“My first year of sobriety was a nightmare”. Thoughts on his early days of recovery by Jay Keefe


My first year of sobriety was a nightmare.

I knew I didn’t want to drink but I had no idea what to do with my time.  My mind was constantly racing, I couldn’t sleep and I actually convinced myself that if being sober was this exhausting, I’d be better off drinking again.  At least if I was drunk I wouldn’t feel anything.

“Fake it ’til you make it”, was one of the more popular slogans for newcomers.

So I kept going to meetings.

I went to a meeting every day.  I went to work.  I exercised.  But I still felt like a zombie.

And that was no one’s fault but my own.

I was still so afraid of talking to people.  I could never introduce myself and when they’d introduce themselves, I’d say hi and keep walking.

I hated going to meetings at first.  It was suggested that I go to 90 meetings in 90 days.  So I did.  I didn’t want to, and thankfully I was never “told” I had to.

If that had been the case I never would’ve went to a single one.  But I could take a suggestion.  And the alternative was something I would not consider.  To go back to my life as an active alcoholic would’ve been the worst possible living nightmare I could imagine.

So I took the suggestions that were offered.  I didn’t take them all but I took a few of them.

Luckily, that was enough.

At first.

I went to meetings but I really didn’t listen.  I didn’t understand the language of what they were saying and I certainly didn’t understand how these people could smile and joke.

I fucking hated them for that.

How the fuck can you smile?  

You’re stuck in a church basement, drinking bad coffee, dying for a cigarette, and listening to Bob A. talk about how happy, joyous and free he is.   

This is sobriety?  


This is it?

Are you fucking kidding me?  

But I kept going.

Another one of the suggestions was to do the work that had helped millions of other alcoholics stay sober for years.  And it was advised that we have someone of the same-sex help us with the work.  They’re someone we can talk to if we were in a jam, someone with an unbiased opinion about our problems.  And, most importantly, they are there to take us through the 12 steps of our program.  The 12 steps are a blueprint for life, not just for sobriety.

Of course I didn’t want anything to do with the 12 steps.

I got this.  I’ll be fine.  I’ll figure it out on my own, thanks.

There was no way I was ever going to let a strange man help me.  And he was fucked if he thought I was going to share my deepest, darkest secrets with him.

At my third meeting, when the alcohol had just about left my body for the final time, a guy volunteered to help me.

I reluctantly agreed.

Then I joined the same home group as him.  The purpose of having a home group was to keep yourself accountable to showing up to that group’s weekly meeting and if there was a job available (there was always a job available), to volunteer for it.

So every Thursday I’d go to my home group meeting.  I liked it because it wasn’t in a basement.  I also liked it because most of the guys were well-to-do guys.  They wore suits and had nice watches and drove nice cars. They were well-spoken and well-groomed and it was a little bit surprising that they were all, in fact, drunks, just like me.

But I liked my home group because it was a mens meeting.  We could be as open as we needed to be because there were no women.  Meetings with women at the beginning, for me personally, were completely distracting.

When people put down the drink or the drug, there is an emptiness that is so vast and all-encompassing that we think we need to fill it with something.  Naturally, a relationship seems like a good idea at the beginning.  But two newly sober people in a relationship can be toxic.  They are both sick people, trying to fill their voids with each other.

I’ve seen it with other things too.  People new to recovery try to fill their void with anything.  Food may work for a while-caffeine, nicotine, sex, relationships, a new pet, a change of address, exercising, a drastic diet, etc.

I tried to fill my void with a girl.

Right around the time I realized my home group wasn’t a good fit for me, my therapist suggested I join a home group that went on commitments.

Commitments were when a group would go to another meeting and speak.  Sometimes it would be a regular meeting and sometimes it would be at a detox or rehab.  During my three stints in detox we had in-coming commitments every night but I didn’t listen to a word they said.

I had been going to the same Monday night meeting for a few months because there was a cute girl there.  I didn’t listen to anything that was said at the meeting and I was the last one in the door and the first to leave, always sitting at the far back of the room with my arms crossed over my chest and my baseball hat pulled down almost over my eyes.  But the girl was cute so I kept going.

I walked into the kitchen after the meeting one night and asked to join the group.  The girl was with her mom so I knew it was destined to be.  But the thing that took me by surprise was when the mom told me a bunch of them were going out afterwards and that I should join them.


You guys do stuff outside of meetings together?  In public?  

What the fuck do you talk about?  If it’s only recovery talk, I’m all set.  I go to seven, sometimes eight meetings a week.  The last thing in the world I want to do is talk about recovery at a restaurant. 

But I went.

And I have no idea why.

That is something I never would  have done without being drunk, girl or no girl.  I just wouldn’t have.

And the amazing thing was, they didn’t ask me anything personal.  They didn’t pry.  They didn’t ask how long I was sober or what my drug of choice was or what kind of wreckage I had caused.  They accepted me for who I was.  There was a lot of goofiness and a lot of small talk, and although I was completely new to the group, they never once made me feel like an outsider.

I felt abandoned as a kid.

I felt almost invisible as a teenager.

As an adult I was so lost and so full of alcohol most of the time that I had absolutely no sense of identity.  I had no idea who I was, what I wanted to do or where I was going.

But that Monday night, after almost thirty-seven years of feeling apart from everything, I was finally a part of something.



Jay Keefe

Staff Writer and Director of Happiness at The Addictions Academy 

National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

Published Author of “And Drink I Did”

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