This article was originally published on The Fix.
At age 20, most people are in college, eagerly awaiting to turn 21 and be able to go to bars with their friends. For the first part of year 20, this was me. I was always searching for a party, always willing to start drinking early and often.
Then, after a string of events unfolded during my sophomore year of college and I ended up hospitalized, I suddenly found myself forced into treatment for alcoholism. At the time I thought I was too young to be an alcoholic. I hadn’t even reached the legal drinking age yet. How could I have already developed a problematic relationship with alcohol? But as time progressed, it became crystal clear that sobriety was the right choice for me.
I was 20 years old when I took my last drink of alcohol, something that many people are surprised to hear. I never thought I would be glad that I got sober at such a young age, but in the three and a half years since, I’ve been reminded time and time again that getting sober young has been a blessing. These are just a few of the reasons why:
1. I was able to repair what my drinking had broken. Though I only drank for two years before stopping, my drinking still put a strain on some relationships and my overall performance in life. Though I still did well in class and played sports, I felt lethargic and not up to my normal standards. I was sluggish and had an overall unhealthy appearance, always looking bloated and having a yellow tint to my skin. That was the toll drinking took on my mind and body. However, due to my short drinking career, I’ve been able to fix the majority of my relationships and redeem myself when it comes to the standards I set for myself. I often think I am lucky that my drinking career was not longer than it was, because I have no doubt I would have continued to harm myself and those around me, which would have resulted in me having a more difficult time repairing these things once I did get sober.
2. I’ve been able to be a resource for others who have gotten or are getting sober young. Initially when I stopped drinking, I never dreamt of even telling one person. I was embarrassed and ashamed that at only 20 years old, I had already had a problematic relationship with alcohol. All my peers were going to bars and having a good time, while I was sitting in a treatment facility. I was devastated and pretty sure my life was over, especially any social aspect of it. However, as I slowly started telling people about my sobriety, I was met only with positivity. I realized that maybe I could start speaking out about being young and sober, and in the process, I could potentially help someone who was going through what I had gone through in early sobriety. The last three and a half years of being an open book about my struggles has brought many people into my life, many of whom are other young women who are attempting sobriety. It feels good to be in a state of mind where I am able to offer advice and say, “Here’s what worked for me, here’s what didn’t.” Sometimes I never hear from people again, and sometimes they continue to check in with me. Either way it feels good to know I’ve done what I can to try and help others realize the full potential of sobriety and everything it has to offer.
3. I can clearly remember all the pivotal times in my life, whether they be happy, sad, celebratory, or anything else. The 20s are an important period in life, as many milestones take place. For many, being in this part of life means studying abroad, graduating college, getting engaged, having a wedding, having children, and more. I know that if I were still drinking, many of these milestones would be foggy memories. But because I am sober, I have clear recollections of my five months abroad, of the day I graduated from college, of all the moments I have spent with my boyfriend. And I know that in the coming years, when I do get engaged and married, I’ll have vivid memories of those times as well. It’s a rewarding feeling to be able to look back and know that I was in a present state of mind for some of the biggest days of my life.
4. I know that the people I have in my life are ones who accept me exactly as I am.Getting sober early on in life has a way of weeding out your real friends from your drinking friends. Luckily for me, most of the people I drank with were accepting of my sobriety and still wanted me in their life even though I no longer partied. There were a few “friends” I did lose, but I’ve realized they weren’t people I really wanted in my life when I was sober. Knowing that the people in my life now know exactly who I am and still want me around is a good feeling. I no longer feel like I have to hide behind alcohol in order to feel like a more fun, exciting person. The majority of the time, I am content with the person I am today.
5. I’ve been able to find myself. When I was drinking, I felt like I was flailing through my life. I never felt settled, and I never felt good enough. I think this was largely the reason I drank—so I could feel at ease and settled without worrying. In sobriety, I was forced to face myself as I was and learn to accept that person. I’ve found my passions more than I ever would have in active addiction. I’ve had time to dedicate to writing, photography, graphic design, and friendships. If I were still drinking, many of these things would fall to the wayside. Sobriety opened new doors in my life, and allowed me to fully explore each and every one. And for that, sobriety will always be put first in my life.