When I was a kid I got the shit kicked out of me a couple of times a week. My mom would make me strip naked and she’d beat me with a plastic belt. She’s tell me that I was getting nine lashes and, “You little bastard, if you even move an inch or make a single peep I’ll cut your balls off and give you another three lashes.”
I never knew my dad when I was a kid. When I was 8 days old he shot a guy and went to Walpole prison. After 4 years he got out on parole and ran to Canada. I met him a few times in my 20′s, but I soon decided that I’d be better off not getting involved
I started drinking daily at 13 years of age. That’s also when I ended up in jail for stealing a car. I think I did two weeks at the Brockton YMCA youth detention center… and then another six weeks soon after for violating probation by skipping school.
At age 14 or so I was placed in foster care. I was in and out of ten foster homes within two years.
I think when I was around 15 I started going to the Pentecostal church with my friend and his dad. There were times, a week here and a week there, where his dad would let me sleep in the attic. I became moderately involved with the church. I was also using drugs and drinking a lot. I was in conflict with myself. I was heavy into prayer and the concept that I should live the life that God wanted me to live. I remember feeling all mixed up and frustrated… sitting by myself on a brick wall at night with a fifth of Gordon’s gin listening to spiritual hymns sung by Kelly Willard and Mylon Lefevure on My Boom Box. I was shitfaced…. in tears and I asked God to turn me into the person that he wanted me to be.
I had a concept of God long before I joined AA
By age 16 I was a runaway living on the streets and drinking in back alleys. I lived under a concrete stairway at the back of Iandolie’s supermarket in Milford Massachusetts for quite a while and sold joints for a living. I remember walking through the dark, after a long day of selling joints, to my concrete home, talking to God and asking if my life was ever going to get any better.
At 17 I joined the Army for three years and drank like a fish the whole time. While in the Army I received two Army achievement medals and a good conduct medal. I was discharged at the end of my contract honorably.
When I got out of the Army I sold Pot again for a while and started using cocaine. I was what you might call a garbage head.
I met the mother of my child when I was 20 years old and soon after we moved in together and had my son. I held a job working third shift for the united paper-workers international union for 11 years. I became a shop steward and drank more than ever.
When my son was born I promised that I would give him the father that I never had. I cared deeply about my family, but I was never able to live up to my promise. My vision was that someday I’d kick the habit and I’d belong to something that I’d always longed for… That thing I’d been robbed of during childhood… I would build that for myself.
I robbed myself of that dream also. I simply could not get through a day without getting shitfaced plastered out of my head… and I was ashamed, so I’d go in the next room by myself and drink alone.
Drinking was an instant escape… I’d take a few drinks and I’d feel it wash over me like the tide of truth. Everything was alive then… I was free to dream again… I’d spend hours planning how I was gonna make everything all right… Tomorrow I’ll love my family and they’ll love me… Tomorrow I’ll be a good daddy.
I was living in a self-made fantasy.
I worked at night and drank during the day when my girl was at work… we lived separate lives. I drank mostly alone, and I drank a lot.
In 1990 I checked into my first detox at Adcare Hospital in Worchester Massachusetts. Over the next ten years I’d find myself going through programs at other hospitals including Edgehill Newport and Norcap at Southwood community hospital I think it was.
I joined AA… got a sponsor… became involved in the steps and relapsed over and over.
Through all of my hospitalizations I was taught that the only answer to my alcohol problem was to go to AA and work the twelve step program. If the insurance companies had just given me the money they wasted on cult indoctrination, I could easily afford a beautiful home.
In 1997, my girlfriend found someone else and suddenly took my son and moved out. I was devastated. That’s when I first attempted suicide.
Looking back, I can say that I don’t blame her. When she left I felt that the loss was too much for me to handle, so I decided to check out.
I wanted my life back, but the life I wanted back had only existed in my own mind. I had failed miserably and the only way out of the pain seemed to be killing myself.
When she left me it was apparent that I had failed. I couldn’t eat or sleep more than two hours for weeks on end. I wanted a second chance, and she wasn’t going to give it to me. She said that the staff at Edgehill Newport had advised her to leave me and get on with her life. I went to her house and took 100 Tylenol in front of her to show her how much I cared. It was a half-hearted attempt that landed me in my first psyche ward.
I spent almost ten years in and out of psyche wards… working the steps… relapsing. I did everything they told me to do at AA and none of it worked. It was ten years of confusion and self-doubt. It was ten years of self-defeatism and cult indoctrination. It was ten years of wasted effort… I’d sober up for a couple of weeks… then I’d relapse. Then I’d attempt suicide or just check in to the hospital again.
The two most serious suicide attempts were… I took 52 Trazadone with a twelve pack of beer and woke up 4 days later in a cardiac unit. I set up a bed made of chairs at the door of a gas oven and made a tent out of duct tape and trash bags… got really drunk… shut the pilot off… and went to sleep. I woke up with trash bags all over the floor and I was still alive.
I’ve always held a job… most of the time in that last ten years I’d have two or three jobs.
