This post was originally published on October 26, 2015.
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 more specifically, is Jean.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
March 20, 2011
Where did you get sober?
When did you first start drinking?
When I was 13 years old, with other girls my age. First at a friend’s house after school, then at sleepovers, and eventually I got up the courage to go to actual parties.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
I was a 40-something, hard-working, successful business owner with a good marriage, three gorgeous sons and impressive side projects. However, alcohol consumed my days. I spent the morning loathing myself for drinking the night before. By lunch, I’d feel anxious about the prospect of a wineless evening ahead. S0 on the way home from work, I’d usually change my mind and pick up alcohol from the store. I rotated stores because I was embarrassed by the amount I bought. I was self-conscious of the bottles in our recycling bins, so I often drank my afternoon drinks from a coffee cup. I graduated to boxed wine and hid an extra box in the pantry so I could switch them out.
What was your childhood like?
Until recently, if you asked me about my childhood I’d have said it was perfect. Alcoholism is a genetic factor in my family, but I only ever knew my dad as a sober person. It wasn’t until I started doing some recovery work that I acknowledged some of the traumatic events from my childhood. I look back now to see the messages I got of being flawed, of having to earn approval and of being a people pleaser.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
There were so many little “pings” of awareness. One moment when I was 19, I got news that a friend had been killed in an accident. I hung up the phone and found a bottle of rye in my parents’ pantry. Things changed in the face of that terrible news—I had a burning urge to drink something hard. I wanted to numb immediately. After gagging down a shot, I remember thinking, “What the hell did I do that for?”
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I worked hard, I was successful, my kids were well-behaved and well looked-after and I was never drunk in public. I deserved a drink or two. It wasn’t hurting anybody.
What do you consider your bottom?
I kept waiting for a rock bottom and realized that I really did not want to hit it. Suddenly it became very real to me: I could quit without a rock bottom—that what I was doing could eventually kill me.
Did you go to rehab?
I did not.
Did you go to AA?
No. I was adamant that I would not go to AA because I could not truthfully say I accepted step one. I felt like I still had some power in me to change.
So what did—and do—you do to help you stay sober?
I used the 12-step principles, along with the concepts of SMART Recovery. I blogged (my blog is “UnPickled,” reached out through comments on other sober blogs, used Twitter, listened to podcasts (like AfterParty Pod and The Bubble Hour, of which I later became a co-host), joined an online recovery group and eventually went to sober meetups. I even went to a yoga retreat in Mexico for women in recovery. I connect with sober people every day.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Early on, I hated so much about it! I felt left out, weak, screwed up. I hated that I had “let” this happen. Then I started to accept myself and my situation. I hated feeling judged or misunderstood. Then, I threw myself into advocacy by speaking up as a person in recovery.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love that living alcohol-free allows me to be so fully present for life. I am grateful that alcohol addiction led me to recovery. I am not afraid for people to know me as I really am. Above all, I love the other people that I meet in recovery—it is unbelievable how similar we all are! I thought I was so special!
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Honesty, reaching out and visualization. The concept of “rigorous honesty” comes from AA and is one of the many examples where I borrowed from that program to self-manage my recovery. I have built a wonderful sober network of support, mostly via the internet, and I often go to meetups. I spend time every day envisioning the things I want in life: to be a strong matriarch for my family, to be an active person as I age, to have confidence in myself, to travel and to write about my experiences.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“Recovery is Leadership.”
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I like the more self-empowered pathways to recovery. Many of the 12 steps have played a role in my progress. I see the value in a program that worked for my dad and many others, even though it is not my chosen pathway.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of living without alcohol. Be prepared to look inside yourself and to change the way you approach the world. Recovery will allow you the ability to be alone with yourself and actually enjoy it. You won’t have to drink to live with yourself. You will have everything you need to move through this world with dignity and joy.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.