I have an unresolved conflict in my life.
When I began using cocaine in my early 30s, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to quit my career as an airline pilot.
I’d worked hard to become a pilot. I earned my first pilot’s license at 16 and I was hired to fly for an airline the week that I graduated college. From that moment on, my career path was carefully laid out before me and all I needed to do was follow it to the end. But I didn’t do this, I abandoned the path. I walked away from the pilot’s life. Flying was my entire life and, in a mere second, I threw that life away.
Now, in my upper 40s, I still regret leaving that career. It’s not as though my life after flying hasn’t been terrific. After just a few years of use, I was able to get sober in my early 30’s, start a company, go back to school, and adopt children. Helping people with addiction is my life’s work, and I feel fulfilled.
But when I look back, I wonder what my life would have been like if I remained a pilot. Would I have made more money? Would I have had an easier time building a career? Starting a company, after all, is difficult.
I still feel guilty about decisions I made in active addiction
A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a buddy from my 12 Step meetings who never seems to regret any of his past decisions. He has made some good decisions of course; he’s sober and he’s now “private-jet-and-fancy-yacht” wealthy. But he has also made his share of bad decisions, sometimes laying down bets on Wall Street that cost him millions of dollars. Surely, I thought, he can understand regret, so I sought his advice to resolve this haunting, internal conflict.
When I talked about how I’d left my career as a pilot, I told him that I hadn’t sought the advice of anyone around me. I hadn’t called my union. I’d simply made a major decision to torpedo my career all on my own.
“Cocaine had enchanted me”
He listened carefully to me, and then said something I’d never thought about: Cocaine had “enchanted” me. In his own life, he’d been enchanted with his drug use, too. It became more important to him than the millions of dollars that he had in the bank or the career that he had worked so hard to develop. He would rather have used his drug than work, he told. He would rather have used it than make money, and he would rather have used it than focus on his business. He was, he explained, like a bug flying so close to warmth and light that he was willing to die for it.
When I look back at my substance abuse, I see that I, too, was enchanted by cocaine. When I first started using coke, I recall thinking, “This is what I’ve always needed in my life. I’ve arrived.” After I left my career as a pilot, I quickly landed a high paying sales job making more money than I could have ever imagined making and with a career that supported my drug use, I immediately dove deep into the nightclub scene. There I became someone that I never set out to be. At parties, I always had drugs in my pocket and when I shared them with others, I felt important. I was in the “it” crowd. I hung out with celebrities, and titans of fashion. I looked at pilots still working in the career I’d left and think they were so square, that they didn’t know what they were missing. This new life seemed to be exactly what I needed and I became so enchanted with the drug, that I couldn’t see that there was any downside to using.
The consequences get worse and worse
But then my life started to fall apart. Not in a way that was visible, not with noticeable consequences; it fell apart internally. I was always depressed. I was always seeking the care of psychiatrists. They’d put me on medications and then put me on additional medications to counter the side effects of the first medications. Eventually, the cocaine use that I’d been restricting to a once-a-month binge became a near daily routine for me as I started to need cocaine to cure the cocaine hangovers.
I was also in a bad relationship and the cornerstone of our partnership was drinking and using. We didn’t have a relationship outside of using and we couldn’t stand each other sober. We needed to be under the influence just to be in the same room.
In the meantime, I got fired from several of the sales jobs I landed because I was difficult to work with, but after each firing, I managed to get an even higher-paying, but progressively worse job. It looked like I was doing better for myself, but each job was chipping away at my soul.
Ultimately, it was the birds chirping outside my window in the morning that got me sober. I began to dread their songs, for they indicated that I had once again stayed up all night and that I would not be able to sleep before going into work. The birds chirping meant that I would be sick all day and sick into the next day. At first I tried to solve the problem with the birds. I bought heavy curtains. If I can just insulate my windows, I thought, I won’t have a problem anymore.
But the chirping made it through the curtains until I started to realize that I was was missing out on life. I was trading off what I could have been doing in the morning, for long hard nights. The first bird song that I could hear would make me hit an internal bottom and remind that I did not want to become the person that I was turning into.
A few weeks later, I started to seek out 12 step meetings. The birdsongs had broken my enchantment with cocaine. To this day, I wish that I had started hearing them before I made the decision to walk away from being a pilot as I continue to wonder, years later, “What if I had stayed with my first career?
About Suntra Modern Recovery and Adam Banks
Adam Banks is a certified interventionist at Suntra Modern Recovery. After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Adam built a company that was later acquired by United Health Care. His discipline and attention to detail comes from his former career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.
Today, Adam is dedicated to helping others achieve long term sobriety. His work as an interventionist has guided executives, pilots, and physicians on paths to recovery. Adam brings families together through a loving and inclusive approach.
Adam recently co-authored Navigating Recovery Ground School: 12 Lessons to Help Families Navigate Recovery. In this lesson book Adam and John Roesch walk families through the entire intervention process. Suntra also offers a free video course for families considering hosting an intervention for a family member.
Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Treatment for alcohol, opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available locally in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally.