Part 1 of a 3 part series
Let’s just start with the obligatory statement: Hello, my name is Will and I’m an alcoholic.
It took me a long time to be able to say that to myself, and an even longer time to see a path forward for myself after making that admission. Why did it take so long? I’m sure it’s never easy for anyone who has to come to that conclusion, but being so firmly ensconced in the beer and brewing community surely did not help. After all, wasn’t I just a lover of fine craft beer? I mean, sure, in any given night one IPA when I got home would turn into a second while cooking dinner, then a nice ‘hazy’ to go along with dinner, a crisp lager while doing dishes, and then a nice strong dark Belgian (or two) as a ‘nightcap’ once the day was done. On the weekends, there’d probably be a glass or two of good whiskey to boot. That’s not being an alcoholic, right? That’s just really enjoying craft beer/spirits and all the amazing styles that our fabulous brewers and distillers are producing these days. Right?
Well… when that routine becomes… routine, maybe that’s a bit more than just being a craft beer enthusiast.
When I’d have a tough meeting over lunch at work and think to myself, “It’ll be fine. When I get home, I’ve got that bomber in the fridge. That’ll take the edge off.”, then maybe that’s more than just being a craft beer enthusiast.
When, as an avid and frequent home brewer, somehow my kegs never stayed full for very long despite frequent and large volume brew sessions, then maybe that’s more than just being a craft beer enthusiast.
When I’d take the first sip or two of that bomber after work and I’d feel a familiar and immediate sense of warmth and relaxation that started at the back of my head, rolled down my neck, over my shoulders and through my body. When my fist sip or two of beer made me feel relaxed, warm, and just a bit tipsy (long before my blood alcohol content could possibly be high enough to cause those sensations), then maybe that’s more than just being a craft beer enthusiast.
I was definitely more than just a craft beer enthusiast.
I was more than just a craft beer enthusiast for a long time before I was willing to admit it to myself.
I made all the excuses in the world.
- I’m sure it wasn’t interfering with my work – hell, it was my work. Never mind that I could choose other scholarly pursuits if I wanted to. Never mind that getting up in the morning was getting more and more difficult, that I felt like hell on the way to work more mornings that I’d like to admit, and that I spent less time in the evenings pursuing professional development than I should have because I’d rather be enjoying too many craft beers.
- I’m sure it wasn’t interfering with my relationships. After all, a lot of times my partner was right there with me. Never mind that a lot of that had to do with my choices and my influences on them. Never mind that there were too many nights watching a movie with my sweetie that I couldn’t remember the end of (or the time we had spent together). Never mind that the quality of intimacy with my partner was terrible because I was more than ‘tipsy’ and really wasn’t terribly present. Never mind the questionable late night drunken social media posts and consequences of those.
- Sure, I felt a little rough in the mornings, but I felt great last night and I made it to work on time every day. That’s a fair trade, right? So, I’m sure it’s not a problem, right? Never mind that my sleep schedule was terrible, my sleep quality was terrible, and some health issues were starting to peek at me around the corner. Never mind that I started shifting my leisure activities away from active pursuits like hiking, biking, and skiing and toward more beer tastings, brewery tours, brew days, and similar pursuits.
The list goes on, of course. I’m sure some of you can add your own excuses and problems to the short list I’ve shared.
To make matters more difficult (or, rather, easier for me to avoid admitting I had a problem) was the fact that so many of my activities were entwined with the craft beer community. Thus, it was easy to hide my problems with over drinking from the outside world. After all, as a beer judge, wasn’t I supposed to ‘keep up’ on the latest styles? Why wouldn’t I be at every beer festival that came within a couple of states of home? As a brewing scientist, don’t I have to go to conferences all about (and awash in) beer? Brewing a ton of beer at home was just part of my experimentation with various things I was studying at work, right? So, while I was busy denying that I had a problem, everyone looking on from the outside just saw a guy who was dedicated to his craft and his community. Sure, every now and again, they saw me drink too much, or drink too often, but maybe that was normal in the circles I moved in?
Now, sitting like the cherry on top of those rationalizations, and all those shields against discovery was the fact that if I admitted I had a problem with alcohol, it meant I had to quit. After all, that’s the dominant (only?) treatment in this country. You’re an alcoholic? Twelve steps and abstinence for you! But, how does that work when your primary hobby for over 20 years has been brewing beer? How does that work when your job involves studying yeast metabolism and beer fermentation? How does that work when your volunteer work is serving as a beer judge at local, regional, and national competitions? How does that work when a majority of your friends are in the brewing, distilling, and craft beer circles as well? How do you make the choice to step away from work, hobbies, and your social circle if that’s what treating your problem requires?
