Many people have an image in their mind of a grandmother.. someone plump and jolly whose mission in life is to spoil her grand kids and harp on her son or daughter about how they should raise the kids. Sound right? Maybe not.. How about someone who is plump and grumpy and always over strict about how the grand kids should behave? OK.. how about someone small and frail but jolly and.. See my point? Different people have different understandings of what "things" are and what concepts mean based on their personal experience. We all know that grandmas come in a variety of shapes, sizes and dispositions but by default when we think grandma, some specific image and idea that is personal to us comes to our mind. These are concepts and understandings that are shaped by our past.
How about this.. think about a fire fighter. Most people think of them as very brave and unafraid of fire or getting hurt while fighting fires. That is why they are able to rush into a burning building or parachute into a burning forest.. no fear of fire and no fear of death. The reality though is that most fire fighters are afraid of fire because they know how dangerous and powerful it is. And although fire is somewhat predictable to an experienced fire fighter, there are many hidden variables that can cause a fire to act in a completely un-predicted way. For instance, there could be a wide open stairwell up to the second floor that has a large window at the top. From the outside of a burning house, fire fighters have no way of knowing this when they enter the house. The fast rising heat could cause the upstairs window to blow out and all of a sudden the fire has an excellent venting chimney that allows it to flare and engulf the entire downstairs within seconds. Something that cannot be predicted but that fire fighters are aware of and definitely afraid of. A fire fighters fear and respect of fire is what gives him or her the courage to fight it straight on. And their fear of harm is what gives them the chance to stay alive as well as the drive to stop the fire. So what many people see as a lack of fear is in reality the presence of fear and respect.
So you see, our understandings of life are not always valid. I could not understand why people thought I had a drinking and drug problem or think I was an alcoholic. Yes, I drank a lot and got in trouble once in a while when I was drunk. But my understanding of an alcoholic was someone who lived under a bridge, ate at the soup kitchen, begged for money on the corner and drank what ever they could get their hands on. Well that wasn't me so I wasn't an alcoholic. And everyone knows that drug addicts have track marks (needle scars) up and down both arms, live in the inner city and are into violent crime to support their habit. Well I didn't use needles and I didn't rob people for drug money so I wasn't an addict.
Another "block" that made it hard for me to see myself as an alcoholic is a phenomena of human nature.. we tend to surround ourselves with people like us so that we are comfortable. Every one I knew drank a lot and got in trouble once in a while so that seemed normal to me. And likewise it seemed that every one I knew used pills to cop a buzz or handle their stress. My understanding of what an alcoholic or drug addict was in fact a misunderstanding that blinded me to the reality of the unnatural condition of my life.
I started drinking around age 7 or 8. Not just a sip from someone’s drink but when a friend and I got some Marines to buy us a couple quarts of beer and we went off in the woods and got drunk. After that, I drank whenever I could with the intent of getting that same buzz I got from that first quart of beer. For the rest of my life, I drank for that buzz and nothing else. When I drank at a party or with “friends,” it was about getting drunk and nothing to do with being “social.” A few years later, I started using drugs. Same thing… the first time I used, I got high and from then on I used to get high whenever possible. In later years, I sought drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the pain and fear of a life I did not understand. In short time, I was a teenage alcoholic and drug abuser. I joined the Army to escape my childhood, and for some time, I was a successful participant of life.
I had learned to love my father and be proud of the life he had lived. He was a great hero of three wars. I was able to overlook his alcoholism knowing that he had fought wars for the right to drink. I wanted him to be proud of me and I followed a shadow in search of his pride. I worked ever so hard to be the person that I thought he thought I should be. And in that journey, I got so far away from me; I had lost sight of myself and could no longer communicate with my soul.
After 12 years of a step-mother that always demeaned me saying I would never amount to anything and I would never get anywhere in life, I joined the Army for a twofold purpose. To prove to my stepmother that I could be something and to become a career soldier my father could be proud of. Bless her soul, my step mother was probably just trying to push me harder to be even better, nonetheless, "you will never amount to anything" proved to be one of the most damaging and discouraging voices in my head for many years to come.
I spent two years in the Army Reserves and ten years in the active Army and did everything I could to be the ultimate weapon my father could be proud of. Taking any training I could get into and scoring very high on MOS testing and graduating with honors from every training school or course I went to. There were a few covert missions along the way - thinking I could win some medals that way - but we won't go any farther than that.
When I returned stateside from a tour in West Germany, I took leave and went back to Hawaii to show my parents my wife and kids and try to show my mom I had accomplished something in life. My father was very proud and gloated over us all. My step mom said my wife was a dumb hillbilly and my kids needed more discipline. She asked why I was only an E6 Staff Sergeant after 10 years if I was doing so great in the Army and if I really wanted my dad to be proud, I really should have joined the Navy like him instead of being a dumb Infantryman in the Army.
While on leave in Hawaii, I spent some time with my brother and his family. They were very kind and pleasant but he just wasn't the same guy I remembered when I was a teenager. The closeness we once had was gone and we never seemed to really connect again. Maybe it was just me. Already beat down by my mother's rejection, it was hard to be happy and enjoy the brother I once had.
I returned stateside from leave and was assigned to an elite training group teaching advanced rifle marksmanship to Infantry trainees. During my drive to be an ultimate weapon, I had qualified Expert or Sharpshooter with every weapon organic to the ground and mechanized Infantry's including medium and heavy machine guns, light, heavy, and guided rockets, grenade launchers, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, sub-machine guns, hand guns, and a range of special weapons including cross bows and explosives.
Shortly after leaving Hawaii, my career began to fall apart and within 3 years, I would be kicked out of the Army for drug and alcohol abuse and misconduct. That last visit would come to be the last time I would ever see my parents and probably the last time I would see my brother.
I didn't want religion, I just wanted my life to get better.
My first encounter with Alcoholics Anonymous was under the directive of my Company Commander. I was at the peak of my military career in the Army when I reached the peak of my alcoholism. I had ten years in the Army and I was a Staff Sergeant (E-6) and on the promotion waiting list to be promoted to E-7. I had commendations on my chest and letters and awards in my file. Expert Infantryman's Badge, Meritorious Service Award, Good Conduct Medal- 3rd award, NCO Professional Achievement award.. and I was a member of an elite group of NCO's- an Infantry Advanced Marksmanship Instructor with the 2nd Infantry Training Brigade. My heavy drinking had brought me to a point of being disrespectful and insubordinate as well as in trouble with the law, both military and civilian. I was facing a drunk driving charge, a federal charge of carrying multiple concealed weapons on a military base, assault with intent to do grievous harm and insubordination to a senior NCO and a commanding officer all within a month and a half.
I was removed from the E-7 promotion list, placed on six months probation and directed to not drink for six months as well as attend AA meetings and counseling through the Community Drug and Alcohol Counseling Center(CDACC). (Ironically, I had been the CDACC NCO of a Brigade in West Germany a few years before). When I went to my first AA meeting, I heard talk about God and pray and I wanted nothing to do with it. I was insulted and angry that the Army should try to suggest that I needed religion to stay out of trouble. I did what I had to to get through the six month period, including going to AA and pretending to agree. I played their game and abided my time.
At the end of the six months I had stayed out of trouble and went through all the motions of conforming to their expectations and was released from probation and placed back on the promotion list. That was Wednesday. Now Friday night, I had some things to celebrate! Some time early Saturday morning I was wanted for aggravated assault and an APB was issued for my arrest. When they caught me just out side of Columbus, Georgia, I was charged with assault, drunk driving, resisting arrest, assault and battery of a police officer (3 counts) and attempted assault of a police officer with a deadly weapon. On Monday morning my commanding officer started the paper work to put me out of the Army. After ten years of commendable service, I was discharged with a General Discharge under Honorable Conditions.
I was married at the time of discharge and my wife and I decided to move to Marinette, Wisconsin where her sister lived. After three months, my wife realized that the problems had not been about the Army but were about me and she took our son and daughter and left, moving back to Louisiana where I had first met her. Within four months I had lost my military career, lost my wife and kids, was loosing a nice house I recently abandoned in Georgia, and was in debt for several thousand dollars of fines and had bench warrants for my arrest in Georgia for skipping bail.
I turned again to the bottles of whiskey and drugs and began a journey towards death. After 4 years of constant intoxication, death still seemed so far away. I made a decision to hasten it's arrival. It was on that night when I put a .357 Magnum to my head that The Spirit intervened with my intents. I did not release the hammer to propel a semi jacketed hollow point into my brain. I was ready to die; I didn't want to live that way anymore. But, it was not in my heart to sign a death warrant for the companion dog that came and pressed against my leg in those final seconds. She somehow knew the most critical moment to simply say without voice "I love you person companion, please do not go."
In the days that followed, I sought treatment to recover from alcoholism and drug addiction. In the 12-steps of AA and NA, I found and learned much more than I ever hoped for.
Today, I am happy to live and truly grateful to be an alcoholic in recovery. Through the Spirit, I have found acceptance of myself, a sense of serenity no drug could ever provide, and an understanding of life and myself that I could never have had.
How It Came To Be
There is much speculation and theory about how one becomes alcoholic. Some say there is a genetic link; some say it is a learned behavior. Some say it has to do with a hard childhood, some say it can develop from a single bad experience.
For me, it is insignificant as to what "made me" alcoholic and addict. Today, what is important is that I have found a new way of life. However, to satisfy the curious and follow in the way of "my story," I will tell of my past.
My parents separated before I was born and I lived with my mom until she died just before I turned six. During those first five years, there were a number of things that probably set me up to go down the drain in time. My father going away, me being molested by some older boys, a neighbor I liked blowing his head off with a shot gun, my mother dieing, briefly living with a sister and brother-in-law I hardly knew and being sent away to Hawaii.
