Paul Appleby: I Played Like Breathing

by Wendy Grace Evans
July 25, 2011

Image of Wendy Grace Evans

Paul Appleby, a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor from Tucson, Arizona shares his thoughts about aspects of his life, self-care, his parents, losing himself and getting started again in recovery with the HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans. In his own words, he reflects on his journey.

I came from a family of nine and was raised in the sixties. I was always exploring life from a different perspective, asking questions and never getting any answers. I watched people around me and did not want to grow up because the world seemed so crazy. My mind worked in a way that didn’t seem to work the same as people my age. I tried to escape it. I felt odd even in my own family. What gave me a sense of reality was sports. My father was a funny, but very serious man and conscientious about his family. He introduced me to baseball. I had never seen him play, but those that did said he was great. He had seen his own father hung to death, but baseball became our relationship and I ate, slept, and drank baseball. At twelve I was throwing 80 mile an hour pitches. I played like breathing. My father worked three jobs.

I was young when my father died of black lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes. He dwindled from this opposing figure to nothing and my mother would literally pick him up. During this time she developed cancer and died shortly after my father. I was taking her back and forth to the hospital, but I still had a mom. She would tell me about my gift, but she would tell me that she was dying and dying to be with my father. I wondered if I was not important enough to live for. When she died, that was the thought that permeated my mind. And there were no answers.

I quit playing baseball and turned to basketball, leaving my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for Central Arizona Community College and eventually the University of San Diego on a basketball scholarship. Unfortunately, I fractured both kneecaps and lost my scholarship, as well as an opportunity to play professional ball. These losses, including the death of both of my parents, propelled me into drugs and alcohol. This took the shape of 12 years of addiction, including eight years on crack, two years of homelessness, sleeping on the streets, in parks, and under bridges in two states.

The pain of my parents’ death became something I sought out once I was tied to them as a victim in my own memory. I selected self-destruction, developing defense mechanisms to protect myself from feeling emotion. Eventually I would pride myself as someone who had no emotions until I entered into recovery.

For me, living in recovery is going to the mountains, praying, getting together with friends for relaxation, going to meetings and staying focused. I really have to pay attention and be grateful for being clean and sober. My work life can bleed into my personal life. I focus on trust because no one wants to live in a self imposed shelter, or box of fear. I ask the question “Who is really living in recovery?” I don’t forget what it was like to be homeless, doing drugs, and feeling so badly about who I was, when I know that today I have been given the chance to start a recovery program to help other people. Today I have been in recovery for 17 years. I like to say that I have “flipped the script.” I am a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor so that I can help others as I have been helped with a “Yes, I can” attitude.

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Category: Guest Entry