Praise for Unraveled
“Unraveled is a unique, heartfelt, and gripping mother–son story of the power of accountability, healing, faith, hope, and redemption. This is a raw and honest look into their mutual journeys from active alcohol and drug addiction into recovery. The courage and painstaking experiences are riveting and invite readers to witness their profound path to sobriety. Parents and friends of someone who is either in treatment or needs to be in treatment—and addicts in recovery along with their families—will find this story life-changing.”
—TIM RYAN, Activist, Speaker, TV Personality, Thought Leader, TEDx Speaker, and Author of From Dope to Hope: A Man in Recovery
Before I started writing all of this down, I had to do some serious thinking. There are already a ton of books out there that deal with addiction and recovery. Some of them are pretty good. Intense. Hopeful. Others, not so much. A few have been made into some pretty cool movies, too: Trainspotting. Requiem for a Dream. That movie Flight, where Denzel Washington plays a pilot who is a major addict. Functioning, but still—this guy shouldn’t have been at the controls of an Xbox, never mind a 747 full of people.
And more recently, you have that Steve Carell movie, Beautiful Boy. The list goes on, and for good reason. Hollywood loves this shit, the way they love stories about the mentally handicapped. Maybe it’s the spectacle of watching someone struggle to overcome impossible odds on their way to redemption—like that old saying, If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.
Or maybe it’s something else.
Maybe it’s the actors. They love playing these roles, and it’s no small secret why. It gives them the chance to behave like an unhinged maniac, staggering through the night, baying at the moon, generally destroying shit like personal property and the lives of others. If they go for the whole method acting thing, they’re probably really getting wasted or high, all in the name of research.
I can see it now: a famous actor leaning out of his car window, squinting into the beam of a flashlight, slurring his words: “Officer, there’s no need for me to step from the car. I’m a professional actor. Highly trained. This is all part of my research. Preparing for a role.”
And the guy slumped in the seat next to him?
“Total amateur. A lightweight. Nowhere near my level. Can’t
even hold his appletini.”
I wonder if that works when you’re famous. While I’m no actor, I do know cops can be a little touchy when they realize you’re driving under the influence.
When your mind is warped with drugs and alcohol, you tend to rationalize the craziest shit. Everyday normal stuff doesn’t seem to register. You’re even surprised when the cop points out that you’ve been driving over your neighbors’ lawns instead of staying on the road.
How the fuck did that happen?
You get the picture—hypothetically speaking. But for me, it’s not hypothetical. Sadly, driving under the influence is something I can relate to.
Still, I don’t see Hollywood knocking on my door anytime soon. Unless it’s Netflix looking for those DVDs I never returned.
But I digress.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. You know—that old saying that kind of
sounds like some preachy bullshit unless you actually live it yourself.
If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.
I know. Total cliché, right? But there’s truth in it. Addiction is a serious ailment. It affects a lot of people in this country—more than most of us realize. Just look at the so-called opioid epidemic. It’s out there, and it’s a very real threat—whether or not you know it yet.
According to the US government’s Health Resources and Services Administration, 166 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses. To put it in perspective, that’s even more than the number of people who are killed by extreme violence each day.
One hundred sixty-six people, every single day.
That’s a staggering body count, and it’s gotten politicians talking.
Unfortunately, all of this talk isn’t really getting us anywhere; it takes
so much more. There’s still not enough actually happening to make
A lot of gifted people have struggled with addiction. Many people I admired sadly lost this struggle. The fatalities are off the charts.
Look at the number of amazing musicians, with all the talent in the world, dead from addiction. Whatever demon they were fighting, it won. It got the best of them. And I’m not talking some one-and-done, video game smackdown. I’m talking about a slow and agonizing battle where the winner takes all. There’s nothing sexy about that kind of journey.
The list is long and heartbreaking. It happens so much, they could dedicate an entire wing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to these guys: Janis Joplin. Jim Morrison. Jimi Hendrix. Keith Moon. Sid Vicious. Kurt Cobain. And more recently you have Scott Weiland, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Prince, and Tom Petty. All dead, way too soon.
For these talented musicians, addiction was a losing cause that seemed insurmountable. In their despair, they retreated from the fight and took comfort in drugs or alcohol. And it keeps happening, even to this day.
Same goes for actors, artists, and so many other sensitive souls whose names were never known beyond their families and friends. Fighting addiction is never easy. A lot of times, it’s a fight that can’t be won—especially if you try to win it on your own.
But sometimes these stories have a different ending. Sometimes the battle can be won. Perhaps it takes more than one try—or a lot more than one try, when the odds are against you. But it can happen.
People can realize that it’s good to ask for help, that it takes a village to get sober. You can go to the meetings. Listen to others and their struggles. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Say yes when someone offers to help.
You can learn humility. You can discover appreciation and gratitude. You can find faith and spirituality. People can work to get sober.
I know. I’m one of them.
It’s funny looking back on that time in my life, those three years of complete insanity. On the one hand, I was at the top of my game. I was coming into my own as a snowboarder, headed for a potential career as a professional in a sport I loved. Think about that for a second: making bank for something you’re passionate about, something you’re good at—really good. That’s every kid’s dream come true. But then there was the other stuff, the stuff that kept taking me away from what I loved.
Sure, I was young and figuring things out, but it almost seems like it all happened to a different person. And in some ways, it did.
