23 October, 2006

Enlistment & Alcohol

Mark up another victory for SGT Guardsman vs. MEPS! As I said before, the waiver for my girl who went down earlier this month was approved and she finally enlisted on Friday! She was very excited when she enlisted and can't wait for next drill. It is always amazing to see this transformation every recruit goes through.

When they go down to MEPS they're all really nervous, and rightly so! They are making a HUGE step in life and there is a lot of unknown that they're about to go through. I feel as though I brief my applicants very well on what happens at MEPS. However it doesn't matter how much I explain it because it is an experience that they've never had before so they're still nervous about what to expect. On the car ride down there every applicant acts different - some are quiet and closed off, others nervously talk my ear off about anything and everything. But no matter how they act on the way down, the second they go through that swear-in ceremony they act completely differently. They're ecstatic! They can't wait till their first drill, they want their first uniform right that second, and they can't wait to go home and tell everyone they know they just enlisted in the Army National Guard! That change and their attitude puts a good feeling in my heart every time.....

SFC B recently talked about Draggin and how depressing recruiting can become. All I can say is that I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I too have felt the loneliness that is recruiting. I too have felt that my life is nothing but recruiting. I think it is something that every recruiter goes through - and it's amazing the things we find ourselves doing. At one point I had to go see a chiropractor (which TriCare doesn't pay for) and I chose one solely because his son wanted to join the Guard and his parents wouldn't sign the PC. At times it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But getting past this is something every recruiter has to do because it will end up destroying you.

I've seen recruiter's marriages go bad because of the job. I've seen recruiter's health go bad because of the hours they work. I've seen seasoned veterans break down and cry because of the pressure of this job. And, worst of all, I've seen recruiter's lives go down the drain because they "nurtured" themselves through all this with the bottle. I realize now that at one point I fell victim to that game.

Many people who know me will be surprised about what I'm about to write - sorry if something is shocking but I feel I should exercise theses demons.

When I became a recruiter I moved to a pretty small town in northwestern Minnesota. I moved up here with no family and no friends ready to do my part in building the greatest fighting force this world has ever known. Having nothing else to do, I worked. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and it started to wear on me. I lived and breathed recruiting 24 hours a day. I tried to help myself by going and visiting my family more often. Surprisingly this only made me more depressed. It made me depressed because I saw everyone's lives moving on while mine was stuck in the stalemate of recruiting. They would talk about their friends, the latest funny thing that their kids did, the vacation they just took, last week's softball games (I'm talking about you Troy), the movie they went to with their other half, and all the other every day things people talk about. I, on the other hand, had only work to talk about. By July 2005, not even 1 full year into my initial tour, I had been driven to the breaking point. I hated my life, my command was driving me insane, and could tell it was only getting worse.

I submitted my resignation letter, wanting to go back to being a one-weekend-a-month soldier and go back to college. I was ahead of mission at the time so this really through my command through a loop. I had many meetings with the powers that be and was told that my resignation would be accepted. On almost my 1 year anniversary I met with my battalion commander and was told I could not resign. We talked a lot about some of the problems I was having. Some advice was given, some promises were made, and I was ordered to go talk to the Chaplin. Talk to the Chaplin I did, but that did not seem to help much either. Since nothing else I started to drink heavily to help with my sorrows.

I tried to be a responsible person and be very professional every day and quickly settled into a routine with my drinking. Monday through Friday was work time. That's what I focused on from 8am Monday to about 5pm Friday. I knew I needed to have my "A game" every day and couldn't do that trying to sober up every morning. The weekends and MEPS trips were a different story however.

When I went to MEPS that was my time to not worry about the pressures of recruiting. I had done the hard part already and now the fate of the applicant was out of my hands and in the hands of the MEPS doctor. That was my time to party and forget about recruiting for several hours. And boy did I party! There are many MEPS trips where I don't remember anything after checking into my hotel to the time I checked out of my hotel. There were the times down there where I completely embarrassed myself and disgraced the service I've dedicated my life to. There were the times where I couldn't believe the things I did (Hell... I've got time for that - a joke only my family would understand. Not my proudest moment I might ad). I still remember the times when I had to pick something up at my HQ, trying to sneak in and out without talking to my team commander or sergeant major so they wouldn't smell the booze on me. I still remember not going into MEPS till I had to so the MEPS guidance counselors wouldn't smell me either. All that so I could have a night of "fun" only to feel even worse the next morning.

The weekends were very similar to my MEPS trips at this point. I would go out every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights to have more time to swallow my sorrows away. Sometimes I'd be smart and walk home, sometimes I wouldn't. As with the MEPS trips I still remember all the times I embarrassed myself after finding out what I did the night before. I still remember not going to drill till noon so I would be sober and not smell of booze and cigarettes. This was all a never ending cycle till one fateful night.

