This post was originally published on November 16, 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 Sarah.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
March 30, 2014
Where did you get sober?
Los Angeles, California
When did you start drinking?
April of 2001
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
A constant state of managing hangovers and shame spiraling over my drunken behavior. When I wasn’t sick while drinking (toward the end, I would either drink myself ill or just completely black out) or sick from drinking, I was obsessing over whether or not I had a drinking problem. I loved being social and meeting friends for drinks but drinking alone was my preference so I didn’t have to worry about anyone judging how much I drank.
What was your childhood like?
I had a pretty normal and happy childhood. My parents never fought in front of me, we ate dinner as a family every night and I my summers were spent in camp or on beach trips. I have an older sister who started battling her own personal demons when I was about 11, which is when my drive for perfection and a sense of dissatisfaction began. I always felt like I had to be perfect because she had so many problems.
What was your relationship with alcohol as a teenager?
Drinking is a huge part of the culture where I was raised. Even though I didn’t drink in high school, I can now see the seeds of my alcoholism from that time because I never felt like I was enough. I was always looking for satisfaction outside of myself; constantly doing a million extracurricular activities because I was obsessed with having good resume for college. I ran for student council election every single year from 5th grade just because I wanted to prove I could get elected (and I could, by the way, every, single year). All I cared about was that I was well liked, it was never about making positive changes for the school.
I can’t remember ever feeling comfortable in my own skin. I never felt pretty and never got told I was pretty. People told me I was smart, talented and funny but never pretty. That’s stayed embedded in my psyche. I have always felt the need to achieve, be funny and likable because I know I wouldn’t be popular for my looks.
One of the activities I only did to look good on my resume was a club called “Partnership for Youth.” It was like a Christian-based MADD, dedicated to educating teenagers about the dangers of binge drinking. We had to sign a pledge saying we wouldn’t drink until we were 21 and I took it so seriously. At the end of my senior year, I finally said, “fuck it” and gave in to the temptation. I instantly loved the relief I felt in my brain after getting a buzz. I distinctly remember very early on in my drinking this fear of losing the buzz so constantly making sure I had a full drink. I now think that was what the Big Book calls “the phenomenon of craving.” Once I started drinking, there was always fear there wouldn’t be enough so I always overdid it.
Once I got to college, I tried to make up for all the lost drinking time in high school. I joined a sorority my freshman year and drinking became my number one priority. I managed to do a few extracurricular activities and kept the Christian front up as long as I could. I’d sing in a praise and worship band on Sunday nights still hungover from the night before – I never felt right about it. I tried to pursue theater but it required entirely too much commitment that cut into my drinking time. I am see now that getting drunk took precedent over everything in college.
What were the years like leading up to when you got sober?
I did a lot of embarrassing things throughout my 20s when I was drunk but most of it I was able to laugh off and dismiss as just having fun. So many of my friends drank the way I did but it did seem like my hangovers were more severe.
I behaved in ways I never would have sober. So when I’d lament about hooking up with random guys, my girlfriends would say, “you’re a grown woman having a little fun.” I’d pretend that made me feel better but secretly I loathed myself. I also had a rotation of friends I’d call when I did stupid shit when drunk so the same friend wouldn’t be getting all the information and wouldn’t know how often I was blacking out and doing things I regretted. There are quite a few incidents that I am deeply ashamed of and very grateful that something more horrible didn’t happen.
The anxiety I would get the day after drinking, especially after nights when I blacked out, became more and more unbearable. It would feel like the walls were closing in around me. I wanted to die. I would vow to never get that drunk again but I always inevitably did, sometimes the next week.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
By arguing that I’d never lost a job or ruined a friendship. And I often thought, I want to stop drinking but all my friends drink. I never got a DUI, which is only by the grace of God. My chest still tightens when I think about how often I used to drive drunk. I think I had this idea that when I was drinking I was a fun, pretty, party girl when in reality I was a bloated, blotchy-skinned, sloppy girl. I also bought into that “wine makes your food tastes better” bullshit. Yeah, that’s because you’re fucked up. I loved the stemware and the romantic aspect of drinking. I used to LOVE going to all different kinds of bars, flirting with men and maintaining that “having fun” was the most important thing in life. When fun comes at the cost of everything else that matters though, it starts to be an issue.
What do you consider your bottom?
I had a lot of bottoms over the course of 2013 but the one that really got me into action was blacking out at my friend’s parents’ house on Thanksgiving. I don’t remember the end of the evening but was told that I was the only drunk person there. It was the first time a close friend had the guts to tell me my personality often changed when I started drinking and maybe I should start trying to monitor how much I had. I broke down crying because I knew I had been trying to control it and not succeeding so cutting back just wasn’t going to be an option.
Did you go to rehab?
Did you go to AA?
What did you think of it at first?
I was very skeptical at first, so much so that I barely went to any meetings and I didn’t get a sponsor. I thought AA was depressing and hated the negative stigma I deemed to be associated with it.
What did you do to seek help and/or stay sober?
I managed to stay sober for 72 days barely going to AA then ended up relapsing when I didn’t have a proper support system in place and hit a period of severe stress in my career. Within a week of starting to drink again, all of the reasons I’d quit resurfaced. It only took one week. I kept drinking for another month, blacking out and making myself sick as usual but then hit my last bottom when I was too hungover to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I got on my hands and knees and asked God to help me. The next day I went back to AA and have stayed sober ever since.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate not being able to drink. I loved drinking. I also hate the overactive brain that basically is alcoholism – it never shuts up and it’s usually playing a very, very negative tape. I am re-learning ways to silence the negative thought patterns, now that I can’t do it with alcohol.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
If I’m honest, I don’t love anything about it. I still feel resentful about having to call myself that (yes, my sponsor has made me do a 4th step about this resentment). I do love never having a hangover and remembering everything I said and did. And my body is much better looking. But those are things a normal drinker just has. I don’t have those blessings because I’m an alcoholic; I have them because I don’t drink alcohol in excess.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Unfortunately, I rarely feel happy. But I blame that on me, not alcoholism. To stay sober and relatively content, I “play the tape forward” every time I want to drink. I regularly go to meetings and call my sponsor. I exercise a lot and let myself eat or drink whatever the hell I want. All these things have kept me sober.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“I don’t drink because, I can’t control it when I enjoy it and I can’t enjoy it when I control it.”
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
A deeper understanding of the term, “This too shall pass.” I’d heard that many times before even thinking about quitting drinking but I never put it into practice. I always used to feel like whatever emotion I was having—pain, life stress, depression—it was going to last forever. I was always panicked at the thought of discomfort or unhappiness. I now understand that human beings aren’t meant to feel good all the time and I don’t freak out as much (keywords: “as much”) on days when I am down.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I have. I am still grasping the concept of step work but I totally trust the process and find it very therapeutic. I always feel a sense of relief when I work through something with my sponsor.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
You’re not done until you’re done and that’s okay. Keep coming back, even if you don’t think or want to believe you’re an alcoholic. If you’re at a meeting or reading this in a self-hating hangover, chances are you’re struggling with your drinking. And if you do want to quit, it’s very difficult to do it alone. So find a support system or program of some sort. If you are truly an alcoholic, you probably won’t be able to stop on your own.
Any additional thoughts you’d like to share?
I am really proud of myself for quitting a 13-year habit. I am still surprised I’ve actually stayed sober and most of the time, the thought of relapsing terrifies me. And I think that’s a good thing.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories.