I want to first start by saying that I’m a bit nervous to share this story. I thought would just live between me and my wife and eventually become dormant there. We’d move on from it. However, after reading and learning more about sobriety, I think I need to share this story with the hopes that you’re reading this because you need to hear it. I also know now that in order to move on, you have to claim it as your own.
You not considering yourself an “alcoholic” will keep you trapped in your perpetual cycle of problematic (see: miserable) drinking far longer than hitting rock bottom ever will. This was the case for me.
I was a high-functioning problematic drinking. My job was kick-ass, and I kicked ass at it, my marriage was solid, my friendships were great, I was healthy, and I had a life that I loved. Truth be told, no one thought I had a problem. They thought that I was a heavy drinker, but because I kept my shit together so it was fine.
I thought that for a while.
What no one but me knew was that once I had that first beer, I couldn’t stop. One beer turned into six, and if time allowed, turned into fourteen. What made it worse is that I live eight-thousand feet elevation. Get me to a wedding at sea level and twenty was normal for me. Again, because I handled my liquor so well, I was just a fun drunk. No one keeps tabs on how many drinks you’re having so long as you can get your shit done and not be an asshole.
This cycle, my friends, is a prison.
2020 sucked for everyone. COVID hit and rocked all of us. In the beginning, however, I was excited. You mean I can work from home, in my pajamas, and fill my teacup with wine? Hell yeah! What started as fun (no more waiting until 5 … let’s be real, 3 o’clock to drink) quickly became a spiral, and when you’re in the comfort and confines of your own home, that spiral is a lot less noticeable than when you’re surrounded by friends and family that hold you at least a little bit accountable. My newfound wine from a teacup drinking habit went on for a few months and unnoticeably escalated.
September 2020: The lockdowns in my tiny mountain town had eased and the weather was beginning to cool down. I was excited to meet up with a friend and pick her brain about some awesome lesser-known trails and campgrounds in the backwoods of the area for a late-season camping trip. She’s on the local Search and Rescue (SAR) team so I knew she’d know all the great spots that locals and tourists alike are unaware of. We met up at the local brewpub and sat next to the woodstove. We caught up a bit, looked at a few maps, and ate some food. Because it was past tourist season, the pub closed early (8pm) and we were forced elsewhere. We weren’t done with our conversation so she invited me back to her place to continue scouring over maps.
I stayed there for a few hours and kept drinking. I started the party if you will. Some time passes, more drinks are drunk and it’s time for me to go home. I drive home drunk, of course. I live — again — in a tiny mountain town and think that it’s okay to drive home drunk because — at the time — I’m only worried about getting caught and not really worried about killing someone else or myself.
I look back at those moments now and cringe, but when you’re 12 deep into a White Claw and IPA binge no one can tell you that you shouldn’t be drinking and driving. I was a cowboy in my mind.
I make the 30-minute drive through windy mountain roads to my house. Feeling cute, I back my truck into the drive. Not satisfied with my drunk parking job, I try to straighten up the truck and end up pulling into the front yard … over a rock (see: boulder) barrier.
Shit. I thought to myself.
I throw it into reverse and try to back up. Nothing. Once more. Nothing.
4WD, that’ll fix it. Nope.
My wife is now involved and says “Leave it, we’ll fix it in the morning.” She says this with the kind of voice that immediately pisses me off because she’s pissed off. Rightfully so, but at the time I didn’t think there was any reason she should be pissed off. A few more tries, a ton of gravel and dirt thrown, and my truck with her mud-terrain tires had dug a foot-deep hole in my driveway. It was now around midnight and I could barely walk.
I’ll deal with it in the morning.
I got up at 5 am, head pounding, stomach pukey, and dug my truck out so none of the neighbors would see. I got the truck out, all was good. (Pro tip: lock your hubs if you’re going to put your old truck into 4x4 — something easily forgotten whilst drunk.)
After that embarrassing incident, I decided I needed to make a change. I wasn’t going to drink for a while. And I didn’t. Three whole months. Those three months were great. I connected with my wife, I read some good books, and I got a lot of chores done around the house.
After those three months, however, I feel like my punishment had been paid and it was time I could join the real world again. At the beginning of relapse, you think that you can moderate your drinking. Everyone else can, so why shouldn’t you be able to? And I did. For three more months, I had just a drink or two while out. Everything was going well and I felt like I had this under control.
To celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife and I decided to go to a nice hotel in Santa Fe for the weekend. Again, drinking was fine. And it was fine in Santa Fe. We drank a lot: two to three bottles of wine and champagne a night (mostly me), but it was vacation, we weren’t driving, and it was our first trip in nearly a year.
