Brian C., Wisconsin
Hello, my name is Brian and I am an alcoholic.
I am a believer in the fact I was born an alcoholic. My parents raised me to know the difference from right and wrong, and for the most part I chose wrong because it was (what I thought at the time) more fun. My first recollection of drinking was at the age of 11 when my father shared his beer with me at our summer lake home. I’m sure there were earlier events, but this is the first that I recall. I remember not liking the taste of that beer, but even with the sips that I had, I remember the warm tingling feeling I got shortly after taking those first few sips.
I came from a loving household that I thought was fairly normal - at least until my later years when I found recovery. My father and mother were drinkers, but no more than any of the friends and colleagues that frequented our home. When I was 12, my parents moved us from the growing town of Forest Lake, Minn., to the lake home where I took my first tastes of alcohol near a small town in Wisconsin. It was there that my parents found their fortune in the real estate market. Along with the success of my fathers business, came the art of entertaining clients and friends. This meant lots of alcohol in the house and the ability for me to test them out.
My drinking endeavors seemed to escalate, as I got older. Many times there was what I called unfortunate events that I later realized to be consequences of my drinking.
Drugs also became a part of my routine early in high school. I believe I tried speed for the first time when I was 15. Shortly thereafter came smoking pot, but when we moved to another town my junior year, the drug use took a back seat to drinking. For the rest of my high school career and into post high school education, alcohol became my way of fitting in with people around me. I started using drugs on a regular basis after my first year out of high school. Drugs were all around if you knew where to find them and they were not hard to find. I saw a couple of what I thought to be friends get hauled off to jail for drug use and possession, and decided that jail was not for me, so I stopped using the drugs. Of course, the alcohol use increased dramatically. This was the start of what I call the downslide into the depths of this disease of alcoholism.
The legal consequences of my alcohol use started to come about. I got a “Driving While Intoxicated” ticket at the age of 19. I spent a night in jail, went to court and basically had my fingers slapped and paid a fine. This was about 1983 and the laws were nothing like they are now. That was the first of what would turn out to be five drinking and driving tickets. Yes, I said five, and for the last four of the five, I ended up in front of the same judge. With today’s laws, I would have spent a substantial amount of time in prison for those offenses. Remember me saying that I quit drugs to stay out of jail? Well, each of the times I was picked up for drunk driving there was a stint in the iron bar Hilton. The judge now knew me by my first name and that was not a good feeling.
Along with the legal consequences of my disease, came many other pit falls. Mental, physical and the loss of respect for myself and for those that cared about me were just as devastating. I had now isolated myself from my family and my friends and by the time I was in my mid 20’s I was digging a deeper and deeper hole.
All the years of ignoring legal fines and driving consequences finally caught up with me. In 1991, I once again was pulled over for a traffic violation and again I had to go to court. Guess who was sitting on the bench??? That’s right the same judge…but this time it wasn’t just a fine. The judge was kind enough to give me some choices in what was to happen next. The judge looked down from the bench and said, “Brian, I have some options for you.” Ok, I said. “The first is you can go into a 28-day treatment program for addiction.” I told him that I didn’t think that was going to work for me. He said, “Ok, here is another choice. You can do a six week outpatient treatment program.” I said I didn’t like that choice much either. Then he said, “Well, I have one more option for you then.” Ok, I said, what is it? He then said, “you can spend the next three months in jail.” It didn’t take me long to tell him that option two sounded just fine to me.
From that point on, even though I didn’t quit drinking until the day before my outpatient treatment was to start, my life started to change.
It was in treatment that I started to see all the consequences of my alcohol use. One such consequence happened back in 1983 after my first drunk driving incident. It was a night in mid-November and a friend and I decided to go up north and do some snowmobiling. Snowmobiling to me meant bar hopping and that is what we did. Toward the end of the evening, my friend and I decided to stop by a local tavern and talk them into selling us a 12 pack of beer.
