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Two years.

With two whole years under my belt, I thought it might be helpful to answer any questions that people might have regarding drinking problems, issues related to them, or how I think about my experience now. All of the questions actually came from real people, although some were consolidated to aid in organization. You can also read my One Year synopsis here. See below for the Q&A.

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So here we are, two years dry. Before getting into some of your questions, a few things to note. First, I’m not an expert or a therapist or anything of that sort, and I’m not equipped to speak to any form of addictive substance that isn’t alcohol, so I’m not going to try. Second, I can only dig into my own experience, which may or may not apply to people reading this - every single person comes at this stuff differently and with different triggers, blind spots and stories to tell. I’m not anyone special, and the only reason for really doing something like this is that I know it would’ve been helpful to me if I’d had answers to some of these questions two years ago.

 

I also believe that there is a certain strength in numbers. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be someone trying to go alcohol-free, just in the sense that the world is a gentler place if you’re trying to make a change like this. If this was 20 years ago, think I’d be talking about this shit? No way, man. I’d almost certainly have tucked it away in the back of a bottom drawer where we hide things that are shameful about ourselves, or I’d just have never gotten help at all. But when you’ve got celebrities out here pushing N/A lifestyles and everyone fully understands how devastating alcoholism can be to every facet of your life, it makes it a lot easier to just say “Fuck it, you wanna talk about it? Then let’s talk about it.” I just think it’s generally helpful, both for people who are either in it or love someone who is, and for former drinkers like me who almost look back on that time like a dead animal in science class, poking and prodding and asking questions. “So, what exactly happened here?” 

 

The last thing before I kick this off - hindsight is 20/20, but like most people with a similar problem, I was very much in denial of what was happening at the time, and it only really became obvious to me that I was in trouble when I actually tried to quit and couldn’t. So while I might be pretty direct and clear-eyed about it now, it was not that way as it was occurring. If I sound at all like I’m suggesting there’s an easy button or a simple answer - I know that not to be the case, and so should you.

 

So, like I said, I’m going to try to be as honest as I can without embarrassing anyone other than myself :) Let’s get to it.

 

How/when did you know you had a problem?

 

I remember reading a Stephen Colbert book once where he was talking about cults, and he said something like, “Here's how to know if you're in a cult: If you have to regularly ask yourself if you’re in a cult, then SURPRISE! You’re in a cult.” And I think the same might be kinda true of drinking problems. There are certainly degrees to a drinking problem (officially called “alcohol use disorder,” I think) and a wide range to the severity of it, but I think I knew for years on some level that my drinking was going to be something that would need addressing at one point. And long before I got help, I was definitely taking simplistic online quizzes that told me what I didn’t really want to know. So generally, I’d guess that if you’re looking under every rock for evidence that you’ve got a drinking problem…well, you likely know the rest.

 

I think a lot about why it took me so long to address what seems pretty obvious now. I mean…I crashed a car at one point, and I learned nothing from it, other than that I needed to be better about gameplanning my drinking. It pushed me underground. Which, of course, should have been my signal that something wasn’t right with me. 

 

So there it is: if there’s one symptom that should’ve been a big red flashing light (and wasn’t), it’s when I started lying to cover it up. Obviously, it’s not like one day I was being fully truthful about my drinking habits and the next I was a serial fabulist who told whopper after whopper. All of this stuff happens very gradually, where it’s a white lie because they’ll get mad or they’ll overreact or whatever. But before long, it’s a network of various and elaborate falsehoods that make every relationship (especially a marriage) untenable. 

 

So that’s what I’d say was the biggest flag of a reddish tint that I’d suggest to someone who’s thinking about cutting back or stopping drinking - if you’re always lying or plotting or changing the subject to keep the dogs at bay, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

 

I’ve heard that a lot of people have a “rock bottom” - I’ve read about yours, with your son’s birthday and all - but how did that translate into something positive for you?

 

Hmm. Good question. So I’ve talked a lot about how my son’s third birthday (and missing it, because I was in detox) was basically the catalyst for everything that came after. For some people, it can be a DUI or losing a relationship or something similar, but what is suggested by the phrase “rock bottom” is exactly accurate for a lot of us: that things were bad and getting worse, until we reached a point where we couldn’t allow it to continue. Couldn’t go lower. That’s Rock Bottom, population: You.

