Power of Humans newest blogger Tom Messplay shares the first in his multi-part series chronicling his battle with alcoholism. In this very candid unedited post, Tom writes how he became an alcoholic and the steps that he took to finally realize he needed to change. We thank him for bringing to light a disease that affects millions.
The Power Blog: The Making of An Alcoholic by Tom Messplay
“No one plans to become addicted when they start using a substance.” –Addiction Therapist
My first beer was at 15 years of age when I began 42 years of alcohol use and abuse. I drank beer on a regular basis, eventually becoming a daily occurrence. I suppose I was a typical teenager in the 1970’s who was just trying to fit in. There were many occasions when I drank excessively. On one of those nights after the usual Friday night party I drove home. I took a short cut on a dirt road. A curve came up with a 15 MPH speed limit sign. I went into the curve closer to 50 mph. The rear end of the car came around and I was pointed in the wrong direction. I took down a tree before I rolled down a hill rolling numerous times. I clearly remember the sounds of breaking glass and bending metal. Not wearing a seat belt I was tossed around rather violently around the interior of the car. When the car stopped at the bottom of the hill it was right side up. I was laying half on the front seat and half on the floor. I crawled thru where the windshield had been and through the side that the roof was not collapsed. I was in a lot of pain but was very lucky to be alive. Did that deter my drinking? Of course it didn’t. It was the last time I ever drove drunk though so at least I learned something. The daily drinking continued through high school, my short college experience and continued through the birth of my first four children, although not as extensively as in high school, but still more than I should have. Then in 1985 a home accident injured (at the time) my 2 year old daughter, which I can attribute partially to drinking. The incident resulted in terrible guilt. That night I purchased my first bottle of whiskey. Drinking whiskey became a daily habit accompanied with beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks, which lasted the next 32 years. The amount of whiskey I consumed daily escalated over time. At some point along the way what I called a habit became much more. I was addicted to alcohol.
I don’t know when my habit turned into an addiction. It’s not like I flipped a switch and instantly became an alcoholic. After years of use and abuse the addiction just evolved. During the work week I would come home and have a few beers. After the kids were in bed I would make myself a drink. On the weekends I would have a beer or two with lunch, a couple more during the day and a couple more before and during dinner. It was spaced out enough that I wasn’t getting drunk. I wouldn’t allow myself to become intoxicated in front of my kids. With 6 kids I had way too much responsibility to get out of control. As the kids got older the older ones would go off and do their own thing and when the youngest were in bed I would have my before bedtime drink which became drinks. This pretty much remained the same for years and years. I thank God that I had enough sense of responsibility to keep me in check. I was able to stay well employed, a good father (as assured by my 6 kids), a good husband (as assured by my amazing wife), and a good member of my Church and community.
In the 90’s we became deeply involved in the Irish dancing world (3 daughters were dancers and one was also a vocalist). We spent countless hours waiting for rehearsals to end, traveling to competitions, and going to shows. Alcohol was a significant part of that world, at least in my circles. Irish Fest was a three plus day event of Irish culture which of course included beer and whiskey. It became a matter of routine to have a flask of whiskey in my pocket, as did many friends. There was never a shortage of shots to be had. We traveled rather extensively at times. It became a matter of routine to travel with a flask of whiskey in my pocket. It came in handy when I took trips to the men’s room. We went to multiple Irish festivals around the mid-west and drank throughout the day. On one trip to Kansas City myself and two friends decided we would each bring a bottle of Irish whiskey and do shots of each one first thing in the morning and decide which one each of us liked best. Needless to say we made a few trips back to the room during the day to do another round and then back to the festival for some beer. This is just one example of countless excess in the name of celebrating the Irish culture, and I’m not even Irish, although my wife and kids are.
