“There are highs and there are lows. I just don’t need to drink. I don’t want to drink. That’s even bigger. I may not need to, but I definitely don’t want to. I can’t actually figure out which is bigger, but it doesn’t matter because I’m not drinking.”
My name is Laura and I’m in long-term recovery. I have been continuously sober for the past eight years. I grew up overseas. My father was a US diplomat, so I spent my childhood in places like Nicaragua, Egypt, Peru and the States.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had… I didn’t know what to call it at the time… I have obsessive compulsive disorder. The first time I remembered anything sort of being off was that I was just really conscious of swallowing, and I had to swallow a certain number of times. I must have been like six years old. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but it just started to feel normal to me. Throughout the years, I had different compulsions, and they were usually mental so that people couldn’t really see what I was doing. My parents actually never knew that I had OCD until I got sober and told them about it. I started having strange thoughts, which is the obsessive part, and a lot of sort of silent compulsions that no one could really see. This permeated my childhood.
In terms of my upbringing, my parents raised me right. They taught me morals. I had a really good foundation. We were sort of like a casually reformed Jewish family. Growing up overseas, like I said, there are no synagogues in most of the places where we were stationed. We kept up a lot of traditions on our own, and then it sort of just turned into from Hanukkah and Passover to just Hanukkah, and then to New Years, and then Thanksgiving. Now, we’re a Thanksgiving family.
As a small child, the OCD was pretty big although I didn’t know what to call it then. I was kind of like a nervous kid, definitely shy. I was and still am very sensitive, so I was targeted by the bullies. I was bullied throughout all of my childhood and adolescence. Elementary school, middle school, which was the absolute worst, and even high school I was teased. The bullying and the OCD and then just kind of being a little bit of an anxious and shy kid made me feel, like a lot of us, out of place like something was different, something didn’t quite fit in.
I was a goody two shoes. I wasn’t a prude like a proud prude. I just was without even knowing it. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t do anything in childhood or adolescence, not until I got to college. Like I said, I was bullied incessantly, and it really scarred me pretty badly. It’s funny because one of my childhood bullies recently reached out to me on Facebook and apologized for everything that she put me through. She didn’t even realize that she had made my life so miserable. One of her good friends who I ended up going to college with told her and she was like, “You know, I’m a mom now. I want to raise my kids right. I didn’t even realize that I hurt you.” Anyway, it meant a lot because I never thought I would hear from her again. She really made my life miserable. There was the bullying. There was the OCD.
Anyway, close groups of my friends along with my brother were all a year ahead of me in school. When they graduated from high school, I was basically starting off again as a new kid without being the new kid in school. I knew everybody but I wasn’t friends with anybody. My brother and my good friends went off to college in my senior year, which was supposed to be the best year of my high school experience, [but] was the absolute worst.
That’s when clinical depression hit me. I was crying all the time. I backed out of pretty much every social opportunity that I had. Grades were suffering a little bit just because I was missing some time from class. I started to get panic attacks for the first time. I’d always been sort of anxious, especially on the first day of school. That kind of anxiety, sort of a nervous jitter. I had anxiety from being shy, a little bit of that social anxiety, but this is when I started having full-blown panic attacks.
Then it was really bizarre and it’s kind of residual, [and it] still sticks with me to this day. The way my anxiety physically manifested itself was that I felt like I had to pee all the time. I was just always afraid that I would have an accident. I haven’t peed myself since I was like four. I was starting to get this insane amount of fear that in class I would have an accident and then, to me, that was worse than death. Peeing your pants as a teenager was surely worse than dying. That was kind of what I was thinking about all day everyday. I couldn’t go on any sort of social excursion with any of my classmates. I backed out of field trips. I backed out of assemblies because I started to have panic attacks about having panic attacks. I never got suicidal. It was almost like I didn’t imagine myself graduating from high school because that meant I had to be in this three-hour long ceremony. It was just worse than dying thinking that I would have an accident in public.
Somehow I applied to colleges. Somehow I graduated from high school, and I went to the University of Virginia. This was going to be my fresh start. My brother went to UVA, and my best friend was also there, so I had bit of a safety net because my parents were still overseas at the time. It was enough of a safety net but still I was on my own. I could recreate my identity. I wasn’t the girl who got bullied.
