My “Because Of Them” series is a behind-the-scenes look into who helped shape my life. The people who helped me become who I am and what I’ve been able to accomplish* so far.
*The things I’ve been able to accomplish directly benefit the people I help; today’s would-be franchise business owners. That’s what’s important.
In Part 2 of this series of posts, I shared what my life* was like as a mid-teen up to my early 20’s.
*My work-life. My time in the restaurant business.
(In between the restaurant gigs, I followed my dream to be in entertainment. Read Part 1 to see where I ended up-and what part of the entertainment world I ended up in.)
Most of the people who helped me (them) during those years were my bosses. They taught me a lot-and they provided me with lots of opportunities for advancement. Sometimes the opportunities were offered by my prodding. (I drove them crazy. I wanted more. Always.) And some of the opportunities were offered because they “saw something in me.”
Admittedly, It felt good when I got the opportunities. It felt good to get promoted; it meant I had more responsibility.
(I’m almost there…but I’m pretty nervous about this next part.)
Please Read This Paragraph
(Part of it is from Part 2 of this post.)
By the early 80’s, I was deeply entrenched in the Cleveland restaurant scene. I liked the lifestyle, too. I was working until midnight; then partying with other restaurant people until 4-5 am…sleeping in until 2 in the afternoon-going to work and then doing it all over again, 6 days a week. As I said, I
liked loved the lifestyle. It suited me, and at 22 years old-what could go wrong? I was living at home, had money in my pocket, a car, and some good friends who liked to do what I liked to do.
Did you see them in that paragraph? Did you see those 4 words? (They’re bolded)
Things Did Go Wrong. Horribly Wrong.
My partying turned into a full-time gig. I was out every night. At least 6 nights a week. Sometimes 7.
As a result, my priorities changed. The career ladder I was enthusiastically (and successfully) climbing was becoming a lot harder to climb. Truth be told, I stopped thinking about ladders. And climbing.
Actually, I stopped thinking about anything that had to do with advancing my career.
And I stopped thinking about things that had anything to do with responsibility. That young adult stuff.
Instead, I became focused on one thing…and one thing only:
Getting drunk and getting high. (And staying drunk and high)
Sadly, all of my energy was being used on figuring out the best way to get what I needed to keep me buzzed. I was basically working to earn enough money to support my increasingly expensive
habit habits. And since 80% of my income was coming from tips, I had cash in my pocket every night after work. (Which was always gone within a few hours)
I was starting to get paranoid. Real paranoid. I felt like I was being watched. Followed even. Because of the things I was doing…the things I was partaking in.
Moreover, the bar I hung out at was starting to feel wrong. In particular, there were people sitting at the bar I never saw before. Were they cops?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I was just being paranoid.
One day you’re gonna’ self-destruct
You’re up, get down, I’ll come work you out
You get a good thing goin’ then you blow yourself out
Silly boy ya’ self-destroyer. Silly boy ya’ self-destroyer
Silly boy you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blow it all with, paranoia
You’re so insecure you, self-destroyer
paranoia, they destroy ya
(Here it goes again) paranoia, they destroy ya
-From Destroyer, by The Kinks
It Was Time To Go
I’m not going to lie. I was having fun. (Most of the time) But my paranoia (real or imagined) was starting to affect me. It was beginning to ruin my buzz. And (looking back) I was very protective of my buzz. I lived for it. All I did was work-party-work-party. But my lifestyle was starting to catch up with me. So I did what any normal, totally together young person in the throes of addiction would do.
I Moved To Las Vegas
It’s important for you to know that the reason I told my parents etc. that I wanted to move to Las Vegas was to “Work in one of the best cities in the world for my field; food-service.” (A lie)
My dad was
pretty very enthusiastic about my “idea.” As a matter of fact, a couple days later (as I remember it) he magically produced a one-way ticket to Vegas for me. Wanna know why?
Because he couldn’t wait for me to get the hell out of the house. He knew exactly what I was doing. (Well not exactly. But he knew I was slowly killing myself with drugs and booze.) I was quickly turning into a loser and he wanted me out. So I left. I moved to Las Vegas.
My best friend, Phil, was already living there. He had recently finished school at UNLV. He had a job in his chosen career field; Hotel Management. And he had invited me to live with him several times. This time I took him up on it. I kind of had to. As I said, I felt like I was being watched…followed, something in Cleveland. I said to myself, “Maybe if I just move somewhere else, I could get my shit together.” That thought wasn’t all that bad. However, my choice of location…
I really didn’t put 2+2 together. I mean Las Vegas? Really Joel? One of the craziest places in the world. A place where you can get and do anything, 24/7. A place where you can legally walk around the city with drink in hand. A perfect place really-for a guy like me.
