Recovering Alcoholic Shares Transformation To Motivate Others To Overcome Addiction
Alcohol can be associated with relaxing, socialising and celebrating, but after two years sober, a recovering addict has shared his story to highlight the dangerous and unhealthy side of drinking.
I’m sure most adults will be able to recall a time you’ve woken up with the God of all hangovers, feeling sick to your stomach and like your head might explode if you attempt to move even the slightest amount.
We’ve all uttered the infamous phrase ‘I’m never drinking again’, but often we don’t mean it. I know, because I’ve been in this exact position on more than one occasion.
Though I don’t drink enough for it to be a cause for concern – sticking to Drinkaware‘s advice not to regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week – it’s on mornings like this I consider how terrible alcohol can really be.
One night of drinking can be enough to have your body begging for mercy; it leaves your brain foggy and can alter your personality, whether you become a singer, a crier, or an over-confident show-off.
Still, we often go back to it, because alcohol can be seen to enhance fun and even escape everyday life. The latter effect can offer relief, especially if you’re going through a tough time, but with spirits, beer and wine so easily accessible – and even sometimes encouraged – in our day-to-day lives, there’s no denying the act of drinking is a slippery slope.
Drinkaware CEO Elaine Hindal told UNILAD the organisation’s research shows one in four people drink more than the recommended guideline of 14 units per week, and almost one in seven are defined as high risk or possibly alcohol-dependent – meaning millions of UK drinkers are at risk of damaging their health in the long-term unless they cut down.
Alex Tillisch, a 29-year-old barber from Sacramento, California, ‘experimented’ with alcohol in his early teens, but didn’t really start drinking until the age of 18 – the legal age for drinking in the UK, though three years away from legality in the US.
Like many young adults, Alex enjoyed drinking, though he told UNILAD that in hindsight he ‘never really drank like a normal person’. He’d find a way to sneak extra drinks without others catching on by drinking while on the way to his destination, or hiding alcohol to ensure he never ran out.
When he was 24 years old, Alex moved to Midtown, Sacramento, to begin his career as a barber. He lived within walking distance of ‘countless’ bars, and always had cash at hand thanks to his job.
Check out a photo of Alex before he gave up alcohol below:
Speaking to UNILAD, Alex said it was around this time things ‘really started to get out of control’. He began lying to his girlfriend, who he shared a home with, as well as to his employer just so he could carry on drinking.
The Californian explained:
I started really drinking on a nightly basis and chugging a beer or two in the mornings to hold off the hangover. It was a perfect storm for a kid with a budding alcohol problem, and things went downhill pretty fast from there.
I had to drink more than a normal person just to feel normal myself. Every second of my day was planned around my drinking because I was doing all of my drinking in secret.
I’d be at the liquor store at 5.50am to restock when they opened at 6.00am. I would lie and say I was going to a 6.30am Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but really I was sitting in an alley drinking.
I’d call in sick to work when I accidentally drank too much in the morning, and then proceed to spend my day drinking in an alley or in a cheap motel room because my girlfriend was home during the daytime.
I had to keep up the appearance that I wasn’t drinking. I would try to get it together enough when it was time to be home so that it was believable that I hadn’t been drinking all day.
Alex displayed many signs Drinkaware states are typical of someone who is alcohol-dependent.
According to Hindal, warning signs include: people worrying about where their next drink is coming from; planning social, family and work events around alcohol; finding they have a compulsive need to drink; feeling the need to have a drink in the morning; and suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking and nausea.
Alex described how there comes a time when alcohol becomes the ‘primary relationship’ in an addict’s life. He left his girlfriend with little choice but to watch his nightly drinking excursions, and had no interest in going anywhere that didn’t involve a cold beverage.
He lost touch with friends and saw family functions as nothing but an obstacle to his drinking, instead opting to stay home where he’d have free access to his supply. As a result, Alex began to ‘isolate [himself] in a lonely little world that revolved solely around alcohol’.
As more people started to catch on to Alex’s excessive drinking, he had to try harder to hide it. This task involved ‘a lot of lying, sneaking around, and finding clever hiding spots for booze’.
In turn, the addiction put ‘tremendous strain’ on Alex’s relationship with his girlfriend.
The relentless intake of alcohol also affected Alex’s health, and he started to gain weight, despite not eating much. He ‘always had a stomach full of beer and booze’, which started to cause him stomach problems.
On one occasion, Alex went to the doctor for blood tests and learned his results were comparable to that of a ‘50-year old heavy drinker’. His doctor told him his liver ‘wouldn’t make it far past 30’ if he didn’t cut out alcohol.
After years of drinking and deceit, Alex knew he needed to give up. He could no longer start the day without alcohol, even though he’d stopped enjoying it, and his life had become a ‘façade’.
Recalling the difficult time, he said:
I was no longer calling the shots. I was no longer me. I did things that I would never do sober. My personal character took a back seat to my alcoholism. I was living a life of guilt and shame. I would feel shameful because of my drinking, and then drink because I felt shameful. Rinse and repeat.
My life became a web of lies and hiding spots that I couldn’t keep track of. Truth be told, those years feel like a blurry dream. But I can tell you with certainty that my life, in general, was miserable.
Despite his desire to quit, however, Alex could not stop. After continuous abusive drinking, he had become alcohol-dependent, and it felt as though he was ‘suffocating’ if he couldn’t get alcohol in his system.
Alcohol dependence is, medically speaking, different to alcohol abuse, according to Drinkaware.
