A WONDERFUL LIFE
A pilot living happy, joyous and free
I'm sitting on an aircraft commuting home thinking of how wonderful my life has turned out. I owe it all to Alcohol and Drugs. I know that sounds crazy but I am an alcoholic and addict in recovery. April 2nd 1998 was when I started the "one day at a time" life style. I didn’t know where it would take me. I was just tired of me and what I had turned into. I didn’t know about the disease of chemical dependency and I certainly didn’t understand it, but I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I remember growing up as a young boy my granddad would come every Thursday and pick my sister and me up from school. Gramps would always go right to dad’s liquor closet and he would drink at least half a bottle before my parents would come home from work. All those years I never understood why I would see him the next morning sleeping in the guest room before I went to school. Little did I know but gramps and I would have more in common then I thought. The difference was that he was a happy drunk. He’d get drunk, be funny and nobody thought anything of it.
Let's just say I wasn’t very funny when I drank. I was in 6th grade, 11 or 12 years old, when I remember on weekends going out to football games and we would get somebody to buy us Boones Farm apple wine. I would do that most every weekend that I can remember. It gave me this great feeling of being part of the gang and in the beginning I was funny too. I like the fact I could be cool and hang out with the cool crowd. It was not long after that someone brought some pot to the weekend booze party. Boy did that hit the spot. It was if I’d been looking for this all my life, the feeling that alcohol and pot gave me was like nothing I ever felt before. I was hooked! Right there in 6th grade I was an alcoholic and addict, I and nobody else knew it at the time. Although I would continue this for another 20 plus years it just went down the hill from there. I did have some great times in my life before I got sober but they always involved alcohol or drugs. I continued to same patterns right into high school. Growing up in New York state in the 70’s and early 80’s you could drink at 18 years old and back then I think most of the bars I went to knew I was under age but thought it was harmless to let a couple of kids in for a few beers. Besides, we never caused any trouble because we knew we where getting away with being somewhere we shouldn’t be.
When I was 16 years old I was able to get my drivers license. Not six months later, my parents were having a Christmas party and I was sneaking drinks in the kitchen when nobody was looking. I did that for an hour or two until it was time for me to go pick up a friend. I got in my car and proceeded to my friend's house. I guess my driving wasn’t very good because I never made it; instead I got pulled over and received my first DUI. Back then I swore to the judge that it would never happen again and even my parents believed me. I don’t think it was more then a week later I was back to drinking, but I made sure I had gum or mints with me to mask the smell; I think I even bought a car freshener. I kept going to the same bars with the same people, the difference was I always seemed to drink more then everyone else. At my high school graduation I remember going to the bar at 11:30 am to have a few belts before getting up on stage and then drinking vodka from a straw on stage so no one would see me. In reading this you don’t have to read any further to figure out that I am addicted.
I had average grades in high school and I got lucky. I always thought that flying and planes were cool so I applied to college and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. They accepted me! Daytona Beach here I come! Before I left for college I got a summer job pumping gas for the local flight school. I was told that if I worked hard on the ramp that when I got my flight instructor's certificate I would have a opportunity to flight instruct there. During that summer I meet a guy working there who was going to the same college. He and I would cut the grass at the tie down area, but before we did he would always show up with some weed and we would get high before we cut the grass. This and drinking after work went on all summer. Then off to Daytona to college where I thought I was pretty cool the first year or two. I starting hanging out with the wrong crowd. Not only was I drinking and smoking pot, but I started to do cocaine. Right at the end of my sophomore year I was at a party and doing everything! I got behind the wheel and received my second DUI.
After going to driver’s education for alcohol abuse I was able to drive to and from work and school. You’re talking to a full blown alcoholic and addict, you think that slowed my partying? No way! Somehow I made it through college but by that time my grades were poor and my addictions were in high gear. I was drinking and doing cocaine three to five days a week. People knew there was something wrong but nobody wanted to confront me.
When I graduated the job as a flight instructor was waiting and I needed to build hours so I could land the big airline job. I spent about one year at the flight school then got a job flying out in the Hampton’s on Long Island, N.Y. I was flying as a first officer on a Beech 99. Boy this was the life: getting paid for something I loved to do!! I lived by myself in a rented house not to far from the bad area in town. My addictions where stronger then me and I started to spend more and more time in that area.
