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[ Personal Narratives ]

Hello My Name Is ~ Douglas Lail

I’m a visual artist in Asheville, NC and I have been in recovery since January 2013. Through recovery I have recovered a deep, loving relationship with my partner and our families, a network of caring friends, the gift of gratitude, and the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a full-time artist. But most importantly recovery has made it possible for me to accept who I am and to be comfortable in my own skin.

As a child I was awkward and shy and making friends was a challenge. I always felt at odds with the people around me. I never was able to connect. A lot of this had to do with family issues, which I had no control over. Alcoholism was a big part of my life long before I ever took my first drink. Even through all the family drama and craziness I managed to stay in school, get good grades and graduate from high school. I was one of the first in my family to attend and graduate college.

I left home when I was nineteen but did start college until I was in my mid-twenties.

I rarely drank as a teenager or in my early twenties but once in college that seemed the natural thing to do. Once I had those first couple of drinks I felt relaxed and could open up to people. Even though I drank like a fish and experimented with drugs I really did consider myself an alcoholic or addict because I still had the ability to not drink or use. So, I manage to make through college, move away and start a career.

I wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I started drinking everyday. I had a career and I came to know a small group of friends that drank like I did ~ it was the perfect storm. In a few short years I was not only an alcoholic I was also a cokehead. This party went on for about ten years without a hitch.

I turned forty and my luck ran out. I knew something was wrong I just couldn’t figure it out. I got my first DUI and experienced the social stigma of addiction. Being part of corporate American and having to disclose I had gotten a DUI was humiliating. I feared I would lose my position as a result of it. Even though this did not happen, I became very secretive about drinking and withdrew from my peers. This only fueled my addiction ~ hiding out in my office, not participating in group activities, slowly drifting into isolation.

My position required travel so I began booking longer and more frequent trips anything to stay out of sight. As long as I produced the work on time and with in budget all was in the clear ~ this worked out great for my addiction. Besides I had hired a topnotch attorney and had gotten extended driving privileges ~ it was as if nothing had really happened.

After a year things were back to my crazy idea of normal. During this time I had lost my house and I had moved back to my hometown of Asheville, NC. Still unwilling to accept I was an alcoholic ~ my drinking continued for another five years. Towards the end I was unable to stop drinking once I started and end in a blackout. This is when my life really started to collapse. The company I was employed by was circling the drain, my relationship with my partner came to an abrupt end and I became even more isolated. I found myself drinking just to keep from feeling. All through my addiction sleep was elusive, sleep four to five hours nightly. But with the stress of my situation weighing heavy on my mind sleep became impossible. Yet another reason to drink. Most of the time I was in a total fog and disconnected with the world or anyone in it.

In September of 2012 I got my second DUI and at that point I was physically, emotionally and spiritually done. I was forty-five years old and I felt it was the end. I was hopeless and lost in my addiction and suicidal. My partner and I had just separated and I had no desire to start my life over again. My life was a total disaster. These events lead me to take a leave of absence from work and spend a short stent in a treatment center for depression and my suicidal tendencies.

It took three addition months before I found my way in to the rooms, even then it was not by my own will but through the encouragement of the judicial system. I still struggled with the idea I was an alcoholic. On my first attempt to enter the rooms I did several drive-bys but once I parked I could not build up enough courage to go in. Going in meant I had a problem and I still was on the fence about that.

After a few weeks of trying to skirt the issue I was reached the point of desperation. My body was going through the motions of daily life but I was totally disconnected ~ a zombie ~ dead emotionally and spiritually but not physically. This was the turning point for me and I was willing to try anything to get my head on straight.

Finally on January 21 of 2013 I made it in. At first I felt strange and awkward at the meetings ~ I really hated going. But it was one of the only things I would leave my apartment to do. After a while I started to feel a little better so, I continued to attend meetings. It was the only place I could be with people that not only drank like I did but they also had the same skewed perception of reality while in active addition. Every time I went I heard my story over and over again ~ I knew I was in the right place.

