Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Salvation Diary Fifty Five

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

"My name is Rick, and I'm an alcoholic (Hi Rick!).
A counselor friend of mine who I work with told me that once I got up here I'd forget everything I had come to say. He said I'd be lucky to get out, 'Keep coming back!'
Now at least I've got that over with.
One year ago and a day I was a homeless person. I was broke and destitute. Dirty and smelly, with no clear idea of how to turn things around. I lived in Central Park, and I was drinking a fifth of Bacardi light every day. If you remember we were in a middle of a heat wave last September. My major activity during the day was to follow the sun, or rather, to keep under the shade as the sun passed overhead. In the morning I'd be on the west side of the Park drinking a cup of coffee, and by the late afternoon I'd be on the east side finishing off my bottle. Usually around ten or eleven in the morning, I'd make it to the Vons supermarket and shoplift the booze and a couple of packs of cigarettes. If I could I'd also get a book to read to help pass the time. I was reading Tom Clancy as I recall. And that was all I needed. I would spend the rest of the day trying to keep in the shade, drinking, smoking, and reading. I was very lonely because homeless people don't talk to each other very much. No one else will either. Those who do talk to you, you can't trust. I was also very scared.
I had lived there a little over a month when it came to me that I couldn't spend my life doing this sort of thing... I didn't see much of a future in it. So I went to the Salvation Army.
During my first week there I came to realize I could never, under any circumstances, safely take another drink for the rest of my life. If I did, I would surely wind up back in the Park, sicker than I was before.
Having come to that realization, I set about doing everything I could to arm myself against taking that first drink. I attended the lectures the Sally provided, the meetings and panels from H&I. I talked to counselors, mine and others, who may have had something I could learn. I went to outside A.A. meetings, probably not as many as I could of, but I'm not perfect and don't pretend to be. I wrote an account of everyday I stayed sober. And I read books about our disease of alcoholism and chemical dependency, and of recovery. A lot of books.
And I went to work. The second day I was in the Salvation Army I was put on the front desk in the residence, and I've stayed there to this day. From that location I could view the program from a unique perspective; the client's view of what was happening-- of what it was like to go through a program, working all day, and attending mandatory meetings at night, the fatigue, the anxiety, the pain, and the hope. I could see the program from the staff's point of view, the economic necessity, the business that as a by product helps to create new lives, and can also destroy them, the illusion of substance, the politics, the meager power plays, the egocentricities. I looked at all of this stuff, and said, "So what? We're all human. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody has victories." What it came down to was we were there to help each other stay sober.
At my position on the desk I saw all the successes and all the failures. Too little success and far too much failure. But that is part of the nature of our disease and of recovery. For a lot of us repeated relapse is required before we come to the point where we just can't take the misery, and a significant period of abstinence is our only viable option. And after we're abstinent for a while, sobered up for a while, hopefully we can begin to learn that it's not enough. That not drinking is only the first part of the answer. That we have to reeducate ourselves and learn how to live and feel, because we don't know anything about that when we first stop drinking. We may think we do, but we don't.
And that is what I've tried to do. Find out for the first time how to live and feel. Some would say to grow up. And I'm still very much learning... as we all are. I can now say that I know that it is possible to live and have fun without drinking and using drugs. To live a life that has meaning. To do anything I set my sights on, achieve any goal. All I have to do is not drink.
My job has helped me to stay sober. Writing has been therapeutic and has helped me stay sober. Counselors or sponsors have helped me to stay sober. The program, and you people have helped me to stay sober. And those that have failed, that couldn't make it this time around and relapsed, those that I've had to dismiss from the residence I work in, have all helped me to stay sober.
Many things have helped.
And life is wonderful today. I try not to create too many problems for myself. This may seem kind of boring to some, and maybe it is, but right now that's just the way it needs to be. If problems equate to excitement, then my life has already been exciting enough.
One of the many benefits that we find in recovery is that we can meet a lot of people and make new friends. Many of my friends are here tonight. Friends that I hope to keep for a long time. We brought over a van full of guys from the center, a few of them expressed a desire to see me get this cake. To see that it really can happen. In their lives as well as mine.
Thank you for coming gentleman.
My friends Ron Collins and Ron Cooper are here. R and R. My good friend Tom Rotsch, my good friend Hugh Hogle. My friends Scott Cremer and Richard Reyes. My counselor friends Barbara and Cathy. Thank you so much for being here. I can't tell you how much it means to me. Cathy, although not my own counselor, nevertheless, has taught me so much about myself, about other people, and of life, all in a very short time.
Thank you. I will never forget and will always be grateful.
I feel as though I had just won an Academy Award.
There are two people who are not here that I must mention. Mr. Robert Vasquez, my boss, my mentor, and good friend. From his example I have learned a great deal. How to cope, and how to act, and how to live life on life's terms with clarity and purpose, and how to have fun while doing it. Important lessons indeed.
And Ms Bobbie Yenour. My friend for as long as I can remember. My childhood guardian. My big sister, my aunt, my cousin, or whatever. A very close friend of the family. She, along with my new friend Jeanette, stuck with my through some difficult times I had during earlier attempts at recovery. Bobbie, after I had failed again, first got into contact with an officer of the Salvation Army, who subsequently called me while I was in a lonely, little motel room in Bullhead City, Arizona, which led the way for my introduction into that organization.
To both of these people I owe a great deal.
Two very special ladies are here. Hi Jeanette. This little lady walked into my hospital room when I was in detox. I looked like hell, with tubes and things running into my arms. I had never seen her before and didn't know who she was. She said, "Hi! My name's Jeanette, and I'm a friend of your mothers!" She would continue to visit me through that twenty eight day program, making sure I had toiletries and cigarettes. She even paid my rent one time, so I could have to have a place to go to safely relapse, because unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. And Jeanette saw that too. Along with Bobbie. I imagine it was quite horrible to witness. She would soon start to do what my mother had learned to do through Al-Alon. To let me wallow in my pain and degradation.
