This post was originally published on October 19, 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 Laura.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
What is your sobriety date?
September 28, 2014
Where did you get sober?
When did you start drinking?
At around 14 I had my first drink. The first time I started to drink with intent was when I was 17.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
All through my 20s I was the friend people had to babysit at the bars. I laughed it off, but was always deeply ashamed and afraid. Why didn’t other people get so shitfaced? Why didn’t I even want to control my drinking?
Through my 20s and 30s I built a long list of secrets about my drinking behavior. I started to drink more often, sneak drinks, call in sick for work, only hang out with people who drank like I did. The scarier it got, the harder I worked to maintain the exterior. I did well at work, went to grad school, kept up a bangin’ social life. But that chasm between who I was on the outside and what was happening inside got bigger. In the quiet moments, pain threatened to swallow me whole. I threw running, yoga, work, a marriage, more work, friendships, plans and anything else I could at it.
What was your childhood like?
I don’t really identify with the “I was born this way” idea, although I don’t doubt it can be true. I do know that from as early as I can remember, I was ashamed of and overwhelmed by my feelings, I was incredibly sensitive, particularly to my parents’ emotions. They got divorced when I was young and I quickly filled the “everything is going to be alright” role—covering for both of them, pretending I was okay so they didn’t worry or feel bad, etc.—and I can see that now as the beginning of disconnecting with how I actually felt.
By the time high school came around, my mom had been re-married twice, so I started to mistrust consistency and “goodness.” This, coupled with a volatile, emotionally abusive dad who struggled with his own alcoholism and demons, a crippling case of “let me please you” and at the end of high school, a severe eating disorder, made me a prime candidate for addiction.
Do you remember the first time you thought you had a problem?
At the end of college, I got pregnant (I had sex while drunk, and was too ashamed to ask my “good, caring friend” to use a condom). I knew I was getting an abortion, but there was a lag between this knowing and the actual appointment. I drank a lot. It felt wrong and scary—like maybe there should be another way of working through the pain?
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I rationalized it with stress, anxiety, life. Sometimes I didn’t even need to rationalize it—others did it for me. The idea you might have a problem is threatening to other people, too—particularly if they’re questioning their own behavior. There were plenty of places for me to hide.
What do you consider your bottom?
My bottom, although it was not the end of my drinking, was at my brother’s wedding. Because I was blacked out, I put my daughter in an unsafe situation and my family saw it. I was horrified by the situation, but more pissed off that I was caught. I knew from that point, people would be watching me, so I was forced to take steps toward change.
Did you go to rehab?
Did you go to AA?
Yes, I started going to AA after the incident at my brother’s wedding. Going to my first meeting was one of the scariest things I’d ever done. I kept going for over a year while I was still drinking.
However, I really like AA now. It works for me.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate the stigma and the silence. People would rather be called just about anything than an alcoholic. Why is this something we hide? When I got sober I thought, “Where the f*ck is everyone else?” “Where are my people?” The only place I could find them was in the rooms of AA—and thank God for that—but there’s something deeply wrong with it.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I love it because it brought me here. I love no hangovers. I love not hiding from life and playing small. I love that I’m not controlled by alcohol any more. I love that I am free.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Telling the truth (which I learned in AA). Extreme self-care—knowing when I am hungry, angry, lonely and tired, and giving myself a lot of space to honor my feelings. Helping others (also learned in AA).
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“No feeling is final.”
It’s a line from the poem Go to the Limits of Your Longing by Rainer Maria Rilke:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
That I am supported by God (the universe, master intelligence, whatever you want to call it). That I can’t do this all myself, and more importantly, I don’t have to.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I am in the middle of working on the steps right now. I do step one every morning when I wake up.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
I wrote something to myself in early sobriety about a month ago. These are the things I would say.