Alcoholism is the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.

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You hear people say it all the time: “Next to my spouse and kids, (fill in the blank) is my greatest blessing.”

No caveat here, even though I have a remarkable wife and four young children I love and adore. They are secondary. My alcoholism is the very best thing that ever happened to me.

Success always came easy for me, and I’ve led a smooth and pleasant life. Growing up, I wasn’t the best soccer player, but I made the team. I wasn’t the top of my class, but I got A’s and B’s with relatively little effort. I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school or college, but I had lots of friends. I didn’t land my dream job after graduation, but I was offered the opportunity I earned with a 3.0 GPA, an outgoing personality, and an aptitude for shaving, combing my hair, and tying a tie.

I wasn’t the life of the party, but I sure did maximize every opportunity to drink—even guzzle—it all in.

My alcoholism started innocently enough as experimentation in high school, which led to regularly-occurring binge drinking in college. I graduated to happy hours and daily cocktails in early adulthood. That’s where my relationship with booze turned from normal to heavy—but in our society very acceptable—to something else. It became something insidious and needy and entangled and evil.

I loved to drink. It brought me pseudo-orgasmic bliss. So much so, that it altered my brain chemistry and became the only thing in my full and blessed life that registered as pleasurable. That’s how addiction works. The intoxicant transforms from augmenting a comfortable life to devouring it. Alcohol hijacked my life and became the center of my universe.

On the outside, my success and apparent happiness continued unabated. My career plodded along. I was very active in the lives of my kids, and friends and most relatives saw me as a well-adjusted middle class husband and father who loved his family and contributed what he could in our community.

Behind closed doors, an alter ego gained strength and manipulated my life. I would leave a neighborhood gathering after sharing drinks with friends, and return home where I kept the one-man party rolling. My mood would sour as alcohol-induced depression tightened its grasp on my subconscious mind. I sulked around the house picking ridiculous arguments with my wife about finances or parenting decisions. The most trivial things would send me into an irrational blend of rage and paranoia.

I called it “The Pit.” It was the depths of despair where I spent several days after an episode of heavy drinking. The alcohol-induced depression made my expression droop and my limbs feel numb, almost paralyzed. It left me hopeless. Hopeless that I could enjoy my alcohol and equally hopeless that I could stop drinking. I wished for death as my only escape.

Alcoholism was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Then I found my permanent sobriety. How I was resurrected from the gates of hell is another story entirely. It involved many failed attempts to abstain, several lasting six months or more. The point is, I squirmed out of the grip of addiction, and it changed my life forever. It didn’t just save me some cash previously spent on booze or make me stop picking on my wife. Sobriety changed my thought patterns, my perspective on society, my acceptance of mediocrity masquerading as success, and my ambivalence toward others.

Sobriety changed who I am at my very core. I am now more careful about what I put in my body, how I spend my precious time, the level of engagement I seek with my children, and the reconnection I am fighting like hell to establish with my wife.

If sobriety was an award like an Oscar or a Grammy, and I was asked to give a speech upon being presented with a trophy, I would have to thank my despicable addiction and all the collateral damage that slithered along behind it for making it all possible. I now thank God for my alcoholism, the worst—and the very best—thing that has ever happened to me.

Overcoming alcoholism has given me access to a level of empathy I never imagined as an active drinker. I now think back on my young and arrogant self with disgust. I was cocky. I was also naïve. Alcoholism beat the cocky naivete right out of me. I tried to control my drinking and failed, over and over again. Failure after failure after failure destroyed my feeling of invincibility. Dealing with the shame of alcoholism and the shame of sobriety—being the only non-drinker in an alcohol-soaked society—has left me with a tremendous sense of compassion for others who face struggles.

I used to scoff at people battling their weight and wonder why the fatty couldn’t put down the doughnuts. I used to sneer at couples who divorced and wonder why they couldn’t find a way to hold their marriages together. I used to belittle people who weren’t smart enough to hold down a job or find affordable housing. Alcoholism changed all of that for me. I lost at my repeated attempts to control my drinking. I failed. Now I have compassion for others who fail, too.

