Pete Sherry’s Journey
Please tell us your story.
I grew up in Kentucky, where my parents worked at a small conservative Christian university. I didn’t know anyone who drank or used for most of my early years, except for my grandparents and my uncles, and they lived in Washington State, so my exposure to them was limited. It just wasn’t ever a part of my life. I was a “good boy” who learned early on that if I said the right things, people would like me and respect me, and as long as I paid careful attention, getting approval wasn’t that hard.
When my parents moved to Minneapolis while I was in college, the nice predictable life I’d expected for years took an unexpected turn, and when I moved here at the end of college myself, I found myself alone for the first time in my life. In a way, it was a relief to be free of the expectations I’d lived with for so long, but it also meant that I had to face the fact that I was an inauthentic person. It didn’t take too long to figure out how to find approval again – by doing what people I wanted to be liked by were doing. I didn’t start drinking until I was 22, but I still remember the taste of that first beer like I just sipped it a minute ago. That first beer was followed by hundreds, maybe thousands, in the years that came after, particularly after I went through my first divorce in 2008.
I was in seminary and was in ministry at an incredibly supportive and wonderful church, but my life was falling apart. I stepped out of vocational ministry, went back to graduate school, and became a therapist. While that was also an incredible experience in many ways, I didn’t do a lot of the self-care and personal work that I needed to, particularly as I began my second marriage, which lasted for five years. I had a few periods of calm and sobriety over the years, especially after I left the practice of therapy, but alcohol always came roaring back. When she decided to leave me a little over a year ago, it wasn’t really that surprising. We hadn’t communicated in months, and certainly hadn’t been in love for much longer. I was not the only one at fault, but i don’t resent her anymore. I know that I wasn’t easy to live with – particularly when I was in the thick of addiction.
How long were you addicted? How did it change your life?
It’s hard to say how long I’ve been an addict, but as my sponsor says, I was always a “thoroughbred” – I was never interested in any other substances other than alcohol, and it was almost always beer, sometimes whisky. Alcohol has always been plentiful and readily available. Following my first divorce, a good (well meaning) friend who works for a large local craft brewery introduced me to the world of craft beer, and I was sold. I rationalized it to myself that I couldn’t possibly become an alcoholic while drinking craft beer, because after all, it’s just too expensive. And that it was, but in the end, cost wasn’t much of a hindrance.
I made friends with bartenders in craft beer bars, got to know local brewers, and even started brewing my own beer for a while. In that sense, alcohol did change my life substantially. I often budgeted specifically for beer, and when I went over that budget, I rationalized that I would make up for it next paycheck. When drinking, I was confident enough to break up bar fights, introduce myself to and banter with women, and I forgot about my sense of failure for a little while. I’d been divorced twice, I rarely spent quality time with my kids, I had a massive student loan debt from changing careers too often, and I hadn’t really moved forward in life much since graduating from college. Drinking made me forget all of that, while also making it easier for me to compound my previous poor decisions with new ones.
What was the breaking point for you to get clean?
On Saint Patrick’s Day 2017, I left work early, put on my kilt (I’m Irish/Scottish/German, so I am predisposed to drinking and fighting, but with great precision), and went downtown for the festivities. Between noon and about 5 PM, I had at least 17 drinks that I can remember, and then proceeded to have even more at a brewery where a friend was working. He kept bringing me beer, and I kept drinking it. I thought I was okay to drive home, but drove off the road and nearly landed in a lake. A kind person stopped, pushed me out, and followed me closely all the way home. My car only had a few small dents in it, but was otherwise okay.
The next morning I had a headache that could have been created by a medieval torture device, my phone had multiple texts that I didn’t remember sending, and I knew something needed to change. I resolved to not drink for the entire month of April to try to get my head and heart straight, and made it to April 10th, when I took the day off from work and drank for most of it. This, not St. Patrick’s Day, was my breaking point, when I realized I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I didn’t want to keep throwing myself into destructive, abusive relationships anymore. I didn’t want to drink all of my money away. I didn’t want to keep chasing the “fun” and never catching it. I didn’t want to miss out on another moment with my precious kids because I was hungover or drunk. Most importantly, I didn’t want to drink anymore because in a very real way, drinking would eventually kill me.
How did you get clean and how long have you been sober for? What was the hardest part for you about recovery and how did you overcome it?
For me, getting clean and sober was a pretty simple matter, and it kind of had to be. I went into a Meeting that I found online the next day during my lunch hour, and declared that my sober date – April 11, 2017. I went to a meeting almost every day for my first 30 days, and I still go to 3-4 meetings a week. Today marks 95 days. I found a sponsor about two weeks in and meet with him once a week or so. I read the first 164 pages of Alcoholics Anonymous and have been working the steps. It’s not complicated, it’s just work.
The hardest part of recovery for me has been the matter of keeping it simple and being honest. Having had a short career as a therapist, I have an almost instinctive pattern of overcomplicating things by trying to work out my own “program,” and I know a lot of ways to not be honest with myself or others. But as my sponsor said early on, the best way to keep from drinking again, and to keep having a happy life, is to keep it simple and do exactly what you need to do. Don’t try to make it complicated. Do the right thing, clean out your emotional closet, be honest, and serve others. That seems to be working for me, so I’m going to just keep doing that.
What is your motivation to stay clean? And how did you do it?
My external motivation is my kids. A few weeks ago, my younger son said to my sister “my dad is a recovering alcoholic.” (She already knew this.) He didn’t say it with shame or sadness. He said it with pride. It was one of the best moments I’ve had recently – and the thing is, life has been full of lots and LOTS of great moments since I decided to stop drinking. I no longer am afraid of being “found out” for who I really am. I’m honest about myself, about my failings, about my life, and I have a peace that I have never had before. Selfishly, perhaps, that’s my internal motivation – to have that sense of peace. Since stopping drinking, I sleep well almost every night, I have a clear mind and a healing heart, and I have made some genuine friendships that make my “drinking buddies” feel like complete strangers. In short, sobriety has given me everything drinking promised, and more.
For someone in the same situation as you who wants to get clean, what would you want to tell them?
If you’re like me, the first thing you absolutely must do is stop lying to yourself. Stop believing that you can handle it. Abandon those ideas of moderating, “getting some perspective,” or trying to sober up temporarily. You can exist that way for a long time, maybe forever, but it’s not much of a life, really. But if you are willing to admit your actual powerlessness, accept life on its own terms, make yourself accountable to loving, caring, truth-telling people, and get serious about dealing with the deep down stuff that got you to the point where poisoning your body and mind seemed like a reasonable idea, I promise that you will find life. Real life.
What is your life’s moto?
My motto used to be “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” because I justified a lot of my decisions that way, but since getting sober, it’s just been “grateful,” because that’s the way I want the rest of my life to be spent.
Thanks for reading.
Pete Sherry lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When he’s not working, he plays guitar, aspires to be a chef, and hangs out with his sons, who are his world. Although he avoids most other social media, you can follow him on Instagram at @happybeingpete.
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