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Alcohol, The Greatest Disability of All

He realized that living life as an alcoholic was a lot worse than living with the disability of having only one arm

"Drinking had become a big part of my life. I often drank until I got sick on the weekends."

It's depressing to think that your greatest achievements in life happened when you were a senior in high school, especially when high school was 30 years ago. It was the last football game of senior year, in front of the home crowd, and up until then, I had been riding the bench all season like I had nearly every year since the 5th grade. Nobody expects much from a one armed kid, but they always say they admired my efforts. That night, the coach sent me in. I had my play. I was wide open and the quarterback threw the ball at me. To everybody's amazement, including mine, I caught the damn thing. I could hear the crowds in the stands cheering. I still get goose bumps thinking about it sometimes.

A few hours later, after I got off from my shift at a local fast food joint, I got a ride to the kegger from my best friend. As usual, my parents had taken away my driving privileges. Drinking had become a big part of my life. I often drank until I got sick on the weekends.

When you grow up with one arm, it is sometimes difficult to convince others that your greatest handicap isn't necessarily the one that they can see, but the one you fight on a daily basis in your mind. Trust me; if I had a say in the matter, I would much rather have a missing body part than to be afflicted with alcoholism. People are more impressed with the things you can do despite a physical handicap than they will ever be for overcoming an addiction that most of them see as a weakness rather than a disease, but it is much easier to be engaged in a physical battle than a mental one. Being handicapped is easy; playing "Otis the town drunk" is hard. Learning how to do something with one hand, while normally not a cake walk, is more like putting together the pieces of a puzzle: you know the outcome you want, whether it be a tied shoe lace, a shot made on the basketball court, or a wall built, and the task is simply how to achieve that desired outcome with the tools you have been given. On the other hand, dealing with life in general without the chemical crutch you have used since high school is like going on a road trip without a map: you'll eventually end up somewhere, but chances are better than average it won't be anywhere near where you had planned.

I'm pretty sure I was an alcoholic from my very first drunk at about age thirteen, but it took another 35 years of practice to finally admit it truthfully, and have some small grasp of what it really means. I have spent the better part of the last three decades trying to get back that feeling I found in those early days. When I drank I was suddenly ambidextrous; for a while there I was just like everyone else.

I grew up around alcohol. I have old home movies showing my parents giving sips of beer us as toddlers; it's kind of shocking even to me to see it today, but back then it was just the way it was. I am beyond blaming genetics, family, or the environment I grew up in for my disease . While I am sure that I may be predisposed, it was still me that pulled the trigger. My brother and many others went through many of the same things I did, and for the most part turned out fine. Whatever the reason, excuse, cause, the fact remains that in recovery or not, I am an alcoholic.

I managed to screw up everything that mattered to me in life: jobs, my marriage, my relationship with my kids, school, sports. I barely graduated high school because I would rather party than study. I dreaded every testing season because every year I would get the "why don't you apply yourself" lecture. I have always blamed dropping out of college on the job I had at the time, but the truth is I was only working more hours to pay for more booze. I could have gone to the National Championships and possibly even the Olympics for handicapped skiing, but I convinced myself that I couldn't afford it when what I couldn't afford was to not buy booze.

Every time I worked my way up at a job, I blew it by allowing my work to deteriorate, showing up smelling of booze, or just flat out showing up drunk, period. Up until the last couple of years, I've always made pretty good if not excellent money, but I have always been behind on my bills, from rent to child support and taxes, because I would rather spend it all on drinking than responsibilities. When I was younger, If the laws were as severe as they are now, I would have gotten my felony DUI 25 years ago. The first time I proposed to my wife was when I was in a rehab unit trying to stay out of jail. The stay-out-of-jail-thing worked, and so did the proposal, eventually.

For a long time, I was what they call a functional alcoholic: I had the beautiful family, the good job, and good friends. There really isn't a specific instance I can point to and say that's where I crossed the line into complete chaos; I'm sure my ex could tell me, but I've been afraid to ask. I'd like to say that I woke up one day and it was all gone, but nothing that dramatic happened. It was more like a process of circling around the toilet bowl of life waiting for the big cosmic flush. In AA they teach you about taking care of the wreckage of your past, but not a day goes by that I don't wish that I either couldn't remember the past, or that I had a time machine to go back and change the last 25 years or so. I will go to my grave trying desperately to fix the damage I have done to my kids, my family, and most importantlyand the hardest to finally realize—to myself.

It has cost me my wife and children, my freedom, every decent job I've ever had, and most importantly my self-respect. Up until about a year ago, no one including myself would have ever thought that I would be a college student now, especially a sober one. If you had asked me then where I would be today, I probably would have told you in prison. I was awaiting re-sentencing on a felony DUI; re-sentencing because I had been sentenced earlier to probation, and eleven days later showed up to my first probation appointment smelling like a brewery. When my probation officer asked me how much I had drank the night before I was semi-truthful when I told him only a couple. However, it was a good thing he didn't ask me how many I had had for breakfast that morning. Why the judge didn't just ship me out to the state penitentiary, I will never understand but be forever grateful for. Instead, he sent me to a six-month treatment program at the North Idaho Correctional Facility up at Cottonwood. Like I said, I will never understand why I went there instead of just being warehoused south of Boise, and I probably won't ever be able to put into words what finally "clicked" while I was up there, but the one thing I am certain of is that the judge more than likely saved my life.

I will soon celebrate my first year of sobriety, Lord willing, and for the first time in a long time I don't hate myself. I am actually proud of some of the things I'm doing for a change, and hopefully some of the wounds are starting to heal, especially with my children. I have goals that don't revolve around my next day's supply of beer and how to afford it, and I don't dread talking to my kids anymore. I'm a 48-year-old, unemployed college freshman and I kind of like it.

—Russ K., Nampa, Idaho

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