This is the continuation of “My Story” which I began writing about in Part 1 of “Alcoholism and Addiction… Confessions.” Before reading this post, it might be helpful for you to read Parts 1 and 2.
I need to be clear regarding my drinking in regard to work. I have NEVER seen a client while impaired–never. Although, I continued drinking after getting licensed as a counselor, I was drinking much less and was very high functioning. I never got any feedback from peers that my work was suffering. To the contrary, I was compared to the energizer bunny. If anything, I was too busy. I think I was using busy-ness like I used alcohol–to escape. I was tending to a 10,000 square foot garden, raising chickens, leading worship at one point, and seeing clients out of two offices in addition to being a father and a husband.
After I met Larry in 2002, we did some individual work on some of the problems that were behind my alcohol abuse. However, within several months, he asked to see me and my wife together. There was a lot of hurt I had caused my wife, and now I was where I could see the pain I had caused. My wife had seen the positive changes I had made since meeting Larry, and she was eager to do some marital work. We were both in a place where we knew we needed help to save our marriage, and we were finally both where we were open to making changes. By the end of 2002, our marriage had undergone a transformation. Since that time, our marriage has continued to benefit from the help we got from Larry, and I wouldn’t trade our relationship now for anything in the world. But, believe me, it hasn’t been easy. One of the most important changes I made in regard to my marriage has been to reverse my pattern of hiding and concealing. Larry held me accountable to be honest and open about my struggles with my wife, and that has paid dividends in our marriage. Even during periods when I was drinking, there was just something different about the marriage. It felt closer, safer, and more secure.
A couple of years after getting licensed, I remember telling my community group about my drinking issues, and they were very supportive and helped hold me accountable to a degree. Telling the group about the drinking represented growth for me. I was reversing the pattern of trying to hide and conceal. I let a dozen or more people know what was going on and my history with drinking. That was a huge step. After sharing with the community group, I never again drank to the level I had in the past. There was something uniquely healing about sharing my struggles with a group of people who shed grace on me. There was never any condemnation or judgment. And no one pulled away from me. If anything, my confession to the community group helped me grow closer to several of the other members, and it led to other members of the group sharing some of their own demons.
So, fast forward to the stroke. It was a bilateral cerebellar stroke, and the docs tell me I shouldn’t have made it, statistically. The symptoms were completely overwhelming, and I was at death’s door for a few years. I once went 17 days without sleeping. The vertigo had me nauseated and vomiting constantly. I had a severe headache every waking moment. I couldn’t walk and fell frequently. I was profoundly depressed. I couldn’t practice or do any other sort of work. My body was in “fight or flight” mode all the time (I shook like a leaf.). I had hallucinations frequently, making determining the real from the unreal a challenge. One night I hallucinated that there were malicious people in our yard at 3 AM. I called the police and grabbed my rifle. It wasn’t until much later that I realized, there were actually no people in the yard that night.
Obviously, the stroke left me needing to take a lot of medications. And although I never set out to misuse those medications, I wound up becoming physically dependent on benzo’s, sleep aids, and opioids. My doctor was treating me with ever increasing amounts of heavy duty meds because of tolerance. I kept needing more to get the same result. Then, it got to where the increases she prescribed were still not enough to keep up with my body’s ever-increasing tolerance of the meds. That’s when I started to over-take my meds intentionally–not because I wanted to be high, but because I was dreadfully afraid of withdrawal symptoms. I was trying to stay ahead of the tolerance and withdrawal symptoms–but it didn’t work. Eventually I was in perpetual withdrawal. The original stroke symptoms plus the withdrawal symptoms, I am convinced, were the closest I will ever get to hell. The anguish was unbearable, and I was chronically suicidal (though I don’t think I would have actually harmed myself). Whatever amount of pain you can imagine, multiply that by 100 and you might get close to the misery that was my life.
It got to where I couldn’t tell what was worse, the symptoms from the stroke or the effects of the medications. At the advice of a friend of mine, I checked myself into the hospital for medical detox from the medications I was taking. Within months I regained a lot of functioning. A new doctor was addressing the stroke symptoms with non-habit forming meds. It took me a while to transition to the new regimen, but once I got through those first few months I new this new direction was a better path.
As far as the alcohol goes, I all but stopped drinking about a year before the new doctor and new medication regimen. Then after that time I have been alcohol free. That’s roughly 6 years. This may sound a little mystical, but I truly believe God has taken my taste for alcohol away. I mean, there is no desire for it at all. It’s like a switch got flipped. I have alcohol on hand for the occasional visitor, but I don’t touch the stuff. Don’t want to. Since 2013, I have returned to practice, although my residual stroke symptoms keep me from working much. I invested in becoming a licensed clinical supervisor, and most of the work I do now is supervising the next crop of therapists coming out of school and into the workforce.
So, that’s my story with alcohol and drugs. There are so many parts of my story that are not related to alcohol and drugs, but that is a different topic for another day.
Thanks all for reading. Peace.