‘I was done’
15 Min Read
As the Horschel Family Foundation prepares for its launch, a long-time PGA TOUR staffer shares his success story as inspiration
Written by Doug Milne @PGATOUR
Author’s Note: As one who has more than a decade’s worth of successful sober years to my credit, I was asked if I had interest in supporting the launch of the Horschel Family Foundation, of which a large point of emphasis includes helping individuals in need of recovery assistance.
I jumped at the chance. Anything, anytime, for anyone needing help with this – I was in.
The request was to simply do what I do best: Write a story. The focus was to be my “story of recovery.” Easy, I thought. The more I thought, though, the more anxious I became. The reality was, in order for the story to be told in its entirety, I would be casting a light on the darkest period in my life.
Foundations like the one Brittany and Billy Horschel have launched in the Horschel Family Foundation are certain to provide strength in numbers and greater hope for those trying, or at least willing, to get out.
Not a day passes when I don’t count my blessings for the two sturdiest rocks in my life who stuck with me, even in the darkest times. There were no doubt times when both wanted out. But my wife and the TOUR knew of something in me worth sticking around for that I’d lost track of for a really long time – I’d lost track of me. Today, though, everyone is smiling. Me included.
When I “went to bed” late on Sunday, September 4th, 2011, I did so just as I had done thousands and thousands of days prior – drunk.
When I came to the next morning, Labor Day, I laid still as vivid images of my life, family, friends and colleagues bubbled in my pounding head. What I did next was something I had not done in thousands and thousands of days – I cried.
Cautiously looking around room No. 6 of the astoundingly seedy Red Fox Motel in Foxboro, Massachusetts, despite largely blurred vision, I saw empty bags of sour candy, beef jerky and pretzels strewn about the windowless room. And I saw wine bottles. Lots of empty wine bottles. The quality of the white wine I consumed the night before paralleled that of the motel in which I had been staying. I was always a quantity-over-quality type with my spirits.
The musty and uncarpeted room featured a single bed, plywood-thin walls and an uneven hotel room door only a few screws from being entirely off its hinges. I noticed that it had remained ajar overnight –and I didn’t care.
A haven for illicit activity and violence, I was told by a local earlier in the week that motorists would actually speed up when passing the Red Fox Motel to decrease the chances of being caught in any kind of crossfire or other subversive activity. But there I was that Labor Day morning, in the heart of that place, alone and crying in a single bed under filthy sheets that were filthy long before I checked in.
I wasn’t sure if I was crying because of all the sadness, tension and limitations my decades of drinking had caused in the past, or because I was staring at what was to be – from that morning on – a sober future. I know now those two seemingly opposite spectrums are one in the same.
That night and morning in September of 2011 came while working the then-Deutsche Bank Championship, which was the second of four PGA TOUR Playoffs events in the race for the FedExCup. It was a big event. As a Media Official and Senior Communications Manager for the PGA TOUR, it required my best and most-focused self. So, I did what I had always done; I drank. It would relax me and help me remain grounded, I assured myself.
When I drank alcohol for the first time in life, I did so to excess. I didn’t see the point in not having enough to make me drunk. I thought that was everyone’s prerogative. I guess I just didn’t know any better. After all, I was 11 years old when I started emptying bottles.
When I received a phone call from my supervisor that Sunday afternoon in 2011, despite being at the course working, I was told to leave the premises immediately, pack my bags and get on the soonest flight home. Word had made it back to that supervisor that I “reeked of alcohol.”
I was 43 years old that week outside Boston. For 32 years before taking my last drink on September 4th, 2011, I drank as I began, with more ferocity and commitment than anyone I’d ever seen.
Like many, I was very functional. I was far from perfect, but not even on my worst days was I ever violent. I was never part of any traffic accidents, never arrested, never stole and never harmed anyone. Again, though, that doesn’t mean I was good. It means I was good enough at deflecting the issue at hand.
I had an increasingly concerned family that included a wife and three young kids. When I shunned repeated attempts by them to stop drinking, their concern understandably morphed into irritation. Even though drinking nearly cost me my family, I considered myself among the lucky ones. I had seen and heard so many stories of alcohol landing friends either in jail, rehab or divorce court. I had no such experiences to claim; therefore, I had no problem.
There eventually came a time when, because of how composed and functional I insisted I was, I saw no bad time to drink. During flights, on Mondays, visits to my grandmother and, yes, eventually even mornings. Quickly, it became all the above – all the time.
When my mom’s cancer began to really get the best of her in 2010, indicating her final stretch of life on earth, it went downhill quickly on a lot of fronts. Her declining health led to my inclining consumption. I remember sitting at her bedside one afternoon in the hospital thinking that if I continued drinking round the clock like I had been doing, I’d beat her to the grave.
