Sober Story - Steven Miller
Can you introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from and what you are sober from?
My name’s Steven Mellor, and I’m a 29 year old mature student at Lancaster University. I was born in the United Kingdom (Huddersfield, West Yorkshire), but I spent “six months” of my life in Australia, between August 1996 and September of 2011.
You’re probably sat there thinking – ‘hold on, that’s fifteen years!’ You’d be correct.
So far as my bad habit of choice, that would be alcohol – it started when I was about sixteen and a half. Tend to joke about how I picked up the bottle and just never really put it down for the following decade or so.
When was your sober start date or how long have you been sober?
It was April 7th, 2016. (Cue sepia.)
Was at Shabbat dinner with the Jewish Society on campus, and shared my last drink with them – kosher wine. Despite being pretty staunch in my belief of ‘just burn me when I’m done’, one of the things I hold dearest is the sheer volume of diversity at University. I feel in with Lancaster’s J-Soc, and they provided a family for myself during a time where I was burning out.
I’d been forced to Intercalate in February of 2016. For those unfamiliar, that’s where a break from studies is enforced.
In my case, it was a result of my long-standing mental health difficulties (no clear diagnoses),combined with…
Picking the bottle back up following an attempted mugging barely a fortnight before my second attempt at University in September of 2014.
Being railroaded by some younger students who dragged me through the disciplinary process, implying I’d been some kind of sex pest. Given my recent diagnosis of Asperger’s (among other things), as well as my long-standing need to overcompensate by being everyone’s big brother, it was easily turned against me when I ‘wasn’t 100%’, and without clear recollection of many periods around this time.
My girlfriend at the time’s diagnosis with APML (form of leukaemia) in November of 2014, the Christmas of that year was spent grieving – things did not look great.
The struggles that followed her recovery, particularly since I had retreated emotionally, as well as becoming increasingly distressed by some rather disturbing events occurring within my social circle, one of which resulted in my being stalked by another male student, and sadly went unresolved.
The resultant breakup with the aforementioned girlfriend (my fault entirely), and quickly went toward one of my notorious breakdowns.
The University were quite heavy-handed with me at this time, and the conduct continues. I have recovered, on my own terms, and I can honestly say I am improving every single day – even if it is not to the University’s approval, or in line with their prescribed path for myself.
If you had to guess, how much was you daily spend on your habit(s)?
I marked it as £12. This is conservative. More like £40-£50 on a bad day.
What motivated you to get sober, and how did you do it?
I’d never drunk my rent in my life. I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic – merely a chronic drinker.
But throughout my most recent difficulties, I did renege on my rent. With legal homelessness bearing down on me, as well as the need to get my life together so that I could return in October of 2016, it hit home.
I had one choice. I had to get sorted, or the immense pressure and complexity at the time would make short work of me – particularly with my history of vulnerability and suicide attempts.
What have you had to sacrifice by being sober?
Having worked private security (static guarding, door work / ‘bouncing’, festivals), the allure of nightlife had already been somewhat dulled for myself. It has been hard reintroducing certain activities after dark. Restaurants were already an impossible task owing to eating disorders, and bars provided me with no end of stress until I was feeling more comfortable.
I am naturally somewhat of a hermit, so I’ve had to find ways by which to engage with people that have not been through the usual means – made exceptionally difficult by my being at University.
Do you have any strategies or tactics that have helped you along the way?
When I’d first attempted to get myself straightened out in 2014, I learned Transcendental Meditation. Although my regular practice had lapsed, it was there for me when I was ready to pick it back up – and so I did.
Much of my coping strategies/mechanisms have come about by my needing to deal with my social difficulties years ago – another one explained away quite well by my recent Asperger’s diagnosis. Neurolinguistic Programming (‘NLP’), Emotional Intelligence, memory exercises, anything I could drag back to the surface and learn anew, I did it. Anything I could build on, or learn from scratch, I did it.
Another important part of how I normalised my sobriety was something I am aware requires a great deal of willpower. I changed my routine slowly, even after going cold turkey and staring down some rather prolonged withdrawal.
I would continue to walk to where I had been purchasing alcohol, stare at my usual purchases at the time, and walk out. This became a loop of the premises, then a trip to stand outside, a round trip without pause… and so on.
Eventually, the habit, and indeed the ‘need’ had left me. It took a great deal of patience and kindness toward myself, I shall not undersell that. But it worked for me.
As with anything, it is important to assess what may work best for yourself. There is no ‘one true path’, but treat yourself just as well as any other throughout your own process.
Hope does not prompt action, as I’ve learned over time. If you are ready, it will stick.
Ensure that you have appropriate support in place – I have struggled with this, but I have been alone for a long time, and in many respects I benefited from this.
In more recent history, however, I have reaped the rewards that reaching out and engaging in candid discussions provide. Those who are close to me at present, I know I can rely on.
I would never expect anyone with whom I cross paths to give up such a habit unsupported.
Know yourself, know your needs. These are two key elements. Once these are even loosely identified, then move to being signposted appropriately, and capitalise on everything that you may have at your disposal to access that all-important support.
Leave shame, guilt and all their close ‘relatives’ behind – they will weigh you down, and I can promise you, when it’s time, much brighter things are closer than you may realise.
