I remember it like it was yesterday. We were living in Moorpark, CA. We moved up to the golf course.
It was a great period of when our babies were just that… babies. Kayley was probably around 16, 17? Clark was a couple years younger, JJ was around 5 or 6 and Connor was 2 or 3 when we got there.
We made new friends… we became part of the community and one family that was very prominent in Moorpark was the Arnaud family. Eric is one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet. A pillar of the society. All the local activities… Rotary Club… fund raising always for the community… and very hands on with team sports for his kids.
My wife Tracy reminded me the other day that the first time she met this family was at JJ’s karate classes when he was 6 or 7. In this class was another boy named Christian. Christian Arnaud. Tracy really liked this family and became friendly with them. She was particularly fond of Christian’s little sister Sascha who was 4 at the time, as Tracy recalls.
A year or so later JJ said he wanted to go out for little league baseball since all the other boys did. Funny how you want to fit in. As it turns out he wasn’t a freak for the sport but you could see how the social aspect of it was what he really loved. The reason I point this out is because when I played little league I loved it and really wanted to excel in it. I was an average player though… well, maybe slightly above average but not one of the better players. Both JJ and I found what we really wanted to go after… so did, and does, Connor. We’re music makers.
So JJ joins little league and we get him on this team that ALWAYS wins. John Koonce is a guy who LOVED to coach. And his team won every year! Drove the league and the other teams nuts. But he wasn’t doing anything weird… I was at the practices, (when I was home), and he just had this knack for identifying the best talent, assembling it and managing wins. He also played everybody, as you need to do in those leagues… I watched him. The players who weren’t his best talent were given game time… and there were times when the game was on the line, and he’d put the kids in.
You know who those players were? The ones that weren’t his stars? My son, Christian and John’s own son! The 3 guys who were a bit afraid of the ball… I remember it like it was yesterday. Watching all 3 of our sons standing in the batter’s box and you could feel the terror in their sweet little faces. And the pitcher would wind up, throw to the plate and our boys would step back, away from the ball. We all were frustrated… if only WE could be standing in the box for them! But we couldn’t. Had to let our boys work this out, for themselves.
And as if a script had been written, there were those occasions during the season when each one of them would make contact with the bat and ball and we’d go crazy in the stands! A moral victory. To not go through the entire season without hitting a ball.
But I look back on those times and remember them so vividly because we were young fathers. We were all connecting as families. We’d have holiday parties and we’d all be there. My wife thinks it’s halloween every day so our parties were, and are, inevitably themed with ghouls and scary things. We have so many photos of the games she’d put together with these kids and we have movies of it as well.
Well, when my family and I moved to Nashville in 2008 we said goodbye to our friends in Moorpark and LA. Social media enabled us to stay in contact, somewhat, with our old crowd but as what usually happens, we fell out of touch with our crowd in LA.
Somewhere around 2012 or so… I made a trip out to LA and as I’d do when I got to town, I’d drive out to Moorpark and just go through the neighborhood, remembering, and quite frankly, dreaming about coming home someday. On one of these trips I ended up at a soccer field and Eric was there coaching his daughter’s soccer team. There was an overwhelming feeling of being where I was supposed to be. I took a photo of the 3 of us and sent it to Tracy. I could hear her sigh all the way from Tennessee to Moorpark. And little did I know that a seed would be planted.
It still was a while until we were able to spend time with these people again but eventually when my mother in law got sick again we went out to Utah temporarily to spend the last few years with Tracy’s parents. And eternally grateful to have been able to make that move.
And when Tracy’s parents had passed we knew we needed to split our time between Tennessee and California so we got a 2nd home. Eric Arnaud was, and is, our realtor. He helped us sell our house in Moorpark and helped us find our 2nd home in California a year and a half ago.
As I got back into the flow of California I plugged into my old recovery support systems… as many of you know, as of this writing, I am 31 years clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. Eric is somewhere around 25 years as of this writing.
When I got back to town and we would attend recovery meetings he told me the struggle he was having with Christian. Real struggle with drugs. Oh boy… I saw what was going on… and my kids were, and are, exposed to it. It’s brutal. The culture today is just brutal of what’s going on out there. What’s acceptable. Heroin… a drug that when I started getting high as a kid in the 70s, if you used heroin you were a real outcast. A real hard cord drug addict. Pretty much resigned to the fact you’re going down the tubes.
I’d heard of the overdoses… they weren’t as often as I hear of now, but maybe they were a bit more hushed because it was such an underground drug.
And let me also go on record right now and say that I know more than ever I was born at the perfect time, for me. With what’s going on out there these days… the way I used drugs… the pull it had on me… the patterns… if I was just starting out now… let’s say I was 16 to 23 years old, right now… I don’t know if I’d be here. The way I’d push the envelope… the way I’d *try* things… trying to be cool. The way I thought “nothing too bad is ever going to happen to me”… thinking I was invincible… knowing I was in trouble… uncontrollable… addict… but still, it won’t happen to me. That attitude, with what is out there these days… I truly believe I would be one of the best candidates to be a statistic. I just hear about it and see it too much right now.