Poor Phil. He had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Here was a guy (Phil) who worked really hard in school, got a good job right out of college, and was working his way up the career ladder. A real one.
Then there was me.
The guy who showed up at McCarran International Airport one chilly evening in 1984, with 2 suitcases and $400 to his name. A guy who was
pretty really messed up.
A guy who thought that moving to Vegas was a good idea.
I’m not going to go through all of my escapades in Sin City. It’s unnecessary. I’ll share one event, though.
The 1st Annual El Pasada Halloween Party
Phil, myself, and 2 other dudes ended up renting a house on El Pasada Lane, a street that was about 20 minutes from downtown Las Vegas-where all of us worked. It was a great house. Four bedrooms, a family room…along with a built-in swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. The ultimate party house. And we had a lot of them. But the Halloween Party was the wildest one. (I don’t have any pictures of the event. Maybe one of my old roommates stashed a few. )
We decorated the house. I mean we really decorated it. There was Halloween stuff everywhere, including spider webs, strobe lights, and lots of other Halloween-themed stuff.
Two days before the party, our landlord called; she said she was going to bring some people by that were potentially interested in buying the house. Perfect. Good thing our landlord was a pretty cool lady; she kind of laughed when we told her what to expect, decor-wise, when she came over. It worked out fine; the people she brought didn’t end up buying the house.
The night of the party, I started “sampling” the special punch we made, which was a typical punch for parties at the time time; Grain alcohol and fruit punch. It was delish. I was totally hammered before any of our guests even showed up.
Everybody we knew was at our party. (We had passed out some pretty cool-looking flyers announcing the event. The flyer had the words “A party given by good people for good people” or something like that. We wanted to make sure that folks knew we didn’t want any troublemakers attending.) Heck, even a manager or two showed up-even though they weren’t supposed to “socialize” with employees after hours. My own boss-the lady who ran the upscale restaurant I worked at was one of them. She partied with us. Hard. I think she may have had “a talking to” from the Food & Beverage Manager the day after our party, because she avoided any discussion of the party, and what had unfolded. Use your imagination.
Speaking of the next day…the day after our freaking blow-out of a party, you could easily tell who attended it and who didn’t. The ones who were at the party looked like crap. They were pale and sickly-looking. The ones who chose to go elsewhere for Halloween looked much better…they didn’t look as pasty as us.
There’s one thing I actually do remember about our party; the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers who showed up. I answered the door in full costume of course-and it was a doozy of a costume. The first thing the cops did was laugh…I guess they got a kick out of what I was wearing. The next thing they did was tell us that our neighbors were complaining about our loud music. They asked us to turn it down, and left. Thank goodness. We certainly didn’t want them to come in.
I don’t remember much after that. Others obviously did, because our Halloween Party was talked about for months.
I Left Las Vegas. I Had To.
The Universe is much more powerful than us. It has a way of “telling” us the things we need to do.
Something really bad happened when I lived in Vegas. It actually could have been worse-way worse.
The thing that happened almost affected Phil’s career. And he was taking his job and his career way more seriously than I was.
I’m not going to share what happened, but put it like this; I lost my job because of it, and I was pretty much blacklisted at all of the major casino’s etc. in the city. No one would hire me-except places off the Strip and away from Downtown. So I left Las Vegas. It was hard. Phil was pretty angry with me. (And rightly so)
I ended up moving back home to Cleveland. I told my parents that “Things didn’t work out.”
Anyway, I moved back home and found a job. (In the restaurant business of course) Within days I was off and running. Living at home and partying like crazy. Not a good combination. And I was coming home late. 6-7 in the morning most days.
I was dying a slow death.
My parents were sick of my antics.
I was sick of my antics.
Something was wrong with me. I just didn’t know what.
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
– John F. Kennedy
Dr. Joyce Alexander (Dr. J) was a customer (and a friend) of my Mom’s. She was a clinical psychologist at Cleveland State University. My mom shared her concerns about me with Dr. J, and she agreed to talk to me.
I met with Dr. J several times. I shared my problems with her. I told her (pretty much) what I was doing….the kinds of things I was ingesting into my body.
Dr. J gave me some good tips on how to deal with things…and how to walk away from situations where I could be tempted to drink and drug. Her ideas were good; they even worked once in a while. But not for long. I would come back to her office hurting…wondering how I did it again. How I blew all of my money on drugs and booze. How I couldn’t seem to stop no matter how hard I tried.