What was your biggest milestone or victory so far, and how did you celebrate?
Excuse my being greedy, but I’d have to say this is a tie between three – my first Christmas where I felt truly liberated from the habit in easily a decade (2016), the twelve month mark, as well as making it to my 29th birthday.
No celebrations were to be had – I continue to be legally homeless (a little over a year at time of writing), much of the pressure from the University is ongoing, and the greatest reward of all was knowing that however I may have been treated, however many may continue to treat me like a drunk incompetent, this is something I have built for myself. I will not let them take it from me.
I have cleared my debt, I have survived the academic year mostly intact, and I know what needs to be put in place over the coming years. I suppose my celebration was more my ability to acknowledge my progress, even if I find myself needing to divest a share of these victories to others who helped me along the way.
What are some advantages or disadvantages you have that others might not, and how did they help or hurt you?
The lingering shadow of not knowing what was wrong with me. My mental health issues continue to be little more than a lengthy list of symptoms, but I have found a great deal of peace in having found out that I have Asperger’s, ADHD, mild Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, as well as Irlen Syndrome.
My mother was a drunk herself for a number of years, and most of my family are predisposed to similar behaviour. Despite being kicked out of home in 2008, it has been nice to watch my family find their feet again, albeit without being there in person. I still view myself as a cancer in my family, and I do not say this with any negativity attached – it has simply been the truth, even if I am much better these days.
Have you had to deal with any relapses, and if so can you talk about how you overcame them?
Not in this present period of sobriety, but there has been no shortage of times I have come unstuck over the years.
I spent a lot of time analysing why I drank, generally whilst criticising myself. Eventually I found some kindness for myself, and what I believed to be simply a means to self-medicate a troubled, fast-paced mind, eventually led to a realisation that it was the chaos I enjoyed more than anything else – even if it was self-sabotage of the highest degree.
These days, I volunteer most of my spare time keeping other students from falling foul of complex internal procedures, facilitating positive change from those within the local area, and just generally angling for my next assertive letter to be writing to give someone a little breathing room.
I’ve got my chaos.
Just doesn’t end everything going down in flames around me now. Won’t lie, though – it’s become a real shark-like existence. If I’m not swimming, I’m drowning.
So, from my own experience, if you find your way out, be careful to pace things appropriately – nobody’s bulletproof.
During recovery, what kind of support system did you use and how did you deal with loneliness and isolation?
My first steps revolved around ensuring that I mended fences with the friends and professionals who had previously been used to dealing with the alcohol, and not Steven.
As I raised earlier, it all came down to brushing up on my coping strategies, positive habits, and all that fun stuff. Getting around during daylight hours was an important step, as well as doing my best to smile at everyone I came across – even if I didn’t feel like it.
I think it was important to find somewhere that I fit in, as well. On campus, I mostly end up sharing a coffee or tea with the porters, postgraduates, or various academics I come across in my travels – I continue to struggle with most of the younger students.
I’ve also found that attending academic conferences, as well as various professional development and training events are a way by which to ensure you are socialised, albeit without need to engage with those I cross paths with too deeply.
Not a massive fan of transactional interaction, but it has allowed for times I may have otherwise struggled to engage with people to be an opportunity to ensure that I did not close myself off from the world.
If it’s been an exceptionally bad day, I’ve just ensured I’m not wearing my sunglasses a little too often, and worked hard on my eye contact. Amazing how much good something so basic can do.
What is your favourite thing about being sober?
Although not traditionally perceived as a positive, I relish the difficult times the most.
Things come to my attention as they truly are – even when I’m having particularly problematic days with my mental health, I know that even that is untainted now. It’s quite uplifting in its own way.
What’s your advice for someone just starting out in recovery?
Although I’ve already covered this in some form, it is that idea that when you are ready to learn, the teacher will appear. It may go well the first time, you may spend years doing your best to what may feel to be little success.
If you can’t be kind to yourself at first, learn how better to be kind to others, work out ways to turn it to that person you see in the mirror each morning. Then work on the next thing.
Break it down into something you know is your own. I hate to reference ‘SMART’ goals, but they offer a fine underpinning for things if you struggle to be imaginative at first. In time, that spark will come. Even if you’ve begged, borrowed and stolen tactics, strategies and the like from everywhere, and not adapted them… if they work for you, it’s good enough.
That’s all that matters. You. The input of those around you may have its place at times, but more often than not, in the early stages, it’s completely unwelcome.
Look after number one for a while, until you’re prepared to search further afield for ideas – even if someone close to you has struggled with dependency themselves, their experience will be completely different to yours.
However long it takes, there’s little more than this – keep going.
What are your goals for the future?
This could be a small novella in itself. Long story short, I’m graduating next year, looking to take a ‘career year’ to catch up on my goals, then float around doing some postgraduate options until I’m ready to work toward becoming a barrister.
I used to live in five minute blocks, but now I’ve got this loose idea of the next thirteen years. Although it sounds a lot, knowing what the overriding objective is allows for the day to day difficulties to be better managed.
Where can people find out more about you or get in touch?
I’m quite prolific on Twitter - @Steven_Mellor
I talk an awful lot of rot around the internet, but I’d highly suggest starting there, and sniffing out where else I may lurk in mystical mass of zeroes and ones.