Putting in a Good Word

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About a year and a half after my therapy at the Genesis center, a few of my fellow graduates and myself had founded a fraternity whose membership was exclusive to those who had also completed the program. Shortly thereafter, I had begun to publish and distribute the fraternity’s newsletter.

My admittedly limited editorial experience in producing that little monthly paper, in French mind you, had allowed me to discover a passion for composition, as well as help develop competency as a budding author. In the Spring of 2005, I had decided that the time had come to begin writing, among other projects, the stories on this website.

I am a native of Alberta, and my mother tongue is thus English. Having learned French at a very young age however, and using it every day, I have developed a habit of thinking in both languages. This has long helped me to clarify my thoughts: if an idea expressed in two highly different ways retains its meaning, then to me it is truth.

Although a resident of Quebec since 1972, I chose to write my stories in English for the very simple reason that the market is oh, so much bigger. Then again, I have this inevitable tendency to compare French, my second tongue, to that which had grown in pace with the awakening of my own consciousness.

Fluently bilingual, and quite at my ease in either language, I still come up against an often amusing, sometimes frustrating, yet inherent obstacle in my way of thinking: knowing a term or an expression in only one of the two languages. (This often gave rise to some savory conversations with my father, who was multilingual.)

As my literary projects had progressed, and had taken on weight and substance, I had become aware that I was lacking some very practical tools: dictionaries. I could not afford a home internet connection at that time, nor did I need one, and buying time at an internet café to search for the occasional word or turn of phrase seemed ridiculous.

Sipping my coffee before leaving for work one day, I gave myself over to a thorough scrutiny and analysis of my finances. My obligations and regular activities were barely covered by my income which left very little leeway for unforeseen expenditures.

I had estimated that a new set of decent dictionaries – made up of separate English and French volumes, as well as English/French and French/English ones – would set me back about $80-100 CDN. That amount being quite above my means at the time, it had come to me that I could most likely find some second-hand volumes at about half that price. Even so, I had figured, the expense would require the sacrifice of the majority of my video rentals for the next month or two. (As a movie buff, that meant sacrificing one of my favorite pastimes.)

The apartment building where I lived was located in a neighborhood where book stores, selling both new and used, could be found on just about every block. They are so popular that several can sometimes be found sitting together in neat little rows. I had understood then that my search would be that much easier. Thus, before heading off to work, I had decided to scrounge and forage through those shops on my next day off. I knew also that if I found a good deal, I would be watching TV programs for a while.

Upon my return home that very afternoon, I had noticed a pile of books, mostly paperbacks, which had been haphazardly dumped in the recycling bin against the lobby wall. As ardent a book-worm as I am a movie buff (fantasy, sci-fi, espionage and adventure are my preferences, but I’ll go in for any kind of fictional escapism really), the discovery had attracted me like a bear to honey.

I began grubbing through the somewhat mildew-tainted pile for any titles that might just evoke my interest, and serve as a satisfactory alternative to video rentals. I came then upon a hefty volume way at the bottom of the bin. The hardcover thing was a good 12 centimeters thick and bound with springs and screws. Flipping it over so as to reveal the front cover, I read Dictionnaire de la langue française au Canada & Dictionnaires Oxford français/anglais, anglais/français.

Despite the fact that it was a 1957 edition, and that many of the more modern terms would thus most likely not be referenced, I had seized that treasure with both sweaty hands. Catching my breath, I had wheezed out a heartfelt thank you to…

So then, accepting to sacrifice certain whims in order to maintain a long-term passion or achieve a worthwhile goal, while neither claiming nor expecting any rewards, is a perfect opportunity for Life to offer an immediate compromise.

A Christmas Gift

Old woman in window - addiction recovery
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This fellow, who was blessed with a corpulence quite adequate to the task, had developed an annual habit of donning a Santa Claus outfit. He did this in order to bring a bit of joy to golden-agers in local retirement homes. He would drag along an enormous red-velour gift bag stuffed with knick-knacks and doodads – some of which he received by donation from friends and family, others he would purchase at reasonable prices from discount stores.

To bring this joy to the greatest number possible, he would visit three or four homes each Christmas; for more than five years he had stuck to the same ones. One fine holiday season though, he had told me, he decided to change his usual route and add a visit to a home which had opened that same year in his municipality. Being a man who saw to his commitments, he had inquired as to the exact number in residence a few days before his visit to ensure that he would bring along enough gifts.

