This is a story of sadness, a story of waste and a story of pain, but it’s also a story of redemption…….and it’s my story. I hope it serves the purpose of bringing hope to someone in need of a solution.
I was born and raised in Tulsa Oklahoma. I had a large extended family and spent many holidays and vacations with my parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. I was raised with a strong fundamental belief in a God of grace and would choose not to question those beliefs until much later. My parents are still together today and are the finest people I know, but I also know that in my youth, they struggled with financial pressures that put terrific stress on our family. I have come to be very grateful for my parents and realize that they did the very best they could, with what they had.
I was accepted into the OU College of Dentistry in 1978. I worked hard in school and in several part time jobs and my wife worked harder in a full time job to help make ends meet. We were blessed by a beautiful baby daughter in my sophomore year. Time and money got even tighter but we just dreamed bigger. Our son was born in the fall of my senior year but my wife and I could see the proverbial light at the end of dental school tunnel. Little did I know, that within a few short months of my son’s birth, my life would begin a slow, terrible slide into places that no one should ever go.
It was January of 1982, just a few short months from graduation….the promised land. My wife and I decided to go to Dallas Texas with a couple that we had grown to love and appreciate. My wife and I did not drink nor did our friends, it had never been a part of our lives but for one of the happy foursome, that was about to change.
I was 24 years old and I had never been in a bar. As far as I know, neither had my wife nor our friends. We learned that a group of our classmates would be at a bar that night (it was Saturday, January 21, 1982) called the “Dallas City Limits”. We decided it would be an adventure to go and see this den of iniquity. We were there but a short time and several of my classmates began to prod me to have a beer, knowing that I didn’t drink. After several of these urgings, I decided it would only make the adventure complete. After the first beer, I felt a new feeling I had never experienced. One more and the only thing on my mind was to have more. The pattern was in place. My wife and friends were not experiencing the new found joy and I managed to talk my friend into taking the girls home and I would have one of my new buddies bring me home later. Later turned into early Sunday morning.
As I drove from Dallas to Oklahoma City that morning, with my very first hangover, I struggled with horrible feelings of guilt and shame,and I vowed to never let that happen again. The story could have ended here if I had kept that promise to myself, but that night was just the beginning.
We returned to school and my life as usual but within the next few weeks, the heavy guilt began to be replaced with desires, desires to repeat that night, to experience those new feelings again. I knew of several of my classmates who had been experiencing that life the whole time we were in school. Was is possible that I had been missing out? I soon began to talk my wife into letting me “go out” with the guys on Friday nights. The Big Book of alcoholics calls it “self will run riot” but I was many years and many painful events away from reading that edition.
By June, I had completed my senior year and my wife and I had moved to Tulsa. I bought a practice and began the journey. Within the year, we built a beautiful home in south Tulsa and I had a successful practice. There was just this one small problem, I was a drug addict and an alcoholic. You could have never convinced me of that back then, doesn’t everyone drink until they pass out…..use recreational nitrous oxide….love a bottle of Vicodin…..cheat on their spouse? I would pursue this lifestyle without many consequences for the next several years. That last sentence is spoken like a true alcoholic.
“without many consequences”……except for broken hearts….my wife’s, my parents, my children. Broken hearts that will never truly heal, scars on my children that can never be fixed…….I weep as I write this because I can’t go back, I can’t change what I did no matter how desperately I wish I could. My ride into hell was just beginning, theirs had begun long ago. By 1988, the fun was gone, the thrills had faded and the laughter was dead. I had passed from “wanting to drink” to “needing to drink”. In a one year span, I had lost my dental license to suspension (I think it reads “persistent inebriety” on my Board file, which is probably one of the thicker ones they have), had to have my right hip replaced due to substance abuse, lost the house in bankruptcy, totaled 2 cars and caused my wife to leave with our 5 children (yes, I had 3 more precious children during this time, none of whom deserved a father like me and whom I pray may some day be able to forgive). Life was over. I prayed for death and it wouldn’t come. It needed some help.
