Hiding as a Functioning Alcoholic
Quitting It All to Create a New Life
by Vicki Powers
before: Horace’s story is that of a functioning alcoholic, which ultimately turned out of control. He worked at Marriott Marquis downtown managing the front lobby and 71 employees. His life centered around socializing and drinking at bars. Horace wrecked three cars while driving under the influence. Law enforcement brought him to Houston Recovery Center’s sobering center in October 2019 after he was found intoxicated standing in the middle of the road. He went again a few weeks later. He knew it was more than a bad night.
after: Horace achieved a year sobriety November 8, 2020, and completed a skydiving jump to celebrate. He graduated from the seven-month in-patient substance abuse program at Open Door Mission and now works as their Education and Career Guidance Manager. He continues meeting with his recovery coach, John Turner, at Houston Recovery Center, as part of the 18-month Partners in Recovery program. He has his sights on earning a Master’s in Accounting and opening a tax firm that helps underprivileged communities.
“I took solace knowing this is me taking care of myself. And putting myself first — something I’ve never done.”
Horace’s upbringing as the youngest of seven children was inside a well-to-do, educated family. This proved challenging for them years later as he began his recovery journey among homeless men with substance use disorder issues.
Horace worked as a hotel bartender’s assistant when he was 17, which started his issues with alcohol. He describes his undergrad years in college as a blur. After college, his drinking life continued socially after work. Drinking served as a security blanket to help Horace feel comfortable with himself. At the time, he thought he was the best version of himself.
“Over time, it grew and grew to where drinking became ingrained in my identity,” he shares. “I didn’t know how to sit with my emotions and feel how I feel without alcohol.”
Horace was the anchor of his social circle, so there was a lot of social drinking, a lot of house parties, but mostly bars. He would end up going to more places than the rest of his group, because he always wanted to keep drinking, and that frequently left him intoxicated in seedy areas by himself.
Ultimately, Horace lived the life of a functioning alcoholic. He worked as a front lobby manager at Marriott Marquis downtown managing 71 employees. He kept a kit at work for when he wasn’t able to get home from a night out. Horace put on a fresh, dry-cleaned suit for a new day at work and could always pull himself together to look professional. It wasn’t something he shared with his office.
Arriving at Houston Recovery Center
From 2016 – 2019, Horace said things got out of hand as far as his addiction was concerned. He wrecked three cars while driving under the influence, with alcohol as his primary drug of use. When he arrived at Houston Recovery Center two times just weeks apart, he knew it was much worse than just a bad night.
After his first visit to the sobering center, Horace left and researched treatment programs and considered going to one where Dr. Phil sends his clients in California. He never pursued anything. His ego and his pride made him think he didn’t need it. But after his second visit, he realized his life was getting messy.
“This time I knew everything was out of control, and I had a problem,” Horace relates.
Moving into Open Door Mission
Horace agreed to go to Open Door Mission, a Houston-based in-patient treatment program for men. Although he was agnostic at the time, the Christian-based program wasn’t an initial turnoff for him. Marriott maintains a partnership with Open Door Mission and hires graduates from the recovery program to work in the hotel, so he was familiar with it.
“I realized if Open Door Mission is good enough for my guys, and those are great guys, it’s good enough for me,” Horace says. “I had to swallow my pride.”
But what he didn’t realize is that it’s a seven-month in-patient program, and he had to resign from his position at Marriot during the transition.
In his first week at Open Door Mission, the Marriott executive team arrived — from the general manager to the whole executive board — to see Horace and to offer their love, support, and encouragement of his decision to pursue sobriety. Horace had created a false narrative, irrational belief that the way he left the organization was shameful and ridiculous.
“But they threw their arms around me and was glad I was getting help,” he says. “So that was awesome to have that belief in the beginning that I didn’t leave in shame.”
Horace also worked with John Turner at Houston Recovery Center, his peer support specialist coaching him in the Partners in Recovery program. Horace said Turner was pivotal and instrumental in him staying in the treatment program at Open Door Mission. Turner mentored Horace, shared his experience, prayed with him, and counseled him, especially on how to communicate with his family.
“My parents don’t understand addiction or substance abuse,” Horace says. “They didn’t understand why I was staying in a place like this with people who are homeless and addicts, but I knew I needed help.”
Turner came to visit Horace every week at Open Door Mission, and Horace looked forward to it. “It was the best part of my week,” he relates. In early December, Horace converted to Christianity and re-dedicated his life to Christ. He was on fire and doing well.
Handling struggles during recovery
On day 45 of his recovery journey, his father passed away. His father was an enabler and they didn’t have a good relationship. They had argued when he came to visit for Thanksgiving. When he came December 21 for Christmas, he wanted Horace to come home immediately. His dad died a week later.
The next four to five months were highly emotional experience for him. Horace found it hard to grieve living in such close proximity with others. And he took only two days off to help make arrangements and bury his father.
“I knew my experience here was going to be tough. This is me fully showing up for myself, even though my family didn’t understand, even though there were times I wanted to leave. It was always good to have John Turner around to reinforce that for me.”
One day in February, he called Turner and said he wanted to leave Open Door Mission. Turner came to listen and helped Horace understand this is what it means to change a life and take care of yourself. Horace didn’t leave.
“I had bottled so much inside,” Horace relates. “He helped me realize I had a lot of good things going on. I took solace knowing this is me taking care of myself. And putting myself first — something I’ve never done.”
Discovering a new life
Horace graduated from the substance abuse program at Open Door Mission in May and started working there June 1 as Education and Career Guidance Manager. CEO Tommy Thompson hired Horace to keep doing what he started as a volunteer during the isolation of COVID-19. Staff left to stay-at-home. As a result, Horace made a schedule for the education department, started printing off assignments, and they facilitated their own classes to help keep the 40+ men on track.
“We came together in a global pandemic, guys did projects around here,” Horace says. “I took so much pride, and the place looked beautiful. Recovery continued while things were uncertain.”
Horace says it feels good to give back to a place that has done so much for him. Open Door Mission became his family while he wasn’t with his family after his dad’s death.
Appreciating family and looking to the future
Things have turned around with his family, as well. These days he’s most proud of his relationship with his family and their connection. A year ago he was in treatment away from them for the holidays. Even before that, he would always choose work and do a double shift on holidays.
“I would find ways to get out of meeting with them and being present, because of my addiction,” Horace relates. “I felt really, really fulfilled last month at Thanksgiving, and Christmas is going to be awesome to experience fellowship with them in a way I haven’t in the past.”
In the future, Horace plans to get his CPA license and Master’s in Accounting. His goal is to stay in the nonprofit sector and open a tax firm helping underserved communities boost their financial literacy and navigate taxes.