April is once again on our doorstep, bringing with it the annual, month-long period of crucial attention to an incredibly important cause: Alcohol Awareness Month. For those of you who missed our posts on Alcohol Awareness Month from years past, we’ve detailed extensively the importance of alcoholism awareness and information regarding consumption, signs of alcoholism, and more. This year, I’d like to be a little more direct and a lot more personal. If there was ever a time for purpose-driven introspection, there is no better opportunity than right now. With a record-breaking 100,000+ substance-related deaths in just the past year, we must collectively evaluate the relationships that exist regarding alcohol and our children, family, friends, and ourselves if we are to effect any substantial change going into the future.
A few days ago, Foo Fighters drummer, Taylor Hawkins was found dead in his hotel room. In an initial toxicology test, ten different substances were found to be in his system including alcohol, opioids, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. I don’t know what Mr. Hawkins was battling internally in the years, months, or days leading up to his final moments, I can only make empathetic assumptions based on the shared substances we were prescribed and used to alleviate our respective pain. For years of my life, those same substances were part of my daily consumption, resulting in month-long blackouts that I somehow survived long enough to accept help from Herren Project and avoid the same, unfortunate fate as a man whose music had provided me perspective and consolation through various points in my life spanning over two decades.
Throughout my life, music has been a transcendental best friend to guide, shape, and mold my soul. Acting not only as an escape from the profound mental and physical exhaustion caused by chronic depression and anxiety but also as a peacekeeping, neutral mediator for the battles that raged within. Music was and is a vehicle for me to decipher emotions, like an auditory therapist that reaches deep within to bring a sense of understanding and vocalization to the inaudible, internal effects of mental illness — the racing thoughts, the tightness in the chest, the churning of nerves in the gut, accompanied by full-body shakes as it tries to process it all. In the months leading up to the salvation I found in sobriety, there were a few songs that I left on repeat in the blinds-closed darkness of my apartment, acting as an unofficial soundtrack to my internalized call for help. Two of those were Foo Fighters songs — “Best of You” and “Everlong”. As I sit here writing, I have both songs playing in the background on repeat once again, however now under entirely different circumstances. While I’m fortunate enough to sit here comfortably at my desk in retrospective rumination, fans around the world, family members, and bandmates mourn deeply for a man who lost his battle with addiction.
With every story I hear of a life lost to addiction, comes a quiet moment of reflection and a heightened sense of self-awareness. I think about who I was in the past, who I am now, and who I want to be in the future. In these moments, I tend to spend more time reflecting on my past, as the road that led me here, in my opinion, is just as important as the steps I will take next to shape the road ahead. I consider my past a guide to choices I make on a daily basis as if it were a cheat sheet of experience going into a test for a class on life lessons. If I were to transcribe that cheat sheet into a tangible document, there would be a few bullet points in particular that I’d highlight in bold, underline and circle with exclamation points. Perhaps the most important of those would be self-awareness.
In past years’ Alcohol Awareness month posts, I’ve written about alcohol’s effects on the body, what is considered alcoholism, or recognizing signs of alcoholism. The writing tends to be impersonal and focuses more on generalized information than personal experience or holding up a mirror to the reader, so to speak. When I hear “Alcohol Awareness”, I think to myself, “Ok, great! Let’s bring awareness to the effects of alcohol.” But I’m left wondering, is this actually changing anything? Assuming the role of my past self, there’s nothing in an article about alcohol that would have changed my dependence on substances. That’s not to say that articles about alcohol awareness are not useful or productive — they are certainly important and useful in understanding the disease of addiction/substance use disorder. But I can’t help to feel a sense of disservice in the impersonal conveyance of statistics and general information. Instead, based on my own experience and the “cheat sheet” I’ve compiled over the years, I’d like to offer a different point of view in regards to Alcohol Awareness, simply by preceding Awareness with Self.
Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. It is achieved by deep, intimate reflection and it is an extremely powerful, catalytic tool in bringing new perspectives and change. If given the chance, self-awareness can positively change the course of one’s life, as it did mine. For me, drugs and alcohol completely diminished my sense of self to the point I didn’t recognize the person I saw in pictures or the mirror. It was as if my body had become a war-torn vessel held hostage by a soul incapable of self-control. This period in my life did not happen overnight, it was the culmination of a life’s worth of moments and decisions that amassed in the complete absence of self-awareness. In the impossible search to find the perfect combination of medication, prescribed or not, that would “fix” me, I made many decisions that ultimately led me to that point of absolute helplessness. I decided not to be honest about my substance use with my doctors. I decided to hide bottles of liquor or sneak away at work events to hide my drinking. I lost jobs, friends, and the trust of my family based on decisions I made in active addiction.
What was lost in these moments was self-awareness. Nearly every decision in my past was made in a desperate attempt to escape my “self”. Even though I’ve always considered myself “hyper-aware”, that “awareness” was always anxiety-driven, outward analysis of the places and people around me — rarely was that awareness directed inward in any meaningful way. As a result, I was effectively relinquishing the responsibility of my actions to addiction and refusing to take ownership of my decisions because I didn’t have the courage to engage in honest introspection. If I did, the inner dialogue would always project outward — finding excuses, blaming others — anything that would deflect responsibility away from myself. Essentially, it all came down to one thing: my lack of self-awareness prevented me from being truly honest with myself.
Confrontation is hard, especially when it’s with yourself. Six years ago, I made the most important decision of my life — I went to treatment and afterward, moved into a sober living house for nearly a year. It was here that I was able to reconnect with my sense of self. I’ve always told people that if my addiction was an emergency situation (in reality it was), detox was the ambulance, rehab was the surgery and sober living was where I actually healed. As the fog of my addiction slowly cleared while in sober living, it became easier to have those tough confrontations with myself and the result was self-acceptance, self-actualization, and self-awareness.
If any of this resonates with you, I strongly recommend using this month of Alcohol Awareness as motivation to bond with yourself. The easiest way to start is engaging in daily moments of self-reflection, conducting an honest self-inventory, and impartially considering how alcohol or drugs are impacting your life, whether that’s watching from the sidelines of a loved one or evaluating personal consumption. I believe firmly that to promote alcohol and drug awareness effectively (and in any form of outward engagement for that matter), we all must cultivate a healthy relationship with ourselves if were are to be proactive champions for change — and that starts with self-awareness.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, Herren Project is here to help you take the first step toward a life in recovery. Fill out the inquiry form and a recovery staff member will reach out to you within 24 hours.