Freedom in Sobriety – the other side of deceit

July 13, 2016

By Captain Mike Morse

Somewhere to Hide

I hid my secret for decades.

But here it is: I drank too much. In fact, I got drunk more times than not, blacked out sometimes, though usually not, drove drunk, worked hung over, said stupid things that only made perfect sense after ten or twelve beverages, made apologies, and failed at controlling how much I drank. With every moment of every day tinged with deceit, life for me was a never-ending lie.

Try to not face that fact every morning when looking in the mirror. Try to not see the bags under your eyes, the veins in your nose, your puffy face and revolting image. But you convince yourself that it’s not that bad, everybody gets older, and everybody looks a little rough in the morning. You ignore the telltale evidence seeping out of your pores, filling the space around you with the smell of a drunk body trying desperately to detox. Denial becomes your friend.

But somewhere buried in piles of denial, we know. While part of us almost believes the hunky-dory image we think we’re putting over on the rest of the world, it is impossible to 100% ignore the voices in our heads crying out for help. I am an alcoholic!

I knew it from the second alcohol was introduced into my body, even though I didn’t have a label for it.
I felt fabulous after my first drink, so good, in fact, that I couldn’t wait to have another. And another.
Becoming a firefighter helped for a while. I lost myself in that world and was able to push the nagging self-loathing aside. I was doing what many can only dream about, and I did it well in spite of my ever-worsening problem.

But here are some of the nagging voices that stayed with me almost continually:

  • Is my drinking affecting my job performance?
  • Am I a danger to myself and my co-workers when I show up for work with last night’s 12-pack seeping from my pores?
  • Has my ability to do the job been impacted from years of alcohol abuse?
  • How long can I continue the charade?

I found it difficult to fit in with many of the people I worked with. It wasn’t for any reason other than my own lack of confidence. I acted the part but never thought of myself as particularly worthy of the job I was doing. Had I been able to take alcohol out of the picture, the early years of my career would have taken a different path, I’m sure. It is during those early years that everything blossoms.

But I had been suppressing my true self for so long I didn’t even know who I was. And therefore, no one else had the opportunity to know me.

My relationships were all based on the self fashioned by alcohol.

Alcohol Is Not a Good Hiding Place

Judging from AA meetings, I’m not the only person who turned to drink because I judged myself to be reprehensible and felt alcohol masked it.

Usually, it’s our own expectations we don’t measure up to. Or we’re afraid we may do that thing, that one abject thing that puts us off the map. And we define the map. Whether our map, our ideal, is “responsible,” respectable,” or “heroic,” we either fail or fear failing to measure up.

Alcohol locked onto this fear. And like the bed children hide under on hearing a scary noise, alcohol was just as ineffective and deceptive in “saving” me from my fears. Until I decided to get some help and put the drink away.

Slowly but surely the real me returned. It didn’t happen overnight. And the changes were so subtle I could hardly see them at all. That’s why “living one day at a time,” is such an important maxim. It’s over time that a whole lot of 24 hours add up.

The person I was before I fell into the well of alcohol was still there, but his growth had been stunted by decades of avoidance. Fortunately, the things I learned while struggling with alcohol stayed with me. And the image I had learned to project, a habit of personality formed by alcohol, began to fade.

Then I began to notice this easy breathing in my skin. I was allowing myself to be myself, and feeling no tension, much less dread. I had shrugged off the need to make up lies about anything. I could just be. That was possibly the greatest gift of sobriety.

I thought I had to control my image to get anywhere in life. Sobriety freed me from the controlled fantasy inside my head, and allowed me to take the kind of personal risk – risk of failing, for instance – that could shepherd my reality towards my dreams. This is where sobriety opened doors of possibility.

Sometimes when I’m tempted to have a beer, a little tequila or even a glass of wine, I chuckle. This is not high mirth, because I am well aware of exactly how dangerous the thought of drinking alcoholic beverages is.

I chuckle at how my reality has flipped, as if I am now on the other side of a mirror, seeing a backwards world righted.

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