More Than Just Social

I joined the military thinking that it would give me a new start and an opportunity to grow after dropping out of college. Of course, the drinking habits that I had developed while being in a fraternity followed me. They even worsened during the initial months at my first duty station. The culture shock and loneliness that came from going overseas was worse than I had anticipated. Gradually I came to isolate myself, drinking alone in my room and wasting the days away.

There is a large drinking culture in the military but it became obvious early on to my co-workers that my drinking was more than just social. Within my first month I was getting in trouble for showing up to appointments smelling like alcohol. Not drunk necessarily, but the liquor from the previous night’s debauchery would leak out of my pours and the smell was there regardless of the amount of showering and deodorant.

My leadership began to show concern because despite being scolded and other disciplinary actions, the behavior continued. There was concern that I was suicidal. Maybe I was. I drank compulsively throughout the day even after sincere promises to myself that I would not. If I didn’t have alcohol in my body my hands would shake and I would sweat. I would go through periods where nothing people said to me would make sense. I was convinced I was going crazy.

I was put on a “no drinking order” and 30 hours into sobriety I had a seizure. It was in my supervisor’s car on the way to my first substance abuse class. This event scared me straight for a month and after that I was back at it. I was put into a six week “intensive outpatient” program but before I could begin treatment I had to spend three days in the ICU being monitored for alcohol withdrawals. Having that IV in my arm and coming to terms with what a pathetic mess I had become really helped me to put things in perspective and with that I began to take the prospect of longterm sobriety seriously.

In the outpatient program we had to attend AA every day. In the past I had considered AA as a place for old people or those that lacked the willpower to quit on their own. I realized I fell into the latter category. I took all suggestions seriously because I figured that my knowledge on living a productive, sober life was near 0.

Remembering that alcoholism is a problem that is taken on “one day at a time” has had the biggest effect on me. Instead of seeing this as a grand problem that encapsulates the rest of my life, I see it as a small chunk of time that can be easily managed. I’m also grateful that the stigma toward addiction has become less negative with time. My leadership saw me as a sick individual that needed help, not a criminal with bad intentions. With the support of various military members and programs, as well as the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have managed nine months of quality, fulfilling sobriety.