I was born in Hollywood in the mid 50’s. The first interesting turn in my life happened shortly thereafter as I was put up for adoption. A couple that had migrated to Southern California from Texas and Kansas respectively in the wake of WWII became my parents. For the sake of clarity when I refer to either mom or dad it is my adoptive parents, since my birth parents reappear later.
My dad was a Texan who though lived most of his life in California never lost his drawl. He was also a racist. He was raised in the piney woods ofTexas in a small home built by his father with seven other siblings. A word here on my grandfather, I only remember meeting him twice. The first time I was five or six years old and he popped out his glass eye, scaring the shit out of me while laughing uproariously.
The second, and last time, he was laying in a bed non compos mentis in what in the early 60’s were know euphemistically as “old folks homes.” He was at deaths door and the place was horrid. It was dirty, reeking of urine and excrement and I felt that he was right where he belonged. When he left the house he had built and raised his family for the last time it was never lived in again. Sometime in the 70’s it burned to the ground and the forest reclaimed the land. In time I learned more about my grandfather and began to wonder if after the fire some of his children may not have salted the earth as well.
Mom was raised in Hutchison Kansas and spoke little of her childhood but when she did it was not layered with any fondness. As soon as she could she left and headed for the promised land of California where she meet dad. I never meet her father even though he lived well into my thirties. Mom had little contact with him, referring to him only as “Brown.” She did go visit him toward the end of his life saying only it had been a good trip. I never knew the particulars. We did visit her mother a couple of times and she did not care for me in the slightest.
I dreaded the vacations where we went to visit family. Both mom and dad came from large families so I had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. What made these trips hell was being adopted. Blood meant a lot and even though my sister and I were “family” we weren’t blood. As young as I was I could still hear the condescension in their voices when they would say, “we love you just as much as if you were one of our own.” What they didn’t know is I didn’t want to be one of them. To be fair most of my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side were accepting, unlike dad’s side. The cousins were a mixed bag, mostly negative. I have no relationship with any of them today, wouldn’t know any of them if I passed them on the street.
Then there is my sister. My first memory of her was when we went to pick her up from the Children’s Home Society in Los Angeles, the same institution I was adopted from. I was in the playroom playing with a really cool locomotive as my parents finished the paper work. Then it was time to go and we went home with my new18-month-old sister. Looking back it seemed perfectly normal to me, wasn’t that how everybody did it? My sister and I never bonded. We had the usual brother sister back and forth and sibling rivalries but no real connection. This was exacerbated by the polarity in our house. Mom was my defender and my sister couldn’t do anything wrong since she was the apple of dad’s eye.
Add to this being a sickly child I always felt he thought he had received damaged goods. It wasn’t until I was a 12 or 13 while visiting family that he actually said it. He made it very clear that I was less than my cousin Vance, who was a real son. Any respect or possible love I had for the man died that day.
He raised me I am convinced in the manner he was raised. I never lacked for anything and he worked very hard to provide for us, he also beat me regularly. What I lacked in physical prowess as a child I made up for in intelligence. He was a farmer’s son and had little curiosity about the world where I was curious about everything. In 1965 my parents bought the World Book Encyclopedia and I was in love. Over the next two years I read almost all of it and soon discovered that adults did not care to be corrected on their factual errors by a “child.” I relished it though and never missed an opportunity to show off, beatings be damned.
I was 13 or 14 when the physical relationship between my father and I changed. We had a leather easy chair were I took most of my pummeling’s. I would curl up in the chair as he rained closed fist blows down on me. I had learned to cover up pretty well so my face rarely was struck. The beating would stop when I began to cry. I knew I could fake it and get him to stop but always chose to hold out as long as I could. This time he stopped before I broke down. I looked up and he was spent, sweating and breathing hard. I looked into his eyes and when he saw I wasn’t crying his face became washed in rage and he started back in. I never cried again. I had him; I won. He still tried to physically dominate me but I began covering up less and less and making more eye contact, soon he lost all heart for it and the physical attacks subsided. Verbally he was never a match for me so I capitalized on his sense of impotence in dealing with me to goad him to lose it, which was easy since his temper was on a hair trigger. In some fashion I instigated most of the fights my parents had and I am certain this was one of the leading causes to their divorce when I was 17, not the only one but a big one.
We moved a lot, nine times by my twelfth birthday. We never moved far, in fact where I am sitting as I write this I could draw a circle no more than 30 miles from this point and it would encapsulate all the residences of my life. Though my dad never lost his Texas drawl he did buy into the wholeCalifornia idea of wealth through real estate and was constantly looking to move up. Because of this I never had any lasting childhood friendships.
