Dying to Get Sober

J.T. Wahlberg

There was only one way to slow down my brain: get drunk, get numb, get dumb; this happened all day, every day.

Self-medication was the key for me. I was entirely in control until I wasn’t. As a young adult, I struggled with keeping my thoughts from getting out of control.

My brain was moving way too fast; this made me feel different than everyone else, and all I wanted to do was fit in. Alcohol and drinking lots of it slowed my brain down, which suited me just fine.

I did not want to be drunk, numb and dumb all the time. I could see no other way to deal with my thoughts, to feel my feelings, yet not live in my emotions.

The conditioning started early and often. I was a young boy mixing drinks and getting beers for the adults at family parties.

I enjoyed being of service; it made me feel special to bring them drinks and watch them get louder and more red in the face as the night went on.

I was anxious to be like the adults; I could not wait to start drinking. I got properly drunk for the first time at 13. It would be a couple more years before I realized alcohol would slow down my overactive brain.

The media constantly and consistently presented alcohol to me as cool and sophisticated. I wanted to be both badly.

It was always well within my power to choose not to drink, to drink in moderation, or not at all. Plenty of folks can have one drink or no drinks and make it through life just fine. They can switch on or off their desire to consume alcohol. So I broke that switch early on and never looked back.

That poor little switch did not stand a chance. The sheer volume of alcohol I was drinking was too much for it. There was never a time that wasn’t a good time for a drink. I had convinced myself there was no wrong time for a drink.

Over time, I had forgotten to stay sober. It was a gradual descent into a full-blown substance-use disorder.

No one event occurred where I could say, “This was when alcohol took over my life.” Alcohol was ever present in my life. My friends and family drank, and I worked in the hospitality industry. There was nowhere I could go or wanted to go where alcohol would not be present and readily available.

Alcohol advertising is insidious. According to the marketers of alcohol, there is no downside. There is no mention of becoming so physically dependent on their product that when a person stops consuming it, there is a good chance that they will die. However, that does not sell their product or satisfy their bottom line or shareholders.

But even in the face of a multi-billion-dollar advertising campaign espousing the benefits of alcohol and never mentioning any of the adverse effects, I still had a choice. The fault lies entirely with me.

Consume alcohol or don’t. I chose to drink all the time.

It took nearly dying while kicking my addiction to alcohol to make me realize that alcohol is literal poison and highly toxic. This fact does not apply to me only. One drink is poison; ten drinks are ten times the amount of venom. When I say aloud, “Alcohol is poison; it is not good for me.” So it makes total sense when I am sober. That sounded ridiculous when I was drunk, and my ego was in charge. How could something that makes me feel so good be so wrong?

Numb and dumb was my preferred way to move through life. My entire life consisted of acquiring alcohol, drinking it, hiding it and ensuring I always had enough for the next day. So my self-medication routine was exhausting.

I cringe when I think about how much time and effort I spent hiding my alcohol consumption alone. Never mind the amount of money I spent on my drug of choice.

I came to sobriety in the worst possible way; I quit drinking cold.

Withdrawing from alcohol addiction incorrectly can kill you; who knew?

My ego would not allow me to admit that I had a problem with alcohol. So why would I have to research safe and effective methods for quitting alcohol if there was no problem? If I was “successfully” self-medicating with alcohol, I could successfully stop. So it was a huge problem.

Quitting was the best-worst six days of my life. The best because I overcame my addiction to alcohol. The worst because I did it in such a way that it nearly killed me.

During those six days, I realized alcohol has no part in my life, and I had no control over my alcohol consumption. I was so thoroughly addicted to alcohol that when I quit drinking, my body shut down.

Writing about this experience was essential to me because I wanted to let folks know that there is a better way to get sober than the way I did. I made a huge mistake, and it nearly cost me my life.

I want you to know: don’t try this at home, kids. Checking your ego and asking for help is okay. Your family, friends, or someone in your life, wants to and is willing to help you.

I write about my addiction as a cautionary tale about how easy it is to get addicted to alcohol and withdrawing from alcohol incorrectly can kill you. Alcohol is a drug, a hazardous and normalized drug.

Everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. I know I can no longer have just one drink, while others can go their entire lives and never touch alcohol. Folks drink for all reasons: celebrating and mourning or because the baby won’t stop crying. Alcohol has intentionally become such a normal part of human existence. It is nearly impossible to watch a film or television show and not see the characters drinking.

Alcohol consumption is always glorified and never vilified. Even the most terrible hangovers in movies are spun to be humorous situations. Nothing a glass of water and an Aspirin can’t fix. You can’t pick up a magazine or walk past a bus stop and not be advertised alcohol.

Is it possible to avoid all scenes of alcohol consumption? Yes, if you never watch television or a movie ever again. Is this feasible? No, but what you can do is redefine your relationship with alcohol. Put alcohol in a box and throw away the key. Feel in your bones that alcohol is poison (Science has proven this) and that you do not drink it. Say to yourself, “Alcohol is not good for me, and it has no place in my life.”

I hope people will re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol and do so safely and healthily. If even one person was helped by my sharing my experience, then it was all worth it.

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J.T. Wahlberg

Aggressively Average Content. Author of I Forgot to Stay Sober: How I Nearly Died Kicking My Addiction to Alcohol.