On November 25th of this past year, the Bachelors Club of Louisville played host to the 94th Annual Bachelors Ball, a night filled with dancing, music, and fundraising to help fulfill the organizations philanthropic goals to better serve the Louisville community. Like clockwork, I turned on my you-tube tutorial; (How to tie a bowtie,) shined my shoes, and felt confident walking into the grand ballroom that this would be the year that I would find that southern belle that magically returns to Louisville for one evening a year. Like a shooting star, the individuals that typically flock to this event don’t stick around Louisville for very long. They are simply home for the holidays to be with their friends and family. These are the Louisville natives that spend their 20’s in far off cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, oftentimes for school, other times for a new life experience.
Like any social event that you ever attend, the first few hours feel more like an adult middle school dance than it does anything else. Girls on one side sipping their wine, giggling, and playing catchup on god knows what. Meanwhile, the boys, mostly fraternity rock stars in their prime are all ordering doubles on the rocks, talking about sports, all gathered around the open bar. Then there is me, the single guy, no one to play high school catch up with, the country boy, not from Louisville, the guy celebrating two years of sobriety counting down the seconds that everyone will finally migrate to the dance floor.
“0062, pull forward, you will be following Bank of the West.” - Yelled the S.F. Pride Organizer. Funny only in context for this story, our row was filled with hundreds of marchers, all participating on behalf of some conglomerate, backed by corporate American dollars, Floats, Sound systems, marketing material, and then there was me, the Sober Voyager, no float, just my van and three special friends.
“Hi, my name is Jesse, is this your girls first Bachelors Ball?” A few of the girls smirking, (what an original line I attempted that night.) Most of the group turning away to continue their conversation about life in the big city there was one girl that reached out her hand, “Hi, I’m Lexi.” Hello, I am Jesse, are you from here? Yes, just visiting home Lexi replied. Oh, nice; where are you coming in from I casually asked. Of course she replied San Francisco. In my mind, I had a million questions about the big city, but like anyone who is anyone that has ever started out a new conversation I used the most original question of them all, “what do you do out there?” She replied, marketing, and yourself? Quietly, and a bit bashfully, a feeling that rarely ever creeps inside of me, it was in that conversation that I told the very first person in a public setting that I was working towards launching a company based around helping individuals who struggle with addiction issues. She paused, (not knowing what kind of response would unfold from there) Lexi leaned in and told me that I needed to meet her mother, Linda. Thrown off by her response, it was in that moment that I didn’t know what to say. I obviously wanted to ask why I should meet her mother, but she beat me to the questioning and handed me her contact information.
Nearly seven months to the date that I met Lexi at the Louisville Bachelors Ball there I was, in the driver seat of the voyager van, my emotions getting the best of me. On this cold but sunny San Francisco summer morning time stood still for me. As I put the voyager van into drive I slowly let off my brakes, and like that, I inched forward, everything that I had created in my head for the past year and half had finally come full circle. To my left, Victoria, and my right, Lexi. I officially had three names on the S.V. Foundation’s roster to march in the Pride Festival, but on this particular morning, there was a fourth member of our group, a vibrant young boy, full of life, laughing and dancing down the street, his name, Johnny Squire, the brother of Victoria and Lexi.
; The Story of Johnny Squire is not yet over because his family and friends continues to live out his values on a daily basis.
Johnny Squire passed away at the age of 25, the same age I was when I hit rock bottom and decided to have my last drink. Like myself, Johnny came from a loving family, supportive friends and a family that was willing to go to the ends of the earth to help him. Johnny was a writer, a poet, an entertainer, an advocate for social justice and a deeply empathetic human being. He was truly one in a million. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Johnny, someone I would have inevitable enjoyed spending a night singing karaoke with. Johnny struggled with his own drug addiction for many years; Through his decade long fight with this disease, he never lost hope. He answered the challenges of his life every day with the most positive attitude; he never stopped supporting his friends, lifting up those around him, and found what was special in every person he met. Johnny helped to change the way people saw the world.
The Sober Voyager is my own personal story of addiction and a testimony that you can live life differently. This company is a combination of my own personal stories and how I became lost and powerless to a substance that could not fill a deep hole in my own life's story. When I met Lexi on the night of the Bachelors Ball, she explained to me how she had just lost her brother and that her mother was actively speaking out about this epidemic that is sweeping our nation. At the very root of the Sober Voyager I wanted to create a way to connect friends and family to the people in their lives that have been touched by addiction. A forum for family and friends to share words of hope and inspiration. A link for family and friends to never allow a loved one’s story to fade into darkness. I wanted to create something tangible, a symbolic piece that we can wear to represent the stories that have impacted our lives. I wanted to create a movement for those willing to stand up and fight this epidemic together. As Robin Williams put it so elegantly, “you’re only given one little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.” I didn’t set out to become an alcoholic, but I am, and I am thankful of the journey that I have traveled. It is now on this road, sparked by a little madness that I want to help the 25-year-old me that was once lost and hopeless, a kid that had given up on living life.
There we were, the four of us, marching in unity for a beautiful cause. A cause that in the 1970’s was looked at like the Sober Voyager’s mission is today, a movement based around addiction, a societal epidemic that is still being viewed by the mass in a negative light. Addicts, the scums of the earth, worthless to society. Harvey Milk arrived in San Francisco in the early 1970’s, not publicly open at the time, Milk’s legacy turned into an activist for equality. Nearly forty years later I marched in a celebration of unity and equality with nearly a million advocates next to me.
I ask, is your friend, co-worker, church member, your brother or sister who struggles with an addiction issue really any different from you at the core of who they are?
This weekend I marched on behalf of all the LGBTQ community and their fight towards being treated equal. Regardless what your personal beliefs are towards the LGBTQ community it was during this march that I realized just how possible it was to one day have millions of friends and loved ones united together to help and support individuals who suffer from addiction issues. We can’t do this alone, but I ask that if willing, you join me, the Sober Voyager, and our movement to help those suffering from addiction issues. This past weekend four brave souls took our first steps towards a movement that one day I know will have millions marching next to us.
You can learn more about Johnny and his beautiful story on our foundations page www.sv-foundation.co
With each bracelet that is being supported from the Sober Voyager 10% is Paid Forward in the fight to help offset the cost of rehabilitation for individuals suffering from addiction issues. We know that for every 1,000 bracelets being worn we can help place one friend or loved one in treatment. You can find your story at www.sobervoyager.com