-- Mike, I appreciate you sharing your story here. Mike is our very first blog guest, and he crushed it!
I was born to a submarine engineer and a widowed hairdresser in 1977. My parents were no different than anyone else in the late 70’s. Eager to grow and settle in roots, my grandfather gave my parents land and they built a house. The home, and then my birth, would cement my family in the very spot I sit as I write this, for the next 40 years.
My mother brought a son into the family. Ted, or Teddy, never knew his father. His father was crushed in a construction accident when he was only three. Then he had the proverbial “you’re not my dad” attitude with my father at age 8 or so. My Dads inability to deal with his own anger complied with the anger of a step child, Led to years of a mean father and a resentful bully of a brother.
As I grew I felt unwanted. No one really liked me much. I didn’t excel at anything. Wasn’t a big athlete and rather small in stature. I took to alpine skiing in late grammar school and that was my sport until my early adulthood. I am just now getting back on skis after about 20 years off.
High school was painful at best. I strived to fit in and the friends I made in middle school liked to drink and smoke cigarettes and weed. I was a little punk in school looking to fit in. This is where I started abusing substances like most young people. A little beer and booze here, a little weed and mushrooms there was my early teens into my middle 20’s. I look back on these years now as an adult and realize my mental health was very poor at that time. It sent me on seemingly harmless path of use with alcohol. It was normalized. The weed I loved wasn’t legal at this time. The rest of it was considered jail and disown worthy by my family. I wish I knew that middle 10 years of my life were setting me up to suffer as an adult with a mental health issue and addiction. And I hadn’t even been an adult long.
My early 20’s was where I thought I took a turn onto a path to a better life. I was no longer concerned with parties and drinking with my buddies. I joined the fire department and it was improving my self esteem. I was helping people and that made me feel good. I quit smoking cannabis, doing mushrooms and playing hacky sack. I was pulling people out of crashed cars and fighting structure fires on dead cold nights. I didn’t have time. I thought I was normal. I felt good mentally. Until I had to work on someone I knew. Until I had a car rolls over on the waitress who served me breakfast every weekend. This was a turning point for my addictions. This is when I first used alcohol to numb pain. It was something I used to unwind and have fun and get out and dance at the honkey tonk. This was new. This was because I hurt. I took the incident debriefing that is suggested after such incidents. The first of many of those debriefs. I did fine with the stress. Or at least I thought. I pushed on. I did more calls. I drank more pain. Then I met my wife.
She was too a first responder. She liked to go out like most 24 year olds. She liked fire trucks and Bud Light. Dating normalized alcohol consumption for me. It was weird to me at first to have 2 or three beers a week. Then it was twice a week. Then daily. Then a six pack a day. That’s how it started. We got engaged. We set a date to marry and planned to stick around and help people. Little did I know, in a few years, I’d be the one who needed help.
Now don’t think that Id forgot about my mental health issues, or rather they forget about me. They have been running right beside me this whole time. I was angry and scared all at the same time a lot. Made me very quick to act and react. Not always a great combination. I was moving up the ladder as a firefighter but my coping mechanisms were falling down it. I lost interest in skiing and things that made me feel good and just drank. We did nothing if it didn’t involve a cocktail.
My wife injured her back the late 2000s lifting a patient. This injury would lead to a five year debilitation of both of our lives. My drinking increased to cope with an injured partner. She was in a state that required physical assistance and mental dependency from me. I was riding the razors edge of mental illness and borer line alcohol abuse. The train was fixing to come off the tracks. I gave up the fire service. I was making bad decisions and someone was going to get hurt. My wife had her spine fused in 2012. She would be in physical pain forever but much better than prior. Now it was my turn to hurt. While my pain wouldn’t be physical, it leaves its own mark on me.