On Today’s episode of The SHAIR Podcast we have Steve C. joining us. Steve recently celebrates 4 years clean and sober. His alcoholism took flight primarily during his time in Iraq where he self-medicated with alcohol to manage his PTSD. When he came back from active duty his drinking was coping mechanism in life until his son falls prey to this deadly disease. Steve seeks help for his son in the rooms of alcoholics anonymous where he can no longer deny that he himself is an alcoholic.
Today Steve works a rigorous 12 step recovery program as well as spearheading a community outreach program that the local judicial system has adopted as a way to rehabilitate alcoholics that are currently facing prison time. Follow along as Steve takes us through what is now referred to as the Veterans Court.
Clean Date: December 11, 2011
This episode was brought to you by Sober Nation.
Here are Steve’s SHAIR Podcast interview highlights and suggestions for the Newcomer:
Steve: One of the mentorship things I do now is I work with a veteran’s court. What the veterans court is it’s just like the drug court in that the judges feel that these guys coming back trying to reconnect with society and they’re getting in trouble, they want to give them a second chance because they served their country. What they do is they set up this court system. It’s a lot like our recovery programs where these guys meet once a week with the judge, and the judge talks to them and wants them to talk about what’s going on in their lives, what they’re feeling, and kind of puts together a rehabilitation program for these guys to work, ways to give back to society and to make amends. If they do all the things they’re supposed to do, they drop the charges at the end of the year.
I’ve been working with these guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan as a mentor, and it’s kind of a new program in the county that I’m in, so I volunteered. I said, “Let me take all the guys with drugs and alcohol problems,” because I said, “I’m the only mentor they have that’s in the program, so that’s what I specialize in.” I get these guys, they’re coming in and I’m making sure that they’re going to meetings. I not only work the veterans program, but I also work their step work with them, too, and make sure they’re getting sponsors and they’re going to the meetings. That’s the way I’ve been able to give back.
Omar: What a miracle, man. I can’t even believe that that’s part of the system now, that’s part of the judicial system. That’s absolutely a miracle.
Steve: It really is. I’m really hoping that this thing is going to spread throughout the entire court system and that we finally get away from trying to throw these guys in jail. Instead of throwing junkies in jail, let’s come up with a different system. I said, “Hey, I know you can’t force people into recovery, but when they go to jail they’re sort of forced to getting somewhat clean, but they’re getting clean with no real program, no real emotional support. Why don’t you put together a program where they can work their way out of their petty crimes or whatever reason you’re throwing them in jail if there’s truly a drug issue or an alcohol issue that has to be dealt with?”
Steve: I’m in Butler County, Pennsylvania, so it’s the Butler Veterans Court. They’ve got these throughout the United States. They’re not everywhere, but they’re growing in number. They really were based originally on the drug courts. I’m not sure where the drug courts got started, but it started in the United States in some cities probably about ten years ago. Based on that success, we started using it with the veterans and it’s been real successful.
Omar: That’s beautiful, man. We didn’t have that. We had jails, institutions or death. That’s it.
Steve: This is true.
Omar: I’ll tell you what, man, I love hearing this. So Steve, we’re going into the holidays, so it’s always either a plus or a minus, depending on how much sobriety you have.
Steve: Yeah, you know what? It is. I’ve been able to celebrate a lot of great things since I got sober. Starting next week, on December 11, God willing, I’ll have four years of sobriety. In those four years, I’ve been able to attend my daughter’s wedding, walk my daughter down the aisle, and toast her with water at her reception and not feel one bit out of place, actually feeling like I was totally in control. I’ve been able to go do all these great things in sobriety that I thought were impossible when I was drinking. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to go to a party. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to go to a sporting event, go on vacation, enjoy the beach. I’ve been able to do all those things.
Omar: That’s amazing. Speaking of which, when is your actual anniversary date?
Steve: My sobriety date is December 11, 2011.
Omar: All right. Oh, wait a minute. Oh, it’s coming up.
Steve: Yeah. It’s going to be next week.
Omar: Woo, four years.
Steve: Four years. As a matter of fact, I will be in Ireland, which is always a challenge when in sobriety. I have a client over there that I represent here in the United States, and I’ve been their twice before in sobriety and have been able to go all over Ireland. Actually, they really tested me the last time I was there. They toured Guinness Brewery while I was there. We had dinner in a private tasting room, and I was the only sober one in the group and it was pretty interesting.
