by Rob L.
Dan's Note: Today's contribution comes from "Down Under!" I'm happy to have met Rob on social media. He's a great guy and this story is an engaging read.
It shows me two things: 1) How important it is to continue to admit defeat, and; 2) How anyone's bottom—no matter how deep it is—does not define who we are continually becoming in the present.
His story is not finished! In fact, from the depths he descended into, you'll be surprised at the ending.
For me to admit that I was powerless over alcohol has been the most difficult thing that I have had to accept in my journey to recovery.
But first, back to the beginning...
I grew up in a stable Catholic household in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. In fact, I considered that when I finished school I might join the monastery and become a Catholic priest.
I have a twin brother who does not drink and did not get into the alcohol as I did to cope with living. I don't know the source of my alcoholism, but my rocky path began just after I turned 18.
I had a lack of self-esteem & was not confident in any activities I pursued. Alcohol gave me the courage I needed. I had a couple of different jobs before climbing to the manager position of the finance section in a Technical Further Education College called TAFE–SA. About this time, I also took a “prisoner” and got married in 1981, not long afterwards my wife, had two boys born in '84 & '88.
I was the manager of a large department. I was responsible for the accounting functions of a sizable college and the pressure of raising of two growing boys and their demands. I soon found life became difficult. It wasn’t long before I was drinking each morning on the way to work. If I could manage, I would go out for lunch and then continue having a few drinks in the afternoon.
My drinking was progressing at a steady rate and I found it difficult to assist around the home or manage my job at work. Beyond that, I was isolating—I drank on my own in the shed in the backyard.
It was '99 that my drinking had progressed to such a level that I was not performing very well at work in my highly demanding position. My wife was always on my case about my drinking, which was progressively becoming more and more frequent. My boys were 15 and 11. They did not have an engaging father, either emotionally or otherwise.
I had tried all the tricks to control my drinking: only on weekends, drink light beer, drinking more water. But they were all just delusional ploys a progressive alcoholic tries so that he thinks he is still in control.
While in the dog kennel one night (I mean this literally—I kept a stash of port with my only friend, Jessi the dog) my wife came out and screamed for me to get out. She had finally snapped.
“You are such a poor example of a father to the boys! We are all better off without you in our life.” The words stung.
At this particular stage I had been found guilty of driving under the influence as it is called in Australia (DUI) and it was my third conviction. That meant I couldn't drive for 18 months. I had been getting to work by riding my bicycle, a distance of approximately 20 kilometres (12 ½ miles) while I was disqualified.
Who cares to admit complete defeat?
Getting kicked out? I thought at the time it wasn't such a bad idea!
I thought I would live at my mate's place, closer to work (approximately 4 kilometres). I thought I wouldn't have someone breathing down my neck and hassling me about my drinking. At the time I thought the solution was quite logical.
I stayed at my friend’s place for about a year and then I moved in with a woman we will call Jenny. I thought I had a connection with her. The result was my drinking escalated. I was dismissed from my position at TAFE, had four visits to detox, and my bank balance was haemorrhaging badly. In fact, I was accumulating a large overdraft. I had a generous mother who saw me through this difficult period.
I was completely out of control. But ever-forward, I thought. I was not defeated!
One day while I was still living with Jenny we had a fight. (I had my driver’s licence back by that time and I had scrapped some money together to purchase a car). I decided to go for a drive to get away and maybe relocate. So I took most of my remaining clothes and the few belongings I owned, and said to her that I'd be back the next day.
Six days later, instead of going about 50 kilometres as I explained to Jenny, I kept driving north and went from Adelaide to Coolangatta, Queensland which is about 2150 Kilometres away! I had done a "geographical" as it is called in Alcoholics Anonymous. It's where you think everything will be different in a different location. I drank the whole way.
I know, it’s insane as I look back on it now—my thinking was there wouldn’t be any breathalysers and less police officers about after dark. So I was driving at night & drinking and sleeping during the day. I still thought I was in control.
To add an extra dimension to my woes, I was pinching car number plates to enable me to steal petrol and I also stole bottles of alcohol from the supermarkets to allow me to use what little money I had for other things such as some food. Of course, it wasn't much; I was actually eating very little those days.
I stayed in Coolangatta, Queensland with a friend for approximately six weeks. He finally persuaded me to go home as I was just drinking myself to death and he lent me some money if I promised to go back to Adelaide.
I had other plans.
Instead, I headed towards Sydney attracted by the night life & bright lights, and possibly the prospects of a new beginning and getting some employment. This was all prior to mobile phones, so I was not in contact with anyone.
I finally got to Sydney, stolen number plates on the car and all.
I decided to park in an underground car park—there was no security at what I thought was a highly distinguishable and easily-recognisable apartment building in the city. I chose a parking spot that was not in use. Then into the city I walked, getting drunk by sweet talking people into buying me drinks. I pinched a couple of bottles and finally blacked out in a park behind some bushes.
When I woke up I couldn’t remember where I parked my car.
