This post was originally published on August 29, 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 Kourtney:
What is your sobriety date?
July 2, 2016
Where did you get sober?
The first time was in a treatment center in Canada last year called the John Volken Academy. I relapsed after eight months and spent part of this year testing out if “I was indeed alcoholic.” After self identifying without a doubt, round two was in Arizona by going to 12-step meetings.
When did you start drinking?
15 years old.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Chaos! At the time, I thought it was interesting and exciting on good days and wanted to kill myself on the bad days. I had been diagnosed bipolar, which I thought was my main problem. Now I see it was very much active alcoholism. I constantly struggled with work and relationships, while the self hatred permeated everything I did. I did have some ‘cool jobs’ I worked on tour, traveled a ton and was involved in the music industry.
What were your childhood and teenage years like?
I began life as a spoiled little brat who got a pony for her 7th birthday—need I say more? Teenage angst and drug use resulted in Mommy and Step-Dad pulling the plug and not only cutting me off, but also kicking me out at the age of 16. I lived in my car with friends and it really began the ‘gypsy life’ I led for most of my 20s.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
I was in pretty deep denial that I was indeed alcoholic. I knew my life was unmanageable, which brought me to rehab—but it had nothing to do with my blackout drinking, oh no! It really took studying the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (specifically the personal stories) before I identified as alcoholic. Even after rehab, I had some doubts which led to a relapse to see if I could drink normally. Turned out I could for a while, but when I managed my drinking (only two drinks or only drinking beer) I found it far less enjoyable. I also have cross addictions and have struggled with drugs and eating disorders before alcohol became my staple.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
It’s a social thing, it’s part of my job, it’s how I connect with people, it’s how I relax. Those were some of my go-to justifications. I also had a concept that drinking was sexy and sophisticated and it became part of my identity.
What do you consider your bottom?
I was depressed to the point I was planning my suicide. I was living with an ex, who also used and couldn’t find work, and drinking was the highlight of my days. I didn’t have any friends and felt incredibly isolated. So I called my mother, who I’m not close with, and asked for help. She helped me get to rehab.
Did you go to rehab? If so, where?
I went to the John Volken Academy in Surrey, BC, which is Canada for you Americans. I was there from August 2010 to November 2010. It is designed to be a two-year program and has a military/school vibe to it. No, I do not recommend it to anyone unless you have repeatedly relapsed from traditional 30/60/90 day programs and don’t mind isolation from the world for two years.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
I went in starkly agnostic. I did yoga and believed in the universe but the word “God” made me uncomfortable. I was raised Christian and at an early age found their explanations and stories ridiculous so I forgot about God all together. The program director at the academy was a spiritual, hippie, yoga teacher and really conveyed that I could make my own concept of God. So that is just what I did. I also found it helped me to ask myself what I value and what matters to me and do that inner work.
Did you go to AA? If so, what did you think of it at first? How do you feel about it now?
I was first introduced to the steps through Overeaters Anonymous (OA) years ago because I was bulimic. I didn’t get it then, the God thing confused me. Then last year when I started working the AA program I dove in head first. I am still learning what all AA has to offer which so far is, god consciousness, community, a sense of belonging, love and personal development. Yoga, mindfulness and DBT skills are still tools I use daily. Also, finding healthy ways to keep my mind and body busy—I have been hitting the gym a lot more.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
Not being able to enjoy a craft beer, I do miss that.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
The secret club I get to belong to! Seriously, it gave me the owner’s manual to my life that I have been looking for in jobs, relationships and countless self-help groups.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Trusting God and learning I am not the star, director and producer of this movie of my life. Taking things one day at a time—I used to constantly live in the future or dwell on the past but now I focus on one moment at a time. But the biggest one is about feelings; I used to let emotions rule my life and learning that I can have a feeling but it’s the action I take that counts, makes all the difference.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
One thing at a time.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
Besides the new manner of being, the relationship with God and clearing out my old thinking—it hasn’t happened yet.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I am currently on Step Four, about to do Step Five. I have already seen tremendous changes in myself and know there is more to come. I feel like a stone being polished by the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Whatever concept you may have of what a sober life looks like—smash it. I thought getting sober meant boring clothes, talking about Jesus to strangers, and sitting at home on a Friday night knitting. That was all bullshit! I can do anything (with God’s will) in sobriety—travel, adventure, explore and learn. All things I wanted while using which never happened because I spent all my money at the bars.
Any additional thoughts?
Get involved in the recovery community; isolation is our greatest enemy. In addition to AA, I am active in the yoga and burning man communities in my town as well as several Facebook groups like ‘Sobriety Evolution’ and ‘Sober Guy Sober Gal’. Plus podcasts—of course I dig the ‘After Party Pod’ but also like ‘This Life with Dr. Drew and Bob Forrest’. Just connect with people and learn how to have fun in recovery.
Photo provided by Kourtney; used with permission.