The difference between a drunk and an addict is that a drunk will steal from you and lie about it, but an addict will steal from you and help you look for it.
If you have seen my short film “The Rose,” then you will understand the significance of the rose tattoo and why I chose to be inked in recognition of 25 years in recovery. But why on the hand? That is a long story, but it has to do with Step 1 of the recovery process, a broken hand, a plastic surgeon and a self-started lie that even I came to believe.
It began 26 years ago. I was a systems analyst, spending most mornings doing tedious tasks such as typing code while saving the afternoons for debugging and developing program logic. I was a few coffees and cigarettes into typing code when I noticed that the keys my brain was instructing my fingers to type were not the letters being displayed on the screen. Not only that, my hand was quite swollen. Initially, I didn’t think much about it. By this time in my drinking career, I was a daily drinker and often woke with sore bones, bruises, or abrasions from falls, slips, and stumbles. However, by mid-morning, my hand was completely swollen, black and blue, and I was having trouble moving my fingers. I headed to the hospital emergency room.
The emergency doctor assumed I had broken a single finger and ordered an x-ray. When the x-ray came back, the doctor requested additional x-rays. It was obvious that one finger was broken, but the direction of the other fingers in the initial x-ray suggested problems further up the hand. By this time, I was starting to put the pieces together from the night before. I remembered falling in the bathroom, landing on my outstretched hand, bending all four fingers backwards. I snapped them back in place but was having problems moving my fingers, so I wrapped my hand around a beer bottle and rolled the bottle on the floor to reset my fingers. What can I say, it seemed like a good idea at the time!
It turns out my hand was broken in four places, but the doctors at the hospital were reluctant to reset my hand in fear they would do worse damage. They had never seen a hand so mangled. Instead, they reached out to a local plastic surgeon who agreed to see me. They sent me, along with and my x-rays, to the surgeon’s office.
The plastic surgeon had recently reattached a young boy’s hand that had been severed in a farming accident. I was in good hands, but by this time mine was too swollen to work with, so it was placed in a temporary cast. Within a few days, extra swelling resulted in compartment syndrome, purple fingers, a numb hand and a looser cast. A few weeks later, I was in surgery to have my hand re-broken and reset. I was told that my hand would never be fully functional.
The broken hand was not my rock bottom. It was only the start of it. Addiction is a cruel disease, diabolical and without mercy. The problem really started when I first returned to work in a huge cast covering the top of my left hand to the elbow. I was stumped when asked by a colleague what happened. I didn’t want to admit that I was a falling down drunk, so I made up a story about falling off my bicycle. That story worked until someone asked where did I fall, so I gave them a street name. With each inquiry, the story became more embellished and ended up as a horrific tale of being driven off of Trites Road into a ditch by a bunch of kids pranking in a car. The story became so well known that people would stop me to hear it. I was quite the orator.
A few months later my wife was driving me home from work. As she was turning towards Trites Road, I asked her not to go that way. She asked why, and I told her that I didn’t like driving that way because it reminded me of when I was forced off the road and broke my hand. The look in her eyes said it all. I had come to believe my lie, and I could not bear to look into her eyes. The moment I realized that my entire life was a lie – that was my rock bottom.
Tattoos are ornamental, designed to be seen from the viewer perspective and physically inked as a mirrored reflection. My tattoo is not ornamental but serves as a constant reminder that addiction is a deadly, devious, evil, disease. But a rose is like a glass half-full. Some complain that a rose bush has thorns, while others rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.
Life is a rose.
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