Wayne Ergle
August 17, 2023

5 Years Sober: An Intimate Look at My Addiction Recovery Story

As a child, we often hold dreams of what our future might look like. For me, the vision never included 40 years of drug and alcohol use and over 20 years of alcohol addiction. In this article, I give you my addiction recovery story complete with the challenges and major tipping points I faced along the way.

Getting Drunk for the First Time

My first experience with alcohol came when an older kid in the neighborhood stole some beer from his father. Eager to relish this forbidden treasure, a motley crew of his friends, my friends, and I retreated to our tree hut, which had become our sanctuary of teenage escapades.

Two Beers and I’m Falling

In that hidden recess among the branches, I tasted my first beer. The sensation was new, and the allure of being part of the ‘older crowd’ was strong. I downed not one but two beers, riding the wave of adolescent rebellion. But the wave crashed sooner than expected

The world around me shifted, and suddenly I was plummeting. The sensation of falling, the rush of the wind, and the jarring halt as I hit the ground are memories that remain etched in my mind, even nearly five decades later.

Biking Under the Influence

A candid snapshot captures a 14-year-old boy riding a bike down a tree-lined street. The boy's wind-swept hair and concerned expression mirror the exhilaration of the moment.

Miraculously, I emerged unscathed. Or so I thought. Mounting my bike to head home, the full weight of my inebriation hit me. The journey home, roughly 2 miles, is a blur. But the clarity of what followed is vivid.

How Do You Know an Addict is Lying?

Somehow, I managed to make it home alive. And, of course, my mother asked me what was wrong.

So, I did what many addicts master early on – I lied. It’s often said in jest, “How can you tell a salesman is lying? When their lips are moving.” The same, sadly, can be said for addicts. 

I had no idea how to answer my mother. Thankfully, she asked if I had eaten a bunch of candy. So, I said yes and told my first alcohol-related lie.

Lowlights of My Years in Addiction

Like other addicts, I did some bad shit during my years addicted to alcohol, including:

  • I treated people that loved me like shit
  • I treated myself like shit
  • Lost all sense of self
  • Got divorced
  • Faced a second divorce
  • I got fired from my job
  • My wife told me she hated me
  • Made and lost a lot of money
  • I wrecked my mental and physical health
  • And more, but I presume you get the picture – it wasn’t pretty

After Over 20 Years of Alcohol Addiction, I Quit Drinking

A digital illustration captures the concept of quitting alcohol through a series of symbolic elements. The image depicts a person breaking free from chains, which represent the grip of addiction.

With three failed attempts to quit drinking under my belt and only the tiniest slivers of hope, I entered the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program (IOP) at The Carter Treatment Center in Cumming, GA, in June 2017. And it nearly did the trick.

When I left treatment in October 2017, I thought I left drinking behind for good. Unfortunately, I had one more relapse left in me. In January 2018, I relapsed and headed back to my old drinking habits.

Two Week Refresher – Live Saver

Fortunately, the Carter Treatment Center offered a two-week refresher for relapse patients. I finished the refresher in June 2018 and have been sober ever since. (5 years sober at the time of writing this article.)

Why am I Telling You This – You Can Quit Drinking

I know what it feels like to live life from the bottom of a bottle. And I know what it feels like to think it is impossible to quit drinking.

I share my story not as a badge of honor but as a beacon of hope. Addiction is a ruthless disease that can rob you of your life, destroy relationships, and even prove fatal. But I’m living proof that recovery is possible, even after years of deep-seated addiction.

Where’s the Magic Cure for Addiction

I would like to give it to you in this article. But the hard truth is there isn’t one.

A spellbinding photorealistic depiction of a magician on stage, bathed in the warm glow of spotlights. The magician, dressed in a sleek black suit, extends an open palm towards the audience, conjuring a burst of glittering stars that swirl around the stage.

The path to sobriety is unique for everyone. There’s no magical solution to quit drinking. 

However, I can offer the wisdom from five years of sobriety after over two decades of addiction. My experiences from attending over 500 SMART Recovery addiction support meetings and leading over 150 have enriched my understanding of addiction and recovery.

Before I get to my addiction recovery story, I’ll share tips that help me stay sober and critical tipping points in my addiction that I wish I had recognized as each tipping point led me further into addiction. Now, I can only wonder if I had noticed these tipping points and addressed them, would I have quit drinking sooner?

