ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was the youngest of six children of what, to me, was the perfect New Mexico family in that cool, artsy way in which being perfect is effortless and organic.
His father was a successful businessman whose last name was well known because of the ubiquitous commercials for his eponymous carpeting warehouse. His mother’s natural good looks and long raven hair often caused folks to mistake her for one of his sisters.
His siblings were the popular kids, smart, talented, attractive. Eldest sister Maria was my age. At Albuquerque High School, she was voted Most Likely to Succeed, a safe bet.
Their adobe home near Old Town was filled with art and asparagus ferns and the buoyant chatter of their many friends.
Adam Francis Raby, filmmaker and author, looks at me with amusement as I tell him the way I viewed his family when I was a kid. Because it was not the way he viewed his family when he was a kid.
“Home,” he says, “is where all my darkness arose.”
It wasn’t until his early 40s that he experienced a shift from darkness to light, from collapse to creation, from alcoholism to acquiring a higher sense of self.
It is that transformative ability we humans have that is at the heart of Raby’s 65-minute documentary, “Sudden Change – A New Mexico Story,” which debuts Friday at the KiMo Theatre and later in Santa Fe, Chicago, Austin and San Diego.
Raby, who now lives in La Jolla, California, says the project began with a call from Gina Prieskorn-Thomas, a high school chum who asked him to help her market the Duke City Gladiators, the Albuquerque indoor football team she owns.
But as he met some of the people connected to the team, he discovered something bigger than football.
“These are stories of overcoming adversity, of cultural identity and inclusion, of addiction and recovery of a community and a state that is resilient and transformative,” he says. “It is the story of redemption and healing, including myself.”
The documentary, fiscally sponsored by the Albuquerque Community Foundation, is the pilot of what he hopes will become a seven-part docu-series, each episode telling the deeper story of the people he features. They include:
• Prieskorn-Thomas, Gladiators owner who dissolved into addiction and despair after watching her mother die a slow, horrific death from the burns she suffered in a fuel tank explosion. She overcame her demons and became a successful businesswoman.
• Dello Davis, Gladiators wide receiver – “Big Dello” to his fans – who led the Champions Indoor Football League with 26 touchdowns last year and dreams of giving his family back home in St. Louis a better life.
• Mayor Tim Keller, who, believe it or not, played for the Gladiators.
• Adan Carriaga, a santero and founder of Albuquerque Celebrates Recovery, whose own addictions and health issues inspired him to help others find their way to sobriety and healing.
• Dominic Bramante, the first Native American coach to win a professional football championship, not once but twice during his time with the Gladiators – only he didn’t know he was Native American for much of his life because his adopted family hadn’t told him.
• Dr. Mark Mullaney, pastor for the Gladiators whose nearly fatal car crash resulted in an opioid addiction he later overcame.
As for Raby, his perfect parents were divorced early in his life, and he recalls his childhood as being one of disconnected survival.
At night, the nightmares came, not born of trauma or abuse or blame but something deeper, cultural, mystical.
“Every dream I had in that house was me being murdered, stabbed, killed, as far back as I can remember,” he says. “I never told anybody when I was a kid. I didn’t have the language to share that.”
At age 8, he discovered that tequila could keep away the nightmares.
So he kept drinking.
He didn’t stop drinking until he was 42 and facing his seventh DWI in 2007.
“The entirety of my life collapsed upon me,” he says. “I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to decide whether to die or live by changing my life.”
He’s been changing his life ever since, writing about his journey in his 2013 memoir, “A Circus of One.”
His documentary “Sudden Change” chronicles how each person faced his or her demons. Returning to Albuquerque afforded the opportunity to finally face his.
He stopped by the adobe home of his childhood and asked the current occupants if he could walk around inside. But those demons that had tormented his childhood nightmares had moved away.
And Raby moved on.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.