Straight Outta Huntington: Giving Back to My Town (Part III)

I came home from the Marines “sober” in 1993. I got a job and signed up for college courses, then applied for the GI bill. I wanted to become a substance abuse counselor. It was all “substance abuse is a disease” – that was the approach. Almost all of my professors were disease concept professors.

Building a New Life

My best friend committed suicide in ’96 or ’97 – I walked in I found him. He’d shot himself. It happened during summer break. I lost my religion and dropped out of school. I went to Richmond and started working.

I hit meetings really hard for a while after that, but at some point, I started to drift. I can tell you my first drink wasn’t really even a drink. I was on a train going from Dresden, Germany to Prague, hanging out with some German friends, and they have these chocolates with a small shot of liquor in them. So they’re like “Hey, have one of these”, and I was like “That’s got liquor in it!” Well, I already swallowed it, so just go with it, I told myself. Because that’s when the Abstinence Violation Effect kicks in, right?

Things didn’t happen as they were supposed to. I didn’t end up in jail and I didn’t go crazy. I remember distinctly standing in a bar with my buddy, one of the German guys I worked with, thinking, “You know, this isn’t that bad. I’m in complete control. Maybe I’m not really diseased; maybe I’m not really sick.” I got up later that morning, we had breakfast, did some sightseeing, didn’t get drunk the whole weekend. And I didn’t do anything stupid.

So, that’s why I started drinking again. During that same period, I earned my Microsoft Certified System Engineer certificate. I got married in 2001. I like to drink now, a few beers with my buddies that I ride motorcycles with. I discovered Harm Reduction and learned that I never had an incurable disease. In the Marines, I was drinking because I was unhappy. It’s not always perfect now, but I drink safely.

Lending a Helping Hand

Back in Huntington, I know a lot of people who’ve died. My uncle destroyed his liver drinking. The people I knew that have died were primarily suicides. Everyone I know has a family member or a friend who’s died of an overdose. I was on the phone with my sister the other day and she said, “I just drove by the gas station I go to…somebody OD’d in the bathroom there last week.”

I stayed in Richmond. I wanted to go back to Huntington to be near my family and my people, but I can’t because there’s no work. I got skills to be able to get out and make a living somewhere else, but the people who are still there…there aren’t a lot of options for them. I get why they do drugs. I want to do something about it, but I don’t know what. I often think about going back to school to be a substance abuse counselor again…so I could go back and help the people I grew up with.

I need to go back to Huntington. I have to do something. I don’t like where I grew up being that way. It doesn’t have to be that way.

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