• author
    • Tom McMasters-Stone

    • May 26, 2017 in Columnists

    See that mountain over there…

    …Someday I’m going to climb that mountain! (Thank you, Alabama!)

    Sorry I’ve been missing in action for a few weeks, but I’m back now.

    Yesterday, we lost another alumnus of the Ranch. Someone who left the Ranch before they were truly ready to face the world, and sadly paid the ultimate penalty for their myopia.

    I almost died as well. I thought I was ready, and had no hesitation in leaving. I had my immediate future all planned out, but I didn’t get too far ahead of myself — just like we’re supposed to do in life, right? Not get too far ahead, and make decisions when they need to be made?

    After four months of sobriety, I lasted six hours before I was at the checkout counter with five bottles of wine sitting there, and was reaching for my ATM card.

    Cunning, baffling, powerful.

    Alcoholism is unlike any other disease known to mankind. It talks to us, scheming, conniving, constantly in search of that extra shot of dopamine — even when we feel great, it tries to convince us that we can feel even better if we just give in.

    It also slowly, but steadily, tries to convince us that the “last” time really wasn’t that bad, that it was just a minor blip on the radar screen, and that this next time will be better.

    And this lessening of the evil starts right away — sometimes when we’re still in jail, or suffering the effects of a concussion, or recovering from a barroom brawl. It even schemes on us as we are dealing with our insurance companies because we wrecked our vehicle — in some cases, yet again.

    It’s a sneaky, conniving, self-sabotaging deathtrap.

    But I escaped its jaws one more time — just barely. And for the first time, I generated a legal problem along the way.

    Rescued by friends. Five, sleep-filled days in a Washington detox. Now safely back at the Ranch, and staying here indefinitely.

    They tell me I am not the same guy I was six weeks ago, and I sure hope not. The same guy would do the same thing.

    What was I missing? Two things, I now believe.

    Photo by Madison Mountaineering

    First and foremost, I have too much self-loathing, and virtually no self-forgiveness. Those are the last mountains I have to climb, but they sometimes feel like K2 in winter.

    It’s not a matter of simply looking back at what I’ve done, what I have accomplished, or even looking seriously at what kind of man I am.

    For my first 16 years I was imprinted: as a bastard, scumbag, fat, ugly, inept, clumsy, fat, stupid, pariah, fat. That crap sticks like tree sap. It resulted in severe childhood PTSD.

    I often hear that an alcoholic cannot love others unless he or she has self-love. Wrongamundo!

    I have such love for my wife and kids, and it brings such joy to my heart just to wonder what they’re doing at any given moment. Erin graduates from nursing school this week, and the others are all doing very well — either working or, in one case, going to school.

    EMDR has helped, and I need to get back to it. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitizing & Reprocessing, and is critical for PTSD sufferers. When I had my PTSD assessment, the proctor looked at the results and said, “Oh, my goodness!”

    With a good recovery program, whatever that looks like for the individual alcoholic, EMDR can bring the success rate up to the high 90 percentile.

    The other thing to conquer — or, in my case, regain — is my sense of belonging.

    I started drinking heavily at age 53. AYFKM? Nobody ever becomes an alcoholic at age 53. Most people start on drugs or booze in their teens, and the rest is history for them, manifested by years and years of struggles and failures.

    How did it happen? Well, my oldest son is a lot better at psychology than I, but I think I’ve figured it out.

    With 30 years in the fire service, I was part of a team, and a worldwide, seamless brotherhood — probably the most unique and wonderful of all brotherhoods, in fact. That membership, that belonging served as medication for my ailments, kept me on a decent path. There were times I got too angry, too impatient, and far too many times I overspent, but I functioned. In effect, my profession served as a recovery program for the conditions that I’ve had all my life.

    Then, I retired.

    It wasn’t a matter of being useless, of being put out to pasture and no longer contributing — not in and of itself. It was the belonging that was missing, the being enmeshed. Consequently, no more medicine, and I turned to the bottle to treat myself.

    The alcoholism itself is a byproduct of my gastric bypass surgery — many GP patients cross the threshold from heavy drinker to alcoholic, and there’s no going back. One cannot unpickle a cucumber.

    Anyway, I have my strapped on my crampons, and grabbed a couple ice axes, some pitons, and the finest rope available. I’m going to climb that mountain. Somewhere in all that ice and snow is a cryogenically-frozen young man waiting to rescued and thawed out.

      • Gary Sandy

      • May 26, 2017 at 11:50 am
      • Reply

      Praying for the thaw. Wonderfully, written. Wishing this soul would recognize himself for others see him and come back to us soon.

      • Silva

      • May 26, 2017 at 7:22 pm
      • Reply

      I have known Tom my whole career. He was actually my fire Captain as a rookie Firefighter. I know who he is, what he stands for, and what he is can be once again. Without sounding too cliche, your just lost in the smoke, find the hose, turn around and lead yourself out. I’ll be there banging on the exit for you to find it.

    • We’re with you, Tom.

      • Judy Case

      • May 28, 2017 at 7:17 am
      • Reply

      Excellently written my friend. You will climb and conquer that mountain.

      • Tom McMasters-Stone

      • May 28, 2017 at 10:24 am
      • Reply

      Thank you, my friends…

      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • May 28, 2017 at 4:05 pm
      • Reply

      Tom, I will never stop believing in you. This is a sisyphean task, but each time the boulder rolls back farther up that mountain. Will it ever reach the top? That’s not the nature of these things. Will it get to a place where you can put it beside you and at least sit down for a non-alcoholic breather? I truly believe so. You are afloat on a sea of love. Believe that. <3

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