A few weeks ago, I was back in Virginia to present at a conference and to visit colleges. While back in Virginia, I was able to make it to my hometown of Richmond for a brief visit. As I was heading to my mom’s after visiting a college, I decided to to see an old friend who is very dear to me. It was sleeting/snowy, not many people were out and about, and Richmond was on the verge of closing it seemed. As I turned the corner into the office complex where my friend works, I saw my friend’s vehicle. A smile formed on my face, happy to see that he was still at work. I opened the door and walked up a flight of stairs to his office. I knocked on the door, he swung around in his chair, a big smile appeared on his face and he exclaimed, “Ryan Haynes, all the way from Bangkok, Thailand, what are you doing here? I didn’t know you were back in town!” He was the only person in the office. I settled in a sofa across from his desk and a conversation took place for the next 3 hours. The conversation that ensued was one that neither one of us expected, but it was one that we both needed.
The conversation began by me mentioning the name of a former Middle School teacher that we both had that now works at a local high school where I have a friend who works. My friend said, "Y’know Ryan, I had a reputation in Middle School, so much so that the school didn’t know what to do with me and they let me become a teacher asst. in our shop class because I was good in shop and I had taken the course numerous times." I looked at my friend and said, “ I’m well aware of your reputation, believe me, you were well known and not for good reasons” and at this we both laughed. From there, it was a conversation of admissions. With my friend then saying, “Ryan, I don’t know if you know this, but I struggle with addictions and right now it’s alcohol.” I’ve known this friend for my entire adult life and this was the first time he had admitted to me that he struggles with addictions and that he is a recovering alcoholic. I knew about his other addictions, but I didn’t know that he is a recovering alcoholic and I was a little surprised by his admission. I remarked, "I’ve never really seen you drink that much when we spend time together and I’ve never seen you intoxicated.” He said, “My alcoholism has manifested itself later in life, within the last 10 years (With me living overseas the past 12 years, I unfortunately don't see my friend as often as I once did). You’re right, when we hang, I’m not really much of a drinker, but over the past 10 years, I’ve drunk a lot. A lot of it stems from my issues of self-worth and my dad’s treatment toward me growing up (Even though my friend’s dad did not treat him well growing up, I found it somewhat touching that my friend has a picture of his dad in a frame in his office.). I knew I had a problem when I would wake-up with a hangover and the first thing I wanted to do was have a drink and repeat the cycle the next evening. I need to stop drinking because it’s affecting my marriage. I’m a family man; something I’ve always wanted and I don’t want to lose my family. My wife loves me, she’s a good mother, and she’s pretty. I don’t want to screw this up, but I will also admit to you, right now, I want a drink! Ryan, I love my wife and my family. If my marriage were to end it would be because my wife left me, I’m not leaving her. I have a great support system and many times I have leaned on this support system when I wanted a drink. Believe me, I’ve thought about joining a 12 step program, but the basis of such programs is belief in a Higher Power. Ryan, y’know me, I don’t want to submit to a Higher Power. I would describe myself as an agnostic-atheist, so a 12 step program will not work for me, but y’know what does, the thought of fear, pain, and suffering. And, this how I would describe the medication my doctor has prescribed for me regarding my drinking. This medication was first given to WWII vets and it affects the body by causing a lot of physical pain if I decide to drink alcohol while taking it. The medication stays in one's system for up to 30 days. Every now and then I think about discontinuing the meds and plan on having a drink after 30 days. I would be a fool to do so and stop the progress I’m making, but I do think about it.”
The conversation then shifted to family. Our respective wives, the brave women who fell in love with us, married us, and continue to put up with us, and our love for our children. It then turned to past loves, women we dated, the impact they had on us, and how they led us to our wives. I shared with him how a woman I dated before I met Eleanor is a recovering alcoholic, who will celebrate close to 20 years of sobriety this year. My friend then asked me, “What happened with you and your –ex?”
I shared with him how things came to a head one evening during a date and how her alcoholism became apparent. The next day she realized what had transpired the evening before and came to the realization that she had a problem with alcohol and that she shouldn’t drink again. I was embarrassed and angry about how everything played out during that date and how her alcoholism revealed itself. At the time, I didn’t want to have anything to do with my –ex and I remember sharing these thoughts with my mom and my mom told me, “Ryan, you can’t break-up and cut off communication now, if anything she needs you the most now.” Sage advice and my mom was right. My –ex needed someone to lean on as she was becoming sober and I’m glad I was there for her. The experience taught me about the power of addiction, empathy, and most of all forgiveness. I’m so proud of my –ex for her years of sobriety and the person she has become. The experience definitely has made me a better person and counselor. My friend looked at me and remarked, “I had no idea!” I said, “Yeah, it looks like we are revealing a lot today."
Hours elapsed, weather conditions continued to deteriorate, jet lag was killing me, and I needed to go to the grocery store. My friend said, “You need to go, you look tired.” We hugged as we always do at the end of our get togethers, told one another we loved the other, and passed along our greetings to each of our mom’s and families. I did not expect the day to unfold in the manner that it did, but am so grateful that it did.