My name is Michael Murphy and I am an alcoholic. My sobriety date is June 19th, 2020. Before we get to the good stuff, I would like to thank Sara and the rest of the amazing Fellowship RCO Team for asking me to do this. Especially for Recovery Month. It is an absolute honor and privilege.
One of the biggest things I learned in my time at Fellowship RCO Men’s Recovery Residence was the importance of being of service. Thank you.
While I am aware that a lot of people come to South Florida to get sober, that wasn’t the case for me. I came HOME to get sober. I grew up in Coral Springs and attended High School in Fort Lauderdale. But, it had been quite a while since I had returned home. To say I lost my way would be an understatement.
My childhood in Coral Springs was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it was pretty textbook. I often joke that it was a lot like Stranger Things. Minus all the weird crap. Riding bikes on adventures, sports, manhunt and whatnot. You played outside until the streetlights came on and you got your butt inside. And for the most part I kept my nose out of trouble. I had a core group of neighborhood friends and we were a tight group. Then High School came.
My Mother decided I was going to attend a private Catholic High School in Fort Lauderdale. In her eyes, and rightfully so, she thought this would give me a better shot at a good college and ultimately a better future. I was NOT thrilled with this decision. Hell, I even tried failing the entrance exam only to end up acing it. I would spend my first two years there kicking and screaming. Hoping that if I got miserable enough, mom would pull me out and send me to Taravella to be with my friends. Mom had other ideas. I was there to stay and I might as well start enjoying it. But I needed to make friends. Like so many people at that age, I found it at parties and keggers. And quickly realized that for whatever reason, I had a much higher tolerance than my classmates. And just like that, a new party animal was born. But, I had friends, some popularity and even ran for class office. I figured this is just what you do. If you want to meet people and get popular, be the party animal. This reputation would follow me throughout my time in High School all the way up to graduation.
Remember how I mentioned my Mom sent me to this school to get into a better college? Well, it didn’t work out like that for me. While others were scouting colleges and getting ready for the ACT/SAT I found myself in a mall food court. And one day, a Marine recruiter happened to walk up to my table outside the Sbarro and do his routine. And man did he have that thing down pat. Within 10 minutes or so, I left that table with a poster and was convinced this was what I was going to do when I got out of High School. Much to my mother’s chagrin. See, my Father passed away when I was only 1.5 years old from what we were told could have been complications from his exposure to Agent Orange during his two tours in Vietnam as a Marine Infantryman. So now, for my Mom’s baby boy to say he wanted to follow in his Dad’s footsteps, it was not easy for her. AND to add insult to injury, I was only 17 so she had to sign my contract for me. But, I was set on this is what I wanted to do. If you were to ask me, to this day, I think there is something genetic about The Marine Corps.
On July 12, 1999 I found myself on the infamous yellow footprints at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. Boot Camp was Boot Camp. I went in knowing what I was getting myself into. And it did not disappoint. Well, it did A ton. But you get what I mean. After completing Boot Camp I was sent to Camp Lejeune to begin my School of Infantry Training and my MOS (Job) Training. And very quickly, I would find myself doing what I did best in High School. I was definitely the stereotypical young Marine Corps Infantryman. My life revolved around Marlboro Reds, Black and Milds and booze. A lot of booze. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. You’re pretty much baptized in whiskey in The Marines. And much like my time in High School, my drinking would earn me friends and a reputation. An identity of sorts. This would stay with me for my entire time in The Corps. As I am writing this, we have just remembered the tragic events that occurred on 9/11. A date that would shape the futures of thousands of men and women in uniform. Myself included. Being that I was in The Marines, we knew it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. We knew our Country would answer back and we were going to be there first. And at the end of 2002, we got our wish. We were shipped out to Kuwait for what would be the buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Talk about questioning your life decision making skills at a Sbarro food court table during a summer in High School. And on March 20, 2003 we entered Iraq.
NOTE : There is a misconception that PTSD can only occur with people in the Military and/or First Responders. This is nonsense. Trauma is trauma and should absolutely be addressed before it eats you alive.
PTSD comes in many forms. Mine happens to come from a form that I had never even heard of until I eventually would step foot in a V.A. for the first time, 15 years later. It’s what is commonly referred to as, “Survivor’s Guilt”. A few weeks into the ground war I was involved in a vehicle accident which left me being pulled out of the turret of my Humvee (I was a .50 cal gunner) thinking I was in California doing desert warfare training. After multiple attempts from the Docs telling me just where I was, I realized they weren’t joking. Again, life decision making skills were questioned. I was taken away on a Blackhawk to a field hospital with some other injured Marines. During this time in the hospital, my life would forever be altered. On one of the TVs there, I was able to watch from a Helicopter’s vantage point, my guys being involved in a pretty nasty gunfight outside of one of Saddam’s palaces. A gunfight where we took casualties. Including our Lieutenant who I had developed an odd friendship with while in Kuwait. This was tough news that was only made tougher when I found out that he lost his life manning the weapon I was supposed to have been in. He had everything going for him. Young wife and newborn back home. Fulfilling his lifelong dream of being a Marine Corps Officer. And here I was. The young Marine who just wanted to do the bare minimum and get blacked out on the weekends. I would allow this to eat me alive for the better part of the next 15 years of my life.
