The High Functioning Alcoholic
I publish this story as I celebrate two years of sobriety — which occurred on December 29, 2017!
While this is obviously a very personal matter, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this event with the world. I have realized over the last two years that addiction touches the lives of almost everyone I know and my greatest hope from this effort is that telling my story might help someone else out there who may also be struggling with this devastating disease.
Once I finally recognized that I had a serious problem and took the necessary steps to change my wicked ways, it has been the conversations with friends and family, and the stories of other people like me who have gone through the same thing that have played a critical role in helping me to get sober and stay sober!
When I used to think of an “alcoholic”, I pictured an insane homeless guy drinking Thunderbird wrapped in a brown paper bag in an alley and living in a box. That was not me — yet.
I used to think that having to quit drinking for good and being forever labeled a “recovering alcoholic” would mean “losing” and therefore, it would make me a loser. That didn’t sit well with me. I like to win. Back in the day, I believed that “winning” was my superhuman ability to drink like a Viking, be the life of the party, wake up early, go for a 10 mile run and have (what I thought at the time was) a productive day at work.
After about 20 years of me living that way and being married for 7 of them, my wife, Gina, suggested that we see a couple’s therapist. This was around January of 2015. Things weren’t working out quite the way she had imagined. I also recognized we had issues but I never would’ve recommended that we go to marriage counseling. My strategy for solving such problems was to just have a few extra Miller Lites and forget about it!
Nevertheless, I agreed to give therapy a try for the sake of saving our marriage and keeping our newly formed family of 3 under one roof. Our daughter was about to turn 1 that May. After about 10 sessions of what I now refer to as “marriage coaching”, our marriage coach proclaimed that I was a “high functioning alcoholic” and added that she couldn’t really help us out until I got this situation under control. My jaw dropped to the floor. “You’ve got it all wrong, lady! I am not an alcoholic, I am legendary!” I mean, I partied every night, did ironman triathlons and I was winning awards at work!
While I was aware of the fact that I drank an above average amount of alcohol for a dude in his mid 30’s, I never viewed it as a “problem”. It was more like an asset. Furthermore, it was an integral part of my persona: the hard partying, good time guy who also gets shit done! What would I be without it? Boring as hell?
It’s important to know that even Gina — who had lived with me for the better part of a decade — who does not have a drinking problem — was equally surprised by this diagnosis. She just thought I needed help with my being a selfish asshole problem! This too, was accurate. Still, I took this diagnosis of alcoholism (which at the time, I considered to be an insane accusation) seriously and after about 9 months of research and conversations with friends, family, therapists and doctors, I finally quit drinking on December 29, 2015.
I soon discovered and acknowledged the fact that I am flat out allergic to alcohol. Yes- allergic. Not only that, this allergy is progressive which means that it only gets worse with age. I had quit drinking in the past — once for an entire year — but up until this point, I had never truly grasped the concept that I was dealing with a problem that was outside of the realm of being controlled by my superhuman will power. We are talking about a core biological and psychological issue that will never go away.
Somehow, I was still holding it together at 37 when I quit. I still looked pretty good — on paper. I was “crushing it” at work and I had a lot of great friends and we had a lot of fun! Who doesn’t have fun when you drink at lunch?!
As mentioned, my marriage wasn’t doing too hot. Neither was my health. I often rationalized (I was a world class rationalizer) that divorce and an early death at 55 might just be the price I would have to pay for living such a badass, adventurous lifestyle of getting drunk every night. Yes- I was certifiably insane. Although, at the time, I truly believed that I was Captain Awesome.
There were a lot of what I call “red flags” that started popping up in 2014 and 2015 AKA Random Acts of God. I kicked off 2014 with a motorcycle wreck (red flag). A few months later, my daughter was born. While I don’t like to refer to her birth as a “red flag”, it was certainly a wake-up call. The “red flag” was when I insisted that my sister bring the bottle of wine I had just opened when my wife went into labor up to the hospital that very night. We finished up the year with my Mom quitting drinking due to alcoholism (red flag). She just made it through her 3 year mark and continues to inspire me! Next up was the marriage counseling in early 2015 (red flag). Add about ten more red flags on to that and then came my annual physical (big red flag!). I had methodically ballooned up from 250 to 290 lbs. and I was ordered to get on high blood pressure medication.
