“But You’re So Young”

“But you’re so young…”

This short sentence, these four miniscule words, are like a punch in the gut every single time I hear them.

Though I know most of the general population does not fully understand the nature and progression of this disease, it still feels like the slice of a knife for so many reasons.

During my active drinking days, I would constantly reassure myself, like a classic mother in denial, saying things like “But I’m so young… this is just a phase, my drinking will calm down eventually.”

It didn’t. My disease worsened by the day as I dug myself into deeper and deeper pits of denial with a duffle bag of other means of justification on tow.

The fact of the matter is that there is no right or wrong age to figure out that you have a serious problem. I so wish that I had been able to truly understand and grasp the severity of what would become my life as I continued down the path that I did. But I just couldn’t connect the dots.

I didn’t realize that my colds would last for weeks or months on end because I refused to stop drinking, smoking, and snorting everything I could get my hands on. I didn’t understand that my DUIs were caused by my drinking, and not strokes of bad luck. It didn’t even cross my mind that people didn’t like me because of the obnoxious drunk scenes I would make at EVERY SINGLE function I attended. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with refusing to take my antibiotic because it would make me violently ill when mixed with alcohol…

I could truly go on endlessly about all of the dots I didn’t connect. I am still connecting more each and every day that I stay sober, and it blows my mind each and every time I find a new one.

The second reason that I cant stand hearing this forbidden phrase, is that I didn’t live a normal childhood. To be completely honest, I never had a childhood. I grew up with an alcoholic step-father and a mother who had absorbed all of the unhealthy behaviors that characterize this disease. I was not allowed to do anything. Without exaggeration, I was grounded for a minimum of SIX YEARS. From age eight to 14 or 15 I was not allowed to do anything. I went to school and when I came home watched TV or played The Sims by myself until bedtime. I had absolutely no idea how to interact with people as a functioning human, or how normal lives were lived. Real life was non-existent to me. Then suddenly my step-dad, Dan, moved to Maryland and my entire world changed.

Fast Forward to age 16

I now have my own apartment with my 21 year old boyfriend, and I’m drinking every night, many mornings going to school still hammered because I hadn’t stopped until around 4:00 am. At this time my parents relationship is crumbling faster and faster and my mother has drained every single bank account to her name including mine and my brothers college funds to pay off Dan and get him out of the house. Being the drunk that he is, he spent just about every cent in a matter of weeks and moved into a shithole one bedroom shared apartment on Alison Hill (For those of you that don’t know the Harrisburg area, it is the most dangerous and impoverished part of town).

My mother soon left our family home and moved in to Dan’s apartment leaving me with the immediate responsibility to take care of my 11 year old brother.

I realized quickly that I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for my apartment AND all the bills for the family home while still in high school, so I decided it was in the best interest of everyone if I dropped out.

Thankfully, the man I was in a relationship helped me so incredibly much. As I was working 13 hour days as a grill cook, he would help my brother with his homework and make him dinner every night. Thank god, for his help.

This experience went on for some time until my mother finally came home. Though I am happy that I was able to help make my brothers life better than my own, it saddens me deeply that I had to take on such responsibility at such a young age. I was thrust so quickly into an adult role that I was never truly able to go back to the delightfully immature state of others my age.

I think these moments only plunged me deeper into my disease, for I no longer was living the life of a child. I was spending time with people who led similar lives; as in people who were out of school, paying their own bills, raising kids, working full time, and consequently, drinking leisurely because they were of age.

Though I know when someone says “but you’re so young” in reference to my sober lifestyle they don’t mean it in a hurtful way. But I just can’t help but take it personal. It feels as if they are belittling what I’ve experienced. It feels like I need to defend my choice, and if I were in a bad state of my recovery, it could easily be the phrase that catapults me back in to denial.

But my recovery is not up to them. It is not something I need to explain or defend.

What I hear is so staggeringly far from what they actually have said. I am a being that perceives things according to my history. And though it may sometimes give me an edge of enlightenment, it also gets me into a mental battle that is unfitting for the occasion.

Over the next 24 hours I need to monitor my responses to outward stimuli, because nothing is as appears to be in my eyes. I need to be aware that I operate overly defensively, I assume an oncoming attack at all times. But 99% of the time, it is not an attack. It is only my disease working in amazingly cunning ways to make me feel less than.

But today that is the farthest thing from the truth. Today I am whole, and it is because of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today I will ignore the words that feel like snakes venom, and know that I have made the right decision, I am in the right place, and most importantly, I will thank god, for letting me see my disease as early as I did.

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On being 21 and in recovery

“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.