Surviving the Holidays as an Alcoholic

Thanks to Kelly Cordovano of Fresh Start Ministries* in Orlando Florida. Here is some great advice for surviving the holidays.

Image courtesy of Apolonia at

Image courtesy of Apolonia at

If you’re a recovering addict—an alcoholic, especially—the holiday season is difficult to get through. Parties to bring in the holiday cheer are happening left and right, and that typically means alcohol is being served. The temptation to drink is present more than ever.

A great way to celebrate your sobriety is by throwing your own holiday event. Here are some tips on how to make your dry holiday party memorable:

Serve non-alcoholic cocktails
You can avert the desire for alcohol by serving cocktails with no alcohol content. Find a recipe that interests you, then make and serve it. Creating a fun drink will keep your guests happy and cheerful.

Invite others in recovery
Sharing the holidays with friends also in recovery will create a judgment-free feeling and make the party fun and carefree. They understand what you are going through and will be happy to have a place to go during the season.

Celebrate you
Celebrate the holidays, but also celebrate your journey. Why not use this moment to pat yourself on the back for being on the right track? Remind yourself why you are on this journey by creating a fun sober theme celebrating your days in sobriety.

You will find that sometimes avoiding a social gathering will be difficult, if there is alcohol involved, follow these tips:

Find a friend
Pick a close companion you wholeheartedly trust. This friend should also make a vow not to drink during the party. Their responsibility is to supervise you the entire night and make sure you don’t make any poor decisions. They’ll watch what you do, where you go, what you drink, who you’re with, all to ensure you don’t make a choice you’ll later regret.

Fill your cup with anything but alcohol
Sometimes, you’ve got to fake it until you make it. While your guests can choose to drink whatever they’d like, you can fill your wine glass or cup with a non-alcoholic beverage—grape juice instead of wine, flavored water instead of vodka or gin. This will trick your mind and satisfy the craving without doing any harm.

Be the designated driver
By electing yourself the designated driver, you are now responsible for everyone that climbs into your car. This added sense of responsibility will give you the incentive you need to stay sober.

Keep conversation light
If you’re asked why you aren’t drinking and you don’t want to let anyone know you’re in recovery, make up something! Say you’re on antibiotics. Say you’ve got a stomachache and don’t want to upset it further. All people need to hear is one excuse and they’ll let it go, and you’re free to enjoy your party. By keeping conversation lighthearted, you are less likely to get upset and stay in good spirits.

If none of this sounds easy, if you feel the temptation is going to be too great, then don’t put yourself into the situation. If you know you’re going to want to drink at the party, despite these suggestions, just don’t go. Your recovery and comfort is far more important than any social gathering, and everyone will understand that.

* Kelly Cordovano is co-director of Fresh Start Ministries, a men’s rehabilitation center located in Central Florida. Along with her husband Joe, Kelly works with men who have taken the step to reach sobriety. With over 25 years of rehab teaching under her belt, she has seen people from all walks of life and is well versed in the experiences had by clients.

Fresh Start Ministries
Located in Orlando,Fla., Fresh Start Ministries of Central Florida, Inc. is a year-long, residential, faith-based substance abuse program for men. It provides affordable residential treatment for men recovering from life controlling problems, most typically substance abuse, through provision of transitional housing and comprehensive educational and support services. You can find more information by visiting

An early Christmas present for you….

Dear Loyal Blog Readers,

Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom

Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom

As an early Christmas present the ebook version of my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop’ will be on sale at 0.99cents for TWO days only – Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th of December.
If you haven’t had a chance to read my best selling book but would like to do so then now is your chance.
You can download the book from Amazon here.
With best wishes

“Veronica Valli has written one of the clearest, most fascinating & truly helpful books on addiction I’ve ever read.
To me, it’s up there with ‘Clean’ by David Sheff, except from the viewpoint of someone who’s in long-term recovery.
Whether you’re struggling now & need help, have struggled in the past, or you’ve ever loved an addict, this book pierces through the confusing and terrifying misinformation that surrounds this disease.
From the first page to the last, I was completely enthralled by this brilliantly researched, refreshingly straightforward & delightfully compelling book.” Kristen Johnston, two-time Emmy award-winning actress, NYT best-selling author and addiction recovery advocate.

