One man's journey to sobriety
He wants to be referred to as a member of AA.
At 49, he sports a Paul Bunyan beard. He has blue eyes, is calm and kind. He tells a story how years ago, he drove out of his driveway and woke up a killer.
He first got drunk at 13, typical of most alcoholics he knows.
In high school, he drank on weekends. At 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. In Desert Storm, he worked two days on, two days off and every other weekend. The off-days were one big party.
He never thought he was an alcoholic because others drank too. Never had a DUI, arrest, hospitalization; his worst withdrawal was shakes. He could down 18 beers, show up for duty, and “do what we do.” Always early for work; being late makes him anxious.
Over a long weekend, he returned home to Cleveland.
He and a friend started the journey with a six-pack in the car. Once home, he drank more with his father, and the next day. His dad asked him to get something from the store. He drove, blacked out. His dad’s Lincoln Town Car plowed into a bus stop, killing a 15-month-old girl and injuring three others. He was 23.
Prison – like a monastery – allowed him to “work on himself.”
His lawyer said, “Join AA, it looks better for early release.”
He did. But at first he told his sponsor he didn’t belong there.
He did. Only when he heard the phrase “God-shaped hole,” an empty feeling, did he realize he was an alcoholic. His addiction is also about fear: fear of rejection, of being somebody he’s not, of wanting to be better than he is.
He read exhaustively about alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous.
For the first five years, he “lived” with the lost child, waking up thinking how old she’d be today, if she were alive. What would she be doing? He found forgiveness in religion. He learned to let go of what he couldn’t control, and with it, the waves of depression.
After seven years, one month and four days, he was released.
Despite access to alcohol in and out of prison, he’s been sober.
A fellow he met in AA, who no longer attends, called him every few months, drunk, crying. “How do you do it?”
He lives simply.
For the past 18 years, he’s worked at the same warehouse, driving a forklift. He bikes or walks the two miles to work because he doesn’t have a driver’s license.
He doesn’t dwell on negative things.
He doesn't blame PTSD, alcohol or himself. Every day’s a good day. Whatever happens, he tells himself, it could be worse.
He refuses all alcohol substitutes.
When he found himself drinking pots of dark coffee when stressed, he quit all caffeinated drinks.
He tries to help others, as much as he can, by telling and retelling his story. But sobriety is more than AA, religion, hitting bottom, willpower.
Lyrics from Kansas' song "Carry On Wayward Son" say it best – “And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don't know.”