My boys, my motivation
They say in recovery that you can’t get sober for anyone but yourself. I agree with this to some degree although if I didn’t get sober primarily for my two sons, Aidan and Brody, they were certainly my main motivation. My own father was an alcoholic. He never got sober and he was also never much of a father. I can’t help that I’m an alcoholic but I can own my Recovery and the type of father I am to my boys.
In my 12-step program we mark sober milestones with a chip. The program for drug addiction uses colored key tags. I’ve told the story before about how during my first year of sobriety every month when I’d get a new chip I’d pass my one to my sons. Handing out chips during meetings is a bid deal and for me a reminder of how you can achieve a life free from addiction if you work hard but also what can happen if we drink again. At the meeting they start with ‘the most important chip’ and ask if anyone has been sober for twenty-four hours and if so they’d come up and receive their 24-hour chip. Then they’d ask for monthly anniversaries up to eleven and again they’d come up and get their chips. When you reach twelve months sober you get a one-year medallion. Every time I picked up a new chip Aidan would get my old one. This became our ritual and there was no way I was going to face my son and give him a 24 hour chip again! After a few months Brody, as any little brother would, got jealous of his older brother getting the chip so I’d have to hit two different meetings to pick up a second chip for him.
I used to keep my most recent chip in my pocket at all times and whenever I would hit a rough patch or sticky situation such as a work happy hour I would grab that chip out of my pocket and squeeze it in my fist so hard that I was surprised it wouldn’t turn to dust. I once heard an ole’ timer say, “If you want to drink put that chip in your mouth and when it dissolves you can drink!” It remains a big deal for me. During the first year and a half that I tried to get sober I wouldn’t be able to confidently tell you how many days I had. I’d stop keeping count because I would pick up a drink and not tell anyone but continue to lie about being sober. Once or twice and I could keep track of that fake sober date but after a while I’d loose track of the lie. Since my last drink on February 6, 2014 I’ve never lost count. This past week I celebrated 40 months sober. As I write this I’m 1227 days or 29,444 hours (there’s an app for that ; )
My homegroup, What’s Good About Today, will have anyone with an annual anniversary start the meeting and pass around a card which will be presented to them, along with their medallion at the end. Much of the meetings, which in a round robin format allowing everyone speak for a few minutes, will focus on the individual celebrating the ‘birthday’. Both of my sons attended my one year anniversary and at least one of them has attended my other two. During my anniversary meetings my sons heard others talk about their father and how hard I’ve worked being sober, the program and helping others. I hope each time that it leaves a lasting impression on them as it does for me.
Bob Kelly wasn’t in my life much. He came from a large, Irish family of four boys outside of Boston and had four sons of his own. Intelligent, well-read due Catholic school, Bob had an Irish wit and excelled at three sports growing up. While attending law school he taught high school and coached varsity football for Norton High School south of Boston. When Coach Bob had four boys of his own it was seen as every coaches dream. Before I was five years old he was on his way out of my life. He climbed into a bottle and could never get out. I was fortunate on one hand to move north of Boston to Marblehead where my mother remarried. For several years I would visit him south of Boston and we’d likely spend the day in a bar playing with the waitresses, the pool table or arcade games. Still to this day the smell of vinegar on my fries is nostalgic of one of his haunts where we’d spend hours.
My brothers and I shied away from playing sports together for probably obvious reasons. I never remember throwing a ball of any kind with an adult so I was terrible at sports. I don’t want to offend (micro-aggression alert!) but you could say I threw like a girl. The only sport I did well at was football where I was voted as co-captain of my varsity team more due to my heart and will-power then talent. I always used to look up in the stands during games and wonder if my father was in the stands proudly watching his third son. He never was.
As I grew older I saw him less and less. I don’t recall ever seeing him over my high school years. The last time I remember seeing him he had one of my cousins, who had never been north of Boston, and I in his big boat of a car declaring we were driving to New Hampshire to go camping. He was hammered. Swerving he barely made it around the rotaries at Bell Circle and Wonderland in Revere before stopping at a red light where my cousin jumped out of the car and ran. We ended up in my Marblehead as I convinced him that I need to pick up my camping gear (I had never been camping in my life). He fell asleep in the car across from my house sounding the horn with his face as my neighborhood friends who were playing in the hot summer night kept running up peering in the car and running away. When they told me about it I replied that I had no idea who the strange man was.
We were raised by my mother and step father in Marblehead. My father, I was often told, was a ‘dead-beat dad’ and a drunk who never paid any child support. Occasionally I’d get a letter from him. My mom contacted him when I was in college asking him to help me as I was paying for my own tuition and room & board at UMASS, Amherst with student loans. I remember twice receiving an envelope with his return address on it and I surprised myself at being excited to hear what he had to say however there was only a check for $100 wrapped in an blank piece of paper. I think I ripped up both checks.
During my final year of college I took off six months to work at Fidelity for work experience and to earn money for my final year of tuition bills. I was working in Boston so I called my father for the first time in years. I told him that I wanted to see him. I was told later that he called one of his brothers to ask if he could stay with he and his family to ‘clean himself up’. Within a few days on Feb 15, 1992 he was dead.
My father’s vice was always alcoholic. I learned from the police that he died from a heroin overdose. It’s ironic that Bob’s son is in recovery twenty-five years later in the middle of a heroin epidemic where today heroin is now the leading cause of death in Americans under 50. According to an article last week in the Huffington Post, “The Unites States of America is facing the worst health care crisis of our nation’s history. Over the past two-year period, more Americans died of opiate addiction than died in the entire Vietnam War. Drug overdoses now cause more deaths than gun violence and car crashes. In fact, accidental opioid overdoses are responsible for more deaths in 2015 than HIV/AIDS did at the height of the epidemic in 1995.” Today it’s fentanyl that is killing heroin users. In the roughly 2000 accidental overdose deaths in MA for 2016 75% were caused by fentanyl. Back in 1992, I was told by police that it was a bad batch of heroin that spiked OD deaths in New England that year. Regardless, I see addiction as addiction and feel I need to play a part in breaking the negative stigma of the addict whether the vice is alcohol, heroin or any other drug.
The Father Effect
The Father Effect Video (please click hear to watch)
I first saw the video, The Father Effect, back in 2014 during my first few months sober and it added to my motivation. Knowing that if I wanted to be the father God intended me to be I would have to be a better man first. That meant beating this addiction.
This powerful fifteen minute short film attacks one of the most significant issues we deal with today which is the lack of father’s involvement in their kid’s lives. 1 out of 3 children in America live in homes without their biological father. John Finch has been on a mission to shine light on this issue and there are countless stats in this film that highlight the societal issues it causes including substantial probability of crime, addiction, incarceration and teen pregnancy. John talks about having to work hard to forgive his own father for not being there for him before he could have the freedom to be the father God intended him to be. Since this short film John has come out with a full length movie. Visit http://thefathereffect.com to learn more.
Mary Forsberg Weiland is the mother of the late Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland’s teenage children, Noah, 15, and Lucy, 13. She wrote this with their help in the days after his death on Dec 3rd.
“December 3rd, 2015 is not the day Scott Weiland died. It is the official day the public will use to mourn him, and it was the last day he could be propped up in front of a microphone for the financial benefit or enjoyment of others. The outpouring of condolences and prayers offered to our children, Noah and Lucy, has been overwhelming, appreciated and even comforting. But the truth is, like so many other kids, they lost their father years ago. What they truly lost on December 3rd was hope.”
Mary continued, “You might ask, “How were we to know? We read that he loved spending time with his children and that he’d been drug-free for years!” In reality, what you didn’t want to acknowledge was a paranoid man who couldn’t remember his own lyrics and who was only photographed with his children a handful of times in 15 years of fatherhood.” “Our once sweet Catholic boy refused to watch the kids participate in Christmas Eve plays because he was now an atheist. They have never set foot into his house, and they can’t remember the last time they saw him on a Father’s Day. I don’t share this with you to cast judgment, I do so because you most likely know at least one child in the same shoes. If you do, please acknowledge them and their experience. Offer to accompany them to the father-daughter dance, or teach them to throw a football.”
No More ‘Father Wounds’
I never blamed my father for being a drunk, never getting sober or for not being a dad. But I definitely have a ‘father wound’. I remember feeling a sense of loss and feeling sorry for him. I always thought he was as addicted to his own self-pity as much as the booze but I know better today. I would picture him in one of his bars all day staring into his mug listening to Sinatra’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ which he once shared was his favorite song. It did shape who I am, playing the role of ‘pleaser’ in my family (every alcoholic family has one) but that’s for another blog. I have learned through writing my fourth-step that much of my motivation in life has been based on the fear of being like my father. I’ve overcompensated in every relationship because of this which hasn’t been healthy.
I know today that I share this disease with my father, Bob, and although the genes have passed on to another generation …to my boys …I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they witness through their father more recovery than the addiction. They’ll also continue to have an involved, healthy, principled, loving father as God intended. No more ‘father wounds’.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.
Happy Father’s Day!