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Enter Hurricane

Posted by Levi Perttu on

Hi, my name is Jim W. My sobriety date is June 10th 2016 at 10:30 in the morning. Pretty much the exact time I surrendered. Though I didn't completely surrender my will at that time, I knew down, deep inside it was over... alcohol had run its course. In a literal and figurative sense, I was broke, I was homeless, I was ready to enter a shelter for homeless veterans. I didn't mention I was 1700 miles away from where I live in Texas.

At an early age, I was different or felt different, not terribly. Just not comfortable with who was. Not a biggie for some people but little did I know there was a small fire waiting for gasoline to be poured on it. I’m just the second of four boys growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC on the Virginia side. I played sports, had friends, played outside, almost all the normal stuff kids did back in the 70's and 80's. I didn't party with the cool kids, I didn't like the smell of cigarettes, I played soccer, did cub scouts and then boy scouts. Scouts was my first venture as chronic under achiever that would follow me throughout my days. For the final notes on childhood, my parents didn't drink, socially or on very rare occasions and when they did it was very little, mostly with my mother’s former state department friends; we were middle-middle class in a new neighborhood. The socio-economic background played very little part in my later years. The death of my Father, when I was 15 may have been the straw that broke the camel's back in a couple of years. Was there Alcohol in the house, yes. But I never gave it any thought.

In 1983 the year of graduation, I had further withdrawn from people (shyness masked as insecurities). Friends were making plans. My mother was busy working, taking care of two other brothers. I had no plan... no plans on work, no plans on college, I was building my shell or if you will a wall, to keep everyone out, long before I even took my first drink.

Enter hurricane. My first attempt at college was before the internet, I had to use libraries to look up colleges or institutions that would accept the marginally intelligent. For me it was a community college in Montana, Glendive Community College, a very small 2 year college. I had spent many a summer in Montana, outside Yellowstone park. So the state wasn't terribly unfamiliar. But I was a stranger in a strange town. My roommates were a guy from the Crow reservation, another from the Blackfoot reservation and a well to do guy, from the Canadian border. My drinking didn't start slowly, not at first… I was a race horse right out the gate. If it was available I drank it, if it was pot I smoked it. If it was acid I took it… If there was anything that would change the way I felt, I was all over it. I need to change the way I felt. I needed to change everything...I didn't care if it was -40 outside I was going to drink/drug to change the way I felt... And it felt good! It was fantastic, I was reborn. I wasn't the insecure kid from the suburbs. I would pass out in bars in the middle of the day, skipping classes, failing classes, borrowing money from Grandparents to feed this growing monster. Enough was never enough. If I could have “it”, I didn’t need you. All I wanted was to ease the...hunger? Much later would I know it was called craving…An uncontrollable craving, which would manifest itself in different ways. But alas, all good and terrible things must end. When college tells me to please pack my things and not return in the fall...that was a consequence of the lifestyle. Eight months of drinking and drugs and a bus ride back to Virginia, with my tail between my legs didn’t faze me because I had become a man…Well, a very immature man but at least I could legally drink in bars.

Between 1983 to June of 2016 there were brief pauses in my drinking. In fact it grew steadily worst; I didn't know I was out of control. There were only a few instances that actually had some consequences…A funny word, by definition…a result or effect of an action or condition, at least according to Merriam-Webster. I was working 3 jobs, going to another local community college, making good grades, A's and B's majoring in whatever I felt, Sociology, Psychology, History... you name it I took and passed it. I had romances, friends and a job…well…I was suspended from work once… for drinking during lunch… That's not a consequence, right? Or at least I didn't believe it was at the time. It wasn't the first time I drank on the job...I was just unwise and got caught. But it was a lesson not to repeat itself often, I learned to hide it. Soon employment would come and go rapidly. But to me it was still not a consequence. I drank for the good times and I drank for the bad times. I drank in warm weather and cold, for driving on a suspended license leading to wrecking a company car...I drank in relationships and out of relationships leading to breakups. For getting into a fight which nearly killed me…or at least knocked me out cold for a few hours…these were all somebody else's fault never my own. I did this without ownership…I didn't take the responsibility, unless I got someone pregnant. Whatever happened it wasn't my problem. I had been dealt an unfair hand in life…Right? I was becoming the master of the universe…Slowly spiraling out of control, but it wasn't alcohol to blame it was you…and you... After, five or six years of community college totaling 117 course credits, I was burned out on work, fired from the bar 3 times with no relationship goals in sight…I did what any good drunk does…Find another place or person or thing…in other words I kept running...