Guiding Lights: 18 Tips to Stay Sober that Work for Me

  1. Accept That You Will Have Doubts: Embrace the fact that doubts about your ability to stay sober will arise. It’s a natural part of the recovery journey.
  2. Find Your Why: Identify the core reasons you want to remain sober. This personal motivation can act as your anchor during challenging times.
  3. Join an Addiction Recovery Support Group: Engage actively in a community that understands your journey and offers mutual support.
  4. Explore Alternatives to AA: If Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t resonating with you, consider alternatives like SMART Recovery.
  5. Develop a Personal Recovery Support Group: Cultivate a close-knit group of individuals who support your sobriety and understand your unique challenges.
  6. Prioritize Your Recovery: Be prepared to exit situations that could jeopardize your recovery, and don’t hesitate to do so if they become a risk.
  7. Stay Vigilant with Warning Signs: Create a list of indicators your sobriety might be at risk, and review them regularly.
  8. Adopt a Growth Mindset: Transition from a fixed mindset to one of growth and development, which can empower you to handle challenges better.
  9. Equip Yourself with Tools: Build strategies and techniques to help you combat urges and cravings.
  10. Embrace All Available Resources: Whether it’s therapy, support groups, or medication, utilize every tool that aids your recovery.
  11. Begin Individual Therapy: In one-on-one sessions, delve deeper into personal issues and triggers.
  12. Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can boost your mood, reduce cravings, and offer a constructive outlet.
  13. Cultivate New Friendships: Surround yourself with positive influences and those who support your sober lifestyle.
  14. Celebrate Your Milestones: Recognize and celebrate each victory in your recovery journey, no matter how small.
  15. Educate Yourself About Addiction: The more you understand addiction, the better you’ll be to handle its challenges.
  16. Help Others in Their Recovery: Supporting others can reinforce your commitment and provide a sense of purpose.
  17. Take it One Moment at a Time: Focus on the present, and tackle challenges as they come without getting overwhelmed by the future.
  18. Phone a Friend: In moments of doubt or temptation, reach out to a trusted individual who can offer support and perspective.

Recognizing Tipping Points: Milestones in My Addiction

Throughout my journey with addiction, certain behaviors marked significant shifts toward deeper entanglement

Recognizing these tipping points can offer invaluable insight into one’s trajectory with substance abuse. 

As I reflect upon these milestones in my addiction, I can’t help but wonder if recognizing and addressing them sooner could have altered my path. I present these not just as my story but as signposts for others to recognize in their drinking:

  1. The Allure of Straight Alcohol: During my college days, doing shots introduced me to the world of drinking alcohol straight. This seemingly harmless act paved the way for more serious drinking patterns.
  1. Solitary Drinking: Shortly after starting my first job in my chosen field, I found solace in drinking alone. Drinking in solitude often indicates a deepening reliance on alcohol to cope.
  1. Straight Vodka, No Chaser: Transitioning from mixers and chasers, I began to consume vodka straight from a glass. This was a clear shift towards a more intense relationship with alcohol.
  1. Bypassing the Glass: Eventually, even the glass seemed superfluous. I began drinking vodka directly from the bottle, an undeniable sign of my escalating consumption.
  1. Day Drinking: Once confined to evenings and social settings, my drinking invaded daylight hours. Starting to drink during the day is often a symptom of increasing dependency.

The Rest of the Story

An impressionistic portrayal of a group sitting around a campfire, lost in the magic of a story. The scene is rendered with bold brushstrokes and vibrant colors, capturing the fleeting moments of light and movement.

In the rest of this article, I’ll cover:

  • Building the foundation of my addiction to alcohol
  • My addiction timeline from my first attempt to quit to my successful fifth attempt
  • Key tipping points in my addiction
  • Sobriety tips that work for me and others

Building the Foundation of My Addiction – Age 14 to 34

As recounted earlier, my affair with alcohol began at 14, marked by the fateful fall from the treehouse. 

Around the same time, another substance entered my life: weed. Throughout my tumultuous teenage years, it wasn’t the allure of alcohol but the haze of marijuana that dominated.

The Weed Drive-through

This phase wasn’t without its harrowing tales. One particularly chilling episode stands out, painting a stark picture of the dangers that often lurk in the shadows of addiction. 

Picture this: a rough neighborhood known more for its crime rate than its community spirit. At its heart was a four-way intersection, which had earned a somewhat dubious reputation. 

Approach it slowly, halt, roll down your window, and like clockwork, you’d be greeted by eager sellers appearing out of thin air, offering dime and nickel bags of weed. With a touch of irony, I referred to this as the “weed drive-through.”

The Gun

A minimalistic silhouette of a pistol, reducing its form to essential lines and shapes. The pistol is presented against a backdrop of bold contrasting colors, emphasizing its iconic profile.

On one seemingly ordinary day, I rolled up to this intersection in my trusty 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger, the AM radio humming a forgotten tune. 

As always, a man approached. But this time, there was a deviation from the usual script. Instead of a straightforward transaction, he insisted we drive to a different location to make the exchange. Naïveté, bravado, or just plain stupidity, call it what you will, but I agreed.

We ended up in front of a nondescript house in another neighborhood. Before I could process the situation, he produced a gun, pointed it squarely in my direction, and demanded my wallet. 

Most days, my wallet bore the emblematic emptiness of a teen’s finances. But fate wasn’t on my side that day. Fresh from cashing my paycheck, it was flush with money, which he promptly relieved me of.

High School Graduation and onto College

In 1980, against my escalating substance use, I achieved a significant milestone: high school graduation. Riding the wave of this achievement, I enrolled at Devry Institute of Technology later that year. 

College, for many, is a time of exploration, growth, and, often, excesses. My journey was no different. While I continued my dalliance with weed, alcohol became more central in my life. After all, college and drinking are almost synonymous, aren’t they?

Tipping Point 1 – Doing Shots

During these college years, I started ‘doing shots.’ This seemingly innocuous practice became a pivotal moment on my road to addiction and was the first tipping point in my addiction to alcohol.

The ritual of consuming alcohol straight, unadulterated by mixers or chasers, set a dangerous precedent. It wasn’t long before regular glasses filled to the brim with vodka replaced shots.

Later, in the throes of addiction, I abandoned the glass. The bottle became my vessel, and I drank straight from it.

College Graduation and First Real Job

By 1984, amidst these evolving habits, I achieved another significant milestone — graduating from DeVry. This achievement was swiftly followed by my entry into the professional world with Nortel Networks, marking the start of my career in my chosen field. 

Life was moving, and milestones were achieved, but the shadow of addiction loomed large.

Tipping Point 2 – Drinking Alone

Starting my first job marked a new professional chapter in my life and a pivotal moment in my relationship with alcohol. 

Socializing with colleagues often led to bar outings, both post-work and during weekends. These gatherings became a regular feature of my life but weren’t sufficient to satiate my growing thirst for alcohol.

Soon, the confines of my home became a silent witness to my escalating drinking habits. Away from the prying eyes of colleagues and friends, I found myself regularly drinking alone

This act of solitary consumption, devoid of social context or camaraderie, is a classic and telltale sign of addiction. While it may initially seem harmless, drinking alone can signal a deepening reliance on alcohol, separate from social motivations.

Tipping Point 3 – Vodka

The 1990s brought with it another pivotal moment in my journey with alcohol. A novel by Peter Straub introduced me to the world of vodka. The main character piqued my curiosity with his penchant for freezing vodka and consuming it straight. 

This fictional portrayal resonated with a real-life discovery of vodka during a vacation with my first wife just before the birth of our daughter. 

The allure was multifold: the novel suggested that vodka didn’t leave a telltale smell, and my consumption had reached a point where mixers seemed superfluous, almost an unnecessary dilution of the main event.

This newfound preference for vodka and the idea of discreet consumption was the perfect strategy for me. 

I didn’t realize then that this was the third major tipping point, solidifying the foundations of an addiction that would define large parts of my life.

Was I Already Addicted to Alcohol?

Was I already trapped in the clutches of alcohol addiction at this point? It’s plausible. I had never consciously attempted to distance myself from alcohol, so it’s hard to label my relationship with it definitively. But in retrospect, the signs were evident in my behaviors and choices.

Three pivotal moments stand out in stark relief, serving as landmarks on my journey into the depths of addiction. 

The first was the transition to doing shots, a ritual that bypassed the pleasantries of mixers and went straight to the heart of intoxication. 