It was the summer before all that clinical depression stuff happened. I was an intern at a US embassy abroad. There were a lot of other interns, too. They were all into drinking after work and going on these boat rides down the Nile called feluccas. There would be drinking on that, too. I [had] never drank at that point. I had a sip of something in middle school. I was like, “No.” When all of my friends in seventh grade were drinking a beer at a sleepover. I was like, “Absolutely not for me. I can’t.”
I wanted to just do something a little rebellious even though my parents told me, “No drinking. We know there’s going to be drinking.” They weren’t born yesterday. They also raised me well so they left sort of the choice in my hands, but, basically, hoped that I would make the right choice. Then again, I’m of the generation of, “Just say no,” and it doesn’t really give us much exposure to maybe, say, what European kids have growing up where they’re exposed to alcohol a lot earlier. Maybe it’s not as dangerous to them as it is to kids growing up in the States or in American culture.
Anyway, I was told no drinking and I drank. I started to feel I didn’t experience any of that anxiety anymore. It was almost… I hate to sound cliché because… It’s really a similar experience for a lot of us. I felt right. Something just clicked for me. I didn’t feel so self-conscious anymore. I didn’t feel like I was being judged anymore. I just kind of felt comfortable, and then I started to feel a little too comfortable.
I had a very, very low tolerance at that point, so I probably got drunk off two beers. That was the first time I got drunk. The next day back at the office, the older kids were calling me ‘the alcoholic,’ in jest, of course. It’s kind of ironic because it was a hint of what was to come.
It’s funny because after that summer, I didn’t drink at all in my senior year of high school. That was kind of my summer rebellion and then the depression hit me hard. The last thing I thought about was drinking actually. I didn’t consider substances when I was so depressed. I just didn’t know how I was going to get out of this pain that I was in.
Somehow I graduated, like I said, and somehow I got good grades, and didn’t have an accident, and surely didn’t die. I went to college. In college, there’s this culture of binge drinking. Now, there’s a lot more awareness with the danger of alcohol abuse and with recovery being in college campuses, which was definitely not an option for me back then. I didn’t realize that I had a problem back then. It sure would have been nice to have some sort of resource available, more readily available anyway.
All the kids around me… maybe it was just the group that I fell into. It’s not like I was actively seeking it, but it just sort of subconsciously happened. The kids that I was hanging out with were binge drinkers. It’s not like I actively said, “Well, they’re binge drinkers, so I’m going to be one, too.” I just kind of became one.
It should be noted that how, I mentioned before, my anxiety physically manifested itself was that I had to urinate frequently. Drinking makes you have to go to the bathroom. I didn’t feel so weird about it because my girlfriends were all taking trips to the frat house bathroom with me. It wasn’t like I was a freak about it because I was always thinking that people in high school, people knew I was going to the bathroom. In college, I figured people would just assume because… I figured everyone is in my head with me. All my girlfriends had to pee, too. They were all talking about breaking the seal.
For me, it was almost a source of comfort to share that experience with someone else because I was feeling so alienated because of it before that. That certainly helped. Then, of course, it made the anxiety less while drinking. It made the OCD less of… what’s the word that I’m looking for? It became less of a stress to me and I wasn’t as cognizant of all the things that I had to do while I was not drinking.
Of course, it just made me feel cool. I was finally not the nerd, not the bullied. I was actually a party girl and it worked for me. I really liked it. I loved that feeling of being popular because I was never one of the popular kids. It was all fun for a while. Then, as we tend to say, it was fun, and then it was fun with problems, and then just problems. I would say, in college, it was mostly fun and fun with problems. I had a lot of brownouts, didn’t really have a ton of blackouts then. I was just drinking. It was just fun.
There were a couple of nights where I may have broken my foot, where I may have gone home with a couple of random guys. I may have had a couple of really rough nights where I think I was actually roofied once and ended up just… I don’t even necessarily know I want to get into that.
Needless to say… it’s funny because I woke up the next morning, I was in my bed. Everything was fine. I was on my own, and I couldn’t find my debit card for the life of me. I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t really remember what happened the night before. I looked outside my door and apparently my debit card is outside of my apartment door caked in my own vomit. There’s vomit all over the front door as well. It’s just awful.
