Shawn’s Story

alcohol-11Before Shawn hired me he called himself an alcoholic.

A successful real estate developer from New York, Shawn had been drinking almost every day for more than twenty years. When he first contacted me, he was drinking vodka ’round the clock and as many as 24 beers a day. Shawn was also addicted to prescription meds. He was using Syroquel for depression, Ambien for insomnia, and Xanax for anxiety.  To help calm his nerves, he was chain smoking more than 2 packs a day. And still he was feeling miserable. He still couldn’t relax. He still couldn’t sleep. And he still had constant feelings of anxiety.

In fact, because of his fears and dizzy spells, Shawn couldn’t even drive across a bridge without first stopping to have a drink. Shawn was so far gone he had come to believe “I need a drink to drive.” So he always kept a couple of bottles in the car “So I can take the edge off while I am driving.”

On top of that, Shawn’s wife had finally left him. She and their three young kids had a code word for when Dad was too looped to be around. She told them “Barney’s Home.” When it was Barney in the house instead of Daddy, the kids knew they had to stay away from him. Fortunately, the house was big enough for them to stay out of his line of fire. But as Shawn’s drinking and his temper continued to get worse, their house was no longer big enough for the problem to be avoided. So Shawn’s wife and kids moved out. Now, having lost the people he loved the most, Shawn was on the verge of suicide. Having finally hit rock bottom, and having already tried two of the most expensive alcohol rehab centers in the country, he had gone online looking for an answer. That’s when he found me.

Shawn had a look at my website and requested a free consultation to see if I could help him. The next day I called him back and we began a conversation to help him solve his problem. After hearing where he was, one of the first things I said to Shawn is that he didn’t have to go to rehab and he should stop going to AA. In fact – and this is what blew his mind – I told him he didn’t even have a drinking problem. I told him he had a thinking problem. I said “Alcohol is not the problem. The problem is there before you reach for the bottle.” He didn’t like the sounds of that, but it definitely got his attention.

During the call, Shawn discovered that my perspective made a lot of sense to him, so he decided to enroll in my VIP Coaching Program. Then he came and spent a few days with me in person at my private location in Toronto. While he was here, Shawn immediately stopped drinking, smoking, and using all prescription drugs. Instead, he began using the skills I taught him to deal with all his conflicting thoughts and feelings. I showed him how to manage all his fears, losses, anger, resentment…I showed him how to end his anxiety, his physical tremors, and his sleepless nights.

After a 3 day “mental detox” at my place, we began his weekly training regime to develop his self-control and confidence. This consisted of a 30 minute call each week, and specific homework assignments to help him stay on track with the personal goals and plans that he and I had set together.

During that time, besides our weekly coaching calls, I was available for Shawn – as I am for all my VIP Clients – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes, during those first few weeks especially, Shawn had to call me several times a week. Sometimes even several times a day! But it wasn’t long before “a miracle” happened. At least that’s what he called it. Within a couple of weeks of practicing what I taught him, Shawn realized he wasn’t powerless at all. In fact, he felt more powerful than ever.

6 months later, Shawn had gained total control over his addictions. He had stopped smoking, stopped using Syraquil, Xanax and Ambien. He stopped feeling anxious. Stopped feeling powerless. And he stopped being an alcoholic. Shawn had successfully transformed his identity. His whole way of being in the world became completely different. 12 months later, Shawn was still sober, he was in better shape than ever…and his wife and kids came back.

Welcome

mike-lightened-2

What I had planned on writing in this post was a straight forward introduction on how I can help you solve your drinking problem. I mean, that’s what you are looking for, right? A way to solve the problem. But what if it’s not as easy as you would like? What if it requires you take responsibility not just for the problem, but especially for the solution? Do you really feel you are worth it?

The answers are probably easier than you believe. In the simplest terms, all it takes to break any bad habit or addiction is a decision, and a way of supporting that decision until the job is done. But what I have found in both my personal and professional experience dealing with addictions, is that quite often people are not as ready as they think.

