This post was originally published on July 5, 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 reader spotlight is also an AfterParty contributor and author, Lisa:
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
April 5, 2004
Where did you get sober?
New York City
When did you start drinking?
I started taking sips off adults’ drinks when I was about eight, just to try the stuff that seemed to make everyone so happy. I started drinking beers on weekends with friends when I was 12. I was a blackout drunk on weekends by the end of high school.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Fear, shame and lies, not necessarily in that order. At the end of my using, I was drinking around the clock and using a lot of cocaine. I would go to bed at night with a drink on my nightstand because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without a drink to settle down my tremors and sweats. Then after drinking, I’d immediately need to turn to the cocaine to “straighten me out,” so I could go to work. I hated myself but was terrified of trying to quit. I couldn’t imagine life without drinking and cocaine.
What was your childhood like?
I was always a nervous, fearful kid. Before I discovered alcohol, I ate to soothe those feelings. Compulsive eating made me fat, which led to other kids teasing me. That made me more self-conscious and sad, so I ate more. Once I discovered alcohol, I realized that while food was great, booze could really help me. It didn’t make me feel overly happy—it just relaxed me and shut up the voice in my head that kept telling me how much I sucked. It was a vicious cycle of self-medicating that didn’t break until I got sober.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I knew 10 years before I got sober that I was an alcoholic, but I was terrified of that idea and could not imagine life without drinking. I did everything I could to hide it, but as a progressive disease, it became harder and harder (impossible) for me to control. Over the years, evening drinking became lunchtime drinking became breakfast drinking became drinking around the clock, propped up with cocaine.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
The rationales were endless, but most of it was the old “If you had my life, you’d drink, too.” I blamed my job and the fact that no romantic relationship had worked out. But really, I blamed anything—the fact that it was Tuesday, the strange look that a cab driver gave me. “The holidays” were a big excuse and they basically ran from Halloween through New Year’s. Everything and nothing were reasons for drinking. Also, I was doing well at work, so how bad could I really be?
What do you consider your bottom?
After 10 years of misery, fear and deception, I just ran out of gas. It was a Monday morning and I was on my way to work after a weekend of drinking, using, not eating and not sleeping. I was out of coke and knew I’d have to coordinate with my dealer yet again that afternoon. Staying wasted all the time was hard work. That day, I got to the elevator and just couldn’t push the “down” button. Something snapped and I said, “I give up. I need help.” I was just so sick and exhausted. I couldn’t do it for another day.
Did you go to rehab?
I went to detox for five days at Gracie Square, a psych hospital in Manhattan. I really didn’t know what I was doing—I just knew that I needed to go that day or I wouldn’t do it. After five days on Librium, the doctors pushed me to go to a 28-day rehab, but I refused. I was afraid to tell my law firm. If I went away somewhere and missed that much work, I’d need to explain and I wasn’t willing to do that. I was willing to tell family and friends about my addiction, but not my law firm.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
The most powerful things I remember are 1) words written in marker at the top of the white board in the detox dayroom: Get Up. Get Dressed. Get with the Program. I didn’t know what “the program” was, but things as simple as getting up and getting dressed seemed like pretty great achievements if I could accomplish them. It was more than I had been doing in recent memory. And 2) the speaker at the AA meeting I got dragged to in detox. He kept saying over and over, “You do not pick up no matter what. You do not pick up no matter what.” He really drove home the urgency of what I would need to do and that it had to be my top priority if I didn’t want to land back in detox again—if I were to be that lucky the next time.
What did you think of 12-step at first? How do you feel about it now?
I was just astounded there was a room full of people whose brains worked like mine. I was shocked it wasn’t just me, that I wasn’t alone, as I had believed. Addiction owned me, and they understood that and had been there. Yet here they were sober. I was willing to listen and try what they suggested. I was fortunate enough to have the gift of desperation. Now I believe that it saved my life.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
The stigma that I think still surrounds addiction and mental health issues. I think it has improved greatly even in the 12 years since I got sober, but it’s still there. I would love to do even just a little bit to break that stigma, particularly among lawyers. We suffer from alcoholism at more than twice the rate of the general population. People tell me that I don’t “look like” an addict. Do they say to other people that they don’t “look like” diabetics? Somehow, I doubt it.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
The people. I have incredible friends and family who are not alcoholics, but I have met some of the most fantastic people in sobriety. It’s so great to see people succeed and find peace when I know the kind of struggle they’ve had against this awful disease.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
It has allowed me to process all of the things that happened and try to understand why. It’s cathartic to me and has helped my family and friends to understand things they’ve never experienced, like the all-consuming mental obsession to drink and use drugs.
Staying connected to the rooms. Going to meetings, talking to my sponsor, sponsoring others. If I don’t keep it green, I’m terrified that history will repeat itself and I’ll find myself holding a drink. It’s not broken, so I won’t fix it.
A sense of humor about it all. I have to be able to laugh about things and not take myself too seriously. Sobriety has taught me that the world doesn’t revolve around me and I’m not in charge. It makes it easier not to sweat the small stuff.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“If Anthony Kiedis can do it, I can do it.” I am madly in love with him and his book, Scar Tissue, was so great. I find a lot of sober connections in Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
My marriage. I met my husband when I was about one and a half years sober. He’s never seen me drink and I plan to do everything I can to keep it that way. Also, being present and of service when my father was dying. He was the most wonderful, special man and I was with him every step of the way. If I had still been drinking and using, I would have been sitting on a bar stool bitching about how unfair it was that my father was sick. It was such a miracle to be present for him instead.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
Yes. For me, they provide relief. I remember feeling profound relief in doing Step Three and being able to say, “I’m not in charge of the big picture here. All I can do is take the next right action and let go of the results.” I can’t control everything in life, so I shouldn’t try to. I’ve learned to keep my side of the street clean. If I do that, I don’t have to feel guilty and ashamed as I felt the whole time I was drinking.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Sobriety seriously is one day at a time, whether you’re in AA, another program or no program. Don’t worry about anything down the road. All we have is today and the only decision we need to take is not to pick up a drink today. I have never woken up in the morning sorry that I didn’t drink the night before.
My memoir, Girl Walks out of a Bar, came out on June 7! The miracles of sobriety!
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.
Photo provided by Lisa Smith. Used with permission.