Tami's BOAF Story
I don't remember my first ride in an airplane. Actually, I have no memories at all of life before age five, when my family returned from Laos in 1966. Then I have the good memories: a house being built, my first pony and the green quilt of the Oklahoma prairie as seen from the front seat of a Cessna. During one of my father's manic phases, he had started a flying club with two airplanes, a 172 and a Sierra Beechcraft for his fellow Engineering Professors. About once a month, perched on a large cushion, I got to keep a sharp look out for airlines, while we flew around these strange patterns with him often wearing a weird hood covering his eyes. I was alway amazed at his ability to pick out the runway so easily.
Neither my parents nor any of the grandparents drank or kept alcohol in the house. Mom's side was Mennonite and Dad's side was Hard Working Folk. Except for the flying, I thought the adult world as boring and glum. In Stillwater Oklahoma High School seniors with excellent grades only needed to attend morning classes. Boredom set in the very first week and on a lark I enrolled in the county's Vocational Tech Auto Mechanics class. At the time I didn't know an Allen wrench from a Phillips head. There was one other girl and sixty guys in that program. After eleven years of being in the brainy/nerdy group at school it was very exciting to discover working class males, mechanical things and best of all alcohol.
Strawberry Daiquiris served up at my first and only VoTech party transformed me from a flat chested, pimply faced, shy teen to a sexy and funny lady. Memories from that night include flirting, laughing and then some how suddenly vomiting in a too white bathroom and panicking trying to clean it up. There was no memory of driving home or going to bed. The next morning I woke up excited. I had found what I was missing in life, vowing to do that again. But next time I would not drink quite SO much! During that senior year I also took up my father's offer to finance lessons with his flying club, only $20 per hour. I soloed on a clear, calm, chilly morning before school. My 250 lb instructor warned me that the plane would perform better when he got out. And like my heart, that Cessna seemed to leap in the air and like that first drink, a passion for flying was born.
With the exception of my instrument flying class and Aviation History I had failing grades my first year at OSU. With my parents encouragement I dropped out of college. Opportunities for flying and for partying seemed to open up magically and I took them. I worked my way up in the aviation world flying larger aircraft. In the alcohol world I worked downward,eliminating various types of spirits as not agreeing with me. Finding beer to be the only drink which would allow me to stay up and remember how to get home. In spite of one scary night, drunk and fighting off a stranger in the back of a parked car outside Wichita, Kansas, I wasn't to have an inkling that I had alcohol problems until moving to Detroit in 1984.
Detroit airport was encircled in Concertina wire and dilapidated homes loomed in the neighborhood. It didnt take me long after arriving during snow flurries in cutoff jeans and a Honda Civic to realize that I wasn't in Kansas anymore. The Part 135 cargo flying was running hot as the car companies were doing "just in time" inventory for their plants. Most nights I would fly out a box of screws or such to an East Coast factory and return. Often dawn found me drinking a couple of beers with breakfast as we had ten hours off and I needed eight for bottle to throttle. I quickly had a couple thousand hours and got my ATP, but no social life at all.
I then met a red-headed construction worker/banner towing J3 Cub owner. It was love at first flight! He picked me up for the first date with an ice chest of beer. We drank, danced and kissed! I was so elated. By the next day I was so very low. While recuperating in a dusty pilot's lounge after flying executives to Canada I started doing the math. I was airborne that morning just under eight hours since we had left the last bar. I promised myself that this would never happen again but I rationalized that Bill was my love, my soul mate, the man I should marry. We were wed within a year and my years of attempts to control my drinking began.
In spite of my best efforts (swearing off with an oath, never drinking at home, drinking only natural wines etc.) three years later Bill and I ended a night of bar hopping with a little fight, which left me with a black eye. That bruise lasted longer than all the previous regrets from my bingeing. This was shortly after I had passed training and was a 727 engineer for a major airline. With just a little bit of yellow remaining, I put on makeup and Ray Bans and suited up to show for a trip. In a weird God Coincidence, my former sim partner Claire was in the ladies room in ORD Flight Ops. She said "Oh my God Tami, what happened to you!" I was mortified, for my conscience was much easier to deceive when I was only lying to myself. And thus started the DRY period of Hell. With white knuckles and clenched fists, aided by flying as much as possible with minimum time layovers, I DID NOT DRINK any more. Emotional swings which are so common in early sobriety came on strong. Life as I knew it was over, and with the alcohol gone my marriage was miserable too.