I started to have more experiences like that. I wasn’t necessarily in the mindset of limiting myself when I went out to frat parties like, “I’m just going to have two drinks.” That didn’t really come until after I graduated and started to try to limit my intake.
I graduated from college. I was a binge drinker all throughout. I didn’t drink during the weekdays. I had kind of a code. I would just drink on the weekends. It was usually just one night of the weekend. It was either Friday night or Saturday night. Some of my girlfriends and my housemates would go out on Thursday night, but I was like, “I have class the next morning. I’m not doing it.” They’re like, “We do, too.” I was like, “Uh-uh (negative). Just weekends.”
I didn’t do any other drugs. I did have kind of a foray into pot because I happen to live with two dealers who I didn’t know at the time they were dealers until we had people coming in to our apartment at all hours of the night, lots of athletes who should not have been doing what they were doing. It really was just alcohol for me because pot made me feel very paranoid, but not paranoid for the reason of, “I’m going to get busted or the cops are coming in.” I felt like people were staring into my soul, and they could get whatever they wanted out of it. I just felt completely un-at ease. Whereas with alcohol, I felt so at home and everything made sense up in my head even though I was like starting to drunk babble and make a fool of myself and all that kind of stuff.
In college, it was mostly pretty good. Fun, fun with problems. Then graduation happened. I graduated. Yay. When I moved to the DC area, which is where a lot of my friends moved, and got a job, that’s when the drinking actually picked up. It was ironic because some of my friends were sort of tapering down. They were still only twenty-two or twenty-three so they weren’t becoming parents and super, super responsible, but they just weren’t going out as frequently. Again, I didn’t really go out during the week as a young professional. I was still a weekend drinker.
Bad things started to happen. I was losing keys to my apartment. I lost so [many] material possessions: keys, phone, camera. I started to have experiences like finding myself crying, walking, running down this really kind of dangerous street in Arlington, Virginia at three a.m. by myself unaware of where I was. Some guy who was training for a marathon was running. He saw me and took pity on me and wanted to make sure that I got home safely, so he called the cab and paid them and made sure that I got home.
Throughout my drinking, I somehow thought that other people would take care of me. I never wanted to take responsibility for my own actions. I wasn’t going out there deliberately saying, “I’m going to be irresponsible, and I’m going to make other people take care of me.” It was just kind of I didn’t think to care for myself. I didn’t think to be accountable for my own actions. I just assumed that I would be babysat and that people would always keep their eyes out for me. I should have known that sometimes they’re going to be drunk, too, and can’t keep their eyes out for me because they need to focus on themselves. Even if someone did have me in their best interest, I shouldn’t have made it their responsibility to take care of me.
I started to have a lot more problems. I had my first hospitalization for alcohol poisoning after college graduation. I don’t mean the night of, but just none of that happened while I was in school. I was going down to Charlottesville, which is where UVA is, for a concert. Without making that story too long, needless to say, I didn’t have much to eat that day, and I had a lot to drink that night. I don’t remember really what happened. I was hospitalized, and I don’t know how long I was in the hospital.
The only thing that I remember is that when I was coming to, I was crying and then the doctor… this is how I remember it… Of course, it could have been completely different. I remember the doctor slapping me probably because I don’t even know. She slapped me. She was like, “Stop crying.” Maybe I was hysterical. I don’t even know. I could have been there for hours. Don’t know. I made other people be responsible for me.
For a normal drinker, that probably would have been a wake up call. Maybe you need to tone it down. Maybe you need to stop drinking. This was one of the many times where I would say I’m never doing that again. I’m never drinking again, or I’m never… at least I’m never going to drink that much again. I had had a couple of I nevers before that but this was, “Oh my gosh, this is crazy.” I had hospital bills to pay for, emergency visit and ambulance bills. Those went to collections because I didn’t want to think about it. Of course, that doesn’t solve many issues.
Like I said, my parents were still living abroad. There would be instances where I would either lose my purse or something would happen, but I had to lie and say that it was stolen from me. For all I know, it was stolen but I’m pretty sure I just lost it. They couldn’t really do anything from where they were, and so they had to loop some of my other family in who are living in the States and wire money to me. I certainly didn’t have the intention of being like, “I’m going to be secretive and lie to my parents. I’m going to hurt them and it’s going to be awesome.” No. I didn’t really realize what I was doing was textbook alcoholic behavior or textbook addict behavior because I was still me. I wasn’t a bad person. I was still me but I had these issues, and I didn’t know. I was honestly at a loss.