Finally as High School approached mom put her foot down and we moved one last time to the burbs of Orange County. I was thrown into 8 grade with kids who had grown up together, the new kid once more. The good news was High School loomed and a whole new experience in fitting in hell awaited. Southern California was exploding at this time and schools were crammed to overflowing. My High School was built to house 2000 students, my senior year there were 4500, 1000 alone in my class.
Before I wax poetically on my High School years, a word on intelligence. In the 60’s IQ tests were the rage. In grade school we were subjected to one and the results would have a profound effect on my life. The teacher passed out the envelopes with the results to be taken home to our parents and mine was a different color. I already knew I was different. I looked at the world through a different set of lenses. I was curious about all sorts of things and a quick study. Though I enjoyed being a “smart ass” around adults, with my peers it was a liability and I would either keep my mouth shut or play dumb. Now this off-color envelope arrives and I am sure my worst fears are about to be realized, that next week I would be one of the “special” kids who rode the short bus.
When the envelope was opened it simply requested that my parents come to school to speak with the vice-principal. An appointment was made and I lived in depressed dread for days. Dad was sure I had done something terrible and the inquisition began. The day finally arrived and we were ushered into his office. There were many things this man could have said but what he told my parents was that I was “abnormally intelligent.” Not gifted, not a genius but abnormal.
Now, nothing happened. This was before Gate and gifted programs existed. Because I tested beyond the “normal” range my parents had to be notified. That was it. Dad didn’t know what to do with the information and never spoke about it nor did he offer any apology for the inquisition. But now I had confirmation on being what I always knew, abnormal.
High School was pretty much the typical experience, some highs and a lot of lows the learning about girls and the inevitable teenage angst associated with, well, just being a teenager. Many of you won’t be able to relate to this but we had a dress code. Boys wore dress pants with a belt, no jeans or shorts allowed, dress shirts and dress shoes. Girls wore dresses whose hem had to touch the ground if they were on their knees. Boys’ hair had to be high and tight and sideburns could not go past the middle of the ear. That was my freshman year, then for my sophomore year almost all of them were suspended. It was the late 60’s and the world was changing. The summer of love, Woodstock, marijuana and psychedelics everywhere, Vietnam in the news every night and the music, oh the music. Jimi, Janis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Who, Jethro Tull, The Stones, Beatles and so many others pumping out music that was amazing, a soundtrack for a generation. In Southern California we had the seminal radio station of the time to provide the soundtrack “A little bit of heaven 94.7, KMET, tweddle dee.” Being abnormal wasn’t such a bad thing.
I started High School a “good” kid and as I was finally healthy I became an athlete, so that was who I hung out with. At the beginning of my junior year I caught mononucleosis, the kissing disease. Being an infectious disease I was quarantined from school and studied at home. It wasn’t until the end of January that I was cleared to return and though I continued in athletics my heart wasn’t into it and my studious friends were kinda boring so I felt a little adrift. That’s when I found the stoners.
Now to be accurate here I was no virgin when it came to drugs or sex at this point. I just didn’t know it, at least about the drugs anyway. Having been a sickly child suffering from severe asthma I had taken a lot of drugs lovingly administered by mom. When I got sober and looked back on this time in my life it became clear I was loaded pretty much right out of the gate up to getting sober at 30. One of the ingredients of most of the drugs I was given was some form of amphetamine, speed. It would open my lungs up all right but two tablets before bed did not make for restful sleep. So as soon as the house went quiet I would sneak into the den and turn on the TV. I would watch Jack Paar and then his successor Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show followed by old black and white movies till 3:30 or 4 in the morning when all the TV stations signed off for the night. Monday and Tuesday nights were the worst because only one movie would be shown. I would watch right up to the test pattern and then reluctantly turn it off left alone in the dark with my spinning wide-awake mind.
The stoners were an easy crowd to belong to. No workouts or two-a-days, no homework, just show up with a little bud or hash or cash to contribute and you were in. I had a little part-time union job as a box boy so I was set. Instead of early morning workouts we started the school day getting loaded in the parking lot. Running laps we would sneak off and fire a fatty under the bleachers. Game day was peppermint schnapps and Boones Farm in the stands, much less pressure. My grades reflected my new perspective and friends.
I had never been a straight A kind of student, I was easily bored and never cared for the busy work teachers liked to hand out. Being rebellious and too smart by half I rarely turned in homework but aced the tests. On more than one occasion my exasperated mother would have to come to my rescue when a teacher threatened to flunk me for failure to turn in homework, though I clearly knew the material. My hair was getting longer and my attitude surlier. I took the SATs and scored in the upper 99 percentile while almost flunking out and missing graduation.
