My mind often flows in mysterious ways.
I’m in Illinois visiting family. Snow fell last night. Outside my window is a beautiful white vista. My grandtwins are making delightful experimental sounds with their mouths in the background.
One crawled for the first time last night. He made a small lung forward, and as he fell, he quickly extended an arm to catch himself.
It was a beautiful reminder that life is often a series of small lunges forward with the hope and faith that an arm will be there to help steady us when we fall.
As I typed the last sentence it reminded me of far different arms who were there for me one night on a beach years ago when I fell about as far as someone can one go.
It had all started happily enough. I was camping with a group of perhaps thirty men who shared a common goal:
To be there for each other as we worked to become the man each of us wanted to be, have fun together, speak our truth, celebrate wins, and support each other during life’s difficult times.
In short, we were friends, remaining friends to this day.
A bunch of us were sitting around a large fire on a beach. Someone pulled out a bottle of Scotch and began to pass it around. (While alcohol was sometimes involved in our activities, drinking was a very small part of what we did.)
Unbeknownst to me, that bottle started a chain reaction in me that I will never forget.
Recently before that trip, my daughter had spent a month fighting for her life in intensive care, and her future sounded pretty bleak. Scary messages about having an incurable disease, the odds of getting a certain type of cancer being 32 times greater, the side effects of drugs, chemo, steroids, etc, had scared everyone in my family.
I’d focused on being strong for my daughter and the rest of my family. I knew the experience had taken a toll on me, but felt I’d been dealing with it fairly well.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, and it was that night on the beach that I found out just how wrong I’d been.
As the bottle was passed around, I enjoyed the warmth of the fluid as it went down and the camaraderie of those men.
We talked, and the bottle kept going around. As it came to me, I apparently took ever-greater gulps. I’m someone who never likes to be out of control, and rarely drink heavily. On those times when I do, it is with people who I trust a lot. This was one of those times.
Other bottles appeared. I hadn’t intended to drink a lot, but it wasn’t long before I was holding a bottle and chugging it.
Ironically the contents of that bottle helped me to access and begin to release what had been invisibly bottled up inside me, but, in truth what happened next probably had at least as much to do with those who were with me that night and the strength of our friendship.
Raw pain started coming out of me, first slowly, then exploding with such intensity that I believe everyone there will never forget the experience.
It came from deep within me, so deep that I had no clue it was even there, and was shocked by the magnitude of it.
I began to babble almost incoherently about my daughter, all she had gone through, and her bleak future.
I screamed and raged, whispered and sobbed.
Wave after wave of volcanic eruptions of grief, fear, pain, desperation, helplessness, created an inferno that raged for hours.
Through it all, some men stayed, keeping the container safe and sitting with me in the searing heat of the fire that internally had nearly consumed me.
Gradually the fire burned itself out. What was left was a nearly unconscious, wrung-out wretch of man who had blacked out.
The next thing I remember were two men, one on each side of me, half-dragging, half-carrying my half-dead and fully drunk carcass up a long and very steep hill to my tent.
Barely conscious, I threw my head from side to side to look into their faces, determined to burn their identities into my memory despite the nearly impenetrable fog inside my alcohol-addled brain.
As my head swayed from side to side and reached an end of the arc, and with eyes that could barely focus, I looked at them one at a time and solemnly promised that I would never forget what they were doing for me that night.
I never have.
Thank you, Curt and John, for being there with strong arms and stronger love.
Thank you to all the men who sat in the fire with me that night when I was finally able to access and purge myself of the hidden poison that had silently been killing me.
P.S. While in this instance alcohol helped me to access and purge hidden pain, I believe that alcohol can too often be used to hide from and avoid emotional or other pain that is often best dealt with in other ways. I don’t recommend alcohol as a cure for anything. The intended message here is about the power of friendship, not the attributes of alcohol.