Today marks my thirtieth year of sobriety. Thirty years ago I was in the Marine Corps. I had just returned from my 2nd deployment overseas at the end of 1986. Within just a couple months of buying a car, I had managed to get two DUI’s in spite of my sincerest intentions of never drinking and driving. I had already applied for the Marine Corps most intensive alcohol treatment program referred to simply as “Level Three.” However, treatment didn’t start immediately. They put me on Antabuse but that really didn’t help matters. I was on Antabuse when I got my second DUI.
That second DUI woke me up. I figured I had already crossed the line as far as the Marine Corp, and I expected to be kicked out. I was very depressed. A couple months earlier, a good friend of mine was in a car accident which broke his neck and rendered him a quadriplegic. He was in the hospital 500 miles away near San Francisco. I figured before I got kicked out, I wanted to go see him. My last drink was with my friend in San Francisco.
My friend really impressed me, as he always has. He had been the encouraging element in the company who inspired everybody to keep pushing up the hill even during our most arduous journeys. Everybody would be about ready to pass out carrying their packs and weapons and there’d come Frank carrying two machine guns and practically running up the hill with smile on his face.
Now here I was feeling sorry for myself while my friend lied in bed unable to move his arms or legs. I don’t know where that type of strength comes from unless its God, but seeing him with his undefeatable attitude gave me new direction and determination. I have never drank since. I not only quit drinking, I quit all recreational drug use along with smoking cigarettes. That was a pivotal moment in my life. I was never the same.
I’ve included some pictures of my former life because they represented what was important to me back then. The picture above was taken in my BAQ room around Christmas time 1985 after returning from my first deployment. I was overly thin at the time because I was very sick on ship after getting a throat infection from eating something I shouldn’t have in the Philippines. I had taken the clothes out of my locker so we could fill it with beer. My locker door is decorated with pornagraphic pictures and I’m walking around with a cigarette wasted out of mind.
My friends and I decided not to take leave since we were given 8 days off anyway, and 8 days were simply a continuation of the party we had while overseas. Like so many of those days, the pictures are the only memories I have. I was only 22 when I quit drinking, but I think I drank more than most drink in a lifetime during those formative years of my life.
My first drinks were in elementary school, and drinking lead to smoking, and to trying whatever drugs were out there. I started shooting up when I was 17, and returned to it some when I was in the Marines. I guess I sort of had an “A Ha experience,” with my drinking. One day I just seemed to wake up realizing that I was the source of my own misery and most of my troubles were directly tied to the influence of drugs and alcohol. I quit because I was convinced that if I didn’t quit, I’d be dead.
Still, I was a pretty high bottom drunk. The Marines didn’t kick me out. I went on to change companies and even get promoted. I did a complete about face. I still hung out with my friends for a while, but I lost that common element that brought us together. Eventually, I started reading the Bible and attending church. As I stopped hanging out with my old friends, I started getting to know people from church who started me down a whole new path.
Even after thirty years, I still hear that little voice in my head saying, “one little drink won’t hurt you.” I’d like to think that I have more willpower now than I did back then and maybe just maybe I could control it now. But that’s not a chance I’m willing to take. I’m compulsive by nature. I still have the obsession to be constantly drinking something even now. It’s just that the something is usually either coffee or water, but I can rarely be found without something to drink.
I crave alcohol when I go into certain resturants even today. I can’t eat Mexican food without craving a Margarita. I can’t eat pizza without wishing I could have a beer or a pitcher of beer. At moments of severe depression and desperation, I naturally think of the bottle that used to numb my pain. I’ve even gone as far as buying a bottle once only to poor it down the sink when sanity was restored.
Even though I’ve had my weaker moments, I’m quite firm in my resolve. I despise alcohol for the lives it has wrecked. It has always seems ironic to me that out of all the harmful drugs which are illegal, alcohol and cigarettes have destroyed more lives than all the other drugs combined, but they are perfectly legal and socially accepted.
A while ago my cousin’s child was killed by a drunk driver, a young man about the age of my own son caused the accident. He killed two people that day and injured a third and while everyone was crying out for justice while mourning the loss of the boys killed, my heart was broke for the young man who did the crime. Why? That could have been me. That was me. Now he’s in prison and his life is stripped from him. He will be about my age when he gets out. It’s such a shame.
My life is so different these days that it hard to even imagine my old self. I’m so glad that part of my life was over before my real life began. I would go on to college, I would marry and have children. My wife and children would never know the man I was then. They know I’m a flawed person. They’ve seen me depressed, discouraged, angry and incredibly goofy. But none of them has ever seen me drunk. That life was over before my new one began. I thank God for that.