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[ Personal Narratives ]

Alcohol Was But a Symptom

When I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was 22 years old and scared shitless. I had no idea why I couldn’t sit through work without a water bottle of vodka in my purse or why my hands were starting to shake uncontrollably when I was putting on my makeup in the morning. All I knew was that I was tired. I was tired of finding new hiding places in my room to stash empty bottles and I was tired of counting down the minutes until the liquor store opened in the morning.

The only problem was that I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol in it and I wasn’t ready to identify as an alcoholic. I spent the better part of my drinking years telling myself that there was no way I could be an alcoholic because I was young and I did well in high school and I had graduated from a good college. What I wasn’t admitting to myself was that at 22 years old, I couldn’t sit through my graduation ceremony because I was digging through trash cans around campus looking for leftover beer to calm my withdrawals.

Eventually I reached my breaking point. My “rock bottom” took place in an Extended Stay motel room in the outskirts of Philadelphia when I woke up on the floor in my own throw up and had absolutely no clue what I had been doing for the past 2 weeks. I finally surrendered and realized that I wasn’t normal. So I called my mom and told her I needed help. This was the beginning of my long journey in recovery.

I wish I could say that after I woke up from that fourteen day blackout in my motel room I never drank again. Unfortunately, I spent the next year and a half struggling to stay sober. My first attempt at sobriety was attending an outpatient program in San Diego for a few hours a day. I started to attend AA meetings and got a sponsor. The only problem was that I focused on the attractive men in meetings and told my sponsor what I thought she wanted to hear. I was still holding in all of the pain and anger I had been feeling for years. I wasn’t working on myself.

I knew that I felt physically better not drinking, but I didn’t feel the relief I heard people talk about in meetings. I did not feel serene. I did not feel happy, joyous and free. Instead, I was bitter and resentful and I constantly felt restless. I became cross-addicted to love, spending money and losing weight and distracted myself with anything that would get my mind off of my unresolved pain.

So I continued to pick up. It was a pattern that lasted a year and a half. I tried other outpatient programs, I moved into sober livings, I got new sponsors. And I would get about three or four months until my pain would become too unbearable and I needed to numb myself. Each relapse was getting progressively worse and instead of being able to detox myself in my own bed, I needed to be physically restrained in medical detoxes and hospitals to withdrawal from alcohol.

I felt so hopeless and defeated after each relapse. I thought I was doing everything right- I had a sponsor and I attended AA meetings with sober friends, yet I always gave in to that clear plastic bottle. My last relapse lasted two months and didn’t stop until I was dropped off by my mom at a residential inpatient treatment center in Orange County. I spent my first week in treatment with the same attitude and mentality I had for the past year and a half. I was cocky and arrogant and I told my counselor that I already knew what I needed to do to stay sober. Fortunately, she ripped apart everything I thought I knew about sobriety.

The three months I spent in treatment completely shaped the person I am today. Before treatment I simply thought that by chance, I became physically dependent on alcohol and if I stayed away from it everything would be alright. I never thought that there might be a deeper reason why I needed to numb myself out with vodka everyday or why I chose to pick up again knowing what the consequences would be.

My counselor quickly helped me understand that the drinking was just a symptom of my disease and I began to see the patterns and events in my life that were causing me to drink like that. At first it was hard to remember the dark memories of my past and to rehash the painful things I went through over the years, but after each session I realized that every memory was like a missing piece to the puzzle. I started to understand, and forgive myself. The anger that I had felt since childhood started to leave me the more I talked about it.

I spent almost no time in treatment learning about triggers, brain chemistry and relapse prevention tools. I already knew that I needed to stay away from bars and to call my sponsor if I ever got myself in an uncomfortable situation. Instead, I explored my past experiences both good and bad, I analyzed my behavior, and I began to honestly work the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had always thought that I was a bad person because of the things I did when I was drinking and I didn’t think that I would be able let go of the guilt and shame of my past. But for the first time ever, I felt freedom.

Eleven months later, I continue to work on myself daily and question my feelings and actions. I am honest with my counselor, my sponsor and most importantly I am honest with myself. I am able to recognize when I start to fall back into old patterns and I can check myself when past experiences are impacting my current relationships. I am still nowhere near perfect but I am able to see the truth in myself and today I know who I am and what I deserve.

The first counselor I ever had once told me that I was just a “garden variety alcoholic” and all I needed to do was not drink. I held onto that for long time until I was forced to look inside and fix what no one else could see. Sobriety is no longer painful. My sobriety is beautiful and strong and I can honestly say that I am happy, joyous, and free.