Once he arrived there, he had discovered that his visit had been anticipated by the staff who had gathered all the residents together in the rec room, which had been nicely decorated for the occasion. In spite of the advanced age of the majority there, his arrival had been greeted with the happy smiles of children. One could even hear little cries of joy as he gave out all his presents. As he had drawn near to the bottom of his bag of gifts, he noticed an old woman slouching in her chair near a large bay window.

Wrinkled and shriveled, she held around her hunched shoulders a ratty old afghan which was about as worn out as she looked herself. As he had only one gift left – his count was right on – he had gone and knelt down next to her. He saw then that the old woman’s eyes were half-closed, and that rivulets of tears stained her weathered cheeks. Gently taking one of her tiny, fragile hands in his own, he laid there his humble gift: a little picture frame. She laid her other hand over his two and lifted her gaze. All he saw there was the sadness of a heart longing for tenderness.

“Are you really Saint Nicholas?”, she asked him.

He answered. “I’m just a friend”.

“No”, she said, “I think you’re the real one”.

“What would you like then for Christmas, my dear?”

“I would just like to see my son again before I go to heaven”, she replied with a sigh.

Thinking only of what little good he could do for her, he had tried to comfort the old woman. “You’ll see him. You’ll see him, sure enough”, he told her.

He left the retirement home soon after that to head off to his own home, quite happy with his day. But his heart was heavy with thoughts of that sad, old woman.

A few short weeks later, he had received a phone call from a nurse at that home who asked him if he could come back once again. He had inquired as to the reason for her request, but she answered only that it was a surprise.

Once on the premises, that same nurse took this Santa Claus aside and, with a tone that betrayed her surprise, had shared with him her joy at learning that he could speak German. It was his turn to be surprised, for he understood only English and French. The nurse had then told him that the old woman he had met near the window had just arrived at the home, and that it was her son in Germany who had arranged for her admission. She had been living in Quebec for only a little while, in another home, and had never spoken a word other than in her native tongue…!

“Here is the real surprise though”, the nurse had then said, and handed him a little package wrapped up in brown paper, addressed to Saint Nicholas. Upon opening the package, he found the picture frame he had given the old woman on Christmas day. In the frame, he saw a photograph of her sitting next to an unknown man.

The nurse then explained that the man was the old woman’s son who had come to visit her only a few days before she passed away. Scribbled at the bottom of the photograph, in an unsteady hand, he saw one simple word: Danke.

Wakening

Mountain Sunrise - Addiction Recovery
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Taking those first steps in addiction recovery can be an incredibly daunting task. What follows here is a reprint of a memoir I had written and self-published many years ago recounting my own such journey. Although then available through many resellers, it never really took off as I had never had the budget to effect any real promotion of the book.

Originally published under the title “A Fork In The Road: A Journey Of Self-Discovery”, it has been gathering virtual dust since then, and it finally occurred to me to simply put the story online. If you or someone you know is at odds with addiction or any form of dependency, I do hope this story offers you some insight or brings you some comfort.

There comes a time in many a man’s like when a story simply must be told and shared. This is one of those times.

This story is one of intense need and desire, of dreams dreamed and of battles fought. It is a story of judgment and of consequence. It is ultimately the story of a quest wherein choice and change are the protagonists. It is a work of neither romance nor intrigue, nor any genre of fiction. It is, however, an account of great adventure, discovery and wonder.

This story is thus one of love and of life. Or, if you will, the love of life. It reflects the spectacular metamorphoses which are born only from strife and the triumph of the human spirit.

We have all been witness to such changes at one time or another in the lives of people we know or those we hear about. We may fantasize about them and even envy those we experience vicariously through literature, theater or cinema. These changes can nevertheless be common to us all, yet all too many of us are either unable or unwilling to recognize them in ourselves as they occur. Furthermore, these changes are unique in the sense that only the one changed may intimately experience their depth and breadth.

We may ask ourselves then, what does go through the mind and heart of a man who contemplates – and acts upon – life-changing decisions? This story is my attempt to share with you, the reader, one such extraordinary occurrence.

