I started drinking at 16. I was pretty shy, and like most teens I found alcohol to be a good way to loosen up—“liquid courage,” as they call it. For many years I was mostly a social drinker and didn’t go much beyond that. My dad was an alcoholic, although I don’t think I realized that at the time or knew that it meant I was more susceptible to addiction myself. I mean, I grew up in Pittsburgh and that’s basically all there was: folks drank a lot. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with that.
So I went to college and law school and somehow graduated despite the fact that I did a whole lot of partying. But as I started my professional life I began to see that the distinct line that had once existed between my drinking and the rest of my life was starting to blur. I found myself not just drinking socially, but also by myself, every minute when I wasn’t at work—and even when I was. It got to the point where I just couldn’t imagine not ever drinking again.
I almost killed myself on numerous occasions by drinking and driving, and I eventually got a couple of DUIs that resulted in me losing my job. I relocated from Pennsylvania to the Washington, D.C. area and quickly found myself in a situation where I didn’t even have the excuse of a social life any more. I was just drinking alone all the time. I really cut myself off from everyone for a number of years. The worst part of all of this was the loss of my relationship—I had actually been engaged, and looking back I now realize how I completely bailed on that person. She really stood by me through a lot of awfulness, but then I pushed her away because I just wanted to keep drinking.
When I ended up with a third DUI I really freaked out. I thought it was the end; I thought I’d lose my job again and my life would be over. I was sick and I was terrified. I figured I needed to get some kind of help. I didn’t really know what that meant so I called my health insurance company. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot—I thought maybe they’d send me to a shrink or give me some kind of anti-alcohol drugs. Instead they referred me to Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic, which was then Vanguard Services. I wasn’t too sure about the idea because I didn’t really understand what rehabilitation was. I thought it was something movie stars did that never really worked. But by then I was willing to try just about anything.
So on this freezing cold day in December 2007, I went into treatment. I sat down with the counselors and they described what they could do for me. I did some intensive outpatient work for a few months and it was absolutely miraculous, mostly because I hadn’t had a conversation with anyone outside of work for years. To be able to sit down in a group of people when you think you’re all by yourself, it’s really amazing. One of the things I realized in treatment was that this was something my father had also struggled with for a long time. I remembered him quitting drinking, but I had always thought it was for health reasons or something—I’d never seen it as recovery. He and I ended up reconnecting and bonding a lot over that shared experience.
At one point I was supposed to fulfill my 90-day jail sentence, and I worked it out so I could just go on weekends for half a year. As terrible as that sounds, it was a wonderful experience. Since I couldn’t drive, I had to really reach out and ask for help from a lot of people. It was terrifying but it helped me make real friends, people who had been strangers before but were willing to drive me all the way from D.C. to Gettysburg and back. I was overwhelmed by how generous sober people could be—I had never really known any before.
Treatment taught me so much, not just about the power of therapy but a lot of life skills and knowledge about the disease of alcoholism. Things started making sense to me, because it wasn’t just a bunch of slogans—it was scientific facts. After treatment I transitioned into the aftercare program and started getting involved in AA. I still stay in touch with Phoenix House, doing activities and developing our alumni association. Today I’ve been sober for over four years.
I’m still in D.C, working at a law firm, but things are vastly different from before I went into treatment. I’m now able to communicate with my boss and coworkers, to find support, to really make a difference in my life. I ask for help when I get freaked out. I’ve turned a lot of negatives into positives; I learned how to do that at Phoenix House. Sure, I’m still kind of a shy person, but that’s OK—I’m no longer afraid of who I am without a drink in my hand.