This post was originally published on April 4, 2016.
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 Erin.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
August 8, 2008
Where did you get sober?
Los Angeles, CA
When did you first start drinking?
The first time I got drunk was on New Year’s Eve when I was 14. My friend was babysitting with me and making me screwdriver after screwdriver. I ended up puking all over the home and a neighbor told my parents what had happened. Apparently, I’d been running all over the neighborhood knocking on the doors of the boys I had a crush on. Yep. That was a good night to not remember. I continued to drink myself into oblivion at every opportunity.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Overwhelming, scattered and downright sad. I felt crazy and out of control. I am also a sex and love addict, a drug addict and a debtor, so all of my “isms” were on fire. I was not present for my then 10-year-old child, passing her off onto others, leaving her alone or acting out in front of her. I drank frequently and in large quantities. I was in a fantasy world and I was drowning.
What was your childhood like?
I was constantly seeking approval and attention—whether good or bad. As it turns out, my behavior would elicit negative attention from people more often than not. I was diagnosed with ADHD at around seven years of age and took Ritalin for a large part of my childhood. I was anxious, could not focus and had a lot of energy, which I really think must have been overwhelming for my parents. After many years of therapy, I have realized that I often felt I was a problem as a child, that people thought something was wrong with me. I think I drank later in life because I felt I was not enough and it made me feel better. It took away my low self-esteem. I remember a friend’s parents telling my parents that they were not comfortable with me playing with their daughter because I had to take medication. That hurt me, because I heard them say it to my parents. But now that I am a mom, I realize it must have broken their hearts to hear something like that too.
Then, oh God, the teenage years. I disrespected my parents so often, lashing out at my mother, damaging our furniture and cursing at her. I was hospitalized for running away from home a few times and frequently snuck out. I was very promiscuous and did not take care to protect myself. I also tried, on a couple of occasions, to kill myself (remember how I like to get attention?) though I have never been a depressive person. Even as I share this, I sigh, because I want my story to help others, but can sense that attention seeker lurking in the background. That part of me has been something I have had to face and I try to be very cognizant of that kind of behavior.
I got pregnant at 15 and had an abortion. When I was 17, I left home for good. By 18, I had moved from my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina to Boulder, Colorado for no reason other than I thought I could be a hippy or punk or something really cool. I had no plan. After a little bit of time in Boulder, I found myself in Ohio, but that is a long story for another time… There, I met my now ex-husband, the father of my wonderful child. I drank and partied hard.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
After meeting my ex-husband and a year of some of the wildest partying, we got pregnant. That was a game changer for me. I stopped partying. My ex was in his first year of medical school and we decided to get married. I thought I would be a real grown up, now that I was 20, married and about to be a mom. For several years after I had my daughter, I held it together. I got an AA degree and worked to help support my family while he was finishing medical school, post-graduate work and residency. I worked hard and we partied hard on the weekends. But I thought that was what all grown-ups did. It wasn’t until two years after we divorced, when I found myself taking Adderall in order to drink longer, weighing 98 lbs (I am 5′ 7″), stalking some guy I barely knew and nearly bankrupt from over-spending, that I realized that something was wrong.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Well, I don’t know that I did. Everyone I knew drank. I thought it was normal.
What do you consider your bottom?
I have an “eskimo”—a guide into the rooms of AA. He helped me see that maybe there was I place I could go to for help. Then, one day, I woke up in a strange guy’s house, late for work, still drunk and not able to remember where my car was. I didn’t know who was watching my kid, as I often left her to go drinking at bars. After I got home, I freaking drove her to school still drunk. On my way to work I thought to myself, “If I can just get enough courage to drive into the bus in front of me, I can be done and not have to go through this shame anymore.” I knew I’d hit bottom. That was August 1, 2008 and I was just shy of 31 years old. I got sober the next day. Then, I lost my job when I was around 30 days sober. The bottom got a little lower after I quit, which I hear happens to many.
Did you go to 12-step?
I am grateful for AA and for my first meeting. It was like coming home. I enjoyed the fellowship and I realized that taking commitments, especially after getting fired, was helpful and stabilized me a bit. Then, being the sex and love addict that I am, I found it necessary to banish myself to women’s meetings after the first couple of years. Again, I am a seeker of attention. I needed women to teach me and am still so grateful for the women of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I have worked them a few times and have had the privilege of taking one woman all the way through the steps. I think they are very useful tools. Today, I am all about step 11 and have found Vipassana meditation and Buddhism so useful for working it. My Dharma practice also really enhances my recovery and helps me so much with one of the more difficult steps: step three, the process of letting go. Dharma has taught me to not just let things go, but rather, to let them be. And I feel that I have “skyrocketed to the fourth dimension” as the Big Book talks about in chapter two.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I don’t hate it at all. I am one of the lucky ones who actually believes that the obsession to drink was lifted. I don’t miss it. I would say hate is a strong word here. One thing I feel is difficult about being an alcoholic is that some truly are sicker than others, so you can find yourself in some strange and twisted situations among some strange and twisted individuals if you are not careful.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love that I get to always be growing. Being an alcoholic gives me such great opportunities to help other people and to learn how to have true compassion for everyone. I love being an alcoholic, because becoming a member of Alcoholics Anonymous helped me grow into the person I am today. I love being an alcoholic, because the women I still know and love taught me about gratitude and showing up for life.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Gratitude lists; get on as many as you can! The women in the program and Sangha are the other two. In Buddhist philosophy, it is said you may take refuge in three things: the Dharma, the Sangha and the Buddha. The Sangha is a community and AA was the first Sangha-type group I ever joined. I know that I can take refuge in the rooms and that they will always have a seat for me.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“God’s will, not mine.”
To me, it just means that I can let things be and that I don’t have to try to control everything. I actually have that tattooed on my body.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
So many things, but the best is the relationship I have with my now 18-year-old daughter. I got to show up for her. I got to witness her many amazing accomplishments and today, I love to be with her. I am proud of the young woman she is becoming. She is a freshman at UCSB (yes, the party school, I know). She is a great dancer, athlete and a very intelligent young lady who makes good grades. I am so grateful for her. She has given me so much courage.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
It’s your journey. There is no short cut. There is no real advice. I went to meetings every day for many years and then I did not. I had many sponsors and then I did not. I stayed sober. Some of my friends did not. Some died. Some were sober when they died. Some were not. I will be there for you if I am able, but this is your journey. Your life. If it is your time to stop, then you will. Only you will know.
Any additional thoughts?
This is it. Take it how you want, but this is it. So, if this is it, then what will you do today?
Photo courtesy of Erin; used with permission. Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.