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What I've Come to Understand After Addiction Devoured My Son

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My life and my family’s lives have collided with addiction. It runs through my family, alcoholics and addicts nested in my family tree, even though much of the family doesn’t like to talk about that elephant in the room.

I remember hearing a story about one of my grandfathers when I was little girl — of how he moved across the United States to start a new life with his young bride and changed the spelling of their last name to shelter her and their someday children from the embarrassment and criminal activity linked to his family of alcoholics in his home state. Addiction is a generational disease. There would have been a time not so long ago where I wouldn’t have talked about this, let alone write it down for the whole world to see. Addiction has attacked and hurt many people I love, but I never really understood the feelings of helplessness until it chose my son to devour. I can’t begin to put into words what that feels like. It is as if your heart is hemorrhaging 24 hours a day, and if someone had told me one of my children would have been in his shoes years ago, I would have dismissed them without another thought. He was a smart boy, we were good parents, don’t be ridiculous!

I have experienced firsthand how addiction takes over a person’s whole life, mind, body and soul and then transplants an individual who will do or say anything for the next fix – the next drink. My boy, a vibrant, kind, funny, healthy, smart, athletic, musically gifted, strong young man, was devoured by this insidious disease. It turned my family upside down, sideways and inside out as it does many families, some who are at this very moment sitting alone in their pain not talking about what they are battling through. It shatters hearts of parents, grandparents, children, siblings, friends and most of all the individual immotile in their battle with addiction.

It tried to devour me as well; I used to spend my days feeling ashamed, guilty and sometimes just numb. I didn’t know what to do, even with my faith, a college degree and years of parenting experience, friends, a supportive husband — I was completely lost. I just wanted to start over to change the story somehow.

I grew up handling what was thrown at me, the oldest child, born to be a problem solver, but couldn’t fix this. I was taught if the horse bucks you off get back on and show that horse who is the boss! Well, I couldn’t get back on this horse, I couldn’t train it, I couldn’t even get a bridle on it and I felt like a failure. “What kind of a mother can’t help their child?” That played in my mind like a broken record over and over. Could have, would have, should have — over and over! 

I had to take care of my own head to help him help himself. I had to take care of me first. I have learned I can’t fix it, and stepping away from my son’s addiction has given him freedom to fight for his own sobriety, because if I don’t let him fight for it he won’t be victorious. I haven’t stopped loving him, thinking about him or supporting him in a healthy manner, he will forever be my child and I his mother. I would be dishonest if I didn’t say this has been extremely difficult, and I still work on it daily. It has pushed me to lean on my Heavenly father rather than try to lean on my own understanding. My son, now 28 years old, sits in a level four prison facing a ridiculously long sentence. It is a broken system, from the insurance companies when someone seeks help, all the way to the legal system locking up people who are addicts, which sometimes makes it worse. And even in this situation I have hope, as he is alive and so many have lost their children.

I now understand addiction is not a moral failing, or a parenting defect, and I will work steadfast to help others gain an understanding. I feel my gift, my calling, is to stand in the gap for any person struggling with this disease and to be emotionally supportive to their family member’s whose voices often go unheard and sit alone in shame. My journey through this has made me grow, and it has not always been a pleasant growing experience I might add. It has built me into a true warrior mom, a volunteer, a strong voice and an advocate for change. I am comfortable sharing our story, knowing that some will turn away from me, and that is OK.

I will not be quiet about something that is killing about 570,000 people annually in the U.S. alone. I will keep talking with hope that it will help pave the way for change within our broken systems and change the way we as a country view addiction. I will continue to speak because I am a voice for those who can’t yet speak for themselves. I pray my voice and our story will help lift the burden of someone else who is feeling isolated and alone.

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365 Days After My Last Drink

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March 17, 2016 was a very important day for me. There were 365 full days that stood between me and my last drink.

