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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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Originally published: October 27, 2016
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