A Calgarian's decade-long struggle with alcoholism, a failed liver and his newfound quest for sobriety
Twelve years ago, Calgary native Andrew Killam was living the type of lifestyle that he and his friends had always dreamed of. He and his best friend had just moved into an apartment together and the two of them were beginning to establish themselves as credible artists in the Calgary rap scene.
Killam's Mayfair Place apartment on the corner of Elbow Drive S.W. and Glenmore Trail S.W. quickly became the central hub for local artists to hang out, work on their lyrics, and most importantly, to party and to drink to their hearts' content.
But the partying and drinking never stopped for Killam. Drinking became a way of life and the unadulterated thrills and debauchery that accompanied it was something Killam grew very fond of. He developed a taste for the combination of vodka, 7-Up and cranberry juice — so much so that for the next 10 years, not a day went by for Killam without its numbing, sugary companionship.
"I was drinking a two-six of vodka every single night. Our apartment became the place to go for people to come and get hammered," Killam said. "It was a joke for me at the time to be an alcoholic. It was something I was almost perversely proud of."
Before long, Killam's rap career had all but fizzled out. Whereas he had once been driven to write lyrics, record songs and perform live rap sets throughout Calgary, his need to drink and party eventually superseded it all.
"In a way us quitting music was tied to the drinking," Killam recalled, now 35-years-old. "Everything became about getting drunk and next thing you know I'd be too drunk to even look at the paper."
If the allures of the party lifestyle he faced at home weren't enough to fully enthrall him into alcoholism, Killam's various part-time jobs over the last decade as a waiter at nearby Macleod Trail restaurants closed the deal.
"It was a joke for me at the time to be an alcoholic. It was something I was almost perversely proud of."
– Andrew Killam.
"The restaurant industry destroyed me," Killam explained. "Every night of the week, people who closed the restaurant hung out after their shift and just got slaughtered.
"That kind of kick-started me down that path and I got to the point where I was drinking before and after work."
In 2006, in an effort to escape the party scene of his apartment, Killam moved out on his own. Unfortunately, his addiction went along with him and instead of finding improvement, Killam saw his life get drastically worse.
"My situation turned out to be worse because when I lived with friends I was drinking with friends but when I lived by myself I was drinking alone," Killam reflected. "My friends would ask me to hang out and I would make excuses to come home and drink."
"I'd still go out with my friends but it was once a week. The other six nights they would ask me to hang out and I'd tell them I was tired or not feeling up to it. And I'd just go home and drink a two-six."
And while Killam's daily drinking was starting to affect his social life, it also began to affect his pocket book.
Killam needed to earn at least $60 per shift in order to fund the drinks he'd have after work. He spent a minimum of $150 per week on alcohol to replenish his liquor cabinet. Any additional savings he might have held on to dissipated amidst blurred nights of insobriety.
"I spent nearly every dime I had on booze," Killam said. "I was making restaurant money and saving none of it. By the end I probably spent about $200,000 on alcohol."
The end Killam refers to came in the form of a serious illness on July 4th, 2011. He was 31.
Despite his efforts to conceal his sickness, Killam arrived for his 4:30 p.m. shift at The Keg Steakhouse & Bar looking visibly jaundiced and thin. Fortunately for Killam, his friend and manager Kristin Faubert was working that evening and upon taking one look at him, instructed another staff member to take him directly to the hospital.
“All of a sudden a switch went off and I knew I had to stop or I was actually going to die.”
– Andrew Killam
Faubert said that seeing him that sick was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for her. She knew he had been heading down a dark path and seeing him in that state was something she could not remain idle about any longer.
"Before he got sick, I witnessed a slow but steady regression. Not only in his exterior but in his will," Faubert said. "He didn't care about much and he certainly didn't care about others and how it affected them."
But in that moment Killam did care enough about Faubert's feelings to make the drive to the hospital. And he cared enough about his co-worker to at least pretend to agree to seek help and walk through those hospital doors. But as his escort drove away, Killam walked out of the hospital, lit a cigarette and made his escape to the nearest bus stop.
