How Trauma Triggers Alcoholism – Dealing With Loss of a Child, 3 Strokes and Drinking – with Mike K.

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In this episode, you will hear from Mike K. on how a traumatic event in his life – the loss of his oldest son to suicide – skyrocketed his drinking. Mike also shares his personal story – the ups and downs of his life, his childhood, his rise to success as a lawyer, family & health crises,  addiction to alcohol and path to sobriety & recovery.

What we discussed during the show: 

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 01:34 Mike’s  favorite quote
  • 02:12 His Life Story: His childhood, career, progressive drinking, addiction
  • 16:21 Recovery journey
  • 23:33 What has Mike accomplished in his recovery journey so far
  • 25:04 Cravings and Mike’s coping strategies
  • 26:15 The key to finding long term success in sobriety
  • 28:43 What the word “forgiveness” means to Mike
  • 32:00 The lowest point of his life
  • 32:55 Happiest moment of life
  • 34:57 Who Mike looks up to
  • 35:51 One thing he’s trying to learn
  • 36:45 What is something people often get wrong about him
  • 38:26 What he wished he knew when he was 20
  • 40:00 Rapid Fire round – 5 Questions
    1. What’s on his nightstand: Several books including In Cold Blood, and, Countdown Bin Laden
    2. Favorite meal: Swordfish & Asparagus
    3. No. of hours of sleep every night: 5 or less
    4. Favorite TV show: Anything on History Channel
    5. One thing he’s grateful for today: Sobriety
  • 41:35 Mike’s advice to anyone struggling with addiction or new to sobriety

Other links mentioned in the show:


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Episode Transcript

Pranaya  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of SoberSide Chat. I’m your host Pranaya. Thank you for joining me today. Before we get started, please take a moment to subscribe to the show in whatever app you’re listening in. That way, you will not miss any new episodes, and you will help me by boosting the ranking of the show on the various charts. 

Pranaya  

Today, I’m very excited to have Mike K on our show. His drug of choice was alcohol. And he has been sober since September 21 of 2020. By any standards, he had a very good upbringing. Mike was born in Philadelphia in a loving home with great parents. He went to private schools, great colleges and grad schools, and eventually became a lawyer with a very successful practice. Mike, it is great to have you on the show today. Welcome!

Mike  

Thank you, thank you very much. Good to be here.

Pranaya  

Mike, let’s get started with a quote that you find inspiring.

Pranaya  

Oh, my Lord, a quote? Well, I’m off to think for a minute. Actually, I like the Serenity Prayer. You know, “Grant me the wisdom to know what I can change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. That would be my favorite quote for this topic. It really would. And, you know, I’ve been saying that prayer now for a couple of years and keeping it in my head. It’s a good way to stay focused on this process.

Pranaya  

And it makes sense, and it’s applicable to so many different areas of life as well. 

Mike  

It is, as is many of the AA treatments. You know, they’re good for things other than just alcohol and drugs. I think.

Pranaya  

Mike, before we talk about your struggles with alcohol, I want our audience to get to know you a little bit. I gave a quick overview earlier. Why don’t you tell us a little more about you, your background, who is Mike K? What are his hobbies? What is he like?

Mike  

Okay, well, I’ll try to make that truncated. Yeah, I was born in Philadelphia, and I have three brothers, one is an identical twin. And my parents went to the University of Pennsylvania, and my dad was in medical school. And we were all born when he was in  medical school. And we had a nice, very focused upbringing. My parents are both great. My father became a doctor and a specialist surgeon. He was very regarded and had a very large practice and very widely respected as a doctor. My mom did a lot of volunteer work, at least 40 hours a week. Yeah. And my parents were both very humble people, they came out of that generation and, you know, they raised us the right way, you know, humility, hard work, ethics. And, you know, moderation. And I went to high school, and I went to college and did well, and graduated college, went to England to study for a year. And then I went to law school, and did that in three years, and liked it a lot and went up to Boston – very challenging. very fulfilling. When I got out I clerked for a judge here in New Jersey, a well known judge, and that was a great experience for me, and became very close with him. And then I went into practice and I went in with a firm. Started with a big firm but went in with a firm that left a big firm to set up what was then called like a boutique practice. And that firm, our firm, got very big. And we all did very well. Mostly civil complex cases. I happen to represent doctors and malpractice cases. And I was fortunate enough to represent a lot of really quality, well known people in high profile cases that went to trial. And I really enjoyed trial work a lot. I got married. And we initially lived in New York City on Horatio Street, which is in the West Village, and we lived there through the 1980s. 

Mike  

And then we started having children. And we moved out here to Westfield, and bought a nice house and had a nice lifestyle. You know, my kids all went to great schools. And, and I only say that, because as a model for how you bring up your kids, we did it right. I’m not saying we have a lot of money or are affluent, I’m saying we had a close family, that the kids all understood the value of education, and that’s kind of how I was raised. So that was critical, and it’s not that we lived somewhere, or drove nice cars, or any of that. It’s more like, you know, our family was like the family I grew up in. And we traveled a lot, we went on vacations, and all over the world, and all kids ended up going to college, and really turning out to be good kids, you know, like your daughter, well on her way. 

Mike  

So, in my late 50s, and by the way, I should say, I always, I’m trying to look back on what my life was like, and where drinking fit into it, because it’s part of the story. And, you know, unless you’re honest with yourself, and willing, you can deceive yourself. I was always a regular drinker. And when I say that, I mean, I would come home from work and have a couple of beers. My wife and I would go out, and we were with a crowd of people that drank a lot. And, trial lawyers, they’re known for being heavy drinkers. So I was always a steady drinker. When I look back on it, it was progressive. I drank more, and I eventually lost control of it. And the reason that happened, I think, was a combination of things that happened to me in my personal life. That sort of brought everything down. 

Mike  

My son, my oldest son committed suicide, and he had depression and emotional issues. And that really changed our world, our family. The structure of our family changed with that. And then I had, in relatively rapid succession, three strokes. And the last one was a very bad one. And I had to give up working and it took me months and months of therapy to get my speech back. And again, I started walking, moving around. And during that time, I started to drink every day. And I started to drink vodka, like, during the day.

Pranaya  

So you can actually pinpoint I mean, not necessarily pinpoint, but when the drinking progression just skyrocketed.

It did. And, you know, I was on crutches, because I had Hemiparesis. I was paralyzed on half my body. But it gradually came back. I was on crutches and I was living with my twin brother down in Princeton. And that just happened, you know, his wife is a doctor, and I made the decision to convalesce at his house. And I would sit around all day and drink. And, you know, not giving it a lot of thought, and not really appreciating the significance. So, my deterioration, I would just get up and drink. And, you know, it got worse, it got progressively worse. And I finally moved back up here. And I was having marital issues, marital problems, and my wife, we were stressed out over what had happened. And, neither one of us, but especially me navigating that very well, you know, you look back, and it’s unbelievable. But the alcohol, my use of alcohol, consumption of it was contributing significantly to the deterioration. And, we’d been married for over 30 years. It changed our marriage. And I wasn’t working, so didn’t impact on my job. But it would have, I mean, but I had a stroke, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t communicate, it was horrible. And gradually, my wife took the initiative to have me go into a program, which I was very resistant to do. I think we all are.

Pranaya  

We all are, yes. Especially in the beginning, it’s hard to accept that, you know, you’re still in denial. You don’t want to accept that fact that you have a problem.

Pranaya  

You do. And as I said before, you have to be honest with yourself and one of the perplexities of this disease, I think, is the way you deceive yourself about what’s going on. I mean, I’d be drinking all day, and nothing was wrong as far as I was concerned. And you get to a point where you really are not seeing what’s happening. And I got to that point, and I’ll say that my three brothers, were a tremendous help. They came in, they intervened. And they really caught it when they should have. And so in a sense, I feel fortunate because they didn’t go all the way. I mean, I would have but you know, people came and people from my family came in and helped me out. And I went down to the Carrier clinic, which is a well known facility near Princeton. 

Mike  

And I think it was a great experience, although, you know, looking back on it, it would, it was just opening my eyes. First of all the acute detoxification from the alcohol, which for me was that bad, but, they talk to you and then they put you into rehab. It’s a living facility. And it’s very heavily AA. Alcoholics Anonymous is sort of their philosophy and they would bring in people at night. Every night, they would have an AA meeting and they would try and get you into the psychology of this program. And I’d never been to a meeting and it sounded initially to me like a cult. And I didn’t not like it but I didn’t like it either, you know, I was kind of neutral about it. And people would say, they would come in on Saturday night and say I lost everything, they give you a story about their life, and their drinking or their drugs. And they would say, but I’ve never been happier. And, you know, I’ve been through all that terrible, all those terrible things, and I lost everything I had, but I’m very happy now. And I always thought that was kind of like a cult. But I listened. And I was a little overwhelmed. We had COVID, the pandemic was beginning to accelerate, and I’m trying to remember the sequence.

Pranaya  

What year were you admitted to Carrier? Was it 2019 in 2019?

Mike  

I was there twice. Okay. Because I relapsed when I got out, and went back in. And then I was referred to Bluecrest. And that was during the pandemic, I went to Bucharest, once in January of 2020. And again, like with Carrier, I didn’t take this disease, my problem,  seriously.  I didn’t apply discipline when I went there. I did my time, I graduated. I didn’t realize at that time how devastating this disease is. If you go, if you’re in treatment in a house, in a facility, it’s pretty easy not to drink. You’re with 10/12 people, you’re all focused on meetings and at Bluecrest it’s pretty easy to show up and, and sort of get on with the program. But when you get out, and when I got out of BlueCrest in January 2020, that’s when the pandemic really hit. I had a sponsor. And he’s older, and his wife had some health issues. He’s older than me. And because of that, he stopped. He used to pick me up to go to the meetings, and we’d go every night, almost every night. And he stopped doing that, because he didn’t want to expose his wife to COVID. And, I thought that was very reasonable. And I just sort of fell out of the practice of going to the meetings, focusing on recovery, and it became kind of like, a back of my mind issue. I didn’t think about it anymore. And I started to drink again. I fault myself for not appreciating how hard this sobriety process can be, especially in the beginning. And I went back to BlueCrest. And this time, second time in BlueCrest, I was in with a bunch of guys that were highly motivated and well directed. It was almost like a competition who could do more, and we’re still friendly.

Pranaya  

And I met a lot of great people. I’ve met a lot of young people, a lot of older people all over the place and the second time at BlueCrest worked for me. I mean, it just did. I was an outpatient there for months after I left the housing the second time, and that was good for me too. They have their people that give talks or seminars or lectures, everybody’s approach is a little different. But they’re all very good. And, you know, they kept going over and over this stuff. But I realize now that the reason for the repetition is because if it isn’t in the front of your mind, and the number one thing in your life, you’re at risk for relapse, and, you know, I go to meetings now. We have a great one here in Westfield, on Sunday afternoons, and I go to three or four meetings a week. And I’m staying with it and trying to graft the principles of AA into my daily life. And it’s not as easy as it sounds. If you live alone, it’s easy to fall out of things, and then fall out of the routine. I have a very good home meeting now. A lot of young people, and, I look at it, like, if they can do it, I can do it. And it’s kind of a camaraderie there. People share. Big Book meetings are really focused on readings from the book. 

Mike  

When I was first at Carrier, they gave me the big book. I didn’t know what it was. And he said to me, you know, have you read the big book? And I thought they were talking about The Bible. But they weren’t, they were talking about the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. And the first person that told me that the book said just read the doctor’s opinion, to 10 pages to the beginning, just read that. And, that’ll be your start on the book. And, I’m still reading the book. And every time I read the book, I learn something new. And, that’s an incredible value from this simple book and the suggestions that are made. I’ve stopped trying to analyze how it works. I mean, for me, it’s working. And I’m gonna stay with it as best I can.

Pranaya  

And one thing, I’m realizing that there’s really no right way to recover, you know, you gotta do what works for you. Mike, I want to talk to you a little bit about your journey in recovery so far. What do you think you have accomplished so far?

Pranaya  

Well, I mean, it’s pretty simple. In my case, I just stopped drinking. I’m trying to go forward and start a new life. And my attitude is that with the amount of drinking I was doing, I couldn’t go anywhere. I was just static. I’d sit around all day, drink all day. Not going forward or backward – just sort of stagnating right there. And now that I’m not drinking, I can focus on going ahead. I probably can’t go back to what I was doing before. But I want to have a new career. I want to teach, mentor people. I think, I have an opportunity to do that. And I really want to do that. But I see drinking as the obstacle to having my life get back to normal on any level. Any level at all. So I’m living it day to day. I’m one day at a time man. If I had to go back and change my quote, it would be “One day at a time”. I mean, that that’s really for me anyway, the essence of my recovery.

Pranaya  

That’s what Maurice said – his favorite quote was “one day at a time”. 

Pranaya  

Mike, do you still get cravings? If you do? What are some of the coping strategies that work for you?

Pranaya  

I do. I get cravings. They are less and less, I think, but coping strategies – I call someone. Reach out to another member and tell him you’re having a problem. And, seek their advice, and their guidance. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not a card carrying member of AA – in the sense I am not doing step work, and I’m little less devoted to it than I probably should be. But I do nevertheless embrace being in a sober community and reaching out to people when you have a craving.

