I’ve Got This…
I walked out of rehab thinking “now you just have to get back to work and everything will be fine.” The problem was that I still had part of a bottle of vodka in the trunk of my car, and there was no one who could stop me from drinking it. So, like a good alcoholic, about 25 days sober, I took a swig. Thus began my last days of drinking. Less than a week later I showed up to my first company HIMS meeting still drunk from drinking the night before and blew a .06 on the soberlink. I thought I’d lost it all right then and there. As shitty as I felt in that moment, thinking I had hit rock bottom, the worst was yet to come…
Let’s Go Back
My drinking didn’t really start until I was in college. Around my junior year the parties started to ramp up, and so did the drinking. I remember the euphoric feeling I would get and how good it felt just to let loose. As the drinking became more and more prevalent, I took notice of how much my drinking had increased and decided that it was time to quit before I fell too far down the rabbit hole. See my parents had warned me repeatedly that alcoholism ran in our family and I’d be more susceptible to succumb to it. I think it was about a 3-month time frame where I would say “no thanks. I don’t drink. I feel like I crave it too much.” Looking back on it it’s amazing not only how much wisdom I had back then, and at the same time how completely full of shit I was. I didn’t believe for a minute that I’d stopped drinking forever. I thought if I’d give it up for a time then all would be good, and I could enjoy drinking again. Sure enough I was drinking and partying again during my last year (like I said… completely full of shit).
After college the drinking tapered off a bit when I got my first job as an airline pilot. I’d have a drink with my crew on an overnight, and enjoy a few during my days off, but nothing substantial until I upgraded to Captain and lived alone for the first time. That’s when everything started to go sideways. That led to consuming much more alcohol than I ever intended or realized. When I moved into a new place with roommates, I found myself drinking less, but still on a daily basis. It was during this time that I met my wife. At the time we both enjoyed partying and having a good time, and so she didn’t have any issue with me having a glass of bourbon every evening. That eventually led to more drinking, and about a year later the first warning sign.
I remember the first time she called me on my drinking in excess, and me blowing her off like it was no big deal. She asked if I needed anything while she was out, and I asked her to pick me up a bottle of Jack Daniels. She said, “you go through it so fast!” To which I replied, “Then don’t worry about it.” I proceeded to procure a bottle myself later on. That was almost 10 years ago now, and my first giant red flag that I completely ignored. About a year later I started hiding alcohol from her, and that was the where the snowball really gained momentum and grew. Over the next several years my drinking was in excess (blackouts) on almost a daily basis, and 90% of it was in secret so that (I thought) no one would know about it. I’d find out later that
most of my family knew I drank way too much, and my wife knew that I hid alcohol from her. If any of them had known the true extent of it though there would have been an intervention.
I was hired with my current airline in October of 2015. By that point my drinking had gotten so bad that I would get the shakes if I didn’t have a drink every 2-3 hours. I would wake up hung over every day at home, and still drunk more often than not. Having to choke down a drink to take the edge off while trying to not throw it back up at the same time. About 6 months in, while still on probation, I found that I’d backed myself into a corner. I had exhausted our pre-allotted sick time and was supposed to start a 4-day trip that afternoon. The problem was that I could tell I was going to be shaking violently by mid-afternoon if I didn’t have a drink, and if I did, I’d be flying while intoxicated. So far, I’d managed to keep myself out of legal trouble over my years of drinking, but my luck would run out eventually. I called my old man in tears and said “I don’t know what to do. I need help.” The next thing I knew I was on the phone with our EAP rep and was in the HIMS program. It was off to rehab for me. That was my first stint in rehab. 25 days of getting sober and having the wrong mentality. Which brings us to the part where this story began and leads into where I hit rock bottom.
After I blew a positive on the soberlink I thought my life was over. I fully expected to be fired, divorced and drinking myself to death all within about a month’s time. I got a curve ball thrown at me though when my Chief Pilot told me he was going to give me another chance to get the help I needed, and my job was still secure. That was the last thing I expected, but it changed everything. I drove home from that meeting trying to figure out how I had ended up where I was. The truth was it didn’t matter. I was there, and now I had to get my head screwed on straight. Here’s the kicker though… my wife had no idea I’d been drinking since I got home from rehab that week.
I walked into my house trying to figure out a way to be honest with my wife and tell her that despite the 25 days I’d been gone getting sober, it was all for naught. There really wasn’t any way to explain it, so I just opened up with the best way I thought possible. I started off by saying my job was still secure, but that I’d drank again and was going to have to do another stint in rehab. Her words to this day are still the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced: “I’m not threatening you, but if you decide to drink again, and end up in jail or lose your job I will take the dog and leave.” It was in that moment that I hit rock bottom. It was then that I made the decision to stay sober, no matter the cost. A week later and I was on my way to rehab again.
The next 45 days were by far the best and worst of my life. When I met my counselor and told him “I want you to make me as uncomfortable as humanly possible while I’m in your care” he looked at me like I had 3 heads and said, “Jason, that’s not what we do here.” I told him “You don’t understand, sir. During my last rehab I didn’t feel uncomfortable even once. If something doesn’t change, I’m going to lose everything.” He paused for a minute and simply said “I think I understand. Get ready.” It was an incredibly painful, but enlightening period. I found and closed mental wounds that I never wanted to see again, and others I didn’t know were even there.
My first year out of rehab was rough. I had to re-learn how to live life. I took in all the advice I could get and put to into place what worked for me. Not all of the advice I got worked, but eventually I learned how to filter out the bad and take in the good. I got a great sponsor (who I still have today) and started working the steps. By the time I got my medical back I’d been out of work for nearly a year. And I could tell how much my mentality had shifted. I was very eager to get back in the flight deck, but I was also still a bit nervous on handling overnights on my own. Luckily the support group I had was excellent and I put the program I had built up to good use. It ended up being a non-issue, and simply saying “I don’t drink” was a game changer. I found simply being open about being in recovery was the best thing I could possibly do, and I didn’t care what others thought about me. Amazing how that works: talking about being in recovery actually helping! Ha!
It’s amazing how much life has changed for me since I quit drinking. Being able to think coherently, and not be fuzzy all the time is a complete game-changer in itself. But life is just better in every aspect. My marriage is much better now that I’m not lying all the time. Our finances are finally in the black now that I’m not spending all our extra cash on alcohol (and other alcohol-induced purchases). I’m in much better shape since I’ve quit drinking and started working out again. I also sleep a lot better.
To this day being able to say “I don’t drink” is one of the greatest things that I can say with pride!