Fake It ‘til You Make It
On the other side of a decades-long struggle with alcoholism is a life worth living.
Russ was good at faking it. So good, in fact, that in 2015 he was successfully hiding how severe his alcoholism was from his girlfriend. “I’m a classic high-functioning alcoholic,” he says. And he had been that way for decades.
Russ’ drinking started in the 1970s and 80s when he was just a high school kid who was experimenting with alcohol. When he went away to college in rural Vermont, his drinking got worse—but what else was there to do in rural Vermont? He didn’t think much of it. Russ always assumed it would go away or get better on its own.
In 1989 he moved back home to Maine where he fell in love, got married and started a family. For a while it seemed as if everything was going well and, as far as Russ could tell, his drinking wasn’t negatively impacting his life. But alcoholism is a progressive disease. “It keeps on rolling until it eventually takes on a life of its own,” he says. That’s the nature of the beast.
Russ’ drinking worsened again. His marriage started falling apart, and his struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder led to a depression- and alcohol-fueled suicide attempt that landed him in a psychiatric hospital for a week. For the first time in his life, he seriously considered attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
His sister had regularly encouraged him to do something about his drinking. She had been in recovery for nearly 30 years and even gifted him ‘The Big Book’ (Alcoholics Anonymous’ basic textbook showing how the first 100 people in AA reached sobriety.) in an attempt to open his eyes. But despite her efforts and his stay at the hospital, Russ was still unable to fully wrap his head around the notion that he had a drinking problem.
On a few occasions he had quit drinking on his own. He’d spend three or four months sober until he’d convinced himself he was cured. Yet it came as no surprise that every time he poured himself another drink, he was right back where he left off.
By the time 2017 rolled around, he couldn’t stand to look at himself in the mirror. He was drinking in the mornings, getting drunk on days he never intended to, and his health was in serious decline, he says. “I knew deep down inside that this was going to kill me if I kept up with it.”
Finally, he reached his breaking point. On the morning of January 28, 2017, Russ was completely intoxicated when he didn’t intend to drink at all. He went to an AA meeting the next day and never looked back. “That was the first time I walked into the halls of AA and I was serious,” he says. “I haven’t taken a drink since then, and it’s just been an unbelievable experience.”
The first few days he muddled through withdrawal symptoms, but he found his way through one week. One week turned into two weeks, and he slowly started feeling better. Before he knew it, Russ was picking up his one-month sobriety chip.
Russ was patient with the process and didn’t try to rush through his healing. He started going to as many meetings as he could, he picked up on the little bits of insight he heard in AA, and he listened intently to the people who were 15 or 20 years sober. He found enough hope in every meeting that he believed he could do this too.
“A good friend said, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it,’ and I did a lot of that in the first couple of months,” Russ says. Eventually, he didn’t have to fake it anymore.
Russ still suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and he knows some days will always be harder than others, but he refuses to quit. He has a healthy routine and a set of tools he can lean heavily on.
He’s emphasizing the importance of slowing down, taking time to meditate, and regularly exercising.
While starting the recovery journey was one of the hardest things Russ’s ever done, it was also the best decision he’s ever made.
He’s mended his relationships with his ex-wife and daughters, he’s built a successful business, and he’s healthy again—all things he never could’ve accomplished as a high-functioning alcoholic.
Russ considers himself lucky now; he’s survived an illness that claims thousands each year, and he no longer has to fake it or hide who he is.