Robert is a 61-year-old man from Southern California and a current resident of the Gault Street House Sober Living Environment. The son of alcoholic parents, he picked up his first drink at only ten years old, malnourished, afraid, and seeking an escape. His drinking led to cocaine use and jail, and finally a desire to free himself from the misery of addiction. He has been struggling towards sobriety for a long time and has renewed his commitment to sobriety with a move to a Sober Living house. He is currently three months clean and sober. Robert at times finds it difficult to talk about the people his addiction has hurt. His courage in honestly exploring the depths of addiction makes this a very moving episode.
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Robert – Finding Relief In Recovery
Taught To Be An Alcoholic By Mom And Dad
Hello to all suffering addicts and to all the people who have found sanity in the recovery lifestyle. In this episode of Stories of Addiction, I will be talking to Robert about his addiction and his recovery from addiction. Robert is a client at the Gault House Sober Living Environment in Santa Cruz, California. He is 61 years old and his drug of choice was alcohol. Robert, how are you doing?
I’m doing great.
Why don’t you tell us how you got started with your drinking?
I’m Robert. I’m an alcoholic addict and I say that because I’m an alcoholic first and I didn’t find out until much later in my life that I was an addict as well. Alcohol is my drug of choice. I have a younger sister, a year younger and an older brother, two and a half years older. I was born in October 1957. As I was growing up, my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents were either Korean War veterans or World War II veterans. That’s the patriarchal environment that I was raised in. My dad was a hardworking guy. He moved heavy machinery in Los Angeles. He drove a truck and a trailer. The trailer was a specialized trailer and it was called a monorail.
You could pick up a hundred-thousand-pound weight machines, different things, crane him onto a platform where he can install them and disengage them. That’s what he did all day long, but he was a hard-working guy. He was gone whenever I got up and he would come home at 9:00 or 10:00 every night. My family looked pretty normal from the outside looking in, I believe. Looking back, I have pictures of my brother and sister and I dressed up when we were little. I was probably four or five. I was wearing a suit. My brother was wearing a suit. My little sister is wearing a church dress. My dad had a suit on and my mom had a church dress. That was a picture that we had on the wall. I can’t remember going to church too many times, but it’s one of the times I guess. Not to say we didn’t, but I just don’t remember too many times.
I was born in Los Angeles, California. For the first seventeen years of my life, that’s where I was raised. My maternal grandparents, my grandfather came over from Italy through Ellis Island in 1921. My grandmother on my dad’s side came over from Scotland. He emigrated from Scotland. My paternal grandmother was a welder on the ships during World War II. My dad was born in 1937. My uncle was born in 1940. She welded on the ships in San Diego and also in Brisbane, Washington. She supported herself, my dad and his brother during the war. My mother’s family moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles, and that’s where my parents met. They got married and they were sixteen. My dad went in the Navy right then at that moment. He went into the Korean War when he was sixteen years old. They were babies having babies.
The story goes. Alcoholism and addiction is something that I’m very familiar with because I grew up with it. My dad was a drinking man beyond normal conditions. Alcoholics Anonymous or recovery programs of any kind never touched his life. He died a drinking man. I remember when he would come home from work after a long day’s work. For us, bedtime was at 6:00. At 6:00, we are already bathed, fed, clean and homework was done if we had homework. I was too young for me to have homework, but we’re in bed and my dad would come home and I would be under the covers waiting for him to come home. He’d come home 9:00 to 10:00 at night. I would hear the door slam and I would jump out of bed. I would run to him and jump in his arms because that’s what I wanted from my dad.
The dinner’s cold, mom’s pissed off and dad’s drunk. He loves me for a few minutes, then him and mom started arguing and then I become the object of his punishment. I get sent to the emergency room three times before I started kindergarten through incidents like that. Back then the police didn’t do anything about that stuff. I remember the police coming in one time and my mom pulled my pajamas down and I had bruises all over me. They looked at and he said, “Thank you, ma’am. We’ll get back with you.” Nothing ever happened. I talk about that because it’s important later on in my story because there came a time in my life that nothing that happened to me mattered anymore. The only thing that mattered was that I take responsibility for my own actions, that I become accountable for my actions and to not place the blame where it didn’t belong. Life is life.
I was six years old and my brother and sister and I ended up on a plane going to Ohio. We didn’t know where we were going at the time, but we ended up on a plane going to Ohio. We were going to go live with my paternal grandfather. I had only met him once in my life before this. We arrive and we had two aunts. Technically there were my aunts, but they weren’t much older than us because my grandfather had a second family. My dad, I’m going to say he was maybe 30 at the time, I could be wrong about the ages, but that’s inconsequential. My parents were getting a divorce. Nobody told us anything. We ended up on a plane and my mom didn’t know where we were at.