If you really want to change your behavior, then at some point, you are going to have to change the underlying beliefs that are causing it. Otherwise, the same kind of behavior will just keep on showing up in other areas of your life. The fact is, our beliefs drive our behavior. And right now, if you have a drinking problem, then the good news is you are currently believe some things that are causing you to behave irresponsibly. I call that “good news” because shining a light on those beliefs is your access to being free.

So I had planned on starting this blog by talking about personal responsibility. Response. Ability. The ability to respond in a way that really works. But then I remembered it is our stories that inhibit us. All those things we call “legitimate reasons” for not being able to accomplish something. In other words, all the things we keep on saying to ourselves that make it okay for us to keep on failing rather than succeed. So to begin the conversation, I’d like you to read one of my stories…

 

The Boy Who Drank Too Much

In January 1991, Robin, my first wife, was 8 months pregnant with our second child. At the time Robin was living with our daughter, Misha, who back then was only 3 years old. While looking after our daughter, not only was Robin 9 months pregnant and living alone in a new city where I had selfishly dragged her thousands of miles away from her friends and family – she was also taking care of our home. And our finances. And our business and employees. She was even taking care of our pets. She was doing all of that alone. Without any help from me.

Where was I? I was in prison. I was serving time for assaulting a police officer, for fighting, and for obstructing justice. Those were the official charges. But what I was really guilty of was being an irresponsible drunk.

While I was in prison, first sharing my cell with one guy who had slit his girlfriend’s throat, then with a guy who kept a steel shank hidden beneath his mattress, and then with another guy who had killed his best friend while driving drunk, I had plenty of time to think about my life. Or more precisely, to think about the danger my life was in and the harm that I was causing others. I remember wondering “Am I really so dangerous that I deserve to be locked up in here with killers?” I didn’t think so at the time but I couldn’t argue with the reality of where I was. I was in prison because I had hit a cop. Even if I didn’t see myself as dangerous, other people did.

What really hit me hard about being incarcerated was knowing I wouldn’t be there to see the birth of my son. That I wouldn’t be there with my wife and daughter to welcome him into the world. There was no way around it. There was no escape. The harsh reality was I was unable to control myself. So other people had to do it for me. I remember lying awake in my cell one night promising myself that if they let me out of prison before my son was born I would never drink again. Sure enough, by some bureaucratic twist of fate, two weeks later I was released. A week after that, I was standing in the delivery room with my daughter and holding my wife’s hand, as she gave birth to our son. Jonathan. And what of my promise to never drink again? Well it was like I never even said it. Soon after Jon was born I went right on back to drinking. Certainly not as often but still always to excess.

At the time, the opportunity-in-disguise for me is that I was a young and arrogant asshole. Having made millions of dollars in real estate by the age of 25, back in those days I used to walk around like I had all the answers. Like I was invincible. Many years later, I had to learn the hard way that underneath all of my false bravado was just a terrified little boy still screaming in rebellion against his father “Nobody is ever going to tell me what to do!”

Back then, all of that arrogance and anger actually served me in many different ways. For one, it helped me make a lot of money. It also helped me start a family. And it allowed me to do some pretty exciting things like traveling and racing motorcycles. I couldn’t have done those things without having some kind of confidence in myself. Even if that confidence was just a bullshit mask that I was wearing to protect myself.
The mask I wore also helped me when I was finally ready to confront my drinking. Here is what happened. First I went to A.A. Then I went to a psychiatrist. Then I went to rehab. Then I read every book, took every course, and personally consulted with every self-help guru I could find. Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, FAIL! Why? Because underneath it all I was still unconsciously yelling the sentence I had sentenced myself to for life: “Nobody is ever going to tell me what to do!”

