My journey to sobriety

This is a column I wrote for the local paper I work at, the Echo Press

College binge-drinking isn’t always just binge-drinking – sometimes it’s alcoholism.

I know because it happened to me.

In many ways, I am a typical 23-year-old, but there is one aspect of my life that often makes me feel different than others my age: I got sober in college. Today, I have been sober for more than two and a half years (and yes, if you do the math you’ll come to the conclusion that I have never had a legal drink).

I’ve shared this story many times, but I’ve never done it via print like this. Instead, I typically blog about it. Often, I actually speak about it.
This is more nerve-wracking though, because you, the community, didn’t intentionally visit a blog to read this. You didn’t verbally ask me about it. Instead, you just picked up the paper as you always do and there it was: a column you may or may not care about.

But I want to share this story for two reasons. First, this is a college town and there may be people struggling like I was. And second, it’s a vital part of who I am and why I am here, in this community, today.

Before beginning college, I never really experimented with alcohol. Sure, I had a sip once in awhile, but never more than a sip. Therefore, I had never been drunk. Growing up, I struggled with both depression and anxiety, as well as having a perfectionist mentality. If I had thought it through, I’d have realized that combining that with alcohol would not be a good choice.

Instead, I got to college and let loose. My parents weren’t around to punish me and I didn’t need to be an example for my younger siblings. In other words, I could behave how I wanted to. I joined rugby my freshman year and started drinking heavily almost immediately. I just remember the first time I got drunk that I loved the feeling. I didn’t need to worry about what others thought of me. I could let my guard down and push aside any worries.

Alcohol made me feel alive. It made me feel daring. It make me feel impulsive.

It also made me feel sick, guilty and ashamed, but I chose not to acknowledge those feelings. Instead, I continued drinking — at first just on the weekends, then during the week, and eventually even before class. I always found a way to justify it, though. The biggest of those justifications? It was college. Everyone did it.

Except, I’ve realized, everyone didn’t. I had a problem — a problem that would persist for the better part of my freshman and sophomore year. However, because I had a 3.6 GPA and was involved in many extracurriculars, I convinced myself I was doing just fine.

It wasn’t until two years later that my choices really caught up to me. The very last day of sophomore year, I went out with friends. I don’t remember the majority of that night. But somewhere along the way, I drank myself into a blackout and tried to walk home alone, as I had done many times. This time, though, the police picked me up. I had a blood alcohol content of .35, which should have been almost fatal for someone my size. Yet I didn’t even need my stomach pumped, which speaks to the severity of my drinking.

The next intact memory I have is waking up in the hospital and seeing my parents. They had been worried about me for some time, but this was the final straw.

To make a long story short, they demanded that I do an out-patient rehab program. I was less than thrilled about it because I was still convinced I didn’t have a problem. However, as time passed without drinking, my life just started to get easier. I started to thoroughly enjoy it again. I even admitted that I had a problem with alcohol.

Today, more than two and half years since that night, I still struggle. I still wish I could have a drink when I go out with friends. I still wonder if I would have grown out of drinking the way I did. However, all the wishing and wondering in the world isn’t enough to make me go back to the way I was living.

The last two and a half years have taught me so much about addiction and alcoholism, but they have also taught me a great deal about human beings. When I got sober, I was terrified to tell people. I thought they would think I was overreacting, or that I was no fun. Instead, most people are so kind when they hear my story. They are understanding. They don’t question me or my choices.

The point is this: Alcoholism does happen in college. Just because someone is in college does not mean they can drink excessively and it won’t catch up to them. No one is immune. If you can relate to this story, ask for help. It won’t make you weak and it won’t make you stupid. It will make you human.

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