John’s Story

John

Alumni

I’m John, I’m an alcoholic. The cool thing about that is that I don’t give a shit who knows that I’m alcoholic. As long as I don’t forget, that is the most important thing that I can tell you. Everything else is just the same story, in different hands. But to put things in context a little bit, I’m from Chicago. I grew up on the Northside. My first introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous was through a recovery, excuse me, 12 step meeting house called The Mustard Seed.

My son, my oldest son, who is about a little over 30 right now, he was about 4 years old in 1989 when his mother and I separated. And I knew then that I had a problem with alcohol, so I was gonna stop drinking. That was the most important thing, I stopped drinking, I cut back, my life and impact would be complete. The only thing is, that when I stop drinking, in 1989, nobody ever told me that an alcoholic of my type could not just stop drinking. Some of y’all probably experienced it, the effects of alcohol withdrawal. You know how scary that was.

That day I picked up my four-year-old son, and I had been going through hallucinations and whatnot, but I had the presence of mind to make it back to The Mustard Seed when I picked him up from his daycare. His mom gave me permission to do that. When I got back to The Mustard Seed, those guys saw the kind of condition that I was in and they knew that I need to go to the hospital. And that’s exactly what they did, they took me to the VA on the west side of Chicago, and they took my four-year-old son back to his daycare.

When I got to the emergency room at the VA, they immediately took your blood pressure and everything and they immediately knew I was in trouble. So they gave me some nitroglycerin and they set me on this couch and I remember talking to the physician. And I told her, I can make it snow anytime I want. And she said, “sure, how can you do that. Show me what you talking about.” And so I looked up at the light and I said, “Snowing, it’s starting to snow.” This was the effects of that alcohol I told you about, the withdrawal.

When I got to the emergency room at the VA, they immediately took your blood pressure and everything and they immediately knew I was in trouble. So they gave me some nitroglycerin and they set me on this couch and I remember talking to the physician. And I told her, I can make it snow anytime I want. And she said, “sure, how can you do that. Show me what you talking about.” And so I looked up at the light and I said, “Snowing, it’s starting to snow.” This was the effects of that alcohol I told you about, the withdrawal.

Then see I, I truly wanted to stop doing something. A couple of days went by and I guess they took the restraints off my arms. And I remember laying on the bed, and I remember two gentlemen coming to talk to me that day. They brought me a Big Book. And I thought that was the greatest gift that anybody could’ve given anyone, right? So when they left, they told me who I was and what I was, when they left I agreed, I shook their hand, glad you guys stopped by. I asked the nurse to give me a highlighter. I had never read that book at that time. But I looked at the table of contents and I highlighted every chapter that I felt my wife should read. That’s the kind of alcoholic that I am.

Then see I, I truly wanted to stop doing something. A couple of days went by and I guess they took the restraints off my arms. And I remember laying on the bed, and I remember two gentlemen coming to talk to me that day. They brought me a Big Book. And I thought that was the greatest gift that anybody could’ve given anyone, right? So when they left, they told me who I was and what I was, when they left I agreed, I shook their hand, glad you guys stopped by. I asked the nurse to give me a highlighter. I had never read that book at that time. But I looked at the table of contents and I highlighted every chapter that I felt my wife should read. That’s the kind of alcoholic that I am.

You know, if, my sponsor Bill were here today he would tell me one thing, he’d say, “John, tell the truth. Everything else will work its way out.” So that’s exactly, what I’m saying, I think that I’m gonna stay with that, it’s gonna be about experience, strength, and hope. You heard the experience. The only thing I left out of the experience was, is that I’ve been in more facilities like this, State Brand, City Brand, VA Brand than I have fingers and toes. I’m not proud of that fact. But it is a fact. And you know, to quote an old negro spiritualist, Laurence Fishburne from The Matrix, he said, “that I’m not here in life because of the path of life in front of me, but the path of life behind me, that’s why I’m able to be here today.”

And if I keep that same thing going, the Big Book tells me, it says never shut the door on the past. I have to look at the past. And the reason why I bring this up is, just that, through all the institutions that I’ve been involved in, never one time did I ever say to myself that I had conceded to myself that I could not drink again. It was always my…the thing I always said, “I’m gonna take care of this problem, I’m gonna get out of this situation, I’m gonna get myself together, I’m gonna gain a little weight, I’m gonna get some better clothes, I’m gonna get a job, and then my life would be complete.” I’ll get him, her, them, whatever. My life will be complete. Never once to I fully concede to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic. That’s why it is very important to me that I remember. I don’t care who knows that I’m an alcoholic, as long as I don’t ever forget it.

Fast forward. I was in another organization, another…18 years ago when I first got back to San Diego, I was in another recovery home and I met some really wonderful people. And, it was not the institution, again, it was Jeffrey. Because they had something I wanted, all these guys had nice lives, money, cars, you know, lives, I wanted that. And I was gonna do whatever I had to do to get it. I stayed abstinent for 11 years.

