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BRC Alumni Stories: Joel L.

**The following is a personal story of addiction told by the individual who experienced it. BRC asks that you please be respectful when leaving comments. At the same time, we also welcome and encourage you to share your personal story of addiction and recovery as others embark on their own journeys to permanent sobriety. Email us today at

To say that I, as an alcoholic, think differently than a non-alcoholic person is a difficult concept to understand. I have no idea how non-alcoholic people think. To some degree, I think they don’t think. I don’t mean “think” in the conventional sense; of course everyone thinks, and uses their intellect for whatever they’re doing. I mean “think” in terms of the thoughts we don’t control; our subconscious. I think non-alcoholics may wonder “what’s the meaning of it all” and on a conscious level, spend some time trying to figure out what they should be doing with their lives. But under all that, on a subconscious level, they don’t have to think. They just have an intuitive notion of their place among the cosmos, and a gut sense of how they “fit in”. I think their souls are comforted knowing that their place in the universe is secure, albeit unknown, and underlying it all, they’re at peace with where they are and what they’re doing; serene, and without fear. I know (now) that I never thought like that. Not my whole life. I know that my thinking did get me expelled from high school and college, did get me into a horrible car accident, almost got me killed, did cost me 6 months in a county jail, almost got me sent to a hard core prison for 10 years, and almost cost me my relationship with my wife and family. Worst of all, my thinking cost me the life of a friend of mine, Kristen. For that’s how it is with alcoholics: we make big bets on ourselves and when we lose, we pay for it not with our own spiritual currency, but with the pain, love, and lives of those around us; those that care about us and get dragged through our hell with us. And even worse, we’re oblivious to that.  

Finding Meaning

I know (now) that I found life unsatisfactory and sought out, through whatever means available, different ways to satisfy myself. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I wanted more than I had. For example, the friends I had weren’t good enough. I wanted to be friends with the popular kids, cause then I would have the popular girlfriend. And because of that, I would feel so much better about myself, I would be more confident and end up on the varsity team, and so on, and the rest of life would just fall into place. And that was just on a conscious level. Subconsciously, my thoughts were entirely fear driven; reactionary to some unfounded belief that something is wrong with the universe, or at least, my part in it. I wanted to be popular because I was afraid of being alone. I wanted to be on varsity because I secretly thought I was of less value than others, and playing varsity would prove that I’m valuable. I wanted to not feel so insecure about myself, but I didn’t know how to draw security from within, or that it was even possible to do so. I also didn’t want to have to change anything about my “self” to achieve that security. I was convinced that it was easier to get others to think of me the way I wanted to be thought of. If everyone else could just see me how I see me, then it must be true. I would ask myself “what would the person I want to be like do” and I would do that. And when I couldn’t force the popular kids to be my friends, or qualify to play on varsity, or put in enough hard work to get straight A’s in school, I discovered I had a particular talent for drinking lots of alcohol, and smoking lots of pot. I found that the people I hung out with while doing those things held me in reverence, which is exactly what I had been searching for. I had found what I thought I was put on this planet to do, and I became that person. I was attending a private school in New Hampshire that had a reputation for being one of the best academic schools in the nation. And instead of working hard and taking advantage of the opportunity I’d been given, I started smoking pot and drinking heavily. For a year and a half, I tried to juggle the workload and the shadowy social scene, but eventually, with my grades slipping in the toilet, I was caught with booze and weed, and was expelled, having squandered the kind of opportunity most people will never get in their lives. I went back home to public school, where the workload was considerably easier, and used the skills I had fostered in the northeast, and was soon again the person I wanted others to see: the guy who can do anything drunk and high because he’s so cool.

Looking Back; Moving Forward

It’s interesting now to look back at my actions and see with clarity what I was striving for. To see how shallow the existence I sought was in comparison to that which the program of Alcoholics Anonymous has given me. Until I was ready for this program, all I wanted was to be perceived as this cool guy who can drink and smoke a lot, and still function in society. That’s what it boiled down to. I wanted to be revered by my peers and do the drugs that brought comfort to my life. My subconscious had locked onto that goal so hard that expulsion had no impact on me whatsoever and I continued doing what was “working” for me from those first days at prep school, through the days of college, leading up to the New Years Eve when I drank 3 bottles of champagne and was high from smoking pot and snorting Adderall all day, only to lose control of my car coming home from the party, killing Kristen. My subconscious was so attached to that character that I kept drinking, despite my friend’s death, for 9 years after that till the day I got in trouble with probation, and would soon be facing my Judge to determine if I would need to go to hard core prison where I would serve a 10 year sentence. This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten in trouble with probation…it was the 3rd. The first 2 times, I lied to get out of trouble, which I’m sure probation never believed, but still decided to give me a 2nd and 3rd chance. This time, I intuitively knew they wouldn’t believe any lies. I could see whatever future I had slip away as I imagined standing in front of my Judge telling me he was going to revoke probation, and I would be handcuffed and led down some hall on the side of the courtroom, away from my family, my fiancé, my freedom. One time in my life, I tried to “white knuckle” it. Right after my second infraction with probation, my fiancé demanded I be sober till probation was over and I went 5 months without putting chemicals in my body, but my psyche’s fists were clenched the whole time, and when I was in the presence of people drinking, I was almost literally chewing my own gums I wanted to drink so badly. That day when I had lost all hope for my immediate future, I realized that I needed to stop drinking for good and for all. At the same time, I realized I would never want to stop drinking for good and for all. As the result of this epiphany, an intense fear that I may have to live out the rest of my life like those horrible 5 months I spent dry, crept into my body. I made the first unselfish prayer of life in that moment. I didn’t ask God to please get me out of trouble and in exchange I would be a good boy, like so many other times. I simply acknowledged that I was in need of help, and asked him to please help me.