My mom died on October 4th, 2010. Exactly 11 months later, in room No. 6 of the Red Fox Motel, I took my last drink. During those 11 months, though, I used her death to justify my drinking. With that grasp at straws, I sharpened my insistence that my drinking habit wasn’t a “problem.”
Following a 1 p.m. flight from Providence to Atlanta on Labor Day of September 5th, 2011, a lack of availability on any flights to Jacksonville that afternoon or evening forced me to complete my journey home by way of a 6-hour drive from Atlanta. I was to report to the PGA TOUR’s head of Human Resources the following morning.
It was a drive I’ll never forget.
Two mindsets battled inside my head the entire time in that rental car. On one hand, I had no problem with drinking. I had always been a kind and low-key type, not one to draw attention. When I went to bars, I preferred quiet dives where, much to the chagrin of the “Cheers” theme song artist, I wanted to be where nobody knew my name…or, even cared enough to ask.
I was more comfortable alone, but never discouraged anyone who wished to speak or spend time with me. Alcohol served as an easy way to help me be more outgoing and vivacious. It worked well for me throughout high school and college. So, I stuck with what was working beyond my school years.
I didn’t care to be the hit of every party, or even be at any party. But I did go when my presence was requested and always left people with good impressions. I was smart with that kind of thinking, I thought. The fewer eyes on me, the less likely concerns would surface. The less I spoke, the smaller percentage there was of me slurring a word or drawing attention.
Quiet and alone was the best and, therefore, preferred way for me to go through this part of life. There even came a time as an adult when I accepted the term “functional alcoholic,” but I took it to be a feather in my cap. I see now it was more of a nail in my awaiting coffin.
My parents were never drinkers, so I knew there were no hereditary strings attached that anyone could point to. I never rubbed anyone the wrong way. I never had a fight or even a traffic violation.
I was happy at home. I had a wonderful family, wonderful friends and a wonderful job. With two incomes, my wife and I weren’t rich, but we worked well together to make sure all bills were paid on time and that our three kids could enjoy nice private elementary and high schools. My kids thought I was the coolest and funniest dad in the world…for a while. We were even well-respected members of Timuquana Country Club.
Seemingly, my drinking enhanced everything I did and said in life. The reality, though, was that I had shaped that life with a wife, kids, friends and a high-profile job around the iron mountain of drinking that was at the center of my lean existence.
Until my drinking cut into my mornings, I experienced brutal headaches from the previous night’s indulging. Someone told me that the best cure for a hangover – as much as it hurt at first – was a good, sweaty run. I pounded the pavement every morning to try and eliminate the pounding in my head. Sweating a lot and breathing deeply did a splendid job of preparing me for that afternoon-into-the-evening’s bender.
I did not care to talk much about it, because I simply didn’t feel like I fit into the textbook definition of an alcoholic. Knowing that no one would consider my side, voicing that side would not bode well for my efforts to stay lubricated. I knew that a single slip of the tongue or contradiction would put the wheels of sobriety in motion. I wasn’t prepared for what I didn’t think I could handle.
When I traveled for work prior to 9/11, I would 100 percent board every plane packing my action in water bottles. I always required aisle seats on planes. I didn’t want to bother anyone with my frequent trips to the lavatory.
At the PGA TOUR events I worked, I opted against “nights out” for dinner with the crew in exchange for the refuge of my hotel room and the awaiting arsenal of liquid. When I did throw in the occasional night out with co-workers, as much as I loved and respected them, I found nights out with them to be nothing but lightning rods I had to be very careful with. Why widen the door to disaster by exposing myself to unnecessary risk? I also did my research on functions. If I learned that any party or dinner event that I was to attend was dry, I planned by packing accordingly.
Back to I-75 South on September 5th, 2011.
All those rationalizations took more than half the long drive home from Atlanta to weed through. It took less than 60 seconds for this then-43-year-old to decide that I did, in fact, have a serious problem. For starters, I couldn’t recall the last day I didn’t drink. My best guess was that it was sometime in high school.
I had been driving for more than three hours that day, determined to cloud my own judgment. When I realized that, I remember looking into my own eyes via the rear-view mirror and asking out loud, “Who the f*** are you?”
Two days later, in a circle of strangers in the middle of a Jacksonville dance hall that doubled as an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering spot, I introduced myself.
“Hi, my name is Doug…and I’m an alcoholic.”
