Saturday, May 14th, 2011 started out relatively normal. I worked from 7 am until noon- we were working mandatory overtime that week. Those 5 hours got me to 60 for the week, something I was proud of. I was working at an office for a large corporation downtown. The details aren’t perfect but I want to say that I had been working there for close to 2 years at this point. It was my second time with this corporation- I had worked there before and was fired before I became a bartender. The bartending lifestyle had been a whirlwind, and I was happy to be a part of the normal working class, with normal working class hours. I was really trying hard to be a normal person and live a normal life. In fact, I was obsessed with it. Part of this turn toward normalcy, the biggest part, concerned my drinking.
Some time in 2009, I had started toying with the idea of quitting. Things in my life weren’t going the way I wanted them to and it had been brought to my attention that drinking was the main problem. By this point, everyone around me could very plainly see that I had a serious problem with alcohol. I, on the other hand, was still blissfully unaware. I was certain that I was in control of my drinking and was, on a daily basis, choosing to get black out drunk and live this chaotic, self destructive life with no plan or even thought of the future. I was confident that I could stop if I only made the decision to stop. That simple.
Eventually that day came when, in order to get what I wanted, I would need to choose to stop drinking, or at minimum I would need to choose to control my drinking. So I gave it a shot. Mind you, I was still so very arrogant. I truly believed that addiction was bullshit, that there is no way it was a disease. It was just a case of will power. I believed that any type of treatment was bullshit, that it was all a scam to take your money.
Looking back, I can see how my competitive personality, plus my belief that addiction was a case of mental weakness, mixed with my mental state after 10+ years of hard drinking and self medicating, was creating a powder keg. Once I made the decision to quit things went south rapidly.
That first attempt failed after maybe 2 weeks. Of course after 2 weeks of not drinking, I came back guns blazing. I remember the feeling very clearly. All of the thoughts in your head telling you not to do it. That little inner voice that starts out calmly saying things like “you got this” and “this is going to be easy” but by day 2 it’s getting louder and a bit more anxious. By the first Friday of the attempt it’s screaming “fuuuuuck, don’t do it, fuck it just drink, NOOOOOO!” …these are the types of thoughts you would typically drown out with booze but, yeah, trying to quit.
After just a few days, the inner monologue is coupled by a metaphysical pull that feels like a million little fishing lines pulling you towards a drink. Your old friend John Daniels (whoo ah) is reeling you in. Each day, each moment the lines get tighter, the tension greater. Eventually the lines snap. The voices overwhelm you and you fail. For me, that meant belly up to the bar, 3 shots of whiskey for each beer. In a rush to take the train off the tracks. Any relief I felt from that tension being released was immediately replaced by guilt, shame, and hopelessness. These emotions are not ideal to mix with a depressant like alcohol. These aren’t celebratory drinks. These drinks are hateful. These drinks are broken. These drinks are the fuel that drives me to the darkest places in my mind. Places I just can’t get to sober. And each time that I would try to stop drinking and fail, I would find myself in darker and darker places mentally.
So I had this kind of pre-midlife crisis happening. I was trying to quit drinking. I got a dog (Mookie) and a Jeep. I took a temp job in an office that would eventually become the full time job I started this story with. I had these periods of sobriety followed by these really dark and terrifying relapses. Someday, I want to go back and talk in detail about the treatment facilities and the programs I worked, just not today.
Throughout 2009 and 2010, I went to drug and alcohol treatment centers multiple times. I was sober and relapsed many times. I think my best stretch was 6 months, but typically my periods of sobriety lasted between one day and two weeks.
Each time I relapsed was worse than the previous. The failure of relapse really took a toll on me. Like I said before, I am a competitive person. I also can usually figure things out if I just apply myself. But alcohol continued to get the best of me. I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t will myself to beat it, and that was crushing me.
Many times during this cycle, I would try to end my own life. Sometimes with handfuls of pills, other times just by the amount I would drink. I would drink and drive regularly. The car I drove was banged up from hitting things- a mailbox coming home from a concert, or my own garage coming home from the bar.
I had daydreams of driving out to Montana with a “Leaving Las Vegas” ending in mind. I could drink myself to death peacefully there, and no one would find me for a while. These are not the thoughts of a healthy person. The idea that I had tried as hard as I could and couldn’t quit drinking, the idea that my life was always going to be this way, that I was always going to be this sad, pathetic, drunk loser was just too much for me. I didn’t want to live like that, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to quit.
I was hopeless.
Luckily I was also very stubborn, and for some reason couldn’t die. I actually used to brag about how many times I attempted to kill myself when I was drunk. Like instead of saying “cheers” and doing a shot, I’d say “here’s to not being able to die!” Did I mention I was not mentally healthy?
So on the week of May 14, 2011, having come to terms with the fact that I would never be able to quit drinking, I was doing something different: I was trying to control my drinking. I had been trying this for while now, and had cycled through a few different plans that failed, but the plan that week was that I would have 1 gin and tonic per day during the week and then I could drink as much as I wanted on Saturday. For so many reasons this is a stupid plan but the one thing I really remember is how much time I spent each day thinking about when I was going to have my 1 drink and what size that drink would be and if I would actually be able to have just 1 that day. I was completely obsessed with this 1 drink. Also I understood why I was completely obsessed with it, because I had spent that past year in and out of treatment, learning about exactly what was going on in my brain and exactly why this plan would ultimately fail.
Didn’t matter. Didn’t matter that I had read specifically in “How It Works” that “half measures availed us nothing,” or in the “Big Book” that “we have tried every imaginable remedy” and “physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic.” Despite the fact that I had admitted I was powerless, this was my plan… and it was Saturday.