 

So let me explain how this came to be, without the general writerly flourishes that maybe cloud the important bits. The last year or so before getting sober was generally not great in terms of my relationship to alcohol. I’d glide from going to AA meetings to just living life exactly as I wanted, sometimes within the same calendar day. When I say that I was in denial, this is exactly what I’m referring to: sometimes I felt like I had a problem, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I felt like I could accomplish anything and drinking wouldn’t interfere, sometimes I felt like I couldn’t drive past any neon light that sold those single-serve wine bottles (those were very bad for me btw) without stopping. I wasn’t a constant wreck like many might assume - but I was constantly unpredictable, even to myself. 

 

I’d wake up sometimes feeling really good, clear-eyed, maybe even proud of myself. And what do you suppose that would lead me to think? You guessed it: “Know what would make this great day even greater?” And you all know the answer to that question by now. So that’s how it would go -- every 3-4 weeks like clockwork, I’d have a mini-bender where I’d usually be extremely productive and ambitious (and usually loose with my money on small, random things - to this day if I spend money on some dumb shit, Erin’s like hey husband u ok), and then I’d crash and disappear into bed with some mystery illness. Erin would hate me, and I’d recommit to trying to fix it, until I bought myself some time and gained a little confidence that I could handle it on my own, and then the cycle would repeat. This is what Erin and everyone else dealt with for at least a year, maybe two. There were lots of good days, but the bad ones were always lurking.

 

I’m not using Covid as an excuse, but that’s probably when my little episodes started getting closer together. Working from home, shocker, was not ideal for me. By late summer of ‘21, I was beginning to be aware that I was on a collision course with myself. I was baby-stepping into getting help, but still trying and failing mightily to do it on my own. It was still a closely held secret at this point.

 

So my son’s birthday occurred at the perfect time, in a sense - my parents and older brother were coming, and on some level, I think I wanted them to see me and where I was. I don’t want to say I was suicidal, because that’s not really accurate - it’s more like I could tell I was spiraling, the toll it was taking on my marriage was obvious, and I was helpless at that point to stop it. I could see where things were headed, if I’d lost my family and then whatever fallout might have followed…that’s frankly a storyline that I don’t like playing out. I don’t bother playing it out anymore. 

 

So I was relieved when my parents and brother were on their way, because I was in a terrible way that whole week. And when they arrived, there wasn’t a whole lot to discuss. I hadn’t seen my dad in months, but the very first thing he said wasn’t a pleasantry. It was, “We’ve been talking, and we’re going to get you some help.” I finished some wine in the basement and said, “Let’s go.” That was the last drink I had.

 

My rock bottom, as it were, didn’t occur until that night. Even a nice detox center (which this one was! Four stars!) is not a great place to be. I was sweating and kinda sick, and all I could think about was Ellis, and what my wife was having to tell him if he was asking about me. I knew he’d miss me, because he adores me. And I remembered something from a book I’d read about “playing out the string,” which is recovery parlance for playing a situation in your mind into its logical endpoint. And that’s what I did.

 

I thought about the room I was in, with crinkly sheets and nothing on the walls and people puking in rooms all around me. I thought about Erin, who had me from the minute I saw her, who had tried next to everything to get through to me, and who was now all out of ideas that didn’t involve attorneys. And I thought about Ellis (and Theo, but he was only 9 months old), who probably was wondering where his on earth his Dad was. Who would either remember me as a Dad who missed stuff, who gave up on himself, who couldn’t be counted on…or as a Dad who used this nightmare of an experience as the fuel he needed to pull himself off the mat. (Someday, he’ll hear this in greater and more excruciating detail than I’ve got time for here.) It was at once the worst and best night of my life. Because I felt clarity, finally. I had to HAD TO quit drinking. There wasn’t any question. I had to quit. I said it over and over and over, "I gotta quit. I gotta do it. I gotta quit." It made sense, finally.

 

So that’s what rock bottom means to me, is just clarity. The first thing I did when I got my phone back was talk to my boss and tell them I needed a few weeks - they said take as many as I needed. I met my therapist the following Monday, Dr. Jill, and the minute I met her I knew that I could talk to her. I let myself be honest in ways I never had. And that's really the secret sauce of therapy, which I think would be helpful to absolutely everyone everywhere: that you start saying things out loud that you maybe hadn’t fully formed internally, but once you say it, and you hear it, you just think, “That’s not how a normal, healthy person acts.” And that’s where the denial ends, and the work begins. 

 

So, in short, praise the Lord above for rock bottom.

 

With holidays coming up, what ways could I help my spouse/significant other manage their social anxiety and desire to drink in order to muster up the energy and be enjoyable to others?

