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JUNE 2016

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--- ON THE BENCH ---
14th June 2016

On The Bench

Have you ever had the challenge of loving somebody whose full-blown in alcohol or drug addiction? It takes a special kind of strength to helplessly watch someone that you love slowly destroy themselves. I say "Helplessly" because no matter how much you love somebody and want it for them, the one thing that you cannot give them is the desire to stop drinking or using - that has to come from them. Addiction is stronger than love and will trump it every time. However, the cold, hard, truth is that one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Nor does one cancel out the other.

I learned this years ago when my son's mother would scream at me, "If you love me and your son you will stop using drugs!!!" My addiction, and subsequent slow, self-destruction didn't negate the love that I had for my son. I was just emotionally and psychologically incapable of translating the feelings that I carried in my heart into any type of meaningful behavior that reflected those feelings. The guilt that I felt from this caused me to use even more drugs to try and cover up the feeling of shame; and the using of more drugs caused my baby mama to scream even more.

It was one ugly cycle of dysfunction and baby mama drama. Until, one day, she finally looked me in the eye and said, "You're going to have to choose one or the other. Either ME or the drugs!" Well, that was a no-brainer. I chose the drugs. They didn't yell at me and whine like a bad fan belt if I came home late. Unfortunately though, she was incapable of keeping her word and she stayed with me and our relationship reached even new lows.

Alcoholism and addiction are one and the same, just different sides of the same coin. Alcoholics though (especially recovering ones), are quick to point out that, "I was no doper." As if drinking a fifth a day and waking up in your vomit to learn that you'd pissed yourself again is somehow more upstanding than somebody who smokes their drugs on a can or shoots them into their arm. The ego is an amazing thing. So is denial.

Just in case you didn't get the memo, alcoholism and addiction are: A mental obsession, coupled with the physical compulsion to drink or use. The physical component of this dynamic can be treacherous. I've been dope sick on heroin everywhere from a hospital and a train, to a church and the lobby of a bank as I was taking it off. But for me, the absolute worst place to be dope sick was walking into work. This was because I knew that I would have to live with that sickness for at least 8 hours without even the possibility of any relief. This invariably led to unemployment, which led to crime, which led to prison, which led to me disappointing and breaking the hearts of the people in the world that I cared about the most.

This downward spiral always ended with the same result. Me sitting in some noisy, crowded cell that smelled like sweat and fear, while being filled with an indescribable amount of pain, rage, and especially, frustration. Slowly, one crisis at a time, one by one, all of my loved ones eventually went away. Even my sister. I ended up doing a 10 year prison term for the theft of infant formula that I was selling to a cartel of Arabs. They were using it to defraud the government, but you'll have to buy the book to hear that story. When I complained at my sentencing about the amount of time I was getting for stealing baby milk, the Honorable Thomas Hughston said, "Hell, Mr. Frye, you stole enough of the stuff to feed the starving children of Haiti. Do you want to withdraw your plea?" I relplied, "No, Your Honor, I just want to bitch." He said, "Make it quick." I did, and then was summarily shipped off to an underfunded prison sentence where I spent the next 4 1/2 years with no money, no visits, and hardly any mail. Certainly no email.

I spent a couple of years in this one particular prison that was out in the woods. It had a large recreation yard that encompassed the center of the compound. At one end of the yard up near the administration building was a small stone bench. The kind that you sometimes see in cemeteries. I used to sit for hours at a time on this bench and ponder the state of my life.

As I said, there was this gray stone bench that sat alone by itself up at the front of the yard that looked out onto the parking lot and the road in front of the prison. I used to sit on this bench for hours at a time and ponder the state of my life. This was before I'd ever even considered becoming a writer, but occasionally, I would take a pad of paper out there with me and write letters to my son. My son had been 14 when I went to prison and I'd been hunting him for the last four years. I made sure that all of the letters that I sent to him had a visitation form enclosed. Unfortunately, all of the letters that I sent to him were returned to me, with no forwarding address. Every single one of them.

I rode this bench for a long time. Years.

