My Nephew Is An Alcoholic.

June 18, 2009

So this past week, my sister’s stepson fell from a third story apartment balcony and broke several bones, lost six teeth, and has to have his jaw wired shut. On top of costing his parents a tremendous amount of money in hospital bills, this incident is going to affect his personal life in a serious way as well. I don’t know the exact details but he’s not going to be able to get the apartment he was planning to get this summer and I think I heard something about him not being able to go to school either. I imagine he won’t be working anytime soon, so making money for himself is not in his near future. He initially lied and said he wasn’t drinking at all, but later “admitted” he had a few beers… which in alcoholic speak means “I was fucking hammered.”

When I first started hearing claims of my nephew’s budding alcoholism I scoffed at his accusers thinking of everything I’d been through, trying to downplay his situation. However, over the past year or so, it’s become increasingly hard to ignore the seriousness of his problem. Just like me a couple of years ago, the stories just don’t end. And the stories are all horrifying and awful. Just like me. I believe dude is only 22… when I was 22, I definitely already had a drinking problem and despite several warning signs, I wasn’t ready to admit it to anyone yet… including myself. It looks like he’s in the same boat right now. In fact, when I was 22, I went with my family to Las Vegas for my brother’s 21st birthday and got so drunk and out of control one night that my sister was so mad that she bought me a plane ticket home the next day even though I was supposed to be staying with her in L.A. for the next week. If you don’t count my stint as a professional poker player or a few periods of unemployment in 2006, that was the last real vacation I took… roughly five years ago.

I currently find myself in an awkward position because for some reason that I can’t explain it just clicked in my head at some point that I can never drink again and I fully realized the consequences if I do: death or jail. Yeah, that may sound dramatic, but I don’t think many people that really know me would disagree. My inability to handle my alcohol and my decision-making skills after drinking lead to serious trouble… 90% of the time. I actually consider myself lucky to be alive today and that I managed only two encounters with law enforcement is a minor miracle.

I now have no doubt that my nephew’s problem is every bit as serious as mine was. The question is… how do you get someone to realize that their future will be dark if they continue down this path? I knew long before I quit drinking that I had a problem. I was in the denial phase for many years, but even after I realized I had an issue, I still kept drinking for quite some time. My nephew hasn’t even reached that stage yet. One would hope that something as crazy as falling off a third story balcony would be somewhat of a wake-up call but the fact that he lied about and downplayed alcohol’s involvement just goes to show that he’s still hiding something… and if he’s hiding something, he’s not ready to change. So how do you get him to that point? Talk to him? Reason with him? An intervention? Nothing anybody said to me ever made a difference, so why would it for him? If anyone ever tried to pull an intervention on me, I would’ve been so angry I might have punched someone. Even hitting rock bottom wasn’t enough to make me change. From May 2005 to June 2006: I dropped out of college 10 credits shy of my degree in Creative Writing at The University Of Washington; I quit my job to play poker for a living; I got a DUI in October and totaled my car; I got rehired at Sprint and after calling out so many times due to alcohol and gambling-related reasons I just quit instead of calling out again because I was certain I was going to get fired; I got a job at a casino as a security guard and the casino would front you your paychecks and mine would be spent two weeks before I even got paid; I got so drunk at my place of employment one night that I got kicked out by the floor manager, but I hung around outside the building for a few hours and when that guy got off work, I got into a fist fight with him… for whatever reason, I still had my job, but I quit instead of having to look at everyone I work with the next day; I couldn’t afford my rent, got evicted from my apartment, and finally moved back in with my parents in May 2006 with -$700 in my bank account, all my bills two months past due, and unemployed; back in Bremerton, I got an interview with Verizon Wireless, but the night before, I didn’t sleep a single minute and drank until about 7am, and showed up to my interview intoxicated.

One would think all that would be enough to make me be like “hey… you got a problem and you need to fix it.” I had clearly bottomed out… but I didn’t stop drinking. In 2007, I lost an average of $400 a month playing poker drunk. But my highlight was when I went to a Mariner game with a buddy and I was so drunk I threw up in the Beer Garden in front of everybody standing in there. I ran into my old roommate from Seattle and convinced him to go gambling with me. I threw up in the taxi on the way there. At the casino, I ran into someone that owed me $3000 and miraculously he handed me over $1000 of it right then and there. Not only did I get $1000 I wasn’t expecting, but when the casino closed at 6am, I was up about $200 on top of that. Most people would call it a night… but after drinking 2-3 beers over the next hour (only true alcoholics know WA state starts serving again at 6am), I just went a couple blocks up the street to Club Hollywood to play in their $2-$40 spread game, much deeper stakes than what I had been playing. I remember trading shots of sake with a dude at the table, but I was so tired and drunk, that I was passing out right at the table and after walking into the casino with about $1500 on me, I walked out of it around 2pm with $0. Around this same time, I was driving home drunk from the Clearwater Casino and got to my parents’ house at about 3 in the morning, got out of my jeep while it was still in drive and watched helplessly as it plowed through their garage. Finally in December 2007, I got arrested for the second time… this time for a Hit & Run. Once again, I was at All-Star Lanes playing poker… I was losing and I needed more money, but their ATM machine wasn’t taking my card, so instead of walking across the street to WaMu, I decided to drive there. It was super cold outside and my windows were frozen over and I didn’t have the patience to wait for them to defrost… so I just started going forward… right into the car parked in front of me. No big deal. I just put my jeep in reverse, backed up a bit, and started going forward again and hit the car one more time for good measure before making it out of my parking space. I parked my car in the mall parking lot and ran into a couple of my co-workers who tried to convince me to get a ride home with them. I wasn’t having it and walked to WaMu instead, got the money I needed, ran across the street, picked up something at the gas station, and finally got back to All-Star Lanes, by which time I had completely forgot that I even hit the car in the parking lot. However, after sitting back in the poker game for about 15 minutes, the sight of a couple of police officers quickly refreshed my memory and I found myself being taken out of All-Star Lanes in handcuffs and on my way to jail for the second time.