As my parent’s marriage began to really disintegrate they took a trip through northern California. My dad was into travel trailers and many a weekend and summer were ruined with these family outings. I had become such a pain in the ass they were routinely leaving me home alone by this point. This particular trip took them through San Francisco and the Hiaght Ashbury district. When they came home my room was tossed while I was at work, my stash found and I was thrown out of the house. My car was taken away and the terms for return were simple. Walk to the barbershop and get a haircut, with my own money, or don’t come back. I did it to get my car back and promised to straighten up. I lied. It was also the last time my father ever told me what to do.
FREE AT LAST
My parents soon split up and I was free to do as I pleased. I had graduated and was going out pretty much every night coming home before mom got up. Drinking and drugs had become a daily thing and nothing was off limits. I always had pot and had been ripping off beer and booze with my best friend who worked at the same supermarket as a box boy. After graduation I tried college for awhile and had begun working as a union janitor making really good money. The leader of my crew was a stoner so I would get loaded with him and then during our half hour lunch break we would jam over to the liquor store and grab a 16oz Old English 800 malt liquor and chug it. I would walk back in so buzzed I had to concentrate on walking a straight line. Once I was past the guard station I was good to go. The facility was DOD and locked down every night so once you knew the guards routine you could go all night and not see another soul. I could finish all my duties in about two hours so that left me the rest of the night to screw around. I learned how to get the freight elevator to bounce up and down and it became quite the draw with my fellow workers. One night I over did it and when the doors opened there was smoke everywhere. My companions scattered but it was my building so I was stuck. As security and a bevy of fire trucks arrived I was asked if I knew what happened. I lied. I didn’t stick around that job much longer as security cameras started being installed. Before I left I did make a pipe out of parts used for the Skylab.
Mom worked as a bookkeeper for a major magazine publisher, which lead to a job in the mailroom. I secured a position for my best friend who had got caught boosting cigarettes and had been fired. My boss was a drug dealer and soon I was dealing as well as using daily with my mates in the mailroom. Quickly speed and psychedelics joined pot and alcohol as regular companions, college forgotten. I was 19.
NOW, ABOUT SEX, DRUGS and ROCK & ROLL
I had a best buddy for a couple of years in the mid 60’s when we lived in Redondo Beach whose dad gave him his Playboys. We had a fort in the rafters of his garage where we expanded our minds and vocabulary studying the well-written articles. His parents and mine could not have been more opposite in the area of sex. Mine were very mid-western in their approach, which means it was never spoken of; while his were the quintessential 60’s open for anything voyeurs. I spent a lot of time at his house. The first time I got drunk I was spending the night and his parents were throwing one of their regular whoopee parties. The adults had all adjourned to the master bedroom suite and had left half dozen or so decanters with martini leavings sitting around. We gathered them up and split the contents. I loved the way it made me feel. I also missed the next school day because I had the “flu.” It was the only time in my life I ever drank martinis but I didn’t forget how it made me feel. It was early 1964.
I came of age in the summer of love 1968, getting loaded and laid for the first time. I was 13, pretty early even by today’s standards. I meet a cute a little blond in 8 grade who was adventurous. We started fooling around and one thing leading to another and soon we had gone “all the way.” With hormones on overdrive I became a horn dog. Now all my buddies were talking about how they were getting laid and having all this great sex and though I was enjoying it my experiences paled in comparison. It wasn’t until years later when I found out they were all lying about their “experiences” and I was the only one actually getting any, a case of comparing my insides to others outsides, something that plagued me well into sobriety. That summer a cousin had come back from Vietnam well acquainted with drugs. I was spending the night at my aunt’s and he came into my room and asked if I had ever smoked pot. Of course I said yes, I lied, and he proceeded to roll a joint. So by 13 I had smoked pot and had carnal knowledge.
Now I don’t want to give anyone the impression I was sleeping around, for I wasn’t. But I did have steady girlfriends who were willing. I didn’t become a “ladies man” until I became sober. I started dating my first wife in High School and we moved in together when we were 19 or 20 and were married within a year. We had the usual ups and downs as all young couples do but cared for each other a great deal. I had left my party job in the mailroom and had begun my climb in the business world. Soon she was pregnant and with the help of her parents we bought our first house.
