I am a former U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilot who asked for help. Instead of help I received torture. U.S. Navy alcohol treatment was abusive beyond my wildest imagination. I lost my career for resisting it and later sued (without a lawyer) on the grounds that all three religion clauses in the Constitution were violated. I actually won an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Here is what happened to me.
In November 1985, I was an officer and helicopter pilot with the U.S. Coast Guard with eight years of active duty. My fitness reports reflected a history of being a good officer and an excellent pilot.
Upon arrival at my new duty station, the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, I confessed to a drinking problem and asked my commanding officer for help with it. He scheduled me to attend inpatient alcohol rehabilitation at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Tennessee. I was scheduled to go into treatment on December 23, 1985, and was supposed to stay 30 days.
But I then learned that the acting executive officer had conversed freely with civilians about my treatment plans. I felt the privacy of my medical information was compromised, so I requested not to go to the military inpatient alcohol rehabilitation treatment program and asked instead to see a civilian counselor on my own.
I was then sent by the command to be evaluated by a Navy psychiatrist at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, who reported back that I was normal, fit for flying, and likely to have a bad reaction to inpatient treatment. In spite of this evaluation, the command sent me involuntarily to inpatient treatment.
I spent Christmas week 1985 at that treatment center, observing and being subjected to intense, humiliating, and intimidating verbal abuse. Counselors insisted that I believe in Alcoholics Anonymous' spiritual principles and that I believe that I had the "disease" of alcoholism. These intimidating sessions took place in a room where a large poster with numerous references to God hung conspicuously on the wall. I was subjected to mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that opened with the Serenity Prayer and closed with the Lord's Prayer, with all present holding hands.
The treatment was based on coerced spirituality and beliefs in religious principles that were inconsistent with my own religious views, especially the torturous lifelong stigmatization of self and others, which is contrary to the teachings of my own God. About the sixth day of treatment, I told one of the staff members that I did not believe I had the disease of alcoholism and that I wanted out of the program.
On December 31, I was called into a staff office. There, the entire five-person staff surrounded me in a semicircle, slammed books on a desk, yelled at me, and told me that my deceased father, who did not drink, was a dry alcoholic. In an intensely coercive setting, they demanded that I profess belief that I had the disease of alcoholism. I refused.
I stated that if religion was the basis of the treatment, I would be better off placing myself in an environment of my own religion, as I had done while attending graduate school at a university sponsored by my religion. Staff members responded to this by shouting more abuse at me. One staff member stated that she had tried that, and it did not work for her. Hence, their spiritual program was the only way to solve my problem.
This interrogation session was really an inquisition of my beliefs rather than my actions. I had already confessed to periodic abuse of alcohol. But when I was discharged from treatment early, on December 31, 1985, the follow-up reports stated that I had failed to cooperate in treatment.
Shortly after my return to duty, I had a conference with the district alcohol and drug abuse representative, a senior chief petty officer. This conference was also attended by a civilian co-worker of the senior chief. I stated that I did not want to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The senior chief and the civilian became quite indignant. In the following session, the senior chief stated that these religious activities would be mandatory. He said that he knew from personal experience -- being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous -- that his program was the only way to solve my problem.
I was ordered to attend three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week, where religious dogma and prescribed prayer were part of the program. As proof of attendance at these religious meetings, I was required to submit to the command slips of paper signed by Alcoholics "Anonymous" members of the civilian community, thus compromising their own religious privacy.
Mandatory attendance at these religious meetings was torturous, especially since my duty station was in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the town in which I had grown from infancy to adulthood. It was the place where my parents had introduced me to my own God, and were we worshiped God in our own way, and in our own place of worship.
During the nine-month period between my discharge from treatment and discharge from the Coast Guard, all of my operational capacitations, including flight status, security clearance, and operational watches, were terminated. Finally, I was discharged from active duty in the United States Coast Guard for not completing inpatient treatment.
I still feel, even now, that I was ruthlessly stigmatized and kicked out of my position for not submitting to tyranny by the religiously aligned AA members in government.