Alex Wilhelm: I Feel Like I’ve Lived Two Lives

The second life of Alex Wilhelm began the day his body fell apart due to excessive drinking, the primary activity of his first life. He finds it difficult to recognize himself in the life he lived before becoming sober. He feels like he’s lived two lives already.

Today, Alex is a journalist at TechCrunch, an industry leading technology news site. In May 2020, he celebrated 4 years of sobriety from alcohol.

In this episode, we chat about the stark contrast between his two lives and the lessons he’s learned along the way, including:

  • What happened when his body fell apart due to excessive drinking
  • How fortunate he is to be a public alcoholic and what that means to him
  • His family’s reaction when Alex called to inform them he was in rehab
  • Where he finds the consistent strength to remain sober
  • The difference between how he thought rehab was a magic hammer to reset his life instantly and what rehab actually was for him
  • How Alex adjusted to a world centered around drinking and alcohol after finishing rehab
  • Why not drinking anymore is the fount of all blessings in his existence
  • How he and his wife managed a bi-coastal long distance relationship
  • The importance of the small wins he’s had since beginning his sobriety
  • Why the biggest lesson he’s learned is that kindness is underrated
  • The gravity of how it felt to lose to a substance like alcohol
  • What being an optimist really means and the kind of optimism that he wants in his life

Transcript with Alex Wilhelm

Tim 1:12
Today I’m joined by Alex Wilhelm. He’s a husband, a son, brother, journalist at TechCrunch and industry leading technology news site. And you were married last year 2019 in June, is that right?

Alex Wilhelm 1:28
Yes, sir. June 22, which is a what’s June now in 2020. So that’s June.

Tim 1:35
I thought it was May!

Alex Wilhelm 1:36
It just became June. It’s June. It’s early June as we record this. I don’t know actually which day in June it is. It’s the pandemic Tim, like we’ve been in this for a while. June 22.

Tim 1:47
You have an anniversary coming up. Congrats and also 2019. You celebrated three and a half years of sobriety from alcohol, which is another, I suppose you’re going to be coming up on four and a half years this year. Congratulations on that as well.

Alex Wilhelm 1:59
Thank you, man. I Just cross for four years at the very end of May, actually.

Tim 2:04
Wow, awesome. Does that feel like a long time? I mean, because you were you were probably drinking for so many years. There’s four years feel like a long time or is it feel like nothing?

Alex Wilhelm 2:16
Well, I stopped drinking when I was 26. So I think I was almost 27 so I didn’t drink for 20 years, you know, and so I didn’t have like, I didn’t drink through, you know, my 20s my 30s my 40s like a lot of people do. I got lucky that my body fell apart relatively early.

So I was kind of smacked in the face by reality and I got to kind of reset my life. But to your question, it does feel like a very long time because I’m beginning to forget what it was like to be a mess all the time. It’s got to be a good feeling. I feel like I’ve had two lives like there was there was the pre not drinking there’s the Yeah, the pre not drinking me the drinking me.

And then there’s the now I’m which like has socks, you know, before I was like, you know, I just my life was such a mess and just so disorganized and it’s hard to look back and see myself in that I suppose now.

Tim 3:10
You know, I want to you wrote something in one of your you have a blog and you’ve written quite perfectly prolifically. At one point, I read something you wrote. And you mentioned how being an alcoholic isn’t a moral condemnation of you, which I love the way you phrased that. And the reason I bring that up now is because part of the reason that I reached out to you I remember when this was I was in the airport.

I was going to San Diego and I was in the San Diego airport waiting for my dad who was on different flights to meet up with me. Somehow I stumbled upon a blog post of yours that mentioned I think it was celebrating your anniversary of being sober recently and I just stopped in my in I was sitting already but I just kind of like you know everything kind of faded away. And I just stared at my phone. The reason was, we’ve known each other, you know, very surface level from yours in Chicago.

You’re in Chicago back in the day, when the scene was getting started with technology and all that, and you’re a very successful, you know, technology news writer on TechCrunch. We’ve been in all sorts of other well known publications. And so I’m sitting there and I’m like, I had no idea that he had this part of his story. And you know, your row being an alcoholic isn’t a moral condemnation of you in that split second.

I was like mad at myself, because I’m like, it doesn’t make him less of a person that this is part of his story. Why are you even like surprised by this? People have all sorts. So I love that you wrote that. I guess there’s not even a question here. Just thank you for I guess my question is, what is where did that perspective come from? I mean, like, that’s a strong perspective and I’m so proud of you that you brought That to me.

Alex Wilhelm 5:01
It’s a good question. And it’s funny that I have to explain this outline though, because my thinking about this has changed so much that you’re asking me to explain kind of like almost like first principles to myself, and that it’s a good thing to do. So I’m very lucky in that I get to be a public alcoholic, I get to talk about this stuff out loud. I think I have a moral requirement to do so because I am able to keep my job.

Therefore I’m allowed to hold the tart hold the torch up for other people, I get to say, Hi, my name is Alex, this is the problem that I’ve had. And I’m here for you. So people reach out because I get to make a little noise about it. A lot of people don’t get to do that they do not get to stand up for themselves and talk about this.

They have to go to a if you’re into that and then speak very quietly, and, you know, they have to keep this under their hat. Um, because they don’t want to be judged. Because society says that they are lesser, they’re not to be trusted that they are. They’re worse. They’re addicts. All wear that label on fucking…oh, sorry, actually pausing. What’s your rule on profanity my good friend?

Tim 6:04
Go ahead, my friend. We’re only human right?

Alex Wilhelm 6:07
Yeah, I’ll read it on my chest, you know, I’ll put it right here. Um, and so I think that when you’re newly sober, when you’re just off of your substance of choice, you end up in a very turbulent emotional state. And a lot of the noise from society can impact how you think about yourself. With time and some clarity and a lot of working out and a lot of talking to my wife.

I’ve come to a pretty good settling point about who I am and kind of what I’m good at and what I’m not good at and what I’m worth. So when I think about myself as an alcoholic, it’s, it’s it’s a thing, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean that I’m any lesser than someone else. And that’s kind of what that statement is. And it’s not really for me, I’m fine, my life’s good.

But it’s for other people who might be depressed about this. You might be shocked to discover this about themselves since I want them to realize that being an addict is something that you can work on and And really, hopefully get a handle on. And then you get the rest of your life. And you don’t have to be thought of as anything less.