 

I received a number of questions like this one, which were some variation of “the holidays are traditionally a tough time for my significant other for complicating reason X” - depression, anxiety, family issues, etc. And I want to tread lightly, because I think there is a clear distinction between getting good and drunk on the holidays (which basically everyone does) and losing complete control of yourself as an extension of an underlying drinking problem that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the holidays (which not everyone does). 

 

So what I’d say is this - social anxiety, depression, whatever the case may be - these are real problems that a lot of us face. I was the same way - taking antidepressants, but supplementing with alcohol because it made me temporarily more confident. This is incredibly common.

 

But when you literally can’t stop drinking once you start - when you blow right past “social lubricant” into something more unpredictable and frankly dangerous - that’s when you’re talking about something different altogether, and something that alcohol can’t solve or help or fix, because alcohol itself has become the problem. (Even for me, my problem actually had less to do with the volume I was drinking, and much more to do with the control it had over me once I started drinking.)

 

I’ll use myself as an example, somewhat hesitantly: I was taking meds for anxiety and depression, but in hindsight this feels more like I was searching for a medical answer for a condition that was plainly right in front of me, staring at me in the mirror every goddamn morning. Was I depressed because I was truly depressed, or was I depressed because I had a drinking problem that was ruining my life in real time? That’s a question I’m not qualified to answer, but I know that when the booze went away, so did the depression, so did the anxiety, and so did the search for a WebMD diagnosis for a disease I didn’t want to admit I had. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one, even if it’s the hardest one to own up to.

 

But back to the actual question - how can you help? Regardless of who you are or whether you have a problem or not, I think it’s always a good thing to be assessing your own relationship with alcohol - just kinda checking in on yourself. So in the context of the holidays, what constitutes a successful holiday season? Not getting into arguments that have drinking as a root cause? Not having a spouse/significant other miss a portion of the proceedings because they aren’t themselves? Getting through the month without drinking at all? 

 

Set goals, set boundaries, support each other and celebrate positive choices/outcomes, exercise and eat right, and be honest with yourself. And if drinking ruins your holidays, then it simply isn’t worth doing. But take heart, because January offers another chance to get it right. Plan accordingly.

 

If you’re a longtime drinker like I was, it becomes a routine - so it stands to reason that not drinking has to become a routine also. It’s hard to do this during the holidays (I'd know), but it’s also a time when a lot of problem drinking reveals itself in memorably unfortunate ways. So know your triggers, know which friends need to understand that you’re gonna be coming around less often, and don’t give in to the boredom that likely contributed to your problem at the outset. I’ve said this many times, but when you quit drinking, it’s almost an exercise in time management, because drinking problems are extremely time-consuming. So fill the hours with good things, and be kind to yourself (I got white chocolate mochas 3x daily for the first month, not joking. I didn’t experience the financial benefits of quitting for several months.) without being permissive of the things that you know are going to keep you from your ultimate goal. It’s not easy, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics at first, but it’s so worth it.

 

Do you ever think that you could go back to casual drinking and not become a full-blown alcoholic like before?

 

I’d take exception to the characterization of myself as a “full-blown alcoholic,” only it’s absolutely accurate, so I’ll let it slide. But to answer the question…no. I honestly don’t. At the same time, I also think that if something happened and I fell off the wagon or whatever you’d like to call it, I’d be much better equipped to pull myself together than I was two years ago. I don’t think it would wreck me, so, ya know…that’s nice, I suppose.

 

But one thing that they really pound in any treatment program, be it AA or more of the behavioral health approach that really worked for me, is that you can never allow yourself to get too confident. A lot of what causes the problem in the first place is a misplaced confidence (or a curiosity) that believes you can handle drinking outside of the accepted structure: “I like drinking, I wonder if I should introduce it to more of my daily routine!” I’ll admit to having some of that same curiosity today, of wondering if all the work I’ve done on myself has equipped me to handle it better than before, but I’m actually not in the least interested in finding out the answer to that question. I didn’t like myself when I was drinking, and my wife (who I completely love to pieces, I can’t emphasize this strongly enough) is never going to be put through that again. That motivation - giving my family the best version of my very flawed self - that’s honestly enough reason on its own.

 

So, no. I don’t think I could go back, but I also won’t let myself go back. And once I realized that my storied tenure as a drinker was completely over, everything honestly became a lot more simple. 

 

Do you miss drinking?

