I’ve always believed in sharing things publicly that can help other people, even if it ”shows weakness”, or could effect my reputation or even my career. Why this opening statement you ask? Well I’m about to talk about my struggles with alcohol and then admonish our industry to bring this thing home.
I started drinking on and off around 20, with it accelerating through my divorce a couple of years later. The divorce is a story for another day, that’s a huge amount of pain that needs to be unpacked - again. I never drank more than a few drinks in a night through my early 20s, unlike a lot of people during that time of their lives.
After I moved back to Ohio and started working deeper in tech is when drinking accelerated. I would get drunk with my team several times a year, blackout drunk actually. I made mistakes, mistakes I deeply regret, as most of us do when we’re drinking heavily.
A few years later I got a new role at a vendor in sales as a Sales Engineer around age 26. My new role meant I was traveling often, eating out on my employer’s dime, and I had a rep that I was paired with who was a heavy drinker and a pusher. Being naive and wanting to fit in, I allowed my drinking to accelerate. If we were out together, we were drinking heavily. Hangovers became the norm for me when traveling for work. It effected my work and home life.
Of course when you do something regularly in one context, especially something as addictive as alcohol, it will inevitably creep into other areas of your life. I started drinking more at home. I drank at lunch, I drank in the afternoon, at dinner, after my wife went to bed. Basically any time I could make an excuse for it, I found a way to do that. If there was a time in my life where I would label myself as an alcoholic, it would be during that period of my life.
Eventually, through many conversations with my wife and getting tired of how I was feeling, I cut back a lot. This is when I would say I became a “normal drinker”. Then, as life does, we got hit with a very painful period. We spent three years trying to get pregnant. My wife ended up having to have multiple surgeries, we did IVF, we tried many things, finally ending with our wonderful son Charlie. Unfortunately I spent a lot of those three years dealing with my pain by drinking more.
My alcohol consumption has ebbed and flowed over the last couple of years since Charlie was born, but if I am being honest, it flowed more than ebbed.
A lot of factors contributed to my lack of control over alcohol:
- Alcoholism runs in our family
- I have ADHD
- Alcohol is engrained in the tech industry
- Alcohol is engrained in American Culture
- I have a lot of pain I haven’t worked through
Last week my wife and I were talking about how I’ve been feeling, after having dinner and (multiple) drinks at our aunt and uncle’s house. We’re exhausted, I’m exhausted and mildly depressed. I’ve been drinking most days of the week and also consuming cannabis a few days a week as well. It’s been my intention to stop drinking, or seriously limit it, for many years now but for many reasons (read: excuses) I never have - or haven’t been successful. We talked about alcohol specifically, how often I had been drinking, if I had been hiding it (I hadn’t, but I had at the same time), and the why behind it.
I told my wife that it was my intention to get my drinking under control, to make a serious attempt at sobriety or moderation, and then see what that would do for my mental state. When I got diagnosed with ADHD, my doctor told me that alcohol would severely reduce the effectiveness of my medication, but I never took that to heart. Couple alcohol, a depressant, with starting a new medication that can cause mild depression and it was a cocktail (pun intended) that was truly messing with my life.
After that conversation with my wife, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. My caffeine and cannabis intake is up - but I haven’t had any alcohol - which is a huge win for me. I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with alcohol over the last week, what excuses I made to consume it, the lies I told, the great moments I missed out on, the hard moments I numbed out. The biggest thing I’ve walked away from this reflection so far is:
I’ve been lying to myself that I had alcohol under control, when in fact, I was under it’s control.
I’ve hesitated writing this post largely due to the stigma that alcoholism has in American culture, but it’s more important to share my experiences, to help others, than to hide from the truth.
In the last six months, alcohol has been a nearly every day thing in my life. It was 3-5 drinks per “drinking day”. I wasn’t starting my day with a mug of bourbon, but I was looking forward to the first drink I could have for the day. I always showed up for my life, for work, but I was often not at my best.
I’m not sure I would call myself an alcoholic, but I have addictive personality traits so it’s easy for me to get addicted to many things. About 5 years ago I was addicted to running and meticulously tracking my caloric intake, I was in great shape, but I hyper-focused on it and over-corrected.
So where does this leave me? Well, nowhere yet. I’m 1 week Alcohol Free, I could choose to drink again, or not, but it is my intention to continue being alcohol free. We still have alcohol in the house for friends and family that come over, but I don’t believe that it will be an issue for me. At this point, if I drink, it’s a choice, and one that I will share with my wife (and maybe on this blog). Sharing with her my struggles the other day made it easier to quit this time and I know that if I drink again I will tell her.
What’s it been like over the last week?
In the last week, I’ve experience some interesting things, most of which I expected. My head is clearer, most likely due to a few factors: better sleep and a reduction in inflammation in my body. I’m more patient with my son, particularly overnight if he wakes up. The numbness in my right hand that I’ve been dealing with for 18-24 months is improving and not happening as often. Did I mention better sleep? Yes I did. Holy cow what a difference. It turns out my interest in staying up late was not related to actually wanting to be awake late at night, but wanting to drink. I’m wanting to go to bed earlier (11p instead of 1a), I’m sleeping more soundly, and no more 4am sweating.
Additionally, I’ve experienced no more hangovers, which didn’t happen terribly often, but enough that they were annoying. Finally, I can focus better, also due to better sleep but also my ADHD meds functioning a little better. I have a meeting with my doctor this week to discuss all of this and come up with a plan with him, most likely getting some baseline labs done and then scheduling a 3 month and 6 month follow up. I’m very curious about the data.
On the other side, I’ve noticed my brain saying things like: ”this is a reason to drink”, ”oh man, I really would kill to have a beer and get some work done”, or ”you’re working on the house, you deserve a beer”. I do miss whiskey, but life goes on. After consuming alcohol regularly for years, our brains re-wire themselves to “function”
in concert with despite the alcohol, even though it’s a survival instinct rather than a reaction to wanting to perform better. I want to re-wire my brain, I want the little quiet statements from it telling me it’s okay to drink to get quieter, to be silenced.
I’m starting Career Coaching in a week or two, working on finding a new therapist (I broke up with mine 2 years ago because they were unable to keep their religious beliefs out of the conversation), and giving myself the grace to take the time I need to work through these things.
I have a wife who is supporting me through this, friends who have been through this and are supportive, and soon the medical support to help keep things under control. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have the support.
Do better, tech industry
The tech industry claims to be inclusive and forward thinking but we do a great job of excluding people who choose not to drink or who struggle with alcohol abuse. I can’t remember the last event I attended in tech that didn’t include alcohol or wasn’t centered around alcohol. How many happy hours do we host? How many tech events have a big party on the first night? How many SKOs have an alcohol centered event every night? We can do better. We must do better.
If you’re in charge of marketing events, social events, gatherings, or just get together with groups of folks in the industry often, you really need to start thinking outside of the bottle. There are huge portions of the tech community who don’t drink due to cultural reasons, their choice, or because they can’t control themselves around alcohol.
If we truly want to be inclusive as an industry, we must do what we can to help support people in sobriety. We can do better. We must do better. I know I’ll do my best to do better.