The second was I found myself regularly drinking at home alone. Drinking alone can signal a greater dependence on alcohol.

The third, and perhaps more insidious, was my introduction to vodka. This discovery, combined with the notion of its discreet consumption, added another layer to my burgeoning addiction.

As we delve deeper into my story, we approach a moment I consider ‘Day 0’ of my addiction. It wasn’t marked by my first drink or any particular binge, but by the first time, I earnestly attempted to break free from alcohol’s grasp and faltered.

1996 Day 0 – My First Failed Attempt to Quit Drinking

The 1990s were in full swing, and amidst the whirlwind of life, a routine dentist visit jolted me into confronting the consequences of my drinking habits. 

First Sign of Deterioration of my Physical Health – High Blood Pressure

The dental hygienist, as was customary, took my blood pressure. Yet, this check, which should have been uneventful, became a concern

My blood pressure readings were alarmingly high, prompting the hygienist to recheck multiple times. While I don’t recall the exact numbers, I remember the unease in my gut.

This unsettling revelation spurred me to purchase a portable blood pressure monitor. More significantly, it began my first earnest attempt to distance myself from alcohol

With the newfound knowledge of the link between heavy drinking and high blood pressure, the decision seemed clear: I needed to stop drinking.

I Quit for 90 Days

My job in sales led me to Chicago for a series of customer meetings. I arrived with the firm intention of maintaining my newfound sobriety. But as the allure of the hotel bar beckoned, my resolve wavered

I convinced myself that I could drink “like normal people.” It was just beer, after all, not vodka. Three sizable beers later, I rationalized my choice, telling myself many people indulge in a few beers during dinner, especially when out of town.

This lapse in Chicago was a harbinger of things to come. My brief flirtation with sobriety ended, and I returned to the familiar embrace of vodka. The quantity and frequency of my drinking escalated as I slid further down the path of addiction.

1996-2008: A Downward Spiral

Professional and personal upheavals against the backdrop of my intensifying relationship with alcohol marked the years between 1996 and 2008.

Professionally, my trajectory took a turn as I transitioned from my stable position at Nortel Networks to the unpredictable world of technology startups

I took on sales roles at three different startups. While my exits from these companies weren’t directly attributed to my drinking, there’s no denying the impact my escalating alcohol consumption had on my performance and decision-making abilities.

On the personal front, the toll was equally pronounced. The year 2004 saw the end of my first marriage, a painful chapter that closed only to open another when I remarried in 2005. Yet, amidst these shifts, the consistent thread was my growing dependency on alcohol.

Tipping Point 4 – Vodka Straight from the Bottle

By 2007, even pouring vodka into a glass seemed superfluous. I began drinking straight from the bottle, a decision that stands out as the third major tipping point in my journey into the depths of addiction.

By 2008, the writing was on the wall. Even before the culmination of my tenure at the third startup, an internal acknowledgment had dawned: I needed help. My drinking wasn’t just a habit but a problem I couldn’t tackle alone. 

This realization set the stage for my next chapter, marking my second attempt to break free from the chains of alcohol.

2008 – My Second Attempt to Quit Drinking

Mid-2008 marked a significant juncture in my life. Recognizing the severity of my addiction and its havoc on my life and relationships, I cried hysterically to my wife and told her I needed professional help.

Checked Into Rehab

With hope and trepidation, I checked myself into a renowned treatment center in Atlanta.

But what was meant to be a sanctuary of healing turned out to be one of the darkest chapters of my life

As the toxins left my system, I grappled with crippling alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The most alarming among them was my skyrocketing blood pressure. To my dismay, the medical attention I so desperately sought was absent.

Not a Fit for Me

The program’s foundation was the 12-step methodology, a well-intentioned approach that has worked wonders for many. However, it became evident that this method needed to be more congruent with my personal beliefs and recovery needs

The program’s mismatch and the lack of medical attention made my decision clear: I left after three days.

Though I managed to steer clear of alcohol briefly after this ordeal, the siren call of addiction soon beckoned again. Within months, I found myself trapped in its grip, drinking with the same, if not increased, fervor.

2008-2013: Downward Spiral Continues

The period between 2008 and 2013 saw a continuation of the downward trajectory that had come to characterize my life. 

The latter part of 2008 brought another professional setback: The third startup let me go.

