THIS MONTH'S GUEST SPEAKER: "Matt U."
Originally posted in Nov. 2003(The author retains all rights to this material)
IS THAT ALL THERE IS TO A CIRCUS
I am an addict named Matthew. Everything I write lately starts with the phrase “ I am 52.” It could be because I am 52 or because I am very sensitive to the fact . Or perhaps I recognize the miracle that is living this long, in view of how hard I tried to kill myself with drugs and the lifestyle that goes with it. I have done many things in those 52 years, had many vocations and avocations, been many things to many people, been around the world and back, and lived in many places. I have been, at various times, a writer, a stringer, a retailer, an entrepreneur, an adjuster, a director, a musician, a father, husband. I have been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a potentate.* Masks are easy to put on. I have been a chameleon since my childhood. But always, I was an addict. I bowled with a Vanderbilt and shot pool with a world champion. I lost my shirt in Vegas, Wall Street and Pt. Pleasant. I lived next door to the only officially recognized municipal witch in North America. I played rock and roll in bars and concert halls. I have been thrown out of the best places. Been invited back to a few as well. I drank and drugged with the best of them....and the worst!
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be the second coming of Bob Dylan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac. Unfortunately for me, those jobs require the discipline to write and not obliterate one’s mind and spirit with drugs! I wanted to live fast, die young and leave a used up but good looking corpse. I worked a lot harder at that than anything else. I learned to drink and take drugs in my early teen years (actually had my first drink for its effect at 8 years old). In my twenties and early thirties, I worked even harder at it, turning brilliant careers into dead end jobs.
20 years ago, I was surveying the panorama that is Secaucus, NJ from a perch in my corner office. I was riding high. I had just published a management and operations guide. The gold leaf on my door read “Vice President, Human Resources, Training. ” I was living large. Company car, gold Amex card, expense account, apartment over looking the Hudson, and traveling all over the country. But the blush faded from the rose, and I decided to move on. Unfortunately, the CEO decided I should move on just before I did. Did I mention that I drank too much and took too many drugs to be an effective executive? A smaller company was in desperate need of a drunken, drugged out human resources guy who could write manuals, hire and train effective personnel and nod out at his desk. I was their man; I had all the qualifications. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided they didn’t want the first and last qualification, and let me go on the same day I decided to leave. “You can’t fire me, I quit!” I became a “consultant”, doing my work from the comfort of my living room, where I could drink and drug with no one watching. I only had to sober up long enough to deliver the final product. I still dreamed of being Jack, or Bob or Larry. Eventually, there was no living room or consultancy, no final product to deliver.
In the hell that was my late thirties and early forties I had given up dreaming completely. I got high and stayed drunk. My only wants were a bag and a bottle. The hope and promise of my youth had turned into the wasteland of my middle age; an alcohol soaked, drug induced waking coma that I thought was inescapable. This was the success, the invisibility I had sought. Living on the dead of winter streets of New York City, filthy face and hands, foul smelling clothes, smeared with trash and body odor, I was the creature that people crossed the street to avoid. I hit bottom. No friends, no family, no soul. I was sick. I was tired. I was alone. I was done! That was January 24th, 1993; ten years ago. I didn’t know where to turn.
I had heard about NA years earlier. I knew there were meetings on St. Marks Place. I went there. I went into the building and sat in a room completely alone, surrounded by people; some smiling, some frowning, but all of them looked clean and comfortable. Everyone, compared to me, looked clean and comfortable. People read stuff that I couldn’t hear, then some people talked but I couldn’t concentrate. Dope sick and angry, I stuck it out til the end of that NA meeting. People hugged me (filthy, disgusting me) and told me to come back. “Try not to use and come back tomorrow” they said. I didn’t use and went back the next night. They gave me numbers to call. I did.....collect of course.....someone answered my calls. I got myself to a rehab. I didn’t use for a few days. I got support from my new found friends in NA.
I thought I was looking for a warm place to die, maybe another tune up, perhaps lessons in how to use successfully. I didn’t think I wanted to get clean. But you folks tricked me. You said I could “stop using, lose the desire to use and find a new way of life!” I didn’t believe at first, but I kept coming anyway.
I got clean, figuratively and literally. A bath, some clean clothes and a few days of not taking drugs or drinking and my entire perspective changed. I got out of rehab and went to a meeting before I went home to my wife (we would separate later that year and ultimately divorce) and child, whom I hadn’t seen in several months. I went to meetings everyday. I got a sponsor. I got commitments in NA. I built a small support group. I worked steps, the heart of the program, with my sponsor. I talked about myself in the rooms, letting others know who I am. I started to feel better and get better. Because I found NA, I learned to make good decisions with the help of people in the rooms of NA, and by G-d’s grace, I celebrated 10 years clean and 52 years alive this year. Not too shabby for an addict who was determined to “live fast, die young and leave a used up but good looking corpse!”
There were a few things I had thought I wanted when I first got clean. I thought I wanted a big house on the water in Bay Head. I thought I wanted a new Lincoln every year. I believed I wanted a super model gracing my home and bed. I thought I wanted a job that paid a small fortune and recognition from my peers and fans with little or no effort. What I really wanted was relief. I wanted freedom from “self”. I wanted to be loved and to be lovable.
Today I have that relief, thanks to NA. I am joyous, happy and free from the bonds of my own ego..... most of the time. I have friends, family and a soul. I have hope. I am loved. I am grateful to be walking on the grass, instead of looking up at it. General George Patton said, “ Success is the measure of how high you bounce after you hit bottom.” Am I where I thought I would be when I was a boy? Not by a long shot. Am I where I always wanted to be? Am I right where I am supposed to be? You bet your butt I am.
*That’s Life, Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, 1964, Universal/Polygram International Publishing, Inc.