“He said, ‘Just shut up.’ He said, ‘I want you to know that I believe that when an addict or an alcoholic dies, they buy sobriety for somebody else.’ He said, ‘I think that’s what your son did for you.'”
My name is Kim Manlove. I’m a person in long-term recovery from the disease of addiction. I don’t really think that I was born an alcoholic or an addict but I do in looking back know that I was born afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough and that other people would find that out.
As a kid growing up, I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I longed to be one of the crowd and wanted acceptance in some way. I didn’t realize that’s what it was because I just really always had a lot of insecurity as a young person. I made friends pretty easily because I was willing to do just about anything.
To a certain extent, my easy going nature and everything suited me well as I grew up. But then, when I was in my mid-teens, I tried alcohol for the first time. I can still remember that first drink of alcohol to this day. I remember how it was vodka and how it burned down the back of my throat and down through my chest. Then, it just seem to explode and the warmth that came over me. I had this feeling that I knew I had arrived and that I could go anywhere and do anything and be with anybody.
That incredible feeling–it was such an incredible feeling that I knew I had to keep that feeling and keep finding that feeling. I knew I had arrived and that I could go anywhere and do anything and be with anybody. I knew I needed to and wanted find that feeling and keep finding that feeling. So I did. I began hanging out with the kid who were doing that and were using. They were those kids that my parents would say, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it. It was just how we did, it was the sixties. Pot was all coming on really strong. That became a big part of it as well.
I drank with, in high school, my friends at parties and on the weekends and went off to college and my party continuing. It escalated to the point where I was drinking on a fairly regular basis. But I still, I was doing what I needed to do, getting good grades, graduated from college, went on to get a Master’s degree and follow in my father’s footsteps and met my first wife. She was a ballet dancer. I was just started my master’s degree. We got married but I always referred to her as my practice spouse. Her father was head of a large food corporation here in the Midwest. He also was a pretty heavy drinker too. But that relationship really fell apart after less than a year.
We separated and divorced. I went on to finish the last couple of years of my Master’s. I met my second wife on the night my current wife, my long term life partner today. I met her, ironically, on the night that I was celebrating my divorce from my first wife. I actually don’t remember meeting her that first time because I was shitfaced in a bar. We’ve been married almost thirty-five years now. She does still remember that was our first meeting. I was celebrating when we first met.
Amazingly, she saw something in me beyond that. We started dating. Eventually after a couple of years we finished our Master’s degrees and ended up getting married. While she drank as well, not near to what I did, she was definitely a social drinker. I think that she was one who would have described me as not an addict or an alcoholic but just somebody who periodically drank a little too much.
As I said, we got married and graduated and actually moved up here to Indianapolis from Bloomington. Got our first jobs and started our professional careers. We bought a house together and had our first child, our careers continued on at that point in fine fashion. I was working for a major university in Indianapolis. She was working for agency that worked with people with developmental disabilities, which was her passion. Higher Ed was mine. I’d started work on a Doctorate at that point and life was good.
But I think I continued to drink. I finally quit using the marijuana and some of those other types of things because the illegal drugs became just a little more difficult to get. I became pretty much an alcoholic or I drank alcohol for the most part. I think if you would ask her, she tried to do a good job of keeping me from imbibing too much.
We were early in our careers. We had our first son. Two years later, three years later, we had another son. We had two beautiful boys; life was good. Our careers were progressing, my school work was going well, all was great. Our boys, through their adolescent years–my wife and I both were very involved parents, particularly with my younger son. He loved baseball. I coached, both boys, I actually coached their teams and always was there to participate. My younger son, when he was thirteen, we discovered that he had a serious problem with alcohol and marijuana.
When we first discovered that, my wife’s first reaction was to blame me. She said, “You know, he’s just like you were when you were his age. He’s doing the same things that you were doing. He’s caught this from you.” Frankly, I couldn’t disagree with her. I had known from growing up that, had an uncle who committed suicide when he was in his forties who was an alcoholic. I had another uncle and his wife who were alcoholics, severe alcoholics through their entire lives. It was well-known on my family, and so I said, “You know, you’re right.” I said, “But, you know, I’ve always been able to find the balance. You’ve helped me find that balance with my own using. I’ll be able to help him find that balance too.”
We started. We got him into treatment. We brought him into this treatment center that was ten minutes from our house. We didn’t know anything about treatment. Frankly, we thought treatment centers were like med checks. They were all over the place. It just so happened there was one that was ten minutes to our house that had an adolescent unit and an adult unit. We brought him into this treatment center called Fairbanks.
