One Alum’s Story
—by Bill Watkins ‘94
My name’s Bill. I’m alcoholic; went to school there at UCSB from 1990-1994, had a good time, but should never have been given a degree. In fact, I should not have been admitted to the school—and in no way should I ever have been given a high school diploma, qualifying me for any university, anywhere.
I started drinking alcohol on Dad’s lap at age five, his last sip of bourbon. I started drinking the flammable, colorless, volatile, toxic C2H5OH with friends by age twelve, was blacking out on the substance by thirteen. At that time, I was sub-100 pounds, and sub-five feet tall, a solid two years from puberty.
I was a young alcoholic, a routine law-breaker, liar, but achieved in key areas at a “college prep” in Pasadena, California that somehow impressed UCSB enough to become admitted in the Fall of 1990. My high school wrongly granted me the diploma first, without knowing who I was—or if they knew, they did not care enough to confront and change my behavior.
If you are reading this and recognize any pattern, or think you may be a problem drinker, I’m sorry—but there is good help, if you are willing to ask for and get it. One needs a safe place to tell the truth in this life, and I hope there is a place at UCSB that is confidential, safe and effective to drop truth without being judged or punished in any way for the dropping.
I had a spiritual awakening at the Betty Ford Center in Palm Desert, California in 1995, a half a year out of college. For me that meant I told the truth to a group of people for the first time. My greatest secret that came out that day, was that I had never had a girlfriend. I was twenty-two, nice looking, an achiever at sports and academics, but did not know how to say “I love you,” or express love honestly.
That is alcoholism, according to Sigmund Freud: a disease of those who cannot express love. Well, don’t wait too long to turn around, if you have symptoms of alcoholism or drug addiction—if love and its expression is a challenge, or if you look to alcohol as “liquid courage” as I used to do. In the end I always found in alcohol consumption not courage but belligerence, law breaking begot more law-breaking, carelessness more carelessness, and I’d always wake up feeling cruddy, never any closer to being a proper man, who was honest to the Wife of his Youth.
I threw in a biblical reference right there; see if you can look it up and avail yourselves to some of my poetry, if not included in this newspaper on http://www.travelingpoet.net (my little brain baby). I’ve written and self-published forty books, love life today, and regret every single sip of disgusting, flammable alcohol. I think it is not a product, but a lie; please study it before you put it in your mouth or down your throat.
February 7th, 1995
The scales lifted, the eyes clear.
Honesty, finally the truth at
twenty-two given with a tear.
“I’ve never had a girlfriend”
coaxed when the moment was right,
I let down my guards to finally
see the light.
You can’t be helped ‘til you ask
for it. You can’t ask ‘til safe,
I looked left and right before I
truth supplied and saw that it was all
right—I came out!!!
I was unhappy, even though I had
friends after friends coming to my
I was empty even though the trophies
and plaques on walls increased
and filled—attempted to fill, this would
have to be enough!
Spiritual Awakening—LORD, have me!
Done hiding it was safe to bloom,
and now, no more garden parties,
I separate the happy with the gloom
and see the world in poems—
I did not ask for permission and leave
another world behind: self-doubt, beer,
hollering around death, we put up
our hands at fear.
Trapped no more at Betty Ford
the 7th of February a.d. ‘95
ready to turn the boat around…
Trapped no more you want more
and more so ditch tomorrow for today.
They criticize you and analyze you
as you smile and accept today
You Learn to Care
The silver spoon rusts, and caring
departs the farther we find ourselves
away from life.
Poverty is our oldest friend, it is the
state infants find themselves in—
need to need, day to day, all five
senses supercharged and alive,
You used to care!!
To get that back you have to go back,
or forward march if in April you
find winter breezes alerting you
to change for the better.
Bill Murray in his Groundhog Day
learned to care, unlearned his stance
learned on the outside looking in,
resentments formed early in childhood,
defenses raised against abuse.
Our best defenses become our worst
defects as they sit and fester, or worse
yet grow and mold over and over
the petri dish that is Time.
The dust settles for a moment in
hospitals, jail cells, homeless shelters
or repeated groundhog days…
It becomes clear we must change. Not
to something new but to something old:
Back to our childhood selves, the infant
that with five senses cared! Was alive
with every movement, curious,
We learned to care, and then the day
turns and we can start over, begin
to live the adult life with childhood
spirit—Congrats, if you see this