This post was originally published on October 5, 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 Douglas.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
January 21, 2013
Where did you get sober?
Asheville, North Carolina
When did you first start drinking?
I rarely drank as a teenager or in my early 20s, but once in college that seemed the natural thing to do.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I started drinking every day. I had a career. In a few short years I was not only an alcoholic, I was also a cokehead. I turned 40, then I got my first DUI. My position required travel so I began booking longer and more frequent trips anything to stay out of sight.
I lost my house and had moved back to my hometown of Asheville, NC. The company I was employed by was circling the drain, my relationship with my partner came to an abrupt end and I became even more isolated. Sleep was elusive. I got four to five hours a night. The stress of my situation weighed heavily on my mind and sleep became impossible. Yet another reason to drink.
What was your childhood like?
As a child, I was awkward and shy; making friends was a challenge. I was never able to connect. A lot of this had to do with family issues, which I had no control over. Despite all the family drama and craziness, I managed to stay in school, get good grades and graduate from high school. I was one of the first in my family to attend and graduate college.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
Even though I drank like a fish and experimented with drugs, I really did not consider myself an alcoholic or addict because I still had the ability to stop. I managed to make it through college, move away and start a career.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Once I had those first couple of drinks, I felt relaxed and could open up to people. In my 30s, I had a career and I came to know a small group of friends that drank like I did. At my job in my 40s, I figured as long as I produced the work on time and within budget all was in the clear.
What do you consider your bottom?
In September of 2012, I got my second DUI. At that point I was physically, emotionally and spiritually done. I was 45 years old. I was hopeless, lost in my addiction and suicidal. My partner and I had just separated and I had no desire to start my life over again.
Did you go to rehab?
Those events led me to take a leave of absence from work and spend a short stint in a treatment center for depression and my suicidal tendencies.
Did you go to AA?
It took three months after treatment before I found my way into the rooms. It was not by my own will, but that of the judicial system. At first I felt strange and awkward at the meetings—I really hated going. But it was one of the only things I would leave my apartment to do.
So what did—and do—you do to help you stay sober?
At around 18 months of sobriety I saw The Anonymous People and it changed my perception of recovery. It helped me accept myself, my recovery and move beyond my past.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Addiction is often filled with shame and discrimination. I still experience difficulty being open and honest about my recovery with people outside the recovery community. If we are only as sick as our secrets, why is recovery my biggest secret?
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
Through recovery I have found a deep, loving relationship with my partner and our families, a network of caring friends, the gift of gratitude and the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a full-time artist. I accept who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
I journal in front of a photo of my car accident, my ID bracelet from the treatment facility, the documents from my arrest and a white feather that was enclosed in a letter from a drug counselor. That white feather represents the hope I didn’t have. It is what brought me to recovery.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“I am truly free.”
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
Since July of 2014, I have collected stories and sketched the portraits of about 30 recovering individuals. The project is “Hello My Name Is…” I am currently in the process of pulling together and exhibit of this work for National Recovery Month (September 2015).
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
Yes. I’m really not sure when it happened, but one day the anger was gone and I felt as though a weight had been lifted. Once the bitterness left, I could open up and people started to return to my life.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Recovery is possible. It improves mental and physical health along with enhancing relationships. Often, recovery is shrouded in anonymity as many of us continue to live dual lives. Others simply cut themselves off to isolate from the world. Where is the freedom in this? When a human being is taken to the depths of darkness by addiction and recovers, there is a light that grows. We emerge out of the shadows, eager to share this newfound hope with others like us.