Recovery Rocks – Alexis McCarthy

Alexis McCarthy has never fit into a ‘box’ of how a girl should be. As an analytical chemist for a large chemical company she works in a male dominated environment and her interests are pretty diverse and atypical for a woman. Since she was 15 she has built computers as a hobby one of her favorite past times is playing computer games – most notably MMORPGs (for the computer gamer illiterate, that stands for Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game). A self taught classical pianist she is also finding her way through recovery and first time motherhood. Being sober has enabled her to work through trauma in her childhood and related panic attacks.
This is her inspiring story.

Photo by Katie Meints (K-design photography)

Photo by Katie Meints (K-design photography)

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
My rock bottom consisted of a gentle slide down a hillside of pebbles that almost lead to a landslide. February of 2009, I lost my job – “laid off” – along with 600 or so other employees. My lack of productivity and coming in late to work made me an obvious target – of course, all of this was directly do to being constantly hungover. March of 2009, my ex-husband told me that “without any income, I was worthless and if I would leave, that would be great.” This was a relationship ruined by drinking on both of our parts. May of 2009, I “moved” out (really, kicked out) and into my mom’s house again at age 26. My drinking spiraled out of control at this point. With no job and no accountability, I worked up (quickly) to drinking at least a 12-pack of beer a day and was getting close to a full case. It took me until March of 2010 to find a job. I moved out in October of 2010 thinking “I just need a fresh start. Then I can finally stop drinking.” Worst lie I have ever told myself. I started drinking hard liquor and still consumed at least my 12-pack of ice beer a night (usually more). January 10th, 2011, I got my final written warning at my new job for attendance (thank you again, hangovers). It took me a few more days after that to have my last drink. So the cost of my drinking: a job, my home, my marriage (of course now, after the fact, I realize that was a gigantic blessing), enormous financial loss (selling a house in the 2010 housing crash) and nearly all of my friendships.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

The first thirty days of recovery were complete and utter mental chaos, despair and white knuckling. I tried twelve-step programs throughout the end of December and all through January. Up until my last meeting, I would relapse after every single one. I was basically getting panic attacks from trauma in my childhood that these meetings were bringing back. Once I stopped going, being that the seed for quitting drinking was firmly planted, it stuck. Without any real support, however, it was awful. I would rush home from work every single day, lock my door, strip my clothes, open no less than 5 diet cokes all at once and place them in various locations around the house (so it was like I had beer cans half drank all over the house, but pop instead) and plop down at the computer to get lost in computer games for the next six hours. It helped pass those early days pretty quickly, but ultimately, I still was white knuckling it pretty bad. Toward the end of thirty days, I finally stopped pushing off thinking about it all and dove in to online recovery groups. I FINALLY started to experience some relief just from getting my thoughts out and feedback from others. I knew I wasn’t alone.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Oh man. First of all, the friendships I have formed since being sober are the most genuine and heartfelt friendships I have ever experienced. People I would give the skin off my back and would probably give a kidney to if needed and I know would do the same for me. I was able to direct some tremendous grief from losing a great friend and mentor while sober to work on getting a new job. After three months of work and a few interviews later, in July of 2012, I obtained a new job where I had a 40% pay increase, amazing benefits and a new direction – I finally had a “career” instead of a “job”. I made the move to a new state alone and after a few months, I met someone online. We had a whirlwind of a romance and we moved in together (he moved across the country) in May of 2013. We bought a home together in August of 2013. We married in December of 2013 and in June of 2014 this year, we had our first child. I know for a fact that were I still drinking, not one bit of this would have happened.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
You are not a bad person. You are just sick. It is ok to ask for help and use it. It is ok to love yourself and does not make you selfish to do so. You are worthy.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
That I am pretty darn funny. I have accepted the fact, however, that I am just an introvert. It has given me much peace and acceptance and has really cut out the failed expectations (read: resentments) of myself. I can learn from bad experiences and move on – I no longer dwell on negative things and create a bad month or year out of a bad day.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
My son. I never would have experienced that or have been blessed to have him in my life were I still drinking. Emotionally, it brings me to my knees each and every time I sit and think about it.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

I still live by “One day at a time” some days, even now. Occasionally, I need to break it down even smaller than that, but it keeps me grounded on how I got here and how I will continue to go forward.
“Nothing changes if nothing changes.” This is true for sobriety and pretty much all of life. I sometimes have to give myself a good kick in the pants and remind myself of this, especially if I begin to feel sorry for myself.
“One of the best things about recovery is getting your feelings back. One of the worst things about recovery is getting your feelings back.” This leads into “Feelings are not fact.” I have a lot of trauma from my childhood that I am still working through – emotional, physical, and mental abuse all in the name of religion. Things are sometimes still that I struggle as I get triggered by random things, not even realizing what the trigger was. I have to keep these two sayings in the forefront of my mind as suppressed memories return and I continue working through that trauma.
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” Again, a life lesson learned through sobriety. I sail the ship, but I cannot direct the course. So I may as well enjoy the voyage of life as I sail through.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Recovery rocks as it let me find life. Real, honest life. Without it, I still would be a shell, tumbling down that hillside of pebbles. Drinking had no limits on the misery I could experience. In recovery, there are no limits on the joy in life. After experiencing both sides, I choose joy over misery any day.

Heaven is for real

Heaven is not a place most drunks think they are going to end up at. Dead or alive.
I often compare being an alcoholic to living like the walking dead, you’re moving, breathing and talking but inside you are dying. You look like a regular human being but inside the light is going out.

Heaven is just not something you think about.

However, if you’re a former drunk you sometimes have ‘heavenly’ moments in your life where you just have to pinch yourself.

I had one of those moments yesterday.

My son putting decorations on our 'wonky' tree.

My son putting decorations on our ‘wonky’ tree.

By ‘moments’ I mean a time when you get hit by a wall of feelings so strong that you want to fall to the ground with sheer relief and gratitude that you are sober.
If you’re an alcoholic you’ll know what I mean.

Mine happened when I was getting the Christmas decorations ready.
Alcoholics love and loathe Christmas. We love it because it kicks of several weeks of ‘legitimate’ drinking. Meaning you can drink more and at inappropriate times of the day because that’s what everyone else is doing. But then you loathe it, because it symbolizes everything you do not have. Family, friends, connection, joy, peace, somewhere to go with people who want to be around you etc.

I would usually have a huge rock in my stomach as December 25th edged nearer. Christmas amplified my aloneness and separation like no other time of the year. Even if I was lucky enough to be around people I liked, I still felt separated from them. Christmas was something to endure and survive until New Years Eve came around because that was a holiday I really excelled at.

I don’t know how long I hated and dreaded Christmas for but I’m guessing it was about 20 years.
After I got sober Christmas became only slightly less awful, sure they were better, but they were still empty and lonely. When you’ve spent years alienating people and wrecking your life it takes a while for things to come together. You don’t get a perfect life just because you decided to get sober.
Having grown up an only child of a single parent, I have always craved family, I yearned for that sense of belonging that other people seemed to have so naturally. I would say that the number one goal of my life has been to find people I could truly belong to. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

But things like that don’t happen to people like me. I drank away my twenties, whilst everyone else’s was finding there life partner and getting mortgages I was burning through relationships and moving countries trying to escape myself. Sober in my thirties, it took a lot of work to shape myself into someone capable of a loving functional relationship.

But somehow I managed it.

I was firmly in the region of ‘advanced maternal age’ when I luckily and easily fell pregnant with my first child at 38. Then another gamble and I am pregnant again in my forties with my second child.
So yesterday, I was decorating the Christmas tree with my 3-year-old son and he was putting all the ornaments on the same branch and our tree is a bit wonky, but it didn’t matter because it was so perfect.
As I was watching his beautiful face light up at the fun we were having, it just hit me that this was heaven. Putting on ornaments on a wonky tree with a 3-year-old was my definition of heaven. Nothing had to be perfect except the connection I have with him and my husband.
Somehow, despite all the mistakes I had made, I had found what I was looking for.
I’ve never thought heaven is a destination we go to when we die, but something that exists within us if only we can find it.
Heaven is being fully present in your life.
Heaven is connection with people you love.
Heaven is belonging to the human race.
Heaven is for real.

Recovery Rocks – Kate Meyer

A slightly different twist on Recovery Rocks this week. Kate Meyer isn’t actually in recovery she is a recovery supporter. The loved ones of addicts and alcoholics are often forgotten or neglected yet they also suffer hugely from the effects of addiction. Kate began her own ‘recovery’ when she fell in love with a heroin addict. She realized he wasn’t the only one who needed help.
As a professional photographer she started the ‘I am not anonymous’ project which aims to break the stigma around addiction and instead show the positive side of recovery.

