I was raised in a loving, supportive family in the New York City suburbs. My Dad was a college science professor, my Mom a high-school librarian. I was the third of their four boys, beating my twin brother by five minutes.
In 1975, I graduated from Yale with a B.A. in Chinese Studies. In 1980, I got a law degree from the University of San Francisco, which I attended at night. During the day I worked as an Investigator in the San Francisco District Attorney’s White-Collar Crime Unit. On passing the Bar, I became an Assistant D.A., first in the Criminal Division and then back in White-Collar Crime. For the last decade of my career, I prosecuted environmental cases. I left the District Attorney’s office in 1993 (though I returned as a part-time consultant for a while) and opened a private law office. But my heart wasn’t really in it. By then it belonged to alcohol, though I didn’t know it.
I endured, and put my family through, a three-year slide into the abyss of depression and alcoholism until I was forced into rehab by my wife on July 5, 1996. Though I will always be grateful for that, I wasn’t at the time. I swore I’d never go to rehab. Ever.
But immediately before I was carted off to the hospital I had a bottom which forced me to see what I’d become through my toddler son’s eyes. It was such a deep emotional trauma that despite my natural inclination to fight and keep fighting, I surrendered. And so I was taken to rehab, in my mind turning my private bafflement into a public shame.
I was among the most resistant of patients. Despite arriving with a blood-alcohol more than five times the drunk driving standard, I insisted I wasn’t an alcoholic and didn’t need treatment. But 32 days of rehab proved that every pre-conceived notion I had about drug addiction was nearly-dead wrong.
One key to that transformation was hearing others’ stories and identifying with them. This started with my doctor’s matter-of-fact statement that he was an alcoholic the first time I recall talking to him (it was the third time he’d examined me, but I don’t remember the first two times). He described me with uncanny accuracy simply by telling me about himself, introducing me to the 12-Step practice of sharing one’s past to teach others about themselves. Then the other patients and the rest of the staff did the same, leading me to the willingness necessary to accept that I was an alcoholic too.
Like most, I struggled to stay sober and failed. I smoked pot within a month of leaving rehab. I drank about three weeks after that, returning me to the hospital for a five-day tune-up. So I raised my hand as a “newcomer” at AA meetings in July, August, September, October and November 1996, before achieving 30 continuous days of sobriety.
During my second stint in rehab my doctor strongly recommended I take Antabuse, a drug that makes you violently ill — emergency-room ill — if you ingest the slightest amount of alcohol. I stayed sober 22 months but drank two months after I stopped taking it. My timing was impeccably irresponsible: my wife was more than 8 months pregnant.
After a 5-day binge, I came to my senses. I detoxed yet again, and went back on Antabuse for many months before feeling secure enough to stop. My last drink was on August 15, 1998, five days before my 45th birthday, and less than two weeks before the birth of my beloved daughter.
Rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous told me that acceptance of my alcoholism was Step 1 if I wanted to stay alive. I thought I’d accepted it when I was discharged from treatment (both times), but learned that both intellectual acceptance and emotional acceptance were necessary for sobriety, and I had only obtained the first.
Though AA promises emotional acceptance through its spiritual program, ironically, I couldn’t find it until I understood the science of addiction. Grasping that I had a biological brain disease relieved me of the shame and stigma I couldn’t previously shake. But it took time, relapses, and more time to get it. Unexpectedly, the science validated both AA’s analysis of addiction and its spiritual solution.
Looking back, it was caring people that saved my life. I got love, understanding, inspiration and patient instruction from my doctor, the rehab staff, my fellow patients, the rehab’s alumni and my fellow participants in Alcoholics Anonymous. Add the unconditional love of my children, and you have the recipe of my recovery. Thank you all.
San Francisco, California
For more, click on: How Becoming A Neuroscience Geek Supported My Long-Term Sobriety and Why I Give Up My Anonymity.