Updated: Apr 28, 2018
My Dad had a pet fish. His name was Toby. This brave beta lasted three years in a small plastic fish bowl the size of a piggy bank. Year after year, I’ve watched this fish slowly lose its buoyancy and the will to fight for which his species is known. Most betas have a life expectancy of three years. Toby rode that life till the wheels fell off. His struggle recently ended.
One morning before the end I felt a sudden urge to free Toby from his dreary existence in his tiny plastic dwelling. After all, who would want to be flushed down the toilet on their last day? Not Toby! He had once brought joy to my Dad’s home with his blue vibrancy and shiny red markings. Upon agreement with my Dad, I put Toby’s tank in a cardboard box and we set off to free him into the wild. We drove to a small nearby pond that I had discovered just a day or two prior. After seeing a sign in the grass beside the pond which read “Healing Garden,” I felt this was the perfect drop-off location for little Toby. He would finally be free.
As we pulled up to the pond and parked the car, I noticed a crowd of people assembled in the grass. Apparently a 5K charity event was underway. My curiosity peaked, I picked up Toby and walked toward the crowd. As I approached, I noticed signs in the grass that read “MADD.” I knew exactly what this was: A Mothers Against Drunk Driving event honoring victims who had been killed by drunk drivers. I stepped into the heart of the crowd and noticed posters displaying faces of children, elderly, beauty queens, all gone due to reckless intoxication. My heart sunk and tears welled up.
I understood what these people had gone through, or at least I could imagine their pain and grief. In fact, just two days before I had lectured my Dad about his drinking and driving. His recklessness hit close to home, as it jogged my memory back to that night in 2007 when I, while driving drunk, hit a car with a family in it.
Boom! It happened so quickly that all I could remember was being dragged out of my vehicle, placed on a stretcher by EMT, and taken to the ER. Shortly after being medically assessed, I was transported to jail.
Unfortunately, the worst part of that horrific night in 2007 was not the fact that it was Christmas Eve. It was sobering up to the harsh reality of what had happened, not knowing if the couple I hit was dead or alive. I was 29 and possibly facing vehicular manslaughter. This was definitely not how my life was supposed to go. That one drunken decision changed the trajectory of my life forever. Thank God, the couple was not injured, but my soul surely was.
Sometimes your bottom is wherever you stop digging, if you survive that long. The following five years were spent in a downward spiral to one devastating bottom after another. But, as the old adage goes, “Once you’ve gone that far down, the only way is up.” By sheer grace, I can say that my life’s upward path undeniably began with sobriety.
I spoke to the organizer of that MADD event, to which I have good ol’ Toby to thank, and was delightfully invited to partner with them for a future charity event. I didn’t bat an eye before agreeing. Of course, it was the least I could do and, frankly, a universal boon.
The beautiful thing about redemption is being able to pay it forward. I did so for Toby that day, and he gave it right back to me. I have a feeling Toby is happy wherever he is; his soul is swimming free. Mine sure is. Recovery is possible. Never lose hope because sometimes unseen miracles are waiting just around the bend.
Or, in this case, just outside the fishbowl.