Photo cred: Anna Jones

Photo cred: Anna Jones

How has addiction affected your life?
Addiction has ALWAYS affected my life. I just didn’t realize it until I met Tom…who unbeknownst to me, was a heroin addict. When I began this journey of trying to understand his disease, I started realizing the magnitude in which it affects my peers and the world around me. I also realized the many ways it has affected me throughout my life. I have friends and family members who are in recovery…and some who are still out there sick and suffering. I have compassion for the disease now. I look at it differently. I will never say that I am grateful for addiction, but I am grateful for the valuable life lessons that I have learned and the perspective on life that it has given me.

What was your rock bottom?
This is a tough one. I think for loved ones of people that suffer from substance use disorder, there are multiple rock bottoms. There are rock bottoms that are caused by the actions of others…and then there is THE rock bottom. The bottom where the floor falls out from underneath you. The one where you actually realize the role that you have played in the madness that your life has turned into. The bottom where you truly understand that the only actions you have control over are your own and that seeking happiness through someone else is a total set-up for disappointment. With all of the “rock bottoms” I had experienced during Tom’s active addiction my true rock bottom occurred during his recovery. There came a time where the relationship had really taken a toll on us. We were holding onto the relationship for dear life and in one moment, everything came to a head and our relationship was over. Recovery was most important and it was time for Tom to focus on that…and only that. In order for him to do that with a clear channel, he needed to end the relationship…and end it abruptly. Although I completely understood and respected the fact that recovery will always be #1 on the priority list, I felt completely abandoned. It was a feeling that I had never felt before and it was incredibly desperate and scary. All of the wisdom and knowledge that I had gained in my family support groups had disappeared in that very moment and I was filled with anger and rage. I lost control over myself and my emotions and for the first time ever, I got on my knees and prayed for my serenity. Rock bottoms bring you to your knees…and I was there…and it wasn’t pretty.

What have you learnt about addiction that surprised you?
It literally pains me to think about my views on addiction prior to meeting Tom. My thought process was pretty minimal and ignorant about it and I will be the first to admit that. Throughout my life, I was surrounded with various levels of addiction. The magnitude of its effects on me never even registered with me. As long as I wasn’t the one with the problem, I didn’t have to deal with it. I looked down upon addicts. I remember hearing that a kid I graduated HS with was seen on the streets of NYC, strung out on heroin. I thought to myself, “that’s so sad, what a waste of a life”. I never gave it much of a thought to be honest. I never understood the sheer magnitude of the problem and how easy it is to fall prey to a substance if you are predisposed to it. I have compassion for how hard it is to not only find recovery but to take the leap and actually enter into it, and stay there. I have compassion for the pain that those suffering feel on a daily basis. Every journey is different…with it’s own path. I now see someone suffering and want to reach out and give them support free of judgment and stigma.

Tell me about something amazing that has happened since your loved one got into recovery?
IANA (I Am Not Anonymous) has been one of the many great things that have happened since Tom got home from treatment. It has been such a blessing to meet the people we have met through the site. The site and the stories on it are my greatest source of inspiration in life. We have become great friends with many of the featured individuals…it almost feels like a second family to me. If you were to tell me a year ago, where my life would be now, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. I would never have believed you. This past year has been a miracle.

What work have you done on yourself and why?
Asking for help is not usually easy for me. When I got to a point where I knew I needed to talk to someone, I found myself in various 12-Step meetings for families and was willing to talk to anyone who would listen to me. If it weren’t for those meetings, I have no clue what would have happened. There is a key turning point for all of us who love someone who suffers from this disease. When we finally realize that we need to look at ourselves and make changes, the growth begins. Each day is a chance to achieve progress towards a better “me” but at the same time, I accept who I am at this very moment. I recognize fear and can now harness it as a tool for growth. I embrace my emotions…even the bad ones, because they prove to me that I am alive, and for that, I am grateful.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself that I am not alone. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to feel so guilty for staying with Tom while he rode the addiction roller-coaster. I would have told myself that there is no need to isolate behind my feelings and my fears. I would have asked for help earlier…and started trusting in something bigger than myself from day one.

