This post was originally published on December 28, 2015.
People get sober in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they 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 Paul S.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
May 4, 2011
Where did you get sober?
When did you first start drinking?
I picked up my first “real” drink when I was 15 years old. I recall standing on the grassy median of a busy road, drinking warm beer with my friends and talking about how we weren’t getting laid and who recently beat us up in the school hallways. Good times. Until then, it was either sips of my dad’s beers or, more accurately, he’d let me suck the foam from the top of a freshly opened can. I really had no interest in the whole deal, even when I did pick up those first drinks.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Torture. Up there with Bieber and Bjork doing a Yoko Ono tribute album. That kind of torture. Until I quit drinking, living was just a daily grind, another reason to get drunk, an excuse to blame the world for all my problems. I was sick in all manners and meanings—mentally, spiritually and physically. I was blind to all my shortcomings and my ego ran the show…into the ground. I was weighed down by the lies, guilt and shame that shaped my warped reality. My tolerance was staggering and the consequences of my drinking were piling up.
What was your childhood like?
I can no more blame my childhood for my alcoholism as I can blame the sky for my shoe size. It is what it is. Sure, I was bullied a lot but lots of other kids are bullied and don’t become alcoholics. My upbringing was normal in most regards—my parents were loving and did the best that they could with the limited support and tools they had. I was a sensitive and nerdy kid; I was generally well-liked and excelled in school until the bullying started. And while my drinking started roughly at the same time that the harassment and beatings did, I don’t believe it was the cause of my alcoholism. Although, the bullying certainly did cast the mold for someone who needed to escape and to avoid the big, scary world.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I don’t recall the exact moment I crossed that invisible line of going from cucumber to pickle (I prefer less phallic-y vegetable comparisons, by the way) but I do recall, in the latter part of my 25-year drinking career, that I would stand in front of the mirror—and in a sick, kind of proud way—say aloud, “I”m an alcoholic.” I always knew that something was off, that I was maladjusted to life, but could never ascribe it to one thing. Drinking was just something I did.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
I had this imagined self that I tried to live up to; this hard-done-by, oh-woe-is-me, hard-assed outsider who didn’t need anyone. I was a lone wolf and I envisioned myself to be a hard drinking, quiet malcontent, Clint Eastwood type who no one understood. And so I bent reality to fit this sick ideal. I didn’t see anything wrong with chugging vodka in the morning or hiding bottles everywhere. It was such a norm that I think I even stopped rationalizing it. I just knew it as being “me.”
What do you consider your bottom?
I had many, many bottoms. That alcoholic elevator only goes in one direction—down. The defining moment was when I got busted on a DUI, with my toddler son in the back of the car. I had lethal levels of booze in my bloodstream and thankfully, mercifully, I was taken off the road. It was then and there that the jig was up. I think my ego (alcoholism) would have brought me to greater depths of despair and pain if I hadn’t been stopped. I am grateful that I was taken that way, that my sickness was held up to the light that day. That experience caused me to not only lost my license but to lose my wife, son and any job prospects that I had. I lost my imagined self and my whole world seemed to disappear, which—in the end—turned out to be a good thing.
Did you go to rehab?
I did go to treatment, straight out of detox. I recall having several “God shots” while I was there. One night, before going to bed, I prayed (something I had never done until then) and asked that the obsession to drink leave me. All I wanted was to not drink again and I felt like I would do anything to not go back to my old ways. And I heard a voice, as clear as if someone was behind me whispering into my ear, say, “That’s all I wanted you to say, Paul. That is all I need.” Not that the obsession left me that moment in some Hollywood kind of way—it took several months—but I think with that prayer, something shifted. I felt the presence of a Higher Power. I felt for the first time in my life that I was being cared for in a way I didn’t understand, but certainly felt.
Did you go to 12-step?
The treatment center I went to was 12-step based, so that was all I knew at first. I tackled recovery like the desperate man I was; I got a sponsor, went to many meetings and worked the steps. I went through many stages in the beginning—often I loved AA but then I would vacillate and resent the meetings and the work. What was consistent was that I continued to work at it, even when I hated the process. Doing so got me through all my self-sabotaging ways. I knew I had one shot at this deal so I did what was asked of me, and in the end, it was like a new Paul emerged. I dug deep into the tough stuff, the crusty stuff, and came out a different person. I am grateful for 12-step and still do the work. I have sponsored many men. I don’t go to many meetings, to be honest, but I do a lot of recovery work on my own and online via my podcast, articles and guest posts. I continue to seek spirituality and have found many other ways to express and experience it outside of (but not exclusive of) 12-step. I am grateful for the program, which has connected me to my Higher Power/The Divine/Creator.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
There is nothing I hate about being an alcoholic, per se. I can say that I don’t like what it did to my family and that I feel like I wasted a lot of my life, so I do hate the illness. I hate how it takes beautiful people from us. I hate how it destroys lives and families and friendships. I hate the toll it takes on society. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
What I love about being an alcoholic is that it has brought me to a place where I can learn to be who I was meant to be. I get to learn how to live life in ways that I never imagined possible. I am ever-evolving and learning that I am not the center of the universe (what?) and that the true path to happiness is a process and not an event. Being an alcoholic in recovery has opened my eyes to things I never would have seen or experienced if I hadn’t done the work. I strongly feel that the hell I went through was for a reason. I am still finding my voice, my purpose, but I know that it wasn’t for naught.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Acceptance. Shifting perspective. Prayer and meditation.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
Let that shit go, homie.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I have had many, many fantastic things happen in my recovery. Some are external but I think the most valuable thing that has happened is that I have been able to have my eyes opened to a greater reality. I am more and more able to just be and feel content; to be comfortable in my own skin and feel authentic. I have been able to gain a deep and strong connection to Creator, others and myself. And from that all things flow. Even when life throws rotten tomatoes at me, I know that things will work out. Not necessarily how I want them to but they will still work out.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Do this for you and you alone. There are no shortcuts. To be sober and happy, it’s about a new way of thinking and looking at life rather than just abstaining. And most importantly, you are worth it.