What led you to the decision to get sober?
The first time I ever drank, I was 12. My cousin and I probably had 10 shots each. It’s maybe telling that in the context of my family, that struck me as normal. But in any other context, it was apparent that the way I drank was abnormal.
By the time I was 15, I was drinking alone every night. I got in legal trouble several times between 18 and 19. The third one was a DUI where I fell asleep on the Bay Bridge.
By my early 20’s, drinking was increasingly like Russian Roulette. Most of the time it would be cool, and then sometimes I would be demonic. Every time that happened, I was sincerely resolved to change it. There were lots of stretches of stopping for five days or three months—then thinking I could drink again.
An old friend came to visit and brought a bottle of wine. She drank half a glass. I drank the rest of the bottle, asked if she was going to finish her glass, and then started on beer. Later I told my friend I loved her. She said, “I love you too, but I will never be with another alcoholic.”
The next day, she called to see how I was doing. It was 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and she was like, “You’re drinking again; I can hear it in your voice.” She said she wanted to call my mom and tell her I needed help, which blew my mind.
Up until then, the possibility of being helped hadn’t occurred to me, which is crazy because people had tried to help and I’d pushed it away. But I thought, “I’ll never have healthy love in my life if I keep doing this.”
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed within yourself since you got sober?
I previously abhorred routine, discipline, habit. Now, oddly enough, I actually find a lot of freedom in those things.
Family, which was just fraught, is something I’ve returned to valuing deeply. On a related note, I have less of a desire to change other people in order to have a mutuality of care.
When I first went to AA meetings, I was floored that people were so honest about things that I found so shameful. At first, I found it extremely off-putting, pitiable and cloying—but the fact was they were able to do something that I wasn’t, which was to be really transparent about who they are.
I’m a lot more able to speak about my truth, experience, and flaws. My inability to embody honesty and authenticity was very much fueling my addiction.
What does your recovery program look like?
I do AA. When I first got sober, I went to intensive outpatient treatment. I had no car and would take my bike. The last couple miles were this really steep hill. The first day I made it a quarter up the way and had to walk, but it just got easier and easier.
I noticed that if I exhausted myself physically, it was a lot easier to stay sober. Then as time went on and I wasn’t struggling to stay sober every day, I noticed if I exhausted myself physically it was easier to stay sane. Then as more time went on it was like, “Sanity feels pretty okay, and I don’t need to exhaust myself, but if I move my body I’ll feel better generally.”
At rehab I also got to experience acupuncture for the first time. I’ve tried myofascial therapy, craniosacral therapy, Rolfing, Reiki, saunas. Just being open to any modality, which challenges my self-consciousness and shame and secrecy.
Other big things are being an enthusiastic learner about addiction and being of service.
Has the pandemic affected your sobriety?
At the beginning, I was volunteering a lot. Focusing on the collective good was a really helpful way to direct the nervous energy.
This year has been a lot of self-reflection, for everybody. That part has been a big gift. People talk about how the pandemic has reminded them of their gratitude for what’s good, and I would agree with that. But almost more importantly, it’s been a confrontation with the stuff that I want to change. In that way it’s been good for my recovery, because it’s a lot of time with self.
*Name has been changed.