“Was I really that bad, or am I just a normal partying young adult?”
This simple question has been coursing through my brain for the last few years. Sometimes several times a night, sometimes with months or years between to separate them. In the midst of my drunken blur of early teen years this question would pop up now and again and I figured this was the life everyone lived (or at least wished they did).
When I was 18 and received my first DUI charge I was asked this question by many mental health professionals, judges, lawyers, my family, and probation offers. At this point I’m drinking more than a half gallon of spiced rum to myself a day and the logical answer in my mind is was still, “no.” I was just having fun in the wrong place at the wrong time and figured the cops in Lebanon, PA had nothing better to do with their time.
At 19, I was spending every single night in a bar until 2am drinking a minimum 6 straight vodka on the rocks per night, and received my second DUI with a lovely .275 BAC. I was under the impression that I was just mature for my age. I didn’t see a problem with my bar fly lifestyle because “that’s what most 21 year olds do, and I might as well be 21.”
At age 20, I was spending every night and many afternoons (even the ones before work) in dirty hole in the wall bars that were characterized by old men, the smell of urine, and a distinct since of loneliness and despair floating through the air.
God, did I love those bars.
There wasn’t a chance in hell that anyone would recognize me in there, and being the only woman meant it was even easier to get free drinks. When the bar finally closed I would drive myself home with one eye shut, stagger into the basement of my home and proceed to pour myself full glasses of straight vodka and get upset that I could no longer even sense that pungent liquor taste that I had loved so much. I would continue to drink until I thought I would fall over, then crawl to the bathroom and force myself to vomit so that I could drink until I was able to pass out without the spins. Needless to say im experiencing signs of withdraw most mornings at this point.
It was around this time that I finally accepted the fact that I am an alcoholic. But accepting it didnt mean that I was ready or able to stop. I promised myself every night, that I would give myself until September 7th, 2013, exactly one week after my 21st birthday, and then I would be done for good.
Spring and summer eventually passed and I knew this dreaded date was approaching.
Finally its September 1st and I’m transitioning into being 21, stretching my arms out and feeling good about this newfound freedom. No longer could the many many bars that had banned my presence for being underage, refuse my service. The world was mine. A fact that exhilarated and terrified me.
But I couldn’t shake this sinking feeling that something bad was about to happen. I felt in the deepest parts of my always on point intuition that I was going to get pulled over. And since I was always drunk, and had my license suspended, you can imagine what a horrifying speculation that was for me.
On September 6th I was pulled over for my 3rd DUI. The moment I saw those lights turn on to a blinding flash, I felt an eerie sense of calm. It was the first spiritual awakening of many that I would receive over that week. It was the moment I realized that God was giving me what I had been wanting for almost a year. In many ways, he was doing for me, what I could not do for myself.
The following day I drank.
The day after that I told a friend I was going to quit drinking, like the good alcoholic I was, I decided to go out with a bang. I went to 7 different bars and had at minimum two drinks and two shots at each. By the time I got home, I was so disgusted with my past, present, and quickly approaching future, that I decided it was time to end things.
I grabbed a clever from my kitchen and headed to the bathroom where I had plans to finally be done with life.
As silly as this next part sounds, it is actually a moment that I find to be so profoundly godsent that it still gives me chills to think about. I had a nagging whisper in my mind that kept saying you need bubble bath, you can’t do this without bubble bath, it won’t be poetic without bubbles.
Crazy, I know.
I tore my apartment to shreds looking for some damn bubble bath. I tried all sorts of silly bath and body works products, bar soap, whatever I could get my hands on and I just couldn’t recreate the sudsy effect that standard bubble bath creates.
So I drove to my neighborhood Walmart on a mission to find the perfect sudsy soap. Under that beaming fluorescent light I realized the insanity of my thoughts, of my life, of my addiction. In one swoop it all became soberingly clear.
I started crying hysterically in the body soap aisle. Not one of my finer moments, but the most important of my spiritual awakenings occurring over that week.
I bought the bubble bath (cuz hey, it is a nice thing to have), and headed home.
When I awoke I felt that normal sinking feeling that I had become so accustomed to, and wallowed and cried for about half an hour.
This is where my 3rd spiritual awakening took place. I abruptly stopped crying, got up and out of my bed, and for the second time in 24 hours tore my apartment to shreds, searching and finding every single drop of alcohol and every bit of drugs and poured it down the drain or flushed it down the toilet.
I am fully aware now (and most certainly was at the time) that those actions were not made by me. That was surely the god of my understanding. When I was opening and pouring out fresh bottles of wine, beer, and vodka all I wanted to do was dump it into my mouth and not the drain, but for some crazy reason, I just kept pouring it out. I thought that I really should save this and give it to one of my friends, but I just kept pouring it out.
That night I had one beer, and the next morning went to my first meeting. I got s sponsor within the week, moved out of my apartment and into my grandparents house, quit my job at the bar, started my first 90/90, dropped my classes, and threw every single fiber of my being into recovery.
So now that you know my sorry, I can get in to telling you what its like to be 21 and sober.
The first few weeks I really spent a lot of time defending my decision to abstain from drugs and alcohol, which was the last thing I was expecting to have to do.
One girl that I worked with at the bar asked me what I was having to drink that night and when I told her I was quitting, she replied quickly and sharply, “you just turned 21, that’s f***ing stupid!”
Or the young man who thought he should explain the benefits of why I should quit smoking cigarettes instead of alcohol, because its quite silly that I’ve chosen to kick the latter.
Or the guy who was quite confused about why I’m not drinking so I went on to tell him “I just picked up my 60 day chip and I’m happy to not drink.” he followed by buying me a beer and said, “60 days is too long, how bout you start up again tonight.”
While at the time, I thought these people were the problem, that they were ignorant, uneducated, and frankly just rude. I realize today, that I was the problem. I was trying to live the life I always had but sober. I thought I still belonged in a bar. Rather so, I wanted to prove that I was still fun. Those people who made those comments to me were baffled that I had stopped drinking, because they saw a normal girl who happened to party. They didn’t see the girl who I just described to all of you. They saw the façade I had carefully engineered. And even if they did see that girl who I tried desperately to keep hidden, it wasn’t their responsibility to keep her sober. What they said to me, I cannot be offended by. I shouldn’t have even been there to hear those things. I should have been home, working on my steps, or frankly, anywhere else but those bars. Thankfully, I didn’t drink when I was out those nights, but I am grateful to have learned from those experiences.
When I got sober I realized that I needed to begin doing things that I had never done before, and quit doing all the things that I once thought were okay. While this idea seemed daunting at first, I listened. And I made those changes the old timers told me to make.
Finally deciding to get into recovery was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I love my life today and every day that’s passed since September 9th, 2013.
Sometimes, even through sobriety, even last week, the question will pop into my mind, “Am I really an alcoholic, or am I just a normal 21 year old that likes to party.”
The answer is clearly no, but sometimes my disease doesn’t let me see it that easily. It reminds me of all the great times I’ve had with alcohol. But when I really sit down, and take the time to remember how I felt during the days that followed September 6th, 2013 I am fully aware that I am not just someone who drinks, I am an alcoholic. My disease progressed extremely quickly, as it does with many alcoholics, so to even think about going back is to think about death. I know that I will die if I drink again. And when I think about it in those terms, in the real life terms, not the romanticized drunken movie that plays in my mind from time to time. I know that I’m in the right place, and that there is no better 21 year old me, than the sober one.