Giving up is conceding that things will never get better, and that is just not true. Ups and downs are a constant in life, and I’ve been belted into that roller coaster a thousand times.
By Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin Ph.D.
A few mornings ago, when I woke up, I realized that fifty-six years of my life have passed. A few days later, my thunder buddy, my little dog of twelve years had to be put down because of a tumor. I’m disabled, in a wheelchair, needing three operations. I live in a small apartment with my other two dogs and a personal aide and his dog. I spend most of my time alone with my dogs, writing, listening to music, and thinking about how I can continue to change the world for the better.
I come from a middle-class family of five, one brother, one sister, both older, my mother died six years ago, my father is in a nursing home. My mother was very close to me, a mentor, cheerleader, enabler, coach, and friend. She had gone into the hospital to rehabilitate her leg after a blot clot; she bled to death in front of my sister and me at the hospital. My father didn’t want to go into a nursing home; however, the ministry we founded and lived at closed after twenty years, so he had no choice. My brother lives in Florida with his second wife, and my sister lives in Connecticut with her fourth husband.
If I were to describe my life, I would have to say it has been a rollercoaster ride through Heaven and Hell where at times I’m not sure which is which? My childhood was quiet, non-eventful other than I skipped more school days than I attended. I didn’t let people in; I kept everyone at arm’s length. I just didn’t trust people. Mom was an active alcoholic during my youth; she found Alcoholics Anonymous and never looked back. Mom died with over forty-years of sobriety! In sixth grade, I played football; I was three times the size of the rest of the kids, so I did well as a tackle on offense and defense. One of my buddies died over a weekend off from school. They said, “He died cleaning his shotgun!” I still think he committed suicide, how do you shoot yourself in the mouth cleaning a loaded shotgun? In Junior High School, I became more active in sports, football, basketball, lacrosse, and track.
During the summers, I would hang out with my sister’s husband from Italy; he owned a tailor shop in town. I had no interest in tailoring, but he was a gambler, and I had a great deal of interest in gambling. His friend Jules was a liquor-store owner and the local bookie; I spent a good amount of time in her store too, usually stocking shelves. They would get together with their friends a few nights a week for poker games and let me play when I was in Junior High. I had a few friends my age, but I didn’t trust anyone.
High School was an amazing adventure for me! I lettered in three sports, wrestling, football, and track; I wrestled varsity all four years of High School. I made a few friends, but my school had a bunch of clicks. I stayed on the outskirts of a few of the clicks but didn’t let anyone get to know me. I didn’t start drinking alcohol until my senior year; most of the kids drank at parties after football games and on weekends. I was short of enough credits to graduate with my class, so my guidance counselor let me go on a work study at night, to make up the credits. The job that I landed for my work study was a bartender and bouncer at a local bar and restaurant in town. I was eighteen when I was a senior, and back then the drinking age was eighteen. That bar became the local hotspot! I became quite popular for all of the wrong reasons.
I had the graduation party for my graduating class at my parent’s house which was actually in the next town over by my senior year. It was the town that our school was rivals with, so it made for an interesting graduation party. I told my parents that a few kids were coming over to celebrate graduation; they didn’t know that a few would mean over six hundred! Surprisingly, the party went off with only one incident where a girl that was intoxicated fell in the woods and broke her ankle. There were at least seven kegs, open bar, food, a tent, and a live band at the party. We didn’t have a cracker left in my parent’s house by the time it was over; they ate everything!
Turning to Alcohol
I continued in the bar and restaurant business after High School until I became a full-time police officer in the town where I grew up. Once I was hired, after all of the testing, the town sent me and two others to the academy; I finished at the top of my class and did quite well; however, I broke my ankle in a three-mile race for police officers when I stepped in a pothole. I did attend some Community College; I had a 4.0 GPA when I left after the semester.
It turned out that I was a periodic binge, blackout drinker. I didn’t drink alcohol every day, every week, or every month, but when I did drink alcohol, it was unpredictable. I never knew if I was going to have one or two, or fifty-two! There are two important questions to ask yourself if you want to determine if you are an alcoholic. The first is, did you ever go out and drink more than you planned to drink? The second is, despite all of the negative consequences that happened as a result of drinking alcohol, did you pick up and do it again? If you can answer yes to one of these questions, the chances are that you are an alcoholic. It would have been easy for me to come up with excuses why I would not qualify as an alcoholic; however, trust me, I was one of the worst kind!
I never consumed alcohol while on duty as a police officer, in fact, I would call out if I even had a hangover. I took the job very seriously to protect and serve the public, and if I didn’t feel that I was at my best, I didn’t go to work. I also coached football, wrestling, and weightlifting while I was a police officer, the same rules applied to drinking and hangovers.
A drunk-driver hit my patrol car at over seventy-miles per hour when my partner and I had stopped at a red light at an intersection. The back of my head broke the steel cage out of the back of the car, and I ended up on the floor in the back. The back of my head looked like a waffle, and my knee was torn up. My partner’s neck was injured. In court, the driver got a slap on the wrist, no jail time, no loss of license.
I managed to total seven cars on my own when I was off duty; I was almost killed four times in blackouts. In the final accident, I was no longer a police officer and almost killed myself and another driver in a head-on crash.
