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Recovered alcoholic helped other in Dallas diocese

Associated Press Published: November 10, 2012
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DALLAS (AP) — On a recent morning, Phil Paschke sat, legs crossed, and sipped on a juice. His head twitched involuntarily from side to side — a constant reminder of who he used to be. But he wore a Mickey Mouse wristwatch as another reminder — to live a life of joy.

"I made a lot of people sad in my life," Paschke said. "I'm trying to make up for that."

Paschke spent 15 years in the depths of alcoholism. The addiction destroyed his relationships and left him with a pronounced tic, the result of nerve damage.

After he sobered up, Paschke started the Catholic Diocese of Dallas' substance abuse and addictions ministry. The program helps alcoholics and other addicts find recovery programs. It also coordinates outreach among the diocese's parishes.

Because of his work, more than 30 parishes started their own addiction ministry programs, and thousands of people have found strength in sobriety. And through his example, Paschke has given other recovering alcoholics hope that it's possible to find joy again.

But after nearly three decades at the diocese, Paschke, 70, retired last week. Many say he'll be difficult to replace.

"I could always turn to Phil," Charles Stump, who was Paschke's boss, said. "It's going to take me a while to get my feet stable after he's left."

At 13, Paschke opened the door to years of misery. This was all it took: Curiosity, some allowance money and the October 1955 issue of Esquire.

Paschke grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. When it came to drinking, his Polish, Catholic parents stuck to the basics: beer and bourbon. But young Phil and his buddies wanted to try the exotic drink they'd read about in Esquire — black Russians. They pooled their money and cruised around Chicago sucking down vodka and Kahlua out of Thermos bottles.

That night, Paschke felt something shift. He was no longer the nerdy son of two opera performers; he was larger than life.

For the next few years, Paschke chased that feeling, drinking as often as he could. By 17, he was a full-blown alcoholic. Later, his first marriage broke up and he became estranged from his daughter. He lost his job, his home and his Catholic faith.

"I was a loser," Paschke said. "I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex."

He drank until he hit rock bottom. One night, while drunk, Paschke tried to kill himself by crashing his 1966 blue Pontiac. That night, his girlfriend left him. She told him to get help. Wanting to get back in her good graces, he went to an alcoholics' recovery meeting. He wound up discovering the program that would save his life.

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