I remember (like it was yesterday) her telling me that I would never be able to quit (what* I was doing) on my own.
*The “what” doesn’t matter. You’re smart. Use your imagination. And know that alcohol was always involved.
One Final Jackpot
I had gotten myself into quite a jackpot. It involved selling my car for a few thousand dollars, and then disappearing for 3 days.
When I got back home from my “adventure” I must have looked like hell, because My mom uttered the following words:
“Joel, why don’t you get some help?”
Because of Dr. J
I am here because of Dr. J. She saved my life.
That’s because after my mom asked me that question, I called Dr. J. She told me that she was going to get me into treatment. (Whatever that meant) And she did. She set the wheels in motion. She did something for me that I wasn’t able to do for myself. It saved my life. She saved my life.
3 days later I was admitted to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility near Cleveland. My mom and my brother dropped my ass off at the place. My father was too embarrassed and too angry/disappointed to come along for the ride.
That was September 1st, 1987. I’ve been clean and sober ever since.
My Big Reveal
That was it. It’s not something I talk about on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. But for some reason, I wanted to talk about it and share it with you now. (Even though doing this made me really nervous.)
Maybe I shared it with you because of the Opioid epidemic that’s been taking so many lives as of late. Maybe it’s because I’m getting a little older and I don’t care all that much if you know or not. This next part is important.
Now that I’ve put this out there, I want you to know that if you, or someone you know needs help with a drug and/or alcohol problem, I am available to talk. I’d love to help you or someone you know, in any way I can. There are a lot of people in pain. A lot of people who are struggling with addiction.
My email is Joel at thefranchiseking dot com. My phone number is 1-216-831-2610. As I said, I may be able to help…or to at least listen. I’ll share what I did-and what I do to stay sober today.
Out Of The Fog
Years of chemical abuse took a toll on me. It took a while for me to come out of the fog. For my head to clear. Heck, I wasn’t even employable for a a couple of months.
The fog I was in eventually lifted. I started working again. I had a couple of retail gigs…working behind the counter positions. Ringing up sales at cash registers-which was fine at the time. I needed simple.
FYI: Remember how I had sold my car for cash and gone on a multi-day binge? When I got sober, I had no car and no money. My brother Jon, fixed that. He gave me his car. (I guess the timing was good because he was thinking about getting a new one anyway) Thanks, Jon. I am forever grateful. Having a car meant I could go out and find a job. And I had a lot of support…a lot of cheer-leading from my sister, Janet. So because of them, too.
I can’t forget the support from my mom and dad. Family is everything. And although they may not have “understood” how my life had spun out of control, or the disease I have, they were behind me. They encouraged me to keep trudging-especially at the beginning of my sober journey. Thanks Mom and dad. (My dad was able to see my transformation before he died. I know he was proud of what his son had found and what he had become.)
Some Good Stuff
A lot of great things have happened in my life-because I’m sober.
- I was able to get into sales-and learn the art of selling
- I was able to get into food-service management again
- I had a couple of opportunities to participate in automotive franchise management
- I was able to say “Yes” (after I was fired from one of those positions) to my dad when he asked me to join his franchise consulting firm
- Amazingly, a woman (a Saint) said “Yes” to my marriage proposal
- I have a beautiful, smart, and really funny daughter who has never seen me drunk or high (I never thought I’d be a dad)
- I am my own boss. I own my own business
- A major business book publisher approached me about writing a book-and I wrote one-about franchise ownership (Part of the reason I was able to write the book had to do with a Cleveland, Ohio guy by the name of George Nemeth. He convinced me to start a franchise blog. That blog-the one you’re on now, led to my book deal. Unfortunately, George passed away-way to early.)
- An editor from The New York Times called me to write an article for them-and I did. I write a monthly article for The U.S. Small Business Administration
- I’ve been a keynote speaker
- I’ve been interviewed and quoted by major business publications
It’s all good.
And it’s Because Of Them. Because of all the people who have supported me.
Thank you for reading this.
It’s because of you that I continue to do what I do.
One more thing: I am not looking for “Attaboy’s” or kudos. I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have Superpowers. There are a lot of sober people around who are contributing to society in positive ways. This was my story. It’s what happened to me. Things could have easily gone the other way. They almost did.
On a sad note, Dr J. died of Cancer several years after she helped me get sober…after she saved my life. I’m forever grateful to her. She was a great lady who always told it like it was.
RIP Dr. J.
(Image of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police badge courtesy of Cliff on Flickr)