We started in, thinking that this was going to be full of hope and that we had made the right decision and had gotten the help that he needed. Initially, he did really well in the program. He admitted right away that he had a serious problem with alcohol and marijuana and some other things and seem to embrace the treatment regimen at the treatment center. We were encouraged.
We also went through an education program that they had at the treatment center that taught us about the disease of addiction and how powerful it was, and the signs, and the symptoms and things like that. He finished outpatient and went into their after care program. During this time frame, I quit using anything because I was afraid that anything that I would do, I wanted to set a good example of course. We quit having alcohol and anything around the house.
We were being sure that he was getting the help that he needed. But, as we had learned, the disease of addiction can be very powerful. In the end, I think it was more powerful than we knew as his parents. But I think, more importantly, it was more powerful than he knew. He and his friend, one of his good friends, one of his using friends that he’d started seeing again, they had read on the internet about something called huffing. Inhaling computer duster out of aerosol cans. It would give a real brief high. It didn’t show up on the drug screens that they doing here at the treatment center. We also were doing at home, we were doing some home drug testing as well.
He and his friend had also had learned that if they would buy computer duster with a little red straw and take it and use it underneath the water in a swimming pool, and do the inhaling underneath the water, that by being underneath the water, the pressure would intensify the rush. Whether he knew or not, I think he did know that there could be some fatal consequences to inhale and abuse. There is something called sudden sniffing death syndrome which causes the disruption of the electrical activity in the heart and can also prompt a heart attack.
At one point, we had heard from some of his friends or the parents of some of his friends that they had seen him huffing and inhaling and they talked to us about it. We confronted him about it. He swore up and down, he said, “You know, I didn’t do do that. I would never do anything that.” We even said, “David, you know, this could kill you.” He said, “I know that.” The last time we confronted him he said, “I would never ever do anything so stupid. I don’t want to die.”
But, a few weeks later, I was actually out in Arizona visiting my father doing a presentation at a special meeting with my dad about something he and I had done together. Marissa was here. She and Josh and our other son were at home. Dave asked if he could go to a friend’s house to go swimming. Marissa said, he’d been doing well. He and his friend went to his girlfriend’s who had a pool in the neighborhood across the street from ours. They swam for awhile, the four of them. Then at one point, the girls went into have lunch and invited them to come in. They declined. They went down to a nearby convenience store and bought a can of computer duster and towed it back to the pool and got back into the pool.
When the girls were coming back from lunch, they were taking turns passing the can back and forth, diving underneath the water and inhaling the computer duster. One point, when David [went under] he didn’t come back up. Friend realized something was wrong right away. Pulled him up, got him out of the pool. Got him on, started trying to do CPR. The mother came out, immediately called 911. The EMTs were on the way. Since she called the EMTs, she called called Marissa.
She told Marissa, she said, “You know, this is what’s happened. EMTs are on their way. I need you to know that, we’ve been trying and they’ve been trying to revive him but they haven’t been able to.” Marissa rushed over to the house., ten minutes from the house. Got there. She walked up the walk. The EMTs had David on a gurney, put him in the back of the ambulance. She said there was a EMT on top of him doing chest compressions and another walking on the side kept bagging him. She said, “His feet were blue. That was the first thing I noticed. His feet were blue.”
They followed the ambulance to the ER right next door here, ten minutes away. They continued to work on him for about twenty minutes. Finally, they said that they couldn’t revive him. I got the call. I was in this hotel room, I was in a hotel with my dad at this presentation. They’d actually put us in a room where we could go to prepare for it so they couldn’t find us for a few minutes and finally tracked us down. I talked to Marissa and she told what had happened.
I rushed to the airport. It was pre-9/11. I walked in, I had no ticket, didn’t have to check identity, or any of that kind of stuff. I just walked up to the airline counter and just told them what had happened. It was amazing. The woman listened to my story behind the counter and just said, “You know, normally, we need a death certificate or a copy of an obituary and everything but you clearly don’t have that.” Clearly, I was distraught. They put me on the first plane they could to fly back to Indianapolis. It’s a horrible flight. Horrible flight. Longest flight. My mind was everywhere. My mind was everywhere. My mind was nowhere.
