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I’ve known Nathan for nearly a decade, and always knew he was sober. So when I saw him drinking a beer at a party the other weekend, I could’ve totally been classy about it an not said anything. Ha, as if! He told me he stopped going to meetings years ago after he decided he wasn’t an alcoholic. He’s publicly sharing his story for the first time here, and I have to say I am impressed by his bravery!
Here’s how it all went down in Nathan’s own words.
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What did your life look like before you got sober?
Right before I got sober, I was working at Caribou Coffee as an hourly barista with about 10 people who were in [a 12-step program]. I didn’t know many people in the Twin Cities, was living with my brother, and just sort of building a social life around working at the coffee shop. Pretty boring, pretty unexciting.
When did you get sober? Did you go to treatment?
I got sober on April 4, 2001, and not at all a sexy “getting sober” story of being whisked off to treatment, or having an intervention. I was supposed to open the Caribou that day and didn’t show up. I had a friend from out east visiting me from boarding school, and we were spending the night at another classmates of ours. I vividly remember having too much to drink and when my alarm went off at 4am, I tried making myself throw up so I could get sober enough to drive the 20 miles to St. Paul to go to work. It didn’t help, so I just shut my phone off and went back to sleep.
I woke up to about 10 missed calls from my manager, my parents, my brother who I was living with. All wondering where I was because work called and said I didn’t show up. I filled an afternoon shift that day in exchange for the person who had to work my shift. Then after work I just felt so depressed, that I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the “Big Book”. I was so nervous to buy it and the guy at the check out paused, looked at me softly, and said, I hope your night gets better. I went home, started reading it and then called my boss and said I wanted to get sober.
hat do you think was the root cause of your drinking/drug use?
My drinking 100-percent started when I was in 6th grade. I was depressed that my best friend passed away. I didn’t know how to cope with it, I went to therapy, was on medication, but I just couldn’t relate to any of my friends anymore. I cried daily, didn’t want to do anything I used to enjoy doing, and would just try to have a few shots once in a while to try to make myself feel different.
Do you feel like getting sober saved your life?
My family and I would agree that going to boarding school for high school saved my life. It got me out of my daily routine of depression back home where I had a daily struggle to get through the day. Boarding school mixed that up and gave me a fresh start, sort of. But my life wasn’t at all in danger of crashing or getting worse because of my drinking at the time of me getting sober. The time I didn’t show up for work was probably the first time in a year or two that I even had been drunk.
What did working a 12-step program do for you? How did it change your life? How many years were you active in the community?
While previously mentioning that I don’t think it “saved my life,” it sure gave me a great new life. It gave me tools and a program to deal with my issues of depression, loneliness, feeling lost, and not taking care of myself. And for 9 or 10 years, I was actively involved in it with a sponsoring and sponsoring others while going to meetings weekly and giving back.
At what point did you start thinking, “Hey, I’m not sure that I am an alcoholic?” Why did you think you weren’t an alcoholic?
It was in my 4th or 5th year that I really questioned if I was an alcoholic. Yes, I related to all of the stories that “life has been so much better since I got sober,” but there were lists and lists of things that I couldn’t relate to. The program just keeps telling you to focus on your similarities, not your differences, so I just didn’t focus on it too much.
I wasn’t feeling like I was an alcoholic, just that once I got sober, life got better. I didn’t ever — and I can’t stress this enough — I didn’t’ ever have to wake up in the morning and say today, I’m not going to have a drink. That was big for most people in the program. They make a daily decision that today they’re not going to have one. For me, it was more like the 16 years I was a vegetarian. I just didn’t eat meat. I just didn’t drink. And meeting new people, it was just an easy second sentence in my story that I don’t drink.
The other things that clued me into the thoughts that I wasn’t an alcoholic is that I could be at the clubs and bars and have no desire to drink. I didn’t even see other people with a drink and think, oh, I wish I could do that, they’re having so much more fun than me. Also, I never cheated, stole or did illegal things when I did drink. I wasn’t really that sure why I even got into the program in the first place, I just knew that my life wasn’t working or going great, and that was one of the few things that I hadn’t tried, and it seemed to make things better.
What does it meant to be a true, chemically dependent alcoholic/drug addict?
From my experience with friends in the program, they had to constantly fight urges to not drink. And once they started, they couldn’t stop. I don’t remember that being the case for me. I remember times in my teens that I got drunk, and I remember times in my teens that I had a drink. But it wasn’t a mentally consuming concern like I heard in the rooms of meetings.
Was the thought of leaving the program scary for you? What specifically was scary?
It was a gradual thing for me. I stopped going to meetings 3-4 years ago and just focused on doing service work through my church and my foundation [the Carson Glore Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving life through education]. And that seemed to be normal for most of my sober friends. I found things that fulfilled me in ways that the program did for them. So leaving the program was the easy part. Telling people I wasn’t an alcoholic, that a different story and one that took me 3 or 4 years to tell.
When we spoke about this a few weeks ago, I asked you which coming out was more stressful: coming out as gay OR as not an alcoholic. You said the latter. Why?