Hindal told UNILAD:
Alcohol dependence is characterised by craving, a high tolerance, a preoccupation with alcohol and continued drinking in spite of harmful consequences.
In reality, dependence exists on a continuum of severity – mild, moderate or severe – and you don’t always have to be drinking to extreme levels to become dependent on alcohol. Anyone who is drinking regularly can have a degree of alcohol dependency.
If someone is severely dependent on alcohol, or shows signs of physical withdrawal, it’s important to know that it can be dangerous to stop drinking too quickly without medical support.
Withdrawal symptoms include seizures or delirium tremens, a condition characterised by confusion, paranoia and hallucinations. These symptoms must be treated as a medical emergency.
Alcohol dependency is not always visible and there is no one sign – physical or otherwise – to look out for.
While people with alcohol abuse problems ‘usually manage to carry on their lives with some semblance of normality’, those who are dependent have their lives completely taken over by alcohol.
Alex went on:
As far as my brain was concerned, without alcohol, I was dying. No matter how badly I actually wanted to quit, I would drink because I knew I would die if I didn’t.
This is why quitting drinking for an alcoholic is not just a simple matter of willpower. The physical addiction to alcohol can also be very dangerous… Quitting cold turkey can be fatal.
Eventually, there came a time when Alex was unable to hide his addiction. In 2017, he was driving under the influence of alcohol when he hit a curb, blew out a tyre on his car, rear-ended a parked vehicle and finally came to a crashing halt into a cement post outside his local liquor store.
The barber was arrested and given a DUI before being checked in to a 30-day inpatient rehab program. Unfortunately, after getting out of rehab Alex quickly started drinking again, because he found himself ‘disappointed that the world hadn’t done anything while [he] was in rehab to help accommodate [him]’.
Alex’s toxic cycle of lies and drinking started up again, until one afternoon when he woke up in an alley, where he’d passed out after drinking. At that moment, something came over the Californian man, and he ‘knew in [his] heart’ he was done.
The weight of my years in active addiction came crashing down on me and I knew I had to surrender. I just couldn’t keep it up anymore.
At this time, nobody knew (at least for certain) that I was drinking again. I knew I was going to lose everything when I came clean. But I was willing to give it all up for one more chance at real, meaningful sobriety.
I was ready to be the person I was meant to be and I was willing to do whatever it took to get my life back. I wanted to love myself.
Alex’s admission cost him his job, his girlfriend, and subsequently his home and dog, but he stayed determined and spent everything he had on a detox facility.
Drinkaware explains that in many cases, the first step of treating alcoholism is acknowledging there is a problem, before seeking help from a healthcare professional.
Alex has now officially been sober since October 21, 2017, and he credits his continued sobriety to support from Alcoholics Anonymous and his sponsor there. After giving up alcohol, Alex had to learn ‘how to deal with life on life’s terms’ – the task he found hardest during his journey to sobriety.
He told UNILAD:
I no longer had a crutch. I had to start dealing with everything head-on. I had to learn how to feel everything without alcohol. I felt like I was learning to walk again.
Here’s a picture of Alex after he gave up alcohol:
In the years since he stopped drinking, Alex got back with his girlfriend – now fiancée – and is set to tie the knot in May 2020. He rekindled his relationships with friends and family, quit smoking, started going to the gym, and even got his old job back.
He deals with sobriety ‘one day at a time’, but says life has ‘never been better’.
There are good days and bad days. I attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings regularly where I learn from other sober people how to navigate life after alcohol. I’ve learned to accept that I cannot control other people, places, or things. All I can control is my own attitude and behaviour.
I try to keep doing the next right thing moment to moment.
Most of all, being of service to other alcoholics, whether in AA or not, has been the key to my continued sobriety… Every alcoholic’s story has the potential to help someone who needs it.
I am now two years and four months sober and my life has never been better. That doesn’t mean I’m constantly walking on sunshine, but my worst days sober are better than my best days of drinking.
I’m beyond grateful to get the chance to be the best version of me that I can be every day and for every opportunity to help someone struggling with addiction. I am a free man today and I can continue to be as long as I stay sober one day at a time.
Alex made clear that addiction is a ‘disease’ – one that does not need to be dealt with alone. He has a family history of addiction and believes this contributed to his alcoholism, along with the fact he ‘never developed adequate coping skills for dealing with life’ in healthy ways.
In attempting to overcome addiction, Alex believes the ‘biggest lie’ he ever told himself was: ‘I can do this on my own.’
He offered advice for anyone struggling with alcoholism, saying:
Talk to somebody… anybody. There are endless resources online where you can talk to somebody or find a place to go and get help.
Your story doesn’t have to be a tragic one. You deserve a happy, sober life. Also, talk to a doctor before quitting cold turkey.
If you want to understand your own drinking habits better, you can take Drinkaware’s self-assessment test, which helps determine whether your relationship with alcohol is about right, or if you need to take action to cut down.
The Drinkaware CEO also advised including several drink-free days each week to ensure you are giving your body a break from alcohol on a regular basis.
While Alex is making progress every day, he pointed out that he is not ‘cured’. He admitted that if he were to drink again, he’d be ‘right back at the bottom in no time’.
And he knows he must not become complacent, but says his life now has ‘purpose and meaning’; traits everyone deserves to have.
Alex’s story is truly inspirational, and shows just how much life can change with determination and support.
If you want to discuss any issues relating to alcohol in confidence, contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110, 9am–8pm weekdays and 11am–4pm weekends for advice and support.