Anxiety and alcohol created a lot of wreckage in Brock’s life. But he found a way through and emerged with a new purpose.
I grew up in a middle-class family in rural western Minnesota, where I had supportive parents and was the youngest of three boys. My father put in long hours working for the federal government, while my mother dedicated her life’s work to hospice and home health care. They juggled raising three boys, working full-time, attending our activities, and likely finding time to sleep. On the surface, my childhood was fairly typical, if not fairly blessed. We lived on a lake, always had food and clothes, took adventures, and had plenty of opportunities in and out of school to expand our horizons. Despite this, I struggled mightily as a kid and into my adult life with a centralized theme; as far back as I can remember, fear dominated my life.
Fear and anxiety plagued me from childhood onward
While there were no genetic predispositions to anxiety and depression, I exhibited those behaviors very early on in my childhood. My mind was constantly in flight or fight mode. We had a streetlamp at the end of our front yard. The light would reach the corners of my bedroom, casting huge shadows of swaying branches from the trees. In my mind, I would imagine those branches were the arms and hands of monsters or demons that were out to get me, perhaps foreshadowing my life ahead battling addiction and mental health issues. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered I was born with a rare disorder that increased my chances for a higher level of anxiety and depression than the general population.
As I grew into my adolescent years, I became curious and rebellious, as many teenagers do. I was also desperate to fit in, to be liked, and to have others like me. I hadn’t drunk or done drugs. Given that my alcohol was rarely consumed in my household, I was quite fearful of how my family would accept my decision to drink. Still, I was also looking for ways to overcome my anxiety and fit in with my peers. So when I took those first few drinks and realized the effects they had on me, I was convinced that I found the answer to my problems. I could finally breathe and let my worries go. I belonged in a group; it was fun.
Alcohol became a problem for me long before I could admit it
I stumbled my way through college, going through periods of intense binge drinking that resulted in poor grades and attendance. I started seeing a counselor and began medication that would help manage my anxiety. The problem didn’t resolve itself from there. Despite my increasing reliance on alcohol, I convinced myself the bad grades were more of an issue with the professors and unfair course work than the substance was. Playing the blame game became central to my addiction, and I used that “get out of jail free card” as a means to escape true responsibility.
After graduating from college, I swore that I was a grown man and had learned from my mistakes. The prevalence of alcohol in our society is so pervasive that it’s generally assumed almost everyone drinks, and that’s a difficult lifestyle to break away from. This was especially true as a young professional who wanted nothing more than to fit in. This lifestyle of partying, drinking, and traveling led me to walk away from my dream industry at the time, a career working in professional baseball. From there, I ended up jumping from job to job and relationship to relationship, seeking to fill the happiness void that I perceived existed in my life. The problem, however, was not that I lacked joy, it was that I held onto the notion that I couldn’t experience joy without alcohol. Any attempt to acquire my happiness included the requirement that alcohol also come along for the ride. I didn’t know it then, but mixing alcohol with pleasure had the same results for me as oil and water; they don’t mix.
Despite some trouble and consequences with school, the law, and my family, I maintained that my drinking was “manageable.” But it was becoming incredibly hard to keep my drinking under control. Finally, about a decade after college ended, I admitted that I had a problem, although I wasn’t yet ready to admit I was an alcoholic. I was looking for an easier and softer way to get out of this problem, so I voluntarily signed up for an outpatient treatment program. My goal was to fix the problem that others had with me drinking, and not the other way around.
My life was on a repeating cycle of destruction and denial
Later on, after a planned relapse on a vacation to Europe followed by more trouble, I stumbled into my first AA meeting. It’s not that I wanted to stop drinking; it’s that I wanted to stop the consequences that resulted from my drinking. Instead of looking for similarities, I sought every reason why I didn’t belong there. I didn’t know it then, but this was the start of my road to recovery, one that would take another six years to grasp fully. After gaining a few periods of brief sobriety, I convinced myself that I wasn’t a true alcoholic as I could stop for weeks or months at a time. I embodied the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I convinced myself this was my rock bottom moment, and that this was going to be the event that scared me sober.
Life went on, and I found more jobs and a new relationships. I discussed my past issues with alcohol but left out many key details. I did my time in “rehab” and then AA, I got what I needed in order to keep my drinking under control. I was convinced that things would be different this time. However, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Despite all good intentions, I was powerless to quit alcohol or to stop drinking once I started. Furthermore, I was using alcohol to self-medicate my anxiety along with taking any prescribed medication. It felt like something I had control over, but it was a very dangerous mix of prescription benzodiazepines and alcohol. Needless to say, I wasn’t forthright with my doctors, who wouldn’t have agreed with the prescription treatment plan I created for myself.
