How I Got Sober: John K.

How I Got Sober: John K.

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This post was originally published on June 16, 2015.

For a lot of alcoholics who decided that they can no longer deal with the consequences of drinking, weed seems like the perfect substitute. And while some of the more catastrophic consequences go usually away with the switch, it doesn’t always work out as well as they’d hoped. When John stopped drinking but kept on smoking weed, he found that it didn’t work very well for him as a standalone drug. This is his story.  

During the last few years of my boozing, I was drinking every day to get drunk. And while blackouts were a regular thing, I accepted them as part of life. I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic because I went to work every day and paid my rent on time. Most of the guys I worked with were also heavy hitters, so none of them were going to call me out for being a shitty employee or showing up hung over. And to the few people in my life who thought I drank too much and called me on it, I would just respond by saying, “What? Don’t you like partying?”

The thing is, though, it really wasn’t partying anymore. I was drinking because I was still deluding myself that it was still going to be like it was when it used to be fun, even though it hadn’t been that way for years. At the very end, I was drinking to not have to think or deal with life, but it wasn’t really doing the trick anymore. All the paranoid fears and the negative thinking that booze used to take away were back–only now they were worse than ever.

So I was completely fucking miserable—and then one day this light bulb went on in my head and I thought, “Maybe therapy is the answer.” I don’t know where the idea came from (except that I knew something felt very wrong) because I had never been in therapy before and had never even considered it. But I was looking for a solution—maybe a little therapy and some meds—so I called them.

The woman who answered the phone told me she could make an appointment for me. Was there anything specific I needed help with, she asked? I hadn’t planned on mentioning anything about my drinking, but it just came out: “I think I might have a problem with alcohol.”

I was shocked. The words came out of my mouth and it was like one of those things where you go, “Who said that? You’ve got to be shitting me.” It was like letting the cat out of the bag when you didn’t even know there was one in there.

She decided I didn’t need a detox even though, in retrospect, I probably did considering how much whiskey and beer I had been drinking on a daily basis. So she sent me to this brand new program and one of the counselors described alcoholism to me in a way that made sense. He said that if you take a drink and you have an uncontrollable compulsion to drink more, then you are probably an alcoholic. I knew that was me because I wouldn’t even start drinking if there wasn’t enough booze to get me drunk.

The program also made a clear distinction between alcoholics and addicts, which was a mistake (and why the program ultimately failed, I think). I remember being the only alcoholic in the room, and the rest of the 20 or so people were crack or heroin addicts. The counselor would say, “If you’re an addict, you definitely can’t do drugs, and you probably shouldn’t drink; and if you’re an alcoholic, you definitely can’t drink, and probably shouldn’t do drugs.” Like a good drunk, I only heard “probably” and “shouldn’t,” and since I was hearing it from a professional in a professional setting, I knew it was okay to smoke weed. Every day.

The real problem was that I didn’t know how to function without doing something. After the program, the counselors recommended AA for me, but I thought AA was for people who couldn’t stop drinking, and I already had, so I decided I didn’t have to go. So I’m getting high every day, and I’m getting really, really angry. The booze may not have been working, but it was better than this. Weed didn’t work the same without the booze and I didn’t even like it, but I kept doing it, because I had to do something.

So the pain got worse, like it had before I called the therapist, and one day the thought came to me, “Maybe if I went to an AA meeting, I’d feel better.” And I don’t know why I thought that. I didn’t know anybody who went to AA, I had no connection to AA, and I didn’t even know where the meetings were. But I ended up at one on a Friday night. I don’t remember much about it or anybody who was there, but one thing I do remember was this guy at the podium.

He was an older guy, and he pointed his finger out straight and said, “If you’re still smoking pot—you’re not sober.” And as soon as I heard it, I understood what he meant. I finally had an answer as to why I was still so miserable, and I put down the weed.

I started going to meetings but I hung out at the back and didn’t talk to anyone. After a few meetings, this guy Bob came up and talked to me, and thank God he did, because I don’t think I would have lasted much longer. He knew I was new because I had that scared rabbit look. He was sober for almost a year and that sounded like forever. He was setting up the hall and he asked me to come back the next week and help him. He got me to join the group and I became the coffee maker.

Bob told me to get a sponsor who had long-term sobriety and was active in AA. I ended up getting this guy Don, who I heard speak one night at a meeting. He was a drunk like me but he had 14 years sober and, more importantly, he had this great calm about him. He gave me two conditions—I had to call him every day and get on my knees every morning and ask for help. I told him I could call him, but I didn’t know about the getting on my knees part, because I wasn’t sure about the whole God thing.

He told me it didn’t matter who I prayed to, as long as I prayed, and if I didn’t feel better in a few weeks, we could discuss it then. So I did start praying and I did start to feel better, so I kept doing it. And if there is any advice I would give new people today, it’s this: Take the suggestions and do them, then decide if they work or not. They may not make sense at first, but I rarely hear anybody say that getting a (good) sponsor, praying, joining a group and doing step work or service was a bad thing for them.

I did have one slip and, even though it wasn’t a full blown relapse, it did fuck me up mentally for a while. I had been sober for just over two years and I was in a new job, and when we went out after work, I didn’t want them to know I didn’t drink. So when somebody plopped a beer down in front of me, my healthy mind didn’t say, “Don’t drink no matter what,” my sick mind said, “You might as well get it over with,” and I downed it. I didn’t drink any more and called my sponsor, who told me to just get to a meeting.

I had to change my sobriety date, which really pissed me off, and I stayed mad at AA and my sponsor for a while. My disease was telling me that since I wasn’t sober anymore, that I should just go on a run, but luckily I had built a foundation and knew that drinking would lead to the usual misery. I struggled, and didn’t have a sponsor or a group for a while, but eventually I realized that I was the one who was suffering, so I went back to doing the drill and the crisis passed. That was over 20 years ago and I haven’t picked up a drink or a drug since.

I now live a life that I wouldn’t have been able to imagine even when I was in early sobriety. And I’m not talking about the outside stuff, like the kind of car I drive. I actually like myself and the way that I deal with other people. That’s something I could never say before I got sober and stayed in recovery long enough for me to change into the person I was supposed to be all along.

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Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.