There Are No Search Parties For Those Who Choose To Stay Lost

Photo: Thomas Matlack 
Couple cutting wedding cake

I first met John when he was in detox a couple of days sober, just at the start of the pandemic. 

A couple of friends and I had started a Zoom meeting, and John showed up early one day. I chatted with him and asked him what he liked to do. He said, “fishing.”  So I made him “fishing John” for a screen name. And I gave him my phone number.

From that day forward, we spoke every morning while I walked our dog Cooper down the street to sniff and poop. He took to running hills each morning at sunrise. And sending me a gratitude list.

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He soon got out of the detox and moved into a sober house.  John’s a good-looking guy and went to a prestigious university. But at the sober house, he got a job bagging groceries. He was happy and sober for the first time in his life. 

Eventually, John moved out of the sober house and finally into a room in an apartment shared by sober friends. Next, he got a real job in his field and found a beautiful girlfriend online.

He celebrated a year of sobriety. Then imploded — like up in flames. It was too much too soon.

He was an ugly, angry drunk. He showed up at meetings unable to speak. He called me repeatedly, outraged that I would accuse him of drinking, slurring his words so badly I could barely understand him.

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I blocked him on my phone. I was taught long ago to spend time with men desperate to get sober — no search parties for those who choose to drink.

Unbeknownst to me, John’s girlfriend, who lived with her parents and her 4-year-old daughter in Baltimore, came up to try to get him sober, and he managed to get her pregnant. In my mind, the story kept getting worse.

You never know when grace is going to occur. Working with drunks and addicts, it’s been proven repeatedly. And still, I forget. In John’s case, grace entered his life eighteen months ago.

He started the whole process all over again, starting from scratch. He got back in touch and started the work earnestly with me. He had a seriousness about him he had not before.

Before long, he started to look for a job near his girlfriend in Baltimore. He surprised me when he landed a great job. He packed his toothbrush and worldly possessions and drove down with his dad. Somehow he managed to find a great rental.

His pregnant girlfriend and her daughter moved in. John had a son. He proposed to his girlfriend.  His girlfriend’s daughter, whose biological father had never been part of her life, asked John if she could call start to call him “dad.”

We had breakfast with John and his fiancé Friday morning in Baltimore before their wedding. Both beautiful people, inside and out, were positively glowing. They were so easy to be with. My wife Elena immediately fell in love with both of them.

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The ceremony was simple and small. Family (tons of little kids) and us in a historic home.  John and his bride read vows they had each written for each other. They exchanged rings. John didn’t even seem nervous. 

Afterward, John’s now mother-in-law gave a beautiful toast about the seeming randomness of the couple’s meeting.  But that she truly believed it was a Divine plan. I couldn’t agree more.

I sat with John for a few last moments while his bride greeted the guests. We didn’t rehash his journey. Just talked about the future—his job, their honeymoon, the kids. I felt at complete ease, as I always have, with John. He was always such a good man. He just got sidetracked for a little while by a fatal disease.

I looked into John’s eyes as we said our goodbyes. I saw a man with his feet planted in sobriety and humility. Who knows how lucky he is? And isn’t about to let it slip through his fingers.

My heart was so full. Witnessing grace never gets old.

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Thomas Matlack has been depressed, a drunk, and anorexic... yet, at 58, he has never been happier. He adores his wife and three kids; His mission is to help men. He writes daily at Substack.