Mike Runner brings a perspective to Wings Like Eagles that is unique and challenging.
I normally cover topics relating to the horror of having someone else bring darkness into the home. Mike covers the same topics, but from a completely different angle. He was the one who brought darkness to his family. Mike is an alcoholic.
It is my hope that the perception of what we think we know about Family Crisis is shaken up a bit. Because there is far more involved than we think. Much can be understood by examining the other side, and I deeply appreciate Mike's willingness to help us gain understanding as he shares with us the mind as it is affected by alcoholism.
He isn't just an alcoholic. He is an intelligent mind, has a bright, hopeful future, and he is my friend. And this is his story.
Here is the bad news, if you have found yourself wondering if you are an alcoholic, you probably are. Most people who don’t have an issue either mentally or physically with alcohol don’t ask themselves that question. The good news is there are a lot of us out there who finally came to terms with it and live joyful and productive lives in sobriety.
A friend and someone who reads Never Anonymous emailed me a few days ago asking me about my business license with the state. I had mentioned a few months ago that I had to let the State of California know about my DUI that happened on April 16, 2011. The license renews every two years and of course I have had discussions with them before about a drunk in public that I forgot to mention on my application two years ago. I honestly did forget it as compared to other things that have happened to me, a drunk in public and spending the night in jail was not that big of a deal. Not putting that on my application when they run a background check already put me on thin ice and I was fearful that this might put me over the edge.
I have gone through a lot of unpleasant situations in the last 22 months as finding physical, emotional and spiritual sobriety does not take away the ramifications of previous actions. Personal issues, house arrest, jail time, family relationships, painfully letting go of relationships, thousands of dollars spent, and no drivers license have just been a few of the interesting situations that I have gone through and in some cases continue to go through. The license thing would have been a little different as I have been in one line of work since I graduated from college. During that time I have built up a client base. If the State said that I could no longer do what I am doing, I am not quite sure what would happen. Though I believe that God has a plan for me, I was honestly very fearful that being forced out of my business might be in that plan.
The actual renewal of my license was September 30, 2012. I have almost been superstitious in not mentioning it or thinking about it a great deal. I bombarded them with paperwork on my story with alcoholism, letters from my psychiatrist, from the clinical director from the outpatient program I attended, and many others. The license renewed and I have not heard a thing via letter or phone call. When I go on the State web-site, it shows my status as active. Of course I could still get a letter tomorrow, but it appears that everything is fine. I very much appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers that I have received.
I have mentioned that for a six week period of my state mandated 1 ½ year DUI program I have to go to six “education” classes on Saturdays. I have enjoyed these classes as I am primarily in a room with first offenders and I can help them to see where alcohol might take them. About half the class time is discussion and the other half is watching a video. One of the videos we watched was an episode of Intervention called “Lawrence’s Story.”
Lawrence was from Las Vegas and was 33 or 34 at the time they were filming him. He was a self made man and had taken care of his younger siblings when his mother was no longer able to do so. His father was out of the picture and his step father had been physically abusive. At 20 years of age, he opened his first tanning salon which he turned into a successful chain with 8 locations. The pictures of him in his early 20s showed a good-looking guy in great physical shape, who according to one of his employees was the man “all the girls wanted to marry.” At 26, Lawrence began to drink. By the time of the filming, he had no resemblance to the person in the pictures 8 years prior. He was pale, skinny, and shaky. He had done the worst thing he could have done for his alcoholism and set up a home office so he didn’t have to go to the locations. He had a couple of shops left that he let a couple of employees run and did a little business from home in telling them what to do now and again.
Lawrence always had a glass of clear liquid next to him. He would tell people it was water but everyone who knew him knew it was straight vodka. He told friends and family that he had “a couple of drinks” every day as he chugged vodka down in front of them all day long. He had a couple of employees who enabled him completely. They brought him lunch, helped him change clothes, cleaned up messes, bandaged his wounds, and anything else that was needed.
Finally, his employees, friends and family decided to do an intervention with an outside professional. They were afraid that he was going to die. The intervention did not go well as they sometimes do not with self made people who have always been the strong one for everyone else. Finally, begrudgingly, he agreed to go to rehab. Thirty days later, he was kicked out of rehab for not taking his program seriously and was sent home. Three weeks after that he began to drink again, and three months later he died. He was only 34. Just 8 years before, he had been someone everyone looked up to or wanted to be like. It took 8 years, but the alcohol took control of him and eventually killed him. There was nothing anyone could do.
And sometimes we die.
