Living with the Enemy

Excerpt from Living With The Enemy

AN OCEAN INVENTORY: 2008

Three a.m. and my senses are on high alert. The only sound is water racing along the slick, fiberglass hull as my sailboat carves the waves. Starlight shines on the water’s surface, and a full moon cuts a liquid path across the Caribbean between Dominica and St. Lucia.

I’m alone in the cockpit. I see more stars from here than anyone can see on land. In a couple hours, I’ll spot a faint, amber glow on the eastern horizon. Dawn. Maybe even a visit from curious dolphins as the sun comes up.

Until then, it’s me, the huge ocean and my boat—its sails drawing power from the trade winds. Occasional, faint navigation lights shine from distant ships and buoys. The lighted compass shows the course I’ve charted. An autopilot steers Serenity, my fifty-four-foot Hylas sloop.

For a sailor, the cockpit at night is an opportunity for reflection. Hours will pass before my two mates wake for their watch. I have the luxury of fair, warm winds and time without land-based distractions. No cell, PDA, TV. No chatter. Nothing.

I am seventy years old. I am fit and strong enough to ski all day in the back bowls of Vail, hike 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado, bike Mount Evans (the highest paved road in North America), and swim a half mile in these warm, tropical waters. I’m in recovery from prostate cancer. I am blessed with a loving partner, Yvonne, and a large, blended family of siblings, sons, daughters, and grandchildren. My business is more successful and satisfying than I ever dreamed, and my colleagues keep it humming day to day. Though I’m often out of town, I’m never out of touch. I spend a third of my time on this boat, another third in Vail, and the balance in St. Paul, Florida, and on a major international trip each year. It’s a dream life.

Because of my material success, I can now imagine more meaningful ways to give back personally and financially. I lost six million dollars—perhaps more—in America’s recent economic melt-down, but it doesn’t scare me. I no longer equate net worth with self-worth.

I feel overpowering gratitude, and the tears come. To look at my life today, you might think I was always one of the lucky ones—a golden boy with all the benefits, traveling the easy, uncluttered road to the destination I chose.

Anything but. I would be long dead had I kept the life course I charted early on. My legacy would have read like this:

broken marriages; loneliness; lost opportunities; self-will run riot; unbridled fear; obesity; hopeless addiction to food, caffeine, alcohol, prescription pills, gambling, and work; a highly capable con artist, mired in self-loathing; and an opportunistic egomaniac with a deep inferiority complex.

I changed course about twenty-eight years ago. I was an addict with a “high bottom.” Though I could still function in the world, my insides were crumbling by the time I finally asked for help. I hit my “bottom” when, for all appearances, I was healthy and happy. I gave up living a double life of outward success and inward devastation. If I could save my own life with this pack of addictions and struggles, which still lives with me today, anyone can. What I understand now—that I did not fully appreciate then—is simple: I never did it alone.