From the moment I took my first drink, I had glorious plans for my twenty-first birthday. Flashing horizontal ID’s in suspicious bouncer’s faces, drinking everyone under the table, ordering fancy drinks just because it was legal, and having to be dragged back to my room by friends because I was too sloshed to even walk… Or perhaps just buying a bottle of liquor with the confidence of someone who was of age, and drinking to oblivion in the peace of my room. Sounds great, right? Ah, the fantasies of the alcoholic…to the normies this probably sounds horrific (and it totally is).
Telltale signs of addiction…
These plans swarmed around in my brain for years. Sure, there was something sexy about drinking illegally, but being of age meant that I could drink everyday if I wanted to. The excitement and anticipation paralyzed me. Twenty-one was a golden number, something I feared I might never even live to reach (I remember when I got my braces off, I was so excited to have teeth unencumbered by ugly metal that I actually grew afraid I would die before they could be removed) and this only fed my eagerness to get older. I had to be twenty-one.
I became jealous of middle-aged and elderly people; didn’t they realize they could buy a fifth of vodka right now without question? Why weren’t they stocking up their carts? The days slugged by. My birthday couldn’t come soon enough. No having to plan pickups. No bothering people to buy for me. I could make a decision anytime to go and get some booze. That was the dream – the utter, shameless alcoholic dream.
But there was something that threw a giant, rusty wrench into my plans: I discovered that I was an alcoholic (and always will be). Being an alcoholic sort of ruins twenty-first birthday plans that revolve around alcohol… Since the unearthing of my alcoholism, my twenty-first birthday loomed on the horizon as something exciting and scary. Uncertain. Part of me wanted it to just happen already; having the power to actually say no to buying alcohol when I could just as easily (and legally) cradle a fifth was appealing to me.
I was so done with being crunched under the law’s finger, and being twenty-one would force The Man to loosen his grip just a bit. But the cautious part of me stumbled around in deep fear. What would happen on my twenty-first birthday? I had an image in my mind of a liquor store on every corner, people throwing drinks in my face, and booze bottles clanking after me everywhere I went (driinnkkk mmeee…). How could I stay sober in a world that begged me to drink?
I Was Still Me After I Stopped Drinking…
When I woke up, when I opened my eyes on the big day, I was still me, still breathing, still Sarah. My tattoos were just as black as they had been yesterday. My hair was still blonde and slowly getting darker. The treadmill wore me out just as much. And I still needed my morning coffee. The only real thing that had changed in my life was my newfound power to buy booze (and for an alcoholic, that’s pretty huge). I can’t say it wasn’t exciting. The thought of buying alcohol romanced and wooed me, whispered anticipation in my ears, and promised me that ecstasy really could be found in the bottom of an empty shot glass. But this alcoholic’s brain (thankfully) knew better.
The first gift I gave myself was to my body. If there is one thing that sobriety has offered me, it is the ability and the motivation to take care of this 5’4’’ chunk of chaos. When I was drinking, I lost my mornings. I was too hungover and much too sick to drag myself out of bed and do some yoga or cardio. Now, I can do both (without vomiting!). Though I didn’t have time to squeeze in that morning yoga, I prodded myself downstairs to run a mile on the treadmill. It felt like death, yes, but it was healthy death; it was not the death I felt when I pried my eyes open after a night of vodka and mint gum. And it felt good. My body loves me so much since I’ve thrown out my diet of ramen noodles and Burnett’s. I’m using my sobriety to begin a rigorous effort to not slowly kill myself.
The Queen of Two Dangerous Things…
The second gift I gave myself was to my mind. I always thought the term “insanity” was a bit strong and harsh when it came to diagnosing the behavior of an alcoholic. But since embarking on my sober journey into self-awareness, I have realized that insanity is actually a pretty soft word for the way I was behaving in the deep days of my addiction. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then I was definitely insane (insanely so).
After my run and shower, I drove myself to therapy. I had made a decision months prior to spend some of my 21st at Sanford House, a place where I would be able to solidify my coping skills while also being around people who wouldn’t offer me alcohol. Living with this crazy brain of mine for as long as I have, I knew that I needed to establish a firm foundation on which to experience the rest of my special day. I’m the queen of two dangerous things: rationalization and justification. So let’s face it, therapy was a must.
…They also threw me a birthday party, which was very cool. Reservations can be made at sanfordhousegr.com (must be an addict or alcoholic to apply).
The third gift I gave myself was to my soul. I was pretty empty when I was drinking. Hollow. You could knock on any part of my body and hear the pounding reverberate throughout the rest of my brittle bones. I believed in nothing and hated everything. I am finally beginning to fill up again (I mean this literally too – when you live off of ramen and Burnett’s you are consuming a lot of empty calories). I am spiritual now. I believe in the beauty of the world and the miraculous complexity of everything in it. On my way back from therapy, I allowed myself time to watch the trees, the cars, the flitting clouds. I opened my ears to the light hum of the car, the sound of the pavement bumping along beneath it, and the steady swish of drivers flying past. I prayed to my higher power with gratitude; gratitude that I was alive for another day.
The last gift I gave myself was to my heart. I pushed most people away during my addiction. The people who loved me the most, I kept at arm’s length (though I would have issued a restraining order if I could have). When I stopped drinking, my arms came back to my sides and I was flooded yet again with love and acceptance. I spent the evening with my family. My dad made me a huge platter of spaghetti and meatballs, and I gorged myself on cherry pie afterwards. The table was loud and chaotic (what else do you expect from a six-person family?), with people yelling over each other and shocking our neighbors with bursts of raucous laughter. And for the first time in two years, I was present. Mind, body and soul. I was there. I was there in love, gratitude, and gleeful acceptance.
I had a good birthday, but I’m not saying it was all rosy. And I’m definitely not saying that I didn’t want to drink (especially when I had people texting me asking if I was planning on hitting up the bar scene later). Though alcohol wasn’t raining from the sky or stalking my every step, it was very present. I’m an alcoholic. Part of me will always think of vodka as my long-lost lover, the one that got away. I think it will always romance me, try to pull me in and plant a booze-swollen kiss on my lips. But I know what happens when I drink, and it is not romantic (seen any horror movies lately?), which is the biggest thing keeping me sober. Who wants to be insane? I certainly don’t.
There is a person I see at AA every week who has never had a legal drink. I’m crossing my fingers and clutching my coping skills with that goal in mind.
S.E.B. – Girl Restarted