Steve: It’s international, man.
Omar: I can only imagine. Irish, they know how to drink and they know how to fight.
Steve: Which is true. It’s interesting. Actually, it’s really, I think it’s the Americans that go a little bit crazy when they’re over there. Normal Irish people have to work and live there, so they have a normal, well-rounded lifestyle. It’s just the tourists that go a little crazy, I think.
Omar: Tell us about how your life is today, your hobbies, and exercise. Take us into your normal daily routine, including recovery.
Steve: Okay, absolutely. My daily routine is very varied at this point. I am traveling around the country and soon to be internationally. I have a medical device consultant company that I put together, and as I mentioned, I’m representing a client out of Ireland who is introducing new medical devices in the United States. On a daily basis, tomorrow morning I will be in an operating room in scrubs instructing a physician how to properly implant our new medical device that we’re trying to get an FDA approval of in the United States. At a moment’s notice, I may have to fly all the way across the country to do it the next day. That’s kind of what my life has been. It’s been pretty crazy.
As I mentioned to you in my e-mail to you, your show has become a big part of my recovery program. When I’m home, I normally get four or five meetings in a week. On the weekends, I’m able to get in maybe two or three. I always try and find meetings when I’m on the road. That’s how I work my recovery. I have a sponsor. I have sponsees that I talk to on a regular basis and also do some other types of mentoring we can get into later. It’s kind of keeping me grounded. Along with your program, it’s keeping me grounded in my recovery.
Omar: I appreciate that, Steve. Yeah, you mentioned that on your e-mail. What an amazingly busy life you have. It’s like wow. I’m listening to you going, “How do you keep track of everything and all the traveling?” It’s still fun and exciting. I love going to meetings in other parts of the world, that’s for sure.
Steve: Oh, yeah. I tell you what, it’s been a spiritual experience. I’ve been to some really interesting meetings. I went to one meeting in Indianapolis a couple of years ago early in sobriety, and it was a meeting that started at 5:00. There was a big snowstorm, so just about everybody who walked into that meeting was from somewhere else and had gotten stranded in the snowstorm. We all had very interesting stories. Everyone had a different reason for being there.
It was really touching what people were sharing. One kid was there and he was back to tell his parents that he was gay, and he was nervous about it. I was dealing with some serious issues with my son, who also suffers from this disease, and I shared that. It was just a great meeting where everybody was just opening up and it was almost Twilight Zone-like that people were coming from all these different areas and they all came together in one place.
Then I had another meeting last summer. I was in Boston and it was a meeting in a monastery.
Steve: I met the drunk monk. It was this guy, he was a Franciscan friar and it was fascinating. He told his story. It was about how it came about that the brothers were giving him a hard time because he was passing out and blacking out every night in the common room. He talked about his recovery. It was just fascinating. You never know what you’re going to run into when you go to these meetings around the world.
Omar: No, not at all. It’s so cool. I have been to meetings in Amsterdam, in Prague, London, all over the U.S. I’m so grateful, and every time you go … I don’t know about you, but I show up at a meeting and you never know what to expect. By the end of the meeting, it’s so uplifting and so inspiring and afterwards … because I’m from Costa Rica. Most people come up to me after the meeting and they’re like, “Oh, my God, you’re from Costa Rica. How cool is that?” I’m like, “Dude, I’m in Paris. Are you kidding me? This is cool.” It’s all perspective, man.
Omar: All right. Steve, tell us, how do you maintain your spiritual condition, that conscious contact with a higher power?
Steve: I learned very early, and I have to confess, I wasn’t one of those guys that got on his knees first thing in the morning and got on his knees at the end of the day, but I’m starting to do that more now just to keep me focused. Normally, as I said, there’s a lot of travel time and there’s a lot of time when you can just sit there and start thinking, and when you’re sitting there thinking, you get sort of meditative and you can start thinking. I talk to God all day long and just try to open myself up and try and keep open.
When I first came into the program, I said, “How am I supposed to know?” I said, “I’m willing my life over to the care of God as I understand him. I know what I’m saying, but how am I supposed to know when he’s talking to me?” I said, “Am I going to see a burning bush?” The amazing thing is I all of a sudden realized that God was talking to me through other people, and he was using people on earth to communicate me. When I was asking, it always seemed to be that whatever issue that I was meditating on, someone would bring it up at a meeting and the conversation would take place. That’s when you start getting those, there’s no coincidences feelings.