To this day, I do not know the answer to those questions.
My only answer for a long time was to deny I had a problem because I couldn’t face the fact that I might have to make tough choices like the ones above. Fortunately, as I’ll explain in a bit, it turned out that those were false choices and I didn’t have to make any of them.
However, those perceived false choices are a big part of why it took me so long to admit my problem to myself. Those false choices are also why I want to share my story with you and explain why they might not be choices that some of us who have been struggling with alcohol have to make.
Important aside here: There are many people in the US and abroad who are convinced that total abstinence is the only way to treat alcohol related disorders. I am not here to debate that issue. That path may work for some people. That path may be necessary for some people. It may not work at all for others. It would not have worked for me – I am utterly convinced of that. If that were the only path I had forward, I would still be back at the denial and rationalization stage. What I am here to do is to share the story of a different path I took toward controlling my relationship with alcohol that allowed me to both reestablish a healthy relationship with alcohol and maintain my social networks, my professional activities and my hobbies.
So, if you see any part of yourself in the words I have written above, or if you have a friend in the craft community who might, please read on. There is a growing and well established body of scientific literature that suggests that abstinence based programs are not the only way to deal with alcohol related issues. The science suggests that there are ways to retrain your brain’s response to alcohol such that you can re-establish a healthy (or at least healthier) relationship with your fermented or distilled beverage of choice.
My goal in writing this (and the subsequent pieces) is to share my experience with admitting I had a problem with alcohol, to share my experiences with the program I used to bring my drinking back under control, and to explain some of the science behind that process so you can decide if it might make sense for you or a friend of yours. If the path I trod and the things I have learned from it helps just one other person in our great community, then the work will have been worth it.
With all that said, let me circle back to where I started and say this: Hello, my name is Will and I was an alcoholic.
That’s a controversial statement to make, and one that flies in the face of what a lot of treatment professionals believe. I’m not an addiction specialist or a treatment professional, so I won’t argue with anyone who tells me that’s not true. But, what I will say, and which no treatment specialist can deny, is this: I no longer spend half my day thinking about which beer (of many) will be my first of the night. I can now sit down like I used to long ago and enjoy one good beer and then walk away after that, completely satisfied. I can open a beer that’s not amazing and after I find it’s not to my taste, I can (gasp) not drink it. I can, and routinely do, not drink on any given night and also not miss the beers or whiskeys I’m not having. The craving is not there. The effort it took to abstain is no longer required. I still really enjoy a good adult beverage, but the big difference is that I no longer have to ‘enjoy’ them on a nightly basis.
Those are things that I think a lot of “normal” people take for granted. However, those are things that I certainly have not been able to honestly claim for quite a few years now. I’m certainly not claiming that I’ll never have a problem with alcohol again or that I don’t have to pay a bit more attention to my alcohol intake than the average person does. What I am saying, though, is that on any given night I can have a “normal” relationship with alcohol and it doesn’t even take a lot of effort any more.
So, I guess that leads us to the million dollar question: What happened?
I’ll leave the long story for some subsequent posts where I explain the details of the treatment program, the science behind it, and my personal experiences as I went through the process. For now, I’ll give the short version.
The short version is this: Naltrexone and The Sinclair Method changed my path and very likely saved my liver (and probably more than that). If you want the details on what those are and how they work, please check out part 2 of this story line. If you’re thinking it might be something that would be helpful for you or a friend of yours and want to know more about the experience from a personal point of view, check out part 3 of this story where I share what I learned going through it.
After reading those, if you have further questions, please feel free to ask in the comment sections below any of the posts or to contact me directly. I can’t advise you on any medical fronts, as I am not a doctor. Take the information presented here for what it is – a first person account – as I am not a neuroscientist or addiction specialist. But, I’m happy to share any part of my personal experience if that helps anyone else out there.
Editors Note: Sommbeer.com is not providing nor is capable of providing medical advice. Further, we are not receiving compensation of any sort from this article. We do believe that change comes from within and that there are many many workers within the craft industry (and world at large) that suffer from alcohol dependency. The hurt extends to friends and family. If this series positively impacts even just one person - it will be worth it.
PART 2 – My Experiences with the Sinclair Method
- Retraining the Brain to Fight Alcoholism using Naltrexone and the Sinclair Method - 01/02/2020
- My Experiences with the Sinclair Method and Naltrexone to Reduce My Alcohol Consumption - 01/02/2020
- An open letter from a craft beer enthusiast, a sporadic beer blog contributor, a brewing science scholar, a beer judge… and an alcoholic - 01/02/2020