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The Greatest Gift My Parents Ever Gave Me

“Get help or get out.”

Those were my mother’s words during the intervention that saved my life. Looking back on it now, those must have been incredibly difficult words for her to say. My father had stood next to her in the kitchen when she said it. The pain was on their faces.

So was their resolve.

I was a full-blown alcoholic living in their basement (it was a finished basement, it was nice). I had a hard time holding down a job and passed out drunk nearly every night. Depressed and cynical, and very much in the grips of addiction, I was very, very sick.

I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, but I was about to in a few seconds.

“What do you even want?” my mom asked.

I stopped and thought about it. I didn’t know anymore.

***

Rock bottom is different for everyone. For some people, it’s wrapping their car around a tree. It’s waking up on the side of the road, covered in garbage and vomit. It’s losing the respect of their family and friends. It’s losing their kids. It’s killing someone by accident. Sometimes it’s all of that, all at once.

I was lucky. Rock bottom arrived with a question, and a realization that my alcoholism was getting in the way of everything I wanted. Rock bottom was seeing the rest of my life stretch out before my eyes and finally noticing that it was empty. Gray. No achievement, no happiness, no challenges, and no love. Loneliness and despair as far as I could see. When I was a kid, I wanted to fly in the Air Force Thunderbirds (my eyesight disqualified me for that). In college, I wanted to be a writer. Then I found alcohol and it slowly took over my life, until I was a shadow of what I could have been.

“What do you even want?” my mom asked.

I looked at her for what seemed like a long time but was probably just seconds. I turned around and opened the drawer with the phone book in it. Plopped it down on the counter and thumbed through the yellow pages. Found the substance abuse counselling section and picked one at random. I grabbed the phone, dialed and asked for an appointment.

That day was 17 years ago next month.

I’ve been sober ever since.

***

I didn’t do it by myself. I had a lot of help. Family. Friends. The substance abuse counselor I saw for six months after the intervention. My parents let me stay with them for a few more years, and then helped me buy a condo — which I then lost in a bankruptcy in the wake of the 2008 financial downturn (I’ve since recovered). They’ve been there the whole time, advising, listening, supporting.

Today, I have a rewarding career as a successful software engineer. I’ve written two books and I’m working on a third. Laughter is a big part of my life. It’s amazing to think that for many years while as an active alcoholic, laughter was hard to find. Smiles were rare. A sense of contentment was a dream, a fantasy left of others. Today, I have a great life and want for very little.

I don’t remember when I was born. I don’t remember that gift. But I remember the one my parents gave me 17 years ago. I think it’s likely, had they not intervened, that I would not be alive today. They probably didn’t think of it as gift at the time; they probably thought that it was a really hard thing to have to do.

It was a gift all the same. The very best kind of gift. It was the gift of caring enough, the gift of courage, the gift of resolve and the gift of knowing me well enough to ask the right question.

Thanks, Mom and Dad!

I write books and software. Opinions held loosely.

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