I’m Dustin, one of your mom and pop’s friends.
Now, I don’t know if I’ll be around one way or the other to get to know the amazing young man I have no doubt you’ll become, but I’ve had the pleasure of being your dad’s friend for some time now, as well as your mom’s, and Uncle Nik’s. I even flew back to Kansas City and St. Louis to meet your Nani and Papa once upon a time.
Today is the party celebrating your first birthday, and also the first time I’ll have the pleasure of meeting you. I asked your old man what you might need, or what he might like to see you get.
Now, I asked him to keep in mind who was asking. Mostly because I’m almost always broke – and left to my own devices I might have gotten myself in trouble.
Long story short, I’m kind of a jackass.
Your dad on the other hand is an amazing man, one that I am constantly in awe of, both in his daily happenings and many talents. But he is also, for one reason or another, someone that sees something in me that not many others do, including myself.
I say all this because his answer to my query knocked the wind out of me. I don’t cry much if at all. I cried when my kids were born, I cry when any Boston team wins a championship, when I put my dog to sleep, and when I found out Steve Irwin died. But the other thing your old man’s answer did was get me all chocked up (that’s an understatement, I bawled). He said:
“I want you to give him one of your sobriety chips. I want you to tell Lewis that anything is possible, as long as he has the strength to face difficult things. That’s the one thing you can give him that he won’t outgrow in 3 months.”
So here I am. But I should probably explain.
I am an alcoholic.
And I don’t mean an alcoholic in the sense that I get drunk every weekend and party or even a few times a week. I’m an alcoholic in the sense that I can’t have “a drink.” I can’t drink and be social and just have fun. I have to get wasted and ruin the show. I can’t stop when I start.
But today, on the day of your birthday party, I’m 110 days sober. I’m also 120 days clean. I add that because I’m also an addict. I’ll let your dad explain that one to you. (You’re welcome, Paulie!)
Why is all this important? Because I just turned 32 and have been in some sense drunk, high, hung over, or coming down since I was 16 years old. Until 110 days ago.
Most people, again including myself, came to terms with this and took it for what it was. Who I am. “Oh, it’s just Dustin.”
No one ever expected any level of sobriety out of me, and I was good with that. But the day came where I wasn’t. I wasn’t okay anymore.
I had gotten past funny or acceptable. I got past the point I or anyone else could just write it off. It became an illness, an affliction, an allergy. I shook when I didn’t drink and I only went without before and during work. I obsessed about it, made it the reason I worked, woke up, or bothered to eat.
Up until the night before I quit and went to my first AA meeting I could remember just 7 complete days without alcohol, and I only remember them because it’s all I wanted.
Why would any of this mean anything to you? Because your dad asked me to tell you anything is possible if you’re willing to face the difficulties. 112 days ago sitting here counting what I’ve accomplished didn’t seem possible and wouldn’t have been if I wasn’t willing to put in the work, wasn’t willing to face the difficult times. And it has been difficult!
Some days it’s a minor difficulty, like the frustration in listening to someone justify their drinking because they are uncomfortable with the fact I don’t. Other days I spend hours grinding my teeth, clenching my jaw and wanting to destroy anything and everything in my path because I’m craving drugs and alcohol, or even harder still, the mental and emotional difficulties.
My faculties have taken a serious hit due to my use and abuse. I was once a challenging and interesting person to talk to. I loved deep conversations and arguing topics for hours. Now it’s a struggle to write this letter.
But I’m getting there. Slowly but surely.
The emotional is what kills me. My 10- and 8-year-old son and daughter are more emotionally well equipped to handle day-to-day life than I am. It’s something that has been stunted if not completely retarded from my abuse. People I’ve known for years, people I’ve considered close friends and even family, while happy that I’m sober, can’t be bothered to hang out with me because it’s odd or strange to them or it’s not as much fun.
It hurts. All of it. But it’s worth it to be here. To be present and coherent. To think and feel clearly. To be a participant in my own life.
Things are going to suck, Lewis. Things are going to hurt, and fall apart. The outlook will sometimes look bleak. That finish line is going to seem impossible to cross.
But hurting is temporary. Things that fall apart can be rebuilt. And knowing your dad, your Papa, and their Father there will always be a shining light to help see past that bleak outlook.
That finish line never moves any further away. If you work past all that other crap, you’ll get there.
Is there an action, attitude or addiction that has come to define you? What steps do you need to take to redefine who you are?
Have you surrounded yourself with people that will help and encourage you as you struggle toward your goal?
Is there a Dustin Dean in your life, someone you have written off? Please, don’t.
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