In the face of tragedy and pain, I couldn’t cope
I ended up marrying again with the promise of a sober life. Yet, again, I found myself not sticking to the promises I made. We moved forward with attempting to have children not long after getting married. However, I did not foresee the inability to have children. As it turned out, it had nothing to do with it my alcoholism. Instead, as a result of that rare birth disorder described earlier, at age 36 I was told I could not procreate on my own. My coping skills to deal with the grief of that loss included leaning on family and friends, but ultimately the savior I chose to heal with was my master, the grip of alcoholism. I sometimes refer to it as ‘My Dark Passenger.’ I turned to alcohol and started my last downward spiral.
Mired in my grief, I questioned my own mortality and reasons to keep it. I started writing and thinking about the end. I was drifting in a sea of alcohol, depression, and anxiety. In doing so, I was making extremely poor choices. On one such night, I had entertained such dark thoughts that when I woke up the next day, fear flooded my brain. Not for the consequences that I was going to have to deal with—instead, I feared for my life. I was so afraid that I would act on those thoughts in a state where I wasn’t of sound mind. I didn’t know whether that was going to happen the next time or not. I took a long look in the mirror and admitted to myself that I was indeed an alcoholic and my addiction was going to kill me.
I needed a sign … and I got one
Shortly after, I drove to a meeting, sat in my car, and asked God for a sign. I wasn’t a religious person, but I had nowhere else to turn. At that meeting, a stranger approached me afterward and gave me a chip. It didn’t look like any of the ones from my box of chips and medallions. This medallion coin had a picture of a lake and storm on one side and the words “Serenity isn’t freedom from the storm, it’s the peace within the storm.” I had never seen anything like it, nor have I seen another in a meeting since, and how it arrived in my hands that day, I have no clue. But not only have I kept that coin ever since I have yet to pick up a drink after that.
Some have described alcoholics as creating a wake behind them, like one from a boat on a lake. The ripples of our actions don’t cease when we stop drinking, and I found that to be the case in my recovery. While I stayed sober, my personal life kept presenting me with challenges and tests. Something had to change or the rinse and repeat cycle would get going again. A series of events took place that forced me to reach back and see what I was made of. I believe that my faith in this new life had to go through a series of tests to ultimately answer the question: How bad did I want this new life for myself?
Life did not get easy, but I learned coping tools
In early sobriety, I lost a lot. My job, my marriage, a family member, my house, and all the dreams and plans that went with those things. Definitely not what I had planned, but what I learned during this period of volatility is that sobriety isn’t like a get-rich scheme. It’s a lifelong journey in which rewards will come in due time, but are not always under your control. At a year sober, I was stripped of everything I sought or thought I needed to be happy. Or so I thought. In order to truly be free, I had to let go of all my possessions, my mental health victimization, and my dependence on others … I had to wipe the slate clean. I’m so thankful to have had those experiences, and even more grateful to have not picked up a drink. That I remained sober during all of that is nothing short of a miracle to me.
After the waves of my wake had subsided, I had everything I needed. Faith in a higher power, integrity, love for myself, love for others, and a recovery community that has become the lifeblood of this journey I am on. I still have anxiety and depression, in much of the same way that I’m still an alcoholic. The difference, though, is that I’ve accepted these terms and found healthy ways to manage and cope with life’s difficulties. I forgave myself, and I forgave others while making amends for past mistakes. Once I was able to clear the wreckage, I could see that my obstacles were opportunities. Now, instead of avoiding them, I tackle each head-on with ambition and resolve.
My life is full as an alcoholic in recovery
Recovery is hardly a linear process, and it’s okay to stumble or even fall from time to time. I’ve found it’s the ability to get right back up that’s the important part. I enjoy sharing my story with others as an act of service, instead of recognition. Early on, I needed all the help I could get. As I have moved forward, I’ve been able to create time for others to recover by sharing my experience, strength, and hope in multiple ways. I attend regular meetings, sponsor others in recovery, and speak at treatment centers. My job with Workit as a Product Owner on the Engineering team, also allows me to help others get the care and attention they seek through an improved user experience while representing the voice of those in or seeking recovery. I truly want to help people, and that’s the main reason why I came to Workit Health. Breaking down barriers and stomping out stigma has become a life purpose for me and one that’s proved to be a worthy challenge. It’s cliche, but the best things in life really are free.