Getting blackout drunk was a regular occurrence for Mike. It needed to stop before it was too late.
Almost one year ago, I woke up feeling like a truck full of alcohol had run over my body. I felt horrible, with a crippling sense of dread that I had done something bad the night before. My phone was blowing up with angry text messages from my wife, who was out of town for work. “Never post on Instagram when you’re drunk! I have family and co-workers that follow you!” she wrote. More texts started coming in. Some were from friends I was with the day before, but even friends I don’t see regularly were reaching out. Three of them asked the same question: “Are you alive?”
The realization started piercing through my throbbing brain that I must have posted something really stupid the night before while blackout drunk. I felt this sense of shame and embarrassment that I’ve felt many mornings before. This time, it felt so much worse – more real. My mind and body were blushing. I didn’t remember anything after being at the bar the night before and even being there in the first place was fuzzy.
I looked at my phone and realized I had posted Instagram videos that I don’t even remember taking, let alone posting. Apparently I was blasting music in my living room and acting completely drunk out of my mind. I found out later that in one of them I was playing the song “Rooster” by Alice in Chains loudly on my stereo, a song I hadn’t listened to since the 90’s. Someone referenced that I was lying down on the floor at one point. I wanted to hide in my bedroom forever, turn off my phone, and never use it again, then stay there with the shades drawn, the lights off and never have to face the world.
I would never have posted something like this sober. I immediately deleted the posts and put my Instagram account on hold. That destroyed the evidence, but the damage remained. My not-so-well-kept secret was now out into the open for all to see: I have a problem with alcohol.
How Did I Get Here?
Drinking and partying were a big part of almost every weekend of my life for 20 years. Drinking runs in my family and I started drinking and smoking weed in middle school. In high school, my friends and I added drugs into the mix as well. I never really looked back. Throughout high school, college, law school, and my career, I’ve always maintained a “weekend warrior” lifestyle. For 14 years straight years living in New York City, I would go to work during the week and generally be a productive member of society. Then when I got off work on Friday (sometimes leaving early to get to the bar), I would go out with friends to party and get blackout drunk all weekend. I would mix in happy hours, drinking at concerts, and other drinking during the week sometimes. I would usually drink too much and pretty much every weekend consisted of binge drinking.
Can’t Keep Up
When I was younger, I could keep up at this pace. As I reached my mid-30s and continued to try to keep up this routine, it became unmanageable. It also stopped being as fun. I’d be in one of those same bars at 2 AM drunk and high on coke yet again and then I’d started to realize that most of the people still there were in their 20’s. It just wasn’t cool or fun doing the same thing over and over again anymore. I wasn’t growing or changing – I was on a hamster wheel.
My drinking got even more excessive when my company offered us the opportunity to work from home one day a week. I chose Mondays as my “work from home” day. Not so that I could start off the week with a productive workday from home. I did it so that I could continue to get drunk every Sunday without having to go into the office on Monday mornings. Every weekend became a 3-day bender, and I would spend Mondays mostly in bed doing the bare minimum of work to get by. I was incapacitated from that weekend’s drinking, smoking and drug use. Sometimes I would have the shakes and be sweating out alcohol. I wouldn’t be able to sleep well on Monday or Tuesday nights because of alcohol withdrawal. It would take almost all week to recover and then I would start the cycle all over again. All of my vices stemmed from alcohol.
I would smoke cigarettes when I was drinking, but never when I was sober. I would do cocaine so that I could continue drinking more at night if I had been drinking during the day. I would eat unhealthy food while drunk or to deal with the hangovers, and not work out at all because I felt too shitty to go to the gym. It was a vicious cycle that had run its course. I had become complacent and bored in my career. My wife and I were dealing with infertility issues. My Dad’s long battle with life-threatening health issues had taken a turn for the worse. All of these things contributed to me drinking more and the Instagram incident was the wake up call I needed, but the truth is that I had been on a collision course with sobriety for years.
The Light is Growing Brighter Now
That fateful morning almost a year ago, I texted my wife back and wrote: “I’m so sorry. I was blacked out and don’t know what happened. I have an alcohol problem and I will fix it.” I’m sure it sounded like bullshit to her at the time. But this time I truly, deeply meant it. I couldn’t go on like this any longer. It was time to take control of my life back. It was time to stop drinking.
I was desperate for help, but I didn’t know what to do. I started researching AA online and reading posts on https://www.reddit.com/r/stopdrinking/. Someone had posted about how much your book had helped her. You’d graciously offered a link to a free download of the entire book to help people in need. I can’t thank you enough for that, because I was able to instantly download it and start reading right away. I stayed up almost all night. Reading your book was the closest thing I’ll ever have to an epiphany. When I finished the book, I broke down into tears, and wrote the following note to my wife that I saved so that I would never forget the feeling I had:
“No book has ever had as profound an impact on me as This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Just finished. It has completely changed my perspective on alcohol, life and myself and who I can be. In tears in the end. Will be forever thankful.”
