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 Holly.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
April 13, 2013
Where did you get sober?
San Francisco, California
When did you start drinking?
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
My life was a fear-based, confused existence. I was either in a state of grasping for things I didn’t have or grasping for things I thought I need to be happy. I believed power came from external sources and I believed that happiness came from that power. I was in a constant state of not enough. So I guess life before was not enough, not a life—a short-cut, a cloud, a misery, a power struggle.
What was your childhood like?
My parents divorced by the time I was 14, my dad came out of the closet when I was 15 and I started to work 32 hours a week while going to school by the age of 17. I was a perfectionist with neurochemical imbalances (small depressions). I had low self-esteem. I had unprocessed trauma from the smallest things you could imagine. I was bullied in third grade, I got caught for stealing bubble gum in the sixth grade and I farted in front of a boy in the seventh grade. I had no coping mechanisms. I started drinking at too-young of an age. I was in pain and alcohol (and pot, bulimia, cigarettes) worked.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I never felt terribly comfortable with my drinking.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I wasn’t as bad as other people. I could go days without it.
What do you consider your bottom?
I woke up from a bender one morning and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I crawled out of bed, fell on the floor and asked God to take it away. I didn’t believe in God unless I was apologizing, just in case he was real. But in this moment, I begged God to help me and told Him I couldn’t do it anymore.
Did you go to rehab?
No. I did it on my own with tools I found and a team I collected.
Did you go to AA?
I did. About five months into sobriety, after two failed attempts, I went to meetings for a short period. I’m grateful for the experience. It wasn’t my scene, but the act of going helped my recovery. I recommend everyone try it, but to rely on their own gut sense of what feels right for them.
So what did—and do—you do to help you stay sober?
I asked everyone I could think of for help. I used Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Control Alcohol, meditation, yoga, doctors, therapists, massage therapists, acupuncture, Amino Acid Therapy, education and the Emotional Freedom Technique. The parts of AA that didn’t align—that pushed me out of going to meetings—were the things that propelled me forward in my recovery.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I don’t identify as an alcoholic, or any label for that matter. I stopped drinking, I don’t think about drinking, nor do I miss drinking. I feel strongly that the label “alcoholic” is a barrier to recovery for many reasons. People struggle with addiction who don’t meet the diagnostic criteria of “alcoholic” but still need access to treatment options. They need diagnoses, options and many other things. I do not believe anyone is served by taking on a label.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
Again, I do not identify as an alcoholic. I am sober. I believe—and deeply so—that struggling with a chemical substance was my privilege. I was forced into a position to examine my life. One of my favorite quotes by Mastin Kipp is, “Live for a few years how other people won’t, so you can live for a few years how other people can’t.” I’ve done things that most people won’t do. It allowed me to find freedoms that other people can’t enjoy.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
My non-negotiables are Kundalini yoga, meditation and breath work.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
I don’t use it anymore, but it was, “I am calm, clean, balanced and strong. I am on a path to a life beyond my wildest dreams.”
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I found me. I know who I am. I know what I am made of—I am made of very strong things.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I think the 12 steps are simply a road map to a spiritual awakening or a connection to Source (or God, Mother Earth, Love—whatever feels right to you). I think as they are exactly written might work for some, but they do not work for me. There are parts that I think work against feminine recovery. Steps four, five and six—listing out character defects and asking for their removal—was something that caused me to drink. By the time I was at the end of my drinking career, I knew everything that was wrong with me, things I had asked God to remove my whole life. My recovery meant that I accepted who I was and all I was: the acceptable “moral” parts of me and the unacceptable parts that I had been rejecting for years. My healing came from doing the opposite of what those steps suggest.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
There is no right way, no one way, no absolute. There is just the desire to be free and an unrelenting fight for that freedom.