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21 Lessons I Learned After One Year As a Sober 21-Year-Old

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A little over a year ago, at 20 years old, I took my last sip of alcohol. That's right -- I've never even had a legal drink. Instead I've had lessons -- some of them obvious, others blessings in disguise.

  1. Everything becomes normal if you do it long enough. Even sobriety. Even when it seems like it will never get better or easier -- it does.
  2. Recovery jargon. Words and phrases like "higher power," "12 steps," "Serenity prayer," and "surrender" become part of your daily life.
  3. Who your real friends are. These might be different than your party friends, but if they are the same ones, they will still love and support you -- the sober you. If you're lucky, they will love and support you even more than they did before.
  4. Drunk people are really just adult toddlers. Think about it... they say whatever comes to mind, cry at the smallest things, are messy eaters, don't have social skills. OK, not all of them, but you get the idea.
  5. How to find an AA meeting. Immediately. No matter where you are.
  6. There are so many people who have suffered from or are affected by alcoholism -- and they all come out of the woodwork as soon as you do. There is always an immediate connection, an immediate mutual understanding and respect.
  7. Honesty is the best policy. This obviously goes for being honest with yourself, but also with the people in your life. The more people know what is going on, the more support and accountability you have.
  8. A family's love is unconditional. Even when you feel as if it is the last thing you deserve or even want, they will be there. You can't shake them or push them away, and eventually you will be confused as to why you tried.
  9. The importance of caffeine. Some people will disagree with reliance upon caffeine, but in college, it has been a lifesaver. Especially at the bars -- gotta keep up with the partiers.
  10. Higher power does not automatically equal God. I struggled to grasp this concept for a long time because I felt as if I had been distant from God and didn't want to just turn to him suddenly because it was convenient. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that acknowledging a higher power simply means admitting there is something in the world more powerful than you.
  11. Bar tenders love sober cabs. They might even give you free pop all night if you are driving. And if you frequent the same places, they also memorize what you drink so you don't even need to order anymore.
  12. Drunk people also love sober cabs. Actually, they just love sober people in general. And they will let you know that, time and time again, as they sloppily hug you and state how proud of you they are.
  13. Alcohol contains calories -- a lot of them. And when you stop taking in those calories (and stop the drunk munchies that ensue) the weight and bloating will drop off of you and you will look like a new person. A healthy person.
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  15. Looking like an idiot on the dance floor is OK. At first, dancing sober was the most awkward thing I had ever done... now I just look around and realize that everyone is a) drunk and dancing like an idiot and b) no one knows that I am sober and no one cares.
  16. You learn how to cope with feelings instead of drink them away. This isn't always pleasant or fun, but in the long run, it is so much healthier and more productive.
  17. Your relationships become real and meaningful. Not that they weren't before, but you'll realize some were just superficial. Some people were just your drinking buddies, nothing more. Relationship maintenance also becomes a lot simpler when you are not blacking out and saying or doing stupid things to upset people.
  18. Life is about balance. Just because you are sober doesn't mean you should lock yourself in your room and do homework all weekend. Chances are people still genuinely want you around and enjoy your company. Sometimes being social will be the last thing you feel like doing, but it will usually pull you out of a funk pretty quickly.
  19. Hangovers suck. Sure, you probably knew this when you were in the midst of one. But that was the price you paid for an entertaining night, right? Still, after the absence of waking up with a pounding head or a nauseous stomach, you realize how debilitating they really were.
  20. Not drinking can sometimes be frustrating (duh), especially in college. This is okay to admit and struggle with, as long as you face it somehow. Whether this is talking to a friend, a sponsor, writing about it... any of the above are more helpful than you would think, and definitely more helpful than reverting back to old ways.
  21. Some AA meetings are the stereotypical old-guys-sitting-around-drinking-coffee. But guess what? These guys have been around the block and know a thing or two. And they love young people.
  22. Bad days are never going to be nonexistent. They just get easier to approach and navigate over time. And chances are your worst days sober are still a billion times better than your worst days using.