Tim 7:08
Thank you, I love that you made the point that you have the support behind you and the ability to, you know, be public and like you said, not lose your job and things like that. And thank you for doing that. I mean, you know, you don’t have to and that’s your I know, you’re affecting so many other people. You mentioned You’re so Yeah, I think so.

You mentioned your wife, and from what I understand, I mean, you know, again, congrats and get married last year. But from I understand you two were crossing in and out of each other’s life for a long time. And it sounds like it’s possible you might not have been able to finally end up together in the state you were in during the drinking days. Is that a fair statement?

Alex Wilhelm 7:49
100% fair.

Tim 7:50
I saw how you mentioned at the beginning, you know, Sox messed up just just totally different life. I would love to just and I’m not I want to know And this to understand where you came from. What are we talking here? Like, are we talking he would describe what the life yeah that Alex life was like prior to you ending up with your wife and prior to getting kind of quote unquote straightened up.

Alex Wilhelm 8:15
Yeah, yeah. So I was in a relationship up until about a month before I went to the hospital and then rehab. A lot of my recollections of the glass drinking gets gets worse got worse for me over time, and they got very much worse in the last eight months, right. What I’m talking about is the last 8, 12 months, whatever it was, but my life went from being like a little chaotic to like, Oh, shit, right? That’s what I’m talking about.

Not when I was 24 and just partying and I was 25. And I was hanging out late 25 to 26 was really the mess of my life. And so, you know, I’d wake up at like my then girlfriend’s house, and she would get up and get dressed and go to work. She worked. She took one of the tech shuttles pretty far away from us off, and then I would puke bile, because that’s where my bite would be every morning.

And then I would get dressed and then I would go buy some vodka and then I would drink about a half pint of vodka, go to work, drink during lunch, and then start drinking as much as I could. The work was done power through, we get about six hours of sleep and then do it again. And so you end up in this this this cycle of physical addiction that is effectively changed around you.

You can’t You can’t break free events. So you end up just trying to maintain enough semblance of sanity to get through your day and workday in relationships. Luckily, my body kind of was like, Nah, I went to the ER and then I went to rehab for 12 days or something. Then so I got a kind of good shocking recept when I was relatively young, but a lot of people just their bodies keep going.

And they don’t they don’t get that so I’m, I’m blessed that I, I kind of fell apart early but that’s the end of it. That’s that’s what drinking a bottle of whiskey today does to you. It’s It’s It’s all consuming.

Tim 9:51
Wow. You mentioned the going to rehab. You were there what 12 days. 1213 days Yeah. 1213 days. What was it like day three or so you had to call your parents and tell them where you were and what had happened? I can’t imagine.

Yeah, both sides of that, like being a parent myself now have admittedly young children. I can’t imagine either side of that conversation you calling them and the strength that took and, you know, I don’t know what your relationship is like with your parents, but you know, wondering what was coming next and then from their side to have their son call? And you know, just worrying I imagined about about you.

Alex Wilhelm 10:28
Well, that’s why you don’t call him you don’t call from the hospital. Right? So this is an interesting podcast because it’s designed to be personal and so it feels not annoying to be personal on it, but most of the time on like a business show that I go to on you don’t talk about yourself much, right?

But here it’s like talking about yourself. It’s, um, my, my oldest sister Emily lives in, in the Bay Area, keeping this vague for her privacy, and she is a doctor, and so on the day that my body decided didn’t want to go to bed that day. And eventually I became ambulatory. But like there was a I woke up with a non hangover hangover a catastrophe that my body felt different that morning. And that’s what precipitated this whole thing

Tim 11:11
What is a non-hangover hangover?

Alex Wilhelm 11:13
It’s like when you’re still drunk, but you know you’re tore up but you can’t really move. I don’t know. It was a weird day. It was a day sufficiently weird that I called my sister and asked her for help. And I had never done that, in my life.

Tim 11:23
Sounds like an out of body experience, like you could see yourself in that scenario.

Alex Wilhelm 11:28
It was bad. I thought I was going to work that day. Turns out I was going to the hospital, like Who knew? Anyways, she drove up. And I ended up staying with her while I was going through rehab because I was like a Kaiser member, which is a California Insurance Group. So the rehab facility was down near where she was.

I stayed at her house, and then she dropped me off in the morning after we went to Starbucks, and I would go to rehab which is like until 3pm, and you go home. It’s a strange experience. But when I call my parents on day three, to your point, I was at my sister’s His house was in her backyard, you know, so I didn’t call them from like, you know, I’m in Arizona all of a sudden.

I was like, I’m at Emily’s house. And just so you know, I’m in rehab. And, you know, they, they were confused, surprised, but not shocked. I don’t think anyone was like, Alex looks great lately. He’s definitely not drinking too much. I think it was kind of like, he’s gained a lot of weight. He’s been drinking a lot, you know, so

Tim 12:24
They suspected something was off.

Alex Wilhelm 12:26
Yeah. And then they were just happy. They’re like, good. You’re taking care of yourself. You know, you’re my recollection of that time. And I was on like, benzos for anti withdrawal stuff. So you know, it’s a strange, weird time in my life, but my recollection as best I can tell you is that they were very supportive and kind and loving and it’s the only thing you need, at that point is encouragement and love. So they were they were dead on.

Tim 12:51
That’s great. Is this the sister that you had written that you spent those weeks at your sister’s house and you wrote: I’m not religious, but she is in her faithfully. Using angels, she is a good argument for their existence.

Alex Wilhelm 13:03
Yeah, you can tell that I was I was full of my full vigor when I wrote that. Yeah, that’s her. She’s a very good person. She’s just, she’s so kind and patient and such an excellent human. My wife is actually at the same strain of Christianity. As my as that sister, they share a faith. And I don’t mind it, because I think their faith is very honestly, in favor of caring for others. And that’s what I look for most in a person that faiths faith.

Tim 13:33
When you mentioned that your sister was a doctor, and that, you know, she was able to help you in this scenario. I had for a moment I had this, you know, this question of was this not divine intervention, but I do think you know, the universe. There’s just, I feel like recently in my life, there’s too many data points showing coincidences in the universe where, you know.

I don’t know what’s directing it, but one would say, you know, wasn’t meant to be your sister was in that line of work. You know, I mean, first of all the unconditional love she’s showing for you here, but also the fact that she happened to be the person that could help you in this scenario I think is just just interesting.

