noun: ism; plural noun: isms

A distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.” He loathed isms and any form of dogma”

Forming nouns denoting a pathological condition.


Ism. I. Self. Me.

It was 100% consequence free and seemed to be okay, pouring myself up that first IPA. I mean, I had been clean and chemical free for many years. I had never had any kind of real issues with alcohol, other than what I had outlined before in Junkbox Diaries; that it had always led me to other drugs. For some reason, here, now in that moment I knew it wasn’t going to lead to other stuff this time. In fact, then and now, you couldn’t pay me to put crack or heroin into my body. It had been completely taken off the table. Plus, it was strange, I would do these seminars and conferences with Social Workers, Therapists, Addiction Counselors, etc. and afterwards a vast majority would go out for drinks afterwards. So certainly, as long as I could limit it to just beer, and not allow it to lead elsewhere I would be fine. And I was. My family, friends, colleagues, many if not all of them enjoyed cocktails on the back deck, or drinks on the golf course, and all were well to do, professional family oriented types. This was fine. I mean, after all, we are the company we keep right? So a few beers with a buddy from church on the golf course, or with my family, or with my wife on the back deck was no big deal. And it wasn’t.

Time marched on. The business was growing, the family life was good. Birthdays, holidays, milestones, credit scores grew, bank account was healthy, relationships were solid. We were on our way to living the American Dream. The pursuit of happiness.

In spite of all of this, the pressure didn’t come off. The stress didn’t leave. The fear and rumination remained. And I had recently reintroduced a liquid solution into my body, which many of you know- Alcohol raises a person’s baseline anxiety. So the after effects of having some beers were horrible and lasting. My fears, worry, and stress were pretty much now full blown anxiety. As a person with addiction issues in the past, and what I now know to be diagnosed mental health issues of PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder as a result of the PTSD, this was not good. The slow burn had begun.

Initially, it was still all good, but the formula was there: Previous mental health and addiction issues, high stress professional life & pressure to perform, declining mental wellness, and increasing social acceptance & notoriety and ego + drinking. This was a very dangerous and potentially volatile formula compounding inside my mind and body. Even though I wasn’t drinking to excess or too frequently, yet, it had “opened the door” to once again using a chemical to cope. “To take the edge off”, and that’s one of the many things at the core of addiction. Escape. But nothing was or seemed problematic, so it was still all good.

We had both made a commitment to one another that we were going to be working towards buying our first house. We were both so excited and ready for the next step and so were the kids! This was a big deal! We were living the dream. We got married in October and my family from Georgia all came up to attend. My big brother Josh was my best man of course and it was the happiest day of my life up until that point. Judge Mary Harper, the same judge who had sentenced me to prison many years ago and made sure to include “Mr. Stepherson, if you are ever in front of me again, I am going to max you out.” when she did so married Tiffany and I. How funny, she wasn’t wrong, the judge, because the next time I was in front of her, she was “sentencing” me to a wonderful life through sickness and health with my best friend, my now wife Tiffany. My how things can change. I am a very lucky man, and felt so very much that way on that day in October. We had so many of our loved ones all together, celebrating our love with us. The sky was the most brilliant of purples and oranges over looking Lake Louise. We had a band and amazing food, a beautiful wedding cake and we were the center of the world for one day.

From there, we just continued on with our goals. We sacrificed in many great ways, pinching pennies and saving money. We prioritized working on our credit scores and monitoring our bank ledgers. We were focused. I was incredibly stressed out through the whole process. I have been incredibly stressed out for about 37 years, looking back. Pretty much the entirety of my life has been spent “On Edge”, according to my therapists. Such is life experiencing trauma and living with its aftermath I am told. But at the time of all of this, I just thought it to be a normal part of life. So onward we climbed. And I had already “broken the ice”, or “broken the barrier” so to speak with drinking beer; IPAs specifically, and it hadn’t caused any problems and was widely accepted by those around me, so it wasn’t made to be any kind of deal. Plus, I was this Author, Intervention Company Owner, Policy Writer, and expert on the subject matter; so I gotta guess that everyone around me assumed that I knew what I was doing and what was good for me. Every time I cracked one, or poured one up and “got away with it”, it inflated my ego, and reinforced my behaviors. As my dad once put it, “They (the world, cops, society, my family, whoever your ‘they’ is) can afford for you to get away with it 1,000 times, but we cannot afford to get caught or fuck it up once. And from a spiritual aspect of things, the devil, the negative forces of the universe, they want you to get away with it many times at first, that’s how we take their bate. We get comfortable in the getting away with it, and then they “set the hook”, if that’s what you believe. But anyways, my feedback loop was becoming more and more polluted and corrupted. But we were doing so well socially and professionally so no one batted an eye. Social acceptability does not equal recovery, and neither does professional outward success. ISM, Its Still Me. I am still what I was before all of this. That hadn’t changed. Time marched on.

But one thing that I can see now, as I look back on the way things all progressed is that from the time I began to enjoy my first adult beverages again two things happened: 1- I reopened those pathways in my brain and mind that are wired toward coping with a chemical. And 2- I was immediately convicted. I was immediately filled with shame, although quietly at first it was as if “Someone” inside of me (my conscience) was telling me, “You know you can’t go around recovery anymore, you fraudulent piece of shit.” And so I didn’t. How could I? And why should I? Everything in my life is going so exceptionally well, my life wasn’t unmanageable, and I wasn’t powerless over anything. If anything, I was more in control of my own life than I had ever been. And just like that, in those exact types of thoughts, I had completely disqualified and compared myself out of the recovery community. My oh my the power of our thoughts. And in that moment, in those trains of thought, I had begun separating myself from my support systems. And now, I had to go back into the isolation and secrecy of my new hobby, drinking.

But everything was still all good. I had no reason to worry. It’s not like shit was blowing up around me. My ego was alive an well. I had this shit totally under control. I was the master of my own destiny. We were about to buy a house, we had just gotten married, life was good, the kids were good, and we were kicking ass. But as my shame grew, as my isolation from my people grew, as a result of trying to stay low key about my lifestyle, my self esteem and self worth shrank and shrank. And with low self esteem and low self worth come low standards of living. This was about to be really bad, and I had no fucking idea. It wouldn’t be too terribly long and I would be writing suicide letters at the kitchen table and in the basement of our dream home. The very one we had worked so very hard to achieve. I had begun the process of losing my mind. And I had begun the process of a full blown alcoholic relapse, mental breakdown and total bottom. And with alcohol, it is such a slow and methodical burn. I had no fucking idea what was happening. I had completely separated myself from the world that I needed to be in, by drinking and with the shame and guilt that followed it. But my Ego, Pride, and status wouldn’t allow me to look at it for what it was. I was so self absorbed and self centered. It was so easy to trick myself, compartmentalize, and escape. But what I have learned recently, was that I wasn’t trying to escape my current life. I was still trying to escape my previous life, my trauma. Those unhealed parts of me from decades prior. They still lived in me. They don’t just go away because I worked some steps, wrote a book, and found God. We can’t shake our shadows, and we cannot change what has not been confronted. I was still very much at war with myself, it just looked different this go round. The more I continued to try and keep up with this kind of double standard in my life, the harder it became to hold it all together mentally. It wasn’t long until It was no longer a double standard, but a double life. A split was occurring in my life, and, in my mind. Each side of the split was battling for control of the show, vying for the stage and ability to call the shots. Shit was about to get real.

Inside all of us exist two wolves. Which one lives? The one you feed the most….

Living the dream. With regularly occurring thoughts of suicide.


I. Separate. Myself.


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