The difference a year makes…

August 29, 2009 I awoke from a drunken stupor with my wife and friends at the foot of my bed telling me I needed serious help.

August 29, 2010 I’d been clean for over a year and was offered a job to get back in the broadcasting field I love.

Apologies if some of this post repeats a few things from posts right after I got out of the program but I’m going back through my journals and I wanted to start at the beginning as this new year begins.

This week marks my one year anniversary of entering the Overcomers addiction recovery program so I thought it would be a good time to resume my blogging about that experience.

Here’s how it all began.

On May 1 of 2009 I lost my job at Bob Jones University.  I had let my use of alcohol get out of control over the preceding years and it had begun to take a serious toll on my health.  No longer could I conceal from my family and friends the profound physical effects the abuse was taking on me.  I was using alcohol on a daily basis except for cycles when I would attempt to stop drinking on my own.  In those times I would try different strategies for weaning myself off of alcohol.  Because I was at a point where abstaining from alcohol for more than 5 or 6 hours would send me into very noticeable detoxification effects I was compelled to use alcohol at least enough to stave off detox while I was at work.  This was really dumb but we drunks aren’t known for our clear thinking.

As for how the school found out; well, this is apparently how it shook out:  This may sound odd but when I was drinking at my worst I didn’t need to use alcohol at work directly.  I could, pretty easily, have an “eye opener” when I got up and then make it through the day without alcohol until I got home in the afternoon.  However, when I would go through times when I was trying to get off of alcohol I’d go through very difficult and noticeable detox symptoms.  These included inability to focus or sit still for long and dreadful bouts of sweating.  So in order to attempt to make it through the day without these problems when I was going through the 36-48 hours necessary to truly get off the bourbon I would drink small amounts of wine from picnic sized bottles.  My true foolishness was that I once disposed of a couple of these bottles on campus.  The story that I got when confronted in May was that the custodial crew had been keeping a close eye on the trash in various university buildings because of a problem they had in the past with homeless people attempting to stay in buildings overnight.  (I had actually heard of this happening during summers at least.)  During these searches they found some bottles that I had disposed of in an envelope that had my name on it.  Also, I had apparently thrown away the bag they had come with and the receipt from the grocery store where I had purchased them.  When I was confronted by my dean he told me that they had cross referenced the last four digits of the card used to purchase the wine with Campus Store receipts and found that I used a card that ended in the same four numbers.  Also, my time entering campus on the date of purchase was about 10 minutes after the time and date on the receipt.  I was pretty much caught at that point but still making some feeble excuses.  I was also still drunk from my last bender at the time having blown a .42 blood alcohol level at the hospital less than 4 hours earlier thus when he asked me to pull up my online bank statement for final confirmation I agreed and he immediately saw the entries for a local liquor store.  It was over by that point and after a meeting with the provost I was asked not to return to campus until after the school year was ended to clean out my office.  In retrospect, I’m not sure that was the whole story.  I have a feeling that at some point a collegue or student may have smelled alcohol or suspected my problem in some other way and have brought it to the attention of the administration.  That’s neither here nor there though because I needed to get caught one way or another.  It was killing me.

My usage had been heavy for the past two years or so.  The previous summer, after a year of noticing problems myself during the school year I was determined to get off of alcohol during the summer.  I was totally unsuccessful in this, partially because I really didn’t want to and partially because my wife went away to Boston for a month with her job leaving me with no accountability whatsoever.  For the month she was gone I did pretty much nothing but drink every day all day except for weeks when I worked with the camps I was obligated to.  The university had stopped providing us with summer jobs so I had nothing to do most of the summer.

By the end of that month I was seeing physical issues I’d never seen before.  My urine was bright orange and I had some odd abdominal pain.  This was my first real attempt at stopping.  I told my friend and doctor and my immediate supervisor at work as well as my wife that I had an alcohol problem and I promised them all I would stop.  Within weeks, once I was feeling better, I was drinking again.  I had a physical breakdown just before Thanksgiving one morning.  After a binge of drinking I got up one morning and had an “eye opener” to get me moving, walked outside and realized that my eyes were not at all adjusting to the sunlight.  I was nearly blind and could barely drive to work.  I was terrified and was just trying to make it through work.  That day I was emotional and weepy.  Everybody knew something was wrong but I just lied about being tired and feeling some particular spiritual oppression and then went home and claimed to be sick for a few days.

The question comes up: So what do you think of the university now that you are gone?  That’s not an easy question for me to answer.  When it comes to them letting me go I have no quarrel with that.  I violated a clear policy that I knew was an offence that would result in dismissal if I ever got caught.  My dean, provost and HR representative were kind and sorrowful as I went through that part of the process.

