How I Got Sober: Danielle
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How I Got Sober: Danielle


This post was originally published on August 8, 2014.

Sometimes I can’t believe I ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous. Most of the time, I can’t even believe I am sober; it’s just so not me.

Not that I was the quintessential drunk or anything (although now that I understand alcoholism, I could beg to differ). I wasn’t even close to what I thought an alcoholic should look like. I was young and pretty, had a ton of friends, plenty of suitors, a decent car, my own fabulous apartment and a job that I hated—I was just a normal 27-year-old single girl living in LA. Except for the fact that I was utterly miserable.

When I tell people that I am sober, they always want to know what happened—did I get a DUI? Had I been fired for being drunk? Did I fuck an Ethiopian cab driver? What was the big event that forced me to go to AA because surely no one in their right mind would do that willingly. And they are right—I wasn’t in my right mind the morning of November 12, 2003 when I walked into the 7:30 am meeting at the Log Cabin in West Hollywood; I was desperate for help. And if I ever question that desperation, all I have to do is remember that I was dressed and sober at 7:30 am.

This is what I was like: I loved to party, and drinking and drugs were a big part of that; so was wearing trendy clothes, going to trendy bars and having casual sex with strangers. These are all things I loved to do and things my friends at the time loved to do. Some of us were better at it than others; meaning, some of my friends were always up for going out and having a few drinks but many of them were cool to catch a buzz, give out their phone number, grab some Taco Bell and call it a night. And sometimes that is how my evenings turned out, but I certainly wasn’t ever cool with that. Those were nights I filed as epic failures because the lack of drama disappointed me. But at 27, it’s still kind of hard to tell what is normal and what is the gateway to incomprehensible demoralization.

Little by little, I started weeding out the friends that didn’t like to party the way I did. There is nothing more infuriating for a budding alcoholic than that friend who always wants to leave the bar before it closes. What a drag it is to have one of those wet blanket cock blockers in tow! In many ways, those friends are the social equivalent of drinking hand sanitizer: I had to have someone to go out with and sometimes they were the only ones available.

So I stayed close to my like-minded whore friends who were always good for a humiliating and hilarious story exchange the morning after a good night out. We would meet up at some local diner with mascara-smeared faces, still in the outfit from the night before, and laugh about how our hands smelled like some guy’s balls. Then we would spend the rest of the day laying on one of our respective couches, paging through US Weekly magazine and judging celebrities, while intermittently exchanging thoughts that justified our vapid lifestyle. Ah, those were the days.

If that doesn’t seem abnormal or problematic to you—I don’t blame you; it didn’t to me either. And it might have been fine if I weren’t so internally hyper-focused on bar hopping, hooking up with guys and managing the inevitable consequences of both. I wasn’t interested in real life—building a career, saving money, growing up. I used the destructive cycle of heavy drinking and promiscuity to hide from my fear of reality and becoming an adult. Because I never really got to be a kid—something I just realized now as I am writing this. While I am genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism, my chaotic home life and subsequent traumatizing high school experience never allowed me to fully develop and the discomfort of what was rocket fuel for my drinking.

Sometime during the summer of 2003, I stopped being able to connect with people. Even in a crowded bar I felt alone, probably because I was—I had taken to going out to bars by myself when none of my friends were available (it’s surprisingly hard to find a drinking buddy at midnight on a Monday). I felt as if I was trapped behind glass as I went through the motions of my life and nothing fixed it—no amount of alcohol, random men in my bed or shopping sprees could break me out. All my go-to coping mechanisms had stopped working and it was terrifying.

In August, I met Bryan at a bar. But he wasn’t the usual pathetic, Valley dive bar bottom feeder I had become accustomed to; he was a very nice and normal guy with a decent job, a decent car and a good group of friends. He was cute and tall and a great kisser. We went on a few dates and I really liked him. He seemed stable enough to save me from my increasingly depressing and repetitive life. And he did, although I don’t think he realized it.

