People get sober in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they just quit on their own. Sometimes they go to rehab. They show up in 12-step rooms, ashrams, churches and their parents’ basements. There is no one right way—something we’ve aimed to show in our collection of How I Got Sober stories. This is a special edition featuring writer, blogger and regular AfterParty contributor, Kristen:
What is your sobriety date?
June 21, 2011
Where did you get sober?
West Chester, Pennsylvania
When did you start drinking?
My first drink was peppermint Schnapps at a middle school slumber party. It wasn’t enough to get drunk, but I still remember how it burned going down and then floated back up to warm my head.
I started drinking as regularly as I could in high school, always up for anything involving alcohol. I was an anxious, awkward kid and drinking made me feel instantly connected and like I was doing what I wanted to do, even though I literally lost control most times I drank.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Around the time my drinking took off, I’d had my second kid and gone back to work full-time and my husband and I were going through a really ugly, stressful time. I consciously chose drinking as a way to numb anger and pain. I remember feeling alive again for a brief time, but it didn’t take long to lose control over how much I was drinking. I got terrible hangovers that would only go away with another drink, so I started drinking in secret and failed every single time I tried to cut back and moderate.
What was your childhood like? Teenage years?
I had a comfortable, happy childhood. I remember summers at the beach and spending a lot of time outdoors and at friends’ houses. My parents were kind of strict, but they trusted me. As a teenager, I didn’t have a strong sense of who I was or where I belonged and drinking provided a kind of identity. It also ruined what little self-esteem I had because I put myself in degrading, dangerous situations that only made me feel worse. It never occurred to me to just stop drinking.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
After one party in high school, a popular girl called me Alchie (short for alcoholic) which I took as a sort of inevitable compliment. Even then, I knew it was pretty sad.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Any time I went to a party or out to eat or went on social media or even watched TV, alcohol was there…it’s literally everywhere. Denial was easy to slip into since most of my consequences were internal and everyone else seemed to be drinking too. Sobriety would suit so many people, but it takes guts to give up something that’s sold as our birthright from early on.
What do you consider your bottom?
I was seeing a counselor when I quit and she said it sounded like I got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. And that was it, exactly. There wasn’t anything specific, but I remember clinging to a doorway on a Friday night and saying to my husband that I would quit that Monday and for him to leave me alone until then. I don’t know if he knew I was serious or if I even knew, but something about saying it to someone else made it real.
That Monday came and I realized I needed a day to taper off instead. It was the same day Ryan Dunn (of Jackass fame) drove drunk into a tree down the road from where I live, killing himself and a friend. For the next week or so, people stopped on the side of the road to take pictures of the crash site and leave notes and even a bottle of whiskey. Someone spray painted “drunk drivers are losers” or something like that on an underpass. It was a sobering backdrop and reminder of where alcohol takes some of us.
Did you go to rehab?
Did you go to AA? If so, what did you think of it at first? How do you feel about it now?
I started going to AA about two weeks sober because my counselor told me to “build up my sober support network” and that sounded important and I wanted to please her. I called on someone who I knew didn’t drink and he took me to my first meeting.
I’m not sure I would have gone on my own, so I’m grateful to him for showing me it was just a room full of nice people who wanted to help. I mostly listened and felt as at-home as a person can feel in a room full of strangers.
I stopped going to meetings about a year and a half in. Going put a strain on my family’s schedule and I felt like I had a solid base of recovery. I was writing a sober blog and had a strong online support network. I also took up running and got really into that. I have been back to a couple of meetings since then and I always recommend at least trying it out. Meetings aren’t anything like I was expecting and I still turn to ideas and sayings I first heard there.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Feeling apart from drinkers still bothers me at times.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I don’t have to sleepwalk through life anymore. If I hadn’t had a problem, I wouldn’t know I’m actually more comfortable sober at social events. I wouldn’t have the energy or staying power for the work and hobbies I do now. I wouldn’t be a present parent to my kids. The gifts are endless.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Keeping in regular contact with other sober people, learning to set aside worries over things I can’t do anything about right now and going to bed early.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
No, but five years sober I appreciate the clichés and slogans a lot more than I did in the beginning.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I get to be a sober, present parent to my two beautiful, sweet girls. I can’t ask for anything more than that, though I’ve gotten much more.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I worked the first eight steps formally with a sponsor but got hung up on making amends. I like to think I work an informal but still meaningful program based on those principles.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
There are many ways to get and stay sober. What works now might change to something else later—and that’s okay. Sobriety might seem hard or boring now, but one day you’ll realize how much drinking was holding you back and how you never really needed it at all.
Photo courtesy of Kristen Rybandt; used with permission. Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.