AP NEWS

‘Moment of clarity’ sparks recovery from alcoholism

October 28, 2019
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Parker Stewart, right, and his peer coach, Joe Tlustos, speak about their experiences with addiction and recovery at the headquarters of Face It TOGETHER on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 in Sioux Falls. (Erin Bormett/Argus Leader via AP)
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Parker Stewart, right, and his peer coach, Joe Tlustos, speak about their experiences with addiction and recovery at the headquarters of Face It TOGETHER on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 in Sioux Falls. (Erin Bormett/Argus Leader via AP)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Parker Stewart felt free when he saw the police lights start flashing behind his car after a night of drinking.

He was a month shy of avoiding a Class 6 felony that comes when an individual gets three DWIs in 10 years.

That 2017 traffic stop would result in two years of suspended prison hanging over his head, but the father of three said it was a moment of realization that he needed to surrender.

“I thought it was now or never,” said Stewart, 33. “It was a moment of clarity. I recognized I had a problem and needed help.”

After years of his family trying to convince him to seek treatment, he walked into Face it TOGETHER days after he was pulled over.

The business is celebrating its 10th year in Sioux Falls and is sharing clients’ stories to spread the word of its peer-to-peer and family support for those with addiction.

Stewart and Joe Tlustos have a unique bond.

The two haven’t known each other long, but they’ve connected over their journeys of living life on the other side of addiction’s shackles.

Tlustos was Stewart’s peer coach at Face It TOGETHER, and Tlustos’ near decade of sobriety was a wall-breaking guidebook for Stewart.

“Working with a peer is different,” Tlustos said. “It’s freeing. I can say I’ve been through this.”

Tlustos started as a volunteer at Face It TOGETHER after years of working in public radio. His addiction began in the 1980s after he was injured during a basketball fundraiser. He was given opioids, and it was the first time his mind felt level, he said, later discovering he had a mental illness that needed addressing. At the time, though, all he could think of was finding that level feeling.

“For a couple of days, it was great,” Tlustos said. “And for 20 years, I chased it.”

Stewart’s addiction stemmed from a sip of alcohol he took just before his 21st birthday in the Minneapolis area. He had turned down offers for alcohol up to that point. But from that first sip, it was a slow, steady buildup to daily beers in the double digits or liquor by the bottle.

It was that commonality that allowed Stewart to open up and trust Tlustos to talk out his experiences and let Tlustos find him other avenues of help.

“There’s a different type of connection,” Stewart said. “I had a peer, and now a friend.”

Part of the process

Tlustos tracks his sobriety. He’s almost reached 11 years, but he cautions keeping count.

While it can be an encouraging intention, when relapse comes into the equation, losing a number can feel like a failure, a discouraging feeling of having to start over.

But relapse isn’t failure, Tlustos said. In fact, the majority of people working toward sobriety relapse. Tlustos encourages people to consider relapse as part of the process. It’s likely to happen, he said, but it’s how you handle the next steps.

“There is one number that matters most,” Tlustos said. “That’s today.”

The temptation is there, Stewart said. But his reasons for not drinking outweigh the brief moment of oblivion the alcohol provides.

“It’s rough and you get what you put into it,” Stewart said of his recovery. “Addiction can hit at any point.”

Finding new fun

A concern Tlustos hears from some new clients is a fear of not knowing how to have fun. For so long, for some, the only fun they knew was associated with the very substance that was disrupting their lives.

The further you are from your last hit, the easier it is to fill your time with more meaningful activities and people, Tlustos said.

For Tlustos, it was finding people who supported his decision and removing himself from tempting situations. He avoids non-alcohol beers. It works for some, but he says it’s too close to the real thing. He took a trip to Colorado and didn’t go into any marijuana dispensaries.

He also learned more about his mental illness and worked on steadying the imbalance in his mind, something that opioids and alcohol used to do.

Now, he wouldn’t have time for mind- and body- numbing substances. He’s too busy hunting and scavenging for antiques and vinyls, and he is getting back into an old passion of writing.

Stewart has multiple avenues of accountability and support. The main one is his kids, who he said were the biggest reason he decided he needed to make a change. He has multiple people he knows he can call if he’s having a hard time, something he encourages everyone looking to start treatment. If your go-to can’t pick up the phone, it can be easy to feel alone and slide back into old habits.

Stewart, the grandson of Stewart’s School founder Gordon Stewart, keeps busier than most.

A single father of three who describes himself as an entrepreneur at heart, he co-owns an international printing business with his cousin. He also plays bass at his church, takes his kids fishing, enjoys playing soccer and is thinking about picking up billiards again. It was a game he loved to play when he was at the bars, but he’s not sure yet if he’s ready to step back in.

It’s something he accepts, but he’s hoping to eventually get back into the game. Part of his recovery is learning to slow down, and he’s embracing the slow, steady practice of sobriety.

“The benefits of sobriety outweigh taking that first sip,” he said. “It’s worth it. It’s a second shot at life.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com