How I Got Sober: Steve

How I Got Sober: Steve

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This post was originally published on July 13, 2015.

J.K. Rowling once said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation from which I built my life.” For a lot of alcoholics, that usually means that booze was the final convincer. Not so for Steve, who largely stopped drinking when he discovered crack. But that soon turned out to be an even bigger nightmare than the booze, and he got sober. This is his story:

I’ve always had a problem with booze, and I’m definitely an alcoholic, but that’s not what actually brought me into AA. I came in because crack was absolutely destroying my life, or at least putting the finishing touches on what booze had started long ago.

When I was 15, I was stealing beer out of convenience stores and, by the age of 16, I was drinking with the homeless guys down on the railroad tracks after my friends had finished drinking and gone home. I drank my way out of a marriage, a white-collar job and then blue-collar jobs as I got worse, but it wasn’t until I found crack that I got “bad enough” to get sober.

I started doing crack one night when I was pretty drunk and met this chick who asked me if I wanted to get high. I was game and told her that I had some pretty good weed. “No,” she said. “I mean crack.” I had never smoked crack before, but I really wanted to get laid, so I went home with her. We got high and fucked, and it was the most incredible sexual experience of my life. From then on, that was the feeling I associated with crack, and I spent the next 18 months trying to find that same high. After that, the only thing I wanted to use booze for was landing gear (to come down from the crack), so I guess you could say crack cured my booze habit.

Consequences came very quickly, though. I lost my landscaping job the next day because I showed up late and told my boss about my new-found love—crack. Apparently, he knew how crackheads operated and fired me on the spot. But losing my job was just the beginning of my downward slide.

I moved back in with my mother, as I had done every time I got into trouble with the booze. But this time was different. My mother was an end-stage alcoholic and, in the past, I would always encourage her to go to detox and wouldn’t enable her. Now I was buying her booze so that she’d be passed out when I brought the crack girls home and we did our thing. I financed my crack habit by cashing in my 401K from the white-collar banking job I had lost a few years before, and I smoked up tens of thousands of dollars in about nine months.

Just as the money was running out, my mother had a withdrawal seizure and went into the hospital, and I was made her health care proxy. She took a turn for the worse and my sister and I decided we would just stop life support because she was so sick. But while she was dying, I was on a crack run and she passed away without me even showing up.

I went into a detox between the time she died and the funeral, and everybody felt bad for me. I told them I was sober even though I wasn’t and I played the pity card for the next nine months. After I used up my mother’s money, I got some money from my Dad and, when he caught on to my bullshit, I started working day labor. I’d work all day and each night I’d bring home $54 and buy a $40 piece to smoke with the crackhead girl I took up with. It was miserable.

The girl eventually left me for another crack guy and, because I never paid my rent, the landlord ran out of patience and said he wanted me out. I just kept making excuses and wouldn’t leave, and we finally had a huge screaming match and I stormed off. I headed to the liquor store to buy a 40-ounce with the last couple of dollars in change that I had and, on the way there, I started walking behind an old lady. I had a knife in my pocket and I decided to rob her to get money to buy some crack.

But that’s when my life changed.

I’d like to tell you that I didn’t rob the old lady because I thought it was wrong, but the truth is that I realized that there would be no place safe to smoke the crack even if I had the money, since my landlord wasn’t going to let me back into my apartment. The only place I could go would be back to the tracks where I used to drink with the homeless bums when I was 16, and that memory jolted me into realizing how little my life had changed in the past 20 years.

I went and got the 40-ounce but I never opened it. Instead, I went to the landlord and just broke down in tears. I told him everything and asked him to bring me to a detox. He had me pour out the 40 and, on the way to the facility, he told me I needed to find God. I thought he was a freak, but he was also a really nice guy and he seemed to know what to do. I hadn’t drunk in a while, but it was a dual-diagnosis facility, so I told them I was going to kill myself and they had to admit me.

After a few days, they shipped me off to another dual diagnosis facility, where they kept me for another week. A counselor gave me this little rock that had “First Things First” painted on it, so I went to a meeting the day I got out. I sat down and listened, and I felt like they were talking right at me, and about me, and that’s when the “coincidences” started piling up.

Somebody gave me a copy of the Big Book, but then I won the raffle and the prize was a bumper sticker that said—you guessed it—“First Things First.” I was living at a shelter, but I soon got a bed in a holding facility in Cambridge, just outside of Boston. It was a wet/dry shelter, but I was on the dry side, waiting to get into a halfway house.

I went to a meeting at a nearby hospital one night, and I heard this guy speak. He had been a pretty bad drunk who ended up drinking Listerine at the end, but now he had a few years sober and I wanted what he seemed to have. He wasn’t talking about how awesome his life was, but more about how shitty his life had been and how it wasn’t like that anymore. I couldn’t really listen to people who only talked about the good stuff when they spoke, and he was saying what I needed to hear. He gave me a ride back to the holding facility and became my sponsor soon after.

I joined his group and he got me doing service right away. I set up and cleaned up the halls and went to lots of meetings and detox commitments. Those commitments were important because when I first got sober, I thought I was just a crack addict and that booze wasn’t really my problem. But by telling my story over and over again, I realized that booze was a huge part of my problem and that I couldn’t drink. I also started traveling with a pack: Me, my sponsor and three other guys. Two of those other guys are still sober, but one died from a heroin overdose last year.

After a few months, I got into a halfway house. I was still staying sober, but I didn’t really think I was going to make it, so I started planning my relapse party. I had a job and I started saving up my money for a crack run. I also started arguing with my sponsor about how many meetings I was (or wasn’t) going to, so one night I told him I was going to fire him. He just laughed at me and said sarcastically, “Please don’t do that! I’ll jump off the fucking Tobin Bridge!”

When the obsession to smoke crack finally got unbearable, I called him up.

“I want to smoke crack,” I said. “It’s all I can fucking think about.”

“Don’t!” he said. “Are you praying?’

“Yeah. I’m praying,” I said, but I knew I was only faking it.

“Try fucking begging then,” he said.

I toughed it out that day, but when I woke up the next morning, the obsession was worse than ever. At 5 am, I was in the train station on my way to work and I was about to say “Fuck it” and just go get high. But I remembered what my sponsor had said and I just got right down on my knees and started begging for the obsession to smoke crack to go away. I got up and I didn’t think about crack for the rest of the day.

I was good for a while, but the obsession came back, mostly, I think, because I stopped praying. One day I couldn’t take it anymore, and I was definitely going to go and get some crack. Even though the prayer had worked before, I still kind of thought it was bullshit, but I got down on my knees and begged. And it worked. The obsession went away and it really hasn’t come back since, and that was over eight years ago.

I also called up my stepmother and told her to change the access code on the bank account she set up for me so that I couldn’t get to my money—in case the obsession came back. I owed the IRS a lot of dough from cashing out my 401K and I was afraid that if I had my own account, they would seize my money. That’s the day I finally decided I wanted to be sober and was willing to do whatever I had to do to stay that way.

Of course, it helps that I continue to go to meetings and try to stay as active in my recovery as I can. I met a woman when we were both a year sober and we got married a few years ago. We bought a house and we now we have a son who is the light of my life. Life is pretty damn good. And so is the sex—even without crack.

Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.

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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.