None of my drinking friends, none of my drinking buddies had the amount of consequences that I did. I started to become more cognizant of that as time went on. I just didn’t understand, “Why are none of my friends getting hospitalized? Why are none of my friends getting taken advantage of? Why is it just happening to me?” It should have made me probably stop or at least really reevaluate my drinking. I think I was still dealing with all of that other anxiety, and OCD, and wanting to fit in. It had just kind of becoming a part of being social in your twenties that I didn’t think that stopping was even possible or something that I wanted to do.
Even though I made all these promises that I was going to stop drinking and at least tone it down, after that hospitalization, it should have made me stop. That was a potential bottom, but it wasn’t my bottom. I kind of crept back into it and continued having problems. Of course, I had fun, too. Not every night I ended up in a blackout. I had nights where I was able to have a couple glasses of wine at dinner with friends and that was it and get home safely. Not every night was like that.
I was a member of a wine club. I had quarterly shipments. I went to wine festivals. Most of the time, it was fun. There were no real consequences. I’ll just kind of fast forward because there wasn’t really much time. I only drank for six years of my life. The first four years were in college, and then the second two years were the two years after college graduation. My first hospitalization was in 2005, and then my second hospitalization was in 2007. That kind of leads me into the what happened.
It was another concert night. This was a band called Dispatch. They were playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I’ve never been to New York before, but I had a cousin who lived there, and she still lives there. I decided I would go up with one of my coworkers who also liked the band. We would take the bus up together.
The idea was that—it still makes me laugh to think about it—the idea was that I would drop my stuff off at this guy’s friend’s place. We would go to the concert. Then I would take a cab back to the guy’s place to pick up my overnight bag and then cab it to my cousin’s apartment where I would stay for the rest of the weekend. Of course, it didn’t go as planned.
We took the bus. I don’t remember eating much that day, not consciously. I wasn’t going to be like, “I’m not eating anything so that I could get super drunk.” I just didn’t have that much to eat. We had gotten these little airplane bottles from the ABC Store and just started drinking on the bus. Then the drinking continued at my coworker’s friend’s place.
I also, for the first time in my life, was exposed to cocaine. I didn’t use any. I didn’t take any. I had never actually seen it. It’s crazy. In college, it’s a thing for a lot of college campuses, but I’ve never seen it in all my time. That was my first exposure to that. Probably should have made me realize that these people were not going to keep their eye out for me. They probably were not going to be babysitting me. Of course, I was already kind of drunk at that point, so I didn’t really think about it. Then when we get to the… we might have—you know what? We did stop and get like an appetizer somewhere, big whoop. My sole sustenance for the day was like half a bagel, a bunch of booze and an appetizer. Then we were at Madison Square Garden.
I remember, this is kind of the last thing that I remember, I was getting this ginormous cup, this jumbo sized cup of beer. Maybe it was Natty Light or something really cheap. Of course, I must have drank it pretty fast because, honestly, the next thing I remember, I am sitting on top of some guy in the stands in one of the seats. This cop has his flashlight on me, and he’s asking me to please remove myself from this young gentleman. I can laugh about it now but, oh my gosh.
I was in a brownout because I just remember bits and pieces, and this is from a twelve-hour period. I’ve been removed from this young man. The next thing I remember, I am running around the lobby of Madison Square Garden without my purse, without one of my flip flops. Honestly, I had no idea where I was trying to go. I might have been looking for my friends or something. I’m in front of the Madison Square Garden and still without my purse with only one shoe and trying to stop these innocent bystanders and ask them, “Have you seen my friends? Have you seen my purse?” Of course, none of the stuff that was coming out was English. It was all drunk babble. I expected everyone to understand what I was saying.
