With the goal of interviewing people who have inspired me during my tenure at the Coleman Institute, this month’s interview is with Walter. I have organized my interviews around author Annie Grace’s trifecta of ACT: Awareness, Clarity, and Turnaround. In her 2018 book The Alcohol Experiment, she encourages people to use these steps to explore their own relationship with alcohol. Walter came to our office for an alcohol detox over a year ago and now has about 18 months sober. He exudes integrity and authenticity. His dedication to learning about and sharing his newfound and growing expertise in the field of addiction in a quiet, humble way, continues to draw people to him. Walt was the oldest of three children. His parents were hard-working in their careers, and his mother, kind and loving, always made sure breakfast and dinner were available, despite her work schedule. Because he was able to work independently, Walter’s father would often take his son to the local beer joint for hours. As Walt got older, his father asked him to hide bottles from his mother around the house so he would have enough to drink later. He frequently woke Walt in the middle of the night to referee arguments (always verbal, never physical) with Walter’s mother. Walt suspected that part of the reason his mom drank was to verbally defend herself during these alcohol-induced arguments. Walt’s father had played college football and early on encouraged his son to play sports. Walt excelled both academically as well as in baseball and football. He didn’t start really drinking until he went to college. Annie Grace, the author mentioned earlier, synthesizes strategies and ideas from some of her favorite gurus to come up with a formula to assist people in examining and changing their relationship to alcohol. Follows is Walter’s story, organized around the principals of ACT: Awareness, Clarity and Turnaround.


  What were your beliefs about alcohol, your conscious reason for drinking?   “I joined a fraternity and began my true drinking career. I quickly found that I had the ability to make people laugh when I was under the influence. For the next 4 years, I realized that my drinking contributed in a positive way to these performances and what people expected of me.” Walt began a successful career in banking, while also playing semi-pro football and competitive softball. His drinking was limited due to the necessity of staying in shape to play sports, but by then he was starting to recognize that he didn’t drink like normal people. He drank to excess a couple of times a week. His belief: “I saw my drinking as a reward and stress reliever.”


  Discover why you held these beliefs around your drinking, where it originated, and what seemed to support these beliefs.   Clearly, Walter was excelling even while he continued to drink. Professionally, he was regularly promoted and rose to the level of Vice President in his bank, in charge of 100 people. He married his best friend (they are still married—37 years) and raised two daughters with her. He made it to all of his children’s functions and was a very active parent in their activities. How easy it would be to support the belief that the alcohol wasn’t affecting him, that he could continue to drink this way! Walt had grown up seeing his parents performing all necessary functions of job and family while drinking heavily. Beliefs are often created on a subconscious level, and over time our brains continue to "gather evidence" to reinforce them.  


  In this third step, Grace invites her readers to allow the subconscious mind to let go of beliefs about alcohol by actually turning a belief around and seeing if the opposite isn’t truer, and coming up with reasons to support this new belief.   So if these are some of the beliefs:
  • I function just fine at this level of drinking.
  • I’m an effective parent even though I drink.
  • I do well at my job despite my drinking.
  • My health is not affected by my drinking.
Then some opposite turnaround thoughts might be:
  • I don’t function well at this level of drinking (and find examples to support this new belief.)
  • I’m not an effective parent. (and find examples)
  • I don’t do well at my job (and find examples)
  • My health is affected by my drinking (and find examples).
For Walter, it became harder and harder to continue to support the belief that alcohol wasn’t affecting several important areas of his life. Although he attended all his children’s functions, he says, ”I felt like I was the only parent in the crowd that had alcohol on my breath. I was reminded of my father.” He also knows in retrospect that his drinking affected both his career and athletic performances. When he retired, his drinking increased enough that it began to affect his cognitive abilities and balance. It became more and more difficult to hold onto beliefs about the ‘positive’ attributes of drinking. “It was apparent that all in my family knew that I had an addiction to alcohol,” and at that point, he knew he had to take action and do all he could against his addiction. This is the point Walt came to the Coleman Institute for alcohol detox and began therapy in earnest. As Walter has embraced his sobriety, it seems that every time I see him, there is another great story to support his new beliefs about not drinking. He has done training as a SMART Recovery facilitator, he has led group therapy sessions, his health has improved, and his family—a critical support system for him—has him back in a way that only people who get their family back from an addictive foray, can understand. I have even called him to come to the office and speak to others going through alcohol detox, to share his story to receptive patients. Walt is excited to face the present and the future. In his words, “I know that my sobriety is my greatest asset. It allows me to live my life with dignity and to face good or bad daily situations.” It can be dangerous to stop drinking on your own. If you have questions about stopping your own drinking, check with your doctor, or give us a call. We have several locations around the country to do help you do this safely. Joan R. Shepherd, FNP