Before getting sober, I only had one general idea of an alcoholic. He was an older man, someone who had lost everything in his life at the hands of alcohol. He was hopeless and helpless. Sometimes he recovered and sometimes he didn’t.
While that was my stereotypical view, to some extent I knew that addicts and alcoholics existed in all ages, genders and lifestyles. I just didn’t consider myself one. Four years ago, I was only 19 years old. I was in college, so drinking excessively seemed normal. At the peak of my use over the next two years, I maintained a 3.6 GPA, participated in a sport, held a job and was involved in numerous other extracurriculars. I thought I hid the change in myself well, but those who knew me well, noticed. Even one of the professors I had two semesters in a row confronted me, not specifically about drinking, but just to make sure I was okay as my demeanor had changed drastically. I believed I was living in a world of oblivion, where no one knew the issue existed. But I was wrong. It was the other way around. Other people knew the problem existed, and I remained oblivious.
I thought that because I was still employed, going to class and generally doing successful things in life, that there was no way I could have a problem. But eventually I learned that I am what is commonly referred to in the world of sobriety as a “high-bottom alcoholic.” In other words, I got sober before losing my job, my family, my life, and most importantly, my sense of self (for the most part). While this may seem preferable to being a low-bottom alcoholic (someone who loses the majority of material and non-material things in their lives) it still carries its own challenges. The following are examples of such challenges that I have stumbled across over my two years of sobriety.
1. When you stop drinking before your whole life goes to hell, people are less likely to truly believe you had a problem. For some reason, some people need an elaborate, dramatic story about why I stopped drinking. When I don’t have that, they question me. For the most part, people do respect my decision to not drink, but I still encounter jerks who think they have a right to try to interfere with my sobriety, or even just take a jab at me. Case in point, this weekend I was hosting a party and drinking O’Douls, a non-alcoholic beer. One of the guests, a friend of a friend, picked it up and started pouring it out and said, “Who’s drinking this crap?” Number one, don’t dump out someone else’s drink, especially when it’s still cold and clearly being consumed. Number two, who are you to pass judgment on what someone else is drinking? I will never, ever understand why other people care so much about whether people around them drink, as long as they can themselves.
2. Over the course of sobriety, you are more prone to thinking, “I’m not like these people. I don’t belong here.” When I first started treatment, many of the people in my group talked about being homeless, or doing hard drugs. Since I had never faced something like that, it was easier to convince myself that I didn’t belong in treatment and I didn’t need to get sober. I ever convinced myself I was better than the people around me. I’ve since come to my senses and realized everyone’s bottoms are different, and that some of the people in those rooms are better people than I will ever be. However, there are still days when I go to an AA meeting and hear someone else’s story and feel so removed and unable to relate to such a low bottom. Usually this makes me feel lucky that I didn’t have to experience that life firsthand, but sometimes I still get that “What am I doing here?” thought in my mind. I typically try to push it away, but that’s not always possible.
3. Only the people closest to you during your drinking really understand why you stopped. Many people didn’t even realize I had a problem because I hid it well enough and was still high functioning. But those few people closest to me in my life knew because they saw firsthand the damage drinking brought to my life, both physical and emotional. Therefore, they understood why I stopped and got help. But for people who didn’t know me at all when I drank, like my boyfriend, I think it’s harder to grasp why I needed to stop. He’s seen pictures of when I was actively drinking, but that’s all he will ever know of that period of my life. He supports my sobriety, but he will never truly understand it.
4. It sometimes crosses your mind that you’re not a “good enough” alcoholic. This has happened to me more than once. Sometimes I’ll start to tell someone my story only to realize that it lacks the drama and suspense that most sobriety stories include. I drank for two years. I got in trouble. I went to the hospital. I stopped drinking. That may not be a very riveting story, but it’s still a story worth telling because it’s likely there are people out there like me who need to hear what I went through in order to get themselves the help they need. I actually met my sponsor when she visited the rehab center I was at and told a similar story. It wasn’t long and dramatic, but it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. I just remind myself that’s likely true of someone else out there in the world.
5. Sometimes you may question yourself and your commitment to sobriety. Not gonna lie, sometimes I wonder if I could drink again. Or, I guess what I really mean, is that I wonder if I’ve grown out of alcoholism. I know it sounds ridiculous when put that way. But I think it’s an understandable thought when you get sober young and didn’t lose anything life-shattering as a result of drinking. I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks “What if?” The truth is that I probably could drink like a normal person the first time. Maybe even the next few times. But eventually my alcoholic behaviors would return. I’d rather live not knowing if I could drink again, rather than actually doing so and giving it the chance to swallow me whole.