Marissa and my other son, Josh, met me at the gate. A friend of ours drove us back to the house. We sat in the back seat and she told as much as she knew. She also told me at that point that because of the suspicious nature of his death and that there was an investigation that the coroner had impounded his body. I wasn’t going to be able to see him. Sorry, I haven’t re-lived it like this in a while. She and Josh, as I said, filled me in on all the details and what had happened. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see him because the coroner wouldn’t allow that.
Then, as we turned into our neighborhood and turned on to our street, our first of many what have now become many amazing things that happened to me and happened to us as a result of this, as we turned on the street, it was dark but our house was ablaze. It seemed like every light in the house was on. David and Josh’s friends had descended upon our house. In some ways it was like a Mecca of grief but also of sharing. There were groups of, there were seem like hundreds of kids sitting in the yard, all around the house, inside the house. It was an amazing site.
We were surrounded by this extraordinary community of family and friends, united in this loss and grief. B ut almost from the beginning, there was also in that shared experience the beginnings of the shared memories and the laughter. I remember this, I remember that, kind of those beginnings of hope and in some ways now, I see the glimmers of recovery. I finally got a chance to see him the next day at the funeral home after the coroner had released his body and the funeral home had prepared it and had finally a chance to say my personal goodbyes with Josh and Marissa there too.
The services were extraordinary. The priest at the church came up to us. He knew the circumstances. We had been very open about it. He said, “You know, I could take this a couple of ways. I can do just the usual type of homily service type thing and general type thing that I do for a burial”. He said, “Or, I could make this a teachable moment.” He said, “But, much of the guys talk it over and think about it.” Marissa and I and Josh, we looked at each other and immediately said, “let’s make it a teachable moment.”
It was an amazing service. Church was filled with hundreds and hundreds of his friends and their families and our friends and our families. It was an extraordinary thing. Then we returned to, after the burial, we came back to our lives and began our lives without him.
For me, during this time and certainly during the months that he was in treatment, I had, as I’d said earlier, I stopped using. Then, initially, I came out of the closet, started using again then jumped back into the alcohol and the drugs that I was prescribed for grief with both feet. I had never really needed to use drugs and alcohol before but now I had a really good one. Anybody would have said, “Oh gosh, after what’s happened to you, I’d drink too.” But I really didn’t need any encouragement. I think at that point and over the next eighteen months, I spiraled down drinking more, abusing the medications that I was given for the grief and the trauma from the death.
I had gone back to work. They’ve been very generous with me and very encouraging, had given me as much time off as I needed, encouraged me to take time more if I felt that I needed it. I initially went back and though I continue to drink and abuse my medication, so I continued to work for about a year and a half until at one point I decided to take them up on a leave of absence and work on myself. But that just gave me the opportunity to use more. I spiraled down until I was pretty much drinking a quarter of tequila a day and I was taking a month’s worth of Xanax and two or three days.
Until one day, my wife and my son Josh came home and found me in a blackout, screaming about that I was carrying on about wanting to commit suicide, that I was done. I came out of the blackout and they were screaming at me and saying, “What the hell is wrong with you? What is this?” They were totally taken aback. I had just, everything had fallen apart. All the balls that I had been juggling dropped. I came out of the blackout with them screaming at me and didn’t know what I had said. They told me and I finally, that’s when I just dropped everything and said, “I need help. I’m in trouble. I need to go to the same treatment center that Dave was in.”
Just a little less than a year and a half after David was here, I ended up in the same treatment center, the same rooms as with him. As I said, I knew I needed to be here. I had to come in inpatient. The first night I was in here, I was scared. I knew I needed help but I didn’t know how I was going to get better, how I was going to get out of this. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I would be dead like him and I didn’t care. I was happy. I would have been happy to have that.
The next morning, they gave me some meds to sleep. I got up and went to my first meeting. It was the first meeting with all the other inpatients. I shuffled into the room with about sixty other people and found a chair over to the side in the front of the room and sat there for a few minutes. I looked over and there was this young woman who was sitting in the first row who I looked over and caught my eye. She just mouthed the words “welcome”.
For some reason that first act of kindness, understanding, I could feel that from her. Seem to melt away a lot of my anxiety and my fear. I began to settle in to where I could begin to listen. I was inpatient for a week. I did several weeks of PHP, which was the day program. Then I did several weeks of IOP. I did all the Ps then went into recovery management. I started going to meetings. I did what they suggested while I was here that you should do ninety meetings in ninety days. I found it so beneficial that I ended up doing another ninety meetings in ninety days.
