This post will not cover my entire past, that would require that I fit the contents of a book into a blog post. This post does scratch the surface though, it was just a lot worse…
In late 1991 I was told that I had eight years left to live.
I was in out-patient treatment for alcohol abuse, assigned by the People of the Great State of Michigan and a probation officer as a condition of my probation. This took place shortly following a jury trial in which I was looking at 5 to 10 years in State prison. Most people don’t know the difference, but we’re not talking about jail here. Jail is where you go for a slap on the wrist – several days to a year. In the end, I was sitting next to my lawyer, sweating from every pore and shaking with fear. It had taken the jury two days to deliberate my case. They reported to the judge twice that they were hopelessly dead-locked. My attorney explained that this was a good thing though his words weren’t very comforting. He was right, though. You know, the funny thing about technicalities is that everyone hates them – until you’re looking at 5-10 and you’re let off on one. Such was the case with me, kind of. You see, I wasn’t guilty, not for what they were trying to pin on me, not by a long shot – but I wasn’t technically innocent either. So there I was waiting for the verdict, after the jury selection, several police officers embellishing facts and flat-out being dishonest on the stand and my own testimony – my attorney put me on the stand… And my fate lay in the hands of twelve of my peers. I was found guilty of the attempt of a misdemeanor. The maximum sentence was two years probation and fines and costs and the judge gave me every last-minute of that probation. Weeks later I learned that the reason that the jury convicted me of the attempted misdemeanor was that there was one older lady on the jury (my attorney had wanted to excuse her but ran out of options. He excused a couple of others who would have been much worse for me). In any event, that old lady just knew I was lying (even though I was entirely honest on the stand), and she would not back down, they were hitting me with something no matter what according to her – no matter what the law said. So the other members of the jury got her to settle on the least costly of the four or five possible outcomes. After I went home, my dad informed me that I had been bailed out of trouble for the last time – if I ever found myself in trouble again, I needn’t bother calling him.
Don’t bother asking about how I know all of the details about the jury. I don’t recall, the details have escaped my recollection.
That said, there I was, face to face with a doctor who was looking at my chart, eyes wide… He asked, not looking for an answer, “Are you aware that you have the liver of a 60 year-old chronic alcoholic? You’re liver enzymes are so high that you’ll die of cirrhosis before you hit 30”. I was 21. In July (or thereabouts) of ’92 I was arrested for drunken driving. I was less than a thousandth over the legal limit but with my record, I didn’t have a prayer. I called my dad from my cell and he informed me that he appreciated the call then hung up. I was on my own. My employer bailed me out the next day and I called my out-patient treatment counselor to let her know what I’d done. I had been informed months earlier after my mother called to report me coming home drunk after a spectacular bender that if I messed up one more time I was going to be sent away to in-patient. Well, it was time to pay the piper. My counselor set it up for me to go to Dawn Farms. I was scheduled to go in for 6-9 months, on November 18th, 1992. November 17, 1992 at somewhere around 11:55 pm, I had my last drink. That last drink wasn’t by design, I fully intended on going back to the bottle when I got out, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Now, most people have the idea that treatment centers are, for the most part, resorts. Not Dawn Farms, it’s a real working farm (or it was when I went there) and they take the hard cases. Multiple treatment stints, hard core drug addicts and the hopeless drunks – I was the latter.
My mother dropped me off at the treatment center where I had an “intake interview” with the president. Before I was called into the interview she gently stroked my face and with tears in her eyes, she asked if I’d be ok, that she wished I didn’t have to go. I grasped at air, telling her that I could change if she’d just take me home. She answered something to the effect of, “but then what? We’ve been down that road before”. I could only answer that she was right, because she was. The only thing I remember of that interview, more than 19 years ago now, was one question: “What makes you think you have what it takes to make it through this program? This isn’t easy here”. And my answer; “Because I have a lot of willpower”. That answer has haunted me, in a funny way, for 19 long damn years and I doubt I’ll ever forget sitting there, hung-over to beat the band, head pounding, stinking like draught beer and cheap liquor, completely lacking any self-control whatsoever, and I actually said that I possessed willpower!? Good God in heaven. At that, he must have figured that I was just about sick enough to need that place. I was taken right in and given a bunk. My first official duty at the farm, still incredibly hung-over, was to shovel out the pig stalls. That’s right, I was on pig shit detail. I wish I had a Benjamin for every time I almost lost what little was in my stomach that first morning.
After a day without a drink I began shaking uncontrollably. I can remember thinking, “so this is the DT’s”… Oh how little I knew, that was just the beginning. The shakes grew worse and were followed by intense irritability, night sweats, nausea and insomnia. By the time I hit the second week I was shaking so bad that I couldn’t drink out of a glass without a straw. The word misery doesn’t do justice to what I went through. Somewhere in my second week I was lying awake in my bunk bed, shaking and sick to my stomach, wondering what exactly the fuck I was going to do now. As I rolled that question around in my head, over and over again, I began to cry. I wasn’t sobbing, the tears just started falling – because I had no idea. I did know deep down that I was meant for more than this, I just didn’t know how I could get there and taking that journey without alcohol scared the hell out of me. That’s when I had my come to Jesus moment.
Tears streaming down my face, shaking and nauseous, I asked God for help. Actually, I tried for a bargain. I can remember thinking, “God, I know I’m supposed to be somebody, I know my life is supposed to be better than this. If you’ll help me, I’ll give this [sobriety] my best shot. That wasn’t the last time I ever wanted a drink, but it was the last time I needed one. I slept like a baby for the rest of the night. Somewhere in early January I attended my sentencing for my drunk driving. My driver’s license was suspended for 3 months and I was given probation. A few days later I decided that I’d had just about enough of the Farm, that it was time to start my new life. On January 10th, a brisk but not miserable day, I set off down the road – four to seven months before I could have completed the program. My dad left work and came to pick me up. I remember the conversation on the way home. He said, “So what are you gonna do now smartass? You have no money, no job, no car and nowhere to live. What are you gonna do”? I hadn’t thought the move all the way through. Grasping at straws I begged him to let me come home, that I’d changed in treatment and things were going to be different. My mom and dad decided to let me stay, and things were different. Within six months, I had bought a car, had a decent job and rented an apartment. I had some rocky times but I kept up my end of the bargain that I made with God, and He kept up His end.
Tomorrow, I’ll go back to Dawn Farms for the first time in almost two decades, not a drop or drug since, to ride a bike for 62-1/2 miles in support of the treatment center that helped save my life, corporate donation in hand from a company that I own, because I was right… I was meant to be somebody.
I am a one percent’er. Not in the monetary sense that’s become so popular, but in the statistical probability that an alcoholic who quits at 21 makes it to his 40th birthday without going back to the old life, and it has absolutely nothing to do with luck.
And I’ve only just begun.