 

Funny story: so my father-in-law has a yearly Packer tailgate, and my role is and shall always be making the Bloody Marys and Apple Pie (sue me, I still enjoy a good party, even if I’m not in the middle of it). And when I was filling the jugs with vodka for the Bloodies a couple weeks ago, the unmistakable scent of that delicious poison tickled my nostrils, and I legit started salivating. Like a fuckin’ dog, just drooling. So, yeah, there’s a part of me deep down inside somewhere that misses it.

 

What I miss more generally is the simplicity of never having to be cagey or conspiratorial about how I’ll act or what I’ll hold in my hands when I’m out in a crowd. When I first quit drinking (as I’ve said in other forums before), my attitude would take an immediate nosedive if there weren’t N/A options at a bar or restaurant. These days, I don’t care nearly as much, but I still miss things like good wine or fun seasonal beers. 

 

The other thing I’ll admit to is a little more complicated: I miss when people didn’t act kinda weird around me, if you know what I mean. Everyone has their own way of dealing with something like this, and my process has been a pretty public one, which isn’t always ideal. It’s been a way of keeping myself accountable and focused in a way that wouldn’t be possible if I was handling this all privately, and I suppose it makes it easier to control the narrative around it - these are the positives.

 

But there are negatives too when talking about this a lot, mostly that it’s one of the first two or three things a lot of people think about you. I’m not being paranoid either - I know this to be true, because I was the same way before I quit. “Oh, that’s so-and-so. You know, the guy with the drinking problem.” Same way as if someone had cancer or survived a plane crash, it’s just the most accessible fact about a person, and I’ve kinda made it that way by being public about it - it’s in my articles, it’s in my songs, it’s all over my socials. And once it’s out there, it’s really out there. You can’t put that cat back in the bag. I decided long ago that owning it was how I’d manage it, and that I could be helpful if I talked about it, but I’m not always comfortable with that decision.

 

So I miss the old way sometimes, where one fact about me wasn’t the dominating facet of my whole existence to a lot of people. But talking about it (and making really dark jokes about it, honestly) has made my recovery possible, so I guess I prefer that to the alternative.

 

How often during a day did you think about drinking?

 

Consciously, I’m not sure. It wasn’t just a regular, lucid thought, like thinking about things I need to do for work or what I’ll say if I ever witness someone not putting away their shopping cart (seriously, I think about this a lot). It was more like a Check Engine light that comes on and stays on, and you don’t really look at it, but it’s still that little orange asshole shining in the corner of your eye. That’s how I thought about drinking. Not always necessarily at the forefront of my thoughts, but never out of my mind entirely, not ever.

 

It’s such a nefarious thing, though. If I had a day that drinking somehow wasn’t on my mind, that would be proof in my twisty sneaky busted brain that maybe I actually didn’t have a drinking problem, so then I could throw a one-man fiesta to celebrate. This literally happened dozens of times.

 

In so many ways, a drinking problem is a clash between the little devil and the angel on your shoulder, but where you never really know which is which. You’re good to drive. You had a long day, you deserve this. The people judging you actually have it wrong. Alcohol is actually helping you more than it’s hurting, I even read an article that selectively quoted a study to prove it. And on and on.  

 

I’m not here to judge anyone for anything…but man. If you’re someone predisposed to a problem like this, and you’ve got these competing voices tugging at you all the time, then alcohol is about the most dangerous thing in the world for you. It will tear through every part of your life like a goddamn tornado. And unrelated, but anyone who compares alcohol favorably or as “less dangerous” than a certain other substance that it’s frequently compared to…well, they probably don't know a whole lot about either of them.

 

What would you tell yourself two years ago, knowing what you know now?

 

I consider this to be the most important question I received, so I wanna make it clear that I’m speaking directly to anyone who a) knows they’ve got a problem and b) is not sure if they can handle quitting. Tattoo this on your face if you have to.

 

  1. In general, your friends and the people in your life don’t actually care if you drink or not. They just want you to be happy. I don’t know how long I avoided the elephant in the room because I thought, “But what will people think if I quit?” Then, when I actually quit, people…didn’t really care. No one worried they were losing a drinking buddy, no one treated me like I had AIDS, no one reacted with anything but mild curiosity and usually a question of how they could help. But that nagging worry of the judgment I might receive? It never happened, at least not with those who are closest to me. People have their own shit to deal with, and are usually just trying to keep their own lives on the rails. They aren’t worried about yours for the most part. However…

  2. Not everyone is going to be happy for you, and that’s okay. There is going to be a (hopefully small) contingent of people who actually preferred you when you were an unhappy, unhealthy, busted-up mess. Maybe they liked seeing you fail, maybe they just don’t like you personally, maybe they just kinda suck in general. Maybe you fucked them over once and they're totally justified! Whatever. Those reasons are their own, but be aware, these people are out there. What’s important is not them or their opinions; what’s important is that you don’t let it get to you or throw you off your game. Do not worry about these people, and definitely don’t let them get in the way. You’ve got a goddamn mountain to climb, after all. Keep going.

