This post was originally published on May 9, 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, blogger and The Roustabout Heart author, Mary K:
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
March 26, 2001.
Where did you get sober?
Northern New Jersey. Specifically, Pompton Lakes.
When did you start drinking?
I was always aware of alcohol. When I was little and my parents drank, I worried. They fought, my dad fell down stairs. Family parties were a nightmare. I guess I was around 13 years old when I considered alcohol something I should be trying for myself. I was certain I could do a much better job than my folks.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
My life was crisis driven paranoia. Exhausting monotony. Tedious self-imprisonment.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was chaotic. Life at home was pretty unpredictable. My father was a blackout drinker. Mom drank because she was frustrated and angry at Dad. Nonetheless as a teenager, I moved toward booze enthusiastically. I was popular and had lots of friends. Drugs got me excited, and drinking helped me relax.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
I was very protective of my relationship with drugs and alcohol. Boyfriends who broke up with me were stupid. Employers who fired me were assholes. Family members who hassled me needed to mind their own fucking business, unless they were willing to lend me money. I refused to admit I had a problem. The very thought was terrifying. I felt like I didn’t have any options. I couldn’t envision life without drinking and getting high. I was completely disconnected from my physical body and emotional feelings. I was a scared and confused girl—trapped in the ass end of a beat-to-shit horse suit, putting on a show.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Alcohol was my first love. I added coke and speed to the mix so I could drink more. I drank more to calm down from all the coke and speed I did. I convinced myself that my behavior seemed rational until it wasn’t. But still, I kept going.
What do you consider your bottom?
It didn’t matter what I drank, how much dope I snorted or pills I took, I couldn’t get loaded the way I used to. I was barely sleeping—I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up. I started seeing a therapist to get my husband off my back. I thought maybe if I could just get some prescriptions to help chill me out…this was really the beginning of the end of my drinking. And several long weeks after that, my drug use.
Did you go to rehab?
I didn’t go to [inpatient]rehab. I was too afraid and embarrassed. I detoxed and went through extensive outpatient treatment at St. Claire’s Hospital in Boonton and Denville, New Jersey.
Did anything significant happen during treatment?
When I initially got sober, I was actually quite surprised every morning that I hadn’t croaked in the night. I truly believed that’s what would happen when I slept. This realization was amazing.
Did you go to AA?
I kept seeing the therapist. He helped me stop drinking first. I went to AA, high and agitated. I couldn’t sit for the whole hour. As time passed and I was able to separate myself from the drugs, I started to feel like AA was the only safe place for me. I didn’t want meetings to end.
Have you worked the 12 steps?
I love the steps! They are such strenuous, honest work. Through these exercises, I was able to put down the burden of shame and pick up simple coping mechanisms that got me through each day. I began to demonstrate sensible behavior. I put a week together, then two and three. My abstinence from drugs and alcohol developed its own momentum that became something I could be proud of. Through the steps, I began accepting responsibility for the fucked up shit I did, and that felt good. These straightforward admissions systematically encouraged me to forgive myself for mistakes I’d made. I started to forgive others. My life was changing and continues to change in such positive ways.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate that I can’t drink the way I wanted to. And use drugs freely. My perception of reality was so warped. My desires, completely unreasonable. I stumbled around for almost 25 years with an arrow in my head, dragging a bear trap around at the end of a bloody foot. I signed up every day for these conditions. Voluntarily. Enthusiastically. Self-will run riot.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love the joy and insight that comes from all the darkness and despair I’ve been through. It’s an exceptional experience to survive addiction. To live and love sober.
What are the best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
The first drink will get me drunk. I need and deserve sleep. I go to meetings and help others. I share honestly: the ugly shit and the beautiful stuff.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
Be hopeful. Stay hopeful.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I can live inside my body with comfort and ease. My mind has been made whole. My relationship with God is rock solid. I used to be a lying, manipulative chicken shit. Today, honesty is a reflex. I am the kind of friend people can depend on. This means a lot to me.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
My advice? Let today be the day you do something different. These first moments are painful and scary, but mercifully brief in the big scheme of things. All possibilities exist just beyond this confusion and torment. Happiness is real.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.