Alex Wilhelm 14:15
Ya know, I you’re coming by saying that you’re coming from a place of optimism and a very human perspective and that’s why I like what you said the reason why I can’t quite join you in diet is that I wasn’t rehab for 1213 years just under two weeks I was Monday and then anyways summer I’ve written for summer a lot of people in rehab didn’t have that. They didn’t have the same support.

They didn’t have the same family they didn’t have the same level of things to lean back on and so if the universe determined and Dustin me to have my sister has it as a doctor and you know only within driving distance and being free that day to come get me and all that and all those things that came together to save my bacon. Why did the universe not choose them more excuse me, I am not special. I am not different, I am not worthy of extra treatment.

So if we follow that line of reasoning as lovely and kind and caring as it is for you, I see that as you say it, I’m worried about everyone else. And so, you know, I, the way that I think about this, the way that I view the situation you’re outlining is, I got lucky. Therefore I owe because not everyone gets to be lucky. And so back to the point about talking about this stuff publicly, I think that I actually really do owe a debt. I went to rehab, and then I haven’t drank since that’s not how this normally goes.

The first round doesn’t usually keep doesn’t stick. So, but again, I’m not special. I’m not better. I just had a lot of support behind me and people that wanted to see me succeed. My boss didn’t fire me. I got to come back to my same high paying job. I kept my apartment I kept most of my friendships, you know, like I was the luckiest kid in school. Sure, it was not a fun experience at all. Let me tell you, I can’t recommend it. But I had all that and so my view is I need to use this too. Luck is fortune and use it to help others in some way because it’s not mine to hold on to and claim ownership of mine to share.

Tim 16:08
That’s so generous of you. I think luck is a fair contributor to all this. I think it’s a contributor to all of our lives to some degree. But I also wonder, you, there’s so much strength in there, right? You said you never went back to drinking. And a lot of people do. A lot of people don’t, you know, there’s all that’s a total ebb and flow, right.

And, yeah, you have a great paying job, you’re in a great industry. I mean, you probably have a life around you that can help. Right? But at the end of the day, there’s strength in you to not go back to that, like no amount of money, I imagine, is what’s going to keep you away from going back to drinking. So, and this is my kind of thought here. how or where where did that strength come from? I have to believe it’s there. Like you are the one who pulled yourself up and didn’t go back at the end of the day. Oh, and all that around. You helped. But you could have thrown it all away in an instant.

Alex Wilhelm 17:10
Yeah. Yeah. At some point in time feeling awful all the time gets or it gets boring. You know, like, it’s very easy to drink too much not end up in this cycle of physical addiction. I’ve a lot of people that I talked to that are not there. You don’t have to get that far to be an alcoholic. You don’t have to get that far and stop drinking. In fact, rarely do people who reach out to me have that same situation. But if you do end up kind of where I was, life is tough.

Everything is so hard every day. It’s a struggle. And all you want to do is drink is the only thing that makes you feel a little bit better and a little bit more normal. And so what rehab offers you is nothing really what it offers you is just space and time. It just offers you an emptiness that you can kind of then experience what life would be like if you weren’t using whatever your substances and so for me, I started Like, eat, I eat food. I hadn’t really eaten that much for a while, because, you know, most of the lunch was an excuse to drink.

So like you would get like a Caesar salad, like four martinis, whatever. And I started to eat like two dinners a day because I was like, hungry. I started going for walks, and I, you know, I did laundry and I just began to reassemble a human existence, you know, and my nephews were around and I played Doom three, I beat Doom three start to finish because I had so much spare time and I had to just take care of my brain and let it rest.

So you know, you do all of that and you realize that there is life outside of your old paths and your old ways. You can hold on to it. And that’s that’s what I did. But But if you listen to my answer, there just layers of support. I had a place to be, a family who wanted to be around me. A sister who was making a sister and brother in law who were making me food and making enough that I could have seconds. I was in a safe neighborhood record, go for walks etc, etc, etc, layers of privilege and blessing that domain is possible.

Did I want it? Yes, I wanted it by the end and I was willing to do what it took to feel better because I I had run that ship all the way into the rocks, and I knew that it wasn’t going to float. And I also knew what life was like I knew what that looked like, you know, I could go back and do it again. I can go back today and start drinking again. Now instead of in three years, I’ll be right back down there I’ll be divorced. I’ll weigh 50 pounds more I’ll be quasi broke. And I’ll be a mess and don’t want to be around mix. I’ll be shouting and sweaty. So you know, at some point you take the other the other the other exit

Tim 19:41
What made you want it? What was this feeling of? You know, you mentioned feeling awful. Is that what it and excuse me for maybe being ignorant here but having never been in this situation? Did you truly feel like I mean, I’m sure you looked Physically a mess, right? Like I’m sure you were timed and just from not being able to focus on that part of yourself.

But did you feel that way too? In the alcohol? You know, while you mentioned it’s the only thing that made you feel better, it really didn’t make you feel better. I mean, you still is that the case? I mean, you felt awful. And then that’s what made you want to basically not feel awful.

Alex Wilhelm 20:24
When you start looking at your hand to see how much you’re shaking before you have lunch to figure out how much you need to drink to get through the rest of the work day. Your body’s not doing good. Yeah, you’re the wires in your body do the electrical pulses are not firing correctly, everything doesn’t work right? Time has a weird lumpiness to ages races ahead and slows down.

You haven’t worked out in so long you’ve forgotten what it’s like, you know, you’re in terrible car. I was also smoking at the time and I hadn’t hadn’t switched away from real cigarettes, then. Maybe Maybe I just had one of the two but I used to smoke a lot. And so it’d be too In that and the drinking, I mean, you just end up a walking corpse. And I used to be really I’m now back in relatively okay shape. But I was a wrestler in high school, you know, I used to be relatively lean.

You know, I recall what that was like to be in to have strength and to feel good about how I looked and how I fit into things. And in the end, every bit of you begins to disintegrate. You know, that gets tiresome now you can descend more slowly than I did. You don’t have to, you know, over the course of a year ago from problematic to oh crap with your consumption of whatever substances I did. And so I ended up accelerated in the end, but it’s not hard to want something better when that’s your reality. You know, it’s not, it’s and again, that’s the whole point of rehab to give you a taste of what life could be. If you were on the other side of that particular corner.

I thought rehab was a magical hammer that you would you know, you hate your life with rehab and then stuff got better. It turns out you’re just sitting in a building that looks like a middle school with like, you know, 50 other people, and then no one’s doing great. And then you talk about how things weren’t going great. And then you go home. So weird thing in the world. By the way, attics hilarious some of the funniest people on the planet but rehabs pretty boring overall.

Tim 22:19
That’s interesting. I didn’t envision rehab being that way either. It sounds like more than anything. Rehab offers perspective and a window into what could be and what you know, if you stick around will be.

Alex Wilhelm 22:31
Yeah, I think that’s that that’s that’s pretty great. And I think that’s what what it can do in the best of times. And this is why some rehabs I think have like a golf course and like fancy things and all this like come You know, enjoy life and feel good. I don’t know how much that’s necessary. Also very expensive, but I think that’s the same idea of showing people what life could be like if they were, in fact healthy.

And you know, I just to be clear, I’ve had friends who went to super fancy rehab, and I’ve gotten sober. I have had friends who have done that and not I have friends who are big into a hospital. work for them as a principal hasn’t worked. It there’s a gamut of of methods and ways and I don’t want to sound positive or negative about any particular one, because who knows what will work for whoever needs help? So?

Tim 23:11
Oh, absolutely. I think the important part is finding what works for you.

Alex Wilhelm 23:15
Yeah, yeah. And for me, I mean, I’m not active in a right now at all. I hadn’t been for a long time. And my friends who were very serious AI errs, that worries them, you know, but I, I’ve done a bunch of AI, you know, and as a non religious person, it’s not something that I’m ultimately comfortable with doing on a regular basis. If you call me up and said, Hey, I’m going to a meeting where you can be my buddy, of course. 100% Yeah, you know, I’m not going to be there early on Tuesday.

Tim 23:43
So once you got sober and, you know, sort of crossed that, get the chasm into, this is my new life. Was it tough, there had to have been situations Was it tough to adjust to those situations in your life where I mean, drinking in alcohol is a pretty integral part of our society, at least in the United States. I mean, even even if it’s not, you know, binge drinking all night, just simply going out for dinner with a friend or with a group of friends.

Having a drink. I mean, literally just, there’s a phrase, hey, let’s go grab beers. I mean, that, or let’s grab a drink. That might not even mean we’re going to grab a drink. But that’s what’s insinuated. For you. I mean, that’s now a big hard. No, I mean, absolutely. I mean, in terms of like, I’m not going to be having a beard. Yeah, was that hard to adjust to like this foundation in society now sort of not meshing with your new life?

Alex Wilhelm 24:47
Yeah, yes. And no, because like, my entire life is built around this like, it was how I socialized. It was how I it was how I unwound. I mean, again, not just the last year that was bad or months, whatever it was, but even before that, like, you know, I was organizing people to come down to my local bar, I was a local dialog in my house myself. And, you know, I eventually got invited to the bartender sweating like I was there a lot.

Tim 25:13
That’s pretty close.

Alex Wilhelm 25:14
Yeah, yeah. Good times other people. They’re fantastic. I hope they’re all okay. I haven’t seen them in a while. But for me, it was not just a shattering of my own life and and rebuilding it kind of from the ground up in terms of like, what do I eat? What do I do? When do I get up? When do I sleep? Who do I hang out with? Where do I go all that it was also then going into the world and realizing how saturated everything is called advertisements.

Like you can’t say weed on NFL but it can be the Budweiser halftime show. What message are we sending children about highly addictive to presence? So that was a shock. But you know, again, my first couple of days back in rehab, like literally on a Sunday, I got my certificate of passing and stage one of this little rehab program that Kaiser had called the cdr p the chemical dependency rehabilitation program maybe. I literally went home to my sister’s house I packed up my backpack I got on Caltrain and I went back to SF and I went back to my house, my little apartment.

And then I cleaned it, I think was the first thing I did. I went through all the mail that I had been putting off for six months, I threw a bunch of stuff out. I threw away all the empty alcohol bottles. And I think I went to work the next day. And I still have maybe it’s a Wednesday that one’s work. I still have the first post that I wrote back from from rehab, but it’s medium good.

So that kind of worked out. But then I just took a lot of walks and I called him on and a lot of my friends a lot just paced around pack heights and SF on foot for hours each day just burn off energy because all of a sudden I had so much energy cuz I was just eating food and not drinking so my body was just like what do we do with all these calories?

Tim 26:58
A great feeling I’m sure.

Alex Wilhelm 26:59
Yeah. Then from there just step by step, and then back to the back to my wife. And then about five months later, my wife called me, and then yeah, and later on, we got married.

Tim 27:14
So she, we said, she called you she came back into your life then because I know you kind of you dated in college and you got back together a little bit after that. And then you know, it’s kind of in and out. And I imagine once you got sober and were comfortable in that new life, you probably felt like I did this I am, who I want to be now.

But I gotta imagine the second most amazing thing was you now could reconnect with this person and ultimately, you know, devote yourself to them and have that that relationship. Was that the case? Especially when she came back into your life was that like, Alright, this is the second thing I want.

Alex Wilhelm 27:57
Ya know, it’s funny people say what’s the most important thing in your life? And they expect me to say my wife, but I don’t say that I’d say so not not I phrases not drinking, not drinking is the most important. Sure. And the reason why I say that is it’s the the fount of all blessings in my existence. If she had called me six months earlier, when I was a couple of weeks, you know, before rehab.

I don’t know how that would have gone. I don’t know, I don’t think she would have been interested in the person that I become and catching people up who are not my friends, you know, this. My wife and I did it in college. And then we didn’t talk for like four years or so. We started talking again, eventually got back together and then 65 bajillion fights across the country later, we got married last year as we started off the podcast with but it was incredibly lovely to have her reach out to me when I was mentally okay.

I was able to have that first long phone call. And then talk to her and then when she came out to SF for it doesn’t it’s a long story but like, I was okay, I was still losing a bunch of alcohol weight at the time, because I was carrying a bunch of that and I was learning how to do like a push up because it had been a minute, but at least in my head in my brain, I was okay.

I was there. And I felt increasingly clear up until the pandemic and in the current protests which have reshuffled my thinking a bit. But it’s that clarity was was one of the most important things I don’t think this would have worked out without it.

Tim 29:37
When you when she called in you eventually reconnected for the time after that was that when you were living in different time zones for a while?

