This post was originally published on thefix.com
I'm 22, I've never consumed a legal drink and I never plan to, for better and worse.
Being in recovery at any age elicits both challenges and rewards, but being young and at a pivotal, sometimes confusing point in life even without worrying about sobriety makes said challenges and rewards even more prominent.
Here are the realizations I have come to after a little over 20 months of sobriety:
1. Thinking you're young enough to change your ways without ending up in the same place. I've learned, right? I can go drink now, since I know what not to do this time around. It can be hard to slap away this fantasy, but that's exactly what it is -- a fantasy. Sure, maybe I'll drink like a normal person for one night. Maybe two. But eventually, who I am (an alcoholic) and how I drink (like an alcoholic) will catch up and I'll end up A) miserable or B) right back in treatment.
2. Witnessing other young, sober people relapse. Getting sober young also means a larger chance of relapse (more years ahead of you = more chances to slip up). I've seen friends go back out, and it breaks my heart because it never ends well. I've heard them tell me how desperate they are to change, yet they continue making the same choices. I don't want to come off as superior by telling them to get their shit together, but I also can't just stand by and let someone I care for ruin themselves when they know better. Yet I can't let their decisions affect my sobriety. It's a fine balancing act. Loving an addict when you are an addict is a strange and difficult relationship to maneuver, and clarity in handling it is rare.
3. Feeling as if you are missing out on a vital part of your youth. It can be easy to throw myself a pity party because I'm different than everyone else my age. They all get to go all out on their 21st. I don't. They all get to pregame football games. I don't. They all get to take fun shots at the bar. I don't. They all get to sit by a pool and drink during spring break. I don't. But thinking this way only means I'm missing out if that's what I'm trying to convince myself. In reality, my memories of this time of my life will probably be more clear and intact than other people my age.
4. If you're still in college, A) struggling to find sober friends or B) learning to be okay being around alcohol without drinking. I go to a small liberal arts school in the Midwest. Guess how many other students attend the same school and are sober (that I know of, at least)? None. Sure, some don't drink, but only because they never have or don't like to, not because they are in recovery. Living college life was a challenge at first, as I didn't want to sit home alone on the weekends, but didn't want to tempt myself by being around my old friends and old ways. I was very open about no longer drinking, and eventually came around to the idea of being at parties sober, which is now the norm for me. I just make sure to have an energy drink, or two, on hand.
5. Accidentally going to that one AA meeting that is made up of all men over 50.This tends to be how AA is depicted on television. As a matter of fact, this is exactly how my first AA meeting looked. The men were welcoming enough, but I felt so immensely out of place that the last thing I wanted to do was go back. But I did -- just not to that same meeting. I did my research, found out where there was a stronger youth presence, and went there instead (even if it meant driving an extra 45 minutes, which it often does).
6. Figuring out how to respond when people ask, "But you're so young. Do you think you'll try to drink again someday?" Even 20 months later, I still can't answer this question well. I don't know the right answer. I don't know what will happen in the future. Just because I got sober young does not mean I can teach myself to drink the right way when I am older. Personally, I can't ever imagine making the decision to throw away my sobriety and try to drink like a normal person. It's not worth the risk. But as long as I am young and sober, I'm sure people will continue to ask me this. The best response I have is the honest one: "I don't know, but I do know that I have no desire to." After all, having that temptation lifted is all we can ask for.
1. Fellowship. I cannot stress this enough. So many incredible, inspirational, downright amazing people are now part of my life simply because we all made the choice to stop using. After I realized that there are certain meetings for young people, even certain conferences, I started to find sobriety a lot more interesting. I'd even venture as far as to say sobriety is fun. I feel less alone. Knowing other people my age are experiencing the same emotions and obstacles as I am somehow makes it all less intimidating. I don't know where I would be without fellowship.
2. Damaging less. The younger you get sober, the less amount of time you had to ruin things -- relationships, health, even material items. Although I still damaged these during my use, I've found I've been able to repair most of that damage. Had I continued drinking for years, I'm sure the damage would have been much deeper and more difficult to repair.
3. Being able to teach the old timers. So many older people in recovery who I cross paths with have told me that they wish they'd done what I'm doing by getting sober young. They love having us youngins' around, and express this often. I think we bring them a unique point of view, which is refreshing when they hear the same thing from the same people so often. Although I tend to think that they teach me a large amount about sobriety, it seems as if we teach them as well.
4. Finding yourself and your passions sooner than you would while drinking. While I've always enjoyed writing, I rarely took the time to do it during my use. There's this old, glorified idea that writers tend to drink in order to become better writers, and that this is acceptable. Sure, I occasionally wrote after drinking. But what I wrote was crap in comparison to my writing today. Having a clear mind and time to dedicate to passion at a young age pays off in large ways as life progresses.
5. Saving money. Being young, in college and managing money is difficult. Add budgeting for booze, and it becomes even more difficult. Even though I always drank the cheapest vodka possible, my bank account still took a hit (this had to do with the rate at which I was drinking said cheap vodka). I never realized how much money I spent on drinking because it seemed like a vital expense to me. I never questioned cutting down in order to save money because I didn't care. But as a college student, I've now realized how thankful I am not to have to budget for booze. It adds up quickly, and that money can be put to good use elsewhere (cough, cough, student loans... or, uhhh, shopping).
6. Learning the importance of putting yourself first. I was selfish when I drank, which in a way was putting myself first. But in the time since my last drink, I've learned there is a difference between the two. Being selfish meant doing what I wanted when I wanted and not caring about how it affected other people. Putting myself first has meant owning up to my mistakes, apologizing for them, and changing the way I manage day-to-day life. It has meant doing what is best for me even when it was not what I wanted to be doing. It has meant putting my pride aside. Through these actions, I have become a person who knows what is and is not healthy for myself and make choices accordingly. No relationship can flourish if I am not happy with myself first..
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.