Pranaya  

On that note, Mike, let me ask you this. Based on your journey in sobriety, recovery so far, right…. We’ve seen many of our friends relapse time and time again, we’ve even seen a few of our friends pass away. And we have seen people who have not done the program, relapse, and those who have completed the program relapse as well. I mean, there are all sorts of things that have happened and sobriety is not that straightforward. But based on your wisdom regarding recovery so far, what do you think is the key to finding long term success in sobriety?

Pranaya  

I believe that it’s as simple as the Big Book and just staying  with the program and not letting it sort of leech out of your life is the key. Being honest with yourself  about the disease, and how treacherous it can be, you know, powerful and cunning. At the meeting at WestField, there are people that have been sober for 35/40 years. And they’re there every meeting. And I look at that, and that’s where I started to fall back to one day at a time, because in early sobriety, you can’t say I am never going to have a drink again. I mean, I couldn’t. I couldn’t look at it that way. I have to say I have today. And  those people that have long term sobriety, which is what we’re talking about. They only have one day. And that’s the way they look at it. So I would say, I’m assuming, they’re not coming in and saying I’m sober 35 years, I’ll never drink again, I’m cured. I think the thing to say and do is realizing no one is cured. You have this the rest of your life. And you just have to make it through today. It really is that simple. For me anyway.

Pranaya  

Thank you, Mike. We have now reached the second segment of our show. I would like to ask you a few personal questions just to get to know you a little bit better, is that OK?

Mike  

 Yeah, of course. 

Pranaya  

What does the word ‘forgiveness’ mean to you?

Pranaya  

Well, it means a lot of things. It’s related to the topic of resentments. They make a big thing out of that. It’s step four. It’s finding the ability to forgive other people. And this is a big topic in our meetings. We’re not perfect, we can get angry at someone or something. And forgiveness is reaching out and being the bigger person and forgiving people for things that are wrong or offend you. And being where you’re from, you probably know a lot about forgiveness. But it’s also about asking for forgiveness. And acknowledging the things that you’ve done wrong. I mean, that was the thing for me, you know, I’ve been intoxicated in front of my kids. Not a lot, but coming home after the party and being intoxicated in front of my children, it was very embarrassing. And I had to reach out to them and say, I’m sorry, I did something wrong. That’s a mistake that I made that I shouldn’t have. And if you ask for it, you usually get it.

Pranaya  

You talked mostly about others. Have you forgiven yourself?

Pranaya  

I tend not to look at it that way. I was fortunate in a way that I didn’t destroy my family. I certainly could have. I got to this disease later in life. So my kids are all out of the house. The bills are all paid, blah, blah, blah. And so I didn’t destroy my life. But I look back on my behavior, and I’m ashamed of it. And I don’t think I really have forgiven myself, I try to be honest about it. Forgiveness is for other people to give to you, when you’re an alcoholic. You’ve hurt them a lot more than you think. Or you realize, or you accept. So my family, we’re back on good terms. And I feel they’ve forgiven me for what I did.

Pranaya  

What would you consider the rock bottom or the lowest point of your life?

Pranaya  

That is when my son committed suicide. He was our first child. And he had a privileged upbringing. And he was always very special. And he was special to my wife and I, especially to my wife. And I don’t know what happened to him, I still don’t know. But when he was 30 years old, he committed suicide in our house. And that was the low point of my life. I stopped caring about things as much. And it changed my life. They really did.

Pranaya  

Mike, I can’t even begin to imagine what you might have gone through or what you are still going through. Let me change gears a little bit. Can you think of a moment in the past that you’d consider one of the happiest moments of your life, a snapshot, if you will? What comes to mind?

Pranaya  

The birth of my son, my first son. I remember we were living here in Westfield and my father delivered him. And my mom was there at the hospital. And there were maybe 30 or 40 people. And the delivery of my son – the hospital newspaper was there, the photographer and the reporters, it was unbelievable. And, you know, my father delivered him and, and we named him after my father and I walked out of that hospital. He was born in October. And it was a nice warm day outside, and I felt the best I’ve ever felt in my life. And, you know, for my subsequent kids, my other kids, I felt great, too. But that was the best day of my life. I felt nothing came close to that. And I don’t know. Life is kind of what you make of it. I’ve had a very fortunate life and I traveled all over Europe and done a lot of things, read a lot of great books, been in a lot of great relationships, and I feel pretty fulfilled. So I don’t have that about my life. I feel pretty good about it. And that gets me through some things too.

