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Experience, Strength, and Hope

Kyleigh Leist

Outreach Coordinator


With April being Alcohol Awareness Month, I took the opportunity to sit down with my friend and colleague, WhiteFlag’s Social Media Creative, Dave, to learn more about his personal struggles and challenges with alcohol. This interview was authentic, raw, and extremely educational. Through his words and his own experiences, we hope to shed light on the struggles that Dave, and so many others face.


Would you classify yourself as an alcoholic?


Yes. As cliché as it sounds, admitting I had a problem with alcohol truly was the first step in effective recovery.


Does alcoholism run in your family? If so, what was that like growing up?


Yes, it does. However, I wasn’t from a family of abuse, neglect, or where alcohol and the people that drank it would cause poor upbringing. On the contrary, though, alcohol thrives in my family.


It celebrated the good times and comforted us in the bad. Alcohol was there for excitement and for boredom. It was a rite of passage, and part of the threads that bonded us. Looking back, it’s easy to see how something that looked so crucial to our way of life could have taken over my life so easily.


Do you remember when your drinking turned into an addiction?


No. I actually don’t have the slightest clue. It was love at first buzz, that’s for sure, but I don’t know if that was the defining moment or not. That’s the scary part about alcoholism; it’s a progressive disease. Not just progressive in the amount or frequency in which one consumes it, but in every aspect of an alcoholic’s life. It blinds your sense of time, moderation, morality and standards. We can look back and think, “When did it stop becoming fun?” Most of us are never sure of that answer because most of us lied to ourselves until we couldn't even believe what we were saying.


How often would you drink?


By the end of it all, any chance I could. While I wasn’t perfect at it, one of my best “alcoholic skills” was finding slots of time and amounts of alcohol to drink when it wouldn’t cause too much drama or draw attention to myself. Whether it be throughout the whole night, right after everyone left the house, or right before everyone got home, I was very good at fitting alcohol into my schedule.


What did you drink?


Beer and Bourbon were my two favorites. I still miss beer to this day, if I’m being honest. Not for the alcohol, but for the taste. I truly did enjoy beer in all of its many forms. But taste and preference wouldn’t stop me from turning down anything (and I mean anything). If my preference wasn’t available, it was a hunt until the next best thing–which was anything I could get my hands on.


What “triggered” your drinking?


It’s funny to hear the word “triggered” when referring to a reason to drink. There were certainly triggers in the beginning, much like anyone else would have. Nights out with friends, hard days at the office, or cold ones outside at a barbecue. But by the end, triggers didn’t exist. Everything had a place for alcohol in it. It was no longer about what would cause me to drink, it was simply a fact that it was going to happen. There’s no need for triggers when you’re working with inevitability.


Did it start affecting your job? Your relationships?


Absolutely. Blackouts became more and more common, and a lot of damage can be done in those moments. There was a lot of apologizing, getting recaps from people on what I had done, and checking my bank accounts to realize I spent all my cash and didn’t even know it.


Alcohol works slowly, but efficiently. If you have alcoholism and drink, whatever parts of your life haven’t been infected by it, eventually will be. That’s the progressive nature of the disease.


Were you hiding how much you drank?


All the time. Self image was incredibly important to me, which is ironic considering how frequently I would make an ass of myself. At first, I hid my drinking very well. My main goal was to be able to drink more than was socially acceptable. This required “private pregaming”. This meant drinking prior to going out, drinking on the way to places, or any chance I could get to put a couple on top of what my total would end up being, I would do it.


Eventually, your habit outweighs your ability to hide. People began noticing my drinking habits and expressed concern. Now, it wasn’t about hiding my drinking to drink more. I had to hide entire bouts of drinking to appear as if I was drinking less completely. People would mark my vodka bottles with permanent markers to see where my levels were. I’d simply drink until I was happy, refill it with water, and then buy more vodka to replace the water next time I got paid. There were secret stashes, lies I was telling, anything I could do to appear as normal as possible, but still drink to my heart’s content. I had a perfect system for a horrible life.


When did you realize it got bad?


We all have things we feel are beneath us. No matter how bad our lives get, we always fall back on a standard of living and say, “Well, at least I’m not homeless,” or “At least I’m not doing heroin,” right? The first major red flag was when I realized I was at the bottom of the barrel for standards. I had been to jail multiple times, I had tried every substance under the sun, involved myself with people I shouldn’t have involved myself with, and more. I WAS the standard by which people comforted themselves knowing they weren’t doing the things I was doing. This was not a good place to be in. I had no fall back.


The next realization came when I decided I didn’t care. The level of morality that I had to keep myself afloat from SOME degree of disparity was gone. I simply didn’t care about the position I was in. Total disarray was good enough and that was a horrible feeling.


How many years have you been sober?


Over two years. I have my sobriety date written down somewhere, but to be honest, I couldn’t tell you the exact date. I actually appreciate not knowing the exact date on a regular basis. Sobriety is not something I have to count, like scratching the days into a prison cell wall. I GET to be sober. No need to count the days of something you’re grateful for.


Do you go to Alcoholics Anonymous?


I do! AA saved my life. I have no doubt any attempt I would have made to fix myself would have failed. Most people assume AA is about learning to not drink. That is true, but it’s so much more. It changes you and YOU change you from the inside out. Decades of cancerous attitudes, vices, fears, secrets; it all gets cleaned out.


