What were you doing on a Tuesday 11 years ago? You probably have no idea, and I shouldn’t either, but I do. The feelings I had that day play on repeat. My recollection is vivid and comes with a certain feeling in my stomach. I can tell you how hard it was raining, what I was wearing, the music that was playing, and how emotionally bankrupt I felt.
I recall in detail every feeling I experienced sitting in my apartment: lonely, terrified, bewildered, frustrated, and desperate. What could possibly trigger such feelings in a girl of relative privilege; one who has loving parents, relative affluence, and a supportive network of friends and community? In a word: alcohol.
We’ve all experienced society’s reliance on alcohol in one way or another and are aware of how alcohol is tied to almost every positive event that we experience: “Let’s grab a drink.” “How about just one more beer?” "You’ve got to try this new wine!”
Unlike most normal drinkers, my experience was that it never stopped at one drink, one more beer, or one glass of wine; that was never how it worked for me. On that day 11 years ago, I finally realized that the root of my emotional devastation was not alcohol but alcoholism.
Like many alcoholics, I was slow out of the gate. But over time, I picked up the pace to the point where drinking controlled every facet of my day-to-day existence. I should have known better, coming from a family of heavy drinkers, some of whom were, at best, problem drinkers. From early on, I recognized my drinking differed from that of most of my friends. One drink always led to five, then to 10, and then to oblivion followed by shame, anxiety, and remorse.
Through high school, I drank on occasion and continued into college with relative impunity. As the years went on, partying became less and less a part of my life and my drinking changed. While at one point I could keep it to weekends or social events, I eventually lost the ability to not take that first sip. I began drinking at home, sometimes alone. At first it became my ritual and then it was my answer to every problem and every success. I didn’t see a problem; the truth evaded me. Problems began to pile up around me in my relationships, my finances, and my inner world.
After college, I worked at a large national company with great benefits and employee assistance programs (EAPs) galore. I researched treatment options and toured some treatment centers, but these explorations were part of an act I performed for myself. Following these outings, I would reliably return home and uncork a bottle of wine. Family and friends saw what I refused to see. They shared their concern and the pain caused by seeing me destroy myself: “You have so much potential. Why do you do this to yourself?” I thought I had it under control; that I could stop any time. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I began the long road of trying to stop on my own.
I spent several years trying to regain control. I tried various means and methods to control my drinking — exercise, church, drinking only at home, drinking only on weekends, therapy, and the list goes on. How could I be an alcoholic? I was 30 years old, I went to college. I stopped drinking when I was pregnant. Problem drinker, maybe, but definitely not an alcoholic.
Trouble in my relationships, my work, my finances, and my health was right before my eyes, but I refused to see them. Even more steadfastly, I refused to believe they could have anything to do with my drinking. I drank because I had these issues. I couldn’t see that I had these problems because of my drinking. Looking back now, it is so clear to me, but then it was not; my drinking sat in my blind spot.
I was able to skid along the bottom for several years. My evasiveness enabled me to prolong my life as an alcoholic and continue behaving badly, burning bridges, hurting loved ones until the obvious became too obvious for even alcoholic me to ignore. I finally saw the corrosive effect alcoholism was having on my self-worth and dignity.
On that Tuesday 11 years ago, I had a moment of clarity. A moment where my pain and desperation became stronger than my fear of asking for and admitting that I needed help.
From the outset, that day hinted at nothing memorable with one exception: on that day — after years of resistance, coping, suffering, and denial — I surrendered.
A week earlier, I learned that a childhood friend was in recovery from drugs and alcohol when he openly shared his experience on social media. I worked up the nerve to join him at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and since that meeting, 11 years ago, I have been sober. This life change required self-honesty and it required action — and seemingly a million other factors — but it happened for me, and I have seen it work for countless others.
I attended that first AA meeting with no expectations. I was a drinker, and I would continue to drink. And then came my miracle: I heard my story, and I heard that what I was experiencing was alcoholism and that there were dozens of people in that room who had found a solution. They spoke with such honesty and vulnerability about their experience — how they started drinking, when drinking became a problem for them, how they rationalized drinking, who they hurt by drinking, their blind spots, and how drinking overwhelmed their lives. Their honesty, openness, willingness to admit their wrongs, and tales of loss, hurt, and shame triggered something in me that changed the course of my life.
My skeptical self just did not understand how sharing your deepest fears and faults with a group of people could help you not pick up that first drink. But I realize now, 11 years later, that it was the power of shared experiences, shared problems, and shared solutions. Knowing that each of these people at one time thought, felt, and experienced true hopelessness like I did — whether years in the past or the previous day — enabled me to break through my alcoholic denial and accept — and ultimately address — the truth. It was a huge relief, and it made sense.
Today, my sobriety is the most important thing in my life. It is the solid foundation for a life of meaning, purpose, and service. Sobriety serves me in my marriage to a wonderful man and partner, in my role as a Mother, and through the responsibilities and activities in my relationships, career, and community.
Why am I sharing this experience? It’s simple: to help others struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) find a way to a better life. I am sober today because my friend courageously shared his addiction challenges on social media. I hope that I am equally courageous in sharing my story and that my journey motivates others struggling with addiction to own it and to know there is a solution. This is my small way of paying back what has been freely given to me.
Issues like substance abuse, mental health, and suicide go hand-in-hand. Doing everything in my power to minimize the damage caused by these issues and their consequences is central to my life’s work. These are, above all else, humanitarian issues. However, they are also risk management and business issues.
In my career in risk management, I have the honor of working with contractors and developers on insurance programs to protect their assets and, more significantly, their people. I view my role as a Chapter Champion for the suicide awareness and prevention within CFMA as the greatest possible expression of my passions for the construction industry and risk management.
Alcoholism places lives and businesses at risk, and I want to do something about that. I have lost too many friends in the recovery community — some to suicide, but all ultimately to alcoholism or another addiction. As a recovering alcoholic, I know the depths to which addiction can drag you and the heights you can reach when you act to end it. I chose this avocation because I have been there; I know both the pain and the redemption that are possible.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, it is estimated that SUDs cost employers $81 billion annually through lost productivity and absenteeism. And, according to Shatterproof, addiction costs companies $442 billion a year in health care costs, lost productivity, and absenteeism. Nearly 8% of U.S. adults and adolescents — which equals about 21 million people — have a SUD, and about 75% of them are employed. Around 15% of U.S. construction workers have a SUD, according to data from the National Survey on Drug Use conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Those are huge numbers that underscore the huge impact of SUDs on construction workers and their companies.
Although it has diminished in recent years, addiction retains a stigma that commonly holds back recovering alcoholics and addicts from openly offering their experience to help others, specifically in their workplace.
Our sobriety depends on always remembering what it was like for us and using our understanding to help others. A caring culture demands that business leaders turn up the volume of voices who have faced these struggles. Helping provide resources and opportunities to restore hope and help employees get on the path to recovery clearly signals your empathy and concern.
Such an initiative should be an essential pillar of every company’s culture. I know this because I live it; my company empowers me to be my authentic and best self and encourages me to use my position as a platform to help people. USI is more than just my employer; the company empower me help others, pursue my passions, and achieve my professional goals.
I am driven to help the construction community understand and embrace these issues and offer real solutions to help people. I could not believe more strongly that the most powerful force to protect your employees with a SUD is a recovering alcoholic or addict who is probably already employed by your company. Recovering alcoholics and addicts are everywhere; we live and work with you, and most of us are eager to share our story if doing so can help others facing a SUD.
If anyone struggling with a SUD needs help, my ears and heart are open. You can reach me at 206-676-3312 or email@example.com.