I did have issues with the school but I had not business taking the job with them knowing their stance on things or remaining there as they made decisions with which I had profound disagreement.  When there interference in matters such as where my wife and I would go to church became intolerably intrusive I should have had the courage to leave immediately.  As I became more unhappy as I realized that my optimistic view of “real fundamentalism” was sadly untrue I should have made my plans to move on and then gone.  I didn’t.  I loved teaching and knew that it was most unlikely I could teach at an accredited school.

I have one other regret and criticism of the school.  While I cannot blame them for my alcoholism I do wish that the school had some way for someone like me, who knew he had a serious alcohol problem two years earlier, to get help without the absolute certainty that I would be thrown out.  I had to be very careful who I talked to in order to get help.  Later I found out that some colleagues were questioned about what they knew and when they knew it so as I suspected, even asking friends for help put them in danger.  I know for a fact that there are others who need help and in some cases have been living in quiet desperation for many years.  Yet there is no institutionalized plan for getting assistance and in fact the medical plan specifically excludes coverage for addiction related health issues presumably because we aren’t supposed to have any as a matter of policy.

Three months of AA meetings didn’t accomplish much other than giving me an opportunity to give an outward show of “doing something” about my alcohol problem while masking the fact that it was still there.  For two months I did stay clean but a new job and a return to comparative normality saw me begin to drink again.  I switched from bourbon to vodka which was easier to hide when it came to odor.  It was also cheaper and I found myself drawn to horrible flavored vodka that was easier to chug quickly.  My plan became to buy a bottle on the way home and chug what I could around the corner from the house.  That got my buzz on to get started.  Then usually sometime during the afternoon or evening I’d manage to sneak the bottle into the house and upstairs to hide it.

The charade didn’t last long.  On July 29 I returned home after work drinking as usual.  Within a few minutes she had sent me to bed to sleep it off and when I awoke later that night she and a couple of my friends were standing at the foot of my bed telling me that had a place for me to go.

On August 3 I entered the Overcomers program.  My parents, wife and a close friend dropped me off that morning.  The first thing that happens when you arrive is you are drug and alcohol tested.  Your possessions are searched and your are escorted into the mission where, if successful, you will live for at least the next 27 weeks.

Most guys enter the program on Thursday or Friday and have a day or two to settle in before assigned a job.  I happened upon an opening in the kitchen and offered to begin immediately.  I saw situations where guys didn’t have a job for several days and frankly they quickly became bored out of their minds.  Since “pre-programmers” only have class at 4 pm the rest of the day moves slowly.  Men are not allowed in their bunks during the day or allowed to nap anywhere else in the mission so general lethargy and sleeping isn’t an option.  There is no computer or internet access nor are Overcomers allowed to listen to radios or CDs during the day.

Pre-program is just an introduction to the Overcomers.  It is taught by all the counselors in rotation and one learns a lot about the counselors and fellow Overcomers during this time.  At the high point there were 15 in my “class” that could have potentially graduated the same month as I.  Counselors were honest as they told us a telling statistic.  Chances were that only 2 or 3 of us would be at that graduation.  It was indeed 3 by February and I was one of them.

As I begin updating this blog again I’m reading through my journal that I kept while in the program.  I hope to keep pace with where I was week by week and give you an idea of what a recovery program is like.  After all is said and done none of this is in vain.  Obviously my life has changed but I can’t help but feel that I’m supposed to use this experience for others.  If you or somebody you know has a problem I’ll be glad to advise in any way I can and get you in touch with the right people so that help can be obtained.  Yes, the writing of any blog is a bit of an exercise in vanity and writing about these things helps me remember and work things out in my own mind.  I just hope it’s helpful in some other ways too.

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    • Heidi
    • August 4th, 2010

    Lam 3:22-23
    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

    • Ed Park
    • August 4th, 2010

    Congrats on 1 year! It took a ton of courage and prayer to get you through, and we are so glad that you made it!

    • steven
    • August 4th, 2010

    Joel,

    Congratulations on your progress. I know it took courage to own your short comings and get to the business of taking back all thats good in your life. I pray for your continued success.

    • Robert S.
    • August 4th, 2010

    Wow, that was a very brave post, Joel. I had no idea you’d been going through these struggles and I admire your efforts to confront them and grow as a human being.

    • Ben Hester
    • August 4th, 2010

    I honestly would have never guessed. I mean, yeah you did act kind of funky a couple times, but man. And yet, you’re still the coolest teache I’ve ever had, and in truth, a man I feel I can look up to. You’ve got more courage than anyone I know.

    • Lisa Minnes
    • February 4th, 2011

    After seeing your recent Facebook post, I read your blog. I admire your courage – for getting the help you needed and for writing about it. I will pray for continued courage and strength!

    God bless,
    Lisa (Deppen) Minnes

  1. August 5th, 2010
    Trackback from : Beat Alcoholism 101

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