In order to weave a coherent tapestry however, I have employed a common thread. This story is of a man who believed himself to be possessed of sufficient stoicism and resilience to face life on his own; a man who had developed a veritable panoply of dependencies during his life in order to cope with that same life; a man who had then undertaken a quest to overcome his addictions to various psychoactive substances. This man is myself.

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Before we continue with the story though, I feel I must digress for a moment on the subject of dependency so that the theme and the context can be grasped as a coherent whole.

Dependencies can and do manifest and externalize themselves under many guises. The most visible of which, from the point of view of a mindful yet media-saturated society, are the abuse of illegal substances and the almost prerequisite consumption of alcohol amid gatherings of peers. Some are not so widely recognized or discussed: an habitual yet unnecessary reliance on prescribed medication, for example. Some dependencies, such as gambling and lotteries, are encouraged and even gleefully glorified by various media. Still others are hardly visible at all: the overwhelming desires to consume or to possess, to control or to dominate, to perform or to succeed.

That list is evidently far from exhaustive; I am sure you, gentle reader, could add several entries. Yet any list compiling the possible combinations of factors which may contribute to the development of dependency – desires, needs, fears, hopes, dreams, values, beliefs, upbringing, conditioning, environment, etc. – would be an arrogant and theoretically endless task.

I believe, however, that we all know intuitively that the dependencies cited above can generate insidious, nefarious and often disastrous consequences in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. To illustrate those consequences simply and succinctly, one might say that the actions, substances or relationships upon which we become dependent are analogous to medicines whose effects are to assuage perceived symptoms of ill-being and create a comforting, yet short-lived, illusion of wellness. One might also say that dependency is a type of behavior which develops subconsciously in order to suppress or to repress, to ignore or to deny undesired feelings. Thus, dependency can develop to either suppress feeling and sensation, or to experience them.

Now, whether we are concerned with dependencies, tendencies, habits or any other form of recurrent behavior, the great majority of us can truly understand the concept of our own behavioral patterns only in relation to the consequences we perceive in the lives of others. More to the point, we rarely become aware of the presence of such patterns in our own lives – or feel their impact and repercussions – unless we first perceive them in the lives of others, or are informed of them by others.

Thus, our perception can be a result of that to which we ourselves are witness, or that which is related or reflected to us. This process is quite natural: we identify with that which we perceive and proceed to internalize the information. We compare that to our own past experience, associations and extrapolations are made, and insight emerges from the erstwhile fogginess of our subconscious.

Karl Jung, noted psychologist and researcher, on whose works much of modern psychology and psychoanalysis is based, recognized this phenomenon. (One which was, if I’m not mistaken, first illustrated nearly 2500 years ago by a disciple of Socrates.) In the context of the above quote, attributed to Jung, the influence of wisdom refers to the heightening of awareness and the conscious shift in behavior towards more positive consequences.

The preceding paragraphs serve to underscore and emphasize an all-important point to remember while reading this or any other such work: in order to understand our own particular attitudes or behavior, it is essential to accept the possibility of such attitudes or behavior being present in ourselves. Only then may we begin to experience the wondrous discoveries on a journey through our own emotional tempests. Therein lies the impetus for the writing of this book: to promote and to assist the awareness and change of and by self through the illustration and the influence of one example.

Some may ask at this point: “But why change? My life is good, I’m happy.” The simplest answer is, of course: for the better. And why else would you be holding this or any other such book? However, better is relative, and who am I to tell you your life could be better? This is a question that only you can answer: “Why change?”

As you read this story, knowing that it is mine, look for similarities and correlations in your own life, no matter how minimal. Be aware of associations that may spring from any line on any page. Don’t hesitate to question what you may discover about yourself, but listen to your answers with your heart, mind and soul. Listen with honesty, listen with care, listen with love… and read on.

But where to begin? Well, a favored childhood author – one Lewis Carroll – had one of his characters give some quite simple and remarkably sage advice to young Alice, who had found herself in a similar situation. Having embarked on her own extraordinary yet sometimes perplexing journey of discovery through Wonderland, she felt compelled, as do I, to share a trove of marvelous and joyous experiences. There was so much she wished to express and impress upon her audience, that she found herself tongue-tied and dumbfounded. It was at this point that she was to hear, as though from her own intuition: “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end… then stop.”

