A Shared Experience
(original post October 7, 2014)
Tuesday morning. As I sit here in the quiet of the morning (which has been an unusual occurrence of late), I am reflecting on a few things. My Tree of Hope up on the mountain is beginning to change color. By week’s end, it should be a blazing red surrounded by various shades of yellow, brown, and less dazzling shades of red.
In a few days, I will be on my way to The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan with my friend Jayson to attend the Michigan/Penn State football game. In my last post, I mentioned that Jayson and I would be heading to Penn State later that morning to watch a football game.
On our way to that game, we stopped for breakfast at a restaurant where many people going to the game stop to eat. It’s a very ”happy” place. When we walked in the door, the receptionist recognized us immediately. “I know you two!” (I think she has a thing for Jayson.) We seem to be getting a reputation there – probably because we sit and enjoy each other’s company so much and the whole “experience of life.” We talk and laugh and have a great time. I have noticed people watching us and smiling. I am sure they wonder what two old guys like us can possibly find to be so wonderful about simply living and breathing. I suspect they would like to have some of “whatever we got.”
After breakfast, we resumed our trip and talked of many things – nothing too serious. We often speak of our withdrawal experiences which, at first blush, may sound depressing and maybe even make one think we have PTSD from those experiences... but we speak of those experiences with gratitude and usually with large doses of humor. We both have countless “small stories” of our escapades from years past when the drinking and drugging were going on. Even though our paths never crossed “back in the day,” we tell our little snippets of past history as though we were both there (and in a sense we were). For us, all the drinking and drugging (and especially the withdrawal from them) are shared experiences that give us an unrivaled camaraderie – a connection we have with very few others in our lives.
Other aspects of our lives would lead one to believe that we could not possibly be good friends. Jayson was academically challenged during his youth (although he is an expert on 70s bands and “good times” because he attended countless concerts – most of which he remembers). He had less than a burning desire to even attend classes. On the other hand, I was academically astute and meticulous in school. I rarely missed a day of school. I was the consummate nerd – one of those people Jayson would have joked about. We are the odd couple.
In adulthood, we have both been loners pretty much….until we met about seven years ago. He learned of my drinking and drug problem at that time, but our friendship did not flourish until I actually made it through withdrawal (a very long time during which he was there for me – even though he often laughed at my misery – because he was certain it would end). He is one of many people I owe my life to. 
On our trip a few weeks ago, we did speak somewhat seriously about the fact that it is impossible to separate our withdrawal experiences from the rest of our lives. Those experiences have given us wisdom, peace, and a freedom to live life even on life’s terms with a joy that is indescribable really. Those experiences are woven into our lives in such a way that they need to be shared often with others – not as badges of glory but rather as beacons of hope – evidences that the indescribably brutal suffering does end and is replaced by something whose beauty is equally indescribable.
The most exquisite beauty lies in the sharing of our withdrawal battles (both failures and successes) with others who are currently waging the withdrawal war (or who have also returned from that war).
Jayson and I began planning the trip to Michigan last year. At that time, a visit to The Big House was first and foremost in our minds – sort of a “bucket list” thing. As time has passed, we have included meeting with two other people in benzo withdrawal and one who has also survived withdrawal while we are there and on the return trip.
The expectation of those meetings and the sharing of our stories and hearing their stories now transcend the anticipation of going to the game for me.
There is an “excitement” in sharing the intensity of the withdrawal experience with others who are familiar with it. There is an extremely strong “bond” unlike any other I have ever known, and that bond grows stronger the more we share our suffering and our hope.
Go Nitanny Lions!