A little over a year ago, at 20-years-old, I took my last sip of alcohol.
Because I am a college student and binge drinking is part of the culture, I think people assume that I didn't really have a drinking problem, that I wasn't an alcoholic, that I was overreacting to the situation. Hell, I was guilty of that thought process for a long time.
Then I read this statement: "An alcoholic is anyone whose life gets better when they stop drinking." That was a turning point for me.
An alcoholic had never been put in such simple terms for me. Previously, in my mind, an alcoholic was someone who drank every day, who woke up craving a drink, who went through withdrawals when not drinking. Because I didn't fit into any of these categories, I didn't think I had a problem -- until I realized how much better, how much more manageable, my life is without alcohol.
Other people don't really understand, and I don't blame them. "Your last sip ever? You're never going to drink again? What about after college?" I face those questions so often these days, and there is really no response I have found adequate yet.
The only response I've been able to come up with is that my life has improved drastically since I put the bottle down, and even when it feels like it hasn't, I take it in stride -- for a few reasons.
- Life is calmer, which can be both bad and good. It can be frustrating to feel like a night is bound to be boring, or predictable, rather than have a rush of adrenaline for the unknown. But it is also a relief you know that I won't making any awful mistakes.
- I should clarify the above statement -- knowing I won't be making any awful mistakes at the urging of alcohol. I have definitely still made mistakes or bad judgment calls in the past year, the difference is that now I can only blame myself for the momentary lapse in judgment rather than blame how much I had to drink. Then I respond to the situation like a normal person, rather than drinking to forget it happened.
- I've become the responsible one rather than the shit show -- now I'm the one who sober cabs people home, or makes sure that no one is in a bad situation. This is oddly rewarding, to get home at the end of the night and know people, including myself, are safe and sound.
- My relationships are so much more manageable. I occasionally have people tell me, "Yeah, people actually really like you now." Well, I mean, that's good to hear. I was semi-oblivious/did not care if they liked me when I was drinking, but being able to improve and maintain relationships is a wonderful thing.
- My physical appearance. If I am ever feeling frustrated, or if I am having a pity party because I can't drink with people, all I have to do is look at photos from my drinking days and I get over it pretty quickly. I was about 20 pounds heavier, always bloated, and just not a healthy person. Looking in the mirror and being happy with the reflection has made all the work so worth it.
- I have become more patient, with myself and with others. I know I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, and cannot expect that of others either. Everyone has their shit in life, it just isn't always obvious.
- Everything I feel is amplified, the good moments and the bad ones. Sometimes I will be walking outside on a sunny day and find myself thinking, '"I'm alive, I'm sober, it's sunny...life couldn't be better." But there are also the days where one little thing can make the whole day seem awful, especially if the weather is crappy, which, let's face it, is often in Minnesota. These are the days I'm still working on.
- My friendships have changed. For the most part I still have the same friends I had when drinking, but the dynamic is different. Really, my friends just like to party and I can't fault them for that. There are occasional moments that they will pull me aside and tell me how much they respect my decision, how much I have changed, and I think this means more to me than they would ever expect.
- I've never been particularly religious or spiritual until this point in life. I still wouldn't say that I am religious, but I have definitely had some type of "spiritual awakening" as AA refers to it. Having faith in something greater than myself is an amazing, calming thing.
- I've made connections with other people facing addiction -- people I know personally, and people who have read my blog posts. There is nothing better than feeling as if my struggle has been able to help others through theirs. I love receiving emails and respond to them all.