Rejection by an ex-girlfriend changed my life – Now I’m an alcoholic who’s been sober for 27 years

Michael Levin in his drinking days.

Twenty-seven years ago, my failed attempt to get an ex-girlfriend drunk enough to go to bed with me changed my life.

Leaving the woman’s apartment, I sat in my car for a long time that evening. And then it hit me – I had my first moment of clarity in 15 years of drinking, including blackout drinking, as well as many nights similar to that one.

I realized I had become a user of people, so detached from my own emotions and the emotional lives of others, including people who cared about me, that something was terribly wrong.

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I had been dancing around the shadows of a fellowship that helps problem drinkers. I stopped dancing and joined that organization, and have remained an active member ever since.

Which means that I have now been sober, a day at a time, for 27 years. That’s a long time between drinks.

I like to say that I overcame every advantage on my way to the bottom. I grew up in a home so lovely that it actually appeared in a six-page feature in Bride’s Magazine. You can look it up. Somewhere around June 1974.

I graduated from Amherst College and Columbia Law School. I wrote three novels published by Simon & Schuster and a couple of opinion pieces that ran in The New York Times.

My drinking and other addictive behaviors masked a world of emotional pain, stemming from the murder of my grandfather when I was 10, the death of my grandmother, infidelity, unwanted pregnancy, addiction in our home, and more.

On paper, I had life by the, um, tail. But life isn’t lived on paper.

My drinking and other addictive behaviors masked a world of emotional pain, stemming from the murder of my grandfather when I was 10, the death of my grandmother, infidelity, unwanted pregnancy, addiction in our home, and more.

Otherwise, everything was fine.

Of course, in recovery, we learn that “fine” is an acronym for f----- up, insecure, neurotic and emotional.

Recovery for me consisted of various mutual assistance fellowships, therapy, extensive reading, and a deep desire to understand how to rebuild my life after I had burned it to the ground.

And brick by brick, I did rebuild it. I don’t spend my nights the way I did on January 31, 1992 – when my days of drinking ended. I’m a responsible husband, father, business owner, and community member. Not perfect, but not supposed to be perfect.

I’m typically not big on Oprah-esque displays of personal details, but on the anniversary of my sobriety, I’m happy to make an exception. I’m hoping that someone will read this and say: “I’m tired of pretending that everything’s OK. I need to make some serious changes in the way I live.”

I just heard a few days ago that one of my buddies from my early sobriety days died in a one-car crash. He had gone back to alcohol and drugs, with tragically predictable results.

I’ll tell another story with an unhappy ending. When I first became sober, in Boston back in 1992, I became friends with another newly sober guy, whom I’ll call Aaron. Bright guy, good guy. I moved to California in 1996 and then returned to Boston four years ago. I ran into Aaron once again.

Aaron was only 90 days sober, even after more than 25 years in an out of a fellowship for problem drinkers. I asked him, “What’s the deal?”

He basically scoffed at the recovery program the fellowship promoted to gain a release from addiction to alcohol.

“It’s just stupid,” he concluded.

Then he asked me to drop him off at a laundromat, where they let him sleep in the plastic chairs overnight.

I had to ask myself, what’s the difference between Aaron and me? We were both smart young guys back in the early 90s, both well educated, both with great prospects for life, if only we could “put the plug in the jug” and stop drinking.

The only difference I could see was that I did what I was told in that fellowship and began to grow as a human being. He chose not to do those things.

In “Broadway Bound,” a semi-autobiographical Neil Simon play, the father tells the son: “I'm a middle‑aged man and I don't know a damn thing. Wisdom doesn't come with age. It comes with wisdom.”

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Simon was right – wisdom comes with wisdom. I was fortunate to find people who had some, and I stuck with them. I did what they did, and I got the same positive results they got. I’m not Aaron in the laundromat, or my buddy who offed himself on the highway.

And I’m not where I was 27 years ago. And if that would have been the only benefit of stopping drinking, that would have been enough.

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