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 Emily R.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
February 20, 2012
Where did you get sober?
Los Angeles, CA
When did you first start drinking?
At age 13
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
I was living at home after losing my apartment and had just been fired from a pre-school teaching job, though had never really been able to hold down a job. I was a shell of my former self; had no interests other than drugs and alcohol and men. I’d painted myself into a tiny little life that revolved around self harm.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was incredibly stable and happy. Two loving parents, a dog, a lot of friends. But my teenage years where horrible. I went to school with very mean people who bullied me and, as a result, I had a lot of trauma that I still deal with today. I drank to feel cool—and it worked. The more comfortable I got with having drugs on me, always being down to drink and smoke, the cooler I became. Then, I started dating and coming out of my shell. So for me, drugs and alcohol were 100% the solution and, frankly, a very good one. Until it became the problem.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I thought I had a problem with Ritalin and Adderall in college because I couldn’t stop doing them. They were not prescribed to me and I couldn’t quit, no matter how many times I promised myself and others I would. It was a full blown addiction. I lied and cheated and stole to get it, took it in secret—the whole nine.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Well, I had a full-on addiction to uppers (Ritalin, then Adderall, then cocaine) and taking them was not negotiable. However, my drinking was more subtle, because I felt like I could stop when I wanted. I was also in my early 20’s, so most of my friends were doing what looked like the same thing I was doing. Except it wasn’t! It was not really a choice for me. But I thought it was.
What do you consider your bottom?
My bottom, I feel, was when I got fired from my job after rationalizing my behavior for so long. It was very clear after that happened that I was dealing with something that was out of my control and the solution was not in my wheelhouse.
Did you go to rehab?
Yes. I went to an outpatient program (I forget the name) that was a harm reduction thing—not 12-step—in 2005. Then, I went to an inpatient program for 28 days in June, 2006 at Caron Foundation in Pennsylvania. Then, I went to a three-month extended care program in Newport Beach, California from August to November 2006. From November 2006 to March 2007, I went to a sober living in Costa Mesa called Yellowstone.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
I learned about alcoholism being defined as a disease and that changed my perspective on it. I became introduced to AA and that was pivotal.
What did you think of 12-step at first? How do you feel about it now?
Initially, I hated it. I thought it was a weird cult for losers who wanted my dollar and my time. I love it now. Its been a while, and I go through ups and downs with it, but it has given me everything good in my life. I love love love AA.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
Yes. I think they are very effective at getting to the root of patterns and reasons for behavior that make us feel separate from others and are not effective in life.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate that I have to do work. I hate work. I hate that sometimes I can’t just have a glass of wine at the end of a long day or get a little high now and then.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love that I have a depth of experience, now that I’m sober. That I’ve dealt with so many things sober: first dates, sex, love, people dying, hard jobs, rejection, weight loss, weight gain, moving, hard things, fun things—everything—sober. This means I actually get better at stuff and have a well of strength in me that wasn’t there before.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
- Talk to other people, especially alcoholics. Let people get to know you and know others.
- Be honest whenever possible.
- Work the steps.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
Not really. “Surrender” used to be mine, but I feel it’s too harsh now. Maybe just “Easy Does It.”
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I got a sponsee.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
If you think you’re an alcoholic, or even if you just think you may have a problem and you’re not sure what it is, try some meetings. You might hear something that resonates with you. Nobody will make you believe in God. That was a big thing for me—the God thing. Do not worry about it. My fiancé is 13 years sober and is an atheist. Most people in meetings only want to stay sober, and help others who want to stay sober. Find someone in the rooms who has an air about them that you like, that you want for yourself, and say hello. Life is way better when you’re no longer a slave to compulsion.
Any additional thoughts?
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