9-11 – From tragedy, sobriety is born
9-11-2001The world had changed, and I changed with it. Usually the half of town where Providence’s TF Green State Airport stretches across the city landscape is filled with the noise of planes and the traffic of travelers. Today, the deafening silence of the airport wore on me, made me hate the quiet. As a firefighter, I couldn’t help but take the chaos that reigned, just a four-hour drive away in New York City, personally. 9-11-2001, my world was shattered. And as if to underscore it, the sound of airliners over my neighborhood was gone, the hum of small aircraft gone, nothing in the air, nothing to break the heartbreaking silence. The FAA had cancelled all flights. And the void was like an insult. For every second of silence, my rage grew. Every day the airliners were grounded fueled the fire in my heart, and as the quiet from the airportÂ dragged on, leaving me with nothing but crickets and my racing mind, the need to fill the void grew.
So I drank. Not that that was anything unusual. I had been drinking for twenty-five years, pretty much non-stop. But now, I had a reason. I drank with a vengeance. Because of 9-11, my wife left me. That had been coming for some time and the events of that day made her realize that life was too short to spend with somebody who would prefer to be alone. My kids were gone, and I had the house all to myself. All I ever thought I wanted was to be left alone, and have some peace and quiet, and through an act of terrorism I now had both. I wallowed in misery for nearly two weeks, watched CNN and MSNBC non-stop, flicking from one to the other, listening to the radio whenever I left my home to get more booze, occasionally driving to the airport’s boundaries, where I would sit I and watch no planes take off, no movement, nothing but blinking lights on a dead airfield.
I was truly alone, and I hated it.
But through the haze a message got through. In the dim recess of my mind I saw something amazing — people coming together like I never dreamed possible. Neighbors stopped and talked, people were friendly, American flags were everywhere, the weather in New England continued its glorious run, and I started to call my wife on the phone. Something about the goodwill in the air made it feel right. Though half drunk, I would talk for hours, and better yet, would listen. I re-seeded my lawn by day, drank by night, and tried to figure out what went wrong. Reaching out through those calls, soul-searching in that moment of painful national silence carried the little seeds of my recovery.
Eventually the seeds I sowed on the twelfth, and thirteenth and fourteenth of September, 2001 began to grow, and the idea that I was an alcoholic and had lost control of my life grew with it. On September 23rd of that year I took my last drink, and I don’t even remember what it was. I do remember asking my wife if she would join me for dinner, and showing her the new grass, and telling her all about my addiction. And she listened, and together we lived through a transformation. That fall was a heartbreaking, magical, frustrating, glorious time of redemption for us, and through great loss a great relationship was re-born. It flourishes to this day.
More than a turning point in my life, 9-11-01 represents a beginning. My eyes were opened, and I realized that life was passing me by. I saw that it could end in an instant. Never again would I take for granted the gift that has been given me — the gift of life, and the freedom to pursue happiness, and the opportunity to be part of the brotherhood that paid a significant price that day.
I owe it to every person who perished on that day, and I will honor their memory by celebrating my sobriety every September 24th. This year makes fourteen, and every second is as precious as the first.
I’ll take a moment today, and be silent, and clear my head, and purge all sounds from my consciousness, and remember just how awful quiet can be. Or, how perfect.
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