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 Ellie—and yes, we’re talking about Ellie S., the woman behind the widely popular Bubble Hour show, the blog OneCraftyMother and the nonprofit Shining Strong.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
Did you go to 12-step?
Yes. I have always attended 12-step meetings, although the months that led up to my 2013 relapse, I went to fewer and fewer meetings. My life got full, and busy, and I stopped prioritizing my recovery. I even became a recovery advocate and blogger. I started a non-profit with the mission of breaking down the stigma of addiction and celebrating recovery. But as I mentioned, recovery is an inside job. I didn’t want to look inside myself, so I fell victim to the disease of busy-ness. I would much rather help others than help myself. After getting sober again, 12-step meetings and staying attuned to my own self-care are my two top priorities. I work hard at maintaining a work/life balance, which doesn’t come naturally to me. The people that I met at 12-step meetings fill me up, breathe life into me when I don’t want to keep going, help me see my own stuff in ways I just can’t do on my own.
What did you think of 12-step at first? How do you feel about it now?
Oh, I didn’t want to go to 12-step meetings when I first got sober in 2007. I was terrified I would see someone I knew. I was convinced that my life was over. I sat in the back with my arms crossed and stared resentfully at everyone, for months. But I didn’t want to drink, so I kept going. It took at least four months, but eventually I didn’t hate going, and after about six months I loved going. I was not someone who “saw the light” right away; I fought it as hard as I could. But there was something about the people there—a light in their eyes, a wisdom and clarity—that I wanted, badly. I just didn’t think it would ever happen for me. Someone told me to stick around until it did. I took that advice to heart, and eventually, it came to me, too.
What else did you do to seek help and stay sober?
While 12-step meetings are at the core of my program of recovery, I augment that with other forms of self-care (like therapy and yoga) and I’m part of online recovery communities. I still work as a recovery advocate, and helping others helps me stay sober, as long as I am taking care of myself first. I don’t believe there is any one pathway to recovery, but I do believe it is just about impossible to get sober on your own. I suppose it’s possible but who would want to? I didn’t get sober to be miserable. When I drank, I just wanted to feel connected, somehow—to myself and to others. I looked for decades for that connection at the bottom of a glass. I never found it. I find it every single day when I’m with other recovering people. It’s what I was looking for, all along, I just didn’t know I would find it in recovery.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I have done the 12 steps a few times over the past nine years, and they help me quite a bit. However, for me recovery is like a three-legged stool; if one leg is missing, I tip over. For me those three legs are: 12 step meetings, therapy (and this includes safe medications for anxiety/depression) and spirituality. Until this last time getting sober, I always had two of the three, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t 12-step my way out of anxiety or depression or trauma. The steps give me tools to stay sober, but they don’t thoroughly address the underlying mental health issues that are also a contributing factor to my drinking. I needed therapy and safe medication. But even 12-step meetings and therapy still weren’t the full picture; a spiritual practice is that third grounding stool leg that solidifies my program of recovery.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I can honestly say that I don’t hate anything about being an alcoholic anymore. When I first got sober I hated everything about being an alcoholic. Everything. I just wanted to drink in moderation, like a normal person. I hated hated hated that I couldn’t drink in safety. At first, getting sober was like grieving a lost loved one. I thought I would never feel good, or even better. Thankfully, I gave sobriety enough time to show me the vast rewards it offers. At first it was simply being hangover-free, and feeling physically good. Then the emotional rewards started to come: my relationships with my kids, my family, improved. I was comfortable in my own skin. I could handle tougher emotions like boredom, anger, sadness and resentment without wanting to escape in a drink. Job opportunities opened up for me, and my financial situation improved. Then, the spiritual rewards started to come: I found a power greater than myself (I don’t call it God—for me God is wrapped in religious connotation, which to me isn’t the same as spirituality; I call it the Universal Force, or Energy, or just the Universe). I practice meditation. I practice compassion for myself and all living things.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love alcoholics. I love the people I have met—those who struggle, and those who are sober. We are compassionate, creative, intuitive and loving people. The people in my recovery community—at meetings, on line, everywhere I go—are quite simply the bravest and most compassionate people I have ever known. I can go anywhere in the world and find people who get me, who care about my well-being and who would do anything to help me without expecting a thing in return. It’s truly staggering, how my life has been enriched not just by getting sober, but by the incredible people it has brought into my life.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Self-care is absolutely number one for me. It’s hard, as a single working mother (I’m now divorced) to put my mental well-being before all else, but now I make time for meetings, exercise, meditation, laughter with friends, a good book, a bubble bath. A big part of my relapse was allowing myself to slide to the bottom of the pile—my alcoholism wants me there, where I can stew in resentment and isolation, which in turn leads me right back to wanting to escape my life in a drink.
Community—I absolutely cannot stay sober on my own. But—and this is a key distinction for me—I ask other recovering people for help. I stayed sober for over four years without asking for help from anyone. I was smack dab in the middle of a thriving recovery community, both in real life and online, but I didn’t ask anyone for help, ever. Now I do. If I’m just feeling off, even if I don’t know why, I tell someone. I don’t stay stuck in my own head, anymore. I am not the best judge of how I’m doing; I need other trusted, recovering people to call me on my stuff, to help me when I don’t care anymore, to cheer me on and prop me up.
Therapy—I took the time to find the right therapist; someone who understood addiction, but also its underlying causes like depression, anxiety and trauma.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I found myself. I spent 44 years of my life trying to please others, to fit in, to feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel worthy of love, of being a daughter, wife, friend or mother. I lived with chronic anxiety, fear and perfectionism. Today, I am free to just love myself exactly as I am. This, in turn, makes me a better daughter, friend and mother. I’m not anybody’s wife anymore, and if you had asked me three years ago if I could be single and totally at peace with myself and happy, I would have told you that you were crazy. That I needed to be loved in order to love myself. This isn’t true today. I am enough.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Ask. For. Help. Find even just one safe person—a friend, family member, spiritual advisor, therapist or doctor—and tell your truth. You are not alone. There are hundreds of millions of recovering people out there, and we understand you. We have been where you are, felt how you felt. There is a way out of the isolation and darkness of addiction.
Don’t obsess about the “A” word—alcoholic. I lost myself to this battle of “am I or aren’t I” for years. I took quizzes and read recovery memoirs and obsessively watched the way other people drank, desperately searching for the answer of whether or not I was an alcoholic. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Truly. If you are in emotional pain, if you feel hollowed-out, vacant, isolated and anxious, that’s reason enough to ask for help. If alcohol has stopped being additive to your life, that’s reason enough. If you have to ask yourself the question—“Am I or aren’t I?”—that’s reason enough.
You are not weak, or morally corrupt, or broken. You have the disease of addiction, and there is a remedy to your pain. And it’s awesome beyond your wildest dreams. I promise.
Photo courtesy of Ellie; used with permission. Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
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