Tommy Smith is celebrating five years of sobriety.
Photography by Brandon Markin
[dropcap]Each[/dropcap] day after completing his morning radio co-host duties, Tommy Smith would swing through his preferred liquor store and spend the rest of the day escaping with his “friend” Jack Daniels.
His routine changed in May 2011 when he was arrested for DWI. When he found himself in handcuffs, he fully realized he had a drinking problem. As he celebrates five years sober, Smith of 103.7 The Buzz’s “The Show With No Name” is using his platform and experience to help others battling substance abuse.
Before his arrest, Smith pretended to join his wife, Karen, in giving up alcohol. “I would hide bottles in towels, in the bushes, and I still didn’t think I had a problem,” he said. “I was a happy drunk and always thought I had it under control. I would go a couple of weeks here and there without drinking. I just thought I liked to drink.”
When Karen came to visit him during recovery at the Betty Ford Center in California, he jokingly said the next drink they would enjoy together would be at their son’s upcoming wedding.
“She looked me in the eye, finger pointing, and said, ‘No, you and I will be drinking apple juice.’” She expressed how much she loved him, he said, but if he ever started drinking again, their relationship would end. That ultimatum motivates Smith to this day to remain sober. “Karen is my rock.”
The boisterous radio personality said he still is embarrassed by his actions five years ago. “I still feel ashamed and thought people would hate me. I felt so embarrassed, but people here at the radio station and friends like David Bazzel and Frank Fletcher have been so good to me.” It’s these same friends who saved Smith from his self-induced downward spiral.
Smith, who’s been in the radio business for 40 years, initially thought he could attend a local recovery center, but those in his support system knew better.
“They knew if I stayed here to get sober, I could easily get someone to come pick me up,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re going to California where no one knows you.’ When I got to Betty Ford, reality set it. Upon walking in, they say, ‘You can leave if you want to, but if you look out that door, you see what will greet you.’ All you see is desert.”
Fear set in when Smith first arrived at Betty Ford, with doubts of whether he could be sober. “I had quit drinking about eight days before going, so at least I didn’t get the shakes,” he said.
The center’s regimented schedule of meditation, yoga and counseling sessions quickly became routine for Smith during his 30-day stay. As his release date approached, Smith said he started to become nervous. “My counselor said when I arrived at the Dallas airport, it would be the worst part because the temptation to drink would be severe, and he was right,” he said. “But I made it without a drink. To this day, when I have a terrible day, there’s a magical moment when I look in the mirror and say, ‘You did it. You made it through the day without drinking.’”
While Smith sometimes feels lonely in a life without whiskey, the improved relationships with loved ones make sobriety more than worth it, he said. “I get off at 10 a.m. and then have the whole afternoon to myself. I used to have ‘Jack’ as a friend, and now I just try to stay as busy as possible playing golf or doing other things to keep my mind off taking a drink. The weekends can be really hard, and that’s when I have to stay the busiest to keep my mind occupied. I’m really lucky my friends and family have seen my warts and still put up with me.”
A proud milestone for Smith is surviving the death of both parents as a sober man. Smith has shared these stories and more about his substance abuse with various groups at schools and churches; his goal is to reach others who may be dealing with similar problems. He and co-host Roger Scott, also a recovering addict, are open to anyone who needs to talk and encourage others not to hide.
“We have realized, though, we are not professional consultants, so we’ve enlisted help from two mental health officials and are working with the governor to develop a basic help hotline,” Smith said.
The hotline, slated to be available this summer, will be ideal for people who need to talk to someone in a critical moment.
“So often, you’ll be in a bad state at night, for example, and there’s no one to talk to, and then come morning, you brush it off and think you can handle things on your own,” Smith said. “This hotline will help people in turning point moments, when they need help the most.” The startling statistic that someone in Arkansas commits suicide every 17 hours solidifies the need for this hotline, he said. “If Roger and I can get better, anyone can. And we want troubled people to get the help they need that goes beyond our abilities.”
A good indication that someone has an alcohol problem is if he or she drinks alone, Smith said. “It’s one thing to come home and have a beer, but if they’re drinking away the night or day, it might be time to ask, ‘Are we going the wrong way, here?’”
For loved ones of alcoholics or drug addicts, Smith encourages them not to give up hope. “Be strong for them. You want to confront them at the right time, and just know nine times outta 10, they’re gonna be mad, they’re gonna lie. But tough love goes a long way.”