Welcome to Addiction Freed. This is Erik Johnson. I want to talk about how I quit alcohol once and for all. It’s been a long battle. But I can honestly tell you that I’ve been sober for 12 years now. And life is great. And I really didn’t even think I was going to be alive this long.
The last year I was drinking, people said I was gonna die within a year. I already had a heart attack when I was 32, tons of broken relationships and friendships, fired from many jobs. Just pathetic, demoralizing descent into hell. And drinking twice a day without eating. I mean, getting drunk twice a day without eating. Just absolutely hell.
And it took hundreds of times where I said I was gonna quit, but I never could quit. Until finally, that day that I said, I had enough. I hit rock bottom. But sometimes that rock bottom is deceiving, we don’t really know how deep it goes, might not actually be your rock bottom.
So I started drinking, just for fun a very little when I was 17. I was actually scared of alcohol. I thought one beer would make me drunk. And I remember my friends gave me a beer and I was so nervous about it. Because I was raised in a sheltered house. So there was no cursing, there was no drugs. My parents were sober. So I didn’t know how strong a beer was.
I remember pouring out the first beer secretly in the other room. I drank like two gulps, then I went into the other room and poured it out. But I pretended like I drank it. Then when I was 18, I started drinking a little bit more, and I just loved it. I loved the buzz. It felt like magic to me. It just freed up all this tension and anxiety and anxiety of all my years living under my dad’s rule, basically.
So when I was about 20, I met this woman that was twice my age. I was 20. She was 40. She was a line cook at a seafood restaurant, and I was a dishwasher. At that point in my life, my dad kicked me out when I was 18, so when I was 20, I was living in a Volkswagen van. And I was just washing dishes for a living.
I thought I was a poet. I thought I was a hippie. I played hacky sack, I wore Birkenstock shoes and I wrote poetry and washed dishes. Very simple life and I found out that this woman, she was a cook, and she was very different than other older women. Like she had a big flame tattoo around her wrist and she wore a black leather jacket. She just seemed different. She was artistic and Gothic and I was an artist or so I thought.
So I was like, I need to hang out with this chick. So I gave her my poetry and she read it and she invited me over to her apartment, overlooking downtown, and she really loved my poetry and we drank wine, And that night she was like, you know, do you want to spend the night? I was like, Yeah, but I was like, wouldn’t your son trip out, because I originally went over to play guitar with her son who was only a few years younger than me.
I spent the night, she’s like, well, you can pretend that you’re leaving, and then just jump into my room really fast. He won’t know. So I did that, and two weeks later, she invited me to live with her. I learned a lot from her but what we did was we basically drank red wine every night, and talked about poetry and different writers, which turned me on to the Beat Generation writers, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs, Ken Kesey and all those guys – and I slowly started to become alcoholic. I was getting drunk every night and that went on for four years.
Then I started getting really mean with her when I was drunk and that basically ended our relationship. I got sober. But it didn’t last, and over the years, I would go like three to six months sober, and then I would start drinking again, and it got heavier every time I started drinking again, they say that, you go back to where you left off when you quit.
It was very true. It’s like Eminem once said that these demons are doing jumping jacks just waiting for me, and you can’t outrun your demons. So basically, every time I relapsed and started drinking again, it was worse than before in just a couple of weeks, if not a week or less.
It got to the point where I was pretty much pissing my bed every night, I’d gotten so bad, I would get so frickin drunk, that I would wet my bed. And I was driving drunk and blacking out. Then it got to the point where I didn’t want to eat food anymore, because it ruins my buzz.
So I was literally getting drunk on this really cheap malt liquor, and not eating anymore. That’s when I went on a downward spiral really fast. That’s when people are like, you’re gonna die, worried about me. I was showing up to work drunk. I’d get fired from jobs. I could barely pay rent. My rent was only 150 a month, it was nothing.
