(Thirty-third in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
This week’s Story of Hope is from our son’s friend, Hank (not his real name). Here are some excerpts from his story in Opiate Nation (5 min read):
I grew up in a loving home – the youngest of seven kids in a Catholic family. Although there are no alcoholics in my immediate family, my mother’s side of the family consists of proud Irish New Yorkers where alcoholism runs rampant. I experienced my first drunk at the age of 13.
A friend and I stole a bottle of whiskey and I poured myself a huge glass and chugged it all. The instantaneous effect that it had on me was incredible. I felt perfect. All of my insecurities associated with teenage angst were gone. It was the spiritual experience I never got from church, sports, friends, or anything. It felt as if “I had arrived.” I remember that night like it was yesterday. From that day forward, my life changed forever. Whether or not my genetics predestined my abnormal affinity towards alcohol, from that point on I wanted to drink whenever I could.
By the time I was 15, my drinking patterns quickly progressed to the point that I had developed an affinity for drinking alone. I quickly began to develop a low self-esteem about myself along with an array of insecurities and antisocial tendencies. It completely stunted my emotional growth. I not only used alcohol as my social outlet but also as my coping mechanism for dealing with my emotions. I believe that many of my insecurities and self-esteem issues were merely growing pains but instead of growing out of them, my alcoholism made them worse and would cause some to persist throughout my adulthood.
I started developing some pretty severe changes in my personality when I drank. When I was 17, I was drinking with two of my brothers. I blacked out (a gap in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated) and became extremely violent to the point that my brothers had to hold me down until I passed out. Later that night I got up, walked to the balcony, and flung myself off. I landed 18 feet straight onto my head, severely injuring myself. That experience really scared my family and they suggested I stop drinking, which I agreed to. Temporarily. Within months, however, I was back drinking exactly how I used to. My drinking morphed me into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—when I blacked out, I never really knew which “Hank” I would be for the night.
By the time I entered college, I had already acquired all the tell-tale signs of an alcoholic. I drank almost daily, was a blackout drinker, I drank alone, and I had severe personality shifts when I drank. I started suffering from the shakes, insomnia, depression, and barely sliding through school. I was very unhappy with who I was and what my life had become.
One violent event was the final straw for my family and they decided to send me to rehab. But it wasn’t the magic remedy that my parents or I had hoped for. I do, however, credit rehab for keeping me from hurting myself and others while trying to fully come to terms with my alcoholism. I also credit rehab for “planting the seed” of Alcoholics Anonymous. This was very important later on in my struggles with alcoholism when I was finally ready to seek help outside of myself.
I tried to drink “socially” but after a series of violent outbursts, I eventually confined myself to drinking alone, which lasted for about six months. At this point my life became very small—school, library, and drinking alone. I have never experienced the immense loneliness that I felt during those months.
On October 30th, 2011 (my sobriety date), I woke up on the floor of a county detention facility after another damaging drinking spree of several days. I felt regret, guilt, fear, anger, confusion—but to a level I had never felt before. It was an incomprehensible demoralization. It was also my emotional bottom. I got on my knees and said, “God, I’ll do anything.” That prayer marked the beginning of a new life. I was finally willing to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.
I began to be honest with myself and others. As I progressed through the 12 steps, I started to understand my part in my alcoholism. I became aware of my character defects and various shortcomings that influenced my drinking habits.
Throughout my alcoholism, I never thought about the pain and worry that I caused my parents. But it was their unconditional love for me that gave them hope that I would change into the man they knew I could be. Recognition of the pain I caused was difficult to accept but I was able to restore my relationships and trust with my family.
I have many years of sobriety, a wife, a fulfilling career, and a great social network. I am grateful for all of the things in my life, but I always recognize that I didn’t recover from alcoholism on my own. Without the continued guidance offered by AA, a relationship with my higher power, and a commitment to helping others I know, I will take a drink.
(To read Hank’s full story, see chapter 28, Stories of Hope, in OPIATE NATION)