It’s May of 2008, and Doyle Turner’s in a mandatory group counseling session as part of drug court when one of the participants says, “I wish my mother had lived to see me sober.”
He laughs sarcastically, and the group leader says, “Why are you laughing?”
His response is “My mom taught me how to do this stuff. I just improved on it and added to it.”
Yes, his mother did teach him and he reports, “My mom was a drug addict. As a kid, I remember she was always partying. At seven or eight years, I said, ‘Mom, I’m thirsty. Can I have Kool-Aid?’ I got a wine cooler out of the refrigerator. Her friends thought it was funny to see a kid drunk. I was just thirsty.”
Those early years were “miserable.” Sentenced to 15 years in prison for child abuse, she ended up doing eight years, and then went back to prison for parole violation with almost two additional years. Turner’s life is mostly a blank during those early years except for the abuse he and his siblings suffered, including the scalding incident that resulted in his mother’s prison sentence. He and his siblings were abused regardless of whether they were at his grandmother’s house or with the series of foster parents.
Where was his father during this time? “He worked at construction and got drunk after work. He loved me, but he didn’t want to be around me when he was drunk, and he was drunk all the time.”
The report of the legacy of his dad continues and as he speaks, there is anger and tremendous sadness, “When I was nine in 1990, dad went off to Ohio with his brother to look for work. His brother got in trouble and was running from the law. Dad was shot twice by the cops in Norwood, Ohio, who said he was resisting arrest, fighting them. His blood alcohol level was so high there was no way he could have been fighting anyone.”
By age 11 Turner was drinking alcohol regularly, visiting with friends who had alcoholic dads in the trailer park where he was living at the time. Also, he had learned to grow marijuana by this point as there was a patch in the weeds by the trailer park. He was also snorting pills.
At age 12, he had a decent foster mother, Betty, who was “the first person who treated me like a person, who told me I was intelligent. She and AA taught me everything I know about morals and truth.” The stay at Betty’s did not last, and he, while intoxicated, was raped at gunpoint when he was 14 by one of his cousin’s friends. His cousin gave statements and was present to testify against him and on behalf of the rapist, saying it was consensual. The rapist, however, took a plea bargain to avoid a trial.
At age 15, he hit a social worker and knocked him out. He now maintains that the social worker was “merely guiding me with his hand on my shoulder, but I would not let anyone touch me, get close to me.” He was sentenced to 90 days in a juvenile detention center for that offense. While in the detention center, he had his sixteenth birthday and passed the GED.
At 17 he joined the National Guard, and at 18 he went for infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was soon discharged for substance abuse and PTSD and threatened with 17 charges by the military with everything from extortion to racketeering.
It was back to staying drunk and high, writing cold checks, and buying and selling dope. He couldn’t sleep and he was homeless, so it was back to his grandmother’s house and working on communication towers — when he was able.
He called a rehab center in a major city and asked for help. They never returned his call.
As his arrest for drug trafficking loomed on the horizon, he recalls, “I was tired. The only break I got was when I was in jail. I couldn’t imagine running and hiding forever. I couldn’t imagine never seeing my kids again. I was scared to death of cops. They had killed my dad and had beaten me, so I turned myself into the county police.
On April 16, 2008, he went to drug court and on April 17, 2008, he attended his first AA meeting since the requirement of drug court was three AA meetings a week. Another requirement was that he had to go back to live with his grandmother, because he was required to live in a house with a landline for notification of drug tests and curfew checks. It was the first time in his life he “had to be humble.”
He had had no alcohol or drugs since April 16, and he “felt strange. I could sleep. The world felt surreal. I was no longer running faster than the world or slower. I was running in the same time as the world.”
May 1, 2008: He went to see his kids and his father-in-law tormented him with a pint of rum, “Best rum ever.”
His response, “That’s right” as he drained the bottle.
May 5, 2008: He was in the bathtub at his grandmother’s house shooting oxy’s and crying.
May 7, 2008: A comprehensive drug screen was administered with the results due on May, 12, 2008. His caseworker called, “The judge wants to see you. You tested dirty, and you’re going to have to go to jail.”
He went straight to court, but he tested clean that morning, so he was sentenced to ten days in jail. At that point he decided that he was going to make an effort. He didn’t want to be in jail and while there, he watched “the men in jail high on dope they had smuggled in and proud to be in jail, proud to be the way they were.” Also, while in jail, he began thinking of what he had heard in the AA meetings, “Stay clean for 90 days and know that the misery is still out there if you want it.” He remembered the hugs after the meetings and the comments, “Keep coming back” and “You can do this.”
He says, “This doesn’t mean I was 100 percent dedicated. I had decided I needed to do something different, but I was still trying to find the motivation to put the work into it.”
Drug court required that he have a sponsor and a sponsorship paper signed. He went to AA meetings for three weeks and carried the paper in his pocket. He had no idea what getting a sponsor meant. One day in a meeting, sponsors were discussed, and he learned that sponsors would not supply money and they were to help those they were sponsoring understand the steps. “The steps meant nothing to me. They were in plain English but not to me.” One member stood up and spoke, and he was forced to listen. “He seemed honest, straight up, so I asked him to be my sponsor. I turned the paper into drug court and didn’t talk to my sponsor for three weeks.”
At that point he reports that he was “really depressed, distraught.” And that is when he said in group what is at the beginning of this article about drug and alcohol abuse, “My mom taught me how to do this stuff.”
Viewed as disruptive, he was taken out of group and began one-on-one counseling, and “the only emotion I allowed myself was anger. I wanted to get high, really drunk. I wanted to die. (At one time I had slit my wrist.) I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to be done with it, so I called my sponsor. I didn’t get high; I didn’t die.”
He started going to his sponsor’s house every day, drinking coffee and talking. He did this every day for one and half years. His sponsor had been sober 10 years, had relapsed for two and was sober again.
The sponsor’s first assignment was “Read the first 164 pages of the Big Book and see if anything about unmanageability relates to you.” He also said, “I’m not going to be your father or your mother.” His sponsor taught him how that First Step related to him, how to be sober, and how to pause when he was agitated. He started going to AA regularly, was given a key to the meeting room and began making coffee for the meetings and cleaning the room.
He moved out of his grandmother’s house to one room where he shared a bathroom down the hall. He took a job transporting train workers. He met a sober girl who is now his wife and asked his sponsor for permission to date her.
And then his sponsor who was in remission from throat cancer, relapsed when he got a diagnosis that the cancer was back. He went to his sponsor’s home and started picking up dirty clothes and putting dishes away as he had learned that taking action calmed him.
When he discovered a bottle of mouth wash under a pillow on the sofa, he stopped and wrote his sponsor the following note:
I love you. The only way people like us die with dignity is if we die sober.
P.S. Let’s just get this s*** out in the open. I’ll call back. Call me if you’re sober.
When he went to his sponsor’s house the next day, he found him lying on the couch with a bullet in his head. His sponsor had stopped working the program, applying the program to his daily life.
It’s 2015 and he’s stayed clean and sober although his sponsor’s death is still painful.
What has he learned, how has he stayed sober for six years?
• “Alcoholism is a symptom of a deeper-rooted illness. I learned to stop blaming those dysfunctional people who populated my early years and accept responsibility for myself. As a child I had fought back when my siblings didn’t, at times fought in defense of my siblings;
• “The AA program. I go to lots of meetings, chair meetings, and realize regularly through the fellowship of AA I don’t have to carry the pain by myself;
• “Before his suicide, my sponsor and I had worked out a plan, and I followed that plan: (1) finish drug court (2) leave the area (3) go back to school and as my sponsor said, “Start using your brain instead of breaking your back to make a dollar. You’re smarter than that and let people know it.’ (4) Get work.”
He reports “Normal people know about plans. I had come from a place where I believed my lot in life was to go to prison and die young.”
How has his life changed?
• “Now I don’t have to die violently;
• “I can get out of bed and play with my kids;
• “Today I can provide for myself and my family, and that’s important to me. I’m a better father, son, and partner because of AA;
• “I fit in with the world today. It’s not about the next high, who I’m going to fight with or worrying about when the cops are coming. I can sleep at night without fear.”
Of his wife who has been clean and sober for six years, he says, “We know each other’s bullshit and if it starts, we can call each other on it. I don’t expect her to be perfect and to do everything right. I can converse freely with her without having to monitor what I say.
She knows my sobriety has to come before everything. Being around her makes me feel I’m in a wonderful place even when I’m mad at her. I don’t have to have her to be clean and sober and she doesn’t have to have me to be clean and sober, but some part of my life would be missing without her.
In conclusion, he says, “Love is a part of it all. It’s so big. I want to see people change, get clean and sober. When I help others, I expect nothing in return, not even gratitude. I want them to experience joy.”