By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Done selling for the day at Faith Farm's Fort Lauderdale new-furniture store, Bobby Murphy heads to the dorm, a three-story, peach-colored building. It's 6 p.m. He's been on his feet peddling couches for nine hours. He walks across the compound with Jeff Schleibaum, who, at 39, is more than a decade younger than Murphy. Schleibaum supervises Murphy at the new-furniture store.
It's another gray, drizzling afternoon. The pair dodge puddles in the parking lot as they pass an old, white apartment complex where most of the employees live. They pass the used-furniture store and the warehouse, where men load and unload a fleet of moving trucks that all say FAITH FARM in purple on the sides. They pass the kitchen, where students prepare three meals a day for the nearly 200 students and staffers. The menu is a lot of soup, rice, and chili.
They pass the church, where the men gather every morning and on Wednesday nights. They pass the Omega Building, where "graduate students" can participate in college programs and pursue outside jobs. When they get to the dorm, they both skip dinner. Schleibaum already ate in his apartment; Murphy had a hearty breakfast and lunch and plans to exercise this evening. Murphy changes from his nice gray slacks with the high-cut waist and dress shirt into sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
The small workout room on the side of the dorm is crowded. Men are lined up to use the donated treadmills and weight machines. Murphy and Schleibaum get to swapping stories from their drinking days. Murphy grew up in Massachusetts. He played ice hockey in high school and was into steroids before he ever drank or tried recreational drugs, he says. It was shortly after high school that he met Budweiser. At one point, he owned a gym in Boston and had a wife and kids. Like almost every alcoholic, he started out drinking on Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday spilled into Sunday. Sunday turned into a sip or two on Monday to get through the hangover. Monday became every day of the week, and by his 30s, his wife and gym were gone.
Murphy moved to Miami in 1986 for a clean start. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He started working at a gym again. He took each day as it came and strung together five years sober. Things were going well — so well that he convinced himself he was now strong enough to handle the beast that had taken him down years before.
He found that while the monster had been out of sight, it had grown stronger and quicker. Before long, he had a six-pack with him under the desk at the gym. He chugged brews between signing up new members. Soon, that job was gone too. He saw his life pull away and disappear like a sofa tied to the bed of a truck that someone else was driving.
Murphy is charismatic when he talks, even as he recalls the blur of regurgitation his life had become. "Everything was for the beer," he says. "I couldn't do anything without one in my hand. You'd feel great for a while, but you'd be praying to the porcelain god every night and every morning. But as soon as I was done, I wanted another beer."
Years of maintaining a steady workout regimen have made him strong. Before he was a believer, he was a fighter. And he fought back against the red-and-white can. He started "working the steps" as they say, held down a steady job again, and put together three more years sans alcohol.
So when he started again, it was even worse.
Life was a rotation of sidewalks and jail cells. He says he has grandchildren he's never seen, part of a family who wrote him off long ago. At his worst, he'd wake up in the middle of the night, go to the bathroom, and chug a beer or three before heading back to sleep. Sometimes, he'd have to down a six-pack — systematically, one can after the other, like medicine — just so he could stand up straight in the shower. He was well past drinking for pleasure. Now, he was drinking because he felt like he would die without it.
"My worst fear back then," he tells Schleibaum, "was that one morning I'd wake up in a jail cell and when I asked what time I got out, they'd tell me I had just killed a family and I was never getting out."
Murphy showed up at Faith Farm in July. Before he walked through the gates, he went to a gas station down the street and downed a double-sized beer. That first day at the farm, they sent him away. He was drunk and reeked of booze, and the only rule at intake is you have to come in sober. He returned the next day, still drunk, but being a drunkard for so long had taught Murphy how to manage a conversation despite a considerable blood-alcohol level, and because this time it wasn't so obvious, they let him stay.
He sobered up the next day and began orientation. Among other things, students are taught to focus on the moment, not just the wonderful things that await them in a healthy, successful life. The logic goes: If you spend too much time dreaming about the distant future, idealizing it in your mind, and things get rough and your dream looks shaky, you are more likely to utter what Murphy calls "the abnormal drinker's anthem," which is: "Fuck it!"