I guess I had one sort of moment of genius. I asked this woman to call my phone and see maybe someone would answer or maybe it would ring somewhere. Of course, it went right to voice mail. I’m in the state where I’m not passed out. The police saw me. Now, I’m kind of piecing this together because no one really told me what happened. I can only remember certain pieces. I just remember them saying that they were going to call an ambulance for me. I was like, “Why? Blah blah.” They’re like, “Well, it’s the only safe place for you right now. I was taken to a hospital in New York City. I don’t even know which one it was. I can’t remember.
I woke up something like seven or eight hours later. Now, I was still drunk, but this time it wasn’t a brownout. I was so disoriented. I couldn’t figure out where I was or what had happened. Just this overwhelming feeling of anxiety and panic that I had during a lot of hangovers in the past. Like, “What did I do? What did I say? Who did I embarrass? I’m sure I embarrassed myself.”
This was absolutely just out of my body terrifying because I was in one of the busiest cities in the world, and I’ve never been there before. I didn’t have my stuff. I didn’t know where my supposed friends were. I didn’t know where my cousin was, and I didn’t know how to reach anybody. I didn’t have my phone because that was with my purse which was separated from me. I didn’t even know who to contact.
I had them look up my cousin to see if she was in a database somewhere. I was really reaching. I didn’t have my parent’s phone numbers because they had just moved back to the States, and so I didn’t memorize their cell numbers. I was basically completely at a loss.
The only person who I thought I could contact, who I knew I had the contact information for was my grandma who lived in Chicago. She was also the grandma of my cousin. I lied to her. I told her that I had arrived late and that I misplaced my cousin’s phone number or something, something plausible. I knew as I was lying to my grandmother that I felt incredibly guilty doing so, but I knew it was the only way I could find my way to my cousin and maybe make my way back to DC eventually. My grandma gave me her phone number. She basically saved my life.
I still feel extremely guilty about what I did. She’s gone. She passed a few years ago. Even while she was alive and I was sober in the beginning, I think she could see that I made some positive changes in my life even though she never knew that I had issues with alcohol. I am extremely grateful that she helped me that day because she connected me to my cousin.
The hospital called my cousin and explained to them what happened. They gave me subway fare to get to her. I didn’t have my shoes, so I was wearing hospital booties on the metro. Public transportation absolutely makes me so anxious. It makes me feel like I am claustrophobic and trapped. I’m surely going to have an accident and then I can’t get out. Meanwhile I’m having the worst panic attack of my life because this had all just happened.
I took the subway to my cousin. She was both completely angry with me and also extremely relieved that I was alive and well, all things considered, anything could have happened. I think about that a lot whenever I feel like… In the eight years that I’ve been sober, I rarely consider it. If I ever think that it might be okay to drink again, I know that it’s not okay and things like this can happen and did happen to me.
I made my way back to her. The real sort of ‘higher power’ moment is that someone had found my purse in that huge busy arena and had turned it in to the security guards there. Somehow there was still battery on my phone. They called my two most recent calls, which were my mom and my cousin. They were trying to track me down. This was happening while I was at the hospital, something like three in the morning. They called my mom, and they called my cousin. “We have your daughter’s phone,” or, “We have your friend’s phone,” or whatever. “We’re trying to track her down. We don’t know where she is.”
I can’t imagine the sheer panic and terror my family must have gone through. Apparently, my cousin, and my brother, and my parents were all communicating with each other trying to find some sort of trace of me because no one had heard from me since that morning when I left for New York City. The next thing they heard was me coming back to my cousin’s place at like eight or nine in the next morning.
That next day, we went to Madison Square Garden to pick up my purse. Everything was there. Maybe ten dollars was gone, I don’t even know. Everything. My bus ticket back home, my ID, my credit cards, my phone. I even had an inhaler for the supposed asthma that I had which was really just panic attacks that were undiagnosed. I was like, “Why am I breathing so shallow-y and then so deeply.” The doctor was like, “It’s got to be asthma or exercise-induced asthma or something.” Even my inhaler was in there.
The next day, my cousin was like, “We’re going out with my friends, and I’m not leaving you at home.” I was like, “All right.” I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to be back in my bed, but I didn’t have that option, so I went with her. I was just having this enormous panic attack the whole time.
