Every time I look at this photo, I have to ask myself, "who in the hell is that?" Because it certainly isn't me! At least, not anymore. Sure he's smiling, but is he happy? The man in the picture is a man who has lost control. Control of his feelings, control of his attitude and control of his drinking. Lost in a fog of emotional stew and suppressed grief, simmering, bubbling to the surface.
This picture was taken on October 26, 2006. I showed up at the DMV either hung over or still drunk. I can't quite recall. What I know for sure is I definitely had somewhere between a few and a lot of drinks the night before.
On 2/19/07, I "popped." At least that's what I like to call it. I came home from work after missing a sales bonus, poured a shot of Jack, which was really a double, slammed it back, followed it up with another for good measure and started cooking dinner. All in an effort to forget the fact that I missed that bonus by a lost deal that was only a couple bucks away on payment. Wondering to myself while I cooked if my sales manager purposefully kinked the deal to avoid paying the extra bonus. After sitting down in front of the TV with my wife, I looked down at the dinner I prepared, took two bites and felt my stomach drop. My heart sank, my eyes clouded over, my breath went out and my hands got icy cold. I wasn't sure what was happening to me. I went to the bathroom and proceeded to vomit for about 15 minutes and then went to bed to sleep it off. Not too sure at that time what I was sleeping off. Two shots at that time was a warm up. Must have been food poisoning I thought.
For about 9 months or so prior to this event, I didn't go to bed sober. More often than not, on a day off, I'd be drunk by 3 pm. Some nights, I'd pick up a little airplane bottle (or 2) on the way home from work and knock 'em back before going inside to have my evening cocktail. My wife thinking it was my "one" drink of the night. After she'd go to bed, I'd sneak another... and another.
I didn't have to work on the 20th and the 21st. I spent those days feeling weird and unsure of myself. I felt nervous and terribly insecure. I was scared of everything. My wedding Anniversary is on the 21st. I told my wife I had food poisoning to keep her at bay while I figured out what was really wrong with me. Truth be told, a good part of me felt like I was dying or about to have a heart attack at any second. I spent most of that week in terror. Now, I don't mean terror like a horror movie, I mean terror like hanging from a breaking branch off a 1000 foot cliff. Not too sure how you got there, not sure what's going to go first, the branch or your grip and too scared to try to climb back to safety because one false move and you fall... It was like a bad dream.
That Thursday I tried to go to work. 3 days without a drink. Actually I went to work and barely made it. I got through that day somehow, but most of it was a blur. I was confused, nervous and completely unsure of what was happening to me. There was this heavy feeling in my chest, my diaphragm was so tight and my eyes were heavy. I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of not waking up.
Friday, I made it to the sales meeting in the morning and then went home. I made love to my wife. I mention this because I was so afraid that I was going to die at any second and I felt this urge to try to leave something of me behind and hopefully she'll get pregnant and a piece of me will go on. Later that morning I told her the following, "Honey, I think I've lost control of my drinking and want to stay stopped. I'm terribly scared right now and don't know what's happening to me, I'm afraid I'm going to die like Doug did." I called in sick at work explaining I was still sick from the food poisoning. Afterwards, I called my dad (who's a Marriage Family Therapist) and then tried to set an appointment to see a Doctor to address all my concerns. I then spent the rest of the day weeping. My father told me all of my feelings sounded like grief. Lots of unresolved grief. I thought, "Ohhh... Kay?"
So I continued to call in sick for a few days, hardly ate, and tried to sort out my grief.
The "grief" started in 1994 when I lost a very dear friend, Jeff Hadley. Shortly there after, in 1997, my Grandfather passed. I lost my mom in 1998. Later that year, my Mom's sister, my Aunt Pat died. My Nana passed away in 2002. In April of 2006, another very dear friend, Doug, passed away as a result of acute alcoholism. Too much to handle. I've never been one to morn. It doesn't make since to me intellectually. I believe their spirit lives on and these lost love ones watch over me. I believe this with all my heart and mind and in many instances have tangible proof that they interact with us, when you're open to and receiving of their energy. So what's there to be so upset about?