Alex Wilhelm 29:45
Oh, gosh, I only officially moved out to the east coast. In December of 2019. I lives and I got married in June of 19. But we got back together in December. of 16 So after that I was it was really part of a cross country relationship. She was finishing med school and then starting residency and I was in SF so I was just on United Economy Class across the country more times than I wanted to did.

I’m a United gold member which is the worst thing to brag about if you use all of your own money to get it and I did. So it’s get the companies paying for it you know, fuck it, but I was paying for it. And so I was doing two weeks in SF two weeks in in Providence where I live now for a couple years and that was i don’t know how I don’t know how I did that looking back, but somehow we did. No dude, let me tell you if you used to drink.

There is nothing worse than flying and you can’t drink because all you want to do on a plane is have like six cocktails and pass out and instead you’re just sitting there like three o’clock in the morning on the red eye just hanging out just bored I go I just just sober on a loud airplay going over Ohio like you just want to cry. It’s one of the few times I miss drinking is when I’m on a plane.

Tim 31:03
I never would have thought of it that way.

Alex Wilhelm 31:05
Well, you’ve never you’ve never like, I don’t know if you strike me as a person who is a very kind, very intelligent person, but not someone who’s ever been cut off on their play.

Tim 31:15
That’s fair. I have not.

Alex Wilhelm 31:17
To be fair, I haven’t either. But I have been cut off as part of a group of people who were cut off as a team on a flight to London. That’s a long story. And it’s not for not for this podcast.

Tim 31:25
I feel like that’s a better accomplishment than getting cut off alone. It was it was a team effort. It was a good time. Yeah. So that timeline sounds like you two are living on separate coasts, for almost three years. I mean, not prior to marriage, and then through the first little bit of marriage. That sounds tough.

I mean, that sounds tough for any relationship, but when someone in that relationship is recovering from this, you know, battled past of addiction. And I don’t know you know, whether you’re someone who needs that To be physically around people or you know, I think this pandemic has taught us all that, whether we realize it or not humans do need physical connection, or at least in the same room connection. Yeah. But I imagine being, being by Coastal like that, for for that period of time, must have made that 10 times harder than just, you know, if you weren’t previously, you know, addicted.

Alex Wilhelm 32:23
It was it wasn’t easy, but the way it works out is that life just is confusing. So like, I got a new job that I was very excited about, and it was the highest paying job at the time that I’ve ever had. So to me, I was like, you know, this is more money than I ever thought I was going to Africa to make as a journalist, you know, and then my wife matched into a residency program. And then that’s where she was.

So here, I wasn’t there she was, and so you just fly. You don’t. You don’t tear up your new job that you just got, or maybe I should have. Maybe that would have been the bold thing to do. I didn’t we didn’t we didn’t think that was the right choice. And so we just flew me a lot. It just it made sense at the time it looking back, I would have, I would have left that job earlier and then moved out here sooner and been closer to her more. But we were trying to balance life as best we could. I mean, you’re always doing the best you can with what you know.

I’ve always been a bit more timid than I needed to be about career stuff and money. And there’s reasons for that, but I like to be secure, secure and safe. And so I over index for that. So I think probably I was just like, well, this is the job and she’s there so I’ll just make it work. Then you end up sacrificing probably more than you should. Yeah, but that’s now in the past.

So it’s it’s I don’t think about it too much. And united has said they’re gonna match everyone’s status next year, because no one can fly this year. So I will still be united gold next year. So I was still bored early. And I get a free like peanut bar, whatever the hell they give you on those plans. I this is the longest I haven’t flown in so long. I just I forgot about planes work. How does What’s it What’s a TSA? I don’t even know.

Tim 34:08
Yeah, it’s got to be a little bit of, you’ll have to relearn the behavior of how to be a United Gold flyer.

Alex Wilhelm 34:17
I’ve killed myself with my tea.

Tim 34:20
Be careful there.

Alex Wilhelm 34:22
So sorry!

Tim 34:23
Oh, no worries.

Alex Wilhelm 34:27
Oh, man. Ah. And this ladies and gentlemen, is the danger of long form interviews. If you if you inhale your tea, you end up sounding like you were recently punched by some sort of large Star Wars creature.

Tim 34:41
I’ve been there. Not being punched by a Star Wars creature but sounding like that happened.

Alex Wilhelm 34:45
Oh, I don’t know what our bodies do to defend us from aspirating tea into our lungs but it is not a pleasant response. Poof. Okay, I’m back. Sorry about that.

Tim 34:54
No worries. I am. I find this is totally unrelated but I’ve one of those moments in life, I feel like back when I used to use public transportation prior to this pandemic, I hope we’ll be able to get back to it, but and then here in Chicago, I’d be riding the L.

You know, there’s people sitting next to you and I’d be sitting there listening to a podcast and all of a sudden I feel a tickle in my throat. I’m like, Okay, I’ll just, you know, this will go away. Then yeah, and then it won’t go away. And I’m like, you know, I got it. Everyone’s looking at me like, No, I’m fine. I’m not sick, right? But it’s like, why does the tickle always happen when I’m sitting next to other humans on the public transit? Like why can’t it happen when I’m in the bathroom? Or you know when I’m not near other people.

Alex Wilhelm 35:34
Yeah, I mean, so I will before before a live podcast which I’ll do some times for TechCrunch I will be talking with the production crew with the gas will always be on zoom or squad cast, whatever, just chick just chillin. And in the moment, like and three to my voice, my throat like closes randomly every single time and I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna be Mickey Mouse when I started the show.

There’s got to be a pipsqueak and then I call it stupid paranoia and like, 10 minutes in my anxiety goes back down to normal and then I’m kind of okay. But up until that point, it’s just our bodies are not. We ask a lot of our bodies, our bodies were not designed to do the things we do with them. Our brains haven’t invented a world far past our physical capabilities. We’re just really weird monkeys. And we do a lot with these things. And sometimes they don’t quite click, and that’s fine. You know, we’re getting by we’re doing our best.

Tim 36:26
I would say overall, it could be worse. I mean, we’re not perfect, but we’ve gotten pretty far.

Alex Wilhelm 36:32
We have appendices, which blow up occasionally. We don’t eat grass anymore. Like our bodies have some weird historical quirks to them. But I have taken us firmly off the topics.

Tim 36:42
Well, hang on. Before we get back on topic. This is news to me. That’s what the appendix is for? It was for eating grass?