My dad took us and he put us on a plane because he wanted to hurt her. The way to hurt her the most would be to take her kids away and that’s what he did unfortunately. We spent about six months there and my mom finally found out where we were. She came and got us. After that, she wasn’t financially or emotionally capable of taking care of us. We lived with aunts, uncles, grandparents on both sides, different places, even strangers for a few years. When I was ten and my sister was nine, my dad got remarried to his second wife and he thought it was a great idea to get custody of me and my sister. I have no idea what was going through his mind about that.When you’ve been filling your body with alcohol for so long, it eventually stops working and your whole body, soul, and spirit is poisoned. Click To Tweet
He bought a house and we moved in. His alcoholism had excelled quite a bit by that time. My sister moved out after about six months, so I was there and my dad was very reactive. He was still doing the same stuff. He would beat me within an inch of my life without a moment’s notice. His second wife was about as far along in her alcoholism as he was. I know this now, but I didn’t know it then. I’ve just observed and to the best of my memories, this is what I remember. They would come home at 5:30 every night with as much alcohol as they could carry and they’d be blacked out between 6:30 and 7:30, depending on how fast they drank.
They’d be blacked out in the living room, their heads would be tilted to the side and I knew they were out. Sometimes there was dinner in the form of a Swanson TV dinner and sometimes there wasn’t. Sometimes there was a Swanson TV dinner and they would leave it in the stove and it burned. One night when they were blacked out and there was no dinner, I went into the refrigerator. My stepmom used to keep a head of lettuce in the crisper and you could see through the glass on top of the refrigerator because there was nothing in it but beer usually so you could see right inside the crisper. I opened up the door and I knew that if they heard me opening up the door that I would be in deep trouble.
You didn’t know when the cannon was going to go off. I opened up the door real quiet. The light shined out from the refrigerator because it’s dark outside about this time and there was no lettuce. I was bummed out. I was an underweight ten-year-old and I was starving, but there was lots of beer in there. I reached in and I grabbed a can. It’s a 16 ounce can. I remember it like it was yesterday. I took it to my room and I was watching them the whole time. I was looking at the beer, looking at them, looking at the beer, looking at them and listening. I took the beer to my room and shut the door. I took my shirt off, put it over the top of the beer can. It seemed like it took me 30 minutes to open the top of that beer because it was so quiet that a mouse could have heard it.
I had that thing open and I remember taking the first swig and it felt like a big guzzle of acid went down my throat. It was the carbonation. I didn’t know that, but it was carbonation and probably the hops. Who knows? I waited a few minutes, the burning stopped and I took another drink. It burned a little less. I got about half of it down and it didn’t burn at all after that. I drank the rest and I would say within ten minutes, my stomach started getting hot and my hunger went away completely. It vanished. I had no fear. My fear went away. That alcohol took hold of me, an ounce of alcohol or whatever was in that beer can. It’s an ounce and half, I guess in sixteen-ounce cans. For an underweight ten-year-old who was hungry, it hit me pretty fast, I’m sure. I went right to sleep.
That was the best thing that ever happened to me. That moment in time in my life, I needed an escape and that was my escape. My caregivers were supposed to love and protect me. They abandoned me and hurt me. I needed relief and escape. I reflect back on that sometimes throughout my adult life and throughout my sobriety. I wonder sometimes maybe that saved my life at that very moment. There’s only so much a person can take, especially a young person. I had no one to reach out to. That was it. Back then there were no cell phones. There was no easy communication to anything.
Especially at ten years old, you don’t have a support system set up for yourself. Your world is very small and it’s kept small intentionally.
Thank you for asking me to share. When I go back and I relive my life and I think about what happened and I think about where I’m at now, it gives me a lot of gratitude. If I can say anything here that helps anyone, that anybody can identify with that helps them make that decision to live in the solution and not live in their addiction, then this is all worth it. I get emotional when I think back on that because it was the only relief I’d ever had in my life up to that moment in time, the present for me at that moment. Before that I had no relief and alcohol became a solution. I didn’t chase it after that and I moved out after that. I moved in with my grandparents. When I was eleven, I lived with my aunt and uncle in Porterville. I lived with my aunt and uncle in Palmdale. I lived with my paternal grandparents, I lived with my maternal grandparents. I flipped around about everywhere. I ended up back with my mom a couple of times.
I’m going to backtrack a little bit. When I was sixteen, my dad was leaving a bar with his wife that he lived with when we were with them. They stepped out into a crosswalk and a car hit both of them. It killed her and knocked him 40 feet, knocked the shoes right off of his feet. He was in a coma for I don’t know how long. He wore a ten-inch heel on his right boot after that. That’s when I was sixteen. When I was seventeen, I went into the Marine Corps. I signed up and I went to the Marine Corps. In my family, my parents got married when they were sixteen. Her parents got married when they were sixteen. Her great grandmother and her parents got married when they were sixteen. Through my family, when you were old enough to procreate or whatever, then they figured their job was done. “You’re graduating from high school. Get out of here,” with no life skills, no training, no anything. That’s the way that they had done things. I joined the Marine Corps when I was seventeen and I signed up in September, 1975.
