When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
When your loved ones tell you that you have a drinking problem, you do. DJ didn’t want to believe it, but he knew it was true and trusted those who loved him. He talks about making the decision to sign on to a virtual AA meeting. He has been in recovery since. If you are concerned about your use, you can choose life and recovery. To contact the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, call 262-658-8166, or explore their website at https://www.hopecouncil.org. You can also find AA meetings here: https://mtg.area75.org/meetings.html?dist=7 and NA meetings here: https://www.sefana.net/meetings.php
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:11] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. You know, we've had a number of guests on this podcast who have been willing to share their journey. No two roads towards recovery are exactly alike. And oftentimes we've heard that journey has been a long one with many, many curves.
[00:00:32] Well, my guest today, DJ, is newer on the road to recovery, but is willing to share his story about what brought him to the decision to stop using. Welcome DJ.
[00:00:42] DJ: Hi, thank you. Good to be with you.
[00:00:44] Mike: Well, I'm really glad you could join us. DJ, I think it's always a great way to start just by giving a little map of your own recovery.
[00:00:52] So how long has it been?
[00:00:55] DJ: Uh, about 15 months. So not that long, but not that short.
[00:00:59] Mike: No. Well, that's a perfect length actually, congratulations. That's great.
[00:01:04] DJ: Yeah, thank you.
[00:01:05] Mike: So just over, I'll just over a year, I'll come back to how you celebrate the year in just a little while. I always ask this because it's important I think. Tell us a little bit about it? And when you, when did you start using?
[00:01:17] DJ: Well, I mean, I started drinking, um, honestly, I, I, in some ways I was quote the good kid, cause I didn't really drink alcohol until I was a junior in college. I was 21. It really was something I just did socially.
[00:01:31] It wasn't something that, I mean, of course, like a lot of people I was looking forward and excited to turning 21. And, but even my 21st birthday wasn't particularly anything that would make anyone uncomfortable in terms of scary drinking stories. Um, and I drink socially for, you know, uh, the rest of my time in college, again, nothing particularly out of the ordinary.
[00:01:55] Um, and. When I got to graduate school, you know, it was a very lonely time because you're I always lone graduate student working on kind of a very isolated project, which, you know, I found interesting, but it didn't change the fact that I was sort of the only person in my workspace. I was the only one working on that particular project and it got very stressful.
[00:02:19] And so, you know, one thing that I did end up doing was. I lived off campus. So I would, when I would go home, I would stop at the Irish bar in the third ward of Milwaukee. And again, not drink excessively, one, maybe two drinks, but it got to be something that I was doing pretty much every day. Um, and then when I started working full time, of course your budgets expand, ultimately have more free time than I did at least during graduate school. And that's when you know, dinner parties and, you know, splitting a bottle of wine at dinner started to, well, let's split two bottles of wine and it kind of went from there. And then ultimately, um, you know, I. During the pandemic is really when it got to the point where I was like, yeah, this is a problem.
[00:03:07] Um, there may have been warning signs or sort of indicators before the pandemic, but it wasn't something that, I mean, like maybe some people on the, on the show here know, working from the office as I did, like a lot of people you didn't drink during the day because you were at the office around people and yeah, I drank when I got home.
[00:03:30] I had meetings in the evenings, so it couldn't get too crazy. But by the time the pandemic hit, especially as I kind of got to the point where I was like needing AA, I was drinking during the day, you know, again, not, I was still able to do my job, but you know, a beer over lunch and then a beer at two o'clock.
[00:03:50] And. You know, some gin by the time five o'clock ran around was pretty typical.
[00:03:57] Mike: You know, I'm, I'm nodding because that's what we've been hearing over and over again. In fact, I'm talking this week with somebody from the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project and their data shows that you're in a big club. Uh, during the pandemic, it went sky high.
[00:04:17] DJ: I believe it. [laugh]
[00:04:18] Mike: Did your loved ones recognize around you, that it was a problem before you did?
[00:04:24] DJ: Yeah, I mean, my partner and I had had conversations before the pandemic about, "Well, maybe we should only drink on the weekends". And honestly, he is a normie, as we say.