Now I know overweight people have food addictions or a lack of nutrition education or a genetic predisposition to weight gain. Whatever the issue, they battle to control their weight. I understand difficult battles.

Now I know marriage is hard. I spent 20 years trying to drown mine in booze. I don’t pretend to know the specific reasons other couples struggle in relationships, but I can relate to the idea that their struggles are real. Sometimes marriages fail because sometimes people fail. I know about failure, and I empathize with couples who divorce.

Alcoholism changed me. The weakness and shame of addiction is replaced by the peacefulness of overcoming my demons. Arrogance is replaced by empathy. I used to talk. Now I listen. I used to know. Now I wonder. I spent many years immersed in struggle. Now I thank God for the strength to have survived.

I wouldn’t wish alcoholism on anyone. The pain and sadness and collateral damage is overwhelming and full of shame and remorse. Clawing my way from the gates of hell to peaceful sobriety was the hardest thing I will ever do. But as I cleanup the aftermath of so many years of alcoholism, I am without question a more humble, content, and loving person.

It is stunning how overcoming decades of catastrophe has transformed me into a peace-filled soul who is at long last, sober and unashamed. I guess that’s just how it works, and the lesson from my example is not limited to addiction. No matter your obstacle, and no matter how devastating the experience, life on the other side can be more rewarding than we ever dreamed.

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Author: Matt Salis
Image: Flickr/FlackJacket2010
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

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Matt Salis

Matt Salis is a husband, a father of four young kiddos, a writer, a small business owner, an active community member and a happy church goer. He is also a drunk (at least he was). Life beat the arrogant cocky out of him and replaced it with humility and listening skills. Check out his website here.

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Kate Rusciano Besinger Feb 27, 2018 12:30am

Awesomely raw and hopeful at the same time. Well done.

Joyce Schafers Feb 24, 2018 4:35pm

The angriest I have ever been has come from seeing the pain my alcoholic ex-husband enflicted on my children and considering my sister was a victim of a cold blooded murder, I think that might give you an idea of the kind of rage I'm referring to. My motto has always been (and continues to be) to search for the silver lining in any bad situation. There really always is a silver lining if we are determined enough to find one. And I certainly was able to find the silver lining when it came to my own experiences with my ex, but finding the silver lining with regard to the impact alcoholism has had on my kids is the toughest thing I've ever done. Forgiving my sisters murderer was far easier by comparison. I know I will help my kids find their own silver lining but the fact that I even have to do that and the fact that there's so much fall out to deal with is devastating. Alcoholism causes so much harm to so many. But it's refreshing to read your story. It seems you have dealt with the demons that caused you to drink in the first place. The kind of honesty and inner strength that is required to do that is significant and from my experience with alcoholism, is rare. A truly recovered alcoholic can take a long hard look in the mirror and own up to the damage they have caused and do all they can to make things right and I respect that quality more than any other quality, hands down.

Alicia Cronkite Feb 12, 2018 4:34pm

"I used to talk. Now I listen. I used to know. Now I wonder." Just. Exactly. True. I too am so much happier on the sober side of life. Congratulations on finding some happy!

Abraham Kou Feb 12, 2018 1:06pm

Matt, thank you for sharing. This is a powerful post that resonates gratitude amidst pain and suffering. I wish you only continued peace and blessings.

Veronica Flenchom Feb 12, 2018 10:00am

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Mark Shoup Feb 11, 2018 3:39pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story So many of us, including me, could have written this but you had the courage to do so. Bravo!

Tiffany Sheridan Feb 10, 2018 7:16pm

Wow, this is wonderfully written, i truly could feel your words, great job, for the writing and for the strength and wisdom in your recovery!!!

