9 YouTube Videos That Prove Anyone Can Get Sober
On October 30, 2009, I quit drinking. But instead of just quietly giving it up and moving on with my life like a normal person, I decided to record it and post the process online, farting out a YouTube video every few months to create a kind of Behind the Music episode played in reverse (where the band starts out drunk and impoverished and slowly gets a record deal). This went on for the next two years and I'm going to spoil the ending -- there was no relapse and I'm still sober.
Anyway, I've gotten thousands of messages about these from people saying they've helped them, which is a weird place for me to be in. I'm not the helping type. I've always pictured myself as a guy that society just had to sigh and deal with -- a bug on the windshield that the wipers just can't quite get rid of.
But here we are, so let's enjoy this painful yet inspirational retrospective together.
"I've decided I'm going to quit drinking ... for a while."
This video is hard for me to watch. I've had complete Internet strangers tell me that they had to watch it in chunks because it does get painful ... especially toward the end.
This is the night that I made the decision to quit drinking, and I'm buttfuck drunk. I start out the video on my seventeenth beer, and finish it with number eighteen. For ten excruciating minutes, I lethargically stumble over my words and try to explain why I had made the decision to quit. Again, drinking the whole time. It's not quite a David Hasselhoff moment ... but then again, I don't think anyone but David Hasselhoff himself can get this fucking drunk and still live.
Watching that, the hardest part for me isn't so much the messy rambling or the saggy drunk eyes ... it's a phrase I used, that, if you've ever tried to quit anything, you spotted right away. It's the Safety Net.
Specifically, when I said that I had decided to quit drinking, I added, "for a while." I did this twice. For people who don't have that addiction demon living in your skull, it may seem like an arbitrary difference in wording. But to someone like me -- and there are hundreds of them in my forum inbox -- it means everything. It's the addiction planning the relapse in advance. It's the addict laying down a soft landing spot so that later we can go back into drinking again and tell anyone who confronts us, "Well, I wasn't quitting forever. I was just giving it up for a while to see if I could."
Listen for it the next time you hear a friend say they're trying to give up alcohol or whatever their vice is. "I'm going to take some time to get this under control" or "Yeah I'm definitely going to cut back for a while to prove I'm not addicted." You see the irony -- if you can't give it up forever, then you're an addict. Otherwise it's like you're agreeing to get engaged but making sure to keep your old girlfriends' numbers around.
Hey, a dude has to keep his options open.
That video is my rock bottom, and it's there on YouTube for everyone to see. Not an actor portraying an alcoholic, followed by a montage over some upbeat, cheesy 90s music as he cleans up his life and proves to Jennifer Aniston that he's finally become a man worthy of her vagina. It's a real person in a real crisis, begging for help at the lowest point of his life.
"I had what the doctors and I thought was a heart attack ..."
The first day without drinking was tough, and you can see it on my face like knuckle prints. You don't even have to pay attention to what I'm saying. Look how exhausted I am. Listen to me ramble at the end about cooking dinner -- I couldn't hold a thought to save my life, and my hands would just not stop moving. That fidgety, constant motion didn't stop for almost a week, and it annoyed the living shit out of me. I'm sure it annoyed everyone else, too, but at that point I could care less about what they thought. The only thing I was concerned about was making it through a conversation without stabbing someone in the eye with the ass end of an ink pen.
You have to remember that at the time, I was doing a shitty manual labor job, washing semis for a living. Which meant that not only was I dealing with the public all day, but my customers were exclusively truck drivers -- some of the roughest, most brash, hardest to please customers on the planet. Many of them were confrontational and aggressive, which is hard enough to deal with under normal circumstances. Doing it while going through withdrawal was bordering impossible.
But getting through that first day was a milestone for me. It was literally the first full day I had spent sober in several years. I wasn't sure I could do it. The mere thought scared the living fuck out of me, but this video marked the beginnings of the most dramatic positive changes I have ever experienced.
"I can't really say it was a human figure ... it was like a huge blob ..."
Day 3 brought the hallucinations and flu-like symptoms, both directly connected to alcohol withdrawal. A ghostly blob in my bedroom, and the voice of my dead father:
When I mention that I hung a sign on my apartment door saying alcohol was not allowed inside, that was not a metaphor. It was an actual, physical sign. If you don't grasp the significance of that, imagine hanging a sign at your place that tells your friends they can't come in if they intend to do any of the friend things they're used to doing. "No Video Game Zone" or "All Freestyle Rapping is Forbidden Here" or "No Tattooing dicks on Steve." Think about how they would interpret that. Think about how long they would remain your friends.
"I shit a moose."
The fourth day of sobriety was a huge turning point.
Not only was it the hardest, but it was the day that the world suddenly opened up. I was starting to see and understand things that my drunken mind was used to blurring out. I was slowly waking up, and for the first time in a week, my sense of humor was starting to peek its head out. That was an enormous step for me because I've written comedy on the internet off and on since the late 90s. It's one of the big parts of my personality. So, one of my big concerns was that I wouldn't be able to be funny once I removed booze from the equation. I had always written my articles while pants shittingly drunk -- since long before I wrote for Cracked.
This was, incidentally, also the day that I realized that when your body is used to twenty years of "the beer shits," it doesn't know how to react when you change fuel. It goes the opposite direction and turns all of your fecal matter into concrete. Or as I describe it in the video, shitting a moose. Antlers and all.
Related: Happy Birthday, Badass - August 6
"I didn't threaten anyone, I didn't kill anyone ..."
Addicts call it "The pink cloud." It's the wonderful, feel-good stretch of days that you get right when the recovery is paying off. The physical downsides of withdrawal are pretty much over with, and you start seeing the positive effects of sobriety: more money, feeling physically better, mind clearing up. This brings on a rush of positive feelings and optimism that, unfortunately, does not last.
Well, Day 5 found me smack dab in the middle of the pink cloud:
Man, that night and the next several were awesome. I could have taken on the whole world, and I let everyone know it at the end of that video. But, like the hallucinations and the shakes, the pink cloud is a symptom.
When that starts to disappear, that's when relapses happen. The return to some kind of normalcy feels like a descent back into bad times. You think you're slipping and you need something to get you back up to that high again. An alcoholic's mind automatically says, "Booze! Booze will get you back up there!"
Also, holy shit, I forgot how much I hated that cheapass Walmart futon. Anyone who owns one of those things is an asshole.
Related: Happy Birthday, Badass - August 5
"Here's my fuckin' gut difference."
Day 29. On the very first video, I drunkenly pulled up my shirt and displayed my beer gut to the world. It wasn't massive like the ones you see littering a TNA Impact wrestling audience, but it was the biggest my body had ever produced, and I was interested to know if it would go away once I stopped drinking.
It did! In 29 days, I had lost 30 pounds without changing my daily routine.
No additional exercise, no special foods, no cocaine. I just cut out the beer, and a month later I was down to my normal size again. Sadly, my penis never lost the weight. It's embarrassing sometimes because it's hard to find normal sized pants with extra crotch. You have to special order them.
"I think I've gotten 500 private messages from people, saying thank you ..."
This video is 405 days after the first one, but looks like it's five years later. Or a different person.
Before you ask, yes, at the end I mentioned that I was going to use the same method to quit smoking. It lasted a few months. That'll have to be the subject of a separate piece down the road.
Anyway, in the intervening period between this video and the last, I had lost my job at the truck washing place I kept mentioning, due to a back problem. That could have been disaster (chronic pain plus endless spare time plus substance abuse = what killed my dad before he was 50). Instead, I channeled that energy to writing comedy.
I have a friend on the editorial team here at Cracked, which would normally be an advantage... except that he also knew I was a drunk. He would previously have never allowed me anywhere near the operation out of a fear that I'd wind up sending a late-night drunken rant to all of his bosses. But that path was cleared thanks to the year of sobriety under my belt and the shocking realization that it's actually way easier to research an article without beer molecules clogging up the brain cells. I used to write a few articles a year; now I found I could hammer out polished work at the rate of one piece a week, if not more.
And people were actually reading them.
Already I was making as much money from that as I had at my old (shitty) job. Then as I wrote more articles and honed my skills, I was given more behind the scenes work including a permanent layout position. That put me ahead of the game, and a few months later, we were able to finally move out of that sardine can of an apartment we lived in (I'll get to that in a minute).
At the time I made that video, about one year ago, I was finally feeling like an adult. After 36 years of drunkenness and poverty and turmoil and depression and even homelessness, my long broken childhood was finally coming to a close.
Yes, I still had cravings from time to time. Yes, there were days that I struggled. But I was still clean, and that sobriety was what landed me my career. Before, the booze took precedence over everything. It demanded my full attention. At this point, my life was my own -- I called the fucking shots.
"Occasionally I'll go into the local library or grocery store and just pick a fight ..."
Yep, this one is filmed with an actual camera instead of a shitty webcam. So you know something has paid off! Also, I have a slicked back ponytail because at this point, I ran my own mafia.
Finally, we were able to move out of that one bedroom apartment where all of my other videos were shot. To give you an idea of how big of a transition this was, everything in our old apartment was crammed in so tight that we literally didn't have enough room to buy anything else. Like if we picked up an additional dining chair, we couldn't put it in any room because it would have blocked off a walking path ... and since there were only four rooms in the entire place, every walking path led to something important. Stove, bed, bathroom, fridge.
Knowing that, imagine this: when we moved, everything we owned could be fit comfortably into the new house's living room. Beds and all. Everything.
I know I make the jokes about being rich in that video, but don't let that undermine what we actually did accomplish. We're normal people now. With a middle class income instead of the soul crushing poverty that I endured for thirty-five years. I'm able to give my kids an environment that my parents never could -- a peaceful, clean place with their own bedrooms, a yard and a nice neighborhood. I have all the comedy work I can handle, I'm writing a book, I'm planning a wedding ...
I'm healthy for the first time in over two decades. I'm in a relationship that isn't volatile and destructive. I'm working a job full of professional people who truly appreciate the part I play. I'm ... normal.
Not everyone who drinks has a problem, I know that. But I'm telling you that if you do have a problem, you're not doomed. I escaped. So can you.
For more Cheese, check out The Top 10 Celebrity Sex Videos Nobody Wanted to See and 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Quitting Drinking.