Before the last accident had happened, I had quit the force and moved to South Florida. Even before that, when I was twenty-six, a young lady named Amy introduced me to cocaine at a New Year’s Eve party. She was in the upstairs bathroom calling my high school nickname, “Killer come up here, I have a present for you!” Let’s just say; I thought I was getting something else! I was already pretty hammered when she showed me the mirror with several lines of coke all carefully cut out for her and me to do. I had always been dead against drugs, so I don’t know why I gave in, maybe because I was drunk? I did my first line, and I fell in love, and it wasn’t with Amy! After that, I was off to the races, scoring coke every time I had a couple of nights off.
To Protect and Serve
During my time as a police officer, I had seen the bad side of life too often. The worst was probably the night that the desk Sargent sent me on a call to a residence way out in the woods. When I arrived on the scene, there were dozens of High-School kids walking around crying. Two of my football players grabbed my hand and dragged me up to a staircase in the house. I could see that a party had gone on, there were blender drinks, beer bottles, and hard liquor all over, plates with half-eaten food, the house looked trashed! On the stair was what looked like skull, hair, and brain matter. When I went into the master bedroom at the top of the short staircase, I found a sixteen-year-old boy who had taken his step father’s 30/30 rifle and placed it in his mouth and committed suicide. The story went that his mother and stepfather were going away on vacation and he asked if he could have friends over, and they told him no. This was the dead son’s reply. I had been coaching the sophomore football team at that time, who were the same age as the victim.
A few days later I went to the High School and two of my ball players that were at the house that night asked me if I was coming to the wake. I had not planned to go. They begged me to go with them, somehow, I think they knew that I needed to go as much as they did. When we walked in the room, the mother’s eyes locked on to me and she motioned me to come over to her. She grabbed on to my hand for what seemed like an eternity. She knew I was the last one to see her son before he went into a body bag. It was probably only a few minutes, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. The pain in that mother’s eyes was unbearable to witness! Going to the wake, I’m sure it was good for some closure.
Another day on the job as an officer, a three-hundred and fifty-pound man with mental health problems reportedly had beaten up his eighty-six-year-old mother who was blind and left her laying on the kitchen floor bleeding. We responded to the house and took care of triaging the mother’s medical needs until the ambulance arrived. We searched for the suspect; however, he had left the scene. Later that afternoon, I saw a monster of a man marching down the middle of the street carrying a broomstick like it was a rifle. I locked up my brakes in front of him and exited my patrol vehicle. I approached the man and made a wrestling move called an arm drag on him, to get behind the man, I put an under and an over hook in on him with my hands and threw my legs back, dropping him to the ground. He didn’t know what hit him; however, I smashed my knee up quite badly on the road surface. There was an off-duty officer nearby who helped me apprehend the man and get him in the patrol vehicle.
I was sitting in the control room with an ice pack on my knee when a call came in, reporting a house fire near the police station. I dropped the ice and another officer, and I raced to the scene. There was a small house with a porch that had years’ worth of old furniture, bundles of newspapers, and all kinds of junk. The trees over the house were on fire. Live wires dancing through the yard, and the house was burning. Just then, we heard screams coming from within the house. I took an ax from the car and tried to vent a side window on the house; however, too much pressure had built up. The window exploded in my face; now blinded with blood dripping down my forehead and glass in my eyes; my partner took the ax and tried to chop in the front door. It was a few minutes before I could see again. Just as I could see what was happening, I realized that the roof over my partner’s head was about to collapse on him. I grabbed his gun belt and threw him back over the top of me as the house collapsed. He may have been killed if I had waited for a second longer. The two-people died in the fire. We found out later that the husband had paraplegia and the wife would not leave him. I heard their screams in my head for years. The other officer and I were both taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation and burns. They called us heroes; I felt like a failure!
Finding the Way
I was a young man back then without coping skills for this type of thing, so I turned to alcohol to drown out the pain. I saw many horrible and gruesome things over my time as a police officer. I drowned the pain in alcohol, and the coke allowed me to drink three times as much without blacking out. I left the department because I was afraid they would find out about my drinking and drug use.
I stayed in South Florida for a year and then came home. My last motor-vehicle accident was the worst of all; it was a head on between my conversion van and a pick-up truck. I broke my leg and had a bunch of cuts and bruises, and the other man had a grocery list of horrible injuries.
I went to rehab for the third time but this time it was different, I listened! It will be twenty-one years this December since my last drink or line. In sobriety, I accomplished many things, helped many people to get sober, and became a son again. Most importantly, God is back in my life.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if will even get here, but that’s not on my plate for today. I won’t say that I don’t have moments of stark terror because I do; my faith is stronger than any fear once I sort things out though. I have a hand-full of friends and a couple of family members that I’m in touch with. My life is far from perfect, but it is what it is for today!
Rev. Dr. K.T. Coughlin Ph.D.
Rev. Kevin T. Coughlin Ph.D., DCC, DDVA, DLC, DD, NCIP, NCAMP, IMAC
Reverend Coughlin is a Founder and the Director of New Beginning Ministry, Inc., an evidence-based, twelve-step residential addiction recovery program for adults that is accredited by the A.A.C.T.. Rev. Coughlin has helped thousands of people to change their lives over the past eighteen plus years. He is an Addiction Expert, Blogger/Writer at Addicted Minds and VIP Interventions, and a Professional Associate member of Gemini Behavioral Health. He is a two-time World Champion and nine-time National Champion and State and National Record holder power lifter, a gentle giant who has championed many in his career.
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