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The Struggle for Sobriety

Judith Lang Journalism Scholarship – Journalism

Eliana Hermel

Traverse City Central – 11th Grade

Scott Scholten had his first drink while he was in elementary school. “It gave me an instant love and gratitude,” he recalls. “It was like having a warm blanket wrapped around me.” After his first sip, Scholten kept coming back to it. The sweetness of the bitter drink was like an old friend saying, ‘Welcome home.’
To understand how he got to this point, let’s rewind the tape a bit.
Long before he began working with addicts himself, Scholten was born into an alcoholic household. Both of his biological parents were drinkers, which led to his biological mother giving him away at 11 months old. “[My biological mother] let me go on to hopefully have a better life,” Scholten mentions. “[However], what my mother growing up didn’t realize is that… I had a great risk of becoming an alcoholic or addict because of my bloodline.” Although his adoptive mother gave him quite a good life, her nonchalant attitude towards alcohol gave Scholten an unusual perception of it. She would regularly have a drink with meals, or even drinking parties with friends. By age 12, Scholten was able to mix up her friends’ favorite drinks, such as martinis or Manhattans. “What my mother didn’t know is that it wasn’t age-appropriate,” he reveals. Because of his early access to alcoholic beverages, Scholten had no problem trying a bit for himself. There was no fear or dislike; due to his genetics, the drink instantly stimulated him with feelings of comfort, calmness, and peace. The drink continued to do so for the next 31 years of Scholten’s life.
Just a few short years after that first sip, Scholten realized that he had become addicted. “I knew early on as a teen that I had to hide my drinking,” he admits. “That’s part of the addiction; you lie about your amount of use.” Although he hid his drinking, the addiction didn’t prevent him from working. In fact, it actually influenced his work life. “It’s a really expensive habit,” Scholten addresses. “I had to work really, really hard to afford the amount of alcohol that

I would drink.” Scholten was what is considered a ‘functioning alcoholic,’ where he is still able to maintain a stable job and family life despite his addiction. While he was able to physically be there for his family, the addiction was always at the forefront of his mind. “Even though I made it to all the games, plays, and musicals, if you got close to me, you would’ve smelled alcohol,” Scholten recounts. It stayed that way for a long time, until it went too far.
Eventually, Scholten found himself being charged with drinking and driving offenses. “One day, the judge goes, ‘You’re going to either die or go to prison because of your alcoholism,’” Scholten remembers. “‘But, I can help you become sober if you want.’” Being willing to do whatever was necessary, Scholten accepted his judge’s challenge to become sober.
After the judge introduced him to the Treatment Court for Alcohol and Drug Addiction, he was able to find a sponsor. A sponsor can assist a recovering alcoholic through their journey to sobriety. “I fell into the same model of being around like-minded people, [where] we wanted the same thing,” Scholten explains. “One: we wanted to be sober. Two: we didn’t want to go back to where we were, because we knew that it either led to death or jail.” While he was motivated by a fear of the consequences, the guilt that came with recovery also took a toll on Scholten. His family happily supported him through his journey, but he still felt liable for the experiences he put them through. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I never felt an immense amount of guilt and shame because I had to hide my use,” he reveals. “I always felt like I was letting [my family] down by not being the perfect dad or the perfect husband.” However, being in the Treatment Court also gave Scholten easy access to therapy. The counseling he received helped him through the process.
After struggling within the binds of alcoholism for 31 years, Scholten finally won. He became sober 14 years ago, and he didn’t take his newfound freedom for granted. “I am now employed by the GTB [Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians] in the behavioral health department as a peer recovery coach and mentor,” Scholten beams. “That means that I’m able to give back to my community and help others to learn the pathway of recovery and sobriety.” By using his past experiences, Scholten has been able to empathize on a very personal level with others who are struggling with similar addictions. “He gives a lot of his own personal time and energy into the community as a whole,” Scholten’s manager, Kathy Tahtinen, shares. “He participates in events, he takes phone calls all hours of the day and night, he walks alongside the people that he serves and works with them to try to get them where they need to be.”
By serving recovering addicts, Scholten has been able to witness lives being built up again. “[They’re suddenly] getting their jobs back, getting their children back, paying for homes, and [even] paying for cars,” he praises. “I don’t ever expect a thanks or a hug. Just seeing that family dynamic come back and children loving their mom or their dad again [is enough].”
His passion for helping others has translated into a passion for change: both for his clients and himself. “The more awareness we bring to this, the more we normalize the fact that it happens and recovery does work, the more we talk about it and the more we celebrate it in public, the greater effect it’s gonna have,” Scholten expresses.