Some of my memories from that time are crystal clear, like they just happened the other day. Others are foggy, dulled by the passage of time or a handful of pharmaceuticals. It’s hard enough to remember things when you’re clear-headed. Can you imagine what it’s like when you’re high out of your mind?
No, go ahead—imagine it.
Really. I’ll wait.
Too many recollections from those days are pretty much nonexistent for me. I was so messed up that I remember very little of what happened. That’s where my mom comes in.
She lived through a lot of it too. My dad did what he could, but he was out of his league. Drugs and addiction were foreign territory for him—at least when it comes to dealing with it firsthand. But we’ll get to him later.
It was really my mom who helped make a difference. She was the patient one, the outside observer, the steady hand—the one who had to step in sometimes and clean up the mess that my life had become. It wasn’t easy, and some of her decisions might have been a little questionable to others. But she suffered through all of this for me, and she dedicated herself to being the best mom she could be.
When it comes right down to it, I might not even be here if it wasn’t for her.
I will start with a confession of my own: I’m an addict too.
I am not a garden-variety alcoholic like you can find in most suburbs. I’m the kind who starts off with the early evening glass of Chardonnay, which inevitably leads to another glass or two—and that’s just the warmup for dinner.
Since we’re being truthful here, I had developed a taste for really
nice wine, particularly those fabulous, full-bodied Cabernets that lined the shelves of our local specialty wine stores.
Call me a wine snob. I don’t care. Maybe it’s true, because I had to drink from a pretty glass, too—not a gaudy Marie Antoinette goblet or anything like that, but a proper stem glass with an air of elegance. I probably got that from my mother. It was always wine and always the good stuff. I never devolved to the point where I’d drink rotgut or anything unseemly.
Sure, I had a serious problem, but I still maintained standards.
No day-drinking. I didn’t subscribe to the whole It’s five o’clock somewhere notion. Nor did I hide bottles like some other alcoholics I know. While I often had an open bottle in the family room and another one in the kitchen, they were never kept secret. None of this pouring-minibar-bottles-into-a-coffee-cup-in-public nonsense.Thankfully, it never came to that.
Addiction comes in many forms. The damn disease is relentless and crosses every boundary known to man. It does not discriminate. I realize I’m not telling you anything new here. But alcohol, though just as destructive as other drugs, enjoys greater social acceptance in most circles. Sometimes it takes longer to address it for the ruinous force it really can be. To make matters worse, it’s also so damn delicious.
While wine was definitely my go-to, I was no stranger to a good time when it came to drugs, either—at least in my youth. Still, alcohol can be found everywhere you turn, and it became my escape of choice.
It’s probably in my genes. I could drink like a dock worker and cuss like one, too—something else I got from my mother. Mom was an absolute blast . . . until she wasn’t.
Despite my reliance on alcohol, I’ve been told that I, too, was a lot of fun to be around. Once I was warmed up, I would become fearless. Stealing a Sno-Cat and grooming the slopes of Vail, Colorado, is one of my more memorable events in my drunk-a-log. My behavior bordered on reckless but still managed to slip into the “fun” category. Until embarrassment reared its ugly, uninvited head yet again.
Like that time I celebrated a friend’s fortieth birthday. Holy hell! We were at a restaurant that had a cozy country vibe—this was well before it was fashionable and before people used phrases like farm-to-table. That particular night, we drank more than our share. We weren’t falling-down drunk, but we were drunk enough to climb onto the dinner table before the desserts arrived to compete in a chin-up contest using the closest rafter.
I was clearly in the lead, or at least I thought I was, but then I started to laugh. Laughter and chin-ups don’t really go well together, so it was hard to maintain my grip on that exposed beam. The next thing I knew, I was falling back toward earth. Luckily, the dinner table was there to break my fall.
It broke too.
Miraculously, I wasn’t hurt. The entire restaurant was startled into silence for a few moments before everyone burst out laughing. And laugh we did. I think my ribs hurt more from all the laughter than as a result of the fall. Keep in mind, I was a mom with four young boys at home, and I was the one acting like an adolescent.
In a strange way, this paralleled my son Tommy’s behavior at age
thirteen. Thankfully, he didn’t have liquor in his life at that point.
No, that would come a little later.
In some respects, Tommy and I grew up together. Our emotional maturity connected on some levels prior to my sobriety, and we share a similar sense of humor. We usually manage to find that silver lining even when things around us turn dark. But then again, as the Big Book—the book of Alcoholics Anonymous—says, “We are not a glum lot.” Even in sobriety, we still have all kinds of crazy fun.
Like Tommy’s, my addiction started at an early age. I had my historically
wild moments in college and during my twenties. But in my case, it really didn’t hit full stride until later in life. Like my son, I had to work to break through this powerful disease.
More on that later.
I was fortunate enough to be sober—thank God!—when Tommy began his own battle with addiction. That was a true gift: to be able to understand Tommy’s situation, what he was going through. Had I been drinking, I would have been more frustrated and impatient with his drug and alcohol use. The Program helped me approach life on life’s terms.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but my own experiences helped me get through this struggle and be there for my son. And that’s what every mother wants, right? I’d paid my dues already, lived through my own fight, and come out the other side. I have done interventions and helped others, including my mother and a few other family members. But being the mother of the addict is a completely different challenge altogether.
As upsetting as Tommy’s addiction was, I felt that I wanted to be there for him and help in the healthiest manner possible.