Before I got sober, I had a well-deserved reputation for having a lousy sense of humor. Or, to be more accurate, no sense of humor at all. I didn’t tell jokes well, I didn’t laugh at other people’s jokes and I found comedy shows and funny TV programs to be dull.

I could get angry, sad, happy—but I only rarely laughed. The exception, of course, was when I was drunk or high. Loaded, I had a great sense of humor. Whatever was bottled up—pun intended—flowed out.

When I got sober, I found I still couldn’t laugh. My sponsor noticed this one day; we were at a small meeting with an absolutely hilarious speaker. As the woman told joke after joke, the whole room shook with laughter—everyone recognized themselves in some aspect of the speaker’s humor. I sat there tight-lipped.

My sponsor called me out on it. “You know Rule 62?” he asked gruffly. I panicked a bit – I felt I was failing a test. I shook my head. “Don’t take yourself so damn seriously,” he said. And I realized that my problem with humor was that I had a hard time overcoming my fear of being laughed at.

So my sponsor made me tell him a joke every day. I’d look one up, or ask someone for one, and then call him up and try to make him laugh. If it wasn’t funny, I owed him two the following day.

He also gave me comedy homework. I had to watch one funny television show a week (this is how I got into the original Full House, then hugely popular). I needed to go see one funny movie a month.

The point of this “homework” wasn’t to give me an education in comedy. The point was to help me overcome my toxic seriousness, which was so closely linked to depression and my addiction.

Life is difficult enough. Without the ability to laugh at it, it’s even harder. Humor, I learned in the program, isn’t just a distraction. It is a survival skill that addicts and alcoholics need more than most. So if you’re having trouble laughing at yourself or anything else, you too may need some comedy homework.