What makes someone an alcoholic?
That is a question that seems to have no answer. As a matter of fact, most alcoholics couldn’t tell you exactly what they became an alcoholic. It is something that is impossible to know. Normally by the time someone has reached the level of alcoholism that forces them to acknowledge it they are very far gone. The sad songs that go on about losing the wife, the house the job, the dog couldn’t be more true. I was the sad song. Now that I look back at it I may have been even sadder than the song.
I don’t exactly remember when my first drink was. It may have been my first year in the military. However, I was very far from the full-time drinker that I would become later. At least that’s what I thought. We were a bunch of kids in the early military days. However, there was always an older guy mixed in with the bunch. We thought they were so cool. These guys had some stories that we didn’t. It was also amazing that they could just walk right into the liquor store and buy something to drink. The powers-that-be gave young Sailors lectures on top of lectures about the horrors of drinking and how it could ruin a career. This is the type of training that we got very early in the Navy, starting in boot camp and in subsequent commands. But drinking is like your first girlfriend. It’s going to happen at some point. You know deep down that it is. However, you never know how you’re going to respond.
I reported it to bootcamp on August 20th 1991 and graduated two months later. After that the Navy sends a lot of us to what you call “A” School. I did that time in Philadelphia, which was another two months. I remember a couple of episodes of drinking there but it was not much to speak of. My indoctrination into full-on alcoholism would come after my “A” School command. My first Navy command was Subase Pearl Harbor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I was a young recruit. I checked into the barracks like everyone else. The first thing I found was the gym. After that I ran into some black guys who automatically adopt you into there network. If you are African-American you automatically became a part of this community of people. I was an awkward fit because I joined the military to get away from black people or anyone who reminded me of home. I was eager to experience everything that was different from where I had grown up. However, this did not stop me from getting drawn in to this urban cliq.
They Call Them “Sea Daddies”
“My first Mentor was an older gentleman by the name of Brad. Brad was four pay grades ahead of me in rank and roughly 12 years older. He needed a roommate to offset the rent in a place that he wanted to live in out in town in Hawaii. I was recommended to him by another friend and off I went into this arrangement. Brad had a custom of drinking and driving with an ice-cold 40 oz of malt liquor in his lap. We would ride around, tell stories, listen to music, and drink these bottles of malt liquor on the way to parties. I thought that this was the coolest thing in the world and would carry on the tradition in my own as soon as I got a car.
This was surely my introduction to alcoholism. My first pass time was to drink and drive. It was so much fun to put the sound system on in my car and drive around the island of Hawaii with a bottle of malt liquor at the lamp. Brad looked so cool doing it. I must have looked just as cool as him. That’s what I thought. I never had any issues with the police. Luckily I never got into a major accident while I was intoxicated. However, I would drink and drive for many years after that.
The Old Navy
My first enlistment finally ended in the Navy in January 1997. I had spent the previous two years in Japan. I was stationed aboard the ship called the USS Independence. The USS Independence was an old-school conventional aircraft carrier forward deployed in Japan. This meant that homeport was actually overseas. The ship and the fleet back then were all men. Most of us were heavy drinkers. I didn’t have a car in Japan so I did most of my drinking while walking around the base. Sure I hit the club’s now and again. However, I was mostly alone. I would put on headphones, find a liquor store, grab a bag of something, and go through my ritual. These years were my early twenties. I was cementing a habit that would stay with me until near death. Yet I had no way to know that at this point. I got back from Japan and the first U.S. soil I touched was Washington state. I thought Washington was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. I took the ferry across Puget Sound from Bremerton to Seattle with roughly $2,500 to my name and some luggage. I held up at a hotel until I found an apartment in the West Seattle area of Seattle, Washington. I checked into that apartment with absolutely nothing but my luggage. I was loaned to bed by the manager of the building. Eventually, I bought a king size mattress and set that on the floor. I was able to secure a television. Back then it was the television with the VCR built into it to watch movies. I needed to VCR because I did not have cable service to watch anything else. The neighbors upstairs moved out and gave me a couch and that would be my set up for the rest of my time in that apartment. Of course, I discovered the liquor store down the street. There was a Safeway supermarket up the hill. This was enough for me and begin my odyssey in Seattle by settling into an alcoholic routine. Olde English 800 was my beverage of choice. I managed to secure unemployment from the state of Washington. This would be how I would make rent and support my habits for the foreseeable future.
From Dreamer to Underachiever
I didn’t accomplish much during the two or so years that I lived in Seattle. At this point, I still didn’t attribute any of my none success to my alcohol habits. I felt that I was a very special young man and was not willing to push myself in a direction that was uncomfortable. I went through several jobs, only hold them long enough to draw one or two paychecks, and then I would move on. I went back and forth on unemployment. Eventually, I overlapped the unemployment with one of the jobs and ended up owing the state of Washington about $3,000. I was sent the bill in the mail and of course, I ignored it. It came back to bite a few years later.
