By CAITLIN COOK
Alexander Zetts wasn’t sure if he would ever see his children again.
Or, if they even wanted to see him at all.
He left his family in 1993 because he and his wife weren’t getting along. He fell into a relentless cycle of alcohol and drug abuse.
Then, in 2003, he learned his eldest daughter lived near his friend’s home in Campbell. One day, he visited that friend. He walked toward a group of children who were playing and sat across the street. And waited.
When he saw his daughter, he didn’t know what to expect. But he knew what he wanted – his life back.
He saw his daughter point him out to a friend, who then walked through the crowd and asked if his name was Al Zetts. He responded loud enough for his daughter to hear: “Yes. Ask her if her name is Shortcake.”
That is how he started to build a future from the pieces of his broken past.
Now, the 53-year-old, haggard man spends most of his days and nearly all his nights on one of the many cots with matching green blankets at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. For Zetts, who has battled an addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine for 20 years, the mission has been home to him for nearly 30 years.
“It’s the rock I stand on. It’s a good place,” Zetts said.
Before drugs captivated his days, Zetts worked in the auto industry.
After leaving his family, he found his need to work decreasing and his desire for alcohol and drugs increasing. The last job he had was at a gas station in 2005.
“I just started picking up the alcohol again and smoking crack and taking any drug that I could possibly get to drown the pain and the anger from me leaving my family,” he said.
His children are now 29, 28, 23 and 21. Zetts spoke with his wife for the first time in 20 years at their daughter’s house in 2010. It was a simple conversation about the children, and that was it, Zetts recalled.
He visits his daughter every month. His eldest son, who lives in Cleveland, travels to Youngstown to visit his father about every five to six months. He still hopes to connect with his two youngest children.
Tony Sylvester, the mission’s supervisor of men’s services, believes Zetts’ developing relationships with his children are aiding his recovery. Zetts said the last time he smoked crack was a brief relapse in 2007 and before that in 2003.
Zetts said the mission gave him a second chance at life, and he is wary of leaving it for an apartment operated by Meridian Services, a nonprofit organization that serves individuals and families struggling with addiction.
Sylvester believes the move will be positive.
“I’m balancing the scales. It’s too easy to fall backward,” Zetts said. “Once you start drinking and getting high you forget the concept of what you’re actually trying to accomplish for your future. You wind up hurt.”
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