  3. You’re immediately going to feel a lot less alone once you begin to address the problem. If you’ve come to the point I eventually did, you’re feeling as isolated as you ever have - you don’t get out as much because your company frankly isn’t all that great, your spouse/significant other takes your opinions with a pound of salt (in the sense of “you can’t go 24 hours without drinking, why would I consult your opinion on anything”), and you’ve largely avoided interactions that would draw attention to you. Without noticing, you’ve become a solitary figure in a story that’s only getting sadder. But then when you seek help, that all shifts. People want to support you. They see that the one thing they wanted you to do – to try – is happening, and they wanna be behind you. If you go to treatment or AA or something similar, you have people who have been there and want to see you succeed. You’re no longer a sinking ship, you’re someone who’s going to start scooping water out, bucket by uncertain bucket. And the people who care about you most don’t want you to have to do that alone.

  4. If you have relationships/passions/goals/etc. that are suffering due to your drinking, that is never going to change until you address it. This is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s probably the most crucial thing to understand for a lot of people. If you’ve noticed that familial warmth is missing from your household, your career and the quality of your work are noticeably suffering, you've completely abandoned the things you once really enjoyed – if the reason is that you’ve allowed alcohol to seep into the fabric of everything, the only way to change that is to remove drinking from the equation. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I can’t promise that quitting will fix everything, but I can promise that keeping on the same path you’re on will ensure that things will get worse before they just collapse entirely. I’ll touch on this more deeply in the next question.

  5. Once you get through the worst, you’ll wish you’d quit years ago. I mentioned earlier that I knew far in advance that I’d need to quit at some point. But I always put it off, usually because there was something I was looking forward to - a bachelor party next fall, a wedding next summer, etc. The thinking was, why quit now if I’m going to want to drink then? But what I was missing was the damage I was doing in the in-between time, as I continually kicked the can down the road. Don’t make the same mistake. There’s never going to be a right time, because life is always going to go on. But once you open your eyes to circumstances that seem to be near-universal for those with drinking problems - and that everyone has eyes on you the minute you start drinking and is preparing for the worst - then it’s just a matter of when, not a matter of if. And every day you live miserably is just a day you’re taking away from yourself and from those who love you, and they don’t deserve that. None of you deserve that.

  6. Figuring out how to navigate the world will probably be harder than you expected. You don’t really notice it when you’re just a normal drinking person, but you can’t go anywhere without alcohol staring you in the face. I mentioned the holidays before, but that’s really not any different than going to a wedding or a concert or any social function where you never had to think so fucking hard about what you’re going to do with yourself. Asking for an N/A beer, at first at least, is more anxiety-inducing than standing in front of a bunch of strangers with a guitar, if you ask me. It’s also why I decided to be public about what I was experiencing, because I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with that situational anxiety every single time I went out in public. The more people know that I don't drink, the fewer people I've gotta explain that shit to. But what I'm saying is, it gets easier - it really truly does - but be prepared.

  7. The pride you’ll feel if/when you beat it will be unlike anything you’ve known before. I wonder sometimes if people feel like I’m ashamed in some way, or if I should feel ashamed. But I can assure you, it’s very much the opposite. I’m not proud of who I was when I was drinking (and especially for what I put my wife through), but that’s not me anymore. Anyone who thinks I might be ashamed doesn't know what I know, that I was really on the brink and pulled myself all the way back and then some. It wasn't easy, but here I fuckin' am, man. Looking back on where I was and what was likely awaiting me, it truly feels like today I’m talking about a whole different person. So no, I'm not ashamed. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some cool shit in my life - but this is the coolest of allll the other shit. And to anyone reading this who thinks it’ll be just business as usual after you beat it - I doubt it. I think you’ll feel incredible, and I look forward to being proven correct.

 

How have your relationships changed or improved since you quit drinking?

 

The short answer is that every relationship - every.single.one. - has improved. With my wife, with my kids, with my colleagues and anyone in my work life, with my immediate family. When people know that you’re trying to take on something difficult and amorphous, and that you’re serious and honest about that, they respond to it.

