I drank and used enough to lead me into the pits of hell and don't ever want to forget where I came from. All the broken marriages, mental hospitals, standing before judges on a regular basis, always moving around the country, those frightening hallucinations, the fear and terror that I lived in and that God awful loneliness there at the last.
The guys on the jobs even called me "Doc" because I was the guy who could get them anything they needed to change their perceptions of reality.
I sobered up finally in Pocatello, Idaho in the spring of 1979. My last hallucination was 3 months into sobriety.
I had so many failed relationships in my life, so right away in sobriety I met with my sponsor and God to discuss things. Looking back over my life I could see where every single broken relationship was based on selfishness and self-centeredness. In page 69 of our Big Book, it described just what I needed to see. I decided not to get into another serious relationship until I'd learned why they were continually failing. Getting married is easy. Staying that way is another thing.
As time went on and the gentle healing from AA continued slowly but surely, I met the most beautiful Angel I'd ever seen in my life. Funny thing was I'd finally realized I didn't really need to depend on anyone anymore. I eventually asked her to marry me and she said something that scared me to death....she said yes.
I got up early the next morning and called my sponsor and set up a meeting with him. I was scared to death for the first time like that. I told him I asked her to marry me and he congratulated me. I told him, "No, you don't seem to understand. I destroy relationships". He told me I didn't really destroy them per se, as much as I tried to hold on to them so hard I dang near strangled them to death.
It was an AA wedding with over a hundred AA folks there supporting us. I went into that marriage with the idea that I'd ask for absolutely nothing and expect absolutely nothing. I went into the marriage with the attitude that I'd give 100% and count my blessings every day. That was over 23 years ago and we are still happily married.
My first 10 years of sobriety was like a perfectly written script. We had a wonderful relationship, beautiful children, lots of money, a gorgeous home and pool, and on and on.
In fact it was going so well we decided to adopt a little girl. She came to stay with us from an abusive home, and in short order she was as happy as could possibly be at our home. It was perfect. The kids even all got together and sent in an essay for a "Father of the Year" contest and their essay won the contest. It was one of the proudest moments in my life.
When we went to sign the final adoption papers, the little girl's parents showed up and saw what a little sweetheart she'd turned into. So they decided to take her away.
That just ripped the heart right out of me and left me asking God "Why?" I thought about her every day. I prayed every day that she'd be safe and return to us. A few years passed and through a series of events she returned to our home again by her own persistence.
I was again thrilled to know she'd be coming back. We drove 800 miles to pick her up and this time she was in a lot worse condition than when we got her the first time. She wasn't that happy little angel anymore. She was violent, abusive and had developed a condition called "Multiple Personality Disorder". A condition that is caused from a child being so overwhelmingly and horribly abused that they are unable to bear it, so they split and develop another personality. It was very frightening to watch the changes take place in her. She had no control over when she'd "switch" personalities and become uncontrollably violent. At that time there was very little help available for MPD and many even dismissed it as a hoax because they didn't understand it. For some, it's a lot easier to dismiss something, rather than try to understand it, I guess. Her violent outbursts and manic episodes eventually led to my wife and I having to sleep in shifts just to make sure she didn't harm herself or the other children. Finding help was pointless at that time and like beating our heads against the wall.
I did find a lady about 1500 miles north of me that specialized in children with MPD and we agreed to having our little girl go to stay with her. My wife and I knew we had neither the knowledge nor the help to treat her serious condition. I drove her up there and had to wear sunglasses all the way to hide my red eyes and tears. I cried like a little school-girl when I had to leave her and I cussed God all the way back on that 1500 mile drive for allowing one of his most precious children to be abused that way.
As a matter of fact, I turned my back on God completely and tried to prove he didn't even exist. I became very, very bitter. Our marriage wasn't as good as it once was. I became short tempered. I even told my wife there was really no such thing as God, that everything in life we had was because I worked my tail off for it. I went out into the back yard and held both middle fingers up to the sky and cursed at God. I told my wife, "There, that proves there's no God! If there was he wouldn't stand for that."
It went on like that for a while.
In the winter of 1990 I was up north, welding on a pipeline job when a large pipe slipped from the sling and landed on my head, shoulder and back. It broke several bones and did enough nerve damage to where I was unable to walk for about 7 years. I was blind in one eye for about 6 months. I spent the next 7 years confined to a wheel chair or a bed.
