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Kristi's Bright Story: Staying the Course and Finding Your Dream

Do you have a vision of what your long-term sobriety looks like?

I like to keep a vision of what my long-term sobriety looks like in my head. What does your long-term sobriety look like to you? What is it going to take to make that happen?

When I was a 5th grader, I started playing clarinet in beginning band. In 7th grade, the Army jazz band from Washington DC came to our town and gave an amazing performance. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen, and afterward, I turned to my seatmate and said “that is what I’m going to do when I grow up!” My next thought was “what do I need to do to make that happen?” I decided that I would do whatever it took to make my dream to be a military musician come true. When I finally got sober, I decided to do whatever was needed to stay sober for the long haul…my vision was to have a long-term sobriety program that was successful. To me, that meant thriving and being content in sobriety.

Do you have a vision of what your long-term sobriety looks like?

In 7th grade band, I learned what determination meant. My band director said that if we really wanted to become a good player on our instrument, the time to put in the work was NOW! I took his words to heart and decided to practice 2 hours every day. When I went into music in college, there were many challenges and frustrations I had to overcome. It would be the same in trying to stay sober. I failed at least 2 of my music courses and had to retake them. I was practicing 6 hours a day. There were many times in the practice room when I become so frustrated learning my music that I would throw it across the room as hard as I could against the wall in a fit of rage. It was a lot of sweat and tears.

Trying to overcome my cravings to drink was just as frustrating or more so as they seemed so powerful and never-ending. I could not give into the cravings. I knew not to quit. In my junior year of college, I suddenly could not stand playing my clarinet anymore; I hated it and hated music. I didn’t know why. I started to think that maybe I should just quit and drop out of school. I expressed my concerns and emotions about this to my clarinet teacher.

His words saved me.

He said “I know what’s happening with you!....your experiencing burn out!” He told me that everyone goes through this and it was completely normal. He was positive and adamant that this phase was just for a season and that it would go away.

This made me so happy and relieved. I just knew I would have to be patient and wait it out. I forced myself to continue practicing 6 hours a day even though I hated every minute of it. I had this horrible “burn out” for the entire year.

Now I know If I ever feel “burned out” in keeping sober, I know it’s just for a season and it will go away.

After college, I was encouraged to continue my clarinet study in grad school. I auditioned at one school and was not accepted. However I was not discouraged by this and auditioned at The Ohio State University.

The clarinet professor there told me “Well, I will take you, but you are going to have to work very hard” in a kind of depressing tone of voice. But I was absolutely thrilled and said “Oh, I KNOW how to work hard.” I would show him. He was a great teacher for me, and I learned so much from him. When I was in the Air Force, I was given one last chance to go into the Air Force’s alcohol/drug rehab program. I had gone through it 4 times previously. I would have certainly been kicked out if the rehab program director had not allowed me back in it. I was overcome with gratitude that I was being allowed this one last chance. The program director was a great influential counselor who challenged and motivated me. I don’t think the program staff thought I would stay sober but I would show them. With God’s power I was determined and motivated to show everyone that it was possible for me to stay sober.

I was afraid that I would never have fun again when I quit drinking. It was hard for me to imagine that you could have fun without a drink. I also knew others had managed to stay sober and seemed at least content. Just like I practiced music every day, I decided to research solutions for long-term sobriety on the internet every night. I was determined and motivated to find a way to keep sober. Most of all, I prayed to God for His strength and wisdom to be let loose on me, and He delivered in a big way. I realized the same type of effort that was put forth to become a professional musician would be needed to make and maintain a successful sobriety program for myself.

There are so many things that go into becoming a professional musician – mastering all the technique for your instrument, tone, pitch, breathing, phrasing, ensemble and solo performance in front of an audience, not to mention learning, analyzing, and practicing tons of music literature to professional standards.

Like this, I figured there was a lot that goes into creating a successful sober living program.

I learned there are so many sober living programs that help people keep sober such as AA, Smart recovery and Celebrate recovery. I learned from people who didn’t really use a specific program. They just found a path on their own that worked for them. I took steps from all of these programs to find a path of sobriety. My dream was to thrive and find contentment in long-term sobriety, and I have found it.

Kristi Younkin, Technical Sergeant USAF, retired was a clarinetist in the US Air Force Band Program from 2000 to 2020. She holds music performance degrees from the University of Tennessee and The Ohio State University. While in the Air Force she completed Airman Leadership school, Non-commissioned officer academy course 15 and Senior non-commissioned academy course 14. She was stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ramstein AB in Germany, and Scott AFB. Her sobriety date is November 25, 2013. Currently she volunteers with helping victims of domestic violence. She enjoys performing with local music ensembles and loves traveling with her husband. If you would like to read more about how she obtained her sobriety, then check out her blog at

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