I was in love with Seattle, Washington. It was because it was so different from Houston, Texas where I was born and raised. The greenery. The people. The weather. The hills. The Lakes. I thought that I was in heaven. However, I was not building any type of a life, and quickly gaining a reputation of among my network of friends as a loveable loser. I was the guy at the party with big dreams and great stories, but not accomplishing anything. I was young and pretty back then, so I kept getting invited to all the events and making it with the girls. This made me look like something of a stud. However, even that ran out. I ended up getting kicked out of the apartment in West Seattle and was forced to go back home to Texas to live with my mother.
I Won’t Be Here Long
The trip back home to Houston was interesting. I did not drink nearly as much there as I did when I was out on my own. My mom and stepdad did see enough of it to label me an alcoholic. But I did not see myself that way at that point. I took a job at Bally Total Fitness in the University District Southside Houston. I had access to the gym and a little bit of money coming in. That was fine for me. I don’t remember drinking much at all to this point. The catalyst for returning to the Navy was the fact that I was working at a gym and I was not enjoying it. When I was in the military the gym was a place of camaraderie and fellowship. I did not understand the corporate nature of Civilian gyms and the salesman attitude that I was supposed to have. One day I got angry with my boss at the gym, got on the phone and called a Navy recruiter. They were at my house the next day. Two weeks later I was back in the Navy.
It was refreshing and disturbing be back in the Navy. I was so burned out when I left the first time that I told myself I would never do that again. Now I was back. I felt secure knowing that money would be coming in. However, I knew that the other shoe would fall as soon as I got settled into the routine. I was sent back to Washington state to re-acclimate into the Navy through one of its Transient Personnel Units. From there I was assigned to the USS Carl Vinson.
The Old Guy In The Club
I was on the Carl Vinson for no more than a month before I had made friends and was reaclemated back into the military. Not too long after that I was drinking heavily again. I could feel the alcoholism coming on but I still didn’t think that it had taken control of me at that point. I was back in the Navy. I made the next pay grade and was earning good money. I tracked down all of my bill collectors and paid down every outstanding debt that I had. Then I started to save money. The USS Carl Vinson was stationed out of Bremerton, Washington. I was happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest. I found an apartment on the Seattle side and took the ferry from West Seattle over to Bremerton everyday. It was a struggle but I loved Seattle so much that I had to be a part of the community. I did okay at work and was dating a lot of different girls. However, my old habits would start to morph into reality. The drinking was getting heavier and heavier. It started to affect my attitude at work. The Carl Vinson was an interesting challenge. It was a 4-year set of orders. The last ship I’d been on, the USS Independence was only a two-year stretch. The Independence tour that I did in Japan was extremely rough but it went by quickly. I had to do four years on the Carl Vinson before I could move on to a more relaxed position within the Navy. My last year on board the Carl Vinson I was struggling badly to keep my alcohol addiction under control.
I made it to the end of my time on the Carl Vinson and was selected for a set of orders in San Diego, California. The orders were what we call Shore Duty. This means that it is a non Deployable, normally in the form of a support command. The job is to provide service to the ships and commands that do deploy out to sea. By all accounts shore duty is the easiest kind of work most sailors can do. This was no different.
The Steep Drop In Paradise
By the time I checked into my command at San Diego I was really starting to fall apart. The only thing that was keeping me together on the Carl Vinson was a group of friends that I could check in with whenever I seemed to get too far gone down that lonely alcoholic road. However, we all separated from the Carl Vinson at about the same time. It seemed that everybody went in different directions. I was the only one who ended up in San Diego and was starting all over there alone. It was extremely rough and I believe this is when the hardcore alcoholism really took its toll.
After about two or three months in San Diego I knew that my life was turning for the worst. It’s ironic because I was on active duty in the military, which means I had a good job and was making good money, in what appeared to be a great-looking City. However, I would soon discover that San Diego was full of personalities like me. For whatever reason the sunshine and good looks of a city actually stressed people out. Many of the folks living in San Diego were struggling financially and emotionally. All of the sunshine and beaches made them feel like they were not a part of it. I was definitely one of those people and chose to stay inside with my 40 oz of beer most of the time.
I remember being in my apartment in East San Diego and saying to myself, “You’re an alcoholic.” This is because I came home straight from work every day for a few months and didn’t do anything but stop by the liquor store and get something to drink. I would listen to music and drink and drink and drink the days away. Before I knew it my lease was up at the apartment. I’d been there a year and hadn’t had one visitor.
