*This post was written by AF, a 22-year-old student at CSU Channel Islands, born and raised in Ventura County and passionate about keeping the youth and other members of the community safe, informed, and responsible.
This post is the first in a series in which I interview recovering addicts and alcoholics. These interviews gain some insight into their history of use and abuse, and some advice they have for their younger selves and other young people in hopes that they can prevent others from becoming addicts.
Daniel is in his 50’s and lives in a sober living home and has been sober for about 2 and a half years. He primarily had problems with alcohol, but had periods of use of harder drugs as well. The following is a summary of what he had to say.
Daniel admits he had a great childhood. His mom was teacher and his dad was a professor and preacher. Some addicts point to a rough childhood as a reason for their addictions, but Daniel feels he can only blame himself.
From a young age, he would drink with friends and was always drinking to get drunk. He and his friends would find stores that sold to kids, or would ask someone passing by to buy for them. There was some time where he used marijuana with alcohol because he was told the effects were better. What I found funny was that he never liked the taste, even after 30 years. It always made him gag, but he didn’t care.
His drinking eventually became much more dangerous and out of control. He would be the one still drinking even when other people are passed out. He was ready to drink as soon as he woke up. He was unfazed by a hangover. He thought that he was fun while drinking and it was cool to drink so much. He always thought he was the life of the party, but in reality he was not a good person, and his family was scared for him because they thought he would get beat up for the drunk things that he said that made other people angry.
Once sober, Daniel ran into an old drinking buddy who was also an alcoholic, and even this guy thought Daniel needed to quit. Daniel thought his friend was bad, but for that friend to stay that Daniel needed to quit BADLY was crazy for him and helped him realize that sobriety really was a good choice.
While he was still drinking, he didn’t think it was a problem. Even once it was a problem, he, “like Charlie Sheen,” embraced it and didn’t care. He didn’t want to stop. He knew it would kill him. He still didn’t care. He was in denial because he was around other alcoholics, and when no one around you is sober, you don’t realize it’s a problem. He was committed to drink until he died. He felt miserable with his life and saw no way to make it better.
His priorities had been set on alcohol and nothing else for so many years. He would regularly drive drunk, only getting caught once. He thinks it is a miracle he never killed anyone. Even after a DUI and all the associated costs including losing a car, license, and a LOT of money, he continued to drink and drive.
For some time, Daniel was also involved with using speed, but was able to quit on his own. On this drug, he stayed awake for days to get chores done. The ingredients were all poison, made from junk under the kitchen sink by other drug addicts who do not care about the people buying it. As the buyer, he didn’t particularly care what poison he was using either.
Over the course of his addiction, he lost jobs, cars, girlfriends, and trust. He has a daughter and a toddler grandson that he hopes to repair relationships with to be involved with now that he is sober. It takes time for families to rebuild trust after addiction and he knows this and respects boundaries, but it is still difficult.
When I asked him what made him stop drinking, he didn’t have a crazy story about being arrested or killing someone while driving drunk, or being mandated by the courts to go to treatment. Daniel reached a point that the Alcoholics Anonymous program refers to as “incomprehensible demoralization” where you feel so bad about your life and just get so tired of it that you are just done.
At this point, Daniel got into sober living to be around the right people. A support system of people who knew what he was going through was helpful. He had reached 3 months of sobriety once before on his own, but alcohol is everywhere: in stores, on TV, in movies. Trying sobriety by yourself is hard, he only thought about alcohol. It helps him a lot to be around other sober people and attend AA meetings.
He is a very curious person and likes to research things a lot, and one thing he has learned about alcoholism is that it causes damage to the kidneys and liver that makes it so they can’t metabolize alcohol right anymore, which causes an even worse craving. Daniel knows this feeling of it snowballing and becoming a vicious cycle. Alcoholics often feel like they are weak because it is hard to quit, but this reaction makes it so that quitting is more than a psychological process. It is also a physical one.
I asked Daniel about some lessons he has learned that he can share with his younger self and other young people. He says that as easy as it is to get involved in drugs and alcohol, it is just as easy to never do it. It is so easy to be normal, to have a family, career, etc. In the moment, it seems fun and seems temporary and under control, but it is so quick and easy to spiral out of control. It becomes a craving and obsession that goes beyond your willpower to quit.
30 years disappeared for him. He lost some of the greatest years of his life to alcohol and drugs. Just now, as a 50-something year old man, he is learning about credit, health insurance, and all of the things I am going to be figuring out as a 20-something year old. But, he is the most happy and confident he has ever been. He finally feels normal. Responsibilities are exciting for him. Paying insurance and getting pulled over without going to jail is actually exciting.
He feels that it was important for him to have gone through what he did to learn what he has learned, but those 30 years will never come back. The only thing he would want to take back is the hurt he caused people.
AA has taught him a lot about himself and recovery. He actually thinks about his actions and considers consequences. If you’re doing the right thing, good things will happen to you. Even if things feel bad or hopeless, just STAY SOBER and things will come to you. You CAN be productive. You CAN be normal. You CAN be happy. And you can do all this without drugs and alcohol.