The Upside of Ifs

Dear Hope Nation

Thirteen years ago today, I knew what the rest of my life held. The rest of my life would be over within the week. I was implementing a scheme, a plot, a plan.

This plan had three steps:

  1. Take a bus from Manchester to Hanover, New Hampshire, carrying with me a pack with dried fruit, a sleeping bag and a pair of sandals. In Hanover, I’d find the Appalachian Trail, which should be easy since it runs down Main Street.
  2. Take on a trail name—Night Train or Easy or Jingles or Soapy—and walk south until my fruit ran out.
  3. Kill myself.

Thirteen years ago, I was drinking stolen mouthwash to keep away the shakes, the horrors, the D.T.’s. Even Dollar Store mouthwash has 25% alcohol, higher than beer or wine and way easier to steal. After all, alcohol wasn’t my problem. Life was my problem and alcohol was a partial solution. Suicide was the final solution, and it was just a few days away.

In short, my life was at a tipping point, with all the weight leaning toward destruction.

The Upside of Ifs

If the nurse behind the counter at the VA urgent care had told me to go to the fourth floor,
ake an appointment
go to the Eligibility and Benefits Office to fill out reams of paperwork,
I wouldn’t be alive today
Instead, she saw the frightened boy within the scrawny, shaggy, smelly, drunken man,
The man who said,
“My name’s Keith Howard. I’m a veteran but I’ve never been here before . . .
And I don’t want to be alive any more.”
If the doctor in the loony bin had seen me as just another bum on his way down the drain,
A middle-aged man who lacked only antidepressants
To make everything better,
A homeless vet to be treated and released,
I wouldn’t be alive today.
Instead, he saw the man behind/inside the shaking body in front of him,
The man who wanted to be dead, yes,
But who wanted more than that to find a reason to live.
The man who needed recovery more than pills or processing.
If the Chemical Dependency/Substance Use/Addiction unit hadn’t invited me to join, although I didn’t really see the point,
If the fellas in that unit didn’t share their experience, their strength and their hope,
If the recovery center at the bottom of the hill didn’t welcome vets to join their meetings,
I wouldn’t be alive today.
Thirteen years ago today, I took the first, very tentative steps on this road of happy destiny.
Thanks to recovery
I’m a man who can be trusted.
I’m a man who gives and accepts love.
I’m a man for whom the future is a big place.
A man who’s glad to be alive today
To help the still struggling discover the upside of ifs.
__________________________________

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith