An unexpected diagnosis rocked Brock’s world and accelerated his drinking. In recovery, he’s learned about the choices he still has.
There are a few moments in life that we can remember like they were yesterday. We know the place, the time, and specific events about the day … details that we normally wouldn’t be able to place. These memories have been called “flashbulb” events. It’s why most people who are old enough can remember where they were when JFK was assassinated or when they first got the news on 9/11. Those examples are communal flashbulb events, but they also happen in our personal lives.
My flashbulb moment was one of pain
I had a personal flashbulb event in November of 2018 when the urologist gave me the news that I did not have the ability to father children by natural means. I remember so many things about that day. I’d had a hard time finding the clinic. The building sat in an empty farm field where it looked really out of place. It was very sunny—a perfect autumn day—and the leaves on the trees had beautifully changed to the vibrant colors that a Minnesota fall brings. None of that mattered. Those bright colors got really dark, really quick as I heard the hardest news I had ever received.
At the time, I was married, and we were told by the doctor that we would have four options. Option one was to undergo an expensive surgery that at best, maybe, would yield a 20% chance of a live birth. Due to the rarity of the surgery, there had been few success stories, but far more instances of heartache and complications. Option two was conception with donor sperm. Option three was adoption. Option four was resigning ourselves to being what is called “childfree.” We chose door number two and quickly moved forward with a procedure called intrauterine insemination (IUI).
I had gone my entire life up to age 36 thinking that whether and when to have a child would be a matter of choice … and then in an instant, that illusion of choice was gone. Not even a month had passed before we were already looking at sperm banks. I was tasked with finding a little boy that looked like me. I was on autopilot at the time, and I likened the experience to choosing automotive features when searching for a new car. Except the car was me. In my pain, I believed that actually, this was the better route. I could engineer a child, I thought, who wouldn’t have my faults and flaws.
My alcoholism accelerated in the face of my grief
The news of my diagnosis was especially troubling as it offered my alcoholism an opportunity to jump back into action. As you may be aware, drinking heavily is discouraged while trying to conceive, as it doesn’t help your virility. But since my DNA would be removed from the equation, in my mind it didn’t matter if I imbibed a little more than I had been. Which is to say, I chose alcohol over getting help.
We made a couple of attempts to conceive via IUI with no success and then put a pause on attempting. While I tried to put on a brave face, I medicated my grief with alcohol to escape from the pain of not having the family I had wished for. Unfortunately, through my experience and actions, I discovered that there was no comfort at the end of a bottle.
Recovery doesn’t erase my consequences but offers me new choices
By the time I finally woke up, so to speak, I had very little left to stand on. I’d damaged my reputation, and my relationship with my partner was struggling. I decided there was no other solution but to quit drinking and accept life on life’s terms. And so, nearly a full year after getting my infertility diagnosis, I finally took my last sip. I haven’t consumed alcohol since. But while sobriety graced me with a new lease on life, the decisions I made while using ultimately led to consequences I had no choice but to own. Like a long train slowly coming to a stop, the consequences of my actions rolled in through that first year of recovery: losing my job, losing my home, moving away, getting divorced. But none of these circumstances are really unique—these things happen to people every day. Staying sober, staying humble … that’s what I chose through those consequences, and it’s what I choose today.
Thankfully, there are many paths to parenthood. I personally think adoption and foster care are wonderful avenues and I applaud all of those who have decided to take those journeys. Today, my story today doesn’t end in that conclusion, but it also doesn’t end. It’s still unfolding. My life today is full of love, and I surround myself with people who give me joy.
The story of infertility is relatable to many. I am not unique. But just as I’ve been able to choose sobriety, the choice in how I respond to my pain is also still mine to make. I can choose how I can be present in life with others, given I have been awarded more time to do so. Attending recovery group meetings, picking up friends and family from the airport, calling and listening to others, and dropping things at a moment’s notice to lend a helping hand. These are all things that infertility has blessed me with. It reminds me of the famous quote by Charles Swindoll, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” It’s a reminder that I still hold the power to choose how I will respond. And that has made all the difference.
In the time between writing this article and posting, I competed in a triathlon and during the pre-race prep I noticed a group wearing race gear that said “Fathers for the Fatherless.” After introducing myself, I learned it is an organization of men dedicated to ending fatherlessness and providing resources and homes for kids who need dads. It gave me chills to think about how connected this world is, and how I see the connections when I get out of myself and open my eyes to the world around me. I knew it was a sign for me to jump into action and give. The journey continues!