This post was originally published on September 29, 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 this, more specifically, is Jill.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
March 24, 2013
Where did you get sober?
When did you first start drinking?
I was 16 or 17 years old. I was at a sleepover at my neighbor’s house and we stole some vodka out of her parents’ liquor cabinet. I wound up parading around the streets of our suburban development with a wooden spoon in hand and a sock on my ear.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in a two-parent household with my mother and father, who are both still married. My sister is 10 years older than I am, so from the ages of eight to 18 I was essentially an only child. My parents gave me everything I needed. We had a clean, stable home and I was involved in a lot of activities as a child. However, I still remember having all the physical and emotional signs of generalized anxiety disorder. I also struggled with insomnia and would cry in my bed at night obsessing about death, to the point where I’d burst into my parents’ room in tears hours after my bedtime.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
I drove drunk, I sought unhealthy relationships and I constantly found myself in a crisis. When I was presented with a lack of control, it was always a major trigger for my anxiety, which is ironic because I was never in control when I was drinking.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
At the age of 21 I managed to get a DUI without even owning a vehicle. Soon after, I began trying to control my drinking. I’d take a few days or weeks off, then celebrate not being an alcoholic by drinking. During the last five years of my drinking, I’d swear it off for life and always within 30 or 60 days, I wound up drunk.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I told myself I was young and getting drunk was what people my age were doing. My drinking never cost me my house, my husband, or my kids—I never had any of those things because of my drinking.
What do you consider your bottom?
I woke up the day after my last drunk, out of solutions. Alcohol was the solution to my anxiety, but it stopped working. Xanax became my solution to the alcohol, until it ran out. I then turned to my relationship to solve the way I was feeling. My boyfriend at the time told me he wouldn’t give me another hug because he’d already hugged me earlier that morning. The emotional pain was unbearable. I hit a spiritual bottom and reached out for help. I messaged someone I barely knew on Facebook, who was open about his recovery. Within minutes, he responded and had me at a meeting later that day.
Did you go to rehab?
I didn’t go.
Did you go to AA?
I went to a 12-step group for alcoholics, which is what we’re supposed to call it outside of “the rooms.” We all know what that place is called, so yes, I went there.
So what did—and do—you do to help you stay sober?
I now use my 12-step program as a base layer. I’ve added a few shells on top, such as cognitive therapy and my work on The Rooms Project.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Nothing, man! I’m just like all the normal drinkers, but cooler, because I have some amazing war stories and don’t need booze to have a good time.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love everything about being an alcoholic, minus the stigma. I’m just a human who can’t drink. Just like some people can’t eat peanuts, I can’t drink alcohol. They break out in hives; I break out in tears, fights, and/or handcuffs.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Twelve-step groups, therapy, and my work on The Rooms Project.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“Not my circus; not my monkeys.”
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I’ve had the opportunity to travel. In the last two-and-a half years, I have been in more than 20 states. When I was drinking I could barely get myself from Philadelphia to the Jersey shore. I have a relationship with my family now that is better than ever. I’ve also found a healthy relationship with a partner who both inspires and respects me. We laugh harder than I’ve ever laughed with another person, which is invaluable to my recovery.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I’ve worked the 12 steps and plan to always, in some way, work them. I still have some amends to make, but I have tried to take it easy on myself as I go through the process. They may not work for everybody, but they worked for me.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
If you’re questioning your drinking to the point of researching it online, you’re probably an alcoholic. You didn’t end up here by accident. So just throw in the towel, man. Life will get so much better.