I didn’t grow up like most kids, but I love my parents and they’re still a part of my life. My parents owned a bar and alcoholism ran in the family. They were drunks, but that didn’t make me love them any less. If anything, the amount of time I spent with them led to my downfall.
Back when I was fifteen years old, there was no such thing as driving school and you learned from your parents. My dad taught me how to drive, but he taught me how to drive his way – six pack on the floor, a can between your legs, and sneaking a sip when the coast was clear. Terrible influence, if you ask me. What is worse is how the cops handled the situation. At age sixteen, I had been pulled over multiple times on my way home from my parents’ bar for drunk driving, but because they had been drinking on the job at my parents’ bar, they would just follow me home and tell me to knock it off. I mean, they would even bust me for pot, but most of them smoked the stuff anyways and they’d just let me off the hook. There were no repercussions for my actions.
The drinking got worse after I dropped out of school in eleventh grade. I got a full-time job at a campground resort my Dad worked at as an assistant manager. Before work, I’d down a couple beers to prepare for the first part of my day. If I went a few hours without a drink, I was in full on detox; every hour of my day I spent thinking about my next drink. My Dad and I would take our lunch breaks together. To us, a lunch break was an hour period dedicated to finishing a six pack apiece. We loved each other, but there was really no positive role model in my Dad.
After I turned eighteen, my life revolved around my addiction. I went from job to job that didn’t require a college education. I do have my GED though; I got it as soon as I dropped out of school. Anyways, I’ve been in prison twice and jail as many times as I can remember. All of my arrests are drug or alcohol-related, nothing violent.
My first wife, she was a nice lady. I wasn’t with her very long, she got smart and left me when my addiction was too much to handle. After that, I had three kids – well, three kids that I know of – all with different women. I’m in touch with my son, but do not talk to my two daughters. I was with the woman who had my youngest kid for a while; I left them when my daughter was seven months old. At the time, I had a job at Badger Pools Swim and I had to travel a lot for it. When I’d get to my job site, I’d find a motel that was close to a bar so I could walk home, even though I’d always drive anyways. I was assigned a job in Port Washington and I did what I always did and found a motel with a bar nearby. I went to the bar after working for twelve hours to feed my addiction. I met a lady in the bar that night. One drunken night, after three weeks of knowing this woman she said, “let’s go get married!” Next thing I know, we’ve got round trip tickets to Florida that departed at six o’clock in the morning and we’re getting married. That’s how I left the mother of my third kid.
For a while, my second wife was probably the best influence in my life and she is still one of my best friends today. I found a good influence in my brother-in-law. He was always there for me when I felt like I was losing my grip – he was really like an older brother. He was an outlet by always showing up at the right time. My brother-in-law would take me hunting and fishing, that’s something that we really bonded over. But then the bonding turned into a bad influence. We found another common interest in cocaine. We doped together quite a bit, he started going down a bad path too, which eventually lead to the end of my second marriage.
From there on out, my life got turned upside down. I dated women here and there and continued to work different jobs that I could drink at. At age 49, I had a girl break up with me and I got kicked out and became homeless. By now I was in La Crosse, and at first it was easy because I had friends that would take me in, let me sleep on their couch, and give me food. Eventually that luck ran out though. I became your stereotypical homeless man.
It got worse before it got better. I would wake up at two in the morning somewhere in the woods, with uncontrollable shakes and dry heaves. As soon as the liquor store opened at 8am, you would find me crawling down there to buy a bottle. If I couldn’t get liquor, I would use my food stamps to buy cooking wine and vanilla extract to get the job done. I drank 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Alcohol and drugs would not allow me to worry about homelessness. I mean, I’ve slept in some pretty shitty spots in this town, but you know that was just the least of my worries. It was always did I have enough booze in my backpack. I remember the nights I would just go, “Just let me die! Let me die tonight. Just don’t let me wake up.” And sure shit, you wake up at 2 in the morning shakin’ and shittin’ and life goes on.
Somewhere along the way, I gradually got sick and tired of being sick and tired. The people running one of the area shelters tried to get me to treatment multiple times. Usually, I couldn’t stay sober enough to go. But one day, one of the shelter workers came down to my campsite and asked, “You ready, dude?” and I took my final drink before they hauled me up to detox. I was only supposed to stay three days and the doctor up there ordered an ultrasound on a Friday knowing I couldn’t get it until Monday because he didn’t want me to leave because I was in such bad shape. I came back and La Crosse County would not let me out on my own. They knew if they did, I’d die. So, they put me in a care center and I stayed there for a week. Then I went through 30 days of treatment. From there, they sent me up with housing until I could get my apartment, and this whole time I never thought I would stay sober. I met up with a guy in the program that I kinda got along with and he had some work for me. The next thing I know, I put an ad onto a thumbtack saying handyman service and it has just snowballed from there.
Today, our business is booming. This year we were able to buy all of the tools we need. I wish I would have gotten that “aha moment” and had that bright shining light that said, “Wake up, it’s time to change!” but I didn’t. I’m grateful for the people that were thrown into my life to get me to this point, because like I said, I haven’t done anything besides not drink. I can’t even begin to profess how much gratitude I have. I wake up every morning and thank a power greater than myself for the opportunity to wake up verses 16 months ago. Now I am speaking at AA meetings and volunteering at a local shelter. I give back everything I can and a little bit more at times. But, my hope and my dream is to do exactly what I’m doing right now. I ain’t doin’ it for them. I’m doin’ it for me. Just a looking at them reminds me where I was not all that long ago.