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Swimming In It
By Dave Franco - May 24, 2012

I had a reason to drink.

It wasn’t that I felt empty inside. That’s a bit predictable. It’s that I was a super successful high school student with a great GPA, a bad boy reputation that extended to several schools, world-class times in several different swim events (plus a wall full of awards and trophies to prove it) and a sculpted body.

And I felt empty inside.

I simply couldn’t make sense of how I could have so much going for me and yet still never feel like I could talk to a girl without bumbling like an idiot or fit in comfortably with a group of friends. Every social setting was a desperate struggle; what to say, how to be.

I used to fantasize about one day getting over the hump and being the fun, good time Charlie I saw other guys being. How I was going to get there, I had no idea. One day, however, someone handed me a golden ticket.

I’m sure the guys who came over to my house that night with Mad Dog 20/20 under their coats had no idea what they were doing, but when they handed me a bottle, they opened the door to the me I had always dreamed of. When I drank, I was finally funny and happy-go-lucky and the center of attention. What was not to love about that?

But there was something different about me that you may not find in the average boy who drank too much the first time he got ahold of alcohol. You see, when all the guys felt like they couldn’t take one more drink of that horrible tasting rot gut poison, I was just getting started. I polished off the remainder of both bottles because I loved the taste of it. As a matter of fact, when all the drinking was done, I staggered up to my attic where I had stashed three beers that I had stolen from my parents and chugged them down, one after another.

The next morning, I was a mess. But I had answered all my problems.

In the years ahead, I made a fool of myself doing everything from publicly urinating to running around my school nearly naked to putting my hand through a car window to take back some beers I believed were being stolen from me to getting in a heap of drunken trouble at my high school prom.

The summer before going away to a university on a swim scholarship, I took a job in a bar. I not only drank ridiculous quantities, I drank with ridiculous frequency. The wolf had taken up permanent residence inside the chicken coup.

I looked at my body, which was as in shape as ever, and it was then I started to believe the lie. I thought I was in control and that none of it was affecting me. If I wanted to stop, I could just stop.

By the end of summer, I was at the university and drinking like a fish. It took me almost no time to have my first alcohol-related incident when I was caught bringing beer into my dorm room. I almost lost my scholarship before my first practice. They slapped me on the wrist.

I kept drinking, of course. How else was I going to make the ladies like me? But here is where the theory begins to break down. I found that the guys on the team whether, drinkers or not, jerks or stand up guys, each had success with girls—and I still didn’t. Perhaps who I was, the person swimming deep down beneath all of the alcohol was still so weak and pathetic that even a case of 24 beers couldn’t drown him.

Was I so different that even liquid courage couldn’t make me a better man? There I was, receiving an award for most improved swimmer with lights and applause and flashing cameras and I would have given it all away just to have somebody really like me.

There was a gun inside our fraternity house. I took it to my room. In a deep depression, I laid on my bed and ran my fingers across the sharp metal edges and looked longingly at it. It was cold. It was heavy. It fit in my hand beautifully. It wouldn’t take much to let it bring a little peace to this suffering soul. They shoot horses, don’t they?

It wouldn’t take much to let it bring a little peace to this suffering soul. They shoot horses, don’t they?

It may have been the one time when I was fortunate to be drunk. I laid my head back and fell into an inebriated sleep.

My sophomore year, we threw a party for a bunch of freshmen recruits and in addition to getting plastered, I got this one girl so wasted that she embarrassed herself terribly at the party. I got in huge trouble.

The coaches brought the team together and one by one they took us into a different room. Finally, I was the last one left. When they brought me in, they asked me a battery of questions about the incident and then hit me with, “Do you think anyone on the team has a drinking problem?” I gave them a name. Then my coach said, “Does it bother you that everyone on the team said you were the biggest partier and thinks you have a drinking problem?”

What I believed was an outrageous accusation was actually a prison door swinging wide open, but I was too dumb to see it. I stormed out.

