When people think of the term “alcoholic,” there’s often a mental image that forms. Scrawny. Unkempt. Not always clean shaven. Sometimes stinky. It’s not, as they say, the look of the average “Joe Next Door.”
And yet, the reality is this — the person you might least expect to be the alcoholic could be the very well-dressed guy next door. It could be the bank executive you dealt with when you went in for a loan. It could be the guy who sold you something at a store or from a remote business.
Enter Andrew Michinard.
Michinard grew up in the well-to-do Jersey suburb of Basking Ridge. He went to Ridge High School. He rarely had a need in his life. And yet somehow, when he was a freshman in high school, despite having what some would call good, All-American looks — and a pretty decent life — he never quite had a good sense of self-worth.
It was quite the opposite, actually.
He recalls hearing, from family members, how “cool” it was to drink alcohol. So when freshman year came around, he’d always say to himself, “I can’t wait until it’s my turn,” to get blitzed.
“It looks cool and I want to do it,” Michinard said back then.
Now before we get to his first drinking experience, remember this: Michinard was also an athlete and a self-described “egomaniac.” Still, he was overcome with serious insecurity. Can you see where this is leading?
“I can recall when the buzz first hit,” Michinard said. “I had no fears. The insecurities were gone.
“This was all I had ever been looking for.”
With his insecurities now gone, Michinard found a new best friend — alcohol.
His drinking grew and grew and grew.
The Ridge quarterback and baseball team captain was slowly becoming a professional drinker. He says he likely even showed up to practices drunk.
When he went off to college, he partied all the time.
“It was mayhem,” Michinard said. “Pure mayhem.”
And then it spiraled out of control to the point where he was drinking every day — sometimes out of a Poland Springs water bottle filled with vodka. Heck, who would notice the difference, right? Water and vodka look the same in one of those clear containers.
So here he was, “The Alcoholic Next Door,” as he calls his website, where he offers advice and help for others struggling with alcoholism. (We’ll get to the blog later in this story.)
He recalls in a video blog post how he would sit in the parking lot of a local liquor store on work days and do computations — how many airplane-sized vodka bottles would he need to make it through each day. If he had meetings with clients — he was and still is a salesman — he’d buy one for each meeting, and guzzle it down before going to the rendezvous.
While all this is happening, Michinard thinks he’s got everyone fooled, too. No one knows he’s a drinker. Not even his family — or girlfriend at the time.
And so we fast forward to 2008. It was Sept. 16.
He heads to the loo to get ready on morning and in doing so, turns on the sink to create white noise. Then he cracks open a can of beer he found that he had hidden in the bathroom.
“I can hear you,” his girlfriend at the time said.
Truth is, Michinard had no one fooled.
When she said that, Michinard was chugging some vodka he had also found stashed away in the bathroom. And it was that moment — that instant — that he had what is known as either his “moment of clarity,” or his hitting “rock bottom.”
For 17 years, this disease — and yes, folks, you can say whatever it is you want about alcoholism, but it is, like all addictions are, a disease, and if you say otherwise, you are wrong — this hideous ailment that had taken over his life, was about to come to an end.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said to himself nearly a decade ago on that crisp late-summer day. “I had to surrender. I was 31 years old and crying because I knew my life was a mess.”
So of course, you’d probably think Michinard’s sobriety date is — naturally — Sept. 16, 2008, right?
“I knew that if I was going to go away, I had to have one more night — one more time getting completely loaded,” he said.
His family, which had already begun preparations to get him to a North Miami rehab, agreed to let him have his one last night of inebriation.
Most interventionists — like Jeff Van Vonderen and Ken Seeley from A&E’s “Intervention,” would say that was a huge mistake. And in this case, it almost was.
“I was so bad, they almost wouldn’t let me on that plane to Miami the next day,” Michinard said. “Fortunately, I did get on the plane — and it all changed after that.”
So it was Sept. 17, 2008 — nine-plus years ago, encroaching on a decade now — that Michinard got sober. He hasn’t touched a drop of liquor since.
He says he does miss drinking on rare occasions — but for the most part, his love of sobriety, his young daughter, his wife and the life he missed out on because he was so often sauced, makes drinking a thing of the past.
It’s a day-by-day process to remain sober, but Michinard says once someone in recovery stacks 24 hours on top of another 24 hours, on top of another 24 hours, on top of a month, then 90 days, then 180 days, then a year and so on, it becomes much easier to remain sober.
But he’s tired — like many of you reading this are — of the stigmas associated with alcoholism, with drug addiction and the like.
“When someone gets cancer, people line up out the door to help, like with fundraisers, emotional support for the afflicted, their families — yet when people find out someone is an alcoholic, do you see people lining up for similar fundraisers?” Michinard said. “Alcoholism is just as much a disease as cancer is. Yet that outpouring isn’t there like it is for cancer.”
So why is the stigma still so prevalent in so many communities?
Michinard says it’s built into the program that has helped so many addicts.
Michinard has nothing but good things to say about Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. But he says too often, anonymity prohibits many from talking about the disease. The anonymity has to disappear before things can improve, he says.
Now that doesn’t mean the programs don’t work — because they do. But in Michinard’s case, he took it public.
His website, “The Alcoholic Next Door,” seeks to take away the stigma of addiction. He wants people to be fully aware the guy next door, with a wife, two kids, a picket fence and a dog, could very well be an alcoholic. He offers written advice, video directions — and he says if he’s able to touch the life of one person — whether it’s an addict or a friend or family member — “I’ve done my job.”
And in Michinard’s case, it appears he’s already won that battle, too.
Are you an addict in need of help, but don’t know where to turn? Visit Michinard’s website at www.thealcoholicnextdoor.org. You can contact him via the website, find links to his social-media pages, other links for help and so much more. Don’t wait any longer — take that step today.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.