During heat waves, cold snaps or such emergencies your local News station will advise you to check in with your elderly neighbors. It’s important because they may be struggling (or dying) and unable to reach out for help. It’s a reminder that probably probably doesn't need to exist, but it does.
In my 12-Step Program, these check-ins are almost automatic. You are told to call someone else in the program every day. If you have a sponsor, you may receive a suggestion to do so with them. It helps because even if you have nothing to say. you get into the habit of doing so when there is something important that needs to come out.
I sponsored a man in 2019 I’ll call Waylon, and during that year he became an important person, and friend in my life. We would meet and have dinners, shoot b-ball, or throw around a baseball. He was full of energy, humor and just a one-of-a-kind type of guy. He showed a lot of support to me as well. We would talk every day, until the calls stopped and I would learn that it usually meant a relapse. Then. I would receive a call 6-months later and he was ready to meet up, hit a few meetings and work on his recovery.
Things got weird in 2020 for all of us, but somehow, after some time passed, we would meet up and sit outside, safely, a good 15 feet from one another. During this time, he was in-and-out of recovery, and as they say, once you go out, it’s hard to get back in. We still stayed in touch until May of this year, and then, once again the contact stopped. Often Waylon was on my mind, but I didn’t reach out, until about a month ago, but the texts weren’t returned and the calls went straight to voicemail.
This past weekend was a pretty difficult one for many personal reasons, but I’ve been told to reach out to others who may need help. Once more, I texted Waylon, and tried to call---right to voicemail again. Then I decided to just get in my car and drive to his house, thinking worst case scenario might be that he was having a hell of a relapse. I kept having the strange feeling that it was worse, that Waylon was dead.
His girlfriend Jane answered the door, and when I asked if Waylon was there, her face dropped. “He’s not here, and oh…you haven’t heard…,” and were then, suddenly in that space. I think we all know that space where you don’t want to talk, but it’s important, painful, and awkward that you do. So, Jane and I spoke on the front steps of a house I’d been to many, many times for about twenty minutes. She told me that he didn’t die from drugs, or alcohol but from a head injury, causing a brain bleed from a fall at around 6 AM on October 23, nearly six weeks ago. The details are few, but apparently after the fall, he called the police in a very disoriented state, not knowing where he was at all. He needed their help to tell him, as he couldn’t tell them where he was, and they could not figure it out either. By the time they found him, he was unconscious and needed a MedEvac to get him into Boston. Where he was found was an area that was known to be a very rough place. He never came to. He was 42.
Would a check-in have helped? Perhaps, but only if the assumption was that the rough location was an intended place to score drugs. Even then, a check-in may not have stopped him. Still, given those low parameters, 10% of a defense, is better than zero, but I believed Jane when she said he had been doing well and was clean. I want to believe that life hadn’t taken him back to that dark place, that we all in the program know all about.
Something though didn’t feel right. The Walpole Police still have his phone and other belongings as part of an ongoing investigation. Why would that be. Perhaps Waylon was mugged and the blow to the head was not from a fall? I don’t know---and I don’t really want to know. It doesn’t matter.
When I got back home, I searched the internet to see if there had been a service or not. I found the obituary and also watched the 15-minute video of his life that was on the site. After holding it together with Jane earlier, I completely lost it and sobbed for a long time. These are the times when I usually say, "I'm broken." After, I drove to my 12-Step meeting, because that helps me not drink or use, still crying while driving. Some people at the meeting knew Waylon, but most of them asked me if it was drugs or alcohol that killed him. I found myself responding, “What the fuck does it matter?” the bluntness catching me by surprise. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter, but those in recovery want to somehow reinforce their ability to live by associating the worst of those who don’t make it. I didn’t want to talk about that specifically as I said earlier, what the fuck does it matter?
So, back to check-ins, and their importance, even if this example may not support the need for them directly. They are important! Very often we have no idea that people are struggling. Whether it be family issues, or depression—or just about anything, nothing is as important as someone reaching to see how you are doing. I know about this first hand, when I’m walking through difficult terrain, the difference in people reaching out vs. not. Nothing is worse than sitting with things by yourself, alone with them those destructive thoughts and feelings. Life is short, so mend bridges, and reach out to those you care about.