And now it’s come home to me as close and real as I can imagine. Actually, I can’t imagine. Don’t want to imagine… but I don’t have to anymore. It’s here.
I was having coffee a few days ago in a coffee shop and all of a sudden I look up and there is my friend Eric… must have been 7:30am ish? I take my headphones off, I see Eric’s eyes look a bit red… he’s just standing there with a strange look on his face, I ask, “What? What’s going on?”, he starts to shake, starts crying and says, “It’s Christian. He’s dead. He’s gone.”
It’s one of those moments you hear about… when you hear something that just won’t process… you see I had performed at the Ventura County Alcoholics Anonymous convention just a few days earlier and Eric was there. He came up to me and was beaming… telling me how well Christian was doing. “He’s got 65 days man! He’s doing so well!”. I couldn’t have been happier for him.
And when Eric delivered this news a few days ago… a mere 2 or 3 days after the convention after he’d been doing so well… I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t. He told me that Christian had smoked heroin. He just relapsed but obviously his tolerance wasn’t there. As they say, the progressive nature of addiction is that our brains are moving forward as if we never stop… so if we do, and then start, the body might just not be used to the amount our brains are telling us is ok.
So here’s where it gets really tough for someone like me. My friend, his family, our family, is gutted by one of ours being cut down so early. It was a mistake, and not that that matters… even when it’s intentional… doesn’t matter. We’ve lost them and there’s something that needs to be dealt with. It’s a multi-headed monster… it’s not as simplistic as to say we need to go after the dealers, although I believe we need to as one part of this… but there will be another one that pops up. There is a need, a marketplace for all this.
For me? Being here, present in my family’s life right now is another thing that is ultra important… is it the guarantee of it not happening to my kids? Absolutely not but as I talk with my kids and family about… I’m about looking for the edge. Working the percentages. As they told me when I was in rehab in 1986, “Out of the 15 of you in this room, in a year 3 of you will be sober… in 5 years 2 of you will be sober. In 10 years, 1 of you will be sober.” At that moment, with nothing else than just making a decision… not knowing how I’d do it, I silently said to myself, “I’m going to be that 1 person in 10 years.” I got home New Years eve in 1986 and got to work. Did what was suggested… they showed me and told me the odds still aren’t great… but I wanted all the advantage I can get.
90 meetings in 90 days? I’m doing it. And the naysayers… the ones against the hardcore 12 step dogmatic approach… ok, I can appreciate that too… believe me, at this point I believe recovery has evolved to where just like education, it’s not 1 size fits all… whatever and however you can do it, find it… just find it.
But again, for me, I’m going to do whatever has worked the best, so far. And what I’ve really gotten from my years in recovery is no matter what you’re involved with/in, get in it. It’s about being a *part* of something… a part of life. I told someone the other day that for me, it’s about finding your crew. Starting with 1 person. Not being alone… the isolation is the thing that kills.
I know for myself that if I had a relapse, (fortunately haven’t had one, yet, in almost 32 years of sobriety… but I also know that we’re never out of the woods), my first instinct would be to beat myself up for failing or even more important, *not being perfect*. And then the downward spiral happens… and hey, it doesn’t have to be with substance abuse… it can be with any mistake… to start pounding on myself… and go down the tubes, at first mentally and then without reaching out and connecting with someone who knows how far down it goes?
I can only imagine that with today’s world and what’s out there that when one relapses and is alone… when the shame sets in, it can be just fatal. When I think of when I was out there using in the 70s and 80s I would try to clean up and for short periods of time I would, but when I’d relapse it wasn’t with stuff that would kill you like that. Sure, I could make the decision to go all the way but there weren’t the *accidents* that we have now. But still… as I said before, I just consider that the luck of the draw… of being born before the choices could be so much more fatal.
That’s what is so brutal about my little sweet friend Christian. It was an accident. He didn’t mean to die. But that’s what happened.
I was at Eric’s house last night with my wife and we were all sitting around the kitchen and they were going through photos to give to the funeral director to put the slide show together for the service on Sunday. There were lots of friends there supporting them and it was a mood you’d hope to see… we have been talking for a couple days now about how everything happened and it felt good that my friend was putting the pieces together… to try and make any kind of sense out of it all… and you can feel that initial stage of the shock and numbness where you need to get through it… you’re surrounded with support… and there was a moment last night that I just paused and observed.
Here was a big stack of photos… and someone would find a new one… of Christian as a baby, a little boy, a teenager, making some sweet face, a sly smile, and everybody would start laughing remembering the joy… and I just thought, “Wow… they’re dealing with it as well as anybody could” and all of a sudden I felt this higher level of perception happen… I imagined Christian in that kitchen looking onto this scene… and watching his father chuckling… and remembering all the times spent with him… all the times he was trying to help him… and knowing that the real hard part is coming… and thinking… “Ok! It was an accident! I didn’t mean for this to happen. Please let me come back and make this all ok. Please let me have a do-over to spare them of what’s to come.”