I was conning psychiatrists into giving me prescriptions for Concerta (time released Ritalin). I’d save it up and go on vodka and Ritalin sprees. I can remember going to work two jobs… coming home… and blasting off… then I’d sleep 3 hours and head back to work again.
Then I’d hit another hospital… work the steps… and fail.
I have to laugh when people suggest that I’m not a “real alcoholic.” These people don’t have a clue about what a real alcoholic is.
I know what it’s like to lose a dream.
I know what failure is.
I know what it means to “need” alcohol.
I know what it’s like to watch your life crumble around you… I’ve done it all of my life.
I know what it’s like to savor the sweet smell of a half rotten tomato I’ve picked from the dumpster… Tomatoes never tasted so good.
I know what love is… I’ve watched love pass me by a thousand times and I’ve chased it a thousand miles.
I know what an alcoholic is.
People at AA were turning their backs on me.
I’d had a sponsor that suggested I’d never make a “spiritual connection” if I continued to take psyche meds. I was on Zyprexa at the time and stopped taking it. Soon after that I was in the hospital again. I had sponsors who just stopped answering the phone. One guy met me for lunch and told me that if I kept talking about suicide people would stop talking to me at AA. I had two really nice sponsors who were not qualified to help me. The answer was always, “You are too smart for your own good” or “You are selfish.”… They didn’t understand what I was going through.
I saw a guy stand up at a big book meeting and tell everyone that he wanted to fuck his mother. I brought my mom to the meeting to introduce her to AA. She was shocked. I’ve been insulted… yelled at… called names… The worst part was when they all turned their backs on me. I was sick and needed help. They just ignored me… and they all did it at once… It was almost like they had decided collectively that I was banished. I was not successful and so I was poison.
I learned about the INTERNET and started going to the library drunk to get on line. I was looking for a way to stop drinking for good and I was desperate.
I was in a recovery chat room asking for help one day and someone asked me if I’d ever tried anything besides AA. I didn’t even know that there was anything besides AA. I had been told over and over that I was failing because I was “not willing” or “not working the steps the way they were laid out.” I’d spent almost every waking hour (even when I was drunk) trying to grasp the steps… trying to turn my life over to God… examining every motive… testing every emotion… believing I was selfish.
And then the time would come when I would become overwhelmed and drink again. I was living on two opposite poles.
Then this person in a chat room suggested that I should try something else!
I went to my sponsor and told him that I was going to try something else… I always got the same old stuff, “Selfish, self-centered, ego driven.”
I was a wreck.
I had lost the feeling in my toes… I staggered when I walked… I couldn’t breathe… I was losing my breath and breaking out in horrible sweats… My skin had a purple hue… I was hearing voices that screamed in my head…”Kill me five times! Kill me five times!” I was having mild seizures 5 or 6 times a day.
And here was this person online in a chat room who’d suggested that I might be able to get sober if I tried something else. That person suggested to me that I should read The Small Book by Jack Trimpey, and so I did. When I read the book it was like a veil had been lifted. There was no denying that nearly everything Mr. Trimpey said in the book about AA was true. I was beginning to realize that I had been lied to.
“I don’t want to die a failure because it is possible for me to succeed.” That was an important moment when that sunk in. It was like, little by little, I was realizing that I was not powerless over alcohol.
When I felt ready, I decided it was almost time to stop drinking. I had a big plan in place. It was a nutty plan, but it was my plan and eventually it worked.
The Jesus Fish 500
I bought a magnetic Jesus fish at the dollar store… the kind that you put on your bumper. It was clear white in the center, so I could write on it with a magic marker. I took a black sharpie and wrote 500 in the middle of the fish. I got a notebook and gave my plan a title, “THE JESUS FISH 500.” My plan was going to be a five hundred day plan to fix my life. Somewhere in the first four months my plan morphed from a plan of abstinence to a plan about how I was gonna quit for 500 days and save a lot of money and then drink again. I was writing THE JESUS FISH 500 in a cockroach infested boarding house in Woonsocket Rhode Island. Then it hit me in the head like a sledge… “You’re making the same mistake again!”
I tossed the notebook and started over.
The new plan was even stranger. Here is how I got sober…
With somewhere around 16 rehabs under my belt, I felt like I just couldn’t go through another one, especially now that I was aware that AA was a religious cult, and the only available rehabs would probably shove the 12 steps down my throat.
I had heard of a program called Outward Bound, where people go to live in the wilderness to focus on problem solving and survival skills. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford a program like Outward Bound, so I decided to create my own Outward Bound program. I decided to walk away from everything in my life except for my family and my job. I decided to move out doors and live just on the edge of society. I figured that, if I was busy surviving in the woods, I would have no time to drink. The idea that I should let go of all material possessions seemed appealing to me at the time. I still had a head full of AA, and the idea that I should let go and let God, or the universe, or whatever take control of my life was still very much at the forefront of my thinking.
