What Relapse Looks Like When You’re 23 And Newly Sober

Before yesterday, I was 4 months sober. Actually, I was 135 days sober. That’s 3,229 hours of sobriety, but who’s counting. Four months ago (4.43), I laid in a hospital bed throwing up so hard I’d wet myself. There’s something about laying in your own urine that makes you realize your drinking problem. I stopped drinking that day. I found a better person somewhere far away from the vomit and urine-soaked sheets.

I wish that person wasn’t so hard to find sometimes. I wish I didn’t have to go looking for her on a day when my anxiety feels like it’s weighing me down to the bottom of a lake, or when I think about that time I had the best night ever on gin and tonics. I lost her yesterday afternoon during Cal Day—the drunkest day of the year at UC, Berkeley. My friend handed me a plastic bottle of jungle juice at DKE, to which I said ‘fuck it’ and took 4 hearty chugs. The night ended after 7 shots of vodka/tequila/whiskey, 4 beers, 2 gasses of wine, a few margaritas, and a full fledge panic attack on University Ave. This is what relapse looks like, I thought to myself, drunk and sobbing.

Up until then, being sober in college wasn’t that hard for me. Being a drunk in college was hard. Being sober was easy. I got to decide how the world saw me, I got to decide how I saw the world. Having the decision is almost more fantastic than the choice itself. The choices ran out somewhere between my 1st and last drink yesterday.

I wouldn’t reduce yesterday to a ‘moment of weakness.’ It was a lot of moments, strung together like popcorn on a string. Most of them didn’t even occur at DKE, a lot of them happened before. A few while I was at brunch with friends the week before wondering ‘would a mimosa really kill me?’ A few during my 23rd birthday when I asked if it was such a big deal to have a beer with dinner. Several moments while my brother’s girlfriend/ bartender makes cocktails for the family and I opt out for a coconut water. I guess it’s the nature of relapse to lure you in, an open invitation forever to pick up where you left off. But it doesn’t make the pain of realizing you fucked up any less. Sometimes it makes the pain more.

It really hurts to betray yourself. I didn’t wake up this morning, groggy-eyed and thirsty, and think “oh well. I tried.” I was really fucking mad. Four months of “no thanks I’m good” or “I’ll just have water” felt so distant. Like it never really happened at all. Because, here I sit, with a headache that isn’t worth any cocktail in the world and a temporary hatred of sunlight, without the truth to claim four months sobriety. What good is the journey if I’m told to start over from the beginning? It’s bullshit, in all honesty.

I imagine if I were to talk to someone who’s been sober for 20 something years, they’d tell me I have it all wrong. They’d say to not dwell on the lost sobriety. They’d say no one is perfect and relapse is a real son of a bitch. They’d say we’re different than everyone else, and we’ve got to figure out our own ways through it all. I like these ideas; they’re comforting during times that are anything but comfortable. But being 23— young and still a little stupid— I’m not able to forgive myself just yet, that’ll take some more time I imagine. I’m OK with being angry at myself for right now. I’ve got a clear idea of who I want to be and I lost her for a moment yesterday. Or several moments that preceded. To me, that’s not easily forgivable.

But I’ll get there. I just need to pack my things and start from the beginning. TC mark

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