Protected by Denial—My Journey To Recovery

Protected by Denial—My Journey To Recovery

By Steven Hildebrand 03/31/16

I saw people get their heads shook, their freedom took, and their names in the undertaker’s book and I was almost one of them.

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Protected by Denial—My Journey To Recovery
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My name is Stevie H. and I am a recovering alcoholic/drug-addict. My clean date is April 4, 1988. I come from a long line of bootleggers, warlords, and hell-raisers.

I made my first 12-step meeting when I was 18. I was living with my grandparents in Southern Illinois at the time. I had moved down there to get away from drugs, so, of course, the second person I made friends with was the brother of a local drug dealer, and the third was the son of a local pharmacist. So much for geographic cures!

At 18, I was already well into the grips of my disease, though my denial “protected” me from seeing any of that. I remember Gramps telling me, “It’ll get ahold of you, boy, and it won’t let go!” Be serious. I just laughed at him. I so very much regret that now. He must’ve seen what was coming for me because he insisted that I go to an AA meeting with him. I believe my grandfather was an alcoholic (though I never heard him call himself that) and he attended AA on occasion out at the local hospital.  

It was a Friday night and I didn’t have plans so I tagged along with him. Short version, it was all a big misunderstanding and I was obviously in the wrong place. It was mostly a bunch of grizzled geezers and I did not have a thing in common with any them. Being as smart a person as I was, I could see how the 12-step programs could work in a person’s life, and that certainly was a good thing because those sick bastards sure needed it…but not me.

A couple of things stand out in my memory from so long ago…

First, a woman I knew from parties brought her older brother Charles K. into the meeting. Charles was in the deepest depths of his disease, and was suffering horribly. His sister was begging AA to please, please, please help him. They held a First Step meeting, each person telling their story, how it was, what happened and how it was at the present, but I doubt that Charles heard a word of it. He was shaking badly, unable to sit up straight. When the chairperson asked how they could help him, Charles asked for a drink. When the chair replied that they couldn’t help him with that, he seemed to collapse in on himself and began to weep.

About two weeks later, Charles’ son found him dead in the garage from carbon monoxide poisoning, a vacuum cleaner hose leading from the tailpipe to the driver's window of his car. I attended his funeral. He was about 40 when he died, but he looked more like 80.

The other thing I remember about that first meeting was that I left afterward with another dude (whose name escapes me now), who was part owner of the local drive-thru liquor store. (Least that’s what he said, but he did have the keys and the alarm codes.) We walked out of the meeting talking about what a flipping joke it all was. Bunch of losers! We hit the liquor store and offloaded a couple of cases of beer and a half gallon of Uncle Jack into his pickup and drove out into the country to work ourselves into a right proper blackout.

I have little memory of that night and no idea how I got home, but I woke up on the front porch in the morning feeling like a hundred miles of bad road, retching and shaking. AA, who needs it, right?? Sure. The other guy died drunk and alone about a month or two later when he rolled his pickup on a dark country road.

It would be about eight more years and three more visits to the 12-step fellowships before I would finally wake up and smell the coffee, eight more years of self-inflicted pain and suffering before I could surrender to the fact that I had a disease that I could never cure or defeat. In that time I saw plenty of people get their heads shook, their freedom took, and their names in the undertaker’s book—hell, I was almost one of them—but I somehow never made the connection that I too was eligible for jails, institutions and death. My youthful arrogance and the denial of my disease “protected” me from all that. Things had to get gruesomely bad before I could see the juggernaut reality headed right at me, and run up the white flag. That was almost 28 years ago.

In quiet, reflective moments—like right now—I think about Eddy T., Charles K., Jimmy S., Kenny S., Jeannine L. and all the other helpless, hopeless alcoholics and addicts I’ve known over the years whose struggles did not end in recovery. I am sorry for their suffering, but I am grateful that they carried the message through their suffering. So long as my memory of them helps keep me clean and sober, I’d like to think that they didn’t die for nothing.

I am very blessed and most grateful to still be here, a husband, a father, and a productive member of society. I believe that the God of my misunderstanding had some kind of plan for my life, a plan that included me surviving all that insanity. By His Grace, the 12 steps and the help of my sponsors, today I have a life worth living and a “me” worth being. That’s the 12 promises coming true in my life. I’ll keep coming back…

Steven Hildebrand is a writer, I.T. geek and recovering addict who spends his free time reading, gaming and listening to blues music.  He lives in the SW suburbs of Chicago with his family and assorted critters.

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Steven Hildebrand is a writer, I.T. geek and recovering addict who spends his free time reading, gaming and listening to blues music. He lives in the SW suburbs of Chicago with his family and assorted critters.

Disqus comments