- Friends & Family
Sixteen months and 17 days, exactly. I know every day is a victory, but I’ve gotten past the point where the excitement of waking up sober is like riding a bike for the first time. Things are slowly returning to a normal pace, I can process emotions a lot easier, and I’ve established solid relationships with my immediate family members. I go about my days with much more respect for myself, my anxiety has nearly disappeared, and I’m rediscovering old interests. I’m becoming used to the idea of living life as a sober man.
If I were to start from the beginning, nothing would really seem out of the ordinary. I had the ideal childhood. My parents rarely fought, there was always food on the table, and I always got along with my three older siblings. I was raised in a devout Mormon household, but I never felt as if my parent’s faith was being “shoved down my throat”, so to speak. Aside from the fact that my family didn’t watch “R” rated films, use tobacco, drink alcohol, coffee, or tea, I felt like I grew up in a completely run-of-the-mill suburban family.
It wasn’t until my early teenage years that I began to realize that I was different. I had always known that I was gay, but I only recognized my same-sex attraction as a sin; something that my religion had claimed could be cured with abstinence and prayer. For a while, that’s exactly what I did: I prayed that somehow I could become straight, only to be disappointed that my feelings were growing stronger. We all have things we’re insecure about; coping with them is a part of life. Some people join religious institutions to find purpose in times of distress, others resort to artistic expression. We all have ways to alleviate stress.
Unfortunately, substance abuse was my way of dealing with, or not dealing, with a world wrought with confusion, war, internal conflict, feelings of isolation and abandonment. Everyone wants to find their niche and identify with other people. For a number of years in high school, I really thought I had found that group of people I identified best with. I made the majority of my high school friends in this group. I was sixteen at the time of my first drink. I remember exactly where I was when I tasted that Parrot Bay coconut rum for the first time. As the drink started to take effect on my body, a warm and funny sensation came over me and all of my anxieties seemed to dissipate. I was in love from the beginning. By the end of high school, I used alcohol to simply fit in; it was my way of identifying with people, making friends, and becoming that outgoing person I was too scared to be without the social lubricant. I would go to high school football games, drunk off of stolen diluted liquor that my friends and I would consume on the bike trail near my house. When I was drunk, I didn’t care what anyone thought about me. The only thing that mattered is that I was having fun, completely unaware of my surroundings. The truth was is that my own self-acceptance was really suffering.
Albeit slowly, I continued on this destructive path after high school. I moved to Chicago, took a few college courses, but ended up moving home four months later to attend Kent State University. After I returned home, I frequented an 18+ gay bar in Akron on a weekly basis. At first, I would only drink on weekends but that slowly turned in to three nights a week, which turned to four, which ultimately led to a downward spiral of nightly consumption (going out or not). I spent nearly all of my time with my boyfriend who drank just as much as I did. I ended up practically moving in with my boyfriend’s family.
Although I don’t blame anyone but myself for the years I spent in active addiction, my relationship became borderline abusive and I subscribed the very same idea that those school bullies had taught me: “It’s all my fault I’m being treated this way.” I somehow managed to justify the way I was being treated. Yes, I could’ve made some wiser decisions, but abuse (whether it’s verbal, psychical, or emotional) is totally unacceptable whatever the case may be. So naturally, I chose to stuff my emotions down with some more alcohol and continued to stay in the tumultuous relationship.
In the fall of 2011, I followed my boyfriend and his family to Cincinnati. While my boyfriend lived in the suburbs, I lived with two roommates near the University of Cincinnati. Conflict arose between myself and my new roommates a number of times due to the fact that I would constantly pass out on their couch in the living room. After three months, I leased my own apartment.
I was enrolled in a few classes at a local community college. I went for a majority of the courses, but had a really difficult time focusing. I tried my hardest to not drink until 6pm because in my mind that’s what normal people did: they would go to work/school, come home, watch TV and work a little bit, consume copious amounts of alcohol, sleep, and repeat. I would often go days without showering, spraying some dry shampoo in my hair each morning before heading off to class.
In January 2012, I woke up vomiting blood. I spent the night in the hospital. Of course, it was related to the drinking. I was in denial at the time declaring that it wasn’t related to alcohol, even after doctors had to prescribe a benzodiazepine during my overnight visit to soothe minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Needless to say, I received poor grades that first semester. During one specific lecture in a psychology class, I began to experience severe anxiety which I now recognize was mild alcohol withdrawal. I had to excuse myself from my desk because the tremors became so severe and I felt like I would pass out at any moment. I remember running to the cafeteria water fountain so I could try to compose myself. I held a cup under the stream while a cafeteria worker watched me. My knees were shaking horribly and I could hardly grasp the cup. The worker had a blank stare on her face as if she wanted to ask me if I was okay. I went home after that class around noon and fixed myself a drink. It was about this time that I began to start drinking earlier in the day.
A few weeks later during final exams, I brought a few cans of beer with me in case a similar situation should have happened. Even though I was fine, I ended up drinking the beers in the bathroom stall. I got a part-time job as a host at a Thai restaurant in the spring of 2012. Since business was slow, I would constantly fix myself drinks behind the bar. Coworkers made comments about smelling liquor on me, and in one case a coworker caught me drinking red-handed. I stopped showing up for work, using the excuse that there was a death in the family and I was devastated.
