Addiction is more than just the statistics we read about in the news. This series of articles about participants from the Fulton County Drug Court is meant to illuminate the human faces behind the numbers. They are all part of our Fulton County family, and they are moms, dads, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons.
This is the next article in the series that features the story of Eric Yingling, as told to by Carol Tiffany, Program Coordinator.
My name is Eric Yingling. I am 47 years old, and I was raised in the south end and east side of Toledo, Ohio. I have been an addict for more than 25 years and have accumulated a lifetime of wreckage as a result. This is my story.
I consider my story to be unique to other stories of addiction in that I don’t believe I have an excuse for my choices or behavior. I wasn’t molested. I wasn’t unloved or ignored by my parents. I wasn’t physically abused.
I suffered no mental or physical trauma that I can attribute to my addiction and associated behaviors. What I’ve come to believe is that I am a product of the influences that shaped me.
My father was a “biker”, and my childhood was immersed in the culture of the traditional motorcycle club. Alcohol, drugs, fighting, infidelity, and an attitude of general civil disobedience dominated my daily life from an early childhood.
I accepted these things as “normal”. Indeed, they were all I have ever known, and I never had anything else to compare them to. We hated the cops.
We mistrusted anything government or “system”. I found it perfectly normal to wake up on any given morning and find marijuana on a tray on the table next to a mirror with cocaine residue on it.
It was a normal routine and natural thing for someone to disappear for a period of time because they were arrested. Cops knocking at my door became common and routine for me.
These sort of things were my “normal”. They were part of my childhood and upbringing. I never considered that my life was something I chose. It was just regular life to me.
We got drunk. We got high. We committed crimes. We resisted authority. We went to jail and prison. It was all I ever knew, so I never really stopped to consider that it was wrong. I never questioned what I was becoming.
I began drinking and using drugs at 13 years old and was sent off to juvenile prison for the first time. I got into trouble again after that, still a juvenile. I was sentenced to my first adult prison term at the age of 19.
I have since served 5 additional prison terms that total 13 combined years of my life. Again, I viewed this as normal. Prison was the possible outcome of my chosen lifestyle and profession.
I accepted that in much the same way a firefighter accepts that he may get burned and a cop accepts that he may get shot. I didn’t like going to prison, and I went to great lengths to avoid it.
However, I was never the guy who was crying in the backseat of the cop car after I got caught. My perceptions were that it was a logical and routine element of my life.
The one anomaly to my “normal” was my mother. My parents were divorced when I was 8, and my mother became my custodial parent.
Her influences were a mixed-bag for me. She really did her best. She always worked and paid the bills. I was never hungry or without school clothes, and I knew she loved me.
The conflict was that I chose to adopt my father’s way and not my mother’s way, who went in a completely opposite direction from him.
She not only believed in the system, she trusted it without question. Her idea of discipline was to call the police on me.
She felt all of life’s problems could be solved through counselors, juvenile probation officers, and programs. My father taught me to hate the system and authority in general because he broke the law and got into trouble.
My mom taught me to hate the system because she called the authorities who applied the laws, and I hated getting into trouble.
Today, I don’t hate cops or the system. I am a legal and law-abiding citizen and don’t have to worry about getting into trouble any more. I have close to 2 years of sobriety.
My sobriety brings benefits such as a stable home and work life. My finances have stabilized, and I have been able to clear away some of the wreckage of my past. I am current on child support payments.
I’ve cleared my driving record and secured a valid license for the first time since 2007. I own a car and a Harley. I have my own home with 5 dogs and recently celebrated 24 years of marriage with my wife.
I’ve made a new circle of sober friends and continue to address thinking errors that contributed to my past choices. My wife and I work at the same store where we are surrounded by other people who think and live as we do.
I do my best on a daily basis to be and do better than I was the previous day. I’ve earned the trust and respect I get. My worst day in sobriety is still far better than my best day in addiction.
What I’ve learned and now believe, is that addiction is a choice. Nothing and nobody can make me drink or use. I must make the choice to do so.
I always made that choice to drink and use in response to something else that was going on with me.
My addiction was a symptom of other underlying problems. Addiction itself was not the underlying problem. I was the problem.
My thought patterns, emotions, and moral reasoning got me into trouble. I have now learned how to manage those things in a healthy way. By working on that daily,
I am able to refrain from drinking and using drugs. Today, I can be trusted because I’m responsible and sober. All of this begins as a choice I make every morning when I start my day.