A "Soaring" Story of Recovery

by  Scott A.

A sailplane pilot makes the big time


I remember wanting to be drunk before I was ever drunk.   I would watch others who were drinking and having fun and I wanted to be just like them.  I wanted to be witty, charming, fun, able to tell a story.  Fortunately I had some good parents.  They watched what I did closely, supported me in my dreams and made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow.  I didn't have many wants that were not fulfilled.  One of the earliest dreams was to be a pilot, so when I announced at the age of 14 that I wanted pilot lessons for Christmas I got them.  It was shortly after this that I also got my first real experience with drinking.

Looking back it seems almost innocent, something I would expect most adolescents might do.  I took two beers and hid them in my bedroom and waited for the right night to drink them.  I took the cans out of hiding many times and looked at them, slowly tilting them so I could feel the magical liquid I knew was inside.  Then the perfect night came to drink them.  It was a Friday night, my parents were in bed asleep and the temptation to experience this happiness in a can overcame me. The two warm old beers worked .  I was euphoric.  I had the greatest time ever just sitting in my bedroom drinking alone.   The next morning was not so much fun as I also got to experience my first hangover.  I remember the room spinning around and having a headache of the type I had never experienced before.  I knew that drinking again would not be a good idea as I never wanted to feel as bad as I did that morning.

While at home I functioned well.  Outside my family my socialization skills were very low as a result of poor self-esteem.  So when some of the more popular kids asked me to go out with them and party one weekend I jumped at the chance.  The beer was again flowing and I was excited to participate.  For the first time in my life I felt liked I belonged with others.  I became the witty, charming and fun loving person I had always wanted to be.  As the night progressed I ended up going a bit further than the others.  I went for a joy ride on a friends off-road vehicle, went to my family's business and showed off my new charm to some of the employees and then decided that going to a school event would be a good idea.  This whole night ended up with my parents pulling me out of the school event and threatening to take me to a police station to have a breath test.  The verdict was being grounded off my flying lessons for a week and I was also grounded to the house for the rest of the weekend.  This punishment was so light that it frightened me.  I knew I was given a pardon this time and I did not want to imagine what would happen if I tried a stunt like this in the future.  I never drank again while in high school.

I concentrated on getting my private pilot's license.  I received my ticket shortly after my 17th birthday and decided I would look at flying as a career.  I graduated from high school and was accepted to two different university flight programs but decided to attend a nearby community college flight program instead.  The decision to stick close to home was because I had somehow found myself a girl in the final few months of school and I knew this would not last if I went to school further away.  Now I understand that this belief was just a figment of my insecurity.  This was the first time I made a decision that was life altering based on fear.

Without the watchful eye of my parents my experience at college was much different then high school.  Many training flights were regularly conducted with a hangover though I was very aware of the 8 hour rule.  After a few months of this I just decided to only fly later in the afternoon.  That way my schooling would not get in the way of my consumption.  This worked so well the next trimester I decided to do the same with my classes.  The first year of college turned out to be one large party.  Most evenings after class I would spend some time having cocktails with friends and on the weekends it would be nonstop.  The first year went alright.  I was not on the dean's list but I was not on academic probation either.  For the first time I felt that I was in control of my life.

The first summer back home I decided to move in with high school sweetheart and her mother.  This was one of those dismal failures.  My attitudes from college, my independence and lack of social skills showed.  By the end of summer all I had done was prove to my fiancés mother that I was not who she wanted as a son-in-law.  Looking back I found myself unable to communicate my intentions, thoughts, and feelings to both my fiancé and her family.  The result was several verbal confrontations ending in my yelling and hollering.  While my personal relationship failed the summer of '90 it was the last time I enjoyed a chemical free four months for years, and I enjoyed a few fun weekends.  One was flying to the EAA Fly-In with some friends.  I still remember the roar and the shaking ground as the Concord took off.  I had formed part of my identity as a pilot.

The next year in college my grades plummeted and I found myself on the verge of academic probation.  However, I filled my requirements for both the commercial and instrument license along with passing both written exams.  My drinking rapidly progressed throughout the year.  I ended up in quite a few fights resulting in the loss of friends.  I remember the last day of classes an acquaintance I was going to get a house with for the summer telling me that I needed to quit drinking.  This was the first of many times I was told by someone that maybe I should consider not drinking.  I took it as an insult.

The next summer my fiancé informed me she no longer wanted to marry me and she intended to move out.  I begged and made promises in hopes I could change her mind.  The promises did not last long.  The rest of my summer, probably the next five years, was spent drinking in an attempt to not face the pain I felt when I came home from work that afternoon and found she had moved out.  At the age of 20 I was now a full fledged, practicing alcoholic.  

Eventually I was put on academic probation and I flew my last training flight on  December 5th, 1991.  At the end of that trimester I was put on academic suspension.  I was now out of money and out of college.  I got a job at the local 7-11.  However, I was then given the opportunity to return to college a couple of years later, after working several menial jobs.  I kept drinking.  The day before final exams during my fourth year at the community college with full intentions to study for exams and not drink I found myself drunk wishing I was not.  Failing out of the fourth year of college was difficult and I was kicked out of campus housing and found myself homeless.  Over the next many years I found jobs that allowed my drinking to continue.  Mainly sales jobs.  I found they didn't care how you showed up to work as long as you performed. 

The next time I saw the person who would become my wife she asked if I wanted to attend an AA meeting with her.  I was desperate for the first time in my life.  I was willing to do anything to get out of trouble.  At that meeting one of the members told me I was at a crossroads in my life and that I could either quit drinking or I probably would end up dying.  That night I did not believe him.  I found my ability to attend meetings in the tradition stating that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.  That is what I said for the first three months:  "Hello my name is Scott and I have a desire to stop drinking".  I needed three months of constant sobriety to comprehend how far down the scales I had gone.   After I could see my past through sober eyes I was able to be honest with myself for the first time and admit that I was an alcoholic. 

We got married and had a child that I am proud to say has never seen me intoxicated.  My life slowly started to improve, yet there was still something missing in my life:  a belief and reliance on a higher power.  This took about three years to gain.  Over time I slowly found that my prayers were answered at least when I prayed for God's will and his help.  I was able to accept and embrace the fact that I did not know everything.  With this new found faith I was able to face life differently.  I returned to community college and completed a degree.  I asked for help and guidance and God gave it to me.

I late 2005 I met a person who invited me out to enjoy a day of soaring that next summer.  In June 2006 I climbed into a glider.  This was the first time in over 14 years I had been inside a cockpit of a small aircraft with an honest intent to fly it.  Later that summer I obtained my glider rating.  I also at this time found Birds of a Feather.  Then, in Spring 2007 I obtained my commercial glider ticket.  When I had the opportunity to become a tow pilot, I obtained a tail wheel endorsement and was training to tow gliders.  I started to accumulate hours.

It dawned on me that I could now go to a local FBO and rent aircraft again as I was a fully qualified power pilot.  I called the flight school I dropped out of and laid my history out for them.  I was told that I would probably qualify to be a flight instructor someday depending on my skills and that someone with my past might even be hired by an airline at some point.  So I signed up to finish more flight training.  I am not sure what will happen in the future.  It may be the impossible dream.  Yet I know I will never look back and think "what if".   Whatever happens I know it will be exactly what God wants.... that is all that really matters anymore.

Scott A.


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