look at it. But, when you look at what happened from my position of recovery alcoholism, my actions, thoughts, and feelings show you just how sick I really am. I consciously decided not to use any of my tools or resources because I felt like the worst person in the world and also thought that I was justified to behave how I did.
But let’s backtrack for a moment. I worked at a large liquor and beverage company for eight years and was relatively successful there. Unfortunately, when my alcoholism finally reached critical mass, it became clear to me that I would most likely need to quit my job. Being around alcohol all day, in that capacity, was not even a remote possibility for me if I wanted to be in recovery. So, after some serious soul searching and lessons learned the hard way, I recently got a new job as a dog walker to make some money to contribute to my family as I try to figure out recovery. On the day of this relapse, I woke up, went to work, and worked all day long. During the middle of my day, I hit an A.A. meeting. After I
finished walking my last dog I decided to pick up some alcohol. I drank and got drunk. I came home called Melissa and eventually admitted to being drunk. I passed out and woke up to her telling me it was ok and that she loved me.
Those are the facts, but let’s take a deeper look. I woke up feeling like crap. It’s about zero degrees outside here, and I was going to spend my entire day walking other people’s dogs for very little money. This was my first day, on my own route, so I was both excited to have some freedom, yet terrified that I would screw up big time. What if I lose a dog, lock myself out, or set off someone’s alarm and fail to disarm it before the police are alerted? Going into this day, I assumed there was a legitimate chance I would fail and get fired.
My day started off fairly well. I picked up the clients keys and began trekking around my route. Because the roads had not been properly cleared yet from the recent snow and ice, I could not ride my bike and had to do my route completely on foot. This meant that I would be really pressed for time with no breaks, since I had to use my lunch time to go to an AA meeting. I wouldn’t be done until sometime around 4pm.
I spent 45 minutes walking to the first client, including walking the dog. After that, another 20 minute walk to the second dog. By this time, I am already freezing. My mood has gone from excited with anxiety to pissed off at life as dog walker and anxiety.
I got to the second house and walked the dog. 10 minutes into the walk, I received a text from my wife
letting me know that our couple’s therapy is confirmed, despite the projected -35 windchill projected for the day. I had forgotten about couple’s therapy. Because of all the therapy I have been through, one would assume that I am used to talking about everything bad that has happened to me in the past few years, but in reality, I am not used to it at all. To top it off, we were beginning therapy with a new therapist, and I felt stricken with a feeling of dread at the prospect of meeting with and talking to yet another stranger about my faults. In reality, therapy is not always talking about my faults, but I view couple’s therapy as particularly rough, as this is usually what I perceive our sessions to be about. Typically we
deal with me being an alcoholic for a good portion, and talking about these things in front of my wife makes me feel like less of a man and a bad husband. Now, I was a pissed off at life dog walker with anxiety and dread.
Being the good alcoholic I am, I lied to my wife and said, “No problem.” It is now 10:15am. I have roughly 6 hours of walking dogs by myself to ruminate on how all I have to look forward to this evening is feeling like shit at therapy. In all likelihood, Melissa, and possibly myself, will end up crying during this session.
I finished walking the second dog, but nothing changed between my next few walks. I attended an A.A. meeting at a regular place I go to during the days in between dogs. I know the crowd and the formats, and since I am in the area, going to this meeting should have been a great way to get to feeling better. However, AA is a program that only works if you work it as well. I came into the room just before the meeting started, ice cold, and not giving a damn about what anyone else had to say I cannot
honestly remember what anyone said at that meeting. I know the topic and the person who gave
the lead, but I completely wasted an hour, zoned out. Quickly it was time to get back into the cold.
The next dog I walk was a real treat. The dog is awesome, but the owners are probably not going to be my favorite. Though, honestly, they are not asking me to do anything outside the bounds of what I would want someone else to do for my dog. Their dog is an excitement peer. No big deal, you take a paper
towel, some cleaner, and wipe it up. Instead, I was greeted with a four paragraph note about how to clean up dog piss. I have since reread the letter and have determined that the verbiage was not nearly as bad as I thought it was at that moment. Melissa probably would have written that note to our walked, but now, in my head, I am also being judged as incompetent. The train has now finally derailed. I walked the dog and then I did something very critical to relapse, I started shutting down. I did not turn back on the podcasts I had downloaded to keep me company on my walking route. I made an unconscious decision to completely give in and let the thoughts in my head take over.
In my head, I am now a bad husband, who is lying to his wife about therapy, who has a shitty job,
who is viewed as incompetent, who is having racing thoughts of self-pity, and wallowing in what a
complete and utter failure he is, in freezing cold in sub-zero weather. By the time I had finished walking the last dog, I knew exactly where I was going to buy booze, how much I was going to get, and how it would not only make therapy better, it would also warm me up and make me, overall, feel better. I drank two 24oz cans of 12.2% malt liquor in about five minutes. I drank it so fast I thought I was going to throw up.
Did I mention I also did not eat? I went from sober and angry, to drunk and angry in about ten minutes. I made it home, but also knew I was completely fucked and there would be no way to get out of the situation I had put myself in. This would only get worse, so I began trying to save face with Melissa. The text to her read, “I feel like shit, we need to cancel this therapy.” To back this up, I start up a little internet conversation on chat as well to make it look like I’m feeling normal. Essentially, I try to weasel out, but Melissa calls me out over the phone because I am drunk and she is not. I pass out.
None of this needed to happen. I know this. This entire day could have been avoided if I had
been honest with a host of people in my support network at any point. Sure, dog walking does not pay
a lot, but it sure beats working in a liquor store as an alcoholic. It was cold, but I accepted a job as a dog walker in Chicago in January. I did not want to go to couples therapy because couples therapy is not fun. But the reason my wife wants to go with me to couples therapy is because she cares about me and wants our relationship to be better and to work on building back some trust.
I should have called someone and talked about how I was feeling but I didn't. The more time I spent in my head, the worse and worse the situation became, until I made the only decision I had backed myself into: believing that drinking was the only way to escape the thoughts and feelings that were suffocating me.
It is very easy to Monday Morning quarterback my decisions, and I have learned this from the many
mistakes and relapses I have had over the past months. In the moment when I feel like a prisoner inside my own head, it is not nearly as simple. I let feelings take over and isolate. Alcoholism, depression, and anxiety are present at most points in my life. My disease is always waiting in the back of my head to prey on me when I am weak. My disease cannot hurt me when I am feeling confident and am involved with my recovery. There is no more fun left in drinking for me, but yet I still am not well enough to always see that it is not an option. I drink to stop myself from thinking and feeling. I drink so that I can pass out and
dream. In my dreams, I am always free of the reality that was the depressed and anxiety ridden
spot I was in before I decided to use.
I want to say to myself, if you are suffering, please reach out and listen to someone you trust. Your story does not need to end with using. I have had my fair share of misery, pain, shame and guilt that come from my drinking. Though life absolutely sucks sometimes when I am sober, I need to remind myself that going through all those negative sober feelings is infinitely better than having to pick of the pieces to deal with the hangover of relapse the next day.
Want to read Melissa's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/2/post/2014/01/the-trapeze-swinger.html