As of today, 13 years have passed since I quit drinking alcohol. Before you throw me a high five for the last 13 years, I want to tell you about those 6 final weeks before I quit.
In hindsight, I should have known something was wrong. I had finally found financial success in my first job out of college (selling television advertising), but I regularly stretched work happy hours until after midnight before driving home. I’d wake up in my apartment hungover and still wearing my suit. Along the way, I embarrassed friends, family, and colleagues with my actions and was repeatedly pulled aside with well-intended words of caution. As much as I tried to control my alcohol consumption, I went off the rails at least once a week and spent remaining nights sober and ashamed.
I started asking for help. Some suggested prayer. Some suggested AA**. Some just suggested that I get my shit together. While I don’t remember who convinced me to go, I thankfully sought the advice of a counselor (c/o my employee benefits plan) and my physician, both of whom agreed that my problem drinking was a symptom of depression rather than the problem itself. Until then, I couldn’t differentiate between depression, a mental health issue, and being depressed, a feeling. In fact, 1 in 4 Americans experience a mental health issue each year. The counselor showed me that I was not alone in self-medicating my depression with Jim Beam. My physician prescribed a few months of Paxil, the same small-dose antidepressant which had recently helped hin bounce back from his divorce.
Buoyed by this knowledge and the support of countless people, I really tried to limit myself to two drinks when I drank but, after my 4th beer with clients at a Phillies game, I knew that my time was up. That was June 30, 2005.
Flash forward to June 2018, when Chef Eric Ripert found his friend and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain dead in a Paris hotel room. In his writings, Chef Bourdain shared his mental health struggles and perennial penchant for drugs and alcohol, including a successful stint in rehab for cocaine and heroin as a young chef. Yet people were still surprised when Anthony Bourdain took his own life.
We shouldn’t be. 3 out of 4 suicides are men. Mental health issues are very real and they manifest themselves in myriad ways, including substance abuse. Bourdain and I are not alone. But I’m lucky and thankful that family, friends, and colleagues pulled me aside, encouraged me to seek professional help, and helped me to follow through with a plan that likely saved my life, whether from a drunk driving accident in 2005 or something worse.
If somebody in your life is drinking too much, withdrawing from family and friends, or just tells you that he’s not himself these days, let him know that he’s not alone. There are a ton of resources locally and online. In fact, you can have that person call me. My number’s 484.437.8409. I have at least 10 of these conversations each year. I’d gladly have 50 more.
**A very successful bar and restaurant owner, with decades of sobriety, encouraged me NOT to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, as we’re both too independent for its 12 step program.