My dad drove his pickup truck through a garage and put his face through the windshield. He had these scars about as wide as my fingers. He started below his eyebrow line and it went up all the way through his hairline right in front of his face. He walked around like that. I graduated from boot camp, came home from boot camp and on a ten-day leave from bootcamp. I’m seventeen. I came home from boot camp and decided it was a great idea to get married. Me and my high school sweetheart got married, the mother of my girls.
I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I thought it was a great idea because that’s what my parents did and that’s what everybody had done in my family. I thought that was the thing to do. Both of my parents who weren’t together at the time, they were going, “We’ll drive you to Vegas,” so they did. They drove us to Vegas. It was wonderful. It wasn’t very well thought-out. My wife and I lived in Oceanside at that time. Back at that time, my first job down there was driving a truck and a trailer. I’m in the motor transport business now.Alcoholism is a disease. It’s an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. Click To Tweet
I was operating in a truck and a trailer right there on Camp Pendleton. I was delivering produce and food goods to all the mess halls and in tournament camps for the Vietnamese evacuees back then. I was delivering to those guys too. We got a little apartment out in town. It was $125 a month back then, and it was a nice apartment. I was a PFC and I made $100 a week. That was what I got and we made it work. It was good. I get this knock on the door, about 2:00 in the morning. I opened the door. The MPs are at the door and they said, “Here, call your brother.” He handed me a piece of paper that was torn off of a page. He said, “Call your brother.” They gave me his number.
I said, “What’s going on?” They said, “We don’t know. We were just told to come over, come and tell you to call your brother.” I walked down to Thrifty’s and for a dime you can make a phone call back then. I brought change though. I called my brother and he said my dad had been killed. I found out that he drove his pickup truck off of Highway 2. It’s called the Angeles Crest highway. It’s about a 300-foot drop. He was drinking and driving. He had nineteen drunk driving convictions at that time, two near-fatal accidents and he was still drinking. He was still driving when he drank. Talk about a guy that didn’t learn his lesson with serious trauma. To this day, the God of the universe maybe was being merciful on him to live any longer than that. He was 39 years old when that happened.
Especially if he didn’t kill anybody else after all that string of DUIs and stuff. You said it in the very beginning, but the state of treatment back then was so minuscule compared to the understanding we have of alcoholism and addiction as a whole. The field didn’t exist the way it does now. There wasn’t much help to people like him.
Alcoholics Anonymous was around, but it’s nothing like it is today. Addiction recovery is super-advanced these days. Look at this podcast for example. My grandmother read in the newspaper that he got killed. That’s the only way we knew. I had to go down to the LA County morgue and identify his body. That was something in my life that I had to accept. This program and the way that I’ve worked my steps, I’ve been able to forgive both my parents. They did the best they could. I don’t give him the leeway of saying that what they did was right because it wasn’t. It never would be under any circumstances. However, they did do the best with what they had and they didn’t have much. I learned a lot that I’ve handed onto my kids over time. My alcoholism progressed. When I went into the Marine Corps, my first daughter was born in May of 1978. She’s about six months old and they gave me orders to go overseas. I went overseas, I went to Japan, Korea, the Philippines and I was gone for thirteen months.
As I said, there are no cell phones back then. I made two phone calls in a year at home and it costs me $10 a minute on a $100 a week pay. That’s a pretty good amount of money to pay for a phone call, but it was worth every minute of it. We talked for ten minutes each time, so it was good. That’s when my alcoholism started to accelerate. I went overseas. I didn’t have a family to come home to anymore, so we worked and drank. That’s what we all did. Everybody that I hung out with, everybody that I knew, that’s all they did. I blacked out a few times when I was over there. I got in a lot of fights.
Me and my friends, we’d like to go find other servicemen and get drunk as hell on some exotic booze. I remember the first time I drank this drink called Mojo. They call it Mojo over there in Japan. They take a fifth of every booze you can imagine, a fifth of Tequila, a fifth of vodka, a fifth of whiskey, a fifth of whatever. They all mix it up and then they put a fifth of punch in it and that’s it. Then they start scooping it up and serving it to you. After a few of those, things get pretty wild.
When I came home, when I rotated back to the States, I call it the alien inside me because it changes me. I’m a Jekyll and Hyde when I drink. The alien in me, I knew it had grown. I could feel that it was something that I had to do. I’m a binge drinker. I would binge, take a break and then binge more. Over the time in my life, my binges became closer and closer together. After I got out of the service, I got a job out in town driving a truck and driving a tow truck. I’m a pretty inventive guy, so I started my first business a little while after that. I started buying cars.
