Michael Kalmbach was 7 when he watched his mother hit rock bottom. He remembers that nightmarish day when he and his mother were involved in a car crash. He was asleep in the back seat, then awakened by the sound of screeching tires. Seared into his memory is the sight of his mother’s head, bloodied and planted in the windshield. She survived, but for years, he followed her to AA meetings, unemployment offices and courtrooms, where she battled for child support payments.
Yet that wasn’t enough to steer Kalmbach away from a similar fate. He started with beer and marijuana in high school. In college, he did hard liquor, cocaine and heroin. He was 15 credits short of graduating when he checked into rehab.
Kalmbach managed to carve a new path. Now 33, he serves as director of the Creative Vision Factory, a state-funded drop-in art program in Wilmington that helps addicts as well as others who struggle with mental health issues.
For all his mistakes, the Newark resident isn’t asking for any do-overs. “I’m trained to view the wreckage of my past as my greatest gift,” he says.
He knows he’s still paying the price for the “manipulative lies I told to get what I needed,” he says, adding that those lies destroyed the trust he had with friends and family. “I need to be patient. It’s going to take consistent action to win that back, to become reliable and trustworthy.”
Recovery has given Kalmbach the confidence to regain that trust, and to help others as well. “I want to be the person who tells you what you can do. I want to be the guy who says ‘yes.’”
If you knew you had only one year left, what would you do?
“Make more time to have lunches with friends, and get to know them more deeply.”