The battle with alcoholism was addressed during the third annual Talkington Foundation Donor Appreciation Dinner held Thursday night at the Civic in Neosho.

"Thank you all for coming here tonight," said guest speaker Dennis Collins, who is also Talkington program director and board member. "I am a very grateful recovering alcoholic."

Collins told the audience of around 50 people about his start with alcohol.

"I started out my drinking career when I was about 14 years old, in the hayfields," he said. "It just progressed through my teens, it was the crowd that I ran around with, an older bunch of kids and I fit in. I started trying to wean myself off of the heavier stuff, thinking that I may have a little bit of a problem with drinking, so I went to beer, thinking that was the answer, just beer. It wasn't the answer. Eventually, I just slipped right back into doing the same thing that I was doing before."

Collins told the audience that eventually if you drink – sooner or later – the law is going to get involved.

"You are going to get caught," he added. "That happened to me, it happened to me as I was young kid and I just didn't learn my lesson from it. It became a way of life to me. I went into construction (work) and that is how we ended our day. I would buy the guys a drink and that ended up being an every night thing. I started doing that everyday, this is throughout my 20s and eventually that kept going until I couldn't really go or manage without alcohol in my life. It just pretty much took me over."

He said that alcohol became "a master to me."

"And nothing else mattered," added Collins. "I had a construction company, a nice farm, I had a real good family, and I still do. (Then) I lost everything that I had to alcohol. I lost my company, as I lost that, I drank more to cover up the pain, to take the pain away and I lost my farm, I got to where health was going downhill, my wife was beginning to leave me. I had reached pretty much the bottom. I turned to alcohol again."

Then, he got into some trouble with the law.

"The law told me, 'that we are going to have to put you in prison, we don't have any choice,'" he said. "At this point and time, I really just didn't care, I just wanted to die, and I had no reason to be here. They told me that they would send me into the program, and that I wouldn't have to go to jail over this. I was all ready to do whatever I could to stay out of jail, I didn't want to go to jail."

So Collins went through a long treatment program, which introduced him to AA.

"I went into the Kelly Club and the people in there told me, 'if you will do 90 meetings in 90 days, something will happen. And if it doesn't happen, we will refund your misery at the door,'" Collins said. "I had plenty of misery. I went in there, I listed to these people, I looked across the tables and in these rooms and these guys were laughing, they had smiles, their eyes were gleaming and I just couldn't believe that, how could anybody that drank like I drank and my life was so miserable, how could they be happy. And they were. I wanted what they had. So they told me to start working the program and work these 12 steps, and I started working these 12 steps, I started reading the book, they started working with me."

His life started to change to a positive.

"I started getting some of it," Collins said. "My kids, they actually wanted dad to come to their functions, before that they didn't want we around, I was an embarrassment. My wife and I started a brand new relationship. I was feeling good about myself, for once, I hadn't for many years. I learned a whole lot in there and I learned that if I take what they teach me, I just put it into action in my life, my life will be better."

In conclusion, Collins gave the crowd some advice that was given to him, something that he passes along to others.
"They told me that you can't keep this unless you give it away," he said. "They told me to work with others, that is the only way that you can keep this. So I started working with others, I started taking on people to try to give them what was given to me. And that is a really rewarding thing to be able to help someone else that is struggling the same way that I was."