“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.”
~Leonardo da Vinci
I have been as far down as it is possible for a human being to be and still come out alive. Although I didn’t lose everything, I lost almost everything, and had to start again from the bottom… all because of my alcohol abuse.
On one hand, trying to start over from scratch – all while trying to maintain a new and fragile sobriety – was a monumentally-difficult task that was harder than anything I’ve had to do in my life. To this day, I am surprised at how I was able to find the strength.
But on the other hand, when a person falls apart, they have the unique opportunity to rebuild themselves the way they wish they had been all along.
That is what happened to me. I went from being a hopeless, shambling alcoholic to the person I am today. I like myself, flaws and all. And, because I like myself, I know that I am not doomed to repeat the same self-destructive behaviors of my past.
My Personal History with Alcohol – Why I Drank
I began my unhealthy relationship with alcohol when I was just a teenager. Why did I drink?
- I started drinking out of curiosity. What was the big deal?
- I drank because my parents did. They did it – why shouldn’t I?
- I drank because it was there. My parents always kept liquor in the house.
- I drank because of how alcohol made me feel. I was always more confident and relaxed when I drank.
- I drank to escape my life. My parents were always fighting and I hated it.
- I drank because my friends did. Isn’t that what teenagers are supposed to do?
When I became an adult, my drinking increased, because now, it was legal. Who was going to stop me? Although I drank virtually every night, I would really cut loose on the weekends. From Friday night until the early Sunday morning hours, my goal was to party is much as possible.
To me, “party” evidently meant to stay hammered all the time. Half the time, I couldn’t quite remember everything that I had said or done.
There were some issues, because evidently, I am kind of a jerk when I drink. I would say mean or stupid things to some girl I was dating, and we would break up. I got into a lot of fights, most of which I lost, being so drunk and all.
Somehow, this continued to go on and I maintained some semblance of normalcy. I kept my job with a (mostly) unblemished record. I stayed out of jail. I even managed to get married and have a child. On the outside, I was just a normal “good-time” guy.
Things started to change with my drinking:
- I was now drinking because I couldn’t feel normal when I didn’t.
- When I was at work, I counted the hours until I could go home and drink.
- Sometimes, I was too sick – hung over – to go into work.
- I got stopped a couple times driving after I had been drinking.
- After my DUI arrests – and after hearing it from my wife – I made up my mind to quit. I failed. I never even made it a week.
- People began talking, even some of my drinking buddies jokingly started to show concern.
- I started hiding my drinking, so I would not have to listen to my wife or friends.
- I began to drink to forget my problems.
- Blackouts became more common.
The Last Straw That Changed – and Maybe Saved – My Life
It was bound to happen – my drinking and driving caught up with me, and I wrecked my car. What’s even worse, our son was with me.
He didn’t die, but the terrifying thing is this – he could have. He wasn’t even really hurt.
But our marriage was. While I was still in jail for this latest drunken-driving incident, my wife filed for divorce and for protective order that would keep me away from what used to be our home. She claimed – rightly – that I was a danger to our son. Both were granted very quickly.
Since there was no one to bail me out, I stayed in jail. And because I stayed in jail, I lost my job.
When my trial came up, the judge gave me a choice – a year in jail or rehab.
So now, I had no wife, no child, no home, no job, and the possibility of no freedom.
I chose rehab.
The Hardest Thing about Alcohol Rehabilitation
Most people in my situation will tell you that detoxing from alcohol was the hardest part of the recovery process. Not me.
I’m not going to lie to you, giving up alcohol – even with the help of the medications they gave me – was excruciatingly difficult. But I had a handle on that feeling – staff of the detox facility kept telling me how the discomfort I was feeling was only temporary. I held on to the idea of it being “temporary”.
As it always has been, my problem wasn’t just about alcohol. My problem started between my own years. In order to receive the message of recovery, I had to surrender – my way of doing things, my stubbornness, and my own ego.
That was the hardest part.
All my life, I felt that I had the answers. I thought I could control my problem – heck, I denied that I actually HAD a problem. So now, I was supposed to admit to these total strangers that I couldn’t control my drinking? I was supposed to go on and on about how my life had become unmanageable?
The reality was this – unless I made that admission and unless I accepted the unmanageability of my life, I would never get any better. My reticence is what extended my alcohol rehab period.
Because of my situation and because of the severity of my alcoholism, my best option was a long-term residential alcohol rehabilitation plan. I was in treatment for six months. It could have been three, but I slipped up right before my 90 day graduation, so I started over.
What I Learned during the Alcohol Rehab Process
I was safely ensconced within the rehab facility long enough to learn a lot of things that I had never really given that much thought. These were realizations that greatly aided in my recovery. You might say that they were attitude adjustments that I needed to make.
- I learned that alcoholism is a disease – I always felt different from other people, but it came as a shock when I discovered that my brain was actually wired differently than non-addicts. I discovered the roles that my genetics, my family history, and my social environment had played in the development of my problem.
Most importantly, I learned that I did not have to be defined by any of those things. The fact that it was a disease did not absolve me of my own behaviors. Instead, my genetic and environmental predisposition to alcohol abuse meant that I had to be even more responsible than the average person.
- I learned how to stay out of my own way – I learned that my way of dealing with things is what had led me to this moment and into the situation. I had to readjust my flawed mindset and listen to others who were not trapped inside my disease.
- I learned that being happy can be its own goal – All my life, I had felt the insatiable need to always be “right”. If someone offered me a different solution, I always had a counter argument. My readjustment meant realizing that there are many different “right” paths. I didn’t need to create the anger and resentment by insisting on MY way all the time.
- I learned that alcohol wasn’t THE problem – I learned that I was my problem – how I thought about, felt about, and dealt with things. To recover, I was going to have to fix myself from the inside.
That being said, I still had to fully realize that my use of alcohol was a problem. As long as I was still drinking, I could not work on myself with any degree of success. Quitting alcohol had to be my number-one priority.
- I learned to be grateful – Alcoholism, like all addictions, is largely defined by negative emotions – anger, resentment, shame, guilt, worry, anxiety, depression, etc. My readjustment meant that I had to find the good that existed all around me.
One of the most startling realizations I had was the fact that I could even be grateful that the court had forced me into alcohol rehab. If I looked at it the right way, this was a second chance. Many people with any sort of addiction never get a real second chance before they irreparably harm themselves or someone else.
After Rehab – Living the Rest of My Life One Day at a Time
I have never been so scared in my life as when I “graduated” from my residential alcohol rehabilitation program and left the facility. There were two reasons for my fear.
First, I was literally starting over from scratch. I wasn’t going back to my old job or to my own family and home. I was released into a sober living house, where I would start picking up the pieces of my life. It was going to be one heck of an uphill climb.
Second, I was going to have to do this without my usual crutch, alcohol. I was going to have to face all of the challenges and stresses and deal with them in an emotionally-sober manner. That scared me most of all. I did not want to go back to drinking.
People in recovery learn an acronym for FEAR – Face Everything and Recover. In essence, it means to simply deal with everything in your life as best as you can, and keep moving forward, day by day.
That’s what I did. That’s what I’m still doing.