Alcoholism: An allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Are you an alcoholic?” “Well, I don’t go to meetings so I guess not.”

How many times have you heard someone say those words? How many times have you yourself said that very same thing? I know I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I said it. Of course, it was always with a smile and a laugh. Thinking back, I realize now, that I was just trying to make a joke or make light of a very serious matter. Alcoholism is definitely no laughing matter.

I’m going to tell my story in the hopes I can reach at least one individual who realizes it’s time to ask for help. As hard as that seems, it’s only a phone call away.

Like a lot of people, I started my drinking career in high school. Partying on the weekends with friends was normal. After high school and out in the real world, on my own, I decided that I could drink, have parties and get drunk whenever I wanted. This was the beginning of a long and hard-fought battle with the bottle. For the next ten years, I blew off many opportunities and lost many well-paying jobs due to partying. One of those being a four year paid tuition to Texas A&M. In hindsight, not one of the best decisions I ever made.

At the ripe old age of 29, I decided to join the Air Force, which was definitely the best decision I ever made. I graduated basic training and moved on to technical school. It was there I learned a lot of people in my career field worked hard and played harder than most. That was the rumor anyway. I was excited to hear this. That was right where I was used to being.

During the holiday exodus, in the middle of tech school, I went home and got married. Now I had a wife and a stepdaughter. Most would think that having a family, a new career and a new lease on life would have settled me down a bit. Yet I could not or would not give up the drinking career I had so diligently invested so much time in perfecting.

I arrived at my first duty location one month before my new family. By the time they got there, I had polished off eight cases of beer and four large bottles of whiskey. I was off to the races again. That pretty much continued for the next year and a half. I heard the voices and the rumors about how often I drank. It was often enough that I should’ve seen the red flags popping up all around me. Once again though, I justified my actions one way or another. Usually by saying “Everyone else drinks,” “All of the guys in my career field do it,” “All of the bills are paid so no problem,” or my favorite “I’m not an alcoholic, I don’t go to meetings.” Anything I could say to avoid the gruesome truth of what I was doing to myself and my family.

A year and a half into my enlistment, I received orders to Aviano -- the best assignment
in the Air Force, everyone kept telling me. All I knew for sure was that they have some really good beverages to be consumed over there.

Once again, I arrived at my assignment one month before my family. It didn’t take long before I was at it again. Here at Aviano, I was drinking more than ever. I would take cases of empty bottles to the recycle bin every week. Going on trips, going out to dinner and traveling all took a back seat to my addiction. Over the next year and a half, many things happened that should’ve woken me up to the fact that I truly needed help. Red flags were again popping up all over the place.

It took me many years to come to the conclusion and face the harsh reality that I too could actually be an alcoholic. I just didn’t want to admit that I had a problem. I had never so much as received a letter of counseling. I mainly just drank at home, all the bills were paid, we had a nice house, two cars and nice things. All of these things were excuses I used to deny that my drinking career was full blown and hitting afterburner. After all, my wife hadn’t left; I still had my job, my truck and my dogs.

One day, I woke up and realized that I was really close to losing it all. I decided to call the people at life skills. That was to be the beginning of a life I didn’t think I could ever achieve. Upon completing the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program, I see the world with new eyes. I am a happy, positive person. I get out and do things now that I wouldn’t have done before. At least, that is, unless alcohol was readily available. I enjoy life now.

My point, is we have a lot of DUIs and alcohol related incidents in the military. All of these can be avoided. It has been proven to be possible. You don’t have to drink to have a good time. I know that may sound odd to some, even redundant to others, but I know it to be true. So if you think you may have a drinking problem, not a starting problem, but a quitting one, ask for help. Don’t wait until it’s too late. It may just be the best decision you ever make.

If you don’t think you have a drinking problem, you just enjoy drinking once in a while, or, you only drink in moderation, please drink responsibly. It takes a bigger person to admit you had too much to drink, than it does to be irresponsible or make a bad decision. Do the right thing. Don’t put your career, life or the lives of others on the line for the sake of a split second bad decision or an irresponsible act. It’s simply just not worth it.