Do No Harm

There is a time in every recovering addicts life, regardless of the former or current addiction, when you feel the overwhelming urge to try to right every wrong, recover your past and try and fix what you have broken in your former life. You reach out, call people you haven’t seen in years, scour the internet for old friends, ex-girlfriends, ancient acquaintances and everyone that you feel you have wronged. Rethink that urge and recognize it for what it is. An attempt at self-justification that you don’t deserve.

I met with a great friend of mine today. He was literally my hero, the guy I wished I was, the most honest, talented person that I have ever met. He replaced in my mind, the big brother that I never had. We’re roughly the same age, build, and have similar backgrounds and personalities. Southern boys to the core, we both grew up dirt poor in Appalachia, me with a chip on my shoulder and shrouded in mystery and myth and lies, along with a desire to leave where I was from and who I was that was undeniably annoying to people who knew where I was truly from.

How cool we thought we were. Now we’re just astonished by what the new generation of athletes are capable of as they truly lay down their lives in pursuit of the biggest, baddest stunts in the world. But, we didn’t know what could or could not be done. We had no camera crews, no supportive families, no health insurance, no sponsors, nothing. We drove old trucks and cars we could fix ourselves with only one requirement: We needed to be able to sleep in it. We wandered like gypsies, stuck in our illusions that we were somehow indestructible, above the expectations of the worker bees, the nine to fivers, the problems, man. Those were the days when gas was under a dollar a gallon and fifty bucks was a veritable fortune, too much, in fact, to remain true to our illusion of who we were. Bones heal, fear is for the weak, chicks dig scars. We ate all that up as if we were immune to life itself, thinking we were somehow above the law, death and society in general.

Back to climbing in Vermont. I’m a little full of shit, but, in the words of a brutal coal miner, “This is my story and I’ll tell it the way I want.” We were over our heads. We had two girls with us, one of which had absolutely no idea that she was ever in any danger from our shenanigans and loved us so much that she would have cheerfully followed us to hell and back. Tall, gorgeous, every man’s dream wrapped into one rocking package, with a rich girl attitude and nose for coke, she tired of my life in time to live her own. The other was an accomplished climber in her own right, living a girl’s life in a male world. As much as I love them both, still, we shouldn’t have taken them. It’s just hard to resist your own personal groupies.

We were too far up, too exposed, and in serious danger. We were leapfrogging each other in reckless abandon, scorning protection of any kind, too confident in our ice axes and crampons and one another, with nothing on our minds but the next pitch.. We didn’t dream we could get hurt, die or suffer the consequences of our actions. We lived for the moment. With little to no plans for the future.

A blizzard was blowing in, a full Nor’easter, a mother of a storm. We didn’t believe it. Until it was almost too late. I caught him, prepared to climb past as he rested in his gear, stuck like some sort of insect on a pane of glass. We were at a point as partners when we didn’t need to talk. We just knew what the other person would do and what needed to be done. His beard was full of ice and snow was falling hard. We were both grinning like fools. Just then, we heard the girls, their voices drifting in the upcurrents of wind like ghosts, fiercely arguing over eating. My girl saw the trip as an opportunity to not eat at all and lose a few pounds. His girl insisted that everyone stay fueled to combat the cold. They hated each other as only two girls in love with two idiots could. The gravity of our situation hit us at the same time. He shook the cramps out of his forearms and I tied myself into the ice as best I could. “You got me?” His words hit me like a ton of bricks. I nodded. He shook his crampons and ice axes free, grinned at me, and fell like a stone.

The impact of 180 pounds traveling at 32 feet per second squared nearly yanked me off the face. I waited. He tugged the rope. I let go.

We made it safely. No worries, the luck of the dumb. I drove like a maniac to get out of the mountains and return all of our borrowed gear to the ice festival vendors who had loaned it to us. No harm, no foul. I was yelled at for nearly fifteen minutes by a local that I passed in four wheel drive in a blind turn in the blizzard.

I told him today of my desire to reach out to people and try and make things right. He is as brutally honest as ever. We were watching our boys play, reminiscing a bit and waiting on our wives to return from errands as two guys who are old enough to appreciate what we have. I told him, somewhat self-righteously, of my attempts to reach out to a few of the girls that I had hurt so badly in my self absorbed bull shit past, when I arrogantly thought it all would last forever.

He shrugged and stared at me for a moment, as strong as he ever was, with shoulders as broad as a lumberjack and the slightest hint of softness in his posture and more humility than I had ever seen in his actions and eyes, thankful for his life and what he had worked for, proud of his son beyond reason, as am I. His eyes are as blue as a glacier at night and his shaggy hair that drove girls wild has long since gone the way of our ancient trucks, faded into the past and rusting in quiet peace somewhere, awaiting a collector from a reality show to restore them in a vain attempt to land a spot on TV.

“Why?” I was startled. I didn’t know what to say. I never worked out inn AA, although I think the organization is the best attempt that we have to date for most addicts. The thought sprang to my mind, one of the twelve steps. “Do no harm.” We watched our boys play, alone in our thoughts. I didn’t answer. I didn’t have one. “Salt in old wounds, man. Let it go.”

He was always the wisest of the two of us. We fell back into the easy silence of two friends. I brooded. Then, I let it go.

There is no fixing the past. No rewind buttons, no do overs, no consolation, no sympathy or even reason to go digging up the past. Live in the moment, for the moment and don’t worry about the past. What you’ve done is done. Chances are, those people have long ago moved on, moved past the hurt and are somewhat embarrassed by you anyway. If you haven’t heard from them in years and you suddenly appear into their lives like some distant nightmare, long forgotten, you will do nothing but bumble about in feeble attempts to dig through old memories that they have long since moved past and have no desire to relive the moments you’ve been carrying around like a rotting corpse forever.

Do no harm. Indeed.

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