I got out of the Marine Corps (HONORABLY haha) in 2005. And I decided that I was going to move to Orlando, Florida. I wanted to make up for lost time, I wanted something new, to reinvent myself. And I also wanted to run from my past. Like most Veterans with trauma, I had developed the idea that if you don’t talk about it, it goes away. And I did just that. I could work with people for years without them even knowing. I would tell people I didn’t want to talk about my time in because, “It’s boring. It’s always the same conversion.” The truth is I didn’t want to talk about how I actually felt. Like I didn’t live up to my self imposed expectations. Because I didn’t die in that turret, I was a let down. I was less of a man. And for the most part I was doing a pretty good job of it. I was also succeeding at this reinvention of myself. There was no Mike or Michael, anymore. Now there was Murph. And Murph picked up right where he left off in Orlando. I started working at Universal Studios in Citywalk. Where all the restaurants and bars were. And in order to make friends what do you think I did? Found the bar everyone would go to after work and mesmerize them with my drinking prowess. And you know what? Damn it, it worked again! I had friends, I had girls, I had popularity! And a pretty sizable ego growing to boot.
When I started working at Citywalk, it was at one of the bars. But after a year or two, I found myself working a part time gig at the newly opened tattoo shop they had opened there. It is owned by a retired freestyle motocross rider who also happens to be married to the singer Pink. This part time gig would snowball rather quickly into me becoming the General Manager of it. And I would spend the next 9 years there. Running a multi million dollar a year business at Universal Freaking Studios. And that ego I mentioned? Growing at an alarming rate. My drinking that was at an already alarming rate? Growing exponentially. But, nobody could tell me I had a problem. “Do you know who I am? Do you know who I work for? Do you know what I do for a living?!” for a regular part of my conversation skill set. And eventually, it would lead me to Music City U.S.A. Nashville, Tennessee. I went there to open their newest location and to what most, myself included, thought would be to live the dream. A single bachelor running a mega popular tattoo shop in Downtown Nashville? Shoot. Who WOULDN’T think it was a dream. It wasn’t.
That year in Nashville, everything started coming apart. Not only was my drinking now starting earlier and earlier, and mostly alone, but my mental health was starting to crumble. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing crippling anxiety, depression (HOW?) and isolating. I was working 6-7 days a week and not making any friends. It sounds like a bad Country song, but my only friends were the bartenders at the Honky Tonks on Broadway. And the wildest thing that started happening? 12 years removed from Iraq, and I all of sudden started having nightmares from my time there. My sleep was already an issue, but now I didn’t want to fall asleep because of the dreams. But, if I fell asleep blacked out, I wouldn’t remember the dreams either, right? Wrong. The owner of the shop would come in for a visit and see my trajectory headed south and in a hurry. Eventually, I would be let go because I was not only becoming a liability to the Company, but as a friend, my boss couldn’t watch me do this to myself. The Dream Gig was over. What now?
I made my way back to Orlando. But this time, I would get a job working at a bar downtown. I had known the owners from throwing Tattoo Shop events at their other bars. And much like we read in The Big Book, I thought that because I was in a new part of a big city, new friends, and a new job that everything was going to be ok. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I say dead wrong because after two years there, I was convinced I would be dead by 40. I had all but given up. I was making crazy money at this bar, even went on Vacation to Iceland for my birthday. But, I looked and smelled like a homeless person. And my apartment? Think the apartment from Trainspotting, but an alcoholic. Absolutely disgusting and dreadful. And yes, I am a vanilla alcoholic. I tried messing with drugs, but none of them did anything I liked to me. So I stuck with the bottle. While this is going on, I experience another first. Self Harm. I never thought I would be one of “those people”. But there I was. And on top of everything else, the owners of the bar took notice. My inner thighs were always deep bone bruised. And I thought I was good at hiding them. Obviously I wasn’t, considering I then found myself sitting in a meeting with the owners and hearing an all too familiar speech. “This goes beyond professionally. We have known you for 10 years, and personally we cannot be a part of what you are doing to yourself.” And just like that, I was out of a “dream gig” because of my self destruction. I was the ultimate example of a self-will run riot. I would spend a few more weeks up there until the money ran out. From my checking account or from whatever I could manipulate from my family. Guess it’s time to go back home?
