Episode 151: Tom S.

Tom S. was the featured speaker on January 5, 2019. Originally from Alabama, Tom shared his story of addiction and recovery. After he spoke, an interesting discussion ensued on the topic of the primary purpose in AA and whether or not drug addicts are welcomed to attend AA meetings.


Well, thanks for coming, everyone. And my name is Tom and I’m an addict.

And that’s probably one of the things that I want to address first, is that I’m always a little bit hesitant to speak at an AA meeting because I don’t have a drinking history that is going to be very involved, but it was almost exclusively drugs for me and I apologize if, because of that, you can’t relate or anything, like, you know anything like that. So I grew up in a small town in South Alabama, about 10,000 people, and so a pretty normal elementary school and high school. And I had always had a girlfriend all through elementary school. And really, I did all through high school, but along about puberty… So I began to realize my attraction to other boys, men.

So in my town, when you leave sixth grade, you go straight to high school. And I was just terrified of this, going to high school. Because in the seventh grade, you have all grades. I had seniors in my physical education class when I was in high school. I was in the seventh grade, and the rumor was that the seventh graders were all going to have their pants ripped off and run up the flagpole. So that was a fear too. However, soon I began to enjoy physical education as it was a chance for me to peer at other boys and everything. And I was kind of realizing that a lot… What I was hoping it was was a phase. But I didn’t know anything about it or anything like that. So I was hoping that it might go away one day and that everybody… Maybe everybody goes through a phase like this. But it didn’t go away, and of course, I’ve always joked that in my town, like being gay would be akin to, or let me put it this way, I always used to say that the guy who robbed the liquor store and shot the clerk would be more respected than a gay person in my town. So of course, I kept that all quiet. And whether… And this will come up because it has… My story has a lot to do with… My story with drugs has a lot to do with sex.

So in college, I smoked some marijuana in my freshman year, but I didn’t get off. But finally, I kind of came out in the summer of my… Between my junior and senior year in college, and had sex for the first time, and started going to Atlanta. I went to school at Auburn, which is in Alabama, and it’s about two hours from Atlanta. So I started going to Atlanta a lot. And so I would go to Atlanta on Friday night, stay ’till the bars closed, and then come back, go to a football game on a Saturday. Then go back to Atlanta on Saturday night, and stay ’til the bars closed. Like rolling down windows and doing all kinds of things to keep myself awake, while I was doing all that driving. I was given pot, and so in my senior year, I got off on pot. And I… I had been drinking, and I noticed all during my fraternity parties, and all that, that other guys seemed to get a lot more fun out of it than I did. Because I would get… When I got to where I could feel it, I would enjoy it for about an hour or so, and then I’d get really hungry, and I’d want to eat. And then I’d want to go to sleep. And then the next day, it was always at least, a 24-hour recovery for me. There was no question about after I had been drunk, was I going to go to class the next day or anything like that. I was praying to the porcelain goddess the entire day.

So when I discovered pot, that was like, “Oh, now, I’ve got something that I can do at parties.” But immediately, my friends changed. And this was back in 1973, ’74, and so it was kind of like… So okay, I became a person that… You were cool if you smoked pot. And you kind of like would say, “Hey, do you smoke?” “Oh, yeah, I smoke,” all this kind of stuff. But I abandoned my other friends. And so, I was in ROTC in college, and so I immediately went into the Air Force right after college. I was a pretty big whoop-de-do in ROTC in college. I was like the cadet commander of Air Force, Army, Navy, ROTC for this big presentation celebration, and all this kind of stuff, even though I had begun smoking pot and hitting the gay bars on the weekends. And so when I got into the Air Force, I was going to go… I was in pilot training, and so while I was flying these planes with an instructor and all that kind of stuff, I thought, “This is not going to be a very good pot-smoking job.”


So, I was thinking… I began to think about working and, “What do I want to do, that would be a good pot-smoking job?” And so, and immediately by the way, when I started smoking pot, I never expected as much from me after that. It was like my whole self-esteem or what I thought that I might become, all of that was never the same. So I was thinking, “Huh, truck driver, I bet that would be a good pot-smoking job.” Especially since I seemed to have a joint everywhere I went in the car [chuckle] which is ridiculous. So, Douglas, maybe you can identify with that and I mean because it’s just… It’s dangerous for that too, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I eliminated myself from pilot training and became an administrative officer.

But right the night before I started pilot training, I need to go back. That was the… I used to go, I was stationed in Selma, Alabama, of all places, and I used to go to Atlanta on the weekends. And so, I was at this guy who let me stay at his house when I would go to Atlanta and he was having a party, and he gave me, there was a little bit of powder on the end of a knife and he gave it to me just to swallow. And so that was when I first discovered meth. And we never mentioned the word meth back then, we always called it crystal. A nice, a nice-sounding word. And so, I thought… And I identified, like, here’s the point where I identify a lot with people whose drug of choice is alcohol, because immediately I thought, “Where has this been all my life? I know what’s wrong with me. This must be how normal people feel.”