Alex Wilhelm 36:48
I really wish I fact checked that before I said it on your show. I might be I might be spreading hashtag fake news. But I’ve read that it may have had to deal with prior.

Tim 36:54
You have knowledge that it might be true.

Alex Wilhelm 36:57
Well, if that’s the standard that I’m going to say elsewhere, to watch stuff. But who knows that I that I actually will be the president. That’s the people are saying, yeah.

Tim 37:07
So I imagine becoming sober. There’s some big wins there, right? Like, I mean, well, a you’re able to get into a great stable relationship and love your life. I imagine friendships and stuff for a little bit more stable. And just overall your life like you said, you felt like you had more energy and now you felt more physically fit mentally fit. I guess those are big things.

My question was, were there any small things that you know, are sort of these small little wins along the way, but maybe, maybe the whole thing was just a collection of those

Alex Wilhelm 37:41
Small wins are great. This is, this is a really good question. Actually. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this. People always want to hear about your spiritual recovery. How’s your soul, man, whatever. I like that I can now go to a brunch spot that doesn’t serve hard alcohol. That was a big No, but for me, I’m not gonna go to a brunch. And drink children’s booze.

I don’t want to most of it on my four I want a whiskey and so I would go to brunch and drink whiskey and everyone thought I was weird. I mean, turns out I was just an alcoholic. But now I can go where there’s no booze at all. I can drink Earl Grey tea with my eggs. And that’s, you know, that’s a small win, but it comes. It came up before the pandemic somewhat regularly, you know?

Tim 38:20
That, like a newfound appreciation for something. Yeah, that’s great.

Alex Wilhelm 38:24
Yeah, I can. I used to be really hardcore about that. And now like, I can save way more money. I don’t have to work out as much to maintain a body fat percentage that I like, and I don’t sweat as much. And I never had to like, worry about what my breath smells like. It was too early in the day. It’s like alcohol. And I never have to apologize.

Well, not never but like, you know, I don’t wake up anymore. I’d be like, Oh crap, I gotta call Billy. Because I told him blah blah blah last night and I he wasn’t gonna like that. Everything’s everything’s pretty boring. In a really beautiful way like we we have a list on our fridge. Have we meal plan now like on Sundays we go to the store and do one shopping trip.

Like if you’re where I was, like if there was any food in the house that wasn’t like a half container of soy sauce, you were like the king for the week. And now like I’ve got meals planned out for days and days, like just that takes energy out of your, you know, you have to work as hard just to live it’s 1000 little things that for me add up to the ability to do more and so I’m more productive at work and I hope my personal life but the big things are great.

Okay, but the small things are actually almost feel more important to keep you sane because you get to kind of you feel them more often than you do peace and call like that. That’s ephemeral and all that but going to brunch this place where you know, they got really good espresso, that’s a win every time for me.

Tim 39:49
I’m a firm believer in all the small things I think that blink 182 so I was just about to say I was spot on. But I really it is all about I mean that’s what matters is those little moments in life. Those little things you can appreciate. So I’m so glad you have some of those. What would you say is the biggest? I hesitate sometimes using the word lesson because it sounds like there was something here to be learned.

Alex Wilhelm
I don’t know if it’s something that I’ve learned about myself, but something that I’ve learned as myself, which is that that kindness is underrated. I was much more of an aggressive person. Before I was less patient, I was more acerbic. I was more. I wasn’t more opinionated, but I was less less cool about it. And then rehab if you fail, right, if you if you if you have an addiction, and you lose to it like I did, and you have to go to rehab, and it’s like, rebuild your whole life. It’s very humbling.

And so you could I came out of this much much humbler and more patient and therefore a lot more kind. And I’ve consistently found that there’s nearly no situation in my life that couldn’t be improved by me being more kind derated now, I’m an anti fascist, you know, let’s punch every Nazi in the face. But otherwise, you know, mostly being kind is pretty good.

And that’s something I don’t think I would have learned when I was two self absorbed and too busy being drunk all the time. And so it’s it’s not really about me, per se more about just how we should interact with each other. But it’s definitely something that I’ve, I have learned a lesson. I think that’s a good question. By the way, I think I think it’s good to be introspective and to and to make yourself think about what you have done. Otherwise, you know, why go to therapy?

Yeah, I mean, I am a big fan of, I’ve kind of adopted this as my mantra. But I say as long as we’re better today than we were yesterday, it could be a little bit, it could be a lot, but as long as we’re better, and we’re on that path, so that’s, that’s good. It’s funny, you just mentioned, you know, kind of the ways you felt you acted and that you were, you know, prior and then how you learned that I can be more kind and kindness is what matters for us all.

And some of what you described. I’m like, Wait a second, I think I went through the same thing, but I was not an alcoholic. I didn’t become so I suppose I don’t know if we call these trauma events well life events we’ll call them life events I suppose my life event was getting divorced after you know quite a long time and that’s kind of my maybe you know life one life too but the way like what you just said about your big thing that you learned as yourself I’m like Yeah, same here oh my gosh, we gotta because

Alex Wilhelm
This goes back to what you said about you know what I be in the relationship I am now if I hadn’t changed no because I wouldn’t have been the person that my wife now likes I was I was still me I’m not going to say that I’m the whole cloth new person. Yeah, I was a definitely crappier model of the same make you know, it was not I still like to say music I still like ice cream but like I was just not as kind and patient. And I think that some people get there without the shaking up that you and I took and bless him for it. Hi baby. Bit more stubborn than that. But I’m just very glad that I got there.

I like to be a person that people think of as kind. I hope I hope that when I die, my tombstone says Alex was kind he tried very hard. That’s enough for me. That is a sufficient level of of sendoff, I’ll take that. It’s all before I want to be like, president of the universe and you know, the best selling novelist and just not not like, you know, kind kind is good.

It sounds like a little bit humility came out there to like, you learn about kindness, but also about humility. And, you know, being more humble, almost.

Alex Wilhelm
Yeah, I mean, just losing losing to substance. I lost a thing that they advertise on television. How dumb is that? I lost you a liquid. I mean, that’s just stupid. And yeah.

That’s a great perspective, thinking of it that way. Wow. That’s strong.

Alex Wilhelm
Yeah, the curse of the suburban dad brought me low, you know?