Time Off for “Good” Behavior

I chose to take a sabbatical from the relentless pace of the corporate world, a decision that saw me unemployed for the next two years.

While I intended this hiatus to be a time of reflection and recalibration, it took a different turn. The absence of a structured routine and the weight of my circumstances became fertile ground for my addiction to flourish

I began to dip into my retirement savings to sustain my lifestyle, but my drinking habits worsened more alarmingly.

What had once been sporadic binges transformed into a relentless cycle of heavy drinking, spanning 4 to 5 days a week. Week-long binges became the norm rather than the exception

As the quantities I consumed grew, so did the intensity of the following withdrawal symptoms. My body’s visceral reactions to the absence of alcohol painted a grim picture of my addiction.

Tipping Point 5 – Day Drinking

The combination of abundant free time and an absence of job responsibilities created a vacuum, and, unfortunately, day drinking filled that void

Previously, the confines of daylight and societal norms acted as restraints. But as addiction tightened its grip, I reached for the bottle earlier and earlier in the day

Such behavior, a clear deviation from social drinking norms, was another undeniable and telltale sign of my deepening alcohol addiction.

After Two Years of Unemployment, I got a Job

After two grueling years of unemployment, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon: I secured a job. While it wasn’t the dream position I had envisioned for myself, the circumstances demanded pragmatism. 

With my retirement savings dwindling alarmingly, the urgency for a steady income became paramount. Although not ideal, this role provided a much-needed lifeline during a challenging phase of my life.

2013 – 3rd Attempt to Quit Drinking

As the calendar pages flipped to 2013, my relationship with alcohol continued its destructive course. By April, amidst the chaos, a glimmer of resolve emerged, prompting me to take another shot at sobriety

This time, I decided to seek the guidance of an addiction counselor, hoping for insights and strategies that could help me navigate the treacherous waters of recovery. However, despite the counseling sessions, the allure of alcohol remained unyielding

I continued drinking, creating a contradictory cycle of seeking help while feeding my addiction. During my fifth session, my counselor, in a moment of candid bluntness, laid out the reality: I could continue to drink and pay for counseling, but true recovery necessitated a genuine commitment to quitting.

She introduced me to the idea of attending SMART Recovery meetings. These sessions were conveniently held at her office, yet I hesitated. 

Memories of my past experiences with the 12-step program and my skepticism about how SMART differed held me back. Moreover, the weight of guilt and shame made the idea of sharing my story with strangers seem counterintuitive.

After persistent encouragement from my counselor, I finally attended my first SMART Recovery meeting in June 2013. That decision marked a pivotal moment in my journey

The Joke That Changed My Life

The atmosphere of the meeting was markedly different, but it was a simple joke shared by the person running the session that resonated deeply with me:

“A wife asks her husband, ‘What happened to all the Bourbon?’ The husband replies, ‘I drank all the vodka.'”

For many, this might seem like a light-hearted jest, but for me, it encapsulated the reality of my relationship with alcohol

The scenario had played out verbatim in my own life. At that moment, I realized the power of shared experiences and understanding. These people truly “got it,” having walked the same rocky path I was on.

The SMART Recovery meetings marked the beginning of the most successful period of sobriety I had experienced up to that point. 

For a year, I managed to abstain from alcohol. The initial six months saw me as a regular attendee at the Tuesday and Thursday meetings, drawing strength from shared experiences and the camaraderie of fellow attendees.

However, as the months rolled on and my confidence grew, a familiar sentiment began to take root — the belief that “I got this.” The meetings, once a source of solace and strength, started to feel redundant. 

2014 – Back to Drinking

My attendance waned, and by early 2014, I stopped attending altogether. This decision, driven by overconfidence and complacency, had its consequences. By June 2014, I found myself succumbing to the siren call of alcohol once again, marking the end of my year-long sobriety.

While this attempt at recovery did not yield lasting results, it wasn’t entirely in vain. It laid the groundwork, albeit shaky, for my future endeavors in recovery

The insights, lessons, and strategies I gleaned during this period would be invaluable in my subsequent attempts to achieve lasting sobriety.

2014 to 2017: Drinking and More Drinking

The years following my relapse in 2014 saw me rapidly descending into the depths of my addiction. The tentative progress I had made vanished almost instantly, and I was back to my old habits, consuming copious amounts of alcohol regularly.

