How I Got Sober: Kate
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How I Got Sober: Kate


There is an almost natural tendency for people in recovery to be dismissive of young folks who come into the rooms, often thinking (and sometimes thoughtlessly saying), “I spilled more than you drank, kid.” Not so with Kate, who got sober a few weeks shy of her 19th birthday.

Kate began drinking at the age of nine, picked up heroin at 13 and became homeless following an early high school graduation at 16. She lived on the streets of Chicago for about seven months, and in addition to the usual problems homeless women addicts endure, was beaten up frequently, had her nose broken multiple times and had a bunch of teeth knocked out with the butt end of a gun when she was being robbed during her short-lived career as a drug dealer. She kicked dope on her own (with the help of booze, she says), moved back in with her parents for a few months, then came to Boston to go to college. She maintained good grades for two years, but her drinking spun out of control and she became an around-the-clock drinker. Four-and-a-half years ago, she got clean and sober. This is her story:

About six months before I got sober, I got pregnant, and I couldn’t stop drinking. My plan was to tell people that I had quit drinking (even though in hindsight no one would have believed me) during my pregnancy because I didn’t want people to think I was a horrible person, but I just couldn’t stop. And because I was drinking so much, I wasn’t eating, so not surprisingly, I miscarried. So the big turning point for me getting sober ended up being my miscarriage and what followed after.

My boyfriend broke up with me after I slid into a horrifying depression and my drinking worsened. I felt like the worst person in the world, and what intensified it was that some people told me as much. People would say, “You did what? How could you? You’re a mother.” I started losing a lot of weight, because that’s when I stopped eating altogether, and that just amped up my drinking. And then I felt so bad about my drinking that I would drink to forget about it and I just couldn’t break the cycle.

After my boyfriend broke up with me, I had no place to live. Looking back, I don’t blame him for kicking me out. Who would have wanted to live with me? I was throwing up blood while I was in bed. It was awful. So I started to go to AA again when I became homeless. I had been in AA before because when I was homeless in Chicago, a young cop who used to pick me up off the street told me to go there because they had food. I would go to meetings (jammed on dope) to eat and I would pick up bogus chips—six months, nine months, 30 days—in totally random order, sometimes just a couple of days apart. People would just say, “Keep coming. You belong here.”

So when I came back four-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t really want to stop drinking, but I knew I had to do something because I just hated my life. I liked meetings and I liked being around people that I had a connection with, and I felt I could fit in with those people, but I just didn’t get the not drinking part. One day a woman came up to me and said, “Why don’t you come tomorrow, and try not to drink between now and then? Your life will get better if you do that.”

So I said okay, because more than anything, I wanted my life to get better. I didn’t really want to be sober, and finding a place to live was still way down the list, but I just wanted things to somehow be better, so I was willing to take any suggestion by that time. I didn’t drink and then came back, then I did it again, and she just kept telling me the same thing, “Don’t drink. And come tomorrow.” I didn’t know how to say no, and I thought I would let her down if I drank, so I didn’t drink and I kept coming.

I was able to get over a week that way, and one day she asked me how I felt. “I feel horrible,” I said. “It’s been eight days, and I’m never going to feel better.”

She looked at me and said, “I never would have walked in that door if I could have done it by myself. Do you think I would be here if it didn’t work? And if it didn’t work, why would I stay?” This woman had recently lost her child in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, and she was going to three meetings a day. And that’s when it really began to take hold for me. She was an incredible woman and she was a power to me, but I lost track of her when I got housing and moved and I’ve never seen her again.

All I did in the beginning was go to meetings and not drink, so I was holding on by my toenails. I was still living at the Pine Street Inn (a “wet” homeless shelter for alcoholics) and still sleeping with my ex-boyfriend, and it was a nightmare, but I didn’t drink or use. After about three months, I joined a group and they gave me the job as the greeter—which I only took because I still didn’t know how to say no. I was such a miserable and angry person that I would practically tell everyone to go fuck themselves as they came in. People would say, “So nice to see you” and I’d be thinking, “I hate you.” I was the worst greeter ever. Then they gave me the coffee job and eventually I became secretary and held the job for two years.

I was able to get housing around that time through a social worker, at a boarding house with six 40-year-old Spanish men who were grad students at a local college, and they were like uncles to me. The social worker also got me a job as a waitress at a popular seafood restaurant. It was a good job, but I reverted to old heroin addict behavior and couldn’t stop stealing while I worked there. Still, I stayed sober. Shortly thereafter, I got a sponsor.

The one I got was just the type I needed. She wasn’t from the “Tough shit, don’t drink” school. I had lots of those people in my life and I needed them, but I didn’t need that in a sponsor. She said, “I want you to know that you’re not alone and you don’t have to tell me everything right away.” And I needed that, because I had beaten myself up so bad. She wouldn’t let me lie to her or get over on her, but she wouldn’t ask me to do things I wasn’t ready to do. I didn’t do the steps until I was a year sober because I couldn’t trust anyone to do a fourth and fifth, and I was still too ashamed of myself. I didn’t even celebrate my first year anniversary because I was still too embarrassed. When I was two years sober, my sponsor relapsed, so I got a new sponsor.

It took me a long time learn how to ask for help from people, and I kept doing things the hard way until I realized that if I didn’t let people help me, I wasn’t going to get the help I needed. I had no problem with the Higher Power, because I grew up Catholic and went to Mass every Sunday even when I was drinking and getting high. But after about two years, it changed into more of a relationship than a ritual.

I went back to school when I was about six months sober, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get up for class or do homework, and I couldn’t read because the words on the page kept moving. But I went back later and graduated summa cum laude. I still work part time as a waitress but I also work in addiction recovery and will go back to school to get involved in policy making.

A lot of people talk about how they grow up in AA, but I literally did and continue to do so. I was a teenager when I got here, and being a teenager is as much a nightmare as being freshly sober is, and I combined the two of them. I was a mess then. I was angry for my entire first year and sad for my entire second year but now I’ve been on an even keel ever since, and have learned to truly enjoy life.

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About Author

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.