What Was It Like?
My earliest recollection of my childhood memories were those of fear, loneliness, emptiness and an ever present sense of impending doom. I lived with the fear that something bad was going to happen to me or someone that I loved. As an eight year old boy I remember being filled with fear and loneliness. Sadly, I spent most of my childhood (and adult life) living this way.
At the age of twelve I discovered alcohol. That was the beginning of the end of any type of normal life for me for the next four decades.
To this day, I can recall exactly how awful that first hangover felt. I was shaking, I was nauseous, I had a headache and guess what…
I could not wait to do it again!
The more I drank the thirstier I became; I later learned later this was known as the phenomenon of “craving.”
As my drinking continued I began to experience “blackouts”. I would get so drunk that I could not remember some/most of the events from the night before. This was a sure sign that my disease was indeed progressing. My troubles began escalating resulting in trips to the ER and being hospitalized.
And then my life dramatically changed directions. At 21, I stopped drinking, had a religious conversion, found a beautiful girl to marry and studied for the ministry. I obtained a Degree in Ministerial Studies, became an ordained Minister and pastored several churches. Then we were blessed with three beautiful children; Amber, Tony and Brittany! I just knew that my troubles were over. What Happened!
Fast forward to age 33; I stayed dry (abstained from drinking alcohol) for a period of about 12 years. Although I did not have a drink in years; surely being older and wiser I thought I could handle having an occasional drink.
I was no longer pastoring a church because I was restless, irritable and discontented. (This is a description of the disease of alcoholism right out of the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous).
After 12 years of being “dry” (not sober, just dry) there came a day that I had a drink. I had another drink the next day and my drinking continued virtually every day for the next 12 years!
September 14, 2003- The Day That Changed My Life Forever I stopped at a neighborhood pub, drank heavily and then headed to my home less than a mile from the bar. A few minutes later I was in a four car accident, which I caused.
Filled with fear and realizing what I had done I regrettably fled the scene of the accident. I was arrested a short time later and my blood alcohol level registered at a whopping .299; nearly four times the legal limit of 08.
When my son Tony and daughter Brittany heard that I had been in an accident they rushed to the hospital to see me. What they saw was their father handcuffed to a hospital bed with a police officer seated at the foot of the bed. I would give anything if I could erase that picture frozen in their memories but that is something that I can never do.
I was booked in the county jail. My wife had forewarned me that at some point my drinking would put her and our children in jeopardy and now that prophesy had come to fruition. She did not utter one word on the drive home, she did not need to. A short time later she
filed for a divorce.
What Is It Like Now?
Filled with shame and humiliation the very next day I went to my first 12 Step Meeting. I got a sponsor and began to work the 12 steps. For the first time I learned that alcoholism/addiction is a treatable disease. It is not a will power or sin issue. It is not a character issue but it is a disease. I learned there was a solution, a way out of my miserable life.
Here’s how my first 90 days in recovery looked: My wife moved forward on the divorce, my Mother passed away, I was fired from my job and the DA filed felony charges relating to the DUI accident.
Things were getting worse!
While the external circumstances of my life were seemingly spiraling out of control an amazing, remarkable event happened. In the midst of all the losses and all the tears and all the regrets I began to gradually feel good on the inside. Impossible!
I was told that a 12 step program is about an ‘inside job’ living life from the inside out not the outside in. I learned that connecting to my Higher Power whom I call God was the vital necessary ingredient for feeling good. The step work process showed me exactly how my character defects had been blocking me from the peace I so desperately sought.
It was in a 12 step room when the scales fell from my eyes and I began to see clearly. I finally discovered my real problem, that guy in the mirror.
In my first ninety days of sobriety and for the very first time in my life, the obsession to drink alcohol was lifted from me. Suddenly, amazingly, miraculously I was not thinking about drinking alcohol.
I searched my entire life to find ways to fill that hole in my soul. I tried alcohol, people, money, career success, therapy, religion but nothing could fill the hole inside of me. Nothing worked until I embraced the spiritual solution offered in a 12 step program. Incidentally, I just picked up my 11 year medallion last month but I do not take credit for
my recovery. I am grateful to the One who has all power.
Ernest Hemingway said it best for me “life breaks all of us; some of us heal in the broken places’.
A 12 step program saved my life and my recovery has proven to be an ongoing process and not an event. My life continues to get better every day and I truly believe the most satisfactory years of my existence lie ahead.
Today I work in a treatment center where I have the opportunity to help those who suffer as I did. I share a solution with them that really works. I feel both blessed and thankful for this second chance at life.
Tom Bello is in Community Relations for Transformations Treatment Center in Delray Beach, Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org) and can be heard on Transformations Radio Saturday mornings at 10:00 am on WFTL 850 AM.