What I didn’t know then is that this binge drinking would throw me right into the prison of alcohol.
After that trip, I started drinking every night. Beer at 2pm, whiskey or wine by 5pm and drink, drink, drink until I fell asleep. This continued for months. Every day.
One March day, I ask my wife if she wants to go on a day-date with me to the local pub. (Hey, it’s our only restaurant in town). She’s hesitant because she doesn’t want to start day-drinking with me, but she finally agrees after we bicker a little bit. I tell her, “I’ll only have two and then we’ll leave.” She agrees. We sat out on the patio overlooking the snowcapped 14,000ft peaks above us, we chatted amongst ourselves and with some friends that were also there. We had some great food and two beers and left. I took her home. I felt good, I had kept my promise. I had built trust with her.
What no one knows is that on the inside my skin is crawling for more.
“Hey, I’m going to go hang out with Eric,” I tell her. “Okay, have fun.”
I go get a 6-pack of Miller Lite and head to Eric’s house. Eric is my drinking buddy. He’s a bit older than I am, he’s lived in these mountains his whole life, he used to be a wildland firefighter, SAR guy, and still is the most mountainous of mountain men you’ve probably ever met. He’s also an alcoholic and can shoot the shit with the best of them parlaying all of his wild ass stories of this place when he was one of about thirty people that used to inhabit this corner of the world.
We quickly kill the 6-pack and head back to the pub. A few hours pass, Eric’s wife meets us up at the pub, live music is playing, we get to act like the cool locals and have all the lame tourists ask us “What do you do to live here?” We hem and haw and have a generally good time.
A few more hours pass and someone loses a wad of cash — a wad they were supposed to use to fix their truck with and pay rent. A fight ensues. I sit in the corner and watch my surroundings. Eric is having a political debate with a local rancher. They’re both so drunk they can barely stand. The rancher points his finger into Eric’s chest, Eric side-steps, and the rancher falls flat on his face. The entire place is silent for a second and then everyone laughs. At this point, everyone at the pub is properly wasted. Not wanting to drunk drive again (I’m getting better now, remember?) I call my wife.
“Hey, can you come to get me?”
“Yeah, sure. Are you still at Eric’s?”
“No, I’m at the pub.”
She gets there about 30 minutes later and comes in to get me. We talk on the way home. Surprisingly, she’s not angry. She’s happy I called her and didn’t drive home drunk.
Man, that’s a low bar, I thought.
I get home and take a shower. In the shower, incredibly drunk from my fourteen beers that day, (it was supposed to be two) I break down. I sob. Sobbing from the soul.
Is this going to be the rest of my life? I thought. Sitting in an old mountain-town beer hall watching ranchers and mountain men fight over stupid shit. Watching the other guy in the corner drunkenly accuse everyone in the room of stealing his wad of cash that he needs to fix his broken-down truck and pay rent?
Why is he even in here if he doesn’t have the money to be in here? Because he’s an addict. Eric is an addict. The rancher is probably an addict. Why am I hanging out with only addicts?
Because I’m an addict.
I get out of the shower, eyes bloodshot, only not from alcohol this time, from tears. I look at my wife who is laying in bed reading her book waiting on me. She looks up at me lovingly and taps the bed for me to get in.
“I need help,” I cry out to her.
“How do you want me to help?” She asks.
We have a few hour conversation.
I haven’t taken a drink since.
I woke up the next morning and all of the alcohol in the house was thrown away, breakfast was made, coffee was brewed, and we continued to talk.
Me going to the bar that night and having fourteen beers when I only intended to have two wasn’t anything new or different. I had been repeating that behavior for a decade, at least. What did change, however, was an intervention by the universe — that’s what I call it anyway. I sat in that corner alone, drunkenly able to observe everything I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be Eric, the mountain man that hadn’t really done much else with his life other than sit and drink beer and re-live stories that could or could not be true. I didn’t want to be the rancher or the guy that lost his cash (which he later found on the floor of his broken-down truck, by the way. It had fallen out of his pocket.) There was a deep pain in all of these people. A pain that I knew as well. As I sat in that dark, cold bar watching grown men fight over nothing meaningful, my beautiful wife sat at home watching a movie by herself. She read a book by herself. When I got home, she was still by herself because she had no one to talk to; I was too drunk.
That was my rock bottom.
I wasn’t out on the streets with a paper bag. I was stuck in a different kind of prison, and the only thing keeping me there was alcohol.
If you are having a similar experience, I challenge you to try to give it up for three months and analyze the changes in your life and relationships. You may not quit forever, but I have.
This is the way.
This is just my story and not life or medical advice.