Over the next year, I was caught drinking one night on a diving platform by cops who narrowly decided not to throw me in jail. I came to practice late smelling like a bar. A huge brawl between two women in a nearby pub got some press and of course, I was in the mix. In fact, if there was any alcohol-related trouble, I was somehow associated. Finally, the coaches kicked me off the team before my senior year.

I had nothing to do. I was alone. And my drinking had long stopped being my way out of anything, only in. Good riddance, I thought.

One night, I came up with the answer to the problem of being me. I would join the Navy, become a SEAL and die in battle. It would bring honor to me and my parents. I might just do something good and best of all it would put an end to all this empty aching.

So I did just that. I joined the Navy, flew through basic training and I went into BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) prep training. On weekends, I went to the bars in downtown Chicago, just a train ride from where I was stationed. Some weekends I would drink for 18 hours straight. I would end up getting sick somewhere or blacking out in a park or sitting with my spinning head against the train window—holding on for dear life while traveling back to camp. One night I “came to” in a full sprint. I had been running for five miles.

The day after I completed hell week, I went out and got smashed. Any normal guy would spend the weekend recovering from the most brutal week a human can endure, but not me. It was insanity.

I rode my motorcycle a hundred miles to a friend’s house and we tailgated a big college football game and got hammered. We went back to his house and drank heavily into the wee hours. I got up early to drive back to my unit before anyone noticed. I stumbled onto my bike and then drove a couple of yards into a wall. A neighbor lady looked out her window and watched me trying in vain to put my bike upright. I was almost too drunk to stand, let alone pull up a 400-pound bike. She called the cops. I went to jail.

Suddenly, I found myself in X-Div, the division where all the guys who fail BUD/S are stored. I had endured every physical and emotional arrow the United States government could throw at me. I stood as an elite. I had reached a pinnacle almost nobody in the world can claim. Now I was spending long, restless days in a smelly barrel of losers.

Now I was spending long, restless days in a smelly barrel of losers.

Loneliness, emptiness and regret is a disgusting cocktail that even I couldn’t get down.

They made me go to an intensive out-patient treatment program. The first thing on the agenda was going to AA. I stepped into that place and the head guy took one look at me and I knew he was going to call on me to speak to the room. What he was really doing was giving me a chance to save my life.

Sure enough, he made me get up. I said to the others there, “My name is Andrew. They say I’m alcohol dependent.”

Like scalpels flying through the air, their laughter cut me, opened me up and saved me. The jig was up. This was one group of people who was not going to take my crap. They weren’t going to be fooled by me—even if I was fooled by me.

I said, “Hi, my name is Andrew…and I’m an alcoholic.” And in that moment, I stepped into the rarified air of the truth. Relief came over me like a wind that only I was feeling. All those warm, accepting faces seemed like God to me, and suddenly I wasn’t afraid to be me. Better yet, I didn’t feel like drinking. And I haven’t since.

It was there, in the glow of confession, in speaking the truth about who I am, that God finally had access to my heart. The change that I had spent a lifetime hoping to find at the bottom of a bottle was about to happen.

A friend invited me to come with him to the Rock Church. The message of God’s unfailing love through His Son, Jesus Christ, made me finally see my worth. God created me perfectly. It doesn’t mean I didn’t do a lot to try to ruin things. But He loved His creation—me, so much that He let His Son die just so we could be together forever. Could anyone ask for more value than that?

He has also written a purpose on my heart. I’m now a part of the surf ministry. Helping people come into relationship with their Creator is the best high I’ve ever had. If there’s anybody who knows what it is like to have a soul ache, it is me.

You may be wondering, did I ever find a girlfriend? God did better than that. He has given me a beautiful bride.

Just like I committed to from the beginning of my sobriety, I have been working through the deep trenches of my past, trying to find out what was it that caused me to act out the way I did. I have to admit, it hasn’t been without some pain. But He restores me everyday.

I owe my Savior everything. After all, He could have let me get on that freeway that morning. Instead, He let me bump a wall.

Today, I am a proud SEAL. I finished first in my class. I fight today for no selfish reason of my own. I have a country to save and freedom to restore.

I owe all of it, my life and my wife to Jesus Christ and the power of confession.