What led you to get sober?
I was 23 years old, and at that point I had been using and drinking for a decade. I was sitting at my kitchen table in my little mice-infested apartment, and I had this sudden awareness: if I didn’t stop, I would be dead within a year.
My life leading up to addiction at 13 was traumatic. I started with drinking and smoking cigarettes, then it progressed from drinking to smoking weed, and then I did some cocaine. I was under the influence of something all the time. My routine was to get up, do some bong hits, take a hit of speed—the whole day was wrapped around what drugs I was doing. I kept graduating to more and more serious substances.
I ended up an IV drug user. This was in 1978, ‘79, which was right before AIDS hit—you want to talk about dodging a bullet. I had a little group of people that I would shoot up with, and we didn’t sterilize the needle in between shots. I went swimming in the ocean at night and nearly drowned; I had a grand mal seizure and they lost my pulse in the ambulance; I overdosed countless times. In each case, I was so lucky. These were little miracles.
Part of what fueled my addiction was the trauma, part of it was my internalized homophobia. I knew that I was a lesbian, and it was really hard for me to accept because I came from a traditional family. Part of me was out and proud, and the other part hated myself. I was unprepared to deal with life.
I had heard somewhere along the line about AA. I started going to meetings, but as soon as I got out of there I would go to the bar. I figured everybody in the rooms was doing the same thing. I was so clueless and young and had no coping skills.
One day, I got cornered by a woman at one of the meetings, who had apparently been seeing me struggling. I was shaking and sweating. She said, “There’s someone I’d like you to meet; do you have just a second?” I was like, “No, not really.” She said, “I think you would really benefit from meeting this person.” I said, “You don’t understand; I really need to leave,” and she was like, “Oh, but I do understand.”
I was a little intrigued, so I met the operator of a treatment center, who was also in the rooms. He got through to me; I was in treatment that night. I just needed the intervention, because I couldn’t do this by myself. All the coping skills I learned as an adult, I learned in treatment and the rooms.
Are those the main things you do for your recovery, or is there anything like therapy, meditation? What are some of the ways you’ve built those coping skills?
I do meditation. Being calm is kind of my biggest challenge, but in meditation I’m calm. I try to bring that into the rest of my waking life.
I’ve been in therapy on and off my entire life. I do regular therapy and also see a psychiatrist. I’m bipolar, and I have PTSD and panic disorder, so I’m on medications to treat the worst of those symptoms. Readings—the Big Book and also the little meditation books they offer through both AA and Hazelden—help me focus. They calm my mind enough to be able to feel whatever should be coming in and whatever should be going out.
Has the pandemic impacted your recovery?
Not really; I haven’t felt any strong need to use or drink, or a fatalistic “I’m going to die.” It’s more like, “No, I’m not going to die because I’m staying holed up in my house until this is over.” I’ve been in my house for 14 months now and it hasn’t bothered me that much. Going out makes me nervous; it’s just a matter of getting used to being in the world again.
Three people I knew, two who were friends, died early in the pandemic. It hasn’t been easy for anybody, and I feel for people who are just starting out in recovery. I hope they’ve been able to reach out via remote meetings and get the help they need, because it’s been a tough year.
What are some changes you’ve noticed in yourself in the time you’ve been sober? I know it’s been 37 years.
More of an acceptance of life on its own terms; the knowing that there will be times when things are really hard. The vast majority of my life now, I’ve been through things sober. On 9/11, I was under tower two on the subway when it came down. There have been some pretty pivotal things that I’ve lived through and thrived despite.
It’s given me the ability to do many different things and be in many different places. It gave me a lot of courage to follow my career where it led, from South Carolina to DC to New York. Courage and faith that if it felt like the right thing to do, I had the wherewithal to follow through. Wherever a job would take me, there was always AA to ground in—a group of people that I knew I could trust and that would help in the transition.
One of the cool things about being in recovery is that I have very few regrets. I’ve pretty much just followed the path that I thought the power greater than myself was leading me on. I do believe in a power greater than me; I had to, because my ego was the size of Montana when I first came in. It was all me: “I am still alive because of me, me, me, me, me.” That can be a healthy thing, but not in active addiction. When I’m feeling out of sorts, it’s because I’ve moved away from my higher power; my higher power has not moved.
I’m getting older, and I never imagined making it this long. It’s been a journey—and I’m still finding out new things, having new realizations.