When I reached October of 2018, something in my mind told me it was a special month. I had been avoiding counting the number of years and months I'd been sober since my dad told me, "if you're counting, you're an alcoholic."
I thought: Five years ... About 2,000 days without the heavy drinking that had taken over my life. There has to be something of value I can share with people who are fighting the same struggle. Over the years, I have attempted to help others by providing a birds-eye view of the journey I've undertaken.
This year, nothing was hitting home. But out of a pair of recent tragedies, a couple subjects came to mind: My roommate from college died of a drug overdose in September, and my cousin died of what he described as symptoms related to alcoholism in October.
REGARDING MY ONE-TIME COLLEGE ROOMY, coworker, best bud, there are many stories of the fun we had living in Cheney. We were proud of our tiny rental that hosted two beer pong tables and parties most weekends.
Everything was going great until one day, after about six months of living together, I noticed some unnatural behavior in my friend. It started when he decided to hock his brand new 42-inch TV he had bought with his financial aid and escalated when we received an eviction notice.
Through all of my time living and knowing this individual, I had no idea what he was about to tell me next. And due to my immaturity and anger, I believe I handled it wrong.
"I'm addicted to oxys (oxycontin)," he told me, as we packed our things, both facing the humble experience of asking our friends for a place to crash until we could get our living situation back together.
At the time, I decided to just cut all ties with him. The silent treatment. But, in retrospect, I wish I had tried to help. Until getting sober myself, I don't think I ever had sympathy for a person struggling with addiction.
I eventually made peace with my old friend, but we never achieved the same level of friendship and trust we once had. I was not aware he had gotten into harder substances until his death, as we had lost our communication.
Nonetheless, the good times will supersede the bad as I reflect upon it.
TO SAY MY COUSIN, in regards to Thunder Mountain, is tough for me to write in this column. It's not that I don't claim him, it was just really strange to me that I never met this individual but he constantly pushed a familial tie — which I agreed with.
"Hey, I'm Thunder Mountain, I'm your dad's first cousin. That makes us family," he told me on our initial call in 2014.
My dad had never mentioned a Thunder Mountain from Hawaii, who seemed to have a fictional name. But he had a wealth of stories regarding my dad Bob Louie, whom he grew up around. Those were stories I yearned for, and they helped us grow closer — even though we had never seen each other in person.
Thunder loved my dad, and I was an extension of him. He shared with me stories of his brother Daryl Peterson and Bob one-upping each other on a regular basis — an epic cousin rivalry that extended decades.
Sometimes, the stories stirred me emotionally — but good, bad or ugly, I wanted more about my dad, who passed in 2011.
The calls changed in the past year or two, though. Suddenly, a not-so-kind man with the same voice was on the end of the line.
He would call to rant about tribal affairs, and not much more. Calls were less personal and more like an angry caller who wanted to be heard out and hang up. I didn’t know he had a problem with alcohol until he called me the week before he passed away.
He started with, “Cary …. I’m just like your dad and my brother Daryl. I went too hard (drinking alcohol) and couldn’t stop. I haven’t done drugs. I haven’t smoked. I haven’t pill-popped.”
Because his hands wouldn’t type, he asked me to write an article for him to publish to the tribal membership.
“I hope anyone else who’s battling any number of addictions, I hope that they stay away from it — find some other alternative. The others, I wouldn’t want the pain for them to have to go through what I’ve gone through. I have nine grandkids and three children. … It’s all my fault. I accept all responsibility.”
The message was a little jumbled, so I offered to read it back to him.
“I trust you,” he said, adding in a Thunder-esque way, “You’re a greater writer than I am and I’ve written three books and nine pamphlets.”
Before the call ended — and unbeknownst to me, we would never talk again — he said, forcefully, “You’re my family.”
“I know,” I responded.
WHEN LOOKING BACK on five years of sobriety and the losses that recently came my way, I couldn't help but suffer from a depressed feeling. There were times I struggled to work and could not sleep due to the losses I experienced. It was like being alone in a theatre of memory where the reels would start on their own, replay, fast forward and so on. Good memories, bad memories and painful memories collided in a true roller coaster of emotions.
With that said, I think the theme of what I am offering in this column is "Don't wait until it's too late," and if you care about someone (family, friend, or otherwise), "Make an effort to get them help" if their behavior is destructive due to an addiction.
I can't say I'll be perfect from this point on, but it's something to strive for.
Cary Rosenbaum writes a column titled "Coyote Stories" for Tribal Tribune.