Over the next several months I continued attending meetings but still was not convinced of my alcoholism. Slowly I became open to the idea I was an alcoholic and to the idea of facing my past to be free. Once I began this process everything that I had drank down for the last twenty years flowed out of me. It started as a drip but soon became a torrent. Getting all that out was just like the feeling I experienced after three to four drinks in. That same feeling of everything washing away ~ the exhale and the letting go.

One of my biggest challenges in my first year of sobriety was getting past the anger and resentments. I pissed about everything but I still continued to go to meetings. Through the work I began to settle down and lighten up. I’m really not sure when it happen but one day the anger was gone and I felt as though a weight had been lifted. Once the bitterness was gone I could open up and people started to return to my life. For the first time in years I felt genuinely connect to people with out any expectation or motive.

Coming to terms with addiction and being in recovery was the next obstacle. With my head finally clear and I feeling I had a new lease on life there were still those feelings of being less than and fearfulness lingered. I felt ashamed of being in recovery and isolated myself from old friends and family, associating with only people inside the rooms. I would occasionally run into acquaintances and the dreaded question of “Where have you been?” , “Where are you going” would come up. I wanted to be honest but felt I would be judged. If we are only as sick as our secrets ~ why was recovery my biggest secret. How joyous, happy and free can I expect to be when harboring anything that I would not willingly tell another person. Why could I not be honest about being in recovery. I felt trap by the very thing that had saved me.

At around eighteen months of sobriety I saw The Anonymous People film and it changed my perception of recovery. For me it was a way out of the shadows and a cause I could identify with. It helped me accept myself, my recovery and move beyond my past. A few months later, I started a project that focuses on the positive results of recovery ~ it is called the Hello My Name Is… project.

Since July of 2014, I have collected stories & sketched the portraits of about (30) individuals. I discovered this work to be a very meaningful process not only these individuals but to myself as well. This project has become an integral part of my own recovery. I am currently in the process of pulling together and exhibit of this work for National Recovery Month(September 2015).

The “Hello My Name Is…” Project  Fran (2015) 9×12 Charcoal White on Black Paper

My main mission for this project is to counteract the negative stereotypes and break through the social stigma of addiction by building awareness that : Recovery is possible. Recovery improves mental & physical health along with enhancing interpersonal relationships. These improvements aid in the stabilization of living arrangements and often lead to better educational and employment opportunities. Not only does recovery change the life of the individual, it also has a positive impact on the community around them as well as society as a whole.

Addiction is often filled with shame and discrimination…

Even in recovery many of us still struggle with these same issues. Having been sober for more than two and a half years, I still experience difficulty at times being open and honest about my recovery with people outside the recovery community. If we are only as sick as our secrets ~ why is recovery my biggest secret. How joyous, happy and free can I expect to be when harboring anything that I would not willingly tell another person. It is my hope that through the Hello My Name is… that those that choose to, will find the strength and courage to step outside the rooms and break free from the lingering stigma of addition.

The “Hello My Name Is…” Project  – Perry (2015) 9×12 Charcoal White on Black Paper

Often, recovery is shrouded in anonymity as many of us continue to live dual lives, afraid of the stigma associated with addiction. Others simply cut themselves off and isolate from the world at large. Where is the freedom in this? When a human being is taken to the depths of darkness by addiction and recovers, there is a light that grows. My hope with this project is to paint the light that I see in the mirror as well as the light that I see in the people in recovery around me. We emerge out of the shadows eager to share this new-found hope with others like us. Hello My Name Is… offers a look at the faces of people that face their greatest fears and reunite with the world. For more information on project visit HMNI.org.

Looking back over the last two and a half years some wonderful things have occurred along with other not so great moments. It is only through recovery I have been able to face my problems head-on and be present for those few great moments. And even tough at times it was one step forward and the two steps back recovery has definitely changed my life for the better.

One of the key things that keep me in recovery is remembering where I came from. I journal from time to time and in the front is a photo of my car accident, my id bracelet from the treatment facility, the documents from my arrest along with a white feather that was enclosed in a letter for a drug counselor. That white feather represents the hope I didn’t have. It is what brought me to recovery. Now that I have been in recovery for almost three years my life is slowly settling out and I’m not only grateful to be at peace with the world but myself ~ I am truly free.