Straight Outta Huntington: Getting Drunk and Sober in the Marines (Part II)

I graduated from high school June 5, 1987. I shipped out three days later for boot camp on June 8.

Boot camp was a huge eye opener. I don’t want to say it was three weeks of hell – because I learned later what real hell was – but it was challenging. Not so much physically, but there were other challenges – it would be considered hazing today.

You weren’t supposed to do it then, but it happened. Being stuck between two rags and a drill instructor grabbing me by the throat while I’m at attention and he’s asking me questions. But in the back of my mind, I’m processing, “He really can’t be doing this.”

Those rules don’t apply. I will tell you right now – and it’s true – the Marine Corps is cult programming. However, that being said, we need that cult.

My Life in the Corps

Being young and in the military, it’s a hard life. It’s a challenging life…so we tend to drink a lot. Not long ago, I went to the VA and was sitting with a nurse. He’d been a Navy Corpsman, which means a medic who works with the Marines. FMF Corpsman live with the Marines and do everything that they do. They get a lot of respect. They’re the ones who are gonna save your ass.

So, I’m sitting at the VA with this Corpsman and he’s asking me “how much do you drink” and I told him. He said, “You’re a Marine, right? Well, don’t tell the doc, but for a Marine you’re pretty average. But you tell the doc and they’re gonna freak out.”

I got sent to a military rehab while I was in – 28 days of a 12-Step military rehab. It was better than being in boot camp, but they didn’t address the real issues. I was in the infantry, and I was a grunt. It just sucks.

They took us to an AA meeting every day. After that, I stopped drinking for six to eight years and attended AA. When I got out, I went home with the full belief that I was an alcoholic with an incurable disease.

Life in AA

In retrospect, what was going on with me when I was in the military was a natural response, a normal response, to a bad situation. You look at a situation and think, “I should be able to handle this,” but I couldn’t handle being in the infantry without drinking. I didn’t have any other ways to cope. That’s just bad, man.

There were no options other than AA. There was no Moderation Management, no idea of Harm Reduction. You know, the idea of “It’s a disease.” And that set the direction for a good part of my life…and a lot of the decisions that I made.

I was into the AA program, religiously at that time. Going to meetings on the base, off the base, wherever. I helped start the meeting at the camp that I was at – and it did pretty well. None of us drank! AA filled a space that an organized religion would have.


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