By Lynn Paris
There’s this guy I know
There’s this guy I know. He’s a pretty great guy, actually. Very smart, funny, easy on the eyes. He’s also sensitive, which is not that common among guys. And from what I’ve seen, he seems to care about other people and has always been a loving son, a loyal friend, a devoted husband and dad.
I’m told this guy coasted through school on his intelligence, wit, and charm. He’d been an outstanding athlete in high school and received a scholarship to play soccer in college, but he dropped off the team at some point in his freshman year. He told his parents that he was tired of competing; he just wanted to enjoy sports again. His mother used to joke to me that he was “majoring in beer drinking,” but she always considered it just that, a joke. After all, he was a popular member of a fraternity that loved to party, and he was having the time of his life.
After college he tried a couple of jobs, doing very well. Apparently it took him some time to decide what he really wanted to do with his life, but by his early thirties he had a great job and he fell in love. It doesn’t get much better than that. Except it did. He and his girlfriend got engaged, and then married, and a couple of years later they had a beautiful baby boy. The guy kept getting promotions, so they decided to buy their own home, which, according to conventional wisdom, was just what they were supposed to do. Every day this guy drove an hour and a half to work and back home again, but it was OK. It was worth it to see his wife content in their new home, to see his son playing on his backyard swing set. Three years later they were pregnant again, and soon had another baby boy to complete their family. Life was good.
Which is why it came as such a shock to everyone when this guy destroyed it all. On a business trip away from home he went out drinking with his client. He only had a short drive back to his hotel so he decided he could handle it just fine. Long story short, he made a wrong turn, got pulled over by the police, and was arrested for drunk driving. The first call he made from the jail was to his wife. I’m told it was the worst call he ever had to make.
That’s because there’s another story underneath the “life is good” story of this guy. Evidently there were a few wrinkles along the way. Back around seven years ago, when they were engaged, this guy had gotten a DUI. He and his fiancé, both of whom had loved to party, had been out on the town. Both had too much to drink, but he allegedly decided he could drive them home safely. Instead, he fell asleep at the wheel and was pulled over by the cops. It was a shattering experience at the time, especially when it came out that there was another DUI in his past, one he’d never told anyone about. This time, though, he could have killed or injured someone. He or his fiancé could have been killed. Instead, he paid a huge fine, had his license suspended for a year and had to take three busses back and forth to work. It was inconvenient and embarrassing, but at least it was the wake-up call he needed. He wasn’t an alcoholic, of that much he was certain, but he did tend to lose his judgment when he drank too much. So, he would never again drink and drive. He’d learned his lesson—he wasn’t in college anymore.
When their son was about 18-months old, there was another wrinkle, one that would have a profound impact on this couple. Their beautiful son was diagnosed with mild spectrum autism. From that point on, he became the absolute center of their world; he needed more time—more teaching, training, nurturing, and attention—than the average child. That became his wife’s full-time job, and from what I’ve heard, she did it with such love and dedication that their little boy is doing amazingly well. He’s quirky, but he’s also brilliant and loving and sensitive. Like his dad.
I know that autism takes a tremendous toll on marriages; 80% of them fail. But this guy’s marriage didn’t. They seemed to pull together, even though it meant that his wife was always exhausted when he got home and had very little left for him. But he seemed to understand and adjust. And of course, they couldn’t have known when they bought their home and figured out their budget how much extra money they would require for their son. When they opted for that long commute, they couldn’t have known that gas prices would sky rocket, making this guy’s daily journey three times as costly, to say nothing of their utility bills. They couldn’t have predicted how high the interest rates on all their credit card bills would soar.
And no one knew that the way this guy coped with the tension in his life was to drink. Of course, he didn’t drink at work, or when he had to drive. Often, though, when he got home at night, tired from driving and working and helping out when he hit the front door, he’d have a beer or drink a glass of wine along with his wife. But sometimes, I’m told, he’d sit alone, his wife totally spent and already in bed, and he’d pour himself a drink. Or maybe a few drinks. But he hid it well. He even hid the bottles.
As the mounting stack of bills increased, so did the tension in their marriage. It didn’t help that this guy liked to sit and read the paper and watch sports on the weekends while his wife wanted him working around the house. It didn’t help that he insisted on making his point rather than keeping the peace, or that both of them were stubborn and kept a record of each other’s wrongs. Soon everything was structured, because structure is necessary for a child with autism. Structure was necessary to refrain from arguing in front of the children. And structure was necessary to live within their means, too. They became more and more isolated—it’s hard to have much of a social life with an autistic child and no discretionary funds—so they lived within the structure. His wife erected it; he tried to stay inside of it. Until it got to the point where he was afraid to move outside the lines.
Then one day this guy flew off on a business trip. He did leave with one rule that had been imprinted on his brain for years; don’t EVER drink and drive. But he also left with a burning desire to cross the line. Which is partially—although by no means the only reason and certainly not an excuse—why he made the dumbest decision of his life.
During the long and agonizing months that followed, this guy’s world came crashing down around him. His wife was devastated by what she knew would be the consequences of his decision; how could he do this to his children? She lost all trust in him; at times she hated him for what he had done to their family. I know his parents were supportive because they loved him. But they too were crushed; how could his judgment be so bad? There were several frustrating and costly trips to court in another state and an expensive attorney to hire. For months he lived under the horrible threat of facing mandatory prison time. He had to begin attending AA meetings immediately. He lost his job and then they lost their home. Ultimately, his wife and children were compelled to move across the country to live with her family. He moved too, to be close to them and to find a job in a new city. He felt like the world’s biggest loser, and indeed, he WAS lost.
He slowly began to pick up the pieces when it seemed that good fortune was smiling just the tiniest ghost of a smile upon him. He didn’t have to go to prison; he got off with two years probation. He found another job almost immediately. He visited his family as often as possible on the weekends. And while the relationship between him and his wife remained tense and uncertain, his love for his children was unwavering.
Although he was attending AA meetings on a regular basis I heard that he never really bought into the program. He enjoyed the fellowship, and was inspired by the life stories, but somehow he couldn’t relate. He’d messed up his life because of alcohol, but he still didn’t believe he was an alcoholic. And why would he surrender himself to his Higher Power; the concept of surrender seemed so weak to him. He had created the mess and it was up to him to fix it. As long as he could control the events of his life, he WOULD fix it.
Until he finally hit bottom. Just as he had begun to inch himself up again after what he thought was bottom, something happened. I’m not sure what it was, but it must have been too much for him. Maybe it was the realization that he’d be losing his license—the key to being with his children on the weekends; I don’t know. Whatever it was, it hit him hard. Whatever it was knocked him down. To the bottom.
And that’s when God began working in his life. It’s not that He hadn’t been with this guy all along; He’d just never been invited in. But on the night of whatever happened, this guy finally broke down at his AA meeting and opened his heart. He emptied himself of his pride and revealed himself fully. And when he was completely drained, it gave God the chance to fill him with His spirit. In that mysterious way that only God can do, he let this guy know: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
I’ve learned that he called his mother after the meeting and began to cry. She said it was the first time, despite all the hardships and struggles he’d been through, that she heard the humility she’d been praying for, the humility that would bring about his healing. He told her then that he realized he needed to surrender himself to God. And she was filled with gratitude and a profound peace. When I asked her why she was so peaceful, she smiled and answered me. She said she knew, with God’s help, that her son was going to be just fine. Now, she told me, he could finally become the man God intended him to be.
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com