From Prison to Praise…..

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Hi, my name is Eric P. and I am an alcoholic. A.A. has completely changed my life around.

So, a little bit about my story, here goes nothing. Haha!! I was arrested quite a few times but the first time was when I was 17. I got my first OWI (operating while intoxicated) only 6 months after having my license. I truly believe that I got this disease at a very young age. On the night of my first OWI, I was completely blacked out in my vehicle and that is how the police officer found me. I went almost eleven years without an arrest after that. My drinking was up and down but when I did drink, I drank to oblivion. I drank to kill myself.

I got my second OWI in April of 2005 and my 3rd OWI in May. One month later, and I just chalked everything up to bad luck. If I hadn’t drove down that road or the cop was just out to get me.

But the one thing that continued was my drinking. I was drinking around an 18 pack or better a day by now. I had court dates and assessment classes and AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuses) programs to sign up for and just all sorts of inconveniences. Or at the time, I thought they were inconvenient because it was interfering with my drinking. I remember going to the AODA classes and basically had the attitude of 'fake it til you make it.' And they always had these 12 steps hanging on the walls. I remember looking at them and thinking, I could do that one, not that one, whoa, that one has the word GOD in it, definitely can't do that one. So, in a nutshell, I just complied long enough to get my license back.

After my third OWI, I did get a taste of jail time. I got sentenced to 90 days in rock county jail. I ended up serving 34 days in and 34 days on the bracelet. Now, you wanna hear a good story about how alcoholism had its claws into me?? Well, that first day out on the bracelet, I was drunk that night. They didn’t put any sort of alcohol monitoring device on me, bad move on their part. HAHA!!

I think in that 34 days on the bracelet, I was probably drunk 30 of them. They took the bracelet off in May and that July 4th is when I picked up my 4th OWI. I was living with my bunk mate in his basement, sleeping on an air mattress. All I did was live to work and drink. He had 2 young daughters that he had every other weekend and he was sick and tired of them seeing me drunk all the time. So, after my 4th OWI, he asked me to move out. Now, the story of my 4th was probably the worst story of all. Although, I went on to get 2 more OWI’s after this.

The day of my fourth OWI, it was a Saturday and I had worked all day doing construction in Madison. I came home or back to my bunkies house and I started to drink. We had a neighbor that had a pool and right next to the pool was a pop machine that he converted into a tapper fridge. He also had another tapper fridge in his garage for winter months. This guy definitely needed a program at the time too but I can only take my own inventory. Haha!! So… we always got good and drunk at his place. I had a 1990 ford piece of shit car at the time. I don’t even remember what it was but I went out to the bars in Janesville and by this time I was drinking red bull and vodka just so I would stay awake.

But now is when the story takes a serious twist. I must have blacked out and the next thing I remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance handcuffed to the bed. I looked at my shirt and it was completely covered in blood. They took me back to the hospital and by this time I was starting to regain my bearings and realized I was in a very bad accident. I hit a mini van on Highway 14 in Janesville and at the time I had no idea what happened but it took 5 nurses and a doctor to hold me down because I was more concerned with the person I hit than myself. They didn’t know if I had broke my neck or what but they cleaned me all up and got all the glass out of my nose because I had put my face right through the windshield. I called a friend to come and get me and the police also handed me a fistful of pink tickets.

By this time, I decided to do what any good alcoholic would do and that was to pack up all my stuff from my bunkies place, which wasn’t much and move into a Motel 6 in Janesville and not tell a single soul where I was. I did just that and I was paying almost 300 bucks a week in hotel expenses and all I did was go to work and come home and drink.

I remember that summer because I was sitting in my air conditioned room with an 18 pack of bud light and some junk food I got for supper and watching the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had done in New Orleans. I was living the HIGH LIFE!!! And when I say nobody knew where I was, I truly mean that nobody knew. I remember walking out of my hotel room one morning and I was greeted by two Janesville police officers.

They asked me if my name was Eric P. and I said yes and they said that I should get a hold of Stacy D. because she had filed a missing person’s report on me. Ya know, it really never sunk in to me at the time that people were concerned for me. Or, I was just so self-absorbed with my drinking that I didn’t care to think about others. I moved out of that motel after about two months, shit got expensive and even my drunken ass could see that in my brief moments of sobriety.

