Barb Knowles: 31 Years Sober and Counting

Barb Knowles is the wit and wonder behind Sane Teachers, a blog about family, teaching, and being in recovery. Last year, Barb achieved an impressive milestone: she celebrated 31 years of sobriety on October 5th, 2016. We spoke to Barb about her story — how she discovered she was an alcoholic, how she got sober, what keeps her in recovery, and a bit about the sobriety community of WordPress.com.


Barb Knowles

Read “Once Upon an Alcoholic,” the post in which Barb shares more about her sobriety journey on marking 31 years sober.

You marked 31 years of sobriety on October 5th, 2016 — what’s helped you stay sober?

The most important thing has been not to drink. I have made decisions in my adult life, in sobriety, that were not good decisions. But I didn’t drink. I went to 12-step meetings and listened and didn’t drink. I surrounded myself with sober people and didn’t drink. As I had more “time” in sobriety, I could help others which always helped me. And I didn’t drink.

What made you decide to call Alcoholics Anonymous all those years ago?

For many years, I worried that my drinking was out of control, that I was acting like my family, that I didn’t know what I did in a blackout. And when those thoughts crossed my mind, I could immediately justify my behavior or push those thoughts to the back of my mind and refuse to think about them. No, my drinking wasn’t out of control. Everyone drinks like I do. My family members drink more than I do. I don’t do bad things when I drink. I can control my drinking. Everyone blacks out and I just have to be careful not to drink that much again.

There came a point where I knew I needed help. Knowing that — and fighting against it — was such a hard battle. After beginning to realize my life had spun out of control, it took a couple of years to get up my nerve and call a 12-step program.

I had a “Fab Four” that gave me the strength to seek help. God, my mom, Phil Donahue, and Grace Slick. My mother, who, while I finally realize now was doing the best that she was capable of, showed me how I didn’t want to be. Almost a reverse role model. I’m indebted to her for trying her best. By being aware of her example, I was able to stop before I lost everything.

About a week before I called AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), I was watching the Phil Donahue show. He had four celebrities on who were in recovery. I couldn’t believe it. Grace Slick — my favorite singer-songwriter from Jefferson Starship and Jefferson Airplane — was on the show. I LOVED Grace Slick and she was so open about her addiction to alcohol and drugs that I thought that if she could get clean with her celebrity lifestyle, then I certainly could from my kitchen. I remember looking up at the ceiling and saying out loud, “Ok God, I get it, I get it!” I strongly felt that God put me in front of this show to hear Grace Slick’s story, and that God had brought me to the place where I was ready to admit I was powerless over alcohol.

After beginning to realize my life had spun out of control, it took a couple of years to get up my nerve and call a 12-step program.

I got sober for my children. I didn’t think I was worth saving. I didn’t love myself. But they definitely were worth having a mother who was strong and healthy. They were worth everything I could give. And I could not do that drinking. The last night that I drank, October 5, 1985, my left leg was numb as I climbed the stairs to bed. My mother was already invalided from massive strokes caused in part by alcoholism. That was the last straw for me. I was afraid that was happening to me. I did not want to get to the point of no return.

Barb Knowles and her dad, at her wedding in 1999 — after she’d been sober for 13 years.
In your family, drinkers were considered “normal” (while nondrinkers were thought odd). You relate that they were less than supportive of your sobriety — how have things changed over the years?

One of my family members stopped drinking a couple of years after I did. So, obviously, we were supportive of each other. My father thought I was crazy, and would apologize for me to other people. For example, if we were in a social situation and I was offered a drink by a friend of theirs, my father would apologize, in a joking manner, that I was crazy and didn’t drink anymore.

I would let him drink if he came to my house, but he had to supply his own liquor and take it with him when he left. I wouldn’t have it in my house. He thought that was very rude of me. My mother was so affected by her strokes that I don’t think it mattered to her one way or another.

But my children (who don’t even remember me drinking because they were very small and my youngest had not been born yet), are proud of me and are a constant reminder that I did the right thing for myself and for them. And for the three grandchildren I have now.

Alcoholism is a selfish member of a family and affects each member of a family. The roots try to take hold again and again, but we must be vigilant.

Sobriety is also selfish, as it must be to keep the pull of addiction at bay.

Sobriety becomes that which we hold dear and celebrate with all the selfishness we can. And with our loving need to remain sober for ourselves and our families, we use our experiences to share with and help others to focus their selfish need for sobriety.

–Barb Knowles, “Alcoholism Is A Selfish Member Of A Family

On WordPress.com, there’s a community of bloggers who write regularly on addiction and recovery. Can you share your favorites?

Em (not her real name) started blogging about her journeys as an “anonymous sober blogger” at OKAYISHNESS in July of 2016. She shares her trials and tribulations of getting sober and dealing with life in general, without alcohol. The how of getting sober for her was very different from my journey. But what we face in life, or perhaps how we face life, is very similar.

One Bottle One Glass is a blog I’ve just discovered. This blogger also has very young children, as I did, and was about the same age as I was when she made her decision to stop drinking. She also writes about relatable issues that can make me laugh out loud because I know exactly what she’s talking about, as well as make me pensive at times.

Why is the community so important?

The sobriety blogs I read now (and some I’ve just started to actually follow) are by bloggers newer to sobriety. And it reminds me why I chose to stop drinking. Reading their blogs also helps me to continue in sobriety. Hopefully my comments and those of other recovering alcoholics also helps them. Whether you are sober one month or 31 years, many life issues, problems, and joys are the same. It’s how we react to them that keeps us healthy. There are people in the blogging community who understand exactly what we are going through. It’s incredibly supportive and reassuring.


To learn more about Barb, follow her at Sane Teachers.

March 16, 2017Interviews, , ,