Rocky Horror — The Night I Had My Last Drink

The last night I ever drank involved Captain Jack (Daniels), Rocky Horror, Elvis Presley, and my brother coming out to me — not necessarily in that order!

I was just out of the Navy, after a rocky four year enlistment filled with very hard partying. On one particular cruise to the Caribbean, guys on my ship were astonished that I lived through my island port adventures, I had drinken such massive quantities of liquor, and consumed so many drugs. These were hardened sailors, used to seeing guys do this. I had very little memory of what happened on that cruise.

I was a very functional alcoholic/addict, considered one of the leaders of the enlisted men in my engineroom on the ship, a nuclear guided missile cruiser. I thought that things were fine until that final cruise, a seven month journey to the Mediterranean. The problem then wasn’t how much I used and drank, it was that I couldn’t get the drugs I was accustomed to, and became too afraid to drink, after I almost missed the ship in Haifa, Israel, due to a blackout.

I had trouble really functioning without the drugs and booze I was accustomed to. I found myself experiencing extreme emotions of anger, anxiety, rage and despair, throughout that cruise. I lost all confidence, and really thought I was losing my mind. In a fit of rage I did something that I feared if the captain ever discovered my actions, I’d be in serious trouble.

Upon the ship’s return to the states, I proceeded to drink heavily, regularly, and consumed as many drugs as I could. I needed to get back to “normal.” It didn’t subdue the rages I now experienced regularly, and my paranoia about the captain grew daily.

Finally, after two months back in port, I couldn’t take it anymore. I flew into a rage with an officer, nearly resorting to violence. This surely would have landed me in the brig, and probably worse — but a moment of sanity came over me. I dropped the big wrench I was about to hit him with, and just walked off the ship. I never looked back.

I’d heard from a legal officer that the only way I could get transferred off the ship was to go AWOL for at least thirty days. After that, they could not return me to the same ship. I desperately wanted off that ship, away from that captain, so I stayed away for sixty days.

It was a very crazy two months, traveling around the country under an assumed identity, living on the streets for over half that time in Portland, Oregon, then finally getting picked up in San Francisco, where I had planned to turn myself in. During this time, I didn’t drink or do too many drugs — it was all I could do to keep food in my stomach, and to stay out of trouble, and out of sight. This kept me laser-focused most of the time.

I wound up on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, after a two day stay in San Francisco’s Felon Tank. I came close to getting knifed in there, but came out of it okay. I made friends with the chaplains on the base at Treasure Island, and they helped me get back to a semblance of sanity. Or, so I thought. The captain gave me the option of getting out of the Navy, with a good discharge, since I’d had a good record before I went AWOL. It was 1977, and they were trimming down the services after the end of Viet Nam. I took the offer and got out.

I was certain that the Navy had been a big part of my problem. I had big plans for what I would do, now that I was free. It took less than two months before I was on my knees back in Norfolk, unable to do anything but drink and get high, day in and day out. I’d completely given myself over to the addiction, and could see that living like this was not sustainable.

I was collecting unemployment, though I knew I was unemployable. I was really shot out. I was donating blood plasma three times a week for extra money for beer and cigarettes. I remember standing in the unemployment office line to get my check one day, when I heard the news that Elvis Presley had died at 42, sitting on the toilet. I was only 22, but thought to myself, “Why did he get lucky, and get to die?” I wished I could die, too.

It occurred to me, with a jolt, that I might not die — I might just lose my mind, and live a long, miserable life, completely insane. I’d seen people with “wet brains.” This shook me to the core. Some call it “staring into the abyss”. I was right there, and could see that the abyss just went on and on — hell had no bottom, that I could see.

I got my backpack, crept out of the apartment I was living in with a bunch of other addicts, and hitchhiked home to New Jersey, with the hopes of straightening my life out. My older brother Ken, just out of the Air Force, was there, playing his guitar and singing. I hadn’t heard him play in years. When he said he had a gig that night, I insisted on coming to hear him play. He reluctantly gave me the address of the place in Philadelphia.

It turned out to be the Philadelphia Gay Coffeehouse. I was extremely homophobic at the time, and had to talk myself into going in, since I told Ken I’d be there. I just figured I’d watch my back. I was that uptight!

His show was tremendous, and I just focused on the songs, and kept a close eye on my back. During the intermission, he introduced me to his lover. This was how he chose to come out to me. This revelation just knocked me right between the eyes — I didn’t know how to react. I really needed my big brother at that time — he had just gotten sober in AA, and I was hoping he could help me.

I acted like it was cool, but inside, my guts were churning and I was dying. They invited me to go out to see a midnight movie on South Street after the show, and I agreed to go along with them. I really wanted to act like I was cool with it all — I really wasn’t.

The movie was the Rocky Horror Picture Show. We sat right near the front, surrounded by people dressed in drag, who played out all the scenes from the movie, which was filled with transsexuals, transvestites, homosexuals, and lots of rich sexual innuendo.

This was the final straw for me. I now knew for sure that the whole world was upside down, my guts were all twisted up, and I needed a drink, badly. I got back home to my parents’ house, broke into my dad’s liquor cabinet, and downed a fifth of Jack Daniels, sitting on a piano bench in their living room crying, looking at my sorry self in the mirror above the piano, feeling as bad as I had ever felt in my entire life.

The next morning, I told Mom I had a drinking problem, and needed help. She ran the Ala-call hotline for the state of New Jersey, a recovered alcoholic, herself. She pointed me in a direction, and I never drank again. The road ahead was not easy — it took me years to find true recovery — but that road began that day, with my admission.

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