I’m Joe…

…and I’m an alcoholic. Last Sunday, April 1, marked the conclusion of my twenty-seventh year of sobriety. I’ve had six additional days of sobriety as I am typing this and I’m hoping for another one as you are reading this.

I’ve talked about alcoholism and sobriety before in this venue — most recently two years ago — and I’m going to do it again. If you are writing and working on your twelfth book or the first five pages of your first one you might think that four or five glasses of wine help to lubricate the creative glands either while you are writing or before you even start. Fair enough. All I ask is that you keep yourself open to the possibility that your intake — if it is regular and excessive — may be holding you back rather than helping you.

Addiction can find a home with anyone but especially with creative folks. Evict it, and it just hides in a tree in the backyard and waits patiently for an open door or window to creep right back in. It can take a while to recognize that you might have a problem if indeed you have a problem. Once you realize that you have a problem, don’t be afraid to look up “rehab center near me” online to see where you can get help. I met a man in 1988 who told me straight up, within ten minutes of our introduction, that he was an alcoholic. “I’ve been sober for nine years!” he said. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, Nine years! Without a drink?! I can’t even go for nine days. It’s a good thing I don’t have a problem! Yep. That’s what denial looks like, and I’m not talking about the river in Egypt. It took me three years after that and a near tragedy to get myself together.

Actually, make that several near tragedies. It is a miracle I’m sitting here. I’m glad that justice is a rare thing. If justice were in great supply I would be dead or in prison or on the street, rather than waking up in a nice home in a great neighborhood and having the privilege — and it is a privilege — of sitting here writing something for TKZ and having you read it.

It took me a while to figure something out. If you are going to write you have to treat it like you would a job, even if you’re not yet making any money from your endeavors or are making just enough to keep going. You wouldn’t show up at a regular job drunk or high — not with all those employee drug tests — because you would get fired. Don’t show up at your writing desk drunk, either. You’re on the road to firing yourself from the best job in the world.

If you think you have a problem — whether it’s with alcohol or drugs or gambling or whatever — you probably do. There is a test that you can take that might give you some guidance. The argument about whether alcoholism is a disease or a character disorder has vigorous and excellent proponents on both sides. It ultimately doesn’t make any difference. It’s a problem and it won’t go away on its own. You need to take a step. What is now hysterically funny to me is that a couple of times I almost stopped but didn’t because I didn’t know how. That’s funny, in a way. But it’s also pretty sad, in retrospect. You would be surprised at how many people needing to take that important first step down the road to sobriety feel the same way. If you feel comfortable going to your physician about it, please do so. If you reflexively shy away from doing that, please try an AA meeting. If you Google “AA” and your city you’ll find a schedule. I guarantee that you will find several. Some target specific groups. Others are quite the mixed bag. I attended a meeting several weeks ago in support of a friend attaining his first year of sobriety. There were doctors, attorneys, bikers, mechanics…but we were all siblings for an hour or so. If you don’t feel up to that just yet, then email me. I promise that I will get back to you immediately, do whatever I can to help, and take our conversation to my grave.

One last thing…if you do not have an addiction but have a family member who does then run — seriously, run — to an Al-Anon meeting. Again, just Google “Al-Anon” and your city. You are almost certainly one hour away from feeling less alone. You might attend one meeting and wonder who these strangers are who lead a life identical to yours.

That’s me today. Thank you for being here. You all are the best. And keep writing. Don’t let anything — like a bottle — or anyone, including yourself, get in your way.



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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

54 thoughts on “I’m Joe…

  1. God bless you, Joe. I’m not an alcoholic but my mother’s father, my brother and other cousins, uncles, etc. were. I’ve seen the effect it’s had on their family members. One cousin drank herself to death. My brother stayed away most of the time because I don’t think he wanted my mother to see what he was going through. He was married four times. I knew the first three wives and the drinking might have had something to do with the poor choices in some instances. I’m not sure. The fourth wife was a good choice. My mother used to tell about the problems her poor mother had. Her father eventually found someone else and divorced her leaving her to support the two youngest of four children. I never knew him. My mother married at age fifteen. —- Suzanne

    • Thank you, Suzanne, for your kind words and particularly for sharing your stories. One of the reasons that I stopped drinking was that I realized that I was becoming like a family member and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. Examples take many forms. God Bless You as well.

