Gene E. was 14 when he started raiding his family’s liquor cabinet. Healing for the longterm addiction that followed came years later through a 12-step program.

“Alcohol immediately filled a certain emptiness in me that made me all powerful, all that I could and wanted to be,” says Gene, who lives in the Northeastern United States. All the great writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner were drunks, he says during a recent phone interview, Recalling how the forbidden liquid would burn his throat as it went down, he explains that back then, he was “devouring” Hemingway, and he loved the association.

The Alcoholic’s Addiction is a Great Escape

“The first addiction was literature coupled with booze, cigars and movies. They were all a great escape.” The whole idea, he says, was to get outside of himself. He felt very uncomfortable in his own skin. Although there were no alcoholics in his family, Gene says if one drinks hard and long enough, he or she can develop an insatiable craving for alcohol.

“I didn’t know I was getting into addiction. I was having a wonderful time and living life to the fullest. I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t doing what I was doing because to me, they were living boring, shallow and monotonous lives.”

Gene’s drinking continued as he matured into adulthood and married at age 20. Calling himself a “functional alcoholic,” he was able to work and carry on a seemingly normal life without his addiction being obvious to outsiders. His wife knew about his drinking, he says, but she wouldn’t admit to herself that it was as bad as it was. “I was always drinking at home; I was never not drinking.

“The alcoholic figures nobody really knows. Nobody ever called me an alcoholic. They know something is off, but they can’t figure out what it is.” Still, maybe they did know at his place of employment, he says, admitting that he never advanced in the workplace as he should have had he not been drinking.

The Alcoholic Exhibits Grandiosity Coupled with Low Self-Esteem

Alcohol is an elevator going down, he adds, and you choose where you want to get off. The unacceptable becomes acceptable and you cross many moral boundaries. Gene admits cheating on his first wife and stealing from his company, a major jewelry manufacturer. “The alcoholic has grandiosity coupled with low self-esteem.” It’s a very common thing, he explains.

His addiction to drugs followed. Alcohol and drugs are the same thing, notes Gene. It’s a way of getting out of yourself. “Marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy, Black Beauties … the only ones I didn’t do were those never offered me.” By now, he was divorced, having left his wife for another woman. (He later married and divorced his second wife soon after.)

It was the 1970s when drugs were plentiful at all the clubs and bars. “Women were very much after cocaine, and I was always very much after women. All the people I knew possessed a certain amount of cocaine.” Still, alcohol was his primary drug. “Everything always started and ended with alcohol,” he says.

In 1985, Gene was living with a woman who was also a good drinking companion. The couple got into an argument one day while indulging in a large bottle of wine. After boozing for a couple of hours, their fight escalated. He suddenly picked up the wine bottle and smashed her on the face, breaking her nose. She called the police. Gene left before they came, checked into a hotel, then visited a bar to soothe his troubles away by means of more alcohol.

After revealing to the bartender what had just occurred, he felt remorseful and returned home. Gene saw his girlfriend carried out on a stretcher, with their neighbors looking on. The police handcuffed and arrested him, and an order of protection was issued against him.

Taken to jail, Gene was put into a cell with about 17 others. “You hear the clang of the heavy door and don’t know when you’re getting out,” he says. He recalls bumming a cigarette from one of his cellmates. Looking around, someone was throwing up in a corner, having swallowed a load of Valium that he had been peddling. A hole in the other corner served as a toilet. He remembers his cellmates passing around a discolored baloney sandwich.

Arrested on a Friday night, he was released in his own recognizance the following Monday morning. The judge sentenced him to 90 days’ attendance at 90 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. He complied, going to meetings daily for three months. On the 91st day, Gene celebrated by getting drunk.

That drink, he says, started the worst period of his alcoholism. His girlfriend, who had dropped the charges, became his third wife in 1987. It was also the year his mother died, and he couldn’t get out of bed to attend her funeral. “I called my sister and told her to take care of the whole thing,” he says. “I got a load of cocaine, and I was destroyed.”

He had reached bottom , realizing his only salvation could come from the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. Gene began attending AA meetings in 1987, which he continues to this day. He has not touched a drop of alcohol or any drug since then. Each of the steps, he says, allows the alcoholic to make peace with himself and others whom he has hurt along the way. “The 12 steps are about ego deflation, humility and getting to the right size of who you are. It’s about your place in the world in relation to others.” Addiction is progressive, he notes, but so is recovery.