This week's Sober Story comes from Ryan, a 34-year-old living on the East Coast of America.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Ryan: I have been sober since February 13th, 2013.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Ryan: I had been fired from my job and evicted from my apartment, my parents begrudgingly let me move in with them. They were so scared for me, my drinking and using had become so extreme that they were sure I would die if I were out on my own without a place to live.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Ryan: I lasted in my parent’s house, the house I grew up in, for about 6 months. I wasn’t working, I wasn’t leaving the house except for going to the liquor store or to get drugs. Waking up and knowing you absolutely need to drink in order to function is miserable. It’s miserable because even if you want to stop, which I did, it seemed completely impossible. My parents staged an intervention with my sister and her husband and one of my uncles. They basically said I need to go get help or else I had to move out, I was holding my parent’s hostage and had completely taken over their lives. The only thing holding me back from getting help was that I was so afraid to live life without alcohol in it, I didn’t think it was possible. I am grateful they gave me an ultimatum because I don’t think I would have gone to get help otherwise.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Ryan: I was too smart for my own good, I went to treatment and did not want to tell anyone my story, I thought I just had to go to treatment for 30 days and then I would be fixed. I thought other people needed more help than me. I was insufferable. One night, somebody came in from AA to speak to my treatment center and he basically told my story. We had similar personalities, similar paths in life and a seemingly similar attitude about life. I had no interest in meeting new people in the facility I was attending but I had to talk to him. He was allowed to sit with me several days later and the talk I had with him forever changed my life. He laid out exactly what he did in order to get and stay sober, for whatever reason I believed it all and was determined to follow a path like his. He looked so happy and had a good life, I wanted what we had. Simple as that.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Ryan: They were excited, they had seen me deteriorate for years from my drinking and were really clueless at how it would end. I will say I think their expectations weren’t realistic. They thought initially that treatment would fix me and I would just go on to live my life after the 30 days, I thought the same thing! Thank god for the great staff at my treatment center who not only broke down what early recovery looks like to me, but to my family as well. It was made clear to them that treatment is simply scratching the surface of getting sober and only the beginning and my family was told they need to learn their roles just like I need to learn a new role. Me and my parents had become so codependent in the last few years of my drinking that we all had to work on our relationship big time. It wasn’t easy early on between us figuring out the new dynamics of our family.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Ryan: I only went to treatment once, so I suppose I never actually experienced a relapse. Like most alcoholics, I tried to stop on my own many times but that usually involved substituting alcohol with another substance, it seemed completely impossible to be 100% sober.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Ryan: Once I started to dive into step work, around 8 months sober, I started to learn so much about myself and live a way of life that generated peace of mind. It’s important to realise in early recovery that life needs to change so much more than just not drinking. I had to completely relearn how to live and how to go through life, I had none of the tools but my sober support network showed me how to use those tools myself.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socializing sober?
Ryan: I was not looking forward to meeting new people. I’m a pretty social guy even when sober but I was dreading meeting new people in places like AA. Early on I would go to meetings and try to avoid talking too much to people, I look back at it now and can only laugh at it. Thinking back, one of the easiest parts of getting sober was meeting new people who I could count on for support. There is a beautiful fellowship in AA when you have the common denominator of being an alcoholic, it is so easy to talk to each other no matter how different you may be from one another. Once I saw how painless it was to meet new people in recovery who were walking the same path as me, I really began to flourish.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Ryan: As I have talked about so far, I really thought it was impossible to live life without substances. I was sure other people could do it but I thought the way I was wired meant I needed mind-altering substances in order to be okay in life. I wasn’t so hung up on the not having fun in sobriety trope, I was just worried about not being able to do day-to-day things. Of course, that was all false, and of course, I operate so much better when completely sober. What a beautiful journey it is to begin to live a new life and build confidence and self-esteem as you show yourself you can live life completely sober.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Ryan: So many ways, but most importantly I became a member of my family again. For so long I was the black sheep of my very tight-knit family. Everyone in my family just felt bad for me and that drove me crazy, all I ever wanted was to be a loving son and uncle to my family. The first few holidays I spent with my family and extended family are some of the greatest memories I have in recovery.
Mrs D: That's so lovely. Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you since getting sober?
Ryan: To be able to help other people suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. I know the hopelessness so well, I know what it feels like to think you will never be able to attain a real and productive life. Finding someone who has completely lost hope and showing them the way to freedom is the greatest thing I do in my life today.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Ryan: Wouldn’t change a thing!
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Ryan: Acknowledge to yourself how much you need others to help you on your journey. I find the biggest and most common mistake people make early on in recovery is that they try to do it on their own. I get it too, it is not easy to open yourself up to new people especially when you are emotionally raw early on. It is vital to find people who have what you want and for them to show you the way.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Ryan: My life is nothing like how I imagined when I first got sober. Early in recovery, I had already written what my life was going to look like 5 or 10 years sober and to be honest it didn’t excite me. I could not have been more wrong and my life has been incredible these 7+ years of being sober. Don’t get hung up on your future, the future is unknown and when you are on the path of staying sober that is an exciting thing!