PERSPECTIVE: The Journey Home

By: L. ANTHONY CASTORO | A few weeks ago, I took a Metro-North train ride to visit my family in Putnam County. Halfway to my destination I was momentarily haunted by the memory of the same ride I took a year ago.

On that ride, I was shaking violently and sweating, my heart pounding and teeth chattering, and I had not eaten in days. The smell of my urine-stained clothing caused fellow passengers to stare with disbelief. My brown-bagged beer can was in my lap. As if going to pick something up off the floor, I bent down to take gluttonous swigs, shamed each time I raised my head that I looked like a drunk.

My mother met me at the station, honking the horn as though pleading for me. I did not recognize her, but she coaxed me into the car, as drool dripped down my face. “Please surrender, please stop this war,” she said as I threatened to crash the car if she didn't buy me a drink.

I didn't crash the car, but I cratered physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The days that followed were filled with shakes and tremors, the nights were sleepless, and I endured a depression that consumed my soul. I shuddered at the memory of those nearly 20 hospitalizations, of the blood, of the fetal-position tears, of those many days and nights when I walked a tightrope between life and death.

I was 25 years old, had gone through 13 years of alcohol abuse, and was facing divorce from my Canadian husband.

This was certainly not what I had planned. I was supposed to stay with my husband up in Canada, enjoy my career, take my Yellow Labrador to the park, and adopt a child. That was the dream and, boy, did it look good on paper. We really put on a front, a facade of utter falseness as if nobody noticed the blatant cancer of addiction spreading through our union, the glue that in fact bonded us together.

But then suddenly he was gone, our home cleared out. I was alone with my bottle, my resentments, and my unquenchable appetite for self-destruction. I nearly drank myself to death, but managed to return to the US with a couple of shirts and a bank account that was drained.

My relationships mirrored myself – dysfunctional and delusional. I was attracted to those with the same unhealthy capacity for alcohol, who were defined by the extreme, who had forged tragically intriguing lives. Liquor gave me confidence to approach men and pursue the things that seemed unobtainable. I lived in a world of fantasy, erasing the memory of a broken home, of a little boy dripping with insecurity about being gay, about the father I had longed for whom I didn't feel good enough to be loved by.

I became the life of the party, the guy who'd go skiing off the roof, who'd put on a show at my own expense, who'd come to after blackouts in different states, in foreign countries, in strange hospitals. I spent a decade looking for externals to make me feel value on the inside. Great opportunities came my way, but I obliterated them with my uncontrollable desire for booze.

I was a man of sharp contrasts – boisterous and grandiose on the outside, yet on the inside scared to the bone of my own reflection. Geographic remedies were my forte; in a matter of eight years I lived in Hawaii, Oregon, Manhattan, Seattle, New Hampshire, Miami, Rhode Island, and Toronto. Each time I started over, I thought I would leave the damage and pain behind.

There were red flags by the time I was only 12. My first drink was not a drunk, it was a blackout. Generations of my family battled the bottle with the same shattering consequences, so genetics were not on my side. I made many attempts to moderate, and many promises to change; people tried to intervene, though the more they mentioned the word “problem,” the angrier and more resistant I became.

There was no single bottom, but a series of horrific events – car accidents, academic disappointments, financial crises, blackout air travel, and, later, drinking mouthwash and astringent, vomiting blood, defecating on myself, my failed marriage, an OD, the DTs, and several brushes with death.

Last year, somebody told me, “Don't quit before the miracle happens.” I can now say there have been several heartwarming blessings and many miracles along the way. The past year was by far the most challenging in my life, but also the most beautiful. I have formed my most meaningful friendships and discovered a relationship with the one person it turns out I was always searching for – myself.

The love, respect, and trust of my family, friends, community, and colleagues are back and deeply appreciated. I have taken an inventory of myself, of the temperament that had caused me such distress, but I don't waste time looking back and questioning. I try my best to stay in the moment, and with the help of others, I have learned to look at the beauty that surrounds me every day.

I made it through a difficult divorce and kept my head up as often as I could; ultimately, I stopped fighting over the value of what I lost and concentrated on the benefits of letting go.

There were tears when it all felt overwhelming, yet the tears were a sign that I was all right, that I was human, that there was no longer the need to suppress myself. I was finally feeling those things I had previously avoided. I can look in the mirror today and say, “I'm not perfect, and that's okay.”

An amazing man came into my life and has shown me a gentleness, a sincerity, and a strength that is inspirational. I am able to open up and give and accept unconditional love. I'm healing now, and have the support of the strong, insightful individuals who surround me.

Last summer I couldn't imagine cracking a smile again. I thought of myself as a complete failure, that I had let everyone I loved down. Little did I know that sobriety would help me begin to build a life of real dreams and real values. It seems ironic that when my once-beloved crutch was removed, I was finally able to stand.

For as long as I can remember, I was looking for that “home” – a palace of safety, security, and contentment. It turned out to be an internal job. I needed to tango with a monster addiction and lose nearly everything I grappled for to find what I was so desperately seeking all along – some inner peace. In important ways this has nothing to do with me – my journey home has been possible due to the grace and love of countless others like myself who, by sharing their experience and strength, keep me hopeful and smiling.

I've worked to find truth and fortitude where there was once dishonesty and shame. I can say with my head raised that I am a 26-year-old, gay, divorced man in recovery who's been blessed and has an obligation to share that. If you find your story somewhere in mine and can relate to my feelings, you'll realize you are worth it and not alone. The support is waiting to assist you in finding your inner strength. Be willing to give yourself that chance.