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; catch up one part one here.)
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
Did you go to rehab?
Nope. I detoxed alone. I had this warm, dry little nest in the basement of a local library in Jersey.
Did you go to 12-step?
If so, what did you think of it at first? How do you feel about it now?
I don’t remember anything about it except for one thing: the speaker talked about having a black hole in the middle of his chest. That was the first time I ever heard anyone talk about that. That’s exactly what I had. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. That was really intense. But I was drunk nonstop for the next two weeks.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I have worked the 12 steps. I work a daily 10, 11 and 12. Once, in a meeting years ago, I heard something and has it stayed with me ever since. This young woman said, “I had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, that’s true, but I learned that I can fall back asleep.” That makes a lot of sense to me. So this time, I work to seek my Higher Power every day. I work to stay awake.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I only love one thing about being an alcoholic. Being an alcoholic means that I get the program of recovery laid out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe that the spiritual program it describes is as great and powerful and significant as any of the world’s major religions. I really feel this way, I do.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Look at my answer above. I love one thing about being a drunk and I hate everything else. I hate the disease, I hate what it does to people, I hate what it did to me, I hate what it can still do to my family and me. I hate it. Addiction is pure evil; it will take away everything bright and light in life.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
I have this app on my phone that has a searchable copy of the Big Book on it. I use it nearly every day.
Prayer and meditation is everything. And my third is the motto “This Too Shall Pass.” That means, just like the bad stuff will pass, the good stuff will too. It gives me a sense of equanimity, which is so powerful for getting and staying centered.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
I don’t have a mantra so much as a picture. In the Big Book, there’s this story where a farmer comes up out of the storm cellar after a big storm and, while surveying the devastation, the farmer says to his wife, “Don’t see much the matter here, ain’t it great ma the wind stopped blowing.” I picture that guy, that little family; I picture maybe they have some kids coming out of the cellar with them, I picture the farmhouse gone, the crops destroyed, pieces of machinery and building strewn to the horizon in every direction. And this guy, clueless, a positive thinking useless sack, has a smile on his pink cloud fool mouth. His kids don’t have shelter. Everything is gone. His wife turns to him and thinks, “Oh shit, what are we gonna do?” And this asshole is standing there, grinning. I think about him and about them. I’m not gonna be him.
I think this story sticks in me so much because it’s the only place I know of in the Big Book that they admonish some of us. It’s the only place where they say, “That’s not good enough, you gotta be better than that.” Right before the story is the line, “We think a man unthinking when he says sobriety is enough.” The founders told us not to be that guy. Powerful.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I healed. That pain I talked about early on? I don’t have it anymore. Anybody who has hurt inside so bad that it takes your breath away knows what a big deal that is.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
There’s so much to try to cram into the heads and hearts of the newcomer. I feel bad for them, I do. I remember what that was like. But for me, I say two things:
1. The founders created the Big Book with the hope and expectation that it contain everything an alcoholic would need to recover. The book is both the first edition stories and the text in the first 164 pages.
2. I recommend getting into the book right now with someone who knows it and can explain it to you. If you can’t do that, for whatever reason, go to a Big Book study group and go through the book that way. There are things in it that are critical to long-term, happy, useful sobriety that don’t get mentioned in the 12 steps on the wall. Those are just bullet points.
Any additional thoughts?
From what I’ve seen, I believe there are three phases to 12-step recovery: arrive, survive and thrive. First, we arrive to the rooms, beat up and destroyed, willing and scared. And we get the book, figure out a fellowship, get some sober friends, go to meetings, get a sponsor and learn how to survive without drinking or drugging. The second phase can last a lifetime; figuring out how to survive. This is all the stuff we talk about in beginners meetings. That’s living sober. Many people stop there. They are content to just survive, to not pick up a drink or a drug and go about their life. But the book tells us to go further, that there’s a third phase, and many, many folks never make it there.
The third phase is learning to thrive in real life as a recovering person. It’s more rare than it should be. In fact, many people don’t even know that there is this third phase. The book talks about it, but since its focus is rightfully on the first two phases, the founders don’t spend much time on it. They only tell us it exists. When I first began to understand that there was a third phase to recovery, I looked around me for a sponsor to take me there, to show me the way. I went from sponsor to sponsor trying to find a reliable path. I figured it out, but it took too many years and too many false starts. So my sponsor told me that if I had a problem with that, to do something about it. That challenge gave birth to 12 Step Box.
Helping people reach, stay and grow in the third phase is the point of 12 Step Box. We use technology to better the lives of people recovering from addiction. And it’s awesome being a part of it. Amazing. Awe-inspiring. It’s so much fun organizing and delivering the best of what we know about thriving, but rooted solidly in the 12 steps, so people like us can understand and apply all the tools and tips and tricks and experience. I think about that farmer…
This is the end of part two; catch up one part one.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
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