Lived Experience: An Interview Talk to me about your first high, or your first alcoholic high. What were you trying to cover up? I didn’t get my first taste of inebriation until age 18. I was at a friend’s house. He mixed me a glass of Seagram’s 7 whisky and Dr. Pepper. I vividly recall the pungent odor burning my nostrils and the warm burn in my throat as it lit my chest and stomach afire. I fell instantly in love. I had other mistresses throughout the years – marijuana and various hallucinogens, opioids, and even brief romantic encounters with cocaine and meth – but my first and only true love was alcohol. That first drink was the very first time I ever recall feeling really alive. For the first time, I felt normal in my own skin – as if I had found something to make me fit perfectly into the world. Prior to my introduction to alcohol, I had felt lonely and confused on this planet – like an alien wearing human skin and mimicking the voices of those who surround me. With alcohol coursing through my bloodstream, I felt truly free. It allowed me to shed my mask, and simply be me. I wasn’t covering anything up with alcohol. I was liberating the monster I believed I honestly was. What kinds of cultural messages did you absorb from growing up? I was born into a strict Mormon household. My father was the Bishop of our church Ward for several of my teenage years. Alcohol and drugs were not only forbidden, but inaccessible. I am the oldest sibling in a large family, and my childhood was idyllic. I spent summer days catching snakes and riding my bicycle around suburban neighborhoods overgrown with sunflowers twice my height, where imagination was the only limit to my excitement. My parents were both loving and supportive – and neither have ever tasted alcohol to this day. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents lived within a short bike-ride from our house, and some of my best friends were also my cousins. My life was picture-perfect in every way…but I had rebellion built into my bones… What stopped you? What physically stopped me from drinking the very last time were police officers serving a warrant for my arrest. I had been arrested and jailed several times in the past for alcohol-related mayhem, but during this particular jail stint something began to shift within me. I clearly recall my 39th day of this jail term in brilliant detail. The Salt Lake County Metro Jail is divided into cell blocks called “pods.” The only space within each pod with access to fresh air, sunlight, and the remnants of outside are contained in a single common area composed of tall concrete walls with a metal grate as a roof. On this particular day, I was walking circles in this concrete bunker, partaking of fresh air, and staring up through the grate into a clear, blue sky and puffy white clouds. I was the only inmate in this area at the time (which was very rare), and I distinctly recall seeing the soft movement of the clouds above, and noticing something unimaginable: I hadn’t had a single thought of drinking that entire day. To me, this was nothing short of a miracle. On an average day, even while in jail or treatment, I spent at least 90% of my mental energy obsessing over alcohol. The absence of this obsession shook me to my core, and I consider this moment in my life a spiritual experience. The obsession had been lifted, and has never returned. Talk to me about the lies you told yourself about drinking. The lies and self-deceit surrounding my drinking ran deep. In the honeymoon period of my drinking, I was convinced that alcohol made me more sociable, more desirable, more brave, more machismo. As my drinking devolved into alcoholism, booze began to slowly distort my perception of myself. I began to believe that I would always be a slave to alcohol – that I needed it to cope with the personal injustices that my birth had dealt me, that I required it to deal with the world and the people in it who would never understand me, and to survive my own mind. In short, alcohol stole my identity. I lied to myself on a daily basis in order to continue this toxic relationship with alcohol. Alcohol was the woman who shamed me, told me I was worthless, inflicted physical injury on me, made me physically and emotionally ill, and convinced me that I deserved to die a horrible death. Each morning I would crawl back into the arms of this woman that I both hated and loved, telling myself, “This time things will be different…” My relationship with alcohol nearly caused me to end my own life, and yet I still returned, again and again, manipulating myself into believing that she was my last real and comforting friend in the entire world. The “God” thing: how do you know? In the beginning, believing in a power greater than myself meant separating the concept of a Higher Power with the word “God.” “God” was a three-letter word that came with heavy baggage because of my religious upbringing. However, simply believing in a power greater than myself was a good start – because there were a lot of powers that were obviously greater than myself all around me. I still consider myself somewhat agnostic (although my spirituality has evolved over the course of my recovery), and my favorite chapter in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is We Agnostics. My original concept of “God,” comes directly from this chapter, which states, “we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” I literally chose to define my Higher Power as “everything.” So far, that description has worked splendidly for me. Do you have any parting advice to pass on to your future self? Stay humble. Keep it simple. Never forget where you’ve been, or where you could go, but live only in the present moment. To preserve your peace, always strive for acceptance. Cherish your suffering as the primary source of your strength. -Nate V.