My first sponsor, when I was here, he told me, he said, “You don’t see a lot of people taking a lot after five years.” And I said, I’m sure, this individual, I’ll show him. And the only reason I went back to him after 5 years was to show him. Because the only thing, to quote my first wife, the only thing I changed up to that point was my underwear. Everything about me was the same. Whether I was drinking or not, it was still the same.

Coming forward to today, a little bit into today. I have two wonderful sons. Well I guess, I can just say, that I never expected the individual who got me to the VA this last time, would be the person who would help save my life. Never expected it. My sons today, and I’ll tell anyone, my two sons are fundamental, are the two people responsible for saving my life. Because at the time that I was fully prepared to end my life, I knew that there was one thing that I had that I had to think of, and that was the shame and the pain that I had to deal with from standing next to a gravesite and saying to myself, “You were a smart individual, how come you couldn’t just stop drinking?” I didn’t want my sons to feel the pain that I did, standing there with my mom. So I said if for one day I can stop drinking, I can get my act together.

That was on August the 21st, and the morning I wake up, the 22nd, there are two days…there’s a calendar….I got the calendar and I cut those two days out and I put that in my wallet, and that stayed in my wallet. Right now it’s in my wallet and my man bag, which my mother-in-law and kids call a nurse. That’s true. And I need that to remember, to remind me of who I am. So if my sons saved my life, the one person in this world who I can say has truly changed my life would be my little girl. Because now, I’m a little soft. I’m not as quick to react, I’m a little bit better of a negotiator. I’m sure my mother-in-law is shaking her head right now, just saying, “no you’re not.” But that gave God an opportunity to give this crazy son-of-a-gun an opportunity, to sit down and to think about what he had to do.

For the first time in my life, that’s…I didn’t ask God, I didn’t ask God…It wasn’t a foxhole prayer. That’s not what we do. But I just got up that day and said, “Point me in the direction and I’ll follow.” When I made it to the VA, well when I made it to Heartland House, I only had 2 people in my life, in my world, two people who thought that I wasn’t a piece of crap. That was a pastor, in a little church, and a CPS worker, a CPS worker, a children’s protective services worker. The only two people that I had in my life. And I had to do something that was probably fundamentally one of the hardest things that I ever had to do as an alcoholic, as an addict, as a dope fiend. I could not tell on myself.

You can have the pipe in my hand, the hookers running around, the videotape timestamp, just like the mayor in Washington. I will deny it, that is not me. But I had to start being honest. And so I took those two people, and I told them who I was. I told them the worthless piece of crap that I was. And nobody laughed at me. As a matter of fact that CPS worker, she went on the next 2 years, on a campaign, to make sure that I was a better man because she knew the man that I could be. That pastor of that church was the one person who always stood by my side, and when it came down to me having my children he said, you can do this.

Today, I come back to Heartland House, and I always tell the guys, because you see I sit out there and smoke cigarettes at Heartland House just like everybody else. But I always tell the men, I come here today not to tell you who I am or show you what I got going on or do any of those things, I come here today because I want to remember what it felt like to be right here. I graduated from college, graduated from high school. I’ve never been to a reunion. But there are 3 men in this room today that every year we get together at Heartland House. I buy my token, or they buy me a cake they buy me a token. If I buy a cake I buy them a token. That’s how it works.

And I go back there every year, and I go every Friday because that was her time with the kids. But I go back now because I like being with my friends. My recovery didn’t start at Heartland House. And more than likely not in Heartland House. What Heartland House did for me, they offered me an opportunity. A crazy son-of-a-gun like me, to sit my happy butt down because that’s what the man told me to do.

And not as nice as Robert when he was here, he said, “Sit down John you ain’t got nothing nobody wants to see or hear, just sit down.” And that’s exactly what I learned how to do. I learned how to sit down. I learned how to work with an old, cankerous guy over there named Mike, and I can say I loved him dearly. He has not only been a confidant, he also put a foot in my butt when it was needed. So in the spirit of Heartland House, in the spirit of recovery, if anybody is newer than I am. If you follow this one simple suggestion, sit your happy ass down, do nothing, and it will work itself out. Thank y’all.

Our Mission

Our mission is to serve men recovering from substance use disorder and related co-occurring conditions. Our overall goals are to provide a living environment conducive to continued recovery, conduct an educational program that helps the newly recovering alcoholic/addict establish a long-term support system, and generate attitudes that enhance self-sufficiency, self-worth and an ongoing quality of life.

Testimonials

The board members-you guys are wonderful, because you come and you talk with us. You don’t just come to the board and walk away, you come sit and you say hi…you guys have something there at Heartland House.

Arnold

Our mission is to serve men recovering from substance use disorder and related co-occurring conditions. Our overall goals are to provide a living environment conducive to continued recovery, conduct an educational program that helps the newly recovering alcoholic/addict establish a long-term support system, and generate attitudes that enhance self-sufficiency, self-worth and an ongoing quality of life.

Heartland House · 5855 Streamview Drive San Diego, California 92105 · info@heartlandhouse.org · 619-287-5460