Today, four years into sobriety, advertising executive Peter Rosch can linger at any party and, he said, “carry on far more interesting conversations than anyone ever got from me in those last few years of being a drunk.”
Now 39, Rosch thought for years he was no heavier a drinker than most of his friends and colleagues.
“New York City is a big drinking town, and advertising is a pretty hard-core-drinking industry,” he said. “I lived sort of a work-hard/play-hard lifestyle, which isn’t something that’s necessary, but it’s a common mentality that people in high-pressure jobs adopt, and I went with that. … There were nights here and there where there were incidents, but it kind of worked for me. I was a functioning alcoholic for a lot of years.”
Alcoholism, though, is a progressive disease, and by his mid-30s, Rosch started wondering if he had a problem.
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“Around the time I was 34 or 35, I started to think that maybe I’m going to have a problem, but I was certainly not ready to admit it. I surrounded myself with other problem drinkers and alcoholics to keep it seeming normal. A lot of the people who were out drinking, as it turned out, were not drinking as hard as I thought they were. That was the biggest shock when I got sober.”
He hit bottom in 2008 after a decision to go freelance and a breakup afforded him more free time.
“All these things that were kind of keeping my drinking in check got stripped away, some intentionally, some not, and that was when I found out how much of an alcoholic I was,” he said. “It accelerated so quickly. I went from being someone who drank every night to someone who couldn’t take a shower without taking a drink. Physically, the pain and pangs my body had for alcohol, until I had a couple of drinks, it was impossible for me to go to the bank or even groom myself.”
After rehab, he returned to a vigorous social life – sober. He still works in advertising, including on a liquor account, and plays in a band.
“I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to be in a bar or at a party again,” Rosch said.
One security object, he said, was to bring a nonalcoholic beverage with him. “Sometimes, I’d go to a party and bring an iced coffee. Maybe that prevented people from saying, ‘Can I get you a drink?’ and me having to explain I don’t want one,” he said.
Furthermore, he has trained himself to release inhibitions without liquid courage.
“Whether it’s dancing or telling someone a fantastic story, a lot of people rely on alcohol to take that journey. Now I go into those situations and embrace the idea that if I make a fool of myself, people will probably just assume that I’m drunk.”
Rosch, now living in Boston, attributes that to a wedding reception early in his recovery.
“A good friend of mine who had been sober for quite some time said, ‘As soon as the music starts, go out and start dancing.’ ” Rosch told him he didn’t think he could do that without a few drinks. “He said, ‘Trust me, just go out and start dancing.’ For whatever reason, I took his advice and went with it. Now at weddings I’m probably out there for a good hour before the rest of the people are ready. Luckily I have a beautiful wife, and I’m not just out there dancing on my own.”
Rosch, author of a fictional book about an alcoholic, “My Dead Friend Sarah,” still sometimes gets anxious before an event where alcohol is flowing. “But it has never been to the level I had before a party, when I’d find myself wondering if I’d make an ass of myself, coaching myself going into that night to try and only drink three or four drinks,” he said. “… For me the stress of trying to manage drinking was far worse than simply accepting that I wouldn’t be having a single drink on an occasion where others would.”
His advice to anyone having an internal dialogue about their drinking before a holiday function: Commit to drinking or commit to having zero alcoholic drinks.
“Don’t spend the night beating yourself up and trying to find some happy medium. Regardless of what decision you make, if you are having those types of conversations with yourself, I’d strongly suggest seeking out an AA meeting, even if you haven’t decided you’re an alcoholic. After all, what have you got to lose?”