 

The most obvious improvements have of course been with my wife and kids. In the before times, in the long, long ago, Erin would be understandably apprehensive about all the things that we enjoy the most now - football season, vacations, holidays - because that was when I was most likely to be a liability. And frankly, life is stressful enough without knowing what version of your man is gonna show up. It’s not like we don’t argue or don’t lose patience with each other from time to time - that’s just a marriage. But we also know that our marriage isn’t in danger anymore, and that really frees us up to just live day to day as real partners raising two boys who need us. 

 

There’s also something that’s a lot less visible, and this is something I think is really important for married or long-term couples to understand. My biggest regret in everything is that it put Erin in an impossible position as it applied to our kids and just how we communicate with each other - not every day was a bad one, but on those bad days, she was essentially a single parent. (Makes me sick to type that, but it’s true.) So what happens over time is they lose respect for you, they aren’t interested in your opinions, and they hate the sound of your stupid voice. They don’t want to hear you or think of you or look at you. They are fucking pissed at you, even if they love you, even if they’re pulling for you. And they have every right to be, actually. 

 

But guess what? That can change too. Not right away, and for some couples, maybe not at all - sometimes the damage goes too deep. But when someone is losing respect for you, it happens gradually and almost imperceptibly. And then when they see that you’re doing the work, and see the “old” you coming back around…that, my friends, is a feeling I can’t describe. If anything makes it all worthwhile, that’s the thing.  

 

But that’s just the most obvious relationship. I’ve also reconnected with scores of friends who’d grown distant, not necessarily because of drinking, but just because that’s what happens with friends as you get older. I’m seeking those friendships out a lot more regularly now, probably because I love life again and wanna live it with people I enjoy. And there are many others. My parents and in-laws, my siblings, the many new friends I’ve made in the music community. And at the risk of sounding too philosophical, I get along better with society at large, probably because in acknowledging my own shortcomings, I’m a lot less critical of other people’s as well. I don’t mix it up over politics as much or insert my opinion where it doesn’t belong, because I feel like I’m most useful when it comes to helping people with a drinking problem, and I’d never want something trivial or temporary to complicate that. 

 

And lastly - my relationship with myself is a lot better. I hated myself for a good long while, and that’s hard to admit. But from here, from where I am now, I don’t mind myself nearly as much. I’m a better friend and dad and husband and neighbor and citizen of the planet, and that makes it easier to deal with the piece of work I once was. 

 

But back to the original question - your relationships (and the health of those relationships) will tell you a lot about yourself if you’re willing to listen. And now I wanna show up for those relationships more than ever. Life is too short. And way too short to compromise the connections and the people that would be devastating to lose. 

 

Why is it so hard to convince someone that they need help?

 

I wish it weren’t the case, but this is something that a person truly has to decide on their own. Here’s what I mean. 

 

When I went to treatment, there were two sets of people there - those who were there voluntarily (like me, kinda!) and those who were there by court order, work requirement, etc. One day I gave a ride to a guy in our group, really nice dude, about my age, handsome in a stringy Andrew Garfield sorta way. And as we were talking, he mentioned that he was a little hungover from a skiing trip the weekend before. No judgment from me, but it hadn’t occurred to me until I gave him a ride that some of the people there weren’t necessarily planning to change much of anything - they were there as a means to an end. To check a box, to get their family off their back, to buy some time, whatever. 

 

I ran into him again over the summer, and he let me know he was almost 90 days dry. He said it was going well. I told him to reach out if he ever needed anybody and that I was pulling for him. 

 

So what happened in the year-plus in between? The fact is, these things are always a process. No one gets it right on the first try. If you’ve been a drinker for a number of years, it’s like ending a relationship - a toxic one, but a consistent one. So there might be stops and starts, and honestly, a lot of them are going to be pretty painful for everyone involved. You always wanna believe that this time, this time it's gonna work.

 

But that doesn’t mean those false starts aren’t valuable. I sparingly went to AA for two years before I was truly ready to face myself, warts and all, as someone who just couldn’t continue drinking. I learned a lot from those false starts, mostly in the form of what wasn’t going to work for me. 

 

So that’s why it’s hard to convince someone - because you can’t convince them. Not on your own. We are all proud creatures, we hate being told to do things. It’s like when I tell my kids that a food is “good for them,” that only ensures that they won’t eat it. They've gotta want it too, because it's too hard to do if you don't really want it.