So, now I was off to move to a nearby town called Milton and I was 4 blocks down the road from my boss’s house and for the record, his nickname was Pork Chop (a pork chop in every can). So, I'm guessing you can see how this was going to go. I got my 5th OWI in this town and it was only 3 months after my 4th OWI with the bad accident.

I remember getting a ride to the rock county jail and the police officer telling me “You have a very serious problem here.” It still didn't really sink in just yet. I got an attorney the night before my first hearing and to be honest I think I had a six pack in me that night. I scrounged up 2000 dollars for a retainer and he went to court for me the next day. I got a plea agreement with both cases and I ended up getting one year in rock county jail. 9 months with good time. So, during this whole nine month stretch, I was taking up to 20 Ephedrine in the morning to get going and before I went back into jail, I would pop 12 Tylenol PM’s. It was roughly 32 pills a day. I really wasn’t all too concerned about what that was doing to my liver. I just needed an escape from reality.

I was locked up in March of 2006 and on December 16th of 2006 I was released. I remember some really great friends from my hometown came and got me at like 5am and took me out to breakfast. They were so excited and happy for me to begin this journey of sobriety, but I had other plans!

Now, in the Big Book of A.A. they call this the “double life” and that is exactly what I was trying to live. I had my good friends in Janesville that would come and pick me up because I didn’t have my license at the time and I could not wait for them to drop me off at my dad’s place in Brodhead so that I could get good and drunk.

After this little stint in rock county, I was also place on probation for 2 years. I visited with my P.O. once a month and “complied” with everything she said. Basically I flat out lied to her about my drinking. And when you are on probation for drinking is when you have to be extremely careful about where and when you drank so, I did the best thing I could and that was to get a mini-fridge in my bedroom with some very dark curtains.

By this time, I was drinking a 30 pack of Busch Light a day and coincidentally, my mini-fridge would hold 2, 30 packs of beer and a fifth of Jack Daniels. I was in heaven. I continued this lie for almost two years. I got my license back and I never lost my job. One thing a good alcoholic is good at is working hard to maintain that money coming in to support his habit. By this time, I had also graduated from 4 AODA classes, so I had a head full of knowledge about what drinking could do but the willpower to quit wasn’t there yet.

On October 31st, 2008 (Halloween night) I decided to pick up a 30 pack of beer after work and drove home to Brodhead and continue drinking there. I went over to my aunt and uncle’s house (where I used to do a lot of drinking) and I hung out there bullshitting with them while they handed candy out to the kids.

I hopped in my truck and went to the bar downtown which I never used to do and I proceeded to drink there that night. I remember waking up at the bar and seeing a bottle of Bud Light and a 20 dollar bill and the bartender asking me if wanted another beer. After this is when it gets a little blurry but, the next thing I remember is a green county police officer tapping on my driver side window. I was escorted to the side of the road where I miserably failed the field sobriety test. I was off to jail!

They put me in a drunk tank and the next morning I received my 9-page police report. In the report, it stated that I was passed out and hanging onto the steering wheel, I had crossed traffic and went down into the ditch. The truck was in drive and my foot was on the brake and the radio was blaring. I was 50 feet away from running into a bunch of tall pine trees. I truly believe that god was watching over me that night. Otherwise I would not be here writing this.

So, that was the last night of my last drink. A little over 7 years ago now. I was taken to green county jail and that is where I stayed for the next 5 months. I was supposed to be right outside of the jail working on building the new courthouse so every day in jail, I could hear the equipment running out there and just thinking to myself, I could be right outside making money but….. god had another plan for me. Sobering up in jail was by far one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was crawling in my own skin and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep.

By this time, my double life had come to a crashing halt and everyone that was concerned about me knew right where I was. All of the family members that I had pushed out of my life were coming to visit me. I could not comprehend this, why would all those people come to visit a guy that had been lying to them all these years about where he was and what he was doing come see me??

It was unconditional love is the only explanation I have. I lost everything when I went in there. I lost my truck, my job, my respect and trust with my friends. I started to attend A.A. meetings in there on Saturday mornings just to basically get out of my cell. I grabbed a big book and opened it up to the part in the back where “they lost it all.” Hell, I figured I could relate to this. I was immediately drawn into the strength and hope that these people had gone through and how they had completely changed their lives around.

I started to get quite a few visits from family members and even my brother came to see me after awhile. He is also in the program too. It took some time for him to come see me because I had flat out lied to him about my drinking. He was going to A.A. meetings here in Monroe and he would come and visit me after the meeting and tell me all the crazy stories and suggestions that they told him to do. It was really cool, I couldn’t wait for his visits on Sunday nights. I sat in green county jail from November '08 until March '09.

On March 27th, 2009, I was sentenced to 3 years in prison and 2 years on probation. My mother was in the courtroom that day and I just remember looking over at her and watching her cry. I had asked her to be there that day and I knew what the outcome was going to be but I just didn’t want to watch her cry too….

So on April fools day of 2009, I was transported to Dodge Correctional institution. To me, that first step happened when they placed those shackles on my ankles. I was completely powerless and my life was totally unmanageable. I spent the better part of 2 months at Dodge and although I couldn’t get to A.A. meetings there, I had a big book and a bible underneath my pillow. I needed them for extra support. Haha!!

But, I read that big book front to back and inside and out all day long. I had one celly there that was in for his 7th OWI and he was telling me how he was going to install breathalyzers on all of his vehicles when he finally got out of prison. To me, that’s exactly how the disease of alcoholism works. We find a way to continue drinking without getting caught or arrested. I thought that was completely insane at the time.

I wanted to find a design for living without alcohol so I was up for every class imaginable and started attending A.A. meetings there on a regular basis. Their group was called the “freedom fighters.” I also started running and exercising quite a bit too. The high I received from working out was amazing. I was running 2 miles a day and felt great!!! I started to correspond with a friend in the program somewhere out in South Dakota. I just loved getting letters from him.

I learned a lot about alcoholism from those first few meetings. I remember the first one in particular. It was a speaker meeting and the guy talked about how he was in prison for his 1st OWI. He went out drinking with some friends after work and decided to drive home. Well, on his way to hit and killed two little girls. To me, that was the eye opener I needed to hear. Here was this guy that had a very clean driving record and had an accident and killed two girls and he had been in prison for over 10 years already. Shit had never got that bad for me… YET!!!!

I began to understand the concept of “came to believe” at this time. I came to believe a lot of things back in my drinking days but I really took a liking to the fact that I could believe in something greater than myself. I was signed up for attending the D.A.C.C. (Drug Abuse Correctional Center) program and if I completed it, I would save 16 months on my prison sentence. Every Tuesday at prairie du chien were guys coming in from other prisons and a lot of them were guys that got kicked out of the D.A.C.C. program. They flat out told me I would never make it. I had other plans!!!! I was sent to D.A.C.C. that September and I had a bed date for the program on December 20th. I spent a lot of time writing letters to family members and learning as much as I possibly could about my drinking.

I started the program and I remember my social worker walking into the room to talk to our 10 man groups. He asked all of us what is the definition of rock bottom. Well, me being me, I said “the best definition I have ever read is on page 425 of the big book and it says….. the last thing you lost or the next thing you are about to lose is more important to you than booze.” His eyes lighted up with surprise and he looked at me and said “ You are going to be my guy that speaks at a mothers against drunk drivers meeting." I told him if I walk into that room, they are going to put a bullet in my head. He assured me that I was wrong. Haha!! So I got started on this program and two basic ingredients that I learned that I needed to have to complete this program are HONESTY and HUMILITY.

It was by far the most challenging thing I had done in my incarceration. To talk about things you had done wrong in your life and to own every single bit of it is always hard to do for anyone. I began to write my autobiography, which was 20 pages hand written. I also began to learn who I could trust to talk to and who was just toxic to my program. I was grateful for that choice.

Step 3 on making a decision to turn my will and life over to my “god” came at this time too. I began to pray every morning for the strength to stay sober. Even though I was in prison and not accessible to alcohol, I truly believe that the habits I formed in there helped me once I was released.

I did a lot of journaling in there and I would leave a notepad right next to my bed to jot stuff down when I thought of it. I think a lot of that was for my 4th step inventory and also my 9th step making amends process. I did this victim impact panel when I was in there, and it consisted of 12 different people in my life that I had harmed or done something wrong to in my drinking days. I had to make a poster and explain to a group of about 60 inmates my story. This was very challenging and emotional. I remember just going back to my room and crying my eyes out.

