I got all three of the standards as far as genetically: it’s in my ancestry, situational, and environmental. I was conceived at a kegger in 1968 by two 17-year-old kids. I was adopted in the family by my mom and George. We lived above that bar for my first five years. My mom bartended during the day and George bartended in the evening. I spent a lot of time in that bar and I learned to walk and talk and most of my social skills in that bar. I’m drawn to dark bars, and I feel at home next to the old guy in a bar.
When I look back, most of the people in my family that I looked up to were alcoholics. My mom didn’t drink, but George who I was named after, kicked us out in a drunken rage when I was six. My grandpa was an alcoholic, my favorite Uncle George, and my Uncle Matt certainly lives the lifestyle. The first time I realized I was powerless over alcohol was when I was about 10 or 11, and I was given my first glass of wine. It was a Christmas dinner and I drank it fast. I said “whoa” and I wanted another one. So my mom gave me another one and said drink this slower. But I drank that one fast and then snuck some more. For some reason mom made a deal with me that if I ran around the block I could have another glass of wine. I didn’t like running but I ran around the block two or three more times, drank the wine, and then proceeded to go to midnight mass and fall asleep.
The second indicator came when I was around 13. I had gone out to my Uncle Sonny’s ranch with Grandpa. When bedtime came and I was not tired Grandpa talked Sonny into giving me a hot whiskey to help me sleep. After drinking it I went directly to bed. Suddenly I was filled with anxiety, nervous legs and warmth. No way I was going to sleep through this. I got up and went to the table where Sonny and Grandpa were visiting and said “That one didn’t work, can I have another?” Grandpa chuckled, looked at Sonny and said “Looks like we have another one in the family”
Those were signals that I see now that I didn’t see then. As I went through life, I was filled with adventure and I wanted to learn stuff. There was a neighbor across the street who was a retired industrial arts teacher and he was teaching me how to build canoes, and weave cane, and how to turn wood on a lathe. That came to an end when I was a freshman in high school and they showed me an anti-marijuana movie in school. I went out after school that day to find pot, because I saw those kids in the movie and I said, “That’s what I want!” I didn’t need a pusher; I went out and found it! So after that I lost my ambition. I became a daily pothead. I hung out in the alley next to the school with all the other stoners, but we thought we were the cool kids. Now when I talk to the other kids from school, I didn’t know that they referred to me as a wastoid and a stoner, because we were the cool kids! They were the squares! I was the live-right-now guy. Through high school I was a blackout drinker. I could see no other way to do it. All in or none at all.
I went down to Tahoe to be a ski bum. I ended up at Kirkwood from 1982 to 1992 and I would still be there if I weren’t an alcoholic/addict. I went there and told them I’d take any job they had with housing so they made me a janitor. I enjoyed skiing and also enjoyed the party life there. I think the 3rd year there I ended up going to a free cocaine counseling. It was the 80s so most of the places had that. I didn’t get much out of the course. I was having trouble with cocaine. Not that I liked it. I don’t know why I was using it – you could drink more I guess – and it was cool. Cocaine was one of those drugs that was designed for people like me because it’s one of those drugs that if you do a little bit, you have to keep doing it until you’re broke or your nose is bleeding. I worked my way up from day janitor to the road snow removal crew. At 27 or 28, I was running the crew and had people under me. It was a heavy job but it was working until I started drinking on the job and I found meth and started doing a lot of meth at work because you could work 20-30 hours at a time. The last year I was there, I really didn’t do anything bad. I totaled more than a few cars with the snow blower, but there was six feet of snow so you can’t even see the cars. Then I came back to Montana and brought the meth with me.
Lewistown is a small town and my sister married the fire chief and when your sister marries the fire chief, you get to know all the firemen and police. The chief of police was friends with me, and we used to prairie dog hunt. He took me aside one day and said, “George, you’re on our list. You’re an embarrassment to this town and your family. You can either change, you can leave, or I’ll send you to Deer Lodge, and I’ll see that that happens.” I quit hanging out with the meth crowd, but you can still drink and be accepted in Lewistown.
I remember once, one of my buddies was upper level AA in Lewistown, MT. He was hauling me to an AA meeting and it was about 1 ½ blocks off Main Street with the AA symbol etched in the big glass doors. And two big coffee cans on either side of the door heaped with butts and you could tell what it was. We were walking up the stairs and I looked a Rick and said, “You know, it’s kind of embarrassing to be walking into the AA building in the middle of town where everyone can see me.” And he said, “George, last Saturday, I drove by the Glacier at 11:30 in the morning and you were passed out on a park bench in front on Main Street. And this is embarrassing?” That visit to meetings didn’t take though.