I was sitting on this bench one day when the Chaplain came and sat down beside me and told me that my father had died and been buried two weeks before. Then shortly after this, I received a notice at mail call telling me that someone had been approved to come and see me. It was my son, who had just turned 18. I fired a letter off to him immediately and told him how to act when he came there, because the cops who checked in the visitors were known for being less than polite.

On the Saturday that he came to see me I was excited and had been up since dawn. I was sitting on the bench in a freshly pressed set of Khakis looking through the fence into the parking lot when I saw him drive up. He looked so much bigger than the last time that I'd seen him. I wanted to just give him a big hug and hang onto him for a minute or so and get a whiff of his forehead, the way that I used to do when he was a baby.

But that just wasn't meant to be that day. A few minutes after he'd entered the front door of the prison, he came out and stomped back to his car, slammed the door, and then drove off. He'd gotten into some type of confrontation with the officers who were checking in visitors, and in an attempt to show him who was in charge, they asked him to submit to a strip search. He refused and was promptly suspended from coming to see me for the next two years.

One week after this, I was sitting on the bench when they called me over the PA system and asked me to report to the Chaplain's office. When I got there they told me that my son had hung himself and was in a coma and on life support. I went back out to the bench and sat down and cried. I was sitting on the bench a month later when the Chaplain came out to tell me that he'd finally come out of the coma and that they'd removed the ventilator, but that there were complications.

Two months later, I was finally released from prison and went from sitting on the bench for hours a day, to having my own office and working at a good job in a criminal defense firm. Literally, one day I was sitting on the bench and the next day I was back in the game. The only problem was that when I left prison, I took with me the one thing that would eventually bring about my demise (again). Me. And my flawed thinking.

You see, my problem was never having the brains sufficient to get a job; nor was the reason that I failed as a parent because I lacked love and concern for my son. And the reason that I was a poor mate wasn't because I inherently lacked the ability to be good to and for my girl. No, my problem, and the reason that I couldn't ever seem to live life on life's terms, was simple. Addiction.

Judge Hughston may have saved the staring children of Haiti that day that he gave me ten years in the slammer, but what he didn't do was cure my addiction, which was the root cause for all of my failures in life. And as peaceful and therapeutic as I found that bench to be, sitting there for years on end did nothing towards changing my thought process, coping skills, or the way that I handled stress. So in spite of all of the breaks that I received when I came out of prison, I eventually got high, lost everything and everyone, and ended up back in a crowded, noisy cell, dope sick, and feeling angry and ashamed.

All it took was me getting high once. Because as I've learned about addiction, it's not the caboose that kills you...it's the engine. That first one after you've regained people, possessions and your dignity, and you've started believing your own press again. And in your narcissistic reverie, you've taken credit for all of your newly-bestowed good fortune and answered prayers. You've also made the mistake of believing that what you have is who you are, when nothing could be further from the truth. Subsequently, you end up being nothing more than a piece of shit in a Polo shirt. You've also convinced yourself of all of the things that you'd never do again, and then set about repeating all of the same mistakes while expecting different results.

For people in this situation, their mind is stuck in a cycle of self-defeating "Euphoric recall" where they don't remember the feelings of anger and shame. They don't remember all the tragedy and riding the bench for years on end. They only remember the high.

This flawed process of thinking is what sets a person out from other people that use the same drugs that they do, and drink the same booze as them, yet never self destruct. This euphoric recall, and subsequent denial, is one of the things that genetically defines a person as an alcoholic and/or addict. The bad news is that this is a legitimate disease and it is chronic, progressive, and fatal. And it will most likely be a slow, painful death. You will perish, one hospitalization, prison sentence, and one family at a time.

But there is some good news. This disease is not like cancer...there's a treatment for it that can put it into remission and you can avoid that slow, painful death. This is one broken glass that a person can potentially unbreak, and even patch it up so well that nobody will even be able to tell that the glass has been broken before. And that person can then go on to share their experience, strength, and hope with others and help them put their disease into remission. People can, and do, recover from this disease and go on to have great lives.

So how does a person go about doing this? I'm not really the guy to ask. I'm just a guy with a new bench. But I certainly have some time to think about it.

Jeffrey P. Frye
Bank Robber's Blog