I had a drinking problem, how I ended up quitting.

I think the beginning of my story is pretty common, I started sneaking beers from fridge in the garage when I was in my late teens. Like a lot of high school kids, it seemed like the thing popular kids were doing and – though not in the upper echelon of “the in crowd” – I gave in to the social pressure to be part of the group. Like anyone else, I didn’t realize how that seemingly inconsequential decision would affect the rest of my life. The toughest thing about making a decision is the inability to project into the future. We have to run down the rabbit hole to find out what the consequences are, good or bad. I was simply trying to fit in. I had no idea alcohol would come to run my life.
As I moved off to college, it became a bigger part of my week. Thursday through Saturday nights were spent at parties and Sunday afternoon was all about beer with my buddies and football. It was slow, but I eventually got to the point that, during graduate school, I was having a drink to calm down while studying for exams. The stress involved with researching a thesis, teaching classes, grading papers, and trying to make enough to support my wife became an excuse to open a beer or pour some wine – something I continued as I moved on to a good job at an accounting firm and our family grew.
I didn’t think of it as a problem, I wasn’t out driving drunk or becoming abusive to my spouse or children. It just helped me to level out, took away the tension of a long day or lunch with a prospective client. There was never a time when my family sat me down for an intervention like they do on TV. Only one person issued an ultimatum – my daughter. She and I had a private moment before I walked her down the aisle, a quiet minute to take in the fact I was officially losing the role of most important man in her life.
My brain was foggy and, something in the way she said, “Daddy, your breath smells like alcohol” struck a chord. It was like, for the first time since that can of Coors in the garage, I realized how much drinking was associated with everything I did. Over the next several months, I attempted to use willpower to overcome it. I attempted a gradual reduction, not having anything at lunch and cutting back at dinner. Looking back, I can see the signs my wife realized what I was trying to do. To her credit, she went about finding places I could get help without me knowing that’s what she was doing. I was too proud to ask for help, yet after another year or so of trying to do it all by myself, I finally broke down.
I had relapsed again after a business trip. I’d cut back to about three per day, then went away to a conference and – entertaining associates and making connections – slipped back into the old pattern. I was so angry at myself, frustrated and ashamed that I’d failed again. Somehow, she knew it without me even saying a word. “How was your trip?” had a different ring to it and I couldn’t hold back any longer.
“I drank so much…” I started crying. “I can’t do this anymore.” We pulled over and, God bless her, she listened to me tell her everything she already knew. How long I’d been trying to quit. How many times I fell off the wagon. How much I needed support. She just let me bawl like a baby, holding my hand and drying my tears.
The next morning, we sat at the breakfast table looking through the options. She’d found out about several different organizations and gave me the choice of which route to take. She encouraged me to visit each one and even offered to come along. Eventually, I found comfort in a group started by my church. I’d been going almost every Sunday for years, but the power of community – being surrounded by others who had been or were going through the same thing I was – felt more real there than anywhere else. Something about the fact it wasn’t a true “twelve-step program” made me more comfortable and the honesty everyone shared their emotions with gave me permission to do the same. Between those men and my wife, I was able to find my way out of the bottle. Every sleepless night or panic attack in search of a drink was relieved by having people I knew would not judge me listening.
Seven years on, as a man in his mid-fifties, I can honestly say I’ve never felt better. My relationships are more meaningful, both at home and at work. I feel like I’ve got a real life now, I don’t go running for something else to avoid pain or amplify celebration. Sure, there are some tough days, but we all have those! I wake up every morning happy that my little girl said that sentence. Without it, I’d just be a slave to an unfair master.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *