The Steps Of Recovery Saved My Life And Showed Me How To Live

My name is Katie and I’m an alcoholic. My sobriety date is September 21st, 2015, so as of today I’m 937 days sober (a little over two and a half years). But who’s counting, right? I NEVER thought I’d grow up to be an alcoholic. I never WANTED to be an alcoholic. But, as it turns out, for whatever reason, this struggle was meant to be part of my journey. And I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can be grateful for it.

I grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota to the most amazing family I could ever dream of. Trust me, I didn’t think this all along, but I know now how lucky I am. I have one sister and two loving parents and my first memories were happy ones. I remember spending lots of time with family, enjoying elementary school and being happy-go-lucky, although all these memories are tainted with a tinge of constant anxiety.

What I remember most about my childhood, however, was my transition to middle school, when I left the small Catholic school and friends that I knew in Saint Paul to attend a Junior High and then High School in Saint Louis Park where my dad worked. It is at this time in my life that I vividly remember realizing that I was DIFFERENT. Not just because I was from Saint Paul while most students were from the suburbs and an entirely different socio-economic status, but different INTERNALLY. I became anxious and fearful. I didn’t know what the other kids were talking about in casual conversations: TV shows, movies, malls, brands of clothes, types of clothes, fashion, make-up, etc… and I constantly felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just didn’t fit in. And I internalized it. Deeply.

I remember starting to try to fit in and that’s kind of when things get blurry. I lost whatever sense of self I had had, and started trying to be more like the people around me. Or what I thought they wanted ME to be. My life continued like that for years. I excelled in school and even had some successes in sports, but I was constantly switching friends, changing the way I looked, acted, dressed, etc… to attempt to fit in. All the while my anxiety increased and my sense of self-worth was slim to none. My approval of myself was solely based on the opinions of others.

When I finally discovered alcohol in 10th or 11th grade (I think), I couldn’t believe the magical effect that it had on me. My anxiety disappeared. My confidence grew. I didn’t worry about what I said, how I said it or who I said it too. And the people around me were more open. Carefully closed groups of friends that couldn’t be entered without “popular” ticket became more like trains of dancing people that anyone could get on and off whenever they pleased. I felt like I had finally figured it out. I had arrived.

I continued experimenting with alcohol whenever I could throughout high school. I didn’t think I drank that much, but my parents and some close friends seemed to think otherwise. Even after just a few years of drinking “casually” – as I thought – I had already developed a reputation of the girl without a cut-off switch. In hindsight, I realized that I had blacked out the first time a drank and many times after, and even when I THOUGHT I had control of my drinking, I never really did.

As you may guess, when I went off to college for the first time my drinking spiraled out of control. I ACTUALLY remember being PROUD that I drank the first seven days straight of my college experience. (After becoming a full-blown alcoholic a few years later and looking back on that week, I realized 7 days was NOTHING.) My first year of college was kind of like an extended version of high school but without parental supervision. I went to classes, did my homework, went to parties and DRANK. There were many nights (even days) of this experience that I don’t remember at all.

In the winter of my freshman year of college, I attempted suicide. I think it was more of a cry for help than anything else, but I was drinking and I was depressed and I ended up being hospitalized, and forced to change colleges, all the while causing extensive and indescribable pain to my family members and friends. I’m not proud of this act of despair and I can’t make much more sense of it at this point that you can, so I’m going to leave it at that, aside from mentioning that I also went through outpatient treatment at this time, because my parents suspected that my drinking was linked to my poor mental health. Imagine that! Drinking was NOT my problem.

Fast forward through college; my drinking continued to escalate and I was drinking multiple times a week, every week. Every time I drank, I got drunk. Most times I drank, I blacked out. Drinking continued to be my outlet; my stress-relief; my crutch; the thing that I turned to when I didn’t know where else to turn. I could go on and on about incidents throughout my college career in which my drinking proved itself problematic, but I don’t have time for that tonight. What’s important to note is that none of it was enough. None of the scraps that I got myself into (including a professor questioning my drinking habits; not remembering entire classes because I was in a blackout; a concerned supervisor at an internship asking me why I smelt like alcohol, etc…) were enough to make me quit drinking. At this point, I’m pretty sure I knew I was drinking too much, but I chalked it up to being in college and still needing to work on learning how to control my drinking better.

As you might guess, my drinking continued as I entered the professional world after college and this is where I started getting more concerned. About my well-being (I had gained a LOT of weight); my mental health (I was anxious, depressed and suicidal); and my drinking (I was a daily drinker at this point). I distinctly remember applying to Grad School so I would have one night per week at class where I was forced NOT to drink. Because that’s why most people start grad school, right? Anyway, I went to grad school, worked in a school as an assistant and drank daily for 5 years. Then I got my teaching license and continued to drink every day as a teacher. My job was HARD and I justified my drinking by how hard I worked and how tough my job was. If YOU had my job, YOU would drink TOO.

In hindsight, I started my slow, painful journey of “my last days of drinking” about my second year of teaching. I had started to become physically dependent on alcohol and it wasn’t enough just to drink after work until I passed out. I was getting the shakes in the mornings and throughout the day and was becoming sick to my stomach almost daily. I’d wake up in the middle of the night in sweats with my heart pounding. The only thing that could cure these symptoms was alcohol. Alcohol had become not only my psychological crutch; but a physical necessity. I started fearing going to work; I feared going out in public ANYWHERE; I needed a drink to feel anywhere near normal. I knew I was addicted at this point and I knew I was going through withdrawal but I didn’t know how to stop it. I couldn’t just stop drinking because I thought for sure I’d die; the anxiety and the physical withdrawal symptoms were unbearable. I also knew that if I kept drinking the way I was I would die anyway. I had hit my bottom; I wanted to die.

I continued living like that, drinking like that, with that knowledge for almost a year. And then one night, I reached out for help. I called my uncle (a recovering alcoholic himself) and told him I needed help. I told him I wanted to stop drinking but I couldn’t. He picked me up at 3:00 in the morning and drove me to the hospital. From there, my recovery journey began.

My journey of recovery has been, thus far, based upon the twelve steps of recovery. Not everyone’s journey will look the same. But for me, I think I started the first step the night I reached out for help. I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and I certainly understood that my life had become unmanageable. Later, when working with a sponsor, I discovered and came to terms with many OTHER things in life that I am powerless over. Admitting that I was powerless and ACCEPTING that fact, was actually incredibly comforting to me and it has helped me time and time again to come back to this step and remind myself of my powerlessness in this life in general.

Steps two and three weren’t quite so simple for me, but they did fall into place pretty quickly after I recognized how powerless I was. I immediately felt like I needed something or someone to turn to; to release my worries onto; to put my trust in; to help guide me. Without alcohol, and with the knowledge that I could no longer rely solely on myself, I naturally looked for another source of comfort or reliance. I’ve always had a type of faith; mainly the kind where I reached out to God for help when I got myself into trouble. But this was different. After reading about steps two and three in the Big Book and the 12 & 12, talking with a sponsor and other people at meetings, I felt confident that there was indeed a power greater than myself (I call that power God) and that my choice at that point was to turn my will over to the care of that Higher Power. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant (and I still don’t totally understand), but it felt right and saying the third step prayer meant something to me and I just kept saying it over and over until it stuck. I still say the third step prayer almost every day; and I turn to that prayer and my higher power when I feel uncertain about anything.

I continued working the steps with my sponsor and including making an inventory and sharing it with God and my sponsor. I was definitely nervous about this and procrastinated on this step longer than I probably should have; because, like most of us, I had things that I had done and said that I was very ashamed of and hadn’t told ANYONE. But, just like people before me had told me, writing these things down and sharing them with another person was an extremely “freeing” experience. My sponsor was understanding, non-judgemental and comforting. I had finally shared my deepest secrets and darkest regrets tot another human being and NOTHING HAPPENED. She didn’t scold me; she didn’t jump up in horror; she didn’t think of me differently. She JUST LISTENED. This was incredibly powerful experience for me.

I went on to make a list of the people that I had harmed and made my amends to those people. Not right away by any means. I actually just made my last amend (and biggest) to my parents just a few months ago. My sponsor had told me to wait for a time that felt right – and I’d heard from many people that they had tried to make amends TOO early and ended up hurting the people they were trying to right the wrongs with – so I took my time with this step. Making my amends was hard, but it really helped me to deepen my relationships with the people in my life that I love and to continue my journey to “clean up my side of the street;” start with a clean slate; and work towards forgiving and loving myself again.

Steps ten, eleven, and twelve – although last – are some of the most important steps of my recovery today. Mainly because I believe that I practice them on a daily basis by constantly working on improving myself, my relationship with my higher power, and my relationships with people in recovery. I work to take personal inventory every day; if I don’t catch my mistakes right away, I reflect at night before bed about the events of the day and come up with a plan to admit my wrongs the next day. I don’t do this perfectly, and to be completely honest I don’t even do it every day. But I’m working on it, and I’m getting better at admitting my mistakes and that’s the important thing.

I also work on step eleven every day. I pray every morning and night and multiple times throughout the day. Like I mentioned before, I like the third step prayer and I pray it often when I’m uncertain, don’t know what to do; or am confused. I also love the serenity prayer. I pray that prayer every morning as I walk in to work; and many times throughout the day when I get angry or frustrated. Someone said to me in a meeting the other day that the only prayer we need to say is this: “God, show me what you want me to do and give me the strength to do it.” And I found that really powerful. That’s exactly what step eleven tells us to do. To pray for the knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry that out.

Finally, on to step twelve. This step is incredibly important to my recovery: Our primary purpose is to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all of our affairs. This leads me to talk about service. Service to others is a huge part of my recovery. I try to go at least once a month to a treatment center or a detox to carry the message. And these experiences are always just as powerful for me as they are for the people receiving the message. I also have sponsees. Sponsoring other women has helped me to realize that I can have a purpose; I can help others; my suffering has meaning because I can use it to help others recover. To this day, when I’m feeling down, or having a bad day; or mad about something or whatever; I reach out to someone else. I’ve heard so many people share this and it’s totally true; if we are able to get outside of ourselves and reach out to help others, we naturally help ourselves as well. If I had to pick one thing that has impacted my recovery in the most powerful way, I’d say service to others. The ability to share my story and impact the life of another struggling human being is one of the most beautiful things I’ve been a part of: in my recovery journey and in life in general.

I recently read a book called “Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank to Forget,” and I would like to end with a quote from that: “Getting sober wasn’t some giant leap into the sunlight. It was a series of small steps in the same direction. You say “I’ll do this today,” and then you say the same thing the next day, and you keep going, one foot in front of the other, until you make it out of the woods.” And that’s truly how sobriety worked – and continues – to work for me. One day at a time. One step at a time.