After burning a few bridges, I was tired. But surprise, the tiredness around drinking never lasted long…I’d saved some money so I boarded a plane to Billings, Montana. I was at this time 24. I had money, I had smarts. I was the master of the universe. I just had a small drinking problem that I was acutely unaware of. In college once more I managed straight A's for 2 years, was entering pre-law coasting to a future law degree. I found I could be fairly intelligent, at least when it served me. Oh, I got married and I was ready for the American dream! I was the master of the universe. My soon to be wife was pregnant. My drinking tapered off and almost stopped. I was living the dream finally. But…like many dreams when mixed with substance abuse, this dream faded quickly. I found myself without any other the option than having to support a family. I was ill prepared to do this…So the next best option was the military. So closes the 1980’s...goodbye to punk rock days, goodbye to a carefree life, goodbye to no responsibilities, Hello US Air Force.

I was miserable swearing a god forsaken place yet again...I didn't want to be there, I didn't want to be in the military. I belonged…some place…I just was not exactly sure where that place was. I wasn't ready for a family…But surprisingly I hadn’t had a drink in six months, thank you Air Force. I was aware of little things like character defects and caught a glimpse of a few in the way of a desirable future for me.

Enter category 2 hurricane… In other words off to Germany. Sure I had left the states before. The Virgin Islands which is technically another country, but that was a lifetime ago. On my out processing in Texas, the out processor asked me “who’d you pissed off to get this assignment?” Frankfurt Germany…It seems I was to go to a country I had no intention of visiting, to a town I’d never heard of, on a different part of the globe which was miles and miles away from familiarity...I was doing my four years and then that would be it. I had a plan.
Right off the plane a new year, the 90's. Touchdown in Germany where I took my drinking to a new all-time low-high. No shame, I showed up for work drunk, which in the military is a no-no. I escaped harsh punishment but continued to only find myself blacked out on July 2nd and coherent on July 4th. I have no clue what happened for 2 days! I drank because I was happy, I drank because I was sad and I drank because I got divorced. I drank in Paris, I drank in Belgium, I drank in Holland…but doesn't everyone? NO they don't! I was drinking for loneliness, I drank for self-pity. All I wanted to do for four years was drink to oblivion. And somehow I had managed to make scrap out of a fairly good military career. One last note I picked up a new hostage…Wife number 2...

