4:00am. That’s the time my iPhone reads still under the blue shade I have set for sleeping hours. It’s Monday morning and I’m not supposed to be awake yet, but this isn’t unusual for me. My eyes reluctantly pry open and I roughly make my way downstairs towards my comfort area, the liquor cabinet. I’m still slightly hungover from the day before. I’ve convinced myself the best way to fall back asleep for the next hour and a half before I commute to my job is to take several double shots of cognac. I’m delighted and disgusted by this act. This is one of several rock bottoms. I’ve seen worse darkness than what has transpired moments ago. I’ve trampled the path of tragedy for too long, now I desire the trail of triumph. With the faintest dimness guiding me, I’m finally making my way towards the light.
Makin’ excuse that your relief is in the bottom of the bottle and the greenest indo leaf. As the window open I release everything that corrode inside of me. - Kendrick Lamar
How I Got There
Over the years, I convinced myself that my excessive alcohol consumption was normal. Similar to my limbs, it was a part of me. Comparable to those extensions of my body, I truly believed I was in total control of my drinking. In reality, my binge drinking ruled me. It dictated when I could have fun and how much fun I should have. It ordered my productivity, sleep, mood, and perception. Alcohol was more a part of my life than some family members and a considerable amount of my time was dedicated to achieving the next buzz or state of euphoria. I was literally “lost in the sauce” and did not seek discovery. I wasn't a bumbling mess around the house, I was always present for my family, and I wasn’t reliant on alcohol, but when I did drink, I did it excessively. I never properly took the time nor the appropriate measures to deal with the why behind my over consumption of alcohol. Instead I masked my trauma with a drug that made me “feel good”, albeit temporarily. At the height of my functioning alcoholism, I was the living manifestation of stress, anxiety, grief, and depression. Not once did I conduct exercises in self-reflection to realize that my drinking exacerbated all of these feelings. Simply put, I was in an endless loop of reacting to triggers which created more triggers to react too.
“Deal with your trauma or your trauma will deal with you” has been a catchy saying that has made its way on social media. Having really spent the time unpacking those words and how they relate to my life has been annoyingly useful. Through self-reflection and therapy, I came to the conclusions that I was still dealing with the grief of my cousin - more like an older brother, self-inflicted anxiety of supporting a growing family, and a cycle of negative thoughts that lead me to putting my dreams on hold. Uncertainty had dominion of my mind and I had no misgivings on letting it occupy without proper compensation. Robert Louis Steveson’s seminal novella may just as well have described my behaviors in the midst of the chaos I created. My mood varied from frustration to fun rather swiftly. My marriage was rapidly deteriorating and my children grew accustomed to my short bursts of undivided attention quickly followed by bouts of aloofness. Similar to Dr. Henry Jekyll, I often transformed into the things I detested the most - emotionally distant and inconsiderate. Much akin to the trajectory of the novella, I was always there for my family, but sometimes not very present when binge drinking. Jekyll was unsuccessful in regaining control, but I still had a chance.
How I Climbed Out
Before I officially decided to take full responsibility over my life and my actions, three people delivered me from complete ruin. My wife and our two children were the driving force in me becoming sober. My continual goal has to become the man that they deserve. Alcohol in itself didn’t inhibit me from that objective, but it did manifest the environment for negativity to thrive. Over consumption of alcohol contributed to me avoiding my emotions, neglecting my health, and misplacing my priorities. Father’s Day weekend of 2019, I almost lost my family to selfishness and being inconsiderate, then became totally alcohol free three months later. That moment was not my first break from drinking, it was the most impactful. The thought of losing everything catapulted by regrets of not achieving personal success led me where I am today. I made a commitment to myself that long-term sobriety needed to become my primary focus to become a better husband, better father, and better man. Unlike the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years, I’m continually finding my way until I reach the Promised Land of self-actualization.
