Luke Tougas has seen the face of despair and it was all reflected in his mirror just a few years ago.
He was in the very pit of his alcoholism and was losing everything that meant anything to him — school, jobs and relationships — before he had to make the most difficult choice of his life. He says he was a broken man on his bathroom floor when he realized that he didn’t want to stop drinking but if he didn’t quit, he wouldn’t have anything else in his life.
The 25-year-old St. Albert man spent Tuesday evening launching his self-published book, Meet My Shadow. It’s the story of an eight-year descent into a personal hell where he tried to numb and nullify his pain but only ended up causing larger problems. In a revealing interview with the St. Albert Gazette, he said it all started out innocently enough with the occasional drink, but at the end it was no small volume. He said he was drinking about a 750 ml bottle of vodka every night.
“At that point I was 23 and eight years had caught up to me,” he said. “Every day I spent hung over. I was getting really bad stomach problems. It was at the point where I stopped caring about myself because I knew the addiction just completely destroyed me.”
The book itself is an incredibly honest look into addiction and recovery. Tougas said it was such a dark secret in his life that even close friends didn’t know about it. His writing comes with a completely unhindered sense of release and the words come fast and furious, thoughts and feelings just spilling onto the page. In the introduction he dives right into his first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.
The building is empty. I feel hollow. I feel sick. I follow my footsteps. I walk into an old classroom. There are only old people. I want to make sure I’m in the right place. I don’t want to mention AA. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed. I walk up to a lady in her mid-forties. She looks gentle. This can’t be AA. These people look happy.
You can tell how awkward he felt just from how short and choppy the sentences are. He got a free copy of the AA book and the group put absolutely no pressure on him whatsoever. Still, his reaction is extraordinarily human.
I sit in the back corner. I listen. I sense doubt. They ask if new members want to identify themselves. I sit passively. When it’s over, I’m the first one out. I speed-walk to Jimmy. I crank my tunes. I bang my head against the steering wheel. “Fuck!” I’m not like these people. I know I have a problem, but I can’t be like them. I close my eyes. I see death. I open my eyes. A tear falls on my cheek. Anger fills my soul. How did I get here?
“It was nice to get it on paper, just for myself, for therapy,” he said. “I wanted to write it to see how I ended up where I did. To get it [published]for other people to read was pretty tough, knowing that anyone could read about my life. I knew that if it reached the right people that it would be worth it.”
He said the first step of the recovery program is to accept that you have a problem. It was an agonizing admission and he couldn’t deal with it right away. He calls this time “a slip” but he eventually got on board and went to one meeting a day for five straight weeks.
It’s a gritty memoir, for sure, but it comes with a lot of hope. To look at Tougas now is to see a man of health and strong prospects for the future. He’s in school, finishing up his degree in psychology. Looking back on his situation, he said that there’s one thing that he would tell his old self.
“I would say, ‘You’re a mess.’ To someone else, I would say, ‘There’s always help and AA’s basically a free ticket to freedom.’ You don’t have to be religious or anything; it’s not some kind of cult. They just give you suggestions, they tell you their stories, what they did to get sober. It’s really inspiring.”
Tougas hopes to do some touring around the country to promote his book.
Meet My Shadow
By Luke Tougas
$18.95 soft cover; $28.95 hard cover; $9.99 (US) eBook
Available at amazon.com, iUniverse.com or by calling Tougas at 780-554-5853