So I was basically homeless and hanging out with homeless, homeless drunks, because no one else drank like me. There’s something that was very interesting about these homeless guys, they’re beaten down by life. So they didn’t have a threatening ego. A lot of normal people have a threatening ego. They’re cocky. They’re all addicted to materialism and their status in life, and there’s just an edge with normal people.
This is how I was thinking back then. I was like, I want to hang out with people that are gentle. I don’t want to be criticized, I don’t want to feel threatened. And so that led me to some guys that lived next door to me that were on Social Security, disability money, and they would just get drunk. That’s all they did. They’d go to the food bank once a week, get their food, then they get three 40s a day of malt liquor, Old English 800.
This one guy that I drank with, they call them Animal because he had stringy hair over his face and he grunted, is like, Hey, how’s it going? And I drank with him. The sad thing is that eventually, there were three guys that drank at this place and we called it the hole, it was a crater in the earth. We drank. That’s where their trailers were, and we called it the hole – kind of like a commune.
And all the guys that lived down there, I found out eventually because I would, I would kind of like interview them when I would drink. I wanted to know why they were down there and what made them tick and why they were drunks and what happened and it all came down to they had very abusive dads, every one of them. Their dads were tyrannical, beat them down physically and mentally, made them really made their self esteem really low, and somehow I related to that.
I was like, Yeah, my dad was Kinda like that too. But I was still, you know, 20 years younger than these guys. My life wasn’t a complete waste yet. But I drank with them because they didn’t threaten me. In fact, my old friends from high school, they’re just jerks to me, I was like, you don’t know me anymore. Especially when I started dating that older woman. I was like, I don’t need my childhood friends, I just want to hang out with this older woman, and learn about art, and wine, and debauchery and literature.
Then I went to Job Corps. But anyways, the point is, is that I tried quitting hundreds of times. It wasn’t until I was 36, and it wasn’t because I lost my job, or I was pissing my bed every night, or I was gonna die. It was because some guy came over to our house and shamed me.
I was lying in bed naked, it was like eight in the morning. He must have been up on speed all night, he came over to see my girlfriend at the time, and he just went into my bedroom, started talking crap to me, and picked up my girlfriend’s little guitar and started making up songs about me – that I was weird and all this stuff, and I was shaking with anger.
I was also shaking from alcohol withdrawals, and I couldn’t get up and kick him out of the house, I was defenseless. That was the moment that I was like, this is so frickin pathetic. And that was it. I was like I’m done. So that day, there were only two beers left in the fridge. I was like, I’m done. I grabbed those two beers, put them in my backpack and walked back to my school bus, which was my home. But I was living with her.
I drank those two beers, it probably saved my life because I was such a drunk that I probably could have died from withdrawals. So those two beers kind of let me come down off of alcohol gently. But after that, I just felt like utter hell for four days.
Then I got a second job, and I just stayed away from that girlfriend. I didn’t talk to any of my old friends. I didn’t go into bars. So I cut all ties, I cut all ties with any triggers. I just got rid of any association with alcohol, people, places and things like they say in AA, you got to cut ties with people, places and things that trigger you, or remind you of alcohol. So I did that.
A lot of people make their first mistake if they don’t do that. They think they can drink Pepsi at a bar with their friends. Or they think they can hang out with old friends without drinking. Or they think they can just go anywhere they used to. But you have to cut all of that out. I mean, this is really life or death, you got to treat it like it’s life or death. I was gonna die.
Probably one more year of drinking, and I would have died from malnutrition, because I wasn’t eating anymore. I couldn’t even hold down yogurt. I would puke it up. My diaphragm was swollen, my organs were swollen. I was gonna die.
So you got to get rid of any triggers. Anyhow, you have to have enough. Enough is enough. You have to really know. You have to really know it’s the end. Because when I quit all those other times, there is still a part of me that’s like, going, what am I going to do now? What am I going to do sober?
You know, there’s still a little bit of like, what if? And it’s a lie, just like the lie every night that you could just have six beers and quit. That’s the biggest lie alcoholics tell themselves. I could just have six and quit. Or I’m gonna just have red wine tonight. Like that’s not alcohol. You know? I mean, all the different things we lie to ourselves about to keep doing our addictions.