By late 2016, my drinking had reached new and alarming heights. It became a daily ritual — a bottle of vodka was a given, coupled with any remnants from the previous day’s consumption, and rounded off with either 4 to 6 beers or an entire bottle of wine. 

Attempting even a day’s break from this cycle proved futile. The withdrawal symptoms were unbearable. Tremors, sweats, anxiety – each symptom was a cruel reminder of my alcohol dependence. The only respite, ironically, came from another drink.

By the summer of 2017, my life was in shambles. The physical, mental, and emotional toll of my addiction was evident. 

Divorce papers, symbolic of the crumbling personal life, lay starkly on our kitchen table. My functionality, both personally and professionally, was at its lowest ebb. The weight of despair was almost suffocating, with hope fading to a flicker.

Tiny Sliver of Hope

Yet, in the darkest corners of despair, that tiny ember of hope refused to be snuffed out. I came to a crucial realization: I couldn’t do this alone

The enormity of my addiction was too vast for a solitary battle. This acknowledgment led me to The Carter Treatment Center. Here, I embarked on my fourth attempt at sobriety

While it wasn’t the definitive end of my addiction journey, it marked a significant turning point, one that brought me closer to lasting sobriety than ever before.

2017 4th Attempt to Quit – The Addiction Assessment

Before one can embark on a journey to recovery at an addiction treatment center, there’s a requisite step: an addiction assessment. This assessment gauges the depth of one’s addiction and maps out the necessary steps for treatment.

A seemingly endless span of three weeks separated my initial outreach to The Carter Treatment Center and the scheduled assessment. During this interim, my addiction knew no bounds. Each day was marked by the consumption of the equivalent of two bottles of vodka, a testament to the gravity of my dependence.

Can’t Hold a Bottle of Water Without Spilling

By the time I set foot in the center for my assessment, my physical condition was dire. The tremors in my hands were so severe that even the simple act of holding a water bottle was beyond my capability, a fact I inadvertently demonstrated by drenching the assessor’s desk.

You Need Detox

It didn’t take long for the assessor to grasp the severity of my condition. In an abrupt halt to our session, they made it clear: while I was eligible for treatment at The Carter Treatment Center, I first had to undergo detox. The risk of a severe, potentially fatal withdrawal on their premises was too great.

Being told of the imminent threat of death should have been a wake-up call. Yet, in the twisted logic that often accompanies addiction, I clung to the notion that I wasn’t “that bad.” I believed Detox was for those who had truly lost their way.

The reality, however, was undeniable. I was in dire straits and needed immediate, intensive medical care to navigate the dangerous detoxification process. Reluctantly, I checked into the Sunrise Detox Center in Atlanta, where I spent the next five days.

Emerging from this detox phase, I returned to The Carter Treatment Center, this time to be admitted into their Intensive Outpatient Program, a structured approach to support my recovery journey.

Treatment: Success – Almost

On July 27, 2017, I embarked on a transformative journey as I began the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at The Carter Treatment Center. This comprehensive program blended structured group sessions, individual therapy, and holistic approaches.

Three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays — I found myself amidst fellow individuals on their paths to recovery. From 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm, we shared our stories, challenges, and triumphs, forging bonds of understanding and mutual support. The individual therapy sessions delved deeper into my struggles, shedding light on the root causes of my addiction.

Complementing these structured sessions were holistic therapies. Yoga, meditation, and aroma therapy became integral to my recovery, offering solace and helping me reconnect with myself.

Surrender – I Can’t Fix This

The depth of my surrender set this attempt apart from previous ones. I realized that my life was dangling by a thread, and I could no longer trust my judgment regarding my drinking

I wholeheartedly embraced every suggestion, therapy, and exercise The Carter Treatment Center recommended. I was fueled by a singular, unwavering determination to wrestle free from the clutches of addiction.

The knowledge and tools I acquired during my time at Carter were invaluable. They taught me strategies to combat my urges and understand the underlying triggers. By October 2017, as I stepped out as a graduate of the IOP, I was confident that I had left my drinking days behind.