That’s not pleasant, but it is reality. I have seen friends die from a slow and ugly alcoholic death, and friends who have died suddenly from a seizure or heart attack. In AA rooms we have names on the walls of people we have lost so we can remember them and as a constant and sobering reminder to ourselves. I wish I could say that all of the people on the wall died sober, but many did not. Many were people who had not had a drink for many years and for whatever reason “went back out” and never made it back to the rooms. Some of them were the last people who you ever thought would ever drink again. It is not uncommon to hear of someone who goes back and drinks after 20 years of sobriety. The disease doesn’t leave us and it is always in the background. If we don’t do the things we need to do, it will gladly take us back and eventually take us out.
Seven years ago after doing my second voluntary rehab, I went to a sober living house for a couple of weeks. I didn’t go because anyone made me, I went because I didn’t feel that I was ready to go home yet. Sober living houses can be a great idea for addicts and alcoholics because you are in a controlled environment yet still have freedom to work and see you family. There was a wonderful man I knew there who had a beautiful wife and two beautiful sons. He was great to talk to and helped me in a lot of ways through his experiences. I sat in classes with him and listened to him read letters about alcoholism and about how much he loved his family. I had met them and they were very hopeful even through all of the failures. This man had been badly damaged from the physical effects of drinking and his liver almost didn’t function at all and was hoping for a liver transplant. Yet, one day I came back to the house and he was being kicked out because he was drunk. His poor wife and children were there to pick him up. I later heard that he died a few months later.
And sometimes we die.
Another one of my friends from the sober living house was a young man who could not have been older than 25. He seemed to have a great attitude and had been sober for six months or so. One day, he had a single beer, decided he was ok and checked out of sober living. Three weeks later we got the report that he had hanged himself while drinking and had left no note.
And sometimes we die.
I am telling you this because it is a reality for me. If I ever go “back out.” The odds are not very good that I would come back. Possibly, but not likely as eventually luck runs out. Even a cat only has nine lives.
I am telling alcoholics out there this because I would like them to be ready to go. Have your things in order. The reality is, it will get you eventually if you don’t stop. I am writing this to spouses and family members. As was the case with Laurence, everybody really did everything they could possibly do right down to the intervention but Lawrence wasn’t ready. Lawrence never got ready.
In a way Lawrence reminded me of myself as he was beyond the point of denial. The first step of the 12 steps of AA says, we “admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable”. This is the first step… admitting that there is a problem and that we have become powerless to stop it on our own. We admit that we desperately need help. It is tough to admit you are licked. Yet, although Lawrence’s family said he was in denial, I don’t believe he was in denial to himself. Like myself, he knew he was an alcoholic and denied it to other people, but he knew it. He just couldn’t stop it. I was there.
To families, the fact that sometimes we die is a reality. I’m so sorry. I am either blessed or lucky to be writing this as I know others who have suffered from alcoholism that have died from much less drinking than I did. Be ready. Go to Al-Anon; seek counseling both one on one and in support groups with other people who are in your shoes. Talk to your pastor or someone else’s pastor who understands alcoholism. The worst thing you can do, as is the case with the alcoholic, is try to live life on your own with a stiff upper lip. If you have done everything you can and someone continues to slowly kill themselves in front of you and or your children, it may be time to physically leave and love the alcoholic from afar.
At the start of this column I talked of good news and bad news. I have spent some time talking about the reality of the bad news. The good news is that I am sitting her writing this column and didn’t have to join Lawrence or my other friends. If I was an odds maker, I would not have picked myself as one who would survive as my hope and spirit were destroyed completely. The good news is that the instructor who leads my Saturday education class has been in rehab 8 times over 20 years, did more damage out there than I did by a long shot, and teaches us with 4 years of sobriety under his belt and with a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling. Like myself, just a few years ago he never believed he would be where he is now. There are people with incredible stories who I see all the time who are living miracles. There are lives and families that have been restored well after that was thought to be impossible. There are those who have gone on and found wonderful new lives. People, the absolute worst of us have sometimes made it. People who we all thought would die are still with us, and are sharing their stories.
Unless you are your loved one are already in the morgue, today is a day you can do something. Somehow, some way, reach out and ask for help. It may start with getting down on your knees, breaking down, looking up to the sky and yelling out “please help me!” It may start with a phone call to a friend who you can be honest with. It may start with setting up an appointment with your pastor or finding an AA or Celebrate Recovery meeting. It isn’t over until it is over and if you can still read this or share it with someone who can still hear you, any and everything is still possible.
If you want to try to do this alone, either the alcoholic or the family of the alcoholic, I will pray for you and I wish you luck. If you want to get better, right now… right this second… is the time to ask for help.
And sometimes we live.