Yep, St. Patrick’s Day. How ironic since I’m Irish-Catholic, am I right? Anyway, 365 is a lot of days for a girl who spent the last 10 years as a professional binge drinker. You rarely realize your last day of drinking will be your last day of drinking. I remember clearly my last weekend of binge drinking – scratch that.  I remember nothing. But it was a bottomless mimosa brunch, and I took bottomless quite literally. And then I switched to bottomless glasses of wine. And the rest is history.  It’s a miracle I had about a half of a glass of wine left in the bottle from that night. After my two-day hangover, I decided to pour the rest of the grape into a glass, polish it off and call it a night. The next day I decided it was going to be a while until I went out drinking again – at least not until the next weekend.

I had therapy that week and recapped the ounces of the weekend I remembered. The guilt and shame tied to that weekend were insurmountable. The emotion evoked by the blackout drinking was something I was very rarely able to share with anyone for fear they’d forcefully pull the bottle of merlot right out of my hands. Plus, who likes a girl who can’t handle her alcohol? But I became comfortable enough to disclose how it was negatively affecting me in those therapy sessions.

That particular session, my therapist quite simply asked if I could just take drinking off the table altogether, at least for now.  That’s a clever thought. Why didn’t I think of that? But how am I supposed to go to weddings? How am I supposed to be sober at my own wedding? How am I supposed to live without wine? Here’s the deal: you’ll never get anywhere with anything if you’re trying to rearrange your schedule because you don’t know what traffic will look like on July 19, 2030. Something clicked that evening. Divine intervention? A spiritual awakening? I won’t ask questions – all I know is certain neurons in my brain woke up. Maybe it was my liver… oh, if only my liver could talk. “No, no, no, no, no, don’t uncork that bottle of — son of a b****, why are you doing this to me?

I won’t sit here and say I’ve stayed alcohol-free all on my own. I’ve had some outside assistance and therapy I am astronomically grateful for. I desperately needed to quit drinking. I wasn’t in trouble with the law, I wasn’t drinking before work, but it was causing way too much distress. Having an eating disorder with a drinking problem is quite the dichotomy… aren’t I supposed to be terrified of calories? Alcohol calories didn’t count to me, apparently. Anyway, trying to be in recovery from an eating disorder while tying one on every weekend (and holiday, and non-holiday, and Tuesday evening) is like having two flat tires on the front of your car, replacing one, but not the other and expecting the car to drive just fine. Having issues with my alcohol intake is something I have been ashamed of, hence why I didn’t come to the realization sooner: there’s definitely a stigma out there. People with addiction aren’t always accepted – because a lot of times (I’m guilty of this too), it may be seen as simply a choice.

OK, yes. It is a choice for you to say yes or no to the drink or the drug or the compulsive exercise or what ever it may be. But it’s the thought behind that yes or no that is not always a “choice.” Why would anyone ask to be plagued with addiction?I’ve certainly never heard of anyone who has said to himself or herself, “Hmm this vice of mine, do it in copious amounts? Sign me up!” A poignant quote in the mental illness world is, “Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.” It seems that some people are more susceptible than others depending on genes that run in the family. Throw that person into a destructive environment, and you may have yourself a perfect recipe for addiction. A friend once used this analogy, “Normal” drinkers, while drinking, have this little, red flag in their brains (I imagine it looks like the end of those Super Mario levels), that says, “Hey, dude! You’re crossing the line here. Time to chug an ice water and call it a night on the ole’ booze.” People with addiction? Well, somewhere along the line, the little, red flag was bent and broken in half. The moral of this story is, I really don’t want to carry around the shame anymore.

I have a problem with drinking. There, I said it.

And I hope in years to come, others don’t have to carry around the shame. We shouldn’t have to hide. We are all human. We all have things in our lives that are ridiculously hard to deal with. Doesn’t matter what it is. Let’s take a step back and try to be a little less critical. Had I not felt riddled with shame over my drinking and the stigma it carries with it, I could very well have admitted I had an issue a lot sooner. I think if we can break down these barriers, it might help people to help themselves. And I have to level with you. Not having to wake up in the morning with a ferocious, remorse-filled hangover? I’ll continue to sign up for that.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, head here for resources. You can also text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. 

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The Story I Heard in Jail That Shaped My Addiction Recovery

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“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Khalil Gibran

I was happy as a child. I was a little awkward, a little shy, but I was happy. My parents protected my brother and I from sadness and pain when we were little. They left their country in search of a better life for us in America. We were born in Colombia in the ‘80s and while it was always a beautiful country, civil unrest and drug cartel activities made it one of the most dangerous countries in the world at the time. There were shoot outs in public spaces, abductions and murders almost every day. So we moved to Southern California. My parents worked hard to build a home where we were always safe and loved.

One thing you have to know about Colombians is that we love to have a good time. We throw little parties any chance we get, round up family and friends, listen to music, eat good food and throw back a generous serving of Aguardiente. If you’re not familiar with Aguardiente, or Fire Water, it’s a strong anise flavored alcohol that’s popular in Colombia. 

It was at one of these lighthearted family parties that my life took an unfortunate turn. I was about 9 years old and the world was my oyster. My parents had always encouraged me to go for what I wanted — they told me I could be anyone and do anything. Well, 9-year-old me really wanted to be a grown-up. I was especially interested in Aguardiente. The adults would always have it at our parties and I noticed how much more fun they seemed to have after taking a few swigs of the clear, sweet smelling stuff. I had asked to try it before, after which I got a very stern lecture, but I wasn’t going to give up. That night I snuck a little bit when the adults weren’t watching. I didn’t like it very much, but it made me feel pretty grown-up so I wanted more. I took my chance when the adults were all dancing to drink more and more until I was eventually drunk. Oh yes, little 9-year-old me was drunk. A cousin of mine noticed me and took me back to where the kids were playing. He made me eat food and drink water, told me to never do this again and that he was only covering for me this one time so my parents wouldn’t get upset.

Sadly, that wasn’t the last time it happened. Truth is, I liked the feeling of being drunk. I liked how it seemed to make me feel more free, less awkward, less shy. But a couple of years down the road, alcohol just didn’t do it for me anymore. At 13 I started smoking marijuana and at 19 I got hooked onto meth.

It wasn’t long before all my bad choices caught up to me. Next thing I knew I was sentenced to two years in prison for drug related charges. I look back now and I wonder how on earth I didn’t do something about it sooner. But to be honest, back then I didn’t even think I had a problem to begin with. It was all a good time to me. I was just letting loose, just having fun and everyone else just needed to relax.

I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous while in prison for the sole purpose of spending some time outside of my depressing cell. I didn’t contribute, answer any questions or even speak for the first couple of months.

One day, in one of the AA meetings, all of that changed. An elderly man stood up. He looked rugged and a little bit intimidating, you could tell from the way he carried himself that he’d experienced his fair share of curveballs in life. It was the first time I’d ever heard him share and his story shook me. There was a woman he loved, who loved him back, they were married and had a life of their own. But his marriage was getting a little crowded with him, his wife and his addiction. For years she made excuses for him, put up with him, comforted him and tried to help him. She blamed herself for the fact that he wasn’t getting better. Until one day she left him. She couldn’t take it anymore and she just left. He lost the one person in the world who ever really had his back.

That resonated with me. My parents are my whole world. They risked everything to give my brother and I a better life. To this day they both work hard to make sure they have enough to be comfortable. My relationship with them plummeted at the same time my life did. But they were still there, and the thought of losing them was enough to realize I had to make a change in my life before it was too late. 

When I got out of prison I managed to find a job. At first it wasn’t much, I just sold cheap perfumes and colognes. But when I discovered that I was pretty good at it, I dove right in. I did so well that I got promoted. Soon enough I was in charge of training new people from the comfort of my very own office with my very own desk. I ate, slept and breathed work. I was a workaholic. I had sublimated my addiction to alcohol and drugs for work. Even though the latter is more socially acceptable, it was my new high. And before I knew it, I relapsed.

The relapse hit me hard. This time I knew it was wrong, I hated myself for drinking. I hated myself when I lied. I hated myself when I started using up all the money I had saved. I hated myself for lashing out at my parents. I just couldn’t even bare to face my own reflection anymore. I would get drunk and high, sleep all day and I barely ate. My addiction was battling my conscience as the words of the old man in prison kept echoing in my ears. I didn’t want to lose my parents. I didn’t want to hurt them anymore. I didn’t want to disappoint them anymore. I needed to end it. I needed to end it now.

