Sweet Sixteen


 Sixteen years ago today, I (re)started trying to live life on its own terms without drugs and alcohol. To tell you the truth, drugs were never a huge part of my story. My drug use was mostly about spiritual seeking. (I went to the wrong address.) But I drank alcohol in a way that still doesn’t seem real to me. I should have died a thousand times. My life looked pretty much like the portrayal in movies of the most desperate alcoholics. It was a living hell.

     One of the most painful parts of active addiction for me was the lying. I was lying to the world by trying to keep up a façade that lead everyone to believe I was okay. I’m a good actor and, although I know those closest to me could see things were pretty bad, I will die believing that no one really knew how bad I felt inside.

     When my brother, Chad, was playing football at The University of Alabama, there were many opportunities for the families to be at functions with the team. I always stank of liquor so I carried cologne, eye drops and Listerine in my truck. In my deluded state I believed this would actually cover up the stench. I got to a place where I had been drunk for so long, if my blood alcohol level dipped below a certain amount, I would start going into DTs. Not fun let me tell you. Somehow I figured out if I drank the Listerine, there was enough alcohol in there to keep the DTs at bay. What I didn’t know at the time is that Listerine contains a certain combination of chemicals that, when swallowed in great enough quantities, causes a stroke-like paralysis. I remember one time “driving” the curvy road between Tuscaloosa where the University of Alabama is and America Junction where my parents lived in this horrible state. My hands had closed and locked so they were like penguin wings and my mouth was drawn around the side of my face so I could barely speak. I had a stick-shift four-wheel drive truck and I have little brief moments of memory of plowing through people’s yards on my way home. How I didn’t kill someone is beyond me.

     Living like this filled me with such self-loathing I wanted to take my life every day for many years. The thing that kept me from it was what it would have done to my mother and others who loved me. Eventually, the pain was so great I tried anyway. As I dug the razor blade into my wrists I thought, “She’ll just have to work it out. She wouldn’t want me to hurt like this any more.”

     Luckily, my friends found me and stopped the bleeding with toilet paper and duct tape (drug addict ingenuity) but not before I had soaked my friend’s couch in my own blood. That was the beginning of the end. I knew, no matter what, I had to get help.   

     I managed to put together a year of sobriety four times over the next eight years, always in the end convincing myself that someone I could manage to drink like a gentleman. Finally, I had to admit complete defeat. Pickles are pickles for life. I will never be a cucumber again.

     During my twenty-something years of trying to go a day at a time without getting loaded, I have watched countless beautiful, intelligent, talented people crash their lives through active addiction. Many of them are now dead. Alcoholism stole my dreams, my self-esteem, my marriage and years of life when I could have been living in joyful service to God and my fellows. I hate this disease. But the only way that all those years and all that pain can be considered a true waste is if I don’t learn from them and move forward.

     Left to my own devises, I’ll find myself alone in a room with a gun in one hand and a bottle of mouthwash in the other. My relationship with my Creator keeps me sober, that and seeking out the support of others who’ve learned how to live without drugs and alcohol as well. I could not stay sober without either. With their help I’ve been able to face some of the most horrible things life can throw our way without getting loaded to include going to war, getting divorced, and burying people whom I loved very much. Nothing is so hard that taking a drink can’t make it worse.

     I will not say that sobriety has brought me a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have pretty wild dreams. But if I’ll continue to surrender on a daily basis (something not easy for a bull-headed, Southern, queer, Marine, artist egomaniac with an inferiority complex), I have a shot at seeing all those dreams come true.

     Thank you, God and thank you to all who have helped me day to day for all these years now. Thank you for my life.


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