On paper society says I’m the guy that has it all together. I’m a husband, father of two, Christian, homeowner, construction superintendent, college graduate, a Division One football player who had a full ride scholarship, Washington State 4A Football Player of the Year, and Humanitarian Bowl champion.
What if I added recovering alcoholic and someone who dealt with severe depression to that list? Would you write me off? Would that be surprising? I have come to a place in my life that I am finally proud of ALL of my accomplishments. Even the two our society might label as a failure. What I have learned is mental health and addiction do not discriminate against social status, age, gender, race, the wealthy or the poor. It can find you and control you. Even with all of my successes in life, addiction found me and it took control of my life causing a depression that was suffocating me every day.
When I graduated from college the party was over. I didn’t have football or my team. I was experiencing an identity crisis. Who was I without sports? It was all I knew and what I dedicated my life to. I was not prepared for the real world when I was handed a degree and turned in my cleats. Back home I figured out really quick nobody cared that I WAS a Division One football player. So once again, I found comfort in the bottle and at the bar. I spent the next few years doing odd and dead end jobs. Then I landed a gig in the North Dakota oil patch. I was working with some rough and rowdy men who worked hard and played harder. I fit right in with this new crowd. It reminded me of my times playing football. I belonged again.
During that time I got married to my beautiful wife. She quickly grew tired of the work schedule and it was time to find a job back home. I traded in my oil field job for a corporate gig. This is where my dependency started to kick in. Drinking moved from the fun zone and turned into dependency. The corporate job looked good on paper; great pay, benefits, retirement and my wife was happy. I hated that job and the toxic work environment. But it was taking care of my growing family. My wife had just found out we were expecting our first child. So I toughed it out and dealt with it because that felt like the right thing to do for them. I worked that job for three years and during that time I watched the man in the mirror change. What once was a man of great pride and integrity became a weak, tired, lonely old man. I turned to vodka and quickly created a 5tha day habit without anyone knowing. I was hiding vodka in water bottles around the house so my wife wouldn’t suspect my drinking. My addiction had gotten so bad I would coordinate when I could start drinking after picking my son up from day care so I wouldn’t feel the alcohol hit me until I got home. That’s the crazy thing about addiction; you can validate things like drinking and driving with your two-year old son in the back seat. Who in their right mind can validate that?
When you start making excuses and validating reasons for doing certain things in your life to justify why you are doing them it becomes a very dangerous place to be. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror without saying “how could you do this to yourself?” How embarrassing a man of once great accomplishments, a leader, a man who people looked up to has amounted to nothing but a miserable drunk. I told myself I was okay, that I didn’t have a problem and could fight it on my own. But I was creating a cycle. I would slip up and get caught and promise my wife I would just quit.
One morning I put a water bottle full of vodka in the fridge by mistake and my wife chugged it before work. That was the first promise to quit. We ended up in counseling together and I turned to the gym to fill the void. But the cycle repeated itself. She got comfortable and I got better at hiding. I was back to my bottle again. Another time she found me drinking in the corner of our room from a bottle hidden in the bottom of our laundry basket. In that moment, I told her I needed help. But I wasn’t really getting help for me. I was doing it for her. I started going to AA classes and went two months without drinking. I thought I had kicked the habit so I decided I would “reward” myself with a cold beer at dinner. What could a beer hurt? One beer lead to a six pack and soon enough I was back to my 5th a day habit. My brain was programmed to believe I needed alcohol to survive.
I recall driving to work and seeing detox facilities and hearing commercials say “give us two weeks and we will give you your life back”. Oh how I wished it were that easy. To just tell everyone how messed up I was. But it wasn’t that easy. I was Paul Senescall. On paper I had it all. I remember a deep and dark depression sinking in, not suicidal thoughts, my brother already took that route so I couldn’t go out like that…but thoughts of “accidentally driving off the road” so the weight I had on my shoulders would go away. I would tell myself I’m not like those drunks and weak people that have issues. I was so quick to point the finger at everyone else and their flaws but my addiction told me I was just fine. I better not tell anyone about my issues. I am Paul Senescall. I had built myself up on a pedestal of empty liquor bottles that drove me into a dark hole of depression. What I have learned from my battles with addiction and depression is you think the solution is always tomorrow. I knew I had a serious problem and knew I lost control but I can handle it on another day. I created mountains over mole hills. Everything hard in my life was validation for me to consume alcohol.
