I was 22 when I got sober. Before I admitted my problem, my ego always wanted to defend how much I drank, the way I lived and why I needed to be accepted. In reality, my physical self was displaying the truth plain and clear. My stomach was distended, I was yellow past my eyeballs, throwing up bile like I was mid-exorcism and losing my hair by the handful. My eyes burned constantly from the dehydration of alcohol dependence and my nails were more full of splinter hemorrhages than my brain was with ideas to fix what was happening to me. I was deeply ashamed and it had all gotten so out of hand.
I still remember the first night that I got sober. I had a manic and delirious conversation with myself that left my head spinning. I can’t have wine with dinner anymore. I can’t have champagne at my wedding. I can’t drink beer at tailgates. I can’t meet people for drinks. I can’t have that social buffer. I would just be... myself. What was my life going to be like without alcohol?
The funny thing about addiction though is that it forces you to live in a constant and active state of duality. When I really sat back and thought of it, I realized that all of my concerns didn’t even pan out. I never just had a glass of wine; I drank it by the bottle. No one was trying to marry me at the moment. Plus, I could never have champagne without cocaine, partly because I liked that it rhymed, but mostly because my drug of choice became whatever was available once I started drinking. And, I also don’t even like sports; I just went to tailgates because it was an acceptable way to drink earlier in the day.
Instead, all of my concerns were wrapped up in fear that I wouldn’t be enjoying my life without my usual habits. I was afraid that if I sobered up, I’d set myself apart and get left out. I’d be lonely, bored, and life would just become a dull vacuum. All of which are not true. Life as a sober young person isn’t boring. Sure, it’s drastically different than anything I’ve ever known before, but light-years away from boring.
Today, at 29 years old, the highest I’ll ever get is 36,000 feet above the clouds, spending my would-be booze money on seeing as much of the world as I can instead. The lowest I’ll get is somewhere in the gulf, a place where I discovered that scuba suits push me into a panic of claustrophobia. There’s so much out there to do and see with fresh eyes and I don’t want to miss a moment of the life I have left, clean and sober.
I now have goals and aspirations that I want more badly than I want a false, chemical sense of fulfillment. I never thought it was possible to be the kind of person who hits problems head on instead of high tailing it to happy hour to turn the volume down in my head and quiet my restless soul. I learned that I love the adrenaline of climbing mountains with sweaty palms and a clean conscience, but can still recall with sobering clarity the way my heart smashes each beat against my ribcage when I’m about to take what doesn’t belong to me from the people I didn’t know how to love.
I have a schedule that is so jam-packed, there’s hardly room to hit snooze, much less wrestle with a hangover that will last until I just cave and get drunk again. I’ve accepted that once I start drinking, I lose all control along with my center, sense of self, care and concern for others, and sense of duty to be a contributing member of society. Nothing else matters at that point besides what it takes to get the next one and doing what I have to do. I don’t miss where I have to be to take the chemical trip into an oblivion where I don’t hate myself, past and present, fearing the limited future and yearning I don’t have a for things of actual substance once I let the claws of intoxication sink in.
I know to the core of my being that there is little difference between myself and the older generations who live sober lives. I encounter judgment because of how “short term” my drinking career was, but I realized very quickly that I’m captivated by the sense of sameness that overcomes me when I listen to the experience of those who drank through the length of two marriages and have children who still won’t speak to them. I’ve felt the same gut-wrenching remorse and soul bearing shame. My greatest hope for the sober community I’m in is to bridge the gap between us so that we may learn from those with more time, more experience, and more to offer. Then, hopefully those of us who are younger can offer in return a contagious resilience and faith of resting our souls in the potential of what is to come. I have a future today.
I’m not saved from pain because I got sober young. There are no levels to rock bottom. Some people consider me “low bottom”, but it’s nothing in comparison to many other people I know. What I have come to know from working with others who want to live sober lives, or just don’t want to exist in the bottomless dark abyss that is alcoholism and addiction is the following: those of us who get sober all have one singular moment where we see ourselves and our lives for who and what we really are. That moment may be in the translucent jailhouse mirrors, in the window of the corner store while we’re trying to get the next one, or in an ornately decorated mirror in a beautiful home we own. But the moment comes when we are utterly exhausted to the very core of our being, like the atoms that make us up have lost all action potential and we are so worn, bare, and desperately sad that we are overcome with how very much something has to change. I’m grateful for the moment it happened to me and I hope I never lose sight of exactly what made that click. I’d rather lose sight of the shore on my way to see the Northern Lights.