The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

The Shadow

It’s all connected — you can’t run from it

My friends Rich and Doug at Antietam last year

65 and Still Alive

Sixty-Five, and still alive!

Last year, I spent my sixty-fourth birthday walking around the Antietam Civil War battlefield with two really good friends. That was a battlefield that my great grandfather once crawled across, ducking enemy fire while retrieving the bodies of the dead and the wounded. Shortly after that, he wound up in the hospital in Philadelphia, extremely sick from exposure.

This year, I’m walking around Disney World with my beautiful wife and life partner, Kathy. You might say, I’m not just alive, but living the life. Not just alive, but thriving.

A Hat Trick of tapas to share — yesterday at Epcot

A Shadow Running Through My Days

It wasn’t always like this, which makes me appreciate the life I live so much more. I used to live a life of quiet desperation. Back then, I could really relate to a line in a Neil Young song that went “there’s a shadow running through my days, like a beggar going from door to door”. I was always running from just such a shadow, but could never really escape it. Shadows are tough to ditch.

That the life I used to live turned around and became the life I live today was truly a miracle I’ve had the privilege to live through, and eventually learned how to share, in a (hopefully) unobnoxious way, with the primary intent of showing others that it is, indeed, possible to turn a desperate life into a thriving life.

I was a fighter, so I tried fighting it. I gave it my best fight. I tried to make myself strong enough to beat it. I joined the Navy to try to make myself stronger. I succeeded in becoming stronger. I also proved, to myself and the Navy, that despite having goofed off all through high school physics, I could make it through their extremely difficult nuclear power program.

Bainbridge NTC, where I went to Nuclear Power School

Strength and Will-Power

They told me going in that I lacked the aptitude in physics to make it there. So I applied myself, and through sheer force of will (driven by the fear of going back to a conventional ship) I made it through that year-long intensive course of study that eventually earned me two years worth of college credits. I once pulled all my college credits together, and discovered I was just 11 credits shy of a degree in nuclear physics.

But, that will-power I applied in nuclear power school, and physical strength I’d gained in boot camp, never could beat that shadow that ran through my days. If anything, it got worse, it got longer and deeper, but I still thought I could beat it.

Series of Surrenders

It was only through surrender that I eventually won that battle. It wasn’t just one massive surrender, either. It took a series of surrenders. Luckily, I had beat myself into those states of surrenders enough that they began at a young age, 22 years old. That was when I tried just quitting everything. That was when I first admitted that I had a problem with booze and drugs. I thought I could just make up my mind to quit, and life would go on.

I did stop everything, all booze and all drugs, for awhile. In fact, I never drank again after that. But, that was quitting without a surrender. I was trying to apply my strength and my willpower to something that laughed in the face of such efforts.

What I got for all my effort was a desire to die. I simply didn’t know how to face life without the aid of drugs and/or alcohol to help me deal with it all. I’d become so dependent on them, I couldn’t function without them.

But, I tried. After four months of just wanting to die every single day, but not succeeding (obviously), I finally did have a surrender of sorts. I surrendered to the idea that I could do it on my own. That was a start.

V.A. Hospital in Philadelphia, where I came back to life

Back to Life

No, I didn’t go into a rehab or start going to 12 Step meetings. I still hadn’t connected my problem to anything they could fix. Instead, I went into the V.A.’s Depression Clinic in Philadelphia, where a University of Pennsylvania doctor was experimenting with depression treatments on veterans like me.

They lifted me out of my depression, with a nice combination that made me feel whole, and gave me a desire to live again. They gave me lithium for the depression, and I added a little marijuana to feel good about myself, and take the edges off. They worked together beautifully, for a couple of years.

I got on my feet, got a decent job, starting doing well, and felt very much alive again. Then, after a couple of years, things began to spin out of control. I didn’t realize, at the time, that I wasn’t just an alcoholic who could occasionally get high, and live a decent life. That’s all I wanted, but that was a life I could not sustain.