On the morning of April 7th, 2017 I was given a “random” drug and alcohol test. I remember calling my wife as I was driving to the testing facility trying to make an excuse for what was about to happen. I woke up that morning before work and polished off my 5th just like I had done many mornings before. It wasn’t enough to get me drunk but enough to get the shakes and cobb webs out. My addiction at this point was so bad I would chug vodka before bed and wake up in the middle of the night to drink just to get back to sleep. I had a half an hour to get to the facility. I ran to a taco time to get a bean burrito. I covered it in ranch to try to mask my breath. I can’t remember what I blew but the lady at the facility said she didn’t think I should drive anywhere. Shortly after my boss showed up and drove me home. I called my dad and tried to lie about the results, what had happened, and asked him for a ride back to my work to get my truck. On the way home I still managed to make my routine stop for a 5th and sneak it home. I had just lost my job to my addiction but somehow was able to validate getting one more bottle.
I found my wife at home and we broke into the biggest fight of our marriage. I just stopped in the middle and in my moment of desperation I remember just breaking down telling her how tired I was. The battle was over and I was finally able to let go. If I can put it in perspective I was a failing dam that spent 3 years struggling to hold everything together and it finally gave. I finally gave. Here I was; alone in my house, losing my family, lost my career and a full-blown alcoholic in a deep depression. How did this happen to me? It happened because addiction and depression do not discriminate. They don’t care who you are or what you have or haven’t done in life. I knew what I had to do and was out of excuses. It was time to get the help I needed.
The next morning I flew to Seattle for treatment at Schick Shadel. I spent 3 days in detox to bring my blood pressure down. It was so high from anxiety and withdrawal it took an extra day before I could begin my treatment. Part of the treatment plan is Aversion Therapy. They take your addiction and throw it in your face. Essentially this part of the treatment is what you do to a dog that poops on the carpet, you stuff his face in it. Each “therapy session” I was given a specific amount of ipecac and forced to drink a set amount of alcohol in a small room covered in mirrors with a bowl and no drain. I had to drink regardless of how sick I would get. Then I was put in a room with rags soaked in booze and a bucket for 3 hours. The second type of treatment, I was sedated with Propofol but still able to communicate. They asked me a list of questions about my life and tried to pinpoint the triggers causing my depression and addiction. I don’t remember the sessions but would review my answers with a counselor after.
I found a lot of my depression was caused from not dealing with my brothers suicide, being afraid to ask for help, identity issues when my life in sports was over and the stresses of an unhealthy job. Instead of dealing with these issues, I masked them with a bottle. The facility was able to help my family understand that while my actions were not acceptable I had a lot of pain that I was burying with a bottle. I learned a lot about the physiological effects of dependency and how to fight the disease. I couldn’t tell my family I was done drinking. I had to let my actions speak louder than my words. They had heard enough lies. It was time to show them through action. I knew I wasn’t coming home to a parade. While I was getting the help I needed in treatment I had left a mess back home to clean up.
If anyone reading this is dealing with addiction and depression you know how hard it is to hide. It’s a full time job that consumes you with anxiety and deprives you of peace. I spent three years of my life hiding my misery and addiction. My addiction had complete control over me. I wasn’t strong enough to ask for help before it all came crashing down on me. But I can honestly say today it was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I am coming up on two years of sobriety and have been given freedom back in my life. My son is never going to know a drunk dad. My wife doesn’t have to worry about her husband killing himself, and my baby girl is going to know what a great man is built of.
Depression and addiction are buried and hidden. It is time to start the conversation. It’s time to eliminate the stigmatism that follows depression and addiction. Stop brushing it under the rug. The elephant in the room has worn out its welcome. Talk to your friends and family. Many people I know reading this right now had no idea how bad things were for me until now. I have found great therapy in sharing war stories with others of my battles with addiction and mental health. We have lost too many good men and women to addiction and mental health issues. Let’s put it all out on paper. My cards are on the table for you all to see. I have nothing to hide anymore. I am proud of admitting I needed help. I am proud to say I have battled depression and addiction. I am an example of “through every adversity lies the seed of an equal or greater benefit”.