My friends know me as a happy guy, always there with a smile and a handshake or a hug. They know me as a devoted husband and a loving father. They see the time I dedicate to my daughter and sons and many other kids in the community. My church friends hear my monthly children’s sermons and see the joy it brings me to help my wife teach Sunday School. My customers feel the warmth of my greeting and my sincere appreciation for their business. My neighbors know I always offer a smile and a wave as I maintain my house and tend to my lawn. They all know I am eager to help anytime they need a favor. They all know me. At least, they think they do.
None of them know the defining characteristic that almost destroyed it all – my marriage, my business, my reputation. No one knows the shameful secret that would eventually have killed me. No one knows I am an alcoholic.
My addiction to a brain-warping, life-ravaging poison started with innocent experimentation in high school, developed into binge drinking in college, matured to happy-hours and daily cocktails in adulthood, and metastasized into mind-controlling, soul-devouring insidious self-medicating for the last ten years of my drinking life. I frequently referred to the deep dark mental hole of paralyzing despair that my beloved drink buried me in as The Pit. I frequently talked about The Pit with my wife, but no one else. No one else has any idea how I wished and prayed for death as my only possible escape from an alcohol-induced depression that had hijacked my brain and trampled my soul. No one else knows alcohol was quite literally killing me.
I loved to drink. At parties I would drink and laugh and tell stories and share challenges and listen and hug and laugh and drink some more. I never refused when someone would suggest, “Let’s grab a quick drink.” I always had time to talk to a neighbor over a beer or meet with an associate for a business discussion and a cocktail. In our society, where we have turned everything from a baby shower to a fifth-grade graduation into an excuse to drink, I was always there with a smile on my face and a thirst in my belly for whatever alcohol was being served to celebrate the moment.
Then, when the party was over, the meeting finished and the shower gifts all opened, I would return to the safety of my home – out of sight of my friends, neighbors and business associates – and continue drinking. Free from the constraints of socially-acceptable moderation, I selfishly drank at the pace that fit my mood and my goal intoxication level. Sometimes I drank a little. Sometimes I drank a lot. At best, I would withdraw from my family and sulk in alcoholic self-loathing. At worst, I would pick an irrational fight with my wife, Sheri, over something inconsequential like a minor purchase I deemed wasteful or a trivial parenting decision with which I disagreed. Either way, what started as jubilant public celebration turned into a private sullen anger, paranoid fear and hopeless depression. It was The Pit, and it created woeful misery for both Sheri and me.
I have learned a lot about the disease of addiction, both through research, and through years of horrific personal experience. Addiction results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. I was unsuspectingly predisposed to the genetic components of alcoholism. As for environment, well, I was vividly immersed in a drinking culture from birth through adolescence and early adulthood and into my present day surroundings. Alcohol is quite literally everywhere, and it is celebrated as the elixir of a happy life like no other substance.
No one – none of my high-school or college buddies, no member of my family, none of my co-workers or neighbors or adult friends – celebrates the glories of methamphetamine or cocaine or opioid use. But almost everyone I know revels in the splendor of a cold beer on a hot day or the perfect paring of a robust Cabernet with a juicy steak or the tangy refreshment of a gin-and-tonic on a summer evening. In my world – in my environment – my mortal enemy and genetic kryptonite, is worshiped as a liquid panacea. Given my genetics and my environment, my alcoholism and all of the destructive years of overwhelming pain and unspeakable shame that came with it, was a forgone conclusion. Alcoholism was my destiny from the day I was born.
But what if I had known earlier what I know now? What if I had understood how the neurotransmitters of the human brain interact with addictive substances to permanently change the way the brain functions? What if I had the knowledge and tools to diagnose my mind-boggling attraction to alcohol and the associated aftermath of depression at an early age? What if I had known what to do before my brain was permanently and irreversible warped? How might my life have been different? Maybe I would not have wasted so much time during my 25-years of heavy drinking. Maybe I would not have suffered so bitterly and shamefully for the last ten years when my addiction was absolutely crippling. Maybe I would not have drained so much of the joy from my marriage. Maybe I would not have caused my wife so much pain.
I was taught at a young age to respect and fear the ocean as powerful and deadly. Why was I not taught to respect and fear the deadly power of alcohol before I poured oceans of it into my own life?
Now, as I come out of the closet about my addiction and embrace my permanent sobriety, I am haunted by the questions that our society refuses to ask. I am not an abolitionist, nor do I plan to impose my cure for my disease on anyone else. I am compelled, however, to share my story in all its shameful and wretched detail in the prayerful hope that it will resonate with some, and it will serve as a warning to others. I cling to the belief that through education, honest evaluation and open discussion we can eliminate the shame affiliated with not only the disease of alcoholism, but also the stigma associated with being the only person at the party not drinking alcohol.
The topic of alcoholism is astonishingly complicated. Until I studied it – until I lived the tragic condition of addiction to alcohol – I could not begin to grasp intricacy of the shame of uncontrollable drinking AND the intertwined shame of abstinence. Now that I understand, and now that I am one year sober and finally unashamed, I feel deeply compelled to share the understanding that saved my life.
Through my blog, Sober and Unashamed, I will share my story. I will not preach nor urge legislation nor condemn. Reading the stories of alcoholics who survived – who climbed out of their own personal pits of despair – was the single most important component of defeating my debilitating addiction. I pray my story will serve as a warning for my children and kids everywhere – even kids from healthy homes with economic stability and loving parents – alcoholism can happen to you. I pray my story will resonate with functioning alcoholics still fighting for survival and hoping beyond hope to control the uncontrollable. I didn’t lose everything in order to find my bottom. The first step for me to make my life better was to stop making my life worse…to put down the bottle for good.
I pray my story of scraping, scratching and clawing out of The Pit will give hope to those riddled with paralyzing alcohol-induced despair. There are over fifteen-million of us in this country alone. Maybe it’s time we come out of the closet and talk about it. Maybe its time we eradicate the shame – both the shame of alcoholism and the shame of sobriety – in an alcohol soaked world.
If my struggle with my beloved drink resonates with you, I hope you find what you might be looking for in Sober and Unashamed. Please subscribe to receive blog posts via email. Please share my blog with others – both those looking for a way out and those who do not yet know they could be on a path to addiction. I do not offer answers. I offer conversation and honesty. I offer humility acquired from decades of failure. I offer compassion for anyone who suffers from addiction. I offer hope from the story of my gradual descent to the gates of hell and my life-saving resurrection. I offer love for humankind as we recognize and combat the most painful and deadly disease of our own invention and proliferation – alcoholism. I am finally, at long last, sober and unashamed.