Dear Jeanette, I'm so glad you are here tonight. You have seen me at my worst, and tonight at my best. Everything that has happened to us before was necessary to get us where we are now. Tonight is a form of amends that I can make to you. To show you that you did not waste your time, and to prove to myself that I am worthwhile.
And the greatest amends that I can make tonight is to the person I've hurt the most. My mother. She has driven here from Bullhead City to be with us. She came to give me my cake. On October 31st, 1955, Halloween, she brought into her home a four day old alcoholic baby (adoption is so much worse than marriage; you can't divorce your kid). She has suffered much because of me. I'm not saying it was all my fault, I can't take credit for that, but a large part of it was. I didn't wake up one morning thinking it would be fun to become an alcoholic and make my mother's life miserable. I can accept blame for not understanding that help was available when it was offered, even when it is within the nature of the disease to resist treatment. I accept full responsibility after understanding the liklihood of my being an alcoholic and what the consequences of that condition were, and my repeated refusal to do anything about it, thereby continuing to hurt many people for a long period of time.
For that, and for many other things, mother, I am truly sorry. I love you, and I never maliciously tried to hurt you, but I have done so sometimes out of ignorance and compulsion. I'm afraid I was very cruel.
I could pay you back the money I owe you. Indeed, I must attempt to do so as part of my recovery program. But that will mean little to you. So I make this amends, my mother; to tell you again I am truly sorry for the pain and misery I have caused to be yours. The countless nights you have lost sleep worrying about me. For the heartaches and frustration, for the crushed dreams, for the hopelessness. For this I apologize. And I give you this year. The year in which your son has finally grown. This year far exceeds any other attempt to effectively deal with my disease. This year much has happened and much has been gained, but it's only a start. Just as each morning is a start of a new day, the fight continues. Fortunately for the winner the prize is great. I have now begun to live mom. To have a life. And that, I know, is what you always wanted for me, that would ease your mind the most. This is my amends to you.
Thanks for being you and sticking with me.
Life is wonderful and exciting. It can also be a miserable bitch. The choice is ours.
I opt for the wonderful exciting part. I've had my share of the other.
And now that I've got my one full year of sobriety, now that I know there is life without alcohol and drugs, now that I can finally take the responsibility to add meaning to my existence... where will I go now?
I'M GOING TO..." On and on.
That's what I felt like saying, and that's what I really meant.
But time did not permit.
The meeting's speaker was a lady from Palm Springs, and I'm sure she was a very good speaker, and had lots of interesting things to say, but I must admit I had trouble listening to her. I was feeling so good that my mind was in a jumble. Folks sitting nearby congratulated me and shook my hand. A slice of birthday cake suddenly appeared over my right shoulder and I grabbed it and took a cursory bite or two. Soon the meeting ended, and "A Vision for You," was recited.
As one everyone stood, arranging themselves in a circle while holding hands (Cathy on one side of me, my mom on the other), then spoke the words of the Lord's Prayer.
Then the meeting was done.
As we made our way outside, Cathy rushed over to Ron Collins who was still trying to avoid her. They chatted for a while, shook hands, then she returned to me. In the parking lot my mother, Jeanette, Cathy and I talked. My mom and Jeanette were thoroughly impressed with this talkative young lady. She soon dismissed herself, saying she would be running a half marathon tomorrow morning in San Pedro, and needed to get to bed.
Jeanette drove us back to the residence. Ron said goodbye to her and my mother. I said goodbye. At the last moment my mom wanted to take my picture (moms are like that sometimes). She took it, than as she was about to get back into the car she looked at me and said, "Do you know what happened on this night twenty four years ago?"
I had no idea and told her so.
"Your father passed away."
I had forgotten on what day of the year he had died. My mother's own father passed away almost one year to the day before my father did.
Too much death for us poor humans to bare.
My mom and I hugged and kissed and said we loved each other. Then she got into the car.
Jeanette started to back out of the parking lot. She stopped, rolled down her window and motioned for me to come near.
"Is Cathy your girlfriend?" she asked.
Women are so nosy and sex crazy. That's all they ever think about.
"Well..." I answered.
"Well, she's a girl, and she's your friend, right?"
"Yeah. Exactly."
"She's wonderful."
I agreed with her. Cathy is a wonderful girl, and I wish only good things for her.
Cathy and I would never go out again. We would hardly ever speak. It seemed to be the way she wanted it. When we did bump into each other we would smile and say hello, then quickly go about our business.
I survived. As a matter of fact I flourished.
Jeanette backed her car into our parking lot curb planter.
"Watch out for that curb there, Jeanette."
"Now you tell me."
Then they were gone.
Almost immediately Robert "Hang'em High" Vasquez drove up in Red Shield 4.
"Joyce!" he yelled through the cab window. The men who had been at the meeting piled out. "Just the man I wanted to see. You always seem to be at the right place at the right time. It's positively uncanny! Is your mother still here?"
"No sir. She just left."
"Good. make my rounds for me please. I have to pick up Montgomery from County Hospital."
"All right."
"I'll be back," then he too was gone.
I walked into the residence and went through the place, making sure everything was safe and secure. I noticed that the kitchen was open and asked Columbus Davis, the duty desk man, about it. He directed me to Keith Davis in the canteen.
I walked in there and saw a bunch of guys standing around one of the tables. Keith Davis, the new cook, had made a birthday cake in my honor. It was a rather large pan cake that had been turned upside down for some reason. Icing on the bottom. The men gave a weak chorus of the "Happy Birthday" song, then I sliced the cake and everyone enjoyed a piece. It was lemon and yummy.
After a while I went up to my lonely room and got lonely. I was also suffering from a mild adrenaline rush. I looked at the present my mom and Cathy had given to me. I opened up the book of nighttime meditations and sought out the day's entry. This is what was written there, by Amy E. Dean:
The cure for grief is motion
-Elbert Hubbard

