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 regular AfterParty contributor Sean:
What is your sobriety date?
January 2, 2009
Where did you get sober?
Los Angeles, California
When did you start drinking?
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Really depressing. I was waiting tables and drinking every night. The career that I wanted as a writer never really took off and most of my relationships were centered around getting loaded.
What was your childhood like? Teenage years?
I had a happy childhood but I did grow up in an alcoholic home so that’s stressful and I was always this weird, queer oddball of a little boy who wanted to dress up as Wonder Woman instead of playing sports. I was really imaginative and I think that desire to not be in reality was what appealed to me early on with drugs and alcohol. I pretty quickly found other kids who wanted to drink, smoke cigarettes, listen to the Smiths and take acid.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
Age 19 and then again at 25, and again at 30 and 35, and I finally got the message at 36. I’m a slow learner. Basically from the get-go my relationship with drugs and alcohol was out of control. I spent the next 19 years or so trying to drink and use drugs like a normal person to no avail.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Even though I drank and used nearly every day for 20 years, I honestly thought it wasn’t out of control. I know—crazy. But I rationalized it in all kinds of stupid ways like, “My life is stressful” or “I’m just being festive!’ But when you’re drinking alone on a Tuesday doing laundry, it ain’t festive.
What do you consider your bottom?
I was evicted from my apartment in December 2008 and my whole world was a total disaster. I was drinking every day and using cocaine a few times a week. I was in a relationship with someone who I drank with. It was all really bleak. I had to change so I called my siblings, one of them being my sister who had like four years sober at the time and I got really serious about stopping drinking.
Did you go to rehab?
Did you go to AA?
I did. My dad and sister both got sober through AA so I figured I might as well give it a shot. After all, I’d tried it on my own with no support several times and it never worked.
What did you think of it at first? How do you feel about it now?
I was in such a fog and my life was so jacked up that I think I was pretty open to what AA had to offer. I’d seen it work in my family and what I was doing wasn’t working so I threw myself into it around five months sober. It was incredibly helpful to be around people who were going through the same stuff and who could tell that everything was going to be okay. I still go to meetings, have a sponsor and sponsor others. That being said, my life and sobriety are totally different than they were in 2009. Everything’s expanded and the emotional terrain, in some ways, is even more tricky. So I’m grateful for my home group and other sober people who help me navigate that kind of stuff too.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
I have done the steps and I’m currently doing them again for the fourth time. I think they’re great. The 12 steps aren’t as fire and brimstone and as dramatic as they seem. Each time doing them has been miraculous for me but it’s also been relaxed and totally eye opening. I was out of options and found a solution in the 12 steps so I’m really grateful.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I’d have to say nothing. It really has been a gift.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
So much! Being an alcoholic means I get to know who I really am and get an opportunity to change. It also means that I have a legitimate excuse to never have to go to a lame bar or terrible party again!
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Other alcoholics, the 12 steps and walking.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
“Give yourself a break.” I heard a speaker say it at the Marina Center at six months sober and I still say it to myself. I mean, we can’t get better if we’re beating ourselves up, right? I was so frustrated in the beginning that I wasn’t feeling better or that it wasn’t working fast enough. But the thing is as long as I don’t drink, everything is already better. The rest of the stuff comes as long as we take it easy on ourselves and don’t pick up.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
Well, I’ve gotten all the gift basket stuff—the amazing new husband, doing work that I love, better relationships and better physical health, which is fantastic. But the best thing is that I can now honestly say I love myself for exactly who I am and that’s a real gift of getting sober.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Don’t get sober alone. Seriously. It sucks. There’s help out there and people who know what you’re going through, if you ask for it.
Any additional thoughts?
Getting sober has really allowed my creative side to blossom and come full circle. I’m now writing all the time, podcasting and collaborating with a bunch of other sober artists. It’s the life I always wanted but couldn’t figure out how to get. All I had to do is change everything and stop killing myself and my whole world got better. I truly believe that can happen for anybody willing to do the work too.
Photo provided by Sean Mahoney; used with permission. Click here to read all our How I Got Sober stories.