At dinner that night, she’s like, “Look, I’m not your mom. I’m not going to tell you can or can’t do anything. You can drink if you want. I won’t tell your parents.” She’s like, “Obviously, let’s not have what happened happen again.” She’s like, “If you want to drink, you can.” I was like, “I never want to drink again.” I actually meant it that time. I said it so many times before. I actually meant it. Now, I’m not sure if I knew that I meant it a hundred percent, but I meant that I never wanted this to happen to me again. I certainly knew that I needed to make some changes.
I came back to DC with a bus ticket that I still had. When I got back home… of course, I still had my keys. It’s a miracle, really. It really is. It could have been a coincidence, or it could have been higher power working, or it could have been just a confluence of events. Somehow I was okay. Somehow my stuff was okay, and it allowed me to get back home.
I called in sick for the next few days because I just needed space to breathe. I needed to figure out what was happening. I was so disoriented and feeling like, “What is happening with my life?” I just turned twenty-four a couple months before. I wasn’t even thinking about quitting drinking forever, but I knew that I didn’t want to ever go through what I went through again.
On the back of my health insurance card, there was a number for the substance abuse and mental health line. I knew enough that I had some sort of a problem. I knew I had anxiety. I knew that I had issues with alcohol. I didn’t really know what I wanted to call it then but I was like, “I need help.” I arranged to meet with a counselor I think that day, the day after I returned.
She had me go through the whole ‘are you an alcoholic’ checklist. I pretty much answered yes to everything. Of course, I was like, “I still don’t think I have a problem.” She’s like, “Why are you here? Why did you come here?” I was like, “Hmm… ” She said, “I think you might be a good candidate for the group counseling sessions that I offer.” It was an intensive outpatient rehab. She’s like, “I can’t make that decision for you. You have to decide whether or not you want help.” She’s like, “You came here.”
I think I was crying. It’s funny because I remember, I don’t know if I was crying for effect, or if I was crying because I was truly feeling sort of the gravity of everything that I’d been through and what I was going through. It might have been a combination of the two. For whatever reason, I said, “Yes,” and, “I’ll do this.” It was a five-week, three times a week, two-hour session each, coupled with fifteen hours of a twelve-step program. I was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get time off of work to do this because it wasn’t an inpatient rehab, but it definitely required leaving work early several times a week for five weeks. How was I going to spend that at work when I wasn’t ready to tell anybody that I was in rehab? For all intents and purposes, it was rehab.
I made some sort of flimsy excuse about there being family issues, and I needed to help them through that time. I ended up telling them afterwards what happened, and how grateful I was for their support. At the time, I was like, “I am not ready to tell these people at work.” I barely know what’s going on with myself.
I started this program, and we were breathalyzed at the beginning of every session. We also had to say our sobriety date at the beginning of every session. I chose July 14th because even if I may have had something to drink early in the morning on the 14th … It was the 13th that was the night of the concert. I consider the 14th to be my sobriety date. I would say that date at the beginning of every session.
The interesting thing is that I started to notice that some of the people in my group, in my cohort were, their dates were changing because they’re like, “Well, I’ve tried but I went to this barbecue, and there was beer there. I couldn’t say no.” There was a woman who was kind of in her sunset years. She had an interesting story because she had been intervened on. It was an intervention that her family did, so she was still feeling probably pretty resentful and didn’t want to get sober. Her date would change.
I remember not really thinking in terms of forever at that time, but I was definitely enjoying the feeling of not having to rely on alcohol anymore. I’m still very anxious. I still had all the issues that I did before because that hadn’t gotten away. The hangovers, the dreaded anxiety, and guilt, and shame, and everything, I was starting to really enjoy not having to deal with.
As I said earlier, I was required to do fifteen hours of a twelve-step program. At every meeting in that program, I had to get a form signed. I was feeling kind of like a delinquent because I wasn’t there on my own accord. I don’t really fault the rehab for exposing me to this program because they didn’t really have a lot of options. It was their way of insuring that I had something for when I graduated from this rehab.
I will say that I think it will be extremely beneficial and helpful for there to be other options presented along with a twelve-step program because it’s not for everybody. It helped me a great deal actually in the beginning of my sobriety and at other points of my sobriety, but it’s not the only way to get sober or stay sober. I firmly believe that. I may sound a little hesitant to say because I’m being recorded. As helpful as it is to millions of people, it also is somewhat alienating to even more.
