This post was originally published on October 10, 2016.
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. While we initially published these as either first person essays by our contributors or as interviews with anonymous sober folks, we eventually began to realize that there were other stories to tell: yours. This is our reader spotlight and this, more specifically, is C. Scott:
What is your sobriety date?
September 20, 2014
Where did you get sober?
Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, Georgia.
When did you start drinking?
I began drinking each weekend during my last year of high school. By the time I got to college, I was drinking almost daily and suffering mild withdrawals.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
For several years, I balanced drinking nightly with high achievement in finance and business. This deteriorated to the point that I had to drink in the mornings. I lost three jobs before I quit drinking for good and my life had become a series of terrifying hallucinations. I hated alcohol and really wanted to stop.
What were your childhood and teenage years like?
I was adopted from an alcoholic mother, whose drinking while I was in the womb damaged my hearing. My childhood with my parents was normal and wonderful. In high school, I was a star athlete and won academic honors.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
In college, I realized my hangovers were not the same as others. No one else wanted to drink as much or as badly as I did. For them, it was an option. For me, it was a physical, aching need that would get worse and not better if I abstained.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Since I did not have really negative consequences until well after college, I rationalized that I was a “high functioning alcoholic.” I actually read Hemingway novels because I figured I could become successful while still addicted, just like him. I knew I had a problem but I thought it was glamorous.
What do you consider your bottom?
My bottom was the end of a relationship I thought would culminate in marriage. I felt that I had been treated unfairly, but also knew I left my significant other of two years without any real explanation. I attempted to quit drinking and ended up drinking a frightening amount. Realizing that I could not physically quit without having a seizure, I opened up to my family and admitted myself into rehab.
Where did you go to rehab?
Talbott Recovery and I would recommend it to anyone.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
I had two distinct “ah ha” moments in rehab. A very old but revered counselor responded to my question about a Higher Power with, “Learn to take pleasure in the mystery of the universe—perhaps you don’t need to know everything.” I’ve been less stressed every since.
The second was during a day that I’d had a great, healthy meal and a hard workout—and I realized that the euphoria I sought with alcohol was possible with healthy living. This led to my conviction that the addicted person’s inherent state of restlessness—which might be a permanent brain condition—can be cured by ongoing fitness, nutrition and holistic methods.
Did you go to AA?
I went to AA during rehab (daily) and then I went for two months afterward.
What did you think of it at first? How do you feel about it now?
I did not let myself judge AA while in rehab. I think in early recovery, it’s important to let go and work a program. After rehab, as my brain began to rewire, I began to see that AA gave people a sense of mission and interpersonal bonds. These are two things that I’ve never lacked in my life. I had a physical addiction to alcohol that needed to be broken and replaced with the things I knew I was born to do all along: fitness and entrepreneurship. I respect AA but did not need it for longer than a few months.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I worked the 12 steps after leaving rehab, with a sponsor who was very helpful. Ultimately, I did not want to live my life meeting to meeting. I think AA offers useful rules of thumb—for example, give your worries over to a Higher Power that can help you put your problems in perspective and don’t blame others for your shortcomings.
My vision for recovery is more holistic and mind-body intensive. My restlessness is not cured by sitting in meetings or a psychologist’s office, or taking prescription drugs to fall asleep. I feel 100 times better after hitting the weights or sparring with my kickboxing partner.
Physicality is integral to my recovery. My mind is strong in large part because my body is strong—and vice versa. I feel great on a daily basis, which would not be the case if I ignored my body. Feeling great is empowering. I think that there are others like me who feel the same way, who do not feel “powerless” after reaching a certain point in recovery.
What else did you do to seek help (besides rehab)?
After I stopped attending AA, I continued my fitness regimen and outlined a new direction for my life. Lifting weights and martial arts training are my meditation, therapy and religion combined into one. Aggression heals repression. I’m a firm believer that fitness is way more than personal vanity.
Since I lost my job in finance, I became a personal trainer. I also started my blog, Fit Recovery, which is an ongoing project to help like-minded people in recovery. I’ve since become a trainer at a higher-end gym and started a company that makes herbal, non-alcoholic relaxation beverages.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Perhaps my cross addiction to fitness, entrepreneurship and writing have helped me to form a new identity. I no longer refer to myself as an “alcoholic,” although I will never touch a drink again. I have no problem saying this because the idea of drinking, given what it did to me in the past, seems very silly and unappealing. I’d rather get high drinking coffee in the early morning while getting stuff done. At night, I’d rather make chamomile tea and read a book while taking an epsom salt bath.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love that I hit bottom, got better and never looked back. The whole process was traumatic at first. But in retrospect, it provided the kind of mental clarity that some people hike Mount Everest to achieve.
In my experience, it’s only possible to miss alcohol addiction if you allow yourself to think that alcohol provides something of value. I have non-alcoholic friends who are jealous of me because I enjoy dinners and weddings without drinking. I tell them, if they get hammered once a week this year, that’s 50 weeks that I’ll feel better, wake up earlier and get more done.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
- Connection to a Higher Power.
- Fitness knowledge.
- Holistic knowledge.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
Kicking the bottle for good helped me to reestablish interpersonal bonds that would have been lost if I had procrastinated. Humans are social creatures and it’s not possible to be happy (or sober) in a vacuum. I’m very lucky to have the greatest support network in the world. My family and best friends are all fundamentally positive people who allow me to beat back negativity and pursue my mission in life—and I do my best to do the same for them.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Don’t ignore your body! There’s no mystery in the connection between how you feel emotionally, and what you put into and do with your body. Stay active to stay happy and do activities you love.
Keep an open sense of life and don’t delude yourself into thinking that you need to have all the answers. Dogma is useful in early recovery, when your brain is trying to trick you back into drinking, but it’s tragic to reduce life to narrow tunnel vision. Hang in there at first, start thinking about your life’s purpose after that, and in time you will experience natural euphoria that no artificial buzz will ever compare to. Time is the secret to recovery, because it is the one constant that our brains require to rewire.
Any additional thoughts?
Much more can be found on my website, Fit-Recovery.com
Photo provided by C. Scott; used with permission.