ONE YEAR SOBER
A PILOT ONE YEAR SOBER TELLS HIS STORY OF RECOVERY
Raised in Northern California, I grew up smoking grass in high school, and never drank alcohol until at 25 I got a job as a barback and the restaurant decided to make me a waiter/bartender. I had to ask what gin and vodka was, and since we were in the wine country I HAD to learn to appreciate the fruits of the vine, but my preference was always the weed of the ditch. I've been involved in the dance and food industry, and was a hang glider pilot for almost a decade. When George Lucas talked about scum and villanary I thought of my friends in all three groups.
I saw a lot of friends get involved with heavier illegal drugs, and watched a lot of friends go from a legal beer after a long night waiting tables to a legal glass of wine and then to legal vodka tonics. Some mixed everything. Some controlled it, and just took the edge off. Some didn't do anything.
I was only a mild drinker through the years, and stopped smoking grass when I started flying fixed wing in 1989. It was only when I was recovering from surgery in 2005 that I became a drug addict and alcoholic.
Like Dr. House, my drug of choice was Vicodin. After surgery I re-injured my knee during physical therapy, and my Doc did not want to reopen it, he wanted to give it a chance to recover on it's own. But eventually I ran out of script for Vitamin V and shifted to alcohol. Even after I returned to work I continued to drink, but ONLY ON MY TIME OFF. I NEVER came to work under the influence and rarely drank on layovers, but I knew it was only a matter if time.
But at home I did drive under the influence more than once. I'm not proud of it, but it's a fact, and if I had been busted my career would have been over and I would have been in jail. Yes, I knew about the severe penalties if I had been caught, but at the point in my addiction they weren't going to stop me. The addiction had taken over.
My friends saw it happening, but no one wanted to say anything. They were all waiting for me to hit bottom and realize it myself, and I was waiting for them to say something. The liquor store clerks were giving me pitying looks, like they knew my future was already written.
Finally at the end of 2007 I started trying to get better, and started trying to quit. Biographies like “Alice Cooper: Golf Monster”, Eddie Guerrero’s “Cheating Death, Stealing Life” and Pete Hamil’s “A Drinking Life” inspired me with their stories of those who had won the battle. Other books taught me of the physical changes my body had gone through as it became addicted, and the changes I would have to go through to come out of it and why it was so hard. My resolve was growing every day, but my mind and body continued to resist.
On March 25, 2008 I woke up and decided to make it stick. The first months were hell. I’d walk by a wine display in a grocery store and could taste the richness of a good red. On a lazy Sunday I’d wake up and all I wanted to do was go get a bottle of rum, lay on the couch, drink all day and get as high as I could. I gutted my garage and rebuilt my shop, forcing myself to focus on an old hobby that has since become a pleasure again.
On trips I’d slam-click my crew, and as the months of sobriety wore on I gradually started telling fellow crewmembers the real reason I wasn’t going to the bar with them. More than once the other pilot would tell me other their own battles and success, and more than once I later got a call from another crewmember, asking if they could come over and talk about how I was able to stop. Sometimes I could smell the liquor on their breath and see the shadows in their eyes.
I've had some great support from people to get here, and at a place I volunteer at my problems and recovery were an open secret. I came home from a miserable series of trips over the holidays and was hanging out on a slow day, everyone was giving me a good natured hard time for being so fuzzy headed. The chief volunteer chimed in with 'Yeah, but are you sober?' and when I responded without thinking 'Nine and a half months now.', people started clapping. Checking in for my commute one day, the gate agent kept trying to hide a big smile. When I caught her eye and said “What?” she came out from behind the ticket counter, gave me a hug and said “You just look so GOOD now!”.
I've since found out that alcoholism runs in my family (on both sides) and my dad had quit before I ever really saw him drinking. When I was smoking grass I never wanted to try anything worse, but then I always had access to and only smoked some very fine weed. When I took Vicodin, I only wanted more.
I have nightmares. I have nightmares that I’m with friends and I look down and see that I’m drinking. And I’m angry because I’ve lapsed after fighting so hard to get my life back. When I wake up and see that I’m still sober I feel like I’ve been given a treasure of another day. But I also know that sometimes I still want to get high again, and the desire will probably never truly go away.
That's the word from my layover in Paris, where every day is a gift, and every day is a test.
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