Hi, I’m Nate, and I’m an alcoholic.
That’s a line that I say pretty regularly (you can guess the context), and it’s something I say with nothing but pride and absolutely no sense of shame. My struggles with addiction and the associated mental health challenges of depression and anxiety make me a better person. I’m more aware of who I am and infinitely more connected to a personal spiritual foundation that gives me strength and guides me to be a helpful and loving member of all my communities.
My story is pretty common – I was a high achiever who embraced the “work hard/play hard” culture that surrounds many of our academic and professional environments. I partied a lot in college but maintained grades and got a degree from a fancy school. After school, I advanced quickly in the go-hard and go-fast tech world, where I was able to mask my habitual heavy drinking with a knack for getting things done. But during all that time, I managed my sometimes-crippling social anxiety and bouts of depression with booze.
So as I hit my thirties, things started to turn a corner. As I saw friends drift away from a boozy lifestyle and focus on careers, family, and personal interests, I doubled down on my drinking. But it started to be drinking alone. And then it was drinking and hiding it. And then it was drinking so much that my health was failing, and I was putting loved ones in harm’s way. It reached a breaking point.
At the time, I didn’t really know anything about recovery, what it meant or what resources were available. I didn’t know there were tons of folks with stories like mine who were ready to help. I thought I was a broken loser, doomed to circle the drain and quite literally die alone.
Wow, was I ever wrong.
Many parts of our culture try to sweep addiction problems under the rug and treat them as something dirty or something to be dealt with in a bubble so we don’t bother “normal” people with our problems. We tend to compound the problem by making people feel shame that they have a problem. But there’s so much help available to people struggling, whether it’s with heavy habitual drinking they can’t seem to slow down or with full-blown active alcoholism (like me!).
I was lucky. Things got bad, and life forced me to find help because I wasn’t going to be able to maintain custody of my kiddo if I didn’t. And once I reached out and tentatively started to look for guidance, I was embraced by the recovery community and guided to all kinds of resources that have helped. From peer support meetings to substance abuse counseling to monitoring services, I used everything I could find.
What I’ve found in my journey is this – I don’t have to feel bad about who I am. I learned that if I work to be open, honest, and helpful to those around me, everything else works out. If I work to feel grounded spiritually, I don’t have to feel anxious or fearful. I’m not perfect by any means – I can be short with folks, I can talk too much, I can overthink things, and I can get stuck in my own inertia.
But through my recovery work, I understand that my flaws make me who I am, and they come with strengths as well. And all that really matters is that I try and that I embrace whatever comes, whether good or bad. As I said before, I’m a better and stronger person for it all, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
No one should feel alone in their addiction. No one should feel undeserving of love and recovery. No one should ever feel fated to a sad life. If you’re struggling, or have a loved one who’s struggling, take a tentative step toward help and you’ll find so much available.
Feel free to reach out to me if you’re struggling, or to other members of the recovery community, you may know. And review the resources your employer may offer through Employee Assistance Programs. Know that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to drink today.