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Sobriety has been an interesting trip

John, Massachusetts

My name is John and I am an alcoholic.

I would like to give credit where it is due for my recovery. In my case it is two groups in my hometown and a former roommate. I am originally from Woonsocket R.I. USA. My first group stateside was the Woonsocket #1. They taught me how to get sober using the twelve steps. The Happy Wanderers showed me that it was okay to live and have fun and be sober. My late roommate, Pat R. of Worcester Ma. allowed me to grow up and explore the world.

Born in 1954, I'm the the first of three children in a mixed culture marriage. Mother was French Canadian (1st gen) and father was Polish and also 1st generation. Any attempt to bring the family together meant trouble. Born with a physical handicap meant that I had trouble in school from the start, although the handicap was not one that was evident. I looked normal and wanted to be normal. There were few places where I fit in and fewer places to excel. I started to escape at an early age, finding auto racing on television and science fiction novels.

In school I was a decent student, but increasingly a loner. In high school I joined student government and the early ecology movement. I found I could communicate well and was looking at the chance for a media career, then the bomb dropped. June 13, 1971 was a day I will never forget. I was locked in my room by a member of my mom's family as my dad suffered a fatal heart attack. My mom had a breakdown, leaving three children to be cared for by relatives. At 17 I had to become the leader of my family. Dreams fell by the side. It was a struggle to put things together.

My mom did good by us. We had a modest home in a working class area. There was some insurance and she had always been a worker. As time passed we each got licenses and modest used cars. We all worked and helped as we could. That summer I was introduced to short track stock cars and the legendary promoter Anthony Vendetti. Seekonk Speedway would become my escape in the summer of 71. The Konk was a 1/4 mile oval, now 1/3 and still under family ownership, on RT 6 between Providence and Fall River. A difficult drive for a novice in a really bad car. That drive would save my life later.

I picked up my first drink at a party for my birthday that my mom put on for me. I was turning 18. Later that year we would get the legal drink, but for now we were crossing the line. She supplied a case of beer and some mixers. The punch started out with a liberal spike and would get more later. I got drunk and passed out. That would become a way of life during my drinking years.

For the next few years, I kept my drinking to a certain limit. Getting a DWI scared me at first. I graduated High school and had a fun summer. Lots of auto racing as I began to tour New England's tracks on an almost weekly basis. I always traveled alone to the tracks. I saw other people as baggage. In the fall I began attending a private college located in Providence. A modest sized school which offered a program I wanted and a good financial aide package. But I was out classed at Providence College. I had been an okay student, but I had limited means. I was working and commuting. My AMC Ambassador did not give a boost to my standings nor did my social skills. I started slipping after my first year. Midway into my second, I was asked to leave my major, and by year three I was out.

A few months out of school and I found my answer. A state college offered a performance based program. I completed it and was allowed to enter a program with some credits from PC. I quickly found out that RIC was a place where I would be okay. I learned from some of the mistakes that I had made and got involved on campus. I joined clubs, the Science Fiction Club and Chess and got into the college newspaper. By doing this I tried to break out of my isolation. While never really popular, I did date for a while. Alcohol caused the loss of at least one relationship. I wanted to drink more than I wanted her.

In the process of getting my degree, my drinking began to take off. Most of the groups I joined drank. Some as much as I did. Nights that I had free from work resulted in late nights on campus, followed by an alcohol-fueled commute. I was losing my fear of driving drunk. My racing trips got longer during the season. A race night might result in me passing out as soon as I got home after driving 30 mins to an hour under the influence.

My favorite races were early in the spring and late in the fall. A local track hosted multi-day events and had a liberal camping policy. I would put a case in the trunk on Saturday am. It would be cold by the time I got to the track. During the day i would make trips out to the car between qualifying rounds. I would have several cans in the liner of my jacket. At the close of the day's events I would go back to the car, join the party in the campgrounds and finish it by sleeping off my drunk in the car. On Sunday I would always try to moderate myself. I knew that I had to drive home and all the feature races ran that day.

One weekend ended with me consuming a bit more while waiting for the traffic to thin. I then drove out on a back road. The road got twisty and then became dirt. I did not know it, but an officer was following me. We got to the main road where I missed a stop sign. I knew I was in trouble. He asked questions and had me do a field test. He really could have busted me. Cost me $50. Funny thing is that I drove that same road sober a few years later. It was a challenge. I do not know how I did it drunk.

The summer of 1979 came and I was frustrated. I had a newly minted degree but no job. A road trip down the east coast had been a great adventure. Keeping the drinking in check, I had attended races at the legendary Flemington Fairgrounds (NJ) and the Nazareth short track, (Pa.). I had seen the Weatherly Museum and gone by the Charlotte Motor Speedway on route to an interview in Charlotte. The offer of a job had been one in sales and I had turned it down.

I was frustrated and had something to prove to myself. I took the military aptitude text, figuring on a desk job where my handicap would not play a role. I qualified as a Field Artillery survey specialist. What I saw as an easy job was one that I was both ill prepared and ill suited for. I enlisted as a member of the Rhode Island National Guard, figuring that a failure there might not be as traumatic.

