September 26, 2010 12:11:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Mike Walker remembers the heavy knock on his door in January 2006 that turned life inside out. On the other side were law officers, with a warrant for his arrest.
"When that knock came ... and not a friendly knock either .. it was one of the worst feelings I''ve ever had in my life," said the West Point man. "I knew right then, ''Boy, you''ve run it to the end of the line.''"
A recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Walker, who is legally blind, has crossed a lot of bridges in his lifetime.
"I had 16 years of sobriety and then relapsed," said the retired 33-year employee of Bryan Foods. "I spent a year in prison on drug-related charges." But on Wednesday, Walker will turn 59, and this year, he has something to celebrate. Out of prison for 18 months, he has never felt as confident as he does now. At home in Clay County, he candidly shared some of his story, in the hope it might encourage someone else.
Go tell it
"I firmly believe my purpose is what I''m doing right now," said the man who commits much of his time to support groups and 12-step programs. "I''ve been running my mouth all my life," he said. "Now I finally have something good to tell."
Raised in church, with a devout mother, Walker always knew what "kind of person I could be." Good at sports, after high school he played baseball for a while at what was then East Mississippi Junior College, and briefly attended Mississippi State University. "But the more freedom I got, the more I abused it," he admitted, his hand resting on a large print book of daily devotionals.
With stark insight into the past, he said, "It''s hard always trying to be the big shot who can handle anything, but inside there''s this war zone going; I never had the courage to say, ''No, I don''t want to do that.''"
When his more than three decade-tenure at Bryan came to an end, the loss of structured days had a negative impact on what he describes as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was also depressed about the glaucoma that was steadily stealing more of his eyesight. "And when I started backing away from people that live a good life, started running with folks who like to go to clubs, all that was my downfall," he acknowledged. "I still don''t know how it happened so fast."
The year of incarceration proved to be "the best thing that ever happened to me," Walker said. "I took ownership of my mistakes."
One powerful experience was the birth of a granddaughter while he was in prison. "It still hurts me to think about it, but I think it''s the kind of thing I needed to hit me. I sorta made a little deal with God: ''If you''ll get me through this, I want to live up to what I can be. And when the next grandbaby is born, I want to be there to hold it.''"
That wish came true in July, when his second grandchild entered the world.
Get it right
Walker believes sustaining a healthy recovery and lifestyle is founded on "getting right spiritually, mentally and physically." To be strong in any two without the third, he feels, leads to vulnerability. "That''s what happened to me before my relapse, I felt I was doing good mentally and spiritually, but I never got physically fit."
No longer. After returning to Clay County in March 2009, he began walking daily for exercise, but still felt something was missing. At a checkup in February -- where he weighed 226 pounds, the most he had ever weighed -- he was motivated to join the North Mississippi Medical Center-West Point''s Wellness Center and now rarely misses a day, even though his diminished eyesight means he has to rely on others for transportation.
"I can''t do anything in moderation," said Walker, who revels in the adrenaline rush of exercise. "I finally found somewhere that I can use my obsessive-compulsive disorder for something good!" In less than seven months, he has lost 30 pounds and feels better than ever.
"I go every day, not because I have to but because I want to," he continued. "If I''m not there, they want to know what''s wrong with me. It''s good to be missed, because I remember a time when nobody wanted me around."
He''s come to terms with his glaucoma. He uses a 37-inch LCD computer screen, large print books and a magnifying light, but reading is still a struggle. But, he said calmly, "I see what I need to see. It''s like the song, ''Amazing Grace,'' ''I once was lost, but now I''m found, was blind but now I see.''"
Road to recovery
For others who may be struggling to overcome addictive behaviors, Walker believes the crucial first step is to take ownership of all you do. "It''s total surrender, to admit what you''ve done; it''s hard for an adult to do. But if you don''t surrender and admit defeat, then you''re not through getting whipped."
He highly recommends support groups and 12-step programs, "and you''ve got to surround yourself with the right people. ... It''s so easy for a negative attitude or depression-like symptoms to creep in."
The people connection
A personal incentive for Walker has been the support of others. "So many people went to bat for me, whether it was signing petitions or meeting with the judge ... It finally got into my thick mind that they must think I''m worth something, or they wouldn''t have gone way out of their way to stand up for me," he said with gratitude.
He stresses the point that he is no saint, that he is not special -- only that he''s been blessed and can "put feet" to a message that may resonate with others seeking recovery.
"I don''t know everything, but I can sure tell you what I''ve been through, and go through every day to fight this thing that wants to control me. They can''t BS me about this addiction stuff; I know what it''ll do." He feels talking to others isn''t an option -- it''s a responsibility.
"I''ve come to really understand what I stand for and who I am. I''ve realized you can''t go in the wrong direction and reach the right destination."
As his birthday draws near, Walker is thankful for the changes that have come his way this year. "I was always chasing happiness, thinking ''I''ll be happy when this happens or I''ll be happy if I get that," he said. "I finally figured out that happiness is a choice. I can be happy when I choose to be."
(Editor''s note: The Dispatch thanks Deborah Pugh of North Mississippi Medical Center for some of the information contained in this article.)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.