MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, GA. – With his suicide note placed neatly on the bed, he got dressed and headed to work. His plan was to pretend everything was OK, arm up for training, and then take his own life.
In his note, the Airman wrote to his friends, family, supervisor, leadership and himself.
He apologized for taking his life and reassured everyone it was not their fault.
Following nine years of heavy drinking, the then 23-year-old Airman felt as if he had drank himself into a hole with no way out. He considered himself a failure and was ready to bring his life to an end.
He took his first drink when he was just 14 after hanging out with the “wrong crowd”. Soon after, alcohol began to consume him.
“Before I knew it, I was too far under with no way up,” he said.
He attended college for three years but failed out due to excessive drinking and partying. The constant drinking led him to gain nearly 100 pounds.
“Alcohol affected every aspect of my life … especially my finances. I was spending nearly $600 on alcohol every pay check, which only left me with about $200 for my bills.”
After failing out of college, he decided to join the Air Force. The local recruiter told him he needed to lose at least 60 pounds before he was eligible to join. After months of hard work and dedication, he lost 65 pounds and enlisted. Basic Military Training proved to be a struggle without access to alcohol, which his body depended on daily.
“Staying sober during basic training was a struggle,” the Airman said. “A lot of nights I spent sitting in the bathroom stall crying. I wasn’t crying because I missed my family, which was the bad part. I missed the booze. I would cry at times for 30 minutes. It was a very difficult eight weeks.”
After completing basic training, he returned to his old drinking habits and steadily increased the amount ingested. By the time he recognized he needed help, he was drinking nearly 100 beers every week, in addition to a countless number of shots.
“It was such a routine to get up, drink, go to the gym, drink some more, go on lunch break, have a few, go back home and drink the night away,” he said, adding if he woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, he would drink another beer before going back to bed.
Most days, he was legally intoxicated, yet needed the alcohol to perform day to day tasks. He said he could not park his car while sober, but rather filled his camelback with liquor and taped it to the back of his seat for a trip to Jacksonville, Fla. To mask the odor of alcohol, he shaved his body and coated himself in a mint-scented sports cream. To combat the smell on his breath, he shaved his tongue.
Aside from the alcohol, he was a model Airman who did what he was told and did his job well. His supervisor had no idea his Airman was literally drinking himself to death.
“The problem was serious,” his supervisor said. “At one point in time, it was nothing for him to drink a case of beer a night. He told me he used to crave alcohol.”
After years of hiding his secret, the day after writing his suicide note, it only took a matter of minutes for an NCO to notice something was off and sensed he was in desperate need of help.
Airman consumed by alcohol fights back
“When I went into work the next morning, a sergeant … noticed something was wrong,” he said. “I had no intention of telling anybody. I was going to play it off as if it were a regular day. But for some reason that day, I just lost it, and I told him everything.
“My supervisor at the time took me to lunch, where I opened up about everything that I was going through. About 45 minutes later, I was in the ADAPT (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment) program and later that day, I was in a detox facility for five days.”
Alcohol was overpowering his life and beginning to take its toll. He credits the ADAPT program and his fellow wingmen for helping him overcome his alcohol addiction and for saving his life.
“There was a staff sergeant there that stayed by my side and believed in me,” he recalled. “The people at work, my leadership, supervisor and close friends never let me put myself in a bad position. When I got two or three months sober, I finally realized I could do it without relapsing. That’s really what pushed me: good leadership and a great program.”
Alcohol was a key contributor to the Airman’s daily routine, and although he no longer drinks he says he wouldn’t be surprised if he needed a liver transplant one day.
Knowing the toll his addiction put on him mentally and physically, he now spends as much time away from his dorm as he can, and stays active by going to the gym multiple times a day.
“Seeing him now as opposed to before, I can definitely tell he has taken this seriously and is performing well,” his supervisor said. “He is a role model for his peers.”
With nearly two years sober, he’s reenrolled in college and wants to use his experience to help others. He eventually sees himself in a career where he can help counsel people who are considering suicide and battling addiction.
“I want to be that guy who understands their burden and helps them,” he said. “Talking about my problems helps me to realize how severe of a problem I had. It also helps me to never go back to the way I was when I was drinking.”