If I drive by a car that had dust all over it, I would pull up to the house and say, “What’s wrong with your car?” They’ll say, “That thing doesn’t run.” I’ll say, “I’ll buy it for $50 and tow it away right now. Give me the title.” I gave him $50. It’d be a starter. I’d sell it for $1,000. Within two years, I had 25 cars parked all around my house. I’d have to move them every two days because the meter maid would come and chalk all the tires. I had a sock with about $40,000 in $100 bills in my closet. I would buy and sell cars and run my tow truck. The company I worked for had seven tow trucks. They had a nine-acre yard and they had a grandfathered auto wrecking license that they weren’t using and there was only one other in the whole county.
They had a paint booth, they had contracts with the CHP, with the local police department, with the Border Patrol, all kinds of stuff going on. The two guys that owned it were old men that wanted to lose money because they had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it. They needed a tax write off, so they kept this place. I bought it off them when I was 22. That was my first business. I gave them $100,000 down and took the place over. Something clicked after that happened. I was good as long as I was buying and selling cars, but once I took that thing over, I had no idea how to run a business. I was very good at talking and getting to business, but I had no idea how to handle the administrative part of it and how to handle the different things that I didn’t know. I was 22 years old with no experience. I had no experience in life because no one taught me as I was growing up. I had no experience in business, but I knew I wanted it.
This is 1980, 1981 more or less. I don’t know if you remember what happened in 1981, but tankers full of cocaine were coming over to the US. It was about free back then. I’d go over to anybody that I knew and they’d have a big old pile sitting on the thing. It didn’t do much for me, but it was there and I got used to it and started drinking and using it. The alcohol took away my fear and the cocaine made me feel invincible. It was a very lethal combination for me at that time in my life because I was young and full of piss and vinegar. I’m 22 and I just paid $100,000. I don’t know what that’s worth today, but that’s a boatload of money back in 1981. I get into a dispute back then with a couple of guys. I tried to kill one of them and they ended up sending me to prison. I got convicted of attempted murder, great bodily injury and a gun enhancement.You have to decide what's more important because if you're not sober, then nothing would exist anyway. Click To Tweet
I got a fourteen-year and four months sentence. I ended up doing eight years and ten months in the prison system. I went into that fast. Here I am. I’m a veteran, I own my own business, I’m young and I’m an alcoholic and an addict. I didn’t know that I was an alcoholic or an addict. I had no idea. I thought it was everybody else’s fault all this time. Back then, it’s got to be that guy or this guy or if that cop wasn’t there. It was always someone else except me because I could never be wrong. To be wrong would mean that there’s something wrong with me, and I was raised with that type of mentality.
I did my time. I have two daughters at this time. My girls were two-and-a-half and five when I went in and they were ten and thirteen when I get out. Their mother and I got back together when I was in the joint and we stayed together until I got out. A year after I got out, I left her and we still are dealing with that now. My oldest daughter is 42 and my youngest daughter will be 39. They’re both born in May. The consequences of my actions. I didn’t get in any trouble before he went to prison and when I got out, I haven’t been in any trouble since. I got arrested for being drunk in public since I’d been out and a couple speeding tickets, but that’s about it.
It was a pretty good adjustment for me going behind bars. I didn’t know anything about what it was like being inside. Every time I’d reflect, I’d have a couple of old cons pull me in and take me to school. They checked my heart. My heart checked good until they said, “We’re going to teach you what to do here.” That probably saved my life doing that. I get out and I went to college when I was in the joint. I was in Soledad for four years and they offered classes from Hartnell College and San Jose State University. They offered an accredited program where the professors went down to the prison and taught classes and you got credits and you graduated. I have my diploma from Hartnell College and I got my Bachelor’s from San Jose State. I was always doing something. The boys in the yard used to call me, “Schoolboy,” and I didn’t care. I worked in the kitchen, so I ate as much as I wanted. I worked out every day and got healthy. That way I was exercising my mind. I couldn’t wait until I get up because I want to be with my family. In there, I wasn’t focused. Alcohol wasn’t part of my daily life like it was on the outside.
Have you been exposed to the Twelve Steps at that point? You said that you didn’t think of yourself as an addict or alcoholic. I know they have the Twelve-Step fellowships in prison and things like that. I’m wondering where that exposure came from.
I went to jail in February of 1982 and I got paroled in September 1991. If there was an AA program in prison, I didn’t know of it back then. It’s when I got out. That’s what it was like. That’s how I got introduced alcohol. That’s why I got introduced to alcohol. That’s important to too. It’s important for me to remember that it’s an escape. I needed to turn this off my own. I’m pointing towards my head here. I needed to turn off what was going on up there because it was too much for me. I couldn’t handle it. Alcohol helped me do that and I turned off the pain of hunger and turned off the pain of fear. That worked at that time.
