Beginning Again

11/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah and new beginnings:

When I first met my friend Bryan he was a chubby-cheeked member of the Advanced Placement English class I taught in my years as a high school teacher. A lot has happened in his life since those schoolboy years, meaning he made mistakes that even led to his being incarcerated, all because of addiction that proved as hard to cut through as the super-tough ligaments that tie the arm to the torso.

One day well into his journey toward recovery he and I did a prison ministry show called Gates Unbarred together and as I was taking him back to the Pre-Release, he told me I should go to meetings myself. He said this because he saw in me what I never saw in myself: that as a result of alcoholism in my family of origin I had terrible boundaries and exhibited the kind of 'rescuing' behavior that almost never helps anybody and dearly costs not only the person practicing it but those with the closet claims on that person.

Today he owns his own very successful business, goes to the VA a couple of times a month to talk with the guys there who are 'in program and flat-out loves singer-songwriter Lori McKenna one of whose tunes caused him to have to pull over the first time he heard it on his car radio and weep tears for pain so old he did not until then know its name.

Without saying more let me show you here the letter he wrote me ten days ago which he has invited me to share freely here:

Yesterday I went on my bike to Maine and stopped on the way to visit two guys who used to be my closest friends from Seventh Grade on.

Now here's a story: In 1984 when I first started going to meetings, my sponsor was a guy named Paul. I only stayed sober for 18 months that time but we remained friends. He was a good guy and he always helped me out. By 1988 I was really declining and had totaled my car so Paul bought me one, registered it and insured it. I was supposed to give him the payments but since I was 'using' at the time, I was always behind. That's the car I did those armed robberies in and when I got caught and went to jail I never heard from him again. He has been on my amends list for a long time but I heard he'd moved to North Carolina.

Fast forward to yesterday when I stopped for gas and this couple, also on a bike, started talking to me. They asked if I'd been to this biker restaurant down the road. They were like, 'Oh, you have to go, everyone goes there, the food is good' etc.

I was wary but I followed them: to this huge place with hundreds of people, four bars, a BBQ pit, the works. I was walking around alone and totally overwhelmed. I went to get a Coke and there was this guy in front of me. He called over to the bartender and I recognized his voice:
It was Paul. My first impulse was to walk away, but I knew I'd been led here for a reason. I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around.

'Hi, Paul' I said.

He just looked at me and finally said, "Do I know you, friend?"

I said, "Ya, you do Paul. It's Bryan."

He looked at me for a few more seconds then went "Bryan? Is that you? How are you? What happened to you? "

We talked and I noticed he was drinking. I got his number and told him I needed to call him when he wasn't drinking to make amends to him, including financial amends.

Just before we parted I said, 'Paul, you were good to me and I took advantage of that. I just want you to know you were a good guy to me.'

Right there, in the midst of all these bikers his face cracked and he started to cry. I don't think anyone had told him he was a good guy in a while.

There were three gas stations at that intersection. Why did I choose that one? Why did those strangers talk to me? No one ever just talks to me. Why did I end up at that bar in that line, behind that one guy?

Today I drove back up and made amends with my school friends for leaving them and blaming them. All this time I told myself they abandoned me but really I abandoned them -- for drugs, and being a criminal, and going to jail. My whole adult life I've felt the loss of those guys who knew me in a way that no one has ever known me -- until I became someone they didn't know anymore. I blamed them for not caring enough to save me. But, how can anyone save you from yourself?

Yesterday after a very long time I started finding myself again.

This past week Bryan celebrated six years of sobriety and returned to Maine to begin the amends process with Paul.