Friday, July 21, 2006

The fragile nature of sobriety

Last Friday, I learned that the son of one of my friends died in prison. This was a young man, 35 (same age as my own son), very handsome, creative, intelligent, successful. He had long term friends, people with whom he'd grown up, known since early childhood. He had loving parents. He had every advantage a person can have. But he could not stay sober, or clean.

He would have stretches of sobriety, one time over a year - I remember when he took that cake. But he suffered from paranoia, and he had another rare disorder which made him think he looked grotesque. When he'd go out on a run, the paranoia became worse. About ten months ago, after one such run, he destroyed his office. He was arrested, the judge gave him parole. Shortly after, he was arrested trying to make a buy of cocaine. This time the judge sent him to prison.

On Thursday of last week, he hung himself in his cell.

Last night was the viewing at the funeral home - packed to the gills. One of the most amazing outpourings of love I've ever seen. Today, this morning, was a memorial service on the beach. All his closest friends, the surfing boys, eulogized him. All of them spoke about how much they loved him, and how this young man was always there for them. One of the friends, about five years sober, spoke about endless cups of coffee together. How this guy would do anything to help another stay sober. Yet he was unable to get the gift himself.

The memorial service was incredible. The eulogies went on for over two hours; in the end, 100 surfers did a paddle out to say good-bye in the ocean. They formed a circle, and the lifeguard boat saluted with a spray of water. One man I know spoke about his own son, who'd died last year, also unable to stay sober, and also a suicide. The tragedy, and power, of this disease is overwhelming. But so is the love, and support. And that's what's key to me, that, more than anything else: so many of us were there for his parents; others were there for each other - friends - but the connection of love, in all honesty, is the most beautiful thing I know.

At the meeting tonight, five of us were celebrating our AA birthdays; most of us had been at the funeral. We all went out to dinner, and it was more of the same - love, despite our many quirks and foibles. Love as an action. I am so grateful for my life and my experience; I am grateful I am able to show up for my friends in the face of their terrible loss. But I am very saddened by the loss of this man. Keep Matt in your prayers that he might finally be at peace. With a Wahoo Fish Taco Stand nearby.


sumo said...

This must be terrible for his parents... sounds like he had a very heartwarming ceremony from his friends.

Yoga Korunta said...

Sorry to hear of Matt. Parents shouldn't see their children die. What can one say?

betmo said...

i have never experienced needing to recover personally but have experienced it in my family. my dad and his siblings are all alcoholics. none ever got sober and have been dying off one by one. out of 9 there are 3 left-including my dad. obviously it isn't the same as losing a child but addiction leaves marks on all who are involved. as difficult as it may be to remain sober- divajood you can experience love. my father never has been able to nor ever will. thank you for your honesty and sharing and heartfelt sympathy is going out to matt's family from me.

DivaJood said...

sumo, it was gorgeous. All morning the beach was overcast - a kind of high fog, so probably fog up on the PV hill - but about 11 AM, it cleared - full sun. And by the time the surfers did the paddle out, it was incredible - you could almost feel the spirit of this kid.

Yoga, it's just tragic. He was their only child, too.

Betmo, the disease of alcoholism and addiction is a family disease in so many ways. Even family members without the allergy suffer from the actions of those who do. I can't speak for your father - but I have seen people get sober very late in life. One guy I know came into AA in his early 70s. It is hard to watch, though, and I send you virtual hugs and support.

robin andrea said...

What a tragic story. A heartbreak for everyone. It is amazing how many people suffer, and how they try to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. I always think if we just lived differently, in smaller communities and not in a culture definied by over-population and anonymity, we could save people like Matt from hurting himself. (0) a stone for his grave.

anita said...

So very sad. But, unfortunately, not so unusual given the young man's circumstances. Here's where it gets really tough for me to figure out: people who have mental illness to begin with (in his case schizophrenia) who turn to alcohol or street drugs for any variety reasons, but mostly, I assume, to escape the chaos that is taking over their minds as a result of their debilitating mental illness. How do, how CAN these people become sober (I know it's been done ... and that, I believe, is where the 'miracle' aspect comes in). It's hard enough for people whose lives are "relatively" normal. But to combine alcoholism and drug abuse with mental illness is truly a toxic brew.

