Alcohol Addiction Recovery Story
My parents divorced when I was very young and my dad stayed in Johannesburg, while my brother and I moved around with my mom.
Things were pretty good but it wasn’t always easy. As a child I loved working out at gym or doing karate. I was even a junior lifeguard on Clifton Beach. But my mom was often preoccupied as she battled with her own addiction to prescription drugs and marijuana. She was hardly capable of taking care of herself, let alone myself and my brother. We then moved to Cape Town where I spent my childhood growing up with mom and her girlfriends. My mom killed herself when I was 16 and I moved to Johannesburg to live with my dad.
I had started drinking alcohol at the age of 13 and that gave me an escape from what I was going through. By time I turned 36 it was beginning to take its toll physically and mentally. I was overweight, out of breath and drank 10 litres of beer at a time. It was always the same. I would wake up with a hangover, go to work, drink coffee, go to the pub, get home, make a big bowl of pasta, pass out, wake up, repeat. I still managed to do my job well but it was just an endless cycle of working hard, making money and then binging. And I couldn’t stop.
I remember sitting in the Keg and Beagle one Saturday morning wondering why my life was going nowhere. I had a successful job at an insurance company, wore a three-piece suit and drove a new BMW. Yet I felt so miserable – even suicidal. There were times when I had a gun in my hand and my mouth, trying to find the courage to kill myself. I was desperate to find a way out.
One Thursday in October 2006 my CEO and MD called me in. They asked me if I had a drinking problem. At that moment I knew I was at a crossroads. Say no, and be fired and dead within six months. Or say yes, and gain an opportunity to save myself. At my core I didn’t want to die. I knew that there was more for me in this life and I was running out of chances. So I accepted their offer to help me. They put me in touch with Dan Wolf at First Step, Houghton House’s intensive outpatient programme, who pronounced that I was an alcoholic and recommended that I join the programme.
I knew he was right. The money I had left on my only credit card had been earmarked for a company trip to Zanzibar; I decided to spend it on going into treatment instead. That weekend I went drinking with all my friends from the Keg and had what was to be my last beer.
I rolled into the First Step rooms the following Monday looking like an immaculately dressed balloon. I felt shy, unconfident and terrified. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even realise you had to stop drinking in the programme. But I told myself that I’m in a bad place and these guys know better than me. I decided then and there to shut up and do whatever they told me to. I surrendered completely to the programme. I realised I was powerless over my addiction. Intuitively, I realized that you can’t work the system so I internalized everything I learnt.
After completing the out-patient programme I joined the 12-week relapse prevention programme and ended up staying for 3 years.
In the programme I learnt that my past is my past. But it is in the past and I’m not going to let it to determine who I am and what my life is. That’s the beautiful part about recovery: you get to choose who you want to be. I had the opportunity to develop and learn to live the right way.
It isn’t just about not drinking. It’s about not living with addict thought processes, how you conduct yourself in your work and your relationships and how you treat yourself. The stories and voices you allow in your head can be far more damaging and I live with that seriousness every day.
Life in recovery hasn’t always easy but I’ve had the tools to cope with difficulties without turning to alcohol again. In 2009 I moved to Cape Town with my company. We were assured of lucrative contracts and well-paid work but none of it materialised. Fast forward eight months. I hadn’t earned a cent since moving, was living in a dive, didn’t have money for food and my debts were accumulating. I developed shingles and lost my short-term memory. But I was able to draw on the skills I had gained and the work that I did on myself in the programme. I realized that it is possible to cope with a huge amount of stress. This was my reward for shutting up and listening.
I returned to Johannesburg in 2010. Four friends and they helped me back onto my feet and slowly I began to rebuild my career. Since going into recovery I had been working out regularly and had lost a huge amount of weight. In October 2010 I started training two guys in a park in Johannesburg for R100 a session. And that is how I started building my business, Emet – Hebrew for ‘truth’.
Now I train rugby players, rowers, runners, cyclists, military personnel … and addicts. I’ve taken my skills back to the Houghton House programme where I train clients in the inpatient programme. Our training is results focused. We train for fitness not just the appearance of fitness.
I pursued this because I love it. My work in the insurance industry was for the money, but this is my passion. My goal is to provide a training facility for people who are desperate for change but don’t know how to facilitate it.
I have a quote in the gym at Houghton House from top combat shooter, Bryan Enos, which exemplifies what I have experienced: “Sport is about growth. You have the opportunity to challenge yourself beyond any means available to you in daily life.”
There are no gym bunnies in hot pants in my gym and that is how I want it. I think back to myself and how I was overweight and embarrassed to go to the gym. I’m providing a safe environment for people to grow, develop and learn to believe in themselves.
I was content to be single and make a go of my business, when my best friend’s wife introduced me to Carmit. When she first smiled at me I knew I would marry her. Now I’m a dad and a husband. These are the most amazing things in the world. I pinch myself and ask, “How on earth did this happen?”
The best day in recovery is today. I’m beginning to live the life I deserve and the rewards keep piling up. I’m living a life I never dreamed possible and through my work I’m helping to facilitate transformation in other people’s lives. In the insurance industry the reward was financial but I was selling my soul for it. And it wasn’t me. This is me!
The two things I live by daily I learned in the programme: Just one day at a time. And I will not touch alcohol.