To the outside world we looked all the parts of a young successful couple: Both with good jobs and climbing the corporate ladder, new car in the driveway, homeowners with a cute as a button daughter. The problem was dad had become a daily drinker and consistent drug user. In the beginning my wife would “party” but as soon as she became pregnant she stopped smoking, stopped all drug use and only had an occasional glass of wine. She was growing up and I was drifting further into addiction.
I had always been in love with music. As I retreated further and further into myself, I would get loaded on all manner of things, put on the headphones and withdraw. One summer for a two-week vacation I dropped acid nearly every day. Kinda puts a different spin on “taking a trip not taking a trip”. Soon the good job was gone and I went to work for her father in the family business, liquor stores.
BECOMING SWEETLY REASONABLE
I worked for my father-in-law for 5 years until he retired. During that time I was a good employee and became the manager of one of his stores. I didn’t deal drugs out of his store but I did make many connections that once I was off work became the focus of my life. I was drinking daily having incorporated the hair of the dog into my daily ritual. I always came home but there was no telling when that would be. I wouldn’t call, though I always meant to and my behavior was becoming more erratic. Finally one day when I was at work my wife packed up the corvette, the deed to the house, the checkbook and took our daughter and left. She never came back. “I love you but I won’t watch you die.” I tried every trick I could think of to get her back. None of them worked.
Sitting alone in our empty house I decided to end it all. The house had a large picture window that fronted the street. I situated my rocking chair so the bullet would pass through my head and break the window. It is all about the presentation you know, they will be sorry when I am gone. I penned a blistering suicide note and sat down with my .45. Do I need to say I was drinking heavily?
Now, a note here on blackouts: If you have experienced one no explanation is required, if you haven’t no words can truly describe it. The feelings of disconnect, disorientation and terror are something I would not wish on anyone yet I was a regular blackout drinker. I came out of blackouts walking down the street, driving the car, sitting on a bar stool and doing drug deals. Usually though it was coming to in my home, not knowing what day or time it was, how I had got there and what had transpired since my last memory. I am grateful that I always found my car and it was never damaged. After coming out of one I would always promise myself I would do better next time, yet some days within a few hours I would be in another one. Such is the insanity of the practicing alcoholic/addict.
I have had the occasion in my sobriety to meet men in prison who have no recollection of committing the crime they are incarcerated for. To those who do not suffer from the disease of addiction this may sound self-serving but I know it could easily have happened to me.
I vaguely recall sticking the gun in my mouth, removing it then sitting with it in my lap with the hammer back as I drank myself into a blackout. The next thing I knew it was morning. The room was full of light as I looked down at the gun in my lap with a hazy recollection of the previous night. I picked up the suicide note and read it. It was, without a doubt, the most god-awful suicide note in the history of man. The relief I felt was immense as I tore it up and burned it, it was that bad. The .45 was bothering me though. I didn’t recall putting the hammer down but decided I had done in at some point and just didn’t remember, but it was nagging at me. Finally I checked the round in the chamber and it was dimpled. I had pulled the trigger and the weapon had failed to fire. I replaced the round, opened the back door, pointed the weapon at the ground and pulled the trigger. The weapon discharged. Shaken, I poured myself a drink.
This wasn’t my first brush with death were a hidden hand had seemingly interceded. I suffered from severe asthma as a child and died twice, one of which I vividly remember. This was in the day before EMT’s and paramedics; you had a family doctor who gave you his home phone number for emergencies. Dr. Bush had been to our house before when I was too sick to move. This time it was the middle of the night and I was choking out, unable to catch a breath. He arrived and I had stopped breathing. Mom was sitting beside the bed distraught with a lost look in her eyes. Dr. Bush quietly but methodically reached into his bag and retrieved a syringe that already had medicine in it, opened my pajamas top and stuck the needle into my chest. Soon I began to breath and the crisis ended. Now you are probably wondering how I can remember all this since I had checked out. I was looking down watching as my body laid there, mom beside herself but under control and Dr. Bush walking in and going about his business. As he hit me in the chest with the needle a tunnel of white light opened and a voice asked if I would like to go. I looked back at mom and said no, it would hurt her. The next thing I knew I was back in my body looking up at Dr. Bush and mom.
Now it would easy to dismiss this as having been a delusion brought on by lack of oxygen to the brain except for one thing. When I was looking down I was “above” the ceiling in my room, it was as if it wasn’t there. I built model airplanes and had them hanging from the ceiling and as I looked down I observed that one of my favorites had started to melt because it was too close to the light fixture, something that could not be seen from below. The next day I took it down and the cockpit and fuselage had indeed begun to melt. This happened years before I ever heard of out of body, the tunnel or white light experiences.