Yes- it was always an awkward conversation when my doctor asked me how many drinks I consumed per week. “Sure Doc, let me think about that. Ummm, 50?!” Doctors should double this number for accuracy. They must know that everyone lies when asked this question, right?! This doctor responded by nonchalantly telling me that I need to “Dial it back, cut down to two drinks per night. Just live in moderation! Count your calories. You’ll be fine!”
Alcoholism runs rampant in my family. Alcoholics do not typically win medals for moderation.
He should have said, “Dude! You are going to f***ing die before you turn 50 if you don’t stop living like this. Go get help right now before it’s too late!” I have since changed doctors.
If I had continued on for another 10 years living the way I was living, there is no doubt in my mind that some extraordinarily horrible shit would have occurred. Take your pick: divorce, jail or death?! Positives? “I like how red wine tastes with my steak!” Um, this should be a no brainer.
So- you might ask, what finally put the nail in the coffin of my drinking and helped me to see the light? Fortunately, nothing too dramatic occurred. I know that you were hoping I had some crazy ass story about me hitting rock bottom, a helicopter ride to the hospital and paramedics bringing me back to life but my heart is full of gratitude that it didn’t have to come to that.
It was simply a conversation with a good friend who was battling a similar problem. He had recently quit drinking after the disastrous disease snuck up on him after 20 years of “high functioning” behavior and ripped through his life, leaving a wreck in its wake. For me, listening to him tell his story was the final straw that broke this drunk camel’s back.
The scariest thing about folks like us — the so-called “high functioning” types — is that we are so good at holding it together and hiding our disease that nobody ever really notices — until it is typically too late. I am extremely thankful for the fact that I quit when I did. Major disaster was inevitable.
Please take it from me, you do not have to wait for divorce or getting fired or getting thrown in the slammer or having a heart attack to occur in order for you to justify quitting.
I can assure you that quitting because you knew something horrible was about to happen is going to feel way better than quitting because something horrible did happen!
If you think you have a problem, you most likely have a major effing problem.
The bottom line is, there’s no such thing as a “high functioning alcoholic.” I was just a guy with a lot of ambition and potential who was quickly becoming a plain old drunk, on a fast train to becoming “the drunk old guy” (the worst!) enroute to wrecking the lives of all those I love.
The way I see it today is that if I have one glass of red wine with my steak- even if it is 30 sober years from today- chances are, it will derail my life. It may as well be cyanide. I no longer eff with it.
Getting drunk every night and having the ability to perform at a high level the next day is not “winning”. It is hard-core struggling. I was progressively missing out on the precious gift of life.
If you can relate to my story, go do something about it. Have honest, authentic conversations with your friends and loved ones. Visit with a doctor or two. Go to an AA meeting. It’s a cliché for a reason. As mentioned, hearing first hand from others who have gone through what you are going through is extremely helpful. Don’t worry, your story will not shock anyone. Trust me. I thought I lived like a rockstar but feel like a virgin nun at some of the AA Meetings I attend!
Reach out to me anytime.
I can guaranty you that you will not be on your deathbed and look back and wish that you had spent more time getting hammered and acting like an idiot.
My life has drastically changed since the day I got sober. My life no longer revolves around booze. Instead, I have re-focused my energy on growth, contribution, gratitude and discipline. This is the way to live.
I just had my annual physical last month and I am down from 290 to 240. I’m working towards 220 in 2018. Follow my progress on Instagram at @ward214tx
My physical, mental, spiritual health — and marriage — have all significantly improved and I continue to make a conscious effort each day to intentionally evolve these aspects of my life.
Work has never been better. Our team is on a warpath! I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store. Check out my blog to keep up at http://www.supplychainrealestate.com
I still go to bars — sometimes. Although, this is no longer my favorite thing to do.
I still attend concerts and cocktail parties and client dinners and conferences. I still go on hunting trips and bachelor parties. I still hang out with my friends who still drink like Vikings. I always offer to drive them to rehab when they’re ready!
The only major difference at these events is that I do not get drunk and act like a moron and I do not get hungover! Magical! This is fun in and of itself.
Today I am two years sober. I woke up this morning with a heart full of gratitude. Here’s to another day at a time and having a kick ass year in 2018!
Continue on to Part II: https://link.medium.com/DODpFRIkS8