For the most part, what I write about my personal life online is from my digital troll persona. Ninety-nine percent of my social media posts can be summed up as a string of incoherent Facebook babbling and Tinder screenshots that leave many wondering "trolling or unhinged?" It's tongue-in-cheek entertainment, not to be taken literally. (Which might make more sense if you've met me in person.)
But this post is very different. There is no trolling. I want you to know that I am 100% serious with everything that I'm about to say.
I'm writing this post for two reasons. First, I suspect that many entrepreneurs and fitness professionals quietly deal with issues around alcohol. But more importantly, this is the first time I'm actually admitting these issues to myself.
For the last two years, I've battled an an ongoing struggle with alcoholism. Of course, to those who know me well in person, "coming out" about being an alcoholic may seem like hearing that Lance Bass just came out of the closet. Except that even my closest friends probably don't know the extent to which I drink.
Since 2014, I've drank to the tune of 15-20 drinks per day. Unfortunately, that's not a typo. I remember (or don't remember) all too many consecutive nights in which I easily polished off a fifth of vodka and some additional beers on top. Or three bottles of wine. Pick your poison.
If it sounds like I'm bragging about my drinking prowess, it's because it started out as a badge of pride. It was part of my identity.
"I am a person who drinks...people who drink need to keep drinking." – Tyrion Lannister
The quote above seems to be a common brag amongst male alcoholics (men always like to engage in an irrelevant pissing contest about things that don't matter). While my friends waned towards the end of a Friday night, I was only at the start of a bender that would last several days. From July 2013 until this very day, I'd be surprised if I were sober for more than 60 days.
Outwardly, I convinced myself that secretly being drunk and productive was an admired skill, but I recognized the facade deep down. I was like an overweight person who jokes about being fat as a facade. In reality, drinking is something that has threatened my career (without going into too much detail, Dick Talens once ended in a jail cell. No charges were pressed luckily, but it definitely wasn't fun.) and destroyed many relationships.
How My Addiction Crept Up
I didn't always enjoy alcohol. In fact, I barely drank in college or in my early 20's. But I've always been addicted to something. When I was young, it was food and video games. In my late teens and early 20's, it was bodybuilding and startups. (Martin Berkhan has a really good article about how this may be a prevalent trait amongst people in the fitness industry.)
I never dreamt that one day I'd be addicted to alcohol. Hell even I was 26, I remember scoffing at the idea of entering a bar alone. By the time I turned 30, it was my preferential way to end the night.
For an easily-addicted outgoing introvert like myself, alcohol is like the two-sided face of Janus. Actually it's worse: you never again see the gentler face once you get too deep.
From the few AA sessions I've attended, it seems that many go through the same addiction process, which I call "fucking a praying mantis." Alcohol reliance feels amazing at first, but eventually you're devoured whole.
And alcohol was a godsend at first to someone like me--clinically ADHD and never getting hangovers. It was the first substance that allowed me quiet my inner monologue enough enjoy being present. I became more social, and arguably sharper after the first few drinks.
Then, things started to spiral downward.
In 2014, I started coaching more fitness clients. As any general population ("gen pop") coach will tell you, adherence is the most important factor in client success; getting a client to succeed requires repetitive amounts of compassion and empathy. Unfortunately for me, there was only so much of that to go around.
After spending all day answering emails and meeting with clients on Skype calls, the only thing that I wanted to do at the end of the day was go to the grocery store then hang out with my buddy Johnny Walker all night. As it turns out, I now know that certain professions like social workers and psychotherapists are often the first to feel compassion burn out and lack self-care.
Then Shit Hit The Fan
Drinking at night started soon turned into drinking first thing in the morning. I became quite good at writing SQL and Python after 4-6 beers in the morning and a few at lunch.
At the start, I was a really discreet alcoholic; few people could tell I was drunk by the time noon rolled around. My emails would always be completely coherent. Hell, if I'm being honest, I probably wrote better drunk anyway.
But as I drank more and more to keep up this addiction, the other face of Janus began to rear its head. I fought hard to convince myself that I didn't have a problem. My view was myopic; if I got drunk before a tech panel, I'd remember the fact that I made people laugh with Jameson-inspired snark, but I'd conveniently ignore the fact that I almost forgot my shoes.
It was when I got to about 20 drinks per day that relationships began to crumble. Despite drinking throughout the day, I was relatively agreeable, but that began to change once boozing continued into the night. I became a different person. The slightest irritation from even my closest friends would cause me to unleash a world of scorn.
If you're an astute reader and remember what I said earlier, you're probably wondering how not even my closest friends knew the extent of my problem with alcohol. Well, that's because they're sadly not my friends anymore.
You see, people are actually quite forgiving when it comes to problems with alcohol (and ADHD). They'll forgive you being late or flaking on things. They'll forgive that you're, forgetful, rowdy, or insensitive.
But they don't forgive you when you lash out at them and go for the jugular by verbally berating them on their vulnerabilities. That, I've found, tends to be unforgivable.
The worst part is that I was usually full of regret the next morning. By then it was too late. And like any addict, I usually immediately turned to the coping mechanism I knew best.
I'm Probably Not Alone (And Neither Are You)
There are three reasons that I'm being as transparent as possible in this post.
First, I rarely hear about problems with alcoholism from my colleagues--but I know there are many of you out there. There's a tendency for us who are ADHD to get into domains like blogging or startups, where our constant need for dopamine hits are fulfilled by shallow Instagram likes or user signups.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a link between ADHD and substance abuse. When that ADHD goes undiagnosed, consuming alcohol has a self-medicating effect at first. If what I said above relates to you, know that you're not alone and it's okay to admit that you may have a problem. Feel free to reach out discreetly and know that you're not alone.
Secondly, I wanted to be open, humble, and apologetic to those who I've wronged because of my alcohol abuse.
I've lost many good friends--including the most authentic friendship I've ever had--in drunken tirades where I was not myself, but almost watching myself from afar as a completely different person. And that's if I even remember what happened. I say that not to shirk responsibility, but to take responsibility and tell you that it was me, not you. (Unless of course, you are actually a constant asshole that takes advantage of others, in which case alcohol was just the catalyst to me going off on you. Lolol! Kidding! Mostly!)
Lastly--and admittedly this is for my own selfishness--I wanted to get this off my chest and pledge complete abstinence from alcohol from this point forward. Now complete sobriety isn't for everyone, I've learned, but it is for me. (All of Leo Babauta's articles on how to quit alcohol are amazing by the way.)
This is post isn't to share a success story (I've only been fully sober since Thursday). It's about coming clean and taking accountability and responsibility.
One thing that I know from coaching is that moving forward requires understanding that we're all human. We all worship something, and we all have our own demons. It's about what you choose to worship and how you choose to address those demons that actually matters.