Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
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"On March 20th, 2013, something happened that changed my entire life and way of living. I can only hope and pray that this change is forever.
I started drinking around the age of 14. I was introduced to alcohol much earlier though. When I was about 4 or 5 years old, I would sneak up along side my dad as he watched Friday Night Wrestling on television and sneak a sip or two from his beer. Dad was not an alcoholic, but he did drink occasionally. A six pack of beer would last him six weeks. He only drank one beer and that was on Friday nights. If alcoholism is hereditary, then it skipped a generation, because my brother, several cousins from Dad’s side of the family and myself are alcoholics, as was our granddad.
My drinking didn’t become a daily routine until after I left home and had been in the military for a couple of years. I enlisted in the Army a month after graduating from high school and my first duty assignment was in South Korea. Initially, this was a twelve month tour. However, I had so much fun during the first six months that I extended that tour for two additional years. During this tour, I also met and married my first wife and our oldest son was born.
Soon after arriving in Korea in 1973, I began drinking on a daily basis. Prior to this time, I was a binge drinker, maybe once or twice a month on weekends. But, that changed because everyone that I worked with went to “Happy Hour” at the NCO Club from 5:15 PM until 7:30 PM every night. Usually after Happy Hour, if we didn’t close the club, some of us would go to the village and party until curfew which was midnight. Getting drunk was extremely cheap back then so money was not an issue.
After spending my first three years in the Army, in Korea, I was reassigned to Ft Campbell, Kentucky, where I would spend the next five years with my family. This assignment was nothing like my overseas tour. Here, I was required to spend a lot of time away from home and my family on field training exercises. The length of time for these excursions varied; they lasted anywhere from 15 days to 45 days. My drinking habits also changed from daily to weekly or monthly binge drinking again. There were times when we’d get back home with just enough time to clean up, repack and go for another 30 or 45 days.
These absences were extremely difficult for my ex and took their toll on our marriage. While I was away, she was forced to provide for herself and our son even though she didn’t drive or speak our language very well. Even when I was home, I wasn’t much help because I spent most of my time with my friends drinking and working. Back then we didn’t need much in the way of reasons to drink. When I was working or drinking, or both, I was absent from home.
While stationed in Kentucky our second son was born. Having two sons was a dream come true for me. This dream was shattered approximately 33 months later. That’s when she decided that she had had enough of my drinking and not being home when she needed me. It was then that she asked for a divorce. She stated that she never really loved me and only used me to be able to come to the United States. To make the pain even worse, she stated that she had fallen in love with my best friend and co-worker. I was devastated.
Our divorce was final in March 1981, and I was reassigned to Germany the following month, where I would spend the next six years working, traveling and drinking; not necessarily in that order. I drank and got drunk almost everyday that I spent in Germany. When I first got there, I fell in love with their beer and food. I never drank American beer during that time, except when I came home on leave. On my second day in Germany, I got so drunk that the hangover lasted for 3 days and I had never been so sick in my entire life. I thought it would never end and of course, I swore off drinking. I can only remember an 18 day period that I did not drink while in Germany and that was because I was in the hospital with a broken neck. That hiatus ended shortly after I got back to my unit.
During this tour, I met, married and divorced my second wife. As it turned out, I didn’t like being alone and she didn’t like living with a drunk. I also thought I could fill the void left by the separation from my two sons, but I was wrong. After three years of fighting, we divorced, but not before she went to my commander and claimed that I was having an affair with a co-worker and that I was abusive to her and her two sons. Because of these allegations it was mandatory that I be evaluated by a Drug/Alcohol Therapist/Psychologist. Had these accusations been founded, my career would have ended immediately, if not sooner. One week after I met with the therapist for the first time, my ex and her two sons left Germany for good, and our divorce was final 3 months later. I was alone yet again, but happier this time.
Soon after the second divorce, my tour in Germany came to a close, which was a blessing in disguise because the work relationship with my commander was totally destroyed by the accusations from my ex. There was virtually no trust or respect left between my commander and I and to work side by side was strenuous to say the least. As a result, I requested a transfer from Germany back to Korea. Another reason for this transfer was so that I could be reassigned from Korea to Ft Lewis, Washington at the end of the tour in Korea. This is what we sometimes called “Military Intelligence”.
April 1987, I arrived back in Korea for another 12 month tour. Shortly after arrival, I was informed that my reassignment to Ft Lewis wouldn’t happen until 1989. So, rather than to accept reassignment to Kentucky, which is where my two sons were, I opted to stay in Korea for an additional two years, making it a 3 year tour. History repeated itself once again. I was alone, pissed off at the world and drinking heavily on a daily basis. To fill yet another void, I met and married my third wife. I didn’t put much thought into this marriage either.
In April 1989, I finally received orders reassigning me to Ft Lewis, Washington, which I had been trying to get for over 8 years. While stationed at Ft Lewis, my ex-wife #3 attended and graduated from beauty school, purchased a beauty salon with my money, got her driver’s license, had a 4 or 5 year affair with someone besides myself, and she got greedy. Our marriage lasted just over 9 yrs.
From 1982 until 1986, I had absolutely no contact with my sons. This was not by my choice. I thought about them everyday, and with every thought of them, I drank just a little more. No matter how much I drank, the pain of not being with my boys just would not go away. Their mother asked me in 1982 to remarry her and when I refused, she promised to make my life a “Living Hell”. And she did. In November 1996, I had a proverbial bombshell dropped on me. I was sitting at home one morning having my usual breakfast of scrambled eggs and beer, and I got a phone call. It was from my youngest son telling me that he and his brother were moving out to Portland, Oregon and wanted to come and visit me up in Olympia. After getting over the tidal wave of emotions, I said sure. They arrived a week later in an over loaded Hyundai, with two of their friends. Through the process of elimination, I was able to pick out my sons, but I didn’t put the names with the right one. During the next 2 years, we managed to see each other maybe 4 times and only for a few hours each time. We lived only 125 miles apart, but it may as well have been 3000 miles.
After the third divorce was final, I moved to California in hopes of obtaining employment and regaining some sanity, if I had any left. My 3rd ex was very high maintenance and had us so far in debt that I had no choice but to file bankruptcy. In Washington State, employers run credit checks and if you have bad credit, they tend not to hire you, so I went to California looking for work.
Soon after relocating, I was hired on as a “Landscape Consultant” at a major hardware store. Actually, I stocked and watered plants. I worked in the outdoor garden department. This was only a temporary job for me though, because I had also submitted applications to work at the county juvenile boot camp. That application process was in 3 stages and took five months to complete.
While working at the hardware store, my employment was only part time, so I figured I could play golf and drink full time and work part time. At first this worked out fine because I’d work 4 hrs, 4 days a week and played the rest of the time and did this without any problems until I started forgetting to check the work schedules each week. In a 5 month period, I was counseled by my supervisor twice about my not showing up or showing up late and having alcohol on my breath. The third strike never materialized because I got hired by the county probation department. This job was great but only lasted 8 months due to a career ending injury. In that 8 months, I was again counseled twice about my coming to work either hung over or with alcohol on my breath.
My wife Karol and I met in June of 1998, shortly after I moved to California, and we married September 2000. We enjoyed some really good times and some extremely trying times and my drinking did not help one iota!
March 14th, 2000, is a date that will be with me for the rest of my life. My youngest son always got my birthday confused with my mother’s. Hers was March 14th and mine the 16th. So, on March 14th, My youngest son, Joseph, called to wish me Happy Birthday. I thanked him and told him again, that mine wasn’t until the 16th. “Today is your grandma’s birthday”. He had that covered because he’d already called her.
What I heard next tore me apart, both inside and out. Laughing and joking with me, Joseph said, “Hey Dad, guess what I have?” I didn’t have a clue and coming from him, what little I knew about him, it was going to be something totally out of this world. It was indeed! I stood at our dining room table with the phone to my ear, stunned and paralyzed by his continuing words, “Dad, I have an inoperable brain tumor. It’s rare and only 1 in 750,000 people get this. But don’t worry Dad, I’m going to be okay. There’s a doctor here in Portland who has pioneered an 80% successful treatment for it.” I don’t remember much after that.
From May 2000 until February 2001, we said our final goodbyes to Joseph 4 times. During this time, my drinking more than doubled. Instead of drinking less than a half case of beer on a regular basis, I was drinking between 18 and 24 everyday, usually starting around 10:00 each morning. Each time I went to Portland to be with my sons, I drank and stayed drunk:. Each time that I left Portland, thinking that was the last time being with Joseph alive, something would happen where he would be just fine and go out to Burger King or to a rock concert or something spectacular. I was given the opportunity to be with my sons on Joseph’s 23rd birthday. He was bedridden and semi comatose, but we had a birthday party for him anyway. He passed away February 26, 2001.
After my son’s funeral, I lost total control of everything. I had no feelings other than extreme anger. I really didn’t care for or about anything except my self and the pity that I felt for myself. I drank no matter what. I hated even the mention of God. He didn’t exist, and if He did exist, He sure wasn’t a Loving God. From the time of Joseph’s passing, until February 2007, Karol and I lost my dad in November 2006, an uncle, December 2006, and two aunts, January and February 2007. I was there through all of this, but I was also very drunk.
Now, at the beginning of my story, I mentioned a life changing event that happened to me. On March 20th, 2013, Karol and I went to Kalispel to see our new grand daughter. Hana was born around 2:30 or 3:00 that morning. On the drive there, which is 90 or so miles, we had to stop twice because I was sick. I blamed it on car sickness.
At about 9:00 AM we arrived at the hospital and went into the room where my son and his wife and new baby were. Soon after we got to the room, my son asked me if I wanted to hold the baby and I said sure. He placed her in my arms and I sat down immediately. After about 30 seconds, though, I gave her back to my son. He asked me if everything was alright and I said “Yes.” My wife and I then went outside for a walk and to smoke a cigarette. When we went back to the room, we said good bye to them and headed for home.
On the drive back to Plains, we never spoke more than about a dozen words to each other but Karol knew something was wrong. She asked me why I didn’t hold the baby for very long and I told her that I was shaking so damn bad that I thought I was going to drop her and if that had happened, I don’t think I’d been able to live with myself. The rest of that two hour drive was in silence.
For the next three days, Karol and I spoke very little. She knew something was wrong with me and bothering me, but she didn’t know what. She just left me alone and figured that when the time was right, I would talk. On that 3rd day, I called my primary care doctor and asked for help by leaving him a voice message. The next day he called me back and Karol saw who had called, but said nothing at that time.
My doctor thanked me for calling and asked why it took so long for me to ask him for help and I asked him what he meant. He said that he had known for over four years that I had been lying to him about my drinking and that I had a serious problem. After this phone call, Karol asked me what was going on and I told her, “I need your help.” She then asked, “With what?” I answered “With my drinking. I need to quit.”.
I was then scheduled to see an addiction therapist and the process of getting me into detox and rehab treatment began on or about April 15, 2013. I continued to drink and get drunk until July 10, 2013. That was my last drink to date. I spent five days in detox and then transferred into the alcohol treatment facility where I spent the next 19 days.
July 11, 2013 was my first day of not drinking or smoking voluntarily, in over 40 years. I attended my very first AA meeting on July 16th, 2013. I thank God everyday for my new found sobriety and the life changes that I have been experiencing. Each day is a new learning experience and life just keeps getting better and better. I was never told that it would be easy, but I have been told many times that there is a solution and it is a simple solution.
“God grant me the serenity to except the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” God bless and know that there is life without alcohol.
“I first smoked and drank alcohol in the 1960’s while in elementary school. The cigarettes were a quick addiction, but my father found out and after a convincing talk with threat of force I didn’t smoke again till boot camp in the navy at age 21. Again, it was a quick addiction, I smoked 1 1/2 packs day for 26 years and at the urging of my youngest son and with the help of the veterans hospital I am smoke free 12 years now. Group therapy, nicotine patches and my family got me through 6 months. When I was on the verge of breaking and on my way to buy cigarettes, I bought nicotine gum instead and chewed gum for 6 months. Then after 18 months total the addiction left my brain and today I rarely have thoughts of it and very much dislike the sight or smell of cigarettes. After 18 months of exercise and an understanding wife children and daughter-in-law and a sensible diet with a large amount of water sustained me. Alcohol was different, a much slower addiction but powerful and came to a climax and led to my downfall while in uniform. I found myself sitting on a barstool not a penny to my name and only two desires, a cigarette and a beer, I survived with neither, found out I had some serious problems and also found out some people didn’t believe I was worth saving. I also found out others did and realizing I had a problem, I wanted to do something about it and “AA” saved my worthless self. I got sober about 1980 or so, though I have not been perfect and have not fixed all the things that got me there, today I can drink a nonalcoholic beer, enjoy it, not want the real thing, and stop at one. I really enjoy coffee and more modern research says its not so bad for me and is supposedly good for my prostate.”
"I had my last drink on Thanksgiving Day, 1973. I went to my first meeting that night, and picked up my white plastic poker chip with some dimes taped to it to make call from my new list of friends. There was a death in the family that night. A drunk of 17 years stumbled into the 2720 Club in Lakeland, Florida, and was never seen again. The compulsion to drink had been removed. With two small children in tow, who had been living in a flop apartment in a condemned dope house, I began my journey back to a life that I would never have dreamed possible.
After leaving a 10 year career in the US Navy, I got sober after coming home from Viet Nam. What happened in the last 43 years is nothing short of miraculous. My garbage can turned into a treasure chest. From the very first day in recovery, I have found so many ways to be useful to others, and to make a difference in the lives of my family and community, the thought of having another drink of alcohol hasn’t entered my mind. I never throw anyone away, as I had been, and the result is that I get to live this amazing life surrounded by miracles every day."
"It all began with me being so out of control, that my wife kicked me out. I had no where that I wanted to go. I decided to check myself into the local Veterans Administration hospital. I was locked in the Psych Ward for five days. I agreed to go to program an hour away from home. Thank God I had a clear thought, the farther away from home, the greater possibility of me actually getting something out of this program.
I checked into this program and had no desire to be there. I went through he paces for the first week. One night my wife told me that she was moving on with her life without me. I finally broke down, I felt my world falling in on me. I didn’t want to wake up the next day, I just didn’t care about anything at all. I remember being on the floor inconsolable, I begged God to stop the pain that racked my body. I had a moment of clarity, a epiphany I believe. I gave into all that I held dearly and surrendered to God. I gave away all my pain, hate, hurt and lies and finally let God have that weight. At that very moment, I felt a weight lift off me and I slept peacefully.
I began to see where my life was at and why it was there. I accepted that my addiction was my own and no one else’s. I put myself in my hole. The only way out was to begin to listen, ask questions and begin to trust. To trust my mentors and take their advice. I accepted and understood what I brought to the table and took responsibility for my actions. After 60 days I left this program and began another one.
The Veterans Administration has a nationally recognized program in the San Francisco Bay Area, that I was blessed to be accepted to. This program gave me tools to live life in a normal way and to be able to think, act and communicate in a clear manner. I can face anything in life as long as I don’t use. I have seen what this program has given to me and countless other veterans. I now have healthy relationships with my friends and families. I’m now welcome where before I was not. I am a father to my children and am totally honest with them about my struggles. I have a healthy, honest and open relationship with their mom. She did the best thing for herself, our children and me, by kicking me out.
I fall asleep at night, not pass out. I work, not scam. I help, not take away from. Life has had struggles and dark times. But I remember all my scars as signs that I can get through any storm life brings. I can face any obstacle and hardship as long as I do not fall into the behaviors that will allow me to pick up a bag."
My name is Steve C.
I have been sober since August 10th, 1994. Every day is a success for me when I continue to make the choice to not drink or drug.
My journey has not been so different from other people who have suffered from alcoholism/drug addiction & have come to the point of recovery in their lives. I say this, because I’m no longer terminally unique like so many that feel like they are before hitting bottom.
I started drinking & drugging at a very young age (in the late 1960’s early 1970’s) more to fit in at first, but alcohol flipped that magic switch in my life from the very first time I drank. Like any other addict/alcoholic, I chased that first “release” way beyond the point it stopped working for me. By the end of my drinking career, I was at a personal hopeless state. It was that point of not wanting to drink anymore & not seeing life without it, and not having the tools to step out of the depression, self hatred, and everything else that goes with hitting bottom, so I did what came natural & attempted suicide.
On the surface, my life looked good.. full time job, nice place to live, playing in multiple bands, etc. ( I have been a musician since the mid 1970’s )On the inside, I was dead, so I tried to finish the job with my own hands. This brought me to a realization that I needed help, and I contacted my local Veteran’s Psychiatric clinic to talk to someone. In very short order, I was being checked in and my journey to recovery began. (Navy Veteran 1980 to 1982)
While in the treatment program, I learned about addiction, patterns, they physical & psychological effects…and more than I can remember.. I was also introduced to A.A. I started attending meetings at the hospital, and soon as I was released, sought out a meeting hall close to home.
As many do, I have faced the challenges of life on life’s terms. The biggest part of it is, I no longer use drugs or alcohol to face them. Some of the things in life that have crossed my path in recovery have been the loss of close friends & family from death, loss of relationships, jobs, financial ups & downs. I have also had much success and happiness while being sober. Today, I am married to a wonderful woman who does not drink or drug, Have formed my own band, and run the business of bookings & promotions.
Early on some have warned me of the dangers of continuing my music career due to places that offer work for musicians being bars & night clubs. That has never been a temptation for me. It may be for others, but on my end it comes from putting into practice what is in the Alcoholic Anonymous book about not hiding from life, but having something to offer, and being of maximum service.
I never know who will see my example of being in the mainstream of life, being sober, and what that impact will have on that person.
One big life event that happened on my 8th sobriety anniversary, was a head on collision. My passenger did not survive, and it was one of those moments where a choice was made. Do I use this as an excuse to drink, or do I use this as an opportunity to show what can be survived, and still remain sober? I made the choice to remain sober. This year, on August 10th will mark 18 years sober, and 10 years since that accident. The thing that kept me strong after having a passenger die in a vehicle I was responsible for is this.. That person heard the message of recovery before the accident happened.
Today, I do my best to carry the message, make myself available for those in need of my experience, and to take responsibility for my small part in recovery. The rest is out of my hands.
Thanks For Listening.”
“I got into drugs, tobacco, you name it, when I was 13. I started off sniffing gasoline out of a lawnmower, then moved on to beer, wine, and marijuana. At age 15 I dropped out of high school. I learned to be a mechanic and I got a GED but I was still getting high. I went to work in a factory, but it was minimum wage, so I joined the military. By then I had started snorting cocaine and doing speed.
Then the military came out with a drug-testing program, so I decided to get an honorable discharge rather than give up drugs. I worked in a textile factory for 14 years until they started doing drug testing. That’s when snorting cocaine turned to smoking cocaine. And that’s when my addiction became so powerful it destroyed everything. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t care about my wife or kids—I just wanted to smoke that drug. I destroyed my family and I wanted to commit suicide.
I went into a rehab program and it helped for a while. My wife and I relocated and we were doing great because I was practicing the things they had taught me about how to stay clean. But then friends from back home came to visit, and they were drug dealers. Just seeing those people made me want to do drugs again. I actually left my wife and went home just to do drugs. I’m very ashamed about that. My wife hated me because she had given me a chance and I’d failed her.
I was still a great mechanic so the drug dealers hired me. I got money and I got free drugs. But then the federal government broke up the drug ring and locked up all the dealers. So there I was again, no job, no money to get high, no wife, no nothing. The suicidal thoughts came again. Then Hurricane Katrina came, and I was basically homeless.
I went down to New Orleans to help clean up. Suddenly I was making good money as a mechanic. The city was under martial law, so I couldn’t get drugs or anything. I was back up again! But then the lights came back on, the people started returning, the drug dealers started coming back. Now I was making this great money and the drugs were back. It was very dangerous for me. The cocaine made me paranoid. The high wasn’t a high anymore—it was a nightmare. But I was addicted. I had to do it. I was getting so thin it was like suicide. I started owing drug dealers money, and they were threatening to kill me. I had to beg my family for a bus ticket home.
Back home, I got a job running heavy equipment, and I was back on my feet again. On my very first payday, though, I got to drinking and doing drugs. I borrowed a friend’s car, went off the road, slammed headfirst into a tree, and woke up in a hospital with a broken neck. And that was the beginning of my new life.
I was in a lot of pain, but I could walk again. I was feeling happy that disability money was coming in soon. Then it struck me: the money would be the end of me because I’d be able to do drugs again. I told my mother to take me to the VA hospital. I didn’t tell her why. I just admitted myself to the psych ward for two weeks, then went to a drug rehab center. I knew I was about to die, and that’s what finally got me off drugs—the thought of death.
On July 5, 2010, I left the rehab center, and I haven’t touched anything since, not drugs, not alcohol, not cigarettes. I’m very proud of my recovery. I was a hopeless case, but I made it. I’ve stayed clean, and I feel free.”