I Never Had a Major Wake-Up Call

Strength + Courage

Q: At which facility did you receive treatment?

A: Center City, Cronin Unit

Q: What is your sobriety date?

A: January 26, 1999

Q: When did you realize you needed help—what led you to treatment?

A: I was exhausted—tired of the drinking cycle—but not sure I realized I needed help. I just acquiesced at the intervention. I was ready but unable to see it on my own.

Q: What was it like, what happened and what it's like now?

A: After college, when I was working and had a little money, I started to drink regularly. Many times I lost control, suffered the consequences of hangovers and disappointed loved ones. However, I was able to function at a high level in my job and personal life, and never had one of the major wake-up-calls like a DUI, or losing a job, or a loved one. I tried to stop drinking several times when I was in my 40s and 50s, once going as long as nine months, but I reverted to drinking without much thought.

I felt lost and unable to help my daughter when she was diagnosed with a mental illness, and my drinking pattern changed. I isolated more in a depressed state, and I was exhausted. I was drinking every night until I went to sleep, and—near the end—I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and drank until it was time to go to work.

My wife reached out to a friend, who got more friends involved (including work associates,) and they engaged an interventionist and discussed what to do. The result was an intervention at the Admirals Club at O'Hare. After a meeting where they confronted me in a loving way, and shared with me how my drinking affected them (including letters from my two adult children,) I was on the airplane to Minneapolis and Center City, wondering what I was in for.

My life changed at Hazelden—hopefully forever. First, as you may have gathered from the lack of mention of Alcoholics Anonymous or any other approach to address the addiction, I had never learned about the disease and what people did to manage it. Being in Cronin with 23 other guys—focused almost 100% on addiction for a month—I learned a lot about myself, the disease, and my denial. I had never discussed with anyone how to get out of this spiral. I had dropped hints to my doctor, but he did not pick up on them. All this changed during the time in Center City. Participating in the Family Program gave me insight in how families are affected by a loved one's addiction.

What I learned has had a lasting impact on how I assess my situation and identify unresolved conflicts that are pushing me out of balance. For example, we worked on some unresolved grief issues. And we discussed my tendency to want to tackle big, tough, high pressure projects that required dealing with conflict—and that my conflict resolution approach was one-dimensional and needed to be addressed. The unresolved pressure contributed to my drinking. I have built on that since my sobriety, and a year after my sobriety began, I struck out on my own and became self-employed. Of course being sober makes that possible. Another insight from my time at Hazelden was finding a way to look at releasing my attempt at control, and freeing myself to be part of something bigger. The Third Step—"turning our will and our lives over to God"—did not work for me. But what did work was the analogy to the synergy I have seen over and over in my life of a team working on a goal, all contributing, and finding a solution much more than that of any individual. There is exhilaration for me in this process. I applied this approach to my sobriety.

When I returned from Hazelden, I found a Home Group of peers whom have been important in my continued sobriety. I no longer crave alcohol but do need to focus on making sure I am centered.

My life since sobriety has been rich and rewarding. I am much more engaged with friends and family, I can make a bigger contribution to the world around me since I am not wasting so much time with my addiction. First I was a Board member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, and served ten years as Board Chair. We grew programs and supporting budget by ten times during my tenure, and in my last year I was named Board Chair of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras. Now my involvement is with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) where I am Board Chair of NAMI Illinois, responsible for oversight and growth of over 20 local NAMI organizations throughout the state, focusing on helping families and persons living with a mental illness with education, support and advocacy.

Thank you to my wife and friends for the intervention (I try to thank them every year)—and to Hazelden for breaking the habit and setting me on a path to recovery with tools needed to sustain it.

Q: What was the toughest aspect of quitting?

A: Accepting the denial that had prevented me from seeking treatment for so long.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice that has served you well to someone still suffering from addiction, what would it be?

A: Go to open AA (or appropriate) meetings and learn about the disease and how it takes over and controls lives. Meet people who are in recovery and learn how they did it. And try a quality recovery program such as Hazelden. I got my sister to go to Hazelden.

Q: What is the best thing about being sober?

A: Being able to relate to my 4 year-old granddaughter and other family members in a relaxed, and supportive way.

Q: Do you have a favorite sobriety 'catch phrase', i.e. "keep it simple", etc. that you value?

A: The short form of the Serenity Prayer.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to include?

A: In Cronin, I was elected "floor leader" (or whatever the correct title is). I often thought about adding that role to my resume because it was a rewarding experience.

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