This is a journey of personal change. It began on August 5th, 2015 when, at 230 pounds, I said “enough!” and started walking at Staring Lake. Those first laps around the 2-1/4 mile path were hot, sweaty ordeals – putting one foot in front of the other, dreading the slightest of hills, and looking like an old, out of shape, white guy, huffing and puffing as sleek walkers/joggers breezed by with fine tuned gaits. With brutish determination I came back the next day, and the next. Then I downloaded My Fitness Pal and Pacer on my iPhone to start tracking my food, exercise, and daily weight. I bought warm clothes to continue walking through the winter. Weight came off. I even made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas without getting off my diet. Well, it’s not really a diet – it’s just eat less, move more, record, and repeat.
Then I ended up in a ditch in Wisconsin on January 16th, 2016.
“You could have killed somebody” are the words Deputy Kaschinske spoke to me in the ER at Divine Savior Hospital and they changed my life. I had been on my way to Lake Geneva and on to Chicago to visit my dying uncle Lee when I made bad choices. I returned home the following Monday and told Veloice everything that had happened. After 41 years of marriage that was one of the hardest conversations we’ve ever had.
Over the next couple of days I put together a plan to make sure I tackled this problem head on and knew that it would take honesty and transparency as I shared what happened with people that could help me.
On Tuesday I called Rolf Simonson, my family doctor, and made an appointment. I told him what happened and he recommended I talk to someone in Mental Health at Park Nicollet as a way of understanding what may have triggered my sadness and poor choices. I will never forget the grim expression on his face when we talked about alcohol abuse.
Later that week I called two of my 3 grown daughters (who live in the Twin Cities) and had them come over to our house. With Veloice present I told them what happened and then met with both daughters a week later, individually, to turn every stone and let them know all the steps I was taking to ensure that this never happens again. My other daughter lives in Idaho with her family and I drove out a week later to talk to her in person.
Next I called Larry Nordby, a co-worker that has become a very good friend over the past 5 years. We enjoy going on motorcycle trips together and I knew that Larry had been in recovery for over 30 years. We met and I told him all of the details of what happened in Wisconsin. Larry gave me valuable personal insight and suggested we go to an AA meeting. He offered to be my sponsor and we attended weekly meetings together – an essential step in my road to recovery.
Shortly after returning from Wisconsin I sent an email to Randy Haar (Director of Transportation, Eden Prairie Schools) resigning my position as a school bus driver and district trainer. I had already planned to have coffee with him the next day so we also met in person. While I officially resigned for “personal reasons” I told Randy about my OWI and that I could not continue in my role as a bus driver. Randy was very supportive and offered his help in any way possible. My part time “retirement” job as a bus driver meant the world to me. I loved this job and looked forward to going to work every day. I knew every one of my kids by name – and the names of many of their parents and siblings. My annual reviews were exceptional and I took great pride in doing my job to the best of my ability. Last spring I was honored by the Transportation Department as Employee of the Year for 2015. In addition to being a bus driver for 7 years I had been selected as a district trainer after only one year on the job – that had never been done before. For 6 years I had been responsible for training all new drivers and the annual re-certification of over 100 drivers in the district. In addition, as a certified trainer, I taught our department’s Smith Driving System classes and focused on safe driving techniques. A large portion of our training had to do with recognizing distracted and impaired driving behaviors. For me to get an OWI cut me to the core. Just realizing that I had put myself in a position that could have resulted in someone else getting hurt or killed due to my own stupidity hurt me more than I can ever convey with words.
As a follow up to the visit with my family doctor I scheduled an appointment with Ron Johnson at Park Nicollet Mental Health Services. Ron specializes in addiction and relationship counseling. I had my first visit on March 14th and have continued to meet twice a month for the past year. At the end of our first session I asked Ron what he thought – he said that “normally he would spend the next 3 sessions getting his patient to take the steps that I had already taken.” He felt that I was addressing the issue head on and had a great network of people to support my efforts.
