8 Former Alcoholics Reveal Eye-Opening Lessons on Overcoming Addiction
One in 12 Americans will struggle with alcoholism at some point in their life. In honor of Alcoholic Awareness Month, recovered alcoholics share their best advice and what they wish they had known when they were still drinking.
“I didn’t realize I had a problem until I tried to stop.”
Joe Schrank began to struggle with alcohol in his late teens. At age 25, Schrank was diagnosed with depression, and that’s when he realized how dependent on drinking he had become: His antidepressant medication stipulated that he couldn’t drink while taking the pills. “I didn’t realize I had a problem until I tried to stop,” he says. “Alcohol was playing a huge role in my life, and I had run out of reasons to deny it was an issue.”
Schrank has now been sober for more than 20 years and recently founded High Sobriety, an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles. To beat his addiction, Schrank turned to exercise and local Alcoholic Awareness meetings. “Overcoming alcoholism is like weeding, you have to stay on top of it or you’ll have a yard full of weeds in a second,” he says. “Working out is key for me; in spite of my dad bod, I do love the gym. The team approach of AA has also been critical. The men in the program offer consistent and reliable support, and that really helps.” Above all, he says his two sons are his greatest motivator. “As a kid, I loathed my father’s drinking and self-destructive behaviors. Neither of my boys have seen me drink, and I want to keep that streak going.” Find out what safe drinking looks like.
“Recovery is not a life problem I could fix by just working harder.”
Recently, 63-year-old Traylor Johnson marked 22 years and nine months of sobriety. Recovering from addiction is worth celebrating every month, says Johnson, but he’s quick to add that it isn’t the years that matter, but each and every day. “Long-term sobriety is only achievable one day at a time,” he said. “Recovery was not a life problem I could fix by working harder. It took time for me to heal mentally and emotionally.”
Over the years, he’s learned to take a holistic approach to repairing his life and important relationships. “I needed a complete staff of physicians, counselors, therapists, plus an exercise regimen and a strong plan to get through the difficult days,” he shared. “I never could have envisioned what a lifetime of sobriety would look and feel like, until I got there.”
“I wish I’d been taught to embrace my imperfections, and to understand the importance of self-care.”
With Laura Ward’s first taste of alcohol as a teenager came the awareness that she couldn’t have just one drink. But Ward, who now blogs about sobriety, didn’t face her weakness until her children reached school age. “I couldn’t admit it to myself,” she says. “I became so dependent on alcohol that it threatened to take everything from me. In 2013, she began drinking daily, from the moment her kids went to school until she passed out at night. “I realized I didn’t know how to function without alcohol. I knew it was only a matter of time before I killed myself or crashed my car or killed someone else. I was terrified of drinking. I was terrified of not drinking. I had forgotten how to function sober and was convinced I couldn’t do it.”
Then came a morning in March 2014, when Ward was so sick from not drinking that she couldn’t stand upright in the shower; she grabbed a beer to steady her hand, and that was the moment she made the choice to stop. By working with a wellness coach, Ward was able to eventually break her addiction. “She helped me identify bad habits and replace them with healthy ones. I learned to love, value, and respect myself.” Ward also realized there is no shame in admitting you need help. “Alcoholics are not broken or flawed: We’re ill. And when we’re sick, we need to take care of ourselves. There are so many different ways to recover. It doesn’t matter what path you choose as long as you find a way to become and remain sober,” she said.
“I could never have imagined that a life of sobriety would be so rich.”
When Joy Clubb was beginning her path to recovery, she had no idea how many benefits she’d gain from giving up drinking. “If anyone would have told me that I would have the life I have today, in sobriety, I would have never believed them,” says 45-year-old Clubb. “The material things that came with recovery are nice, but the relationship I have with myself, my family and my faith is indescribable. I am able to look at myself in the mirror and like what I see.”
Clubb not only discovered confidence, but she found a career path. “When I got sober, I worked at a treatment center as a housekeeper and on a horse farm. I assumed this or something similar is what I would do for the rest of my life but I took a leap of faith and applied at Bluff Plantation, a rehabilitation center in Augusta, Georgia. After receiving several promotions, I am now Program Manager.” Equally important for Clubb is the change in her personal life. “The relationships I have now are genuine. I thought that many of my relationships would be ruined forever because to my alcoholism, but my family just wanted their wife, mother, and daughter back. What they have received in return, is a better version of myself.”
“Ignore the little voice that says, ‘I don’t want to recover’ and do it anyway.”
Before Larisa Washington became sober, the 32-year-old was going down a dangerous path by abusing alcohol and drugs. Loved ones encouraged Washington to get sober, but it would take years before she was able to pull the plug and really focus on what mattered to most: A substance-free life. “If I could go back to my former self, I’d tell her that being vulnerable and real with others helps us learn to love ourselves,” she shared. “I would tell her that it does get better and easier with time. That the most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. That she will look around one day and realize her life is so much more than she’d ever dreamed, and that is the kind of life she deserves. Why pass up an opportunity like that?”
“Life carries the possibility of spiritual awakening. Addiction is a barrier.”
Several years ago, Scott Kiloby’s life revolved around two things: working and getting drunk. After a full day as an attorney, he would drink until he passed out in the evening. “My life was miserable,” Kiloby says. “I was completely focused on how to get more alcohol and the firm conviction that all the alcohol in the world would never satisfy me,” he says. “I now live in the present moment completely, no longer shackled to thoughts and feelings of resentment and regret, or worry and anxiety about the future.”
As he tamed his addiction to booze, he had to recognize and overcome other obsessions, such as gambling, porn, caffeine, and sugar—to name a few.
“As I dropped the alcohol and then shed each addiction—one by one—I began practicing mindfulness which allowed me to live in the moment. I learned to live with a quiet mind; my fear, guilt, shame, anger, and sadness fell away. Today, I walk around in awe of the simple wonderment of life. I find joy in the simplest things: a tree, a child laughing, clouds rolling across the sky, an intimate conversation with a loved one,” he says. “I didn’t know back then that true peace and freedom are contained in the one place I was constantly refusing to look—the here and now.”
Recently, Kiloby opened the first rehab facility in the country focused on mindfulness: the Kiloby Center for Recovery.
“You cannot do this alone.”
Author Heidi Heath Garwood, started drinking heavily in her early 20s and she didn’t get sober until three days before her 50th birthday. “I always knew I drank more—and more obsessively—than anybody I was drinking with. Then drinking began interfering with my work and daily life,” she said. “The last time I got drunk, I woke up at 3:30 in the afternoon with no idea of what I had done that day.” Garwood turned to her faith to help her recover. “I prayed and asked God to take this from me. The obsession lifted the moment I turned it over to a higher power. For years, I had tried to do it on my own, but the minute I asked for God’s help, my drinking was over.”
By attending AA meetings, having a sponsor, and being a sponsor, Garwood was able to move forward. She also prays and meditates daily to help her get out of her own head and stay in the present moment.
“You never can tell when the use of alcohol or drugs might become a disease.”
Alan Charles didn’t battle alcohol until he began using cocaine at age 24. Because he was bouncing between the two substances, he could drink more and for longer periods of time. This led his habits to quickly spin out of control. When, predictably, his life began to fall apart—he lost his job, his wife filed for divorce, he was denied visitation rights to his children—Charles knew he had to clean up his act fast. Thanks to dedication, therapy, and AA and CA (Cocaine Anonymous), Charles has been sober since December 8, 2007. The experience has taught him just how dangerous even one sip or puff can be.
“Everyone is played Russian roulette when they try alcohol or drugs,” he says. “Unfortunately for me, I was one of a small percentage of people who are addicted right from the start. The key message is that you never can tell when the use of alcohol or drugs might progress to a disease. Once that happens, you lose the ability to make a decision to stop. My weakness led me to a 24-year addiction; I’m incredibly lucky to be alive.” If you’re looking to cut back on alcohol, follow these 17 tips.