Today's Sober Story comes from Derek, a 30-year-old living in Seattle, Washington.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Derek: I have been sober for 6 years, but I suppose I’ve been in recovery for 8. I’ve at least known I’ve had a problem that needed to be fixed for 8 years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Derek: I didn’t know I had a problem at the time which sounds obvious, but I mean, it was legitimately denial. I had a group of friends and we all lived together, worked on a tall ship together, and drank together. We treated alcoholism lightly saying “We all must be alcoholics” but never taking it seriously. As a ragtag group of sailors however, we’d frequently poke fun at one another. We’d give Geoff a hard time for dating shallow women. With Neal, he had a history of injuring himself in the kitchen, so we baby proofed the cabinets. And with me there was a fair share of jokes about being pseudo-intellectual… but for the longest time, I thought the recurring joke at my expense was “fake” memories.
Mrs D: Fake memories?
Derek: The guys would recall an incident that sounded ridiculous, like “remember when you were kicked out of the grocery store for getting into a fist fight with the cardboard cutout of David Beckham?” Of course I didn’t remember, but I thought that was the joke. I thought they were making up ludicrous events because it was funny… until I vaguely remembered one. Being sailors, most of our friends lived on boats and we went out into the night one of their sloops. A few weeks later, the stock gag repeated itself, Geoff started with “remember when you took off on the long boat to try and capture some phosphorescent algae in a bottle” and this, I vaguely remembered, and Neal completed the rest, “Probably the dumbest thing you could’ve done since you untied yourself from the boat and you only had one oar.” From this, I started to piece the memory together. I did do that. I was that stupid. It was pitch black. I had no way of getting back to the boat. If my friends hadn’t been diligent, I would’ve been stranded at sea.
Mrs D: Holy shit!
Derek: I don’t kid myself, someone probably would’ve found me, but there was risk. More than all that, it dawned on me that my friends weren’t simply making stories up, these events were happening and I wasn’t remembering. This is when I realized I “might” have a problem.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Derek: The boating incident was incredibly sobering. The consequences weren’t dire, but it put much of my life into perspective. There’s this side of myself I hadn’t seen or been aware of. Blackouts ... that concept is terrifying, like someone else is driving you. Especially when the things I’d do seemed – to me – out of character. Where was this anger coming from? Where was this recklessness? It made me question who I am.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Derek: The most difficult part of the early days was getting a support system. I worked on a boat, drinking was commonplace. More than that, my friends and family didn’t believe me – go figure. I was young enough that my family thought I was being overdramatic and my friends said, “If you have a problem, we all have a problem.” So I felt isolated and alone and since I used to drink alone, I felt very vulnerable; naked. I didn’t want to attend an AA meeting and be judged out the door if I was just being overdramatic. I knew self-diagnosing was a problem, but with addiction, there wasn’t a ton of alternatives to what I had.
Mrs D: So those closest to you just didn't get it at all?
Derek: They didn’t take it seriously – sort of a recurring theme. It wasn’t until I did start attending meetings and following the steps that the difference started to take hold of them. They noticed the change. They saw me acting differently. They noticed me “borrowing money” less and start attending classes at the local college.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Derek: Yes. At work, we had these hand sanitizer stations and I remember being 3 weeks sober when I caught a whiff of the familiar scent. I ended up lapping up small gobs of the stuff throughout the day and carried on like that for about another week and a half before I realized that I was cheating. I relapsed again at a wedding and that’s when I made my breakthrough.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Derek: After my second relapse. I had been sober for about 5 months, but I hadn’t told my brother I was in a program and we were celebrating at his wedding and he wanted all his groomsmen to take shots while the photographer “took shots”. And I did. And suddenly this joyous occasion crumbled. I felt like a war was raging in my mind. I wanted more while this crushing, all-consuming guilt poured over me and I wanted another shot to make it subside, but the guilt was weighing on me. I sweat a lot and I felt embarrassed and I knew I’d go to my next meeting ashamed. It felt miserable.
Mrs D: That sounds really intense...
Derek: What helped me finally calm down was being honest. I stopped being embarrassed about my situation and started – for lack of a better word – confessing. If there was a situation with alcohol and I was expected to drink, I started saying, “No thanks, I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Derek: Awkward at first. I didn’t tell people. Then, after my second relapse, I did tell people, much to my friends’ chagrin. Depending on the situation, I’d choose when to say it openly or not. For instance, my favorite tactic is when you’re at a bar – and I’d suggest this to anyone – and everyone is ordering drinks and the bartender turns to me, I’ll ask “What kind of whiskey do you have?” And no matter what it is, I’ll sigh and say, “I guess I’ll have a coke”. It makes me look like a whiskey snob and it’s fantastic.
Mrs D: That's genius! Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Derek: I have a lot more energy. That may be a given, but days felt like they’d either pass by in the blink of an eye or slog on. I have a lot more energy and really make use of daylight, lunch breaks. I also carry myself differently, I have more respect for my time and myself. If I’m at work, I don’t feel like I need to be glued to the office, if I’m feeling antsy, I’ll get up and go for a walk and I don’t feel guilty, I feel like I’m increasing my productivity and my health. I make “me” a priority and it seems to have a positive impact on everyone else.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Derek: I don’t work on a boat anymore. I started pursuing other hobbies that I’d ditched a long time ago, like drawing, playing ukulele – oddly fitting. I got into web development and started meeting a lot of fascinating people. I started going on hikes and finally getting that “awe-inspired” feeling from nature.
Mrs D: Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Derek: Productivity. I mean, I think everyone who suffers addiction also has an existential crisis. But I feel like I’m really contributing to society in a meaningful way. It helps me feel less alone to know I may be building something that’s a value to others. I joined the I Am Sober team and have been able to contribute to others in a meaningful way.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Derek: With the “vlogging” world, I’d probably attach a camera to myself the way many people do their pets. I think it’d be a good practice for anyone (not just alcoholics) to film themselves and see what nonsense they get into. If I’d had a video of my journey, I think I would’ve come to the realization faster and I’d have trusted in my friends and less in myself.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Derek: #1 is honesty. I don’t always believe honesty is the best policy, but I think being upfront with people who are close to you is important. Your friends, your family, your spouse or loved one. Tell them it’s a problem. The ones who really care, become your greatest support.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Derek: If I can share anything, it’d be the I Am Sober App, which admittedly sounds a little self-promotional but there’s no money in it. We don’t make a dime on ads (there are none) and it doesn’t cost anything to download. We specifically designed it to keep people on the right track and build that sober community online. For me, before attending any meetings, I started chatting with people in similar situations online and that helped me feel less alone and isolated. It’s a way to give back and certainly a good way to connect and stay in touch with others.