I remember the moment I finally looked in the mirror and truly realized the person I transformed into—a sad, emotionless and unhealthy man. I vividly recall my ex-girlfriend tapping me on the shoulder as I lay in bed—and the only thing I could do is turn around and tell her to leave me alone. At that moment in time—I had no idea that would be the last time I’d hear her walk out of the door. Her car engine started, and she was gone. We shared a house together—it was a beautiful little home—filled with pets, my daughters toys—and a million memories that I had forgotten were so important.
I walked around the house aimlessly for a little while before the reality sunk in that I was an alcoholic, and the love of my life just left me. I was planning on picking up my daughter the next day—but decided, after gaining 30 pounds, becoming consumed by anxiety and losing the ability to express and/or feel emotion…it was time to stop drinking.
I was scared. What would I drink during lunch? What would I drink while watching TV? What would I drink after taking a jog? How could I get through football season without drinking 14 beers every Sunday? What would I drink when I finally didn’t have alcohol to alleviate my anxiety and headaches? I didn’t know—but the one thing I did know is that if I kept drinking, things would only get worse…I would lose everything.
I calculated, based on my alcohol intake, that I was ingesting roughly 12,000 additional calories per week because of the inability to control my alcohol consumption. In the months prior—I was working out a lot, and befuddled because I wasn’t losing any weight. I blamed it on my age (slowing metabolism in my 30’s), eating habits, etc.—I never once wanted to blame my willingness to drink 8+ beverages per day.
The mirror lied to me for so long. I lied to myself and others around me. On that day, April 21, 2014—I looked in the mirror, and stared for a good 10 minutes—I despised what stared back at me. I became an over-weight, unhealthy and unappreciative prick. The kind of person who couldn’t see the good around him—and let an amazing woman, who tried to help for so long, walk out with a copious amount of resentment built up toward me.
I literally began to think of all of the smiles we shared—when my girlfriend, daughter and I would hold hands like a chain of love. She could only think of the bad.
April 21, 2014 was the first day I hadn’t drank in a long, long time—it was deceivingly easy, but I think it was because I was filled with so much sadness and regret that day. The alcohol drowned out any good feelings I had—and my thought process withered to self-loathing and despair. I got myself ready—and went to pick up my daughter, Lila. My ex-girlfriend would always tell me, which I partially knew—that I was happier when my baby was with us—when all three of us were together. Lila was the only reason, during my darkest moments, that I kept my act together enough to be a decent dad and performer at work. I figured out how to make a living, be a good dad and drink on a daily basis—but what I forgot to do was be a good partner, or care about myself. On day 2—I realized that my ability to be a good dad and hold my job would be the next to suffer if I didn’t completely change my life-style.
I picked up Lila from her mother in a Starbucks parking lot. I smiled big—as I didn’t want her to sense how I was really feeling…my smile fought back the tears that were ready to stream down my face. Lila kept asking “where is Katie?” Katie and I would always be together when Lila was with us—Katie was like a mother to her.
Once Lila and I returned to the house—our pet cockatiel Scooter and Guinea Pig, Mustachio were chirping and squealing for their late breakfast. So Lila and I fed the pets—but I felt an overwhelming emptiness when I would turn around and Katie wasn’t anywhere to be found. I began to remember the hugs we would share—the kisses on the cheek…everything that I took for granted. My heart-rate started to accelerate, my palms began sweating and I could feel my blood pressure rising each second. The withdrawal symptoms started to surface on day 2—and it was intense.
I tried to keep it together for Lila—be strong. It was just her and I again—“I have been in this place before,” I told myself. No matter how hard I tried to feel better about the situation—it didn’t result in any relief. Lila would be spending the next four days with me—so, my girlfriend walked out, I stopped drinking and my five year old depended on me to keep things together and try to make things as normal as possible.
I decided that it was time to start taking accountability. I put my family in this situation—and I’ll be damned if it will defeat us, or my ability to be a good father. Katie had all the reason in the world to walk out of my hopeless situation—and I had all the reason to put down the bottle and get my shit together.
Lila and I did our thing—I woke up, as usual, made her a healthy breakfast and we played around the house. Then, we got ready and went to the park to play. On the inside I was hurting—with each bout of anxiety—I thought my heart was going to explode. I took my blood pressure and it ran 160/98…it did that for the first full week. I didn’t realize that my alcoholism had reached the level to where I should’ve sought medical support to kick the habit. One thing that kept me going, and would pull a smile from my sorry face was when my daughter would give me a hug, look at me and say “I love you daddy.” She really did love me—being a father was the one thing I could do well. Each time I even thought about a drink—I asked myself “do you want to let Lila down?” If her mother caught wind of my issues—she would have me in court quicker than you can say “Leif, you’ve been served family court papers.” Lila is like my angel—showing me what really matters in this life—and Katie became my saving grace, because I was on the path to full blown alcoholism before we even met. Her decision to leave was the moment I hit rock bottom.
My withdrawal symptoms still weren’t subsiding—in fact, they were worse. I knew if I just drank a beer—my anxiety would go away, and my body would feel normal. It was sad to think that my body was so accustomed to alcohol—that I it responded so adversely to the lack of booze. The thoughts of Katie grew—it was clear that she wasn’t coming back…my denial had to confront reality, and it was a confrontation that created inner turmoil. Still—I had to put on a smile every-time Lila would ask “where is Katie? I miss her.” It was heart-breaking. I ended up dropping Lila back off to her mother at the end of day 6—and I gave her the biggest hug that ever was given on planet earth. I whispered in her ear “I won’t let you down baby.” I decided that it was time to seek support—so I looked for group meetings in San Jose—meetings that could offer me support and an understanding of what it takes to be sober.
The meeting was refreshing—it was a room full of people filled with guilt and regret—but those same people decided to put that anguish aside to create a better life. The meeting offered inner peace—something that I hadn’t felt in a while. On day 6—the mental fog started to lift just a little bit—and whatever door I locked my feelings/emotions in for so long slowly started to creak open.
In the beginning of the meeting the group said a prayer that I say to myself every-day now–as it makes so much sense for an alcoholic with wreckage, or a person dealing with any kind of stress. It was the serenity prayer. I leave the “god” portion out of it because i’m not a very religious man, but the words within the prayer are simple, yet so true:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The strength to change the things I can,
And, the wisdom to know the difference.
I couldn’t get Katie back–but I could become a healthier, smarter and better parent to my daughter–and begin to refocus my energy at work. I was, and am determined to have the inner strength to change the things I can. It all started on April 21, 2014.