Reviewed by Tyler Tichelaar
Alan S. Charles, like most of us, has had a life that could be viewed as full of wonderful things, or viewed as full of pain and misery. In other words, he is a prime example of the human condition, of people’s strengths and weaknesses, and the ever internal conflict of good intentions and selfish behavior, of lying to himself and others, while still striving to do his best in many ways. Add in an addiction to cocaine and all those elements are taken to the next level.
In Walking Out the Other Side, Alan shares his incredible story of a dysfunctional childhood, his efforts to rise above it through sports and business, and the nagging feelings of loneliness that he sought to relieve through his cocaine addiction. His story is incredible, not because it is different from that of thousands of other cocaine addicts, but because he survived his addiction and has walked out the other side with a sincere desire to help others understand and overcome addiction themselves. The honest way he tells his story, without trying to hide some of his worst behavior, is especially laudatory; his honesty makes him very human and someone the reader can bond with despite his shortcomings.
Like any memoir, Alan begins his with his childhood. It wasn’t a bad childhood, even though his father was often absent due to traveling for work. But things started to unravel when Alan was nine and his father didn’t come home one night, and soon after, Alan, his mother, and his brother received the news that his father was dead. (It would be decades before Alan learned the full circumstances of his father’s death.) Alan’s mother was left trying to support her two sons, and Alan, as the oldest, was basically left to keep an eye on his younger brother, who was always tagging along after him. One day, the two were crossing a street and Alan’s brother was afraid to cross. Alan convinced him it was safe, only to have his brother hit by a car. His brother survived, but he was never the same again. Alan doesn’t say what was wrong with his brother after that-I don’t think he was ever diagnosed-but somehow his brain no longer functioned normally. He soon became a tyrant in the household, and once Alan left home, his brother had his mother living in so much fear that Alan couldn’t even go home to visit.
Trying to put his past behind him, Alan became engrossed in the world of sports. He’d always been good at baseball and wanted to play professionally. Eventually, he ended up playing for a professional team in the Dominican Republic where he became quite a celebrity. But baseball careers are short-lived, so Alan soon returned to the States.
Once back in the States, Alan found more work in sports, and he found a girlfriend. Everything was going well until he found out his girlfriend was cheating on him. Then he ended up living with a friend-a friend who just happened to do cocaine. Alan had always stayed away from drugs, but the pain of his girlfriend’s betrayal made him feel like he needed an escape, and before he knew it, he was hooked on the drug. I found his reasoning here highly informative about cocaine or any addiction. All it takes is one weak moment, one excuse for doing it, and your life can be ruined.
But Alan held it together for a long time. He became involved in the sport of harness racing, and then he began a career in sales. He even found a long-term relationship, got married, and had two daughters, but he also couldn’t stay away from the cocaine. He’d get better for a while, but then he’d go back to using. Finally, his wife had had enough and didn’t want him to see his daughters. More to please her than to help himself, he found himself going in and out of one recovery center after another as well as attending Cocaine Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He tried to get better, or at least give the impression that he was trying. Here, too, I was struck by how the addict’s mind works. Alan wanted to do what was right, but he just couldn’t help himself to the point where he would lie to others to cover his habit, and he would even lie to himself about his intentions; he would agree to a recovery program, knowing he wouldn’t work it. The cocaine had destroyed his ability to think logically, and ultimately, it made him its slave.
I won’t go into all the details of Alan’s journey before he got clean, but like many of the people he encountered in recovery programs, I was amazed that he didn’t end up dead. He has written Walking Out the Other Side now to tell people that if he could do it, they can do it also. And I believe him. As powerful as addiction can be, the human spirit is greater, and Alan’s story is a testament to that. As he himself states in the book, “So many people share about seeing me go in and out of the program over the years, how heartbreaking it was, thinking I would die before I got well. They talk about how I am living proof no one is ever too far gone to get clean. The common theme is: if Alan can get sober, anyone can get sober.”
Walking Out the Other Side is a book that will hopefully serve as a warning to stay away from drugs to all who read it. It’s a book that I believe will inspire those already struggling with addiction to make the move to a new and better way, with true hope that they can be free from their addiction. Finally, the book is a true asset to loved ones of addicts; it will teach them how the addict’s mind works and how to practice tough love like Alan’s friends and family did in order to help the addict. The honesty in these pages makes this book stand out as a true self-portrait of an addict. It will haunt you, and it will leave you believing that with a lot of willpower and the grace of God, anything is possible.
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