I Had Stuff, Now I Have a Life

I am an alcoholic and my name is Mark.  I never wanted to be an alcoholic.  In my twenties, I wanted my life to look like a beer ad.  In my thirties and into my forties, I wanted my life to look like an article from one of the glossy food and wine magazines.  At the end of my drinking, a little over 18 months ago, I was suicidal and sitting in blue pajamas in the psych ward.  So much for my plans.

My drinking started at age 17.  From the outset, I rarely drank in moderation.  All that changed over the years was the frequency with which I drank.  My best guess it that there was not a day between 1992 and November 14, 2002 where I did not take a drink.

I was raised in a loving, though highly disciplined home and was the eldest of three children.  Although I recall alcohol being an “issue” in the house when I was quite young it certainly wasn’t as I was growing up.  I was given every opportunity and advantage.  I was schooled abroad in my teens (when I first started to drink), and lacked for nothing in the material sense.

I was very goal and achievement oriented.  I craved recognition.  Life was all about how I thought others viewed me.  I have realized, in sobriety, that I did not make a major decision in adulthood without a keen awareness of, and often deference to, my perception of the opinions of others.

In 1981 I graduated from law school where, along with contracts and torts, I really learned how to drink.  I did well academically, securing an articling position with a downtown firm.  I was not kept on, which was devastating to me, not taking rejection well.

After articles, I secured a job with a small downtown firm practicing civil litigation.  I eventually became a partner and stayed there for 16 years.  My alcoholism progressed apace.  There were too many alcohol related “incidents” to recount.  They were generally excused, perhaps because I did the work and was relatively good at it.

There is no question, with hindsight, that my departure from my first firm was directly related to my alcoholism.  Few at the firm, however, would acknowledge that and indeed, some outright denied it.  Regardless, I moved on, joining a large firm as associate counsel.  I was 41.  I had the family, all the “stuff” and the lifestyle. I was on a first name basis with the staff in the city’s finest restaurants.

The progression of my alcoholism seemed to slow somewhat, for a year or two after I joined my new firm.  Then, almost 2 years to the day prior to the psych ward, it accelerated at a pace, which was, mind-boggling. It was like a switch had been thrown. Drinking before lunch became the norm.  Working for any period of time in the afternoons became rare.  Working on a Friday afternoon was unheard of. I did the work I did in the mornings, often arriving very early because I was aware that my day basically ended at noon at the latest.  It got to the point where I resented my secretary for booking anything in the afternoons.

As well, I was rapidly on my way to moral and spiritual bankruptcy.  What I mean by moral bankruptcy is that I would lie, con and manipulate to either facilitate or cover up my drinking.  What I mean by spiritual bankruptcy is that I viewed myself as the known centre of the universe, able to do what I wanted, when I wanted to do it, however unrealistic. When that didn’t work out, I blamed others and drank some more.  I lay awake unable to sleep most Sunday nights, wondering whether the cycle would stop in the coming week.  It never did.

On November 13, 2002, suicidal, I ended up in the hospital.  Two gentlemen from my firm visited me and told me that inpatient treatment for alcoholism was the suggested program.  I will be forever grateful to them.  I threw my arms up in the air and asked how soon I could go.  When I was told I would be discharged a day prior to being able to go to treatment, I broke down in tears, too afraid to leave the hospital and spend a night at home.

I was in treatment for about 7 weeks.  I was deconstructed and put back together.  I have not looked back.  I attend an AA meeting every day more or less.  The meetings keep me centred.  I am more at peace with myself than I have ever been, believing that some power greater than myself is in charge and not me.  This comes as a daily relief.  Much to my surprise, I have never had a desire to have a drink.

I have drawn a great deal of support from the LAP in my recovery.  I was unaware of what the LAP did prior to coming home from treatment.  To be frank, I skipped over articles like this one, afraid I might see myself.

My life is far from perfect.  My marriage has ended and I have the same sorts of life problems that everyone has. But I am sober, I have a great deal of gratitude for what I have and no bad day comes close to the depth of despair I felt on November 13, 2002.