This post was originally published on August 15, 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 Jason L.
What is your sobriety date?
July 31, 2013
Where did you get sober?
Los Angeles, CA.
When did you first start drinking?
When I was 13 years old.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Before I quit drinking, I had been suicidal and depressed for a year, at least. I had lost everything that I owned. I had lost my mind, most of my friends and my family could barely tolerate me. I had been to jail multiple times, could never hold a steady job, much less a career. And I could never have an intimate relationship with a woman or good relationships with friends. It was always about me. I really did not have the ability to connect with anyone.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was pretty rough. I never felt like I fit in and family life had its ups and downs. We were not very well off, so it always seemed that we were struggling to get by. Mom and Dad were at each other’s throats and there was a lot of verbal abuse between us all. Being the oldest of five, it seemed there was a lot of pressure on me to help out. I don’t think I ever really got a chance to enjoy being a kid, with all the drama going on around us. My first escapes were video games, books, religion and nature. These worked for a while. But, after the pressure of puberty was added, they no longer cut the cake. I do feel the need to say there were some really amazing times. They were just few and far between.
The first time I drank I was 13. I woke up one night, and a cousin who was staying with us was watching TV and drinking vodka. Somehow, I knew that bottle was the answer. I talked him into letting me have a drink. I had a stutter up until that point, but as soon as I took a couple drinks, it went away and has never come back. That was probably the only benefit I ever got from drinking. We drank all through the night. At some point, I remember him making hot dogs. The next thing I know, I wake up wearing the hotdogs. I had vomited all over myself. This pretty much sums up my drinking and using career. I soon started using drugs, never caring what they were. I did that for many years.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
The first time I really thought I had a problem was after a seven-night bout of drinking. I had been out every night with different friends, but one particular night, the thought popped into my head, “I think I might be an alcoholic.” It would be many years before I realized how big a problem I actually had.
Like I said earlier, my life was filled with jails, bad relationships and intermittent jobs, alternating between anxiety and depression. However, in my mind, I did not see my life this way. I told myself I was just having a good time; I was living the life I was meant to live. But deep down I always knew something wasn’t quite right. And there was always that feeling that I did not fit in.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I always felt like the world was against me. So, it was fairly easy to justify what I was doing. It was never my fault. It was her fault or the government’s fault or my parents’ fault or my boss’s fault. I could never take the blame myself and felt the world was such a cruel place. I really didn’t know any better. These were the tools I had to work with. And if things didn’t work, I could always just say I was having fun.
What do you consider your bottom?
Loss was a common theme in my life. My bottom came in the form of the largest inner emotional upheaval that I have ever experienced. I went through nine months of suicidal depression, though I had never been suicidal before. It was as if my mind was attacking me. All the beauty, dreams and wonderful things of life lost their flavor, their color. There were many days when I just sat on my hands—literally—hoping against hope that something would lift my spirits. Then, there was finally a break in the clouds. I made a little money working with my brother, which was enough to get me to California. I had a friend who was kind enough to let me stay with them for three months, also feeding me. What a blessing that person was and is; a true representation of the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous and love.
Did you go to rehab?
I was never much for rehabs, though I did do a small stint at a Christian facility. From my experience, and what I witnessed in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, the answer lay in the steps. I could see that it had worked for all these other people.
Did you go to 12-step?
I had done Alcoholics Anonymous many times before, but I had neglected the wonderful practice of meditation. While staying on my friend’s couch, I stumbled upon the simple idea that all I needed was to feel connected to God. Whatever that might mean. So, I started meditating for 30 minutes to an hour every day. I had never really meditated before, but I was very simple about my approach. I would set the timer, find a comfortable position, and not budge until the time was up. Mind you, I was taking all the suggestions from Alcoholics Anonymous too. I was going to meetings, calling other alcoholics, had a sponsor, was working the steps and had commitments at meetings.
The meditations were not easy. I had an overwhelming amount of anxiety and serious depression. But, at some point, there was a shift. My mind began to quiet down and my emotions began to settle, with these brief moments of peace and contentment. As I continued to meditate in the mornings, I started to feel something. It is what I believe the religions refer to as the Holy Spirit, the Great Spirit, the Eternal Tao, energy, or the creative intelligence of the universe. Once I felt this—or more like sensed it—I knew that all I had to do was maintain the connection. That was all that was necessary. And everything else has grown from that. When I first got sober, I was mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually sick. Each of these things has started to heal through the simple realization that all I have to do is stay connected.
What did you think of it at first? How do you feel about it now?
Initially, I went into recovery reluctantly. I was looking at the differences and not the similarities and it was hard for me to admit that I had a problem. Now, I believe that the rooms of recovery provide a safe and loving atmosphere for people to heal, grow and learn how to love in a world that really needs it.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I have worked the 12 steps and continue to this day. I believe the steps are perfectly designed to help someone self-reflect, grow and connect to the world we are part of in a greater way. I know some parts of the steps are tough to get past at first. However, with a bit of perseverance and a little hard work, the benefits and blessings easily add up.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I do not hate or resent anything about being an alcoholic. Without all of my experiences, I would not be who I am today. Though this may seem odd to some, I am proud to call myself an alcoholic and to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I think the greatest part about being an alcoholic is to have experienced such great suffering. We have a saying in AA, that “pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth.” I know this to be a fact. I have plumbed the depths of my soul and for that I will be forever grateful. I’m now a better instrument of help to others and to love.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
I have already mentioned the first one, meditation. The second one—and also just as important—is service to others. The third, and best of all, are the people to travel with on the journey. Because of this, I no longer feel alone. I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange land. I feel at home.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
Be here now, be here now, be here now!
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I know who I am, what I am and where I am. That is all I ever really wanted.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Do it. You got nothing to lose. And everything to gain.
Any additional thoughts?
I know a lot of people today are using hallucinogens to seek out spiritual experiences. I tell people, “Life sober is the most psychedelic thing you could ever do.” And if life gets tough sometimes, just take a break, sit down, shut up, don’t move and wait for the peace that you are to come.
Photo courtesy of Jason; used with permission. Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.