I’ve been an alcoholic all my life. I just didn’t drink at first. My first taste was at age 14. I knew I was different because I didn’t get silly like the other two guys with whom I split a six pack. (Yeah, three guys on a six pack!) I just wanted more. Today I know things like that craving and the incredibly high tolerance I gained in college are signs of the disease of addiction, but back then I didn’t know what I now know. I didn’t drink more than two or three times a year, but I never, ever had just one. I drank hard, fast and like someone was going to take it away.
In the 1990s and 2000s, my career started to take off. As a mutual fund executive, there were plenty of schmoozing events revolving around alcohol, and I’d be damned if I was going to be the only one not drinking. Shortly after my son’s brain surgery at age five months, I began self-medicating the stress and heartache. He’s perfectly healthy and fine. That surgery and the job were just excuses to drink more frequently.
Before long I didn’t feel right without a drink every day. Not long after that, I was drinking alcoholically: Daily, lots and secretly. A smart man, like I fancied myself to be, could have discovered his bottom right there, but the disease owned me already. I was asked to quit in 2004 when I wasn’t yet the alcoholic I didn’t want to be. I was an alcoholic, but I still had the huge house, big-shot career, nice toys, good community reputation, clean record and, above all else, a loving wife and two kids. I shook and sweated so terribly the first day there wasn’t any way I could function. My perfect solution, cooked up in my alcoholic mind, was to maintenance drink. I could pull off keeping my blood alcohol concentration high enough to prevent withdrawal but not so high I would stumble, slur and act the fool. I even bought a breath meter to monitor myself before long flights or events. I would ramp up the BAC to make it through to the next beverage opportunity.
Beer became a real burden: All that peeing, all that fridge space filled. Whiskey came into my life. It was strategically hidden everywhere, and I drank straight from the bottle without a mixer, glass or ice. I drank at least two liters a day, every day.
By Christmas 2006 I was on my second divorce (marriage two lasting six months). I received four DUIs in six weeks after my second bride stopped driving me around. I was hospitalized and near death twice, once from withdrawal and once from passing out with a BAC of .612 in an airport. I walked out of the ward under my own power and against medical advice, barely under .5, so I could try to catch the next flight. And drink some more. You could call me a slow learner.
I was on my way to Arizona where a friend threw me a lifeline by getting me into rehab, but I couldn’t even make the flight. I made it there eventually, but I went through another brush with death first. After all that I relapsed shortly after rehab. I blamed that on the prison sentence I was about to begin for all those DUIs. I got out of prison, a place in which I never in a zillion years imagined myself, and despite all that had happened, all the legal, professional and health consequences, I relapsed again October 17, 2010. I still could not have just one. Another two years in prison waited. Because prison cures people, right?
I made it out alive and took my sobriety as seriously as I should have back in 2004 to avoid the entire nightmare in the first place. Slow learner, remember?
The play-by-play is plenty uglier than the highlight reel. Why I bother with a drunk-a-log at all is this: I am alive to tell it and am not just living. Life is entirely more enjoyable today and better than those years of executive perks. I’ve gone back to my first career as a journalist, but I am working freelance this time. I take nothing for granted. Central to all this, I have regained my relationship with God and with my children in ways that are more fulfilling than I deserve or could have dreamed. There are people in my life, including a girlfriend, who knows the drama I manufactured one bottle at a time, yet loves me anyway. I take it (even though I hate clichés) one day at a time. I attend or chair several meetings a week and do a mountain of service work in conjunction with writing two books on alcoholism. The light days now far outshine the darkest days I went through. Not all of them are perfect, but they weren’t while I was drinking or before either. Serenity, like sobriety, is a better thing to have than to lack. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.