The worst day of my life, now remembered, in gratitude…

In 1983, I worked for a unionized company in British Columbia and was striking for better wages and benefits. I spent eight hours a week on the picket line and collected my strike pay. The rest of the time I spent drinking, trying to forget my problems.

My family begged me to get help. My wife took our children and sought safety on many occasions. Daily, I phoned them with promises I couldn’t keep. My loving mother would say, “All I want is my son back.” My father, a kind and loving man, wanted to believe in me. Burdened with guilt, I’d tell them all to leave me alone.

One morning, I received a letter from my father.

Dear Mervin,

My heart is heavy as I write this letter; yet I know I must. Don’t phone us anymore — don’t come home anymore. What you’re doing to yourself and your family is killing us. Please, leave us alone.

Love, Dad

Through the haze, a voice spoke to me. “You’re losing your family,” it said. Terror shot through me as my greatest fear became real. I rushed home to find the house empty — they were gone. Exploding into a rage, I lashed out. The kitchen table flew across the room, food and dishes scattering everywhere.

Picking up an armful of clothes, I threw them into the fireplace, setting them on fire. Out of control, I rushed out to search for my family. Not finding them, I drove back to the house and looked on in horror as flames leapt from the roof. I ran toward the house. Crawling up on the roof with a garden hose, I hollered at my neighbors to help — as if they were somehow to blame.

Sirens grew louder and I looked toward the street. There were police cars and fire trucks everywhere. My attention turned toward my wife standing next to a police car. I thought, “Oh! There she is.” I jumped off the roof and walked toward her. As I approached, a police officer motioned toward his gun and warned me not to come closer. “You better know how to use that gun,” were the last words I remember saying. Wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, I landed in jail. The path of alcoholism had run its course.

Morning approached as fear completed its cancerous spread. I tried to think of excuses and explanations for my actions the night before as a series of scripts reeled through my mind. With my head buried in my hands, I thought of the two bottles of wine in the refrigerator. Maybe the fridge hadn’t burned!

A constable told me the sergeant wished to speak to me. I tried to act bravely through my fear. As I stepped into the office there was a sense of peace — I could feel it in the room. I turned toward the sergeant and he asked me to sit down. His voice sounded kind. I looked in his eyes as he offered me a gentle smile. This moment quieted my mind.

“Do you remember last night?”

“Not much,” I said.

“Do you recall phoning your father?”

I cringed.

“I spoke to your dad after taking the phone from you. He sounded worried.”

I nodded as tears filled my eyes.

“Mervin, you are a sick man. It is men like you who hurt my police officers,” he said.

My throat tightened as I fought back tears; his words found their way home. Truth spoken with love is powerful. What happened next changed the course of my life.

“Mervin, please listen to me — I am like you.”

I drifted back to my childhood dream of being a policeman. I had enlisted and then, application accepted, I had turned it down. This man was who I wanted to be. He told me he was an alcoholic and had been sober for ten years, and had probably done worse things than me. I found myself wanting something he had. The words flashed through my mind, “This is your last chance — take it!”

The sergeant began to talk about what had happened to him. I listened and tears rolled down my cheeks. My fear gave in to the love he shared with me. Time seemed to stand still. I don’t remember all that was said, but when I left his office, I knew what I wanted to do.

As I walked into my house, I looked over the wreckage of my last drunk. This would be my road out of hell. Taking the two bottles of wine from the refrigerator, I poured them down the sink. That was August 4, 1983.

Much has changed since that day. My past no longer haunts me; it is my gift. Giving up that hopeless struggle was the beginning of my journey home. A few years later, I was elected alderman in that community. I served on numerous committees and was placed in appointed positions for six years.

I was walking with my father two years after he wrote me his letter. Burdened with guilt, hardly able to get out my words, I told him how sorry I was for the way I had hurt him. He looked at me with his twinkling eyes and said, “I forgave you the day you quit.” From that day on, I knew he was proud of me. He is my greatest hero.

Fourteen years later, he was in a hospital in Saskatoon having an operation. I was to drive him home afterward and was looking forward to spending some time together. A few days before picking him up, I appeared in court in British Columbia, helping a man get a chance for a reduced sentence for his alcohol and drug-related crimes. The judge issued him a probated sentence, conditional on his commitment toward recovery. He praised me and two other men for our commitment and support of this man. I was so thrilled by this outcome that I hurried out of the courtroom to phone my dad. I told him of the judge’s statement, comments, and kind words to me. My dad said, “Mervin, I always knew you could do it.” A few days later he passed on.

I’ll always remember my father’s last words; they are the legacy he left for me. Today, I don’t have to live in the shadow of my past. The truth keeps me free.

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