This next part is still etched into my memory. I’ve never been able to forget it.

The lease on my apartment ended a couple of months before and, since I couldn’t afford a place of my own anymore, I had moved back in with my parents. My parents usually locked up all their prescription medication in their room, but a couple of days before I had seen my dad put the key in one of his old coats in the closet. I waited for them to leave the house as I pretended to be asleep. I was already grabbing the key when the car was pulling out of the driveway. I began chanting to myself, “It will all be over soon, this will all be over soon.”

I didn’t even hear the front door open. I almost didn’t register when she ran into my room, screaming at the top of her lungs, and slapped the pills out of my hand. The next thing I knew, my mother was holding me tight and rocking me. My father was at the door and she said to him, “I told you something was wrong. I knew it, I could feel it.” For the first time, I looked at both of them and said, “Mama, Papa, I need help. Please, help me.” 

They admitted me into a rehabilitation facility in Idaho. That place literally saved my life. One of the best things they did for me was give me a way to work through my guilt, self-hatred, anger — everything. They had me write letters to everyone I care about, including myself. I apologized to everyone, including myself. They helped me see that there were so many people and so many things to live clean for. And I felt the motivation to actually go somewhere in life.

Once out of rehab, I quickly joined AA and NA groups in my area. I wanted to stay as focused as possible. It was at these meetings I met my closest friend, who is also my sponsor. Next to my parents and rehab, he is one of the biggest reasons I have stayed clean. He gave me an ultimatum. It was either I pass a college course of my choice, or I find another sponsor. So I dragged myself to a local college and looked through course lists. You see, aside from my struggle with alcohol and drugs, I’d spent quite a bit of time fiddling with computers. Internet and tech stuff always intrigued me, which led me to choose an http course. That course gave me a future. Suddenly, I had the kind of knowledge and skill to be able to do something worthwhile with my life. My room was filled with books on coding, digital media, http, all of it. The same room I had once chosen to end my life in, was where I began to build a whole new life. A whole new me.

It’s been over eight years since I held those pills in my hand. Eight years since I took my last drink, or my last hit.

I moved back to Colombia, I even co-own a website development agency. I’m doing what I love in the country I was born. I am happy, I am healthy and I am clean.

People ask me all the time if I ever feel the urge to drink, smoke, shoot or anything. This beautiful letter perfectly articulates my feelings. Colombians love to have a good time, so when I go out on a Friday, there are plenty of people enjoying a good drink and sometimes I feel tempted. I feel my addiction trying to pull me back in. But what is stronger than that pull is the pull of my incredibly supportive family, friends and colleagues. There are so many ways to enjoy yourself without alcohol or drugs, and it’s come to a point where I almost don’t think about it anymore.

At the beginning, when I first came back to Colombia, it was much more difficult. I had to take it one day at a time. I would go to meetings almost every day, Skype with my sponsor a few times a week and focus on how far I’d come. I became active. There are a lot of mountains here. I love to hike up and enjoy the view. I soak in how beautiful everything is. I let the beauty around me fill me. I started coaching a boys soccer team. I became invested in not only making progress for myself every day, but also in making other people’s lives a little better. The gratitude is the key. I am so grateful for everyone in my life. So grateful to wake up to a whole new day. So grateful for all the new opportunities.

I focus on all the blessings in my life, rather than the problems. The truth is, if I didn’t go through everything I did I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now. I am not ashamed of my journey. Now that I have come out of the darkness, I can see my scars and smile because I made it. And now, I enjoy every, single day of my life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Why I'm No Longer Laughing at Memes About Moms and Wine

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The internet is laden with parenting memes — offering instant comic relief for those of us in the often serious and always challenging trenches of parenthood. Memes are visual “sound bites” on themes in popular culture. Currently, memes of moms drinking copious amounts of wine are rampant on the internet. But what are these memes really expressing? Are they innocuous jokes or a glimpse at the perils of parenthood and addiction?