 

But when things click, in an ideal world, they’ll remember that you’d tried, remember that you’d been there, and they’ll thank you. In some circumstances, they may also write thousands of words about this very topic ;)

 

From the other side, how can a family support someone directly in the household who is struggling?

 

This is another question that I got a lot of, and basically the flipside of the question above. It’s also very tricky, because it’s possibly the hardest one to answer. So instead I’m going to try to explain the thinking (inasmuch as we’re thinking at all) of someone who has a really pesky drinking problem, so maybe that will help you know what they’re dealing with. And again, this is from my experience - not everyone is the same, but in people I’ve talked to, most can relate.

 

From the first time that I verbally said “I think I have a drinking problem,” went to an AA class, all that stuff - from that time until the day that I fully truly quit drinking for good was about 2.5 years. So how is it that I knew I had a problem, knew I had to fix it, and couldn’t actually figure out the right combination of conditions that could make it work, not for like 30 months after I knew I was in trouble? 

 

There are ten answers to this question, maybe more. I thought I could handle/fix it on my own. I didn’t think I needed to quit entirely. I thought I could put guardrails on myself (just beer! Lololol). I thought I’d snap out of it when we had kids. I had a good stretch of a few months, so I thought I was turning a corner. And on and on and on.

 

Let me tell you, you’ll tell yourself absolutely anything to make the problem something other than the problem. To stop drinking something you've been trained to want, it's a rebellion against yourself - it's hard to talk yourself into all the way. And then once you’ve accepted the problem for what it is, the pressure can increase in certain ways, because you know that everyone in your life who wants you to succeed is going to hurt that much worse when you fail again, and again, and again. The pressure to pull through becomes a prison in a lot of ways. 

 

So the most important way to support them is in the types of pressure you apply. Understand that it’s maybe the only disease that makes you furious with the person who has it. Remember that in all likelihood, the person you’re frustrated and angry with is just as frustrated and angry with themselves. We don’t want to disappoint you, or put you in the position you’re in. And at the same time, the person also needs to understand that if safety is an issue, then distance has to be part of the arrangement as well. A lot of times, the thing we need to hear the most isn’t what we want to hear. 

To an addict, the idea of completely eliminating the problem is just fucking hard, and bordering on impossible. Imagine asking someone who's been on the couch for ten years to run a marathon tomorrow. Pretty hard, right? This isn't the same, but they aren't totally different undertakings either. It takes time, is what I'm saying.

 

I wish there were easy answers. But there really aren’t any. The best thing you can do is be there when they’re ready, as hard as that sounds.

 

How long did it take before you felt “good” after quitting drinking? Like no withdrawal symptoms, etc.

 

I’d say for me it was about two weeks to where I stopped feeling generally cloudy, although I’d note too that my situation seemed to be tilted slightly toward a psychological dependency more than a physical one (although there were certainly elements of both). There are a number of stages that begin and end in recovery though, and they all have their benefits and potential pitfalls.

 

For most people who quit drinking, the initial withdrawal period of a couple weeks is followed by a bit of a “honeymoon” period, where you really feel on top of the world. Your sleep begins to improve, and you start dreaming a LOT. It’s actually pretty wild, it’s like you’re uncorking a backlog of crazy dreams, and a lot of them involve alcohol in some way. But hey, at least you’re dreaming. At least you’re sleeping.

 

Probably the most dangerous in terms of backsliding is what comes after that honeymoon period - by this time, I was back at work, life felt like it was somewhat normal again, and the urge to drink started to bubble up again in very subtle ways. You always have to be vigilant during this time, because the voice that says “you’re doing so great, you can live like this forever” isn’t that far removed from “you’re doing so great, one drink probably won’t hurt.” This is where having a network of sober friends, AA classes and close-at-hand resources is absolutely ESSENTIAL. It’s so so so so important that you don’t get through the first few months and convince yourself that you’ve got it handled, because that confidence is total bullshit. For everyone, to a person, it’s bullshit. 

 

For me, I didn’t believe that I’d actually “quit” drinking, like I’ll never do it again, for about the first year. I think it takes that long to see the benefits start creeping up into the everyday, to reestablish your hobbies and passions to a point where you’d hate to lose them again, and to find a way to navigate the normal drinking world in a way that you can handle. 

 

So “good” is really relative. I felt good, and then I felt better, and then I felt bored and restless, so I picked up my guitar again and started writing more, and then I started seeing the dividends pay off in various ways, and then I finally saw the big picture as more than just hard days strung together. It was a life, and one I realized I could keep living. So today, at two years…today, I feel good.

