I always thought I was half Irish, and half some Alsatian-German-French mix. A couple of my older brothers recently got their DNA’s tested, and discovered that we are actually 74.8% Irish. This was good news for me. I’d always favored my Irish heritage. It took nearly 64 years, but I finally made it over to the Emerald Isle last September, where we made two different stops in Cork, and one stop in Dublin. It’s hard to explain, but that trip made me “feel” my Irish heritage even more than ever. I could feel it right down to my toes as I stepped foot on Irish soil for the first time. I could smell it in the air, taste it in the food, and hear it in the conversations I had with numerous Irish natives. It felt like home to me.
I’ve had some interesting things happen to me on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, through the years. My family moved from Pittsburgh to Hartford, Connecticut, on March 17th, 47 years ago, in 1972, when I was 17. After two years of drinking and doing drugs, that began a 3 month stretch of sobriety for me, my first attempt to stop both. While that attempt did not take, I did get a taste of how life could be without the booze and drugs. It became something I desired, and would eventually manage to do.
I quit drinking for good 4 ½ years later, a couple months after I got out of the Navy. I continued getting high, off and on, for another 2 ½ years. When I finally realized that I could not afford to do drugs of any kind, either, I found a program that could help me with that, and I threw myself into it. When I went back up to Connecticut, from Pennsylvania, to tell my friends there the good news that I had found a way to live drug-free, I chickened out and got high, instead. It was a really devastating moment for me when I did, because I thought I had it licked. I got high with the two people who I was closest to, at that point in my life, and I lacked the courage to tell them who I really was, and what I had to do to get well.
It crushed me to realize I couldn’t trust myself around these dearest of friends. It broke my heart to understand I would have to leave them behind, in order to be able to move forward into the new life I was choosing to live. But, that’s what I had to do. I started all over again, and my first day clean was March 17th, 1980. I never got high again after that last load.
The first four years of total abstinence were kind of brutal, for me. I hadn’t realized how dependent I had been on drugs to cope with life’s stresses. Without it, I really struggled. I was in a 12 Step Fellowship, but had trouble finding many people who had actually experienced the 12 Steps. They were more of a theory for me those first four years, and I learned that, while a fascinating theory, in order to apply them to my life, they needed to be more than that.
I went through 17 jobs in those 4 years. I tried going back to college on the G.I. Bill, but didn’t make it very far. I fell in love a bunch of times, but had no relationship to show for it. Love, like dealing with life on life’s terms, eluded me. It was a real struggle. I hung in there, didn’t drink or get high – but that’s about all I had to show for those first four years.
Then, through a series of unusual circumstances, I found myself in a group with a number of folks who actually had experienced those steps. I could tell this group was different from most of the others I’d attended meetings at – they were much calmer, and seemed a hell of a lot happier. I hung around that group for a few months before I worked up the courage to ask a guy there to sponsor me, to help me through the 12 Steps.
I still remember the date I did that, because it was…you guessed it, March 17th, 1984. A funny thing happened after that. Things settled down. I got a job and kept it. In fact, I’ve been working for the same outfit for 34 years now. On the same day I asked that guy to sponsor me, I went to New York City with a girl I had just begun to date. It was a pretty crazy trip, but we really bonded, and I found myself drawn to this girl more and more, and she just became a part of my life. She still is. I married her, and had an amazing son with her. We just spent the afternoon watching him play rugby in the city. He’s 29 – the same age I was when I married Kathy.
This Irishman got lucky, more than once, and a lot of his luck began on St. Patrick’s Day. Today, I celebrate 39 years clean. In AA circles, where I hang these days, I just say 39 years sober. It’s all the same to me. For 39 years, I haven’t needed to put anything in my body that is mind- or mood-altering. Somewhere along the line, I grew comfortable in my own skin.
Some might call it the luck of the Irish. This Irishman doesn’t much care what you call it – he’s just grateful to be able to live it. It’s a good life.