A Whole Lot Of Nothing
I moved to downtown San Diego in order to make an attempt at livening up my life. Downtown San Diego at this point seemed to be a vibrant and bubbling community. Everyone was moving down there to try to be a part of this downtown scene that was supposed to be trendy and happening. This was about 2005. The new San Diego San Diego Padres baseball stadium was drawing in big crowds and there were restaurants and fun bars popping up everywhere. I took a job as security at one of the trendy bars hoping that this would turn up my social life and make it into this exciting movie that I had imagined. However, as I said before San Diego was not what it seems. Must of the flash all around me was right not real. Everyone was trying their best to look as if they were the coolest people around. As I investigated closely there was a handful of people having all the fun. The rest were alcoholics and lonely Souls just like me. I became more and more frustrated and sank deeper and deeper into depression and alcoholism.
While working at the club I was introduced to a young lady by my mentor the time. He was married to her friend and trying to give her something to do because she was to involved in his and his wife’s relationship. He put me on this project and at the time it was perfect. G was an attractive lady and close to me in age. She had no kids, never been married. She was also another lonely soul like myself. She had been sitting in her apartment drinking and trying to put a life together that just wasn’t happening just like so many other people in San Diego that I spoke of. Her and I hooked up fairly quickly after meeting. However, the relationship hit a stumbling block as she cut me off to situate another relationship she was trying to work on. G disappeared on me for a couple of weeks but then came back. We then carried on for another six years as a couple. I moved for my downtown apartment into her spot on the hill. That’s where we stayed for the better part of a half a decade.
Married With No Children
This had all the makings of a perfect Next Step. However, this was when my alcoholism would take over my life in a way that was too obvious for everyone to ignore. I could blame a lot of it on G. She was a heavy drinker herself and also did drugs. It was the perfect enabling situation. However, I brought a lot of my habits into that relationship. I knew that she was not going to be the best influence in terms of leadership and motivating me to quit drinking. She had a problem of our own and and I knew that.
G and I struggled for years to find an identity as a couple. We talked about children and I ademently refused. G talked about buying a house and I also did not want that. She was trying to put us in the direction of a couple that was building their lives. However, I did not want to invest anything into my life at that point. I knew that I was in trouble. Getting myself into debt with a mortgage or having children would have pushed me completely over the edge. I knew I needed to stop drinking at this point. Most of my time was spent battle with trying to convince myself to quit. I was disgusted during most of the relationship because I knew that I was pushing it too far. G was supportive in her own way. However, she had addictions of her own. She knew that if I was going to stop at I would have to give it my all and this would make me a completely different person. She of course wanted me to get better but she did not want me to completely change. This is where our relationship finally hit a snag that was unrepairable. After six years G ended up moving out and leaving me in that apartment by myself. I was alone yet again with my addiction.
Several things culminated the year my relationship ended with G. It was also my last year on active duty military. I was unceremoniously made to retire. It was an embarrassing situation and a fall from grace that hurt in a way that is impossible to explain. I had no job and no life. I was alone in an apartment in downtown San Diego. I eventually convinced myself that it was time to make a move that I always wanted. I threw everything that I had at that apartment inro storage. I traded my Ford Fusion for an SUV. I then took the cushions off the couch and set those up as a bed in the back of the SUV with the pillows. The idea was to downsize my situation financially so that I could have money to make more moves in life. Of course this did not work. My attempt to be homeless in order to avoid responsibility didn’t work the first time I tried it. You end up spending more money trying to occupy your time on the streets than you do sitting around the house. However, I was desperate at this point and wanted to make something happen. So I lived in the back of an SUV in San Diego, a city where I’d been a supervisor of a recruiting station and a First Class Petty.
I’m Not Sober I Just Don’t Drink
Finally I got the nerve to move to Los Angeles. I did the same thing with the SUV before finding an apartment. The LA situation didn’t last long before I ended up back in San Diego. This was after I secured a Disability Pension and back pay from the VA. The money told me that my luck was about to change. However I needed to make some drastic decisions. Someway, somehow I had to beat alcohol. I moved to Mexico to try and figure this out. Wild there I slipped into a diabetic seizure. I was struggling so badly to get across the border to the hospital that they almost called the ambulance. However I got into an Uber and took it all away from the Border in San Ysidro to the VA hospital in La Jolla. I stayed there in intensive care for three days. Those doctors saved my life. This event took place roughly 2 years ago, maybe a little more. I haven’t had a drink since then. I didn’t do any AA meetings or anything like that. When I talk I don’t refer to myself as being sober although I am. I just conduct myself as a person who doesn’t drink. I think that makes more of an impression on people. I’m tired of carrying the crutch around of alcoholism. In its own way, referring to myself as sober is almost like still being an alcoholic. I know they say that once you’re an alcoholic you always are. That’s fine. I accept it. However, I don’t have to live in that neighborhood. So I’m simply a person that doesn’t drink.