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 Maureen M.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
December 29, 2014
Where did you get sober?
When did you start drinking?
My first taste of alcohol was around 11, but it was just to try it.
What was your childhood like?
Looking back, I was very sad and lonely. I am the youngest of four kids born to Irish immigrants. My dad was an alcoholic who would get fall-down drunk most nights. He suffered from PTSD and had been shot in the head serving in Korea. He took a lot of medications for the brain injury and drank on top of it (not a good mix). When I was three, we found him passed out on the kitchen floor, having suffered a massive stroke. He remained paralyzed on one side and had to learn to speak again. My mom spent a lot of time at the hospital during his recovery. As a result, we where shipped off to relatives in New Jersey. She had a lot on her plate and suffered many “nervous breakdowns”—the 70’s term for losing it—during this period. Years later, she was diagnosed with schizo-effective disorder (it’s kind of like being bipolar but with psychotic breaks). She was hospitalized a lot during my childhood.
Painfully shy and disappearing in the family, I read a lot, barely speaking to other kids at school. But I was a good student, got decent grades, and went to Catholic school. I never stood out too much. As a teenager, I never touched drugs. I tried pot twice and hated it and didn’t even go near cigarettes. I’m a rare breed: pure alcoholic, nothing else. I had a tight circle of friends and we drank like typical kids, not really getting into trouble. In fact, I had a lot of fun. This was the only time in my life where it was any fun. My drinking ended up very sad and depressing and I was usually alone.
After college, I’d planned on going to law school. But this never panned out, as it was never my dream; it was my dad’s. I would make the worst lawyer! I always had a passion for music, books and dogs. For much of my childhood, I clung to these things. I still consider myself quiet and very reserved. I don’t do well in crowds and am definitely an introvert! Alcohol allowed me to connect with others and come out of my shell.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
At 15, two friends and I were drinking at one of their houses while her parents were in Hawaii. We thought we’d polish off a bottle of champagne, along with whatever else was in the house. According to my friends, I stopped breathing. So, they freaked out and called my parents. I had alcohol poisoning and had to take a ride in an ambulance while getting my stomach pumped. Our family mailman volunteered with the ambulance corp on the weekends. Guess who saw me in all my glory? Mail was never the same after that.
I always knew I was predisposed to alcoholism. By 17 I also knew I needed it to function socially. While my friends could take it or leave it, I needed it. Deep down, I knew this was unusual. A drink made me feel so much better. I became less shy and even funny! But inside, I was growing sadder and more depressed.
What was your life like before you quit drinking?
During college, I mostly stuck to my studies. Being so quiet, I was never attracted to nightlife or going out like other college kids. My senior year was tough. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very depressed and not sleeping. My dad was dying of cancer and life was bleak. I rarely ate and started drinking straight vodka by myself while my roommate would be out working. I got down to 88 pounds (I’m 5’4”). Incidentally, I never had an eating disorder; I just didn’t eat. Nobody knew my secret of drinking into oblivion alone while listening to music. The more depressing the music, the better.
In October 1990, at age 22, I attempted suicide for the first of many times. I overdosed on all the medications I could find around the house and took them with vodka. This landed me in the hospital and I was committed to a psych ward where I attended my first AA meeting. I was terrified. A recovering alcoholic nurse had felt the need to introduce me to the program. My impression was of a cult-like setting with a bunch of old men.
After being discharged from hospital, I voluntarily entered my first inpatient 28-day program at Commonwealth Place. I thought I did all the work, but in hindsight, I just skated through without anyone really noticing me. The next 15 years continued a vicious cycle of hospitals, depression, suicide attempts and treatment centers.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I would consume non-traditional forms of alcohol and think it didn’t really count as drinking. For example: mouthwash, hairspray and yes, even rubbing alcohol.
What do you consider your bottom?
I’ve had a few bottoms. Medically speaking, I’ve had numerous stomach pumps, been hooked up to a ventilator and even had a stint in the heart unit. These were after failed suicide attempts. I’ve gotten two DWIs, though there should have been more. I’ve been in jail, but never for more than six days.
Did you go to rehab?
I’ve been to many rehabs and outpatient clinics. I also went through two halfway houses. I have not listed all the ERs or psych admissions, as it is too difficult to recall them all. It was not uncommon for me to travel out of state for treatment, only to end up in the local psych wards of the local hospital.
Commonwealth Place (Syracuse, NY) November 1990
Tully Hill (Tully, NY) at least four times starting around 1992 until 2000
Colonial House (York, PA) for a 90-day inpatient program sometime in 1992
ADDLife (Greenville, SC) late 1990s
Hazelden (Center City, MN) late 1999 to 2000
Advanced Recovery Center (Delray Beach) early 2000s
The Life Healing Center (Santa Fe, NM) over 90 days
Creative Care (Malibu, CA) early 2000s
Creative Care (LA, CA) early 2000s
Charter Peachtree (Atlanta, GA) summer 2005
Charter (Greer, SC) at least 5 times
Carolina Center for Behavioral Health (CCBH) at least 10 times between 2002 and 2012
River Oaks (New Orleans, LA), from November 2013 to January 2014, was the last inpatient center I attended for five weeks for treatment of bipolar, PTSD and alcoholism
Alcohol Services (Syracuse, NY) 1994 to 1995
ADDLIFE (Greenville, SC) late 1990s
CCBH several times from the late 1990s to November 2010
Did anything significant happen during treatment?
Sad to say, nothing really special happened. In the beginning, I learned a lot about the disease and the 12 steps, but after a while, I fell into autopilot during 28-day programs. I believe people can get sober without treatment, though I do recommend 90-day programs whenever possible. Twenty-eight days does not seem long enough. But honestly, any sober time you can get is priceless. The bottom line is: you will get sober when you want to get sober.
Did you go to AA?
Yes, I did the 12-step thing and I think it’s great. However, I was always under the impression that if it wasn’t all 12-step, all the way, recovery was precarious. I beat myself up for years for failing at AA, only to lower my self-esteem even more. It became counterproductive.
Have you worked the 12 steps?
Pretty much, in my own way. I have had sponsors, done service work and made amends. I believe in the structure of the program but that it is not the only way.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate being judged and I believe there is a real stigma attached.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
I love that I’ve been able to discover my creative side and feel emotions. I like that I have the connection with people I so often longed for. I like being part of something.
What are the best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
I find exercise helps, particularly taking walks in nature. I love to read, listen to music and podcasts. Music is especially therapeutic. The best tool of all is connecting with others.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
I have several mantras. Just keep going. Never give up. This too shall pass. I can get through this!
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I learned to trust again and that I have a voice.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Never give up, try lots of meetings and be wary of people that aren’t healthy. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t for you. Ask questions. Speak your truth. Don’t put too much faith in any single person or institution. You have a story to tell and no two people do it alike. Get into therapy and then explore all options.
Bottom line, I think recovery is about connection. Whether it’s church, journaling, or exercising, find a positive outlet that allows you to share about what it going on. Recovery is about no longer feeling alone and isolated, as I so often did. As long as one person is in your corner, you can do this!
Any additional thoughts?
It takes what it takes so keep getting up. Never give up. God has a plan for you and you were put here for a reason. You can help someone else someday. I really want to emphasize how important gratitude is. This helps me so much. Someone always has it worse.
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