This post was originally published on November 1, 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 Jamie:
What is your sobriety date?
December 8, 2012
Where did you get sober?
When did you start drinking?
19 years old.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Life was complete and utter chaos. I was a self-serving, angry, resentful woman. I was a neglectful and abusive mother. I was a medical professional practicing while on drugs or hungover. I had turned so many people away from me, people had lost faith in my life. The father of my first daughter had begged me many times to commit suicide so that they could be rid of me.
What were your childhood and teenage years like?
I was sexually molested at the age of four and lived next door to that man for 14 years. My father did nothing about it. My parents fought daily and I had panic attacks. I was a late bloomer so I didn’t get crazy until I was 18 or 19. I always felt different. I had a very active mind and liked to be by myself. I always struggled with making friends until high school. I loved high school. I literally freaked out when my friends started drinking and then later I joined them.
When did you first start thinking you might have a problem?
That’s hard to answer—somewhere in my 30s. I remember staring at myself in the mirror yelling at my reflection to change but I had no idea how. I knew officially that drinking was a problem when my mom was able to help me understand that I drank an entire bottle of rum in a blackout. Until that day I did not know that my drinking was a problem. I knew that drugs were an issue though. In my 20s I suspected I had a problem; in my 30s I definitely knew I had a problem but was so far gone that I couldn’t see my way out.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I never really understood how bad I had gotten. Like drinking was acceptable and some people just get a little crazy, me being one of them. I really did not care how I affected others. I rationalized my drug use in a multitude of ways, really I was just trying to turn off the chatter of the committee in my head.
What do you consider your bottom?
My last suicide attempt after 77 days of no drinking or drugging but not working my program; I was still taking my benzos. I had to go to another psych ward in the state as I’d worked in the one in my town. I lost my house, my job and custody of my daughter. All I had left was my car. I knew then that I needed to do everything in my power to work the program and never give up. When my mom brought the AA Big Book to me at the psych ward, I swear the angels were singing.
Did you go to rehab?
I have not been to rehab but have made the psych ward rounds three times for self-harm—in 2004, 2010 and 2012. My situations got worse and worse as time went by.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
Spiritual experience in last psych hospitalization—I was detoxing off benzos and opiates while I lay in that bed asking my Higher Power to cleanse me and for help. I know that night that evil things left me. The next morning became my sobriety date. I woke with fresh resolve to attack sobriety head on and never looked back. I was relieved of my obsession to drink or drug.
Did you go to AA? What did you think of it at first and how do you feel about it now?
After the psych ward, nobody could’ve kept me away from AA! I went as often as could, got a sponsor and began working the steps. I was on fire for recovery.
When I first went there before my big breakdown, I didn’t know what to think. I knew that I belonged there but I had no idea what was needed of me. These days I owe my life to AA. I would have nothing or most likely be dead or in prison if it wasn’t for AA. I love the fellowship and consider them to be family. I know that it’s hard for newcomers to commit to what AA asks you to do, but I’ve done it and I have survived. It works if you work it.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
They have turned my life around and allowed me to begin the process of growing up. I have seen them work wonders in ways that I could not have imagined. I have completed the 12 steps of AA and now, I am working the 12 steps of codependency with my sponsor, trying to move through all the poor coping skills that I have refused to let go because I thought they kept me safe.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate having to be on the front lines watching others dying and living in misery. It’s so hard watching sponsees relapse and get worse and worse. You wonder if they will ever make it out alive. You see the pain and heartache in their eyes but they have no clue how to get out of that misery. Working with others sure does keep you sober though!
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
That I could go into any meeting anywhere in the world and those people would know me and love me for who I am. I love being able to help other women and families to survive and overcome. I am a very grateful alcoholic. There is a solution to my problem! The most amazing thing is when you see those that you thought would be dead actually survive and stay sober. Or that light bulb lights up in someone’s eyes when they see that the program works and they never have to use or drink again. So we really do experience absolute pain and joy.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Gratitude in all things, while enjoying the small quiet moments in life; trusting my Higher Power above all else, no matter what; and working the steps with my sponsor.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you during recovery?
That I have worked through a very deep and tenacious resentment. That anger and hate had become an entire reality for me. It took a long time to work through this, now being on the other side of it I feel so light and free. I could not have done that without the help of my sponsor. I was also gifted with a beautiful daughter whom with God’s grace will never have to see me drink or drug.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Early sobriety is awful and scary. Your brain does not want you to be sober and face the reality of what you have ruined in your addiction. The hardest thing that I see newcomers bucking against is listening and taking the suggestions of those who have gone before and succeeded. There’s a reason they have succeeded! They did what they were told to do. So, if you are really ready to get sober, then you will do any and all things asked of you. You are not capable of making good decisions, I know it’s hard to hear that, but your ego has not served you well thus far, has it? So, surrender to the process, try something new, listen to the winners and be of service to others. Please get a sponsor, you cannot and will not succeed without one, but you do have to call them! If you think you need to pick up a drink or a drug, call someone and fight like hell to do anything but pick up. We will help you to stay sober but you have to reach out. No one will chase you down and try to get you to surrender. It does not ever get better out there and you will get worse, never better. Your life in sobriety can and will be full of happiness but you have to work the program. You are responsible for your own sobriety. We will love you until you can love yourself.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
If you think you might have a problem then you probably do. Normal people don’t sit around wondering if they have a drug or alcohol problem. There is help and when you are ready those people will be there to help you. If you are not ready then my prayers are with you. I hope you make it back alive.
Click here to read all our How I Got Sober stories.