Joshua Kear flicks the face of his smartphone and glances at the screen. He smiles.

 

“Nine years, 11 months, 23 days,” he said, as the phone goes back to dark in his hand. “That saved $43,736.”

 

Both sets of numbers are significant in the life story of the Conway police officer, husband and father of two. The first group, tracked by an app on his phone, tells him the length of his sobriety, which by now is past the 10-year mark and counting.

 

The second figure, tracked continually by that same app, calculates the money saved on the alcohol he didn’t buy during that time. Which, considering at his worst he was drinking the cheapest stuff he could find, is a lot of booze.

 

“I was physically addicted to where I had to have at least a fifth, and up to a half gallon a day. Every day,” he said. “My whiskey drinking, by the end of it, was to the point where if I didn’t drink, I’d go into seizure.”

 

For Keer, numbers represent order among chaos, reassuring grains of certainty in a disease that offers none. Amid a million shades of gray, he has learned to cling to a single static and binary question: Did I drink today? If the answer is no, put it on the board. If one day the answer is yes, the timer goes to zero, and the process begins again.

 

The why of it all matters, of course, as knowing the why helps him replicate his success and minimize his chance of failure. Anything beyond this fundamental equation – like the all-too-familiar jackals of shame, guilt and remorse – are merely pinpoints through which leaks the very self-esteem and strength needed to carry on, so he tunes them out as best he can.

 

“When I was drinking, my mindset was more than anything wrapped up in my identity as a failure,” he said. “I was letting me beat down my own self-worth, and that didn’t change until I let my identity change. If I wake up and say, ‘I’m nothing but an alcoholic,’ I’ll only ever be an alcoholic. When I woke up and said, ‘I am a child of God,’ I gained the chance to surrender my will over to God.

 

“My mindset today is just remembering who I am and forgiving myself as a daily thing. I still struggle with that.”

 

Kear is one of those alcoholics whose image doesn’t square with his behavior. The product of a stable, Christian home, he was a standout academically in high school and had been a missionary in Botswana by age 16. Later, he attended Louisiana Tech University from which he graduated cum laude with a fine arts degree.

 

What wasn’t as widely known were his struggles with depression and searching for acceptance, both of which helped nudge him toward alcohol by age 13, the opening chapters of his life as a young, but high-functioning alcoholic.

 

“At a really young age, I liked to fight, and older kids were willing to accept me into the group because of that,” he said. “They had more drinking going on, and I guess that’s kind of what took me in. It was about finding that identity, and when I did, I grasped onto it and I let that consume me.

 

“Identity, for me, is a big part of both addiction and sobriety. I saw myself as broken, as a failure, as an outcast growing up. There was something going on that I always thought was wrong, but whenever the brakes got cut, I just couldn’t stop.”

 

Kear met his future wife at Louisiana Tech, and within a year of getting married, the first of two sons arrived. His fragile self-confidence, battered further by the pressures of fatherhood, accelerated his addiction. At last, drinking became remedial, a medical necessity, with accompanying self-loathing that played on a loop in his head.

 

josh kear conway

Having finally faced his demons allows Kear to better focus on his wife and sons.

 

“There was a trajectory of my drinking; it got to the point where I couldn’t not drink,” he said. “As a photographer, I had to use my camera, and I had to keep my hands functioning. If I didn’t drink, I had the shakes and couldn’t get through it.

 

“I had two kids I’d always dreamed of, the wife I’d always wanted, but I didn’t remember who I wanted to be. I didn’t think there was any path back from that. I was hopeless; my family deserved better, and I was unable to give them that. I knew my wife was loyal enough; she wasn’t going to leave me, though she should have. I wanted them to have a way out, because I didn’t see a way out for myself.”

 

The beginning of the end came one ordinary day when Kear made his way to the backyard and sat down on the back porch of his carport. There, he stuck a 12-gauge shotgun to his throat and pulled the trigger, blowing off the top of his index finger and a beer can-sized hole out the back of his neck.

 

“You could see the spine,” he says, as calm as talking fishing. “The only thing untouched was that artery. I didn’t bleed out because [the muzzle] was close enough that it cauterized the wound itself. My wife came out, held my head on for me, and they airlifted me to Shreveport. I’ve still got a bunch of pellets in my spine and neck area.”

 

The only thing more astonishing than Kear’s survival and recovery is that blowing off half of his throat in a botched suicide attempt still didn’t represent the rock bottom from which he would finally resolve to get help. That moment came quietly, at his parent’s home in Conway, as he pretended to work underneath his truck while in fact he was retrieving his stash from the one hiding place his wife hadn’t discovered.

 

Hearing someone approaching, he saw his mother’s feet from under the vehicle.

 

“She said, ‘It’s safe to come out’” he said, quietly. “I rolled out, and that was my breaking point — the look on her face.”

 

On the suggestion of his brother, Kear visited Renewal Ranch in Conway. He remembers it being more desperation than confidence in the faith-based rehab program that convinced him to give the place a try.

 

“I met with [Executive Director] James Loy and he talked to me about faith, hope, love, all these things,” he said. “I was like, ‘He’s a great salesman, but none of that’s going to apply to me. I’ve done this. I know Christ. It’s not going to work.’ ”

 

The program started as he expected, detoxing, a painful experience where the body is deprived of the substances it demands most. Curled into the shower pan and white-knuckling through convulsive heaves and shakes, he fought to expel a howling demon whose talons were sunk knuckle-deep into his body and mind.

 

“It was hell,” he said. “I just remember being in the fetal position in the shower, hoping that I’d be OK. At some point in that I said, ‘OK, I’ll do everything you ask. I’ve got one shot at this, and if I screw that up I won’t didn’t get another.’”

 

 

After the first month, he called his wife and said he felt he was onto something different and decided to stay another month. What he thought was taking root in fact did, and he gave himself the time to allow it to embed in his body and soul.

 

“I discovered that, when all the problems were going on, I was like, ‘I’m drinking because of all these other things,’” he said. “When I was at Renewal Ranch, all those other things were gone and I was alone, but those problems were still there. Suddenly, I didn’t have anything else to blame. And I didn’t have anywhere else to turn. All my support stuff was out of the picture. The only person I could lean on was God, and that was the only person I needed to lean on.”

 

After completing the program, Kear stayed on as a counselor for a time. He joined the local police force in 2018, as much to his own surprise as anyone’s, thinking his background would bar the door. Instead, it’s opened the floodgates for a career that encounters fellow addicts and alcoholics under difficult circumstances. He’s so good at it, it landed him Officer of the Year honors in 2019. Still, his is not an easy melding of career and personal ministry.

 

“When I interviewed, they asked me what I thought one of my weaknesses would be. I said [the job] breaks your heart,” he said. “My first overdose call as a cop was for a young man that I knew I couldn’t resuscitate. That was my one PTSD moment, not being able to bring back a friend of mine.”

 

Still, Kear soldiers on, intently cognizant of his own health and sobriety as he does so. He stays well for his family and so that he can remain open, on every shift, to whoever the Almighty puts in his path.

 

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “Secrets killed me, or they almost killed me. Now, I’m honest about everything. I’m not afraid to say, ‘Hey, guys. This was a hard night. I need to talk.’ That’s extremely valuable.

 

“As for what I want people to take from my story, I guess it would be that there is hope. You don’t have to do it on your own. And just because life feels like you’ve destroyed it, God can rebuild it and make it look a lot more beautiful.”

 

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