January 1, 2016
My name is HD and I'm an alcoholic.
It has taken me 53 years to be able to say that with acceptance. I have been "around" alcohol my entire life. My family is a drinking family. Both grandfathers were alcoholics and uncles on both sides are, as are two first cousins. Interestingly, the "confirmed" alcoholics in the family have always been treated with care, love, and understanding, but the overall drinking environment has continued. Fast forward: I married into a drinking family. Likewise, they are extremely loving and supportive. Thankfully, being around alcohol, and in a drinking environment, does not bother me. All families have their issues and dynamics, but I remember a happy childhood.
I took my first real drink at 16. "Real" means I drank on purpose, for a purpose. It was at a party for the 1978 Super Bowl. I drank several beers and LOVED it. When I came home (naturally I drove; a drunk driver from the first sip) I was exceedingly chatty with my parents. They did not confront me, and never did thereafter.
Thus began a long career of drinking and partying. I smoked my fair share of pot, primarily in my teens and twenties, and dabbled in cocaine until the day Len Bias died. But primarily I was a drinker. I am a "life of the party" drinker. Always ready for one, always ready for another, always willing to stay up until the last person falls out. (In my case, being the last one to go to bed is when the "inferior companions" issue on alcoholism quizzes would arise). In my married life (nearly thirty years) the only real tension concerning my drinking was this last fact: I was never ready to call it a night. She dragged me out of too many parties to count. I also started many nights out with a few shots while my wife was getting ready, and ended them with another beer or two while walking the dog or "checking on things" after we'd gotten home.
We had three children in quick succession in the late 80's/early 90's. The household was wild and loud! My wife and I would often have a few beers or glasses of wine in the evenings, and "play dates" generally involved the kids playing and the adults drinking. Sometime in my early 30's the "nagging feeling" began. Remorse, shame, that dread of "what did I say?" began. Most of "us" know that feeling. It is terrible. I would say I carried that nagging feeling for nearly 10 years. In 2001, at the age of 39, I had some fairly minor seizures. (Non- Alcoholic thinking: "oh by the way, I had some SEIZURES!") This was my chance to stop drinking! I quit drinking, blamed it on the medical condition, and actually did not drink for eight years. For some of this time I was on a medication that specifically forbade drinking. (Being somewhat of a hypochondriac, I'm generally a rule follower with regard to medicine). This was both a blessing and a curse: I really couldn't drink, but I also therefore did not address any of the issues relative to alcoholism or addiction. In 2009 my medication changed, the instruction changed from "don't" to "moderate" and I actually asked my doctor for permission to drink. Of course she said it was ok, “in moderation.” Hah! I was free! I started drinking again and only moderately for the first month or so. Within a year I had several episodes which caused the nagging feeling, but I was the life of the party again for the next five years.
About a year ago in the notes app on my phone I started compiling a list of things or episodes that worried me about my drinking.
The bad things, like "don't remember driving home" or "sent mean or angry text/email to boss.” In the course of about a year this list grew to 56 items. And these were just the noteworthy ones. This all came to a head last summer. My drinking was escalating rapidly. In true alcoholic thinking, I decided I would "eventually" quit, and rather than use this as a reason to try to moderate, I used it as a reason to escalate.
As the saying goes, God protects fools and drunks. I was both. By a miracle, I never had a DWI or car accident. I never physically hurt anyone. For a long time I used this to justify my continued drinking. When you make the decision to stop drinking, it is amazing how clearly into focus the absolute insanity comes.
In true alcoholic fashion, I did not drink alone, unless you count the wasted dinners at the bar by myself when traveling for business, the hangover cure 3 or 4 bloody Mary's at the airport on my way home, the few beers at the local beer shop while checking email at the end of the day. It's not drinking alone if you can actually see some other human beings, right?!
There are two groups of people reading this: people who have accepted their addiction and go to this site for reassurance, experience, strength, and hope. And people who have stumbled upon this because they are seeking, wondering if they have a problem, looking for help and resources. This latter group is whom I really want to reach.
The hardest part about quitting drinking is the concept of "never again."