I couldn’t report the misplaced car and its location to the police, as I didn’t know the numbers on the registration plates since I had stolen them. I didn’t know the street where I parked. All I knew was that it was a large apartment building in Sydney—Australia’s largest city. The “highly distinguishable” apartment building that I assumed was easy-to-identify matched hundreds of other buildings in the city!
I had no money, no car, and I didn’t know anyone in the city. I wandered around for a number of days without finding the car. After about five days looking, I finally went to a St Vincent de Paul homeless shelter called the Matthew Talbot in Woolloomooloo, which is an inner-city suburb of Sydney. I begged for a bed and some food.
They said: "Before you come in here you'll have to change out of your dirty and torn jeans and t-shirt!"
Making the story even more interesting, I had a ladies cardigan around my back that I had found when I was off hunting for my car. This event happened in winter and the days weren’t too bad, but it was really cold at night so I wore this to keep warm.
At the Matthew Talbot, the only item in the clothes basket was a pink ladies jumper with butterflies on the front and a pair of ladies jeans that had stud-buttons up the legs. Not my idea of fashion I fancied, but I was desperate. I decided to go along with the attire they supplied.
The outfit kept anybody from hassling me for the several weeks that I spent there at the homeless hostel. I'm not sure exactly how many weeks I spent there. There were approximately one hundred beds for each night and they supplied about 600+ meals a day to the down and out.
I was fortunate that I managed to get a bed most nights. I wasn’t drinking at this stage as I had no way of pinching alcohol in the tighter security of the city stores.
I spent most of the time trying to locate my car and just survive on the streets to the best of my ability. I couldn't locate it.
I rang up Jenny and begged her to come and get me. After a number of phone calls, she agreed to fly to Sydney to get me. My brother assisted by lending Jenny some money so she could make the trip.
We stayed in a cheap hotel for three more weeks, looking in all the local suburbs to see if we could track down my car.
I never found that car again.
So we flew home to Adelaide.
I stayed out of any trouble for a period of time and the indiscretion that I had performed by pinching alcohol, petrol and other dishonest acts never caught up with me.
I lived with Jenny for a number of months and it still was not very harmonious as I just kept on drinking and we ultimately kept on arguing. After a period of time, I went to a Uniting Church-based alcohol rehabilitation centre in the Adelaide hills called Kuitpo Community. I stayed for seven months.
One on the counsellors was an active AA member and I started going to his groups that he ran each week. I had been to AA a number of times before but I was never able to “admit complete defeat.”
After my time in the Kuitpo Community, I did drink afterwards but I was getting sick of being sick. Jenny and I stayed together for about another year after my rehab, but it was still chaotic so I moved in with the only other person that would have me—my mum.
I started going to more AA meetings during this time. I still had periods of relapsing. I just couldn’t get Step One into my heart. Saying, “My name is Rob and I’m an alcoholic,” was an easy enough task, but to actually mean it and stop drinking was the problem.
I didn’t have a car, so I was using public transport to get around. I got a job in the Central Business District (CBD) so it was easier to travel to my job. I commenced working as a bookkeeper in a training organisation and also taught some basic accounting subjects.
The fact that I was keeping busy and that my mum who lived in a retirement village gave me a strict condition that if I drank I was out the door helped keep me focused.
I started studying Counseling in Alcohol and Other Drugs. This kept my thinking on recovery. I finished the course in about 4 years. I changed jobs a couple of times during this time and I managed to have continuous employment so I was able to pay off my debts that I had accumulated when drinking. I volunteered with a not-for-profit organisation for 6 years so that I could put into practise some of the knowledge I had obtained through my study it also helped to keep me sober. I became increasingly involved in AA and held various service work including group secretary, treasurer for the Southern Region of AA and I lent a hand in other AA activities such as organising camps and an AA convention in Adelaide as part of my service work.
I went on to study mental health and I currently have gained employment in a mental rehabilitation centre where a number of clients have a dual-diagnosis of mental health and addiction issues. I have been employed in this position for approximately 5 years.
On September 14, 2015 I will have achieved 10 years of sobriety.
What have I gained from being sober:
- I gained my two son’s respect back. They are 31 and 27 now. The older boy is married and I have two grandchildren: John who is 4 and Kate who is 2 who I look after when I can. (Not their correct names.)
- I paid off all my debts.
- I have gained my self respect back.
- I purchased a house 4 years ago, when unfortunately my mother passed away.
- I purchased a car without taking out a loan.
- I have a partner of 10+ years who has never seen me drunk, remembering that I perceive my recovery to be “one day at a time.”
- I have been able to accumulate some money and maintain my employment, as well as take some holidays.
- Volunteering in a homeless centre in Adelaide, one day a week, which helps to keep me stay focused and “keep my feet on the ground” and as the AA responsibility declaration states:
“I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.”
My service work is also part of my restitution for the people/organisations that I ripped off when I was drinking out of control.
I have finally admitted complete defeat.
This admission didn't come easily. The path of wreckage was wide and long. Today, in the hope of the promises, and through my admission that, "Yes. I'm an alcoholic," I have a positive outlook on life. I care about helping others and I look to repair relationships I had damaged when I drank. I have hope.
My defeat, surprisingly, is what gave me my life back.