Paul Churchill is the founder of Recovery Elevator Podcast, which started out as a personal accountability tool and now has over 2 million downloads! In this episode, Paul tells Annie about his own struggles with alcohol addiction and what led him to start the Recovery Elevator Podcast. Paul and Annie discuss the stigma around alcohol addiction and Paul’s mission to help change that stigma in our society.
Hi, and welcome to This Naked Mind podcast. I’m so glad you’re here. Today, I have a great guest. I met Paul a while ago and Paul is the founder of the Recovery Elevator podcast, which has well over a million, approaching two million downloads, which is absolutely phenomenal. Paul, welcome. Thank you for being here. What I love to do on these things is just sort of start with your story, and if you wouldn’t mind just kind of taking us back to even the beginning, if you don’t mind.
The First Time
The first time I drank I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I’ve heard that common response from a lot of people, and pardon me, I’m going to be jumping forward, jumping back. Where I’m at right now with my research, I love recovery and I read all material that I can, including your book. I’ve read it more than once. Even studied it for book club. I have enhanced dopamine receptors, right? I don’t like using the word alcoholic, but I have enhanced dopamine receptors, which means I experience alcohol differently than other people. Back to when I took that first drink, I was on to something special. I knew it from that very first moment. In talking to other non-drinkers, they’re like, “Yeah, I didn’t like the taste.” It was just a different experience for normal drinkers. So I don’t know if it was genetic. I was genetically predispositioned to become an alcoholic. That’s what I believe. But regardless, I went down that road with these enhanced dopamine receptors.
Even with my childhood, I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Well, most addicts, most people that have problems with alcohol and drugs, they had childhood trauma.” Annie, I can tell you that my upbringing couldn’t have been further from the truth on it. It couldn’t be further from that statement right there. I’m a white kid who grew up in Vail, Colorado. My parents gave me everything on a silver spoon. They did everything fantastic. Could it be just the fact given my genetic makeup? If I drink and when I drink, if I drink enough of it, I will become addicted to alcohol, and I think that’s what happened.
That first drink was around age 13, like I mentioned, it was magical. It was difficult to find it at age 14 and 15, but gradually through high school I begin to drink more. I was captain of the football team, in student council, in jazz band. I was in every student council program, whatever you could do to be involved in high school, plays and musicals. Just our average Joe in high school. I was a normal drinker for seven years. When I say normal drinker, it was someone … I was someone who could take it or leave it. Never did I think in those seven years, in my first episodes with drinking did I think, “Man, perhaps I’m drinking too much,” or, “Is this altering my life in a negative behavior?”
This Isn’t Normal
I was lapping the pace car, shall we say. I would always try to stay with others with my drinking, and then all of a sudden I found myself just surpassing everybody. So I went to college, drank like a normal drinker there. I can pinpoint the night. It’s not like a switch that happens, but I remember the night when I crossed that boundary from normal drinking to drinking alcoholically. At that point, I was addicted to alcohol. We were in Spain. I was running a pub crawl at the time. We came back. It was like four o’clock in the morning and I poured myself half a glass full of vodka. I asked the others, “Hey guys, that was a fun night. You want some more alcohol?” They’re like, “Whoa. No. Paul, we’re kind of winding down at this moment.” That was when I realized, “Wow. I’m finding it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop drinking once I started.” That was a gradual transition from normal drinking to becoming addicted to alcohol and being physically and mentally and spiritually addicted to the drug called alcohol.
Chasing the Party
I absolutely loved it, and I wanted to chase that party, chase that feeling. It took me all the way to Spain where I bought a bar. As you can imagine, somebody who was well on the way to becoming an alcoholic, going to a foreign country and then buying a bar. I mean, that’s a recipe for a dumpster fire just waiting to happen, and, Annie, that’s exactly what happened. I made the least of the situation. It was the best and the worst time of my life. But surely, Annie, alcohol could not have been the problem. I was over the age of 21. Everybody around me was drinking. I was drinking the same amounts as everybody else, so surely alcohol cannot be the problem.
So after Spain, I tried the geographical cure hoping that I was going to leave my alcohol in the Beriberic Peninsula, Spain. Come back to Colorado, moved in with my parents now at age 25, 26. Guess what followed me, Annie? It was the drinking. It was the drinking. I still drank. I wasn’t quite drinking at the clip of somebody who owned a bar. It wasn’t my job anymore to be closing the bar at four or five a.m. with customers drinking, but it was more of like the self searching. “Uh oh, something’s wrong with me. It can’t be alcohol. Oh, I think I need a graduate degree.” So I tried the geographic cure again. I went to University of Washington, got a grad school degree, and moved up there in Seattle. That’s where I started to put the pieces in play. I started to think, “Wait a second, is the alcohol an issue here?” Where I’m at right now, that’s the answer.
In 2009, I was like, “Dude, I’m doing it. I’m going to quit drinking for a month on January 1st, 2010.” That’s what I did. I only wanted to go for 30 days. It was hard. There were physical cravings. It was difficult. But I found out at like day 20, I was like, “Whoa. There was this huge fog in my life that’s slowly starting to lift. Face still fat. Not quite as fat as it was three weeks ago. I’m going to ride this thing out.” So I went February without alcohol. I went March. I actually lasted two and a half years without alcohol. You’re looking back, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. I need to be cognizant of I’m not being too hard on myself and self loathing is still something in a life without alcohol that I need to address, but looking back at myself, it’s, “Ah, it’s cute, Paul. You didn’t really stand much of a chance with long term sobriety,” is because I did it alone. I did it on will power. I viewed a life without alcohol strictly as a sacrifice and not an opportunity.
Listen to the complete podcast to hear more about the ultimate spiral that led Paul to rehab, to starting Recovery Elevator and to his work battling the stigmas around alcohol use disorder.
Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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