One of my darkest days came in 1988, when the family had left, the dental license was suspended, the drugs were gone and the bottles were empty, and I didn’t have an answer and I didn’t have a God…..I had only myself and I couldn’t tolerate who I was and what I had become. The only thought I could hold was suicide. I went to the garage, still full of the effects of drugs and alcohol, retrieved my shotgun and began the selfish attempt of ending it all. Even in those foggy thoughts of desperation, I can remember the idea of just wounding myself might be a better idea, then someone would care! Amazingly enough, I did just that. The shotgun went off with a huge boom and I had a new haircut. The only thing I didn’t figure into the equation was that 2 seconds after the “boom”, the Tulsa SWAT Team broke down the doors of the house…..detox by fear! I don’t recommend it.
As I was being wheeled to the ambulance, handcuffed and on a gurney, I remember thinking this isn’t what I had in mind….I had just wanted someone to hug me. As it turns out, sometime in my stupor, I had called my pastor and asked a silly question like “do you go to heaven if you kill yourself?” He took that as a bad sign and ‘without my permission’, called for help. I was now on my way to my first treatment center and my first introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous.
By now, I realized that I had a terrible problem, a problem that had become bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever faced before. The first step of AA speaks of being powerless and a life unmanageable, I was highly qualified on both counts. I knew I needed help but I would spend the next 15 years trying to manage just how and when that help would come. I stayed clean and sober through the last months of 1988 and the first part of 1989 but in April of 1989, at the Oklahoma Dental Meeting in Tulsa, I met a girl that I thought would be the answer to my problems. I drank again for the first time in six months. I drank enough to muster the false courage to divorce my first wife and marry the new girl of my dreams, the answer to all my problems. I managed to stop drinking long enough to get my dental license back and marry my second wife in 1990. There was just one problem, again, me. As hard as tried not to drink or drug, I couldn’t hang onto sobriety. In January 1991, after several days of continuous drinking, I frightened my wife to the point that she left our apartment and went home to her parents in Oklahoma City.
There I was again, alone and desperate. This run led me to the hospital emergency room with a cocaine induced nose bleed that I thought I was going to kill me. No such luck.
My wife and her parents cared enough for me to line up a bed in a treatment center in Tuscon Arizona. I flew to Cottonwood alone, nose packed with gauze and scared to death. I was a mess. It was January 19, 1991. I got to Tuscon and thought if I could make myself stay for the full 28 days, just maybe I could get better. Within a week, I learned that the Dental Board had
Found out about my actions and that they were demanding that I go to long term treatment. My 28 day plan had just been extended to a minimum of 120 days if I ever expected to find favor with the Board. After 28 days in sunny Arizona, I flew to Jackson Mississippi where I would stay until June 3rd. It was filled with some of the longest days in my life, especially knowing that my wife was pregnant with our first child during the whole ordeal. During my stay in Mississippi, my wife sold the dental practice in Tulsa and moved to Oklahoma City….I had a new home. I had made a mess of our finances and she was forced to move into a small rental house on the north side. I returned with high hopes and a grand resolve to never drink again. Our first child, a boy, was born on June 19 and all was well with the world.
I never wanted to drink again. I wanted a new life and I set out to achieve just that. I followed all the rules. I attended at least one AA meeting every day. I called my sponsor every day and began to work the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. My dental license was reinstated once again and I began to work as an associate dentist in south Oklahoma City. In 1993 I opened up my own clinic on the north side of town but somewhere along the line, I began to think all my problems were behind me. I was fine now. I stopped going to AA and it wasn’t long after that that I found the need to drink again. Life began to crumble once again. In 1995, the Dental Board requested an appearance to answer the issue as to why I was not turning in my AA attendance reports (part of my probation).
The answer was simple, I wasn’t going, but I didn’t tell them that. I arrogantly told them that I didn’t need that kind of help, and besides, I had sold my practice in 1995 and wasn’t practicing. They didn’t buy either excuse and it was at that meeting that my dental license was revoked! Not suspended, revoked. That’s a big deal if your not familiar with the workings of the Dental Board.
