Terrance’s life went from falling for alcohol to falling from grace. A misfit his whole life, he didn’t feel like he fit in with the recovery community either – until he discovered a Naked Life.

falling for alcohol

My Story

I started drinking my freshman year of high school. I started later than a lot of my peers because my mom was a scary, unstable drunk and my brother was homeless from his addictions. Obviously, I was afraid I would go down the same path if I started. Not shockingly, the first time I drank, I downed a handle of vodka at a party and woke up on a classmate’s volleyball court covered in Taco Bell and vomit.

Humble Beginning

I grew up poor – very poor. My mom and I lived in a shack among large homes in Napa, CA. I lived in the house that none of my friends wanted to visit because it was shameful and a little scary. I was relentlessly bullied and teased because of how poor we were and how skinny I was. “You can’t even afford to eat,” they would say. I would leave the horror of school to go home to chaos, a sick mother, and men who my mom dated who neglected and frightened me.

Staying Gone

This is, of course, when I would go home. I would often stay at friends’ houses for days or even longer. Often I heard snarky comments from siblings and even parents, “Does he live here now?” or “Why doesn’t he go home?” Their lives were always so much better than mine. They had a mother who wasn’t a messy drunk; they had normal siblings who weren’t living on the streets; they had a father they had met. The polarization of “me” and “them” was very real to me and the tracks that divided the halves of mine and theirs  were as loud as the train that rode them.

Although drinking wasn’t really part of the equation yet, I believe this deep disconnection/complete dislocation from everyone around me that I felt during my childhood would become what fueled my long love affair with alcohol.

The Fall Begins

Like many people, I found myself falling for alcohol in college. I still wasn’t a regular drinker, but that was when I first felt the warm embrace of alcohol and began treating what was becoming chronic and unmanageable anxiety.

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Working It

I followed in my mother’s footsteps and became a bartender. I’ll never forget how great it was to know I could drink while working. I could calm the nerves and subdue the stress of working and feel better after a bad hangover. It was a lot of fun and, for the first time ever, I was starting to feel like I found my place on this planet. Unfortunately, it was on both sides of the bar. Now I was truly falling for alcohol.

Feeling It

In 2006, I went to Europe with a buddy to experience the World Cup – not to go to the games, (because those were way too expensive) but to participate in the festivities. He and I still always joke about how we drank all of the beer in Europe. We were there for a month and drank heavily almost every day. That was the first time I had ever really experienced adverse effects of drinking.  We were on a pub crawl in Berlin and I had a brutal panic attack. This episode was different and I now believe it was due to all of the drinking. That experience shook me up and my anxiety started becoming worse.

Coming Back

I returned to the States ready to finish school, bartend and drink. I graduated from Sonoma State (first person in my family to ever even go to college) and got a job with a small non-profit in Sebastopol, CA. My anxiety was getting more and more debilitating and I was learning (likely on an unconscious level) how well alcohol worked to relieve my suffering.

The next thing that happened is what I believe changed everything in my relationship with alcohol – I got a job at the hottest, most happening brewery in town! I was so excited! Now I could drink all of the time and it would be normal….no – it would be awesome. And it was awesome. Until it wasn’t.

Drinking Culture

The culture at this place in Santa Rosa, CA was very punk rock – drink fast and die young. Everyone was very close and we all drank together, all the time – even during our shifts. ESPECIALLY during our shifts! The establishment was always packed and the job was as stressful and overstimulating as the money was good. I was cool for just having a job there and I was very cool for drinking all of the time. Which is what I did and my anxiety was out of control. But I just kept drinking and did all I could to subdue the distraught beast within. This was the first time in my life where I felt home, I had a family, and on the surface, they were just as fucked up and self-destructive as me.

Day Drinking

This was also the first time I learned if I just started drinking in the morning and kept it going all day, I could avoid the crippling hangover and accompanying anxiety that was waiting for me. I was there for three years and eventually this unsustainable lifestyle caught up with me. I started missing work and I knew my time there was limited. No longer was I falling for alcohol…now I was just free-falling.

Change of Scenery

I decided to move to San Francisco. I still worked at the brewery on weekends (because that’s how good the money was) and during the week I spent a lot of the time recovering from my weekend work/booze binges. On some level, I knew my drinking was getting worse, but I couldn’t imagine not treating my anxiety with alcohol. What I decided was that I needed to get out of the bar industry. I quit the brewery (probably just before I would have been fired anyway) and got a non-bar job in SF.

Here We Go Again

The non-bar job didn’t last very long and I ended up getting a bartending gig at…(you guessed it) a very happening establishment. This time it was a college tequila bar and once again I was cool and surrounded by fellow heavy drinkers. Not surprisingly, by this point, my relationship with alcohol had become more tenuous. Blackouts were frequent and awful hangovers turned into derailing benders. My tenure at this place lasted about two years and ended sourly.

Help Me

At some point during my time in San Francisco I had health insurance (for the first time in my life). I regularly saw doctors for my unbearable anxiety. One doctor showed concern and began asking about my childhood. They connected me with a trauma specialist who diagnosed me with PTSD (complex PTSD to be specific) and she said that the anxiety was due to a neurological response to the persistent trauma I experienced as a child. I needed to avoid alcohol. Little did she know, that ship had sailed long ago.

Growing

Fast forward a few years; I’m moving to Portland with my now partner (who I met in Guatemala). Ready to experience the “beervana” that is Oregon. Weeks into our move we find out we’re pregnant.

I’m still in the bar industry (again, a very happening brewery in Portland) and my partner – who was my partner in booze until she was pregnant – began to see how problematic my drinking was. Some terrible blackouts, unpredictable and belligerent behavior had her very worried about the father of the child that would soon make its appearance on the earth. We decided to move to Eugene to be closer to my partner’s family.  This is where I eventually stopped drinking, but it took a few years and was a very bumpy process.

The Fall

Something happened to my drinking in the first year of my daughter’s life. I was working about 60 hours a week and my partner was experiencing severe postpartum depression. This is the time period where I believe my problem escalated to a whole new level. I would go on extended binges on a regular basis. I went to an intensive outpatient facility but still didn’t take my sobriety seriously and I kept on drinking. Eventually, I put together about 9 months with the help of a Buddhist-centered recovery program. I didn’t want to go to AA. I relapsed for 6 days and I lost nearly everything.  My life was in shambles and I knew this time had to be different, so I dove headfirst into AA and for the first time ever, took my recovery very seriously.

Finding Annie

Part of my recovery program was listening to recovery podcasts every day. My favorite was Recovery Elevator and Annie Grace was a guest on the show. The things she said were groundbreaking and her message was invigorating compared to what I was hearing in AA. I told my partner about it and she bought me This Naked Mind for my birthday.  I decided that once I hit my year of sobriety, I would reassess my recovery program. This Naked Mind (the book and the podcast) has been a huge part of that transformation.

Falling for Alcohol Free Living

AA never felt like the right fit for me, but for one year I “faked-it-till-I-made-it”, meeting some wonderful people in the process. I love how Annie Grace talks about the descent of alcohol use – that it’s a spectrum that any drinker can fall on – and refutes the “alcoholic” model that divides people with a problem from people without problem with some arbitrary line. I love how she shines a light on this highly addictive drug instead of fixating on how defected we alcoholics are. Highlighting the reality that anyone can become addicted to alcohol is mitigating the stigma that enshrouds Alcohol Use Disorder and calling this drug out for what it is: a very addictive poison that is deeply ingrained in our culture. The only destructive drug we have to justify not doing and be ashamed of having a problem with. This is the shift we have been needing.

Hard But Worth It

Getting sober hasn’t been all bunnies and rainbows for me. At about 6 months, my anxiety was winning the battle and I couldn’t bear it any more. In my head I had two choices: I would drink or I would kill myself. Drinking was no longer an option and before I knew it, I was planning my own death. I just couldn’t imagine living like this without being able to subdue my anxiety with booze. Thankfully, I realized I had a third option which was a Hail Mary appointment with my doctor, where I told him how serious it was. He put me on amitriptyline and it changed my life. I no longer have anxiety and my desire to drink is almost nill.

Share Your Story

My recovery program today looks different than it did a year ago. I still attend AA but only one meeting – my wonderful home group which consists of many of my favorite recovery people. Today, I listen to podcasts; I’m reading This Naked Mind; I sometimes attend Refuge Recovery; I hang out with fellow non drinkers; and I’m starting individual counseling. I’m so excited for this new chapter in my life and recovery. Do you have your story of falling for alcohol free living? Please share your story and help others!

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