In the beginning of my time in bed I would lay there at night wondering what happened and how did it all get this way. One night at about 3 AM, I crawled out of bed and went for the shotgun in the closet. I was so close. I put the barrel in my mouth. I closed my eyes and had my thumb on the trigger squeezing it. All of a sudden it was like someone was shining bright headlights in my eyes and I felt a warmth come over me as if arms were being wrapped around me. I laid the gun down and burst into tears. I felt so warm inside. I asked God why he let all this happen to me, a man who devoted my life to him. I told him this wasn't supposed to happen to me. I figured as long as he was there listening, I'd tell him where he made his big mistake and he'd see the error of his ways and I'd be all better. I'd lost everything I owned, my house, my cars, my trucks, my health and my occupation all due to that accident. My whole identity was gone. The answer I got was, I was a valuable human being in God's eyes the day I was born with no possessions, no big house, no cars or trucks, no kids, not even any clothes on my back...and I was that same person now and just as valuable to him with nothing but me. In tears, I told God how sorry I was for almost taking my life and for all the things I'd done. I asked God to forgive me and the thought I got was I had already been forgiven 2000 years ago. That was the thought that came to me as clear and as bright as light.
Things happened after that. I've never been left alone since then. I started calling friends from AA and asking them to bring AA meetings to my home.
We moved back to Phoenix and I got a German Shepherd dog and trained him to assist me in my wheel chair when I went back to school. I drove an old beater around and was happy as could be, because I didn't have to have an identity anymore that came from outward things. I didn't have to impress anyone else and I knew that God loved me and was with me. I was beginning to love myself in a new way. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. People saw my dog and me, and started asking me where they could get one like him. It prompted me to go into the Service Dog Training business, training dogs to assist the blind and the disabled. That was in 1996.
In that time, I've been surrounded by the right people at just the right time, to help me be of better service to others, training these dogs to help them. Through a series of miracles I've been up walking now for about 5 years all on my own. I usually walk about 3 or 4 miles a night after dinner with one of the dogs. With every step I take now I am literally reminded of the presence of God in my life. I train about 20 dogs a year now and have set it up as a Foundation. I've had to learn that life has to have balance. I'd spent a lot of years only knowing how to enjoy and experience life's pleasures. I had to learn to accept and love both life's pleasures and life pains. Pain is fertilizer for growth. I've had to face life's pains and find the lesson in them for me.
Incidentally - that little girl we tried to adopt? I got a letter last year with a wedding invitation in it from her asking me to give her away. I drove about 1,000 miles to her wedding. I met her husband and at first had my concerns as he was a Marine. I was concerned that he might not have the sensitivity to be able to deal with her MPD. As it turns out, and here is the miracle, many times people with MPD need a very structured regimented life style. That military life style was just the thing she needed according to her therapist. Her husband is a good man and a caring husband. I guess one way to look at her life as it has turned out is, God doesn't have any Grandchildren. We are ALL his children. At that time, back when that girl was little, she was able to have the best care possible for her condition. I couldn't see it back then, but God even had his hand in her getting help, 1500 miles away where she wound up.
In my sobriety I've raised 3 of my own kids and they're all on their own now with their own families and doing just fine.
My wife and I are enjoying our free time together more than ever. We still get excited to see each other walk through that door, and still have that warm feeling inside for each other. The first thing we do when we see each other is smile. That smile really mean's "I love you". When we pass each other we always touch. We do things for each other without letting the other know, just so we can make each other's lives a little more easy.
I go to 3 or 4 AA meetings a week and sponsor some guys. My wife and I collect and restore old classic cars and hot rods when we're not training the German Shepherds.
I'm not nearly as excitable as I used to be. I take time to sit and listen closely when someone wants to just talk.
Monetarily, if it means anything at all, we are better off than I ever dreamed we could possibly be. I live in a very beautiful place with plenty of room for my kennels and dog training. I also train Search and Rescue Dogs. Last year I sent 2 of my Search and Rescue Dogs and trainers back to work the WTC after September 11th. They stayed the entire duration.
I'm at a point in my sobriety where I've seen all of the 12 promises come to be, in the order they are written. I start and end my day with steps 10 and 11. I live in a place that has the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets you could ever imagine. The yellow colors in the sunrise remind me of the beauty of birth and life. The red sunsets fill me with gratitude and remind me of all the great teachers that have come and gone in my journey through life.
Steve D (aka "Doc", Phoenix, AZ Steve raises and trains German Shepherd dogs to assist the blind and the disabled. He also trains Search and Rescue Dogs and sent 2 of them with trainers to work at the WTC after the 9-11 tragedy. These Search and Rescue dogs of Steve's are local celebrities - they've been on TV, have received several awards and have gone with Steve when he's given talks on their work.
Steve likes spending time with his family, swimming and back yard BBQs. He's been sober 24 years and married for 23 years. Steve plays the bass guitar and drums and collects and restores old cars, hotrods and motorcycles. He likes to race at a drag strip with his classic car club.
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