Kyle asked to enroll in our SHOUT Sobriety program for people in early recovery from alcoholism on June 13th. He was in the midst of a two month stint of sobriety and looking for something to help him make it stick. In early July, he was on day one and trying again.
Kyle is a few years younger than me, but he is living almost my exact story as alcoholism slowly destroys his life. His two kids are ages five and three, and his wife has run out of love and trust for him as he is losing his battle with the beast of addiction.
On October 13th, Kyle told me, “It seems like every relapse is harder and harder to explain. Explain to myself, my boss, family and kids. But most importantly it is harder and harder for me to have faith that I can stop for good and not lose everything.” On October 31st, Kyle drank a pint of vodka in the morning to nurse a hangover from the day before. He was passed out and vomiting by the evening, and he couldn’t even muster a smile for his children when they came home and wanted to show their candy to their daddy.
And now, Kyle is trying again.
I don’t know what I’m doing writing this. I want so badly to help Kyle find lasting sobriety that I ache in my bones for him and his beautiful family. I’ve tried everything I can think of to help him, and, as you’ll read, Kyle has tried just about everything, too. I believe firmly in the power of accountability. The day I came out to over 3,000 people about my addiction to and recovery from alcohol, my ability to relapse disappeared. Everyone I had ever known was aware of my disease, and drinking without destroying my family and my reputation was no longer an option. Open, honest accountability was the greatest blessing of my life.
A couple of days ago, I offered to write Kyle’s story to give him the same level of accountability that saved my life. He accepted my offer, not with enthusiasm nor hope, but out of desperation and a willingness to try anything.
This is Kyle’s story. We both hope and pray it will lead to peace for him and the ones who love him.
The magic offered by alcohol was one of the first lessons Kyle learned in college. This engineering nerd calculated that when he added booze to his shy demeanor, he became the life of the party. Drinking smoothed a lot of sharp edges, but it definitely got in the way of him reaching his academic potential. Still, he graduated with his engineering degree and started his adult life oblivious to the damage alcohol would eventually cause.
Drinking moved from a necessary component of college parties to a sort of hobby in adulthood. Kyle became a bit of a mixologist, and he was very proud of his robust liquor cabinet. “Without school and my buddies, drinking sort of began to define me,” Kyle recalled.
Alcohol as a defining characteristic, and a source of pride – when Kyle shared that sentiment with me back in the summer, I felt so closely connected to him that I was full of confidence that my method of sobriety would surely work for him. I had made that same association between my drinking and my persona. I wanted people to know of my love for bitter, high alcohol beers and biting, potent bourbon on the rocks. Alcohol wasn’t just a tool for me. Alcohol defined me. Not only wasn’t I afraid of or embarrassed by that association, it brought me tremendous pride, and even arrogance. Kyle felt the same way. I just knew I could save him.
Just like me, Kyle met his wife in college. Just like my wife, Kyle’s assumed his drinking would moderate with maturity. They were both sorely disappointed. He explained his near daily happy hours to his wife as an important part of his work scene, and a way to build loyalty and trust with his coworkers. He might have gotten away with that excuse to drink if he didn’t continue drinking at home in the evenings after the bar.
Just like my family, Kyle and his have made several cross-country moves leaving the stability of extended family and friends behind. Isolation is the fuel that feeds addiction. Even with a wife and young kids, the pressure to provide and connect can be a very lonely feeling. Kyle drank because he enjoyed the buzz, and to help him relax after the accomplishment of a hard day of work. But now, Kyle also used alcohol to fight loneliness and boredom, and to manage the growing stress booze was putting on his relationship with his wife.
Kyle’s wife convinced him that he needed help. “My wife convinced me…” was the start to several sentences when Kyle was telling me his story. Early on, she could see what was so invisible to Kyle. Again, his life and my life were in perfect parallel.
Over the years of destructive drinking, Kyle had several stints in outpatient recovery programs, various attempts to connect in Alcoholics Anonymous, an intervention by loving family, and a 30 day inpatient treatment program. He put together 30 to 90 days of sobriety too many times to count, but he could never make it stick.
