Russ’s Story

I was a child of about ten when Dad gave both my elder brother and I a very light shandy at Christmas dinner.  My younger brother, suffered petty mal seizures as a result of an early childhood accident and could not share this experience. He was also only six. The reason I mention these details is so you have some idea of my growing up environment. Mum and Dad were workers and part of the great Ozzie battlers generation, working hard to raise the family properly and earn a living with some spare to put away for the future. We went to church on Sundays and were taken on road and fishing trips in our holidays. I suffered from croup until we moved from a timber home to a brick and tile one in 1962 when I was eight.

So all pretty normal and I can’t find a reason to blame my childhood enviroment for my disease.  That shandy was significant because it was my first taste of alcohol and although I hated the beer taste I loved the effect, behaving like a souped up drunk on this most insignificant taste. From that day I was banned from sharing the shandy at celebrations and did not get a chance to taste alcohol again until when I was confirmed into the Anglican church at 12 and took up duties as an altar boy. The church use fortified wine as part of the communion ritual and as an altar boy I had unlimited access to it.

When I volunteered to serve at daily 6am mass on my way to school everyday I was hailed as a pious young man who loved God and his church. In fact all I did was serve at these services so I could access the altar wine after the services and remove money from the collection plate for cigarettes. Even at this age my disease made me cunning and I never got greedy enough to take anything near what could be noticed. These crimes were never exposed. Consequently I would breeze through the mornings at school and start to fade after lunch. Come end of the school day I would cycle home via the church for a lifter and then home to peel spuds etc and cook a simple meal for my family. The family would come from work, first Mum then my older brother (who had left school early to become a boiler maker’s apprentice) and then Dad to dinner and a couple of beers. Mum liked a brandy sometimes and I stole what I could. Even though I hated the stuff, the effect was powerful.

At 15 I cooked up a scheme to release myself from the bonds of Mum and Dad’s drinking rules and joined the Naval Junior recruits in Fremantle W.A., 2,000 miles from my childhood home in Adelaide. After 6 weeks’ aboard’ we were given weekend liberty for the first time. I had been quick to gravitate towards those prone to alcohol use and even before this leave we had pulled off one raid on the Wardroom, or Officers Mess, managing to steal and drink a number of bottles of whisky without detection. We headed out for our first leave and although due back at the gangway at 1900 (7pm) we stayed out and partied with newly made drinking partners, not arriving back until the Monday morning… very much worse for wear and pleased to be the first in our division to be called up on Commodore’s Parade (discipline) and relegated as MUPs ( Men Under Punishment). No more leave for 6 more weeks and extra cleaning duties in the scullery or sullage hut ( rubbish detail). When next leave became available I was ready for another escapade but found only one other willing to risk it with me, same behaviour same result, over and over again.

After being draughted to HMAS Vendetta in Sydney as an electrical mechanic I discovered my behaviour aboard a real ship was not to be tolerated by the ‘brass’ or my fellow seamen and I soon found the offer of an optional discharge posted in my mail slot. The idea was you took optional or waited to be dishonourably discharged. I took it.

During my short term of service Mum and Dad had moved to Queensland so that is where I had to be sent. I worked as a shoe salesman, used car yard groundsman, labourer, steam cleaner, brickies’ labourer and finally settled for a few years as a prefabricated roof truss maker, a job which required accuracy, varied skills and a good work ethic. I enjoyed this work and the enviroment and co-workers. I still I found reason to party on my 1 day weekend, ensuring I was never absent or late for work because such behaviour would hinder my upward climb on the jig floor (Jig: apparatus used to build repeated copies of a specific shape with accuracy).

Much to the surprise of myself and those around me I met a lady who fell instantly in love with me and, after some rebellious adventures that took us to Mildura, Adelaide and jail before she was 16, we ended up back on the Gold Coast married and pregnant in quick succesion. I was able to get my old job back and things began to deteriorate from there. It was my habit to go into Surfer’s Paradise on Saturday nights alone to upmarket bars and drink alone. My wife had no say in it, I just went. Even when our oldest son was born this habit did not change. I never looked for other women or even mates to drink with; I did however get ‘connected’. The criminal underground was fertile and available money from simple tasks for ‘The Big Guys’ easy. Most all of the jobs I did I was never caught for and therefore I got cocky and a reputation for reliablity and silence.

As time went on I would do more and more while drunker and drunker. The whole thing came to a head one night when my only income was from criminal activity. I had been set to guard a man in his unit to make sure he did not run away while his partner took gang money inter-state. We had drank a great deal of spirits and I was very much worse for the wear. The man, a homosexual made an indecent advance to me as I layed semi-conscious on the couch. I took a knife to him and hurt him badly, somehow his neighbours heard and called the police. I was in a security building and could only make my escape by dropping to the balcony below four times until I landed on the ground. The police had to chase me for hours as I knew the place well in those days. I led them to a 30 story building site I was familiar with and lost them. This was the beggining for me of a life on the run from myself, police, responsibility and any limitations on my drinking.

When I was caught it was decided that I would be better commited to a phsyc unit for evaluation. The court ordered a 3 month stay and the hospital put me in a minimum security unit beside a golf course. The weekends were alloted as leave days and I would spend Friday till Monday night outside and free, coming back for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evaluation sessions. I was provided with such heavy tranquilisers as Largactyl and Rhohypnol to add to the joy of the experience. The combination, with the drugs and alcohol, made me bullet proof and I staged four armed holdups during this time.

My wife had gone to Western Australia and after my 3 months with only a court report from a psyhcologist I left the State to try and recover our marriage and meet my second son. We launched into an on-again/ off-again relationship of another 5 or 6 years when, with my two sons and only daughter, she left me for the security of a relationship with a truck driving gambler who trucked my family all over the country for years. I pursued them for the first year but luckily they eluded me.