And so, I was… I felt better-looking, I was a better conversationalist. I had deep conversations that night with people that I couldn’t stand. And I just thought this was… I’ve said this before that, “So what’s wrong with me is I’ve been suffering from a meth deficiency, a crystal deficiency.” And so I thought that that was the answer. And of course, it turned on me, I got caught during the Air Force, in the Air Force with a test, a urine test. They called it Operation Golden Flow. And [chuckle] so I got caught and I lied my way out. The base commander called me in and he said, “There were two positives in the test and the lieutenant saw one of them was yours.” And I go, “Mine, why?” He said, “Well, you tested positive for amphetamine.” So I go, “Amphetamine!” [chuckle]

“What could that be?” And I said, “Oh, well, I was in Vancouver.” I was stationed in the upper Washington state right on the Canadian border. I said, “Well, I was in Vancouver the other last week, and I was going to go skiing the next day, and a guy gave me this diet pill, and he said, ‘This diet pill’, he said, ‘Take this and you won’t be tired.'” And I said, “I thought a diet pill was just something you could buy. I didn’t know that it was anything wrong with that.” Just lying through my teeth the whole time, knowing exactly what it was. So I had to pee for a month in the… Every week for a month, but I did get myself out of that. But even during that month, I was thinking of all kinds of ways, like, “How could I scheme to be able to do some crystal and not get caught in the urinalysis?”

But, so after I got out of the Air Force, I went back, went to graduate school. And I was only there a couple of quarters, and then I dropped out and I moved to Atlanta, which is where my disease really took off and where I found that I could purchase it for a pretty cheap price, and so there it began to affect my work. I would… And in 1980, I went to my first meeting and it was an NA meeting. And I was talking about this the other night, I think, that I couldn’t identify with anybody in that meeting. And there was a smoke-filled room and people brought their children, who they needed to bring their children in order to get to a meeting. And so I looked down on them for bringing children into a smoky room like that. And I hated the part where you said, “I’m Joe, and I’m an addict,” and everybody goes, “Hi, Joe.” I just thought that was just cheesy, but anyway.

I went to meetings on and off, and finally, in 1986, I went to treatment. And I went to a treatment center that a lot of medical people went to. And after the treatment, it was a 30-day treatment, and I went into a halfway house, and this is not the halfway house like you might think is a halfway house, where you have to pay dearly to get into it. And then, I had, there was a three-quarter house which meant that you could work. So, I did all of that, and I began a period of sobriety that lasted for, I think, around 17 years. And this was in… It started in 1986. I met some people in treatment that I became close with, and I moved to Kansas City after I had celebrated one year sober, and started going to meetings in Kansas City.

I’d go to Live and Let Live. And the main meeting that I went here was on Friday night, down at the… There’s a church, Grace and Holy Trinity. You saw me there, I think. And it was a meeting where nobody new ever came in, and it, we would talk for a few minutes, and if, unless something was bothering anybody, we would adjourn to the Chinese restaurant, which was down the street from where we met. And I mean, it was kind of good because a lot of good talk, a lot of good recovery comes in the coffees and the dinners after the meeting and all of that.

But anyway. I had a good job at, I was working for Sprint, here, and so I had kind of a meteoric rise through the ranks of Sprint, and was making good money. And so at some point, I started… Sobriety started losing its priority with me, and I started thinking about all of the… How sex was not that great, and I wasn’t having any. I wasn’t motivated to go out to have any, and I was thinking, “Here I am, a red-blooded American gay male, and it’s Saturday night, and I don’t even want to go out and hunt, on the hunt.” So eventually, I mean, that’s what took me back out. I decided that I deserved it, I’ve been sober for a long time, and I deserved it.

And so it started kind of with the drug that I was being prescribed for… I started taking anti-depressants, well, Prozac back in 1990. It was, it did wonders for me. I did not continue talk therapy, because I thought, “Okay, this is what I needed, so I don’t need to do that anymore.” So it was extremely helpful, but not helpful enough that, and I wasn’t involved in the program enough for it to keep me sober. So I was prescribed this, I asked for if there was anything for ADD that wasn’t addictive, and so they prescribed this drug for me.

And I won’t even tell you the name of it so I won’t give anybody any ideas. And it was, but anyway, I started with one a day, and then two a day, and two a day was my dosage. And pretty soon I was taking eight a day, and so on, and I was telling the pharmacist that I needed a refill because I was going out of town. And, you know, so I became addicted to this drug, and I finally told the psychiatrist that. And it turns out that this particular drug for people, who are addicted to crystal methedrine, it really kind of mimics the effect of that.

