A few weeks ago, I was back in the States for some travel conferences and also to spend some time with my family. My father’s 70th birthday is coming up in October and we celebrated a bit early, because we could get the whole family together.
It was a great week and made me think a lot about family, love, friends, work, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have thought about writing about this topic for a while, but only asked permission recently.
My father is an alcoholic.
He has been sober and in recovery for sixteen years and I’m immensely proud of him for that. In my past life as a lawyer, I was the part-time public defender for my county’s Drug Court. I consider myself well versed in addiction, its causes, triggers, and in the difficulty in recovery.
Acknowledging the Dangers
I have known for quite some time that I am strongly genetically deposed to addiction. Ken, one of my very best friends in life, and I discussed it frequently in high school, college and beyond. We both come from families with a long history of addiction and know we are constantly at-risk.
There is a reason that I’ve never done a single illegal drug in my life. I’ve been exposed to about every drug you can imagine and I’ve never had the wisp of a desire to try any of them.
As I’ve told a number of people over the years, the reason I never have done cocaine is because I’d like it… a lot. I don’t even like to take pain medication really. When my face and arm got all busted up in Costa Rica, I didn’t even bother with getting my pain medication prescription filled.
I am the oldest male in my family that still drinks. Family in this case meaning my extended family, not just my immediate one. The gene runs strong in my family, on both sides.
When I told my father I wanted to write about this and asked his permission, he sent me back an email, part of which was this:
As you know alcoholism runs in our family. My father was certainly an alcoholic and essentially drank himself to death. I would also characterize Grandpa J as an alcoholic and his brother died of the disease at an early age. As for me I didn’t think I was an alcoholic until we moved to Tahoe and I had a long discussion with Pastor Dan during a real crisis time in my life. He suggested I go to A.A. and it really taught me that I was truly an alcoholic. As of now I will be sober for 16 years on August 7th. Getting sober probably saved my life and certainly my family.
For about six weeks or so, from the time I was with my folks in Tahoe until I finished up my trip to Ecuador and Peru, I stopped drinking alcohol, smoking cigars, and drinking coffee. It was a habit I had back when I was living in Arkansas: a month without, just to make sure my head was completely clear and so I could recognize if I felt longings or pangs for alcohol.
To see if I was in the grasp or not.
Though I was hanging out with good friends in Ecuador and they went out at night and had a great time drinking and dancing, I felt perfectly great being the one that was in charge of their cell phones and money at the end of the night, to make sure nothing got lost, I was the designated safe person. In Peru, I was on a truly luxury trip, with excellent wines being offered at hotels and on the Orient Express train and the bartenders whipping up pisco sours for me to videotape, I never felt the slightest urge.
It felt great to know that although I am always going to be at risk, and need to be self-aware about it, I’m not even in the neighborhood of being in the grasp. It was just one part of a long process of self-reflection this year.
I’m more ready at this point in my life to make the rest of my life extraordinary than ever before.
The past few months have been truly eye-opening to me. I had gotten out of good habits, like my annual abstinence month, and gotten into some really bad habits and also some horrible lines of thinking in my head. It was strongly affecting my mental health and even more importantly, I was at a point in my personal relationships with friends, family and the people I deeply love that I wasn’t comfortable at all with.
Nor should I have been — I was not the person I used to be. I was simply a worse human being. No need to sugar coat it.
And it was long past time for me to wake up and start the process of self-evaluation and self-improvement that I had ignored for years. I started the process in Costa Rica and it has only improved since then.
It is difficult to fully examine yourself, who you are, what you have become, when what you are looking at is not what it should be, not what you can be, not what you have been.
Nothing will cut through to you more than looking in the mirror and hating the person looking back at you.
The Power to Change
I admire a great deal about my parents, but I think the two things I admire about them the most are their loyalty and their desire to work.
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll see what I think about loyalty. Few things are more important to me.
As to working, I don’t mean work in a career sense, though my father certainly worked hard at that for decades and my mother worked equally hard to form and keep a household together, but work in the sense of working on their family and personal relationships.
That is the tough work in life. Making money is just making money.
“You are either improving or going backwards – there is no standing still.”
I remember getting that advice from an older lawyer when I was just starting out in my career. He was talking about refining your skills and knowledge as an attorney, but the advice holds true for all facets in life.
I have been going backwards for years. It is only during this year that I have admitted it to myself, searched deeply for the causes, and resolved to start improving myself again, to become the person I will be happy to see staring back back in the mirror.
This has been an interesting, rewarding, and difficult year. But it has also been the year that has changed my life forever, in a good way. I’m on my way back to the person I used to be and from there to the person I want to be.
That is reward in and of itself. The rest I will leave up to God, fate, and the mysteries of the universe.
I’m not going to turn on comments on this post. About a year and a half ago I wrote a post about a friend of mine that had committed suicide the night before. The comments on the post were so wonderful, supportive, and encouraging. Out of the blue, a half dozen people wrote long comments saying they had either been in my situation before, or had thought about committing suicide themselves.
It was an outpouring from my readers that I never anticipated — but it was also incredibly emotionally draining to go back to that post over and over again to read the comments and reply. Writing the post, in and of itself, was my little catharsis.
Similarly here, I really don’t want to come back and read this post again. I don’t write much about myself and what is going on in my head and heart and frankly I’m not that comfortable with it. But I just wanted to get this out of me.
It’s out. I’m working on myself everyday. Appreciate you reading this long one — and if you wanted to comment, I apologize — but I’m just ready to keep moving forward. Thanks.