Millions of Americans are living with untreated addiction issues. According to data from the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CTAG), more than 23 million adults in the United States have an alcohol or drug addiction. Dr. Kima Joy Taylor, director of the CATG Initiative, stated the following in regards to the growing problem,
“Drug use is on the rise in this country and 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 – roughly equal to the entire population of Texas. But only 11 percent of those with an addiction receive treatment. It is staggering and unacceptable that so many Americans are living with an untreated chronic disease and cannot access treatment.”
And while getting treatment and starting recovery are essential first steps, achieving long-term sobriety takes work and isn’t as easily attainable. However, millions of those who find recovery from alcohol or drug problems go on to live in long-term sobriety free from alcohol and drugs. But how does this happen? What makes one person stay sober long-term and the next one not be able to do so? There’s no cut and dry answer, but research shows some things can prove to be helpful to long-term sobriety and others aren’t.
At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we believe everyone deserves a chance to get sober, recover from addiction, and recapture the peace of mind and joy of life. We had the honor of sitting down with Jane C., a woman with 21 years of continuous sobriety, to ask her how she does it. In this candid interview, Jane talks about what it was like, what happened, and how she’s managed to stay sober for 21 years despite experiencing troubles and adversity along the way.
Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Tell me about yourself; where did you grow up? What was your family like? What kind of childhood did you have?
A: I grew up in New Jersey in Northern Bergen County. My father was an attorney and my mom was an artist and head hunter. My mom was sober and in Alcoholics Anonymous when I was born. My dad was a drinker. I have a brother who is eight years older than me so we were both almost like only children. My parents divorced when I was pretty young and I grew up with mom and just saw my dad on weekends.
I had a lonely childhood, both of my parents were distracted. No one showed me basic things, like brushing my teeth. There wasn’t much structure but I had other privileges. Like I went to an eight-week camp every year. A lot of kids didn’t get to do those kinds of things. My mom got married a lot after she and my father split. My mom suffered from mental illness and she hadn’t done the AA steps at that time. We moved around a lot as she changed boyfriends and husbands. I lived in the ghetto sometimes then finally we moved to a nicer area of New Jersey where I went to high school. I started rebelling in elementary school. I started smoking and liking boys a lot.
Q: When did you first start drinking and what was that like?
A: I was restless, irritable, and discontent from an early age. I couldn’t find anything that filled the hole in my soul and heart. But around seventh grade, I found a friend who was also restless, irritable, and discontent and we found liquor. I would drink every chance I got. I would bring White Russians to school because they looked like chocolate milk and were easy to hide. I’d also drink Vodka at school. When the weekends came it was all about where are we going to get drunk. That’s all I cared about. Getting drunk and finding boys. I was boy crazy and that started at a young age too. I kept looking for ways to fill that hole, get that attention I craved, find that high, engage in that chase. Adrenaline stuff. And it worked. It was easy. Drinking was an easy fix for all those feelings I didn’t know how to deal with at that time.
Q: When did you first realize you had an issue?
A: When I was younger I was already having issues different from other kids. I was in therapy for anger issues. I’d freak out about something and destroy my bedroom in a rage. Teachers started making comments like something is wrong with Jane. Ritalin was suggested. These were markers around 14 and 15 years old. I remember telling my mom that I felt like something wasn’t right with me. I’d watch other kids and they’d be doing normal things for fun and I didn’t get how those things were fun. They’d go for yogurt on Fridays and I just thought that was so weird. Saw there was something different but I didn’t know what it was or what to do. I just kept drinking because that made me feel better.
Q: Looking back at all of this, why do you think you started drinking and relying on alcohol to make you feel better?
A: I was worried a lot and I didn’t know why. I was always worried about how I looked, what I said, how I said it, if I fit in, etc. My mind was always worried. Alcohol shut that off for me. When I drank I stopped worrying, in fact, I didn’t care at all. I cared so much about fitting in, but alcohol gave me the confidence to be a part of things and not worry so much. It was like a seamless transition.
Q: So you started drinking to help ease your racing mind and discontent. Then how did things progress?
A: I think around 16 years old my dependency really started. I was going into my junior year. I used alcohol, pot, and boys to make myself feel better. I joked about it. I was okay with it. This is who I am and I am okay with it.
After a little bit, my life started to suffer. I quit activities that I loved once. I quit dance and volleyball. I started getting in trouble. By the time I was a senior in high school I was kicked out of the house. I didn’t listen to anyone. No one could tell me what to do and I was gonna keep drinking. My life was unmanageable. I couldn’t get into college. My mom tried to send me to rehab but I left. I told myself I was just having fun and my mom was nuts. My dad was a very successful lawyer, pulled some strings, and got me into college. Once I went to college I started doing coke and didn’t last long at college.
Q: What happened after you left college? Did things get worse?