What about the Super Bowl? What about the wedding? What about the golf trip? What about Christmas? What about the supper club? Etc., etc. They say "one day at a time" for a reason, and while that's true, it can also be trite.
My experience: I LOVE to party! I love to dance, I love music, I love hanging out with my grown kids and their awesome and fun friends. I have great and true friends and I love being with them. I love live music and have been to thousands of concerts. My last concert drunk was a terrible experience. My need to keep drinking was absolutely frantic. We "pregamed" for hours and I spent at least half of the show in either the beer line or the urinal line. I remember very little of it. I went to NYC for the concert with $400 in cash. I had to get more money at the ATM for the trip home and I also had a healthy credit card bill. My first show sober was My Morning Jacket. They ROCK! I could not believe how much fun it was. I was the designated driver; I never left for the beer line or bathroom, I remember every detail. My total cost was the face value of the ticket. The next morning was absolute euphoria!
My kids are in their 20's and like to have a good time. They are blessed with wonderful and fun friends. For awhile there I was "fun dad." If we were out together, I had the tab open. If they played a drinking game, I jumped in and showed them I was a professional! It's funny: I love so much more still hanging out with them, but actually also being the adult in the room. News flash: your kids want you to be the adult in the room. It may be fun to party with them, but other than picking up the tab (which I am happy to do) what they need is role modeling and leadership.
My good friends are also drinkers, but they likewise are very respectful. True friends are. I know I am lucky in this regard.
I have read many books and memoirs on alcoholism. A book that I highly recommend is Beyond the Influence, which I have read at least 20 times. As I was compiling my list, I would read sections of this to try to determine if "it" we're true. Sometimes it terrified me; sometimes it gave me reasons to continue the denial. Another newsflash: feeling the need to read this book ONCE is indicative of a problem. 20 times?
I have picked up numerous nuggets from my reading. Two simple ones are "you know the truth" and "listen to the similarities, not the differences." Many of us continue our denial because we did not kill someone in a car, or we did not lose our families, or we did not get fired. Ignore this: what are the similarities you hear? Likewise, I believe most of us, deep down, are honest with ourselves. But I will make this easy: if you feel the need to take an alcoholism assessment, you probably know the answer.
So many things have changed since I got sober and began recovery, not just abstinence.
I think the biggest of these is letting go of resentment. I can be very resentful and grudge holding. I would say that half of these feelings went away literally the moment I resolved to embark on this journey. The rest is still a work in progress.
I am participating in a 12 Step program. Right now, I am finding "the rooms" to be the most welcoming place I've ever been. These seem to be people who will do literally anything for one another. Meetings help ground me, and give me fortitude. I listen to the similarities, not the differences, and use the lessons as a guide. I'm already spiritual (there is a difference between spirituality and religion), so the higher power "stuff" is easy for me. Much to my bewilderment and delight, I have also found a home on the recovery friendly Internet. The Twitter community is incredible. I am careful not to confuse this with "real life," but I believe I have forged some real relationships, and it is a wonderful place to find quick reassurance. Caveat: if you are in a life threatening or harmful situation, call a hotline; don't send a tweet.
In a recent meeting we talked about the difference between admitting our addiction and accepting our addiction. In 2001, instead of using a medical condition as a convenient excuse to stop drinking, I so much wish I had accepted my reality. I would have spared myself some anguish. If you are reading this, "you know the truth."
As I write this on New Year’s Day, I have been home for 24 hours from a family Christmas vacation. It was the best vacation our family has ever been on.
My wife and daughters are normal drinkers and had plenty of fun in that regard. I was able to be the designated driver, which made literally everything easier. Funny anecdote: I stocked the bar in the house where we stayed. (I am happy that this is not problematic for me). I purchased alcohol as if they drink like me, and we left behind an embarrassment of riches for the cleaning crew! It is all a work in progress: on the next trip, the drinkers can stock their own bar!
Looking forward, I am so happy and energized! Letting go of resentments and shedding remorse are life changing. I recommend it!
Wishing all of my fellow warriors in sobriety a happy, healthy, peaceful, and sober 2016!
You can find HD on Twitter as @hdbigjourney