This post was originally published on December 21, 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 Sherry.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
January 7, 2010
Where did you get sober?
Charlotte, North Carolina
When did you first start drinking?
About age 17. When I grew up, you could drink beer and wine at 18 so of course we had to start a little early.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
Miserable. I was sitting in my room, by myself, isolated from my family and drinking bottle after bottle of Chardonnay every night. I hated the looks on my kids’ faces when they saw me drunk. I hated started every day sick as a dog. But every single day I got up and did it again, over and over, like a really hellish version of Groundhog’s Day.
What was your childhood like?
Not very good. My father was an alcoholic who lost his eyesight due to a degenerative disease and remained bitter about it until the day he died. He drank for most of my childhood (although he did get sober 13 years before his death) and while he was not abusive, we walked on eggshells around him when he was drinking. My mother was a narcissist who made everything about her. I grew up feeling like I was never enough yet also like the only adult in the house. I acted as peacemaker; I was a best friend to my mother and a mother to my sister. As a result I am a textbook Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA): a perfectionist and a control freak. I feel the need to take care of everyone. But I’m getting better in recovery.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
Most of my hard partying was done in the 80’s. Everything was over the top in that decade, including the partying. I stayed away from drugs but my husband and I drank most nights and then got up, went to work, and did it all over again. I thought I was just like everyone else except that I didn’t have an “off” switch. I was always the one saying, “Just one more!” I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. One night, we came home from a party and for the first time I said out loud, “I think I have a drinking problem.” My husband laughed and said, “You’re fine.” That was the first time the thought crossed my mind but it definitely wasn’t the last.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
How didn’t I? I had a hard day. My mom was driving me crazy. I broke a nail. I’d throw parties at our house just so I could drink. I’d tell myself I deserved the wine, I needed it. I didn’t matter that it was bankrupting us. It didn’t matter that I looked like crap and didn’t care about anything. None of that mattered because at 5 pm, I got to pour my first glass of wine. I told myself that I was fine; I had a good job, was in good heath (well, other than my triglycerides being through the roof) and I had never had a DUI. I was sure that I wasn’t hurting anyone and that only those closest to me knew how bad it was. To the outside world, I was still superwoman.
What do you consider your bottom?
I had tried to quit a couple of times but always went back. One night around the holidays, I went upstairs, woke my husband and told him we needed to talk (this was code for “I’m about to start an argument”). He propped himself up on one elbow, looked me in the eye and said, “I think you’re drinking too much.” That was it. It might sound like such a small thing but this man had been through everything with me. He knew me better than anyone and would never say anything to would hurt me. I knew that if he felt that way, it had to be true.
Did you go to rehab?
Did you go to 12-step?
Not right away. I sought out online resources at first because I was so ashamed. I had a vision of an alcoholic and she didn’t look like me. She looked like my dad or a homeless person but definitely not like me. I had secondary knowledge of AA through my sister who was in and out of the rooms for years. I didn’t trust the program and I thought I was above it all. I joined a women’s group online and was relieved to find out that I was not alone. There were lots of people out there just like me; people with jobs and homes and families who drank in secret or only around those closest to them. I pounded away at my keyboard and poured my heart out. It felt so good. I was scared to death but at least I knew I wasn’t the only one suffering.
Have you worked the 12 steps? What is your opinion on them?
Yes. They helped me move into recovery and I am grateful for that.
What else did you do, or have you done, to stay sober?
One day, I was watching Oprah (or maybe it was Dr. Phil) and Jane Velez-Mitchell was on talking about her new book iWant: My Journey from Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life. I ordered the book right away and devoured it as soon as it arrived. This began the biggest part of my recovery other than blogging: my “drunk books.” I went on to Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story and never looked back. There’s a comprehensive list of the books that saved me on my blog.
After about two years of sobriety, I came across a blog titled, The Act of Returning to Normal, which was written by a woman trying to stay sober. This launched my blogging career and I was finally able to do what I always said I would do: write. Even if no one ever read my blog I would still write. It’s how I get all the crazy crap that’s rolling around in my head down so I can see it objectively and determine whether or not I’ve lost my mind. Blogging has been a miracle and the friendships I’ve found in the community are some of the strongest I’ve ever had.
It was also at about two years that I started feeling restless and discontent which, if you ask any alcoholic, is a very dangerous place to be. I decided to give AA a try. It wasn’t what I had perceived at all. It was rooms filled with people just like me seeking support and love. I completed my 12 steps and credit AA with starting my recovery process but I didn’t keep going. It just wasn’t what I wanted in my recovery. I think they are an amazing organization and I have referred many, many people to the rooms over the years. I will eternally be grateful.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
If you had asked me this in early sobriety I would have said something like, “I hate not being able to drink like a normal person,” or “I hate all the years I wasted drinking.” But now I think what I hate is the stigma associated with alcoholism and addiction. I hate being nervous about telling people I don’t drink. I seldom tell people I am an alcoholic for fear of what they’d think and because I really hate labels. However, I also do not embrace anonymity. For me, I need to own my truth. I will reach out to anyone who needs help and that includes people who are not addicted. If I think it will help someone to know that I’m recovering, then I will tell them. I refuse to hide in the shadows like I’m ashamed of who I am. I was ashamed but I’ve come to know that I’m a warrior and I’m proud of that.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
In recovery, I love the hangover free mornings and sober sleep. I love the compassion and patience I’ve learned and the fact that recovery has opened my world and my heart up to an understanding of myself that I’ve never had before. I’m figuring out who I am and what I want to be when I grow up and that’s a very good thing. None of that would have happened if my life hadn’t taken the path it did. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Be vigilant. Addiction lies and waits for you to be at your weakest before it jumps up and bites you on the butt. Addiction never dies but it sleeps. Be aware.
Honor your feelings. So many of us drank to numb and escape our feelings. Being sober means living life on life’s terms and that means we have to feel our feelings. I don’t try and stuff mine down any more. I try to recognize them and honor them for what they are: just emotions. Synapses firing and triggering hormones, that’s all. Sometimes they take hold and I need some help letting them go (blogging, husband, therapy, hugs from my kids, meditation, yoga) and sometimes I can hold the door for them and say, “Come again, won’t you?” Either way I’m not stuffing them and that’s the most important thing. And don’t forget that a good cry is therapeutic. It’s like God’s Prozac. It resets our hormones.
Meet each day with a grateful heart. Never think about what you gave up when you quit drinking, think about what you gained and be grateful for it. Thank the universe (or God or your Higher Power or the doorknob) for giving you one more day on the planet to get it right.
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
I sign all my posts, “Namaste,” so I guess that would have to be it. The recognition that each of us has a Divine spark within us that lives in our heart. Namaste literally means, “I bow to you.” Essentially it says that I acknowledge the soul or the Divine in you and you recognize it in me.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
Hands down, it’s been blogging. I can’t put into words what this experience means to me (which is ridiculous since I’m a writer but there you have it).
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Don’t try and do this alone—you will fail. None of us can do this alone. Reach out and let us love you until you can love yourself again.
Any additional thoughts?
Yes. Thank you for letting me participate in this. I’m honored.