Then I fell in love with the POs daughter and once you do that, you become a narc without even telling anyone anything, so that helped me break away from that culture and it was a blessing. I don’t know if that was guidance or how that happened. We were married for 12 years and she had a son and a daughter and I helped raise them for 12 years. The whole time we had problems due to drinking. Family services were involved once. I was the father passed out on the couch at 6:00 snoring while the kids were trying to watch TV. I was the guy that got up off the couch and fell into the Christmas tree and the presents. I was the father on the sidelines of the football game yelling profanities at the other team, and I was the guy who wasn’t intimate with my wife anymore. She took it as long as she could and then she did what she had to do to leave me. She was broken and broken-hearted.
I fell really hard into the bottle. Of course I got a girlfriend who tried to medicate my depression with marijuana brownies and whiskey. One of my friends called my sister and said, “You better come save your brother, because he’s going to die.” At that point, I was ready to die. I just wanted peace.
So my sister and her husband came and they helped me sell everything and I moved in with her. Of course there is no “geographic recovery,” so I carried my disease into her spare bedroom. When my sister asked me to move out I moved in with a couple out on Expressway. Really nice young couple -beautiful people – me and my Boston terrier. They loved us. But then Jason came to me and said, “George, I’m worried about you. I’ve been through two tours in Afghanistan and you’re reminding me of my PTSD buddies who did self-harm and I don’t want to ever have to open that door and find you.” I said, “I’d never do that to you.” They politely asked me to move out as I was creating too much anxiety in their lives.
I was working at Partnership at that time and I started to fail there. So I moved out with one of the male nurses who had an ugly porch with just a bed in it and wallpaper ripped and I used to lay in there and drink with my dog, listen to music and feed my depression. I’d pray that I’d die in my sleep and I’d yell at God, “Why do you keep me here? Just to punish me?“ I prayed that I would die every night, that’s where I was in my head.
That’s when my higher power started taking control. I had driven up to Mormon peak and decided to drink until I had the courage to take my own life. I actually ran out of alcohol before I was able to complete my mission so I went back to town to get more. When I got back to the house the nurse called some of the other nurses who liked me and Rosemary came and got me. I pretty much committed myself to Providence even though I didn’t realize I was doing it. While there the doctor said there was a new place called the Recovery Center Missoula and it had only been open about 9 months. You want to go there and see? And I said, “Well I don’t got nothing else to do. I think I just got fired!”
Here I learned that I was not unique. That they’ve been studying alcoholism and addiction for so many years and they’ve found that people like me have an imbalance of chemicals in their brain and this imbalance is what made us search out those things in the first place. Our brain doesn’t know how to control happiness and sadness and how we produce our endorphins and serotonin and how we stimulate our dopamines. Learning that it wasn’t just because I was weak and I couldn’t just say no, that was interesting. Seeing that I was allergic to drugs and alcohol and that once I began I was not in control of when I would quit. That, and being around like-minded people helped me begin this journey.
I didn’t know there were people like this around. I started going to meetings, I started my spiritual health and I started working the steps. I got into step 4 which was figuring out my resentments, who they’re for and what they’re for – and you’re part of it. That was a lot of it, my ex-wife and my family and everyone I had problems with it all turned out that I was the common denominator.
Two summers into my recovery, my sister and I were sitting around the fire up at the lake and we were talking about my journey. She was praising me and how grateful she is and then she said, “You know, that last time the sheriff came looking for you, I prayed that you had finally died so you had found peace.” And I looked at her and said, “Your prayers have come true. I did find peace, but I didn’t have to die do it.” When someone you look up to says that they prayed for your death because your life was so toxic, that’s a big one.
I have kept a hand on recovery since I left RCM and I’m blessed. I’ve got someone guiding me and it’s serious. I preach a higher power. There is a presence in my life which is pretty damn cool to me. The people in my life are in recovery. I touch recovery every day even before I started working here. The people I go to concerts and games with are all in recovery. The spiritual part of my life is being of service to the world. If you are feeling down and do something kind, you can feed your own spirit. That and stoicism that what isn’t mine, isn’t mine, helps too.
You have to get to the point where you choose to die or you choose to live.