12. Tornado


What did I want from addiction? Happiness at first. Then freedom from pain. What did addiction bring me? Unhappiness. Pain. I didn’t go there alone—I was married and had a family.
As the winds of addiction hollowed out my humanity, I became less of a comfort to my loved ones. No matter what touch, or thought, or feeling I shared, I was always holding something back. I would enjoy the moment only with the permission of my addiction.
If my kids wanted to go to the park, but my cravings said “no”, the kids lost out. If my wife wanted understanding, I would listen only as long as my addiction would allow. I loved them still, but was blocked from feeling the love or kindness. I was hollow inside yet full of colliding forces; like a tornado.
Bill Wilson described the alcoholic (and by extension, the addict) as being “like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others.” I don’t know if I was all that dramatic. I wasn’t exactly roaring. I was meekly hoping no one would notice how awful I had become. I was trying to disappear quietly into my own destruction and not really bother anyone. But that is apparently not how love works.
While I was in a dizzy stupor, there were people trying to hold onto me. They weren’t trying to hold me back or hold me down. They just needed a father or a husband and they reached for me as a solid support. I was not that solid. If you ever try to hug a tornado—even a meek one—you will discover it is impossible. Anyone who tried to hold onto me promptly had their arms ripped cleanly away.
If you stayed clear of my path, you would probably be okay. And increasingly, my loved ones began to stay out of my way. My wife confided more and more in other people, less so in me. My kids stopped asking for attention or support and made their own arrangements. Friends stopped contacting me, probably because their invitations and inquiries were completely ignored. My job spun further and further way, then flew off completely. I arrived at church later and left earlier, until I felt no connection at all.
I felt numb during most of this time. It was like watching a sad disintegration happen to someone else. I still knew and loved my kid’s faces, and I still greeted my wife nicely, but eventually there were no more faces and there was no more wife. They were carried off in this slow motion dance of destruction that spun out from me in all directions. What had been near now flew off into the distance. What had once been high now fell low. Not much mattered, because not much was left to matter.
The Big Book had it right; I was like a tornado. Whoever I approached would flee from me. Whatever I embraced would shatter. Once a productive person, the path I now left behind me was strewn with scattered feeling and lives. And in surveying the terrible destruction, my reaction was to gape in amazement at the damage as if I were not its very source! Recovery has helped me see that I was destructive, even while considering myself meek and weak. I didn’t chase down and hurt anyone on purpose. But I allowed the winds of addiction to blow me wherever they pleased, and in doing that, I broke up a pretty good home, and people who I love still bear the emotional lacerations.
The illustration for the “Tornado” is perhaps my most chaotic in appearance, as fits the subject matter. The detail that rips a tiny new hole in my heart each time I see it, are the childhood belongings standing untouched in the window. There used to be such small items in my children’s windows as I sat up late telling them bedtime stories. (Sentimental yes, but somberly accurate.) Those remnants of my children’s lives before the storm forever remind me of what had once been.
Still, in the real world, people usually do survive tornados. The obvious warning signs of unholy noise and destructive fury usually trigger instincts to flee for safe shelter. My loved ones did that. They got away safely, in their own ways. I don’t blame them; instead I bless them and hold them in the Light every day.
The ending is not a sad one. I no longer rage and storm, even in a meek or weak way. In recovery, I am a person who you could count on to be there for you. Today I am wobbly in ways that don’t show, but with the help of my Higher Power, I am a solid friend, father, husband, and neighbor. With that help, I hope the last tornado I ever see is the one disappearing over the horizon in this drawing.
TRIVIA: After tornados pass, people report all kinds of improbable circumstances left behind. One house might be torn to splinters while the one directly next door remains intact. Or an untouched drinking glass may remain perched upright and filled with juice on a shattered marble kitchen counter. I hope my loved ones have been miraculously preserved in similar ways. When I see photographs of our family from those years, there is no visible sign of anything being wrong. You wouldn’t pick me out as a person with a grave problem. All of my insanity swirled inside the confines of a good-natured guy and a gentle father. When my addiction permitted it, I did throw fun birthday parties and worked hard to romance my wife. And love never vanished from my heart. Neither love of family or love of God left me entirely, even as I threw both into a blender. I hope you cannot understand what I just said, I really do. But if you knew nothing of these strange truths, you probably would not be reading this sentence right now.

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