Veteran Celebrates Sober Milestone After 50-Year Addiction Battle

By Kelly Burch 11/27/17

“I finally got tired of being sick and tired... I made up my mind that it was time for me.”

older man relaxing an enjoying the sunshine

Clinton Lanier was just 18 when he was deployed to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. There he was introduced to the horrors of war, and also the balm of using drugs to escape. 

“I started getting high when I was in Southeast Asia in 1966, and I hadn’t been sober since,” Lanier told Savannah Now. For decades, Lanier, 70, hid his addiction from friends and family—always remaining a so-called functioning addict—until last year, when he finally decided it was time to get help. 

“I finally got tired of being sick and tired, which is something I’ve heard many times,” he said. “I made up my mind that it was time for me.”

Lanier was the first graduate of the Savannah VA clinic’s Substance Treatment and Recovery program, which follows an outpatient model that helps veterans get into recovery. 

“After being 70 years old and living a full life, I deserve to be sober, not just for my family or even for God but for me,” Lanier said.

Now Lanier is speaking out about his experience in hopes of inspiring others that need help. “I’m through hiding,” he said. “That’s part of the process. The more I can do to help someone else—I think that would help me.”

He says that sobriety has left him feeling better than he has in decades. “I feel a lot better than I used to. At this point, I can say that I’m sober. That’s a good feeling. I take no credit for that because I couldn’t have done it by myself.”

Lanier does, however, take accountability for his years of addiction. Although he always maintained a home for his family, he would sometimes spend as much as $2,000 a weekend on cocaine.

“When I’d get high, I’d say, ‘God, please, don’t let me do this anymore,’ and wake up the next morning and go buy more dope,” he said. “I can’t put that on God. That’s me.”

Through it all, Lanier says that his family never knew, and that he never hit the crisis point that causes so many people with addiction to get help. “I never really hit bottom,” he said. “My bottom was mental, not physical.”

As part of the VA’s recovery program, Lanier was connected with a peer support specialist, another veteran who had 22 years of sobriety. Lanier said that his specialist was inspirational to him. 

“I’d rather be around somebody who is set firm in their beliefs and has a goal in mind and sticks to it, and that’s the kind of person I intend to be,” he said. “I intend to have 22 years, too, if I live that long. Hopefully.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.