On a beautiful September afternoon, my friend Joe Field was driving on Highway 11 headed to Walla Walla from Milton-Freewater.
“I was doing 60 in a 50 mph speed zone, and I dropped my cigar,” Joe began his story. “So I steered with my knee to pick up the cigar and the car swerved. At the same time, a state trooper was driving in the opposite direction and flipped right around on me.”
Heart pounding, Joe pulled over. He took out his license and held it out the window before the trooper got out of his patrol car.
“That’s what you do when you’re legal,” Joe laughed, telling the story.
The trooper approached the car. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he said.
“Absolutely I do,” Joe said.
“You were going 10 miles over the speed limit, and you were swerving,” the trooper said, leaning in closer to the window. Joe knew the officer was looking for beer cans or bottles and trying to catch a whiff of alcohol on Joe’s breath.
“You don’t look like you’ve been drinking,” the trooper said, relaxing a little.
“Well,” Joe said, “alcohol is a drug I never liked. And I’ve been sober four years.”
Joe always says “sober” rather than “clean.” He once explained it to me this way. “Clean, sober, it’s all the same. As long as I’m not putting anything foreign in my body, I’m sober.
“Except cigars,” he added with a sideways smile. “I like a cigar now and then.”
“What was your drug of choice?” the trooper asked.
“Heroin,” Joe said. The trooper seemed to want to know more, so Joe told him his story. The short version.
“I was in and out of the system for most of my life,” Joe began. “Four years ago I got clean and sober. Two years ago I started taking classes at Walla Walla Community College. I graduated last June with an AA and honors. They asked me to give the academic commencement speech at graduation.”
Joe kept talking. “I’m working toward my B.A. in sociology at Walla Walla University. And I work part-time as a recovery intern at Trilogy Recovery Community in Walla Walla.”
The trooper took Joe’s license and walked back to his patrol car.
Five minutes later, the trooper returned. He gave Joe his license. And he shook Joe’s hand.
“I’m really glad to see that people change,” the trooper said.
Recalling the story, Joe had tears in his eyes. “That was an honor,” he said, “to have a cop shake my hand. It was a respectful thing.”
“See you,” the trooper said. “No ticket.”
“Those were his exact words,” Joe said, shaking his head as if to say “imagine that.”
We talked about Joe’s sobriety for a while. “Sobriety is the most important thing in my life. If I don’t have sobriety, I don’t have anything because when you’re high, you screw up everything. You do. You sabotage everything and everyone. And who do you sabotage? The ones who are closest to you, the ones who love you — you hurt them first and you hurt them the most.
“I’m not that guy anymore. I’m a kind, loving, caring person. I’ve always been that, but the drugs just covered it up.”
Joe was quiet for a moment, thinking back to that sunny September afternoon and his encounter with the trooper.
“It was important to tell him my story,” Joe said, “because part of my job now is to spread the word about addiction and recovery. The disease of addiction is so evil. I don’t want to see anyone go through it.”
“People die from addiction, lose their families, destroy other people’s lives,” Joe said. “It’s gonna make me cry just thinking about it.”
“Why does it make you cry?” I asked, watching Joe tear up again.
“Because I’m one of the lucky ones that God helped to get through the pain and horror of addiction. And so I spread the word about recovery everywhere I go.”
That’s the story of Sunday afternoon, September 2, 2012, in Joe Field’s life.
Kathy Ketcham is the co-author of 14 books and executive director of Trilogy Recovery Community. For more information, go to www.trilogyrecovery.org.