This is how he’s communicating with me, he’s communicating with me through these people in the meetings. It’s other people that are spiritually aware. I’m like a child when it comes to what my spirituality is. I can’t sit there and quote scripture or anything else like that, but I just know that when I’m around other spiritual people, there’s a connection and there’s kind of an unspoken communication that goes back and forth between us, and you really feel it. I’ll tell you, the only place I’ve really felt it is in the rooms of recovery.
Omar: Absolutely. I agree a hundred percent, and I forget. It’s a good reminder for me.
Omar: Tell us, Steve, how old were you the first time you drank or used drugs, and more importantly, how did they make you feel?
Steve: The interesting thing is I think the first time … I know I came out of the womb an alcoholic. I come from a long line of alcoholics on both sides of my family. I think the first time I had a drink was when I was three years old. My dad was in the back yard with a long neck bottle of Black Label Beer, and I remember grabbing it and taking a sip of it. I remember liking it. Alcohol was very, very common in my family. I thought everybody’s dad drank four cases of beer a week. I was just used to it. I remember I used to see these four cases of Black Label Beer would be sitting on the landing as you walked down into our basement. I just kind of thought that was just common, the way most people live.
My parents used to have these cocktail parties on Friday and Saturday nights, and as a little kid I used to peek down the hallway and see them and they’d be all dressed up and they’d be holding their martini glasses. It just looked so cool. I just always associated drinking with being an adult, and I thought the adults were the ones who were having all the fun. They used to always keep the kids away, and I always wanted to be part of it. That’s just something I accepted as part of life. Like I said, my parents would let me sip here and there. Never, obviously, gave me a full drink, but I remember being very comfortable being around it.
I do also remember, and I learned this in recovery, was that they always kept all the damage hidden from us. They would never fight in front of us. If my parents were going to have a fight, they’d make us leave the house and make us play outside. Normally, it was when my dad was getting a chewing out that this would take place. My mother could go on for a couple of hours. I remember trying to listen in at the window, what’s Dad getting chewed out about? He used to be like a mule in a hailstorm. He’d just sit and hunker down and take it because he just knew he couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t know any adults who did not drink, so I just took it as a fact.
I had a great childhood. I was the fourth of five kids. That’s probably another reason why a lot of stuff was kind of protected of me. My older brothers and sisters kind of blazed a pathway for me. By the time I got into high school in Michigan … I grew up in Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. They had a drinking age of eighteen at the time, which basically meant that you could buy beer and go into a bar when you were sixteen and nobody would card you. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. I didn’t have to hide it all that much. I had an older brother who was very popular, a big popular football player in high school.
In his senior year, he was eighteen. He could legally drink and he used to throw keg parties in our back yard. I remember I started dancing with some of his girlfriends, girls that were there. I ended up dancing with the drunkest woman that was there. All I can tell you is she looked like a blonde Barbie doll, just big, busty gal and she was so drunk and she danced. I ended up making out with her in the back yard, and all my brother’s buddies, these big football heroes, were all slapping me on the back and I really thought I was something. Next thing I know, I’m waking up the next morning and I’m sleeping in my bed, she’s sleeping next to me. Fortunately, we still had all of our clothes on. We both passed out, and my dad’s shaking me awake and my mother is screaming.
Omar: Oh, my God.
Steve: I wasn’t as embarrassed as this poor woman was.
Omar: I’m sure.
Steve: All I remember was my mother just talking about how horrified she was and my father and brother back in the hallway giggling. I got quite the mixed message about that. I said, “This is a lot of fun, because you’re mixing two of the things I like best, drinking beer and hanging out with girls.”
Omar: Steve, this has been a wonderful interview. Let’s start closing up, and I like to close up for the newcomer. I’m going to ask you five questions about your early recovery, and I would like you to respond with some insightful and inspiring answers you can share with our newcomers. Are you ready?
Steve: Yes, I am. Outstanding.
Omar: All right, let’s do it. Number one, what was keeping you from getting clean or staying clean when you first got introduced to recovery?
Steve: I would have to say there was never a good time to quit drinking, because there was always a birthday, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day. Something was coming up that was going to prevent me from getting any amount of clean time in before what I considered was a requirement to drink, whether it be a wedding, a funeral, or anything else I had to attend. I just had this feeling of this denial that I didn’t really seriously have a problem. There was just too many other important things that I had to celebrate to actually get started.