[00:04:37] So for him only drinking on the weekends, wasn't something that got to be a challenge. It was like, okay, that's just what he did. I always struggled with that. You know, I could, I could string a couple of days together without drinking, but it wasn't something that I was especially motivated to do, I guess, would be the best way to say it.
[00:04:56] Mike: Did you rationalize it?
[00:05:00] DJ: Yeah, probably. You know, it was "Well I had a long day". Or I just had, you know, 12 hours of conference calls, I'm going to have what starts with one glass of wine or I'm going to make a cocktail. Um, so that, that got to be a pretty typical, at least internal thought process. And, um, you know, by the time my partner was saying like, we've got a problem here.
[00:05:27] Um, I had already sort of, I told myself, yeah, AA might be in my future. I'd already sort of figured out what do I need to do to get to AA? I hadn't actually stepped into any meetings yet, but I'd already done the homework to know, like there's a club, not too far from my house. They have meetings at this time.
[00:05:50] I'd already done the work. I just hadn't put it into a plan, you know, I hadn't put my plan into action.
[00:05:55] Mike: You put it on your day planner, but it was weeks away.
[00:05:58] DJ: Yeah, exactly, right, so.
[00:06:01] Mike: Did you find you or were you sneaking it from, um, from him at that time?
[00:06:05] DJ: Yeah. Yes. Yep. I had certain bottles stashed in different places.
[00:06:10] Um, you know, I don't know if he knows that he probably does. Um, but you know, it was also like, as a lot of people have said before, too, like you pour a glass of wine and then you fill the bottle back up with the secret bottle, you know, from, you know, we have a little wine fridge, so you pour a glass and then refill it. So no one would know. That that started to happen more frequently. So those types of things would, those were all kind of the, the building story around what ultimately brought me to the program.
[00:06:44] Mike: Okay. But before that, this is always fascinating part to me. So when you were doing that, when you're sneaking it, I mean, you, you, you're a bright guy, right?
[00:06:52] So what were you telling yourself? I mean, cause you know, at that point, this isn't.
[00:07:01] DJ: So I, I think what I told myself was like, um, well, as, as your listeners might expect, I was somehow in a way that I'm not maybe sure I could articulate, but it was like, well, this is normal, you know? Um, this is normal, but yet, you know, The inner monologue was clearly like, no, this is not like, um, you know, as you know, we, our laundry, you know, washer dryers in the basement.
[00:07:35] So I would make, make it appear. And in some cases was truly doing laundry, but I wouldn't forget that I had a bottle of gin stashed around the corner and would, you know, help myself multiple times during the course of an evening while working on my laundry. Um, Yeah, that, that that's where it would again, kind of escalate.
[00:07:56] And it wasn't, I was never really a blackout drunk. I was never really the type of drunk that would, um, you know, get so, so drunk that I couldn't function. It happened occasionally, but it wasn't the norm. You know, I was sort of like, I liked the Steady Eddie Buzz and it got to be that it required more and more to keep the Steady Eddie Buzz.
[00:08:18] Mike: Hmm. Um, I want to ask you a little bit later what, what you do for that Steady Eddie Buzz now, but before I get to that point, so what, what ended up, what put it on the day? This is done now today on my day planner, I mean, what did something, did you guys have an argument or.
[00:08:39] DJ: I'm I'm, you know, I love my partner, Brad, he's a great guy.
[00:08:42] He and I don't fight like you see on TV, we kind of have our own version of that. And maybe it looks like what other people have, but for us, it's not like a raise your voice, slam your hands on the counter-argument. It was kind of a longer, more, you know, thoughtful, but yet stern conversation about there's a problem here.
[00:09:07] And, you know, just saying, you're not going to drink on the weekends. It's not enough anymore. And so. You know, ultimately I think, I think Brad had said something to me. Like, I don't know how to help you anymore. It was something to that effect. And the reason I ended up at my first AA meeting, it was, uh, Friday, January 15th of 21.
[00:09:32] I had thought I'd been exposed to COVID. So I was, I had stepped out over my lunch hour to go get a COVID test. And as I was driving back to the house, I passed the liquor store and I was like, well, it's Friday, you know, I'm and, um, my partner works in healthcare. So he, during the pandemic work for him still meant leaving the house.
