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 Jordan.
What is your sobriety date?
March 16, 2016
Where did you get sober?
When did you start drinking?
In my early 20s.
How would you describe your life before you quit drinking?
It seemed normal from a casual glance but I was spiraling out of control. I had a job; I did things with my kids; I was close to finishing graduate school. Closer up, my productivity was dropping lower and lower and my “quality” time with the kids consisted of me laying around with a pounding headache while they played. My depression was getting worse no matter how much more I drank.
What was your childhood like? Teenage years?
My childhood consisted of a wonderfully supportive family and tremendous social isolation. My family was very religious and tight-knit and I always felt very loved at home. Socially, I was awkward and extremely introverted. We moved twice and the loss of all my friends was rough both times. I was really alone a lot at school and started having major problems with depression in middle school, although I didn’t really know what it was then. I never drank growing up—I was the introverted bookworm pulling straight A’s, not a rebel or troublemaker.
When did you first think you might have a problem?
I’m sure I knew it deep down when I started hiding bottles but I convinced myself that was somehow okay or rational. It was probably when I had acute pancreatitis and lied to the doctor about my alcohol consumption that I admitted it to myself.
How did you rationalize your drinking?
Sometimes I tried to convince myself I didn’t really have a problem, but mostly I told myself that it was okay because I still had a job and a house. I wasn’t one of those people racking up DUIs or wandering around downtown with a bottle in a paper bag.
What do you consider your bottom?
I was the stereotypical high-functioning alcoholic, so there were no major losses. Instead I kept my job and defended my PhD while getting black out drunk most nights. The bottom was being reduced to a zombie-like state where I could only manage to wallow in guilt each morning and then drink my way out of the guilt and into oblivion each evening. By the end I was starting to think that the only way out (and the only thing I deserved) was to kill myself. My eyes were red; my face was puffy; my abdomen ached; my stomach burned; I vomited blood; I had insomnia; I lost all ability to focus—you name it.
I didn’t seek help until my wife found a box of half-empty rum bottles and demanded to know what was going on. I tried to lie my way out of it at first but then I came clean with her. She helped me enter rehab. I had wanted to get help so badly for a year or so but I had been too ashamed to say I was an alcoholic and too scared of what would happen (How I would survive without alcohol? Would my wife leave me?). I felt like I was drowning and no one noticed. When people would ask how I was doing, on the inside I would be screaming that I was lost and scared and helpless from my drinking. On the outside I would just say, “I’m doing good, how about you?” and keep walking.
Did you go to rehab?
I completed Turning Point Counseling’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Fairbanks, Alaska, over a four-month period (March through June 2016). It was a great program with wonderful counselors and a varied approach that left me with a lot of tools and strong support.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
There was no moment of sudden clarity for me. Probably the most useful [parts]were the lessons on the neurobiology of addiction. For a scientist, I was remarkably ignorant of the biology of addiction and had been reverting to my childhood religious training that my addiction was a moral failing.
It was also really helpful to be around other addicts and learn how typical a lot of my behavior was. I am certainly not the first person to try to drink my depression away, or who lied a lot about his drinking.
Did you go to AA?
Not a whole lot. I’ve never had a sponsor or worked the steps. I’ve had some benefits from AA, like meeting a couple dads with similar stories or hearing some inspiring stories. But mostly I don’t connect with AA. I am an atheist and the religious nature and origin of the program leaves me a little cold. I find many of the tenets range from odd to anachronistic. For example, I don’t feel at all powerless over alcohol when I’m triggered and don’t drink. As a scientist, I’ve looked at the studies showing little to no benefit from AA participation and I find it hard to blame all of those failures on people not giving themselves completely to the program.
My recovery has benefited from a combination of other approaches, like a close-knit group therapy/support session for alumni of my rehab program, practicing mindfulness, weekly sessions with an awesomely supportive counselor, participating in the online Stop Drinking forum, and taking anti-depression meds and Naltrexone.
What do you hate about being an alcoholic?
I hate feeling like a weirdo because of my alcoholism. For example, when our cable went out I couldn’t go to a sports bar to watch college football. I need a game plan to survive an office party. My wife has to cook some of my favorite recipes when I’m out of the house because the recipe calls for wine. It makes life a lot more complicated.
What do you love about being an alcoholic?
Not a lot, as I would prefer to be defined by other traits. But I guess I would have to say it has been the chance to discover new activities like meditation that have helped make me a better person. It’s also given me the chance to finally address underlying problems in a healthy manner, like my life-long problems with depression.
What are the three best tools you have acquired to stay sober and happy?
Recognizing triggers. Mindfulness. Playing the tape through.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
The chance to be a good father and husband. When my wife got sick in the middle of the night, I drove her to the ER because I wasn’t passed out on the recliner. I am fully present for my kids while we’re putting together Lego sets or learning about owls. It feels great!
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
Ask for help. I was so scared to ask for help because I was ashamed of myself for drinking. But there are so many people who care about you! Family, friends, colleagues—so many of them will help if you let them in! Everyone I have told about my addiction since getting sober has been nothing but concerned and compassionate. The people who love us want the best for us and can forgive a lot. They will support us when we need it the most.
Photo provided by Jordan; used with permission. Click here to read all our other How I Got Sober stories.