One Navy Vet’s journey port side and back again… this time, with a dry future
Growing up in North Dakota was great if you were a kid or a parent, but by the time he graduated high school, Steve S. was ready to get out of there. That’s when he enlisted in the Navy. “As a kid, my drug had always been adrenaline, so I joined for the travel, the education, the excitement, and to get out to California.”
The year was 1983, and Steve began his military career as an Interior Communications Electrician on the Destroyer USS Paul F Foster (DD-964) when its home port was the now-closed Naval Station Long Beach. Ironically, the Naval Station was located directly south of Beacon House on the south side of Terminal Island, between San Pedro and Long Beach.
“Since I have a background in weapons and hunting with my father and grandfather, I volunteered for the Security Alert Team, including ASROC (Anti-Submarine ROCket) Guard. I was in the Personal Reliability Program as part of that, which included random urine analysis, so drug use was never part of my story, but drinking definitely was. I was semi-pro in high school, but I hit the big leagues in the military.”
Out of the Military and Into Trouble
Steve said that being in the military protected him from a lot of the ramifications of his drinking, and it also helped him with his career. He left the service with honorable discharge and a Good Conduct Medal in 1989 and worked a series of jobs as an electrician, from a communications technician in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to a studio engineer at a Hollywood recording studio. Working in a Hollywood studio was one of his goals, but his favorite job was working as a sound technician at a school district in Orange County. “I enjoyed the guys I worked with, as well as helping the kids, the teachers and the administrators.” Unfortunately, he lost that job as a result of one of his DUIs.
“I’ve had a lifetime 12 DUI-related arrests and seven convictions for wet reckless or DUI. I would spread out my arrests – fix the arrest, go through the classes, the AA program, fulfill all the requirements, get my license back, and after a period of time, I would screw up again.”
“I would spread out my arrests – fix the arrest, go through the classes, the AA program, fulfill all the requirements, get my license back, and after a period of time, I would screw up again.”
After one DUI, Steve spent six months in one of the jails he maintained when he worked at the Sheriff’s Department. After another incident, he was able to get into Veterans Treatment Court, a dedicated criminal calendar through the Orange County Superior Court, offering therapeutic treatment instead of incarceration for military service veterans. During court proceedings, his attorney recommended a 60-day treatment program, but he says he screwed that up too and went to prison for another eight months.
Once he got out, he got a position as a low voltage foreman and project manager in charge of four buildings – two in Long Beach, one in Inglewood and one in San Diego. The only problem? He was driving on a revoked license. “Then I started drinking again. I was going on a blind date with a woman I met through online dating, when I got pulled over for having a faded license plate and got a DUI. I bailed out and did the responsible thing – I found a home for my dog, put my stuff in storage, and resigned from my position. I turned myself in and was in jail for nine months.”
Better Than the Alternative
After that, they wouldn’t let him back in Veterans Treatment Court, because he had “failed so miserably the first time.” Steve told his probation officer that he had turned himself in, so his probation officer brought that to the treatment team at Veterans Court, and they told him he had two options: a court-appointed stay at Beacon House or return to felony court. “I chose Beacon House, because it was better than fighting my case and possibly ending up in prison. So, after nine months in jail, and then trying to resolve the case, the resolution was being dropped off at Beacon House on my 54th birthday.”
Steve says at first, being at Beacon House felt like an extension of his prison sentence, but it was a way better environment. “Being around a bunch of guys 24/7, I felt mostly downs as opposed to ups. I miss my kids, my family, my dog… what helps me get out of that is being able to talk to the guys, seeing how they’re doing and focusing on them.”
“What helps me get out of that is being able to talk to the guys, seeing how they’re doing and focusing on them.”
He continued to work the program, and he also began working in the Thrift Shop. “The whole program for me can be boiled down to the focus of the Big Book – one alcoholic helping another alcoholic stay sober. I’ve grown comfortable with the role of father figure and mentor, since most of the guys here are younger than me, but I’m also the guy who needs to get out of his own way. The guy I’m mentoring is older than me – we’re both grumpy old men – so I am trying to help him get this faster than I did by giving him the tools that have worked for me.”
He also said he’s had a couple of really good mentors who were former military as well. “They basically told me that what I needed to do to stay alive in the military isn’t going to work here, and all the guys here have helped me get past my glaring character defects: self-reliance, stubbornness, defiance, thinking I know a better way… it’s still difficult for me to ask for help. I have to practice to get around that. Perseverance pays off.”
The Future’s So Bright
When asked about his future, Steve said, “What do I want to be when I grow up? I don’t know. I’m about a year and a half from being done with my bachelor’s degree at Cal State Long Beach, so I’ve started the process of reapplying. My original major was International Business, with a Spanish emphasis, and a minor in Criminal Justice. I’m debating what to do and talking to the guys… should I change my major to something else? I don’t know. I just need to get back into the academics… look at the nuts and bolts of what I need to do and speak to the counselors to get some clarification.”
He also said one of the highlights during his time at Beacon House has been in service to the community. “I was Santa Claus for the neighborhood kids last Christmas, and it was one of those moments of pure, unadulterated joy. Also going to schools and reading to the kids – it’s just been an amazing part of this. I’ve been told I can be intimidating, and I’ve always been very guarded, except around kids. I feel like with them I don’t have to worry about having my walls up. I can just be me. If I am nice, more often than not, it’s reciprocated.”
Steve standing across the street from Beacon House with the location of the former Naval Station Long Beach in the distance
He is also proud of the work he’s done and how that has been reflected in the court proceedings. “I believe I’m the first guy in Orange County Veterans Treatment Court to impress the court enough to be promoted from Phase 0 to Phase 3. The fact that the work that I’ve done here has impressed the court enough that they sought fit to do that is a testament to what Beacon House has been able to instill in me.”
“The fact that the work that I’ve done here has impressed the court enough that they sought fit to do that is a testament to what Beacon House has been able to instill in me.”
But the one thing that really stands out to Steve during his time at Beacon House is how he’s handled the news of his mom’s passing and the grief that followed. “I never really learned how to grieve without alcohol, so now I do what I’m being taught here instead of falling into my old patterns. I am still dealing with the grieving process, but I am handling it in a mature, adult, sober fashion. I cry when I need to and then I get into the solution – talk through it and then make the other guy feel important by seeing how he’s doing, what he’s going through and getting out of my own way.”
“I’ve come to the realization that the longer I’m here, the better my future looks. We’re as physically sober as we’re ever going to get, but that’s not the important part. The important part is the emotional sobriety. This is the analogy I like to use: you have two parallel lines. As alcoholics, our ups and downs are really high and really low. The goal we’re all trying to reach – the way I understand it and express it to myself – is to keep the highs and lows within those lines. Not out of control happy, not really depressed. Keep everything in the center, and that’s what this place has taught me to do with my emotions… finding balance.”
You can save the life of a man just like Steve. Click here to make a difference today!