Brian's Story

Brian’s Story

I am not certain I could have planned the twists and turns my life has taken over the years.  I’m also not certain I would change the twists and turns my life as taken to this point if I could.  You see, I am happy in my own skin today.  I have learned to live life in the moment regardless of whether it is “good” or “bad”.  One day at a time – ODAAT – has become my mantra.

I was born on the Winter Solstice in Minnesota in 1950.  I am the oldest of four siblings born to Earl and Beverly.  I have one brother and two sisters.  We grew up on a farm near a small, rural community in the West-Central part of the state.  It is a beautiful area of rolling hills, woodlands, and many lakes. 

My Father farmed as well as worked full-time for the Soo Line Railroad.   This meant that it seemed as if he was working ALL the time.  My mother was a high-school English teacher and librarian as well as running our household. So she worked seemingly ALL the time also.  That being written, there were family camping vacations around the region as well as time spent hunting and fishing.

It seems that I don’t have many childhood memories.  Those I do recall are not bad ones.  I was relatively well-behaved until my mid-teens.  I began smoking tobacco and drinking alcoholic beverages about the age of fifteen.  And once I experienced the tranquilizing effect of the EtOH, I began my quest to imbibe as often and as much as I could.  Drinking until drunk, drinking into blackouts became the norm.  I have since come to realize that EtOH was my medicine for my “restless, irritable, and discontent” life, and the quest for relief from those symptoms lasted almost thirty years. 

I don’t recall why an education in Pharmacy was my chosen path.  My one and only Uncle Don was a Pharmacist at the time with a community pharmacy in Arizona.  I don’t remember how my parents and I chose which school to attend – the University of Minnesota or North Dakota State University.  I do know that I enrolled at NDSU in the Fall of 1968.  The five years I spent at NDSU culminating in my BS Pharm degree in the Spring of 1973 are memories fuzzily imprinted in my brain – memories clouded by years that have passed since then and by the ingestion of the many substances to change the way I was feeling.

I played the French Horn in the Marching Band and the Concert Band for the first four years there.  I joined a social fraternity beginning in my sophomore year – and that served as a great place to continue my consumption of mind and mood-altering substances every chance I had.  I became an “equal opportunity abuser of substances” i.e. anything that would change the way that I felt.

My fifth and last year of Pharmacy School was memorable for several reasons.  I gave up playing in the NDSU Band to go to work as a bartender at Fargo’s only topless bar – a conjoined setup of two bars called the Fabulous Five Spot and the Take Five Lounge.  Working there was an education in itself.  And in December of 1972 I also was introduced to the lady who I began to pursue with the same fervor that I pursued substances. 

Looking back on this time in my life – getting ready to leave school for the “real world” – I credit this lady for slowing the headlong rush of my substance use to the gates of Hell.  I accepted a job in Kentucky with a drugstore chain.  Moving so far away from her – she still had another year of school remaining – and to a place where I knew no one was frightening to me. 

I managed to control my drinking in the year I was in Kentucky awaiting her graduation.  I proposed.  She accepted my proposal of marriage, and we planned a wedding for early August of 1974.  June and July of that year are highlighted in my mind.  I took licensing exams in both Indiana and Kentucky at the request of my employer.  Early in July I learned that I’d passed my exams in Indiana.  And then on 17 July 1974 I received two news flashes: 1) I had passed my exams in Kentucky and 2) my Mother had been killed in a motor vehicle accident along with one of my great aunts. 

I began a drive to Minnesota from Kentucky the next day - about a week earlier than planned.  And it was a trip of mixed emotions – sadness for the loss of my Mom and great aunt as well as happiness and hope for the future with the wedding set for 4 August. 

The double funeral was on a hot July day.  I don’t remember a lot of that event or the time leading up to the travel to New Rockford, ND for the wedding.  The wedding was on a Sunday in a church with no A/C with temperatures in the 80s.  The reception was cake and punch in the church basement.  Our honeymoon was a drive back to Louisville in a two passenger Opel GT also with no A/C. 

