Oh we never know where life will take us
I know it’s just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel
Saturday night, over 75 beautiful sober men and women gathered in my backyard to help me usher in my one year birthday in sobriety.
The swimming pool was heated to 110 degrees, and the evening was filled with fun, love, friendship and so much emotional and spiritual support it was almost overwhelming. At midnight I was presented with a beautiful birthday cake by Jonathan, my amazing “guru” on this journey of recovery, and Mykee, my dearest friend who is also in recovery. It was almost too much to bear, and I cried like a baby as each of those two men spoke about me, using words that a year ago would never have been associated with me: generous. loving. spiritual. kind. A year ago, the adjectives that best described me would have been: selfish. irresponsible. godless.
This morning, however, the waterfall of joy dried up quite suddenly: Patrick and I had to make the decision to euthanize one of our dogs. He hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months, his back legs weak and his mind beginning to cloud. In the mornings, on the way out to the backyard to relieve himself, he’d often circle the coffee table and end up facing the wall, seeming to have forgotten that he had to go around the couch to get to the door.
Steve was a slightly overweight, black and white Tibetan Terrier. Our friend Heather had rescued him from a yard where he was chained to a pole and had wrapped himself around it to the point of near-choking. Since, at the time, we were one of the few in our group of friends who had a house with a yard, we agreed to foster him until a home could be found for him. The problem was, however, that Steve didn’t seem to want another home. And as we came to understand over the years, what Steve wanted, Steve got. He was, to be blunt, a very strange…and rather dull… dog. Often mistaken for a very old dog even as a puppy, what he lacked in energy and personality he made up for with stubbornness. We learned quickly that calling Steve into the house from the far end of the yard was pure futility, unless Steve actually wanted to come inside. Believe me, we tried training him. We tried hard, for a long time. Useless. Steve called his own shots, and eventually we learned to live by his rules, for the most part. Patrick and I were never quite able to decide whether Steve had some form of brain damage inflicted before we met him, or if he was actually smarter than we were.
But we loved him, despite the difficulties he often presented (chewing on his own tail was a favorite pastime of his for a couple of years, forcing us to put a giant plastic cone around his head for the duration of that particular hobby of his, earning him the nickname “King Cone.”) And when he felt like showing us some love, we appreciated it even more because it was so unlike him.
I’m ashamed to say that I did not treat Steve…or any of our dogs, for that matter…very well when I was using drugs. While there were probably several instances where I probably kicked him out of my way or screamed at him (and this, to be honest, is often harder for me to live with than the horrible things I did to the people in my life), most of the abuse was in the form of just not paying attention to him. He was a barker, and could be set off by any number of innocuous things: a raccoon scuttling across the car port roof, the too-loud closing of a door or drawer, or…most annoyingly, the ring of a doorbell on the television (which was a little weird, considering we’ve never had a doorbell in any of the homes we’ve lived in.) I have many memories of having to interrupt my bad behavior while smoking meth in our home of having to stop and scream, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, STEVE!”
If at this point you’re thinking, “Jesus, what a horrible person,” you’re absolutely correct. I was a horrible person. I’m a meth addict. Horrible is what I was good at.
And today, remembering all those years of being thwacked out on speed and screaming at that poor dog, I feel terrible guilt and shame, coupled with deep grief at his passing.
But that’s the thing that’s important here: I’m feeling those feelings. Right now. As I type these words. And it’s fucking awful.
A year ago, this would have been the perfect excuse to visit my dealer, score some crystal and set about ‘making myself feel better’ by obliterating those feelings. And because I chose to stay present, I also get to remember this past year of sobriety, when I had the opportunity to make some amends to Steve. I got to tell him I love him, I got the chance to periodically let him sleep next to me in bed (despite his HIDEOUS breath), I got to rub his belly until he’d make those almost obscene grunting noises of pleasure, and I got the chance to tell him he was a good boy, a very good boy (even though he often wasn’t.)
I got the chance to say goodbye to him this morning, unlike our other pets who passed while I was in the throes of addiction, having been too fucked up to even consider dealing with the concept of goodbye, forever, leaving Patrick to face the vet’s office and that great, final needle-stick all by himself.
Today, I will feel all those feelings, good and bad. I won’t wallow in them, because that helps no one. But I will honor them and begin to process them, and when I’ve got a grip on them I’ll get back to helping other people, I’ll go to a recovery meeting and I’ll share about those feelings. And for every shameful memory of how I treated old Steve, I will show kindness to someone. Because that’s how I live life today, and it’s how I heal myself: by helping others. Just by writing these words, I can feel the joy-water start to trickle again.
Goodbye, Steve. You will be missed, but you will never be forgotten.