When your in the middle of your addiction, you don’t see the gravity of such actions. I thought I was better off without the pressures of a dental practice, besides, that had been a great excuse for each relapse. Now what? I proceeded to find out how hard it would be to support 5 kids I had left in Tulsa and a wife, a little boy and another child on the way. Yes, my seventh child was due in January of 1996 and I didn’t have a job.
I sold cars for a couple of months, I tried selling a health product for a multi level marketing company, and I sold hot tubs at malls in Texas, Arkansas in Oklahoma, until that job was pulled when I got a DUI on my way to Abileen. I then began to build metal buildings for different state agencies. I was in the middle of seven jobs (seven contracts) when I decided a drinking spree was in order. The jobs were finished but not after losing tens of thousands of dollars. I also started a company that contracted with the City of Oklahoma City to clean and maintain drainage canals. I spent the next 5 years running a weedeater on the North Canadian river as well as approximately 75 creeks in the OKC area. There were periods of sobriety during these years and my wife, my son and my daughter struggled to understand why I couldn’t stay sober for longer than several months. I wondered the same.
In the spring of 2003, we were forced to sell our house and file bankruptcy because I couldn’t put together more than 3 to 6 months of stability. We were still in the house and I began to drink again. I continued until the exhaustion was unbearable. On April 3rd of 2003, my wife called my parents in Tulsa and asked that they come and get me. She couldn’t tolerate it anymore. My parents got to the house late that Thursday night and drove me back to their home. I began 3 horrendous days of detox. I walked through the woods surrounding their house for hours. It was cold but I was constantly soaked in sweat. I feared I had lost another family and life once again looked hopeless. I prayed and it seemed there was no answer but looking back, there was, because I haven’t found it necessary to have a drink or drug since that dark night.
I was full of fear. Afraid that I would try again….and fail again. My folks drove me back to Oklahoma City on Sunday afternoon. My wife and I had been looking for a place to rent since we had to be out of the house for the new owners. That afternoon I learned that she had found a place to live and the plans did not include me. I needed a drink.
In a few weeks, she moved into her new place and I moved to a small apartment. I was alone and I would begin the walk into the sobriety that I hold dear today. I returned to AA with the knowledge that if I chose to walk away again, I might never make it back.
By the end of the year, I was getting my second divorce. I remember thinking back to my youth, back at the Mennonite Church when we looked down on people who were divorced and now here I was on number two. My past was a mess but I had to look forward or I would just repeat the cycle again. The Dental Board had told me that if I wanted to apply for a new license, I would have to take clinical Boards again. It had been 20 years since I took Boards and I still remembered the stress. I took the Boards in June and passed. Now I would have to go before the Dental Board and request a new dental license. Parts of me told me it would never happen, that there was too much history, that I was a loser…..the same parts that had always told me to have a drink. I prayed ever harder and found hope in the fact that with or without a dental license, sobriety would make life worth living again.
By this time, I had been attending at least one AA meeting everyday, gotten a great AA Sponsor and become an active member in the Oklahoma Health Professionals Program.
I went before the Board with support from my fellow AA’s and while it was by no means unanimous, the Board granted me a new dental license. I have almost four years of sobriety at this writing, a miracle that that few can comprehend unless they’ve been there.
I wake up everyday with a great awareness that my life is a gift, one that I tried hard to throw away. A gift that I can have but one day at a time. A gift that was brought about by a gracious God who works in my life through the program of AA.
I have left out hundreds of stories and escapades of my using days, some funny but most tragic. I think one can get the overall picture by the few that I have shared. The Big Book of AA talks about getting to a place where we will “no longer regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it”, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point. I regret the things my children had to see and live through, the heartaches and sadness of my marriages, the frustrations of my parents….the list could go on and on. I cannot change the past, but I have learned that I don’t have to repeat it either. My sponsor tells me it’s OK to look over my shoulder, but it’s not OK to stare.
I have since remarried to a girl who has had to learn the process of recovery with me.
We are learning to love and cherish one another. I hope that we can be a source of hope for those that have lost it. An example for those that feel like giving up. I sincerely hope that none of you who read this will ever know the despair of this kind of life but if this story finds just one….please don’t give up. There is hope and peace on the other side.