Sleeping by a Dumpster

By DeWayne R., U.S. Air Force, Ret.

Three years, six months and ten days ago (not that I’m counting), I was sleeping by a dumpster behind the bar where I drank for 35 years. I woke up in my normal stupor, got on one knee and said, “God help me.”

I called my wife and asked her for a ride to the VA. That decision changed my life forever.

Until then, I had no purpose. Yes, I had been fairly successful in life. I retired twice, first after 21 years in the Air Force and later as an instructor for a local community college. I had two retirement pensions. I also qualified for Social Security. Money was not the problem – living life on life’s terms was the problem.

During my 50 years of drinking, I’d had a few short periods of abstinence. Until I learned the difference between abstinence and recovery, I was going nowhere fast.


My difficult journey began at a very young age, starting with a dysfunctional family and continuing with my addicted friends. I had been to at least five of the best rehab programs available during my Air Force career and my civilian life. I have done everything an alcoholic does in their addiction – and maybe more than some alcoholics – so I will not bore you with my drunk-a-log. My journey into recovery started when I found myself homeless (by choice), broke and depressed.

In all those years, it took one man who explained to me what my problem was; he was an addiction therapist for the VA Substance Abuse Treatment Program (SUDTP). This man told me I did not ever have to drink again as long as I lived.

I looked at him and said, “How can you say that to me? Drinking is what I have done for over 50 years – how can this be true?”

He told me, “The problem is that you don’t know how not to drink. I am going to give you the truth and the tools [to not drink], and you are going to do the work if you really want recovery.”

All of a sudden, a switch flipped in my brain. What he was telling me made sense, and I knew I ought to listen to this man. This was my first step to an effective recovery. Once I became teachable and accepted my addiction, I moved forward into a new life. I took my addiction out of my brain and put it into my heart.

I checked myself into the VA SUDTP, which was so freely offered to me. In this program I was exposed to “reliable treatment” (the truth about me). I attended numerous groups and therapy sessions that pulled me out of denial and quit believing the lies I was telling myself. While having gratitude for what God had allowed to happen in my life, I learned to love and respect myself and others. The book of my life cannot be rewritten, but the ending can be changed.

My life now changes each day, each hour and each moment because I am involved in the lives of other individuals in successful recovery. My relationships with my children and grandchildren have become ones of trust and respect. I am no longer dishonest and self-centered about who I am. I am now very aware of my triggers, thoughts and emotions and I have the tools, knowledge and desire to stay sober.

My wife, who has stood by me for 48 years, got the brunt of my addiction and the heartache that accompanied it. This caused her suffering and pain that was undeserved, though she was always there to support me in whatever path I took. It is no surprise that today she loves me cautiously, even after my period of time in recovery.

My day begins with a prayer that God will help me not to drink, lie, steal, cheat or hurt someone. Each day I ask Him to put someone in my life whom I can help. At the age of 69, I do not have enough time left to make up for the pain I have caused the people I love and who love me. But I have made my amends and with that, I am moving on in my life of recovery.

I now understand that giving in to my addiction means death to me and pain for the people I love. Recovery is the real-life experience keeping me within God’s grace and direction. My recovery is a lifelong journey, and I want it.

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