So I knew in my gut, my gut of guts that day I was done. I had to break up with that girl. And I had to go home and I had to be alone for two years. Literally, I didn’t leave the house except to go to work. I worked from 6am until 10pm at night, and for a treat, which I think you should have a treat. If you’re going to get sober, you need to do something that you feel is fun or a reward.
My reward every night was peanut M&Ms after work. And back then I still smoked cigarettes. So I’d have m&ms and I would have a cigarette, and I’d go to sleep. Eventually, I got with another girl. My standards had risen a lot when I got sober – and I just worked for two years, paid off bills, and started working out.
So I got my body back. And in two years, I started dating a girl that I’m still with today. Who was completely sober. She had gotten out of a bad relationship and we were both celibate and sober for two years before we met, she was doing her thing, celibate and sober, and I was doing my thing.
Then we finally met. She turned me on to spirituality and meditation, and eating good food. I switched from sugar to stevia. Because sugar is very dangerous to alcoholics, because alcohol is mainly made up of sugar. And, you know, those m&ms really saved me from drinking in the early days.
But eventually, the sugar was causing just as many problems. I was gaining a lot of weight with the sugar and I felt anxiety and all this stuff. So eventually, I had to quit the sugar. But the peanut m&ms and the tea and the sauna at this gym, the other thing is the sauna saved my life. Because I could hang out in a sauna for 30 minutes and get super hot and sweaty and it would just be relaxing. So I got exercise and then sauna. I played racquetball, I loved chasing that little blue ball around. I worked out a lot.
Then I met that girl, Misha who I’m still with today. But you really gotta want it guys. I mean, you have to treat it like it’s life or death. You can’t go back to any of those locations where you drink. If you have a memory associated with a place of drinking, you can’t go there again. In fact, if you can, I would move away.
Eventually, my girlfriend and I moved out of that small town. I had bad memories. Everywhere in that town. blacked out, passed out, made a fool out of myself hanging out with homeless people in public. You know, my old school friends could see that. You just gotta get out of there. And you know, start working out or start working hard.
Then eventually you can meet new friends that are sober. They don’t even have to be addicts or alcoholic, they’re not addicted to anything. They could have a big heart. Most people that don’t drink or use care, they have feelings. They have a big heart. Find those people.
We don’t need bullies when we’re trying to get sober. Alright, so if anyone’s like, hey, let’s go. You know, let’s go smoke a doobie or Let’s go have a beer just cut ties with them right away. Just say I don’t drink, if you can respect that then cool, but don’t drink around me. That’s what I would do. So after all those years of drinking – 16 years of blacking out passed out drunkenness. I got sober.
One last thing I want to talk about: relapses. I believe that relapse is part of recovery if you don’t keep drinking, so if you slip up and you get drunk, do not fall into guilt and shame and keep drinking. That’s what a lot of people do because they’re counting days that they’re sober. So they start adding up those days. And it’s kind of in parallel to their self worth. So when they have 30 days of sobriety, they’re starting to feel good, they have some self esteem. And
Then if they go out and get drunk, all those days are wiped out, and they feel like total crap to where they’re like, well, I threw it all away, I might as well just get wasted now because I’m back to zero. That’s the only part I don’t like about 12 step programs. But if you can not get drunk again, that is the key and get right back up on your horse and keep going and you’ll do fine. Don’t be hard on yourself if you relapse.
Now, don’t try to get all sneaky and say, Erik said that I can relapse, it’s part of recovery. I’m not saying that it’s not a trick. This is if you absolutely make a mistake, and drink or use. But, I had two day relapses when I finally got sober. And I was like, this sucks. I don’t like it anymore. Because I knew in my heart of hearts, I was done with drinking. Then I started working on other addictions and started unraveling those. Now I’m almost pretty much free from any addiction. Thanks for reading – we’ll talk to you soon.
Erik Christian Johnson