After my wife left I lived in “our” house alone for about a year before it sold. I then moved to an apartment close to the beach. Bar drinking was an interesting change in my life. Before my wife left I had drank in bars maybe a dozen times and most of those had been with her dad. The day she left I became a daily bar drinker and was in the bars virtually every day until I sobered up. I soon found my lower companions, power drinkers and industrial strength drug users. One of these hale fellows well met decided to go into rehab to try and save his marriage and asked me to take over his handyman business while gone. I was living off the proceeds of the house sale so some income sounded good. I didn’t have a clue about handyman work but how hard could it be? I bought a tool belt, some tools and took over his route. I soon discovered he contracted with a property management company that handled properties in some of the roughest areas in the Southland.
So while he tried to get sober I tried to learn construction as I worked. I was pretty crazy back then and would stroll into apartment complexes that police wouldn’t go into alone like I owned the place. I didn’t care, live or die made little difference to. My friend came out of rehab and we immediately got drunk and loaded. When he was in rehab I went to visit him, I drank a beer on the drive up. Needless to say his marriage ended and he walked away from his handyman route, so I inherited it. Good work for a drunk; I was paid everyday so I always had cash for my needs, not the rent, utilities or child support, but the important stuff. I would drink for 1 more year.
That last year is lost in a fog of alcoholism. Somehow I stayed in that apartment and kept the lights on, I don’t have a clue how. 1985 dawned and around February or March I was sick and tired of the way I was living and I called Alcoholics Anonymous. The bloke on the other end was affable enough and suggested I go to a meeting. In fact there was one right around the corner starting up in 15 minutes AT A CHURCH!! I thanked him kindly and hung up. There was not a snowballs chance in hell I was going to walk into a church for God’s sake, most of the problems in the world had been caused by organized religion dontcha know! To suggest A CHURCH of all places, the crust. I crawled back into my bottle and stayed there for another 6 months.
At the end of August I met dad at a trade show in Las Vegas. He had retired and moved back to Texas were he opened a military surplus store. I flew in for the day and left that evening, it was the only time I ever drank with my father and was probably the best time we ever had together. Although I put up a good front my life was in shambles and it was getting harder and harder to deny it. I worked just enough to survive, barley, I now had a roommate that I met in the bar so you can imagine what the place looked like. My wife had filed for divorce and cringed every time I picked up my daughter for the weekend. I couldn’t blame her but I did. I was a pretty big guy at the time and walked around with a scary look about me because I was so angry. Regular citizens would often not only get out of my way but literally cross the street if they had children with them. The first time it happened it kinda pissed me off, and then I thought about it and decided I liked scaring steady eddy’s.
Having lived all my life in Southern California drugs are a large part of my experience. LSD, magic mushrooms, mescaline, cocaine, opium, hashish, peyote, amphetamines, PCP, poppers, crystal meth, pot, you name it I did it and a lot of it. The thing was along the way I never had any real problems stopping the use of drugs. One day it dawned on me that I had been smoking pot every day for 10 years so I quit for 6 months. No big deal and when I decided to pick it back up my tolerance was so low 2 tokes and I was so stoned I couldn’t find my ass with both hands and a flashlight so I rarely toked up. Psychedelics fell by the wayside when they became a business. Manufacturers were taking shortcuts and though strychnine provides some intense hallucinations, it really wasn’t my idea of a good time. Peyote, mushrooms and mescaline had become jokes, having taken the real thing the crap being peddled to the uniformed and easily influenced disgusted me.
All forms of speed were a little different, mostly because they helped me drink in the manner I wished to drink. The coke went away as my nose did. The Benny’s, Black Beauties and crystal meth were inducing psychotic episodes and acute paranoia. I was carrying a gun to go to the grocery store because I knew they were coming to get me, I didn’t know who they were but I knew they were coming. The townhouse I lived in was one of three and mine was the first, so everyone who lived there walked by mine to get home. There was a wrought iron gate that would slam and one time I came within a hair of putting a 45 round through the window, the drapes were drawn of course, I was so paranoid. I stopped all forms of speed at that point and managed the withdrawals with alcohol and cold medicine.
Then it happened, my friend and companion turned on me. Throughout my drug use and abuse there was one constant: alcohol. When I did drugs I always drank, but I also drank when I didn’t have drugs. My tolerance to booze was fairly high at the end. I would put away a fifth to a quart of hard liquor every day, usually Scotch. Now I didn’t drink Scotch because I liked the taste, remember those Playboys? I drank Scotch because real men drank Scotch. Additionally when I drove anywhere I had a bottle of Carlsberg Elephant riding shotgun. My world was limited to 3 beers out and three beers back. If something was farther than that I simply did not go.
