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Sober Since Seventeen

Jan P., Little Rock, Arkansas


When people find out that I got sober at 17 and have been continuously sober for 15 years, they can hardly believe it. Some people even wonder how a 17-year-old girl could possibly have the kind of alcohol or drug problem that would require sobriety. Well, let me tell you...lots do.

I got high for the first time when I was 13. It was innocent enough; a friend came by the house with a joint and some beer, and we did it. For me, it was instant love. I had never felt that good in my life. After that, I got high whenever I had the chance. It was as simple as that. By the time I was 17, getting high was the most important thing in my life.

The funny thing is, I had a pretty good life. My parents were divorced, and I seldom saw my father, but I had a decent relationship with my mother. I had just about everything I wanted--a car, nice clothes, spending money, etc. I even had a boyfriend. So I don't think I was hiding from anything; I just loved the feeling of being high.

During my junior year in high school, I smoked pot on the way to school every morning and during lunch every day. I smoked pot and drank alcohol--at least a little bit--almost every night. Every once in a while, I scored coke, speed, or ecstasy.

One night, a guy had some coke, and he said he would share it with me if I would get naked with him. I said, "Why not?" After we did the coke, we had sex. It was so easy, and I didn't feel guilty or remorseful or anything. Before I knew it, I was sleeping with guys for drugs and money. I did not feel like a whore. I just thought of it as the barter system.

I turned up pregnant about a month into my senior year. I planned to get an abortion, but I kept putting it off until it was too late. I talked to a counselor at an adoption agency. She convinced me to quit using alcohol and drugs until the baby was born. She didn't put any pressure on me to do anything else.

I told my mom about my situation when I was five months pregnant. To my surprise, she didn't freak. In fact, once she quit crying and blaming herself for being a bad mother, she said that she would support me in whatever decision I made. That was the first time that the idea of keeping and raising the baby crossed my mind. At eight months, I decided to do that.

I gave birth to Nikki on August 11, 1985. She was beautiful and healthy. My mom and my friends rallied around me. They all came to the hospital to see me and the baby. I felt happy. And one of the reasons I felt happy was because I knew that I could start getting high again. I decided not to breast feed for that reason. When we got home from the hospital, though, I put off getting high for a few days, even though pot and alcohol were both available. I remember thinking that we needed to get settled before I started using again. At first, I gave myself a couple of days. Then it stretched into a week. Then two.

I ventured out on my own for the first time when Nikki was 18 days old. I went over to visit a friend who I knew beyond any doubt would have some good smoke. Sure enough, after just a few minutes of chit chat, she rolled one and fired it up. I hesitated for a moment, but it was only a moment. I think I got stoned on the first hit. As before, I loved it. We spent the rest of the afternoon laughing and talking over beer and weed. I was flying high. I almost forgot about Nikki.

I got home about 10:00 PM. My mom was furious, and she let me have it. For the first time in my life, I cursed at her and told her to shut up. I stormed off to my room, and when I slammed the door Nikki woke up and started crying. I picked her up and tried to comfort her, but it didn't feel right. It's like, I couldn't hold her right. I couldn't connect with her like I normally could. I didn't have that warm, sweet feeling for her that I had grown to love. I don't know how to explain it other than to say that it just didn't feel right.

At first I felt angry and impatient. Then I started crying. I called my mom. She came in and took Nikki, and as soon as she did, Nikki quit fussing and went back to sleep.

Mom sat down beside me on my bed and put her arms around me. That's when I really cried. Then we talked. We talked for three solid hours. It was the first time we had ever talked like that or connected in that way. I was surprised to learn that she knew a lot more about me than I ever would have guessed. She knew about my drinking and pot smoking, though not to its full extent. She said that she had never confronted me about it because she lacked the strength and confidence in herself to do that. She had, however, studied up on teenage drinking and drug use, and she knew a lot about it.

I asked her what she thought I should do. She said that she thought I should do one of two things: Either give Nikki up for adoption and play out my wild streak, or keep her and become a responsible parent. And the latter choice had no place for alcohol and drugs. I knew immediately that she was right, and to my surprise, it was an easy choice. I chose Nikki. I thank God for that decision.

I reluctantly agreed to check out AA. I attended a few meetings, and although I did not like it, I remained willing to go if that was the only way to stay sober. Then I talked to an assistant pastor at my mom's church. He knew about AA, and we talked about AA's spirituality compared to the church's religion. He suggested that I give the church a whirl, either in addition to AA or in place of it. I chose the latter. And it turned out to be a good choice for me.

I didn't immerse myself in the church, but I did get involved. I joined a couple of groups--one for young adults and another for mothers, and I did some volunteer work. My faith in God grew stronger. I met some terrific people, both young and older, none of whom used drugs, and only a few of whom drank alcohol. I started dating again. I got a part-time job. I studied for and passed the high school equivalency exam. Then I attended trade school, got a real job, and saved some money. My faith in God continued to grow.

Just after Nikki turned four, she and I moved out of Mom's house and into our own apartment. I was 22 years old. I was a responsible parent. I was a good mother.

Through all of these life changes, I relied on God and the church for guidance and support. When I got scared, I prayed and talked to trustworthy people. When I thought about getting high, I prayed and talked to the assistant pastor who had brought me into the church. When I felt depressed or lonely, I increased my involvement in volunteer work.

About a year after Nikki and I struck out on our own, I met a wonderful man on a church retreat. He was 27 and had been sober in AA for two years. We married one year later. He showed me AA in a different light than I had seen it at age 18. I gradually became "a member" of AA. I took my first AA sobriety chip on August 30, 1989, the fifth anniversary of the day that I made the decision, sitting on the edge of my bed with my mom, to be a responsible parent instead of a teenage alcoholic and drug addict.

So now I'm 32. Nikki is 14. She has grown up with two sober parents who love her dearly. To my knowledge, she does not use alcohol or drugs. My husband and I still attend AA. All three of us are very involved in the church. I truly love my life. I thank God every day for my exceedingly good fortune, which I call faith.

For me, AA and the church combine beautifully to give me the support I need for sobriety and for spiritual growth and change. I have heard other sober people say that they find the church incompatible with and unsupportive of AA. I have found just the opposite. A friend of mine summed it up nicely just the other day when he smiled and said, "Well, I guess Truth is Truth, regardless of where you hear it."


  Richard Boggs, YCQ

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