When It All Stopped Working: An Excerpt from Bottleneck

When you’re a recovering alcoholic and everyone around you knows it, you’re suddenly exposed. People know what to expect. You don’t have to hide much. But when you’re an alcoholic who’s suddenly a recovering alcoholic who’s trumpeting it on Facebook and showing off your 30-day sober coin while you’re secretly drinking again, it becomes ten times harder to achieve the escape velocity your brain so desperately needs from reality. You can’t just make quick, random trips to the store without getting asked a dozen questions. You can’t excuse all your stumbling, mumbling, stuttering, and confusion and sweating and puffy-faced mood swings. (Well, you can, but it’s not easy.)

Because I’m an alcoholic, I cut every corner imaginable. If there was a shortcut, you could sure as shit find me taking it. If I could make people think I was sober and still reach alcoholic bliss, that wasn’t cheating. That just meant I was smarter than everyone else around me. Of course, you can’t sustain that sort of charade for long—especially when you’re dealing with booze. Drunks aren’t the most meticulous people on the planet. Details get fuzzy and things get overlooked. Very often, I’d forget where I’d hidden my half-drunk pints of vodka, which simply turned my house into the world’s saddest version of The Hunt for Red October: my wife and I silently circling the house, not speaking, but both keenly aware that there was something lurking in the dark. In the end, it was just a matter of who’d find the bottle first.

Carrie found three empty Smirnoff bottles tucked under a pillow in the spare bedroom, a particularly lazy hiding spot. I didn’t even know what to say other than, “Oh well. You got me.” Her face was pinched with disappointment. She was more upset that I was talking about sobriety with other people who were actively trying to find it. I’d scored the cartoon version of sobriety—the one that gets played in late-night syndication.

At the height of my secret drinking, I apparently texted my sister at 2:30 am. All it said was “Help me” or something to that effect. I heard about this much later from my mom, when I’d finally gotten sober. I don’t remember sending the message, but it sounded like something I’d do—especially after putting away a pint of cheap, bright-smelling vodka. But it was a far cry from the messages I normally sent out into the world at two in the morning: garbled Facebook status updates, random messages to long-out-of-touch friends, the occasional phone call and slurred voicemail. Near the end of my drinking career, I dimly knew I was in trouble, but it was only in my darkest, blurriest moments that I tapped into truth. Turns out, drunk text messages were some of my first, most important steps into recovery.

When my alcoholism was finally clear to me after seeing some of what I wrote, I no longer had just a drinking problem—I’d hurtled way past the point of no return. My texts and Facebook messages pointed to my troubles. No one needed the Rosetta Stone to translate those; it was pretty clear. But the nature of my messages started to change. They started to get more precise, like smart bombs surgically finding a house instead of flattening an entire city block. Some part of me knew I needed help, and it started to reach out even when the rest of me didn’t want to get sober yet.

With my wife and kids asleep, I zoned out and started aggressively posting music videos, movie clips, and funny cat videos on people’s Facebook walls. But something that night was different. I was lying there on my couch, wondering why alcoholism had happened to me. Bad news is always supposed to happen to other people, not you. So I searched my phone, closing one eye as I scrolled through my contacts, and found the number for Mike from Parkside. I sent him a quick hello.

I was horrified to see, immediately, the ellipsis appear on my iPhone. Those three dots told me this guy was texting me back in the middle of the night.

“How are you?” it asked.

The question stabbed back at me there in the dark. It was just too real. More than that, I didn’t know the answer to his question. So I did what I always did when I was drinking—I hid. I didn’t reply. I went back to Facebook and eventually passed out. The next morning, I went through my normal routine of surveying what public damage I’d caused just hours before. I assessed the nonsense I’d put out into the universe. When I saw the text to “AAMike,” I winced. His reply just sort of hung there against a white space, orphaned. I ignored it for a couple of days. Then, when I drank myself into watching old Twilight Zone episodes online, I summoned up the courage to text him back. It was well after midnight and right around the time William Shatner thought he saw a creature on the wing of that 747.

“Sorry, man,” I wrote back. “Got busy.”

This was a bald-faced lie, since I was unemployed and both of us knew it. There was no excuse. Either way, once again, the three dots popped up almost immediately.

“Hey, no worries,” he replied. “How are you?”

Again, I had no idea how to reply, so I went for broke: “Will you be my sponsor?”

It was like asking a stranger if I could accompany him on his Caribbean cruise.

There was a pause, then the dots came.


I was taken aback.

I watched as that sky-monster lumbered across the 747’s wing in black-and-white, with Shatner not believing his eyes. I felt the exact same way. Then again, it’s not like I even knew what the hell a sponsor was. It just sounded like something I needed to ask, and I’d been rejected. I had to face the Twilight Zone monster that was my alcoholism, which still lurked just beyond the window.

The above is an excerpt from Bottleneck: A Drinking Memoir, available now on Amazon. East Shoreway Recovery Services (July 31, 2018). All rights reserved. Purchase the book by clicking here.

How Does Addiction Affect Families?

You don’t necessarily have to be an addict in order for your drug and alcohol use to annoy members of your family or have a negative impact on your family’s dynamics. However, an addiction often forms around dysfunctional family behavior that can be aggravated by the addictive behavior.

Families in which parents are addicts have their own particular dysfunction. Instances are they will not able to their own children. Because of what they’ve witnessed as models for adult behavior, these children are at an increased chance of becoming addicts. Sometimes, as they mature, children of addicts may attempt to distance themselves from their parents’ compulsion. Only to find later on that they have abuse a different substance. This might happen, for instance, when a parent is an alcoholic. Even though the adult children of this parent don’t drink, they might develop an addiction to sex. Or might run up high debt because they are shopaholics.

How Does Addiction Affect FamiliesFamilies in which children are addicts often have problems distinguishing the difference between helping versus enabling the addict. Addicted family members should be handled with tough love. Don’t give in to the temptation to try to make the situation better for the addict. Only he or she can make the decision to get clean. Families in this situation must first make the addict aware that their behavior is unacceptable and then they must seek to heal from the trauma that addiction has caused in their daily lives. Sometimes the financial devastation of addiction (if family members are stealing money from other family members or opening fraudulent credit in their name) can takes years to set straight. In cases of theft or violence, family members often have to make the tough decision whether to involve law enforcement.

Dealing with Addiction

Usually, these extreme steps might be the final push that an addict needs in order to seek help. Addiction causes damaged on the normal family bonding. An addicted family members cannot be trusted. They usually cannot hold onto a job and may often go missing over night or for multiple days. They inevitably betray people who love them and more prone to violence. Above all, they are not able to attend to small children.

In addition to the emotional impact, the cost of an addict’s attempts at recovery might ruin the family financially. While the cost of buying drugs or alcohol can be a drain on a family’s budget, which may dwindle due to job loss, recovery programs can often be very costly, too. Many families dealing with addiction have to consider whether they might be better off filing bankruptcy, which can lead to the loss of future opportunities, such as the purchase of a home or the ability of your children to attend college. An addiction doesn’t just affect the person suffering from it; it affects everyone around him or her.

It is normal for the dysfunction of addiction to trigger feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and many others from those who love a person abusing drugs or alcohol. The bottom line is that families should be very careful when dealing with addiction. It can damage relationships for years.