The reality was, it hurt. It hurt terribly to be without them. Like a little boy, I desperately wanted my mommy. I missed her so much and didn't know how to express it. Cancer is a cruel disease. My mother died valiantly and bravely. She also suffered. It's not easy to watch someone you love go through that.
I missed Doug. Doug was so dear to me. A lost soul he was. Could I have done more? Could I have saved him? In reality, no. But still... His body eventually gave out. Too much for him to handle. Too much for me too.
I, like so many before me, found comfort for my sadness by self medicating my pain. Good ol' fashioned whiskey. At what point I lost control is beyond me, but I think it was shortly after Doug died. Tie this all in with the stress of daily life as a commission based sales person and wham. Drinking problem.
After a week and a half of "drying" out, I met with a psychiatrist. Earlier that week, I met with a psychologist. It helped to air it all out and start getting in touch with my grief, but what about this intense anxiety? Holy crap! I was in a constant state of fear. I didn't know what to do with myself. After much consulting with my father and my wife, we decided to go see someone who could prescribe medication. I had seen a regular MD who gave me some Xanax to help with the anxiety. I really didn't want to replace one bad habit with another. I quit smoking cold turkey, why should getting off the sauce be any different? That being said, the anxiety attacks had worn out their welcome.
The psychiatrist told my Dad and I that it looked like I'd been struggling with depression for a long time and if I was really committed to getting sober and moving through this overwhelming grief and anxiety that a little help is nothing to be ashamed of. "Do you ask for a "spot" at the gym?" My Dad asked. What's the difference?
My second week of sobriety started with 10mg of Lexapro a day. An antidepressant. I had a real hard time accepting this part, but needed the relief. If you got a headache, you take an aspirin. For my broken heart, I took Jack Daniels. A lot of Jack Daniels. Now I would be substituting the Jack with the Lexapro under medical supervision and investing quality time in strengthening my body and my spirit.
My world slowly started to comeback. I came out of the fog I was in. You know that confused feeling you get when you're half asleep and half awake and can't quite tell if you're dreaming or not? What if the dream you're unsure you're in is a nightmare? That's how I felt in those first two weeks of sobriety. The Lexapro spotted me enough (cleared my head) to allow the work that needed to be done, to get done. I felt like I was on a tightrope. The Lexapro was that long stick those guys hold on to.
The anxiety would come and go and I would ride the anxiety like a wave. Recognizing and acknowledging it's presence, identifying what might be causing it and then finding a way to carry on. Before I'd either bear down on it or drink. Neither of those options turned out to be very effective.
I spent a lot of time reading the works of 4 people. Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman, Richard Bandler, and Neale Donald Walsch. Thanks to these authors, I learned how to handle the anxiety and depression and found tools to deal with it when it happens. I became empowered.
My true rocks in this process of getting back up were my wife and my father. I am sure that I would not have come out of that funk had I not been blessed with the loving support of my Dad and the love and devotion of my beautiful wife. I tried to share with some of my friends what was going on for me, but it just never arrived. Meaning, we had disconnected somewhere and I felt like they just wouldn't get it. I think they felt abandoned by me and wouldn't understand my current position, which I was too weak to justify anyway. They were always trying to fix me and guide me in their direction, and clearly, they were already on their own journeys. My journey needed to be without them. We had drifted apart. My cousin, Jacob was a tremendous support. He may not know it, but being able to call randomly and just yap or yoke, really helped me keep perspective.
The other major piece of saving grace was my blossoming love affair with the Russian Kettlebell. Being able to stare down my fear of death and a random heart attack with Swings and Snatches was a Godsend. Also, the concept of picking myself up after this fall from grace lent itself well to the Turkish Get Up...
In February of 2009, exactly 2 years after I "popped" I took and completed, the Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Three days of strenuous Kettlebell training and learning. It was my way of finally purging all the pain I thought I had to hold on to. It was also my way of showing myself that I have the strength; mentally, physically and most important spiritually, to endure and complete that weekend. I spent 9 months preparing for this weekend. I worked, trained and grew my way into a better, stronger, healthier man. I was Certified in June 09 by Mark Cheng and honored with the title, RKC. I doubt he knows how much that means to me, not only as a Kettlebell enthusiast, but as a man.