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Seven Years Later: An Anonymous Response To “Are You Truly Free?”

Note from Josh: This is not the post I talked about in Are You Truly Free? This is an anonymous response to that anonymous post. The most powerful things I’ve read on my blog are never, ever the things I have written. Thank you, anonymous.


I’m not sure exactly when I starting drinking. I was young and I do remember loving it. Doing something bad really appealed to me since I was always seen as a good, quiet smart child. Being a good, quiet smart child is boring and lonely.

Being a drunken child was much more exciting and people were not as scary as they were when my head was clear. I really liked it and sought it out with passion. It was an incomparable alternative to sitting at home alone watching movies or playing video games.


Among my peers I felt invisible. I couldn’t understand how they could talk to each other. They seemed to have access to a limitless pool of conversation topics that I didn’t know existed.

To stand out and to have something to talk about I started doing things that would be noticed. I stole things, broke things against my skull, crushed beer cans against my forehead, starting smoking cigarettes and drank whatever I could get my hands on. Then people started conversations with me and I started to feel connected.


My game plan in college was to maintain the same persona. It had been working for me the last two years so I had no reason to think otherwise. I made many friends through the pursuit and consumption of alcohol.

There was a bond forged with these people through the challenges of illegally obtaining alcohol, sneaking it back to the dorms and then drinking it without being noticed. We were adventurers exploring paths that led further and further from reality. It turned out that pot was easier to get than alcohol so that became another vehicle to take us on our fantastic journey.

My parents were in another state, the teachers didn’t take nearly as much interest in me as in high school and security was easy to get around. I was free. I went to sleep whenever I wanted, woke up when I could and got drunk as often as possible.

I kept a journal for the first two months of college. The last dozen entries are nearly illegible. It began with hope and eager anticipation of a new life with people who didn’t know me a boring geek. I was going to make many friends.

As I got older, what was impressive to my peers was becoming immature and annoying to them. The university I’d attended had enough of me and I went off to start an unpromising career in retail. In that world I found people who were attracted to my drunkenness. Now I was freer than before. I was making money, didn’t have to worry about failing out of school anymore (I’d already done it) and had a group of new friends who I felt connected to. It was great.

Alone without a future

Near the end of 2001 I was living in a house that was a disaster, driving a car I couldn’t depend on, working at a job I hated and alone. For the third time in a row I heard “I just don’t see us having a future”.

Each time I thought of course you don’t see it you’re breaking up with me. I spent nearly every night home drinking, playing video games, smoking cigarettes and watching movies. I worked so I could afford to drink. I didn’t eat dinner so I’d get drunk faster.

I set a coffee maker up at the head of my bed. It was on a timer. The coffee would start brewing ten minutes before the alarm went off. The alarm would sound; I’d smack the snooze button, pour some coffee in the mug and fall back asleep.

Each time the alarm went off I take a few more sips until I could sit upright. At the time I was taking sedatives and narcotic pain pills to keep from being up all night drinking. It would take a while for them to wear off and my head to clear enough so I could stand.

Across from where I sat was a full length mirror. I couldn’t help but watch myself. Stuart Smalley cracks me up because I had a different conversation in the mirror. Mine was “what the f*&k is wrong with you?” and “just take a break and don’t drink today”. I despised myself; I saw no hope in my life improving and could find no value in my existence. I would try to estimate how long it would take for me to die from this.

Failed attempt at detox

Earlier that year I did stop, somewhat. I decided to detox myself so one night I didn’t drink. I knew I would have trouble sleeping so I washed down some Benadryl and Xanax with NyQuil. It was horrible. My sleep was broken and my dreams were horrendous.

I was twitchy all day and the second night was just as bad. The third night I drank again. At that point I knew I would die drunk. I gave up the pipe dream that one day I’d pull everything together. I lived in that place for about a year.

Throughout my life I sought out and surrounded myself with like-minded people. In that environment our lives could seem normal. Alone and drunk kept me in the same place. All I had to compare my life to was my own. If asked why I drank, I would say it was fun.

Still alone

If asked how often, I would muddle the facts and give uncertain estimates that rose and fell like a wave. When confronted with the fact that I drank alone, I would point out that it’s much safer at home.

No bar fights, drunk driving, walking into poles and getting lost a block from my house. Plus it was much cheaper. Under everything there was an idea that something was wrong with my life but it was a very soft voice speaking that idea.

The nights of the last year were very similar. I would leave work, stop at the liquor store, drop everything off at home and then take a long walk. I would walk for an hour or two.

I had to leave the house because I knew I would start drinking if I didn’t. If I started drinking too early I would pass out by sunset. Then I’d wake up in the middle of the night, need to start drinking again and I’d never make it to work. I had to start drinking between eight and ten, be passed out by one at the latest and start my morning ritual by eight.

