By the time I was 34 years old, I was getting up every day and drinking alcohol. I knew where I could buy the cheapest hard liquor with the highest percentage of alcohol and no matter where I went, I usually had a mini bottle or two of liquor in my pocket.
The same year—2016—I was driving home from a date with my wife one night when she asked for my coat to use as a blanket. When I realized I had mini bottles of liquor in the pockets, I selfishly told her I wanted my coat back for myself, just so I could hide the alcohol from her and so she wouldn’t realize I was driving while likely over the limit. At that time, I also always drank the moment I got home from work. Sometimes I couldn’t wait and I drank on the way home and I would be drunk when I arrived. My life was an absolute train wreck.
Growing up in Vancouver, alcohol was always a fixture in my home. But though my parents both drank, they weren’t alcoholics and I only started drinking during senior year in high school as a way to socialize. In college, and throughout my 20s, I only ever consumed two or three drinks at a time; I could take it or leave it. I didn’t consider my drinking to be problematic, although I suspect a doctor may tell you differently.
I had also been an obese child and then struggled with my weight my whole life. In 2012, at 30 years old and nearly 350lbs, I had gastric bypass surgery. In less than a year I lost 190lbs. The surgery meant that alcohol was digested differently, it was sort of like drinking on an empty stomach. Soon, I began to notice that my relationship with alcohol had changed. I regularly needed to quench an absolutely uncontrollable thirst for alcohol; I wanted to drink until I was sick or blacked out.
I wasn’t drinking to escape any real emotional trauma, despite having been through a lot. My relationship with alcohol just got seriously out of control. It was like a switch had been flipped.
I would tell my wife that something wasn’t right and stop drinking for a month or two. I even had one stretch of sobriety that lasted 14 months; I felt I’d taken care of the problem. But when I drank after that, even though I would swear to myself that I would only have one or two, I would end up having 12 to 24 alcoholic drinks a night in secret.
Sometimes I would buy wine in a box, decant it into a litre sized water bottle in the garage or bathroom and slug that down quickly. My behaviour became erratic and I wasn’t able to meet my commitments at work. When I was drunk, I would look in the mirror and say, “How did I get like this?” and then the next might I would be drunk again.
I was also an emotional wreck. I had trouble relating to my family and I would get angry very easily. I was irritable, restless and I didn’t sleep well. I got to a point where I knew that if I didn’t reach out for help, I would be a dead man.
On November 2, 2016, I had a week of vacation starting and I bought myself a case of 24 beers. I was going to ration them out and have three or four beers a night. I put my son to bed at 8pm and cracked open my first beer. By 11pm I had finished 19 of them. Something inside of me said: “Kenny, your life is no longer manageable.” It was true.
I reached out to a friend of mine who I knew was in recovery from alcoholism, something I had never done before. The next morning she took me to a meeting for addicts. I knew I was home amongst those people because each of them told a story that could have been mine. I finally realized then: I’m an alcoholic.
In the 12 Step program I learned that stopping on my own is not something that I have the physical or emotional capability of doing. That program worked for me, but if something else works for other people, that’s great. There are many ways to get sober and 12 Step is just one of them. However, it was foolish of me to stop drinking on my own without consulting a doctor.
In that first week I had to call a complete stranger, someone who had been through the program, and ask them to be my sponsor. That was hell. But that guy told me to call him and go to a meeting every day. When I said that was too much, I remember he replied, “well, you drank every day.” I had no rebuttal.
For the first 30 days I was on what is called the “pink cloud.” I was very happy; it was like coming out of a bad relationship. The “pink cloud” ended when my sponsor said that I had to clean up the mess I had made of my life and all the people that I had harmed. That was when it got difficult and I started having doubts about recovery. You have to address what led you down the path to wanting to alter your state in the first place. I just wanted my life back, but instead I was encouraged to fix the old one.
It took me about 10 months to get through all 12 Steps and eventually I chose to put my trust in a higher power, something I was taught by the program, though it doesn’t have to be God.
I realized that I had been angry about many things in my life, all the way from childhood. Part of the program is recognizing that and letting it go. Then you have to make a list of all the people that you’ve harmed and make amends to them. It’s not just apologizing, you actually have to mend the situation.
