Sober since December 7, 1997
In the early 70’s, the staff at a psychiatric hospital diagnosed Kirby as an alcoholic at age fourteen, two years after he started drinking. He grew up in an East coast resort town, where social drinking was the norm, but Kirby took drinking to the extreme. During his teen years he drank intending to black out 99% of the time.
His mother left him and his alcoholic father when Kirby was in high school. He managed to graduate before his dad moved to Chicago and left Kirby homeless, the first of many times he would live that way. After high school, Kirby had no permanent address for seventeen years.
By 1981, Kirby’s father had sobered up and reunited with his mother. They moved to Houston and became counselors in alcoholic treatment centers. At Christmas 1981, Kirby’s older brother bought him a bus ticket to Houston and Kirby relocated here.
His dad took him to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that December. For a year Kirby worked the AA program and entered apprenticeship with a union; having a trade allowed him to accumulate money for tools and a better livelihood.
Unfortunately, Kirby’s battle with substance abuse was not over. Alcohol, speed, heroin, and cocaine were not done with him. Kirby calls the next fifteen years his dark years. He remembers entering twelve different treatment centers from 1982 to 1987. He remembers moving back East for a fresh start and leaving again when he had too many warrants out against him.
From 1989 to 1997 he worked odd jobs, lived on the streets and got locked up by Harris County nineteen times. He smiles wryly as he says, “I spent so much time there I started to get junk mail delivered to me in jail.”
During one of his arraignments a constable handed him a card for The Men’s Center, saying, “If you ever want to do something about your life, you should go here.” When it started getting cold in the fall of 1992, Kirby checked in to The Men’s Center.
Kirby didn’t stay sober, even with their help. He continued to float in and out of jail, for DUI, theft and public intoxication. The Men’s Center took him back numerous times, but finally the admissions committee vote reached a stalemate. He remembers Board Chairman Tom N. casting the deciding vote to give Kirby one more chance. Later Tom told Kirby why: “Because you never know when a miracle is going to happen.”
Kirby’s moment of grace came during a 1997 arrest for shoplifting when he tried to fight his way out of custody. As he lay pinned on the sidewalk, he remembers the policeman asking him if he was ready to quit fighting. Kirby answered “Yes,” and he meant yes on many levels. He knew the time had come.
Charged with felony bodily injury, Kirby faced Judge Ted Poe and admitted his guilt. Poe gave him two years and saved his life, because during those two years, Kirby worked the AA program in prison. Any less of a sentence and he would not have prevailed in his determination to stay clean from drugs.
Out of prison, Kirby got his first job through an AA contact, painting someone’s house. It took six weeks and earned him $2500. He was determined to do anything to stay sober, so he took the money and made amends to a man he had stolen from in 1996. Making amends kept him sober and gave him a reason to keep trying.
Kirby’s life is a story of second chances, from The Men’s Center to the first apartment manager willing to rent to a felon, to the AA community that shows him how to live in sobriety. Now he’s willing to do whatever it takes to be sure those who helped him were right to keep believing. AA is his way of life, with six weekly meetings, being a sponsor, having a sponsor.
Today Kirby has worked up to second in command with a commercial contracting company, the first company he went to work for in recovery. He met his wife in AA in 2002 and they own a home.
Kirby said he was more animal than man when he arrived at The Men’s Center. He had no teeth. He weighed about 85 pounds. He’d been on the street for years. What he holds dear about The Men’s Center is that they never gave up on a man like him. They had his best interests at heart even when he didn’t. They were the first to take him in, and today he counts among his friends men who lived there and people in the AA meetings who never lived there. They helped him choose life.
Although our stories are true, names and photos have been changed to preserve anonymity.