Laurisa Nutting Feb 10, 2018 6:33pm

Thank you, Matt. I know what you are talking about. I spent nearly 25 years trying to find a meaning and purpose for my life on the bottom of the bottles. There were no messages in the bottles. After I stopped drinking I did find them. Yes, I can drink of course. But I choose not to. I know where I come from. Yes, alcoholism is the best thing that happened to me also. Because even before I was made a hostage by alcohol, I had no place inside me nor in the outside world. Now I do. Shit happens in sobriety, of course. But now I have a place inside myself that's not floaded with booze and where I can rest, lick my wounds and thank a Supreme Being for being part of the universe and have a life of my own.

Heather Robertson Feb 10, 2018 6:05pm

Thank you. And ditto.

Mark LaPorta Feb 10, 2018 5:05pm

Hero's Journey ==> The response, the task, the return, and the boon. ( @Joseph Campbell) Good for you. Thanks for writing this. (EJ editors will tell you I don't compliment authors often -- without a back-handed correction.) I suspect we have 2million friends in common. And thanks to the commentators below. NOTE TO READERS: what @Matt is writing about in a very Tradition-adherent and respectful manner offers a few things to consider. 1) ALMOST NO ONE DOES IT ALONE and finds happiness. Most are worse off when they give up the glue that holds the alcoholic personality together without program for living to replace it. 2) "DRY" (abstinent) is NOT the same as sober, but it may be a start if it leads to enough clarity; a dangerous posture. 3) Drinking IS an option -- so is jumping out of an airplane over God-knows-where 4) There is a path, like a staircase up a wall. THEN you can see the other, beautiful side from a higher vantage. The people around us are the handrail up the staircase. 5) want to help someone ( a loved one or friend)? You can't give away what you don't have.

Eric Stanfield Feb 10, 2018 3:52pm

I'm also a grateful recovering Alcoholic. Thanks for your words. May He scoff, but remain to Pray.

Gwen Stackler Feb 10, 2018 3:37pm

Matt, I'm so glad that you stopped and it brought you peace and understanding. (I'm also really glad that your family had the strength to stand by you! Hat tip to them.) Coming from someone that has well over ten years sober, I hear and understand where you're coming from, yet can't and probably never will come to the same conclusion with it that you have. My drinking and Alcoholism was less the main problem and more the symptom of much deeper problems, however, the more that I drank, the more people, including professionals, assumed drinking was the problem, they didn't bother looking deeper. (even in rehab, where they are trained to look for that, I thought.) It took decades, mulitple DUIs, and all sorts of hairy situations until I stopped on my own and realized, even months later, oh crap, I still feel awful and not guilty for what I'd done while drunk awful, but awful in a totally different and new way. My live and recovery or at least stability with/from Mental Illness was put off for years thanks to that crutch of drinking and I had to deal with the wreckage that it left as well as the real problems. You may have heard of the idea of a dual diagnosis, and everyone missed it for years and I didn't really understand and wasn't about to share what I was trying to run from by drinking, I plain diddn't have the vocabulary and there was the stigma. So while I will never say that my Alcoholism was the best thing that ever happened to me, I will say that my life slowly, and I really mean slowly, started the day that I stopped and then years later, after tons of therapy for the real issues, was ready to deal with all the wreckage from those self-medicating Alcoholic years. That doesn't mean that I didn't gain the same empathy and understanding that you have. My empathy and need to understand others can be crippling and awkward at times. Just the other night with a couple that are fairly new friends, she told me about moving a lot as a kid and I asked her how all those moves made her feel. SERIOUSLY, that was none of my business at this point! She handled it well and we moved on to another subject. I'm so sorry, brevity is foreign to me and I didn't mean to hijack your beautifully written story and article. We all have differnt paths to sobriety and no matter how it happens and what rewards we reap, I'm so thrilled, ready to cheer them on, and listen to their journey, and eventually possibly look at my own story in the hope of seeing it in a different light. I wish you, your family, and your future the best. It's pretty simple and yet incredibly hard for many of us, just don't drink today.