Commentary: Don’t make the same mistakes that I’ve made

  • Published
  • By Anonymous member from the 621st Contingency Response Wing

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I have a secret to tell you.

I am a victim. As it turns out, it's something that’s passed on to others very easily.

When I was very young, between 5 and 8 years old, my father would drive me to the same place over and over again. At this place, my dad would always drive away with a can or bottle in a brown paper bag, which he would enjoy while driving us home or wherever we needed to go.

During this time, I would regularly witness my father’s behavior change drastically from the early morning hours to the late afternoon and evening. Most noticeably, his speech would slow and he would blink a lot. One time, I remember my father went away for a several weeks “so dad could get better.” I now know that “hospital” that he went to was an alcohol and substance abuse facility.

I’ve come to terms that my father is an alcoholic, but I've realized I'm not just a victim of his experiences, but now of my own devices too.

In my early 20s, like many others, I enjoyed an occasional drink but never felt the need to drink beyond a reasonable amount. As a young Airman, I heard about the warning signs and repercussions of drinking, and I always thought to myself “I know when to quit” and “that’s not going to be me,” and that was true at that time. I had healthy coping mechanisms. I worked out on a regular basis. I valued and partook in quiet time. I didn’t have the responsibilities that I have now.

Fast-forward to 2017. I have consistently put my exercise regimen and my health on the backburner because of my intense workload and responsibilities of being a leader. My coping mechanisms disappeared. This is where it really started to go downhill.

COVID-19 only made it worse. I was home a LOT. The gym wasn’t open, and I didn’t have enough equipment at home to work out the way I wanted to. I was stressed trying to figure out how to be as productive as I needed to be in order to get my mission done. With my coping mechanisms gone, that stress spelled bad news.

Liquor stores and the Class Six on base were deemed “essential,” and therefore they could remain open throughout COVID. I felt like I kept those places open singlehandedly, spending more than “A Benjamin” on bourbon and wine every other week. 

There reached a point where I didn’t even bother mixing the alcohol with soda or juice; it was simply bottoms up. Even more disturbing when you can consider that I was doing it with a “handle.” Just to clarify, a handle is one of the largest containers of alcohol you can purchase at 1.5 liters. And I was picking it up and drinking it like it was a 12-ounce soda, but all that drinking didn’t come without its share of inconveniences.

I regularly endured several “why did you act like that?” and “you’re being so mean,” conversations with my wife, many of them in the late evening or the morning after. 

These conversations would lead me to think, “what is she talking about?” “what is wrong with her?” and “why does she feel the need to start pointless fights?” 

Needless to say, I did what any other alcoholic would, I denied it. I did what I needed to in order to end the conversation. I “went along.” I said things like, “I’m really not drinking that much,” “it’s just because of these crazy stressful times that we’re living in,” and “once this is all over, it’ll go back to normal and we’ll be fine.” I pointed all the blame on COVID and work. 

After a while, my wife started making comments about how much I was drinking, which actually made it worse. It got to the point where I didn’t want to be confronted about it, so I started hiding the alcohol and would indulge when she wasn’t around. 

After months of suffering through my behavior and my lack of contribution to the household, and yet another “bad night,” my wife had enough. Despite her previously subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that my drinking had gotten out of hand, she finally sat me down to have the conversation. She was visibly upset, yet calmly spoke about how my drinking needed to stop and stop immediately. 

She told me things like “you’re not the man I married,” “you’re better than this,” and “this will not continue.”

As we had the conversation, I thought this would be yet another “pointless fight,” and that I would continue doing it the next day. Well, this time was different, she actually followed through. She gathered what remained of the alcohol around the house and dumped it right down the drain.

The next week or so was not fun. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I experienced severe withdrawals. I lashed out at my wife for stupid things and sometimes for no reason at all. Unexplained headaches. My overall mood was terrible. I had a hard time concentrating. 

That first week was hard. Honestly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Therefore, I had to find ways to keep my mind occupied, e.g. home-improvement projects, cleaning, and walking the dogs.

After a while, I realized how many hours were actually in a day. I became very productive. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you can recollect the entirety of a day without black-out gaps.

Since then, it has consistently gotten easier. It’s to the point now where most of the time, I don’t even think about it.

Make no mistake, I’ve suffered through difficult work-weeks and challenging personal experiences since I began my sobriety and nearly all of those occurrences have pushed me back in that direction, but so far I have prevailed.

You may be wondering, “what does this have to do with me?” And honestly, I hope you really don’t know, because hopefully that means you aren’t an alcohol abuse statistic. However, there’s a pretty good chance that if you’ve read this far, you and I may have more in common than you want to admit. 

Something else you may not realize is the brain is powerful and not always in positive ways. My brain was rewired to find excuses to drink. My brain craved alcohol. And because of that, my brain also denied any wrongdoing. After a long day of binging, my brain shut off, as if to say “we don’t want you to remember this, because you may not like it,” or “don’t think about it, just have another.” And my body listened. 

In the end, who was the real victim? My family. My Airmen. My career. And most importantly, my wife. My wife is the reason I’m still here now. 

I could’ve lost everything. Luckily, my wife accomplished what I couldn’t do myself. She saved me.

I’ve been in denial for years, and I hate to admit it, but it’s true ... I am an alcoholic.

If you have ever even considered the fact that you are, I encourage you to reach out. To a friend. To a coworker. To a recovering alcoholic. To a chaplain. To ADAPT. To anybody. By reaching out, you are acknowledging, which is the first step, and it’s the most important one.

Don’t be a victim; be a survivor.