“My brothers were both going to a Rolling Stones concert with their girlfriends, and before they left the house, I remember seeing them pull out a bottle of Jack Daniels,” Tim F. recalls. At the time, he was eight years old, watching in curiosity as they poured shots of unfamiliar light brown liquid amongst themselves. As they drank, Tim says, “I remember them just making a funny little face, like pain, but like a good pain. I remember thinking to myself, ‘that looks like fun, I want to do that’.”
Tim was self-aware enough to realize that as a young child, he’d never get permission to try that strange and enticing drink. But about half and an hour later, once they were gone, he sneaked downstairs and gave himself permission. “I took a shot, and I made that funny face when you taste alcohol. It burns, it’s maybe not tasting so good, but there was a warmth that I felt to it,” he remembers. “I remember liking the kind of loopy feeling that I felt afterwards, the warm, kind of out-of-body feeling that I experienced.”
Although he did not start pilfering alcohol from his parent’s personal bar until the age of twelve or thirteen, the Rolling Stones incident is his earliest memory of a budding enchantment with alcohol, and a foreshadowing of the alcoholic he would later become.
Tim F. has fond memories of his early years, describing a “happy and connected” childhood. Growing up in Beverly Hills, he had “a traditional suburban upbringing”: little league matches and soccer games, “just growing up.” Except for one thing; he did his homework with a bottle of beer next to his desk, or maybe a mixed drink. It’s not that his parents were complacent, he tells me. He just did a good job of hiding his drinking from people, a pattern that would continue on into adulthood and even his marriage. And he continued drinking, everyday until his first admission into Beit T’Shuvah in 2004.
“I would say for at least 5 or 6 years I knew I needed help, but I was a functioning alcoholic,” says Tim. That line slowly became blurred. Although he drank everyday, eventually he was no longer waiting until work was finished and he was in the company of friends. He was drinking earlier and earlier in the day, and alcohol began to follow him into his car, into his backpack, or anywhere else he found himself. But it was an incident at a grocery store that led to a revelation.
It was a Saturday morning, and because they would be hosting some friends later that evening, Tim’s wife tasked him with the errand of picking up a few items. He gathered everything she’d asked for, tacking on some alcohol for himself. As he was checking out, he recounts to me that “the woman who was scanning the items took the alcohol, moved it aside, and put her hands on her hips and looked at me and said, ‘sir, I can smell the alcohol coming off of you and I’m not going to sell you this alcohol. It’s intense, and I’m concerned.” Caught off guard and unprepared to handle the confrontation, Tim bolted, not even stopping to pay for the items he’d gone to the store to buy. In a trance, he ruminated in his car, his mind chanting an endless refrain: “if you admit you’re an alcoholic, you can never have another drink again.” Although disconcerting, it represented a major turning point. When he got home, he finally admitted to his wife that he needed help.
“I thought at first I’d go to some really cush Malibu place for 30 days,” he admits, “but I actually had a cousin who had gone to Beit T’Shuvah.” In 2004, Tim admitted himself here, and as he tells it, “I was pretty physically sick and damaged.” Fully cognizant of his alcoholism, he applied himself to recovery studiously. He stayed sober for 14 years before relapsing in 2018. “I really embraced the program, which is why I have to be really careful. Clearly, I know I can be in recovery and I can get sober, but clearly I can also leave that path.”
The period surrounding his relapse involved “a series of rough events.” His dad was sick and dying, his brother had moved out of state, and he felt very disconnected in general. “I felt a huge cloud of sadness over me,” he says. But his relapse didn’t occur in a vacuum of misfortune. During the last 7 years of sobriety, “I was just a person trying to stay sober and white knuckling it.” He’d stopped attending meetings, no longer met with a sponsor or accepted sponsees, and abandoned the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. He didn’t maintain his connection to the Beit T’Shuvah community, and his only visit was to attend services one night in order to support a friend whom he’d helped get admitted to the program. Having already relapsed, he was stoned, and he felt awful, as if “he was desecrating this place.” Ultimately he came to the conclusion that “I was really desecrating myself.”
“I knew that I needed help, and there was only one place I was going to call. Walking through these doors again was a really overwhelming and healing experience.” At first, the shame and self-doubt loomed over him heavily. Relapsing after such a significant period of sobriety necessitated intense introspection. He feels grateful that friends and strangers alike offered support to him back then, and as time went on, he made strides in self-discovery. He realized that his first effort of sobriety hadn’t been entirely self-directed; he sought to make his wife happy, to please others perhaps at the expense of his own inner work. This effort at sobriety has been “the first time I’m doing it for myself. I’m not doing it for any ‘attaboys’, I give myself attaboys when I need them. So it’s been a different experience this time, it’s been a lot more personal”.
Today, Tim is essentially the head of the kitchen and also a fully-fledged staff member. Having no prior experience in the food service industry, his interest was kindled due to an extensive stint of washing dishes. When first assigned the chore and his partner failed to show up, he was surprised with the realization that he actually enjoyed the task. He began asking to wash dishes for his house job each week, finding that it evoked a peaceful feeling of meditative zen. During this time he became familiar with the kitchen staff, occasionally offering his assistance. Drawn to an internship in the kitchen, he enjoyed the opportunity to be of service to the community. He listened, learned, and cultivated the cooking skill set that culminated in his position today. “I know I won’t ever make everybody happy,” he says, but he never doubts that his work is appreciated–a gratifying sentiment.
Tim isn’t sure where life is going to lead him, whether he will eventually return to his old job working in the public relations industry, or whether he will remain part of Beit T’Shuvah’s kitchen staff. He knows that he will hold onto an involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous, and plans to surround himself with the work of recovery in general. He hopes to remain sober in part through rigorous honesty with himself and others, and remain involved with the Beit T’Shuvah community.
Tim has become familiar with a contentment lately that he hopes he can continue to nurture. “Life is full of peaks and valleys,” he reflects. “I’m not always going to be happy, but finding a way to always be content would be really nice.” The unceasing work of recovery is to find our way to harmony even amongst the chaos or misfortunes that life is bound to fling our way. And from what I know of Tim, if anybody can do it, it’s him.