When I was drinking I would go onto social media every night and lash out at people. I was angry, spiteful and resentful to my friends and peers, and sometimes strangers. I had a lot of situations that I needed to make right.
Kenny Dunn took a selfie on November 2, 2016 (left), his first day of sobriety and at every major sober milestone after that. On the right is Dunn now. Kenny Dunn
I had also stolen from people and I had to pay them back. That was hard. I’m a family man so it was difficult for me to accept that I had stolen whilst under the influence of alcohol, or in order to become under the influence of alcohol.
So, life as a sober person was very difficult at the beginning. Although my wife doesn’t drink, I couldn’t go to places where alcohol was served and I became a bit of an introvert. At our family Christmas in 2016, I noticed there was no alcohol and a few hours in I asked my father why they weren’t drinking. He told me not to worry. I realized my family had collectively decided to abstain from alcohol for my sake. It was very emotional and it absolutely meant the world to me. Now, I don’t have an issue being around alcohol, but it was hard for a while.
I describe myself as a recovering alcoholic. I sponsor people now and that’s part of what keeps me from drinking on a daily basis. There are times, when life is hard, when I want to drink so I’ll never call myself a recovered alcoholic. But I intend never to drink again.
I took a picture of myself in the mirror when I was 24 hours sober and I look like an absolute sack of dirt. I was sad and hungover. I just took a picture so I would remember how I looked. I now take a selfie every time I get a sobriety coin. After 24 hours, 30 days, 90 days, a year and up until my most recent milestone of four years sober.
I feel like a superhero now, but I’m only here to “save” one person. And that person is me. It’s really three people: the young obese child who was bullied, the man who was obese and the alcoholic. When I look in the mirror I see those three people staring back at me, and I know they need someone to stand up for them. I desire to improve my life every day for those parts of me that look back at me in the mirror.
My son was 8 years old when I quit drinking for good and it wasn’t until after I got sober that I realized how aware of my drinking he had been. He is 13 now and recently confided to me that he hadn’t really known me properly until now. I drank so often that he grew up believing that my erratic behavior was normal. Today my I’m proud of the example I get to set for my son.
And I’m now able to be more present with, and for, my wife of 13 years. My life isn’t consumed by alcohol, drunkenness or desperate thoughts about finding my next drink. My wife and I really communicate now. That’s just not something I was good at before.
My life now is the life of my dreams. But that has nothing to do with money or possessions, it has to do with freedom, happiness and joy. I just wanted to get sober at the beginning. I had no idea that my life was going to have all of this meaning.
I’m also healthy now; I joined DDP Yoga and I’ve gotten into shape. I even started painting, despite having never tried it or believing I had any skills before. I am the person today that I always imagined and wanted to be as a child. It’s a fantastic feeling to look at yourself in the mirror everyday and be able to say: “that guy is great.”
Before, I was having a bad day from the moment I woke up. It was bad until I drank. And then, I got a break, but I would be drunk. Now, I get up at about 6am every morning, usually before my alarm. I exercise and I say, “today is going to be a great day.” And it is. Even if bad things happen. I am capable of handling the good and the bad.
Personally, I had to have a spiritual experience to really understand I couldn’t ever drink again safely. If there are people like me, who know it’s time, and who look in the mirror and say, “I only meant to have one beer, but I’m drunk now,” reaching out to someone else in recovery is, in my opinion, a great way for an addict to begin to get help.
The most important lesson I have ever learned is knowing myself and working away from self doubt. I doubted myself my whole life and through that I denied who I really am. I’m only starting to scratch the surface of who I am now. Now, instead of comparing myself to others, I compare myself to the way I was yesterday. Am I better than I was yesterday? Can I be better tomorrow? For me, that’s the secret sauce; it’s the best lesson I’ve ever learned. But, I’m still learning. I’ve only just begun.
Kenny Dunn lives and works in Vancouver. You can follow him on Instagram @sobrietycosmos and Twitter @sobrietycosmos.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Jenny Haward.
If you are concerned about substance abuse issues, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has information on treatment and help available.
SAMHSA has a U.S. National Helpline that is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).