06/24/2010 12:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Celebrating 30 Years of Sobriety

karen o

Thirty years ago today I woke up in a detox hospital in Amityville, Long Island, not far from the famed horror house.  I was there under the auspices of the Employee Assistance Program at CBS News. My boss, Peter Hereford, was very clear: either get sober or lose my job.  And since my job - an Associate Producer in Syndication - was my identity and I didn't want to lose my identity now that I finally found one, I went.

Oh, I had tried like hell to talk my way out of it. Sure I drank a little too much upon occasion - but only when I was bored and lonely, as embarrassing as that was to admit. But Hereford had already warned me the year before when I was caught "napping" at my desk. I went to see a shrink for a minute and tried to stop drinking and using on my own. But something always dragged me back into the dark, depressing nether world where I was comfortable with my existential isolation. No matter how firmly I tried to stand, this undertow of addiction was always stronger than me.

Sometimes I just gave up and longed for the relief of suicide. But I always changed my mind or was "saved" at the last minute. Except once when I overdosed and was brought back - "sent back," really. Not my time. I still remember the warmth and love of the White Light. Many years later, I was able to share my experience of that Light with friends who were dying of AIDS. It helped them be less afraid of the approaching unknown.

Thirty years ago today, however, I wasn't as spiritual or as kind. I learned a saying in that hospital: the definition of a drunk is someone who can be lying in a gutter and still look down on people. That was me. But my grandiosity was really a cover for fear - fear of being found out as a fake. A fake smart person. A fake caring person. A fake person.  The fake police were always waiting to get me. So I had to hide whatever my "true" feelings were.

Of course, I was also afraid to find out what those true feelings were - unless it was in the name of creativity. And then I wanted to hang ten on the precipice of sanity. R.D. Laing said that "truth" was known only to the insane, or something like that. I always wanted to live on the edge, get close, real close, but never tip over. Surf through waves of tumult and mystery and the occult and feel splashes of insanity hit my toes - and then I'd kick back to safety. Or wind up in some hospital or crash pad. But alive.

I thought that if I got clean and sober I'd have to give up creativity. I'd have to surrender my precious independence. I'd have to be whoever "they" wanted me to be and forsake forever my entitlement to be Me, whoever "me" was at any given time.

Thirty years ago today all of Me roared up in defiance and refused to go along with the program. I didn't want to hold anyone's hand and say any stupid prayer or believe in a power greater than myself.  Hell, I wouldn't even drink or use with these guys - which I secretly knew wasn't true. If you bought me a drink or handed me a joint, well, hey - I was your new best friend for life until I got sober and forgot your name.

But for all the rage and defiance and fear and grief at losing my best friend Jack Daniels, 30 years ago today I knew my life was about to change dramatically. I could keep my identity or knowingly change it.  I didn't have to be swept around by the turbulent tides - I could learn to swim and better still, learn when not to wade into rough waters.

And I learned the distinction between humiliation and being humble.  I learned I don't have to compete with everyone on the planet - that there's enough love to go around. And that as the Beatles once said, the more love there is to share, the more love there is to make. Or something like that. Imagine.

This morning I get to wake up in my bright, comfortable, just-enough apartment in West Hollywood, hug my dogs and take them out for a walk. Then I get to open my laptop and get to work doing LGBT advocacy journalism - something I never would have imagined doing 30 years ago when I was trapped in a closet of self-hatred and addiction, pretending to be free but never more enslaved in my life.

Today, I am abundantly creative, sane and spiritual.

Thank you Peter Hereford and all the folks at CBS News Syndication 30 years ago who carried me when I couldn't carry myself. And thank you to 30 years of friends - especially John, Diane and Bernadette - who have taught me to be grateful and enjoy every moment of life I have the clarity, love and freedom to experience.

Thank you.