This is what happened: I woke up on a Sunday morning and realized I had drunk dialed Bryan. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I know it was something overly sexual and way beyond the level of familiarity we had at that point. We were taking things slow and I think I had yet to even be naked in front of him and I said something to the effect of asking when was he going to take that rock hard dick and fuck me, or something poetic like that. I was mortified. Of course, Bryan thought it was sexy and adorable but I knew I had crossed the line. It just wasn’t the way I wanted to go about this relationship—it was the way I always did things, the way that never worked. I didn’t want him to see that side of me (just yet). But when there is booze in my system, all bets are off. And that is ultimately what it came down to for me—that when I am drinking, something else is in control. Maybe that thing wants to drink more than I should or maybe that thing wants to sleep with my best friend’s husband; either way, I don’t have a say in the matter. But I am always the one who pays for it.

The next day, I called an old partying friend who I knew would be able to relate to waking up in a shit-storm of shame and embarrassment. As kizmet would have it, she was four days sober, planning to go to an AA meeting the next day and asked if I wanted to join her. And to me, that is God. I wasn’t sure if alcohol was my problem or just my current enemy but I was willing to investigate. So the next morning, at 7:30 am, I was sitting next to her at my first AA meeting and two days after that, on November 14, 2003, I had my last drink (a fucking vodka cranberry—if I had known it was going to be my last drink, I never would have gone out like that).

At first, I loved AA; it felt like free therapy. I loved being in a room full of people who wanted to better their lives and were willing to openly talk about it. Then I hated AA; I fell in with a cliquey and judgmental group that told me if I was late to a meeting I was going to get “loaded,” a word I had never heard before and frankly sounded overly dramatic. They told me if I didn’t go to the same meetings every week and take commitments there, I was going to get loaded. If I didn’t get a sponsor, go to fellowship, help a sober person move, I was going to get loaded. Going to meetings began to feel like going back to high school. I hit my wit’s end with it and was about to go back to drinking when someone suggested I try going to different meetings. I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me before. This was my first introduction to the “disease” part of my alcoholism—my warped, often black-and-white thinking. I truly convinced myself that my only choices were to go to those meetings or drink again. It was either all or nothing—the same irrational rationale that kept me completely unaware of the fact that I had been drinking and using to operate my life.

So I took the suggestion and starting going to different meetings and finally found my home—or not really a home but more a bunch of pierced and tattooed former junkies who didn’t judge my lateness or my anger or my unwillingness to get involved in a sober outing to Six Flags. They listened to me bitch, cry, whine and complain and never did a Goddamned thing except clap and tell me to keep coming back. Through their silent acceptance, I grew to trust the group and the process of staying sober. I found a sponsor who was willing to call me until I trusted her enough to call her back. At five-and-a-half months of sobriety, I was elected secretary of my home group meeting and that carried me through my first year.

So while, yes, I have had plenty of nights when I was too drunk to drive but did anyway, I have lost at least one job I know of as a result of my drinking and I once woke up in bed with an Ethiopian cab driver, none of these things make me an alcoholic. What makes me an alcoholic is that when I put booze or drugs into my system, I don’t know what is going to happen; I lose the choice to make a choice. As a result, my life becomes unmanageable and I am filled with fear, despair and thoughts of suicide.

This is what it is like now: I am 10 years and eight months sober. I am deeply grateful to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous for teaching me how to stop drinking and find true inner happiness and peace. Because sobriety for me is not just about not drinking—if it was, I would have left AA long ago—but about transformation and doing the work to be free from the fears and insecurities and self-hatred that plagued me and led me to drink and act out the way I did. And while there are around 88 men (and a couple of women) between Boston and Los Angeles who have reaped some benefits from that time (you know who you are), I am thankful to have come through that and be where I am now. That’s not to say that I don’t still have fun and make a ton of mistakes. But I feel secure knowing that I am the one doing it and not some drunken, damaged version of me.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.