  2. Joe, I am certain you touched many hearts with this post. Bless you for your supportive words and sweet offer to help those still struggling with that first step.

    Not long ago my husband and I watched a biography of the man who started AA. What an amazing story. Through his efforts, and those of selfless souls like you, many lives have been restored and wrestled back from destruction. As the quote says, “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.” I will add it also makes you more compassionate.

    • Thank you, Cecilia, and bless you as well. Ironically, I grew up in Akron, where AA was founded. I remember as a kid seeing “I’m a Friend of Bill W” bumper sticker and wondering what it meant.

      I love that Nietzche quote as well. My new favorite one as relates to addiction is “It’s impossible to get enough of something that almost works.” Amen.

  3. Congratulations, Joe.

    Years ago, I hosted a series of interviews on the local cable station (Channel 11, which stood for the eleven people who watched it) about AA and Al-Anon. I ended up with the gig after a client (I’m a retired lawyer) interviewed me about my own drinking habits. After grilling me (nicely), he sat back in his chair and told me he hated me because I could handle alcohol.

    Because of the principle of anonymity, the organizations needed someone who wasn’t a member to host the program. Hence, the beginning of my career as Canada’s Rachel Maddow. Not!

    After every program, the station’s phones were bombarded with calls from people asking for more information and information pamphlets. This was before the internet age.

    I doubt there’s anyone alive who doesn’t know, or who isn’t related to, an alcoholic. My dad’s extended family “boasts” of several.

    What I learned while volunteering for AA and Al-Anon has stayed with me, and enabled me to encourage a few people over the years to try out the organizations.

    In particular, Al-Anon has taught a number of people how to stop enabling the alcoholic, and almost every time, they have seen changes in the alcoholic’s behavior, even if s/he continues to drink. Sometimes the recognition that Al-Anon really does help takes time. People go to one or two meetings, think it’s a waste of time, and so they drop out. Later on down the line, if they’ve changed their own behavior, they see subtle changes in the alcoholic’s behavior, changes that have improved the life of the alcoholic and those around him or her. Sometimes those changes are the alcoholic’s first steps to making even more changes.

    As you’ve said, it doesn’t matter how we label alcoholism, whether it’s a disease or not. And its symptoms are varied. Not all alcoholics who are still drinking lead obviously dysfunctional lives. The dysfunctions can be hidden from prying, judgmental or concerned eyes. Even those who live with alcoholics–because of lack of knowledge about alcoholism or our tendency to deny or our varying capacities to tolerate dysfunctional behaviors–may not recognize the effects of alcoholism.

    Thank you for sharing, Joe. You may or may not hear from people right away, or they may, as a result of your post, seek the help they need from others, but I am convinced you have performed a much-needed service by sharing your experience.

    • Sheryl, you’re welcome, and thanks for your wonderful comments and your sharing. I grew up with family members who were alcoholics and thought that much of it was normal behavior because they functioned so well on the surface and were so personable. What could be so bad about feeling good? The piper, however, has to be paid eventually by someone, and more often than not its an innocent. Thanks again.

  4. Joe, thank you for being up-front about this. I’ve seen first-hand what alcohol can do–also the toll drugs take on a family. This is a never-ending battle. Thanks for being part of the fight.

    • You’re welcome, Richard, and thank you for all that you have done and do.

  5. Congratulations, Sir~ I know it’s been a challenge ~ each and every day, one day at a time ~
    Here if you need me~

    • Thank you, George. That means a lot to me. I may take you up on that at some point. And of course the road goes both ways.

  6. Congratulations on your sobriety and on being remarkably honest and caring.
    Through my years of TKZ I’ve learned you are a genuinely noble person.
    All the best to you!

    • Tom, thank you for your kindness and for continuing to visit us on TKZ after lo these many months and years. Best to you as well, Sir!

    • Thank you, Truant Librarian (love that handle) for being a regular visitor here and for your kindness and encouragement.