I started to read a lot of A.A. literature and my brother had actually sent me the book Came to Believe. I thought that was pretty cool. I also loved the story of Million Little Pieces. Great book!!

I had certain topics and within those topics I had goals that I had to complete. Some of my topics were gratitude and public speaking. I figured those were probably two of the toughest things I could do so… let's roll with it.

I spoke at the M.A.D.D. meeting and I spoke right after a lady had talked about how a drunk driver had killed her parents. That was tough for me but I came through unscathed. I also spoke at a couple of high schools and at an A.A. meeting where they were trying to get more volunteers to come into the prison. That meeting was amazing because they had a killer potluck going on that night and when we got there we were treated like royalty. Haha!! They took us to the front of the line and they had everything from elk, moose, pheasant meat to all kinds of potatoes and desserts. I ate like a king that night and I couldn’t wait to go back and tell everyone else.

I got out of prison on June 18th, 2010 and I remember getting into my mother’s car and she looked at me and said “Doesn’t this feel weird?” I immediately started crying. I was a basket case for quite awhile. Going out at night when it was dark and holding onto cellphones just felt weird. I remember the first six weeks out that I hardly left my bedroom. I think I was just so used to sitting in a cell and I felt comfortable in my bedroom. I got a sponsor right away in Monroe and he was this big biker dude. He told me to read The Doctor’s Opinion and that I was to call him every single day. Damn, I knew a lot about the big book but I sure as hell didn’t know what the hell I was going to talk to him about every day. Haha!!

I did my 4th and 5th step with him that summer. That was like a huge 80 lb weight had been lifted off my back. It felt amazing!!! I remember him telling me to go to the hospital chapel and to read the 6th and 7th step prayers and VOILA….. all of my character defects would be gone. Or… so I thought. I had to dig a little deeper into these defects and why I did the things I did on a daily basis. I truly believe that we don’t necessarily lose these defects all together. It's more like just turning down the dial on a stove. They are still there but they aren’t as noticeable. Besides, how fun would life be if we were perfect. Know what I mean??

I started on this path of making amends that summer. I had one in particular that I was looking forward to completing and that was with a best friend that I had from junior high. He basically wrote me off when I was in prison because I lied to him and his mother had passed away while I was locked up. It took some time for him to come around but he did and we went out to the cemetery where his mother was laid to rest and that is where I did my 9th step with him. It was so much harder to do in my own head compared to how he actually handled it. I really didn’t know at the time whether he was going to hug me or hit me. Haha!! But, everything worked out just great and we talk now on a weekly basis. It's just another miracle of this program.

I have done a few other amends and they always seem to be much worse in my own head. I like the fact that I can walk into a Walmart anywhere now and not have to dodge down an aisle to avoid someone from my past. Life is good that way!!

So, I have been out of prison awhile now and life is so much easier and amazing to me. I have taken up hobbies such as bow hunting. I'm obsessed with that! I actually went pig hunting in Florida last February and elk hunting in Colorado last September. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I could pull two cool vacations like that off in one year. And the best part about it was that while we were traveling, we also found really good A.A. meetings to hit along the way. There are so many great meetings out there and the cool thing is they “speak our language.”

I guess I had this idea in my head that I was going to be bored in sobriety. Well, its been almost 6 years since I was released and I haven’t been bored yet. Ya know, shit still happens though even in sobriety. I had to make the decision to take my father off of life support a little over a year ago. That was by far the hardest thing I have done yet in sobriety. But, the best part was that I have genuine friends that have not only been through some of the things I have but that are always there to listen to me when I have a problem. I never had that back in my drinking days. I never said to a drinking buddy… hey, lets talk about feelings!!! That wasn’t an option, well, it was but it would have been followed with a black eye, I'm certain!!

So, I'm hoping that this story helps you a little to understand my journey and to let you know that there are amazing meetings, and people out here doing this recovery thing every day on a daily basis. I can look in my phone at any given time and see hundreds of people’s first names followed by A.A. and I know I can go through the list and call just about any of them. Life is damn good today!!!

Your friend,
Eric

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    Julie

    October 31, 2016 at 9:01 AM

    Thanks for sharing your story with us, Eric. Wishing you all the best!

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    Megan Fritz

    June 29, 2016 at 11:28 AM

    Eric, congratulations on your recovery of 7 years! Thank you for sharing your story of hope with us!

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