The beginning of the end…I rounded out my military time, but not without many trips to the Middle East. I picked up some sober time, knowing that as soon as I entered international airspace, I was going to drink on a 20 hour flight…time and time again…When I was home I wanted to be over there. When I was over there I wanted to be someplace else... I couldn't find happiness, I couldn’t find out how to be alive. By 2000 I had tossed my military career away. I got off with little repercussions. A good record, some PTSD, and a huge drinking problem yet unknown to me. What follows is a mostly accurate account to summarize... Eviction, homelessness, eviction, moving in with family, moving out, my hostage (wife 2) leaving, the death of my mother, depression spiral, continued binge drinking for the next 16 years. I managed 3 convictions, 2 for driving on a suspended license, grand theft for a rental car. I could hold a job for three or four years but eventually they would tire of me (it was their fault). Eventually I was unemployable. Whether it was the state department or Government contracting; even with a security clearance… no one would accept me... even the day labor stopped offering opportunities. God had forsaken me…I had done whatever it took…or so I believed.
In 2013 I packed up everything I hadn't lost in the 3 or 4 evictions and moved to Texas. Fresh starts were great when I was running away from all my responsibilities (though they would always catch up with me). In Texas you can lose yourself…sort of. I found new employment, lost it in a few months, found another job, lost it in 3 years. Apparently you can be a good employee yet get fired when you smell like booze all of the time. I had reached the very end...un-hirable again. I got my 2016 tax return and drank half of it and bought a pickup truck with the rest. At this time I was living at the end of the road, literally and figuratively. There was nothing left, just sitting in room 110 wanting to die. But alas that request was not granted. So I developed a grander scheme...move to Florida! Again running from responsibilities. I found a new hostage (friend) to take me in, Florida is another place where you can get lost. And lose myself I did and nearly everything else in the process. Schemes and dreams. I was living on the edge of society, no shoes just flip flops and a couple of changes of clothes. Job interview after job interview…for your information…I didn't have a driver’s License at the time. It is difficult to find a job without proper identification or shoes, but my ego and my pride would not accept I was lost…
The end of the end… When my hostage (friend) got tired of my unemployment, my drinking and my laziness they asked me to leave. Rather told me not to come back. It was their fault…Right? They lent me money which I had no intent to pay back. So I was homeless again. Sitting in my truck at the Walmart parking lot in Clearwater Florida with 60 dollars in my pocket thinking about my next scheme. But like all situations that were taking place I could not accept accountability for my actions. I didn’t realize I had been tethered to a Power Greater than myself. That power was the veteran administration, the VA. I didn't know I had a problem and didn't know that help was all around me. And it truly was! I just didn't know what the question was I needed to ask...the simple question, “Can you help me?” But pride and my ego wouldn’t allow me to ask it. I was going to be defiant to the end or die trying (which I nearly did). That was all on June 9th of 2016. Little money, no hope, no home, no license, no job or no offers…I should have been done...but I wasn’t. I hadn't hit the rock bottom. Funny thing is I didn't know what rock bottom was nor untreated alcoholism. It was everyone's fault but mine; that is untreated alcoholism. Not even the foxhole prayer was going to save me in this state of addiction.
I booked an appointment with a caseworker, whom I earlier had had an entrance interview with, to enter a homeless shelter in St. Petersburg FL. I had a way which involved a bit of coning with a sob story on my part...“Woe is me, life is so unfair”...I was an actor ready for my finest roll! The critics saw right through me. My caseworker was a former detective. I was busted, there was no lying. I filled out a questionnaire asking about my drug and alcohol use. I lied as best as I could, but not realizing they already knew the answer and I had a problem. I landed a room for a 60 to 90 day program. I was awarded with plastic sheets, army wool blanket and a plastic pillow. I felt hopeless. I attended “therapy” sessions at the VA and slowly felt myself growing crazy and insane. I was breaking down emotionally/mentally. I was lost. I had neither schemes, nor plans or hostages. I had lost the war.
A life preserver was tossed in my direction, drowning man. The funny thing about a drowning man is that they may refuse help as I did. I hadn’t fully accepted my doom. I hadn’t fully accepted I had a problem. After 30 days of feeling like a “dry drunk” I was begging for help! Sure I had attended an AA meeting or two, but those are the folks that REALLY needed help and knew they needed help. They are the ones that had real problems and could admit to them. I was beaten in to self-submission through therapy and exposing light on demons within. I was then tossed another life preserver. This time I grabbed it and hung on for dear life. I started attending more meetings. I got a driver’s license, things were changing and not for the worse. But thing were not getting better mentally. I need something to change. I needed a program of recovery. I didn’t really know anything about Alcoholics Anonymous, but I started working something they called “The Steps”. I read this thing called “The Big Book”. Again I truly didn’t believe I had a problem with booze, I believed it was everyone else’s fault. It wasn’t until I started looking in the mirror that I discovered it WAS my fault! It took time but with the help of others I made a full admission that my life was unmanageable. But was I really powerless over alcohol? Yes.
Now, everyone’s recovery is different, everyone’s addiction is different; this was MY rise and fall. I accept the cards I was dealt and I came to believe in something good that is greater than myself. At first a caseworker…then a social worker…then a group of alcoholics struggling/living with their disease. I attended a church for homeless people, obtained employment, and started paying my bills. I worked an 8-5 job, did service work driving people to meetings. I did what I had to do to survive! I was living on The Pink Cloud aka clarity to make the right decision and not use. I was not crawling or begging anymore…I was running! The spiritual experience, often discussed in recovery, written about Dr. William James, was the latent type. There was something there, something that I couldn’t identify. But whatever it was, it felt good. I was able to do the next right thing and I was not alone with my alcoholism. I had this peculiar thing, called friends. These friends helped me and I could assist or help them in return. I still find hard to understand today how this works…but it does.
I had a home group in North Texas, I was going to meetings. I didn’t care who you were, if I could help I would. But I didn’t undertand that even after my first year, meetings serve a purpose. I felt I no longer needed AA, that I was okay. But after not going to meetings for 6 months,between a year sober and my 18 months, an odd feeling started to resurface. I was feeling agitated, restless and discontent. I could not figure out what was wrong with me. I didn’t want to drink because I was aware of the consequences, but subtle whisperings began to arise, “Just one. Come on. You can have just one” those were my thoughts. I was beaten in to submission for the last time.
I returned to meetings and now go regularly, I took more responsibility for my recovery. I know today that just because I don’t drink, doesn’t mean I’m sane. Alcohol will take more and more each time if I decide to drink. So, just for today I choose not to drink! A choice I have made since June 10th 2016. Keep it simple. Take it easy. Do what it takes to overcome addiction and alcoholism…
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the thing I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

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