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 Chris.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
September 1, 1997.
Where did you get sober?
On the shores of Lake St. Claire; at my mother’s and stepfather’s home in Olympia, Washington. It was part of a self-styled “detox/rehab” I’d concocted over the previous spring and summer. I spent 10 months in my little sister’s bedroom, who had recently left for college. That’s right, I detoxed and rehabbed in a high school girl’s room.
When did you first start drinking?
I had my first sip of wine at age five, my first memorable beer at 14 and my first cocktail at 16—which included my first memorable hangover. But my life and identity as a drinker began the evening of my high school graduation.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
It had the normal highs and lows, modified to extremes fueled by alcohol and other drugs. But towards the end of my drinking and using, the lows had become more frequent and the highs had become few and far between (if not, totally absent). I had reached a state of untenable despair.
What was your childhood like?
My dad left my mom when I was two years old. I spent the bulk of my childhood as an anxious and scared kid of a single, working mother prone to—what seemed to me—fits of rage. I don’t know if she had a drinking problem at the time but she definitely does now. My father wasn’t totally absent though; I spent weekends and holidays with him. Eventually, they both remarried and there was a constant thread of substance use that ran through both homes. I remember a Folger’s coffee can packed full of pot in our refrigerator door; I was allowed to eat pot seeds like they were sunflower seeds. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine—all these drugs were around but I didn’t know anything else, so I just accepted it as normal.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I’d given my mom and stepdad an “Are You an Alcoholic?” test—the same one I had been given in high school health class. I recall it identifying them both as such but they just laughed it off. During my first hell-bent, hell-raising year of real drinking as a college freshman, I remember thinking about that test and wondering if I might have a problem. Clearly, I didn’t give it too much thought as I continued for another 13 years. As the end of my drinking neared—and the wall of denial began crumbling—that experience helped me realize the lies I’d been telling myself about myself.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I thought it was an integral part the rock/goth/punk/angsty/aggro scene, narrow-spectrum chameleon that I was. I was certain—at least at some point—that it made me more fun, cool, interesting and outgoing. But I don’t recall it being a conscious rationalization.
What do you consider your bottom?
Within a matter of months, I lost a relationship and my job—simply because I was hung over one Monday morning and just never showed up again. I realized I’d lost my dignity and become a sloppy, stumbling, slurring mess.
You mentioned before that you detoxed yourself?
Yes. I dropped all my using friends and moved across the country to isolate myself in my parents’ home. I began eating extremely healthy, working out for two hours every day and journaling extensively.
Did anything significant happen during your self-imposed rehab that was important to your sobriety?
I had planned to get sober for months. In the middle of the night before my quit day, I woke up with a piercing pain in my abdomen. It went on for about a week before I went to see the family doctor. After examining me, he asked, “Are you a heavy drinker?” I admitted that I was, until about a week before. He told me not to drink again. He surmised that I was about two to three drinks away from blowing out my pancreas. I always think back to this incident and feel that it was something (if nothing else, my body) saying to my drinking, “And don’t come back!”
Did you go to AA?
In my 17 years of sobriety I’ve been to exactly two meetings—both this past year for my own edification.
So what did—and do—you do to help you stay sober?
In my very early sobriety planning, I saw a therapist who specialized in alcoholism and addiction. At about two years sober, I made a friend who was in AA and while he never remotely pushed the program on me, he became a sounding board for my sobriety for many years. He still is— to some degree—but I’ve developed a more robust network.
What do you hate most about being an alcoholic?
That I may pass it on to my daughter.
Is there anything you love about being an alcoholic?
I don’t know that I would call it love, exactly, but having passed through the years of active drinking into recovery, I think I may know myself better now than I might have otherwise.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Honesty and openness: I tell people who, what and why I am the person I am. Mindfulness, patience and being present: I strive to accept things as they are, when they are. And finally, compassion and empathy—everyone has a story and I try to respect that.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
The birth of my daughter.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I haven’t. However, I do recognize there’s great value in at least being familiar with them in recovery; even if it’s on your own, outside of the AA program.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
You have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain. Do some research and find a program (existing or of your own devising) and start working it. Also, if you can, come out as someone who struggles with addiction and is in recovery as early and as often as possible.