Taking Help – Part Three
It was nearly 35 years ago when a kind, goofy, full-of-life man named Dick Morrison gave me this suggestion — “Your Higher Power didn’t bring you this far to suffer.” His comment was in reply to one of an endless supply of moans and complaints, cries against the unfairness of life, I was regularly wailing in his direction. And he was to repeat those very same words often over the next couple of years. I was forever reaching out to him for help – well, not as often as he suggested – and he was most times offering the same hand of help, the same 10 words of comeuppance. No matter that it was not the help I wanted – or thought I needed.
(Here’s another sentence I got from Dick M. nearly as often, another I valued about as much as the first – “You’re right where you’re supposed to be.” Thanks Dick.
One summer day, I was 13 or 14 maybe 15, sometime in the early sixties, I was fishing with my pal Donnie Sisson at the Wareham River in my hometown of Wareham, Massachusetts. We’d worked our way that morning over from the town piers where we started to the other side of Route 6 and were out on a concrete ledge, maybe eight-feet wide jutting out over the water from the road’s edge. I had snagged my line repeatedly and lost all my lead sinkers by that point and ingeniously had broken a 16 oz coke bottle lying by the road and tied my line through and around the thick piece of green glassed-neck, so as to weight my bait to the bottom. Here I am, young punk fisherman extraordinaire, making an all-time long-distance cast, and I haul back and drive forward with all I’ve got and, demonstrating laws of science, nature, and stupidity, follow just behind my singing line and vanishing pole down into the water. Here are two more relevant facts: 1) the in-bound tide was rushing in with a strong current under and out from the road there; 2) my swimming skills and prowess would rank at about a seven on a scale of 1000. Exit – stage left.
Train tracks down from Boston run across Route 6 just back from where I fell in and maybe 50 yards away a wooden trestle formed a bridge for trains approaching the highway. At that particular time – I suppose right where he was supposed to be – was an older black man fishing alone and, within my frantic effort to dog paddle my way against the current pulling me out into the broad river, I saw him look up at Donnie’s cry for help – “Help! Help!” – drop his pole onto the trestle, and come running around out onto the sidewalk and over to Donnie. I saw him hand Donnie his wallet, take Donnie’s pole, jump into the water, and float out close enough to hand me the end of the rod and pull me back to safety. When I was back on solid concrete the man took his wallet from Donnie, walked back the 50 yards to his things on the trestle, gathered them and then left, his day of fishing over. My father, Editor of our hometown weekly, published the following Thursday a public thank you to the anonymous man who had saved his son.
No black guy on the bridge, no ‘Couch Surfing at 70’. Call it taking help.
What I consider my first true drinking experience – other than stolen sips from parents’ bottles – occurred a year or two later. I’d been hired to help open a W.T. Grant’s in a new plaza in my hometown, my sophomore into junior year of high school, and worked that summer primarily with older guys. One night after work two of them, call them Brian and Larry, took me to Brian’s parents’ deserted summer home in the Swifts Neck section of town and proceeded to feed me a significant number of beers. I believe they were 12 oz. bottles of Rupert Knickerbocker, could have been Carling Black Label. A couple of hours later they carefully poured me out of Larry’s mustang into the parking lot of a small neighborhood grocery store five houses down from mine. I staggered out back to a set of stairs, sat down, and proceeded to throw up for what no doubt felt like an interminable time (probably a minute) until finally getting it together enough to cut through backyards back to my house, sneak in and go up to a spinning bed. Never again I swore. However, this was only the first of a hundred times throwing up when drinking, the stomach in rebellion act eventually progressing to happening while sleeping. Fairly often, and exactly the kind of condition that killed a number of our beloved rock stars. I lucked out, I’m still here, though on numerous occasions I awoke to roommates slapping me silly, sprung up from their bed by horrific screams (I was told later) and other sounds of hideous discomfort and unpleasantness.
I relate these stories of nausea to make a point. Some three years or so after getting sober I came down with the 24-hour bug and got sick as a dog. This was my first time throwing up in sobriety and it was truly terrible, the completely out-of-control of my own body, the gasping for breathe between stomach flips, the retching, the smell, the taste, all of it. And I had the realization, a few hours later, that all those earlier years throwing up when drinking was a way of life to which I barely gave a second thought. Comes with the territory. Excuse me from this make-out session, Miss, I’ll be right back. And coming right back. Where were we? Laughing at my roommates tales the morning after. Like a twisted badge of honor. Before heading off to the laundromat.
We accommodate ourselves to suffering. I’m convinced of it. The repetition of chronic pain – primarily psychic and emotional – the lowering of personal standards for what is acceptable, the plain old getting used to, like the country song says, it ain’t love but it ain’t bad. I settled for less. We settle for less. I suffered, we suffer, and it became and becomes the norm. Bingo – the Buddha’s first Noble Truth – life is suffering. And suffering becomes familiar, even friendly, and we tell ourselves stories regarding the why and the how and that it’s just the way it goes. And for many, possibly never walk the distance to the Third Noble truth – there is an end to suffering. The Fourth Noble Truth regards the path to the end of suffering, and it says here – at Couch Surfing at 70 — that a distinct path to the end of suffering is the realization of suffering, the decision to reach for the happiness that is our birth right (“Your Higher Power didn’t bring you this far to suffer.”), and the willingness to ask for and accept help.
I fell in the river and a guy helped me. I was sure glad for that helping hand. I turned my life into a hot mess with substance abuse and misery, a chronic settling for less, and Dick M and about 10,000 other women and men stuck out their hands and grinned and said it doesn’t have to be like this anymore. They said “the joy is in the journey”. Even our Declaration guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Hey, maybe nobody takes me up on my offer to help trade in misery for joy at the bargain price of only five Jacksons. That’s cool. Because, for us all, the deal is to reach out for help and take it. The dope, as Springsteen sang it, “is that there’s still hope.”
Taking help? I do. Lots. And I’m pretty sure I’m right where I’m supposed to be.