For much of my childhood my family was not any different from that of any other middle class American family. There were four of us, we had two cars, our parents owned our home and we had two dogs and a chain-link fence. I learned to walk and lost all my baby teeth within the normal age range. On the outside I appeared the same as anyone.
We were a very religious family and attended church at least three times per week. During those early years I experienced both sides of the social spectrum. I was popular and accepted by all for a period of time, and then I wasn’t. I sought attention and acceptance from those around me. When I got into high school and struggled to maintain friendships and build new ones, I claimed that I didn’t need anyone and liked it that way. I was a loner, but I justified it by saying it was my choice to be alone. Few people in life actually decide to be alone.
In the middle of my sophomore year I found out that my dad had been living a double life and had been cheating on my mom off and on for 25 years. I did what anyone with limited access to friends and no ability to express feelings would do. I set out on a journey to see if all those years in church were a lie. If my dad was doing the things that he told me not to do, there must be some joy in it. The first thing to go was my virginity, next was chewing tobacco, and then I found booze.
My first drink was a four pack of those tiny little Jack Daniels wine coolers. I immediately felt a sense of ease come over me. I was not shy anymore. I suddenly had the courage to say the things that I had been thinking for all my life, and by God I was funny. People liked me. I started to get invited to parties, and that meant everything for someone in high school who spent years being invisible. Of course my admittance to parties was under the condition that I get just as drunk and bring just as much humor as the last time.
From when I graduated in 1996, until I was stationed on a ship in San Diego in 1999, I had several near misses. There were times when I drank way too much and barely missed getting in an accident or some type of trouble. When “given sufficient reason” I could quit for a period of time. The problem was I also had plenty of sufficient reasons to drink.
Up until this point nothing I have mentioned so far made me an alcoholic, but in 2000 I came down with something that may or may not be common for many alcoholics: Loss of control. I lost the power to make a choice in how much I drank. At that point and for years after I claimed that I still had control and was simply choosing to drink, but who sets out to have a few drinks and later is seen throwing chairs and fire extinguishers out the window of the 12th story of a building? That may be why honesty is one of the key components to long-term sobriety. If I was honest in 2000, I might not have had so many stories to share. I would like to tell you that waking up in the hospital with a BAC of .46 was sufficient reason for me to be honest, but we alcoholics know that I was not. It was just a trophy to hang on the wall with my so-called buddies.
In 2001 I finally had enough. Due to my actions on the 12th story of the barracks, I was in Captain’s mast and was expecting to be knocked down from E4 to an E3. I had great plans and expectations for my career in the Coast Guard, and this little pebble in the path appeared to me as a mountain. I had decided that, if this punishment came down, it would absolutely affect my career plans. For a black and white thinker like myself that meant that my life was a failure. I had plans walk to the stern of the ship and jump off, if I was busted down to an E3. On the day I was scheduled to go to mast, one of our shipmates decided that life was too much and hung himself in the gym. My mast was postponed, and, when I finally sat before the Captain, I got off on a warning.
After making excuses that my behavior in the barracks was the result of hanging around the wrong people I set out to be a loner again. I lived on the ship, so walking down to the enlisted club at the end of the pier and stumbling back to the ship became a nightly occurrence. Most nights I planned to only have one pitcher of beer, but I rarely stuck to the plan. Four to five pitchers was an enjoyable night. I tried to hit the elusive mark, where I had the courage to talk to girls, was still relaxed enough to play pool and was not buzzed to the point where I slurred my words when talking to the girls. I can only recall a handful of times when I actually talked to any girls.
The day came when I had enough. I had tried to reconcile my first marriage for the umpteenth time, and this time, when she left, she didn’t move far. She moved from my apartment to the guy’s apartment across the courtyard. I was still lacking the ability to effectively communicate or the belief that my feelings were even valid or important, so I turned to my common solution: Booze. I recall coming home from work on Friday with two 30-packs of beer. The next thing I remember is my supervisor coming to my door Monday morning, when I was late for work. In my alcoholic haze I made a subtle comment to my supervisor about suicide. Roughly 30 minutes later I was whisked away to fleet mental health. I spent 72 hours in the hospital and was given a diagnosis of alcohol-induced depression. I managed to stay dry for two and a half years after that, but I was not working a program.
I no longer had the physical cravings for alcohol, but I still had the mental obsession. During those two and a half years I got custody of my son, got promoted to E5 in less than three years, bought a house and got married. I looked around I decided that it was me who did it all and that I owed nothing to my higher power. My wife was packing her things and moving out roughly six months after I took that first drink again.
For many years I spent my life looking into the future or focusing on the things that I lacked in my life. The grass was always greener on the other side, and, no matter what it was, I could never have enough of anything. I told myself that, if I just had a girl like that or just drove a car like that, I would no longer have the need to drink. After my second divorce was final, I met my third wife. She drank like I did and was everything that I thought I was lacking. She was a beauty who not only didn’t care how much I drank but encouraged me to have another.
I got out of the military in August 2005, and with the discharge went my restraints. I opened my own business as a general contractor. I was making a comfortable living, and despite buying another house I felt like I still didn’t have enough. My wife and I took classes to learn how to become day traders in the stock market. We experienced some success off of feelings that we had. In 2008 I looked around at my life. I lived in a half-a-million-dollar house, had three cars that were paid for, had all tools a man could ask for and made a six-figure income. I had everything that I thought I needed to drink like a normal gentleman, yet I still wanted to drink and needed to drink to feel normal.
I lied to myself and came up with the idea to close the business and go to work for someone else. Who wouldn’t want to hire a former business owner? I always felt like I was an undiscovered talent and that, if the right talent scout happened to overhear me or meet me, I was destined to be famous. The truth was that I had managed to run the business into the ground. I went from having seven employees and being booked three months out to having a skeleton crew of two and sitting by the phone hoping it would ring.
I managed to lock down a promising interview, but in my overconfidence and need to celebrate I decided to have a few drinks the night before. I don’t think I need to go on. You know what happened. I woke up in the morning still drunk, but I threw on my suit and headed out the door. I held it together throughout the interview process. I spent years faking it, so a short interview was a walk in the park for me. The interviewer’s body language and facial expressions said the job was mine. We stood up to shake hands, and everything changed. It was like every pore in my body opened and filled the room with the aroma of my alcoholic binge the night before.
On the way home from the interview I prayed to a god that I wasn’t sure existed. I had prayed many times before, when I was in a bind, but this time I wasn’t specific. I didn’t say, “God help me get rid of this hangover,” or, “Help me get this job.” I simply said, “God, please help me.” I surrendered at that moment and realized that life with me at the wheel was horrible. I didn’t know what God’s will was for my life, but I wanted it, because I suspected it was better than my will.
God was already working in our lives, and, by the time I got home, my wife had found a support group meeting to go to that night. We walked in, and I felt like I was at home. For the first time in my life I felt like I really belonged. It was suggested that I not leave the meeting without a sponsor, so I got one. I took the steps in order and began to see the promises appear in my life. It has been five years since I took a drink, and each day I still have to wake up and turn my will and my life over to God. Each night I still have to write inventory. Each day I pray that God will put someone in my life for me to help. These things I do are very small in comparison to the rewards that I get. I have had a spiritual awaking as a result of taking the steps, and I continue to grow as my higher powers sees fit. I was once given relationship advice from an old man. He said, “The things that you do to get a girl are the things that you have to do to keep a girl.” I can apply this same principle to my life in recovery. If I go at this thing the way I did in the beginning, when I was broken and lost, I am likely to keep this sobriety thing and continue to grow.