All I Am

The story you are about to read is true. I have spent the better part of the last decade telling other people's stories, but this one is mine. I have not shared most of this with many people and I am not sure why I share it with you now. I just know that I feel compelled to do so and perhaps it will mean something to you or help you in some way. I know it has helped me to write it.

I am not really sure where it all started going wrong to be honest.

I graduated in the top 20 of my high school class of 146 students.

I was headed to Jones County Junior College to play soccer and continue my education.

Like a lot of young people, I got caught up in underage drinking and experimenting with drugs.

Somewhere along the way, I lost the trail. The scary part of it is that I reached a point where I simply didn't care anymore.

I dropped out of college and elected to "work" for a while.

"Work" was really code for I didn't want to go to school or have any responsibilities.

Without school or parental supervision, I became the poster boy for self well run riot.

I did what I wanted without apology or concern for the consequences.

I hurt a lot of people along the way. All of those who loved me were basically eliminated from my day-to-day activities.

The last thing I wanted to hear was a lecture about what I needed to be doing or about how I needed to get back in school.

My main focus was self destruction.

The thing about the disease of addiction is that it makes the insane seem sane.

The first thing it takes from you is your conscience. The absurd suddenly becomes reasonable.

Before long you're devoid of any positive emotion. There is no happiness, no joy and certainly no peace.

Those feelings are replaced with shame, guilt and a daily dosage of pain.

You begin to think that the only way to beat back those emotions is with more alcohol and dope.

I dove head first into drugs and alcohol to escape the pain in my life, but soon my crutch became my captor.

The more I drank and drugged, the sadder I became.

I was never happy. On my good days, I was simply numb.

Most of the time, I just hurt and hurt those around me.

I was so far away from where I needed to be that any step I took would have been in the right direction.

I did all I could to push the positive people in my life away. I didn't want to be around anyone who wasn't supportive of the life I was choosing to lead.

Around this time, I was in an extremely sick relationship.

That is a story for another day, but it was a harmful entanglement that I had a very difficult time dealing with.

In the end, she cut me off. She was far from healthy, but I wasn't good for her or anyone else.

I used the despair over that failed relationship to fuel a new round of personal obilivion.

I even tried to kill myself by overdosing on codeine, but I took too much at once and ended up throwing the whole batch up all over my bathroom.

I am not sure what was more depressing at the time, failing at suicide or having to clean that mess up.

My life was running off of the rails and I was completely out of control.

I packed up and moved to Hattiesburg with a few friends looking for a "fresh" start.

I really just wanted to get away from home and get away from anyone standing between me and what I wanted to do.

The ill conceived relocation was fun for a while, but it began one of the darkest chapters in my life.

I drank and used drugs on pretty much a daily basis. I did my best to schedule work around partying, but that didn't always work out.

My circle of friends got smaller, but there always seemed to be somebody new with something else to do.

One day you're smoking weed with a couple of friends from high school and the next you're drinking cough syrup with strangers.

Realtionships in drug circles don't last very long in large part due to the paranoia of the addict.

I reached a point where I didn't even trust my roommates, so I hid drugs from them even though they were my using buddies.

I wanted to be the highest, have the most dope and have the most colorful drug history.

That's a pretty strong indictment of my overly competitive nature to say the least.

Despite how dysfunctional we were, we all managed to keep jobs. I am still not sure how that worked out, but it did for a while.

The problem we had was that our income was unable to meet our monthly obligations and support our wild living.

During another one of our benders, we discussed our need for funds because the last thing we wanted to do was move home.

A friend of a friend, there seemed to always be plenty of those around when I had dope, suggested we break into a convenience store.

Before long I got talked into it.

We five idiots loaded up in two cars and headed out to rural Lamar County to break into the building and see what we could pilfer.

It turns out the store belonged to the Uncle of one of our "friends". I guess our "friend" thought he could talk our way out of it if we got caught.

We made it out with a ton of groceries, beer, cigarettes, household items and some cash.

We knew we were okay for at least another month.

I am not sure if we had the money for the cable bill, but we had enough Marlboro lights to stock a vending machine.

The next time things got tight, we broke into another store, then another and then another.

I started getting really paranoid about things, because I just didn't trust people.

To make a long story short, we got caught because one of our "friends" got pinched after beating up his girlfriend and hitting her mother.

