Addiction does not discriminate.
It happens to men and women, young and old, poor and rich, hard workers and those who are not; white collar, blue collar, clergy collar, no collar.
It’s your brother-in-law, your neighbor, the person who cuts your hair. It’s your son or your daughter, your spouse.
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Everyone knows someone who struggles with addiction.
For many, addiction is shameful, something not talked about openly.
However, a growing number of people in recovery from substance addiction, whether drugs or alcohol, are finding that by telling their stories and being open about their struggles, the power of the stigma of addiction begins to lose its power.
In Citrus County, Leon McClellan and his father, Dale McClellan, are two well-respected businessmen, owners of M&B Dairy in Lecanto.
They are both leaders in the community, generous donors to community causes, fathers of families.
And they’re both recovering alcoholics, willingly telling their stories of hitting rock bottom, admitting their need for help and then finding it, all in hopes of letting others who struggle with addiction know that Being sober is not impossible and it is something worth fighting for.
“The way I see it, there are two ways to live,” Leon said. “You can live like a functional alcoholic or a drug addict and everyone around you knows that, so you have the stigma of being a drunk or a drug addict.
“Or, you can make a decision and quit smoking and you will be branded as a recovering alcoholic or drug addict. Which would you rather be?
When Dale McClellan, now 68, was a boy, the cure for the common cold was a hot toddy: hot water and whiskey, a little honey and maybe a squeeze of lemon.
“I’ve had a lot of colds,” Dale joked.
“My family owned a dairy farm and I used to spend weekends there when I was a kid. There was a trailer park on the farm where the guys that worked there stayed, and I was free to roam around,” he said. “They were bright and nice people, but they had alcohol problems. I was about 8 or 10 years old and they said to me, “You shouldn’t drink”. You don’t want to become like me.'”
But Dale thought those men were cool. He wanted to be like them.
At home, his parents might have a drink on a Friday night, but they weren’t alcoholics, and if they were drunk, he never saw it.
When Dale was a teenager, someone he looked up to and admired was into drugs and his family had what we would now call an intervention.
As it happened, Dale walked in, and since his family didn’t want him to go the same route, the intervention shifted to him.
“My grandfather gave me advice,” Dale said. “He said to me, ‘If you feel like you need a diversion, just drink (alcohol). It’s cheap and you won’t get in trouble. At the time, he thought it was good advice and made good sense.
So Dale took his grandfather’s advice.
“I started drinking a lot,” he said. “I got to the second phase of alcoholism, which is called the ‘hollow leg’ phase; you can drink a lot and not get drunk. It goes to the third phase where you drink a lot and get drunk – and pass out.
“You wake up and you don’t know where your car is,” he said.
He said he was a functional alcoholic. He could get drunk at night and continue to work the next morning.
“It didn’t interfere much with my work, but I know it interfered with my family life,” he said. “We had planned a family camping trip with the kids… but my wife got mad and took the kids camping without me and I stayed home,” he said.
This was his turning point, he says. Alone at home, he saw how his drinking affected his family.
“I used to drink at night, get drunk and call rehab centers, so while my wife and kids were away camping, I called a place,” he said . “I had earned some money alongside baling hay, plus a tax return, and I took that money and after my family returned home… I signed up for rehab of detox. I stayed there for 28 days.
Thanks to “many and many” recovery meetings over the years, immersing himself in study, and gaining strength from other recovering alcoholics, in March 2023, Dale McClellan will be 40 years sober. .
“Once, when I was sober for about five years, I pulled into a store in Lakeland and a guy was drinking a 16-ounce can of Budweiser, and it sounded so good,” he said. he declares. “Sounded good…I went to the phone booth and called my sponsor…I got back in my vehicle and didn’t look back.
“I was 28 when I quit drinking,” he said. “My son, Léon, was 5.4 years old; I did the math.”
Like father, like son
Leon McClellan, who turns 45 in October, doesn’t really remember the days when his father drank.
But he definitely remembers his.
“I was 19 and had just gotten a job at a Rooms To Go and an apartment in Plant City,” he said. “There were a bunch of other guys there, and we drank every day. We worked on boats and trucks and we drank. That’s exactly what we did.
He moved to Citrus County in 2003, and like he said, if you’re a drinker, you make friends.
“My alcoholism got worse as I got older,” he said. “On a normal work day, I was drinking a case of beer, 24 cans a day, and on weekends, I was drinking a case and a half or two cases. I did this for a long time. »
In his mid-thirties, he added alcohol, a few drinks a day in addition to beer.
“Then it was more and more alcohol,” he said. “I very rarely got drunk, but I got buzzed.”
During this time, he had a wife and two young children who watched his addiction spiral out of control.
“I was 41 and we went on a family vacation to Tennessee, and I ended up emotionally hurting everyone there, including myself,” he said.
He had argued with his wife in front of his children, an argument that still haunts him today.
“My kids were upset and crying, and I knew I had crossed a line,” he said. “I felt awful and so depressed, and I knew I had to do something about it. But I kept doing the same things… and my kids didn’t want anything to do with me.
His wife called a family meeting to tell their children that they were going to divorce.
“She went through the list and then said, ‘You choose booze over your family,’ and it was hard to hear,” he said. “But that’s what did it. I said, ‘I’m done. Whatever it takes, I will.
He went to bed that night – drunk – and woke up to a phone call from his father, reminding him that a TV news crew was going to the dairy farm for an interview.
“I was sick, but I went in the shower and did the interview, but all I had in mind was the conversation from the night before,” he said. “As soon as the news broke, I called a buddy who had been sober for over 20 years and told him I needed help. I went to a lot of (recovery) meetings after that, and I never looked back.
“I was so tired of myself by then, so it was pretty easy to quit. I changed my ‘people, places and things’ and kept busy working and being with my family. I’ve been sober now for three and a half years,” he said.
Living in recovery
Parts of their stories, especially regarding each other’s drinking and conversations they’ve had about it, are kept private.
It’s part of recovery, Dale explained, keeping other people’s stories to yourself.
Recovery is hard, but so is addiction.
As the saying goes, “So pick your tough.”
“It takes courage to acknowledge your addiction and courage to even admit it to yourself, and courage to act on it,” Leon said. “When you’re drunk, you do things that you have to deal with when you’re sober. I hid everything, and now I have to face it.
Dale McClellan said when he first quit drinking people thought if a person could go without a drink for two weeks or two months that meant you were cured and you could have a drink because you were proving that you could do without.
“People just don’t understand the disease of alcoholism,” he said.
Leon and Dale thought long and hard before agreeing to tell their stories in the newspaper.
They have also agreed to tell their stories at this year’s Citrus Recovery Fest on Thursday September 22 at the Inverness Depot as guest speakers for the event. (See box for details.)
“Maybe it will give someone else the courage to get help,” Leon said.
A few weeks ago, Dale was at his fishing club in Gulf Hammock, and a man approached him and told him he had been sober for three years.
“Do you want to know what got me sober?” the man asked Dale.
“Yeah, I do,” Dale said.
The man said to him: “Leon”.
Three years earlier, Leon wrote on his Facebook page, “I’ve been six months sober.”
“It transformed this guy,” Dale said.