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'If I can get sober, anybody can'

By Miriam Falco, CNN
updated 2:34 PM EST, Wed January 8, 2014
  • Paul Teutul Sr. appears on "Orange County Choppers"
  • He says alcohol "took over my life completely"
  • Teutul, known as Senior, has been sober for 29 years

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. Long before TV viewers met the man with the formidable moustache and the large, tattooed biceps on "American Chopper," Paul Teutul Sr. was a successful business owner and a recovering addict.

(CNN) -- You don't have to be a motorcycle enthusiast to be wowed by the custom bikes created by Paul Teutul Sr. and his sons as seen on the Discovery Network's "American Chopper" for a decade and now airing on CMT's "Orange County Choppers."

Teutul, or "Senior" as he's called, left the U.S. Merchant Marine and eventually opened his first business, called "Paul's Welding," according to the Orange County Choppers website.

After he grew his welding shop into a 30-employee business called "Iron Works," his passion for customizing motorcycles grew in leaps and bounds.

But a constant companion on Senior's ride was alcohol.

"Back in the day, I kinda started early drinking and getting high," he says. "If drinking was in the Olympics, I would have been a gold medalist."

But he also says he thought he would grow out of what he now recognizes as addiction. That didn't happen.

"What it does is it gets progressively worse, and I think that I finally got to the point where it kinda just took over my life completely," he says.

Teutul says there's a long history of alcoholism in his family: "My uncle was an alcoholic, my mother was an alcoholic. And you know -- most of them died from that."

Eventually, he realized everything he had built was at risk if things didn't change.

"I was fortunate -- in 1985, I was running a business, I had a small wielding shop, and I just got lucky," he says. I went to a 12-step program and then I just kept going."

Just because he stopped drinking, however, didn't mean his buddies did. "It's tough when you're not drinking and you've got two people on either side of you in a truck knocking down shots of Black Velvet (whiskey) and drinking beers and you're in the middle."

It wasn't easy, he says. For nine years straight, he was afraid to miss a meeting. "It did take me two years before I wasn't thirsty anymore."

He says he doesn't go to meetings these days and that he never feels like drinking. But Teutul says given his past experience, he will not drink again.

Senior just celebrated 29 years of sobriety, which he describes as "quite the trip."

"When you get sober, you put things in play and they happen," he says. "You think a lot clearer. Your whole attitude changes, you kinda learn how to live all over again, which is a tough thing by itself."

And it's a message he continues to share.

"My life's an open book, "says Teutul. "I know people that had problems and I think that I've been a power of example to them. I've heard from people that they've turned their lives around from me sharing my experience, so it's all good. I don't have a problem with sharing anything."

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