Kyle and his wife learned that sobriety doesn’t fix anything in a marriage during a nine month period of sobriety. Their relationship really suffered, and they separated in March of 2017. Kyle did what any of us high-functioning alcoholics would have done. He started drinking again. By the fall of that year, he had an alcohol-induced mental breakdown and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Where did the fun go? What happened to the tool Kyle innocently used to transform into the life of the party? Where did those happy hours and creative cocktail experiments go? What happened? He has become a desperate drunk at the hands of the very potion he used to make his life better. How did it all go so wrong?
Kyle is reunited with his family, for now. When I met him in June, he was preparing for yet another move, this time to San Diego for a new job and a fresh start. Kyle was full of hope and optimism, and so was I since our stories had so many similarities. Surely the method I used to find permanent sobriety would work for Kyle. It just had too. We were so alike.
On August 20th, Kyle’s wife called the police. He was drunk and talking about suicide. For the first time in his life, Kyle was handcuffed, put in the back of a police car and taken to the hospital for an emergency psych evaluation.
My program wasn’t working for Kyle. Nothing was. Inpatient rehab had failed to get Kyle sober. Outpatient programs were not successful. The intervention by his parents, sister and friends filled Kyle with shame, and Alcoholics Anonymous left him feeling like a misfit. Nothing worked to help him find peace in recovery.
Each stint of sobriety has been a valuable learning experience. Every relapse has taught Kyle new lessons. The results are elusive, but progress is being made. But it might be too little, too late. California residency laws are the only thing preventing his wife from divorcing him right now, and in February, the marriage will be over.
Have you ever wondered how much power addiction holds in the function of our brains? Have you ever watched someone you love understand the consequences, but be unable to stop drinking anyway? Kyle has two beautiful children with their whole lives in front of them. He has a relentlessly wounded wife who is desperate to love him. He has family eager to sacrifice to help him get healthy, and he has a good job in a field for which he feels a passion. He has a wide variety of treatment history and available programs. All of that might not be enough to break the hold of addiction.
Kyle has lost faith, and I don’t know how to help him. It is easy to point to my lack of formal training in addiction recovery, but the formally trained have failed as well. The reason addiction recovery programs have such dismal success rates isn’t for lack of training or effort. It is because alcoholism is diabolical and cunning, and no matter how similar our stories, the cure is unique for each individual.
So I’m doing the only thing left that I know to do. I’m sharing Kyle’s story in an effort to help him find the accountability that keeps me sober. This isn’t about shame or stigma. Kyle has suffered more of that than any person deserves.
This is about hope. By sharing Kyle’s story, I’m desperately hoping he’ll make the connection required for freedom from addiction. I’m hoping he’ll share this story with everyone he knows, and his reputation – his future – will depend on his sobriety.
And I’m counting on you. I’m hoping that this loving and growing community that has supported me and strengthened my recovery and my mission will share your power with Kyle.
So please, leave a comment of support. Tell Kyle if you resonate with his story. Tell his wife if you feel her pain. Tell them both they are not alone. Tell them not to give up on recovery. Tell them to keep going.
Accountability is about a lot more than taking responsibility for our actions. Accountability requires us to share our experiences for the benefit of others. Hold Kyle accountable – but not for contracting one of the most common diseases known to man. Hold Kyle accountable for sharing his story so others can heal.
I am hopeful. I am hopeful that in the process of accountability, Kyle and his wife will find healing, too.
If you are ready to stop hurting and start healing, please checkout our SHOUT Sobriety program. As I’ve explained here, it is not a silver bullet. None exists. But I’ll walk the path with you, and I’ll never give up. If AA is not a good fit, and you are ready for a modern approach to recovery, I hope you’ll give it a try. It is free to participants because I don’t think you should have to pay for your freedom, especially since there are no guarantees. If you’d like to support our mission and our work, please consider a donation to SHOUT Sobriety. The program only survives from the generosity of alumni and readers like you. For more information, to enroll or to make a donation, please click the button below.