Our "friend", who was still a minor, turned states' evidence against us to save his own skin.

I could have killed him. I don't mean that metaphorically either.

If I could have found him, I would have killed him.

I was so far over the edge that the thought of going to prison for life paled in comparison to my need for revenge.

By the grace of God the opportunity for me to do something incredibly stupid never presented itself.

So there I sat in the Lamar County jail.

My family was prepared to let me stay there and I don't blame them.

I would like to say that I was done being stupid and treating people like crap, but I wasn't.

I made a collect call to just about anyone who would accept the charges.

I felt like if I could just get someone to cry that they would bail me out.

To be honest, I had no intentions of walking the straight and narrow I just wanted to get out of jail.

Before long my manipulations worked and my Mamaw Selman came to get me after six days in the clink.

I thought I was just going to walk out of there and do my own thing.

She had other plans.

When I walked into meet with her and the judge, she had a hand written contract of about a dozen conditions I had to meet in order for her to bond me out of jail.

The first thing on the list?

"1. I will get help for my alcoholism and drug use."

In many ways it was a relief that she knew, because I had convinced myself that I was fooling everybody.

In the end, I was only fooling myself.

I agreed to her terms and we were on our way home.

Within days, I was at Pinegrove recovery for a consultation.

I spent the majority of the time hitting on the intake counselor.

As if she would be interested in some long haired dope head fresh out of the county lock up?

My grandiosity knew no bounds.

The decision was made that I needed in house treatment.

I was to spend Christmas in drug rehab.

The day my mother brought me to Pinegrove, I was already starting to have a lot of withdrawals.

It had been several days since my last drink or high and I was hurting.

As soon as my mother left, I moved into my room and I laid down to rest.

Before long I was ringing the desk asking for another blanket. I was freezing despite being in bed and under the covers.

One blanket became two, then three, then four and then I passed out.

I have no idea how long I was out for, but I woke up once and I had an IV in my arm.

I was only awake a moment or two and then I was back out.

The next time I woke up, one of the clinical assistants was holding my hand and praying.

I distinctly remember hearing the phrase, "God, please don't let him die."

At the time, the idea of dying seemed a lot more appealing than having to face everything I had in front of me.

I was facing jail time, the difficult task of repairing relationships with my family and simply learning to live without drugs and alcohol.

Frankly, I didn't want to do any of that.

Honestly, I just went to rehab to make people feel sorry for me and to try to look good to the judge that would be hearing my case.

It was all another scam I was trying to pull.

I had no plans to stay clean and sober. It just didn't interest me.

After I was able to wake up and join the program, things were terrible.

I no longer had the fog of chemical dependency to mask my emotions.

All of those feelings of shame and guilt returned and now I had to actually face them.

They do give you good food in rehab, which was good considering I checked into treatment at 6-2, 147.

I had a couple of friends in rehab who were students at Ole Miss.

I haven't seen them since I left treatment, but I love those guys.

They helped me realize that you didn't have to do dope to be accepted.

I still had this overwhelming desire to be loved and within about ten days of treatment, a young lady my age checked in to deal with her cocaine addiction.

Me, being the sick individual I was, quickly made my move.

Our treatment romance continued after my primary treatment was done.

Her insurance coverage ran out, so she had to leave treatment.

I dropped out to be with her.

I moved in with her and we made the most of it. We didn't drink or use, but it was clear this relationship wasn't for me.

She was divorced and frankly I was never interested in being serious with anyone who had an ex-husband.

She talked to me a couple of times about running off and getting married.

Maybe it's pride or just plain insecurity, but I never wanted to be anyone's second choice.

I wanted to be with someone who shared all of the experiences of marriage and parenthood with me as a first timer.

Call me selfish, but I wanted to be the only man who ever called my wife "My wife".

On Valentine's Day 1992, she drove me to the Marion County jail to turn myself in to face my punishment for my indiscretions during my drug use.

I watched her drive away and in my heart I knew we would never be together the same way ever again.

I was headed to the Central Mississippi Correction's Facility in Rankin County.

They cuff you, put leg irons on you and chain everything together, so you can't get up and move around on the bus ride up there.

Needless to say, it is not a comfortable feeling physically or mentally to lose your freedom.

I was supposed to be at the CMCF for about two weeks for processing.

