How I Got Sober: Bob Perkell

By Bob Perkell 06/28/16

[Sponsored] I’ve come to the conclusion that God put me on this planet to make people in sobriety and recovery laugh. This is the story of my journey to sobriety. 

How I Got Sober: Bob Perkell
Bob Perkell via author

I started drinking when I was around 12. I came from a typical middle-class family. I was the middle child: attention starved and not enough breast milk. My family moved around a bunch because my dad was in sales. Moving from school-to-school, I learned how to make friends quickly by being the class clown. I majored in detention and paper pickup. I was the troublemaker of the household. My younger bother was too young to play with and my older brother was too old. I was always starting fights and always wanting attention. We moved to valley in the '70s. My father was an alcoholic; my mother drank a lot of coffee so I grew up in a really big hurry to drink.

I started using drugs so I could drink more. It was all of it; it was everything. My mantra might as well have been, “Hey, you want to live for the moment? Sorry, I don’t have that much time.” But I never thought I had a problem. If anybody ever told me, I never listened to them. My father was in the program later on in life. I remember at one point, my dad was taking a five-year cake, I walked into the AA meeting in Anaheim with a cake for my dad and I was all methed out. Everyone’s looking at me, and I’m like, “What’s wrong with you people?! I’m just trying to give my dad a cake!”

The business I chose was stand-up comedy; alcohol and drugs were occupational hazards. I rationalized my drinking by claiming I was being the entertainer—exploring new horizons and different parts of the brain. The crazier my life got, the funnier my stand-up became. It was funny juice. I also did drugs so I could make the drive home after the show. When you work the clubs, it’s part of the environment. I had an opportunity to go on the road for six months with another comedian who drank and used even more than I did. It was a match made in heaven. We called it The Where Do You Go To Give Up tour. I could stay up for three days and do 30 minutes on paranoia and do well. It was a non-stop party. We were untouchable; we got away with everything. We’d start every morning with a bottle of cran-apple juice and a bottle of Smirnoff and then hit the road to the next state.

From smoking pot in front of cops to getting pulled over in the ‘hood, we’d make the officers laugh and they’d send us on our way. I was dating a dope dealer and shoplifter at the time who was always FedEx-ing me drugs and stolen clothes. But back then, my mindset was: the more dysfunctional my life, the funnier my stand-up will be. But toward the end of the trip, nothing was funny anymore. I had lost my soul. People said I had changed and that I was different. I was so delusional that I thought some producer would call me to tell me that my sitcom was ready because I survived six months straight on the road, when in fact, I had completely fallen off the planet.

My first bottom was somehow ending up in La Habra in a one-bedroom apartment, living with two dancers. The final dancer moved out, I was three months behind on rent, and unemployable. And out of the blue, I hit my knees, looked up at the popcorn ceiling with tears in my eyes, and asked God for help. I’d never prayed before. I started making some phone calls. I called a friend whose wife was in the program. I contacted my father. No one ever pushed it on me but I started going to meetings.

I moved to the San Fernando Valley and got humble working construction and completing Cal Trans community service for my two DUIs. I was out of the stand-up scene for a few months when a friend asked me if I wanted to do a show at a treatment center. I was reluctant at first, but then agreed. It turned out to be the funniest show I’d ever done. I got a standing ovation and it felt good. It felt right. At the time, I was going to a lot of meetings, but I would show up late, leave early, and had a fake sponsor. I had limited tools and no foundation.

I held it together for three years. Then this adult film actress started pursuing me. She convinced me to move in with her. She was taking me out to expensive dinners, penthouse suites and skydiving. I said, “Of course I’ll move in, I love you.” Turns out, she was a heroin addict. I’d toured the country, seeing all types of “partying” from inside comedy clubs, dive bars, strip clubs and the ‘hood, but I’d never seen heroin in my life. Of course, with no recovery and no foundation in me, I was like, “Sure, let’s try that.” Funny part was, I didn’t even like heroin, I was used to being “up” for the show, not “down.”

Eight months later, I’m in the hospital’s critical care unit for seven days for a drug-induced heart attack. At the time, my best thinking was, “Oh, I just did too much;” typical alcoholic/addict thinking. I had started getting hooked on it and didn’t even realize it. I thought I was having anxiety attacks. I was getting less and less sleep. I took a notoriously grueling string of road gigs in small dives all over the northwest, Idaho and Montana. Night after night, I’d get on stage and be “killing it” [comedically] and then the heat from the lights would be too much. My knees would buckle and my speech would drastically slow and slur. I called the porn star; she booked me a flight and got me out of there. My using progressed, and got worse, and I knew I needed to get out of the relationship. I knew something wasn’t right.

I moved away from the Valley to Orange County. I got humble. I finally became willing, got a sponsor, took some direction, and went to four meetings a day. I was too stubborn for rehab. As I look back on it, I wish I had gone. But I did keep going back to LA and trying to save my ex. I would get chunks of sober time then relapse every time I saw her. I’d get 30 days here, 115 days there. I shared about her at every meeting. Someone finally called me out on it. He said, “Instead of worrying about her, you need to worry about yourself.” It took three days for that to sink into my selfish, self-centered, hazy head, but it finally did, and I’ve never talked to her again. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do in recovery. The last time I talked to her was on my clean date of May 3, 2001. I prayed for her and hoped one day she got into the program.

I don’t hate anything about being an alcoholic and addict. In fact, I love it. It made me who I am today. I love that I don’t have to go back to that horrible life. It was fun for a long time, and then it stopped being fun for an even longer time, so there is nothing I miss about it. I love my life today. I’m married to an amazing woman and we have a two-year-old daughter, and I get to tour the world. The three best tools I have acquired to stay clean, sober and happy are: God, humility and the camaraderie of the people in the rooms.

The 12 steps, along with everyone who’s clean and sober, or trying to get clean and sober, are the best thing ever. They give you tools to know how to deal with life on a regular basis and with that, it gives me hope. The most important one was my fourth step. It was such a game changer because it made me take a look and see that the person I hated the most was myself. I finally discovered my part in everything instead of blaming everyone else.

If I had to offer advice to a newcomer or someone thinking about getting clean and sober, it would just be: stay. You never have to go back to that horrible life of wanting to kill yourself and making your family worried. Keep coming back. Don’t drink or use, no matter what…all those wonderful sayings. I love you, I’m rooting for you, and I hope you get it. Don’t leave before the miracle. Let’s go out for some pie and get full.

I’ve been a comedian for 26 years now, but I only remember the last 15. I’ve come to the conclusion that God put me on this planet to make people in sobriety and recovery laugh. There is no bigger gift to me than having a newcomer in the front row come up to me after the show and say, “Dude, my cheeks hurt. I haven’t laughed like that since I got clean and sober.” And I reply, “See, brotha, you don’t have to be hammered to laugh your ass off and have a good time.”

To book Bob Perkell for a sober show or event, please contact him here. Find Bob Perkell on his website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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Bob Perkell is a performer/comedian whose act focuses on addiction and recovery. He takes his act on the road to 12-Step conventions and treatment centers across the US. Bob always has fun on stage and the audience can’t help but be swept up in the laughter. Visit Bob on Facebook or contact him on Twitter.

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