Fred's Story: Getting the Biggest Bonus of His Life

Scripps patient overcomes alcoholism to become successful relapse counselor

Group therapy session as part of a Scripps addiction treatment program.

Fred Murray never imagined he would live past age 40. In fact, he never thought he would make it to 25. His journey to sobriety has been a long and painful one — most people in his circumstances would have given up on life. And he almost did — several times.

One night, Fred decided to get a hotel room and take drugs and drink for eight hours straight. He woke up four days later and checked himself into the Scripps McDonald Center. On April 21, it will be nine years since Fred has been clean and sober. He’s now helping others to get their lives on track.

Alcoholism: Heredity and environment

A person with alcoholism in his or her family is at greater risk for becoming an alcoholic. Clearly, a person’s environment also plays a key role. In Fred’s case, both heredity and environment were strong factors.

At age of 6, Fred had his first taste of alcohol. He and his mother shared a house with a couple who made homemade beer and stored it in the basement. Being the curious child that he was, Fred went downstairs, popped the cap off a beer bottle and drank it.

“I liked the carbonation,” he said. So he kept drinking.

He was also strategic. When he finished a beer, he would fill the bottle with water so that no one would know.

When I asked him if his mother knew about his trips downstairs, he laughed.

“I got drunk and was skipping school in the first grade. My mother didn’t know — she was drunk!” So began Fred’s life as an alcoholic.

A life without hope

By the time Fred reached high school, things were looking up. He was on his way to being a straight-A student. But Fred could not escape his environment. He was living in Gary, Ind., an economically depressed and crime-ridden city where gangs ruled many neighborhoods and kids were happy just to make it to school alive. So Fred obtained a gun to protect himself.

“A lot of people thought I was tough, but I was scared,” he said. “That’s why I carried the gun.”

That gun landed him in jail. A neighbor had identified Fred as someone who had robbed him. Fred said his little brother had found a wallet and Fred took it from him — and he told this to the police. But because Fred had a gun, he was sentenced to a one-to-five-year prison term, which was suspended to 58 days.

“I had no role models,” he said. “That’s what I realized here (during the treatment program). I didn’t listen to my teacher who said I could be someone. I listened to the wrong people — the gang guys. I was told I’d be dead before 15, then before 25.”

After serving his sentence, Fred got his life back on track and graduated high school. He then got a scholarship to Indiana University. His accomplishment, however, was short-lived. He went to college for one day, got drunk and left school.

“I didn’t even give it a chance,” he said.

But this was acceptable to Fred. He didn’t really want to go to college — he wanted to pursue a singing career. And he had real talent, which was soon recognized. Fred was signed to a seven-year recording contract and at age 19, was opening for groups that became major recording artists — among them, The Temptations and Gladys Knight and the Pips. He also sang on Soul Train.

Subsequently, he took a job with the railroad and worked there for 16 years. During this time span he was hit with multiple tragedies.

“My father and oldest brother and another brother and girlfriend and her daughter were all murdered,” he said. “And my best friend committed suicide. All of this became fuel (for my addiction).”

Because Fred was now addicted to both alcohol and drugs, he decided to take an early retirement. This only made his addiction worse.

“Drugs and alcohol were my extra-marital affair,” he said. “I abandoned my 13-year marriage and 7-year-old daughter and became a derelict.”

Continued effects of alcoholism

Fred took a Greyhound bus from Gary to Oceanside, Calif. to stay with his sister. He then took a job at Callaway Golf, but his drinking and drug use continued to escalate. While at Callaway, he met the president of the company one day and must have made an excellent impression — Mr. Callaway told him that if he worked there for a year, he would see the biggest bonus of his life.

But Fred never made it to a year. About nine months into his job, he checked into a hotel room and drank and used enough drugs to kill anyone.

When he awoke from his alcoholic “coma,” thankful to be alive, he knew he could no longer go on living as he was. He called Callaway and learned that he had been fired — since he was a “no show” for four days. But when the people there found out what had happened, they wanted to get him help and urged him to go to the Scripps McDonald Center. Fred finally took action, and Callaway paid for the treatment.

Life after addiction

Fred completed the 28-day treatment program and has never looked back. Since 1996, he’s been a counselor at the Scripps McDonald Center. It was that year when the center began incorporating former drug and alcohol addicts as counselors.

“You don’t have to be one to teach one, but it helps,” Fred said. “We have the extra sense to know when guys are full of it. And they know that we know, so they can never win.”

Fred later became a relapse counselor. In this role, Fred holds group sessions in which participants talk about their emotional issues and treatment acceptance and resistance.

“No one is happy to be here,” Fred says. “And it takes 28 days and longer…and longer…to get better. We need them to realize that we’re all in the same boat — whether you make $500,000 a year or you’re on welfare. Alcohol is an equal opportunity destroyer. It plays no favorites. You can be rich, poor; Park Ave., park bench; jail, Yale — makes no difference!”

Along with being a successful counselor, Fred also sings with a rhythm and blues band. Best of all, he has a loving relationship with daughter, and his ex-wife is one of his best friends.

Unfortunately, shortly after Fred went into treatment, Mr. Callaway died. But his promise to Fred lived on.

“He was right,” Fred said. “I got the biggest bonus I’d ever seen in my life.”