My initial problem was that I wasn’t reticent to talk about what had happened to me and what my story was. In fact, I was a little too anxious to do that to the point where I finally had somebody in one of my meetings said, “You know, I think it would be a lot better if you would just shut up and listen to other people’s stories. ” Thankfully, I took that advice.
But I was also scared about recovery from the standpoint that when I was in treatment I saw these steps and their traditions that they have in these fellowships that are part of recovery movements. I saw the word “God” in a lot of those things. I had never really been much of a God person. I had pretty much rejected all of that when I went to college. Even though my parents were quite religious, it was just not my thing. What I heard initially was all of that, what I thought was religion. I was afraid that if I was going to have to convert to Christianity to be successful in recovery, I just thought there’s no way that that’s going to happen.
I struggled through those early days. But then, at one point, I heard some guys come in to give some leads, they call them here in the Midwest and share their stories. One of the guy was a guy about my age. He was the first one to say, he talked about a higher power of your own understanding. That kind of intrigued me and so afterwards, I went up and talked to him. I told him what had happened to me and why I was here. That I was concerned about the religion piece. He said, “Don’t worry about that.” He says, “It’s okay.” He said, “All those A’s…they’re not religious programs. They’re spiritual programs.” He said, “Religion is for people who are afraid they’re going to hell. Spiritual programs are for people who have already been there.”
That was the first things that I’d heard that just really put it together for me. That was the thing that turned me around. He said, “You know, that thing that happened with your son, make him part of your higher power. Instead of you using that to drink and drug yourself to death, you make him part of your higher power so he becomes a reason not for you to do that. That was a pivotal moment for me and my recovery.
I began doing that and continued to do that to this day. That has been the way that got me into going to twelve-step meetings on a daily basis and accepting and listening to the stories, and looking for the similarities and not the differences. That gentleman became my first sponsor. We worked together for many, many years until he told me about eight years into my recovery that he decided that because a variety of things that had happened to his life, he stopped going to meetings and he was going to start drinking alcohol again. I wished him well and he said, ” You probably want to go ahead and get a new sponsor.” I said, “I will and thank you very much.” He’s still a good friend of mine.
One of the great things about where I live and I feel really blessed by the fact that I live in a large metropolitan area here in the greater Indianapolis area, that there are a large number of meetings. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of meetings in the area. But I also found that it was really important for me to keep connected with the treatment center that I worked in.
My sponsor that I met here, his sponsor, and their family of sponsees all volunteered here, meeting with inpatients, doing meetings in the treatment center on a weekly basis. In addition to doing meetings in the community, I also began volunteering and attending a few meetings here in the treatment center as well, which also kept me very close to people not that far behind me in recovery. It was important for me and it’s still is important today and I still volunteer here twelve years later on a regular basis in this facility, because it’s important that I remember what it was like to be early on.
I heard somebody say in those early days that those of us in recovery, we have a built-in forgetter and that if we let it we can think back and go, “well, maybe it wasn’t so bad. I’ve done pretty well here and I can use.” I’ve continued a very close relationship with this facility and do volunteer groups. Another thing, my wife and I did was because we hat we had been through here with our son, we also started a family support group for parents of adolescents and young adults, which still meets every Thursday nights. That’s something that we’ve continued to do and participate in. We don’t go every week but we’re probably there eighty percent of the time. Again, it’s helpful for us to remember what it was like because we were also family members and certainly understand the collateral damage that we as alcoholics and addicts, no matter what our age, do to our family members. That’s been a big part of our understanding.
I was very fortunate. I feel myself very fortunate that my wife also started going to support meetings, shortly after I got into early recovery. Initially it might have been because I was gone a lot. She thought she would got something she was counseled to start going to some meetings herself. The extraordinary thing is that she has continue and she has an extraordinary program of recovery today.
I often describe, again, twelve years down the road, that my wife and I have parallel recoveries that aren’t dependent upon each other. She works a very strong program. I’ve often described our recoveries that they’re like a strand of DNA and that DNA has two trunks that are separate and distinct but there are branches that connect those trunks at various points. DNA curls around itself and wraps around itself and in some ways, that’s what life does to us in recovery. It’s part of that wrapping around, it’s not the same. It’s been extraordinary for us to be on these recovery journeys together.
We got involved also in doing some things nationally with a prevention organization and sharing our stories. It also got me more involved in sharing my story of recovery publicly both in audio interviews and television interviews. Several years ago, because of some work that we have done with the partnership, or used to be called the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, this is a national organization that a lot of people don’t know the name but they were the first organization to do any video spots about addiction and recovery. Their first one was the egg and the frying pan. “This your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” They have continued to do that. Today, they’re called the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. They got us involved early on in doing prevention messaging and also sharing our stories.
