Addiction

Twenty-five years on the wagon, and holding on tight

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My last drink took place on the night of Jan. 31, 1992.

I was at my ex-girlfriend’s home. She’d made me a beautiful dinner because I was leaving town, and she wanted me to change my plans and get back together with her. The only plan I had was to get her drunk enough to sleep with me one more time, and then I’d be on my way.

I drank as much as I could to encourage her to drink as much as necessary. The plan failed.

I sat in my car, outside her building, for a long time that night, and I had my first moment of clarity in a long, long time. I thought, I’ve turned into an animal. She loves me, and I just want to use her and throw her away.

Alcoholism isn’t always what you think it is. It’s not just the Bowery bum or the squeegee guy or that uncle of yours who gets roaring drunk at Thanksgiving. Sometimes it’s the person with the college degree and the good job and the nice family and the bright future.

That was 25 years ago this week, and I haven’t had a drink since.

Alcoholism isn’t always what you think it is. It’s not just the Bowery bum or the squeegee guy or that uncle of yours who gets roaring drunk at Thanksgiving.

Sometimes it’s the person with the college degree and the good job and the nice family and the bright future. Sometimes, in other words, it’s us.

Alcoholism is a three-fold illness:

The physical component is the inability to stop drinking once one starts on any given night (or afternoon or morning).

The mental aspect is an obsession with alcohol — the belief that it can solve our problems, although it ends up that our solutions are even worse than our problems were.

These two parts lead to a third: the spiritual loss of values. We all have values we gained from our parents, from older siblings, from teachers, coaches and religious leaders. But alcoholism is the “great eraser.” It wipes out all those values and replaces them with one quest: the need to kill emotional pain.

That’s what drinkers do, and that’s what I did.

I’ll never forget my first blackout. It was in 1978.

I was 20 and backpacking in Europe. I’d organized a party in a taverna on Corfu. Suddenly, time went from planning the party to the morning after the party, and now no one was speaking to me. They were looking at me as if I was the worst person in the world, especially the taverna owner’s daughter.

It was as if a reel had been omitted from a movie. What did I do?

I had my second blackout that same year, in the fall. I was back at college and a buddy and I got roaring drunk. I awoke to the smell of vomit in my dorm room and was shocked to realize that someone had come in and thrown up, presumably while I was sleeping.

I had only eight minutes to get to my campus job, opening up the music library, which, once I got there, smelled like vomit, too — because the night before, in a blackout, I’d thrown up on the jeans I was still wearing.

This is alcoholism.

It took 13 more years for me to admit I had a drinking problem. In the meantime, I graduated from Amherst College and Columbia Law School, and I published four books, including three novels with Simon & Schuster.

But due to my corrosively bad attitude, my poor work ethic, my inability to get along with others and a problem with authority, I threw away every opportunity that came my way.

I like to say now that I overcame every advantage on my way to the bottom.

I joined a group that specializes in helping people overcome alcoholism, and here I am, 25 years later.

Married 17 years, a father of four. My wife and kids have never seen me drink.

Primary caretaker for my 80-year-old mother, whose memory disorder has gotten to the point where I showed her pictures of a recent vacation I took with my daughter, and she thought my daughter was my new fiancée.

A business owner who employs 30 people across the country.

A citizen, in short.

I didn’t share all that negative stuff to be maudlin or exhibitionistic. Instead, I’m hoping someone will read this and say, “Holy cow, that sounds like me.”

Help is available. It was, back in February of 1992, and it still is today.

Every year, right around my birthday, I park my car in the same spot outside my ex-girlfriend’s building. I think back to the person I was, and I thank God I’m not that man.

Although I could be. That user — the user of alcohol and the user of people — is only a drink away.

I’m just not having that drink today.

New York Times best-selling author and Shark Tank entrepreneur Michael Levin runs BusinessGhost.com, a national book ghostwriting firm.

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