Being gay was far less scary than not being an alcoholic. Coming out to friends and family that I was gay was gradual and in very different times. Everyone in boarding school knew that I liked boys, but also that I dated girls, so I was really able to be myself, but didn’t come out to my family until I was about 6 months sober and was part of my “being honest about everything.” But it wasn’t a huge deal. I didn’t feel like there was a stigma with it.
Telling people that have supported me being sober, attending all of my sober anniversaries and supporting me being a sober alcoholic, was hard. I felt like I was telling them that all of that support was for nothing. That it was all fake and it wasn’t my story. My story was that there was a moment in my life where I had tried everything to improve my life from medication to therapy, and even geographic changes like moving to New York at 15 — but nothing really made my life great. So I figured I would try this after having one night of drinking too much and nearly losing my job as a barista. It was far more simple.
How did your family react? Friends? Your recovery community?
I told one of my best friends first and it was so scary. She’s not in recovery, but was sober for a few years because of her own health issues that didn’t go well with alcohol. She was completely supportive of me being honest and figuring this out for myself. Then I told my next best friend and another and another, and pretty soon I had told about 5 or 6 people– all of whom were 100% supportive of me. Many said that they weren’t surprised, that they know other people in recovery or non-recovering alcoholics and they see the daily struggles and haven’t ever with me.
My mom was my first family member and she said that her job as a mother is to worry about all of her children, but also that she sees where I’m coming from and just wants to me to have a good, healthy and happy life. Then more family, all who were and are so incredibly supportive.
I’ve had the chance to tell some sober friends, but because years have passed since going to meetings, that group of friends has been more sparse. However, the ones that I have all were completely supportive and some said getting sober so young always makes them wonder how one would really know. One friend in recovery even sent me a text a few hours later saying A) It takes a lot to tell someone you’re alcoholic. B) It takes an even bigger man to tell yourself and someone else you’re not. C) He loves me and is happy for me.
What was that first drink like? Who was with you? Did you take any specific precautions?
I wanted to make sure that I put enough space between having these conversations with friends and family and my first drink, so it probably took a month. Of course many of them wanted to buy me my first drink on the spot of the conversation, but I always declined. It was important for me for some reason to have my first drink by myself. I’ve always carried a cases of wine in my house, bottles of beer, and all sorts of liquor for years, I just never had a reason to drink any of it myself.
So on a hot summer day, I sat on my back patio, my dog was playing in the back yard, and I decided to have a bottle of Stella. And so I did. It was incredibly un-apocalyptic. It didn’t feel like wow, this is the first drink of alcohol in 14 years, how do I feel, what’s my mind feel like, what’s my body feel like, am I doing the right thing, what’s going to happen next. All I thought was, this is nice. What a beautiful way to wrap up this summer Saturday.
I’m sure many people are thinking, you gave up alcohol for x years. Why even start drinking again?
You would think. But that was probably one of the least responses. Most people said things like they love just having a glass of red wine with their dinner once in a while, or having a beer around a bonfire, or some champagne to celebrate something and they could see why I would want to have those things, too.
And I think the most obvious reason I can think of why people didn’t really jump to that is because if you aren’t an alcoholic, why would you keep living like one? If you were gay and married to woman for 14 years, people wouldn’t asked you why you’d get divorced now if you’ve made it that long, they’d say you need to go live your authentic version of you.
There’s a notion that you “learn who your real friends are when you get sober.” Did you find a similar lesson when you decided to not be sober any more?
I did hear that a lot, but didn’t experience it on the getting sober side. I didn’t have a ton of friends when I got sober so I didn’t lose a single one. And since not being sober, I haven’t lost one either. Thankfully.
For a lot of people, the idea of someone who identified as an alcoholic deciding to drink again seems like playing with fire. How did you know this was an okay choice for you? How did you reassure your friends and family?
I would say it was my not working the program for a few years and not even having to put effort into not drinking was such a simple, clear sign to me that it wasn’t a big deal in my life. It was just one of the many examples that I could see, and they saw it too. So it wasn’t as big of an issue as I was planning it to be.
Advice for someone who thinks they might not be an alcoholic? How can friends and family support someone in the midst making this choice?
In recovery they always say that the only requirement is the desire to stop drinking. Once I didn’t have that desire, it didn’t make sense for me to be in recovery. And for someone who doesn’t want to stay sober because they have the same feelings I had, I say have some long conversations with people around you first. Truly listen to what others’ feedback is. Without a doubt, had I heard people tell me stories of my destructive behavior when I drank, or list off the consequences of my drinking, I would have stayed sober. I told myself that. But since no one had lists of consequences or behaviors that proved the contrary, I felt safe about my decision to move forward.
So my advice would be to have the conversations first and made your own decisions from there. But don’t start drinking without telling people you trust and then just later tell them it’s because you made this decision.
Conversely, what’s your advice for someone seeking help for chemical dependency?
Go to the closest and soonest 12-step meeting and when they ask anyone new to raise your hand… raise your hand. And don’t stop going back because you haven’t connected with the right people yet. If you have the desire to stop drinking, then stop at nothing to stop. It may be a life or death decision for you.
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Big thanks to Nathan for sharing his story. Learn more about Nathan’s non-profit, the Carson Glore Foundation.
If you’re looking for help with chemical dependency, learn more here.
Another quitter story you might like? How about Jina, who quit drinking even though she’s not an alcoholic.