When I returned from Vegas I didn’t know it, but I was in the last week of my drinking. I had recently tried to quit on my own and lasted 18 hours. At the end of 18 hours I didn’t drink to congratulate myself, I drank because my skin was crawling off. I had spent most of the time sitting in my rocking chair gripping the handles watching my knuckles turn white. This day I had stopped in at my favorite watering hole and though I drank the usual amount I couldn’t catch a buzz. I thought the bartender, whom I knew well, could be an asshole if you crossed him so I blamed him for watering down my drinks, which would have been pretty hard considering I drank straight Scotch. I picked up my 5 on the way home determined to finish the job and I still couldn’t get drunk. A bit perplexed I went to bed.
The next day I had an appointment in the afternoon I was really looking forward to. I stopped by the bar for a pop on my way and got half way through the drink and was totally smashed, to the point that even being the professional drunk driver that I was, driving was out of the question. I felt totally screwed. The next day was Thursday the 12, the day my life would change.
AND NOW, FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
I made it home somehow, I went into a blackout and have no recollection of the events the rest of that day and night. I came to the next morning and started my day the usual way. I poured 2 fingers of Scotch into my little plastic cup; all glass cups were long gone, you know why, tossed down the booze and immediately tossed it back up. I could then pour a real drink in my coffee mug and light a cigarette. After a couple of minutes my hands would stop shaking and I could get on with my day. I lived alone and the drapes were always drawn but I drank out of a coffee mug in the mornings in case anyone “saw” me. I had recently turned 30.
I blew off that day’s appointments and set about trying to figure out what was going on and what I was going to do about it. I drifted in and out all day and finally a little before 7 decided to try AA again. Now, being the dealmaker that I was I, I wouldn’t just call information for the number, no, no, no if I was really supposed to go to AA I needed a sign. The last time I had called I had written the number down on the margin somewhere in the white pages so; if I could find it easily I would call. Now this was when phone books were substantial. The white pages alone were at least 4 inches thick. I picked it up and let it fall open. There it was, first try. OK, I will call but I wasn’t going to go to some church if they suggested it again god dammit! I called and this time the fellow asked if I would like to speak to someone in person. Not knowing any better I said yes and then he asked for my address. I thought I was going to meet them somewhere, but my house! I almost backed out but then relented. He said a couple of guys would be there in a few minutes and hung up.
When I said “a few minutes” when I was drinking that could be anywhere from 15 minutes to never depending on my mood, if there was anything in it for me or if I even remembered after hanging up. Remember, this was before those annoying cell phones had appeared and it was easy to ignore calls. Just turn off the answering machine or unplug the phone from the wall and you were incommunicado. Honestly, I wish that were still the case, I hate cell phones. So given my perception of a few minutes I figured I had time to “straighten up” a little. It would have taken a backhoe and a Service Master crew to even begin the job so I did what comes natural and poured myself a drink and light a cigarette as I surveyed the mess. Shortly there was a knock on the door. I answered the door with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There stood two fellows, one tall and slim the other short and slim. I invited them in and they sat down across the room from me, the tall one in my rocking chair and the other on the couch. They began asking questions and talking with me. I continued to drink and smoke with zero regard for them. At some point I crossed the line from inebriated to crazy drunk. I stood up and pulled down my .45 from atop the bookshelf. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I sat back down with it on my lap. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember the tall one was doing all the talking and he was talking real fast while his partner was quiet but his eyes were as big as saucers. After a few minutes I informed them it wasn’t loaded, they seem relieved and in a rather hurry to leave. As they rushed out the door the tall one asked if I wanted to go to a meeting tomorrow. I said yes and they left.
He also asked if I could not drink anymore that night and I said yes. I lied. Now something different did happen though. My bedroom was upstairs but I typically passed out on the couch in front of the TV. This night I went to bed by choice, not as drunk as I usually got. I didn’t really think this stranger I just met and pulled a gun on would call, but I plugged in the phone by my bed anyway. At 6:30 the next morning the phone rang and it was him. He asked if I still wanted to go and I said yes. He gave me a half hour to get ready. I dragged my ass into the shower and though I didn’t want to drink, my hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t take it. I went downstairs, poured two fingers of Scotch, tossed them down and right back up but instead of pouring another drink I looked in the mirror. The eyes that looked back were dead. I washed my face and waited for AA to arrive. A few minutes later I was in my first AA meeting, I have not a drink since. That was Friday the 13, 1985.
