He is an alcoholic.
He is recovering, but he will always be an alcoholic.
He knows it, and that’s what will keep him alive.
“It” is always waiting in the shadows. “It” is always whispering to him.
He has almost died twice.
Alcohol is the only drug that can kill you when you are getting clean. It’s the only one you can’t stop without help.
The others will make you feel like you are going to die, but the liquor will actually kill you.
To best serve you, I had him walk me through his progression. You don’t just wake up one day physically addicted to vodka, it develops over time. The sickness slowly, but not so gently, grips you a little tighter as time goes on. Before you know it, you are completely consumed.
I wanted to know what he was thinking. I wanted to know what his friends and family were thinking. What were they saying? When did people step in? When did he recognize that there might be an issue? These are the things I wanted to know because I think they are the things that will be able to help you the most.
Are you an addict?
Is your loved one an addict?
Find your story on his spectrum, and take control of your situation before it is too late.
If his parents didn’t step in, he would be dead.
His words, not mine.
You are no longer able to help them at that point.
So don’t wait until then.
It all started where most of us start drinking, high school. He hung out with older guys on the football team, they partied on the weekends. It was fun. There were girls. There was beer. And so it started.
But he had boundaries.
He would buy a 12-pack, but he would pour most of them out in the bushes. It is the classic “carry a cup so it looks like you are drinking” strategy. He bought 12, but he was only drink 3–4. He stopped when he started feeling a little too buzzed. He couldn’t go home wasted, right?
As time progressed, as it always does, like a slow submersion in to a freezing lake, he got a little deeper, a little more comfortable, with every step.
By his senior year, he was consuming that 12-pack.
But he still had boundaries.
He was only drinking on the weekends.
Still had to go to school, still had to be home on school nights, still had to answer to his parents.
But they noticed that he was sleeping in until the afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays.
“What are you doing?” they would ask him.
But they knew. He was doing what all kids his age do, hanging out with friends.
He was surrounded by kids doing the same thing he was. There can’t be a problem if everyone is doing the same thing, right?
It was a party. He was having fun. In fact, he was having the most fun. He was the party animal of his high school. Literally. He won “Party Animal” in the 1997 yearbook. Not exactly the thing you want to be remembered for, especially the “praying to the porcelain gods” part, but it was working for him at the time.
Lesson for loved ones: Pay attention to your kids. When behaviors start to change, check in, look a little closer. It is never too early to have a serious conversation. Come from love. Never yell, or they will never hear you. Talk to them when they are sober, in the morning, and adjust to allow them to hear you. It can be stopped early, when it is easier, or it can progress in to a beast too large to contain. Act early. Even if they are “just being a kid.” This is not just any kid, this is your kid.
Not having an idea of what he wanted to major in, he stuck around, went to a JC in the area, continued to party, now with a slightly smaller, slightly younger group. Most of his friends were off at college, so his choice of “partners” were the ones that hung around, and the friends still in high school.
Still a large group, still receiving positive reinforcement for having the most fun, still only partying on the weekends, still having to answer to parents, and still had boundaries.
But it was time to go away to college.
Transferring from The Bay Area down to Santa Barbara, his boundaries slowly (or quickly) came crashing down.
Similar group of partiers?
Isla Vista? The most concentrated area of college kids in the world?
I get to make my own decisions?
When he came home for Thanksgiving that first year he had gained 40 pounds (in 4 months), was bloated, fat, and already on the verge of failing all of his classes (because the professors were all f***ed).
That’s when a close and respected friend took him aside, and told him he was drinking too much.
You know what?
He heard it. He agreed with him. He reflected on what he had been doing, and his friend was right.
That epiphany lasted about as long as it takes you to drive from San Jose to Isla Vista, 4 hours.
Back to normal.
He makes the point that he doesn’t even have a fake ID at this point. He is 19, with no ID, and he is drinking every single day.
“Addicts find a way to take their poison. They are extremely resilient and ruthless when they need something.”
Lesson: Drinking has a look. It’s puffy. It’s swollen. You put on weight quickly. The “freshman 15” doesn’t have to happen, so set your kids up to stay out of their own way. Pay attention. How do they act when they come home? This sounds gross, but smell them in the morning. Alcohol stinks. If they are drinking and smell bad in the morning, they are drinking too much. Have a conversation. Talk to their friends’ parents. Reach out. Do not get caught up in “normalcy.” Remember this, when you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect. People are stupid, at any age, and especially when they are young. Your child is not going to make wise decisions, that’s what being a kid is, but it is your job to help them avoid disastrous ones. It is never too early to have the conversation. Plant seeds, give them strategies. They may not acknowledge it to you, but it’s there. It’s planted. The harvest will only come if you plant the seeds and water the garden. Come from love, come from calm, always.
What better place to go from Isla Vista than Hollywood? Especially for an emerging (if not already fully developed) alcoholic.