While we were in the tavern, we overheard one of the patrons say; “party” and we were all game for that. The next sequence of events is somewhat of a blur, but for the most part this is what happened. Heading down a back road on the snowmobiles, I decided to rev it up a bit and see how fast we could get to this party. All I remember was reaching about 85 mph and seeing this little yellow sign that said, “curve ahead, 25 MPH.” As far as we can figure, I was doing around 65 mph when I hit the curve. The next thing I knew I was sailing through the air with the snowmobile flipping over me. When I came to, my friend was standing over me asking me if I was alright. He proceeded to help me up with me realizing I was in a great deal of pain. The impact was so severe, that I had split my helmet and my eyeglasses in half. But the party was still waiting for us, so we flipped the snowmobile back on it’s track and proceeded to the party. It wasn’t until later, when the pain had gotten unbearable, that we decided to head back to my parents and call it a night.
The next morning, I couldn’t move. But instead of calling an ambulance, my friend piled me into the car and we headed back to the city where I lived. After another day of extreme pain, I finally decided to see a doctor. That is when I discovered I had broken my back in two places. I ended up in a body brace for six months.
It was what the doctors told me that really got me thinking. After they took x-rays, they told me that I was a very lucky man. They said, “If you hadn’t been drunk, you would surely be paralyzed from the waist down.” Wow, if I hadn’t been drunk… “Well, it was a good thing that I was drinking,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t until after my treatment for alcoholism that I realized, if I hadn’t been drinking, the accident might not have happened at all!
Today I am very grateful for alot in my life. At the top of my list is my Higher Power, which I chose to call God. Another is my ex-wife, who, if not so miserable to live with the first two years of my sobriety, I might not have gone to AA meetings every day of the week, just to get out of the house! She and I can actually laugh at that now.
Another on my list that I am very grateful for is that judge that sent me to treatment. He got the ball rolling that finally put me where I needed to be, a place where I could get the help I desperately needed.
A little story about that judge: I was sober about five years, when my present wife and I were at a gratitude banquet for our area’s district AA group. Sitting at a table with my newfound friends in the program, I looked up and saw the judge sitting at a table on the other side of the room. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s him.” Him who, she stated. “Him…. the judge that sent me to treatment. I have to go over and thank him.”
I crossed the room, approached his table and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hi, sir, I don’t know if you remember me but,” The judge interrupted me and said, “Sure I do, how are you doing. Brian?” Just then my jaw dropped and my heart sank to my stomach. “I am doing great,” I said. “It’s been about five years since we last saw each other hasn’t it?” he said, “Yes, that’s right,” I noted. “I just wanted to thank you for helping to save my life.” We talked for a bit more and went our separate ways.
I ran into that judge a couple of times throughout the years and every time, he would ask how I was. It was about 12 years into my sobriety when we met at an outdoor sports event and what he said then, I will never forget. He came up to me and asked again how I was. I of course said great. He then said, “What, it’s been about 12 years now hasn’t it?”
With astonishment I looked at him and said, “Ok, I have to ask. How is it that you remember how long I have been sober?” He turned to me and said, “ I have seen many people come in front of me in my courtroom. Many have made it back and many have not. When you have a success story, you never forget them.” It was at that moment that I finally realized that I was a success. My life had become something that I was proud of.
I have so many wonderful things to be thankful for because of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have a loving, caring wife…. who, by the way is also in the program. I’ve also got three great kids and a whole host of sober friends that are there for me, as I am for them. My oldest son was six months old when I sobered up and my youngest has never seen his Dad the way I used to be. My daughter had to see the struggles until she was six, but I have three of the greatest, talented and loving children a parent could ask for.
Today I take it just one day at a time and live my life the way I believe my Higher Power wants me to live it. Because of the program of AA and all the recovering alcoholics in my life, I am grateful to have over 14 years of “One day at a time” in sobriety. As long as I keep doing what I’m doing in the life of recovery - daily meditations, readings, AA meetings and keeping in touch with my Higher Power, I can live each 24 hours in peace and serenity.
I have come full circle in my life. I now work in the field of recovery and have never been happier. I hope to bring hope to those that still suffer from the disease of alcoholism and I can, if I remember to take it just one day at a time.