Tell my why, in your experience does Recovery Rock?
Recovery has given me the opportunity to fall in love with Tom all over again. It has given me the courage to share my story. I now recognize the power in vulnerability. It has given me the serenity to be able to love without any guarantees. It has given me an opportunity to help others in a way that I NEVER expected…simply by sharing my story and providing a way for others to share theirs. I have a new sense of purpose and drive that is indescribable.

Audio book

I’m thrilled to announce ‘Why you drink and How to stop’ is now available as an audio book. I have 10 free copies to give away to my blog readers in exchange for a brief review on the Audible site.
You can also download it from iTunes and Amazon. If you would like a free copy then please send me a message through my contact page and I will send you a coupon.
Looking forward to hearing what you think!

A Royal Hangover

Continuing our series of conversations about alcoholism. Lou and I discuss the documentary ‘A Royal Hangover’ that is due out in the UK soon. You can read my review of the movie here.

Recovery Rocks – Julie Maida

There are many reasons I adore Julie Maida, one of them is we share the exact same sobriety date. We woke up on the same day and both thought ‘no more.’ I also love her blog ‘Sober Mommies’ which is an incredibly frank, raw and honest resource for all mothers who drink and are trying to get sober. There is so much stigma with being an alcoholic but nothing is more shameful than being a ‘drunk mum.’ Sober Mommies provides a safe, supportive and nonjudgmental environment for women.
The last thing I adore about Julie? She has a wicked sense of humor and enjoys a good swear. She’s my kind of woman.

Julie Maida

Julie Maida

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I hit rock bottom with alcohol on May 1, 2000 after a night of failed “escape drinking.” No matter how much I drank, I could not stop feeling. I could not stand the woman I had become – the woman drinking had made me. I was convinced I was a horrible mother, and a waste of human flesh and oxygen. I hadn’t seen my four-year-old daughter in months, except out of some sick obligation to keep up appearances.

I had been running from myself for years, and that night everything came to a screeching halt. I made the decision to end my life. I couldn’t take the constant fear of being found out anymore. I was a fraud. I was an empty shell. I was exhausted. I knew I couldn’t go on the way I was, and I saw no other options. I wrote a long, guilt-ridden letter to my parents and daughter and I downed a bottle of medication – medication I was instructed not to mix with alcohol. The bottle was full because there wasn’t a day that mixing wouldn’t have been an issue. I gave up that night while listening to very sad music and feeling sorry for myself. I was ready to die.

The next morning, I was beyond physically ill, but very much alive. I was desperate and out of answers. I mean, I had literally failed at killing myself. I was defeated. Alcohol had kicked my ass.

My journey into recovery was via a hospital emergency room. It was there, sitting on a gurney, vomiting bile into a kidney shaped tray and trying not to shit my pants that I became willing to surrender.

That was my moment.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

My first 30 days of sobriety were spent inpatient at a wonderful dual-diagnosis detox facility. It was the first place I ever said “and I’m an alcoholic,” and it’s where I realized my whole life had to change if I wished to stay sober. From there I went on to further treatment and moved into a very strict “half-way house.” When I was drinking, alcohol told me when to wake up, when and where to fall asleep, who to sleep with, where to hang out, who my friends should be, and how to behave in order to stay intoxicated. At the women’s residential treatment facility I learned how to live without alcohol, how to interact with human beings without liquid lubricant, and how behave in order to stay sober. I spent years learning, practicing, and perfecting the art of manipulation and survival skills, and it took practice to unlearn and reprogram my brain. I didn’t always appreciate the rules or routine of the program, but I am forever grateful for the help it provided me.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

There are so many amazing things that have happened to me since I got sober. I have had the rare opportunity to find answers to questions about myself that I never would have even asked if it had not been for my alcoholism. I have been able to connect with so many amazing women in sobriety, and be guided – by their example and grace – how to build and love a sober, healthy life for my family and myself. I returned to school and got a degree, which enabled me to enter the field of addiction, and learn even more about life and acceptance.

I have become the kind of friend, mother, and partner that I always wanted to be. I was able to dance with my beautiful daughter at my wedding and have been able to provide her a stable, safe, and loving home with her brothers who came years later. I was present at my daughter’s high school graduation.

I have had the privilege of helping and watching others grow into the women, mothers, and partners they have always wanted to be.