When I got out, I didn’t realize that I was an alcoholic. If somebody mentioned that I had a problem with alcohol or even hinted towards that, I’d be reactive because I wasn’t an alcoholic. That was saying that something was wrong with me and there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s got to be you. I still had that thing going on. Plus, now I’ve got a prison mentality and I know it, but I can’t help it because I had to live it for so long. I’m trying to get out of that deal or get away from that. I left my first wife again for the second time once I got out and remarried about seven years later, about 1997.
The woman that I married was dysfunctional. Her kids were dysfunctional. I was so blind with lust and alcohol that I couldn’t see it. As a sober objective man in my state of mind that I’m in today, I would’ve never made that choice, but that was then and this is now. That’s where I get the gratitude from this program. The binges got closer over the years. It got closer and closer together to where I was only taking a day or two at the most after two or three weeks of pounding it down. I’d be drinking a couple course of vodka a day and then I would be taking Ambien. I got a prescription for Ambien. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken Ambien, but I was taking ten-milligram pills. A ten-milligram pill will make a rhinoceros drool in about fifteen minutes. It will be out snoring. I would take ten of those a day. It was crazy.
One day, the alcohol stopped working. My body and my soul and my spirit were so poisoned. I have to explain what that means. It’s obvious from the drugs and the alcohol and the abuse. Emotionally I was bankrupt because I had never dealt with any emotional issues throughout my life. I would put the bottle to my lips and they would all go away. I would never process any type of life events that happened to me. I would get pissed off, I’d drink and it’d be over and in the next day. I would forget it. I was 54 years old when all this took place. That was in March of 2012. What I didn’t realize is that from the time I was ten and I took that drink until the time I was 54 years old, I hadn’t dealt with much. Emotionally I was a 54-year-old, 10-year-old and that’s real crap right there. I couldn’t deal with it.
Once I got introduced to this program, I realized that if I wanted to live, I needed to grow up and I needed to do it real fast. I went to this meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous at noon. A few years before that I knew I had a problem with alcohol. I’ve always known that I had a problem with alcohol. I never admitted that I’d had a problem with alcohol. I even went to my doctors a few times for a checkup. I mentioned to him maybe years before I went to my first meeting, I would say, “I’ve got a problem with drinking. Do you have a pill for that or something?” I always wanted something easy. I’d never wanted to work for it. He said, “You might want to try Alcoholics Anonymous.” I’m going, “What is that? That sounds like work. Probably not. I’d rather go drink and forget it,” which is what I did. I went to my first meeting, it was at noon. I have to say that back when I had my towing company, I had a thriving business, I turned it into a real money maker and then I threw it away with drugs and alcohol and then violence. Nothing changed after that except that there wasn’t violence because I knew what would happen if I did that again.
I avoided violence, but I still used the escape. I started a business back in 2000. I turned it into a multimillion-dollar program and threw it away. I started another one in 2006 and I did the same thing. I started this one that I have now in August of 2010. I’ve been sober with the caveat since then, but I want to go back to my first meeting because it was important. That first meeting that I went to was important. I went into this meeting. It was like I heard other people talk since I’ve been going to meetings about their first meeting. Everybody was laughing, everybody was were talking and laughing. I didn’t know how I could be in a place that could help me because I felt miserable. I felt hopeless, helpless and I didn’t know what to do. These people in this room didn’t sound like they had anything that I had.A drink doesn't seem so bad until you take it, then it just runs away. Click To Tweet
Then all of a sudden everything got serious and somebody started talking. I don’t remember what the speaker said. There was a speaker. I remember at the Lord’s Prayer at the end, I started crying. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was on my pity pot feeling sorry for myself, and then I walked outside afterwards. This guy follows me out. He’s from San Diego. He’s not even from the area. He’s from San Diego visiting. He’s hitting the meeting. He follows me outside and we go to the corner. I’m in the corner of the parking lot. He goes, “Do you want to smoke a cigarette?” I said, “Sure, I guess.”
I didn’t even smoke a cigarette. That messed me up. He’s talking to me and says, “There’s a solution. I know where you’re at right now because I’ve been there.” He started telling me a little bit about himself and he got me interested. He said, “I got the answer for you. Let’s go have some coffee.” We went down for two hours and read The Big Book. We were sitting right on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop and we read The Big Book Of Alcoholics Anonymous. He had me read. He wouldn’t read. He said, “You need to read.”
He had me read it, so it was a great exercise. After that he goes, “There’s a meeting tonight right down the street at 7:00. Meet me right here in the corner and we’ll go to the meeting together.” I was there and he didn’t think I was going to show up. To be honest with you, I didn’t know if I was going to show up or not either, but I was so desperate at the time. I got the gift of desperation. I was so desperate that it was unbearable. I felt like I had bugs crawling all over my arms. When I laid down at night to go to sleep, as soon as my eyes were closed, I would start breathing like I was sleeping.
I would wake up because I was afraid I was going to stop breathing. I had that fear. There’s something wrong with my middle ear. I would walk in and feel like I was walking on a rubber floor. I was pretty poisoned. My body was poisoned and my mind was poisoned. I have so many unresolved issues that it packed. I feel like when they tell the story about peeling the onion. I picture the unresolved issues that I had never dealt with through my whole life as layers of the onion. At that moment in time, I had packed so many of those into my body that no more would fit. I couldn’t fit another one in there.
It wouldn’t go, so I had no relief. I went to that meeting that night and these guys were coming up to me, shaking my hand saying, “My name is Jeff. What’s your name?” I was thinking, “What do these guys want? This is a club and they must want to sign me up so it’s got to cost a lot of money here.” This is what I’m thinking. Later on, I realized that I was so sick that anybody that knew anything could tell and see that instantly. They want to come and help me because it was helping themselves, but I didn’t know that at the time. Jeff says, “My homegroup is tomorrow night.” This was on a Monday.
The weekend before that, I drank so much vodka and taken so many pills that I had laid on my living room floor for 30 hours. My stepdad didn’t know what to do with me. That next Monday morning, I went to the meeting I described to you. Jeff says, “I got my home group tomorrow night. It’s in Prunedale. I’d like you to come.” I said, “Okay.” We exchanged numbers and I met him in Prunedale. He took me to his sponsors’ house. There was a meeting in the sponsors’ house. I met everybody at the meeting and I met my sponsor there. I relapsed a whole load of times. I relapsed one day, two days a week, six months, four months, three months. I had a million chips.
Finally in March of 2012, it took. The whole thing took and I didn’t drink after that. I accepted the difference between all those times that I tried to get sober even though I wanted to. Even though I was desperate and even though I did the steps and I did all the work that I was asked to do. I didn’t have a higher power that I relied on. I hadn’t admitted to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic and that my life was unmanageable. I knew my life was unmanageable, but I didn’t admit to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic addict. The moment I did that and the moment I started relying on a higher power on a daily basis, it was easy. I didn’t have a drink after that. I got in with the program. I had to reprogram the entire way I lived my life into a different way of living.
There were no more lies, no more dishonesty. Everything was being sanitized with the sunlight of the spirit. When people came to me and said, “You did this and you did that,” I wasn’t backpedaling saying, “If I admit this, then I’m admitting that I’m doing something wrong and I’m never wrong.” All that crap had to go out the window. I’m saying, “I remember that, and that was wrong for me to do that. I don’t do that anymore. How can I make that right? Do I owe you money? Do I owe you labor? Let’s look at that.” It was peeling all that stuff away.
This disease is an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. I could not stop thinking about escaping my life. I equated that with a drink because that’s exactly the first thing that happened when I took my first drink. It was an escape from reality through alcohol. It was instantaneous. About nine months into the program, I’m talking to a friend and a friend that got sober almost at the same time, about six days after me. We were talking outside of a meeting and then I’m going, “I don’t remember the last time I wanted to drink off of my problems. I don’t know when that happened, but I know it’s gone. It was a miracle.” I lived my entire life like that and all of a sudden, I was free from that. It was such a wonderful gift.
I wanted to tell everybody. It was like the church guy that gets Jesus and he runs around the pews because he’s so excited about it. That was me over Alcoholics Anonymous. I jumped on that pink cloud and I stayed on it. I stayed on it until I got off it. I stayed sober. I have to see this part of it. The other difference was I had to check. In March 2nd 2012, I checked into a recovery center for 30 days. It was up in San Jose. My business had 27 employees and I had 75 trucks. I signed the checks, but I had to check out. I didn’t get a phone call for ten days and the first phone call I got was ten minutes. I used to be connected to my phone and I had to give all that up, but I had to decide in myself what’s more important. If I wasn’t sober, then nothing would exist anyways. I wouldn’t have a family. I wouldn’t have a business. I wouldn’t have a life and all of it would be gone and they’d be at my funeral.When you have a problem with alcohol or drugs and you have a disease, it will only get worse and it never gets better. Click To Tweet
When I got out of that deal right there, I had one employee left and myself. I started to rebuild my company. I told my creditors the truth. I owed the federal government $350,000. I hired a tax attorney who got me an offer and compromise. Many good things happened after that. It was unbelievable. Because I was telling the truth, some of the customers I called before I went into that recovery thing said, “Go ahead and take care of yourself.” They already knew it. They already know I had a problem. When I got out, when I would talk to other people, I found out that there are other people that are recovered too in my business. I met a new guy. I’ve known this guy for 25 years. He’s got two years of sobriety right now. Back in the heyday, he was horrible like me. We both talk about it all the time and we do business together. We know what we get when we deal with each other. We get the good stuff.