Yeah. You mentioned that you mentioned therapy. And I think about I, you know, I have never done therapy prior to initially doing couples counseling, you know, having great results with that. And then after continuing during their process starting in individual therapy, and then continuing it until basically present day, and I fell in love with therapy, I fell in love with this tool, but I never really had a reason.

Or at least I didn’t think I had a reason to exercise this tool. And so for me, kind of when I think about what keeps me reminded of what you just said, of being kind and humble, and all those great things you learned about herself therapy definitely helps with that. I’m curious for you. What are some things that in this new life you utilize or do or, you know, I know there’s, I know people who are big on mindfulness and yoga meditation, I’m curious, like what, basically the question is, what are you doing to keep yourself you know, strong and firm in this new life?

Alex Wilhelm
Yeah, no, it’s it’s an evolving answer. I’m trying things here and I’m sure I did therapy for two years. I think when I was in SF, my, the job that I got after I quit drinking was very stressful. I was building a team for the first time I was controlling a budget for the first time, I was reporting to the board for the first time. A lot of learning all at once for me, and you know, I was six, seven months over when I started that job, which is crazy.

And so I was super anxious all the time. So I went to I went to therapy and I got a therapist and we chipped away at it, you know, it was great. He was he, he’s kind of an old school guy. He was like, you know, when he’s like, meds aren’t for you. We’re gonna work on mindfulness. Okay. And we just took away my anxiety into the point when I when I quit that job and I moved out here I was changing insurance providers. So we had kind of a going away session I just got I got to be very grateful. I’m like, you know, thank you for you know, this is what you’ve given me. And that was huge. Other things that really help a lot exercises. Fantastic.

And I try to I work with come home. So I have a little home gym setup where Newmar where my computers are. So I, you know, like a yoga mat and I do push ups and sit ups and I got some weights and some kettlebells. And, you know, I try to I try to stay to stay active, that’s super important. I spoil the hell out of my dogs, which really helps because it makes me think about other creatures that are not myself. And it puts me in a different headspace to be a bit more mindful of the world.

I have done meditation both guided and not I have read books on Zen as in friends who are big into it some a through time, as I mentioned, I have a sober collection of friends that I check in with on a regular basis. And lately, I think the most recent addition to this, you know, evolving arsenal of ways to keep myself alive, mentally, is I’m furious. And I think I think that anger is a junkie fuel. It’s not great, but it’s gonna serve me for a while. And my rising hatred of of my Sorry, my hatred of rising fascism there you go here in the United States is gonna keep me alive for a while because I can’t I can’t get drunk and not do anything. So I’m going to stay sober and try to do something

That’s fascinating because anger I feel is traditionally easily abused and easily misguided. And or short. When you first said that my first thought was, well, Alex, aren’t you worried that the anger is gonna pull you in directions you don’t want to go in, or you don’t want to maybe go back to the look in your face suggests that no, you you, you’re going to use anger for good as odd as that sounds.

Alex Wilhelm
I’m working on a new personal project. I’m putting together a website. I think it’s gonna be loose, collective calm. I think that’s the URL, I bought something on my domain register. And I’m gonna put together a site where my friends and I can write about politics because none of us are paid to do so. And we all can stay silent. So we’re going to put together a little loose collective as the idea, a collection of friends. And we’re going to write about write about things.

And that’s, that’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to put our energy towards that, and try to not create art to fight back, but to create fighting words to fight back. That’s, that’s the objective. And I’m gonna hopefully not get fired for doing that. So we’ll see. I might, that would be fine. I’ll get through that. But I just, and I know this isn’t a political Show. I’m trying to tailor this to, you know, a broader audience, but I don’t have any patience for fascism, or efficiency thought and, you know.

Currently sitting here in early June 2020 in America, it’s an interesting moment in time to see who is going to roll over and let one executive do whatever he wants, including abusing the military against protesters, and who’s not. And I know on which side of that divide. I said, I’m very glad that I’m sitting here drinking. This is a this is meant ginger tea or something and not whiskey beer. This means that I’m going to be able to work on my project tonight, and not just sit on the couch and re watch something on Netflix.

First of all, thank you for, for doing that for harnessing that anger in such a way I think I’m excited to see this come to life, this new project of yours. And I mean, and a lot of ways. This is why the reason I do this podcast, I think there’s a lot of reasons but one of the main reasons is I’ve seen pieces of other people’s stories. I’ve heard other people’s stories, that at times in my life, especially in the past couple recent years.

They’ve affected me and I’ve been able to alter course or I’ve been able to step back and think because I heard their story. Yeah. And so I feel a duty and I just love helping now hopefully others do the same with the stories I share. Which is why I’m so excited to have you here today but you doing this and harnessing anger in that way. is sort of a similar technique right?

You’re able to bring your friends together your your anger and a great way together to get these words out there which then can inspire others, which I mean, saying it out loud. Sounds so Elementary, but I it’s not. I mean, that’s how this country the United States was built. I mean, and so yeah, I just literally, hell yeah.

Alex Wilhelm
During this chat my dad called me I didn’t answer as we’re talking. But we are, I think 40 pages away from finishing the Federalist Papers as a father son book club. And so I’m literally reading these like, Oh gee, bloggers who are out there like slinging mad words in favor of like, federal? Yeah, like, distributed power government.

Yeah, they were, they were just blogging in the newspaper. It’s all they had back then. And they were just writing like, you know, 1000 word entries are shorter or longer just based on what they thought. I mean, you know, it’s same idea, words, words. have power, they don’t have power always exactly as we hope they’re going to. And we can’t always tell when they’re going to have impact.

But I, I hope, I hope that I can own up earn the title of devoted servant to the written word in my life I keep I keep reading and writing for the rest of my life I might get there. It’s a long road. I’m not good yet. My style is too wonky. And I’m a bit reductive at times and I have a lot of work to do, but I’m hopefully hoping to eventually become a writer that I’m proud of. Give me a good 20 years.

Well, it sounds like you’re on the right path. I think it’s, it’s interesting to step back and think about, I mean, let loose collective for example, you’re going to launch this and I think voices like yours are going to contribute so, so much to this time. You think about the amazing work you do and you know, spreading the different technology companies and all that. You know, covering that, I mean, you’re helping so many entrepreneurs.

And just if you start to go back and think about everything you’re able to do now, because you were able to overcome what you did, and what you’re gonna do in the next 20 I mean, like, sometimes I just love smiling at that domino effect of like, it just, you know, it blows your mind when you think about, like, what has to happen or what I did or what did happen to get to all these outcomes. One little change and it might not have happened I mean, it’s just something to be proud of.

