CHICAGO — Steven Fusak recently returned from a grueling trek through the Himalayas, but the mountain he climbed before he arrived at the base of Mt. Everest may be a more fulfilling accomplishment.
Fusak, 30, has been sober for three years.
He graduated from Purdue University and got a sales job outside of Chicago. Soon after, he was promoted and moved to Atlanta. The pressure of travel and the lure of liquor proved to be a dangerous combination.
“I was looking forward to getting off work,” Fusak said. “I could kill a 12-pack of beers in one night.”
Drinking had become a problem.
“I had really been abusing it a lot,” he said. “Noticing me having the need to do it, rather than doing it as a social thing anymore.”
Drunken nights would end in blackouts and unexplained injuries.
“I didn’t know when to stop,” he said. “You get me going and I’m drinking like water until I’m blacking out.”
Alcoholism runs in his family, he said. The disease led to his parent’s divorce and a soured relationship with his father, which both are working to repair.
On Aug. 22, 2019, he quit “cold turkey.”
This year, to commemorate the long journey of sobriety his girlfriend had an idea. They would turn their love of hiking into a trek through the Himalayan mountains – a symbolic way to show what he’s overcome.
He hauled a backpack that weighed 10 to 20 pounds.
“Going uphill, up the mountain, at a pretty steep elevation anywhere from 6 to 10 miles at a time,” he said.
He said it rained for six to eight hours a day and as the elevation increased, the temperature plunged. The trek would be to the 18,000-foot peak of Mount Kala Patthar.
“It feels like you’re in like Lord of the Rings, or some like unknown alien planet,” he said. “It’s just something so out of the ordinary of what you’re used to seeing all around you.”
During his time in the mountains, he said he connected with nature and experienced eastern methods of mediation, which have helped him deal with his grandmother Norma Fusak’s death last month.
Back in Chicago, he is challenging himself with a new job: working security at Gold Coast Social, a live music bar on Division Street.
It’s an unusual choice – a recovering alcoholic working where temptation flows every night – but it’s also a statement of the strength found in sobriety, which he likens to his trek through the mountains.
“You can’t stop. You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to turn around and wait for the rain to stop,’” he said. “No, you just keep walking. Sometimes you keep walking until you get to your destination.”
In memoriam of Steven’s Grandmother Norma Fusak