A: Yes, they got worse. After I flunked out of college I started smoking crack a few times. Then I started on the harder stuff. I was working at a bar. I was always a hard worker, always had a job. At first, I was getting messed up at work or before work but then learned not to get messed up until after work. I started working at a biker bar at 17. I was around the party lifestyle and a lot of drinking and drugs. I kept partying and I didn’t care. Then I met this guy. I really liked him and he didn’t party. I wanted him to like me so I started to try to control my drinking and stopped using drugs. Once I did this my thinking and my mind got nutty. I was obsessed with him. I called him as soon as he left for work, during the day repeatedly. I asked him if he loved me, how much he loved me and this went on and on. He couldn’t take it and broke up with me. I was devastated. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t see myself clearly. I thought I was doing all the right things because I wasn’t using drugs and drinking as heavily as before but I didn’t see myself clearly.
After that, I decided to take off to California. That’s when my alcoholism really progressed. I was 19 and started dating a guy who was a musician and crack dealer. So I started smoking it with him. He was also very abusive. Drinking and drugs escalated during this time. My life was full of violence for a few years. Then he cheated on me and left me for someone else. It was then that I was introduced to crystal meth. I liked it because I could drink more and drink for days. I was broke so I started dealing to make money and get drugs. It got really bad. I was so delusional and so far gone. I didn’t even see it.
This was really the scariest time of my life. I was so mentally out of control. I was paranoid, delusional, and I didn’t trust anyone. I began hearing and seeing people and things and I didn’t know what was real. It was so bad I gave my dog drugs because I thought he wanted them. I was hallucinating, very thin, underweight, and unhealthy. I was a mess. I ended up running away in the middle of the night. I headed to my brothers in Lake Tahoe to try to get it together. I still didn’t realize drugs were an issue. That’s how insidious and insane this disease is.
Q: Wow, that’s a lot and that happened really fast. What happened next?
A: Yes, it progressed really fast and I went downhill really quickly too. My brother told me to go home to New Jersey and get myself together so I did. I drove across the country on drugs, doing drugs the whole way. As soon as I pulled into my driveway I dumped out all of the drugs. I stopped doing drugs and was just drinking. I thought that was fine and I could handle it. I couldn’t. I started drinking alcoholically again. I was out of control. I was living with my mom and she told me that if I wanted to live with her I had to get sober. Drinking wasn’t working well at this point anymore. I wanted to stop using drugs but learn how to control my drinking. But I started using drugs again. I couldn’t stop for good.
Q: Okay, so by now you know you have a problem, alcohol and drugs aren’t working to make you feel better, you’ve tried to get sober but can’t, what do you do?
A: Yea, so I was desperate for something to change. Desperate to feel different., be different, to stop. I had moments of clarity and I’d see how bad I was but they’d leave and I just kept drinking. I’d quickly convinced myself that I was okay, I got it. That’s the insanity of the disease. You can be looking at total ruin and destruction and still be in total denial. I had moments of fear that made me want to stop but by that point, I needed the alcohol and drugs to live. I had to have it. I couldn’t stop.
Q: So we know you have 21 years of sobriety, when did you stop? What happened?
A: I was living with my mom, hiding my drinking. And then my dad died.
My father died on February 6 of 2000. His death devastated me inside but I didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle it in a healthy way. My dad was always helping me out, bailing me out of jams, cleaning up the messes I made. I didn’t know what to do. His death set me on a course of an eight-month bender. I started to drink and use coke on a daily basis. Then I was always angry. I’d get drunk and be pissed. I couldn’t control my emotions. At this point, I couldn’t even cry for my dad. I was just angry and angry all the time. I was angry because I had no one to clean up my mess. My dad cleaned up my mess. I wanted to know now that he was gone, “who will make it okay?” I just kept doing drugs and drinking.
Then one night I had done a bunch of coke with my boyfriend, he went to bed, and of course, I stayed up to keep going. I was using all night, then my heart started racing so hard, more than ever before. I really believed I was going to die. I definitely thought I was going to die. So I got on my knees, I really thought I was gonna die. I asked, “what is wrong with me, God?” And then sort of like Bill’s story in the AA Big Book, my Higher Power showed up for me in a really profound way. Right then my eyes were opened and I got to see myself exactly as I was- an alcoholic and addict. And I couldn’t deny it. I had rejected every chance of help and love from my Higher Power for so long and tried to do it all on my own. I was selfish and self-centered and it was going to kill me. That night, right then I took steps one and two as they are in the Big Book. I admitted to myself that my life was unmanageable and that only my Higher Power could restore me to sanity. It was a profound moment and changed my life.
Q: That’s really intense. So then what happened? It’s one thing to have the realization, it’s another to get sober and stay sober.
A: I started going to AA meetings in York, Pennsylvania where my mom had moved. I showed up but I kept trying to drink. I couldn’t drink though. I’d have one sip of a beer and be nauseous and want to vomit. I just couldn’t drink anymore. I kept smoking pot for a few weeks because I didn’t really get sobriety and the concept of not being on anything. But then after a bit, I stopped that and my sobriety date is from when I stopped smoking pot too.