Now the upside of thinking “Nobody is ever going to tell me what to do” is that I quickly dismissed pretty much everything anybody else had to say about addictions. Because I was so young and righteous, because I was still refusing to accept that I was powerless, and because I was still refusing to be locked up in rehab, still refusing to let other people pull my strings, still refusing to be put on meds, and still refusing to waste my time and money being led by people who simply didn’t know the way, I finally set out to slay the dragon on my own.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back happened one night as my wife was driving me home from a local bar, where I had embarrassed her in front of some of our employees. Somehow, seeing how angry she was while driving home that night, and seeing how fiercely she was holding on to the steering wheel, I suddenly realized how far I had let things spin out of my control.  Literally, I discovered I was no longer in the driver’s seat of my life.

The next day I made another promise to myself.  But now I was more cautious because I knew I had been down this road many times before. I knew from experience just how hard it was to keep a promise about my drinking. Back then, drinking was just too much a part of my identity. I couldn’t even imagine who I would ever be without it. I believed there was no way I could even survive without it. I knew I had to start somewhere, and I also knew I couldn’t stop completely. So here is what I did instead. I promised myself that if I ever had more than three drinks in an evening…then I would shave off one of my eyebrows.

A few days later, I hooked up with an old drinking buddy and told him what I had promised. “No way” my buddy Mark laughed. “You will never do it.” Of course he wasn’t saying I would never shave off my eyebrow. He meant there was no way I could ever have less than three drinks in an evening.  As if to prove it, Mark casually opened the nearest bottle of wine and asked “So when does an evening start anyway?”  I had to laugh at that. “Ha! An evening doesn’t officially start until 5:00 pm. Right now it’s only 2:00! That means I am free to drink all I want until it is 5:00 pm!”

So of course we jump right in. And the more we drink and talk about it the funnier my promise sounds.  Soon it is 5:00 pm and I decide it is time to get serious. It is time to keep my promise.  So I pour myself my first “official” drink of the evening. A glass of whiskey. My preferred weapon of mass destruction. But I am feeling pretty serious now so I only pour a couple of ounces. Mark and I pause for a moment as we both look at the tiny pour. We are both doing our best to make the moment solemn. A few seconds pass and then grinning like the devil, Mark says “Did you make any rules for how big the glass can be?” Now we’re both laughing like hell again as we start looking around his kitchen for containers made of glass. Next thing you know, I’m drinking whiskey directly from a flower vase. “A flower vase is glass!”

Of course then we’re off and running. Pretty soon I declare an evening doesn’t officially start until we hit the bars. Translation: I can keep on drinking until we get there. Which leads to even more shenanigans. Between ordering triples, discounting shooters, and imagining ourselves in different time zones, I managed to rationalize another obscene amount of alcohol.

When I woke up the next morning, there was no denying what had happened. The fact was, I had made a simple promise to myself for nobody’s benefit but my own. And I obviously hadn’t kept it. At the time, I had no idea what the implications of that would be. But later on that day, driving home from Mark’s place I finally accepted it was only me causing myself all the trouble. I had done this completely by myself and there was nobody else to blame. The fact was, I couldn’t even keep a really important promise I had made to nobody but myself. Fuck!

That was the defining moment. For the very first time, suddenly seeing everything so clearly, I was able to choose powerfully. Driving along the road I finally accepted that whatever I had been doing simply wasn’t working. It was time for something different. So I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Feeling both terrified and calm, I reached into my pack and pulled out my shaving kit. I took a deep breath…and then it was decided. If I couldn’t keep my promise about having less than 3 drinks, then the very least I could do was keep up the other side of the bargain. Right there on the side of the Coquihalla Highway, I shaved off my left eyebrow.

At that moment such an amazing thing happened I can still recall the feeling even as I am typing these words today.  As the razor blade touched my eyebrow, it was like the proverbial light exploding throughout my body. Like every single cell had suddenly been awakened and was awaiting my next command. I mean it was electric! Suddenly l knew beyond the shadow of a doubt the confidence I got just by keeping my word to myself was far more powerful than anything I ever got from drinking. In one stroke I had replaced almost everything I had believed about the problem. I suddenly shifted the way I saw all of life in general, and the way I saw my own life in particular.

