Hi, I’m James. And I’m in recovery.
I started drinking when I was 13, casually stealing beers, wine coolers or whatever I can get my hands on, and started binge drinking around 15. The progression was slow, but the writing was definitely on the wall, even at a young age. Grade school and middle school were a mixture of a lot of fun, sports, great friends, and some mischief. However, high school was a different story. It was during this time that feelings of inadequacy became the center of my emotional discomfort. Drinking allowed me to fit in, and it alleviated all of my anxiety. When I drank I felt “good enough”.
My freshman year of college was unique. I earned a Division 1 scholarship at Seton Hall University to play golf, and one of my teammates recognized himself as a born-again Christian. I grew close to him. I was attending Bible study with other athletes, going to church regularly, reading St. Thomas Aquinas & Augustine in the library on Friday nights, and made the decision to not get drunk anymore. That lasted the entire year until my teammate from England was graduating and heading back across the pond. I got drunk that night and picked up right where I left off.
The next three years of college consisted of heavy drinking, blacking out, and waking up to do it all over again. As athletes, we had access to painkillers so I’d occasionally use them or smoke weed, but nothing too serious because we were drug tested. I began to lose interest in golf and built this persona for myself around my group of friends- the life of the party- and I loved it. Thoughts of having a problem with alcohol would creep into my mind, but I quickly made them disappear, telling myself “I have a 3.7 GPA, I’m a Division 1 college athlete, I never get in trouble, I’m not hurting anyone. Everything’s fine!”
Once I graduated, I had plans to backpack across Europe with one of my teammates. It was 2010, the job market sucked, and I was in no hurry to go sit behind a desk. My friend and I caddied at a nearby course we played in college. The plan was save up all summer and hit the road in September. On my second day, I caddied for a man who worked on Wall Street. He offered me a job a week later, and I took it. Instead of my plans to go to Europe, I fell into “Wall Street life” and I fell hard. I was 22, and it didn’t take long before cocaine became my drug of choice. It went hand in hand with liquor. I spent every dollar I made, living paycheck to paycheck just so I could party as much as possible. I was out 4-5 nights a week, but I thought I was just young and living life. The cocaine slowly led to anything I could get my hands on (molly, pills, ketamine), anything to take me out of reality and into some other stratosphere. I’d ride that high into oblivion – whatever it took. My friends started to slow down, and I just hit the gas harder. I switched jobs 5 times during the last 9 years thinking that would make all the difference. It didn't.
Things really got out of hand during the summer I was 27. Looking back, I’m just happy I came out of it alive. I got deep into gambling, won a lot of money and then lost a lot of money, didn’t go to work for days at a time, took a trip to Vegas, and it finally culminated with me getting arrested outside of a nightclub in NYC for possession of cocaine and theft. I spent the next 27 hours in central booking, a fitting end I suppose since I was simply playing Russian roulette every time I went out. My family found out and led somewhat of an intervention. I decided to go see a therapist, and a few months later I met my wonderful girlfriend (now wife) who filled a huge void in my life. I never had any meaningful relationships with women. I was guarded, completely shut off. I’d go from girl to girl, never getting close enough to get hurt.
I continued to drink and use, the incidents growing farther and farther apart, but when I’d go off the rails it would wreak havoc on my life. Finally on November 12, 2016 I had enough. I went out for lunch Friday afternoon (the 11th) and came home the next day at 8am. I missed my niece’s baptism class, and my girlfriend & dog were no where to be found. I just sat on my bed and cried. I simply couldn’t take it anymore.
To those closest to me, it was no secret that I had struggled for years, and by the end of my run I was broken— spiritually, mentally, physically, and financially. I saw the pain I was causing my family, and most importantly my girlfriend, and I couldn’t do it anymore. The burden of carrying all the guilt and shame became unbearable. Everything I did was self-serving and done in vain. I treated people poorly and sabotaged relationships. My biggest priority was boosting my own ego. I hated the person I had become.
According to Eckart Tolle, “Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts and ends in pain. You’re using someone or something to cover up the pain.”
For me, this couldn’t ring more true. I used drugs, sex and alcohol as a crutch and a way to escape reality. They masked the pain I was in and made me incapable of facing or dealing with it. Drinking and druging also allowed me to become a different person, overcompensating for my vast insecurities and biggest fears. What do people think of me? Am I good enough? Am I successful enough? Am I smart enough? I hated dealing with the problems that everyday life brought. When things were difficult - which was all the time -I’d hit the eject button. It was that simple.
As I recover and continue to work on myself, I’m trying to understand my addiction and how/why I ended up here. While I definitely believe there are some genetic factors (my aunt is 12 years sober and my grandfather was an alcoholic) I firmly believe it has a lot to do with a lack of emotional connection and past trauma. Even though I had a lot of friends and support from my family my whole life – I felt completely alone. The first girl I loved cheated on me, my great-grandmother died when I was 20, my grandfather died by suicide when I was 23, my uncle died unexpectedly when I was 25, and my dad suddenly passed away in August of 2016. As each traumatic event happened, I walled myself off as much as humanly possible. I thought that if I never felt vulnerable, then I could never get hurt.
This journey has been the most painful, beautiful, and rewarding experience of my life. And I’ve done things that I would have never done if I was still drinking and using: I was a guest on two podcasts, went on a retreat in Montana with 30 strangers, read 32 books, got accepted into grad school, co-facilitated a weekly men's group, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, started golfing competitively again, got certified as a Recovery Coach and I got married. Being sober is allowing me to discover who I really am and the person I want to be. I used to search for these answers at the bottom of a bottle or in a line of cocaine. I don’t have to anymore.
Sobriety gave me a chance. Recovery gave me a life.