“I knew I was an alcoholic by the way I felt sober.”
Joe B., Alcoholics Anonymous
I was born and raised in Nashville, TN. I had a fairly well-to-do family, which not only provided for me but was loving and very present in my life. They tried to instill in me values, such as a strong work-ethic and honesty. They encouraged me to pursue interests and provided me with many opportunities. Despite their encouragement, I was a problem child from a very young age. I was dishonest, lazy, and mean. I was plagued by depression, anxiety, and anger. For as far back as I can remember, I was afraid. That all changed the night I had my first drink.
It was like someone filled the room with air, and for the first time in my life I could breathe. I felt okay about who I was, liked the people around me, and felt like an equal. I set out to drink alcoholically after that first night. It was not a vice to me, nor something done for fun… it was medicine. It fixed whatever it was in me that was broken. Consequences started almost immediately.
I started drinking at 17. Within a year, I had dropped out of school and started having run-ins with the police, eventually being kicked out of my parent’s house. If you would have asked me at the time, the problem was not my drinking… it was everyone having a problem with my drinking. They just did not understand! If they had ever felt the way I felt when sober, then they would drink like me.
There were attempts to get me to stop: interventions, rehabs, and therapy. My friends and family did everything they could to try and help me, but I did not want their help. Instead, I wanted to drink… and that is exactly what I did. I spent the next 17 years of my life floating from place to place, drinking more and more as the years went on. I would end up in a living-situation and kind of get my life together, then spend the next few months burning down everything I had built and eventually running away… starting the whole process over again every 6 months or so. I moved to different countries, creating and destroying relationships and careers. I was always looking for the magic formula, the one that would give me the things I wanted…and more importantly, allowing me to drink like I needed. Booze had become my only coping mechanism, but 10 years into my drinking I began to have seizures if I did not drink. I was paranoid, often delusional, and physically a wreck.
Five years before getting sober, I found myself truly homeless. I knew there were places I could go for help, that there were people that loved and wanted to support me. However, surrendering was not a consideration for me. I slept behind a library, ate out of dumpsters, and stole from strangers. I had resigned myself to dying like that. I have heard it said in the rooms, “One by one, this disease will take everything from you until there is nothing left”. And at this point in my life, all I had left was my alcoholism. I lived to drink and drank to live. My teeth were falling out of my head. My clothes were rotting on my back. I did not feel despair, I felt hollow.
In July of 2018, I found myself in Raleigh, helping an old friend move. For transparency, I was drunk the entire time and could not even remember what town I was in, much less help anyone. One night, I decided to take an entire bottle of pills, topping off the half gallon of vodka I had already consumed. I do not remember doing it or what was running through my head at the time, but thankfully I did not die. When my friend found me, she insisted I go to detox. I agreed to her demand but had no real intention of getting sober. I was just so tired and wanted to rest before returning to “my library”. I honestly cannot say what was different this time, but something was. I ended up agreeing to go to a residential treatment program, where I got the number of a man from an AA meeting that had come into the hospital. I called him and he introduced me to the person that is still my sponsor today. I was more honest with him than I had ever been with anyone. I had been introduced to the 12 Steps of AA before, but for the first time in my life decided to honestly try working them. Slowly, I started to get better. I started to come alive again, building relationships with people and participating in the world around me. It has been almost 2 years since I took those pills, and the last year or so has been spent here at Emmaus. I can wholeheartedly say that my life is completely unrecognizable from what it once was. For the first time in my life, I am happy. I do not wake up afraid. I do not hate myself. I have people and responsibilities for which I am truly grateful. I have the opportunity to sponsor men that are in the same dark place I once occupied, helping them walk through this process. My relationship with my family is the best it has ever been. Furthermore, for the first time in my life, I have a relationship with a God of my understanding. It has been over a year since the last time I wanted a drink, longer still since I have really struggled with the reasons I initially drank. That is all thanks to the men and women of Alcoholics Anonymous and the people that make places like Emmaus possible. I never could have gotten here on my own.