The Power of the Morning Glory
An Every-day Tale
Interview with Bontya Csaba, a former client, in the Népújság newspaper.
LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE | FEBRUARY 19, 2013 (in Hungarian)
The pale-blue looking, wrinkled faced man arrived with a flower. Under his jacket he was hiding a single bloom resembling the hue of a morning glory. He didn’t show it, not even once did he take it out, but I soon noticed that it was there. I also knew that this unseeable flower opened its petals in the first moments of our meeting just as morning glories usually do at twighlight. And it was early afternoon, but true, after a bit I felt that it grew dark.
– I am 42 years old; half of my life I drank away. At least 17 years. Here’s how it came about – openly accepting it, Csaba Bontya said his name, while he added sugar to the fruit tea in the paper cup. If I don’t ask, perhaps he won’t bring up his younger years. But it appeared that it wasn’t difficult to play back all that the listener felt might be unbearable.
-There were four of us siblings, one girl and three boys. My sister married early in order to leave home. My Dad drank a lot, and my mom was weak – she feared him. My childhood already from the beginning showed the damage. I was always the black sheep of the family. All day I hung around the housing omplex, didn’t readily go home, feared my dad’s mouth and the fights. Nor did I like to go to school. I didn’t know what it was good for. In 1982 my mom left home, from which time I was either at my dad’s, my grandmom’s, or my other grandma’s. She, poor thing, always believed my lies – I even stole quite a bit from her. My dad’s parents kept aloof from us. We got neither suggestions nor sustenance from them. After 8th grade I quit school. In 1989 I succeeded in landing a job. We packaged weaving and sewing machines for export in the Metalotehnica [factory]. After that I was called up for military duty. My colleagues packed up my belongings in a wooden trunk. They were kind, I was the kid of the factory. It was in the military that I first tried alcohol. They brought beer, wine. They paid with that if I did somebody a favor. When I got out…, then the problems started. My dad did not want to accept me back, nor would the factory take me back. My mom had taken up with somebody, and when I found her she asked: You’ve come back so soon? I had a girlfriend, so I planned to start a new life with her. When I found out that she and her stepdad were living together, the world darkened before me. Then came the first drunkenness. I drank hard liquor, then I went to their place and beat them up. I got two years, but after two months they let me out of prison. Again I made a scene, and that cost me another half year. It didn’t bother me, it didn’t even interest me. After being let out I lived for years like a criminal, being sentenced for smaller crimes, stealing and theft. I was in every little fight, as the alcohol moved me. After a time I was drinking one liter of brandy per day. If sometimes I came across some work, I could never hold it. I tried to make money from everything for liquor. There was a time when I sold pens on the street. In the evenings I sat around in bars, after which somewhere, in bushes or a stairwell I crashed for the night. At dawn, 5:00, I got up, and at 8 in the morning a bar opened. Once in winter at Alea (Carpathian Promenade) on a bloc-house’s highest floor, I took shelter in the elevator housing. There were others beside me, each dirty and stinky. A woman came up to see what the stench was. The residents chased us such that I lost one of my shoes. They caught me, and kicked me as soon as they reached me. Truly, in those years I didn’t really know what was happening to me. No one, nothing existed for me, it was only me and liquor. Of course, there were moments when I decided that I will not drink any more, but at such times opportunities always came about to continue. Once I ran into my mom in the main square. She pleaded with me to change my life because she couldn’t take it any longer. She said that she read in the papers about the Bonus Pastor Foundation, and that I should go see them. A year passed, in the -16 degree cold [Celcius] the idea came to me that either I change or commit suicide. At just that time a gathering for alcoholics was announced in Vásárhely [Târgu Mureş], so I went. I met there 15-20 people in a similar position. I was really astonished, because until then I believed that only I struggled with this problem. I sat down, tears began to flow – true, I was a little hungover as well. Crying, I asked the pastor, Kálmán Adorján, who today still is a good friend, to help. He said I need to endure a few more days, since on Tuesday a group leaves for Ozd, and they will take me with them. This is how I came to Bonus Pastor. I chose the longest therapy, the 9-month option, and I lengthened it by a half month.
-Wasn’t it hard? There must have been withdrawal symptoms..
-It was very hard. I was shaking for three months; I was more irritable than usual. But there they accepted me and loved me. Before that I was always involved in hostility, and there they asked what I’d like and what I was thinking. I didn’t know what to do in this new situation… There were moments when I decided to leave them. In one of the classes everyone needed to say how he views the other, and when I needed to face my mistakes, I said I’ve had enough of this. But there the rule is, the one who wants to go has to spend one day in the so-called therapy chair where he can think over whether his decision is final. Multiple times I sat in that chair during the nine and a half months, but I didn’t go home… At first, when I got there and found out that everything works on a religious basis, I said to myself: spend the winter here, eat, drink, then slip out of there. At home there was never a word about spiritual things. When I was 26 years old I once asked a woman on the street to come into the church with me and I was baptized so that I wouldn’t die as a heathen if I commited suicide. But during the months at Ozd, I started to understand the essence of the matter. I became aware that God accepts those like me, he loves me and has a plan for me, which is why he didn’t leave me to die.
What happened after the therapy?
– When I arrived home I figured that they would present me with an Oscar and everyone would jump all over me on the street because I wasn’t drinking. Well, it was not that way. It took some time for me to realize that the true Oscar was the changes which took place in me, that with my head held high I could walk across the city square and can try to help others as well. At the Foundation they said that the years drunken away only later would hit me hard, and that’s just how it was. I needed to pay back all the many debts and pick myself up somehow. Kálmán Adorján – Kálmi – helped me the whole way. We found a rental which at first he paid. In earlier times I worked a lot in construction as an unskilled laborer, and my foreman always said that in order to be a professional, you have to be a very good laborer. I obtained the qualification for this – I have four types of diplomas. From the ground up I can build a house, I do the finish carpentry, and if there is a need for it, I can produce drawings as well. At one time I did wall sketchings for childrens’ rooms, and one time I even did The Jungle Book… Nowadays I am able to build up my own life. I know that the one sure foundation is love. In the old days I always did my work like Kőműves Kelemen [cultural reference] – what I built in the morning would fall over, that is to say I drank it all away by evening… I feel that six years ago when the choice was before me, I died, and now truly a child sits here in an adult’s skin. I know too that I really need to protect myself, because if I fall back a single time, it will be worse than the worst moment of the previous times. There is a boy, just finished school, who I usually bring with me when some kind of work turns up. He smokes pot from time to time. He is the same age I was when I started to drink. I would like to help him, and I even told him that I would bring him out to Ozd. But it doesn’t work that way, he needs to go on his own accord, if he has truly made up his mind… Given that I would like to help more people, I often share my experiences with those in hard situations; I was even invited to prison for a crime-prevention campaign. That too was an interesting experience. In the past I sat there 24 hours in handcuffs and watched how the soldiers would snicker at me, and now I played the role of one invited. For me this counts as a huge step, but I know that the path is still long…
We separated quickly, without every kind of courteosness. In passing, yet, I saw how my conversation partner lit a ciggarette, after that I quickened my steps. But I knew that under the black jacket the hiding flower did not close up from coming in contact with the winter-daylight. By unseeable petals it absorbs life, with the kind of sadness that most people only rarely, in particular moments, can dare to face.
Interview by Nagy Székely Ildikó