My Double Life As A High-Functioning Alcoholic (And How I Finally Found Happiness)
For most of my mid-30s and early 40s, it looked like I had it all together.
I had a six-figure dream job that allowed me to work from home and travel the world. I had a beautiful wife and newborn son. We lived in a new house and had a couple of luxury cars in the garage. We enjoyed vacationing in Fiji, France, and Italy.
Sounds like the good life, right? But inside, it was a far different story. I was living a double life and hiding a dark secret. I was a high-functioning alcoholic.
It began innocently enough. Because of my extensive business travels, on most nights I was socializing with colleagues or entertaining clients. Often our consumption was excessive, but I knew my limits and made it a point not to embarrass myself.
But over time, I found more and more excuses to drink. Not just socially or at happy hours and client dinners, but before and after.
I might have thought I was still high-functioning, but in truth I was barely functioning. I was coasting along at work, not giving the same effort I once had. The relationship I had with my co-workers and senior management began to suffer as a result. At home, I was often mentally checked out, and not putting the necessary time and energy into my relationships with my wife and son.
And there were health issues, too. With the excessive drinking, poor sleep, terrible eating habits, and lack of exercise, I ballooned until I was forty pounds overweight. The excess weight resulted in a blood disorder and severe back pain issues that I still deal with today.
These are a few of the the excuses I made for my excessive drinking.
1. “I have a high-pressure job and chronic back pain."
I worked long hours, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at a high level. I didn’t feel comfortable in my role as a leader, and I wanted to be accepted by my peers.
Drinking became a frequent escape in my attempt to relax and forget about my growing dislike for my job. It helped me subdue the emotional pains and struggles from my past. And it helped me deal with the physical pain I was experiencing from chronic back problems.
2. “I need to be comfortable and confident when I’m meeting clients."
I was shy and lacked confidence in social situations. After a few drinks, my anxiety disappeared. Soon I was having a drink or two before going out so I could feel more comfortable and relaxed from the beginning.
3. "I should take advantage of all the freebies I can get."
With all the travel came many perks, including first-class upgrades and access to the airport and hotel lounges. I found it hard to turn down what seemed like an endless supply of free alcohol.
But I was in denial.
Deep down I knew I my consumption was a problem, but I didn’t think of myself as a stereotypical alcoholic. I wasn’t endangering myself or others by driving under the influence. I told myself it was just part of the job — a job that was elevating me to new levels of career and financial success.
Sometimes, I’d stop drinking for a few weeks just to try to prove to myself that I didn’t have an addiction. Those “dry periods" only supported my denial that I was an alcoholic. So I gave myself permission to drink even more.
Methods of Deception
Vodka became my drink of choice for several reasons. It left little or no smell on my breath, I could drink a lot without any hangover, and it mixed well with the Red Bulls I drank day and night when I was working late.
It also made it easy to hide my supply from my family and co-workers. At home, I hid vodka in my home office inside water bottles.
During my travels, I became obsessed with making sure I had a supply of alcohol so I could drink whenever I felt like it. I booked flights that arrived early enough that I could get to a store and stock up on enough vodka for my trip.
If that didn’t work, I'd pour vodka into water bottles and pack them in my checked luggage. That ensured I could drink before and after any outings without anyone suspecting I had a problem.
It took a dramatic event for me to admit that I had a problem and to finally face the reality of what I'd become. What started as a heated confrontation with my wife about a totally different issue led to my finally breaking down and coming clean to her about my alcoholism. Although she knew I drank socially, she was blown away by the extent of my hidden drinking.
That night became the defining moment in my battle, as it was the first time I’d admitted to myself that I had a problem. After my admission, I felt a huge sense of relief that I could finally stop hiding my secret.
Finding moderation has been a journey, and over time, it's let me to a whole new way of life. Now, I can enjoy a drink — usually a glass of wine or two.
What’s different now is that I’ve learned how and when to say no. Using meditation and exercise provide relief from the stress, pressure, and pain I was trying to medicate through alcohol and have given me the strength and self-control to drink in a healthy way. I’ve also done the work to improve myself and build true confidence, which allows me to overcome the anxiety I used to feel in social situations.
I hope my story can help you recognize these or other signs that you, or someone you know, might be a high-functioning alcoholic.
I’m sharing my journey in the hope of letting people know that there is an alternative to living a double life. May you discover, as I have, that lasting happiness and peace is achieved through honesty, moderation, and mindfulness.