Time to revisit a life changing story because it is especially relevant today in my sobriety journey. Well-meaning friends who don’t understand the significance of sober living or the insanity of alcoholism suggest, “Larry, you’ve been sober 41 plus years. Surely, you’re no longer alcoholic. A beer or a glass of wine won’t hurt.”
But why take a chance? My friends who do drink alcohol, when they drink to excess, remind me that the same insanity and heartbreak is still out there waiting for me. And I always drank to excess. Social drinkers were out of my league, I liked to get down there in the gutter with the drunks and derelicts. My drinking buddies never understood, my family and lovers never understood; but I, Larry Paul Brown, could not sit down and have just one beer or one drink. For me, one was too many and ten were never enough.
Alcoholism has not changed; but I have changed, and I know today that it is a disease of the body, mind and spirit. Only a Power greater than I can relieve me of my alcoholism and I will not be cured of this disease until I die. What happens after death is the mystery which God, as I understand God, will unfold.
“Cunning, baffling, powerful” is my disease.
This is my story.
If you are one who remembers the music, sit back and reminisce. If you don’t remember it, that’s OK also. My point in composing this page is to remind myself and other recovering addicts that not always in our addictions was life unbearable. There were good times interspersed with the horrible episodes of drinking and drugging. We had great music and most often loyal friends. Many of us were functional alcoholics with relationships and families. Until recently I painted those years as absolutely dark and void of any joy. I refused to entertain the thought that remembering those times could be therapeutic and possibly uplifting. Faith in an unfailing God has strengthened and encouraged me to revisit those days. Of course, today it is not the same. I don’t fill my head with a steady diet of rock and my predominant interest now is contemporary Christian music.
I celebrate a sober life, clean and serene, remembering some of the great artists of the time who suffered through their demons and did not make it to a time of recovery. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison are just a few who died. They made great music.
The music of our generation defined who we were. The 1960’s rocked. We rebelled, we protested, we despised the hypocrisy of our government, our parents and our society. We embraced the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan sweeping into the 1970’s a newfound freedom in drugs, sex, rock and roll. The Vietnam war and Woodstock showed the world how polarized we had become. Most of us survived and matured to become upstanding citizens and family people just like the generation before us. Some of us stayed in the 1960’s drinking and drugging ourselves into oblivion. Many died.
The music is epic. Only recently have I been able to listen and reminisce comfortably. It no longer takes me to a dark time. It’s merely part of my journey.
‘Nam was a huge part of the late 1960’s for young American men. The government conscription which was in effect struck many of us as discriminatory and unfair as evidenced by the large numbers of draftees who were poor, unable to obtain deferments, and African-American. It seemed that a disproportionate number of men from those groups were drafted into the Army and trained for Vietnam.
It has been argued that indeed a large number of those sent to Vietnam were from these groups; however, not because of discrimination in the system but because they lacked the skills and education for employment in the States. Vietnam looked like opportunity to improve their lives.
Whatever the circumstances were, many young men succumbed to a habit of alcohol and drugs in the jungles to combat loneliness and fear. Those of us who managed to serve in other foreign countries and the States were not immune from the effects of war. My service in the hospital corps put me in daily contact with amputees returning for rehabilitation and with emotionally debilitated soldiers and marines. There were also numerous drug and alcohol abuse casualties.
I also relied on alcohol to combat my fears and insecurities. My disease was rampant and easy to conceal because nearly everyone in the Navy drank, most of us to excess. That was simply the Navy way of life. However, the difference between my fellow corpsmen and I was that I was much more comfortable socializing with my patients than with my peers. I and the men and women to whom I ministered belonged to the same brotherhood of brokenness. Music was a huge part of our lives.
1968 to 1970 were very tumultuous years. My insanity and my drinking had resulted in an AWOL, a captain’s mast, a demotion and threats of time in the brig for behavior unbecoming a military man. Yes, yes, yes, I am guilty; just put me away to wallow in my miserable existence. But a compassionate LTJG law officer, apparently recognizing that the problem was not a discipline problem but rather a drunk out of control, went to bat for me and subsequently the Navy gave me an honorable medical discharge.
Free at last! No more military regimen, no more uniforms, no more Navy Chiefs telling me what to do and when to do it. Free at last. My demons pursued wherever I went, no matter how far I tried to run or where I tried to hide. They were beside me, in front of me, behind me and within me. The insanity and the drinking became an acceptable part of my everyday life. Everybody lived this way, didn’t they? This was a new age, a new creed, a new way of living. Family ties were broken, lovers were trashed, old traditions were discarded. The almighty god of alcohol filled the God-hole meant for honesty, truth, virtue, fidelity, spirit and integrity. And yes, my demons and I were free at last to live in an alcoholic chasm void of love or compassion or anything remotely human.
And so it continued for 10 years.
Then in January of 1981 God was looking at me, a sorry example of his creation, and decided to put it on the road to sobriety. At the time I was unsure of his decision but did not have many options. Honestly, I didn’t know it was God’s decision because I didn’t know God. Oh, I had some carryover from childhood of the vindictive, judgmental entity my family’s religion force-fed me. But I decided at a young age that no god was better than their god.
What I did know was that my life had dead-ended and I needed to find a change or kill myself. It was that simple. Of course, in my estimation, being the alcoholic that I am, my excessive drinking was not the problem . Other people, the job, my boss, money problems, my lover, my upbringing, etc. were the reasons I hated myself so much. I could never come up with an honest appraisal of me.
I decided that I needed counseling to learn how to deal with the issues and people that were creating my unhappiness. On the way to my first session with a psychologist at the hospital’s mental health center I stopped at a favorite watering hole for some fortification. I sincerely believed my drinking habits were normal and ridiculed those who did not drink.
After just one minute of baring my soul to the psychologist he simply asked, “How much do you drink?”
“Oh, maybe a few at night,” I lied.
The incredulous look from that man behind his desk was worth more than a thousand words of professional counseling. We both knew at that precise moment, “Bingo.”
That was my day of reckoning. God had decided to take me out of my miserable existence and in the beat of a heart I became willing. It all played out so clearly in that moment of acceptance. It was a light being turned on in a darkened room. I didn’t at that time know who or what it was that had opened my eyes. God’s revealing of himself then was just a twinkling and has been an ongoing experience, which continues to this day.
I did know that my drinking habit had destroyed much of my life since that first beer at age 17. From day one of my career in alcoholism I was addicted to a potion that made me fearless, charismatic and good-looking. I was so cool sitting up there at the bar with a cigarette dangling from one hand and a beer or a scotch in the other. I could do anything and be anybody I wanted. I was intelligent and funny.
On that day in January of 1981 God crushed me. I said to the psychologist, “Yeah, let’s try it your way because my way just doesn’t work anymore.”
I was 34 years old and I had not an inkling of the road ahead. If I had known what was in store for me, I probably would have said, “Know what? Maybe we can try this another time.”
I spent 2 weeks in detox, another 3 months in a counseling program and introduced myself to Alcoholics Anonymous. Life since than has been one helluva ride. Calmness and serenity interspersed with absolute, sober terror and suicidal moments convinced me that my alcoholism was indeed just a symptom of deep underlying emotional issues just as my AA friends always said.
My road to recovery has been unconventional and probably not completely AA approved. However, I find myself with substantial continuous sobriety and have been prodded to share my experience, strength and hope with others who may gain an insight into their own struggles.
Who prods me to do this? God, of course. Who else?