This is the second part by Lyle Prouse
None of us would ever recover if we didn’t have consequences to face. The compulsion to drink is powerful and something must be there to help overcome it. Sometimes it’s the loss of family, job, self-respect, or blistering headlines and a prison sentence. We must “reach our bottom,” where ever that may be. And sometimes the bottom is death.
If the price of our drinking (sometimes referred to as “the high price of low living”) didn’t somehow become more than we can afford, in whatever currency is important to us, we would continue – period. So consequences are important and vital.
When I talk about alcoholism I separate the issues between the acts and behavior (and the consequences that flow from that) – and the disease itself.
Being an alcoholic does not relieve me of responsibility for what I do nor does it grant me any immunity or excuse anything. Anytime I commit an unlawful act, alcoholic or not, it’s incumbent upon me to accept the consequences of that act.
It should be noted that while alcoholism is not an excuse for behavior it very clearly explains a lot of it in the case of the alcoholic. It might surprise some to know that since I got sober over 21 years ago I’ve never flown drunk or received a DUI… Nor have I done any of the shameful, disgraceful, offensive, and embarrassing things that drunks routinely do.
One of THE first steps of recovery demands acceptance of personal responsibility and being accountable. So the talking heads,…, who declare that the only reason for treating alcoholism as a disease is so those with it can escape responsibility, is absurd beyond words. Those ideas only come from non-alcoholics…in my experience.
I have been sober since the date of my arrest, about 21 years … now. I am active in recovery, speak all over the United States and Canada (for free, of course), have been involved with virtually every major airline in their alcohol programs. I am of Native American heritage and I’ve spoken on reservations in the US and Canada, and at Native American sobriety conventions.
I served out my prison time, came out broke and disgraced, and eventually earned back each of the four licenses I needed, commencing with the private and doing it, quite literally, from the ground up…after the judge miraculously lifted the sanctions on me. I did it the same way I stay sober, one day at a time, one thing at a time, one step at a time, and one license at a time.
To someone who believes that alcoholism is a lifetime disease and implies we who are recovering are delicately balanced on the razor’s edge and might relapse anytime, I say he is only partially correct. It is a lifetime disease, that’s why it’s called Alcohol-ISM and not Alcohol-WASM. But so is diabetes and a number of other chronic diseases. And, yes, some never make it, never recover, and never stay sober – and they die (both my parents took this disease to their graves).
But to discount the millions of us around the world who live good, productive, solid lives in recovery displays a shallow and ignorant way of thinking. And to say no alcoholic should ever be trusted in the cockpit because they might relapse is absurd. Anyone in the cockpit might keel over, have a stroke, heart attack, brain aneurysm, or some other possible problem and it’s nonsense thinking to make a blanket pronouncement and condemnation of everyone based on what “might” happen.
Many don’t make it. But many don’t survive cancer, heart disease, and other calamities of life. The airlines have THE most successful rate of alcoholism recovery among any group, virtually double the norm in the rest of our society. And they do a good job of weeding out those who will not or cannot get sober – and that’s as it should be.
I’m well aware that there are those, still today, who think I should have been put against a wall and shot; and that I most certainly NEVER should have been allowed to fly again. Fortunately, I don’t think that reflects most of the heart and soul of the American character who, traditionally, support and encourage the underdog and applaud comebacks.
Alcoholism is a treatable, recoverable disease. Today there are over 3500 recovering alcoholic pilots flying for airlines. One of the leading docs I know (who’s worked in the aviation/alcoholism field for over 30 yrs) says, “When I get on the plane I glance in the cockpit. If it’s a face I recognize, I breathe a sigh of relief. If it’s one I don’t…then I sit in the back and wonder.”
To each his/her own. I doubt anything I’ve said here will change any minds and may only provoke further debate. My only purpose here is to speak the truth as I know it and do it quietly and clearly.
Being an alcoholic was something I first viewed as a disgraceful, shameful, stigmatic curse. It has evolved into the greatest thing that ever occurred to me because of what it has forced me to do. My kids won’t have to watch me die a grim, lingering alcoholic death, as I had to with my parents. My life today is geared toward giving back more than I ever took, making amends where ever possible, and being constantly grateful for the joy of sobriety and the brightness of each day.
What I have expressed here today is not something unique to me. It is shared by virtually every recovering person I know. I just came home a few minutes ago from speaking in Denver last night. As is always the case, I met people who inspire me and make me glad I was forced into a program of recovery I NEVER would have willingly accepted when I was drinking.
Read the third part: “How do I know if I’m an alcoholic??”
You can read the complete account of Lyle Prouse’ autobiographical account of his tryst with law and his redemption against alcoholism in his book, “Final Approach“, by ordering the book online at http://lyleprouse.com/
Permission of Captain Lyle Prouse to use his posts on an aviation forum, for the purpose of this blog is gratefully acknowledged.
Grateful thanks to Brian Abraham for introducing me to the story of Lyle Prouse, and to Rob, Forum Administrator, for consenting to use the material on their forum for the larger public good for information and knowledge dissemination.