  7. Congrats Joe on your sobriety. You make a great point about treating writing like you would a normal job. I have 10 books published, but along the way perhaps between books 4 and 5, I thought I needed a ‘muse’ to write. Over several days of a particular week, I tried two glasses of wine for inspiration. Then I realized wine made me sleepy, not creative, and there was no such thing as a ‘muse’. I struggled with book 7, set in Scotland, and thought perhaps if I had an appreciation for whiskey, that might stimulate the story. After trying several single malts, again I reached the conclusion that alcohol didn’t inspire my writing and I hated whiskey. I just needed to keep my nose to the keyboard grindstone to produce. I don’t know how Hemingway did it with alcohol, but it sure didn’t work for me.

    • Thank you Alex for your support and for sharing your story. Re: Hemingway…it ultimately didn’t work for him, either. However, the man had some insight. My favorite lines of his are from THE SUN ALSO RISES:

      “How did you go bankrupt?”
      “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

      That applies to addiction as well…

  8. Great post, Sir. You are an inspiration and role model for us all. I always look forward to your posts. Thank you for all you do.

    • David, my brother, thank you so much, but the same could be said of you, and with even more truth. I want to be you when I go up.

  9. Happy anniversary, Joe!

    I work in Behavioral Health. Not long ago I attended a talk by a doctor who had the same problem. He now runs a rehab clinic.
    He said he realized he might have a problem when he was hiding out in his garage drinking from his hidden stash in the morning.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thank you, Cynthia, and thank you especially for sharing that story. Drunks are the lords of deceit. Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, describes drinking sample sized bottles of mouthwash for the alcohol. Clever! It of course goes very well with coffee as a morning perk up. The possibilities when one is in the throes of addiction are endless.

  10. Congratulations on 27 years. As someone said above, I remember your last post on this subject. I was very touched then and very touched now. And look at all the wisdom, wit and help sobriety has allowed you to offer to others through this blog & elsewhere. Many thanks.

    • Thank you, B.K. I appreciate your kind comments and hope I can live up to them.

  11. Thank you for sharing your story, Joe. It takes great courage and love for your family and friends to make the decision each day to remain sober. Congratulations on your strength and commitment to this path.

  12. Thank you, Suzanne, though it was the courage of my family and friends who stuck with me who ultimately helped me get through to the other side!

  13. Congratulations on the 27 and counting, and thanks for your regular posts on this blog. I am at ten years right about now. I think. The day I finally stopped, I wasn’t thinking it was my last day. But I was in a pretty thick fog at the time. I know it was a day in the spring, because I had not had a drink for over a month when I began attending AA daily just before my June birthday.

    Because drinking had cost me my job, I was able to attend meetings 3 times a day for 90 days and receive the massive support available from association with the great people in my group — just by being in their presence, hearing their histories, and learning my situation was a) not at all unique and b) something diligent and persistent people are able to overcome.

    • Richard, thank you for the good thoughts and particularly for sharing your own situation. Congratulations to you for taking that first big step and all the many, many steps thereafter. You reminded me of something which I failed to mention, namely that the blowback from past actions doesn’t stop just because we make the decision to maintain sobriety. With sobriety, however, we can at least deal with it with some clear thinking and good judgment.

      Thanks again and please remember that if you need something I’m here.

  14. Congratulations, Joe.

    And thanks for being so open with your story and encouragement. I would be willing to bet that you’ve helped more people that you will ever know.

    I am proud to call you a friend!

    Here’s too another 27!

  15. Steve, thanks so much. Your friendship is part of the rock that keeps me on an even keel.

    I’ll be happy for another 13 but if I can get another 27 all the better!

  16. My mom, a journalist, started each day with a gin-coffee and ended most at the Press Club. Until I started writing, I believed that writing and alcohol were inextricably bound.
    Congratulations on one day of sobriety, Joe. That’s what it takes. One day. They sure add up though.

    • THank you, Liz. It’s a day at a time, for sure. And thank you so much for sharing that deeply personal story about your mother. The image of the author sitting and typing while drinking boilermakers comes readily to mind. It only seems glamorous.

  17. Thank you Jordan. And I treasure your friendship as well, more than you will ever know. Hope you are well.

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