After my walk I would go into my room. Pick out my pills for the night and put them on the table and take my first drink. I needed to dose out the pills ahead of time and put the rest away because I would lose track of what I took. This wasn’t to avoid overdosing; it was to avoid wasting them.

As I would put the first pills in my mouth and take the first sip, I would feel an incredible sense of relief. Everything was going to be fine. Within an hour I’d be lost in hopelessness and loneliness, crying and waiting to pass out. The relief I believed that would come never came yet each day I believed.

A phone call

One summer morning was just like the rest except I didn’t have to work. The thoughts of self-loathing and self-defeat from my morning ritual were continuing with nothing to distract me from them. I eventually called a psychologist whose number was given to me by the one with whom I had no future.

Since I didn’t have a cell phone and I’d left a message with his answering service, I had to stay home to wait for his call. Again with no distractions my thoughts raced more and more as the small quiet voice inside me became louder.

My life was far from normal. I haven’t been able to do anything about it alone. Years before a psychiatrist had asked me some questions. I answered them and then he said to me “does it sound to you like you are depressed?” I thought he was a genius. I believed again that I was depressed.

The university’s drug and alcohol counseling center at one time had taken great interest in me. One counselor asked me a simple question that I struggled to answer. “Why do you drink?” I stumbled around for the answer she wanted to hear and she followed up with another question, “is it fun?”

I joyfully responded affirmatively. It was fun then but it wasn’t anymore. I started drinking to have fun, meet people and feel better about myself. For a while it worked. While I sat on my couch waiting for a psychiatrist to call me back I knew it didn’t work anymore. I was stuck, alone and hated myself. I then committed to take care of the drinking once I sorted out this depression business.

After a couple of hours (it actually could’ve been five minutes for all I know) I gave up on the psychiatrist and left the house. I knew my morning resolves to take a day off for drinking were useless so I decided that I’d tell someone and maybe that would help me follow through for today.

I went to a friend who was moving. Immediately she and her boyfriend knew something was wrong. I was blurting out all this nonsense about how everything is falling apart and then I said “and I’m an alcoholic and I need to get help”.

Two beautiful things

When I hear them talk about the journey and they get to this point, I always tear up a little. It’s a beautiful moment. Two things make it beautiful. One is a long-awaited acknowledgement of a truth about oneself and the other is an expression of hope that it could be changed. What seems like an admission of defeat is actually just a profession of hope. Hearing myself say those words and actually mean them sent me running out of her apartment

I couldn’t go home so I went to work. I told two longtime employees and good friends what was going on. A customer who I knew was a psychiatrist had come in while I was in the office trying to figure out what to do. I ran after her and caught her in the parking lot.

I called her name and said, “I’m sorry to do this to you but I’m an alcoholic and I don’t know what to do.” She smiled at me and that smile gave me a feeling of peace that I don’t ever remember feeling.

She said, “That’s ok, my blank [I don’t remember, it was a family member] is an alcoholic.” She gave me the names of some places that would help me. By the time I got to the phone book in the office I’d forgotten all of the names.

Seven years

That was over seven years ago and I haven’t drank, taken any sedatives or narcotics since. I turned to people who introduced me to a new philosophy to live by. With the help of a generous friend I looked at my relationships with people and accepted my limitations.

I then started to repair the relationships I could, settle any debts I had, connect with people on a level that was unimaginable to me and then shift my focus from what the world could give me to what I could give to someone else.

It wasn’t sunlight bursting through the clouds spreading me with warmth and goody feelings at first. I was angry and scared. At the same time I was feeling freedom from my old life, my new one was becoming engulfed by hate and fear.

It took time, it took practice and it continues. I now am acutely aware of my thoughts, how they affect my actions and how the results of my actions affect me and those around me. With time it becomes easier to abandon thoughts and actions that have negative results.

I can not exactly explain how I got from there to here. Early on in my eagerness and zealousness I had thought I knew the cure for all but in practice I found I didn’t.

Each person starts their journey from where they are and since two people cannot occupy the same place at the same time, each journey will be unique. They may be similar, they may run parallel and they may cross at times but they can never be exactly the same.

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photo credit: Dave-F

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave March 16, 2010, 5:26 am

    Thank you Josh. I hope you know what a wonderful thing you have done in posting this. “Anonymous” does.
    For the legions of us that have been to, and could return at any time to that particular hell, there is no more powerful gift than to hear another’s story. Perhaps this is the purpose of sitting in rooms, drinking fairly bad coffee, and listening to semi-anonymous speakers. There is no other outward proof for the “why” it helps. It is acknowledged though, that it does.
    At least for me it was finally, after years of attempts and failure, desperation and the sense of my own doom–opening my ears and listening. Story after story, share after share. Some more dramatic than that of “Anonymous,” some more banal. But the magic happened, and I believe happens for many when I heard my own story within another’s.
    That was the magic for me. So now when I listen, I always find some piece of myself in the stories I hear. That I am not alone. And that helps keep me strong through another day.
    What you have done with this post is put that story out there. I can only believe, and hope that it will reach someone who is desperate. Someone who is so horribly alone.
    And maybe they too will reach out, make the phone call, speak to the neighbor, begin their journey.
    Thank you Josh.

  • Lisis March 16, 2010, 6:40 am

    Thanks, Josh (and Anonymous). This is a journey that is familiar to many of us… it isn’t always specifically alcohol, but there is often *something* that drives that wedge between the individual and the rest of the world. It’s up to each of us to recognize that and take the steps to resolve it, as you did.

    I just wanted to say that the final paragraph is extremely powerful, and will stay with me for a long time. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Heather March 16, 2010, 6:43 am

    Wow – thank you to anonymous for sharing his story. I’m sure there are a lot of people who really need to hear that because of the situation that they’ve ended up in, and many, many more who, though they may not be able to relate to anonymous’s story specifically, can learn just as much from what anonymous went through.

    Life is tough. But no matter what, there are things that we can do to make it better. It might seem like it’s impossible, but it isn’t…and hearing the stories of people who have changed everything for themselves should serve as a reminder to the rest of us.

  • Jay March 16, 2010, 7:41 am

    This was perfect for today, thank you both. I love that Julianne, in the comments above, referred to these stories as “magic.” I can’t quite explain it in this space, but anyone who’s been through something like this know there are real magical moments in recovery, especially at the beginning, that prove there is hope and a future. It feels so good to relive those in others’ stories.

  • Todd March 16, 2010, 7:53 am

    Wow, powerful stuff. Thanks Josh for posting this, and Anonymous for writing.

  • Srinivas Rao March 16, 2010, 8:38 am

    Very powerful post from whoever that was. “With time it becomes easier to abandon thoughts and actions that produce negative results.” That was the part that resonated with me the most.

  • Susan Giurleo March 16, 2010, 9:27 am

    Thanks Josh and Anonymous. Powerful and important.

  • Bamboo Forest - PunIntended March 16, 2010, 10:07 am

    Anonymous, glad to hear you overcame the addiction. Good story to share.

  • ami March 16, 2010, 11:09 am

    Thanks for opening up and sharing. I hope you know now that you are not alone.

  • Eric March 16, 2010, 11:13 am

    When I tell people I don’t drink, they assume it may be a religious thing. It isn’t. I had a relative when I was very young who I never saw sober–not even once. I’ve known other people as well whose lives were ruined by drugs or alcohol. I’ve never known anyone whose life was enriched by drugs or alcohol.

    At any rate, the real story here is that people can change even though they usually don’t.

  • Rebecka March 16, 2010, 11:53 am

    Thank you so much for this story.
    I was married for ten years to an alcoholic. He died about 8 years ago – a year after I finally gave up and left – from alcohol related health problems. Only now, so many years later am I starting to understand what he was going through. He went through rehab and tried quitting on his own several times, but was never able to get a handle on it.
    After many years of anger and frustration I’m finally able to forgive him and myself for not knowing what to do or how to help him.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 16, 2010, 12:35 pm

      Rebecka, I’m glad you’re able to move on and sorry that you had to go through so much.

  • childofalcoholics March 16, 2010, 12:15 pm

    As a child of alcoholics you learn to recognize the great divide between the ups and the downs. You learn that you’re not dealing with the person but the impairment brought on by alcohol or drugs. I applaud anonymous for the post and for reaching out. That in itself is a great act of courage.

  • Hulbert March 16, 2010, 2:07 pm

    Hi anonymous, thanks for this touching and life changing post. It was hard for you to struggle with alcoholism, and I’m very happy to hear that at the end you were able to overcome it and live a sober life.

    I think we all have different stories of the kinds of pain and struggles we go through life. It might be alcoholism or it might even be something that happens when one is completely sober. I’m glad you were able to share this with the people here because you know, there’s always going to be people that can emphasize and are willing to support you.

    But that first step is just reaching out to others instead of suppressing the problems inward. At least that’s what I have learned. Thank you anonymous for this. I think you did a wonderful job sharing a personal story that have touched us all.

  • Positive Mitch March 16, 2010, 2:09 pm

    Somebody close to me struggles with this. The hardest thing for me to accept sometimes is that it has to come from within them, and it doesn’t matter how supportive I am, how much I tolerate it, or how hard I am on her. It’s especially tough when you know the real person, sober, and love them deeply. Thanks for the share, Josh.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 16, 2010, 2:17 pm

      You’re welcome. I think I’ve read this post about 10 times now. I can’t believe how good it is.

  • Carolyn March 17, 2010, 7:54 pm

    As someone with a family and personal history of mental illness and substance abuse, that post had me close to tears. Thank you for sharing that with us all.

  • Mike March 21, 2010, 7:02 am

    Josh (and anonymous)… great post and very inspiring.

    Glad I experimented with 30-60 days without alcohol this past summer. Thank you for sharing!