For the first time ever in that September of 2011 moment, I saw clear as day whatI was. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, with that admission, I freed myself up to begin growing into who I am. It took me a while to realize, that what I am isn’t the same thing as who I am. Admitting what one is, I believe, is the fertilizer to help grow and nurture all of whom one can become in life.
When I got home after the drive from Atlanta that Labor Day afternoon, I was to report at 9 a.m. the next morning to the Human Resources department at the PGA TOUR, an organization I had been employed by for exactly 20 years. It was the only job I ever had post-college graduation in 1990. And it was one I was certain I was about to lose.
Without a shred of hope for the safety of my job, I knew I was done. I deserved it, I remember thinking. Rather than fire me, though, the TOUR helped me with rehab options, insurance and comforting smiles. I was disciplined, but not fired. They saw in me things I’d long since lost sight of – character and value.
I was fortunate across a number of levels. Not only was I still employed, but the level of professional help and personal care I had access to made a colossal difference in my journey. That’s the fortunate element to which I refer. For any number of reasons, not everyone has that kind of support.
Helping mitigate those kinds of setbacks is among one of many topics of the newly founded Horschel Family Foundation, headed by Brittany Horschel, wife of PGA TOUR player Billy Horschel.
“Billy and I find more joy in helping and watching others succeed than we do ourselves and we have always dreamed and spoken at length about having our own foundation,” Brittany Horschel said. “Now, finally the time is right, and we are beyond excited to announce the beginning of the Horschel Family Foundation. We believe that changing one life alters the footprint left on our earth forever and hope to help steer the world towards a more healthy, positive, and loving place for future generations to come.”
A primary focus of the Horschel Family Foundation is to address healing in addiction and recovery.
“As a first step in developing programming to serve our local community and golf family, we are launching the PAR program with the PGA TOUR,” Brittany Horschel said. “The PAR program is designed to help remove barriers that prevent individuals from seeking help – Privacy, Access, and Resources. Through collaboration with the PGA TOUR and various local mental health and addiction specialists, we hope to provide pathways for healing.”
The PGA TOUR actively sustained me every step of the way. Though I’m gratefully not on many radars these days, nearly 12 years later, the TOUR still sustains me and my family.
Life is astounding today. Those three little kids – Isy, Diane and Dougie – are now college graduates with great career prospects before them. I now seek advice from them.
My wife of nearly 30 years, Isabelle, continues to cherish her job teaching at her and our kids’ elementary school alma mater. She greets every day there with passion, conviction and, best of all, happiness.
We just celebrated with my dad his 80th birthday. I’ve got the two cutest dogs in the world, and a yard covered in weeds and vines that’s anything but cute.
I’m 55 years old now and down a grand total of 65 pounds from where I once was. My regular runs these days aren’t out of necessity, but desire. I cover more ground at 55 than I did at 25. I work out with weights five days a week and wish to be buried – a long time from now – with a 35-pound curl in each hand.
After just two months in AA meetings back in 2011, I was given an open invitation to lead my group in meetings at any time. It’s strongly encouraged that everyone in AA have a sponsor, which is someone in place 24/7 to help empower, strengthen and, if nothing else, keep someone on the sober track. I was approached by a number of individuals who believed me to be the right person to sponsor them. I was honored – blown away, in fact. I did my best, and think my best was good enough. When it comes to remaining sober, “good enough” is all that matters. It’s everything, in fact.
Since learning the Red Fox Motel in Foxboro, Massachusetts, was leveled years ago and replaced with shops and dining establishments as part of a larger Patriot Place, it’s safe to say that I like what I see, as well as what – and who – I am. As the old adage goes, “The best reason to look back is to see how far you've come.”
So, that’s my story and – as another old adage goes – I’m sticking with it. Never in a million years would I have ever imagined that my legendary drinking career could serve as validation for something good and right. But everything about what Brittany Horschel, the Horschel Family Foundation and the PGA TOUR have united to do is nothing short of good and right.
Working with the Horschel Family Foundation as they lend support to various organizations in various communities is an honor for me. Not only is it front-line defense against alcohol’s cunning and baffling grip, but what Brittany and her family are committed to doing is also likely to make the difference between life over death for people. That’s just who Brittany Horschel is.
It’s often said that when a person puts their mind to something, there is nothing they cannot do. As I put one final thought on this piece, I do so more vibrant, alive and enthusiastic than ever. Now free from the shackles, I continue to do as I wish, which is move forward in a positive direction through a world that didn’t give up on me. Neither did my family, friends or the PGA TOUR.
The wheels to my sobriety may have started rolling as a reaction to the very real potential of losing my family and job. But, once I got a taste of it, so to speak, I embraced it wholly. And, for that, everyone is better off. That is how I roll through this now-uninhibited life. That is who I am.