I drank a bottle of vodka within 30 minutes of being off work. I had 3 more bottles at the house ready to go. I also had some pills- Xanax and stuff like that. Stuff that would really help me take the edge off the week, and release that tension I’d felt all week trying to have just one drink a night. By 4 pm the day had gone completely off the rails. There were a couple people at my house, and we were drinking like maniacs and snorting the Xanax, because I said it worked quicker that way (I have no idea if that is true). I blacked out, but I know the people who were there left. I woke up from the blackout after an hour and contacted my sister and maybe my mom. I was hungry, and they had asked me to go to dinner with them (I think this is how it happened – its all really blurry). I declined dinner but asked them to bring me something from the restaurant they went to. I feel like at some point my sister stopped by with pasta and I ate that, then I started back in on the vodka. I believe my plan was to just drink as much vodka as I could since it was my freedom day, but at some point someone messaged me and asked if I was out or I was planning to be out. Instead of saying “no way I am super wasted,” like a normal person, I made plans to meet them. After that, I made a drink for the shower and got ready.
Instead of taking a cab downtown (this was pre-Uber) I decided I was sober enough to drive there, but I’d make sure to cab it home. Which of course makes total fucking sense- sarcasm, so much sarcasm- so that’s what I did.
I was so drunk and still drugged from the pills. I vaguely remember walking into the tattoo shop because it was next door to the bar I was going to. The artist I was friends with wasn’t there, but I came behind the counter to the other artist’s stations and got really close to the work they were doing, almost trying to make them uncomfortable. I believe it was an attempt to be funny. I’m sure they thought it was as cool as I did- also sarcasm.
I walked into the bar and found the person I was meeting. I also remember being next to a person / friend from a bar I had worked at downtown. I was ordering shots for everyone and when I wasn’t ordering shots, I think I was talking about who’s turn it was to order shots. I probably made some really inappropriate comments and was repeating the pattern over and over.
I remember getting a text from the person I had met at the bar- the person who was sitting right next to me. It said “Robb is so drunk and is being so annoying, I am about to leave.” Clearly this was a case of texting the wrong person, and had I not been being a total drunken shitbag, it might have been really embarrassing for the person who sent it. Instead, after way longer than it should have taken to understand what was happening (I read the text like 5 times and even spoke it out loud trying to make sense of it) I got the hint and left.
I stumbled back into the tattoo shop on my way back to my car. I am pretty sure this time the people at the shop asked me to leave (kicked me out).
I don’t remember anything after that. I mean, I barely remember that.
An undetermined amount of time later I crashed into a small vehicle at the intersection of Fluer and Park.
I lived on Park Avenue. My house was south of downtown yet I was traveling north on Fleur trying to turn east onto Park Ave. Somehow I had left downtown, driven past my house, and gone to the west of it. It makes no sense why I would be at that intersection heading that direction. I was completely blacked out. I can’t honestly tell you why I was there. I can’t tell you how the accident occurred. I don’t know if I ran a red light. I don’t know anything about the moments leading up to the accident. I was there, but only physically.
What I do know is that I hit the other car very hard, on the driver’s side, just past the driver’s door. I barely missed directly hitting the driver.
When it happened, I snapped out of my blackout. I called my step dad and said “hey come pick me up, I just wrecked my car and have to get out of here before they arrest me.”
I had done something very similar maybe a year before. I called him to come pick me up after I had been pulled over for swerving on a road near my house. That night the officer took mercy on me. He told me I had a bad problem with alcohol and needed help. He let my step dad pick me up and leave my vehicle there.
This time wasn’t going to work out the same. My step dad told me he wasn’t going to be able to pick me up. I pondered the idea of running. I thought I could jump the fence to the golf course and cut through. I had a friend nearby and I could show up there and just act like nothing was going on….. I didn’t run though.
When the police showed up, I was standing outside of my car on my phone. I told them “this fucking yuppie just hit me and wrecked my Cadillac.” A statement that was so comically inaccurate. 1- It was like a 95 Toyota Corolla and the driver was really young, and 2- I totally am the one who initiated the contact. It didn’t take a detective’s eye to see that.
The statement was so stupid that the police officer said “yeah, you might want to think about not talking anymore until you have a lawyer present,” which I assume was his trick to get drunks to shut up, because it worked. I agreed that was a good idea. I took the BAC test and blew a .29 – a solid 3 and a half times the legal limit. So that was that. I was under arrest for my 3rd OWI. My car was totaled, my leg was bleeding and I was headed to jail.
As bad as everything looked for me that night, I remember feeling a true sense of relief. I remember feeling like it was finally all over. I had been trying so hard for 2 years to fight, to claw my way to sobriety, and it had eluded me over and over. I felt confident that with the help of the Department of Corrections, I would finally stop drinking.
You hear a lot of catchy little sayings when you hang out in treatment facilities and sober rooms. From “One day at a time” to “Keep it simple, stupid” and everything in between. These phrases can be annoying to some, and life savers to others.
There was one that stuck with me during this time in my life, in regards to life as an addict or alcoholic:
There are only 3 ways out: locked up, covered up or cleaned up.
I had attempted to clean up several times and failed.
I had considered and attempted to be covered up several times as well.
As strange as it sounds, I was happy that I was going to be locked up.
A couple of notes before I end this post.
First, I have examined that accident and that drive over and over. I feel so incredibly fortunate that I didn’t hurt anyone that night (myself included) or any other night that I drove drunk. I have considered the way my life would have been different if I had hit that driver’s door directly.
Also, I mentioned that there were times when I considered taking my own life. I understand, to a certain extent, the type of hopelessness that results in suicide.
Please remember suicide is not the solution. There is a solution. There is hope. Please don’t ever give up on yourself.
If you need help go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255.