Basic training began in October in Ft.Sill OK.. A training accident meant that I spent the winter there. The first chance I had to drink, lead to a missed formation due to a pass out and an article 14. This would be the first of several alcohol related incidents. I managed the rest of my training without too much trouble. A crash diet and no booze meant that I was actually able to pass a PT test and graduated as the most improved trainee of the cycle.

A sergeant saw my problems and offered me an out but I declined. I would return to my NG unit as a Private First Class. The time I spent with the Guard was punctuated by alcohol related incidents. A field trip where they set up a booze tent got me set up. I had limited money but the guys got me drunk anyway. I ended the night tossing a drink at my First Sergeant. Lucky for me he was in on it.

Our summer camp was a seven day booze fest interrupted by training. Shortly afterward I went on active duty. In the spring of 1980, I arrived at Ft Polk La. 13 months later I departed for Germany. While at Polk I served several months in the hospital for a barracks accident and several more for a suicidal reaction to an alcohol and drug mix. The accident involved setting myself on fire with lit shoe polish after a couple of beers. The result was 30% second and 3rd degree burns. I was offered counseling and put on antabuse.

When my orders came in for Germany, I was in heaven. I had heard the stories about the women and the beer. Best of all, I was putting my past behind and could drink again. After a short time the close quarters took their measure of me. I was much older than my unit mates. Under alcohol, my anger and frustration came out. The first fight resulted in another 14 and a warning.

My next incident would be my last. On a warm spring Sunday afternoon, I was in the basement of a chapel, crying my eyes out to a chaplain's assistant. The incident had happened the previous night. I had gotten drunk and into a fight. Knowing that my military career was finished, I went looking for both AA and answers. The assistant told me that I had the wrong day for a meeting yet there were some people coming later that day who could help me.

I went out to the steps and waited. After a while, people started entering the chapel. They were all happy and smiling. There were single folks, young couples and families. After a while, a young man who I came to know as Gary, came outside to see me. He asked if he could help and we talked for a while. He then went inside to begin the meeting. It took a while and I decided to go in. What's to lose? I entered the chapel and found a bunch of very warm caring people. The God that they were talking about was not the God of my youth. This was loving God, a God with a personal interest in us. The people themselves were different as I would later find out. They truly had bonded together to accept Jesus Christ as their God. I wanted what they had and accepted my Higher Power that day.

A few days later I left on one last great adventure. I had prepaid for a trip to Berne Switzerland. I would go as part of a group doing "The Berne Marche" The event was a hike through the countryside of 40km a day for two days. Even though everyone knew of my status, the NCOs decided that I could drink if I wished at the end of the first day's march. After a brief stop to clean up, I headed for the fest tent for a bite and a beer.

The tent was hughe and there were signs in several languages. I bought a copule of brats and a 1/2 liter. As I started drinking the beer, the taste struck me and then the guilt hit. Here I was after getting the cold sweats in a self detox and I was drinking. I put the beer down and walked away. That was May 15th 1982. The next day i would struggle again with the march only to fall out after 30km. While not able to pass in review with my unit, I was given an award of completion. I started my recovery by trying my best.

That was over 26 years ago. A few weeks later, I returned home after getting the basics of AA while in Germany. I spent the first four years in my hometown of Woonsocket R.I.. Despite my rebellious streak, I did what I was told. I did the steps, joined several groups and had several sponsors. A job change made a move to Worcester Ma. a necessity. I found a roommate at a meeting and then made my move. I stayed with Pat until I met the lady who would become my wife some four years later. Janet and I have been together since December of 1990.

Sobriety has been an interesting trip. In the years before I met Janet, I became involved in auto racing. For a time I was involved in my friend's ministry, that turned into a fellowship of recovering folks in the sport. I retired from racing only to return later with internet columns, first a local and then national. I achieved my dream. I had become a respected part of a sport that I loved. A couple of years ago, I retired again. I doubt that i will ever write for the sport again. The old Higher Power has put other things in my life, a model railroad and a home to maintain.

In other ways the promises have been fulfilled. I have worked steady for a number of years. A job with a local car dealer lasted some twelve years.. I have over eight years with Domino's Pizza while working for several franchise owners. Recently I had a problem with one of the owners. One phone call and I had another job. Now the challenge is to learn his operation and become a good team member.

My wife and I have a modest home with two cars in the drive. Hers is a low mileage Kia, while the trusty Cavalier adds on the miles and brings home the check. We share our home with two small poodles, an african grey parrot and a number of smaller birds. My day is made when I am greeted by my two girls. The gray always gets in her two cents also.

I would like to thank everyone for being here. This group means a lot to me. Having 24-7 access to AA is a big help when you work in a business where the hours fluctuate. When I first came here, I was coming off a dry bender. I lost a job and was scared out of my mind. The old Higher Power has provided and you folks have been a part of it. For that I say thank you all.

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