My husband recently started a 10-week course in London, leaving me to parent our three little kids on my own. Initially I turned to wine at night to alleviate the mounting pressure to perform as both mom and dad. Memes like this and this made me chuckle with relief that I wasn’t alone. But I also couldn’t ignore the niggling fear that my indulgence in wine might not actually be a laughing matter.

I quickly realized the enormity of my responsibility as a single parent. My 6-year-old daughter’s behavior instantly became impulsive and aggressive. My 4-year-old son withdrew and my 3-year-old daughter readily cried for daddy. The change in our family life felt like an abrupt storm — unsettling and destructive.

After nights of drinking one too many glasses of wine, I’d desperately gulp coffee in the morning to jolt me into the parenting mode. I wondered whether memes about imbibing were normalizing a serious issue worth acknowledging beyond the brevity of a giggle.

The Washington Post’s disturbing series “Unnatural Causes: Sick and dying in small-town America” explores rising death rates among white middle-aged women in America. It reports, “Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.” Although addiction doesn’t discriminate, there’s a startling rise in addiction amongst this demographic — and many are mothers; women whose greatest achievement is motherhood and whose most daunting task is rearing their children.

Is it funny that the unparalleled job of motherhood is tainted by alcohol — and that the only escape from motherhood is in a bottle? The truth is that depending on alcohol for support through the toils of parenting is an unhealthy strategy that can have catastrophic consequences.

When occasional drinking turns to dependency the whole family suffers. Our children inherit not only our genes but also our behaviors. Almost one in five adult Americans (18 percent) lived with an alcoholic while growing up. Living with an alcoholic can be devastating for a child and can affect them into adulthood: Children of alcoholics are four times more likely than non-children of alcoholics to develop alcoholism.

For the children of alcoholics, their moms’ drinking is not a laughing matter.

The effects on children may not be obvious until adulthood if they too develop addictions; and the effect on mothers is even more deeply shrouded. Mothers often care for everyone around them, which creates the illusion they themselves are doing OK. But this smoke and mirrors act is tenuous. Popular Momastery blogger and recovering alcoholic Glennon Doyle Melton writes, “People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.” Mothers’ cries for help are being muffled by wine glasses and satirized in the form of memes. For many, drinking wine is the preferred method of self-care.

Memes about motherhood and wine embody the unhappiness many moms feel and make light of a grave situation. Normalizing wine as a justified coping strategy is perpetuating the problem.

As a temporarily single parent, I can only rely on myself to be there for my kids. If I’m not feeling 100 percent — everyone suffers. This spurred my decision to not drink during my husband’s absence. If my children get injured, I am the one to drive them to the hospital. If they can’t fall asleep at night, I’m the only one there to sing a lullaby and tuck them back into bed. I have to be unabashedly present. Perhaps my brush with sobriety will be the gateway to a more permanently conscious approach to parenting.

When it comes to managing the stress of parenthood — wine doesn’t work. What does work, however, is creating a sense of community and acquiring knowledge from books like “The Conscious Parent” by Dr. Shefali and “Rising Strong” by Brené Brown on parenting and self-discovery. With education, the right tools and supportive networks temperance efforts can start, or, for some, wine can return to its former role as the tasty, full-bodied accompaniment to a juicy steak, or the occasional tipple with friends. Wine as a tool to self-medicate can evaporate entirely.

They say laughter is the best medicine, but should that laughter come from the silly jokes our children tell or the absurdity of them spilling the milk — yet again; or from a meme making light of a mother’s reliance on alcohol? Now that’s a sobering thought.

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We Asked People to Reimagine 'Just Say No' – and Create a New Addiction Campaign

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“I am me. I am not just my addiction. There is a lot of other stuff to love,” a gentleman shares on Facebook. Another individual adds, “Sometimes you honestly don’t realize what you’re doing, and who you’re hurting until you look back months later. I wish people could understand the suffocating guilt.” Countless others who have struggled with addiction share similar cries for support, understanding and compassion.

Addiction has long carried a heavy stigma and an unjust perception. While it’s an illness that requires adequate treatment, society has continued to view the disease as a weakness, a moral failing, a choice. Public messages of the past have even, unknowingly, strengthened this perception; they advised people to “just say no,” as if that was an option, and eluded that a brain is as good as fried if a person tries drugs. With these outlooks, it’s not hard to imagine the guilt, shame, isolation and fear that ensues for someone, directly or indirectly, struggling with addiction.

Sadly, at a time when people need to feel encouraged to seek treatment, they feel stuck in the shadows, afraid to ask for help. In fact, many people struggling with addiction don’t receive treatment — and stigma is the second largest barrier.

In hopes of reversing these numbers, Recovery Brands took action by launching the LIVES (Leveraging Impactful Videos to End Stigma) Challenge, a three-month long national video contest in search of a new, inspirational public message around addiction. Individuals across the nation joined together for one cause — end the stigma associated with addiction and encourage those in need of help to speak up. The winners, Tori Utley and Sydney Johnson, are passionate about bringing a new, positive message to the public’s attention through their newly created PSAs. They were kind enough to share that message with me in hopes of inspiring others:

1. What was the main inspiration for your video?

Sydney: Honestly, my main inspiration was wanting to help others get through the same pain I went through. It’s never easy, but it can be done. We are all so much stronger than we realize.

Tori: Our video speaks to the heart of our organization, More Than An Addict. We see stigma as a deterrent for many people both in seeking treatment when they are struggling, as well as in recovery when they’re trying to build their lives back up — getting a job, going back to school, starting a company, mending relationships, etc. It keeps many people stuck, often feeling insecure or inadequate. The main inspiration was our desire to eradicate stigma to help those in recovery have the empowerment, dignity, and opportunities that we believe are possible.

2. Who do you hope relates to your video?

Sydney: This video is for the people that give up on their loved ones simply because they do not understand what they are going through. This video is for those who maintain preconceived notions about addiction, and it is also for those who have lost faith in themselves because of that negativity in their life.

Tori: Put simply, we want people to see they are more than their addiction. They are more than the shame, they are more than the barriers, they are human beings and their lives and the lessons they’ve learned along the way are valuable. They are capable, valuable assets to society and we should treat them and empower them as such. For people who are not in recovery and who possibly know others in recovery, the goal is the same: to convey that those who struggle are more than the struggle itself, and are deserving of the hope in recovery.

3. How do you hope your video will impact and inspire others to ask for help?

Sydney: I chose to share a success story so that my viewers can understand that they are not alone in this process and recovery is reachable for everyone.

Tori: The video will inspire individuals suffering with addiction to seek treatment by showing that addiction can be overcome, and the feeling of being labeled an “addict” can be washed away. The message of “More Than An Addict” is hope. You can become everything you ever wanted to be, you are more than your struggle and more than a label.

4. If there was one piece of advice you could give to individuals who are struggling with a substance use disorder and/or mental illness, what would it be?

Sydney: My advice would be to take some sort of small step forward, initially. Know that, no matter what, someone out there loves and cares for you. There were so many times it felt like I was alone, but sometimes one conversation can change that entire perspective. Reach out to someone, and something great can come from it.

Tori: Our advice is to keep going, keep pushing forward. As the actress in our video said in a recent blog post, “Know this is a journey. Know there is a next. Living in addiction isn’t it.” We believe recovery is possible and that hope is available to all who pursue it. Beyond this, we believe that those in recovery can be dynamite forces in our society — they are students, business owners, leaders and great employees — and we want those in recovery to understand how transformational recovery can be to all aspects of life.

Tori Utley is the founder of the nonprofit, More Than an Addict, and Sydney Johnson is a student at Indiana University. They are the proud recipients of the Judge’s Choice Award and People’s Choice Award, respectively. Along with the $10,000 awarded in prizes, both Tori and Sydney’s videos will be featured on Recovery Brands’ flagship site, Rehabs.com, so their messages of hope and encouragement can impact those in need of help.

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7 Life Lessons I Learned From Getting Sober at 20 Years Old

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I got sober on February 19, 2015 when I was 20 years old. Before getting sober, I spent years drinking and doing drugs. I was convinced I was doing what all teenagers did. The drinking, the drugs, the partying — it was all normal to me.

