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 Kareem.
(We’ve broken Kareem’s story into two parts; check back next week for part two.)
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
January 3, 1997
Where did you get sober?
When did you first start drinking?
I had my first real drink around 13. I would drink when I could for the next year or so. My drinking really picked up when I was in high school.
At the time of my first drink, I had been working at this banquet hall in my neighborhood. My best friend Zeke and I stole a bottle of tequila, some lemons, limes and saltshakers from a wedding. When we got off work, we went up to this playground and, between the two of us, killed the bottle. It tasted terrible. I blacked out, and that was it. That was the thing I was looking for.
And in that first drink was my entire drinking story…I stole something, hated the taste, loved the effect and did antisocial stuff.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
It was pain, just pain… It felt like there was a hole in the middle of my chest. Like a black ball. I knew that if I looked at it, I would get sucked into it and get lost. It was horrible.
Inside, I felt alone, disconnected and overwhelmed. I felt if anybody knew the real me, they would want nothing to do with me. I wanted to die every day that I can remember.
What was your childhood like?
It was just painful. My mom did the best she could. She struggled with depression and, as a single mom, had her hands full just keeping a roof over us.
I don’t think my alcoholism had to do with what I experienced as a child. Lots of people who have it much worse than I did and end up fine, and lots of people who have it better end up drunks. I think my alcoholism has everything to do with how I metabolize alcohol and drugs. I think it’s biological. I have the phenomena of craving and that’s what I believe makes me an alcoholic.
But so you know, I grew up as the only child of my mom’s. My dad ultimately ended up with six kids of which I was the second oldest. He didn’t want anything to do with my mom and I. He struggled with addiction and mental health issues his whole life. He “spare changed” at the local library and, the last time I saw him, he was in a cardboard box with someone else’s clothes on. I felt bad about that my whole childhood.
By the time I was a teen, I was drinking on the weekends and usually two or three times a week by myself. These years were terrible. I still wince when any popular song comes on from those times. It was excruciating. I really feel as though I had to drink and drug. I tried to commit suicide many, many times—maybe as many as 10. Invariably, I would pass out and wake up again. Sometimes hearing how I seized, sometimes coming to in my own piss and poop, sometimes in the hospital—but I would always wake up again.
You want to know how to feel low? Fail at killing yourself. Fail more than once.
I learned as a kid to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. So in my teenage years, I ghosted, never too close, never too far away. I learned how to put up a false face. Inside, I was dying. I woke up every day thinking, “Fuck. I didn’t die.”
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I always knew I had a problem. I never wanted to drink. My dad drank and I hated him. I swore with everything inside of me that I would not end up like him. But I saw was that I drank differently from others; I always drank to not remember and I always craved it. I’ve always had it, the cravings. It was always something outside of me that stopped my drinking—drinks ran out, I passed out, I had no more money—never me. And I saw that other people seemed to have a limit. I think I was born a low bottom, hopeless alcoholic.
The other thing that made it easy for me was that I am one of those drunks they talk about in the book that get dangerously antisocial when they drink. That’s me. It doesn’t make me an alcoholic, it just makes my drinking horrible for me and the people around me.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I never rationalized my drinking. There was never a time in my life where it was okay. I had to drink and use. Emotionally, I hurt too much not to.
What do you consider your bottom?
I’ve had lots of really low moments drinking: pooping my pants, sleeping in vomit, being arrested, coming out of a blackout lost, begging on the street, doing degrading sexual things, committing crimes, sleeping outside in dirty places, passing out in clubs, saying and doing shameful things. But I don’t think I had a dramatic bottom like people talk about. By then, my life was shit, and had been for a while.
My last drink wasn’t anything special. It was January 2nd and I had been drinking since New Year’s Eve. I had started going to meetings earlier that fall. The house I was sleeping at was quiet; I was alone, it was like three in the morning. I had a warm beer, a bad toothache and was watching some soft porn on TV. I had a moment of clarity and heard this voice, which I believe now was my Higher Power. It said, “Right now is your opportunity.”
I had been seriously trying to quit for a couple of months and, like I said earlier, had never wanted to drink in the first place. I was not going to be my dad. I poured out that swag beer and fell asleep on the couch. The next day, my tooth hurt badly and it was a couple of days before I could get an appointment. The pain radiated the whole right side of my head, throbbing. That pain gave me my first couple of days. And I just didn’t pick up a drink after that.
Nearly four years later, I tried a drink again. I relapsed and awoke a little version of the beast. The craving came back, but just for that night. I was really surprised, I felt like I had never stopped. The following day, the craving wasn’t there and I came back in. I call that Grace. I started again from the beginning and it’s now been 19 years since that last drink.
This is the end of part one; check back next week for part two.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
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