Rehabs definitely need to present more options. I don’t think that I shouldn’t have gone to a twelve-step program, but it would have been helpful to try some other things out, so that when I graduated I would have maybe been able to shop around and do meetings from different programs. Who’s to say that you only have to be a member of one thing? Why can’t you do a variety of things as part of your recovery menu? Why should that be looked down upon if you are in program A and program B? Why do you just have to choose one?
Needless to say, that’s kind of me on my soap box. I don’t fault them for giving me exposure to this because it was helpful. It just didn’t stick for me. I started to feel like something was wrong with me again because I already did have something wrong with me. I was panicky, and anxious, and OCD, and all of the stuff that I sort of drank away. Then I was in these rooms that I didn’t quite feel like I fit in.
Now, a lot of newly sober people don’t feel like they fit in when they first go to twelve-step programs or any program. I say that in hindsight. At the time, I didn’t really realize it. Kind of in a, I don’t know if it’s a unique situation or not. Some people go in and out.
I stayed sober but I stopped going to twelve-step meetings. Then on my third anniversary, I did go back to get chips because that made me feel good about my recovery. On my third anniversary, I went back to a meeting of a twelve-step program. There’s a lot of old timers. One of the guys there was like, “Have you been to X meeting? There are a lot of young people like you who go there.” I was like, “There are young people.” I thought I was the only twenty-four-year-old who was going through this in the whole freaking world.
I started going to what would then become my home group for the next eighteen months. I got into it. I got a sponsor. Service positions. I spoke. I greeted. I didn’t sponsor other women, but I was really, really in the program. For a while, I felt really good about things. I went through all twelve steps. I made amends to my family and some of my friends. I did searching and fearless moral inventory. I did a fairly extensive sex inventory as well. I practiced the principles. I did the steps. I went to meditations with other women in the program. I really, really liked it. I felt proud to be a member.
I started to feel that… I don’t know what it was exactly, I wish I could tell you. Something just started to feel like it didn’t fit anymore. I felt weird about it because I was always told that it was either that program or no program. You can only be sober this way, or else you were considered to be a dry drunk, or you’re white knuckling your way through life, or you’re just less than. I was really scared to be on my own. At the same time, I just felt like I was not myself anymore.
I was able to stay sober without going to meetings of any kind. To address any naysayers who may have told me that I was just a dry drunk because I wasn’t practicing the program, I did go to a therapist. I started exploring the issues that I realized I was drinking away or trying to minimize. I got on an antidepressant which I needed to stabilize my anxiety and just kind of put the panic attacks at bay. I still get them from time to time. I still get anxiety, but it is absolutely necessary for me, and I’m not ashamed of that, to be on an antidepressant because it helps just be who I am today. I went on the antidepressant. I cut toxic people from my life. I was exercising more. I had better relationships with my family. I was going to therapy regularly. I was doing all these things to better my life. Who’s to tell me that I’m not sober just because I’m not going to a meeting?
That was sort of my mentality before coming back into twelve-step, but then I sort of felt this pull. I was like, “Something is missing. I need a sober network.” I don’t have any sober friends. I was feeling somewhat spiritually bankrupt. I don’t have a religion that I practice. I didn’t have a sober network. I just wanted to feel connected again, so that’s what led me back. It was a really, really, really good eighteen months. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I did honestly learn so much. It really did help me, but there just came a point where I felt like it served its purpose for me and I’m ready to move on.
I didn’t just completely stop going to meetings. I kind of tapered off a little bit. I would find that if I came back to that same home group, they’d be like, “We haven’t seen you in three weeks. Are you okay? Are you still sober?” I was like, “Yeah.” I guess to them if they don’t see you for a couple of weeks, then anything can happen.
You know what? It’s true. There are a lot of people, and I assure you this is not a judgmental thing that I’m saying, but there are a lot of people who need the program to stay sober. That person, if they’re not at a meeting for two weeks or three weeks, other people have a right to be concerned. That’s totally fine. For me, the program was always kind of an addendum to my sobriety. It wasn’t the source of it, and it wasn’t what kept me sober. It was something that’s part of my recovery or part of my sobriety. I like going to meetings, but I don’t need to go to them five times a week. That kind of thing.