[00:09:56] You know, that was probably part of the reason my drinking got so bad is because I was alone for so much of the pandemic. Um, but I bought a small bottle of gin and I, I set it on the kitchen counter, I think, but by the time five o'clock, maybe five 30 rolled around that bottle was empty and, um, I was always, and maybe you'd say I still am, but I was always the type that didn't really like, Brad, my partner seen me drunk, so I would just put myself to bed.
[00:10:25] But when I put myself to bed at like 6:30 on a Friday night, I'm not fooling anyone. Um, so the next morning he's like, what is going on? Like this is it. Like, we've got a problem. And that's the morning I went to my first AA meeting because it was like, It was like 7:00 AM. We were having this conversation and there was an 8:30 AM virtual meeting and I was like, that's it. I'm going. And I've been, I think there's two Saturdays I've missed since then.
[00:10:53] Mike: Do you, do you think DJ I've heard, um, both of these from people. Do you think it was easier to attend that first meeting virtually? Do you think it would have been more difficult in person?
[00:11:03] DJ: I do. I think having the virtual option, it put more control in my hands because, you know, I told myself I could turn my camera off if I felt uncomfortable, I ended up not doing that. I ended up having my camera on the whole time, but it put more control in my hands to say, like, I'm in control of the situation. Like. It just it's different than walking into a room after having spent the effort to drive to wherever the meeting was. So I, for me, at least, you know, I'm in my thirties, I work in a job where I spend a great deal of time on conference calls and Zoom calls and whatnot.
[00:11:43] So for me, the Teams call or the Zoom for this AA meeting, was a much more comfortable start than probably, uh, an in-person would have been.
[00:11:52] Mike: You're new enough into this. Do you still remember that first meeting? Do you remember what was going through your head?
[00:11:58] DJ: Yeah, that was, yeah. I was hung over for one. [laugh]
[00:12:02] Mike: [laugh] I'm sure you're not the first one in an AA meeting to be hung over.
[00:12:04] DJ: Yeah, right. Um, no, I do remember because I I'd done enough. I knew, I knew that it was a 12 step recovery program. I knew AA. Um, had a spiritual affiliation or like a spiritual component, but I remember being really kind of on guard when they talked about God, as we understood him and a higher power, you know, like a lot of people who are gay and out of the closet. I grew up Catholic. And so now I'm, I always say I'm a recovering Catholic, so I sort of wince, you know, kind of tense up at the mention of God. And to be honest, kind of still do. Um, but you know, I just sort of was like, okay, I can do this for an hour. Right? Like I was telling myself, I don't have to go back if I don't want to.
[00:12:58] That's what I told myself. But by the end of the meeting, you know, the group, which is still my home group to this day, very welcoming, but yet not intrusive. Like, I didn't feel like I had to reveal more than I was comfortable sharing, but yet I was still made to feel very welcomed. So it was like a nice balance of acknowledging I was there acknowledging I was new, but not putting the spotlight on me to the point where I felt uncomfortable.
[00:13:26] Mike: Have you been sober ever since?
[00:13:30] DJ: Yeah.
[00:13:31] Mike: And, and how long after, before you started to feel steady on your feet?
[00:13:39] DJ: You know, it, to be, to be honest, not probably less than a few days. Um, in, in the sense of like, when I say that I mean. Like I'd gotten over the hangover. I don't think I ever had like a chemical dependence, like, like some people I know, like they might get the trembles or the shakes from alcohol withdrawal.
[00:14:02] I would say that probably wasn't me. Um, what I would say is it took the better part of the year to get to the point where I was, Steady Eddie in multiple situations, like going out to dinner or going to a work event at a bar, those situations, those took a while. Right. But from a physical, how is my body doing? I was lucky that I didn't have a lot of like withdrawal type issues.
[00:14:30] Mike: Yeah. I, you know, I, I wanted to actually talk about that because I think that's really interesting, especially with the pandemic and whatnot. Um, those social situations, um, uncomfortable at first? Uh, did you, did you do the straw on a club soda thing?