I am not sure what all they need to process, but you give blood, take drug tests and fill out some paperwork.

You live in solitary confinment. The only time you leave your cell is when they "rack it for the count", meals and a few minutes outside.

When you step into that tiny little cell and they lock that door, things get real.

You are no longer your own. You are property of the state of Mississippi.

Spending 23 hours in solitary confinement gives you a lot of time to think and come to grips with everything you've done and what you have to do.

I would like to tell you that I had a heart of acceptance and that I was tough the whole way through, but that would be a lie.

My treatment girlfriend wrote me one letter the whole time I was incarcerated and I think she took two phone calls from me before she stopped accepting the charges.

It was clear, we were done. She just didn't have the words to tell me.

There I was isolated and alone having to deal with all of that on my own.

One night it all sort of came into focus for me.

March 17th, 1992, God and I had a conversation.

I was angry at God and about the direction my life had taken.

My best efforts to manipulate everybody and live life on my terms had led me to prison.

I was finally ready to give up and ask for help.

I prayed for hours that night. I think I might have even prayed all night.

I asked God to forgive me and I asked him to protect me.

After those things were established, I prayed for my future wife.

I cried out to God and I asked him to fix whatever was wrong in her life and prepare us both to be together.

I asked him to protect her and bless her like he never had.

I didn't know who she was, but I knew she was out there somewhere and I wanted God to be with her and keep her safe.

Tears rolled all night and I pleaded with God to send her comfort and to send her the assurance that I was coming.

I was locked up then, but I was coming.

Over the course of the next few months, I was prisoner #78422 in the Mississippi department of corrections.

I went to Parchman and took part in the R.I.D. program. R.I.D. stands for regimented inmate discipline.

Basically, it was boot camp for convicts.

Most days weren't so bad. We played a lot of cards and we got to play softball every once in a while.

I was a good ping pong player, so sometimes Drill Instructor Simon would come get me off of the zone to play while the others cleaned up.

It was our secret. I never beat him, but was once up 8-1 only to see him come back and win.

On the inside, there's nothing wrong with a throwing a game or two to stay in good with the guards.

Being removed from general population, we were protected from the darkest issues involved with the prison.

That said, some things happened that changed us all.

If you fight or "violate" while in the R.I.D., you get kicked out of the program and you have to serve your sentence in general population.

One day a car thief and dope dealer got into an argument over a pack of raman noodles.

Punches were thrown and both were removed from the program.

That night, the drug dealer hung himself. He was facing 40 years and simply couldn't come to grips with the fact that he threw away a chance at getting out in a few weeks.

His death made a profound impact on my life. It taught me how quickly things can change in a negative way if you let your emotions get the better of you.

Before I knew it, I was on my way home from the Mississippi delta a free man.

I served my time and needed to get back to real life, complete probation and stay out of trouble.

Despite all I had overcome, I still wasn't sure if I wanted to stay clean and sober.

There was a part of me that said, "I tried to do the right thing and it didn't pay off."

That was really just my disease planting seeds in my head.

As soon as I got home and talked my mother into letting me use her car again, I was headed to Hattiesburg to go to an AA meeting at Rebos.

About half way there, I decided to swing by Sharky's Shuck and Jive to see who all was hanging out.

Before I could get in the door, some guy came pouring out and threw up all over the steps.

I thought to myself, "I don't want this."

I made it over to the AA meeting and found a chair.

I shared that night about how I tried to stay sober and I ended up going to jail anyway and I wasn't sure what my next step was.

Before the meeting was over, I noticed this beautiful blonde headed girl across the room.

I didn't know who she was. I had never seen her before, but she did something to me.

When she looked at me, it was like I knew her. The longer she looked at me, the less everything else seemed to matter.

After the meeting was over, I inquired about her and found out her name was Dana and she was in secondary treatment.

I told Larry, the treatment bus driver, that she was the most beautiful girl in the world and that I had to meet her.

I am not sure when we actually met officially, but soon we we're being friendly.

Remember my old treatment flame?

Well, once I got out of jail I looked her up again just to see if there was anything still there.

There was nothing there, but heartache and excuses.

I left her one evening after an argument and I went to another AA meeting.

The only chair available in the room was next to that hot blonde Dana.

I sat down and proceeded to tell her all about my girlfriend troubles.