SOBRIETY, WHO KNEW!
Sobriety. I had no idea. I considered sobriety to be simply the absence of drugs and alcohol, much as the rest of society. All I knew about AA was what I had seen on TV or heard in the bars, so the information I had ranged from bad to downright wrong. My first meeting was in small room with around 15 or so folks. I was given a Big Book, said a few words that I thankfully don’t remember and the journey began. My new friend asked if I wanted to go to a meeting later that night and I said yes, amazingly I went. I was not prepared for that second group. It was a huge meeting with 100 plus folks, greeters, coffee makers, meeting officers, the whole enchilada, it was overwhelming and a blur. But I hadn’t had a drink all day and most importantly I didn’t want one. Though I heard some stuff about God that gave me pause, something had happened, the obsession had been removed. I was still plenty sick but the desire to drink was gone. The next morning I woke up sober for the first time in my adult life.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of meetings and coffee shops (a coffee shop then was Denny’s or Spires, Starbucks hadn’t migrated south yet). The tall chap who had paid what I now knew was a 12-step call on me became my sponsor and I began working the steps. By luck of the draw or Divine intervention I was thrown in to a group of men and women who focused on the process as it was intended out of the book. I heard things like “the only reason you miss a commitment meeting is you died on the way” and “the suggested program is a suggestion like breathing is a suggestion.” They kept it pretty simple for me in the beginning, reminding me that I could be too smart to stay sober. I attended a Tuesday night roving stag meeting that could be pretty brutal. The regulars remembered what you had said the week before and pointed inquiries were made asking if you had followed the directions from the previous week. If you crawfished or dissembled you were guaranteed to be the focus of that night. On more than one occasion I left that meeting PO’d vowing to find a different meeting, I always came back. I finally did leave that group after a few years. It had become a victim of its own success and had become so large that what had made it so effective was no longer there.
Within the first six months I had given away my inventory, started my amends and was a coffee maker. I had a solid slate of meetings attended religiously and a circle of friends with roughly the same amount of time sober who were the core of the meeting after the meeting group. We went to meetings, social events, movies and parties together. I heard lots of statistics, most of them negative, about sobriety until an old-timer said, “90 per cent of the people who get involved in service and stay involved stay sober.” I liked that one so I started going on panels, became an Intergroup Rep and started working on various AA convention committees. Thus my foundation was in place. Steps, service and fellowship, the recipe the founders struck upon all those years ago and through the gentle but firm guiding hands of those who walked before me I was sober.
Today I am sober over twice as long as I drank and used drugs. I would love to tell you everything has been rosy and smooth sailing since walking into the rooms of AA. I could but it would be a lie. “Pain is the only instrument sharp enough to cut away the excess of self.” Fortunately we don’t know what we don’t know. Had I known all that was going to be required of me, just how incredibly selfish and self centered I had become and the work in front of me in the beginning I doubt I would have played through. The concept of One Day At A Time saved me. Emmet Fox uses the analogy of the stonemason. A group of tourists are visiting a cathedral under restoration in Italy. A stonemason is setting a new mosaic tile floor of immense proportions. The tourists ask, “How could you ever take on such a monumental task!” he replied, “I know about how much I can do in a day so I mark out that much and don’t concern myself with the rest.” Taken as a whole living sober is an impossible task, but one day at a time, some days an hour or even a minute at a time we can do it.
ONWARDS THROUGH THE FOG
I entered sobriety an agnostic with an attitude. I would greet Jehovah’s Witnesses at my front door with a glass of Scotch and cigarette in one hand, the Bible in the other “COME ON IN, LET’S TALK!!” I had decided that there probably was a God, but He was the ultimate trickster so he who dies with the most toys wins, game on. The world was comprised of wolves and sheep and if you were a sheep it sucked to be you. Today I am an ordained minister and have learned that no matter how smart or slick we may be, we are all sheep to the wolf that is addiction. My conversion to Christianity is personal to me and perhaps someday over coffee we can chat about it. The 12 Step way of living provides clear cut directions on how each of us can develop a personal relationship with a Power Greater Than Ourselves that will solve all our problems. All that is required is rigorous honesty, an open mind and willingness.