Some other funny things happened. I started taking care of my body. I was 255 pounds. I started exercising, taking vitamins, eating the right food and doing the right things. My stepdad had a quadruple bypass surgery and I was able to take care of him during that and able to be there and be present for him. It was great because he’s been in my life since I was fourteen. After I was sober for four and a half years, I thought to myself, “I should check my cholesterol. I should start checking this stuff.” I went and had an MRI on all my arteries. They came back with a disc. The disc says, “0% of the population has less plaque than you in your arteries.” I couldn’t believe that. I had been taking fish oil and krill oil and exercising every day for four and a half years. Who knows what I looked like inside before that, but this is what I look like now and it didn’t matter. This is the result.
A few months later, I’m wearing these glasses and my vision’s getting worse. I’m going, “It’s time to go get some new glasses. Something’s going on here.” I go into my optometrist. I’ve had the same guy for ten years or longer than that, maybe twenty years now. I go into the optometrist, he puts me in the thing, puts the drops in, looks in my eyes, scopes it out. He goes, “What have you been doing?” I weigh 195 at this time. I lost 60 pounds and I kept it off. I’m going, “I’m taking my vitamins and eating good food and exercise on a regular basis.” He goes, “Whatever you’re doing is right. Your right eye used to be your bad eye.” I had better than average vision in my left eye and I barely had a little divot in my right eye. He says, “You need reading glasses. That’s all you need.” My vision improved. Who gets that when they’re my age?
My cardiovascular health improved, everything improved. My life got better, my kids got back into my life. It was a wonderful thing. I was able to help people. I did everything I was supposed to do and life was wonderful. I had a service commitment. I had two service commitments in H&L. I went to the psych ward at the local hospital for four years. I went to Soledad prison where I did time and saw a couple of guys that I knew. These are guys that are doing life and will never get out. They know what we know. It was funny. That was unbelievable that I saw that. I thought about that before I took that commitment and I said, “I was in for a while. There’s got to be somebody in there that’s still in there that wasn’t there when I was there.” It gave me gratitude.
Those guys in there are like we are. There’s no difference in their addiction then we have. They get it. The guys who go to those meetings, they want help. I felt grateful that I could take the message to them and then present it as no one where they’re at because I was there. I have several service commitments. I had a homegroup. I had a group of men that I kept in contact with. I did everything I was supposed to do. Whenever I had fear, I had a phone and I could pick it up and I could call somebody and I could talk to someone. One of the guys that I knew more likely had already gone through what I was about to go through. The miracle of the whole program is that I didn’t have to do this alone.
There were other people that have been through what I had been through. They were already had been through what I’m going to go through in the future. They could help with that. I didn’t have to escape or run from anything. If I had a medical issue, I’d see a doctor. If I had a legal issue, I went to an attorney. If I had a tax issue, I’d go to a tax lawyer. If I had a spiritual issue, I would go to AA. I would talk to my sponsor. Being able to do an inventory on different things no matter what it is, you can break it down and see what part belongs to me and what part doesn’t and being willing to accept that.
Have you kept the same sponsor over your entire time in recovery?
No. I’ve had three sponsors. The original sponsor that I had, I had him up until I went into that recovery center. When I came out of that, I got another sponsor. I was sober about six and a half years. I got sober on March 2nd of 2012 and then I took a drink around October of 2018. Whatever that is, it was quite a bit of time and most of it, I enjoyed. January or February of 2018, I made a decision in my professional life and it was a wrong decision. I made it for the wrong reasons and I was unwilling to take it back. My pride and my ego got in the way. In order to fix it, I started pouring myself in my business. I made a choice when I did that to put my business before my sobriety. That was another thing that I did when I took my last drink. I made my sobriety the absolute most important thing in my life, then all that changed. It was fear-based. I lost a whole lot of money and instead of being humble and admitting my faults, I decided not to do that.
I got a resentment for another member of this program. Then I got a resentment to a family member and then I’ve got a resentment to a business associate. I didn’t resolve any of them and they ground me up inside. If I had come clean with the whole thing and gave it back and said, “I was wrong. Let’s start over,” but I can’t go back. It happened. I ended up taking a drink in October 2018. It took me about ten months to take that drink from the time that I made that decision. A whole series of events took place and I’m going to tell you the disease is alive and well in me. It’s waiting patiently and it knows my weakest moment. That’s when it’s going to glom onto me and it won’t let go. It says, “Hate on him. Hate on her. You don’t need to go to that meeting today,” and all of a sudden, a drink doesn’t seem so bad until you take it and then it runs away.
