How I Got Sober: Tom
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How I Got Sober: Tom


This post was originally published on August 20, 2014.

Not every alcoholic or addict gets into trouble early when they pick up booze and drugs, and a lot of us can party with limited consequences for an extended period of time before crossing that line into full blown alcoholism or addiction. My friend Tom is one such guy, as he (mostly) enjoyed the lifestyle of college jock and stoner, then as a bar and restaurant manager before settling down with his wife and having kids. His life was loaded with warning signs that he might have a problem (including a stint as a chronic nitrous oxide abuser when he was in medical supply sales), but not enough to make coming into recovery a life-or-death proposition—until, of course, it was. This is Tom’s story:

For a long time after my restaurant gig, I functioned as a fairly responsible adult, occasionally smoking pot, getting drunk and doing cocaine, but my life was pretty manageable for a long while. It wasn’t until well into my 40s that my interest in cocaine intensified. I began meeting my friend at least weekly to pick up a couple of grams at a local bar, but I didn’t really think much of it. I rarely drank when I was doing it, and never did it in front of my bar companions or wife. This went on for a while, and I began establishing my own coke connections and my pickups became more frequent. I still didn’t think it was a problem until it all came to a head during a snowstorm around 2001. I had injured my back and was housebound with a back brace, plus I was pretty whacked on painkillers when I decided to make a coke run, which was about 20 miles away.

When I got back, my wife confronted me. She was horrified that I went out in the snowstorm when I could barely walk, but also demanded to know why there was a series of $100 plus withdrawals from our bank account for the last few years, the latest being that afternoon. She tried to arrange an intervention (oddly enough, calling a friend who was loaded at 9 am who would eventually become my sponsor a dozen years later), but convinced me to get help. Luckily, I was ready. I remember the nurse practitioner saying to me, “Tom, you must just be so tired.” And I was. Tired of the lying and sneaking around and staring at the ceiling all night, and tired of doing the same thing over and over.  I completed the intensive outpatient program where they recommended I go to AA after I completed treatment, and I went to a daily meeting near my house a couple of times.

It wasn’t for me. For one, coke was my problem, not booze. Plus, the people who attended that meeting were nothing like me. They had fresh stitches, no teeth and lived under bridges. I had a house, a marriage, a job and good kids, and no DUIs or wrecked cars. So I stopped going. But I didn’t do coke (I still haven’t since treatment) and didn’t drink. But I was dry and it slowly became the worst time of my life, right up until 2006. That’s when my mom passed away and things got worse. Less than a year later, my dad developed Alzheimer’s and I had to help take care of him, including going to see him weekly and bathing him—something he fought wildly. I began to dread going to see him.

This really took a toll on my psyche, so one day I just pulled into a liquor store and bought a half pint of vodka. It provided relief, but the progression was swift: I almost immediately started drinking every day, something I had never done in my entire life. The progression continued after he died and I began to sneak drinks all the time, hiding bottles all over the house, and filling Gatorade bottles with vodka (thinking it didn’t smell). I went from a pint a day to two pints a day and towards the end it wasn’t enough and I was trying to figure how I could get a third one in and still function without being caught by my wife and family. I was out of my mind, and I was vomiting in the shower every morning before work.

I couldn’t stop, so I went on the Internet and to lots of bookstores and bought self-help books to try to figure it all out. “Maybe it’s my anger,” I would think, and buy a Dale Carnegie book on developing a positive attitude. It had to be anything but what the real problem was—that I couldn’t stop drinking booze. I think I actually knew that was the problem, but I just didn’t know how to stop, and that was the worst part. The turning point came one night when my wife and daughter came home after going out to dinner. I was pretty loaded (as usual) and when they came in, I kiddingly asked, “Did you talk about me at dinner?”

“As a matter of fact, we did,” my wife replied. Apparently my son (who had moved out of state years before) had angrily confronted the two of them earlier in the week during a visit and accused them of enabling my drinking, and they had gone to dinner to discuss what to do about it. “You’ve been drinking,” my wife said. She had known I was drinking for some time but whenever she’d confronted me before, I’d just denied it.

This time was different. “Yes,” I said. I don’t know why I said yes, because I had all of my arguments prepared, I wasn’t going to slur and I was going to talk slowly. But I just said yes. It may have helped that I had been in this place before. It was the same feeling I’d had when she had confronted me about the cocaine, and there was the same sense of relief that all the bullshit was finally over. I called the guy that had been bombed when my wife had contacted him about doing an intervention, only this time he had been sober for about eight years. I told him I had been drinking.

“I know,” he laughed. “I can tell by your emails.” He told me to meet him at his house the next morning at 6 am and he would take me to a meeting. Again I just said yes. I didn’t really sleep that night, but showed up at his door the next morning and went to the meeting. I was blurry and foggy and couldn’t really understand what a lot of people were saying, but then a woman spoke. Her drinking was nothing like mine, but she verbalized all the things that I was feeling—the desperation, the hopelessness—and she said she stopped drinking and all those things went away. I thought she was fucking brilliant. And I started to think I could do this.

The next day I told my friend that I was going to go to church with my family to make amends for all my bad behavior over the years, and he said, “No you’re not. You’re going to go to a meeting. Those apologies won’t mean dick if you drink.” And I was pissed. But I went to a meeting and I stayed sober and have for nearly three years now. I still go to six or seven meetings a week, just finished another trip through the steps and do service by telling my story at detoxes and being active within my group.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t think I was ready for recovery the first time because I didn’t think I was bad enough—and I may not have been. But when I was ready, it was because of total despair. My subconscious brain knew I had to surrender, and I gave in to that part of me instead of trying to fight a losing battle.

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About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.