I decided that day to live alcohol free, and began the journey of experiencing life as a sober person. It was tough at first. It took me 3 months before I started to feel like I was turning the corner. I was motivated to not drink, but “coming out” as sober to friends and talking about it has been a real challenge for me. My identity was so caught up in being someone who could drink and party all the time and still “handle it,” but I’d reached a point where I couldn’t handle it anymore.
It’s been tough for me to admit that I am no longer that person. I still struggle with anxiety around telling friends about my sobriety and I have some friends that still don’t know. Each time I talk about it with someone new, I realize it’s not as big a deal as I make it out to be in my head. I’m trying to get better at owning it. When I made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and going to 4 Phish shows at Madison Square Garden (including New Year’s Eve) clean and sober, I knew that I could do this and stick with it. I was on the right path.
Are you ready to stop getting blackout drunk? Start reading This Naked Mind and unlearn all you knew.
As I was approaching 6 months sober, my Dad’s health got worse. He passed away right before we were about to celebrate his 70th birthday. Although he had been battling a life-threatening illness for 10 years, it didn’t make it any easier. He was such a strong, supportive presence in my life and it’s been devastating to lose him. I made it through the wake without drinking. After delivering the eulogy at the funeral, I caved and drank that day. A lot. The next morning that familiar, brutal hangover was back and the first thing out of my mouth to my wife was: “Alcohol is poison!”
All Over Again
I had gotten a taste. In my grief and all the stress that came along with the funeral, I was craving the numbing feeling alcohol gave me. I had a beer with lunch the next day to nurse the hangover. Then that Saturday I decided that I would try to drink again, but in moderation this time. I had a couple of beers that afternoon and then a few more while watching the Final Four at a bar. Every time the server brought me a beer and I took that first sip, I couldn’t wait to get to the next one. That endless thirst was coming back.
But this time, I had the tools, knowledge and awareness fresh in my mind of how alcohol asserts power over you and I wanted to take that power back. I didn’t want to return to the need and constant chase of alcohol. With my Dad passing away, I wasn’t beating myself up so badly that I drank, but I knew that I didn’t want to go backwards. That night I made the decision to keep moving forward, and to re-commit myself to living alcohol-free.
Set Your Soul Free
My brief relapse was now almost 6 months ago, and I’m coming up on one year since that fateful day when I decided to change my life. I just celebrated my 37th birthday with my wife and Mom, and it was the first birthday I’d celebrated sober since I was a kid.
On a recent podcast, you and Scott Pinyard talked about 100 reasons why your lives are better after finding freedom from alcohol. It inspired me to come up with my own list, and here are just some of the reasons my life is better without alcohol:
I’m able to be there for my wife and deal with the infertility issues we are going through with true 100% commitment, knowing that I am doing everything I can to support her. The process has been so difficult and heartbreaking at times, but we are closer than ever to starting our own family, and I know that I’m doing everything in my power to make that happen.
I’m able to deal with my grief over the loss of my Dad with a clear mind, without numbing myself from the pain with alcohol. I’ve been inspired to follow his example to build a life and family of my own, and to be the best man I can be.
On a lighter note, I love to go to see live music, and I would usually get drunk and/or do drugs at every show. Now, I go to see live music and instead of spending the show going back and forth to the bar and bathroom the whole time (and sometimes not even remembering the show), I listen to the music, dance and enjoy it on a whole new level.
I eat healthier, go to the gym regularly, and actually enjoy running and working out now rather than sweating out alcohol or not going at all because I was too hungover.
I’ve saved thousands of dollars by not going out every weekend and spending recklessly and I’ve used that money to get out of debt and start to build savings.
I’m taking steps to challenge myself to network and move forward in my career, rather than just staying complacent in the same job to get by. I also actually enjoy my weekdays now rather than treating them as something to simply get through until I could get drunk again on the weekend.
I watch sports and go to games that used to involve tons of drinking, but now I enjoy them on their own without drinking beer the entire time.
I’ve read more books in the last year than I have in the last 5 years combined. I’ve also reactivated long, dormant, creative outlets like writing and playing guitar.
I’m so much more active on vacations and at other social occasions rather than just spending the whole time drinking. My wife and I went to the Jersey shore for a weekend, and we hit the beach and pool, went out to amazing dinners, played mini-golf, got ice cream, had long and honest conversations – we enjoyed every moment together, all without drinking or constantly searching for my next drink.
One year ago, I woke up with the worst despair I’ve ever felt in my life. Now I feel so much more at peace with myself and where I’m going. I was chasing after artificial highs for so many years. The true joy and spirit of life was right there for the taking this whole time. I just had to give up alcohol to see it.
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