The beginning then. But I shan’t ask you to bear with me while I recount my life from its beginning. Rather, this story begins at a turning point, forty-one years after the day of my birth. It deals with experiences, over a span of only thirty days, which catalyzed my quest toward understanding the meaning of my own life. Further, these experiences catapulted my desire to apply this wisdom, and to continue living with newfound joy, into an entirely other realm.

Thus do I dare hope that my story may incite a similar desire in you.

Tuesday, August 27th, 2002, 3:30pm: a parking lot.

It was a glorious summer afternoon in the city. Timeless whorls of fleecy cumulus smudged across a pastel sky while the sun smile congenially down on all and sundry. The sounds of small children frolicking close at hand, enjoying the day and carefree, was brought to my ears on the caressing wisp of a breeze. Passing by could be seen a young couple walking their dog, obviously enjoying each others company, their arms entwined. The hiccups and chirrups of their giggling tickled the very air I breathed. Odors and aromas from various eateries, bakeries and flowery lots scented my breath with a pleasant bouquet. It was indeed a grand day.

I sat perched not uncomfortably on the curb, for a second or an hour, gazing out between the bumpers of a pair of parked cars. My eyes, while quite unfocused, were nonetheless transfixed by shimmering waves of reflected skystuff dancing inches from the pavement like blue dervishes in a daze. Thus sat I: distinctly disconnected from the beauty that surrounded me, I quite calmy and determinedly contemplated taking my own life.

Destitute and forlorn, I had long since abandoned all those whom I loved dearly or cared for to the slightest degree. For what seemed to me an eternity, I had been paving a torturous winding path with tiny glassine zipper bags that led unfailingly toward my own private hell. Having arrived, I found it not to my liking.

Unfortunately, the road I had created to come to this place of decrepitude seemed to have waned and vanished with each step taken. Moreover, I could see no way back, nor even could I recall from what heights my spiraling descent had begun.

Numbed beyond faith, hope or tears, I found little within myself else an emotional and spiritual abyss. My intellect and analytical capacities were very much present and alive though. Scoured and blackened as they were by all the years of abusive conditioning, however, no matter the ideas entertained, I arrived always at the same conclusion: I was not deserving of happiness. Worse still, I did not consider myself worthy of creating such in the lives of others.

I had convinced myself of only my faults in every relationship I was guilty of having destroyed or disrupted beyond, so I believed, any hope of repair. Uncharacteristically, I had gathered unto myself responsibility for all the suffering and pain inflicted and endured. Destitution and despondency had become such familiar and expected states that shame and sadness had long since abandoned me as constant companions. Their work was done; admirably well, I might add.

I began to tally my successes with dark cynicism.I had succeeded, thirteen years prior to that day, in destroying my family. I had succeeded in repeating what I then felt was the almost predestined cycle of abandonment from which I had emerged a scarred and wary young man. I realized I had always had a not infrequently exercised talent for alienating all those who professed the slightest affection. I had a knack for justifying and validating that very real fear of reopening what I mistakenly took for healed wounds.

I had succeeded in sabotaging every employment to the point where I no longer had the will nor the desire to search yet again. My most recent occupation was an ideal position for a person like myself who had become wholly dependent on the ingestion of substances in order to feel or not to feel. A few years’ worth of nights spent behind the bar of an after hours café, selling and buying just about anything associated with pleasure – or the absence of pain – had jaded my spirit to any possibility of love in my life.

The previous year, due to my priorities having been somewhat skewed toward both gratification and mortification, I had succeeded in getting evicted for non-payment by the last of a string of malcontent landlords. In the course of that last year, I had succeeded in depleting all stock of trust or confidence any acquaintance may have had in me. Through cajoling, self-pity and all manner of manipulative strategies, doors that once opened wide to welcoming hearths were then sealed evermore.

I had profited from the generosity, naïveté and hospitality of all who were known to me to such a degree that wooded lots and park benches furnished the final ten nights of my hellish odyssey. I had even succeeded in convincing myself that I, who was born to the wilderness and grandeur of the Alberta foothills, enjoyed, in spite of my circumstances, sleeping under a starry vault with only a warm summer breeze for a blanket.

Furthermore, and possessions or belongings to which I may have at one time laid claim had been stranded willy-nilly within the homes of those who no longer granted me their courtesies. I respected their judgment and considered my condemnation wholly deserved. I could not, therefore, drum of the courage required to confront their indignation and demand restitution. Besides, I owed some of them money, of which I had none; the sum total of my wealth then amounted to the second-hand cost of the clothes on my back.

I saw then that the mountainous pile of sins and transgressions for which I held myself accountable loomed higher and wider than ever I had dared admit. It seemed to me to be possessed of a crushing and immutable mass which surrounded my soul, and I was convinced of being devoid of any capacity or strength required to attempt my extrication. More, I could find neither the inclination nor the motivation for the endeavor as I felt I was hopelessly undeserving of either expiation or grace of redemption.

I realized I had spent my entire life reneging on promises made, pridefully avoiding all commitment in favor of independence and steadfastly refusing to accept responsibility for the consequences of my actions and choices. I proceeded to wrestle with my limited options and reason through my situation with crystal clear pessimism.

I concluded that in order to solve my all too human dilemma, and put an end to my self-made suffering, the only effective option available to me was to surrender to oblivion and the mercy of God. Having entertained the idea of suicide in previous years during bouts of severe depression, this conclusion was neither spontaneous nor impulsive.

Plans long since laid and tabled were dredged from the quagmire of memory and studied anew. Having decided to prevent any further suffering however, I logically sought out the least painful strategy. One simple step into the void, followed by an exhilarating glide down the exponential curve of Newton’s second law, would be a very effective and sudden means to attain my goal. My state of mind and proximity to bridges provided this means, as well as the location and opportunity to act.

Teetering as I was on the edge of my decision, Life, ever desirous of perpetuating itself no matter the circumstances, then threw me a curve ball. As the image of my body hurtling toward the rocks beneath a bridge formed on the inside of my closed eyelids, another was taking shape within the shadow of the bridge itself. The laughing, cherubic faces of my children as they blew out candles on a birthday cake oozed up and out from the muck and scum sluicing between the rocks of the river bed. The memory of my children, whom I had neither seen nor touched in nigh on thirteen years, was thus served up to me on a platter of despair.

I have since understood the purpose of this particular memory surfacing at that specific moment. As I held fast to the image of love which I had glimpsed for but an instant beneath the phantom bridge of my despair, the spark of life desire still smoldering in my heart was fanned into an albeit weak flame by the feeling of utter joy associated with its recollection. It anchored me to life and offered me a choice: end everything, or do something. Having not had the slightest what that something might be, an event then occurred which I take to be the manifestation of what is commonly referred to as a guardian angel.

I felt a gentle tug on the well-worn collar of my windbreaker, and heard the calm familiar voice of a young man say “Come have a beer with me, we have to talk”. My ears, thoroughly programmed as they were then by years of intoxication, heard “Have a beer”. My soul, however, desperate for salvation, clearly understood “Come with me”. Wherefore my body got up, as of its own volition, and I could naught but obey the command to follow.

Not a further word was uttered between us as my scuffed sneakers shuffled ahead, setting the beat for the awakened hope sucking in shallow, new breaths within my chest. My fluttering heart echoed the staccato rhythm set forth by lungs which had for aeons known little but great gasping sobs. The blood in my veins, thus renewed and refreshed, coursed haltingly through the husk and core of my being, re-energizing my body one cell at a time.

Yes, I followed. As a parched lamb, too stricken to wail its plaintive bleat, will follow its shepherd in a drought, I too heeded this call to the wellspring. For I glimpsed in this young man’s gentle eyes the pity, compassion and understanding for which I had been praying for years on end.

In this, my most desperate and vulnerable hour, pity, compassion and understanding were shown to me through the eyes of a fellow traveler on the same well-trodden road.

This young man – call him Yves – had shared with me many a drug-enhanced evening and night in the after-hours café where I worked. Evenings and nights which were more often than not followed by days of equally illusory pleasures obtained within a nearby tavern. Throughout my years of dealings with both establishments, I considered it my good fortune at having access to a comfortable bar which coincidentally opened for business just as I finished my night shift at the café. This ever so harmonious juxtaposition of schedules allowed for an immediate and daily transition from the role of supplier to that of consumer.