Pranaya  

Who is someone you look up to?

Mike  

My parents. They’re both gone, long gone. But they were great people, and humble, modest, hard working people with great values. And, they were a great role model for me. And my brothers. And I’ve had mentors, professionally, judges that have really inspired me and been part of my professional upbringing. I’d like to say my partners, but I can’t say that. I mean, they’re great lawyers, but they’re not mentors.

Pranaya  

What is the one thing that you’re trying to learn or grow and develop into right now?

Pranaya  

Well, I’m trying to see if I can stay sober. And really, I mean, everything else is secondary.  If you come into this program and you are acutely admitted to a facility, and your life is coming apart, it’s very easy to have your attention be held by those events. But as you sort of come off a bit out of it the key is, I think, to keep your front and center, your recovery, and realize that you’re never fully recovered. Not from this.

Pranaya  

But what is something people often get wrong about you? 

Pranaya  

Oh, wow. Well, I think people think I’m more materialistic than I really am. I don’t think that kind of thing makes any difference in your life. And, you know, when you get to the end of your life, what do you have? You have how you treated your family, and whether you were respected? And Material things,  I think people would look at me and, and misunderstand or misinterpret how much value I put into these things. Because I really don’t, I never really did. And I think I got that from my parents. They were humble people. My dad was very successful financially, but that was never the thing that meant very much to him or anyone else. He was just a good, solid, very religious man. I think in the end,  that’s what his legacy was about. So I try to be the same.

Pranaya  

What is something you wish you knew when you’re 20?

Pranaya  

Oh, my God. Well, it’s funny because when you’re 20, you don’t have wisdom, you just don’t, and you don’t know that you don’t have it. So it’s a double jeopardy situation. I wish I had the wisdom that I have now, not that I’m a great thinker or anything like that, but just the experience of life. I wish I had that when I was 20. So I can maybe see things differently. I forget who the philosopher was, but he said youth is wasted on the young. And that is so true. You know, if I only knew then what I know now. And we live in a society, not to get political, but everybody has an opinion about everything. And because we’re all connected with this social media, everyone is always expressing an opinion about everything. We’ve become a very divided, shallow nation because of that, I think.

Pranaya  

Mike, that brings us to the third segment of the show, which I call the rapid-fire round, just to have some fun. I would like you to answer these questions in one sentence or less. Okay?

Pranaya  

What is on your nightstand right now?

Pranaya  

Several books. In Cold Blood, which is by Truman Capote, which I highly recommend. I just read the Bin Laden book by Chris Wallace, I was not that impressed by it. Happy ending. Very poorly written.

Pranaya  

What is your favorite meal?

Pranaya  

I would say swordfish and asparagus grilled.

Pranaya  

How many hours of sleep do you get every night? 

Mike  

Maybe five. Sometimes less. 

Pranaya  

A TV show you binged or thoroughly enjoyed?

Mike  

I don’t watch a lot of TV. But the one channel that I’m always on is the history channel. History is also a passion of mine.

Pranaya  

Mike, what is one thing you’re truly grateful for today? 

Mike  

Sobriety. And everything else is far behind that.

Pranaya  

Mike, that brings us to the conclusion of the show. Before we wrap up, I have one last question. My mission with this podcast is to raise awareness about substance abuse, and try to help as many people as I can. What advice would you give to someone who is currently struggling with addiction, and listening to you now, someone who wants to quit alcohol or drugs but doesn’t know where to begin? Someone who is lost and confused?

Mike  

Well, that was me. When I first went to treatment, my advice would be to get into a good program where people can get you on the right track, which for me was AA, it could be something else. There’s no right answer to this. But get on the right track and realize that in early sobriety, it’s the most difficult. Make good friends in treatment, these people are part of your lives. My good friends come and go, came and went, and the people I talk to now are the people that are in my sober network. So it’s a disease, it’s bigger than you, it’s stronger than you. You can never beat it alone. I don’t think so. Stay on it one day at a time and rely on people that have more time in it than you do.

Pranaya  

Thank you, Mike. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation today. And I thank you for your time.

Mike  

Thank you very much.

Pranaya  

Before you go, if you enjoyed this episode, if you found any value, I encourage you to share this episode with one other person. Send this to just one other friend or a family member. This not only helps spread the word about the show, but people respond to and identify with different topics, different voices, different ideas, and you might end up helping someone in need. Thank you.


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