After my mom died, my father soon gained custody of my brother and I. He was a good man and a father as best he could be. A decorated war veteran and Pearl Harbor Survivor, he unknowingly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (shell-shock). His disorder may have contributed to his alcoholism or perhaps the alcoholism contributed to the PTSD. Which ever, he was very quiet and withdrawn yet prone to violent outbursts. My brother and I loved him but, there would always be a wall.
My stepmother did her best to raise us two rebellious boys. I can't really say whether she was alcoholic or not but, in my recovery, I learned to recognize the extensiveness of her "dysfunction" and the emotional damage she did to me.
Not to say my father and/or stepmother were not good parents. I truly believe that they did the absolute best they could based on the best they knew how. Certainly, they both wanted to do the best they could to raise two boys whose formative years had been far from civil.
I joined the military like my brother had to get out and be on my own. I also wanted to be a hero like my father to "carry on" my father’s pride. I was a model soldier and managed to build an impressive service file. I excelled in many ways. I became a qualified "expert" in several areas through performance testing and obtained several specialty identifiers as an Infantry noncommissioned officer. Qualifying as an expert with most weapons organic to a mechanized infantry unit and qualifying with high scores in several specialty fields. Expert driver; wheeled, tracked, and amphibious. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) specialist. Chemical, Biological, Radiological (CBR) Decontamination specialist. WARSAWPAC vehicle/weapon/equipment identification specialist. Radio/telephone operator. And the list goes on and on. My goal was to be a hero but there was one catch.. I was in a peacetime Army. I got my self involved in a few covert missions that would later wreak havoc on my self-image. When no medals were awarded to show my father I complained and the answer was simple. These were covert missions.. if they gave me a medal; they were saying we did it. Well duh! I developed a resentment towards the Army and society in general. It would be many years before I understood that part of that resentment was a projection of my disgust with myself. And that chapter goes on and on.
I abused alcohol and drugs for many years believing it was my right and macho and cool and a proper display of my image. I never realized that I was self medicating my emotional pain and running from myself. Somewhere along the line, I crossed over to physical addiction to alcohol and the Valium the veteran’s hospital gave me after I was kicked out. I could not sleep unless I was intoxicated. Nor could I steady my hands enough to work or function unless I was intoxicated. I no longer drank or drugged because I wanted to.. I had to drink and drug to stay alive and function.
And finally came the day that I just did not want to live anymore. I had few choices. Drink, drug and live in misery, not drink and drug and face the pain and not have excuses for being crazy, or die. I took my .357 magnum handgun and replaced the standard bullets with semi jacketed hallow points. I sat on the couch and put the gun to the corner of my jawbone and prepared to see just what really was on the other side. While the tears flowed freely down my cheeks (I really didn't want to die, I just couldn't continue to live), I asked God that if he was really there to please forgive me for what I was about to do. And I asked him to make it so it was not painful to those I loved but did not know how to love. I thought my good-bye to those who were important to me and prayed them to have no problem with my passage. It was time. I took a very deep breath and held it, closed my eyes, prepared for the loud bang and possible pain and was interrupted. Something was pushing against the side of my leg. I opened my eyes and looked down to find my dog pushing her shoulder against my calf. She was looking up at me with what I perceived to be sadness in her eyes. In my mind I heard her say, "please don't." I don't know or even care today if it was God's voice or my unconscious or an alter or inter-species communication. It gave me one more chance. The chance that would soon bring rapid and wonderful changes in my life. Today I want to live. Today I do not drink or drug and I am DAMN happy. Today I have friends and I care about them and they care about me. Today.. life is good.
This new way of life has come to me through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous & Narcotics Anonymous and through the compassionate help of those people who gather around those tables. And the compassion and caring of the nurses, staff, and counselors at St. Agnes hospital in Fond du Lac, 1990. And the compassionate help, guidance and teachings of a living angel named Fran S. and the men's group that met on highway 41 across from a plant nursery. And the associates and interns in Fran's life. And "Headhunter," the Peshtigo judge who planted a seed as well as the many others who tried for so long to help me see. And the county counselors who banged there heads against my walls. All of them that struggled to help me find my bottom. And all of them who were compassionate to help me find my way back. May the Spirit send warmth into their hearts as you read these words. Because it is sad that some of them never will just because they don't know these words are here.
There is indeed hope for any woman, man, or youngster who wants to break the
chains of addiction. May the Spirit comfort them now and bring them one more
step closer to recovery as you read these words.
Please, take a moment and pray for them now.
They need only be honest to themselves and those who would help, open their heart and soul to a Higher Power, open their mind to the possibilities, and open their arms to be hugged and received by those of us who will have them. May the Spirit give one more the strength as you read these words. May one more have a chance.