And, by the way, the parents should be comforted in their suffering and loss, and not have their 'parenting' history questioned. And they should try not allow themselves to fall into a self-destructive pattern of blaming themselves or to slip into self-hatred. Easier said than done I'm sure. But they must remember that their "child" was an adult when he did what he did.

Harsh as it may be to hear early on ... but it is true that life, as they say, is about the living.

Once again, Divajood, thank you for continuing to share your story.

DivaJood said...

Robin Andrea, alcoholism is actually an illness that has some defining features: it's an allergy of the body coupled with a mental obsesssion. Matt lived in a very close community - these beach kids become tight and remain close throughout their lives. It was extraordinary to watch this in action yesterday. And they all knew that nothing they could have done, or did, would have changed anything. The tragedy of addiction is that most people die from it; only a small percentage get clean, sober, and stay that way. (0) for his grave, indeed. Thank you.

Anita, I know so many alcoholics who also suffer from other mental illnesses and self medicate. I did. Suffered from profound cyclical depression, and treated it with a depressant: booze and drugs. I firmly believe that today, I am one of the lucky ones. So far, knock wood, I've not had to drink or use drugs in 18 years and 4 days.

His parents know they did everything they could. Hell, his father went to AA twelve years ago, in the hope it would clean up his son. And the father remains clean and sober; he's been going to his meetings all week; he's been surrounded by the love and support of the AA community. They will get through.

Another of my friends lost her daughter two years ago - also in prison from drug & alcohol related charges, died in prison. She told me that coupled with the grief, she felt profound relief for her daughter, knowing that her daughter would not suffer any longer. She's quite close with the parents; and she and Matt's father have spoken about this a lot this week. Hang in, Anita. Sobriety is a ride. It brings great joy, and sadness, and everything in between. The thing is, we don't drink, we don't use, no matter what.

Tina said...

Diva: I don't even know what to say. Jeeze, Matt was 3 yrs older than me and he is gone. That is hard to get my head around. I don't have personal experience with a drinking problem, but I certainly have experience watching family do it.
My dad and his big brother both served in Vietnam (my dad as a Marine, my uncle as a soldier in the Army).
Both dealt with Vietnam with alcohol. My dad NEVER spoke of his time in Vietnam, in fact to this day, what little I do know about his experiences there comes from my mother.
My uncle died not long ago from a variety of Agent Orange illnesses that the VA denied existed, but I'm sure eventually his body would have given up due to his heavy alcohol use.
My dad (although never violent w/us as my uncle was w/his family) was a responsible and loving father and husband who went to work everyday, made sure we never wanted for anything, paid for all the household bills and tuition for us to attend Catholic school, yet was incredibly absent emotionally from us all. He never slept more than a few hours at a time, so he drank heavily upon getting home from work until it was almost time for bed, and then he was able to finally sleep longer than 2 or 3 hrs at a time. Was he drinking away those Vietnam demons that haunted him at night? Probably.
He did finally seek help and quit drinking after my lil sister graduated from high school when my mother announced that she was no longer willing to live like this. Thank God she had her bags packed and actually left him for a month, b/c that is what convinced him that he had to finally change.
I'm so sorry for your friend's loss, but thank God you got help Diva. Or none of us would have the pleasure of knowing you, and sweet lil Beanie wouldn't have her loving grandma.

DivaJood said...

Tina, thank you. I know so many Viet Nam Vets with stories similar to your father's experience, who are sober in AA. My one friend, Tom, told me that those people who saw combat don't talk about their experiences. He suffers badly from PTSD, and didn't know about certain programs available to Vets because the Military keeps them secret. Your father, and your uncle, came home to a world that loathed them - they were blamed for the misdeeds of our government. That was wrong, so very wrong, and all of us who were against the war were guilty of it. Your uncle suffered not only from his demons, but from the lies of the government - Agent Orange has taken out a lot of good men, and the VA pretends there's nothing wrong.

Somebody said that Matt's work here was done. That's why he had to die so young. His work was done. I believe that's true. But thank you for your kind words. For myself, I'm just incredibly grateful to be above ground, and I know I'm one of the lucky ones.