California-based Shatterproof Ambassador Jay Wylie, is a Navy veteran in recovery. He shares his lived experience to help other US Armed Services veterans to live free of shame and stigma, and find recovery from substance use disorder.
I don’t think you would have ever predicted that I would become an alcoholic – I grew up in a good, stable, religious home – my parents did not drink or smoke. I am grateful for such a idyllic childhood. But at the time I thought it was boring – I saw my heroes on television and in the movies – John Wayne, James Bond and Pappy Boyington – and one thing all those guys had in common was that they drank. I thought that’s what it took to be a hero.
During my first-year of elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and I focused from then onward on being a military officer. All through high school I studied hard and avoided trouble to reach my goal - a Navy ROTC scholarship.
Once in college I really wanted to fit in with my peers in ROTC. I learned to drink as hard and as fast as I could because as an underage drinker you never know when the next drink is coming from. This continued throughout college and when I hit the Fleet and my drinking really took off. I drank the same way because it was the same situation – it’s just that now I had a paycheck and could afford more booze.
But something had changed. The real Navy was “for real”. I took my job seriously as I realized that people can get hurt and killed in this environment. I discovered perhaps my two greatest character flaws – perfectionism and fear. I felt I had to be perfect in everything I did, and that any mistake no matter how small, no matter if my fault or not, was a failure and let down for my team. I feared failure all the time and due to my perfectionism, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I was filled with guilt, shame, and remorse. The only way I had to turn off these feelings was to drink them away.
Ironically, I was good at my job, so I kept getting promoted and gaining responsibility, eventually winding up in command. By then I could no longer hide my drinking, which had increased more and more as my responsibilities increased. I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t ask for help then.
While drinking, I broke every rule in the book and wound up being relieved of command, court-martialed, sent to the brig before ultimately being discharged. It was a nightmare come true and yet the first feeling I had was relief. I no longer had to hide from this nagging feeling that something was wrong, something I could not figure out on my own. I was finally free to seek help. I had been hurting my family and everyone around me and I could finally stop.
I went to the Navy’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) and they introduced me to a 12-step program and I have been sober for over 11 years now. Today, I run a recovery program for veterans, paying forward what I have learned, and my family and I have never been happier.
Recovery looks hard, and it is, but as I tell people, especially veterans, if I can do it, so can you! Ask for help and the hand of recovery will be there to pick you up.