This post was originally published on August 17, 2015.
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 Daniel.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
March 1, 2001.
Where did you get sober?
St. Paul, Minnesota.
When did you first start drinking?
I was about 16. I remember wanting to know what it felt like to get drunk. I waited until my parents were asleep. I snuck upstairs then opened my parents’ liquor cabinet. I opted for brandy since my mom drank that sometimes. It tasted terrible. Soon the room was spinning and I was puking in the bathroom.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
The whole mess started to get damn inconvenient. I was always hiding. The resulting blowouts after my wife (or a parishioner) would discover my drinking would always be followed by more promises to regulate, to control. It was all bullshit, though. I had no intention on stopping what I was doing. It was my life, after all!
What was your childhood like?
I had a good childhood. My parents loved me and my brother equally. My father was an electrical engineer and a businessman. Most of the time he drank moderately. My mother was a schoolteacher. She sometimes had a glass of brandy before she went to bed. Alcohol was ubiquitous, but my parents weren’t heavy drinkers. Beer was around, they kept it in the fridge, but I wouldn’t see them indulge more than once per week.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
At graduate school in Dubuque [a Lutheran Seminary]in my second year, I had a bad attack of Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disorder. My wife took me to the emergency room. I don’t know if the doctor made a mistake or if he was simply unaware of how much pain control I needed. He gave me a prescription of 30 doses of Demerol with three refills. My colitis flare didn’t last much more than two days, but I continued to take the Demerol. I started to drink during the day. Soon, it had evolved into full-blown binging in the morning.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I believe it wasn’t so much a rationalization, but a justifiable appropriation. Addiction is selfishness on steroids. I believed I deserved the ability to control how I felt. If I still believed I could do this without consequences, I guarantee I still would be using.
What do you consider your bottom?
Several months into taking benzos and drinking I’d drive around and try and get into other peoples’ homes to look for pills. Often this was in a blackout. I was arrested first for a DUI in December of 2010 and then for felony trespassing in February 2011. My life seemed to rip apart at the seams. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know what to do.
Did you go to rehab?
My wife demanded that I seek treatment. I opted to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I only managed a little over a week at their rehab program. I hated AA and hated the church. I didn’t stay sober for more than a month after that. The second time I entered treatment, I really wanted it. There was a problem though: I didn’t want to work it. I didn’t get a sponsor and I didn’t work the steps. After two months, I was drinking daily again. Finally, I entered Hazelden on March 1, 2011. The drink I had on evening train ride from Williston to the Twin Cities in Minnesota would be the last I’d ever take.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
The third month I was at Hazelden, I read two books that changed my life. One was a graphic novel titled Logicomix that my father had given me. The other was Viktor Frankl’s tiny book Man’s Search for Meaning. Both these books contributed to a seed of an idea that turned my life around.
Did you go to AA?
So what did—and do—you do to help you stay sober?
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Nothing now. At first, I couldn’t stand not being able to partake in drinking at a wedding with others. Now, I really don’t care. I’ve found purpose-in-meaning within recovery.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I’ve established many friendships and found a new spirituality I never knew existed by being what I am. That’s what’s strange about this illness—to “be well,” all I have to do is go to a meeting and chat about things I already enjoy chatting about.
Life is good.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Honesty, openness, prayer.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
I think the daily recognition that I’m an addict and that nothing I do can ever change that reality—that is a freeing experience.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
Reading the two books at Hazelden gave me an idea to produce a graphic novel illustrating the 12 steps in recovery through five individuals’ powerful stories. The second year after Hazelden, I began producing the book. One year after that, Sobriety: A Graphic Novel was born. That book, and my resulting career as a freelance writer, has given me a purpose I would not have found without falling as hard as I did. That purpose is to share my transformative story, and to share others’ stories as well. I’ve found my calling.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
Yes. The 12 steps are instructions on how to be a decent human being, period.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Do what works. I believe there are many ways to get sober. If something isn’t working, then be honest and try something else.