What’s Your Rock Bottom?

Bob Miller has been Chairman of Freedom Institute’s Board of Directors since 2012, and as the son of its founder, Mona Mansell, intimately involved with the organization since its inception in 1976.  A media entrepreneur and business executive with more than 40 years of professional experience, Bob brings his business acumen and strategic vision to his role and works closely with the leadership team to develop and execute an overall strategy for Freedom Institute.

Everyone’s bottom is the same. It’s the moment when you ask for help.

A few weeks ago I read an article about the renowned football coach Steve Sarkasian’s alcoholism and the moment he asked for help. The story resonated with me.  There are so many parallels to his story and my own story of recovery.  The theme of the article is You don’t have to wait for your life to fall into shambles before you reach out for help.

Alcoholism and its genetic predisposition were no secret to me.  My mother, who founded Freedom Institute in 1976, was an alcoholic throughout my childhood and most of my formative years.  She got sober when I was 24.  My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic, though I’d never known him when he was drinking.  I am the eldest of six children and three of my siblings had alcohol and addiction issues and all got sober when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

I was in the media business during a time when “the two or three martini lunch” was the norm.  I’d started to wonder whether I was drinking too much and whether or not I was heading down the same path as some of my family members.  But I was doing well in my career and knew that I wasn’t drinking to the point where my personal or professional life was imperiled.  Nonetheless, as I approached my 40th birthday, I decided to stop drinking just for a while, thinking to myself that if I couldn’t stop drinking then I did indeed have a problem. So stop I did–for 15 years.  No AA, no rehab, no nothing. Cold turkey — I just didn’t drink.  This confirmed what I already knew: I could stop drinking and I could do it on my own.  I wasn’t an alcoholic.

One night, fifteen years after my last drink, I decided to have a glass of wine with my wife at dinner.  Over the course of the next five years, I graduated to having two, occasionally three, glasses of wine a day four or five times a week. That doesn’t seem that bad, but most of that drinking was when I was alone which was an issue.  One evening I was having a glass of wine by myself and my wife walked in and expressed surprise that I was “drinking alone.” I explained to my wife that I had started “drinking” again. A week later I was in rehab.

I agreed to go to rehab for two reasons.  The first reason was to appease my wife. She was concerned that I was drinking by myself even though it was in limited quantities.  The second reason was that I’d become concerned with the “obsessiveness” around my drinking.  Even though I believed I was “managing” my drinking, there wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t not thinking multiple times during the day whether I was going to have a drink later.  That obsessiveness disturbed me and I recognized that, even on the days where I didn’t have a drink, the mental gymnastics of avoiding that drink were incredibly time consuming.  So I agreed to go to rehab to explore my relationship with alcohol.

Long story short, within a few days I recognized that I was an alcoholic.  This was shocking to most who knew me, as for all appearances I had a storybook life. No living on the streets, no black-outs or week-long binges, no arm-twisting or interventions. I simply had a realization that my relationship with alcohol was not a healthy one and I accepted that my life would be easier and better if I could figure out a way to live my life without alcohol.

That was a little over nine years ago.  In this article about Steve Sarkasian’s experience, you’ll see a lot of language about how his life has taken on a different focus since he stopped drinking.  That’s been my experience in spades.  Life does change even when you have fear of that change and don’t want it to.  And it changes for the better.  You don’t have to wait for your life to fall apart before you reach out and ask for help.