When I finally returned to Perth I began a series of relationships with all sorts of people in the criminal catergory. I lived from day to day becoming an artful thief and fraudster. Some would say I was a good criminal because the only jail time I served was mostly for unpaid fines when I chose to not pay and serve the time as a rest from the booze or to get to someone who had “done the wrongy”. I got the name as a dangerous, unpredictable, nasty fighter who would not hesitate to smash a glass in a man’s face. Such a rep gained me the respect of the hard core element and I soon found myself living with mobs of bikers, drug addicts and violent criminals. We cornered a part of the drug market and gained a good reputation as not to be messed with. Of course we had to hurt a lot of people as part of our daily work to get this. We buried many freinds and enemies, from such causes of death as drug overdoses to cycle accidents and murder. I was terrified to let my guard down. Terrified I would be discovered as a frightened boy so I worked, drank and fought hard.( When I hear people say that staying drunk was the hardest thing they have ever done I know immediately what they mean.)

It was our habit to drink 24/7 and we bushwacked many legal contractors for jobs that only existed on pay day, most of us had Centrelink benefits and all of us had money coming in from drug deals and constant stealing. As the security measures in banks became more sophisticated we moved to organising gangs of street kids to steal for us and we would fence their goods for 20cents in the retail dollar, selling on for 40 or 50. Garage sales all around Perth and weekend markets being our best way of disposal. Towards the end I had entered the inner sanctum and was given the job of finding major suppliers of ‘grass’ around the town. We needed a constantly increasing supply as more and more users became sellers and expanded our buyers. Self propagating business is great for a while but eventually it takes over all your life.

By the time I was forty I was drinking two bottles of spirits a day, usually vodka and my mind was beggining to suffer. I found a gold mine in a supplier who could and did provide me with any amount of weed and other harder drugs such as ecstacy, LSD and amphetamines. I took a distinct liking for ecstacy and began to smoke big cigars. I had made it, all i had to do was call through an order, deliver the money and pick up the goods. The rest was handled by the other boys and I reaped large profits.

By 43 I was constantly paranoid, carried a firearm, had a bodyguard and could not count to ten. I could not sleep, remember more than a few hours past and had to have somebody take over all my business, throwing me a few crumbs but enough to keep me quiet. Come 44 I was given another option, bow out gracefully and leave all that I had built behind or go down shooting. I chose to bow out. Within months I was living in a run down hovel in Midland, drinking cask wine and frightened to step outside in daylight.

I went back to AA as I had over the years had plenty of exposure to the programme through jail and rehabs I had hidden out in for a while. I had a serious battle on my hands. Much of my early recovery is a blur; depression and thoughts of suicide were constant companions. I was scared to drink and could not use drugs. I was also scared not to drink and my head was full of scrambled brains. I had so many amends to make and most was very serious stuff. How could I face down the fears of all these years on the streets. How could I level out and fly straight?

I sat on my bed one night, 6 weeks behind in my rent, drinking a cask of claret and contemplating suicide via the gas stove. I rose and went to the oven only to find after living there for 6 months that it was electric. I went back to the bed in tears. I was finally beaten. Not even capable of doing the honourable thing and taking my own life. In the corner of the room a spider spun a web. I realised the spider had two things I did not – a home and a purpose.

At 45 years old the boy who was once judged second out of 350 in a high school IQ selection test was no good to anyone. I cried in self pity, I raged in anger and finally I let go and said the following. “God help me because I cannot help myself.” From that point on I believe HP got busy with me and showed me how to adapt to a ‘one day at a time life’ with a God dependence as utmost in my life. I began to go to meetings and start to believe there was hope. I made freinds and I got close to a special man who at first I disliked because he would laugh at my hard luck stories. I nearly got violent with he and another member once in his kitchen because they were laughing at my conditioning, not my plight, but, my stupid beliefs about street righteousness or some such unimportant thing. I was sick and in need and this man (who choses not to be called ‘sponsor’) loved me in a way no-one ever had – unconditionally. He was just there when I needed him, he never turned me away and he never laughed without telling me I was hard headed but not hopeless.

I was in a world so different to what I had lived in for so many years it was like being in a dream. People did not bag and bash each other for recreation, they were not to be wary of and nothing I could say or do changed their minds about there being hope for me. The only thing I had to do was listen, learn and act on what I was given. No preachers, no musts and no judgment. Do it whatever way you like but do it. Tell the truth and listen for the similarities. There were few to begin with because few had been to the depths I had. Few had even lost their homes or families. None but the oldest had been as far down as I and had I looked for the differences I would have died.

Today I share a home in an upmarket suburb in Brisbane with my ex wife and 27 year old son, my married 23 year old daughter (who has given me 2 grandsons) lives a few miles away and I see them all regularly. I have just come back from a 6 day trip to northern NSW to see my 76 year old Dad who loves to see me and is coming over this afternoon for cake and coffee. I have a home group in Brisbane and a dozen or more mutually respected friends I see on a regular basis. I have too many to count aquaitances, in and out of the fellowship, and I can even get credit at the chemist and newsagent.

I speak to my ‘not sponsor’ twice a week on the phone and I visit Perth whenever my limited budget allows. God has done for me what I could not do for myself. All this in less than 5 years without a drink and 6 seriously trying to work the programme. It was done with my support and the support of hundreds of walking miracles one day at a time. I even have people who want me to sponsor them today and I know how important it is to be ready to give it away.

Thanks for the opportunity to share this summary and I pray that God uses it to serve.