 

What role (if any) has faith/religion played in your recovery?

 

An unexpected one! Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a pastor’s kid, and like many pastor’s kids before me, I’ve always kept faith at arm’s length. I’ve got personal issues with various facets of Christianity that I don’t feel are very Christlike, etc. With that said, I’ve never closed that door entirely, and I’ve always had a pretty active spiritual life, even as Christians drive me nuts a lot of the time. 

 

But church has always had a secondary value to me, and that’s that it makes me feel close to my parents. When I say I grew up in the church, I mean that literally - I mowed the lawn, helped Ryan clean the church on Saturday nights, and all of my earliest memories involve being at church or bible camp. I loved those times, and still do.

 

So when I was right in the middle of the worst of it, sometimes I’d go to our church in Appleton by myself on Sunday mornings, and I’d feel all the weight of everything that was going on. And I’d sit there and my eyes would get damp, as I thought about my parents worrying about me, and my wife and kids who never knew which version of me was going to show up for them. I'd think about how cool it would be to someday beat it and get rid of the guilt and disgust that had started to poison everything. I knew I wasn’t living right, and it was in church where I felt that most acutely, because that’s where the best version of me was born way back when.

 

I’ll be honest - when I’m talking about my recovery, I tend to walk a fine line as I describe the role that faith played in mine. I don’t want to direct anyone toward something they aren’t willing to hear, because I'm afraid to push them away entirely. But if they wanna talk faith, then hell yeah, let's talk faith. And it's interesting, because my actual treatment was very much in the vein of behavioral health - understanding the nature of addiction, knowing how alcohol affects the brain, reading studies and stats to know what to expect. But at the exact same time, a lot of the faith that pushed me through the hard times came from prayer, and from believing there was still a plan for me. It came from talking with my parents and my pastor, all of whom were instrumental in keeping my head straight in ways that were perfectly in line with the treatment I was doing at the same time.

 

The truth is, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I know dozens of people at this point who have gone to treatment or beat back an alcohol addiction, and no two people have done it exactly the same way. What I do believe though, is that a person has to entirely put aside their ego to truly break through the noise in their own head - maybe that’s surrendering to the science, surrendering to the program they’re in, etc. 

 

I surrendered to my program, but also to a God who forgives, and who connects me to my family and my history in ways that are completely vital for me. Might not work for everyone, but it worked for me.

 

I’m pretty sure I need to quit but don’t know where to start, what is your advice?

 

This question actually came in a direct message, and to the person who sent it - this is incredibly brave, and congratulations, because you just completed the hardest part of all of this. If it were easy, everyone would do it. You’re tougher than most.

 

The first thing I would do now is find someone in your life or social networks who can be an outlet or sounding board as you get a plan together. It’s not enough to say, “I need help,” you have to go outside your comfort zone and find it, and you’ll need a couple people in your corner who will be willing to check in on you and potentially join you at a meeting - there are all sorts of different groups that get together, from church groups like Celebrate Recovery to more established programs like AA, to inpatient religious programs like Adult & Teen Challenge and many others. If you have insurance, I’d look into a behavioral health program as well, which will take an assessment to see where you and your addiction might land. 

 

The most important thing as you’re starting out, though, is just to be honest. Completely, exhaustively honest. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself or saying too much, because these people have heard it all. You can’t shock them.

 

From there, just remember a couple very important things. 1) It’s possible to do it on your own, but it’s very hard. Take a load off, and accept the help of people who know this shit better than you do. 2) Now that you’ve done that hardest part, the best is always ahead of you, especially on bad and/or tough days. 3) You’ll look back on these days, difficult as they may be, and you’ll be so proud of yourself. 

 

And I’m already proud of you. Don’t give up. Keep going. I’m just one person, but I’m pulling for you with all I’ve got. Keep going. Keep going. And then keep going some more.

 

_______

 

I could have gone on for another 8000 words, but I’ll wrap this up for now. If you know someone who might benefit from hearing or reading this, please share high and low. Alcoholism is an absolute beast, but it doesn’t have to own you. 

 

I’m also going to leave the form up, and I’ll check it periodically if any questions arise. 

 

Cheers to two years.

Comments (2)

Гость
17 нояб. 2023 г.

Tyler,

What an incredible story! In the short time I have known you I was totally unaware of your situation. A big "congratulations" goes out to you for success at completing this journey!! Karl S.

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Гость
17 нояб. 2023 г.

Tyler, you are blessed! Thank you for sharing your incredible journey.

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