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The Comeback Kid

Comeback Kid: A person who repeatedly demonstrates the propensity to overcome adversity or periods of bad publicity and rebound to victory and popularity.

I love a good comeback story. There’s a cheesy-but-great 1980 movie titled The Comeback Kid starring John Ritter and a host of other memorable 80s faces. The movie, billed as “an American made-for-television romantic sports comedy" was pure fantasy, but in reality and throughout history there have always been comeback kids. Napoleon, emperor of France from 1804-1814, was a comeback kid. After his enemies imprisoned him on Isola d'Elba he escaped his island prison, returning triumphantly to Paris (for a bit anyway). Winston Churchill was another one. Somehow rescued from the scrap heap of outdated politicians, he returned to politics where he basically saved the free world from the Nazis’ relentless march across Europe. Speaking of Nazis, the track and field legend Jesse Owens was the grandson of a slave and the lifelong victim of extreme racism. After years of struggle and setbacks, Jesse ended up winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin summer olympics (but he may be even more famous for his public humiliation of Hitler at those games). More recently, American football quarterback Joe Montana became famous for squeaking out victories against seemingly insurmountable odds. There are comeback kids in almost every sport there is. Surfer Bethany Hamilton had her left arm ripped off by a shark at age 14 but continues to surf and compete to this day. In tennis we have Andre Agassi. In Formula One, Niki Lauda. In Basketball, Michael Jordan. In Hollywood, actors like John Travolta, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Downey Jr. and Joaquin Phoenix were all unceremoniously branded Hollywood "has-beens" until some role propelled them back into superstardom. Many musicians and bands fade into oblivion, only to hit it big again with the right song at the right time. Johnny Cash, The Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Santana. When Tina Turner left Ike, three of her first four solo albums failed to chart. But she played small venues, did TV variety shows and kept recording until finally she scored a number one hit and won 4 Grammys. Comeback kids are underdogs, and who doesn't love an underdog?

The other day I was driving down the West Side Highway going into Manhattan when I saw a billboard for "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". My first thought was "Jesus Christ, that guy has staying power. I mean 2000-plus years old and he still get billboards on the West Side Highway? Impressive." My second thought was "who does his P.R. anyway?" My third thought, usually the one I listen to as my first two thoughts are not usually that helpful, was about something I had heard that morning in my A.A. meeting. A friend of mine was sharing about how nice it is to start his day in an entire room full of comeback kids. Because in recovery that is what we are. We come back from addiction, despair, shame, self loathing. Sometimes, in the case of overdoses, we even come back from death. I remember listening, spellbound, to one of the most poignant stories about the power of the comeback that I have ever heard. I had only a few months of sobriety and a man that I had never met was telling us his story. He shared, with very little drama, about the cold, bitter "penny-like" taste and the heavy, cold sensation of having the barrel of a gun in his mouth. "The barrel was much more uncomfortable in my mouth then I had imagined it would be", he told us. At the time of his almost-suicide, he was living in a damp basement on a mattress, surrounded by empty vodka bottles. He felt, without doubt or any real remorse, that the time had come to end it. He was drunk and profoundly depressed but, as he was getting ready to pull the trigger, two street dogs got into a violent fight outside of his basement window well. The noise and the commotion along with the voices of the good Samaritans trying to separate the enraged animals distracted him, momentarily, from his task. He thought "I'm such a loser I can't even kill myself properly." He took the gun out of his mouth, called 911, and had himself committed to a psych hospital where he got the help he needed. He eventually got sober and lived to tell that horrifying tale. That was one of the most striking stories I have heard in the rooms. From having a loaded gun stuck in your mouth to sitting in a room and telling others "I am so incredibly grateful that I didn’t pull the trigger that day." It's not that uncommon in A.A. meetings to hear about people that have reached the end of their rope and are thinking about "winding things down". He lived to tell his tale and to help others. He believed, based on his own experience, that no matter how dark it gets we can all be saved. In the rooms of A.A. we are all comeback kids. All of us.

Last weekend was Easter Sunday. Apparently Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, which I think is about as major a comeback as one can have. I grew up in a Jewish community with a lot of friends who called themselves "three-day-Jews" in that they would go to temple three days a year: Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. As I was in the Christian minority amongst my friends but wanted to fit in, I started calling myself a "two-day-Christian" which meant that I only attended church on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. And that's still true to this day. I do go to church about 5 days a week but that is not to hear mass but to attend the A.A. meetings that several local churches give us the space to hold.

I always enjoy the Christmas Eve services but I love the Easter services the most. Easter services are about resurrection, which I can totally relate to. Anyone that has waged the war against their own addictions, and won the battle (one day at a time), can relate to that feeling of being resurrected. The Easter sermons also usually mention faith and how, even in the darkest hours, we need to search for and hold on to our faith. Even Jesus doubted his faith, crying out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Most addicts will know that feeling in the core of their bones, the despair of feeling forsaken.

So, like the good two-day-Christian that I am, I went to Easter services last weekend. I sat there and happily soaked it all in. I listened to the pastor talk about redemption and resurrection and faith. About the trials and tribulations of the human condition. The sermon was all about holding on to hope and faith in troubling times. In staying the course. I left feeling calm and spiritually refreshed.

I'm a big fan of Jesus and his teachings. I know I'm not alone. He is the ultimate comeback kid and he's still getting billboards…after all this time. I enjoy all the stories that have sprung up about his life, factual or otherwise. The stories of redemption are also what keep me going back to A.A. meetings. In recovery, most days feel like resurrection Sunday. I'm alive. I'm recovering. I have not been forsaken. I am redeeming my own life. A life that I came staggeringly close to destroying, to throwing away like garbage.

Sitting in church twice a year or sitting in A.A.meetings several times a week I have learned that we each have the power within us, like Jesus Christ himself, to be the best darn comeback kids that anyone has ever seen.


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