Meeting Miles

carouselFor the next 2 months, while I was waiting for my official courtdate, I was in and out of probation offices, courtrooms, an outpatient rehab program, and in the middle of it all, I met a man named Miles. He became my first sponsor. I don’t know what it was about this guy, but there was something comforting about being with him. As we started working the steps, as we would talk, he would often state that he couldn’t tell me what was going to happen to me, nor did I reasonably expect him to, but he exuded a confidence that whatever did happen was right; like it was something more than correct or just, that it was part of the turning of the cosmic gears. And I could see that he maintained this attitude about the goings on of his own life, that amid his own crises he could keep calm, and trust that whatever happened was for the best. I wanted that. He had something I wanted and I correctly guessed that I would need to work the steps in order to get it. I hope one day to be as giving a parent as mine were to me. However, I hope not to have to give in the same ways mine had to. The lawyer my parents paid for worked out a deal with the district attorney of the county in which I had probation. Together, they would go to my Judge and suggest that I attend rehab in lieu of my prison sentence. My lawyer told me to “shop around” for a rehab I’d be willing to go to, one I could go to tomorrow if needed. Miles had given me some cd’s of AA speaker meetings to help me get into the swing of AA. One of them was of a speaker named Mark Houston. What I heard in Mark’s words was a power and clarity I was unaware existed, but immediately wanted to obtain. I discovered that Mark Houston had founded a recovery center just outside of Austin, a place that has come to be known as BRC Recovery. I called and explained my situation. Arrangements were made. I told my lawyer I was ready. Later, I told Miles I was going to ask the Judge to let me go to Mark Houston’s recovery center. Miles responded with something I never saw coming: he said, “That’s really cool, cause I’m starting a job there next Monday.” That was it. I was overwhelmed by the way everything was beginning to fit. I had caught a glimpse of the gears turning. I finally felt inside that things were going to change on a whole new level; a kind of meaningful change that no human could ever have the power to accomplish. Thank God I had Texas’ budget crisis on my side, and jail beds were becoming very expensive. Instead of going to prison, my Judge granted me permission to go to the recovery center and 2 days later, I was there. Right from the beginning, I was immersed in the steps, doing a nightly review as described on pg 86 of the Big Book that first night. The next morning, I was brought to meditation. I didn’t know it, but I was already practicing step 11. And, I was giving others the chance to practice step 12. The other residents showed me around and helped me get into the daily routine. I learned what an alcoholic was, and a lifetime of delusion and prejudice began to melt away. I could see, in very plain terms, that I had a kind of allergy to alcohol, that when I get some in my blood, I develop an uncontrollable craving for more. And my own experience showed that I would do anything to get more alcohol into my body. I could see that even before I put the alcohol in my blood, my mind was obsessed with how to get the alcohol into my blood. My own experience showed me that I would set up life so that I could enjoy drinking all weekend without much worry about getting caught. And I began to see that the reason I obsess is because of my discontent with life, my spiritual malady. And I thought back through my life and realized how I was never satisfied with my situation, how I always thought there was better available somewhere else and that I was entitled to it. While in rehab, I began to let go of the role I had assigned myself, the role my ego had attached to in order to feel okay. I began to touch my truth, and let that fill my beingness.

Putting My Life in God’s Hands

When I left the drug and alcohol recovery center, I sought truth with all the energy I could muster. I put myself in God’s hands and ceased fighting the situation my creator gave me. I looked for ways I could carry out God’s will in all my daily activities. And as I did this, God revealed himself to me, and provided me with a sense of peace and ease that I could never have achieved on my own. Two months after I re-emerged into life, I was sitting at Austin City Limits Music Festival, watching the bands with non-alcoholic friends, in awe of my lack of desire to get drunk. I felt as though my alcoholic problem had been removed; as though it had never existed, something the Big Book promised me would happen. A month later, I married the woman I love, a woman that was put here on earth by God to love me; my own personal Angel. A month later God moved me to live in a place 30 minutes from the most beautiful beaches in the country. On nice weekends, I’m only a 30 minute drive from a 2 day tropical beach vacation, and I even get to sleep in my own bed at night. I just had the opportunity to do temp work for a company I was essentially fired from. I was given the chance to do meaningful, valuable work for that company; something that would’ve never happened without God’s direct intervention. In the coming days, I might have an offer of a permanent job from that company. And I would be hard pressed to find a more fun group of people to work with, and do the kind of work I find interesting and rewarding. And lastly, in about 2 months, the house my wife and I are building will be complete. A big, beautiful, brand new house in a wonderful neighborhood with an amazing view. The house where we’ll start a family, and raise our children; where I’ll bring sponsers to sit and read through the Big Book the way Miles and I did when I was just beginning to awaken to my truth. All these wonderful things have happened to me exactly in that way: TO me. I did nothing directly to bring them about. In fact, I did the exact opposite of what I would normally have done. Instead of trying to control every last thing that happens, I let things happen without my influencing them, without judging them. And when I did that, it’s God’s hands that took control. Everything I do now is based in what I think God would have me do. -Joel L.


When we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planned. Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances! – Alcoholics Anonymous (pg. 100)