One evening returning from a four day trip I had to pull over on the shoulder of the highway because I was sobbing. Much shaken, I called a Mental Health Hotline later that night. God bless the therapist to whom I was referred because at the very first session she insisted I attend Alanon. My first meeting was in a church basement in Antioch, Illinois. The AA's met in a large social hall but they directed me to the Alanon meeting, at the door of what formerly was the choir robes closet across the room. Eight women and one man sat somberly around a large table. Reading the propaganda hanging on the wall I decided I would do one step a month and be well in a year. Bill's drinking was definitely the problem and for one dollar a night I could cancel my new therapist and save a lot of money.
The AA's were laughing, clapping and cheering in sharp contrast to the quiet, sometimes teary sharing in our little Alanon room. But the effect of the love and comfort were immediate--no judgement of drinking here. When I found out the group met every single day of the week and went for pie afterward I had companionship I desperately needed. We went to the big AA Saturday night speaker meetings. I was amazed at the similarity of the inner feelings and experiences. Why, they drank just I did!
Sticking to my plan to work a Step a month, five months later I got an Alanon sponsor, a lovely woman about my mother's age to hear my 5th Step. I had heard that we are only as sick as our secrets. Tearfully, I told her five mortifiying secrets. She put her arms around me, hugged me and told me that she loved me. Then she said something that was to change the course of my life: "Do you realize that during most of those situations you were under the influence of alcohol?"
In October of 1992, my mother and I flew to Thailand to visit several students she had hosted in previous years. On her birthday the group shared a bottle of champagne. It had been nearly six months since my last drinking debacle. Could I drink just one little glass? Succcess! But the rest of the night was occupied with alcoholic thoughts. The very next evening, our last in Thailand, a large group went on a river boat dinner cruise. A male friend showed up with a bottle of whiskey, asking each in our party if they would like a drink. As he asked all around the table, I practiced in my mind saying "No" as every other lady did. Then, at my turn I said "Yes, please". Inside my head I was stunned those words came from my mouth. However, no one seemed to dare or was even looking at me. I said to myself "Tami, don't drink it." But I did. A small incessant buzz started in my head. Inside my mind's eye I could picture my friends' AA coins. The words "To Thine Own Self Be True" played and re-played in my head. That night I went to bed discouraged and hopeles. I was defeated.
Back in Illinois, instead of crossing the room to join Alanon, I stayed with the AAs. I stuttered saying the word "Alcoholic" after my name the first time. But no one was surprised I was there, they had thought I was a drunk all along. I don't know why but after admitting complete defeat in Bangkok I have never had to take a drink again. I do know I have been very, very fortunate. By circumstances, seconds, and inches, in both flying and in recovery, various small miracles have occurred. Repeatedly God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
Bill wasn't ready to quit driking yet and I felt I couldn't stay sober with him. We amicably divorded and I moved to California, where I met my second husband, Jack. We discovered BOAF at the San Diego International BOAF Convention Banquet. I was so surprised to see so many happy, healthy, well dressed couples. As a couple we had two goals: To raise children and continue to be an active part of BOAF. Over the next twenty years, with the help of AA, counseling and God we parented two daughters and attended many BOAF annual conventions.
Jack had a heart attack in April of 2018 on a hike during a Casa Palmera retreat for recoving pilots. Thankfully, BOAF friends were at my side that day. He might have died at a time and location where I would not have been along. We had already registered and booked a room for the BOAF Calgary Convention that summer, so I went, traveling by myself, a new widow. The Calgary nest welcomed me and wrapped their arms around me. While drinking mint tea with sober pilot friends at a nearby Indian restaurant I laughed a real belly laugh, my first since he died.
BOAF carried me again the next year in Dallas where I was "volun-told" into the Secretary/Treasurer position of BOAF. I think my friends knew it was better for me to be busy. I count it a major God Coincidence that when Covid came, and my 757 fleet was parked I had both our BOAF credit card and BOAF history to be able to reach pilots on ZOOM. Through that isolating summer the daily Big Flock meeting was a life line for me. Instead of being the worst thing that could happen to our group it opened new horizons. We have truly been launched into the fourth dimension. I am still grateful and living one day at a time. I don't know what the future holds for me, my life is still very unsettled but this mjuch I do know: BOAF will be a part if it because I will always be a part of BOAF.
If you are interested in listening to audio AA presentations by pilots in recovery click on one of the following links:
PASTE IN YOUR BROWSER THE FOLLOWING LINK FOR THE BOAF PILOT'S FORUM AT THE 75th AA INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION IN SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS IN 2010 :
If you wish to send in your story of experience, strength and hope please use the email contact on the CONTACT US tab. We welcome hearing from you.
Back to ONE PILOT'S STORY
Copyright © 2014 by "BOAF" All Rights reserved.
"ONE PILOT'S STORY" ARCHIVES
I've Got This - Jason G.