Longtime Omnitrans rider Ed Miller is a Vietnam War veteran, a talented leather craftsman and a recovering addict who is helping other vets in their struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. His story is an inspiration to anyone who thinks it’s too late to change their life.
In some was the deck was stacked against Ed from the beginning. When he was just an infant, his mother used to put alcohol in his bottle to quiet him and get him to sleep. His father was also an alcoholic. But it wasn’t until he received a “Dear John” letter during the Vietnam War that he started drinking heavily and began using opium. By the time he was discharged, he was completely addicted.
“For 43 years, my only focus was on how to get more dope and more alcohol,” admits Ed frankly. “It’s amazing that I still have any mental capacity after that. I drank and smoked my family away.”
Finally in 2006, Ed hit rock bottom. He devised a detailed suicide plan but decided to attend one last therapy session at the Loma Linda Veteran’s Administrantion Hospital. Psychiatrist Richard Newman took one look at him and knew that this was it. He asked Ed just one question. “Do you really want to change your life?” And Ed said yes.
“I quite cold turkey and never went back,” says Ed. “I got into the AA program, and it was like a little light bulb went off in my head. Hmmm . . . I have a choice. Do I want to fall asleep or pass out? Do I want to wake up or come to?”
“My life is very different now. I used to have to lock my stuff into a car to make sure it would still be there. At night I would pass out on my [drug] connection’s couch. Now I get to go home to where I live and enjoy it.”
Two years into his recovery, Ed joined a leatherworking class with Steve Nicholas at the VA hospital and discovered he had a gift for leather tooling and design. His intricate creations have earned him a well-deserved reputation among his peers. He is the current vice president of the Leather Artisans Guild of California.
In February, Ed competed in a veterans’ arts & crafts show and took home three first place awards for tooling, stamping and leather kit. He and the other first place winners now face a second elimination round. The final Gold Winners will receive an all-expense paid trip to Milwaukee where they will go on to compete on the national level against other veterans.
Although he is passionate about his art, it is giving back to other vets that means the most to him. Three mornings a week he volunteers for Project Save at the VA, where he serves as a living example of what’s possible when you decide to turn your life around.
“About 50% of these guys come into the program because they are on parole or probation or have a court date coming up. I tell them they can wait around like me for 43 years, or they can change their lives now and enjoy the time they have ahead of them. If you were a civilian, you would have to pay over $10,000 to be in a 30-day recovery program like this. And it’s not hard to do. You just have to be honest with yourself–no more excuses–and follow along with what the facilitator tells you to do.”
Ed believes that Omnitrans provides a critical service for vets, especially those in the recovery process. “A lot of young vets in the program have had their cars impounded or mom and dad are tired of giving them money for gas and insurance. With the bus, they can’t say their car broke down or that they can’t afford the gas. There are no excuses. They can attend program and get where they need to go without a big expense. It makes everything possible for them.”
Ed himself has been an Omnitrans rider for 3 ½ years and says it keeps him connected to his community. “Coming home I get to listen to the younger guys complain on the bus,” he chuckles. He sometimes shares his own observations with them that put it all in perspective.
“When you get past the complaining and the excuses, that’s when you have the power to change your life,” he says. “You just have to want it.”
If you are interested in contacting Ed or ordering one of his custom designs, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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