One consequence of this situation – quite inevitable given my frame of mind – was the rapid development of a habit of compulsively spending whatever small fortune I may have amassed during my shift at the café. This obsession with the purchase of pleasure was justified by the conviction that no matter the amount spent, I could always make more the following night, and thus repeat the cycle. Then again, I cold usually count on the presence of several of my customers, similarly enthralled, who would be more than willing to show their gratitude for my good services by contributiong to the maintenance of my high spirits.

However, I had by that time sunk to fathomless depths in a sea of pathos. No matter then the degree of victimization nor the tyrannical abuse to which I subjected my fellows, my please and demands went unheeded. I was shunned by one and all. Thus the glad surprise felt by my ego, which had supplanted and all but crushed my self, at hearing the phrase “Come have a beer”. Still, my soul cried out, “Listen! Listen to life!”

For the few relativistic seconds it took to travel a thousand miles to the door of the tavern, the needs and wants of the many parts of me waged a shameless inner war of wills. The desire to no longer feel pain reacted in Pavlovian fashion to the thought of a tall cold pitcher of remembered numbness. My greed saw an excellent opportunity for the exercise and honing of its considerable skill at tipping the scales of gain in its favor. The victim in me congratulated himself at having once again mercilessly ensnared an unwitting savior. Finally, while pity expressed indignation at having its self-indulgence interrupted, my need for companionship and the closeness of another human being blubbered its gratitude both to nothing in particular and to all of Creation.

In the end however, hope, finding its voice renewed by despair itself, extolled the virtues of patient anticipation and stood victorious. Bolstered then by both strength of hope and depth of despair, the lamb that was I followed the shepherd inside.

The open plan of that particular establishment did not allow for seclusion of any kind. The entrance, in a wide façade comprised entirely of floor-to-ceiling plate glass, admitted us into the invitingly uncluttered and brightly painted main room. Twin pool tables, both unoccupied at that moment, flaked one another in a corner to our right. The mandatory jukebox, its voice muted given the early hour, patiently awaited the coming of the evening’s festivities.

Squatting in the place of honor on a small stage built against the right wall was an enormous, wide-screen projection television set. A good number of midday patrons had congregated there before some sportscast and were cheerily rooting for their respective teams.

To our left was a long yet narrow area, minimally screened with smoked glass, which enclosed two small bars and several banks of video lottery machines. Each machine was conveniently equipped with a comfortably upholstered stool. Many of those were quite familiar to me, some also bore the years-old scars of my own aggressive frustration.

Fully three-quarters of those stools now bore the hunched figures of fathers, sons, mothers and daughters who habitually flocked to their sometimes regular seats to gamble away their rent or grocery money. A few had risked even their life savings, their mortgaged homes or their children’s education in the tragically naïve hope of winning back just enough to cover the month’s bills.

As we walked past the partition, I shuddered with amazement and regret as I realized just how many thousands of dollars I had similarly squandered over the years. I saw myself as one of those hunched figures now silhouetted in the glass, idealizing my meager winnings and minimizing my enormous losses.

The parallel between this and my substance abuse became, in an instant, glaringly obvious. Day after day I fed those insensate mechanical boxes with bills of various denominations, either sitting for hours or simply passing by on my way out the door. The euphoric effect of winning, no matter the amount, was the rare culmination of the gleeful suspense and anticipation felt and upheld by the though that, in all probability, the machine must eventually pay out. My drug and alcohol abuse was also motivated and intensified by the equally absurd, yet unconsciously maintained idea that my suffering must eventually abate.

I could not bear the thought of sitting there, surrounded by such temptation, without having so much as a dime in my pocket to assuage the itch. I was therefore greatly relieved at seeing Yves’ goal was the main bar at the far end of the room.

He selected a table conveniently near the bar – ostensibly to speed delivery of our conversation opener. I soon realized the logic in this strategy: this bar being the farthest point from the entrance, the risk of my entertaining any thought of flight would be reduced. It also provided for the more immediate occupancy of the two remaining chairs by both a co-conspirator, who had previously been warming a barstool, and an adorable young barmaid on whom I had a schoolboy’s crush.

I felt somewhat intimidated by the unexpected presence of this second fellow – Luc was his name – as he laid before us a pitcher and three glasses. Véronique, the young barmaid, evidently recognizing this in my expression and attitude, laid a comforting and reassuring hand on my shoulder as she left the table.