On November 4th I had my annual physical at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center with Dr. James Wallace. He was the doctor who told me two years ago that it would be a good for me to lose weight. On this visit he was excited that I had hit my goal of 170 (losing 60 pounds over the past 16 months). Then I told him what happened in Wisconsin last January and the steps I had taken to confront my problem with alcohol. He suggested I go for an assessment and get familiar with the resources that are offered through the VA, but was encouraged by the progress I had already made. I went for an assessment with Susan Spindler on November 29th.
What happened to me in Portage, WI will never happen again. It is not who I am and it is not who I want to be. I served in Vietnam (aircraft crew chief in the Army Security Agency – part of the NSA – with a Top Secret clearance) and have a service connected disability. I put myself through the University of Colorado, worked in executive management throughout my 35 year business career, have a credit score of 832, been married for 41 years, and we’ve raised 3 wonderful daughters who all have college degrees, work, and have great guys in their lives. I served for 10 years on the board of “A Better Chance” – a 501(c)3 that brought deserving kids from inner city schools around the country for high school in Eden Prairie. In 1998 I was the recipient of the Eden Prairie Human Rights Award in recognition of my efforts as a co-founder of the Eden Prairie Bias Crime Response Network (BCRN). I’ve led two teams to work with Andean Rural Health Care in the altiplano region of Bolivia. In 2010 I was appointed to the Eden Prairie Human Rights and Diversity Commission by the city counsel for a 3 year term and served as its Vice Chair. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. While talking with Veloice the other night I told her that I could never go through looking in her eyes, or the eyes of my 3 daughters, and telling them that I had been drinking again. It won’t happen. It simply can’t happen, and I am committed to seeing that it doesn’t happen again.
Now, down 65 pounds (5 pounds below my goal of 170 – and 15 pounds less than my doctor’s goal), and having remained sober for over a year, I am fully engaged in this process of self-evaluation and personal change.
It is not about a diet to lose a few pounds or about putting a cork in the bottle. It is about taking little steps everyday until they become healthy habits. It’s about taking a different path than the one I was on. It’s about looking in the mirror in the morning and wanting to understand the guy that’s looking back. It’s about listening more and talking less. It’s about finding and using new tools (and getting rid of the rusty old ones that are no longer useful). It’s about growing wiser (not older). It’s about being a kid again (while delighting in being a grandpa). It’s about trying to be a friend to Veloice (not just a roommate and husband). It’s about picking at old scabs, thoroughly cleaning the wound, and applying a bandage so it heals completely. It’s about finding the words to have a heart to heart conversation with God (not the argument that has echoed in my brain for years).
Three months ago I had surgery on my right thumb to resolve the pain of bone-on-bone arthritis. It’s a slow recovery (6-8 months) but better to get it taken care of now rather than let the maladies of aging accumulate and slowly take their toll. Yesterday I had surgery to fix a hernia. And in 12 days I’ll go back to TRIA to get my left thumb operated on (now that my right thumb is well on its way to full functionality). I’m not a glutton for punishment, but I won’t hesitate to fix the things I can fix as I get older. The day will come when the doc tells me I have something he can’t fix and I’ll be ready to deal with that when the time comes. Today I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for many years, and I intend to do everything I can to continue on this path of paying attention to my mental and physical well-being so I can be active and enjoy this 3rd act in my life.
These past 18 months have taken me on an incredible personal journey – from that first sweaty walk at Staring Lake when I made the decision to lose weight, driving into a ditch in Wisconsin, and navigating through the long, tedious process of recovery. I’ve had to fight through feelings of shame, anger, humiliation, resentment, and disappointment while searching for the long hidden root causes for each of these destructive emotions. I’ve had to strip myself down to the studs before I could begin the process of rebuilding who I am from the ground up. I’ve had to confront issues that have been buried deep inside and shed light on dark places that have been ignored for far too long. It is a slow process. As my dear friend, Larry, told me: It’s the loneliest journey you ever take with friends. Nobody can do it for you, and quitting is not an option. It’s hard work. But as I look back on the past 18 months I know my life has been changed and I’m now in a place where smiles come easily and I like the guy in the mirror once again.
This is a journey that learns from yesterday, delights in today, and is hopeful for tomorrow.
One step at a time.