The Rootball


I lived in Manhattan for decades and when I moved out to the suburbs the shock was intense. I love New York City with all its glorious anonymity. I have seen a grown-ass man on roller skates with a yellow python wrapped around his neck skating through Central Park, and I think I was the only person who gave him a second glance. But in the ‘burbs people like to get to "know" you. Actually, what freaked me out more than random women getting all up in my business was...you guessed it...lawn maintenance.


Our first adventure in the world of landscapery was when we had to remove a huge maple tree that was dying and threatening to fall onto our house. The tree guy was fabulous and laid out the exact scope of the work that needed to be done. I had 2 options. One was to remove the tree entirely and then commence the back-breaking labor of removing the root ball that lay beneath. Option 2 was to cut down the tree, grind down the tippy top of the rootball, plant sod over it, and no one would be the wiser. Option 2 was cheaper and seemed easier, so of course I chose that one. The tree guy explained that although it might appear that I was choosing the easier, softer way, I would most likely have to remove that root ball at some point in the future and “it would not be pretty”. But I remained steadfast in my decision to do it the half-ass way. As long as my lawn looked perfect who cares? That has always been my downfall. Being able to look fine on the surface. I keep that cancerous old rootball of deep-seated resentments and trauma buried under the crisply manicured lawn that is my life.


So guess what happened a few years later? Some issue with pipes or drainage - some boring suburban-life lawn issue and we were told that we had to rip out that root ball after all. And it was biblical. Absolutely biblical. They peeled our yard back like they were giving the whole thing a face lift and they went to work. It was summer and it was stiflingly hot and humid. Some men came in a truck with chains and rope and saws and axes and crowbars and shovels. It was completely freaking mental. This went on for three long days. The only thing missing was a giant team of Old Testament oxen, and I’m serious when I say that, had they showed up one morning, I would not have been surprised. But why all this yard talk? Because that tree and that rootball reminded me so clearly of my addiction and why, after years of continuous sobriety, I thought it might be a good idea to try pills. You know...just to take the edge off. Why did I need the pills? Even while attending A.A. meetings and working with a sponsor? Because I had never really dug up that root ball. It was too painful, too scary, too difficult. "Let the past stay in the past” I would say. “Besides, have you ever seen such a gorgeous lawn? It's perfect, isn't it?" On the surface perhaps, but not underneath. Not where it matters.


So the men toiled and sweat and even bled (after a minor chain-saw mishap) but eventually they got the beast out of the ground. I heard the guys cheer and laugh so I went outside to watch them celebrate and examine the monster myself.

It was a horrible thing to behold. Massive and twisted. Slick and writhing with bugs and long endless worms and creepy crawlies. Gnarled and anciently awesome with so many twists and turns it was impossible to see where it started and where it ended. It even smelled dangerous. Dank and sulphuric, as if the laboring men had dragged up something from Hell itself. But now it had been unearthed and they were going to get rid of it once and for all.


In my experience that’s what happens in A.A. We gather together and help each other get at what really lurks below. What is it that’s hiding under our neat facades that made us abuse ourselves with drugs and alcohol in the first place? When did it start? How can we better handle the triggers that previously caused us to drink and drug? How can we recover? Sitting here today I can say that my rootball is finally out of the ground and I'm looking at it. It's a serious foe. Cunning, baffling, powerful and very patient. And it certainly does not appreciate being uncovered. It tries daily to slide back into the muck of my consciousness. But I won't let it. It was too damn hard to expose in the first place. Surprisingly I have discovered that with the fellowship, the steps, and the literature of A.A. I can tackle my own wily rootball. With my tribe. Without fear.


And what finally became of that rootball in my yard? Thanks to an enormous woodchipper it was transformed into a soft mountain of sweet smelling sawdust. Sawdust that was then used to fill the gaping hole in the yard. We planted a beautiful beech sapling in the hole and surrounded it with thick green grass and daffodils that bloom every spring. Gazing at its tranquility today you would never imagine that that space had once been the scene of such lawn carnage. I have slowly begun to understand that even that tenacious and deeply buried rootball had its purpose. In fact, everything does. The good, the bad and the rootball.

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