I will use this space to share letters to those in my life whom I love. The words below are personal proclamations to family, friends, and others who have enriched, supported, and walked with me in this life. I hope to express my gratitude here, and give back a portion of the love given me.
I begin with a letter to my 17 year-old self on the 4th anniversary of my freedom from alcohol.
Dec. 21, 1990 & 2020
I hope this letter finds you happy and well. I would suggest you try and read this when you are in a good place emotionally, with a mindset that allows you to be both reflective and forward thinking. Knowing you better than you know yourself, you will benefit from these suggestions.
As you read this, you are just shy of your 18th birthday on January 4, 1991. As I write this, it is 2020, and I will be 48 on that same day. I am hoping the 30 years between us can provide some loving and important guidance for you.
I choose to share this with you for a number of reasons. First, you are officially entering adulthood. You will mature tremendously over the next several years, in all ways, but your upcoming birthday does mark a milestone. I don’t want you to react impulsively, worry too much, or struggle understanding everything that is in this letter. But today, December 21, will be a critical day for you in the future, a day of celebration for both your mental and physical health. Caring for these aspects of your whole self will be some of the most significant keys to your future health and happiness.
Let’s start with where you are right now. Your college years will be some of the best of your life. In high school, your work and commitment in the classroom and athletic arena has afforded you the opportunity to be a scholarship student-athlete at Hillsdale College. Celebrate that achievement. Soak up the experiences of traveling the country and competing as a Track & Field athlete. Hold dear the relationships developed with your teammates, coaches, professors, and others on campus. They will be important and long lasting.
Your 20s will be a whirlwind of change. After college, you will pack up your Ford Ranger and find yourself amidst the mountains of Colorado to start your career as an educator and coach. Excitement and fear will overwhelm you in this journey. Embrace both. You will soon get married to a woman, buy a house, adopt your daughter, and have a son, all before your 26th birthday. Fatherhood will be very exciting for you and you will pour your heart and soul into your family.
You will also begin drinking … heavily. Alcohol will become a poison in your life, and you will use it to bury a whole host of emotions and feelings that you have been harboring for years. Unfortunately, you will turn to alcohol during this time to numb yourself from addressing these deeper feelings. Your genetic make-up will put you in a very vulnerable state with this drug. Do not ignore the dangerous grip it will have on you. Physically, your young body will be able to handle the excess you subject it to, but inevitably, alcohol will slowly and steadily begin to devour your body, self, and soul.
Despite becoming an alcoholic, you will enter your 30s as a successful educator and accomplished coach. Your hard work and commitment to your craft will bring you much admiration and accolades. Be humbled by them. Your drinking will also reach a dangerous level in your early 30s, and signs of physical and mental decay will become increasingly apparent to yourself and those around you. Your family, and especially your children, will suffer as collateral damage from your addiction. The lasting impact it will have on each of your relationships will leave many scars.
It will also be in these years that you begin to truly acknowledge that you are a gay man. You always knew it, but have avoided this reality, ignored your feelings, and numbed yourself with alcohol and the storybook heteronormative life that you thought you were supposed to pursue. You will enroll in conversion therapy. Your doctor will prescribe medication for depression. You will have your first liver biopsy and you will be diagnosed with liver steatosis, a pre-cirrhosis disease caused from your drinking. Your mental and physical health will begin to deteriorate dangerously fast, and it will become increasingly clear that something drastic needs to change. You will know what you need to do.
At 37, you will tell your wife and two children that you are gay. Your reality will begin to collapse all around you while simultaneously revealing a whole new Universe with glimpses of happiness, health, and truth. This new Universe will bring you to the love of your life, Brandan. Though several years younger, his wisdom, intellect, and honesty will provide a guiding light through very difficult times.
You will make many, many mistakes in your relationships with your children during these years. Time will help to heal some wounds, but others will feel very permanent. Keep trying to repair them, and be patient and respectful of what they need to work through the pain that they endured. Even as I write this, I have much hope that things will get better.
The love that will develop between you and Brandan will be one that you never thought possible. We will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary together this spring 2021. There is much to share with you about the beauty of this man and the love and partnership that he will bring to your life, but I am going to let you enjoy that paradise on your own. What I will share with you is that Brandan will be by your side, even as your alcoholism carries into your new life. And on December 21, 2016, on a cold, rainy winter night, after your addiction and choices nearly destroy the most loving and important relationship in your life, Brandan will drive you to your first AA meeting.
From here, there is no looking back. Your 40s will be your best years thus far. You will evolve from surviving to thriving. You will work to truly understand the mental health challenges you struggled with in your early years. Shame be gone, your mental clarity and awareness will be resurrected. You will rediscover your love of exercise. Your body will heal, grow, and look better than it ever has. The lifestyle and home you and Brandan will build together, will birth a level of emotional, physical, and mental happiness that you have never experienced.
Your career will also take-off during this time. With Brandan’s encouragement and support, you will challenge yourself with new opportunities and become a successful and influential school leader. Your love of education will only grow in these years. Your continued commitment to LGBTQ+ advocacy for youth and athletics will rapidly advance, and you will find great joy in this work.
There is so much yet to come in your young life. And I love you very, very much. It took me a long time to say that to myself.
Just like in sports, which you know very well, you need to be broken down before you can grow to new heights. Don’t get discouraged. Keep nourishing the things you hold dear: kindness, love, hard work, along with your scrawny grit. They will all help you lift yourself out of your depths. And never reject the hand of others as they reach into to help you. Their strength, love and support will give you what you need to reach in and help others in their time of need. For now, take a moment to celebrate a victory.
You've got this.