Months passed and the same routine followed. Nightly blackouts, monthly emergency room visits, and constant vomiting became a part of my life. Addiction literally consumed my ENTIRE existence. If I wasn’t trying to get more alcohol, I had run out of cigarettes searching for half-smoked butts that I had thrown out of my third story window.
Eventually the “party” came to a halt when my dad showed up at my door one morning around 6am, showing serious concern. I moved home shortly after attending a poorly researched rehab facility in Atlanta that ended up being Scientology based. After returning to Ohio, I attended an outpatient program that was twelve-step oriented. I continued to drink and was kicked out of the program after admitting to my usage.
Back at home, I slept on the couch, trying my best to dodge my parents when I came home at night. I hid bottles everywhere: in the woods near my home, under couches, in an old organ we had in our living room, on the side of the house, and anywhere else I could think of. My dad, not knowing how to help, would frequently patrol my hiding spots to discard whatever alcohol supply he could find. When my supply was depleted, I would resort to drinking cooking extracts or mouthwash.
Following four months in which I moved out to Kent, I moved back home in July 2013 and held down a job as a server for about six months. I considered my past relationship over and I made a few close friends that I still keep in contact with today. I excelled at work until I began to need more and more alcohol. I would bring alcohol with me to work, excusing myself to run out to the car to consume a quick swig every now and then. To make the frequent drinking visits to my car less suspicious, I devised a story that I suffered from asthma and kept my inhaler in the glove box. I would often keep alcohol in a Styrofoam cup, drinking on my drive to and from work. My manager sensed something was very wrong. She confronted me for smelling like alcohol on two separate occasions.
In late October/early November of that year, I drove while intoxicated to a local gas station. I was so inebriated at the time that I still don’t really know why I was there. I’m not even quite sure if I entered the building. I passed out in the driver’s seat of the car and came to while doing a field sobriety test. I was arrested and charged with open container and physical control (equivalent to OVI). I wore a SCRAM bracelet around my ankle for the next 45 days which took frequent samples of my sweat, indicating if I had consumed any alcohol. I had no infractions with the bracelet, although I did try to think of ways to skew the results. I drank the day it was removed, trying to monitor how much I drank.
Within a week, I was out of control. I was later fired from my job after the bracelet was removed, being too hungover to even wake up for my shift. I was now unemployed. I had a criminal record and virtually no hope for the future. I attempted, once again, to regain control of my life by requesting medical detox for probably the 6th time in the previous two years. The doctors in the emergency room informed me that I would not be admitted because they too believed it wouldn’t do any good. I was told to continue drinking to avoid withdrawal seizures. For the last week or so before my departure for treatment, my dad rationed out small portions of vodka into an empty Gatorade bottle with the label ripped off. He’d give me a time in hour increments at which I could ask for more. At the given time, I’d promptly ask him for a refill, often begging him to put more in the bottle. As pathetic as it was, I lived like that until January 28th, 2014.
Mid-December of 2013, right after my arrest and shortly before I was terminated from work, I was driving in Akron when I decided to stop at the grocery store. I was only permitted to use the car to get to and from work. I intended on making the stop only to replenish my supply of alcohol before heading home. I did just that, picking up a twelve pack of beer. I remember being somewhat frustrated because the line at the check-out was fairly long. The magazine selection was displayed to the right of the cash registers. I decided to browse over the cover stories a bit before checking out. Having made a decent amount in tips from my serving job that day, I bought a magazine for a friend who was in school to become a therapist. I chose to buy him the latest issue of Psychology Today. I’m not really sure what compelled me to buy the magazine because it’s just not something I’d normally do. I rarely ever buy magazines for myself let alone a friend. It was really just meant to be a very small token of my appreciation for his friendship. I wouldn’t know this until later, but this magazine would serve as more than just a gift for my friend. I believe it was something I was meant to find.
After I had given my friend the magazine, it sat around his house. I fingered through it from time-to-time, casually skimming the pages. I guess I always knew some sort of intervention was inevitable to save my life, I just didn’t know how or when it would present itself. A few regional treatment centers were viable options, but none of them really seemed right. Shortly thereafter, a piece in that issue of Psychology Today came to my attention. It neatly listed 50 reputable treatment centers in the United States that specialized in chemical dependency. The list had pictures of each facility, short descriptions, age ranges, whether or not they provided on-site detox, and indicated if the facility catered to the therapeutic needs of their LGBT clients.
Within that list, I found a treatment facility located in Palm Springs, California. This facility had everything I needed: detoxification, one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and a track that specialized in LGBT issues. After the New Year, I presented the idea to my dad. We weren’t sure if our health insurance would cover the treatment, and flying out to California was a serious commitment. Given my history of failed attempts to become sober, my dad was justifiably hesitant. Yet he continued to pursue the idea and within two weeks I was on the plane.
I do not regret making such mistakes. Nor do I miss the early days of my drinking career. I only see them as an intangible part of my past that I can never relive no matter how hard I try. Now, I focus on the future without obsessing too much. I try my best to treat others with respect, and expect that same courtesy in return; sleeping is a luxury, grocery shopping is fun, going to work is a part of life, and forming meaningful and mutually respectful relationships is a priority. My mishaps and mistakes have allowed me to grow in ways that I once thought were impossible.