So, but that took me back out to crystal. And I stayed out a few years, and along about 19, let’s see, no, 2007. I was not doing well at work, I had a meteoric rise and I was beginning to miss assignments, I was beginning to show up late, and I had a talking to from Human Resources and my manager about what was going on and I said, “Yeah, I realize that you know, I’ll straighten up,” all this kind of stuff and… But, so there was this test that, I was trying to pass this test for project management they used to call the PMP, and when I failed that test for the third time I finally decided to confess to Sprint what was going on, because, I mean, I was an excellent student, like summa cum laude all this kind of stuff. And each time I thought I had passed this test with flying colors. So I didn’t want them to think I was stupid, so I finally told them that I was addicted and all this kind of stuff and I went to treatment.

And so, Sprint was going to have layoffs around that time and it was the year that I had had this particular issue and performance was going to be what the layoffs were based on, so I decided that I would take a package, which meant that I could volunteer to be laid off, and ended up getting paid for a year not to work, which was just a wonderful time to use when you didn’t have to be anywhere in the morning and you could be sick and not go to work but nobody was expecting you or anything, and I was going to do all the stuff like work on my recovery, and my acting and all this while I was not working, and it turned out that it just got really, really, really bad. So I tried several times to go back to meetings and I would get a few months put together and finally, in 2008, right, in July of 2008, after a bender of about four days, you don’t… You keep going, you don’t want to stop, you don’t want to sleep.

I called my old sponsor and told him that I wanted to quit, he immediately fired me and he told me who that I thought should be my sponsor, who he thought should be my sponsor. I thought it was a terrible idea, but it was kind of a turning point for me because it was the first time that I actually did anything that I was told to do that I didn’t think that that was the way I wanted to work my program, so I asked the person that he told to be my sponsor. So, that started this period of sobriety. Now, this period of sobriety is much better for me than any period of sobriety that I’ve… All during that 17 years, I was probably maybe sober for five to seven years of that and then maybe on a dry drunk the rest of the time I just wasn’t using, but this time things began to click for me, and it took a long time, it took over a year before the psychic change happened, where I started working at Garmin, and some of you have heard me tell this before, but I hated my job at Garmin and my supervisor, when we did our first annual review, he asked me what were my goals for the next year, and I said to get another job.


And I’ve had some level promotions, but basically, 10 years later, I am still doing that same job at Garmin, and along about a year, a little over a year, I began to think about how I like the people I was working with and how I was helping people because I was helping people with their products that they were having problems with and… So, and I had a lot of… When I was at Sprint, I was on projects that lasted years and then they would decide, you know, you’d be two years into it and they’d decide it was a loser and but from a business case perspective, and so they would just cancel it. So I had… Each call from me to a customer was a chance to end something, to start something and finish something every day. So and then about… I can’t remember how long ago if it was three or four years ago, I found this group, and I kind of was looking for this group, because at my home group, which was Live and Let Live, every now and then they would get this wild hair and decide that they needed to be true to AA and not have any addicts at the meeting and stuff. So I started looking for it, and I remember going to John and talking to John about it, and I think even when I wasn’t here, maybe you talked to other people about, whether you thought that would be okay. And so I’m extremely grateful for the fact that you guys let me come here to an AA meeting and say that I’m an addict and participate and reap the benefits of it.

I say that during this period of sobriety, the part of the promises that have come true for me is the part about, “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.” So being a card-carrying speed freak, when I first started in AA, serenity just didn’t sound like anything that I really wanted anyway. [laughter] That was like quiet and sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch and all that kind of stuff, but you know, I finally in this period of sobriety learned that peace, I describe it as having peace whether I’m in an activity or doing mundane things. My dogs have meant a lot to me. I’ve had spiritual connections with my dogs and so I’ve just really enjoyed being sober, especially during the time that I’ve been here.

Now, it’s not a bed of roses. And in fact, in the last few months, I’ve been feeling squirrely and I need to start doing some things that have gotten… I need to stop some bad habits that have gotten back ahold of me, like procrastination, I need to do my hobbies more, because I’m finding myself at home with a lot of time to think and, as we all know, when we were talking about the saying, “think, think, think” at the Friday meeting yesterday, and we were talking about how I think every one of us kind of agreed that that “think, think, think” slogan wasn’t too advisable, and I know what you probably mean is like think it through, when they say “think, think, think,” but that comes across to me as like sit around and think, which is… [chuckle] It’s like I really do better if I am not thinking. So for me to be distracted and distracted with things I like. I like my work and I like to golf, I like my acting, I need to get more involved in that, but I’m not in any kind of danger at the moment of using, but I’m not overconfident either. I know that at some point I could be presented with an opportunity and have a hard time turning it down, but I don’t know. Am I at 20 minutes yet or am I short of that?

Oh, well, I’m about… I think I’m about done. I just… Again, I just want to thank this group. I love this group and the Free Thinkers meeting, it’s been a tremendous help for me, and I love all of you people that come to these meetings and I think I’ll pass.\