Battling Alcoholism: You’re Not In It Alone
I recently had a former Marine reach out to me on Facebook and tell me about his struggles with alcoholism and depression. Not knowing how to help, I reached out to my friend, Matthew Betley. He also happens to be a former Marine who fought similar battles and even wrote them in to his terrific thriller, Overwatch. I found Matthew's story and advice so detailed that I wanted to share in the hope that it might help others in similar situations.
Here is Matthew Betley's story:
I’m a former Marine officer and a recovering alcoholic with eight years of sobriety this March. I am not a medical professional – I’m an author of political action thrillers (of all things), in addition to being a recovering alcoholic, and my main character suffers from the same affliction I do. This topic is close to my heart, which is why I wrote what I know for my books, and why I offered to help, even in such a slight way as this post. More importantly, as any recovering alcoholic with a bit of time will tell you, what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others; however, there are a few things that are constant in all of our experiences, and I hope they help you.
First – you’re not alone. I know exactly how you feel, because I was there, in that place, miserable, convinced I was never going to get out of it for years. I was afraid to talk to others about it, embarrassed by my own self-destructive pattern, certain no one could relate to how I felt. Thankfully, I was wrong, but back then, you could not have persuaded me otherwise. The downward spiral was a psychological whirlpool that I thought I’d drown in. But I didn’t – I managed to get out. And you can, too.
Second – after years of sobriety, I’m convinced no true alcoholic can get sober on his or her own. Again, this is my opinion based on my experience. I tried – several times – and it never worked. My destructive pattern of drinking began in earnest in college, continued for years after graduation, and spiraled out of control towards the end of my Marine Corps career. Throughout that time, I tried to quit in college (even attended AA; it didn’t take the first time), after college, and multiple times in the Marine Corps. If I were to plot out every bad thing that happened to me (or more accurately, that I did) going back to age 18, alcohol was always involved. But it took more than eighteen years of true insanity – engaging in the same behavior and hoping for a different outcome – before I hit my rock bottom. Did I get a DUI? Arrested for a bar fight (active duty Marine at the time; you know how we are) or some other offense? No. I just had a stark realization on a night when I ran out of alcohol, could not physically stop drinking, and needed a cab to make it to the local liquor store (at least had the sense to do that) to get more beer. The realization? That if I kept on that path, I’d end up alone, miserable, dead, or all of the above. The next morning, I made a phone call to the Marine Corps substance abuse counseling office at HQMC, and a few weeks later, I was enrolled in the military outpatient treatment program at Andrews Air Force Base, near where I was stationed at the time. Bottom line – I had to get help. I could not do it on my own.
As a civilian, your situation is different. You’ve tried hospitals and it sounds like a number of other options. Given your bi-polar manic depression, it sounds like you definitely need a program where a medical professional can help manage your condition. You may need some kind of inpatient rehab program as the initial treatment, but that’s something for a professional to determine. I know that sounds harsh, and I don’t know what your employment situation is, but when I hit my rock bottom, I notified my employer immediately, and I was shocked at the empathy and understanding I received (and didn’t feel I deserved), but in their eyes, the fact that I self-referred counted more than anything. I’m hopeful your employer would feel the same way.
Have you tried – and I’m almost loath to ask – to contact a local VA to identify possible programs that might exist specifically for someone in your situation? You could call HQMC, who might be able to put in touch with the right veteran’s organization. You could also find the nearest AA meeting, which for me – once I had a foundation of sobriety from the outpatient rehab program after 5 ½ weeks – was and is critical to my sobriety. No matter what stage of sobriety you are in, there is always someone in a meeting who has seen it all. The Old Timers (as they’re called), can help you get on the right path immediately, will be welcoming, can get you a sponsor, and may even know someone who can assist in managing your medical condition. I can tell you from seeing it in the rooms of AA that many recovering alcoholics suffer from the same medical condition as you. I can also tell you that members of AA are the most welcoming, warm, sincere – as well as extremely sarcastic; you have to have a sense of humor to deal with what we’ve done and seen – and honest people I’ve met. Rigorous honesty is a term you will hopefully come to know well.
The bottom line is that you need to seek help. You’ve already identified the issue (which is something only you can do; no one could tell me I was an alcoholic – I had to come to that realization myself and accept it), which is half the battle. It will be hard; it will be frustrating; and you may question what the hell you are doing. But I can assure you of one thing – for me, it beat the alternative, which would have landed me six feet under. I know you feel like you have no options, but there are always more positive choices that you can make, people you can call, and help you can get. I strongly urge you to consider them, talk to a close friend or family member, and reach out to whoever or whatever you need to – you will get the help you need. Stay strong, and take it one day at a time, Marine. It will get better, but it all starts with you. Semper Fi.