I have found my voice and a tremendous amount of hope in blogging. In May of 2013, I founded the Sober Mommies blog; which has since become an incredible powerhouse of women supporting each other’s journeys into and through recovery via whatever paths they choose. Two months ago Sober Mommies, Inc. became a non-profit organization and registered 501(c)3.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

If I could go back in time to myself when I was drinking, I’m not sure I would say anything. I would probably just approach with caution, wrap my arms around the terrified, stubborn, sad little girl I was and never let go.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learned about yourself since getting sober/clean?

The most useful things I have learned about myself since getting sober are the parts that have allowed me to connect with and support others. Learning how and why I related to the world in the ways that I did have helped me change my future. The awareness and understanding that I have never been a terrible mother or horrible person has been vital to my recovery. Because of the work I have done on myself over the years, I know that I have always done the very best I could with the tools available to me. The fact is, I have not always had adequate tools to deal with situations in my life while drinking and in sobriety.

I have learned that I will never be the “perfect” woman or mother because “perfect” does not exist. I am fallible and sometimes messy, and that’s okay. This has helped me to be gentle with myself when I make the same mistakes over and over before I decide I’ve had enough.
I have learned that my recovery choices are personal and between me and God. I do not have to justify or defend them to anyone.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

OMG, where should I start? These last months with Sober Mommies growth have been beyond anything I could ever have imagined!!!

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

This might get me voted off the island, but I’ve actually never been a fan of recovery slogans. I think they’re often parroted by people who don’t know the history or meaning behind them, and sometimes get used as weapons against people who just aren’t ready for sobriety. I also feel that many slogans contradict others, and I’m easily confused. I like to keep it genuine and always speak from my heart, while keeping in mind everyone’s right to unique experiences in recovery.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
I made a list when I first got sober of all that I wanted from recovery. There were many things on that list that I have today. There are also many things I have today that were not on that list. I sold myself way short. Recovery rocks because anything is possible one day at a time.

A sober alcoholic is thankful for…….

Image courtesy of debspoons at

Image courtesy of debspoons at

I am thankful:

– that I woke up today and can remember what happened the night before.

– that I love the person sleeping in bed beside me.

– that I had the opportunity to have a family of my own

– that my head isn’t down the toilet.

– that my hands don’t shake.

– that my panic has gone.

– that I don’t have to score.
– that the knot in my stomach is gone.
– that there is money in my account to pay the bills.
– that there is food in the fridge.
– there are people in my life to share this day with.
– for the enormous generosity of people.
– for kindness.
– that I can receive love.
– for the abundance in my life.
– that I can laugh from deep in my belly.
– for calm.
– that the love that I was looking for, was within.
– that you gave me the dignity to be who I am, and I can do the same for you.
– for the others that went before me.
– that they looked back and reached out their hands to help.
– for the guy who looked after me when I was too drunk to look after myself.
– that there is help for this disease.
– that I know how to manage my emotions now.
– that life is now an adventure to enjoy, rather than a war to survive.
– that I am sober.
– that I am free.
– that I have freedom in my mind.
– that there is always hope.
– that I feel ‘part of.’
– that I have deep and meaningful connections with many people
– that I belong at last.
– for a chance to start over.
– that everyday is a day, I can be the best version of myself.
– for you, reading this.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Recovery Rocks – Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart is a former professional musician who enjoyed some success during the 1990s with a Britpop band he co-founded called “Sleeper”. They had eight UK Top 10 singles and three UK Top 5 albums, including gold- and platinum-selling records.

He is now a Senior Academic Lecturer at Europe’s leading music school, teaching modules on popular culture and popular music, as well as a PhD Music candidate at University of Southampton.

Jon has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles around a wide range of research interests including Bob Dylan, John Lennon, coffee and popular music, anti- and pro-war western popular music, music cues in HBO TV’s The Wire, Devo & Brian Eno. Links are here:

Jon also blog about his 14 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. He admits to being something of a big book thumper, but eventually left the fellowship early in 2014.

While grateful for the good things about the 12 step program and AA as a kick-start to recovery, Jon now believes it is not a healthy way to live in the long term.

Consequently he has become interested in supporting the search for more rational and self-empowered routes to sobriety, and helping to build a cohesive online post-AA recovery community. You can read his blog about leaving AA here.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

In the spring of 2000 I returned from a two year trip to Los Angeles where I’d lived with my then girlfriend and basically bummed around while playing the odd guitar session – sometimes quite glamorous gigs like on a K D Lang record, but mostly just the bumming around part!