[00:14:46] DJ: Um, yeah. Even before I joined AA, I've always loved Diet Coke. So to be honest, it wasn't uncommon for me to do a, like a rum and Coke or a, you know, a whiskey Coke, um, or Diet Coke. Um, The uncomfortableness was obviously far more like the job I have. It I'm, I'm a higher level leader. So it, part of my job is to sort of like build morale and do things with my team.
[00:15:15] So it's not uncommon for me to organize a happy hour or organize a work dinner. And that's where it felt the most sort of like, um, kind of fraudulent for me to be like, "I'm in AA, but I'm going to organize an event at a bar". Um, but I, I always smiled to myself because the bar closest to my office, um, I've been going there for like over 10 years on and off, like never, I was never a bar fly like there everyday, but enough that the bartender now knows that I order Diet Coke and I don't order anything else.
[00:15:49] So I always smile at that. Um, the place where I probably took the most. Getting used to is like in the gay scene at least, you know, I would say in most places, the gay scene, the, you know, the LGBT scene is pretty heavily rooted in like a drinking culture. Right. You go to the bar, you go dancing. Well, I don't dance, but you get the picture.
[00:16:13] Um, that's probably the place where it was the biggest transition because now I'm the, well, to turn a phrase, I'm the straight one in the sense that I'm not drinking. Um, that took the most like, kind of, and, and they're, you know, gay Milwaukee is pretty small. It wasn't too hard for people to realize, like I wasn't drinking.
[00:16:35] I was the one driving, we weren't Ubering places. Um, so that one is that one's newer. Cause obviously it was in, it hasn't been more than a month or two since we've really felt comfortable. Going out in the traditional sense. Um, so that one, I'm still kind of figuring out, um, depending on the places, some places have really beautiful, like NA cocktails.
[00:17:01] So you can have something that feels more special than a Diet Coke, not every place, but a number, a growing number. So that's made it easier. Um, but that that's sort of like the LGBT scene has probably been. That's the one that I'm only just recently kind of getting to a point where I'm like, yeah, I'm good with this.
[00:17:21] Mike: Did you, did you find that you were more worried about the social pressure than you were being pressured?
[00:17:28] DJ: Yeah. Oh yeah. Cause I, I went to dinner with a group of very close friends who I've known for years. Don't see them a great deal, but yet would consider them my close friends. And I was sitting next to her and we were chit chatting and.
[00:17:45] She heard me order from the NA menu. Cause you know, she heard me order and she's like, oh, you're not drinking tonight. And I'm like, no, I don't, I don't drink at all anymore. Oh, oh for lent? Oh, you gave up drinking for lent? Like for the rest of my life. And, and you know, she was like, "Oh my gosh!", which is funny cause I've been around her several times since going sober. She's just never noticed and it hadn't ever come up. So that to me was sort of like a big splash of water in the face. Like even people I'd consider pretty close friends don't even care, because the conversation immediately went back to where it was before the comment about what I ordered.
[00:18:27] So, uh, it was sort of an interesting little, Hmm. That's pretty cool.
[00:18:32] Mike: That is pretty cool. And so you have a relative, you must have a supportive group of people then.
[00:18:38] DJ: Oh yeah, I do. Yeah. My, one of my best friends in the world lives real close to me. So we get together with her for dinner and whatnot pretty frequently.
[00:18:47] And I always smile because she always finds me these amazing, like NA beverages and she'll always bring something special. Like she found this amazing, like Phony Negroni, which is a completely NA drink, that tastes a lot like a Negroni. So, you know, in the AA world, I think there's mixed views on, do you drink things that are fake alcohol and, you know, I've taken the stance that I do.
[00:19:14] Um, but it's beautiful because I get to like sip on a cocktail over ice that tastes familiar, but yet I don't feel kind of any. Any anxiety over it being an alcohol or, you know, it's, it's nice. So I would say yes, I have a supportive group of friends.
[00:19:31] Mike: So there's not a craving around that. And you don't feel like you're, you're going to lure yourself into a false sense of security that you can handle wine again.
[00:19:41] DJ: So for me, no. Um, what I will say, one of the biggest things that I think about, you know, in AA, they often talk about like, play the tape to the end. Like if you were to start drinking again, If you were, let yourself have that next drink. Play the tape to the end. And for me, that always is very, it always focuses in on how crappy I felt the next morning trying to get up at 5:00 AM for work, you know, or not, not drunk, but like really hung over, you know, just feeling like absolute crap, but yet needing to go do a 8, 10, 12 hour workday and just feeling like crap.
