Yesterday in the midst of the joy of family and all the good stuff, I got some bad news.
My friend, whom I have had the privilege to walk with for a couple of years, let go of eight months of sobriety and all that hard work. He gave it up to return to his life on the streets. And drinking.
My heart is breaking. Again.
It was February of last year that my friend Mac* turned himself in for probation violation. He was on probation for arrests for things like public drunkenness and loitering. Nothing violent, all charges related to his alcoholism or his state of homelessness. He was tired of it all, so he found a cop he knew and turned himself in. He detoxed at the jail. It was a few days later that I saw his picture on the LEC website and started writing him. We had been building a relationship over the past year or so, off and on, when he would come to the Sunday night suppers. Even drunk his mind worked well. Even sober his legs did not. He is witty and expresses himself through the written word very well. But above all else he is an artist.
He especially loves tribal art. He also does pencil drawings that have taken my breath away. When he came for my oldest’s graduation in May, he had a beautiful cane that he had carved and inked and put a glass eye in at the top. I asked him where he got the wood, and he replied, “The woods.” And he laughed. Well of course. It was gorgeous. He has a gift.
I have celebrated his successes. I have been with him in court, speaking on his behalf, about the good in him, and the future I could see. Another friend and I drove him to the treatment center that accepted him as a patient. When we arrived, he felt so out of his element. He pointed to a bench in some azaleas and said, “Well, there’s a spot for me.” When we got to the door and knocked (we had arrived after hours), a sweet lady came to the door and said, “You must be Mac. We been waitin’ on you.” He replied, “I’ve been waiting on y’all all my life.”
When a friend and I visited him for Family Day eight weeks later, it was obvious he had made friends and was well-liked and respected. He done good, as we would say growing up. The next day he moved to a transitional program in another town, about three hours from here. He hit the ground running. He went to the scheduled meetings, he made friends, and he took on the job of cleaning the main office and taking care of the roses. He was so proud of those roses.
He had some bumps in the road. He had times that dealing with authority was a little hard for him. He came home last November and decided he just couldn’t go back. The power of the alcohol was stronger than his desire to get better and have a home. He spent a week on the streets, and I spent a week vacillating between worry and anger. The following Sunday he showed up at the supper at the day shelter and said, “Please take me back.” The people in charge at his place up north had said he could come back. However he had to detox before he got there. Mac spent another ten days doing just that, and then we found someone to drive him back. He was back on the right track.
I was so hopeful.
He came back again in May for graduation. He looked better and seemed happier than I had ever seen him. He seemed…..not as restless. I told him I thought he was in a good place. He agreed. When we said goodbye after that Sunday lunch, that was the last time I saw him. I hugged him bye and told him, as I always did, “Love you brother.”
He had a court date yesterday. Apparently he was picked up during that week in November for some kind of loitering or other similar charge. They would not accept that he was living out of town and back in a program. They insisted he show up. (Note to self–Write a letter to the court about how well that all turned out. Angry letter.) I planned to go and pick him up on Monday from his home up there, but he told me last week that he’d already gotten a bus ticket. After talking with my friend who works with a ministry for the homeless about how to process this, I praised him for taking care of his business himself. I was a little sad though because I had looked forward to visiting on the ride back.
We planned to have supper on Monday night to celebrate his birthday later this month. It never happened. Late in the day he cancelled, apologizing that he’d already told his friend from AA that he was staying with that he’d go to a celebration at the fellowship hall. He didn’t want me to be upset. I wasn’t, but I didn’t know when else I’d get to see him. He promised me he’d have his Mama drive him down to see us on Tuesday.
He texted yesterday morning that they had no record of his required court appearance at the courthouse. I heard nothing else until yesterday evening when I asked him if he was okay. Long story short, he decided he’s not returning to the transitional program and his roses and his disability hearing he worked so hard to make happen–that other people worked so hard to make happen. He was drunk with his AA friend he’d been staying with.
And so it goes.
I should have known. And maybe I did. I was very worried last week when he planned the trip for himself. Back in May he was so careful not to be by himself. This time he kept me in the dark about so many of his plans. I’m not sure when or if he was by himself and what exactly happened. But I should have been more prepared. This is not my first rodeo with an alcoholic. In my “previous life,” I was married to one, and I learned then that trust is not something to give easily to someone with this disease. Yeah, I’m a codependent from way back.
Today I was lucky enough to enjoy impromptu fun with a dear friend and her toomuchfun children. What a crew we had in the back of the van. Big time fun with allergy shots en masse, a lunch together at a new restaurant for us (always nice to add a new “food allergy safe” one to our list), and all kinds of pre-teen drama going on in the soft play at the fun center. We laughed so hard, sharing stories and more stories. I thought about Mama’s rainbow last night, and I refused to let Mac’s choices steal the joy of the day. If I had to mope, I was “saving it for the plane,” as my friend Baddest Mother Ever was once advised. A joy and laughter-filled day. I’d do it again if asked.
When I got home, I called Jay, the man in charge of the transitional program, to see if he knew anything. Yes, someone drove Mac up to get his things and then he left. “Tara,” said this compassionate man whom I’ve been talking with for about a year, “you do what you want, but I really think you need to let him go. He’s going back to what is familiar and you can’t change that. I’ve been doing this a long time and we can’t understand this choice, but we can let him go and pray he finds the peace he’s looking for.” Good advice I guess. But easier said than done. I guess I have to switch off the “care” valve. I don’t know how to do that. Instead I will worry and wonder and crane my neck looking for glimpses of him as we drive through downtown. I will grieve. Again.
I am thankful for another sweet friend who shared her story of addiction with me late last night. She laid it out there for me–this was his choice, and it has nothing to do with me. He has to accept responsibility for his actions. It means so much that she would share her story, and that she absolved me from my guilt over this. Why don’t I feel better?
Tonight I am thankful for a joy-filled day that I didn’t let Mac’s choices steal. I give thanks for friends who listen and care and for a friend who loves and trusts enough to share her story so it could help me understand a little better, so I could maybe gain a little perspective. That is true courage. But I am also angry. Angry that alcoholism has taken another person I care about. This isn’t just being mad at a friend who made a choice I don’t agree with, this is someone’s life at stake. He has nearly died out there before. I’m angry with the court system that couldn’t leave well enough alone, accept documentation that he was in a legitimate program and write off the minor infraction in deference to what was best for him. I’m angry with the people in the town where he was–that no one reached out and said let me be a friend to someone who could use one. He so needed to start building a life with people there, making friends and becoming vested in that community, building a new life. I’m angry and sad that it’s likely I may never see him or hear his laugh or put up with his teasing me again. And I’m angry with myself. That I let myself get to this place again, despite all that my past experiences have taught me. That I can’t let go of the idea that maybe I wasn’t or didn’t do enough. If we are God’s plan for helping others, then what on earth just happened here?
As all these thoughts march through my brain tonight when I lay my head on my pillow, I hope I will also hear Mama’s voice: “It’s okay to feel angry. Now you just have to be careful what you do with that.” And that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? Okay, now what? What do I do now? How do I let go?
*not his real name