You learn about yourself in ways you never knew you could, and become brutally honest with yourself and others. You learn to embrace the strength in vulnerability. You gain a sense of spirituality. You tear down walls, rip away your ego and sit there, with your whole life naked in front of you. For most of us, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen ourselves in this way, and it is incredibly humbling. There’s nothing to hide behind in AA except yourself, and eventually, you get tired of doing that. I truly believe I am a better person after AA, and then I was before I even started drinking. I’ll never know myself more than how AA taught me to know myself.


Have you tried sobriety before? If so, why has this time been so successful?


I had tried my own personal brand of sobriety many times before AA. Whether it was out of spite to prove someone wrong, fear after a DUI or jail time, or simply the earnest will to clean myself up, they all failed. It wasn’t sobriety, it was just not drinking. I wasn’t sober. I was an angry drunk with nothing to drink. This was no way to live. My life’s purpose had been to drink whenever possible in the hope that life didn’t completely fall apart around me. That is no purpose. I needed a real purpose again.


My first attempt with AA was optimistic. I was excited about what I was hearing, and willing to do what it took to be sober. After several months, I tricked myself into thinking a relapse was okay, that it was just a small hiatus from my sobriety and that nothing was wrong. I told my sponsor about this and he said:


“Cool. If you’re cool with keeping your sobriety date, go for it.”


He knew what he was doing. From the moment he said that, my relapse ate away at me. I was lying. I was lying to newcomers in the program, I was lying to my friends and family, and that sobriety date was a LIE that I just had to cling on to. I couldn’t fail–my sobriety had to be perfect. How could I talk such a big game about sobriety, and then have to walk up in front of everyone and change my sobriety date in the book? How mortifying that would be? Someone very important to me in the program told me:


“If your story isn’t true, it isn’t your story. There will be people in the program who relapse. If no one is there to say ‘Hey, it’s okay, I did too. Get back up and keep fighting for your life,’ then who will? No one will be there to tell them that. They’ll feel alone, because people want to keep a date that isn’t true.”


I walked up and changed my date in the book. I had nothing to prove to anyone. My ego wasn’t controlling the quality of my sobriety and I stopped caring so much about that damn number on a page. From that moment on, honesty was my number one priority for my sobriety.


What have you learned from your alcoholism?


How much I truly don’t know. I felt very confident in my knowledge of sobriety, and how to live sober early on in the program. Like most alcoholics, my pride and ego told me I had this all figured out. I was going to win AA. Every day, month, and year that passes, I look back and realize how much I truly didn’t know. We are always learning. A person with one day of sobriety has something to offer someone with 30 years under their belt. I take comfort in how much I truly don’t know.


What was “rock bottom”?


My rock bottom was the same day I swore to go to AA. I went through my usual routine. Told my wife I was going out for just a couple beers, which turned into dozens. I stormed out of the bar I was in, made a scene in front of friends and strangers, and passed out on a couch, an hour from home.


The next morning, I had a picture message in my inbox. It was a photo of my eldest daughter, grinning ear to ear. She was wearing the most ridiculous looking, mismatched, knee-high socks I had ever seen. It was “Crazy Sock Day” at her school that morning. She picked out her socks, put them on by herself, and asked her mother to take a picture. I missed Crazy Sock Day.


My daughter was growing up, right in front of my eyes, and I was hung over on a couch. Absent. I spent years ruining jobs, friendships, relationships, cars, bank accounts, my own body; my entire life was falling apart around me and I didn’t care. But seeing my daughter doing something she loves, and knowing I wasn’t there to see it? Unacceptable. My true purpose was standing there in mismatched knee highs, and I would never miss another Crazy Sock Day again.


What has been the most difficult part of the recovery process?


Breaking away from the concept of “never again, forever,” in respect to drinking. Aside from the viewpoint of an alcoholic, I would venture to say it would be difficult for anyone to accept never doing something again forever. Especially something they had made the centerpoint of their life for nearly a decade.


How could I never drink again? No football games, no weddings, no lazy Sundays, no shower beers, nothing? How? It took a long time to break away from this. Then, one day it hit me:


I don’t HAVE to be sober… I GET to be sober.


One day at a time. Each day, each moment, is a gift that I get to live unencumbered by my drinking. “Never again, forever” was no longer a sentencing… it was a blessing.


Anything else you want to share?


Please know this: Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care how old you are, how rich or famous you are, how many kids you have, what God you believe in or what big plans you have for yourself. If you’re an alcoholic and you decide you just won’t drink, it’ll find something else for you to become addicted to. It’s how our brains function. You aren’t a bad person, you are sick. There is a solution for us.


Everyone comes to terms with their alcoholism in their own way, but if you’re reading this, I need you to know; pride and fear will try their hardest to keep you from admitting you have alcoholism.


“I can’t be an alcoholic, my life will be ruined! No one will respect me or care about me! My life will fall apart!”


You are not alone in these thoughts. Every horror story you have, every regret, every secret, we understand. There is no one “too good for” or “above” alcoholism. There is a fellowship of men and women with the same experiences as you, and there IS A LIFE in sobriety, far better than the life we make for ourselves in alcoholism. Find the strength to walk through those doors, and you will be astounded at what life will become when choosing sobriety.


But, not everyone is ready for that step…which I understand. I would encourage you to reach out to someone on WhiteFlag. This app is built on like-minded people who understand the same struggles we go through. WhiteFlag offers itself as a safe space for those who struggle with Alcoholism, among so many other things. There are steps we can take, and roads we can travel that aren’t the same ones we have already walked thousands of times. Please reach out if you need help.


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