‘I wasn’t ready to live a sober lifestyle. I was trying to stop drinking for someone other than myself.’: Recovered alcoholic shares prolonged journey to sobriety

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of substance abuse that may be upsetting to some. 

An Addictive Personality

“There are so many words one could use to ‘define’ addiction. I don’t think I could choose just one word. If I had to condense it down, I would say ‘toxic relationship.’ You have a deep, unwavering, unconditional love for your drug of choice — you can’t, and won’t, stop going back to it. Even after the one you love, in my case alcohol, puts you through so much pain. Both physically and emotionally.

Some people say alcoholism is a choice. ‘You chose to put the bottle to your own mouth,’ or, ‘No one put a gun to your head.’ As a humble recovering alcoholic, I can understand this point of view. I’m not so stubborn and closed-minded I won’t at the VERY LEAST try to see things from other people’s perspectives. However, what these people fail to understand is addiction in itself is the disease.

Some people are born with an addictive personality. Some people can’t skip a day of working out, some people channel all that energy into work (workaholics). I had no way of knowing what would happen. Alcoholics don’t know this chemical will permanently alter their wiring. So yes, we choose to take that first sip, but no one chooses to live with the disease of addiction. Alcohol is the symptom of my addictive personality.

Alcoholic holding fist up to camera
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

It’s a powerful symptom at that. Imagine discovering something LEGAL (I was a good boy growing up) that made you more social, more confident, more fun, and feel better looking! Wouldn’t you want that in your life? I did. I let it control me. I started by drinking on the weekend only. All week, I’d be planning the weekend around where I’d go drinking. Then I started here and there during the week.

Before I knew it, I was stopping every day on my way home from work to get four little airplane bottles. Why those? Because they’re easy to hide. That right there should have been the first sign I had a problem. Feeling like I needed to hide it. Sadly, I drank more. Before I knew it, I was finishing those four little ounces in an hour or two, then going back to a different liquor store to get four more once I started to sober up.

Constant Drinking Cycle

In the summer of 2014, I moved across the country with my partner at the time. She had gotten into medical school. I was along for the ride. I had no job, no luck finding one, and no family out there. I did have a good friend though. Alcohol. Alcohol was always there for me! I was able to drink every day. It was great! Until it wasn’t.

Alcoholic on hiking trail holding out hand for a banana slug
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

One day, I woke up nauseated and had the chills. I was too sick to go anywhere, and I couldn’t eat. Later that night, I couldn’t sleep. If I was able to doze off for a little bit, I would have the most vivid dreams imaginable. More like nightmares. I couldn’t tell what was real and what was all in my head. Once I felt ‘okay’ enough to go out, I went and got four little vodka bottles. I was able to choke those down, gagging the whole time.

After this, I started feeling better. I didn’t give it any second thoughts. I spent a few months repeating this insane cycle of drinking every day, waking up sick (which I later realized was alcohol withdrawal), feeling a little better, more alcohol, rinse, repeat. After about a year of this, I did a google search for ‘symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.’ It was like I had the winning lottery numbers. I just kept checking box after box. Still I drank.

You’d think after coming to this realization I’d be desperate enough to stop.


Man showing off finger tattoos
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

From ‘Social’ To Secret

All I did was drink ‘normally’ when with friends, but I also had my own stash hidden in coat pockets, sock drawers, shoes I didn’t wear, the trunk of my car, etc. It wasn’t until I blacked out in front of people (six or seven times) that made me finally admit to someone other than myself I had a problem. Finally, I gave in and admitted I needed to make a change. Sadly, admitting you need to change isn’t enough. I started going to AA. However, now I couldn’t drink openly with friends. I had to hide it ALL THE TIME.

Instead of drinking ‘socially’ with people, and having extra liquor hidden away I could sneak off and take sips of, I had to rely solely on my stashes of liquor. This meant no more ‘enjoying a beer’ or ‘sharing a bottle of wine.’ Only drinking straight hard alcohol. Sneaking it when I could. I lived this lie for three years. I wasn’t ready to live a sober lifestyle. I was trying to stop drinking for someone other than myself.

alcoholic sitting with bearded dragon on his chest
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

After finally hitting a breaking point and losing the first good job offered to me on the East Coast (yes, due to drinking) I FINALLY made a REAL step in the right direction. I moved back home to live with my parents. I was filled with shame, but also relief. After all, how would I be able to get away with stinking of vodka while living with my parents, who knew exactly why I was moving back? Well, I tried. I still wasn’t ready to give up drinking. Only this time, I was getting caught. It feels so weird to write. I was 27-years-old and getting in trouble with my parents because I was drinking.

Music And Coffee

I’ll end my story with this. I checked into rehab, got out, stayed sober for a few months, and picked up again. I was drinking on and off for a few years following my stint in rehab. Then, one day, I did something a little bit different. I went to Peet’s Coffee and got an iced coffee. OH MY GOD. I had a new addiction.

recovered alcoholic holding fist to camera and wearing a shirt saying 'Coffee Saves'
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

I became obsessed with iced coffee! I would go to Peet’s two or three times a day. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. I stopped thinking about alcohol completely. Then, one day, I decided to go to an open mic night at a local coffee house called The Ugly Mug, not really sure if I was going to sign up. I brought my guitar just in case. I figured, ‘Hey, I’ll get an iced coffee at the very least.’ Well, long story short, I signed up and I performed a couple of my own original songs.

The high I got from that was nothing like alcohol ever gave me. I fell madly in love with performing music again. Coffee, music, coffee, music, coffee. These two things saved my life. Of course, I’m not trying to diminish the love, help, and support my parents gave me because I owe them so much. But it wasn’t until I started living my life for music, iced coffee, and myself that I really got away from my obsession with alcohol.

Man playing acoustic guitar and singing into microphone
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

As of writing this, I am over three years alcohol free (since 12.14.18). I have published music available to stream on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, and Pandora. I design and sell my own merch. And halfway through writing this, I got engaged to the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met! The love of my life. Of course, I still have rough and bad days, and I have to FEEL EVERYTHING. But that’s a blessing. I no longer numb myself to everything and anything. I feel horrible when I’m having a bad day, but I also feel incredible when I’m having a great day. There’s nothing I would change about my journey to get to where I am. I am truly blessed to have traveled the path I did.

If anyone out there reading this wants to know more about my journey, feel free to ask me anything. I’m an open book. To anyone reading this who might be struggling with their own demons or know someone who desperately needs help, a key takeaway is realizing you cannot want their sobriety for them. It is tough, but it gets easier. The hard part is doing it every day. But, it gets easier.”

Man playing acoustic guitar on stage and singing into microphone
Courtesy of Jesse Burke
Man holding puppy up to his face and smiling
Courtesy of Jesse Burke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jesse Burke from Santa Cruz, California. You can follow his journey on his Instagram, his music Instagram, and TikTok. Be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about addiction:

‘There were times I questioned if I was good enough for all this. But I made it.’: Dad shares journey to overcome addiction with help from music

‘How do I know if I’m an alcoholic?’ I got blackout drunk and kissed a total stranger.’: Woman thanks husband for supporting her sobriety journey

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