After that, we began talking a little more in passing.

I was honestly scared to get too close to her, because like a lot of girls in treatment she was from somewhere else.

I didn't want to fall in love only to see her move away.

One night at another AA meeting, she told me that she was on male restriction in treatment because she and some guy sort of liked each other.

She was complaining about everything that had happened.

During the conversation she told me she was going to stay in Hattiesburg after treatment and enroll at Southern Miss.

She went back to complaining about her treatment crush and I told her, "Don't worry about him. He's only temporary."

She looked back with a smile that nearly knocked me over.

As the weeks went along, we became closer and we flirted a bit more.

I was planning to take a road trip to see some friends of mine play a show in Baton Rouge. I mentioned this in passing to Dana and she said she wanted to go.

I didn't need to be told twice, so our first date was set.

I remember the first time she kissed me it was better than any pill, any drink or any trash I had put into my body to make me feel better about myself.

I still wasn't 100% sure I wanted to be clean and sober, but I knew I wanted to be with her.

If I had to stay away from the drugs and alcohol to spend time with her, then that is what I was going to do.

I was not going to let that crap ruin this.

Everyday was glorious. I would watch movies at her apartment and if she had to work, I would go see her at work.

I couldn't go a day without seeing her and being closer to her.

Maybe I was trading one addiction for another, but I knew that I loved her and that it hurt to be away from her.

As I began to know more about her and learn more about her history I asked her about how she got clean.

It was a tragic story of pain similar to mine. She had been through it and she seemed so strong to me.

I had so much respect for her mainly because she was still so positive about life despite it all.

I needed that in my life. She made me realize that my past mistakes did not define who I was any longer.

I wasn't sure where this was headed, but I knew I liked who I was when I was around her. She made me want to be a better person.

I decided that I wanted to be clean and sober because of her. While I wasn't sure if I was worth the effort, she was.

They tell you in treatment that you have to do it for yourself. Well, I didn't.

I did it for her. I did it to win her love and I did it because I wanted her to be with me forever.

One night we were talking about what led her to treatment and she told me about running away from home.

She was caught up in the pangs of addiction and a fight with her parents led her to leave.

Her daddy went and looked for her every single day, but he couldn't find her.

One day, her mother was able to track her down and bring her home.

After a heart to heart with her family, the decision was made to get her help.

The night before Dana was to leave for treatment, she decided to sneak out and go partying one more time.

As she sat at the end of the road waiting for her ride to pull up, a deputy sherriff pulled up and asked her what she was doing out there that time of night.

She said she was waiting on her friend, but the officer told her to go home and she did.

The date?

How about March 17th, 1992?

The very night that I was locked away in a prison cell praying for her very life, my future wife was being sent back home by a police officer to prevent her from getting high one last time.

I am not ashamed to say that I believe in more than fate.

I know in my heart that God answered my prayer. He sent that officer there to protect her from herself and protect our future together.

Just over a year later, she became my wife.

I made a pledge to her when we first started dating that I wouldn't drink or use drugs as long as she didn't.

Over 20 years later, we're still keeping that promise.

We have had our ups and downs and things have not always been what I would like them to be, but we have always loved each other above all things.

These past couple of weeks have been some of the most difficult of my life.

I texted my beautiful wife last week during one of my battles to come to grips with the passing of my Mamaw Selman.

I have found that when I am hurting and I basically dig down and expose the emotional nerve that I can come to grips with my true feelings.

My message to Dana went something like this:

"I used to think that life would be much easier if I didn't love other people.

"There would be a lot less loss and disappointment.

"Life has taught me that without love there would be no joy, no happiness and no sense of meaning.

"The whole point of life is to love. Without love, life is simply not worth living at all.

"God created me to love you and I will all the days of my life."

I know with all of my heart that God created that little blonde headed girl from Natchez, Mississippi to be my wife, my partner, my biggest fan and the mother of my children.

I am blessed beyond measure to have found her and I have cherished every smile she has ever thrown my way since the day I first laid eyes on her.

I am a lot of things to a lot of people. Some good, some bad.

I have done a lot of incredible things and I have been able to experience some of the best things in all of sports.

At the end of the day, what matters most to me is to be able to lay my head on the pillow every night and put my arm around that beautiful woman who saved my life.

Without her, I am nothing.

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