In the fall of 1988 the company I was flying for laid me off because of slow flying for the winter. During that short time I moved back with my parents and met a girl. Things were going well except I didn’t have a job. Every time I would drop my girl friend home I would go back out and spend the rest of the night getting high. In December of 1988 I got a call from the largest commuter airline on the east coast. I started training January 23, 1989. Again I was the luckiest person in the world. I was training as a first officer in the Shorts 360. I flew the Shorts for about one year then upgraded to captain. It was great, I was the boss, and I just kept getting deeper and deeper into my addictions. After about a year in the Shorts my company acquired another company and started to buy several Saab 340's. I transitioned to captain in the Saab in 1991. By that time I was married with a two year old son and a daughter on the way.
On April 22, 1992 I was on a overnight in Bangor, Maine. We got in at 2pm, picked up the free rental car, got a 12 pack and then me, the first officer and flight attendant headed to Bar Harbor for the day. It was great. We drank all day and night till about 2am and on the drive back to Bangor I got pulled over and was arrested for DUI AGAIN!!! Number 3! Folks if this isn’t addiction I don’t know want is. Anyway, when I was given the opportunity to make a call I called my union. In the next couple of days when I was finally home the union called me and asked me to see a doctor and start going to AA meetings. Guess what? I wasn’t ready!! But I wanted to keep the company out of it and keep my job so I went to see this Doc and in his letter it says that if I continue my current ways there is no doubt Dana will have troubles in the future. It went in one ear and out the other. I also went to AA for about 2 months and said to myself, “those people are crazy! I’m not a drunk like them.” That was 1992 and I was to have six more years of pain.
In March of 1998 my two biggest addictions were getting so bad that I was disappearing for days. I was spending my time in the crack houses of New York City. I would bring a case of Johnnie Walker with me because I knew once I went in it would be days before I came out. That last run at the end of March in 1998 was so bad I just stopped calling work and I disappeared for 4 days and no showed 3 trips. On the 4th day in the crack house I looked into a broken mirror and for the first time in my life didn’t like the person I was looking at. That was a defining moment in my life. It was my burning bush. I know deep in my heart that the God of my understanding looked down and said, “I’ve been here waiting for you to take the right step”.
I got up out of the dregs of New York City and drove home clear as a bell. I can’t explain it, again it was a God thing. He didn’t want me to kill myself or anyone else. When I got home I said I was sorry again for the millionth time, but deep in my heart I knew this time I wanted to be sober. I called my chief pilot and he said there was a meeting next Tuesday for me up in Boston. I kind of knew what the meeting was for but believe it or not I was OK with what I expected to hear. I went to AA everyday while I looked for a treatment center.
The week flew by and it was time to see the Director of Operations and the Chief Pilot. I wasn’t nervous. I was sad for what I did but anxious to tell them "I’m going to be OK". I finally realized that I needed help and that I was an alcoholic and addict. For the first time in my life I went into the meeting and told the truth! No more hiding, no more skeletons in the closet. After spilling my guts, I told them that it’s OK and that I found a treatment center that I planned to go to. They asked me to leave the room for a minute. I came back in and with tears in their eyes they crossed out the word "termination" and put "medical leave"! They told me to get the help I needed and they’ll see me back on line soon.
As I write this it's still a very emotional thing for me to talk about. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I would be today. Each day is a gift and that’s how I live today. It’s been 11 years ONE DAY AT A TIME! The chief pilot that took a chance on me passed away a couple of months ago but I know he can now see that by taking a chance on me he not only saved my life but hundreds of others with chemical dependency. I call it blue collar sobriety. I can’t tell you everything about sobriety but I know how to stay sober today and if you live the principles of the program and pay it forward everyday you will feel the overwhelming gratitude that I feel. I’m not saying that my life is like living in Disneyland but I wouldn’t change it. What a wonderful life. This was what God had planned for me. I have been blessed with working with pilots and their families at almost every airline in the USA, several corporations, airlines in the UK, Middle East, the Far East and Australia and it all boils down to ONE thing: I stay sober today. I plan for the future, but I live for today. When I wake up tomorrow I start out on my knees and ask for another day.
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