I really felt that. And it made me think of what that might be like. To be right on the other side of this life and to be looking back with a perspective. And how I think about these things a lot these days… of putting ourselves out into the future and wondering if we could do it all over…
I’m going to let you in on something very personal right now… as my wife’s parents were obviously ill and it looked like they weren’t long for the world… when her father passed first, (and no one was expecting that… we were there in Utah to support her mother whose breast cancer had come back and it was obvious this was the final march), I saw what it did to my wife. For someone who had been there so strong throughout the years I was gone, I saw the first bit of vulnerability. Saw her needing me more than ever. She wouldn’t say that of course… she’s as dutiful as any band wife/road warrior’s support system… but I could see it. And knowing her mother was in her final decline… I asked myself to look out 20 years after her mother had passed… looking back and remembering that at that moment, 3 years ago, I saw my wife’s life crumbling and I told her I needed to stay gone… which would in essence be telling her she’s fending for herself… what message is that sending?
I then looked at the statistics… remember how I was talking about the numbers and the odds? I saw that when people made choices other than showing those they love what matters most… most likely, in 20 years I’d be like a lot of people I’d seen making those choices and decisions…
So I imagined a conversation with God, or whatever you want to call it… something other than myself… something I could ask, “Ok, I’ve made a choice that has produced a result, I’m not happy with, and the worst part of it is I KNEW BETTER. I was enlightened. I can’t feign ignorance… I can’t wake up now 20 years later and say I didn’t know. I knew… remember when I was writing about it in my 50s? So that’s the part that bothers me most… I KNEW BETTER… but I made certain choices and now ask myself why? What was SO important that I didn’t go home to take care of those beautiful people who needed me? I’d give anything to go back and do it differently. Is there any way I can go back and do it over?”
And God says to me, “Yes, I’ll let you go back and make a different decision. You’ve at least come to me when there was still time to make a choice. It’s not too late.”
And so I went back in time, and 3 years ago, took the incredible opportunity to come home to be with those who needed me most.
THIS, is my DO-OVER.
And I won’t get into too much detail but believe me, being home for not only Tracy as her mother passed but my sons and particularly my youngest, Connor, who really had a tough year. BUT, being home, I was there to be with him through it all and he’s doing amazingly well.
And again, there are no guarantees… I know that me being here isn’t the reason for anybody’s happiness or successes, or failures for that matter… but I want the odds. As slim as they are, I want the odds…
Sorry to go off on a tangent about me and my family… but I wanted to illustrate that I felt this last night in Eric’s kitchen… of how Christian was with us and there’s no way he could be looking down on that scene, of the ones who love him the most… putting photos together for his funeral… laughing telling old stories just doing our best to put on the brave face… that he wouldn’t be thinking if he could do something different we wouldn’t be there in this scenario. Again, it was an accident, not that it ultimately matters… and I know I’m really making this simplistic in the big picture…
My point is that it’s making me think of how to communicate to our loved ones. How to communicate to anybody for that matter. Finding a way to help open our minds to the bigger picture… that life, hopefully, is long and we’ll get *through* things… let’s not shame… not scold… find the support systems to communicate… be a *part* of this thing called life because from where I’m standing everybody is going through something… let’s just find our crew.
Do I have issues with substances? Yes… so I go huddle up with others who share the same thing… and we grow… together. Do I have issues with those I love ever struggling with what I do? Yes, so I found my crew… Al-anon… and it works.
My hat’s off to anybody who wants to try and tackle life on their own. For me and from what I’ve seen, if I get to the point that life is too overwhelming it makes sense to me that the same brain that is in that predicament probably isn’t equipped to *think* its way out. So, I ask for help… And now going through this part of my life, Eric’s, his family and friends… I see as real as it gets… sometimes we lose them. In my Al-anon groups I’ve heard it the whole time in the program that sometimes we just lose them. It’s not always a happy ending. And we did lose one… just happens to be someone very close to me and my family.
So as I hugged my friend last night as we were leaving for the night… we hugged very hard and we both said we’re going to fight this. I now know that not only am I home and present for my wife and kids but for my friends… and to fight this modern day scourge of addiction.
This is another one of those periods, like there always has been… where generations are wiped from the planet. I mean think about it… the opioid epidemic of the 1800s starting during the civil war… look what happened there… we got rid of it, for a while… and now here we are again.
And again, again, I know it’s not as simplistic as to say that we just need to make opioids less available. It’s about creating the environment, for all of us… to find that crew. That community… starting with 1. That sets us on the correct branch of the fork in the road.
And what can I do? Show up. And so I do. Make my contribution to the recovery community. Both LA and Nashville have amazing communities for recovery… and now I know what a good part of my gifts I’ve been given are for.
God bless you Christian Arnaud and your beautiful family… and I believe you can read this so just know that we won’t stay far from them. And as horrible as this situation is having lost you I’m grateful that I’m seeing that my do-over in life is for much more than being there for my wife and kids. It’s to be there for your father, sister and mother too.
I love you little man.