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Love, Hate and Living Sober

The first thing you should know about Scott is that Scott isn't his real name. Everything else you're about to read, however, is 100 percent true. Starting with how he opened his email to me.

"My name is Scott," he wrote, "and I am an alcoholic."

He had a normal upbringing, to the extent anything can be considered normal these days. But his parents are still together, there were no money issues in the home, and no tragedy befell Scott. To his friends, family and teachers, he seemed like a typical kid. He played sports, had a girlfriend, had solid grades. But he said he always felt like he was "putting on a show."

Inside, he felt like a misfit in high school, like I'm sure a lot of us do at that time in our lives (raising my own hand here). The summer before he was to go to college, Scott was at a bonfire. Thinking that he needed to learn how to fit in at college -- and well, they drink in college, right? -- Scott started drinking. Really drinking.

And just like that, Scott says, "That hole, that disconnect between what I was trying to make look good and me ... disappeared. I stopped feeling like a misfit and started feeling like I was connected to people. I stopped worrying about what other people thought and started feeling good ... and I wanted that feeling to continue. I never wanted to not feel like that."

And from there, Scott decided to just get obliterated, drinking a whole bottle of Southern Comfort. He threw up, he had a hangover, but the very next night, he wanted that feeling again. So he went out the next night and got hammered again, chasing that feeling. And the night after that. And the night after that ... for the next 10 years.

Like anyone who drinks like that, Scott got into a lot of trouble. Eventually, chasing that feeling became more important than anything else. He drank his way out of college. He drank his way out of the two-year colleges and junior colleges he went to after that. He would steal his father's checkbook and forge a check to himself for thousands of dollars. When his family took his house keys away, he would break into his parents' house to steal more from them.

"I stole and lied to my friends and family. I cheated on all my girlfriends and stole from them. I got fired from my job. I got a DWI and blew off the court date."

Eventually, like it does for everyone, it all caught up with him.

One day, as he remembers it, "I'm driving around in a car that is uninsured, uninspected, not registered, with a bench warrant out for my arrest, I'm drunk and I'm paranoid about going to prison."

So he started driving around, looking at tall buildings. "I was looking for the tallest one and trying to figure out how I could get to the top, so I could just jump off it and be done. Because I didn't think there was any way that I could possibly get out of this."

He had thought about it for a long time, ending it all. He wanted to jump. He was ready to jump. And the only reason he didn't was because he had a dog that he loved and he didn't trust anyone to take care of him after he was gone. Literally, that was the only reason he could come up with for living.

It had taken the better part of a decade and he had destroyed pretty much every relationship and positive thing in his life. He was alone, unemployed, broke, wanted by the police and came thisclose to suicide. He had hit rock bottom.

Maybe it was his dog or maybe it was something else, but something inside Scott gave him enough clarity to know he needed help and the courage to ask for it.

"After everything I put them through, I don't know why my parents agreed to help me, but they did." Scott turned himself in to the police, and the judge gave him leniency, granting him a rehab stay instead of jail. With rehab done and back out in the real world, Scott had to assess his situation.

He didn't have a lot of friends left, but those that he did have were drinking buddies. He was in his late 20s with no college degree, no job and a family he had put through the wringer.

And as Scott slowly tried to piece a new, sober life together, an unexpected lifeline was thrown to him.

It was his teenage niece, whom he didn't really know, as he'd been drunk or in rehab while she was growing up. She wanted to get to know her uncle, so she asked if he'd play in the family fantasy football league with her and her brothers.

"And just like that, I was hooked. Suddenly, I had something to talk to my family about besides all the terrible stuff I'd done while drunk. It gave me something to talk about with others as well when I felt out of place (most of us alcoholics feel like square pegs in a round hole without booze). Fantasy football and, yes, the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast has been one of the many bright spots in my life since I got sober."

But that's not why Scott reached out to me. "I remembered your suggestion to invite one person who has never played before to a league." Well, Scott did much more than that. "I decided to use fantasy football to help more sober drunks like me."

He went to his Alcoholics Anonymous group and created a sober league. To be in the Outside Influences League, Scott says, "You had to have been through the 12 steps (which means you are sober) and an active member of a 12-step program (which means you go to meetings and are actively sponsoring or trying to sponsor others). This is an incentive more than exclusion. The winner of our league gets sent to the convention -- yes, there are AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) conventions. They are awesome -- of his/her choosing by the league."

Scott is technically the commish of the league, but he tells me they all vote on everything and majority rules, including the punishment for the last-place finisher. The "penalty" for finishing last is donating 10 hours of community service and the league votes on which charity, "which for most of us doesn't even seem like a loss. A big part of sobriety is we need to be of service."

The only downside to a league full of recovering alcoholics? "Well, the trash talk is pretty tame. We are a spiritual and supportive group, so there will be a little trash talk, but then that's always followed by someone making amends for said trash talk."

Scott's league started out as a 10-teamer, but it quickly expanded to 12 and, as word has spread throughout Scott's AA group, there are more leagues planned for next year. Scott tells me one league member has to move this year for a job and has said he is going to start a league next year in the AA chapter of his new town as a way to make some new sober friends.

I love this idea, as does Scott. Part of the reason Scott is sharing his story is because he hopes the idea takes hold in support groups around the country. That's because Scott's league has become much more important to him than just some random league.

They are his friends in his new life and an important source of support for each other as they battle the demons every day to stay sober. The group found a cigar bar in town that shows all the games but doesn't serve alcohol. "We were there last Sunday and all I was thinking was 'here are 12 sober addicts and alcoholics having the time of their lives eating pizza, smoking cigars, helping each other in their recovery, and it's all thanks to fantasy football.'"

It's a game we all play, and I think many people take it for granted. For a lot of us, it's a reason to connect with friends, family, co-workers. Others like the competition, additional reasons to watch the games every week or just to have something to talk about with other fans and players.

But for some people, like Scott, the game means so much more. It's a light, a beacon, a living, breathing thing to hold onto tight as hell to keep the darkness away. No matter how bad it seems, no matter how deep the hole, Scott wants you to know, there's always a way out.

And for Scott and 11 other recovering alcoholics in upstate New York, that way was fantasy football and the Outside Influences League.

I want to thank Scott for spending a lot of time with me on the phone this week, opening up his wounds and sharing his story with me. "If it helps just one person," he said to me, "it's worth it."

If you or someone in your life needs help, start with and know that you are not alone.

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