[00:20:20] So to me, for me, That's that's deterrent enough. Um, I also really just like being in control and I've gotten to a point where even Diet Coke is something I enjoy. And I've been, my partner's really supportive too. Like he's been playing around with different, like home made. They call them shrubs, which is like kind of plant and vinegar-type mixtures that you can mix with like club soda. So you can have really interesting things to drink that isn't just water or Diet Coke. Um, so yeah, for me, that's, that's enough and it's not to say that I have the Phony Negroni every day. I don't even buy it. I only drink it when someone brings it. Right.
[00:21:07] Um, so it's a nice little treat, like, uh, like you might expect.
[00:21:12] Mike: Okay. So there's two things I want to go back to your Steady Buzz thing. Um, so both the high and the low, what do you do now? To maintain that sense of freedom that you got from that. And also, how do you now cope with sensations of that loneliness or isolation when they occur? Even though they're significantly less because we're on a back end of the pandemic.
[00:21:39] DJ: Right. Well, you know, I've, I've always loved coffee and I've pretty much leaned into that full steam at this point. Um, and you know, it's, it's four o'clock on a Friday afternoon and I'm sipping a fully fledged, uh, caffeinated cup of coffee.
[00:21:56] Mike: You're not going to bed at six tonight.
[00:21:58] DJ: Oh, no, I still could, but not because I'm drunk because , I just, I love sleep. Um, so that, so the coffee is one, um, you know, because I'm not nursing a hangover or I'm not trying to find my next source of booze. Now, it's been easier to say, okay, I've got 20 minutes in my calendar today. Instead of going and, you know, having a gin martini. I'm going to take the dogs for a walk or you know, sometimes it's as simple as like I'll call a friend. So essentially, you know, all the time that I had spent drinking before, I've been able to sort of divert that time into something that's, you know, produces joy to, to turn a phrase. Right.
[00:22:44] And you know, and when I get kind of lower in the dumps, I have found. I don't know how directly it is related to the sobriety, but like I'm much more likely to call a friend now than I used to be. Um, I'm sure there are several reasons for that. Right. But, um, whereas before I would sorta just like, you know, nurse my, my emotions into the bottle, I think because the bottle isn't there it's been easier or I have found that I'm more inclined to, like I said, like, it's not even always picking up the phone. Sometimes it's texting a friend. Um, but it's, I've sort of tried to divert that energy less inward and inverse, conversely, like put it outward.
[00:23:30] Mike: I love that. I think that's outstanding. And so what's next? I mean, what, what do you look forward to now?
[00:23:39] DJ: I mean, honestly, you know, a lot of times in the program, we'll say, you know, one day at a time, so I'll sort of, I'll check that catchphrase box to say, like, I'll just stay sober for today. But you know, in a more honest sense, you know, what's next it's, um, you know, trying to get back into my exercise routine.
[00:23:59] I allowed COVID and drinking to really, uh, Basically subvert my entire exercise routine. You, you mentioned biking as we were kicking off the call and like I used to teach exercise class for, I used to teach spin. I used to bike on Saturdays, 50, 60, 70 miles. I haven't done that since the pandemic certainly. And if I'm totally honest, I was really hoping that a side benefit of being sober is I'd lose some weight and unfortunately that hasn't played out. So now I'm, uh, trying to kind of, like I said, get my exercise routine back.
[00:24:37] Mike: Well, DJ, this has been delightful. I really appreciate the conversation. You know, so sometimes when we have people who've been recovering for years and years and years, it's a really interesting story about the tale, but I really liked the current, the recency of this. And because I think a lot of folks. Are going through, right now, and have exactly what you experienced, especially in the last couple of years. Um, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you being with us today. So thanks a ton.
[00:25:04] DJ: Ya, thank you. It's been fun.
[00:25:06] Mike: And for those of you who are listening, you know how this goes, please listen in the next time, when we'll talk about more issues around substance use, and until then, please stay safe and get out and bike 50 or 60 miles.
[00:25:19] ([END AUDIO])
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.