We began our life together in an apartment on Flirtation Walk.  She worked.  I worked.  Life was good.  Drinking was controlled pretty much when I did drink.  And I didn’t drink every day.  I stayed with the drugstore chain for two years until a friend and I were offered the opportunity to run a pharmacy owned by two brothers who were in the grocery business in LaGrange, KY. 

My drinking remained mostly under control while I channeled some of my addictive behaviors into compulsive running.  For some fifteen years I ran distance races up to and including one of fifty miles.  I even branched into triathlons.  My first “taste” of opioids came when I had a major bicycle accident while training for a triathlon in 1986.  A shattered shoulder and compression fracture of my neck required a couple of surgeries and pain medications.  I don’t remember too much of what they did to my brain at that time, however I do believe the pump was primed.

Other life altering events were happening about this same time period in the 1980s.  I left community pharmacy practice in 1981 to take a position as Pharmacy Supervisor for the KY Department of Corrections.  Our first biological son was born in 1984.  In 1986, I received a call from the KY Pharmacists Association office asking if I’d like to come to a newly forming committee meeting that would be dedicated to helping pharmacists with drug/alcohol problems.  I agreed to attend.  I was elected chairman of the committee, and to this day I don’t know whose idea it was to invite me and why.  In 1987 our second biological son was born. I was sent to various conferences around the country to learn more about addiction to better learn how to help those I was tasked to serve.  I went to an AMA sponsored one in Chicago in 1987.  And I was sent to the University of Utah School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies in 1988.

That Utah trip marked what was to become a turning point in my life - one that has saved my life.  I met some folks there who helped me come to the realization that I might have a problem of my own with substances.  I returned from the trip with the promise made to them that I would see a professional to have an evaluation.  I contacted the EAP for my employer (the state) and had a couple of sessions with a Social Worker.  The diagnosis was – maybe or maybe not!  So…whoopee…I didn’t have to quit drinking… or did I?  I was supposed to be “Mr Sobriety” the go-to fellow if you needed help in the pharmacy profession. 

Thus began my double life - the poster boy for help all the while hiding my own use.  I loved what I had learned about 12-Step living while in Utah.  So I began attending Al-Anon since I was working with folks who had alcohol or drug problems.  My head was so mixed up.  And then I volunteered to be a subject in an FDA study on PRK for correction of eyesight.  Laser burning to sculpt the cornea = opioid medication after each of five surgeries.  And then debilitating problems with my feet from all those years of running meant three foot surgeries with opioid pain medications.  I had found my answer to life.  I had found my medicine to replace alcohol.  You cannot smell opioids on one’s breath, and I felt better than I’d ever felt before using EtOH.  I rationalized that others could have a drink or two to unwind after a rough day at work so why couldn’t I have hydrocodone or oxycodone or morphine? 

I had reached the point of “incomprehensible demoralization” that is mentioned in the book “ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS” by the time the University of Utah School rolled around again in 1995.  I made a pledge to myself that I wouldn’t take any drugs with me as I left to again attend the school.  I didn’t.  I was VERY uncomfortable there that year.  And as soon as I returned home I was right back at the pills = more months of hell on earth.

27 November 1995 is my other birthday = my second chance at life.  I’d come home from work, taken my “medicine” to unwind and the phone rang.  It was a pharmacist calling to say he’d just been arrested and needed my help.  It was then that I had what is to me a true spiritual experience.  I heard a voice tell me that I knew what to do - that I didn’t have to live this way any longer.  The answer to my problem could be found in 12-Step recovery. 

And it has been found there.  My life today is one that is happy, joyous, and free.  Not all the time – most of the time.  I’ve learned to live my life in the day in the moment.  I have in my life a spouse who has stayed with me through all of this along with two biological sons and two adopted sons who are from South Africa who enrich my life.  I am active in my recovery as well as in helping others to achieve and maintain their recovery.  I am active in organized religion.  The worship of a God of my understanding in church is synergistic with the spiritual relationship I have with the God of my understanding that comes from my 12-step recovery practice.

My personal and professional life today is not what I would or could have predicted all those years ago upon graduation from NDSU.  I would not change what has brought me to this point in my life.  I’ve worked to make amends to those I’ve hurt along the way, and I’m comfortable today in my own skin.    

May peace be with you.  Brian