Red Flags; Spotting the Warning Signs Before it’s Too Late.
*Excerpt from the upcoming book "Polluted! My Sober Journey: Alcohol, Addiction and the 7 Stages to Getting Clean."
There comes the point if we're lucky when we realize we can't continue living the way we have been. For the most fortunate ones among us, we begin to notice the red flags that keep showing up, clear indicators that something is not right, that maybe it's time to address the problems that always seem to accompany our drinking. For me, countless red flags kept popping up over the years, warning signs I chose to ignore until it was almost too late.
I want to emphasize how lucky you are if you notice these red flags and take them seriously. Sadly, most people choose to ignore the signs, usually ending up with ruined lives, in jail, institutionalized, or dead. It's a statistical fact that the vast majority of alcoholics and addicts in the world never receive the help they need, usually because they choose not to ask for help. Millions of people die as alcoholics and addicts, fully aware of their condition, but too scared to take a leap of faith into recovery.
I put it off as long as I could. I had entirely accepted that I was an alcoholic. I was very aware of this fact in those final years. But it's like knowing you have a serious heart problem, yet choosing not to go to the doctor because you're too frightened to face the treatment that will save you. Confronting and fixing the heart disease is often scarier than admitting you're sick in the first place. Many people just wait for the heart attack to take them out.
The red flags were appearing with higher frequency, and they became impossible to ignore. I was always sick and hungover. I was financially broke and in serious debt. I could never pay bills on time. I had destroyed multiple relationships. I engaged in sexual behavior that was devoid of love or mutual respect. I had lost jobs because of my drinking. I lied to people about my life. I surrounded myself with the dregs of society ("lower companions"), people who were hustlers, drug dealers, and criminals. I had no self-respect. I had developed anxiety and paranoia. I was lonely and afraid.
How many more times could I wake up on the floor of my kitchen, not knowing how I got there? How many more times could I sneak large plastic bags of bottles and cans out of my apartment without my neighbors spotting me? How many more times could I lie to family and friends about the condition of my life? How many more times could I spit in the mirror, disgusted by my reflection?
At some point, we must admit that we've taken it as far as we can, that it's time to change. I knew with absolute certainty that if I continued living this way, I was going to die drunk and alone.
The final year of my drinking was marked by an experience in a motel room when I had drunk myself into an immobile stupor. I was collapsed on the floor and struggling to remain conscious. The amount of alcohol I had consumed was enough to kill a man twice my size. I knew it was unlikely I would make it through the night.
I was terrified and began to cry out to God for help. I didn't know if I even believed in God, but I was desperate for a life-preserver, and God seemed like the right choice at that moment.
I prayed with everything I had in me, asking for another chance at life. Please don’t let me die like this.
Miraculously, I survived. When I lifted myself off the floor the next morning, I vowed I would stop drinking.
I didn’t keep my vow.
I continued to drink for another year. I tried everything I could to stop on my own, but nothing worked. Filled with shame and guilt, I kept on drinking, no matter how many times I declared NO MORE! The compulsion to drink was just too overpowering, and there didn't seem to be any way of breaking free.
My life in hell, which I had created for myself, continued downward despite the red flags that surrounded me.