"My only thought was, 'If I go in there and something is seriously wrong with me, I'm scared that they're going to see the shape I'm in.
"They're going to see that every day I made sure my stomach was empty so I could put more booze in it.'"
But as the sparks from his discarded cigarette splashed over the pavement, Killam had a moment of clarity.
"I was so close to going home and I remember at the end of the cigarette I just told myself, 'Just go in right now Andrew. You don't feel right. Life is messed up. You should go in.' So I went in," Killam recalled.
And for the first time in a very long time, Killam sought help.
After checking in, Killam was immediately hooked up to an IV and given straight shots of potassium to combat his dangerous deficiency. Shortly thereafter he received the news he was dreading to hear.
"The doctor told me my liver had failed and that if I had one more drink I would have gone into complete liver shutdown," Killam said. "He told me that if I had had one more drink I could have died. All of a sudden a switch went off and I knew I had to stop or I was actually going to die."
When Killam finally got home that evening, close to 11 p.m., he did what he usually did — he went straight for his vodka. But what he did with it next was something he never thought he would be able to do.
"It sounds like a cliché but the minute I got home I grabbed my two-six of vodka and I poured it down the sink," Killam said. "I couldn't even have it in my house because I knew if I had it I would take a drink."
"I knew I was addicted. I switched gears immediately. I thought that if I'm not going to drink I'm going to put all of that energy into getting healthy."
Thanks to a strong blend of support mixed with sheer willpower, Killam has been sober for over three years now and is as healthy as he's ever been. His transformation has been evident to everyone around him — not only in his physical condition, but the way he carries himself — an apartment blooming with adornment, a dresser robust with new clothes, a swagger in his step.
"He's more well rounded now. He's uplifting. He cares," Faubert said. "It's like two completely different people. He has a new lease on life."
Killam's close friend, Tyler Arishenkoff, who witnessed the steady decline and subsequent revival, echoes Faubert's sentiment.
"He's changed a lot. He's really starting to get his life together, taking care of himself and eating healthier," Arishenkoff said. "He is a happier person. He has goals in his life that he wants to accomplish now that he's not focused on getting wasted all the time."
Killam is now hopeful that his battle with alcoholism will be an example for others — especially his friends who struggle with alcohol addiction and abuse. But so far it hasn't gone as he had hoped.
"I was hoping that my ordeal would touch some of my friends a little bit to the point where they might be willing to admit they have a problem," Killam said. "Or maybe they could talk to me and see what the first step is because I went through it."
"But that hasn't happened," Killam said. "My friends are my friends and I would never try to change them. People know my opinion. In the end it has to be their decision to quit just as it was my decision to quit."
In the spirit of starting anew, Killam now plans to go back to school to earn a degree in hotel and restaurant management. In the meantime he's managing at Limericks Traditional Public House on Macleod Trail while he completes an online prep course.
While many in a similar situation wouldn't actively pursue an industry so saturated with the distribution and consumption of alcohol, Killam believes he can attain mastery over his addiction. He even hopes to one day have a drink or two again.
"My plan is to drink eventually but I won't drink until I'm ready and I know I'm in control," Killam explained. "I'd like to get to the point where I can have one or two drinks and then stop."
Arishenkoff believes that Killam will succeed and that his lack of self-control and overindulgence are things of the past.
"If he does drink again I don't think it will be a problem. I don't think he's the person he used to be," Arishenkoff said. "It's all a matter of whether the time is right and if he's ready."
Faubert regards this plan with cautious optimism.
"If he's in a place in his life where he thinks he can control it, I can't fault him for that," said Faubert. "If he gets that clearance, all the power to him."
And while Killam states that a recent clean bill of health from his doctor has given him the physical clearance to drink again, he is waiting for his own personal prognosis.
"I'd like to be able to have nights like my birthday or New Years Eve where I can drink with friends," said Killam. "I want to appreciate alcohol instead of abuse alcohol like I used to."
- By DANIEL BALL