My name is Jim, and I am an alcoholic

My name is Jim, and I am an alcoholic. I am a retired dentist, 74 years old, and have been sober for 11 years.

In the past, I never thought of myself as being an alcoholic and having a drinking problem, because I could maintain a successful dental practice, be happily married with three children, live in an upper middle-class neighborhood, and never experienced a serious alcohol related incident, like a DWI or accident. But that is typical of the disease of addiction, denying that you have a problem. Sooner or later, the alcoholic must admit to himself that he has a problem, that his drinking is abnormal, excessive, and his life is unmanageable. After decades of drinking, I finally did admit that I was an alcoholic.

I grew up in Baltimore County with two loving parents and three siblings. I went to a private high school and a small liberal arts college before dental school. My friends all had older siblings who drank alcohol and were “cool,” so we thought it was “cool” to drink. I started drinking at age 15 with my friends, and it seemed very normal to do so. It was fun. Alcohol seemed to be accepted by many people as a normal social behavior. Most holidays were a time to celebrate, and there were always special drinks to toast in the new season with family and friends.

I continued drinking socially mostly on weekends with friends through high school, college and into dental school. There were times when I would get drunk, not remembering what I did the night before. and even throwing up. These are alcoholic blackouts, but to me it was normal and my friends and I would laugh and joke about it.

I met my wife in Ocean City, Maryland during high school Senior Week, and we later married while I was in dental school. Our children soon came along and as they grew up they started drinking and later had problems with alcohol.

Over the years I have been treated for heart disease and cardiac arrhythmias. My cardiologist recommended at one point that I stop drinking alcohol. I ignored his recommendation to stop at first, but when I did try to stop, I always went back to it after a few weeks. I could not imagine life without drinking. Most of my family and all my friends were drinkers.

On several occasions, I went to the emergency room to treat my arrhythmias. I would spend the night in the hospital and be released the next day when my normal heart rhythm returned. While lying in the hospital bed, I remember asking God to help me get better and if I did get better, I would stop drinking. The next morning my doctor visited me and informed me that my heart rhythm returned to normal. He asked me if I would stop drinking and this time I told him I would. I knew I drank too much. Drinking during the weekday nights was now a habit. I knew the only way I could stop was to get help. I am so thankful that my cardiologist pushed me to stop because on my own I would continue to convince myself that I was not an alcoholic. I was a successful dentist, a loving husband, and a devoted father! I would ask myself, “How could I be an alcoholic?”

When I got home from the hospital, I phoned a friend who I knew was in Alcoholics Anonymous. I met him at a meeting and was ready to do whatever it took to stop drinking. I attended meetings daily and found a person who I knew to be my sponsor. I learned that the only requirement for membership into AA is a desire to stop drinking. My sponsor reviewed with me the Twelve Steps of AA, which are a roadmap to healthy living. AA insists on abstinence from alcohol and drugs and treats the underlying character flaws that drive people to drink. Simply stopping alcohol doesn’t address some of the problems why people drink.

What I have learned in AA is that I don’t need alcohol to enjoy myself. Alcohol is toxic to human tissue. One of my closest friends that I grew up with and spent my life with died eight months ago from cirrhosis of the liver—a painful and humiliating death. He refused many invitations to join me in AA.

Living sober allows me to feel comfortable in my own skin. My mental state has improved. I have less mood swings and clearer thinking. I care more for people around me and less about myself. When I drank, life was all about me. My family relationships with my wife and children have never been better now that I have stopped drinking alcohol. In AA I have developed lifelong friendships especially with the golf group. The fear of people and economic insecurity have left. If I were drinking, I would not be able to afford to be retired now.

Dentistry is stressful work. My heart problems have been nonexistent since I retired. What a gift! I was scheduled for another cardiac ablation procedure before I retired, and now it is not necessary! I now know a new freedom, happiness, and peace. I know that if something or somebody disturbs me or is unacceptable to me, I can’t find serenity until I accept that person or thing. I need to concentrate on not so much what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitude. My relationship with my higher power and spiritual life has improved. I practice daily prayer and actively participate in my religious community. Now that I am retired, I can renew my dental license so I can do volunteer treatment to those less fortunate. I am more patient with people, places and things and practice gratitude daily.

AA has not only helped me to stop drinking, but it has allowed me to see that God is doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. AA has provided another way of living; one that is focused on doing the next right thing and accepting life on life terms. I have been fortunate to find a new happiness and contentment that I had forgotten existed.