I am alcoholic named Sean. As I approach 5 years of sobriety in May, I am eternally grateful for running and recovery. I would venture to say that my family life was normal growing up. I had plenty of friends, played sports, and did very well academically eventually graduating third in my high school class. Somewhere along the way in high school, I didn’t really feel like I belonged. My friends wanted to party, but they didn’t want the cop’s kid around. Living in a small town where your dad is a cop made it very difficult to get away with anything. My father knew where the parties were before I did. I went on to college in my hometown and decided I wanted to go in the Army as a second lieutenant. My drinking career really got started in the Army. Alcohol was party of the culture and at every event. Drinking became my way of coping with the stressors of the job. I drank “responsibly” for the first 10 years I was in the Army. After my first deployment to Afghanistan, my drinking escalated and became a problem not only for me, but for my wife and son. I started breaking all the rules I had set in place for myself such as no more than 2 beers, no drinking before noon, only drinking on the weekends, beer only, and the list goes on and on. Shortly I deployed to Afghanistan for the second time. As you can imagine, my drinking picked up again. Ninety days after redeploying, I found myself back in Afghanistan for my 3rd deployment. Our unit redeployed early and we were told we would be home for eight months, then go to Iraq for 15 months. I didn’t realize or want to admit the toll the multiple deployments took on my mental health. As a Ranger qualified combat arms officer, I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, lack of self-confidence, survivor’s guilt, and a whole host of other issues.
Alcohol made all those problems go away. Problem was I eventually started drinking 24/7 and even at work just to keep the withdrawals away. At this point, I felt worthless and hopeless. My marriage and family were falling apart. I was throwing away my successful Army career. After I wrecked my truck on the way to a training exercise, it was clearly apparent to the Army that I had a drinking problem. They sent me off to rehab which I successfully completed. Within 2 days of returning, I was drinking again. Game over….I went from being a respected leader and battalion executive officer to be an Army Substance Abuse Program failure. I left the Army and moved back to PA to teach ROTC. I found myself as a geographical bachelor, meaning I didn’t have the adult supervision of my wife. My drinking exploded! Over the course of 5 months, I racked up 5 DUIs. Even the police were surprised by my BAC’s that would kill most people, yet I was able to walk and talk. I arrived at the county prison drunk and subsequently spent 10 months in prison. The sentencing judge saw something in me and released me to enter the inpatient PTSD program at the Coatesville VA as opposed to sending me to state prison.
After completing the program, I remained dry for 2 years until my wife and I divorced which provided me with an excuse to drink. Off to the races again. People kept mentioning AA and other resources. Nope, I can do this on my own. At the time, I was back to school and ironically my advisor was a recovering alcoholic. I can still remember him telling me I would never get it because I was too damn smart. I refused to ask for help or accept help. I could do this on my own. That thinking led to 2 more relapses, 2 more rehabs, and at least 5 more medical detoxes not to mention the destroyed relationships and feeling isolated from the rest of the world. I did not see a way out and just wanted to die drinking. I was dead inside, dead mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Fortunately a few folks didn’t give up on me even when I gave up on myself. Finally in 2012, I said the the hardest words of my life “I need help”. I went to yet another rehab and actually followed the suggestions. I was whipped and had no qualms of walking into my first meeting and saying “My name is Sean and I am alcoholic who just finished rehab and I need a sponsor”. I have remained sober since that point!
Sobriety hasn’t always been easy and I have faced many difficult challenges along the way. But the tools I have learned in recovery have saved my life. My relationships have improved in both quantity and quality. The attitude of gratitude has gotten me through many tough spots. Working with a sponsor has allowed me to grow as a man and continue to grow. I left my last rehab at 240 pounds with a myriad of physical health problems. Some of my friends were into this crazy thing called trail running. Hmmm….that is something I want to try. I would hide in my parents garage every morning doing P90X until I lost enough weight to run. My change in lifestyle led to losing 80 pounds. I remember when I couldn’t run a mile without inhaling trees and small furry animals. Last year I ran 8 ultramarathons and was introduced to The Herren Project Ultramarathon team. In 2014, I got to share my story at The Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival about how running recovery saved my life from PTSD and alcohol. I am often told that I am addicted to running. I haven’t gone to jail for running. I always remember what I did the night after running. I haven’t wrecked multiple vehicles running. Running has connected me to so many wonderful people and an amazing trail running community filled with positive people. Running like recovery has taught me relentless forward progress and that growth and change occur through suffering. It keeps me mentally and physically sharp. Running is my therapy.
Eight years after my first scuffle with recovery, I am finally sober and free. I have the best family and friends a guy could ask for. I have a successful career as a mental health therapist. I am filled with hope, love, and gratitude. Most importantly, I love me! I am truly grateful for the life I have and that I finally found recovery. Loving life one day at a time!