June 27th was my last drink. I got so many days in my new recovery program and I feel like the years that I was sober did not go to waste whatsoever. I have all those tools in my toolbox now. It felt like I went to sleep for a while and I woke up again realizing what’s important in my life. Without this program, the fellowship and my higher power, I won’t have anything else. Everything else will disappear as it has for so many as it did for my dad. I believe he felt hopeless and helpless. It was funny, my first sponsor, when he started talking about alcoholism and different things, he said, “People don’t know what the solution is. They end up driving off a cliff.” He had no idea that my dad did drive off a cliff when he said that, so it was funny. It’s funny how I relate to stuff these days. Instead of picking out the differences, I find the similarities and that’s what keeps me connected to everything.
What advice would you give to someone who’s maybe considering getting sober or has been sober and has gone back out again? Maybe they’re trying to get back or playing with the idea? Maybe somebody who’s new in sobriety and is considering doing what you did and turning back towards it. Our old solutions stop being a solution at some point.
For the newcomer, for those that know deep inside that you have a problem with alcohol or drugs of any kind, in chapter three of The Big Book Of Alcoholics Anonymous on more about alcoholism, it says that our disease always gets worse and it never gets better. That’s absolutely true for everyone that I know. I know thousands of people in this program that I’ve met throughout the years, literally. Every one of them says the same thing, it always gets worse and it never gets better. That statement is true. It’s true and is tested in time. If you feel that in your life, it’s because it’s happening but there is a solution. You don’t have to live that way.
You don’t ever have to take a drink or a drug again in your whole life. Even if you want to take it, you don’t have to take it. Those of you that are unsure, there are a lot of ways to test it. There’s a twenty-question pink questionnaire that Alcoholics Anonymous gives out. You don’t need to show it to anybody. You can answer them in private yourself, but be honest when you’re answering it. If you check enough of those boxes, maybe you need to look into it. The other thing is go to a bar and take one drink. That’s it. Leave and then not take another drink for a month. Maybe you’re not an alcoholic and it’s a good test.
I know what this program has done for me and I know where I was at when I got here. I wasn’t looking for a club to join, to upgrade my professional life or my pleasure life. It was something that I was desperate. I was seeking a desperate answer. I was desperate to seek the answer that I was looking for and I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to quit drinking, but I didn’t know how. I had a reason to get drunk my entire life. I always made up a reason and at the end, I didn’t have any reason. It’s just what I did. I got drunk. With drinking comes lies, deception, everything that destroys, all the destructive mechanisms that go with it. I would say to the people out there that have some time under their belt, they have some sober time.
I’ve heard throughout the years, people talk about the seven-year itch and the five-year itch and all this stuff. I would say that I got too comfortable with who I was. I had a lot of gas in the tank, meaning that I had no desire to drink. I could go anywhere where everybody could be drunk and I wouldn’t want it. It wouldn’t cross my mind, but I got too comfortable. I was protected because my higher powers protected me because I was doing what I was supposed to do. I was pouring that protection over me on a daily basis. I was saying my prayers every morning. I was asking to be under his protection and care directing my thoughts and my actions on a daily basis. I was giving myself up to him in the third step prayer on a daily basis so I could be an example for others or for whoever cared to look.
I stopped doing that. I made something else my priority. Maybe I needed this evidently. On the 28th of June, I ended up in the ER and it took me nine days to get there and I got there pretty fast. I was drinking. The whole thing about it was that my body was clean and I was 60 pounds lighter than when I stopped drinking but in my brain, my mind told me that I could drink as I did before. I was consuming as much alcohol as a 255-pound man could drink, but I was 195 pounds and it put me on my ass. These friends of mine that were in the apartment complex next to me, they were downstairs. He and his wife came into the ER, into the room because they heard that I was over there and they walked in the room and they didn’t recognize me. They said, “We didn’t even recognize you.” I know this is where I’m going to stay. This is my life. I suggest anybody that wants to be free of the obsession and the allergy, there is a solution.
Thank you so much for that story. I have to agree that a lot of times, in my own experience and watching the experience of others, that sometimes it takes us testing ourselves in that way, even if we didn’t intend to. When we then get back in recovery, it redoubles our effort and our commitment to ourselves, to God and to our sobriety. For some people it doesn’t take that but then again, they also say there are different strains of the disease and whatnot. I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for joining us on the show. To all our readers, we wish you to stay sober and to be happy.
Robert is a 61-year-old man from Southern California and a current resident of the Gault Street House Sober Living Environment. The son of alcoholic parents, he picked up his first drink at only ten years old, malnourished and afraid and seeking an escape.
His drinking led to cocaine use and jail, and finally a desire to free himself from the misery of addiction. He has been struggling towards sobriety for a long time, and has renewed his commitment to sobriety with a move to a Sober Living house. He currently has 3 months clean and sober.
To learn more about recovery from addiction and to get started in the Recovery Lifestyle, join our mailing list here at http://www.ResponsibleRecovery.net and join the conversation taking place on our FaceBook group and follow us on Twitter.