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Atwater: Soft landing allows rock star dreamer to coast

Published: Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

By the time Ted reached age 29, most people had pretty much gotten fed up with him. It’s all right to have a rock star fantasy when you’re 14, but as soon as you realize you can’t play the guitar, you have little rhythm and your voice sounds like an elk in heat, it’s time to let go. Teddy never did.

In fact, Teddy needed the fantasy to block out the unpleasantness of his life. He lived in a fantasy world of being a lead singer while sinking slowly down the employment food chain from office work to auto parts delivery boy. Terminations were generally by default as a result of no-shows. With the exception of one truly talented guitar player, the band was a group of unemployable, drug-addicted kids.

Ted’s mom long ago booted him under the guise of tough love but made arrangements for him to live in his uncle’s basement rent-free. His dad, who lived out-of-state, wanted nothing to do with him; he was too busy with his own alcoholism.

What looked like tough sledding for Teddy was actually a soft landing. He was drinking and drugging up his small paycheck and stiffing his uncle on the small amount he owed for utilities. He was staying out until 3 or 4 in the morning pretending to “practice,” when in fact he was spending less and less time with his musical friends and most of the time at late-night bars.

His first DUI was after “practice,” and his second was within a month of the first. His third DUI was a year later while driving on a suspended license.

Teddy’s uncle had thrown in the towel, and the parts delivery job had mysteriously become beneath Teddy’s dignity, primarily because he no longer could legally drive. The band had disbanded, and the lead singer gig was completely gone.

With the fantasy gone, all that remained was the booze and drugs, and they weren’t looking too good, either. With few options and fewer friends, Teddy decided to take the advice of his probation officer and enter substance abuse treatment. After an initial period of resistance through boredom and “not-caring,” Teddy hit a turning point and decided to try sobriety.

Three years later, he’s clean and sober. He has friends who are mostly nondrinkers. He goes to his AA and NA meetings regularly, and although he no longer fantasizes about being a rock star, he and his AA friends get together and make some pretty nice music sometimes.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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