Someone once asked me how I knew I had a problem. I said the handcuffs hurt when I leaned back in the seat.
It’s a joke tinged with sadness, regret, and if I don’t do all the right things — relapse.
The handcuffs hurt my wrists of course, they hurt up into my elbows, when the patrolman awkwardly jerked me into the backseat of his car. They hurt up into my shoulders upon which the weight of the world was descending. The cuffs strangled my heart as I stared back at my sons standing on the side of the highway, looking so lonely and scared.
They eventually took the handcuffs off. The red, coarse rings on my wrists faded. I had to go back to jail later for 15 days of what they appropriately call “shock detention.” The day before I went in, a friend said to me, “Well, Dan, look at the bright side, if you don’t drink again, you might not have to go back.”
When people hear I’m sober, they say, “Congratulations” which still makes me a little squeamish. The actor Christian Slater said to an interviewer, “It’s nothing to be proud of. It’s like running out of a burning house.”
I don’t want to go back, and I don’t plan on it. But you never know. In the meantime I’ve learned there are other kinds of handcuffs. Anger, resentment, fear! They bind me and hold me back. I’ve gathered that I’m on a chain gang with a lot of other people these days.
There is so much to be afraid of–it is overwhelming our families and neighbors and destroying relationships.
But we have a say.
On that highway that day, with my kids looking to me to be a dad and and seeing me fail miserably, I didn’t know it but I was on my way to some answers. At that moment I hated the bottle of rum churning into a DUI vapor in my belly, but I would soon come to believe that every dollar I had spent on alcohol was a dollar well spent.
I met some wise people. For a while it would be a condition of my probation to come back and see them. I had to get sheet of paper signed each time. But eventually I forgot to bring the sheet. I forged random illegible signatures. Don’t tell my probation officer but I wasn’t going for him anymore. Once, when I lost the sheet and turned up at the probation office afraid, he said, “Don’t worry, we can tell you’ve been going.”
I will always wear handcuffs. I’m Dan Madden, I’m an Alcoholic. But by deciding that I am whipped and that I need others on the way, that identifying trait has gone from a shackle of shame to a liberating connection to others.
Each day when I get up I do my best to accept people and situations as they are. I try live and let live. I try to do the next right thing. I try not to get too far ahead of myself. To stay in the moment. All I have to concern myself with is not taking a drink and helping someone else get through the day. And I fail.
So I start over.
The simplicity is breathtaking.
I love to laugh. I love to fucking swear. I find beauty in small things and big bold things. I love my amazing children who are stronger than I will ever be. My heart breaks easily but I mend quickly . I don’t trust easily but when I do you are stuck with me for life. I am slow to anger, but regret, grief and guilt abduct me at times. My wife says she feels it when the darkness comes. I love to kiss her. They say kissing releases something called oxytocin, which is like an antidepressant. I think I might be faking that darkness when she’s around. I love words. I love to play with words. I love listening to the worn words of old timers who have walked ahead of me and the shaky words of newcomers who are the most courageous of all. Even the hateful words of fear mongers, rude parents at soccer games or meanness close to home serve their purpose. They provide perspective, a reminder to be accepted like inclement weather for which we should prepare. The ability in the moment to rest my tumbling mind is a fleeting gift. Words free me, whether it’s whispering the mantra of the “Serenity Prayer” so the world and I can relax our death grip, or a campfire and the lustful prose of Edward Abbey, or the soulful wail of Bob Marley as the wind blows through what hair I have left.
When words and people come together they make stories. Stories free us. Stories freed me from my handcuffs on a bleak highway. I kept coming back and hearing stories and telling my own. It’s a truth as old as humankind. Without stories there is loneliness, isolation, and fear.
I write this blog about handcuffs – things I observe in the course of my 24 hours that might hold me back or that I think might be holding us back. More likely I’ll write about keys — things that free us from our cuffs — service, humor, community, family, love, romance, nature, beauty.
I love to take words off their chains and hold them up to the light. I like the way they jangle against each other.