When I was age 7, my family immigrated to Australia from England. The kids bullied me relentlessly. I was small and weak, and became a little altar boy. By age 9, I was setting up for daily mass before school. Some mornings I ran out of my house without breakfast, so I’d grab a few communion wafers and wash them down with a good swig of altar wine.
A few years later, we moved to Ireland. At my new school, I vowed that instead of being bullied, I would be the bully. I became a real smart Alec; I got away with murder in class. My junior year, my mother was sick, and teachers knew some days I needed to help out at home. I took advantage, skipping school and going to a bar, since it was not difficult to get served at age 15 or 16.
The following year, I didn’t earn high enough test scores to get into a four-year college. I was devastated. Luckily, I had obtained one of the top scores nationwide that year in accounting, so a friend of my father’s employed me as an accounting clerk. Suddenly I was drawing an adult salary, thrust into an adult life, and within a year, supervising college graduates. I got by on my ego, intellect, and wits, but I felt like a fraud, always scared I would be “found out.” I didn’t know how to ask for help.
When we worked in the countryside, my supervisor and I conducted our meetings in bars. I thought, “This is great. I’m getting paid to get drunk.” One night, I sped through a one-way alley going over 100 miles per hour. The next day, my manager said, “I think you’re an alcoholic.” This was the first time I had heard these words; I was 19 or 20.
I wouldn’t accept that I had a problem. I quit and found a better job as a financial comptroller at a herring factory. Then I hired my old company as our accounting firm. My reaction was all ego: “So who’s the alcoholic now?”
At the new job, by three o’clock every day, we’d be in a bar, drunk as skunks. I’d down eight imperial pints of Guinness–and I’m not a big guy–plus a shot of whiskey. I totaled three cars and landed in the hospital so many times I couldn’t count. Once, on my motorbike, I ended up under a tractor trailer. Still, because the local police knew me, I passed through DWI checkpoints. My pattern of changing jobs expanded to changing countries.
It was around this time that my fiancee got pregnant. This drove me into a tormented marriage; drinking was my refuge. After two years, my wife asked someone to take me to an Alcoholics’ Anonymous meeting. I went, but my attitude was, “I can figure this out on my own.” I’d stay sober for two days and say, “See, I have self-control. I joined a volunteer fire department that had a bar. I’d go there, get drunk, and come home when everyone was asleep. By then, we had two little boys.
Eventually, I started a pool company that became very successful. I was trying to compensate in material ways, but I felt I didn’t deserve my income. I would work hard, so customers liked me, and then not bill them appropriately. I constantly felt there was a deep empty hole inside me I couldn’t I fill. It began occurring to me that I needed help.
Within six years, my marriage fell apart. Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better. I drank a case of beer every day. I lost my business, everything, including more than $50,000 in unbilled invoices.
I returned to AA. Then during a very acrimonious argument after a day in divorce court, my ex told me, “You’ve ruined your sons’ lives!” I believed her–I believed I had “killed” my boys in some way. I couldn’t live with that. I drove my pickup into the woods, attached a hose from the exhaust into the cab, and proceeded to kill myself. I must have made threats about hurting myself to an AA friend, and when I didn’t respond to his calls, he showed up with the police. They saved me, but I wanted to be dead. Nothing made any sense to me. I knew right from wrong, but I couldn’t do the right thing.
My hospital stay included AA meetings. That led to my longest stretch of sobriety–four and half years. Eventually, though, I had one gin and tonic. No immediate problems!—I was “cured”. Within a year, however, I was drinking heavily again. Finally, I got pulled over for two DWI within 18 months. I could no longer fool myself.
That is how I wound up at Phoenix House Outpatient Services in East Hampton. Recovery was slow and hard. I was looking at felony incarceration, and I had no job, no driver’s license, and no money–nothing except a willingness to change. I completed the program in six months, and told my counselor I wanted to continue. Her face lit up.
She was patient, understanding, and firm, and she kept my focus on the task at hand. I took care of one person—me. Once I left a Thanksgiving dinner where someone was drunk and walked three miles to a sober friend’s house. I removed myself from the any situation that would cause me to become resentful or angry, which would eventually lead me to drink.
Today I go about my business and I’ve adopted a daily practice of Buddhism. Phoenix House taught me not to try to think my way into a better life, but to act myself into a better life.
Most importantly, my son who is 23, texted me recently: He wrote, “I love you, Dad, and I’m on my way to recovery.” Just yesterday, my ex-wife called and I was able to show up without animosity. You have to be willing to ask for help, and then accept it. Don’t give up before your miracle happens.