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"You think you are in control of your life? Take a good look around. Have you noticed you are an in-patient in a mental hospital?" The words reverberated and burst through to my awareness. FUCK! He is right! His words became background noise as I looked around the walls of the wide room until I found the placard on the wall containing the 1st Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable."
Well, Charlie Dumbfuck. I'm not so sure about part one of that statement, but you must admit this asshole at the front of the room is dead on about the second part. I am in a mental hospital. And, while they say I can leave anytime I choose, if I leave I will lose my job as Head Athletic Trainer of the New York Jets. As this realization began to sink in deeper and deeper an almost overwhelming sense of fear came over me. It would be years later before I could identify that particular fear as fear of truth. It was accompanied by a nauseating sense of dread that life was never ever going to be the same.
This horrific insight struck me in the middle of my second week of alcohol rehab at South Oaks Hospital on Long Island. Until then I had been marking time until my 30-day stint would be up and I would be free to go back to my life and just not drink – or at least be more mindful and controlling of what I did drink.
FUUUUUCK! I screamed again inside myself. Maybe I am an alcoholic. Am I powerless over alcohol? Think about it, Reese: Are you powerless over alcohol? What happened and how did you come to be in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation wing of South Oaks Psychiatric Hospital?
Early in January of 1991, I drove up to Kutcher's Resort in the Catskills for the annual Eastern Athletic Trainers' Meeting. The meeting always began on Sunday evening so the athletic trainers (ATs) convention could secure a good rate. Because the resort was usually busy on the weekend, conventioneers could check in, but could not access their rooms until after 4:00 or 5:00 PM. Traditionally an ever increasing crowd would gather in the bar to watch the NFL playoff games while they waited to get into their rooms. It was also traditional that the NFL ATs from the Eagles, Giants, and Jets would foot most of the bill since we were the ones with liberal expense accounts. Both the Eagles and Giants were in the playoffs, so it would be up to the Jets ATs to pick up the tab this year.
I was purposefully late. I wanted to avoid the tradition for several reasons. First, I had just gone through the inaugural season with my third head coach at the Jets, Bruce Coslet. While I really liked Coslet personally and loved his coaching philosophy, it had been an extremely stressful season for me. The new General Manager, Dick Steinberg, had come into the Jets with the belief that the medical department was too powerful – that we had too much say especially in personnel decisions. After 13 years I was no longer allowed to talk to the media about injuries. While I understood the reasoning – control the message – I thought I was very good at doing that and enjoyed the opportunity to parry with the press and use these occasions to inform the public about sports medicine. And, as long as I'm being honest, my ego was bruised. I liked seeing my name in print and doing interviews on national TV.
The biggest stress, however, came from friction with the new strength coach. The previous strength coach, Jim Williams, and I worked as partners. He was educated in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. He understood how to work around injuries so that the players could maintain conditioning as injuries healed. The new guy was ... well, not that way.
His biggest fault was that he wanted to treat every player the same, regardless of their injury history, age, or position played. Players were complaining and asking me to protect them. Because I could not reason with him, I went to the head coach. Coslet had a meeting with both of us and told us – while looking directly at me – to get along or one of us would be gone. While still looking at me, he then reframed it: "Get along with him ... got it?" Hence, a stressful season.
The next reason I did not want to entertain the masses at the convention is that I was loathe to listening to how great the Giants were over and over and over. If you are the fan of any team just think of the biggest rival your team has and how you hate for their fans to rub their good fortune in your face. We rarely played the Giants except in preseason, so the rivalry was not born there. It goes back to the old AFL-NFL antipathy and the New York media's treatment of the Jets as second class citizens even when we did well. Since the Giants were having a great year, and we were reminded about it daily in the papers and on talk radio, I really did not want to hear about it anymore.
In my mind those were all good excuses to avoid the tradition. But the real reason was that I knew that my drinking was becoming problematic. Recently I had begun having blackouts after only a couple of glasses of wine. (I should point out these glasses were large – usually about 10-12 ounces, but that had never been a problem before.) I rarely got drunk, but more than a few times I could not remember going to bed. After one of these incidents, I cautiously asked my wife, SG, if had fallen asleep in my chair and if she had locked up the house the night before. She told me that, after watching TV, I locked up as usual.
My concern was compounded with a more recent incident. One of the coaches had a post-season holiday party and I was going to make sure I watched my Ps & Qs – literally, watch my pints and quarts. I had told myself no more than two glasses of wine, and I stuck to that. It was extremely difficult and I had less than an enjoyable time. As SG and I left the party we agreed to meet another couple for a night cap at a local piano bar on the way home. I neither remembered the end of the evening nor the drive home. At work the next day I asked my colleague if I had gotten drunk and he said, "No man, you had two drinks – like the rest of us – and then drove home."
"So, I drove home?" I asked. "Yep," he replied, "I pulled out right behind you and you were fine. Why, was there a problem?" I lied, "No, things just got a little foggy."
My mental review of how I landed in rehab turned next to recounting how I had adjusted my drinking over time. I used to be a beer drinker who occasionally had a mixed drink or wine. I did not particularly like wine because you were supposed to "sip" it, and I was not a very good sipper. At some point in my 30s beer began to bloat me – both my gut and my weight. I was packing on pounds at an alarming rate and attributed it to the beer. Switching to Lite beer had not helped much, so Scotch became my drink of choice.
When I first started drinking Scotch, it would be with water. After several years it became Scotch with a "splash" of water. Then, of course, "Scotch, straight up." At some point I recognized that I was drinking a lot of Scotch, so I decided to stop – cold turkey. Not drinking, just Scotch.
I switched to bourbon. I didn't particularly like the taste of bourbon, so I reasoned I would drink less of it. That worked great for a while. Then, in 1988 I herniated a disc in my lower back and the pressure on the nerve caused me to develop a foot drop. After the second game of the season, I was sent home for bed rest. The sciatic pain was unrelenting and I had begun taking the prescribed Percodan (Oxycodone) like candy to little effect. I was worried about becoming addicted to the pain meds and began self-medicating with the bourbon. At the time numbing the pain with Jack Daniels seemed the smarter choice.
After two weeks at home (drinking almost a quart of Jack Daniels a day) I had back surgery. Following my back surgery, I cut back on the bourbon and switched to wine – again, since I did not really like it. While I now knew that, like the bourbon, I would eventually grow to like it, I reasoned that I would have a few years to work on alternative management strategies.
All this preceded the trip to Kutcher's Resort. In order to be late and not have to endure the check-in tradition with the ATs, I stopped at a small Italian restaurant near the hotel. I resolved to have only one glass of wine with my meal, but soon after the first glass I rationalized that two would be okay since that would equal less than one of my usual 12 ounce glasses at home. I arrived at the hotel during dinner. I checked into my room and read until it was time to go to the welcome keynote and seminar. So far, so good.
After the keynote and seminar, I said hello to dozens of friends and glad-handed dozens of colleagues. I inquired after my two assistant ATs and was told that one had headed to the bar with several friends. I ran into a young AT who was also a Purdue grad. As we headed to the bar she caught me up on the happenings at my alma mater. I was at the bar for about an hour. My assistant, Joe Patten (Joe P), had the tab running, so I was not bothered by too many colleagues. After two brandies I headed for my room.
The next thing I remember my head was splitting. It felt as if it would explode and implode simultaneously. I had severe cottonmouth and felt nauseous – all the classic signs of an enormous hangover. Even with all my heavy drinking, I rarely had more than a level 5 or 6 headache from a hangover. On a scale of 10, this headache was at least a 12. As I opened my eyes and got my bearings I gradually remembered where I was. I was confused by the hangover, since I remembered really moderating my intake. Gingerly, I sat up in the bed. My confusion worsened; I was still in my clothes and had been asleep on top of the covers. A slight panic set in as I struggled to no avail to make sense of my condition.
I checked my watch and realized I had missed most of the morning seminars, which worried me less than how I came to be in my current condition. I stumbled to the bathroom and found my shaving kit and managed to dig out a codeine tablet that I carried in case of back trouble. I then sat very still with my head in hands for about 20 minutes until the codeine kicked in. As my headache lessened, I showered, shaved, and almost wore out my toothbrush in an attempt to get the taste of mud out of my mouth.
Coffee, I needed coffee. It was not quite noon, so I would have wait until then to access the caffeine, as Kutcher's only served food at certain times. While I waited, I checked in with the Jets to see if anything was going on and to remind the head coach's secretary where we were if they needed us. Nothing was happening there.
Finally, noon arrived and I headed for the dining room. Several hundred ATs were finding tables and the din of the conversation began to bring back my headache. Before I could find the coffee, a slight acquaintance came up to me. In a much too friendly way, he put his arm around my shoulder and asked how I was doing. I said I was fine. He looked at me with what can only be described as a shit-eating grin and said, "You don't remember, do you?"
I was immediately embarrassed, but I did not know why. I could feel myself flush as I asked him, "What are you talking about?" He said, "Last night, at the bar. You punched that kid in the face."
I said, "What?!" He repeated his statement and went on to explain that I had been in the bar and had knocked back a number of brandies. This young student AT had made some comment about women not belonging in the training room and I took issue with him. It escalated and I punched the kid in the face.
The narrator then waved to someone and a stocky young man came up to us. He appeared to be in his early twenties. He was introduced to me and then he proceeded to apologize to me for starting the fight in which I apparently punched him. Huh?
