My name is Willem and I’m an alcoholic. This was something I had known for years but had never said honestly out loud or to myself. I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in San Francisco. My father emigrated from Holland after meeting my mother on a cruise where he was the ships doctor. Sounds romantic, like a fairy tale . It wasn’t.
My father was an abusive alcoholic and unpredictable. This made for very unstable childhood. This type of thing did not happen to “good” families. From the outside everything looked good, we went to the right schools, we attended ballrooms dance class as kids, prepping for the debutant balls we would be expected to attend as teenagers. But at home it was a different story. My father was short tempered, loud and unruly. Dinner was always a stressful event as it would be a matter if time before my parents began to argue. Many of those memories have been pushed to the deepest recesses of my mind. He died when I was 12, alone, in a shady hotel in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco. A long way from being a well respected surgeon with a private medical practice.
It was at this time I started drinking and using. It was not a daily occurrence but when I drank it was usually a blackout . I used all through high school without many problems as I was able to keep my priorities in tact. My priority was to ensure I did not get into any trouble that would prevent me from getting loaded. I dropped out of college during my second semester because I was partying way too much. I got a job as an apprentice carpenter and was off to the races. I was getting paid to hit things with a hammer and drink all day! I thought I had arrived. I didn’t pile up too much wreckage at this point . Wrecked cars, wrecked relationships, wrecked jobs and so on. When I was 25 I lost my job, my roommates kicked me out and the girl I was dating told me she was pregnant. All in the span of three days.
I had been exposed to recovery years back when I got a DUI. After attending court ordered recovery meetings I knew that I was an alcoholic. I made a promise, I knew where to go if things ever got that bad again. Things did, so I went to a recovery meeting. I wasn’t ready for recovery. But being stubborn I stopped drinking. I didn’t need a recovery program , I could do it my way! My GF and I moved into together and 9 months later my beautiful daughter was born. I continued to smoke marijuana all the while thinking that since I didn’t drink I was sober. It didn’t take long for the relationship with her mother to fall apart. She kicked me out and I hit bottom. I was able to reach out to some friends in recovery and get involved in recovery honestly. This was 22 years ago. I have not had a drink or drug since.
Sobriety has not been an easy path. I think mostly because I choose not to get out of my own way at times. I was taught to follow suggestions. Given that they are only suggestions I have not always made the choice, but what of the many lessons I have learned is that if I don’t make a choice life will make one for me. This was evidenced when I was 15 years sober and my older sister who had been suffering from a “mystery” illness for some time was diagnosed with cirrhosis. She had been secretly been drinking and using drugs for years. I watched as my older sister sat back and let life make decisions for her. This was incredibly difficult for me, having long term sobriety at the time. I am fortunate to have a strong relationship with a sponsor that is patient, supportive and gave me guidance in letting go. By immersing myself in a strong recovery community I was able to understand that no matter how much I cared for my sister, that if she did not want to recover from that hopeless state she would die alone and miserable. 2013 she did just that.
I have been running ultramarathons for ten years. Some folks say that I merely switched addiction and am addicted to running. I have to say that running ultras have taught me more about balance. Recovery is an action program. Ultra running takes action, preparation and commitment. These three ideas dovetail into my recovery quite well. Sobriety for me, is taking some steps. Sharing my sobriety is an action and the commitment need only be one day. That’s a commitment I can handle. By keeping that one day commitment I have been able to keep my sobriety in a manageable frame of mind. Standing at the starting line of a race can be overwhelming and daunting, when the finish line is a 100 (or more) miles away it can be flat out frightening. I find peace at the start line. If I have done my training, prepped my drop bags and taken a moment to be grateful, I’m all set. When the gun goes off my only focus is on to the next aid station. The finish line will appear in time, maybe not the time I planned on, but it will appear.
I have had the pleasure of competing in self supported stage races in the Sahara and Iceland. Six 100 mile mile finishes and I’m proud to say that I have a Western States 100 buckle as one of them. In 2015 I decided that I would run the Tahoe 200 as a fund raiser for THP. I ran for 81 hours through some of the most amazing country I have ever seen. Races usually always have a dark place. My only dark moments were at mile 145 when my feet were so blistered I didn’t think I could go on. A complete stranger spent 45 minutes cleaning and taping my feet. I’m indebted to Spike. My wife joined me for the next 15 miles, we laughed, we cried, there were some of the best miles of my life.
I’m truly grateful to have the life I do.