It has been the longest, and yet, the shortest two years of my life. It has been the longest, because I have had to learn how to steer myself in the right direction; it has been the shortest, because it still feels like yesterday that I was just a passenger to the things that were controlling me. Let me explain.
The past two years have been eye opening for me. They have showed me some of the best parts of myself, as well as some of the darkest. When making the choice to get rid of the things I was abusing, I had to learn new ways of coping with my life; something I had never had to do before, because drugs and alcohol were always there for me when I wanted to live in denial. Even when I became sober two years ago, I wasn’t exactly convinced that I would change my life for good. That decision wouldn’t yet occur until I was ready and willing to admit to myself that I had a problem. Rock bottom isn’t rock bottom until you tell yourself that you never want to experience anything lower than that. Once I made that choice, I was ready to fully commit to a life of recovery, and living in denial had to be something of the past. You can’t fully recover if you are still avoiding certain realities.
In the past two years, I have learned a handful of things, but the below lessons remain the most prominent:
- There is no one universal way of recovery.
- People are never fully going to understand your situation.
- My choice to be sober has NOTHING to do with you.
- We are all struggling with something nobody knows anything about.
- It’s perfectly okay to ask for help.
- I am not ALONE; nobody is.
My story doesn’t involve multiple stays at rehabilitation centers, nor does it involve a 12-step program that kept me sober. Not that there is anything wrong with those ways of recovery, that just wasn’t what was in the cards for me when it came to my own sober journey. Having to move back in with my parents for nearly two years had one of the biggest impacts on my ability to stay on track. Even to this day, I refer to that part of my life as “Blue Collar Rehab” because if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? All jokes aside, I am going to be honest, and say that I felt a great sense of shame when having to move back home. For the first year, I avoided all conversations that would let anyone know of my living situation, and I especially avoided any type of romantic interests from moving forward. (Probably a good thing though since I don’t recommend being in a relationship when you are first becoming sober) Now that I am able to look back and reflect, I owe my “Blue Collar Rehab” a lot more credit than I did in the beginning. Being able to mend some of the damage I caused to my relationship with my parents (and family) is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. Although I may not be able to fully recover their trust I had broken so many times, they were able to trust me when I told them that I was ready to move out.
One of the hardest things I have had to accept in these two years is that people are never going to fully understand why I decided to become sober. I can’t begin to explain to you how the mind of an addict works, because it isn’t so cut and dry, and there are a handful of reasons for why people latch on to drugs and alcohol. With the amount of reading I have done on the topic, and through my own personal experience, addiction is learned behavior. Mix that in with compulsive tendencies that started from a young age, undiagnosed mental illness, and an inability to develop healthy coping mechanisms, and you will have a set of ingredients that can lead to addiction. I have spent a lot of time trying to answer the question, “So, you don’t think that you will EVER be able to drink again?” The answer is simple: No. That is just not how my mind works. But trying to explain addiction to someone who understands moderation, is like trying to explain color to a blind person. There is always going to be some kind of disconnect, and I no longer let this bother me. This leads me to the next lesson I have had to learn in my recovery:
My decision to be sober has NOTHING to do with you.
One of the hardest parts of recovery is letting others know that my sobriety should not change how they want to live their life. I didn’t get sober because I believe that alcohol is bad for everyone. I got sober because alcohol was bad for ME. Period. If I am out with you in public, and you want to drink, PLEASE do not feel like you can’t do that because you are in the presence of someone in recovery. Just like any other kind of illness, the person impacted never wants to be treated differently; hence the hesitation to tell others about what they are suffering with. I have learned that people ask fewer questions if I put a lime in my water, or if I request my red bull to be put on ice vs. just the can since that would be a clear sign that I wasn’t drinking. It is little things like this that put others at ease, and although I find it disheartening that I must do this, at the same time, I get it. Most people just don’t know how to react to someone’s choice to become sober, and I no longer fault anyone for that. It really is simple: I won’t treat you any differently if you can do the same for me. Believe me when I say that I am more than capable of removing myself from a situation that I no longer feel comfortable in. Nowadays, when someone wants to question my ability to have fun without drinking, I respond matter-of-factly: “I am sober; not dead.”
Regardless of if you are sober, or not, we all struggle with something. Nobody is immune to the rollercoaster of life; some are just better at coping with whatever their struggles are. For me, I learned early on that I had a knack for keeping secrets. It was because of this that I was able to put on a charade for so long. Hell, even I had convinced myself for quite some time that I didn’t have a problem. Everything was simply just a ‘phase’ or something I would eventually grow out of. Right? Wrong. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, and I didn’t even realize it. Anytime I felt sad, I would take something to get high, and anytime the noise in my head got too loud, I would drink until I could no longer hear it. You can’t mask your pain with temporary solutions. You can temporarily of course, but eventually, you must face the things that you are so desperate to hide from those around you. Asking for help is NOT a bad thing. I grew up thinking that weakness was owning up to what was bothering you, when in fact, it takes strength to tell someone what is wrong. Never be afraid to ask for help. Holding anything in is only going to hold you back.
Lastly, I am NOT alone, and more importantly, nobody is. Believing that I was alone, is what kept me silent for so long. I had felt so much shame towards how I felt on the inside, that I couldn’t imagine anyone caring if I ever let it out; that is until I finally did. Being open about my story, and sharing my journey with anyone who cares to read it, has been the part that I love the most. Owning up to the worst parts of yourself is freeing, and instead of being afraid of vulnerability, I now welcomed it. I had been good at keeping secrets for so long, that now I figured I needed to try something new: speaking my truth for anyone who may need to hear it and spreading the message that none of us are alone. Even when we think we are, we are not.
If there is anything that you take away from this, I hope it’s that we are all capable of becoming the best version of ourselves. When you are making steps in the right direction, there is no right or wrong way to get to recovery. You will be clumsy at first, and awkward in your stepping, but eventually, it gets easier to put one foot in front of the other. The past is always going to be there but you do not have to live there, in fact, you should leave it exactly where it belongs: BEHIND YOU. Acknowledge your pain, and talk about it because there is always at least one person who will care.
Learning how to love myself again has been very challenging at times, but at the end of the day, loving myself again is what has kept me sober.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate you. I love you.