I’d been taking Naltrexone for around 4 months and that also helped to ease cravings. I can’t begin to describe how important naltrexone was to my recovery. When I first started taking naltrexone the doctor just gave me a prescription that said I should take the pill once a day, so I took the pill in the morning and it made me nervous at work. I decided that, instead, I would take the naltrexone after work, which was pretty much the same time I started drinking. At first I took the pill sporadically. I’d take it one day and skip the next. I remember many times washing it down with my first beer of the day. The effect of the pill was that I soon found myself drinking less and less. The booze just didn’t have the same effect… Drinking was becoming less and less important to me. The best way I could explain it is… You wouldn’t want to sit down and drink 18 bottles of cola… After the third or fourth you would begin to feel bloated. I had spent many years drinking at least a 12 pack a day, but now I just couldn’t stomach it. The desire was beginning to dwindle a little bit at a time. Soon I found myself drinking as little as 3 or 4 beers a day.
There was still this nagging premonition that, if I didn’t have a recovery program, I’d never be able to stop drinking entirely, so I worked on this idea that I called The Jesus Fish 500, trying to come up with something that would suit my own individual needs.
I read every book I could find about alternative recovery methods and I stopped going to AA. I took bits and pieces of SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery, Chris Prentiss’ suggestions and more, and pieced them together to make a plan that might work for me.
I took vitamins… exercised… tried to understand philosophy… Made a list of problems associated with each area of my life and gathered a list of resources that would help me solve them… I started setting goals for myself… I started to forgive myself… I started to believe in myself… and most of all… I started to believe that I was never as morally reprehensible as some people in AA had suggested. It had nothing to do with being selfish.
I returned my pickup truck to Ford Motor Company… Bought some camping equipment… Gave away everything I owned to the lady across the hall, and walked out on the street with nothing but the clothes on my back and a bunch of camping equipment.
It was September and it was starting to get cold. I decided that I would not make a permanent camp. It would be better to struggle for a while. If I was busy setting up camp and walking everywhere I went, I’d have no time to drink.
Each day I’d tear down my camp and walk to a storage unit I’d rented to use as a sort of command post. I’d drop my gear and head to the local gym to shower, and then I’d head to work. Sometimes I carried equipment with me to work, or tucked it away in the woods somewhere where no one would find it.
When work was done, I’d carry my ass back and set up camp again. I remember trudging through blizzards saying to myself, “I’m doing this because it is possible! Nothing can stop me!”
I slept outside in the blistering cold… In high school I had taken a science course on survival, and I had military experience. Although most of my training was in desert or swamp environments, it served me well.
The trip from work to the area that I was camping at was about three miles. I was staying just on the outskirts of the Franklin State Forest in Franklin Massachusetts. I had scouted the area beforehand and found six or seven suitable places to set up camp. I had to be careful to use camouflage equipment, and camp where I would not be discovered.
There were many nights when the cold sleet and snow were pounding down on me as I made the three mile trek to set up camp. I had set up a rack on the back of my bicycle to carry equipment, and I had a lot of equipment, so balancing the bike was difficult. There was something about all of this that made me feel like I was really accomplishing something.
I remember poking my head out of my shelter in a snow pack, seeing the bright glistening snow… there I was with nothing but me and my gear, in my toasty cocoon, trying to understand what life is all about.
I soon found three concrete pipes tucked off in the bushes at the edge of an industrial park. The pipes were about four feet around, and nine or ten feet long. I had found a huge rubber band on the side of the road. It was perfect for sealing off one end of the pipe with a tarp, like a drum. The pipe was the perfect shelter and meant that I’d have to carry much less equipment. I remember sitting in the pipe listening to short wave radio broadcasts from all over the world. That pipe became my home.
I had a lot of time to think out there in the woods. In AA I had been taught that I was my own worst enemy, but here I was finding that, in many ways, I could be my own best friend. Sure it was crazy to move out into the woods. Who in their right mind would do a thing like that? But there was something so serene about it all… Something wonderful in a way that I could never fully explain.
My mother was worried sick. I’d often stop by her house and smoke a cigarette with her on my way to set up camp. I tried to explain to her that I needed to create my own recovery program… that someday this would all make sense to her. We had long talks about how AA had failed me. At first she didn’t get it, but one night I told her, “Do you know what the first thing they teach you at AA is? They teach you that you are powerless over alcohol.” Her eyes lit up as if she finally understood. She has been a strong supporter of my leaving AA since that night.
During all of my years of AA participation I learned two things… That I was a miserable wretch who didn’t care about anyone besides me me me, and that AA’s 12 steps were the only way I was ever going to get better. I had to unlearn both of these things before I was actually able to walk away from booze and get on with my life.
I’ve been sober for over six years now. I’ve worked my ass off the work toward the life that I’ve always wanted. Today I live in a nice apartment. My family relationships are better than they’ve ever been. I’ve learned a bit about emotion regulation skills that have helped to quiet my depression some. I’ve adopted a new life philosophy that is based on what I think is the truth. I still have a long way to go, but right now I have everything I need. I wouldn’t trade my journey if they offered to let me start all over again.
There is more to this story. Not everything is in the right order… It’s the best I could do off the top of my head. I plan on revising and expanding it in the near future. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Thanks.