I had plenty of time in jail to marinate and think about the seriousness of my condition. I knew that I had to stop drinking and I finally convinced myself to quit… for a while.. but even then, I don’t think I was committed to it. I had to take my second alcohol evaluation in two years and tried to lie as much as possible about my usage, but the dude saw right through me and told me I was going to be attending alcohol treatment for the next year and that it was going to cost me roughly $3000. I remember crying as I realized how much of my time and money was about to be committed to that shit. Even then, I wasn’t committed to quitting. However, at some point early on in my treatment program, it finally clicked in my head and I accepted the fact that I was never going to drink again. How I got there, I’m not exactly sure… but it happened.

So how do I get my nephew to that point? I’m seriously concerned for his well-being and I strongly believe that his path has the same future mine did: death or jail. So far, he has been lucky enough (or unlucky?) to avoid any jail time. For me the prospect of facing jail time pushed me over the edge. I’ve been there..twice… its not fun. I don’t want to ever go back… and if I need to quit drinking to avoid a return trip, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I haven’t drank in 544 days and the improvements in my life have been dramatic. Every aspect of my life has changed for the better and I developed an overwhelming sense of optimism about everything, something I haven’t felt in a loooooooong time.

So James… if you read this, I’m sorry for airing you out… but it needs to be said. Take a look at yourself and think about where alcohol has gotten you over the past several years and see if the positives outweigh the negatives… they don’t. It’s not even close. I know you’re not ready to accept your problem yet, but it exists. I know nothing anyone ever said to me could have changed me and I didn’t change until I made that decision for myself… but I’m laying this out there for you anyway. You keep going in this direction and it won’t stop until you’re either in jail or someone is dead. You might be able to live with the former, but trust me, you don’t want to be the cause of the latter.


  1. Oh, Mike, you break my heart. But I am so proud of you and what you have accomplished. I love you with all my heart. Keep up the good work.

  2. Damn Mike, i didn’t know you went through that much stuff. I know that you probably hear it a lot but you should be really proud of yourself. Being in the same boat as yourself, I truly know how hard it is to get sober and I can only pray for your nephew. I’ve tried to convince a cousin before that the path they were heading down would only end in jail or death, thinking my experiences could help him change. That was probably four years ago and no one knows where he is. You can try to talk to him all you want but in the end it all comes down him really wanting to change.

  3. A very sad tale indeed. I regret my negative influences that I contributed to your problem. I also relived many of the negative memories that came from first hand exposure to those events in your life. Your ability to tell your story in this case written is a great example why I think AA would be a great place to visit once in a while. Despite your view and it is correct that no one can stop an alcoholic from drinking but themselves does not alter the fact that they can’t be positively impacted by stories and advice from others who have been though the same shit. I also think sharing your story keeps it fresh in your mind and helps you stay the course. So if you can help just one person whether it is James or anyone else is not worth a few hours of your time? Take this communication skill and put it to a good use. I have always believed in you.

    by Phat June 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm

  4. Thank you for sharing your story – some I knew, but most I didn’t. Not easy to read, but I thank you for putting your thoughts down and sharing with us all. You sound so good and so strong and I couldn’t be more proud of you. Love ya mucho xxoo

  5. Mike – I thank you and know your story. My recovery is on a daily basis and it is stories of experiences, strength and hope such as yours that has allowed me to be here today. I know firsthand what the future holds for James without sobriety and recovery, this is the second most difficult thing I have ever had to deal with ( my own recovery was first). I love my son and know that I am powerless. No parent wants to admit that fact. You are an inspirati0on to me and countless others. Please continue to tell your story -it is a service that will keep you sober, make life incredible and may help others. Thank you again and again for your ruthless honesty. Lucinda

  6. Since James’ mom delivered a copy of your post to him, I reread it and cried all over again. Ron cried too when I originally read it to him. I hope your words have some impact on James. We all love him dearly and hope he sees something in this that makes him think twice about his life and his future. Thanks, Mikey. Love ya!

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