The Arena

Ever been completely destroyed as a man?

One night, all of the anger, sadness, loneliness, and despair of a life filled with tragedy hit me at once.

Twenty three hours later I was ushered out the back door of a county jail. A sharp, cold wind cut through my silk dress shirt and slacks. I walked to a nearby gas station to wait on my wife to pick me up. There, I contemplated my next steps. I had entered my arena without even realizing it.

For the first time in my life I had no idea what to do next.

I abused alcohol with the same fervor it had abused me. Years in the making, the last six months were progressively worse. PTSD, anxiety, depression, and unresolved grief exploded from the depths I had buried them. I saw the signs but lied to myself and others about my problem.

By this time, I was too far into my addiction to imagine life without alcohol.

I spent years crafting a careful image of myself as a high functioning subject matter expert in my field. A natural extrovert (or so I thought), I relished getting in front of people and situations, especially during a crisis. I had been moving from crisis to crisis for years. I waged personal and professional war on a daily basis. I was a closer.

As things spiraled, questions and concerns from colleagues and acquaintances were explained away and laughed off. I was the modern day Don Draper, a persona I played so well it’s how many identified me.

I was always down for a high pressure situation and a bourbon afterwards. Three fingers of your best, neat, with a drop of water please. It always worked, until I needed that drink earlier and earlier. Then just to stop the shakiness in the mornings.

When I fell from grace, I fell hard. My entire identity was intertwined with my career. I had to resign my position at work. Identity gone in an email. It took thirty seconds.

I went from being above reproach to someone who couldn’t be trusted. I was enraged. Never mind that I had been lying about my drinking for months.

My life of denial and perceived freedom was over. My two best friends showed up at my house with my wife, staging a mini intervention, and telling me I was going to rehab. I hated them that day.

They saved my life by convincing me to go to rehab.

At first I was there only for my wife and son. I was going to do it for them. It took weeks for me to acknowledge I had to do it for myself

Slowly and stubbornly, I realized I had a disease that I needed help to recover from. Help from total strangers who have since turned into a second family.

What did I learn during my arena moment?

  • The shame and punishment I had been subjecting myself to for years was undeserved.
  • My unresolved past traumas were the reason I couldn’t stop. I used alcohol and anger to numb and deflect the emotions I was aversive to. Rage, abandonment, loneliness, fear, and loss were what I was running from.
  • I had no clue what I was feeling 90% of the time. Anger, sarcasm, and deflection with humor were hiding my true emotions.
  • The hippie bullshit you learn actually works! I’ve done equine therapy, emotional transformation therapy, psychodrama, anger management, and process groups. Every group benefited me greatly.
  • I can’t do this on my own. Recovery support groups work. I prefer Refuge Recovery, but I augment with Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery as needed. Having a framework and other people around you is key.
  • Buddhism has been my most important practice. I meditate several times a day, practice yoga, and study the act of being mindful. I can relate to more people now. I’ve learned to show compassion, loving-kindness, and empathy to others and myself.
  • I am not my career. I am creative and will succeed at anything I do.

I am a very different man today. My journey is far from over. I learn new ways of thinking and new ideas about myself on a daily basis. I will be in this arena for the rest of my life.

The next time you’re faced with a life changing event, embrace it and grow.

Have you overcome the impossible? Describe your experience 👇🏻 in the comments section.

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