Sober Serial No. 1

Written by: Patrick Chapin, Marketing/Admissions Director

Sitting in the bowels of the Atlanta Airport, in hindsight, I must have known what was happening. I smoked a cigarette and took swigs from a flask with a food court employee. He must’ve seen me as a sympathetic case. Maybe, he was an “alcoholic” himself and could see it written on another man’s face.

My mother was somewhere in the terminal worried sick, no doubt. Wondering why I was in the bathroom so long. It was a definitive moment for her, a turning point. It certainly wasn’t the first time she was worried about what I may have been doing and it wasn’t the last, in regard to drugs and alcohol.

I do like to think though this was the beginning of the end to her pain. Her worry. Her mental preparation to bury her youngest son.

Moment of clarity

This was the only moment that I can recall of the four days leading up to my first real treatment stay; the only thing I can remember after the fateful words “I need help” came out of my mouth in a voice I did not recognize. After waking up at 7:00, I went upstairs to my say good morning to my mother and father as I typically did to throw them off my scent.

Little good that ever did. I had already had my customary three shots upon waking and smoked my cigarette. I had planned my day, which constituted how I would get to the liquor store before my stash ran out and little else.

My brief moment of clarity came from an innocuous exchange stemming from these events. It wasn’t the cars I wrecked, the hearts I broke or the pain I felt. It came when I said, “Good morning.” In Ohio, evening and early morning looked somewhat similar, I guess. My mother looked at me strangely and said, “Its 7:00 P.M….” with harmless and accurate expletives following.

My only thought was how to get to the liquor store before it closed. I couldn’t even tell what time of day it was. I had been passed out for eighteen hours.

Then the words came, “I need help.” It wasn’t a conscious thought. The moment I said those words I wanted them back. My mother was now on mission to get me into treatment. I embarked on a mission, as well. Into the store I went and proceeded to buy as much rotgut vodka as I possibly could.

No memory

As I said, the following four days aren’t even a blur, besides the memory of my ally in the Atlanta airport. The following four days were an abyss, not unlike my existence the previous six or seven years. To this day I still have to fill in those memories from the stories my mother will periodically tell me about.

Apparently, on the way to the airport, my mother was debating whether to drop me off on the side of the road as I carried on a conversation with a person in the back seat. No one was there. To imagine the pain and sadness my mother went through that day, those years, is difficult to fathom.

Somehow, though, she got me through two airports and brought me to a treatment center. Much to her chagrin she couldn’t follow me in. She simply had to leave her son at the door. That was it. She got back into the airport transport and left. Spending a total of forty-five minutes in Florida before returning to Ohio. It was May 25th, 2012.


As I woke the following morning I thought to myself, “I must have ended up in a hospital.” I wasn’t sure how. It was not uncommon for me to wake up somewhere that I did not recognize. In the hallway to my left I saw sunlight beaming through a window. No nurses or employees were around. I went out the door, so I could smoke a cigarette.

The moment I walked outside I knew something different had happened this time. Palm trees replaced pine, lizards scurried instead of squirrels. I was not in Ohio anymore. To be honest, I didn’t know what state I was in, geographically or mentally.

As I went through the standard 30-Day Treatment program I flowed with the current. The first couple weeks weren’t as formative as you would imagine. My therapist and a married couple who worked together at the center, however, began to understand where my issues stemmed, well before I had even an idea myself.

Finding my voice

Going through the motions I made a few friends. Many of them were going to a sober home after treatment. Impulsively, only a couple days before discharge, I decided to join them. I attended the aftercare program and really began to come into my own, for better or worse. While attending meetings and going to group therapy I found my voice; the worst thing that could have happened to me at that moment. As I spoke… I never listened. My goal was to win recovery.

Bottom line is I speak well, I am convincing, and I love to hear myself talk. Not a great combination while I was internally intellectualizing recovery. My true self was analytical and more than biased to the fact that my drinking and drug use could be controlled… that I still had power over this overwhelming urge to feel better than just okay.

With this gift of gab and armed with the words of others I would speak at meetings for the attention and credit of “extending the message.” Once after a meeting I was asked by someone to be their sponsor. I didn’t even have a sponsor at the time. I, of course, took great pride in this occurrence. Of course, I relapsed soon after.

I returned to the same treatment center again. Managing to weasel my way out in 4 days once and 6 the other with a letter of completion each time. I did a little better “faking my recovery” and put around six months together.