Anyway, I definitely tapered off a lot more after that because I was just like, “I don’t think these people understand me.” Maybe it was just that meeting. Maybe I’m projecting everything about that particular program on a particular set of people. Regardless, I just left.
Up until April of this year, I’ve just been doing my own thing. I read a lot of memoirs, recovery memoirs, self-help books. I’ve been active in therapy since I got sober. I have a therapist. I’ve had this particular therapist for the past four years now. I’m making a lot of progress with him. My relationships with my parents and my close friends, they’re immensely better.
You know what? I’ve no need to go to bars. If I do, it’s stuff that I learned in the program. Go only if you absolutely need to go or have an exit strategy. I learned a lot of great things in that environment, so I’m certainly not saying anything negative about my time there.
Being around alcohol now is just not a big deal. It doesn’t mean I never wanted to drink. The temptation to drink is severely outweighed by knowing what I went through. The thought of losing all of the clean time that I have built with really raw hands, that scares me more than anything. Now, I have the occasional drunk dream to remind me that I don’t want that to happen again.
I’ve been to the wine country in Italy, not because I wanted to go to the wine country in Italy, but my best friend was getting married and her father is Italian. Everyone was at the wineries. I was really the only person not drinking at all during that weekend. One of my fellow recovery bloggers calls it ‘the pregnancy principle.’ Especially if you’re in early sobriety, treat yourself with that level of self-care that you would if you were pregnant. Don’t be apologetic for saying, “I’m not drinking tonight,” or, “I don’t drink at all or whatever.” At that point, I was already I think three or four years into sobriety so people knew.
I’ve done so many amazing things sober. I’ve been sober longer now than I drank. I just celebrated eight years in July. I can say now that my life really is so, so, so much better, just unimaginably better than I ever thought it would be. When I was in that rehab, I just didn’t think in terms of forever. Forever sounded so long. Even now I would say I never want to drink again, I couldn’t imagine twenty years from now. That whole one day at a time, it really works. Today, I don’t treat it like, “Well, I’m not going to drink today.” Then tomorrow becomes another today. It really did help in the beginning to think of it that way.
Like I said, my life is pretty darn great. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have lows in sobriety because it’s still life. There are highs and there are lows. I just don’t need to drink. I don’t want to drink. That’s even bigger. I may not need to, but I definitely don’t want to. I can’t actually figure out which is bigger, but it doesn’t matter because I’m not drinking.
That kind of led me I guess to my third stage in recovery which is I’m starting to feel that pull again to be of service, to connect with other people who are in recovery. Because after so much time away from a program where a lot of self-proclaimed alcoholics and addicts go, I just need other sober people. I wanted to be helpful, and I want to do something that matters.
I never really had a career ambition. Some people knew they wanted to be doctors, or lawyers, or teachers. I just never really knew. Now, I’m starting to think maybe it’s been in front of me this whole time. Maybe I can use my experience in active alcohol abuse, or alcoholism, or whatever anyone wants to call it. The end result is the same.
Now, in recovery, I still don’t know where my path will take me. I know that I feel like I’m helping others. I know that helping others helps me. Staying connected with other people in recovery gives me a renewed sense of, not just accomplishment, but purpose. It’s also helping me because it’s kind of easy at this point where I’ve been sober longer than I drank to feel a little complacent and kind of, “I could just rest on those laurels.” That’s where it starts to get dangerous, where you feel like you could be a normal drinker again because it’s been so long since you drank. That’s another reason why I’m staying connected with all these recovery people because it’s helping kind of keep me in the center of things.
Then also it’s sort of been said and it kind of sounds cliché but recovery is having a moment right now. It’s having a really big moment actually. People are starting to talk more about it. Thanks to people like you, Jill, and the director of The Anonymous People. He’s kind of spearheading this huge thing in October in DC called Unite to Face Addiction.
People, regardless of the program that they practice or what substance they use and are in recovery from, are able to be proud of their recovery now and to talk about it and effect some sort of lasting change. That’s what I think this event in October is going to do. It’s going to give a voice to the voiceless.
I’m just really proud to be part of this now. I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but I’m kind of excited about the unknown.
Photographs taken at Laura’s home in Silver Spring, Maryland, where she writes her blog The Sobriety Collective.