Although it was obvious to all that my infatuation with her was not reciprocated, the tenderness I saw in her eyes and smile spoke volumes of empathy and compassion. That simple, singular gesture was all that was required at that point to provoke an instant crumbling of all defenses, and my wariness evaporated into the ether.

Cleansing tears welled up and out from the deepest recesses of my being; tears of neither disgrace nor self-pity, but rather of relief and release. I have no recollection of the passing of time as I sat, head bowed and trembling, while emotions long since buried or walled within sang out once again in a cacophony of sensation. Grief, sadness, shame and fear intermingled with happiness, joy, love and hope. All were tangled and entwined, all confused and infused. All effervesced and percolated to the surface in that one eternal moment.

I felt a cold sweat on the nape of my neck and in the small of my back. Electrifying shivers ran up and down my spine as my skin tingled from scalp to toenails and every follicle strained to leap free. I abandoned then all attempts at self-control – or self-deception – and languished in a dawning blaze of inner renewal.

My two companions sat expectant yet expressionless as I hesitatingly raised my bleary eyes. I saw that my glass had yet to be touched whereas theirs were now limned with the residual froth of repeated sippings. Many minutes had of a certainty passed since the gentle hand of Véronique had helped release the maelstrom from which I was only now emerging. With conscious care and no real haste, I wrapped my fingers about my glass and raised it to my tremulous lips. There it stayed ’til not one drop remained.

I drained that glass in one long draft to wash away the thick bile which had risen unbidden in my gullet. The bile of disgust at having prevented, even forbidden myself to feel little but egotistical pleasures for decades. The bile of fear for realizing the necessity of facing the consequences of having systematically fled from all responsibility during that time. The bile of regret at having refrained from committing to any form of relationship in order to avoid the pain of rejection, or worse, abandonment. The bile of shame for having subjected those I had abandoned to that very same pain.

My eyes met those of he who had chosen this day to intercede in my life. Having yet found neither adequate words nor strength enough to express the gratitude I now felt at being able to once again feel, my lips simply parted in a sigh. The muscles of my gaunt face succeeded in producing only a tentative, somewhat spastic smile. While the final tears forayed their paths through the scraggly whiskers barely covering my sunken cheeks, Yves refilled my glass and we drank, holding each other’s gaze.

As we set our glasses on the table, Yves glanced at Luc – who nodded – then looked back at me. The words he uttered next were of such calm yet fearsome simplicity and, for me at that moment, laden with deepest meaning and scope. “You need help”, he said. And, “Have you ever thought of therapy?”

His observation crashed into my consciousness with the force of a hurricane. It echoed the deep-seated fear I had of having to admit to myself, let alone another, that I had never possessed the strength to face the pain alone. The question that followed however, literally terrified me. For I knew intuitively that if I committed myself to a program of therapy, my extreme need to excel would entail the rooting out of every horrific monster and goblin I had ever buried within the deeps of my psyche. I found then I had not even strength enough to openly consider his question, so I drank once more of the proffered anodyne.

Upon refilling my glass this third time, I discovered the ale was beginning to have its way with my mood. Rather than deepening my moroseness, I felt my despair lifting somewhat. The amiable and attentive interest of my two companions at table, as well as the increasing sounds of false gaiety which tend to buzz about crowds in a bar, were helping to create a sense of levity.

It was of course an enjoyable sensation given my situation, but I realized I was ambivalent about its burgeoning presence. Was I not in agreement with my friend? Did I not need help? Where then did I get the gall to presume to enjoy myself, to deceive myself into believing my circumstances were not as dire as they truly were?

This was the birth of true understanding as to the insidiousness of the consequences of my ages-old self-abuse. It was also a turning point and a moment of epiphany. I had occasionally thought about some kind of therapy and had prayed to God during those last years for some way to change my life.

I distinctly recalled one late September evening of the previous year; sitting on a worn out couch in the last apartment from which I had been evicted, I had justified my prayers with the fact that the only thing I truly and deeply wanted was to love and be loved. (More about the uncannily explicit answer I received to that in a later chapter.) Then and there did I make the decision to go into therapy.