There are countless signs of an alcoholic. Which form an individual will take on is unknown. Every alcoholic experience is different yet has many similarities. A strange sign that manifested in me (I met several others during rehab who did the same thing) was to save empty whiskey bottles. The thinking is that saving the bottles was a sign of accomplishment, a victory of sorts. My wife would clean out where I kept them and ask me why I didn’t just throw them away which I was unable to answer. I consciously had no idea at the time. Other signs I had was the planning stage. I eventually began and thinking about when I would start drinking every day. Regardless of when I got home I would plan my routine of drinking for the rest of the day. My routine was around 2:00 PM every day I would start thinking about when I could have that first drink, which evolved from a mixed drink to straight whiskey, which I needed to satisfy my growing cravings. Eventually my drinking was done by the shot. As soon as my work day was complete I would get home if I was out, or since I had a home office, immediately after completing my last task I would reward myself with a shot, two, three, however much I needed. The alcoholic brain needs an increasing amount of alcohol. The feelings of detox can begin immediately if consumption does not keep up with the demand. I would continue to have shots throughout the evening until bedtime when I would then have my three or four drinks. I would go from doing shots to mixed drinks (this softened the morning hangover a little). Another sign of my alcoholism I developed was hiding my whiskey. Whenever I went to the liquor store I would buy a supply of the 1½ ounce bottles and hid them in various rooms in the house. This allowed me to down one of the bottles wherever I went in the house. This also allowed me to conceal the amount I was drinking from my wife. I normally had a couple of bottles in my bedroom, some in my nightstand and others in the bathroom vanity. In case I would need more I would place a full juice glass in my night stand that I would consume if I needed it. If I fell asleep before I had consumed enough alcohol to satisfy the need I would wake up within an hour or two and would drink the juice glass or the little bottle. I would go back to sleep feeling satisfied.
I began to drink less during the day and even less when I was out for a social event. I developed an irritation of being around obviously intoxicated people. I remember thinking how stupid and obnoxious they were for not being able to control themselves. I was actually embarrassed by them. I suppose I thought they were giving alcoholics a bad name. I reserved my drinking for home. One of the first things I did when I went out of town to visit family or for work was to find out where the closest liquor store was in case I ran out, another trait of an alcoholic. No matter what I drank being out or at a friends or family’s house I would have the same amount to drink when I got home.
The question many have is where were my wife and family while my drinking continued to progress and get more and more out of control? They were around me all the time. My wife always knew when I went to the liquor store. She would mention when my trips were more frequent than usual. Many times she would bring up that maybe I was drinking too much and that I should quit or cut back. I always just dismissed the comments. Several times she brought it up more insistently and I became angry with her and started blaming her (typical alcoholic response). She knew that she could not stop me and that until I decided to quit all she could do was be there. Amazingly we maintained a good loving relationship.
I was able to conceal my drinking very well, mainly due to my drinking at night. As my kids went to college, got married, they did not see the progression of my disease. Also, with my wife being one to go to bed early I had the night to be alone and drink. In 2010 my drinking progressed again, I remember that because I started to feel I was losing control over my drinking. Even as I kept it from others I knew deep down that I was losing the battle. It began to affect my thinking at work. I told my boss that I had no desire to be promoted beyond my current position. I found out later that my desire to not move forward in my career was because I was afraid that it would interfere with my drinking routine. I never missed work. But since I had an office at home and great schedule flexibility if I didn’t feel good when I woke up I could just start my day later and work later in the evening. My wife would ask about my drinking and I would say that I was just a little stressed and that I would cut down soon, which of course I never did. In fact in 2012 my drinking was increasing again. I did have one person who saw what I was becoming. My oldest daughter for several years told me I was a functioning alcoholic. Of course I denied it. The rest just thought I drank a lot, which I did but they did not know the depths of my need. Since I had developed such a tolerance to alcoholic I never appeared intoxicated.
Numerous times I thought I should quit but I was afraid to quit. I was afraid of finding out that I wouldn’t be able to quit and I just wanted to be like a normal person who could have a drink and be done. I had passed that point years earlier. Finally I woke up one morning feeling worse than normal. I felt bad every morning but that particular time I was worse than my normal bad. Being afraid I went back and forth if I should say something. My wife was getting ready to leave for work. I told her I couldn’t go to work and that I needed help and began crying. I felt devastated. I was beaten down. I was afraid. I had hit my rock bottom. Everybody has their own rock bottom and I hit mine. I was very fortunate that I hit mine before I ruined my career and family. I told her I just couldn’t continue living the way I was any longer and needed to do something. My wife called my doctor and I was able to get in right away. He told me I needed to go to a rehab facility and could not quit on my own. Knowing that detox would begin immediately he said I needed to be in a facility since detoxing from alcohol can be fatal. He gave me a number of a rehab center and told me to call them right away to go in for an assessment. I had taken the first step to a better existence and future. I was scared to death but knew I did the right thing. I was finally on my way.
My first cry for help was on May 12, 2015. I began a journey that I never could have imagined.