Alex Wilhelm
I think about that kind of one little change how are we different all the time for different things in my life that have gone well or alternatively have not.

Yeah, that’s a fair point. They could go the other way.

Alex Wilhelm
Yeah, they certainly they do. I mean, life that life is, you know, unless you’re exceptionally lucky that’s going to be hard and that’s I think, why this show is fun because everyone even the most of the person who’s glossiest on the outside, he looks the best he thinks it seems that the most their stuff put together has struck.

They’ve probably had to fight really hard to get to be where they are today. And that’s, that’s what makes us human. Frankly, that’s it’s it’s, it’s the journey, not the destination. It’s the struggle, not the victory. It’s the it’s the hard the hard fight to get there that makes us who we are. Because if I, if I hadn’t gone through what I did, and I’m sure if your divorce hadn’t happened, you know, you and I would be variations of who we are today. But would we be as good? Maybe what if I just drank 50% as much and kind of like, kind of held that on for 50 years then died?

I wouldn’t get as much done. I almost had to go through the worst of it to get to the best of them. It’s hard thing to say that sucked is really hard time in my life is miserable. But maybe in the end, it’ll be something that that works out in my favor, I hope so. I want to be an optimist. I want to I want to always think there’s more and more and better coming.

Not just for me, but for everybody in some days like today, given the new cycle that’s hard to do. Hold on. But I’ve been a pessimist. I’ve been a nihilist. And I’m gonna try this one instead and see how it goes. I want to have kids, you know, I don’t think you’d be a pessimist or a nihilist. You have children, it just seems ridiculous yet. Welcome to the world children.

It’s only gonna get worse from here like, yeah, that’s not that’s not good. You know, I can’t have that. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna try to build or help in a tiny way build the world that, that I want those hopes for children in the future to be able to live in. I guess that’s a good enough goal. That’ll do me good for 80 years.

I think that’s a fantastic goal. And I see you as an optimist. I do. I see. What I see you as is an optimist to maybe not realistic optimist. I don’t want to downplay the optimist side of it. But you’re able to harness that perspective. I think it’s because of your experiences, you’re able to harness that perspective in a way that brings guided optimism right?

Like, sometimes I think optimism means to people like my head is so far up in the clouds. I’m so optimistic that I don’t understand the steps it’s going to take to actually get there because I can’t get my head on the cloud. So we all want the same dream here. But I can’t contribute really, cuz I’m just so far out there. And to me, that’s maybe less effective optimism. I feel like you’re the optimist here that knows the steps are always willing to figure out the steps to get there and then act on it. If that makes sense. It makes sense in my head.

Alex Wilhelm
No, no, it does. I mean, there are days in which I aspire to have my head in the clouds. I hope that I think big enough that some days, I’m thinking too big and too far in advance. And I become essentially a philosopher as opposed to a person who operates in the real world. But most days I wake up and make coffee, and then I work you know, and so I think you need to have an optimism that that you can persist and hold on to as you go about regular life like you know, I’m about to do book up with my dad that I’m going to play Dominion with lights.

And then you know, I’m gonna hopefully go for a bike ride and like, you know, all that is predicated on the fact that I think that people are worth investing in. I think keeping my body healthy is gonna be good and long term. I think there’s things down the road that I want to do. So optimism, I think is more imbued into our actions and choices than we think. It’s not just the belief that bad stuff isn’t coming. It’s you know, why we it’s an engine that helps us choose things that allow us to do more down the road. And that’s the optimism that I want. I want that to be a friend to me in my in my existence.

I can’t think of a better note to end on Alex, thank you so so much for chatting.

Alex Wilhelm
Thank you. People don’t realize that this almost didn’t happen because we were using the first time my inbox I don’t check very often and I kept ghosting you by accident. And I’m very I just wanted to formally apologize for that because it was not intentional. And I I’m glad we pulled this together. It’s a real treat for you to have wanted me to come on. So it’s a real honor, thank you.

Apology completely accepted for ghosting. You know what I took out of that? I’m glad you brought that up because it was a simple mistake, right? I’m emailing an email address to you know, check very often. totally understandable. In my head though, and this is where the self doubt comes in. I feel like I’m better about this, but in my head, I’m like, well, we connected pretty well.

And you know, and we were on board and you know, we had to reschedule and whatnot, and I can’t get hold of him. Like, I don’t want to bother him. Am I bothering him? Maybe I should just stop bothering him. And I thought you know, but I mean, it’s just I What I’m saying is I’m glad that happened because it reminded me that assume positive intent First of all, and second of all, like I don’t need to have that self doubt like you had nothing against me was a complete misunderstanding where I was emailing the wrong email address.

Alex Wilhelm
Not only did I not hold that against you, I had much against me because I would check into the log in the inbox like once a month, because it was the inbox. I had setup in between jobs. I didn’t have a corporate email to put stuff, you know, so I just didn’t check it very often, though my dad emails now so I do have to check it and penny better anyways.

And I would log in and I was like three newsletters and then like two emails to you like, hi. I was like, Oh no, I didn’t check this one I messed up again. And then like, just as waves of guilt would roll down from the heavens. Anyways, we pulled it off.

You know what? It was better than it would have been. And I don’t mean this because of you but because of me. Because I’m looking at so this was about six months prior to today that we initially connected and we’re going to record this interview, and life happens.

But I had prepared for this interview six months ago. So I pulled up my notes today and I got everything, and I’m ready to go. And I was able to, you know, kind of pick out what I wanted there. But I’m reading through my notes and kind of what I initially thought this conversation is going to be like, yeah, and I’m already like, No, no, no, you’ve learned.

Then you’ve learned over the past six months that’s not the kind of cover this is not what you want. This is better for learning that and I thought to myself I I’m so this is one of my favorite conversations ever let me just say that but I’m so glad Alex that we didn’t have this conversation six months ago because it’s richer today than it would have been.

Alex Wilhelm
Ladies and gentlemen, this is why should always have a burner email address. You don’t check. You never know what let’s be optimistic guys. Get yourself 10 No, I’m just just close enough. I know we’re a little bit long. I appreciate you taking the time to listen to people and in to demand that they share what they might not share otherwise, because it does put a new form of communication out there and this is exactly what podcasts I think should be.

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