Six years ago this month, I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been.
My sophomore year of college had just wrapped up and I went out with a bang, ending up hospitalized with a .34 blood alcohol content. This wasn’t the first incident in which alcohol and I had clashed. In fact, it was one in a line of many.
Despite the fact that I had only begun drinking at the beginning of college, I had gone downhill fast. I found out quickly that alcohol eased my anxiety and depression and I clung to that. College soon began to revolve around drinking for me and I slowly morphed into a version of myself that I no longer recognized.
After that night in the hospital at the end of sophomore year, my parents gave me an ultimatum: accept help and treatment, or be kicked out of the house. I chose treatment, though I had no intention of remaining sober. I naively thought I could learn to manage my drinking and cut back.
But I quickly came to realize I was wrong. Six years later, I am celebrating six years in recovery. The past six years haven’t been easy by any means, but the lessons I’ve taken away in that time have been so worth it. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Six years ago, I felt alone and helpless and like my life was over. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any light. I was drowning in darkness of my own making, and I was convinced that I would be living in that place forever. Of course, I was wrong. It was hard to see at the time, but working through that place of darkness was getting me closer and closer to the light. It was just happening gradually, so it was hard to recognize. After a few months had passed, I realized I was feeling healthier and happier. With each passing day, that became more and more true. And slowly, without fully knowing it, I realized I was living in a place of light again. I just had to be patient and trust the process.
2. People will always surprise you.
When I first stopped drinking, I was terrified to tell people. I lied to various people about the outcome of that night at the hospital, saying I just needed some downtime and would be back to my partying self eventually. Deep down, I knew this wasn’t true. But I was scared that if I told people the truth, I would be judged harshly. In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I finally did come out about my recovery, I was met overwhelmingly with grace and kindness. People were supportive of my journey. And when it came to the few who were not, I realized I was better off.
3. Everything becomes normal with time.
When I stopped drinking, it felt so unnatural to me. I was so used to everything I did socially being centered around alcohol to an extent, and the thought of that never being the case again made me uncomfortable. I was scared I wouldn’t know how to socialize or that it wouldn’t come as easily. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to have fun. But like anything, not drinking became natural with time. Today it’s completely normal for me to be in a social situation with only a glass of water and not feel out of place. I am comfortable in my skin and able to trust in my abilities without the aid of alcohol.
4. You never know who you can be impacting.
Since coming out with my recovery, I have been very vocal about it. It’s a large part of who I am. I write often and honestly about it, and because of that, people sometimes confide in me. At first, I felt like I wasn’t qualified to help people. All I was doing was sharing my own story and I didn’t know how that made me able to help others. But over time I’ve come to realize that people often just want to be heard and acknowledged. When someone is struggling, they often just need to talk to someone who has been in a similar position. Being able to provide that for others, like people did for me in the beginning, has truly been a gift.
5. Some people just won't get it.
At first this drove me insane. I wanted everyone to understand and accept my decision to get sober. But as time has passed, I've accepted the fact that some people just won't make the effort to understand. Instead, they can be cruel and demeaning. When this happens today, I just remind myself that they are likely facing some of their own struggles and their reaction is about them, not me. Sure, this is easier said that done at times. But in the grand scheme of things, it's easier to just shake off the negativity and move forward.
6. Sobriety will provide the greatest gifts -- and allow you to be present for them.
My life today is so full and I credit that to my recovery. I get to wake up each morning and go to a job I love with people whose company I enjoy. I am building a life and a home with the man I love, and this year we are getting married and welcoming our first baby into this world. My family and friends are proud of me and love me. And because I am sober, I get to take all of this in and truly appreciate the greatness of it. If I weren’t in recovery, I’m not sure I’d have any of it.
As I venture into this sixth year in recovery, I have a feeling it will be the best one yet. I no longer live my life wondering “what if” when it comes to my drinking. Today, I am healthy and happy and alcohol-free, and I plan to stay that way.
If you are struggling with your own drinking, the best advice I can give is to take a long, hard look at the person you are and decide if it’s who you want to continue to be. If the answer is no, it’s time to make some changes.
Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292