My Story – Rusty – 2014

The first time I got drunk was at age 14, and for some reason I thought “I can control this and I can do this whenever I want for as long as I want” right off the bat. I tried to prove that that I could control it for about 37 years. Then came the old story, like most alcoholics that are around the program tell –  we know that after a while, we cross that line where we lose control. It’s a disease that is too powerful and it took over my life. Towards the end of my drinking,  the next drink was the only thing I thought about. I could have one in my hand and I would be thinking about the next one.

I didn’t drink a lot after the age of 14 until I graduated high school. I was born in northern Utah and I was a Mormon farm kid. That made me feel like there was no way I could be an alcoholic. Drinking was hard to do where I grew up and you couldn’t get away with it because everyone knew your business. My alcoholism started to really show up when I came down to University of Utah and learned how to really drink. I related with a speaker tape I heard once stating that, “my blood alcohol level was higher than my grade point average when I was pretending to go to school.” I quit school of course, not being able to maintain that kind of discipline, and eventually got married at age 21. I  married a woman whose father was an alcoholic that died from this disease at the age of 43. She didn’t drink but she sure put up with people who did. She lived with alcoholism her whole life, first with her father and then with me. We were married for 31 years and divorced when I got sober. We have three children, none of which caught the disease that I have. I have a couple of granddaughters that have never seen me drink. That has been a real blessing.

Through all the years of my alcoholism, I was a good pretender. I worked hard, not very successfully, but hard. Drinking was always involved and I lost two businesses, a home and other toys through drinking. I racked up a few DUI’s. Towards the end, I was regularly getting into trouble with the law, finances and all of that. In 1987, I was introduced to AA by a mental health counselor and she took me to my first meeting. I didn’t go to a lot of meetings; in fact, I believe I went to six meetings in the 18 months I stayed sober that first time around.  I went back to work on a construction job but because I didn’t have any defense, I drank again. I tried to prove again that I could control my drinking and soon spiraled downhill.

The last three years of my drinking I lost everything: my marriage went on the rocks, I lost a business, I racked up more DUI’s. In December 1991, it got bad enough that I knew I had to do something. I was selling safe driver’s insurance and drinking every day. I got another DUI when I tried to sell insurance to an off-duty sheriff. That didn’t work very well; he recognized a drunk when he saw one. I started going  to one meeting a week, still drinking every day. I would drink before the meeting and I would drink after the meeting. I drank every day in between for almost four months. Then I  got another DUI and was looking at possible prison time. I got fired from a job and like a good alcoholic, I went to where people understood: Wendover. I funded this by cashing in some checks that I had forged my wife’s signature on.

About 2pm in Wendover, I had a moment of clarity, a rude awakening, or a spiritual experience – whatever it was I had, my world stopped. I was at a blackjack  table and a voice came to me from inside that said “You need help. You are an alcoholic and you need help.” I knew then that I was done. I picked up the money I had at that moment and left Wendover. Funny enough, it turned out I left with exactly the amount of money that I had when I got there! As I headed back to Salt Lake, I was stopped by Highway Patrol and that was another DUI. This one would send me to prison, or so I thought. I went to jail in Tooele overnight and then 10 days later, I didn’t go to prison, I went to AA. My sobriety date is March 12, 1992.

I started to go to a little meeting called the Downtown Bunch and hang out at Fellowship Hall. After about 3 months I was starting to look for work again. One day I was standing by a bus stop and I saw an old friend that told me that I could work for him if I could stay sober. This is how I got back into the bowling business that I had been in for twenty years. We opened a shop called Rancho Lanes.

That Downtown Bunch eventually moved to Rancho Lanes when they needed a new spot. That group was very instrumental in my sobriety. I met and developed relationships with a bunch of old timers, retired pilots, lawyers and some street drunks. During this period, I  started to get really involved with the Haven Treatment Center, going to meetings there every day.  I currently have a home group which is the Nomadic Lunch Bunch; we meet five days a week, Monday through Friday at 12:15. We started that group at a bowling alley on North Temple and two other bowling alleys later, we are now at a different place, but for 22 years now, it has been my recovery meeting.

In the process of all these years, the one thing that I really did besides listening and meeting with a sponsor who got me grounded in the program is that I started to get active in service work. I took on jobs like chairing meetings, getting speakers for various meetings, and becoming the secretary for a meeting in the House of Hope when we had a speaker meeting there. I set up the room for my home group every day and got the coffee ready. I was the GSR for that meeting as well. 22 years later, I still ALWAYS have something going on between service among AA groups and volunteering at Central Office. I have sponsored people and been sponsored. For me, it is the only thing that works in the long term to help me stay sober and combat this disease.

I know there are many other ways to stay sober other than AA,  but I don’t see other ways that build the friendships that we have here, friendships from all different walks of life. It was never unusual for me to sit in a meeting with an airline pilot, a celebrity, a professional athlete, lawyers, doctors, nurses, street people, drinking drunks, desperate people, and treatment center people. We would sit in a meeting and talk about alcoholism and recovery. It is incredible – an incredible experience that I get to have on a regular basis. It is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

Another gift that I have gotten from sobriety is awareness: the ability to pay attention to life. I strongly recommend sobriety, especially for alcoholics and I recommend the fellowship. I try to be an example of recovery wherever I go. I am always available to help someone if they ask. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” This is what AA has done for me.





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