“I’m xxx, and I’m an alcoholic.” Seeing those words in print is strange for me to read, and I have uttered them thousands of times since I sought help for something I could not understand or control in the spring of 2006. So, if it is strange for you to read, I totally get it. The motivation for this essay stems from two basic experiences I have had. The first occurred on that icy morning of our 35th Reunion. It was 15 degrees with freezing fog, and I ventured out to a small gathering of fellow alcoholics at a location three miles below the South Gate on Academy Boulevard. They had been meeting there every Saturday for twenty-five years, yet I was the first person associated with the Air Force Academy anyone had ever met. The second factor was that, among grads, I have seen careers in aviation destroyed, and deaths occur, in cases where the person simply could never accept their inability to drink like those around them. In writing this, I wanted to extend a helping hand to anyone who might need it.
What I thought an alcoholic was, and what I have learned over the years, are drastically different. I just thought that every now and then, things got a little out of hand. In the Irish neighborhood where I grew up, the Officers’ Club happy hours I attended with zeal, and during my airline layovers, I applied the “Work hard, Play hard” philosophy to the best of my ability. Trouble was, those choices often ended up badly. So, after binge drinking for over forty years, I finally raised my hand and asked my employer for help. It was not an easy decision, and there was a certain risk involved to my career, but it was one of the best things I have ever done. I have had phenomenal experiences since leaving a twenty-eight day treatment program eight years ago, and I hope to become even more involved in this field when my flying days are done. I now hold the highest designation that the FAA can issue on two different aircraft, and this is with the FAA also having on record that I am a diagnosed alcoholic who has completed their requirements for re-entry into the workplace. I write training programs and enforce flight standards for the largest airplane that my airline flies, and those promotions came from supervisors who were also aware of this part of my life.
Today I spend about ten hours a week visiting with other alcoholics. I accept that being an alcoholic is as much a part of me as being Irish, a pilot, a husband, a father, and a proud member of the Class of ’74.
At the request of family members, I have not published my name. If I may be of service, both Ed Whalen and Mark Hyatt are always available to reach me.