In Alan Charles’ case, he is thankful just to be alive.
And after reading his gut-wrenching, chilling autobiography, it’s even more amazing that he is alive. But the former University of Tampa pitcher has overcome a lot of pain, sorrow, addiction and broken relationships — some of it admittedly self-inflicted — and has a more positive outlook on life.
Charles, now 56, lays it all out in the open in the introduction to “Walking Out the Other Side: An Addict’s Journey from Loneliness to Life” (SJC Publishing; hardback; $24.99; 308 pages).
“This book is an honest look through my eyes about my journey through life,” he writes.
And quite a depressing look at times, although Charles did have some highlights.
Charles’ 24-year addiction to cocaine ruled his life, ruined his career, wrecked his family life and nearly killed him. At times, after reading Charles’ stories, the reader has to shake his head and wonder, “how is this guy still alive?” Indeed, after Charles fell asleep at the wheel after a drug-induced evening and totaled his car, the men who towed his wrecked vehicle away said the same thing when Charles came to claim his personal effects.
That led to a difficult home life where Charles “lived each day of my life in a dysfunctional environment.”
Seeking an outlet, Charles began playing organized baseball and showed some talent as a pitcher. “Playing baseball was my first drug,” he writes.
Harness racing was his other love. Introduced to the sport as a teen, he eventually competed in the sport.
But baseball came first, and after his college career ended at the University of Tampa, Charles played professionally in the Dominican Republic. Former Reds pitcher Pedro Borbon took him under his wing and Charles had some success, but not enough to make it to the major leagues.
He had other highlight moments, too. He helped work the sideline during Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa, introduced the Bangles at a concert in Connecticut, and was invited onstage to sing “I Can’t Smile Without You” with Barry Manilow (Charles was a big fan). He even managed to return to sports, working as a batting practice pitcher for the New York Mets.
But it was cocaine — his “friend” — that would dominate Charles’ life for more than two decades. He was introduced to it by a friend in Connecticut during a period where Charles and his girlfriend were having relationship problems. The effect from snorting the coke was “as if someone had waved a magic wand over me” and relieved his stress and anxiety.
“I’d never felt anything like it, and it was the greatest feeling in the world,” Charles writes. “From that point on, I was in.”
The addiction soon spiraled out of control, and Charles was pushed into rehabilitation. He soon became bored with it. To him, there were two kinds of people in rehab — those who “pretended to want to get better” and those “committed to rationalizing their addictions.”
Charles fell into the second group.
He managed to function successfully as a salesman selling advertising, got married and fathered two children. But Charles was never far away from cocaine, and it nearly destroyed him. Then he decided to beat the habit once and for all.
“Cocaine was the friend who could make all of my troubles and worries disappear, at least temporarily,” Charles writes. “Now I was on my own, left to my own devices.
“It was both lonely and scary.”
It was difficult, but Charles has stayed clean. He was able to repair his family issues and reconnect with his two daughters. And he realized how he’d been playing Russian roulette with his life each time he snorted cocaine.
“It takes a great deal of humility and courage to remove the mask we hid behind for so long,” Charles writes. “We used to believe that the mask protected us, but it turned out it was killing us, by keeping us apart from the rest of the world.”
Charles originally believed that cocaine was a door that led to forgetting about his troubles. In “Walking Out the Other Side,” he shows how persistence, faith, humility and focus can bring a man back from addiction.
It’s a courageous book, and while it has a positive ending, it’s not a feel-good story. Charles is blunt and does not sugarcoat his life, hoping that his experience might discourage others from following that drug-laced path.
He’s thankful to be alive to tell the tale.