At 3 years sober I found my birth mother in Australia. I made contact and a visit was arranged. It did not go well. Her guilt at putting me up for adoption was palpable. When she told the story, it was clear were it came from. I was the 3 of 7 children and the only one put up for adoption. Her husband had a vasectomy after their second child and then they went through a rough patch in their relationship during which she had a one-night stand with a co-worker. They reconciled but she soon discovered she was pregnant. He forgave her and suggested they keep the child, but she couldn’t. Six months after I was put up for adoption she was pregnant again and they discovered his vasectomy didn’t take. It is very likely that he was my biological father. I tried to have a relationship with her but it was clear that every time she saw me I caused her tremendous pain. I only met her now ex-husband and possibly my birth father one time before he died. He was heavily drugged and close to death at the time so when I was introduced it was clear he did not know what was going on. My blood brothers and sister made some attempts at a relationship but it was always strained and uncomfortable. I have not seen any of them in years. Not all stories end with “and they lived happily ever after.”
I have a child from my “ladies man” days in early sobriety. His mother and I only had two things in common, new to sobriety and sex, and in a perfect world it would have been a short term relationship that petered out after we had exhausted all the places and positions we could think of but the world is far from perfect and so am I. Our battles were titanic, the stuff legends are made of. I finally had to let that child go and cease fighting with his mother. In time she saw that I was no longer willing to engage and we settled into a dysfunctional but workable arms length relationship. Today I have a solid loving relationship with him and his sister from my first marriage. The kind of relationship I always wanted.
I never wanted to be known as a “ladies man” and when I broached the subject with my sponsor he said, “intentions are fine, but our actions determine who we are.” So I stopped dating and after about a year a cute little blond asked me to coffee and we have now been together 17 years. A word here on sponsors: I have had 3. That first chap for about a year, the second for 3 until he moved away and the one I have today ever since. He was at my first meeting, being my first sponsors’ sponsor, and was going to jump on me if I brought a gun, once a Marine always a Marine. One of the keys to long-term sobriety, in my opinion, is a relationship with people who know all our shortcomings and character defects and still are there for us. Today my relationship with my sponsor is more old friend to old friend but when my thinking takes a dark turn, I run it by him. Yeah, I know what he will say, but I still need to hear him say it because he just may surprise me.
At 10 years sober I nearly died of a mysterious blood disorder. It presented like leukemia but wasn’t. Over the next 6 months my red blood cell count would go up and down seemingly at random and without reason, in fact it never was determined what was going on, it just stopped.
At 15 years sober I fell of a ladder at work and broke my right wrist. I was told it could just be set but I might develop some arthritis in it. It was suggested that a couple of pins would restore it to perfect condition and since I made my living with my hands, I said sure and had the surgery. Unfortunately I developed a MRSA infection and nearly lost my right arm. It took months to kill the infection and by that time the bones in my wrist had been destroyed along with the fine motor control in that hand. Over time this has developed into spreading arthritis and peripheral neuropathy.
At 20 years sober I was building new homes on spec and about a year or so from being able to retire. Then the market collapsed and I was wiped out. I filed for bankruptcy two years later and was sued in federal court for a half a million dollars.
My sponsor refers to these types of things as What The F#@& God moments. Remember that quote on pain? Today I am respected and trusted by the women in AA. I never criticized my boy’s mom to him or in meetings, saving me the amends that I would have had to eventually make. The blood disorder brought me into the chemo unit at Hoag Hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics daily which brought me into contact with some wonderful people in their final days who demonstrated dignity and poise beyond words. Work and money had always been easy, when I lost the use of my right hand I had to learn to rely on others and become an employer. When I lost everything I had to learn what it is like to be truly broke for the first time in my life, to apply for food stamps and ask for help. To surrender the pride I didn’t think I had and be humbled before God. Though I received wonderful advice and help along the way, when it came time to walk into Federal Court I had to represent myself. I walked through the fear, told the truth and prevailed.
“Pain is the only instrument sharp enough to cut away the excess of self.”
Out of all these experiences I know God better for He forges the strongest instruments in the hottest fires and never once did I think that a drink or drug would improve things. Pain is living, but struggle is optional. What has convinced more than anything else about the existence of God is the miracles of sobriety I have come to know in the rooms of recovery. “God wants us to be Happy, Joyous and Free” and the only person that can get in the way of that in my life is me. You see today I know were the power resides, it is not in you or me but we can plug into it and the source is limitless. The realm of heaven is roomy, all inclusive to those who earnestly seek.
For the last 16 years I have been teaching the process of recovery both for fun and for free and professionally. Having studied the roots of the AA movement it became clear that much of what the founders envisioned has been lost or misconstrued. The information is available to all, I beg of you to drink deep of sobriety and join us, as we trudge the road of Happy Destiny and make sure you tip your waitress, she works hard for the money.