Road Out of Hell

I was born in Pretoria, South Africa on 10th October 1957. I do not remember much of the years before school age but I am told that they were pretty normal. I attended a local primary school for my first year of schooling, and the next eleven years at St John's College, a boy's only private Christian school. It was only many years later that I discovered the financial sacrifice my parents made to pay for this excellent education. I got into my share of mischief. Including a first sexual experience at age thirteen with a prostitute in Mozambique. I knew this was wrong for many reasons. I only mention it as this is where I learned about shame, and how to practise keeping deep secrets.

I opted to complete my Military Service before going to University.  Looking back I wonder if anyone could have predicted how my secrets and the gene of alcoholism I inherited would react to the stress of Angola. The operation lasted for three months. Then as abruptly as it had begun, it ended. The American people were tired of war, the CIA lied to the Senate about their involvement in Angola, and South Africa was accused of attempting a land grab. The civil war we started in 1975 would not end until 2002 when the last rebel leader was killed, It is estimated that more than 500,000 innocent, illiterate, civilians were killed in the conflict.

I was told that I was a hero and to keep what we had done secret. I was good at doing this. I was assigned to the leadership unit to train others in killing conscripted civilians, except we did not call it that. After two years I was dumped back into civilian life and expected to be normal. Unable to cope I turned to alcohol, and with a whoop of delight the alcoholic gene I had inherited leaped into life.  I do not know exactly when my use of alcohol to numb out the effects of combat, the cause of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), turned to alcoholism.  It does not really matter!

The way of alcoholism is like a spiral dive.  The drinking gets heavier, the spin tightens, and with throttles wide open you plummet downwards. I worshipped alcohol and would do anything to get it.  I remember one time my daughters came from England to visit. We were staying in a small hotel outside San Diego.  I needed a drink. After seeing them to bed around 7:00pm, I drove away to find a bar. One drink became many and it was well after midnight by the time I drove back.  I found them lying wide awake, hugging each other in the bed.  I asked "why are you still awake?" My elder daughter Stephanie replied "Dad, Victoria was scared, we did not know when you would be back" I can see the picture of her innocent face, scared eyes, and dogged determination to comfort her sister as if it were yesterday. What father would leave his daughters, aged twelve and nine, in a strange place, to huddle alone, for endless hours, in fear.

It was a masseur who finally got through to me. I arrived for my treatment hung over, blood red eyes and reeking of wine. He looked at me and said "If you carry on like this you will die ... (noise)  ... you need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for help”. He was a drug and alcohol counselor who did massage to help make a few extra dollars. How I got from his massage couch on Tuesday, to my first AA meeting the following Sunday is for another time.  Stopping drinking is easy. It is staying stopped that is difficult. At the heart of AA is a simple program that leads to spiritual awakening. It states that God can and will relieve the desire to drink. This aspect of the program is broad indeed; it only requires that you identify God as a power greater than yourself.