In that moment I was transformed. I was transformed from being an insecure little boy who needed alcohol to escape his pain, and I instantly became a self-confident young man who was committed to living well. In a single-stroke, I went from being a scared little kid who couldn’t even take care of himself never mind his family, to being  a man who could stand up for his own beliefs. For the first time in my life, I had experienced what it meant to honor my word.

 

one eyebrow

 

Of course back then I didn’t realize there was still a lot of work to do before I was completely cured. Before I became truly powerful and free of my addictions. I hadn’t yet discovered the need or strategies to integrate, practice and condition an entirely new way of being in my daily life. But that was definitely the beginning. After having to explain to my wife, my kids, my friends, my employees, and even to my customers why I only had one eyebrow – I didn’t go into details, I just said it was the consequence of breaking a promise to myself – I began making small daily promises I knew that I could keep. I didn’t fully understand it yet, but I had begun developing the founding principles of my daily practice. The practice that laid a solid foundation for my personal development, and can largely account for the levels of professional success that I enjoy today.

For starters, I continued to intentionally set limits on how much I could drink. To my surprise, controlling how much I drank was suddenly the easiest thing to do! Even more surprising, not only did I stop needing to have a drink, I was no longer even thinking about it anymore. Even when my wife or friends were drinking, it was suddenly very easy to drink water, cranberry juice, ginger ale…whatever.

Remarkably, I was no longer worrying what other people thought of me. I no longer even cared what other people thought! I somehow felt so much better about myself that I no longer needed other people’s acceptance, acknowledgement, admiration, or approval. Perhaps the most shocking evidence of this? To my astonishment and delight, I discovered I could now go into a bar and enjoy having one or two drinks with friends…and then stop without needing to continue! Though I still didn’t fully understand it yet, I actually preferred being sober to being drunk! Incredible!

Now. Here’s the kicker. Here is why so many alcohol treatment programs fail. Fundamentals. Here is what I mean by fundamentals. For all of the success I enjoyed after my transformation, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you about the final time I failed to control my drinking. One night, after more than a full year of following my rules precisely, just to test things out, I decided to push the envelope. After 12 months of showing myself that I could drink responsibly, I wanted to see what would happen if I went one small shooter past my 3 drink limit. “One shot of tequila. Surely it will be ok.”

It was definitely not okay. Unfortunately, that one small shot was the bullet that eventually killed my marriage. That single shot led to many more shots that night. And then I did something irrevocable. Something unforgivable that never would have happened if I was thinking clearly. So here is what you need to know. I mean you really have to get this deep down in your bones because it is the simplest and most fundamental truth. And I personally didn’t understand this until I had actually experienced some success and then totally fucked things up again. So here is the simplest thing I want you to remember…

Alcohol impairs your judgement.

Yeah. I know. Duh! Talk about pointing out the obvious! But here’s the thing:  It’s like saying one day you will die. Everybody knows it’s true but nobody believes it!

Though I personally paid the highest price to understand the real value of the lesson “Alcohol impairs your judgement”, that night I finally learned my limits. More importantly, from that point on I knew how to safely operate within my limits. Now, more than 25 years later, alcohol has never been a problem for me. Not even once. Moreover, I took what I learned from overcoming my alcohol addiction, and I applied it to my cocaine addiction. And then to my sex addiction. And then to my gambling addiction.

In every case, I discovered that just changing my behaviour was never a reliable solution. In every single case, what actually made the difference was transforming my beliefs. Being able to shift my views so radically that whole new worlds of possibility were able to be considered. Then, solutions I could never have imagined while I was addicted, became the most obvious answers to all of my chronic problems.