scholarships going into college, where I majored in piano performance. It wasn’t the most marketable degree path, but it was my passion and what I now realize was my identity.
I also grew up in a rather conservative religious belief system. I had been told exactly what God liked and didn’t, not to mention how he felt about me when I was good and when I wasn’t. Anxiety and perfection became roommates in my head at an early age, setting the stage to welcome anything that would allow me to exhale.
Looking back, much of what I accomplished was driven by the acute anxiety I experienced as a child and my unrealistic expectations.
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A Budding Relationship
I had my first drink of alcohol at 13 when my parents went away to a Christmas party. My dad had been given a bottle of bourbon as a gift, and since my parents didn’t drink, they simply hid the bottle in the pantry.
I remember that evening vividly. I hurriedly mixed the alcohol with 7up, creating what I found to be a wonderful aroma from the bursting soda bubbles infused with bourbon. After only a few sips and some time spent watching television, I began to feel what I interpreted as true peace for the first time. I didn’t feel shameful, anxious, perfectionistic, inadequate, spiritually deficient, or any of the host of other unnamed rocks my shoe had already begun to accumulate. I simply felt free.
As an adult, I certainly considered myself to be a social drinker, even though I was beginning to experience random, unwanted outcomes when I would overdrink. Over time, I slowly began justifying my behavior, often making excuses or reasons for drinking. The unnamed rocks in my shoe had begun to accumulate, and I wasn’t making the connection that my drinking was becoming more pain management than a method for social engagement.
As I continued to find more reasons to drink, my wife began experiencing many unusual physical symptoms, including numbness, vision issues, fatigue, and what she interpreted as clumsiness. It was eventually determined that she was suffering from early onset MS and would need to make some serious lifestyle changes. We later learned she was suffering from a very stubborn form of MS known as Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
As Tricia’s disease progressed, so did mine.
A Shoe Full Of Rocks
I soon gave up life on the road and took a staff position at our church as musical director to be more available at home. I was now virtually a single parent and a caregiver as Tricia’s disease took her from a cane to a walker, then to a wheelchair, and eventually to a hospital bed, where she spent the last seven years of her life.
The rocks of my unaddressed fears and pain, along with what I now know to be anticipatory grief and anger, began accumulating in my shoe.
“It was too painful to manage without alcohol.”
Soon, the unwanted outcomes of my drinking were undeniable. The blackout episodes, the daily hangovers, and the personal injuries to myself were becoming the norm. I was isolated, ashamed, and pushing down everything I was determined not to feel. My multiple attempts to stop drinking were short-lived, and eventually, I quit trying to quit.
After one too many bad nights, I knew I needed help, and I needed it quickly. A good friend of mine, who was also in recovery, had offered to meet with me, which led to him taking me (albeit kicking and screaming in protest) to my first 12-step meeting. That was the beginning of my real life; life since surrendering my relationship with alcohol.
I soon learned that alcohol had helped me hide from everything I was determined not to feel. I learned that adversity never really changed my beliefs but instead revealed them. Living with suffering didn’t give rise to a new set of issues, it simply took the ones I already had and turned them up to eleven. I realized that what I thought was a crisis of faith was merely losing the illusion of certainty and owning my own misguided expectations. I realized that sobriety would not allow me to stay in the comfort of an unexamined life. Rather, my addiction was the result of pain management gone wrong.
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Emptying Out The Rocks
Today, I have one tiny pebble that I have allowed to stay in my shoe. It is the pebble of awareness. Awareness that, left to my own devices, I will choose to minimize the details of my story and possibly go back to old behaviors if I leave the path. This tiny pebble offers just enough presence to keep me aware of my need for connection. Connection with myself, others, and that which is greater than myself daily.
Today, I am a Certified Professional Recovery Coach in private practice in the Greater Nashville area. Recovery gave me the courage to make a career change at 55 years of age and pursue the accreditation that allows me to live a wonderful new professional and personal life, as well as a more inclusive faith system I can embrace authentically.
We sadly lost Tricia in 2013 due to complications from MS, but thanks to my recovery, I avoided the belief that I had to drink to cope with her loss. And thanks to the tiny pebble of my awareness that stays snuggly tucked inside my shoe, I have a gentle reminder that keeps me grateful for every day that I get to experience this generous gift of freedom.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, know there are resources available. If you’re ready to take the first step toward recovery, don’t do it alone. Contact a treatment provider to get started on your recovery journey.