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Life Outside of Poker: Mark ‘dipthrong’ Herm on Alcoholism & Recovery

TAGs: alcohol, Editorial, Lee Davy, life outside of poker, Mark Herm

On this week’s Life Outside of Poker series, Lee Davy sits down with the online poker phenom, Mark ‘dipthrong’ Herm, to talk about his struggles with alcoholism, and subsequent recovery.

Life Outside of Poker: Mark ‘dipthrong’ Herm on Alcoholism & RecoveryWith over $4.6m in online poker tournament earnings, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mark ‘dipthrong’ Herm has always had his shit together.

That hasn’t always been the case.

Three years ago, Herm walked into a meeting with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), after his friends and family helped him understand that his drinking had gotten out of control.

It was a meeting that would change his life.

Today, Herm has been sober for three years, and has very kindly agreed to share that journey with you.

When did you realize that you had a problem?

“Not really until the end. Probably about a year prior to me getting sober my parents sat me down to tell me they thought I had a drink problem. I just thought they were crazy. Then a girlfriend told me the same thing, and I thought she was crazy. The thing is, I didn’t see anything until I saw myself.”

How did your friends react when you came to terms with your difficulties with alcohol?

“At that time there were many people in my life who were alcoholic {or problem drinkers}. I happened to pick a lot of alcoholic’s for friends because I was an alcoholic.

“Admitting to them, that I had a problem, was a very sensitive subject for me. I have a lot of friends – some from the 12-Step program, and some that are not a part of it – and one thing that they all have in common is they are all highly functioning people.

“I didn’t want to admit, to them, that I had a problem as it felt weak to me. But once I got the courage to admit it to them, they reacted very positively. Now I am three-years sober, I am super comfortable talking about this to people.”

Did you ever hit the proverbial rock bottom?

“I think I did on an emotional level. Not in terms of money, or status, but it was there nonetheless, because I was so miserable. Right before I got sober I went out to a Happy Hour, in the summer, and I had 12-beers in two hours. That was pretty standard for me, only this time I didn’t feel drunk.

“I remember thinking: ‘this is not working for me anymore.’ I realized that it wasn’t fun, and the alcohol was not effecting me in the way that I wanted it to. This is the major reason that I quit – it just wasn’t doing anything for me anymore.”

What areas in your life were deteriorating?

“I was a piece of shit. I was selfish in the sense that I wouldn’t care about other people. I was very two-faced, not a truth teller whatsoever, and that hurts a lot of people, but it also hurts me. It doesn’t feel good to be living a lie. Telling the truth feels good.”

How did you eventually quit?

“I checked into rehab because I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt that something bad was going on inside of me. I went for six days and thought: ‘no way…I am not staying here.’

“I got out of rehab, and for 30-days I stayed clean. But there was something in the back of my head saying: ‘there is no way I am never drinking again.’ I think is a standard thing for an alcoholic or drug addict. The only time I had fun was when I drank, so to give that up didn’t seem feasible.

“I went back to drinking after my 30-days of sobriety, and it progressed even faster. I started doing more pills, drinking more, and noticed it was less fun. There were times that I was feeling high, but it wasn’t working for me anymore.

“That was a very miserable four months, and then I realized that I had a big problem. I went to a 12-Step group and realized that all the crazy thoughts that were going through my head were also going through theirs. I saw myself in them. I did the 12-Steps and I really think that’s what did it for me.”

Why did you drink?

“It was to self medicate and have fun. Prior to drinking, when I was in High School I hated being sober in my body. I felt insanely awkward, all in my own head, and I had lots of fears. Fears about social things, talking to people, looking in people’s eyes. Then I starting drinking, and taking drugs, and I felt free. I could access that confident inner part of myself. When I was sober I couldn’t access that place. By doing the 12-Steps I learned how to access that place whilst being sober.”

What was your experience with the 12-Step program?

“My experience was great. I was sold on the whole thing, from the very beginning, so that helped a lot. I believed it was going to work so I fully immersed myself into it. I find it very difficult to believe that if someone was suffering from an issue, or malady, that the 12-Steps won’t help in some way.

“For me it was life changing. The beginning of my spiritual awakening. You have to find what works for you. I have found that people need to find some sort of spiritual outlet, even if they don’t do the 12-Steps. If you can find some other way to get that God thing – whatever you want to call it  – then that’s enough. It’s all about being a good person. The 12-Steps teach you how to be a good person.”

Are you religious?

“Religious? Definitely not! I was raised catholic, but I will definitely say that spirituality is the number one thing in my life. I feel like I have a pretty good spiritual life. I check in with…I will use the term ‘God’. I don’t have a conversation with God but I will ask for certain things and they will come to me over time.

“I don’t believe we are really in control, I think there is a higher plan for us. So I am living my life according to this higher plan, rather than living my life selfishly. I think this higher plan is more knowledgeable than I am, so I think my life will be better if I follow that plan.”

Was is tough doing the 12-Steps and not being religious?

“I am like the poster child for anti-religion. If someone told me that I was going to find God in AA I would look at them as if they was crazy. I don’t necessarily think that God doesn’t exist, I just didn’t care. It was like Santa Claus to me. I didn’t think there was anything good that could come out of religion or spirituality. I thought it would all be bullshit.

“So coming in…that’s what I thought. But I was open minded, and it worked for me. My spirituality seems a lot more practical, from the way I was taught. I had to come to this realization for myself, and accept it myself – not to be force-fed as it was when I was raised catholic. I wasn’t going to hear shit about God and religion, but I changed, and I thank God that I did. I have a lot more peace in my life. I’m not scared of much. There used to be a lot of doom and gloom in my life, and that’s not a good place to be.”

What parts of the 12-Steps were most crucial to you?

“The fourth and fifth steps. Writing down the bad shit that you’ve done and telling your sponsor about it. Getting a lot of the bad stuff that I have done off my chest gave me a sense of freedom.

“When it comes to resentment, the 12-Steps show you very clearly that everything that you are resentful for has its path back to you. I had this guy in poker, who I backed, who burned me for some money. I was like: “I have done nothing wrong here…this kid has stolen money for me.” But when you look back, you can see I put myself in the situation to be screwed, because of my fears. I wanted to be the nice guy. I don’t want people to think that I am greedy, or even care about money. So with this guy, I was so lazy about the money. So that’s what I did to make it happen to me. It’s crucial to understand that.

“Resentment is the biggest thing. Feeling that way is what causes a lot of people to drink because it eats away at them. I now know that people are not making me feel like shit. I am making myself feel like shit. It’s a wonderful sense of freedom to understand that.”

How important was it to have an open mind?

“It’s the key to all things in life. In poker, you see a lot of close mindedness. Imagine someone says they can’t raise/fold 15bb – it kills creativity and the thought process that humans naturally have within themselves. In recovery, if you are close minded it’s going to be tough.”

What advice would you give to people who can’t imagine life without alcohol because they believe they can’t have fun without it?

“They always say one day at a time, and that’s important. I remember there was one particular day, early in my 12-Step process. I was trying to stay sober each day, because it was a big struggle for me. One day I was really messed up, and felt like I needed to go out get drunk and meet girls. I remember saying: “Mark just stay sober today…re-evaluate tomorrow,” and it really worked for me.

“If the only way you have fun is through drinking, and you don’t see any out, then it’s very tough to take one day at a time, because you think tomorrow will suck as well. So believing that things can be different tomorrow is really important. I got that hope from the people I met within the 12-Step program.”

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