** Something to reflect on at this point. He is only 23. He drinks most days. Meaning, when he doesn’t drink, those daily experiences are different. He is already at a point where he doesn’t know how to go out without drinking. Have lunch without a drink. Go to a baseball game without a drink. These are all things he will have to re-learn when he stops drinking. Think about that. Every time he does one of those activities, alcohol will be screaming at him, “you forgetting something? Me!” Don’t allow “normal” to dictate what you do with your loved ones (or yourself). Always remember, people are generally stupid. Look around. We are fat, lazy, complaining, assholes. You want to be “normal”? Pause and reflect. Pause and reflect.
This move is basically taking him from amateur alcoholic status to professional. He lives right off of Sunset Strip. He is in the belly of the beast. The boundaries are long gone by this point.
What are his parents doing, saying you ask?
They voiced their concerns. He basically wasted 4 years in Santa Barbara, how would Hollywood fair any better? They had serious doubts to say the least.
This is where it gets dicey. Most addicts are self-medicating. What are they self-medicating from? An over active brain. A HUGE percentage of addicts have ADHD. There are healthy ways to deal with it, and there are disastrous ways to deal with it. Obviously this article is the disastrous way. I hope you recognized that by this point. If not, you are not really paying attention.
People with ADHD tend to be more creative. Is there a better place to be creative than LA? Movies, music, technology, TV, it has it all. Maybe this is the place where he finds something he loves to do, and the drinking can finally take a back seat.
That would be any parent’s dream. Their kid, finding something they are passionate about and built for. It could work, so you support.
He went to school, was doing well. He started acting, and got jobs right away. He couldn’t be drinking too much, he was “successful.” This is what you would call a functional alcoholic. Looking back, he knows he was not exactly functioning, but he was doing something, which minimized the focus on his issues.
But there were glaring facts.
He was living in a s***hole. It was filthy. They never cleaned. They drank every day. They barely left the apartment, except to work and drink someplace else. He repeatedly had the “what are you doing with your life?” conversations with his parents. But he is 23, 24, 25 at this point. He’s an adult. What can they really do?
So he kept going.
No beer, no light stuff, just hard alcohol. Vodka. Jack Daniels. They bought weed from one neighbor, coke (not a-cola) from the other. Vons was next door. They had it all. Party with celebrities on Sunset at night, sleep all day. This was obviously working out very well.
Lesson: He went from college student, to college drop-out, to film school student. Living in a beautiful house, to living in one s***hole, then moving to another one, and an even worse one. When you start seeing priorities change, take notice. When ambition takes a back seat to stagnation, take notice. When they aren’t even taking care of the place they eat and sleep, take notice. There is a problem. Come from love. Stay calm. Ask questions. Have the conversation. Take steps. Discuss in the morning. Start acting.
Drinking is what he did.
It was in his blood, literally.
He was “functional,” which added to the mask. He had relationships. He started a band. He was earning a living. He got married. He had a dog.
How bad could the drinking really be?
They All Fall Down
Because of the drinking, relationships ended, the marriage ended, the music slowed, then stopped.
Time for a drink. That will make it better. How? Because if I drink enough I can’t be sad. I can’t be lonely. I can just be.
Let’s remember at this point that alcohol is a depressant. He is essentially medicating his depression with liquid depression, which will make him more depressed, more lost, more sad, and more destructive.
He had a seizure.
He split his head open at his parent’s house.
He stained the floor with his blood.
He brushed it off.
He was in a car accident.
Not his fault, but when he went to the emergency room he hadn’t had his fix yet for the day. In fact, he was on his way when he got hit. The doctor saw the tremors. He looked in his eyes. He told him he needed help. He needed to stop. But he couldn’t stop without help. If he kept drinking he would die, if he stopped drinking he would die.
He chose the latter.
He passed out. He was not responding.
Luckily, he had a companion.
She called his dad.
He rushed over.
He was terrified.
“It was the only time I had seen my dad cry.”
They took him home.
The next day when he woke up there was a man in his parent’s house.
He was huge. He was nice. They talked.
He drank while they talked. He had to.
He admitted to the man he had a problem.
20 minutes later they were at LAX on a flight to Utah, to The Cirque Lodge, where he would be inundated with chemicals that would keep him alive as he detoxed for the next 5 days.
It is still a struggle.
He has things in place every day to keep him on the wagon.
He has fallen off a few times.
But he has kids now.
He has seen what it can do to him, to his parents, he doesn’t want to see it hurt his children. He doesn’t want them to grow up without a dad.
So he works.
He does them all.
He has to.
He knows the dragon is waiting in the shadows.
He hears the whispers.
They want him to fail, to come back to them.
He knows he can’t fall down that hole again.
Because he may not get out the next time.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, it is never too early to get help. It is a slippery slope, but there are signs. You need to admit what you are seeing is a problem, that it is not good, even if you think it is “normal.”
F*** normal. You are not normal. Your children are not normal. You are special, you are wonderful, you want them around forever, and you want them to be happy and healthy.
Substance abuse is not healthy, and it certainly is not happy.
“It is no way to live your life”
And if you need someone to talk to, the subject of this interview, Eric Maehl, would love to be that person.
Come from a place of calm.
Come from a place of love.
Bring them back.