Monday, March 22, 2010

Coming Home

Recovery is a journey. Healing is coming home. A lot of what I write here has been about my sense of coming home after leaving New Jersey more than three years ago and settling here in rural southern CA. Today, my good friend George from New Jersey called and offered me a different perspective.

You know, he said, this is the best you’ve sounded since you first moved - to New Jersey.

I thought I had heard wrong. He caught the silence from my end and clued me in.

You and “Sophy” had just got married, he reminded me. The two of you were optimistic, were looking ahead. Our DBSA support group that would meet in Princeton Hospital every Tuesday night had just started up ...

Yes, I remembered. In the weeks and months ahead, a very unusual collection of people walked through the door, sniffed out the vibes, and settled in. There was John “One”, a New York City wiseguy type, dealing with some business setbacks, with a thing for setting land speed records in his silver Porsche on the Jersey Turnpike, particularly in winter with the top down.

There was his polar opposite, John “Two,” a quiet guy with a Princeton doctorate in something that had to do with the science of water, out of work, trying to hold his family together.

There was “Flora,” a lawyer with an Ivy League pedigree and competitive marathoner (and nicotine addict, of all things), suspended from seminary, unemployed and eating through her savings with the clock slowly winding down.

There was Kevin, an earnest and very personable young Jehovah’s Witness with the wisdom of one many years older, picking up the pieces from a disastrous manic episode.

There was Chris, another polar opposite, a young and socially clueless math and computer geek, living with his mom, a prime candidate for being the first voted off the island, who nonetheless grew on you.

There was Christine, with a science degree, jumping from temp gig to temp gig, many times a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Plus a whole supporting cast of characters. Plus me and Sophy. Plus George.

We all had our issues to deal with, demons to wrestle, beasts to confront. All our lives were either on hold or at best in a tentative state of forward movement. The past was something we’d just escaped from, the present probationary, the future uncertain. Somehow, we found each other. Out from the cold of winter New Jersey evenings into the warmth of each other’s company.

We shared our stories. We laughed. We cried. We left feeling way better than when we arrived. Then we’d reconvene ten minutes later at one of the local coffee shops or diners. We’d keep in contact through the week. Fast friendships developed. A romance.

It was a special group of people, George reminded me.

Yes, it was. Yes, it was. I recalled that line from the musical, Camelot. “One brief shining moment,” I related to George, impossible to replicate. In some crazy unpredictable way, we gelled and we pulled in others.  

But things never stay the same. John One and Christine got married and moved to the Washington DC area to pursue a new business opportunity. John Two had a third child and found employment commensurate with his education and experience. Flora went back to seminary, got her degree, found a husband on eHarmony, moved to the Virginia countryside, and is working as a government lawyer. Chris moved out from his mom’s, and found his own place down the road.

As for me, in the space of six weeks, I had a book published followed by a precipitous marriage break-up. Ten days later, I boarded a train out of Princeton Junction. The next day, I strapped myself into the seat of a Southwest flight headed one way to San Diego.

George is still wrestling with his demons, but his struggle has resulted in a series of profound healings. George recently reached out to me, and we’ve reestablished our friendship, with regular phone conversations.

Sophy has started up her own successful blog.

Kevin - alas, Kevin. On a miserable muggy September morning in 2008, just outside Princeton Junction Station, he threw himself in front of a train. George and I, of course, can’t have a conversation without bringing up Kevin. Our breathing falters. Our voices shake. We feel his presence, as if he is part of the conversation.

As for the Princeton group, it’s still there. New people are running it. It is thriving, a source of comfort to many. Sophy is still involved, the one link to what seems a distant past, that brief shining moment.

I thought I had come home by moving out of New Jersey. But my conversation with George served to remind me that coming home is also about reaching a state of acceptance with my past. I lived in New Jersey for just three years, and perhaps I felt like your average traveler who just drives through it.

But I did reach a very significant destination there. A brief shining moment that will stay with me forever. Today, I experienced a new sense of coming home.


susan said...

John, The Princeton DBSA group got "best small group 2010" this year. I don't know if you know, but you helped start it, and we thank you for it.
There should be a link on their site, if it isn't already there. Be very proud!

I also wrote about Recovery on a guest blog yesterday, LOL, maybe we are finally on the same webpage, and walking for NAMI Mercer in 2 months. Take care, paw hugs and head bonks from Miss Monkeypants.

sdfsdfa said...

Thank you for sharing for heart and soul in this beautiful piece. To say that I'm moved is an understatement. I remember all of these wonderful, amazing, and dynamic people all to well. Of course, I can never forget Kevin, my best friend, whose untimely death will haunt all of the above mentioned forever. John, talking to you yesterday left me inspired by hope for the human condition. My God bless us and keep us. May we all heal in time.

George Hamilton

John McManamy said...

Hey, Sophy. Warm congrats to DBSA Princeton. To readers: I just learned that 10 or 12 days ago, national DBSA informed DBSA Princeton that it would be receiving its award for "best small chapter."

Credit goes to a new group of leaders who stepped up after the founding group moved on, with Susan as the connecting link. In particular, a shout out to David M for his part in another "brief shining moment."

John McManamy said...

Hey, George. Many thanks for your friendship and wise counsel. All the best ...

Michelle Routhieaux said...

That's beautiful, John. Thanks for sharing.

Loretta said...

Hi John,

Every period of our lives is one part of the whole of an intricate tapestry. We can only see the patterns emerge as we look over our shoulders. Thank you for this beautiful article.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Michelle. I know you and Joe and Walter and Lance and others do great work at DBSA San Diego.

Looking back to my involvement with DBSA Princeton, my main job was to step back and let the magic happen. People walked in strangers and walked out friends. People walked in alone and afraid and and found solace and comfort.

It might start with a cheerful greeting by Sophy at the door or a warm handshake from Kevin. It would continue with a wacky story from John One that got even the most depressed person in the room laughing and keep going with a quiet one-on-one with Flora during the break.

The magic took over, something greater than any one person. Something you can't define, can't put a finger on.

Looking back, maybe that was my real job and yours, too: Facilitating the magic. :)

John McManamy said...

Hey, Loretta. I think you really hit on something here. I knew at the time that what I was involved in was something special. Otherwise I would have found better things to do with my Tuesday evenings for three years.

But it's only looking back over my shoulder from a distance that I can truly appreciate the significance of what occurred and how it affected me.

When I moved to CA three years ago on very short notice I needed to concentrate on not looking back so I could start fresh. Now I can look back through different eyes. It's quite a revelation.

Betsy Simmons said...

Hi John. The way you put words together is truly a wonderful talent. Thank you for sharing your story with the rest of us. I'm very glad that you're able to look back through different eyes. Sometimes it takes us humans a very long time to be able to do that. You're often in my thoughts. Take good care.