The more we shared our story of the loss of our son, the more it was important for us to also talk about our recovery from that loss. That recovery has allowed us to integrate his loss in some extraordinary ways. That integration and ability to be open and talk about it also brought many involvement in The Anonymous People project. I was contacted a couple of years ago by the director of that and creator of that movie saying that he needed people to review some of the early pieces of it before the movie came out. I had the honor and the privilege to review and make a few comments about the movie before it came out and have been part of promoting it now since.
About four years into recovery, I am doing some of this work for prevention, intervention and recovery programs. I actually approached the CEO of the treatment center that I’d gone through and told her that I would be interested in gaining some professional experience in the field of addiction recovery if the opportunity presented itself. She contacted shortly after that. I left my job at the University and came to work for the treatment center as a contractor to the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, running initially a multi-million dollar prevention program for five years. It was followed by an access to recovery program for a couple of years and in adolescent treatment grant.
I also got involved in a statewide organization in Indiana called the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition that actually advocates for people in recovery. I got active on its board of directors and a year and a half ago, the director’s position came open and I applied for that position and was fortunate to be named the director.
Today, I actually get paid to talk about recovery and be in recovery which is an amazing thing. While it’s less money than I’ve made in my entire life, it’s extraordinarily fulfilling. I’ve learned so many things on this journey, although I often think it more in terms of an odyssey. Some people call it a journey. For me, it’s really more like an odyssey. To me, a journey seems like inherently at some point, you reach a destination. But recovery is more like an odyssey because an odyssey is something that goes on and on and on and on. That’s what recovery is like for me.
It’s allowed me to integrate grieving and loss and addiction altogether. In fact, I found that recovery from addiction is very akin to recovery from grieving and loss and that there are these five stages. You go through shock and denial the first stage and then, incredible pain and sometimes guilt. That’s what happened when my son died. Then I went into anger and bargaining, the third stage. But then depression, the fourth stage stepped in, followed by loneliness and that’s when the drugs and the alcohol took me down. But eventually, I, through recovery, got to the last stage which is acceptance and hope. That’s the same thing that happens when you lose somebody that you love. You go through all of those same five stages.
I’ve found that recovery has helped me literally reconstruct the meaning of my life, working through the programs of recovery and working with a sponsor and other people who helped see me through those stages of my loss and brought me finally to that stage of acceptance and hope. It really finally brought me to that point where I discovered that the true meaning of acceptance was the release of all hope for a better past. Because, for a long time I was mired in that past. I wanted to bring him back. I wanted to bring back the time before addiction took over my life and before he died. I couldn’t accept it.
When I was in early aftercare, we had this counselor who was long time recovering alcoholic and addict. He was a crusty, old, son of a bitch. He’s gone now. I could still hear his voice in my ears saying, “A sponsor is not your friend. A sponsor is supposed to call you on your shit and tell you things you don’t want to hear.” He had a lot of truisms. He would really call people out in his group and confront people when they would say things. He scared me and I tried to stay out of his way and toe the line.
I don’t remember what it was but I said something one night in a meeting, in his aftercare meeting, and he cut me off, stopped me in mid-sentence. He just said, “Just shut up. Just shut up. Listen.” He said, “I want you to know that I believe”, because I was talking about my son, I was talking about his death, and he didn’t like the way that I was talking about it. He said, “Just shut up.” He said, “I want you to know that I believe that when an addict or an alcoholic dies, they buy sobriety for somebody else.” He said, “I think that’s what your son did for you.”
When he said that to me that night, I hated him. I hated his guts. I hated him because I didn’t believe it and I didn’t want to believe it. But not too long after that and for a long time now, I do believe it. I’ve accepted that gift from my son.
There’s a little piece that we came across that my wife and I, has become a mantra for us that I saw a long time ago that we really liked, that wraps what he means to us up very nicely. It goes that, “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to new understanding with a passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for a while. They leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same again.”
Certainly, Dave left footprints on our hearts and we’re not the same. We’re grateful for that. My wife and I see his death as a gift to us today. What she and I have together and the life that we have even without him and we’re not the same again. I hope I can leave some footprints on those who hear this.
Photographs taken at the rehab where both Kim and his son David received treatment in Indianapolis, Indiana.