I moved back to London, stayed with my best friends for a couple of months, then eventually found myself feeling like too much of a freeloader and too embarrassed to impose on them on any longer (although they later told me they didn’t have a problem with it).

So I checked into the local YMCA. This was not a nice YMCA, it was more like a homeless shelter. At that point I realized that things had gone far enough.

I went to the doctor who prescribed Alcoholics Anonymous, and that was that. I’d been taken to AA in Los Angeles but it just hadn’t stuck.

This time I had no choice. I had nothing left to lose. It took a month of daily meetings before I could stop drinking. Then I found a loving but firm sponsor and my life changed completely.

I would be dead without it, I’m fairly sure of that.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

I didn’t actually manage to stop drinking for my first 30 days in AA. I went to a meeting every day, then literally ran to the store to buy alcohol afterward. I’d drink it, then return to my friend’s spare room and pass out. My first meeting was 21st July 2000. I stopped drinking 21st August, 30 days later. That’s still my sobriety date – so far, anyway, and I don’t really want another one!

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Once truly committed, I fell right into AA and loved that way of life. The surrender was very welcome. As a result I was able to rebuild my life. I made new friends and forged a new career.

I now love my job as I teach music and cultural studies on a well respected undergraduate degree program at a market leading school. That, to me, is just about as good as it gets.

I also love my studying and the fact that I’ve been published as an academic. Learning, reading, researching … for a living? You’re kidding, that’s not a job right? How lucky am I?

I’ve sacrificed a lot for this gig, and don’t regret any of it. It fills me up, much more than booze ever did.

The other great thing was meeting my fiancé, which is the first relationship I’ve ever had that is truly built on mutual respect and love. It’s not a negotiation, it’s not codependent, it is just two peas in a pod.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

Stop it. Just stop it. It’s not a healthy way of life. You can thrive without alcohol, but you just can’t see that you can. You’re worth more than that. It’s going to be OK.

Oh, and don’t take that tab of acid you get offered while visiting Belfast, Northern Ireland. It won’t be a good trip.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

You can do things you never realized. Life is fun. The future is bright. You can cope with the big things that happen in life, such as bereavement and financial misadventures, and eventually you can grow out of AA and do it through self-empowerment rather than a higher power.

Ultimately, and this was the real surprise for me after 14 years in AA, the most useful thing I’ve learned is that 12 steps aren’t a healthy way to live on a long term basis. For many alcoholics who are confident in recovery, there are better ways to stay sober.

I’m sorry if that upsets anyone but that’s my story and it’s not uncommon. You don’t hear it at AA meetings, but it’s the truth.

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

I like to go on driving holidays, as you can do that kind of thing when you don’t drink, you tend to crash or get arrested – or both.

Recently I drove to France to retrace the steps of my great grandfather, Charles Henry Gillott, who fought at the 1916 battle of the Somme in World War 1. I found the field in which he was shot, and dug a couple of shrapnel balls and a large piece of shell casing out of the dirt in the same acre of land where he fell. There’s no way I could have had that experience if I’d still been drinking. I might have talked about doing it, but it would never have happened. I wouldn’t have got off the bar stool for long enough.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Recovery slogans are really a type of “thought terminating cliché.” They’re useful, but only if you’re having thoughts that need to be terminated.

In some circumstances I now feel they can be quite damaging, as they are also associated with cult-like practices. I’m not saying AA is a cult, but some people have suggested there are cult-like elements to the fellowship – and sloganeering is certainly part of that.

Nevertheless it can be helpful to new people, or anyone wanting to remember why they don’t drink. One AA slogan I still use regularly is “Don’t take the first drink, one day at a time.” That sums it up, really.

My fiancé and I like to write our own slogans for life, just to change things up a little.

Our two current favorites are “Never complain” and “Everything is awesome.” Of course that second one is stolen from The Lego Movie.

One of my new favorite life slogans is from Alexander Rosenberg’s brilliant book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality … “Science fixes all the facts.”

Again, that’s not something you’ll hear shared at an AA meeting – but it’s also true.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

Because dying drunk really sucks.

Veronica: Just in case you had forgotten how great Sleeper were here is one of my favorite songs ‘What do I do now?’ and one of Sleepers biggest hits.