What Do You Think I Should Do?

Alcohol is not my problem. It never was. My problem is me. Always has been and always will be. And the problem follows me wherever I go.

I struggle to accept my imperfections or acknowledge that I make mistakes. I have trouble admitting that I am not the best at everything. When I was in the first grade, my optimist league basketball team made the championship game. We lost, and I received a second-place trophy. Instead of being excited about my trophy, I was upset that I did not win the championship. So, when I got home, I grabbed an ax, took the trophy behind the pump house, and chopped up the second-place trophy into little pieces. My grandfather found me and was horrified.

Alcohol was nowhere to be found in the first grade when I chopped up my second-place trophy. It would be unfair to pin my actions on alcohol. My anger and rage from finishing second place fall squarely on my shoulders.

My anger, fear, and anxiety continued to build through middle school, high school, and the first two years of the United States Naval Academy. My father, who rarely talked of anything but sports, told me that I was "too young to be this angry.” I have never forgotten that statement, especially given the source.

I then transferred to a “normal” school and promptly turned 21 years old. I discovered alcohol. It was my solution, not my problem. The heavy weight that I had carried around all my life instantly disappeared when I drank alcohol. I felt like I could breathe. I felt normal. Alcohol and I had a great relationship for about 3 to 4 years. It worked every time, without fail. There were little to no consequences. It was like I could hit the “easy button” whenever I wanted to avoid my fear and anxiety.

But things started to change in my mid-20s. Gradually, I could not count on alcohol to work every time. Over time, alcohol worked less frequently. I was confused. I would drink more in the hopes that the solution would return. I eventually found that when I drank the way I wanted, I could not control my drinking. And when I controlled by drinking, I could not drink the way I wanted. I began to drink alone. My friends didn't drink the way I did, so it was better to drink by myself.

My drinking continued through law school. I drank every night. But I made good grades, so I felt justified in my drinking. I knew my drinking was out of control, but I did not know what to do about it. Leading up to the bar exam, I was consumed with thoughts of how to “manage” my drinking the night before the exam. If I drank too much, I would be hungover and struggle with the bar exam. If I drank too little, I was afraid I would suffer withdrawals and struggle to sleep.

Shortly after passing the bar, in December 2008, I stopped drinking cold turkey. No AA, no treatment, no substance abuse counseling. No nothing. And I stayed dry for 7.5 years. Those 7.5 years were rough, because the problem (i.e., me) still followed me around and I did nothing to address my underlying problems. I didn’t ask for help. I tried to manage my alcoholism on my own.

I relapsed after 7.5 years. The circumstances surrounding my relapse aren’t important. I was destined to relapse. It was only a matter of time before I drank again - I was a ticking time bomb. Within a matter of weeks, I was right where I left off 7.5 years before. I drank in isolation. I hid my drinking. I lied about drinking. I manipulated others (usually those closest to me) in order to drink. I repeatedly told myself, “I will not drink today,” and then find myself drinking that afternoon. Every morning I would empty the dishwasher either thinking about not drinking that day or thinking about the drink I would have at 5 pm.

The brown stuff eventually hit the fan. I didn’t know what to do. My mind was swirling with how to minimize the damage. Should I go to in-patient treatment? I thought to myself, “I am really not that bad.” Could I weasel my way into out-patient treatment? That seemed like the easier route. But then I called Cathy Killian with LAP and asked a simple question that I will never forget. A question that I don’t know what inspired me to ask. I asked Cathy, “What do you think I should do?”

Asking Cathy for help was my first surrender, my first surrender of many. I have since learned that I was not a bad person who needed to become good. I was sick person who needed to become well. I learned that I have a serious disease. And although I did not cause my disease, I am responsible for treating it. I have learned that I cannot recover from alcoholism on my own. I need the help of others.

I attended in-patient treatment in Knoxville, TN for 30 days. When I returned, I went to the Relapse Prevention Center in Charlotte for over 12 months. I attend 5-6 AA meetings per week. I have a sponsor, and I sponsor others. I have many friends both inside and outside of sobriety.

I now know that I am just another bozo on the bus. Just another imperfect human being who makes mistakes despite trying my best. I can apologize for and own my mistakes. I have ceased fighting everything and everyone. I think of others from time to time. I seek to help when I can.

The instant release from anger and fear that alcohol once provided has been replaced with the relief provided by surrender. A surrender that started with a simple question, “What do you think I should do?”

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