I watched peers, family, and friends all manifest their dreams, pursue goals, and fully embrace their purpose as I slowly drifted into aimlessness. I was unfocused, but just enough that I continued to excel in only the needs that I needed too. Those things included keeping a well-paying job and maintaining some semblance of life on a daily basis. Before the dorm parties, after work happy hours, weekend binge drinking, and eventual daily alcohol consumption, I was someone who routinely pursued ambitions. I didn’t always achieve my goals, but I was never afraid to attempt them. My inability to control how much liquor, beer, or wine I guzzled resulted in me forgetting who I used to be. Instead of the driven and disciplined person I was once before my addiction, I transformed into a functional alcoholic. I barely missed work, was fully present for all of my family’s milestones, competed in races, earned opportunities at work, engineered two podcasts and co-hosted one. I did these things while getting drunk almost every other night. What more could I have done? Without alcohol, I truly believe my potential is boundless. With alcohol, my power level is capped and no amount of EXP (shout to my fellow geeks) would help me break these self-imposed barriers.
How I Continue On The Journey
Best practice for anyone looking to give up a vice is to replace it with something else more positive, preferably. With giving up drinking altogether in the last year, I supplanted alcohol with candy, carbonated drinks, and caffeine. Along with those things, I ate a NFL linebacker’s worth of food every day, while losing weight (you mad bro?). Giving up booze for the foreseeable future allowed me to look inwards so much that I often got annoyed with myself. I made time to mediate, exercise, and write. I had extremely long self-reflective conversations in my head that I frequently scribed. In the early days of my sobriety, I found solidarity in Reddit groups and social media. It was nice to see folks living an alcohol free life while facing some of the same challenges that were being presented to me.
With so many drastic changes happening in my life, I needed guidance in navigating my emotions and getting to the impetus on why I started binge drinking. Therapy has afforded me the opportunity to unload, unpack, and unlearn. It’s been refreshing to have a black man as a therapist, someone where I don’t have to explain the intricacies of our culture or I need to code switch with to be understood. My therapist has the keen experience of navigating this world as a black man with the perspective on how we can face our daily challenges. I recommend therapy to everyone, regardless if you feel like you need it or not.
My closest friends (and their spouses) were extremely supportive of my decision to kick alcohol for good. Not once did they pressure me to indulge with them. Every single one of my comrades went out of their way to accommodate me on this journey. For that, I’m eternally grateful. All of my love goes to Jan, Terrence, Paul, Chris, and David. The encouragement you’ve provided me has not gone in vain. The countless flavors of La Croix have been much appreciated as well. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Achike and Edozie. We didn’t have a choice in being brothers, but we did have a decision in becoming friends. That friendship has blossomed with trust, loyalty, and most importantly support.
As many advantages that being alcohol free has brought about, it’s not a cure all for the ailments I’ve experienced. I haven’t gone through some form of enlightenment or everlasting bliss, but I know longer wake up with hangovers, process my emotions better, and have considerably reduced the amount of beer belly protruding from my shirts.
At four o’clock in the morning on Monday, September 23rd of 2019 I had my final indulgence of a substance that nearly robbed me of everything I cherished - my family, my health, and my potential. Though I haven’t found the cheat code to self-actualization just yet, the journey has been an enlightening one. I continue to learn at every opportunity and answer as many questions as people ask me. “Will you ever drink again?”. It’s the most frequent question I’ve received on this journey of sobriety. With all of the candor I can muster, I truly do not know how to answer that question. “I will not drink today”, is my truth. My liberation comes from living in the present moment and being fully aware of what I can currently control. Each day I continue to arise from slumber, I make the conscious decision to not consume alcohol for that day and that day only. Those days have added up to weeks, to months, and now a year. I absolutely cannot answer the most persistent question asked of me without considering my current predicament. Will I have a French Connection, shot of tequila, or Jack and Coke two days from now? Two months now? Two years from now? I don’t have a clue, but I promise that I will not drink today.