Now, I would think that to a clear-headed individual this would have seemed surreal, so you might imagine how someone with a nightmarish hangover was processing this information. I apologized profusely to the young man, all the time wondering if I was being set up for a lawsuit.
My new best friend then regaled me with how he and two or three other guys broke up the fight and half escorted, half carried me back to my room. He said I had passed out, so the best they could do was dump me on the bed and take off my shoes.
I thanked him – sincerely. I told him I needed to make a call and excused myself from the dining room – still with no coffee and a hangover threatening to make a full comeback. It was all a blur. I had to find out what had happened. (To this day I don't remember the incident, the name of the kid, what school he was from, or who my "benefactor" was.)
I finally located my assistant, Joe Patten, who had been in the bar earlier the night before. He commented that I looked like shit. I told him I felt worse than that. Before I could ask, he said that he had heard some rumors that I punched out some kid last night in the bar. I relayed what I had just learned and that I had no memory of any of it. I told him the last thing I remembered was heading to my room.
He said that I came back to the bar about 15 minutes after I had left and ordered a brandy and some coffee. Joe told me that he had come down to my end of the bar to see if I wanted to put it on his tab and I told him I would just start my own. An hour or so later, he got tired and left. He said I seemed to be having a good time and so he waved and headed to his room.
After I processed this information, I decided not to hang around the convention. I was thoroughly embarrassed and certainly did not want to explain to anyone what had happened – especially since I could not remember what had happened. I headed back to Long Island. (And for those of you who have been in a similar state – yes, I finally got two coffees to go at a diner before I got on the highway.)
Three days after returning from the convention, while preparing for the NFL Combine, I got a call from the General Manager, Dick Steinberg, to come to his office. When I arrived I noticed the team internist was in the room, but sitting off to the side. Odd, I thought. Dick began telling me how valuable he thought I was to the organization and that I did a better job of predicting how long players would be out and how well they could perform if they played hurt than any AT with whom he had worked. He then asked me if I had any problems up at the Eastern Athletic Trainers' meeting.
Busted! I thought. There is no way you can work for an NFL team and not have someone report bad behavior. Now I knew why doctor was there: this was an intervention. Being the AT for an NFL team meant you were the point man for drug and alcohol problems with the players. I had been through this scenario as one of the members in the room more than a few times as we gave players the ultimatum to go to rehab – or else go.
Excerpted from "The 13th Step"
Copyright © 2017 Bob Reese, PhD..
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Praise for The 13th Step, xi,
Foreword: Dr. Warren Bickel, xv,
PART 1: THE DRINKING YEARS, 1,
1 Insanity, 3,
2 The Families, 12,
3 Changing Times, 20,
4 Teen Drinking, 23,
5 College, 31,
6 Grief, Relief, and Social Inadequacy, 36,
7 Purdue ~ Year 2, 46,
8 Purdue ~ Year 3, 53,
9 Purdue ~ Year 4 1969, 59,
10 Boston College, 64,
11 Buffalo, 68,
12 The Jets, 79,
13 Jets ~ Walt Michaels Era (1977-82), 91,
14 The Beginning of an End, 97,
15 Jets ~ Joe Walton Era (1983-89), 109,
16 Jets ~ Steinberg & Coslet Era (1990-93), 126,
PART 2: BEGINNINGS OF A SOBER LIFE, 139,
17 Rehab, 141,
18 The Hard Work Begins, 160,
19 The Coslet Years, 172,
20 The Pete Carroll Year (1994), 185,
21 The Kotite Debacle, 197,
22 Starting Over, 208,
23 Spread Thin, 221,
24 Nuclear Family & Dysfunction, 229,
25 Beginning A New Family – Striving Toward a Functional Dynamic, 248,
26 Know Who You AM!, 258,
PART 3: THE 13TH STEP – THRIVING, 273,
27 Fundamentals For Thriving, 275,
28 Positive Emotions & Thriving, 294,
29 Forgiveness, 307,
30 Relationships, 325,
31 Neuroplasticity, 345,
32 Wrapping Up, 349,
EPILOGUE: Help us help others, 353,
A. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, 383,
B. The Enneagram, 385,
C. P-E-A Affirmation, 388,
D. Letting Go, 389,
E. Visualization – Go to Your Room Exercise, 391,
F. Part 1 Energy Management – The Paper Clip Experiment, 393,
G. Feelazation, 399,
H. Savoring: Exercise & Reflection, 401,
I. Gratitude Letter, 403,
J. Autogenic Training Meditation, 404,
K. Compassion and Loving Kindness Meditations, 406,
L. Defense Mechanisms, 409,
M. Fallacies, 411,