December 18th, 2005 I was at the VFW as I usually am on Sunday nights. I was having a good time with the few acquaintances I'd made in my town when the bar closed down. I thought I was good to drive and started the 4 block journey home. As I pulled in my driveway I saw the cherries light up behind me. The state trooper asked me how much I had to drink and I told him I thought I only had 4 drinks since 9:30pm (It was now about 2am on December 19th). He asked me to step out of my vehicle and did some field sobriety tests. Next came the breathalyzer. .082% is what he told me I blew - the legal limit is .08%. Thinking back to that night I can still feel my heart skip a beat as I heard him say those words. I told him it was my fault and was ready to go to jail for the night. He told me that since I was already home he'd give me a break this time - but it better not happen again. As lucky as I was, that night changed my life forever.

I literally did not sleep for the next 2 days, nor did I do much of anything else. I turned off the cell phone and laid in bed thinking - for at least 48 hours straight. I didn't eat, I didn't sleep. I cried a lot and beat myself up a lot. I looked at what drinking had brought me - nothing but embarrassment and sorrow. I looked at what drinking could have cost me - everything.

I knew that if I had gotten that DWI I would have lost my job as I would have lost my license. If I had lost my job, I would have been discharged - ruining me financially and making college all but impossible. I knew that if I had gotten that DWI I could have never looked my family in the face again. After all the preaching I had done in years past about alcohol, going and getting a DWI would have been so hypocritical and I didn't think my family would ever respect me again. In my eyes, I would have been the family disgrace, the black sheep that nobody wants to admit that they're related to, the one that destroyed the family name.

I decided at that point that I needed to stop drinking except the rare special occasion like weddings or family reunions. I've made some major changes in my life, allowing for a lot more "me" time and cutting down on some of the "work" time. I learned that this job will eat you alive if you let it. It's important that you do something for you every day, however so small. At the same time I see that it is important for you to do something with your wife or girlfriend every day lest you want the relationship to go sour. I haven't been without my falls either.

The first time I drank since December 19th, 2005 was May 3rd, 2006. That was the worst night I've ever had in my life - the night alcohol made me crazy. That was the night I told a few of my team mates that I wanted to sell my soul to the devil because God has done nothing for me and probably hates me - and I hated him back. That was the night I told my NCOIC that I was a shitty NCO and didn't deserve to be in the Army. That was the night that I told my SGM that he should do the Army a favor and reach across the table and choke me to death. That was the night that I told my SGM that I am worried I will kill myself. That was the night I got kicked out of 4 bars in a town of nothing but bars because I was too drunk. That was the night my team mates lost me and my SGM had to call the local detox centers and jails to see if I was there the next morning. The next morning was the morning that my team commander told me I looked "like walking death" - I'm always the guy who always has the best looking uniform and had the shiniest boots and that is always reflected on my NCOERs. That next morning was the most embarrassing morning in my life after I had found out all the things I had said and done the night before. The day after that was the day that I had to explain to my NCOIC and my SGM that I wasn't going to kill myself and was not sure where all this had come from, I had to explain that I was seriously temporarily crazy. The day after that was the day the BN Chaplin called and wanted to talk about me wanting to sell my soul and my apparent hatred for God. That was the day I first realized that maybe I just shouldn't drink at all.

I fell off the wagon once more at my family reunion and embarrassed myself even more - all but putting the final nail in the coffin of my drinking. The next and last time I ever drank after that was the one beer I had at my cousin's wedding in September - I felt like crap after I had that beer and haven't ever drank after that.

It was a rough road to go down but I'm glad I've come to this point in my life. The hardest part is my friends back home and other people who just don't understand that I don't drink any more. Why people can't accept this I don't know. I really don't want to hear "Come on.... just one won't hurt you" or "This isn't the SGT Guardsman I know, just have one drink with me" anymore. I'm to the point where I can comfortably go to the bar and drink pop and not feel the need to have a drink any more.

Looking back, I realize that I was pretty much an alcoholic. Not something I'm proud of, but hopefully somebody can learn from my mistakes and make better life choices than I did. Through all of this I've learned a lot about myself and a lot about life. I obviously learned that drinking will not solve any problems in the long run, it'll only make your problems worse. In the end, I think I'm a better soldier and NCO because of all this. And, most importantly, I think I'm a better person because of all this. Finally, while writing this I realized something that I can honestly say that I AM proud of is my sobriety.

-SGT Guardsman


Anonymous said...

Be proud that you do not drink. Those individual that make the offer of buying you one are wishing they can be like you, they just don't have the guts. I Recruited for better than 16 years and I felt good when I turned down the alcohol. I controled myself, not letting others or the bottle do it for me. I am prouid of you.

"Ole Sarge"