BRENDAN: May 19, 2013, was a day that I’ll never forget. Even though my daughter was about three weeks old, I wasn’t at home. I was driving back from Saint Louis, groggy and sleep deprived. We’d just played a show the night before and I was barreling down I-55 as the guys napped in the back of the van. I actually love these drives home on Sundays. The euphoria of a good show, the anticipation of seeing my family again, and a bright Spring day ease the transition from road life to home life.
Then the phone rang.
Looking back on it now I don’t remember if I spoke with my brother Paddy or my parents first. Things were a little hazy and the details weren’t clear. Basically my younger brother had been at his best friend’s wedding on the East Coast and something had happened. The phrase “Paddy ruined the wedding” was being thrown around. He had been drinking and didn’t know--or couldn’t remember--what had happened. He was getting on a plane and coming back to Chicago earlier than planned. It was also his birthday.
PADDY: May 19, 2013, was a day that I’ll never forget. It was my 29th birthday. But I was not celebrating. I was licking my wounds, sobbing in an airport on the phone with my mother and father, trying to piece together what had happened and what was about to happen. I was terrified, at the lowest point of my life. The 17th and 18th were a drunken blur of destruction and disappointment, a swirling, chaotic, dark mess. The last year of my use culminated in an intoxicated explosion at my best friend’s wedding. During the flight home to Chicago, I tried to figure out how I could justify or rationalize my actions to my family, how I could get out of this mess, how I could stay hidden. I tried in desperation to support the crumbling walls of my facade, but I quickly realized that I was standing on rubble. And all that was left was agony, hopelessness, and fear. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was an alcoholic and drug addict.
BRENDAN: As more phone calls from siblings and my parents rolled in I realized that something was different about this incident. Sure there had been warning signs in the past (bar tabs that were too high, drunk dials on weekdays in the wee hours, run-ins with the law) but I always just chalked it up to my brother being the outgoing, gregarious guy that everybody loved. As I sped closer and closer to Chicago I started to come to terms with the fact that my brother was an alcoholic.
I called my wife to let her know that I couldn’t come home just yet. I dropped off the van and headed to my parents’ house where we ended up having a sort of impromptu intervention. As part of a large Irish Catholic family with rampant alcoholism, these seem to hit the calendar as regularly as Christmas morning or Thanksgiving dinner.
PADDY: When my plane landed in Chicago and I got to my home, my family surrounded me and I accepted my truth and help. I admitted to the depths of my drinking and drug use. I don’t remember if I said “I am an alcoholic” out loud then, but I do remember choking through tears, “I don’t know who I am or what I am doing.” Without the strength left for any fight at all, my entire body crumpled into my brother Sean’s lap, who was sitting next to me on my parents’ couch. My body shook as I wept. I felt out of control, ragdolling in a whir. And Sean wrapped his arms around me, then my brother Brendan did, and then my sister Kitty joined, and then my parents. When I was at my most desperate, my family folded in upon me and held the broken pieces of my life together. They filled the massive fissures in my heart and forged the beginnings of a new foundation.
BRENDAN: Through tears my brother bravely accepted his new reality and agreed to enter a rehab program. He dropped everything in his life. Quit his job. Broke his lease. Moved out of state. Started over.
Are you living it up too fast?
Living it up too large?
I’ll never bring you down
Are you headed for another crash
Going the wrong way round?
I’ll always be around
PADDY: Alcoholism and addiction is not about booze and drugs. It’s a search to belong, it’s a quest to find an answer for the ever present loneliness and misery, a desperate scour for connection to something, anything, anyone. It steals the best parts of us, and we are left with nothing but darkness. Drugs and booze were flashes of light in the stormy landscape of my alcoholic life, like lightning in a dark field. It worked for a while and worked well, until, of course, the pops of illumination became more and more infrequent and then stopped altogether. I stumbled blindly in that dark field until it rose up and consumed me. Oblivion would have been welcomed.
BRENDAN: After Paddy left for rehab I felt an intense rush of emotion. I’d told him that I was sad to lose the drinking buddy I’d had for years but grateful he would be alive and healthy for the first time in his adult life. How could I support and understand his journey? I needed to write a song that would let him know that I would be there to support him and his recovery.
Starlight whenever you feel the need
Look up high that’s where I’m gonna be
Starlight, shine bright
I’m gonna be good for you tonight
PADDY: Few in life are granted the gift of such moments. Few can point so specifically to a date, to a time, to a flash that saved their life. That act, that moment on the couch in the living room of my childhood home, changed my life forever. May 19, 2013. It’s a day that I will never forget. It’s the day the light came in.
For more about Paddy’s path out of the darkness of addiction into the light of recovery, check out The Dirtbag Diaries.
And for stories about Paddy’s adventures outside, check out Adventure Journal.