Anniversaries of death, separation, and losses are difficult times. We can be feeling fine one month and then suddenly feel tremendous sadness, pain, and anger during the next. A quick look at our calendars may reveal a reason for our feelings, for we may have experienced something particularly trying at the time.
It's okay to relive an event and our feelings about it, as long as we don't wallow in the past or try to use the event as a reason for all our present difficulties. Grieving is a process that can proceed only when we are in motion.
How do we get in motion? We can imagine we are sitting in a small room of horrible-smelling cigar smoke. We can sit there and feel uncomfortable or even nauseous, or we can leave the room. That's how we get in motion- by simply getting up and moving.
Tonight I can move out of my chair of painful memories. I can think of ways to get in motion and cure these sad feelings. Then I can relax and have a peaceful night's sleep.

I thought about my dad a few moments, then got up and left the residence.
I walked through the park, up to Colorado Blvd., and lost myself in the sights and sounds, the hustle and bustle of the people of the street. I would meet a couple who had attended tonight's meeting. They recognized me and asked me when I would go to Disneyland. I told them I didn't quite know. In a week or so maybe.
Eventually I would return to the residence, go to my room and have a peaceful night's sleep. In the morning I would start a new day.
But before I entered into blissful sleep, I will peek out under the covers and let my dear readers know that we have successfully reached the end of this tale. For now at least. Perhaps I'll write and we'll meet again. I hope to continue to like myself, and hope to love myself (whatever that means) and keep on doing good things for me. I will go to school and learn unfamiliar things. I will also learn from the people I meet. I will try to help other alcoholics and drug addicted people. I will stay alone for a while, but at last find a nice girl and have a wonderful life with her for a time. A life filled with meaning.
It's very simple.
All I have to do is not drink.
And you, dear readers? Thank you for your patience and hardy endurance. I will think of you often.
And always... wish you well.

The End

Richard Joyce

   Robert G. Vasquez died on February 7th, 2014, at Inland Valley Care and Rehabilitation Facility in Pomona California, of complications arising from extreme orneriness. He was 85 years old.
   He was born in Globe, Arizona on Dec. 27, 1928, the son of Juan and Maria Vasquez.
   A decorated veteran, Robert served in the Korean Conflict, and during two tours of duty in Vietnam, was assigned to the 117th Aviation Company as a gunner on a Huey helicopter.
   He was awarded the Air Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Japan and Germany clasps, National Defense Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Korean Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, United Nations Korean Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
   He is interned at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Cave Creek.
   The inscription on his grave reads:
   Apparently he was a fan of Frank Sinatra.
   Robert was an inspiration to me and all who knew him, and it was my great privilege to have briefly worked with him, and tell a little bit of his story.

No comments:

Post a Comment