Finding an Answer

As the occasional marijuana highs gave way to needing to be high most of the time, and I found myself doing opium (to enhance my pot high), meth and cocaine (which produced an out of body experience), I eventually had a moment of clarity where I could see where the drug use was leading. I went back to the AA meetings I had tried, off and on, over those two years, only this time, I was determined to find an answer to my dilemma.

I still had the decent job, was still living a pretty good life, but I knew something wasn’t right about it all. They sent me to N.A., where I discovered a truth I’d never even considered. I wasn’t an alcoholic — I was an addict.

At my first meeting there, a guy talked to me for a couple minutes during the break, and that one conversation gave me all the information I needed to know about who I was. I was an addict.

I thought that information would be enough, but three weeks later, when I went back to my friends in Connecticut to tell them the news about who I was, I chickened out and got high, instead. That’s what I did when I was with them.

Making New Friends

I had to make some new friends. Coming back to Pennsylvania after that relapse, I had a surrender of sorts. I never got high again after that, even though I really wanted to for the next three months. I was battling obsessions to get high every day. I was going to meetings. I lost my good job. I was having crazy “drive-by” relationships with women, a series of “one-and-dones”, my emotions were all over the map — but I wasn’t getting high.

The N.A. crew — the kids I got clean with, and got involved in N.A.’s Literature movement with — I’m second from left

I had the good fortune to stumble into a literature movement in N.A., where a bunch of addicts all over the country were writing and compiling that fellowship’s basic text for recovery. I latched onto that — I was, after all, a writer — for dear life, and that kept me clean for close to four years.

It was a pretty crazy, frenetic life — my family was just as concerned for my health as they’d been when I was still using — the way I was living was not sustainable. I eventually had a falling out with just about everyone I knew in that program, so I walked away from it all, and tried to live a simpler life, in another fellowship, where I could be anonymous and just go to meetings. That didn’t work out.

A Different Kind of Meeting

I wound up back at an N.A. meeting, one that was different from the others. It was an N.A. meeting in name only. They still used the other fellowship’s literature, but that literature, and a couple of N.A. sponsors, helped me to finally recover. I felt like I was too close to the N.A. literature I had helped to create. I couldn’t recover through it, myself. I saw a lot of others doing well, but I was too close to it, I guessed. At that point, it didn’t matter. I had surrendered, and went where that led me.

That group got kicked out of N.A., but continued to thrive for a time, before it got away from the principles that made it so effective to begin with. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, they just didn’t think those principles were that important. They were.

With my wife, Kathy, and son, J.B.

Thriving Through Spiritual Principles

But, I had learned enough about spiritual principles, and how to apply them to my life, that I just kept doing that, and my life thrived, as a result. I had no self-pity about being kicked out of one program, and leaving another, as my wife and I, both in the same boat, just lived our lives and raised a kid. We figured the 12 Step fellowships weren’t for everybody. We knew others who were in the same boat as us, so we knew we weren’t all that unique.

Back Where It All Began

My journey eventually led me back to the other fellowship, where I was welcomed and felt at home, for a few years. When we moved to Fredericksburg a few months ago, and I wasn’t feeling quite as at home in that fellowship as I had up north, I decided to give N.A. a try. From the first meeting I wondered into, I knew I was home. After all these years, I was right back where it all began, nearly forty years later.

The shadow? I have occasionally felt its presence, and felt like I was chasing it, or it was chasing me. I’ve long since known it’s something I cannot fight. I just need to surrender, and accept that my shadow is a part of me, and there’s nothing to run from or to try to beat. When I surrender, I accept it as a part of who I am, and when I do that, I feel whole.

The shadow knows.

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Hawkeye Pete Egan B.

Hawkeye Pete Egan B.

Connecting the dots. Storytelling helps me to make sense of this world, and of my life. I love writing and reading. Writing is like breathing, for me.

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