Like many alcoholics, I never had an off switch when it came to alcohol. My grandparents told stories of how, after their parties, I would run around and finish off all the beers – at only four years old. I would keep going until I passed out in Grandpa’s chair.
Growing up as a child actor on a successful television show, I was often in settings that included alcohol and drugs, though my mom was strict and very good at quickly pulling me out of those situations. I didn’t drink often in my youth; but when I did, I drank to excess. I stayed with some friends in Manhattan Beach, California, to attend an annual professional volleyball tournament when I was twelve. Over the course of the day, I drank nearly a case of beer. I became so sick that I ended up vomiting profusely in some poor guy’s sink. After I finished throwing up, I immediately grabbed another beer. Even then, it was apparent that once I started, I had no control over drinking.
Fortunately, my early attempts at drinking hard liquor failed. My stomach would hold only beer – the rest always came right back up. This reaction probably saved me from getting too far into my addiction at those early ages; although alcoholism got me soon enough.
Because I grew up working among adults, I always fit in well with people older than I. I felt very comfortable with them. However, when I was with kids my own age, I had no idea what to do. By the age of 18, I discovered that drinking was a great social lubricant; when I drank, I felt comfortable and capable in any situation. As I usually drank prior to most social functions, this was not a surprising discovery. After arriving at an event, I would continue to drink if liquor was available. I could usually maintain my composure in public no matter how much I drank; but as soon as I got home, I would become a staggering mess.
By the time I was 19, I began to tolerate hard liquor. I found that not only was I able to keep hard alcohol down, but I also really liked the taste. I began drinking it almost every day. I had money and a taste for the good stuff, so I kept a well-stocked liquor cabinet.
In the beginning, I wasn’t drinking all day. As I prepared dinner, I would start imbibing and then continue well into the night. Finally, I would stumble off and collapse on my bed. My drinking quickly began to affect my daily life as well as my relationships. I’d be so hungover in the morning that it would take me hours to function normally. Despite my love of performing, I was unable to audition and began withdrawing from the world of acting.
After losing my fiancée, I began hitting the bottle even harder. Realizing my excessive drinking was becoming a problem, I finally managed to get a small hold on it; I stopped drinking anything during the day. I was ridiculously proud of myself. Hey, this was progress, right?
Past sexual abuse began causing me trouble when I was 24. The memories and emotions that surfaced were almost unbearable. I tried counseling, but soon discovered that I would need to actually face what had happened to me. I asked myself, Who in their right mind wants to do that?
Then I began drinking with a purpose. I wanted to numb every feeling and thought in my head. I would slam down drinks every time these feelings came up. Drinking soon became my preferred method for dealing with anything painful or unpleasant. When faced with any struggle, I would immediately run to the bottle.
In New Orleans in 2004, we begin filming our second Growing Pains reunion movie, Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers. Imagine six weeks right smack in the middle of Mardi Gras. What a great place for an alcoholic! The evening I arrived, I got so drunk that I actually missed our very first rehearsal the next morning.
In the following weeks, I was able to be on time for work and to behave professionally. I tried to stay focused on my work and drank only at night. However, slowly but surely my addiction once again reared its ugly head. I began showing up for work with one of those jumbo alcohol-laden Slurpees they seemingly sold on every corner of the French Quarter. My work didn’t suffer noticeably. That drink got me through filming until after work when I could hit the bars.
One night in the hotel elevator, I met my current fiancée, Joanie, who was in town for a week with her family. We hit it off immediately. She not only saw how much I drank; but, on many occasions, she joined me. However, she was a “normie” – she could take it or leave it. After we finished shooting the movie, I returned to California. Joanie and I did the long-distance relationship thing for about 18 months until she and her boys moved out to California to be with me.
I was not the father to the boys that I wanted to be. Because of my drinking, I was not as involved in their lives and activities as I would have liked. I felt disgusted with myself and dealt with it by drinking even more – what a brilliant idea! Thank God, I was never violent with Joanie or the children. Had I been, I don’t know whether I could have forgiven myself.
Nonetheless, I was an angry, unpleasant person who woke up each morning filled with self-loathing. I was sick to death of Joanie being pissed off. I’d ask the dreaded question, “What did I do this time?” I knew my behavior had to stop.
During the last three years of my drinking, I tried every method of recovery I could find. I did a stint in a 30-day inpatient program; I did a 60-day intensive outpatient program. I tried a Twelve Step program, meditation, hypnosis, herbal therapy, hydrotherapy, the list goes on. Nothing lasted. Nothing worked for me – and things were worsening at home.
After a particularly nasty blowup with Joanie, I called my mom and begged her to find something different that might help me stop drinking. She came across information about a Naltrexone implant that had been developed in Australia. It was supposed to reduce or eliminate the craving for alcohol for six to twelve months. My first thought was, What BS! There’s no way some little pellet would make all my misery disappear.
As I learned more about the Naltrexone implant, I discovered there was a clinic nearby called Start Fresh Recovery, which provided the implant and counseling. I was desperate. If it didn’t work, I could say I had tried everything. Although skeptical, I scheduled the procedure.
Within hours of receiving the implant, I walked into a gas station to pay for some gas. I blew right past the beer without a second thought, paid and left. For the first time in perhaps ten years, I walked out with no alcohol in my hands. I was shocked. I actually stopped outside the door and thought, Wow, something is different!
That was the beginning of my new life. I have been on my journey of sobriety for nearly four years. Today, my life is filled with more joy and satisfaction than I could have ever imagined. I have a great relationship with my fiancée, Joanie, and with our sons. When difficulties arise, I am able to face them head on and thank God for yet another day on earth . . . sober.
I am grateful to have had the good fortune to make the transition from child to adult actor and am busy with my craft. I am set to start filming a couple of horror movies, Awakening, and another entitled Fevered Dreams, as well as a romantic drama called Tar Beach. There are some other projects in the wings, but we are waiting for funding on them.
I am privileged to work as a patient advocate for Start Fresh Recovery, the company that helped me get sober. I help people who are struggling with addiction, just as I did. This is such rewarding work. In sobriety, I am happier than ever. I truly want this way of life for everyone still in the grip of addiction and looking for a way out.
In November of this year, I am scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the In Recovery Magazine Gratitude Expo. If you are interested in attending, please visit the 2015 IRM Gratitude Gala and Expo website at inrecoveryexpoandgala.com. I look forward to meeting you!