I hadn’t realized I had for some moments been speaking aloud as I came to my decision. Luc suggested a rehab center in one of the northern suburbs of Montreal and was offering to drive me there; he even had the phone number and a quarter handy. I accepted the coin and the slip of paper and resolutely headed for the payphone at the end of the bar.

Although I had apparently come to terms with my predicament, actually dialing the number did require considerable effort. Speaking once the connection was made was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Through upbringing, conditioning and environment, the child that was I had long ago learned the merits of relying upon no one but myself. I had, for most of my adult life, attempted to consciously repress all knowledge or suspicion of the disadvantages and pain that come hand in hand with such determined independence. Consequently, asking for help in this most fundamental way was tantamount to admitting to my basic vulnerability, the weakness of my convictions and the inherent failure of my way of living.

I stated my case to the receptionist on the other end of the line such simple terms as I could manage. She then transferred my call to a fellow who could actually do something for me. Our conversation lasted for some minutes during which I was required to reveal to a complete stranger some of what I considered to be my most intimate failings. The call ended on a positive note: I was to be admitted to that center the following morning as they did have one opening.

That was the first evidence I had received in many years as to the potential benefits of speaking truthfully. Most of my life thus far had been spent weaving web after web of lies and deceit in vain attempts to seduce or coerce others into liking me or, at the very least, accepting me. Great quantities of time, energy and anxious thought were thus irrationally expended to preclude the painful possibility of confrontation or rejection.

My suspicions having been waylaid, the now reassuring Luc greeted me with a lopsided grin as I returned to the table. I took my seat and, clutching my untouched fourth glass in a shaky hand, we three toasted my continued efforts.

Having successfully faced one fear, I chose that moment to face another and voiced what I perceived as being an immediate problem for me. As I had not had a decent place to sleep the previous ten nights and could not bring myself, out of a silly notion called pride, to knock on mission doors…? I let that hang.

My companions had evidently well-planned their intervention, for this eventuality had been taken into account. Yves invited me to his downtown apartment for the night following my required acquiescence to his one condition: I must solemnly promise to show up for rehab the next day.This promise was not to be made to him, but to myself – both I and my soul swore to it on my life.

We finished our drinks, whereupon Yves made a suggestion wholly suited to the occasion: we should leave immediately. Luc went to the bar to call a taxi and settle our bill. I looked at Yves and found I still had not words to express my gratitude which was growing by the minute. He must have sensed my hesitation for he took one step toward me with his arms outstretched, which was all the invitation I needed. I gathered him into my arms and held him in a tight embrace. After a few seconds of this, we delivered two or three manly thumps to one another’s backs and pulled bashfully apart.

Our cab arrived and we headed for Yves’ apartment, making one stop at a convenience store on the ground floor of his building. Having stocked our evening with two large bottles of what was to be my last taste of alcohol, we rode the elevator in silence. I studied the plastic bag with its clinking contents and looked within myself for some indication of a conviction not to drink that night.

In spite of my deep-seated disdain for wilful ignorance, what I found instead was something I was unwilling to recognize at the time: rationalization, intellectualization and justification. I congratulated myself for only a few hours previously having consciously chosen to stop using drugs. I had evidently not chosen to stop drinking yet for I had just done so in the bar not a half hour ago. Therefore, I reasoned, I could enjoy this one last evening with my friends and make that decision effective as of tomorrow morning.

Although I was aware that my inclination towards procrastination was fully vindicated by that conclusion and my subsequent behavior, we did enjoy ourselves. After a simple meal of pasta seasoned with olive oil and herbs, the bottles were emptied as we reminisced about good times shared, and waxed already nostalgic for those we were to miss. Luc then bade us good night, first ensuring that both Yves and I had his telephone number, and reminding me of his offer of transportation in the morning.

I lay in the bed I had made on the floor, emotionally exhausted, and discovered I was actually excited about the prospect of my therapy beginning the next day. I remembered the wonderfully soothing feelings after each of the half-dozen sessions I had had with a psychologist following my divorce. As I drifted off into dreamless slumber, I prayed that the staff at the rehab center be as well-versed in the shaping of my inner clay as had be4en that good doctor.

The potter’s wheel was not yet ready for me however, nor did I then understand that I was destined to be the potter.

Next chapter coming soon…