At 8 years old, my cousin showed me how to take a little whiskey from each bottle in her dad's bar to make a drink.

At 13, the boys in my Boy Scouts troop taught me how to get a drunk adult outside a liquor store to buy a bottle for us.

At 20, my roommates taught me how to do a line. It took a little time to learn the tools and the lifestyle.

At 28, my neighbors taught me how to smoke speed. It took a little time to learn those tools.

At 31, I had no idea how to not do these things anymore.

I spent my first week sober detoxing in four jails and two courthouses. From there I spent 90 days in a behavior modification rehab. They taught me to shower daily, shave regularly, do my laundry, and put it away. On day one there, they taught me to make my bed before we ate breakfast.

After breakfast, we did dishes and put them away. After lunch, we swept and mopped the dining room. Before dinner, we set up the tables for 85 residents. After dinner, we cleaned the kitchen mats.

In my first Twelve Step meeting, I felt weird and awkward with all the chanting and group prayer. The Secretary shared about talking with her sponsor, and after the meeting I asked her what she meant by that. She explained a sponsor was someone who had worked the Twelve Steps through the Big Book or the Basic Text, had cleared their wreckage, and found their truth. They could guide you on your path to staying sober.

So I got a sponsor, and when I got out of rehab, we started working together. My first assignment was to read the Big Book. Every day I read. I would send him messages about how I related to what I just read, and how awesome it was that they wrote a book about me!

I was court-ordered to four meetings a week, and by seven months sober I was hitting 21 meetings a week. I made sure to include an open discussion, a Big Book study, a men's stag, and a speaker meeting. Some were podium-sharing, some were round robin, and at some we just circled up the chairs and discussed where we were at and what we were dealing with that day. I hit all three CMA meetings, the CA book study and speaker meetings, and random AA and NA meetings. But my favorite was the Monday night 8:15 CMA meeting that we called "The Circus" because it was big and loud and full of wild animals and clowns. I loved this meeting because afterwards a bunch of us went to dinner and had a book study. Old-timers bought a basket of fries for newcomers with no money. We shared our experiences about what we had read. We laughed, cried, and made what we read personal.

The group at my first CMA meeting suggested I get a phone list and call everyone on it. So I did. Before the next meeting, I had called every number on a double-sided, double-column page. After that, I knew who would answer, or call back, or ignore the messages. This was useful when I would freak out about something and needed someone to talk to or go get coffee with.

That first couple of years, we hit a lot of meetings together and learned how to live life sober together. We played on playgrounds, went out to eat (and learned how to not leave giant messes when we were done), celebrated birthdays with dinners or pool parties or trips to ice cream shops. We went to movies and on road trips to visit people in our group that moved away.

Getting commitments at meetings taught me to show up early to set up and stay late to clean up. I learned that the best meetings were the ones before and after the meetings. When I started showing up early to work and stayed my whole shift, I found out bosses love that shit.

In rehab, people I admired had a morning and evening ritual: they'd read from some inspirational book or another, pray and then sit quietly for a while. The only prayer I knew was the Serenity Prayer from the in-house meetings, so I started with that. Just pray and then practice breathing deeply for a minute or two (sitting still longer than that was soooooo difficult!). Since then, I have learned to read portions of the Big Book, the Twelve & Twelve, CMA pamphlets, Crystal Clear: Stories of Hope, and Voices of the Fellowship on the CMA website.

In rehab, counselors advised journaling as a means to vent and figure out our emotions, which we were not used to feeling, having numbed ourselves for years.

Working the First Step I discovered what makes me an addict: I have an obsession of the mind, a compulsion of the body, and sick emotions generated by my sick spirit. In the Second Step, I discovered the solution to my problem: finding and connecting to a Power greater than myself. In Step Three I made a decision to do the rest of the work (Steps Four through Nine) to clear away the wreckage of my past (balance the scales), which clears a pathway to that Power which will keep me sober.

Step Ten was a daily practice of Four through Nine. I looked at my behavior for that day to see where I had been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking. Basically, was I being a jerk or trying to get something that wasn't mine to take?

Step Eleven was a deeper practice of prayer and meditation. I searched online for prayers relating to issues I was going through, and would practice using them and then sit quietly to "listen" for guidance. I also talked to old timers about different ways to meditate. I found out that in addition to sitting quietly and breathing, there are guided meditations. There are apps, or pages online, as well as meditation meetings. And there is such a thing as active meditation! This is where you do a repetitive action (like food preparation, walking, running) while letting your mind cycle through whatever it wants to, usually ending with a clearer ability to focus on what's in front of you.

Step Twelve brings it all together and teaches others how to do it; I carry the message to other addicts that The Twelve Steps work. This step also includes many ways to be of service, which for me includes sponsoring other addicts, having a meeting commitment like doing chips or being secretary, and having group commitments like treasurer or General Service Representative. Those commitments led me to being of service to my district and area, and eventually to the General Service Conference, which was especially fun for me. It involved lots of other people trying to figure out how we can help others help others.

Each new thing I do requires me to get out of my comfort zone and walk through my fear of messing things up. By doing this, I find true joy, walking hand-in-hand with others on the same path.