I grew up in a large Scots-Irish family. My best friends were my cousins, and my mom’s youngest sister, who was ten years older than me. She lived with us when I was little and helped raise me. We also had a collie to help watch over me, and herd me when I speedily headed off for trouble as a child.

On the week of my sixth birthday, my grandparents took me and four of my cousins to Canada to go fishing for a week. When we came home, my parents had moved. I freaked out! I cried during the hour drive to my new home thinking I had been abandoned. Apparently, my dad thought this would be a good joke. He got his sense of humor from his dad, my namesake, Lee. After I screamed and cried for an hour, he probably didn’t think it was funny anymore.

Our new place was an hour north of the city near my mom’s oldest sister. One of her kids was my favorite cousin. That cousin was also the person who handed me my first glass of whiskey when I was around eight years old. Years later, during the 2020 pandemic, we had a long conversation about that night. I laughed about it, but she was horrified. She didn’t remember, I couldn’t forget.

After my grandmother died, my grandfather remarried a woman I called Gramma Rose. Rose was very loving and accepting of me, even when I was running around wild. She was very dedicated to serving her church, and did a lot of volunteer work. She was also the only grandparent to live long enough to see me get sober. She was very proud of my devotion to helping people in CMA.

When I was 12, my mom got cancer, and a few years later we moved to Southern California for her health. The last two years of her life, I took care of her. I would go straight home from school, make us lunch, argue about who would clean the kitchen, and drive her to doctor appointments. We would watch videos on MTV or listen to music. She loved Wham! and Lionel Ritchie, while I was into Anthrax and Poison. Sometimes we sat in separate rooms reading. Mom died when I was 16.

After Mom died, it was just me and Dad. We rarely got along. I was wild, hyperactive, obnoxious, and hard to deal with. I found out recently that the family elders suggested Dad walk away from me when I became too much to handle. As a child I took that behavior to mean I wasn’t loved or wanted. I resented Dad and was deeply hurt by him. Also, he would tease me until I was screaming and crying, then send me to my room for being upset. To make that feeling worse, my dad missed many of my baseball games. He was working very hard to give us a good life, but I took his absence personally–I took everything personally.

For the next 15 years I was drunk or high as often as I could be. I was repeatedly homeless, sleeping in parks, on couches or in friends’ cars. I was drunk from age 16 to 31, and discovered speed at 20. I was hooked from the first line. When I started smoking it, I started getting arrested.

I got into recovery after my third arrest, on January 11th, 2003. That was the last day that I used drugs or alcohol to deal with the committee in my head or feelings I didn’t like. I went to a lot of meetings my first few years, in several fellowships. My pack and I traveled to any meeting we could find. We hit three CMA meetings a week in Orange County, plus AA, NA, CA, and OA.

Early in my recovery I would complain a lot about my relationship with Dad. The old-timers in CMA told me that when I was speaking with Dad I should shut up and listen. This changed our dynamic. We stopped yelling at each other and started having conversations. I learned surprising new things about my parents and grandparents. My dad did a lot of interesting things and had amazing adventures that I never would have imagined. In Vietnam, his helicopter was shot down and they marched three days back to base. He went to China in ‘72 with Nixon. He went skiing and had dinner with Clint Eastwood. In ‘88 he was at the Super Bowl in a suite with David Lee Roth, who we later went to see together my first year sober. Not bad for an accountant from Columbus, Ohio.

I never got to have a conversation with my mom as an adult, so hearing stories about her has been healing. I got to go to the last place my dad took my mom on vacation, San Francisco. For Valentine’s Day a few years ago, I took a friend who I had met in early recovery. We bonded over the loss of our mothers as teens. We went to Ghirardelli Square for butterscotch hot chocolate. We also went to the Wharf and the seafood restaurant my parents had gone to. I joke that we went to San Francisco for Valentine’s Day and got crabs! The deeper story is I felt closer to my mom for a few hours, with someone I had learned to heal with.

A couple months before Mom died, she wrote me a letter. She gave me advice that would guide me as an adult, similar to advice that we get in the rooms:

Talk about your feelings, even if it’s just in a letter to yourself.
Don’t let your anger fester, because I know you’re always angry.
Be kind and loving to your significant others like you were to me.
Don’t participate in the bad behavior you may have picked up watching your dad.
Try to get along with Dad and just give him a chance, he’s not as bad as you think.

At ten years sober, my dad and I moved to Las Vegas together [we’ve lived together ever since]

Today I have friends in recovery who are my chosen family–trudging buddies–people I call and go to meetings with. Together we learn to live life on life’s terms. When my dad got cancer I freaked out, but this time I wasn’t alone. My CMA family was there with me. They sat with my dad so I could go to meetings. When I got married and divorced (twice), my CMA family was there. The guys who taught me to dance at a sober convention, came and danced at my weddings. When newcomers approached their belly button birthdays, we took them out for fellowship so we could all learn how to celebrate our sobriety together.

Taking the communication skills I learned from the Steps, CMA meetings, and counseling–and the courage and strength I got from my mom–I am finally at a place where I can share my life with someone else.

I got married for the third time! But this time I have an open and honest line of communication with my lady. We met in service to CMA, and put our recovery first. We talk about what we want in life, where we want to travel, what CMA meetings we can hit when we get there, and who we can visit. We’re honest about our trauma and what hurts our feelings. We get silly, we get serious.

We currently live a few states apart, but because of Zoom, we get to hit meetings together almost every day, and invite our friends to whatever random meetings we find, locally or around the world. As I’m writing this, we just attended the first online CMA meeting in Switzerland with 22 people in attendance, ten of us from the States. This builds our connection and strengthens the chain of recovery we are all a part of.

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