I’ve had an interesting relationship with alcohol every since I dabbled as a teenager. Most people I know saw me as a normal social drinker.
I used to think this too, when ‘normal’ to me was involving alcohol with any meal, event, or change in my life. What people don’t know is that I used alcohol anytime my emotions were heightened, good or bad. I would drink to feel happier or drink to feel less sad. I think the only thing more difficult than sharing the personal choice of sobriety with friends and loved ones is making the decision to stay sober for yourself. My battle ultimately ended in a choice: Stay sober, endure your emotions, and live for true happiness or chase after a feeling that makes love, goals, and life unattainable.
Having a drinking problem is not black and white. Many people believe that either you have a problem and you’re an alcoholic or you are a normal social drinker. I don’t believe this is the case.
My own experience had me heavily abusing all throughout my undergraduate studies. I was drinking almost every day, sometimes not heavily, but alcohol was always on my mind. That being said, I still went to class, I still had a (sort of) normal social life, and I still graduated from college. Even though I was functioning ‘normally’, there were many things in my life I was unhappy about. For instance, I had trouble making it to work everyday, I had trouble maintaining good, true friendships, I didn’t see myself as a responsible and accountable individual, and I was generally unhappy with almost every aspect of my life.
After experiencing all of these problems for years, I still found the choice to stay sober a difficult one. I found myself thinking about all the fun I would miss out on and how I would truly miss how alcohol made me feel. This kind of thinking I can now identify as completely convoluted and backwards. I see now that alcohol made me feel good when I was drinking, but made me feel depressed, sick, and upset when I was not. I identified this as a major problem.
So how was I supposed to change? I had been to AA meetings before with an ex-boyfriend, but it was incredibly uncomfortable and I didn’t feel like I fit in. I felt like those people had drinking issues that far surpassed my own. I felt like those people had been screw-ups, failures, and ruined their lives. This is where I was wrong. AA is for people who have the desire to stop drinking alcohol. That’s the only qualification. I think I had a lot more in common with those people than I ever thought I would.
Change finally felt somewhat attainable when I discovered a student AA group at the university I currently attend. This was a comforting idea to me: These people were like me, they were my age, and they were students with similar goals. The idea of going to a meeting was great: It seemed like a simple solution to a complicated problem. Getting myself to go, however, was a terrifying idea. I think I was so nervous because I didn’t feel alcoholic enough. My blood alcohol level got down to zero all of the time. I didn’t need to maintain alcohol in my system to function. This is a requirement for many true alcoholics.
When I finally mustered up the courage to go to the campus AA meeting, I went. Listening to other students share, it seemed like some of them had similar problems to my own. They didn’t drink 24/7, but when they did drink they either became blackout, binged for days, or became dangers to themselves as well as others. This realization that I was not the only ‘partial’ or ‘almost’ alcoholic was very comforting to me. Just because I wasn’t physically addicted to alcohol didn’t mean that consuming alcohol wasn’t dangerous for me. The depression I suffered, shame, and the dangerous situations I put myself in were proof enough that I had an alcohol abuse problem.
My life today is very different than it was a few months ago. After going to my first campus AA meeting, I’ve focused my priorities on different goals, a different daily structure, and most importantly, different people. The friends I had that like to drink are still somewhat in my life. They’re good people and I would feel comfortable confiding in them about certain issues, just not the important ones. I still go to social events with them if they do not involve alcohol (which isn’t many) but that’s what I have to do. I have finally comes to terms with that and I don’t feel badly if they are upset that I don’t go out.
I want people to understand that I don’t look like someone who has a problem with alcohol. I don’t look like someone who has problems with addiction. If people undermine me because they think my problem isn’t ‘big enough’, then they’re not worth my time. If people don’t respect the fact that I don’t drink and don’t like being around alcohol, they’re not worth my time either. If alcohol or substance abuse is bothering you and interfering with your life in any way, don’t feel ashamed to reach out and ask questions. Taking care of you is the most important task in the world. By putting myself first and taking charge of my problems, I finally understand that.