Omar: Oh, man. There’s so much of your story I can relate to, yet another one. I was right there, brother.
Now at what point did you have a spiritual awakening, that aha moment in recovery when you accepted that you were powerless over drugs and alcohol, but for the first time had developed the hope that you could recover?
Steve: I would have to say probably about ten days, right after the first time I quit drinking. I was in the rooms, about ten days. I was at maybe my third meeting. I remember in the middle of the meeting sitting down and all of a sudden, I got this intense warm feeling that ran through my body. It was almost like a heat wave going through my body, and I remember every muscle in my body just relaxing. I said, “Man,” I said. It was just there was a real spiritual experience that I just got this feeling of peace that everything was going to be okay. I had never felt that before in my entire life. This spring inside my body that had been coiled all my life just all of a sudden unwound and it just told me, “You’re safe, and you’re going to be okay.”
Omar: Man, that’s absolutely beautiful. I love it. Number three, do you have a favorite book you would recommend to a newcomer that you read in early recovery?
Steve: Absolutely. There’s a book that’s sold through the Hazelden Foundation called “The Undrunk.”What it is, is it is a kind of a user’s manual for AA, but I think it would apply to NA as well. What it does is rather than taking the place of a sponsor, it explains all of the steps in layman’s terms and it also gives the newcomer explanations for what these different terminology is. What does the term “we” mean when someone says, “Well, my ‘we’ is going to meet for breakfast.” It kind of explains a lot of the terminology. It’s a really easy read. You can knock it out in two days. I always give a copy to my sponsees, and I say, “You know, read the first part of the big book. Read the big book first, but then read this so you’ll be more comfortable coming into the meetings.” I think that’s probably one of my favorite books to give out to people and recommend.
Undrunk: A Skeptics Guide to AA –Patrick Carnes Ph.D.
Omar: Beautiful, perfect. Number four, what is the best suggestion you have ever received?
Steve: The best suggestion was from my first sponsor, and he sat me down at a meeting and he gave me a list of things to do. One of the things he told me to do was go into the rooms and get out of your comfort zone and shake hands with as many people as you can and introduce yourself. He said, “You know,” he says, “lone wolves usually don’t make it.” He said, “You need to get in.” He goes, “Find somebody who is as different from you as you are and go up and immediately start talking to him and shake his hand.” I’ll tell you what, it absolutely got me out of my shell and got me into really connecting with people in the rooms. It was really the best thing I could have possibly done.
Omar: Oh, I love it. That’s a great suggestion. Steve, if you could give our newcomers only one suggestion, what would that be?
Steve: I think that would be it. I think I’d say, “Go to meetings. Go early, talk to as many people as you can and look for the similarities.” I’d say, “Everybody’s going to look different than you and you think that you’re unique, and you’re not.” I remember being at a meeting when I first got in there and I remember at the end of the meeting, I saw all these little circles of people talking and, of course, my ego was kicking in. I’m like, “Well, why aren’t they talking to me?”
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE NEWCOMER!
“Go to meetings. Go early, talk to as many people as you can and look for the similarities…”
I remember somebody said something to me. He just kind of said, “Well, why don’t you just go up and join a group of people and just start talking.” “Okay, that makes sense,” I said. You know, I never felt excluded at any meeting I’ve been to, and I’ll tell you what, I go to meetings with bikers. I’ll go into some of the bad sections of town and I’ll be in there with street people. I tell you what, man, I’ve been able to connect with everybody in the rooms. I’ve never had an issue anywhere I’ve been, any part of the country. We’re all pretty much the same when it comes down to it. You’re going to find the same characters everywhere you go.
Omar: Absolutely. Oh, I agree one hundred percent. All right, Steve. Great suggestions, buddy. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Steve: Oh, absolutely. It’s been a pleasure. I tell you what, you know what gives me hope for my son is when I listen to all the different stories on your program of young people, what they’ve been through. I know the hope is out there, and I know that recovery is out there for him when I start hearing … I love listening to the young people that are coming to this program because I understand, man, it’s hard as a young person to do it. When I hear about how much fun they’re having, it inspires me and it gives me lots of hope.
Thanks again for your SHAIR, Steve!
See you then!
Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.