The day I got sober, I didn’t intend to stay sober. I entered a residential treatment center for my eating disorder and I wasn’t allowed to use substances while I was there. Even though I had to get sober, I had every intention of going back to my substance-heavy lifestyle. Thankfully, while I was in treatment, I was able to work through the fact that I had a substance-abuse problem. The people there helped me realize the way I was living and how my body was responding was not normal.

Having been sober for the last year and nine months, I have grown so much as a person. I’ve had experiences I otherwise would not have had and have been granted so many gifts in life. I’ve learned so many life-lessons from my sobriety and I’ve listed just a few of them:

1. I really did have a problem with substance abuse.

Until I hit the six-month mark, I thought about using substances every day. I was so uncomfortable. I felt like my skin was crawling and I wanted to get out of it. I was so unhappy living with myself all of the time, but I did it anyways. Those days made me realize I actually had a substance abuse problem. People who don’t have a problem with substances don’t feel this way they’re not having a drink or doing a drug.

2. There are a million and one ways to spend your weekend that don’t involve substances.

When I stopped using all substances, I had to find new things to occupy my time. While I’m currently a full-time student, I was also a full-time student before I was sober. I found school wasn’t time-intensive enough. So I took up art. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I started writing again. I found out I actually can watch an entire season of a television show in one night. I started walking and running again. I went to cool coffee shops. I got a new job… and a second job. I figured out how to fill my time with activities that enhanced my life instead of activities that took away from it.

3. I have an addictive personality.

In finding the things mentioned above, I realized I also have a tendency to over-do things. I threw myself into everything I did. I made sure every minute had something to fill it. I grasped on to new hobbies and wouldn’t let go. I’m still working on the balance between over-doing and under-doing everything, but I do much better now. I make sure I have time for myself. I make sure I have time for social engagements. I make sure to get all of my work done. Balance is key to maintaining recovery and maintaining stability.

4. People who care about you now will still care about you when you are sober.

They may even be more inclined to spend time with you! I was so worried I would no longer have a social life as someone who is young and sober. I was wrong. The friends I have now have never seen me drink or use. They don’t offer me substances. They still love me with all of their hearts. I have deeper and more meaningful connections now that I’m sober. My family and I get along well and I’m actually able to tell them what’s going on in my life, instead of hiding behind substances. Everyone in my life now knows I’m sober and though they may not know why, they respect it and they love me for who I am — sobriety and all.

5. You can still be the life of the party.

Sobriety doesn’t make me boring. Sobriety is not the end of all the fun I can have in my life. Sure, the fun doesn’t look the same anymore, but for me it was never fun to begin with. Substance use wasn’t fun. It was miserable and consumed me. Now, I have fun in a different way and that’s completely OK! I still go to bars with my friends, I still go dancing for hours at a time and I still hang out with my friends when they’re drinking at house parties. But I didn’t try those activities until I was confident in my sobriety, when I was over a year sober. I also know my limits. I know when it’s time to go home so that I can cuddle up on the couch with my dog. I know when I shouldn’t go out. I’m still a person who everyone looks to for fun and excitement. I still take midnight trips to the ocean and I still laugh at 2 a.m. with my friends. Sobriety did not make me boring, it made me more authentically exciting.

6. There are many paths to recovery.

I was pushed into Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) when I left my treatment center. For a while, it worked for me. It made sense. I could understand what was going on and it resonated with me. After a certain amount of time, I realized it wasn’t the only way to be sober. I could be sober and see my therapist. I could be sober and have everyone in my life know that I’m sober as my support system. I could be sober and write about the urges I had. I could be sober and talk about the challenges that came with it. I didn’t have to be sober and be in AA. AA works for a lot of people, but it wasn’t where I felt at home. It wasn’t where I felt comfortable. It wasn’t what I needed to maintain my sobriety.

7. There are so many good things in life.

There is music I never would have heard, people I never would have met, places I never would have been had I not gotten sober. There are experiences I never would have encountered, smiles that never would have been plastered on my face and feelings I never would have felt. Sobriety has shown me the good in life. Sobriety has shown me that even if it is painful sometimes, living authentically as myself is worth it.

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