I went to a lot of AA meetings. I wasn’t working so I went to two meetings a day. I did this for at least a year. Then I got a job and started working. I had to take a job for $6 an hour. It was really humbling. I worked and went to meetings and got into service. If they told me to do something I did it. I wanted to do the best I could at every service position they gave me. I became teachable and I learned to follow directions. And it changed my life.
I met good people who cared, who showed up, who did what they said they’d do. I was immersed in the drug and crime world before, no one was really good in that world so I thought good people didn’t really exist. I found good people in AA and I wanted to be like them so I did what they said. And it worked.
Q: And you’ve done that for 21 years now? Have you had any challenges in sobriety?
A: Yes, AA is essential to me staying sober. I am in service and work with others a lot. I keep AA and my sobriety as a priority. My kids have grown up in AA. I”m not the mom who did things like other moms. They sat on Santa’s lap once, maybe went to the park twice but I kept them close to me and in AA. And I stayed sober for 21 years now. They’ve never seen me drink or use drugs. I may not be perfect but I do my best and AA helps keep it real for me.
I got married to a guy in AA and we had two boys. Things were good for a while. I was happy, we were this power AA couple. Then he started smoking crack again and he still is. We lost everything. I had to declare bankruptcy, and we got divorced. It was really hard. But the people in AA showed up for me. They carried me when I was broken and couldn’t carry myself. And you know what, I stayed sober, I got through, I learned lessons, and I’m okay. One of the biggest things I learned is that I wasn’t relying on my Higher Power enough. I was self-willing a lot of things in my life and not just trusting, surrendering, and letting my Higher Power guide me. I needed those lessons to grow, stay sober, and ultimately be able to help others in AA who go through the same thing.
Q: Do you ever miss drinking or doing drugs?
A: The only time I miss drinking is sometimes when I’m with my boyfriend and he has a drink by the fire. Sometimes it’s hard watching other moms get together and socialize. Alcohol is a social lubricant so I miss that part of it but only sometimes. That’s the lure of ease and comfort from alcohol. When I see this I still want to be a part of and fit I with them. But, I lost that privilege. And I get to feel that good stuff in AA. I have girls I’ve sponsored for 15 and more years, they’re like family now. It’s really incredible. But, sometimes, outside of AA it’s uncomfortable and I have to live with it. I just show up and keep trying and I pray through it all.
Q: That’s awesome. So, what do you do on a daily basis to stay sober?
A: I pray, meditate, connect with at least one person from AA every day. I go to meetings. I do the step work. I try to follow the principles of being honest, open-minded, and willing. I find that when I’m willing, things work out best. Even if I don’t want to go to a meeting or sponsor someone or speak at a meeting, I still do it. I remain willing. That has helped me tremendously along the way.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just getting sober?
A: You really have to want it. You have to want things to change AA, NA, or any recovery program is for people who WANT it. Lots of people need it but you have to want it. You have to want a different way of life. It’s not always possible until you get so sick and tired of living how you are. You have to be sick and tired of what alcohol and drugs are doing to your life.
I also suggest to everyone new to read the Big Book and literature of AA. Look for people who are talking about what’s in the literature. Not opinions. A lot of people have a lot of different opinions about alcoholism, addiction, and how to get and stay sober. I stick to what the Big Book says. The AA program, as it’s outlined in the book, won’t lie to you. Get the book and read it. Start going to meetings. Find someone who is talking about the book and knows the book.
There’s a lot of other advice and opinions out there. That isn’t helpful especially if you’re new. Find someone with a light in their eyes and talk to them. That’s what I did and also what thousands of others have done and do to get and stay sober. Getting sober is hard, staying sober can be harder but the AA program is what works for me. I take it and my sobriety seriously. They are my number one priority.
Q: Great advice, thank you. How is your life today?
A: My life today is good. I have two teenage sons. They are both doing well. I have a boyfriend who cares about me and we have a good life. I got into a business that I’ve excelled in and am able to make a good living doing.
I have matured. My maturing process stopped when on drugs and booze, I respond more sanely to things, not always but I’m progressing forward and that’s what matters the most.
Today I’m more loving and kind. I’ve learned to realize that other people have feelings. I also am more aware and know where my defects lie so I can be aware and work on them. I can see when they pop up and AA gives me the tools to deal with them in a healthy way.
I am able to present for my kids in a way my parents weren’t. I make mistakes but I recognize them and I have been able to be more aware of making them. That makes me very grateful. Breaking another part of the chain, slowly.
Jane, thank you so much for sharing your insight and wisdom from 21 years of sobriety with us today. This has been so helpful for me, I know it will help many who read this and hear your message of strength and hope. It’s a miracle, really, for anyone who gets sober. It’s amazing to think of what your life was like on meth and coke and a real mess to today, having a good job, a great family, and most of all still being sober.
If you or a loved one are living in painful addiction or alcoholism, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. With three different treatment programs, our compassionate team helps adults from all walks of life, at different stages of addiction, get started on the road of recovery. At Futures, we also treat individuals with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues. Treating both conditions at the same time is essential in helping to build a solid foundation for long-lasting recovery.
Contact us online to learn more or call 866-804-2098.