But, as is often the case with the treacherous recovery journey, another twist awaited me. Despite the progress, the tools, and the determination, I succumbed to one more relapse

Final Relapse

Emerging from the Carter Treatment Center’s Intensive Outpatient Program, I was fueled by newfound knowledge, tools, and an unwavering determination. The path to recovery seemed clear and attainable

I was actively involved in SMART Recovery meetings three times a week and even took on the responsibility of co-leading the Carter Treatment Center’s alumni meetings. From an external perspective, and even in my mind, I was on a steadfast path to sustained sobriety.

But, as the adage goes, life happens. The daily grind, the stresses, and the challenges of life began to weigh on me. Despite the tools and strategies I had acquired, the slippery slope of relapse beckoned once more

January 2018 marked the onset of this unfortunate chapter. It began, as relapses often do, with a singular misstep. But this solitary lapse soon snowballed, with each subsequent relapse intensifying in frequency and severity.

What Are You Going to do About It?

Watching this descent, my mother intervened with a simple yet piercing question: “What are you going to do about it?” 

Strangely confident in my recovery strategies, I responded that I would continue on my current path. My mother’s retort, “Well, it ain’t working,” was a stark wake-up call. 

On her advice, I found myself once again at the doors of The Carter Treatment Center in May 2018, not for the full program, but for a two-week refresher. A chance to recalibrate, refocus, and remind myself of the importance of sustained vigilance in the journey to recovery.

Two-Week Refresher: The Epiphany

June 2018 ushered in my two-week refresher at The Carter Treatment Center. Steeled with a rejuvenated mindset, I was both committed and anxious. Entering my first group meeting was an awkward affair — the fact that I was back indicated a relapse, an admission of my struggles.

The stakes were high, with only six group sessions to recalibrate my path. The haunting question lingered: Having relapsed once, what was to prevent me from succumbing again?

We were tasked with drafting our addiction timelines in our second group meeting. Given that I had recently tackled this exercise during my time in the IOP, the group leader gave me the option to opt out. 

However, I felt compelled to revisit it, this time zooming in on the period post-October 2017 — the phase post my IOP graduation. I was determined to unearth the catalyst that led to my relapse.

As I delved into this introspection, an epiphany struck me — the missing ingredient in my recovery journey. 

It Matters

For years, deep down, I harbored a belief that my life’s trajectory would remain unchanged, whether I drank or abstained. But, on that fateful night, clarity dawned: It mattered.

While it was evident to those around me that my drinking habits mattered, I had never truly internalized this sentiment

That night, a profound realization enveloped me — at an emotional, perhaps even spiritual level, my drinking mattered. It mattered in shaping the person I was and the person I aspired to be.

The phrase “It Matters” has since evolved into a sobriety mantra for me. A daily affirmation, it finds its place boldly inscribed on my office whiteboard, constantly reminding me. 

This newfound understanding has been instrumental in my recovery, anchoring me during moments of doubt and temptation.

Conclusion: A Renewed Journey – 5 Years of Sobriety

As I write down my journey, I find myself at a milestone: five years of uninterrupted sobriety. I stand today, at 60, not just in age but with the vigor and vitality that defies it. 

The dark clouds of addiction have parted, revealing a renewed lease on life, one that I cherish and am deeply committed to.

This newfound sobriety is not just about abstaining from alcohol. It’s a commitment to be the best version of myself, to continually grow, learn, and contribute. It’s about living beyond sobriety. While I may have yet to reach the pinnacle of this aspiration, every day is a step in that direction. 

I am, and perhaps always will be, a work in progress. But it’s a journey I have come to relish, taking each day as an opportunity to better myself.

In my quest to give back and support others on similar journeys, I host the Nashville SMART Recovery meetings every Monday night, a commitment I’ve held since October 2019. Through this platform, I hope to be a beacon of hope, a testament that recovery is possible, no matter how daunting the addiction is.

My story, filled with its highs and lows, is a testament to resilience, hope, and the transformative power of genuine introspection. My sincere wish is that in sharing my journey, I can inspire others to overcome addiction, seek help when needed, and live their lives to the fullest, unshackled by the chains of addiction.

Wayne Ergle

Wayne firmly believes that each of us possesses extraordinary gifts and talents, just waiting to be unleashed upon the world. But life's hurdles often obstruct our path to greatness. That's why he birthed Be Your Own Invention – to ignite the flames of motivation in everyone's transformation journey. Wayne’s transformation story includes conquering a 20-year battle with severe alcohol addiction, emerging triumphant and sober since 2018.