This post was originally published on January 2, 2015.
There are people in recovery who say that you can’t get sober for someone else—that you have to do it for yourself. And while that may be the key to long term recovery, getting sober for one’s family—particularly when you don’t want to repeat the mistakes of your own parents—has propelled many an alcoholic or addict into long term recovery. Eddie is one. Here’s his story:
I grew up in the projects in pre-busing Boston, and by the time I was a senior in high school I can say that I was a full-blown alcoholic. I took a lot of the drugs of the day, too—LSD, heroin, Secanol (barbiturates) and Percs, but I consider myself an alcoholic who happens to take drugs, because booze is my real love.
My mother and my father were also alcoholics. I’d dread coming home from school and finding my mother drunk—which she was most of the time. And my father was a violent alcoholic too, so I hated booze, at least right up until the time I picked up a drink for real at 14. But by the time I was a junior in high school, I began to think that I had a problem with booze. I would sometimes even quit for a week or two here and there, but I would eventually just start again. This pattern continued into my late 20s, and my boozing and drug problems just kept getting worse, but that didn’t keep me from getting married and starting a family. Not long after, the marriage was on the rocks, I was torturing my wife (even though she had her own booze problem), and I was physically abusive too.
The turning point for me came around the time when my son was born, but it was actually a series of events that happened over a couple of months. The first incident was my DUI. I was driving back drunk from a concert, and I remember telling the cop that was arresting me that I wanted to go to detox. That didn’t happen, but they did sent me to “drunk school”—the Boston Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program (ASAP), and that’s one of the places where I started to connect the dots between the booze, drugs and trouble.
A few weeks later, when my wife was three weeks overdue with my son, I decided to go the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston. It’s the biggest drinking holiday in Boston besides New Year’s, and I didn’t want to miss out. Despite her pleading with me not to go because she knew the baby was coming, I went anyway. I got drunk, got into a fight and ended up where all the strip joints are, eventually coming home wasted, just like she predicted I would. The next morning she woke me up to tell me that she had to go to the hospital because she was ready to deliver, and I drove her up there. They sent me home because she was in early labor, but they also knew that I was still drunk. At 11 o’clock the next morning, the hospital called me, and I was actually able to witness the birth of my son, which to this day is still the most incredible event in my life, even though I was still half in the wrapper.
They kept her in the hospital for four or five days following her C-section, so I just went on a tear, getting drunk and high the whole time. I didn’t even go up to see her. When she came home, I told her I was giving up the booze and I really tried. But it only lasted for about three weeks, and then came the Boston Marathon. I told my wife I was going but I wasn’t going to drink, and I believed it. I actually told her, “I swear on my son’s grave that I will not drink today.” She stood there holding the baby and said, “You’re going to drink. You said you weren’t going to when you went to the St. Paddy’s Day parade and then you came home hammered.”
So I went up to the marathon route, and I turned down the first few drinks offered. But after turning down multiple drinks, I picked one up and was off to the races. I got hammered, smashed up my latest shit box car on the way home, and the next thing I knew, I was coming out of a blackout with her standing over me with the baby crying. “I can’t believe you did it again,” she said. “You couldn’t even do it for your son.”
And that became my pattern. I would put together a week or two together and then just break out again. But as bad as the feelings had been for the last 15 years, with the kid now in the picture, they just went through the roof, and I was nearly suicidal. And the hangovers—which were always just physical—now included the extra kick of guilt, shame and remorse, and they were lasting for two days or more. I had no money, I was completely pessimistic about the future and my son’s christening was just around the corner.
The night before the christening, my father—who had sobered up a few years earlier in AA, right after my mother—called me to see how I was doing.
“I’m going to check out,” I said, meaning that I was either going to kill myself or just take off and leave my wife and kid on their own. “I’m a drunk and a bum.”
What I couldn’t tell him was my real fear—that since I’m a blackout drinker and have an insane and violent streak in me, I was afraid that I was going to come home drunk and hurt my own kid in a blackout, just like my father did with me and my siblings. And even if I didn’t, I knew my son was going to grow up in my image, just like I did with my own father. “I gotta get out of here, this kid is fucked, because I’m a bum and he’s got no shot,” I told him.
But my father said to me, “The best thing for your son is for you to never have him see you pick up a drink again.”
The next day, right after the christening, I started drinking again, and that night I went up to my favorite bar. At the close of the night, I told my friends, “That’s it boys. I just took my last drink.” And it was. That was September 29, 1981.
But the story wasn’t over. I was having a lot of anxiety after I gave up the drinking, and I thought I was going out of my mind, so I went to see a shrink. He listened to my story but wanted me to see an alcohol counselor, so I asked him, “Why do you want to send me to an alcohol counselor? I’m just fucking nuts. I’m not an alcoholic like my parents. I can go two weeks without a drink, so that proves it.”
But I went to see her, and she just happened to be connected with the drunk driving program that I was starting to attend. That program was really opening up my eyes to stuff regarding my drinking. But I was still taking Valium and Percocet. Seeing the alcohol counselor was really helping with my anxiety, and she even had me jogging as a way to relieve stress. But after going for six or seven months, I casually mentioned to her that I still was doing drugs, and she told me I couldn’t come anymore.
She explained that I wasn’t sober, so the therapy wasn’t really going to really work for me unless I was.
“You’re chewing your booze,” she said. “You’re substituting the drugs for the alcohol.”
That was a foreign concept to me. But I told her I needed to keep coming to see her, because it was the only thing helping with my anxiety, so I gave up the drugs. She also suggested I go to AA, which I didn’t want to do. My parents had gotten sober in AA and I blamed everything in my life on them and their drinking—especially the way I turned out. I didn’t really understand that I was an alcoholic and I kept thinking that I was going to figure this out on my own. I thought I would eventually get control and be able to drink like the other guys at the bar and just have four or five beers and go home, and I knew I couldn’t do that in AA. But I went anyway, because I didn’t want to give up the therapy.
The next night I went to the biggest meeting in Boston, which was actually right near my house. I saw a couple of people from the neighborhood that I knew, including a couple of guys that tried to 12-step me earlier (but later relapsed and died). But when I sat down to listen to the speakers, the first guy up was a Vietnam vet I knew from the projects. When I knew him, he was fucking psychotic. He looked like Jackie Gleason and would be out in the middle of the projects whether it was three in the afternoon or three in the morning, with a big jug of Wild Irish Rose on one side of his chair and a case of beer on the other, and he could put it away like nobody’s business.
One day he just disappeared and we all thought he had died, but there he was, up at the podium, telling his story. And as I sat there listening, I noticed that all of the anxiety was leaving me and I was feeling calm and peaceful. So I just started going to meetings and asking for help, and I got a sponsor and I joined a group and that was it.
I’ve been able to stay sober a day at a time for over 32 years now. When I was 14 years sober, my brother died of a heroin overdose after he’d been sober for six-and-a-half years. I didn’t want to drink, but I was suicidal and homicidal. But my phone never stopped ringing, as people in AA kept calling and showing up for me, and eventually those feelings passed.
As for my kids, they don’t seem to have problem with the booze and none of them take narcotics. We’ve broken that family cycle of alcoholism and addiction, at least for today.