When I came back to South Florida, I had ZERO intentions of addressing my drinking or the state of my mental health. I would lay low on my sister’s couch for a little bit until the next opportunity would fall on my lap. However, while I was wasting away, drinking from the time my eyes opened until they closed, my family was taking notice for the first time in over 10 years just how bad I had gotten. And they were getting the front row treatment. A few days turned into a few weeks and a few weeks turned into a few months. Finally, my Mom and Sister decided to say something. My Mother had called a close friend who used to work for The V.A. and asked if she could help. I still to this day cannot say no to my Mother. So, I went, 15 years after I got out of The Marines, I was finally stepping foot into a V.A. And it only took a matter of minutes before I was brought in as a “Crisis Case”. I was considered a danger to myself. The one good thing about this? I got bumped up in the line to see a therapist. And we would start a therapy known as EMDR. I for the first time was opening up about what was going on in my head. At least I was working on that part. I was adamant that I didn’t want any meds, because I was too good for them. I didn’t want to be a V.A. zombie. But, I was perfectly content being a raging alcoholic. Go figure. But, I was making some progress as far as my PTSD and this new thing I had never heard of, survivor’s guilt. And then it happened.
Shortly after I started working with The V.A. Covid would become a thing and change the landscape of everything across the globe. It also meant The V.A. would close. And I would lose my therapy sessions. Zoom wasn’t really a thing, yet. And any progress I had made, would quickly diminish. But, now I had an excuse to sit and drink all day long. I couldn’t get a job, and my therapy is gone. Woe is me. All the while, being an absolute burden to my sister and her family. I was the drunk Brother/Brother in Law/Uncle on the couch. What good can come of this?!
And then it happened. I don’t know what to call it. Some people call it a moment of spiritual enlightenment. The bright shining light kind of moment. I don’t know if that’s what happened, necessarily. But something happened. I had just pulled a warm, hidden bottle of Jager out of my dirty laundry basket and poured two shots. Now that I think about it, why were there two?!
Yeesh. Something clicked. And realized that if I didn’t do something, I was going to for sure die. I was going to be the ultimate burden. And for what? So we could put “Another Veteran dead by bottle” on my headstone? I remembered a friend telling me about a place she worked at in Delray that had a great Veterans program. She left out that it was also a Substance Use Disorder Treatment Facility. A rehab. But, I knew I needed something. So I called her the next morning, and next thing I knew I was at a detox facility in Boynton Beach and was scared out of my mind. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I was more nervous going to that detox than I was to Parris Island. At least there I had an idea of what I was getting myself into. I was fortunate enough to be granted a scholarship to stay for PHP Treatment for 30 days. At the end of those 30 I begged for another 30. I knew I had only scratched the surface. They were kind enough to grant this to me.
When I arrived at Fellowship I had already learned how to get sober. But I didn’t know the first damn thing about STAYING sober. I was hesitant when I first got there. But, I had met a couple of guys at a Sunday AA meeting on 441 who stayed there. And they assured me I would be fine and that this is where I needed to be. And they were 100% right. I NEEDED to be around other men dealing with the same issues as me, but at the same time, had the same goal as me. To stay sober and become a person in recovery. Next thing I knew, I had a Sponsor, I had a Grand-Sponsor that would become my first boss in sobriety, I had a routine and most importantly I had the Fellowship of others. It was a type of Fellowship I had not had since my time in The Marines. A lot of it actually reminded me of the barracks. The same place I was hesitant to move into was now my mailing address. I hadn’t had one of those in I don’t know how long. It was home. A healthy one, at that. Sure it didn’t have all the bells and whistles as some of these other places you see down here. But what it did have was much more than any bell or any whistle. Every day, no matter what time or whatever was going on, I could walk out my front door and have dozens of other men that I could talk to. To me, that was priceless. And I also realized that being in recovery isn’t weird or anything to be ashamed of. If anything, I learned to accept it and want to grow from it while there. It also fueled in me that I wanted to help others. I remember seeing some of the staff there and thinking “Man. That’s what I want. I want to do something like this!” I wanted a purpose.
I would go on to spend about 6 months at Fellowship RCO and I can without a doubt, 110% say that if I had not gone there, I would not be where I am today. Fellowship RCO showed me how to STAY sober and HELP others in their recovery. And with that knowledge, I was able to turn it into a job. On my one year anniversary of sobriety, I accepted a position working for the Alumni Department at the very Treatment Facility that I went to. This was full circle for me. These were The Promises taking place. Taking suggestions from others was doing exactly what we are told would happen. Fast forward and I am not only still working for that Alumni Department, but I am in charge of it. I am in charge of a Department of 10,000 Alumni across 4 facilities. And none of this would be a thing without me being an Alumni of Fellowship. And for that, I will be forever grateful. And be more than happy to be of service to them if ever asked.
Lastly, September is National Recovery Month. If you are reading this and in Recovery, please take a moment to pat yourself on the back. What we are doing day in and day out is not easy. There is no cure and there is no fix. It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. And I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for this. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of US.