A friend who was in treatment with me the first time asked if I would move out with him and rent a home. We went forward with it. He was likely warned about moving out with me. I had no program, but I did have decent job, a girlfriend and sounded like I was dedicated to my recovery. Very quickly I lost all of that.

It happened again

The beginning of my last relapse came on my way home from visiting my sister’s house for the holidays. It was New Year’s Eve day, alone on an airplane. Two complimentary airplane bottles of gin on the flight home sent me on a path that would quickly end any personal progress I had made.

I lost my job, my girlfriend and house in rapid succession. The buddy who I moved out with was the last person to see me drunk. He carried me into treatment literally and figuratively. Later that night, I was admitted into the hospital having blown a 5.83 on the BAC.

Oddly enough, I remember parts of the hospital stay. They brought out a stomach pump as I told them there is no reason to use that on me. My tolerance was still intact. I had three tubes feeding my body fluids and all I wanted to do was smoke a cigarette. Once I passed out, I was out for around eighteen hours.

Here I was… AGAIN. Back to the same treatment center for the 4th time. Few employees, from techs to the CEO, were in anyway surprised to see me again. The prevailing comment/question from the staff was “what are you going to do different this time?”

I had no clue. I was here because this was what was comfortable, not to change. I came back because I didn’t know what else to do. I was here because I was dragged in by a buddy. Of course, I had an answer though. My issue, in my mind, was that I didn’t attend enough step study or “Big Book” meetings and I made sure everyone knew that was my assessment.

Last chance

This would become a pivotal comment down the line in my eventual recovery. The only people who expressed any confidence that I could recover were the married couple that had taken a liking to me and a gentleman who introduced me to meditation and bio-sound therapy during my previous stays.

I had little confidence myself. The first two weeks I was doing the same thing I had done before, proving everyone right.

My last attempt to leave within a week was thwarted, thank goodness, but my therapist noticed my disinterest in being in treatment. Based on her notes I would only be there for 14 days. I was not serious about recovery and my presence in treatment was not positive for anyone involved.

All of this changed in a 24-hour period. My view was turned around. My life was about to change. Moreover, my perspective had to change.

Shut up

In my view, everyone wanted to hear from me. No matter the veracity of the content coming out of my mouth it at least sounded good and was relatable. My therapist however was not so interested. She was tired of the same old crap I would regurgitate during sessions and group therapy.

I’m not sure what I was saying when she finally made her break through, but she had had it. In the middle of my grossly inflated stammering she interrupted me telling me to, “SHUT UP.” There was an added word in the middle. I’ll let you use your imagination.

My reaction was predictable. I stormed out self-righteously exclaiming some variation of, “you can’t talk to me that way,” and “who do you think you are.” My therapist didn’t chase me. In my opinion she didn’t even care. In reality, she just was unwilling to give in to my nonsense and need to be comforted.

In light of her inattention to my situation I decided I would go be the bigger person. I entered her office in an attempt to apologize, but more so to plead my case and have her pay attention to me again.

As I was making my case she interrupted me again. How dare she? She said the same thing… “SHUT THE ‘BLEEP’ UP!” This time my thought was not to storm out immediately. I thought to myself, “Oh wow she was serious. She wasn’t buying it.”

From that point on, I am not saying I always listened, but I did realize that maybe I have no clue how to help myself. That was what it took. She was giving me a real chance by finally getting me to understand that I was the problem. Not my drinking, not my parents or family. I was the issue.

My patterns, personality, the core person I had become was why I drank and used drugs. Who would have thought.

Find your words

People associate many phrases to epitomize their recovery. Typically, they are inspirational. Sometimes they are linked to AA or NA programs. Mine was not so flowery. The juxtaposition of the simple words “SHUT UP” making an impact on me the way it did is funny to me. I had always thought I would need a deeply philosophical phrase. One that needed constant analysis to understand.

Instead, I was grounded by the simplicity. I was touched by the passion and commitment with which those words were delivered. This was the moment of the small possibility that I could recover.

In recovery, or life for that matter, you can hardly tell when something will hit you just right. How many times have I been told the same thing, but it never resonated. Until one fateful day, when reality crashes down on you. When you realize those words, whatever they are to you, bring you from despair. Find your words, your seemingly insignificant inspiration. In hindsight, they can save your life. Until then just keep listening…

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