Sixteen years ago today I sat on a bus bound for West Palm Beach, Florida, alone and broken…scared of what faced me, yet with the realization that if I followed a few simple directions my life would change for the better. It did! With tremendous ebbs and flows, I live a life today beyond anything I imagined, beyond anything I deserved.
Shattered from a life run by selfish desires, a life run by my own self-centered thinking that led me to attempt drinking away the aftermath of poor decision after poor decision, on that bus I was at the tail end of a 5 month journey that began when my ex-fiance asked me to leave due to my drinking. She was another in a long line of relationships I had destroyed because I could not stop drinking.
So on February 13th, 2000 I left St. Louis, MO. I soon found myself in Tijuana, Mexico. I was supposed to go back to South Florida, but I went to see a friend in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I could not reach them. I tried another friend in San Diego, but could not find them either so I went where any sane person would go…Tijuana! Haha! Ugh!
Along that route to Southern California, I experienced the most beautiful sunsets over the New Mexico and Arizona desserts revealing colors I never knew existed. I stood at the top of the grand Canyon in awe (In the midst of the worst period of my life, I had never felt closer to God than I did standing on the rim of that canyon). I watched the sunset over the Pacific for the first time. I experienced one of the coldest nights of my life, in Death Valley…the hottest place on earth, a friggin dessert! I drove back to the Grand Canyon because it moved me so, then up through 4 Corners where I was unable to see the monument marking all 4 states because the park was closed…damn it! I drove through Colorado and into Denver where I admit, the altitude kicked my ass.
Within a few weeks I ended up down in West Palm where I had a brief period of sobriety before I moved to St Louis to be with my ex, and had a support group who pleaded with me to come home. I could not sit still, my life was in shambles, I was not ready to give up drinking, so I came back to Maryland where I planned to drink…just like the character from leaving Las Vegas. I went on a 3 week bender of which I remember very little, all I can remember from that period of this journey was that I really didn’t want to die, but I saw no escape from the misery I had created.
Before I knew it, I was on my way from Maryland to a small town near Vancouver, British Columbia where a friend of a friend agreed to help me (before this 5 month journey was over, I would make this trip to Vancouver from DC…twice). So I took the long journey out West via Greyhound. I discovered how bitter cold it can be in Wisconsin in the winter, I saw the Great Plains of North Dakota covered in snow. I will never forget the deepest, darkest shade of blue I have ever seen on Lake Couer d’Alene in Northern Idaho, the vast fields of vegetation on the Southern Plains of Idaho, I saw the location where Evil Kneivel jumped the Snake River Canyon! I loved Twin Falls and Boise. (If you have guessed it, Idaho was my favorite state). I watched a sunset over the Great Salt Lake in Utah. I saw Mt Hood and followed along the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon. I traveled into Seattle, Vancouver and spent nearly a month on an Indian Reservation in Tsawwassen, British Columbia where I had occasion to run along the banks of the Salish Sea, see killer whales in the wild, sea lions lining the shore, take trips across the St George’s Strait to the smaller Islands surrounding Vancouver Island. I saw the enormity of mountains in Western Montana. Along that trip I saw things many go a lifetime never having the opportunity to witness for themselves.
When the trip was done I had gone back and forth, from coast to coast across this country 3 times, into Mexico and Canada…ending on this day 16 years ago in West Palm Beach, Florida.
See, I was running as fast as I could trying to find anything that would alleviate the pain of a tragic life…unfortunately, I could not escape what I was running from, me. At this point I had burned all my bridges, chased everyone away, and was left all alone to see the reality my life had become. I was so full of self, and what the world had done to me, I could not imagine the reality of my situation…I had brought this about myself. It took the most incredible person I have ever known to point out to me that, “God, nor anyone else, was doing this to me, I was doing it to myself.” My grandmother may very well have saved my life that day. For the first time, probably in forever, I was left to face the fact that I was the common denominator is this unfortunate story.
I still had some more drinking to do, it lasted a few more weeks until I arrived at what many call a Cross Roads. I was in St Louis, MO…my ex would have no part in my sad story any longer so I was faced with a choice, I could come back to Maryland where I stood very little chance at life, or I could go back to South Florida where they had the answer to what ailed me.
Well…I chose Maryland, but the moment I got off the Greyhound bus in Silver Spring, MD I knew I made the wrong decision. That was the 13th of July, 2000. My last bender began the next day and lasted until the following morning where at approximately 9:30am on July 15th, 2000 I took what I am confident was my last drink. By 6pm that night I was headed to West Palm to live…for the first time along my trip, I could see and end in sight. I knew that if I made it to West Palm where I had brief sobriety before, I had a chance…I wasn’t hopeless after all.
That first 3/4’s of that trip was probably the worst 16 hours of my life, I was coming apart at the seams. I wanted a drink so badly! But I knew, I held deep down in my being the understanding that if I drank, I would die. So I kept going, refusing to find the nearest liquor store at each stop along the way.
Then, a strange thing occurred sometime after I entered the state of Florida. I found myself sitting still, no desire to drink…calm, full of hope. I knew I had a way out of the dreadful existence I had come to accept as the norm. I made it to West Palm on that lonely bus ride without drinking and have been sober ever since.
The past 16 years have been amazing, that trip and the many people along the way saved my life. Faced with a new set of challenges, I remain grateful to be where I am. Most of the relationships I destroyed have been repaired, I am a productive member of society, I have a beautiful wife, 2 incredible children with a 3rd on the way, a family that once told me to stay away who now loves me and cherishes our time together. Most importantly, I have a relationship with my Creator, and I no longer make the effort to do His job…well most of the time. While I often revert to some of the characteristics that kept me drinking, I understand the most valuable traits of a human being can possess…love and service to God and our fellow man.
Go hug the ones you love, let the noise of the world go and do something for someone else today. Remember, this life we’ve been given is very fragile, we have to savor every moment not wasting away the blessings we’ve been given. I learned that very valuable lesson the hard way…you don’t have to.