One of the major misconceptions out there about people in recovery is that we hate drinking and drugs. Au contraire! We simply learned that we can’t do it responsibly. The fact of the matter is that we would never have become addicted if it all hadn’t started off being incredibly fun.
If you hang around recovery circles, you’ll hear people say, “First it was fun, then it was fun with problems, then it was just problems.” We like that expression. We get that expression. We wanted to have a column which examines that expression. And so we reached out to the most prominent recovery bloggers, writers and advocates out there to ask them about their trudge down that road.
This week, our focus is on Laura.
What was drinking/using like when it was fun?
Laura @ 18 – 20 years old | 2001- 2003
Dancing in bars, dancing on bars, dancing with bar(tender)s. I’ve arrived. College lets me shed the bullied/nerdy/geeky identity and allows me to become THE PARTY GIRL. Little do I know, but many years later the underdog in me would be the realest, rawest, most authentic, genuine me that only recovery can uncover. But that story comes later. For now we meet Laura the kegstand-doing, drunk karaoke-belting, beer pong-playing, skinny black pants-wearing (remember those days, people?) teenage gal who can keep up with the boys.
When and how did it become fun with problems?
Laura @ 20 – 22 years old | 2003 – 2005
Once I start, I can’t seem to stop. I only drink during the weekends (or on a rare Thursday night) so I can’t possibly have a real problem. Besides, I drink with my friends and they drink just as much, if not more than me. We’re silly and flirty and soak up the sun on beach week. Yet hangovers turn into full days wasted. Feelings of guilt, shame, terror, panic, emptiness. Brownouts or full-on blackouts. Start losing material possessions: phones, digital cameras, debit cards, keys. The biggest consequences aren’t enough to shake me. Nights erased from memory (allegedly being roofied); mornings I wake up to find my debit card caked in my own vomit; day drinking turns me into a blabbering idiot. All these are just enough to make me question if I should take it easy the next weekend but I haven’t reached the lowest part of my drinking. Not yet.
What was it like when it was just problems?
Laura at 22 – 24 years old | 2005 – July 2007
I’m a college graduate now. In the real world. I usually drink with friends but there are evenings that I’ll pour myself a whole bottle of wine into a fishbowl goblet and call it just one glass. I’ll take the bottle up to my room and store the empty in a trash bag along with so many others that my housemates won’t find. I start dialing every number in my phone because I’m sure everyone wants to hear from me. Sure, I have fun without drinking but it’s way more fun with it—and I judge all of you who aren’t joining me, the same way I used to judge people like me for going overboard. I start calling into the office with fake excuses so I can nurse a hangover. I eat irresponsibly or rather, I drink irresponsibly on an empty stomach so I can let the effects consume me.
I get hospitalized for alcohol poisoning.
That scares the shit out of me so I take a break for a while. I ignore the ambulance and emergency room bills and they go to collections. Slowly, I creep back into my old habits. I swear that I’ll never drive drunk and then one night I drive myself home from trivia night tipsy. It’s only two miles away, I rationalize. I wonder why guys don’t seem to like me after I call them or text them all the time. When I’m drunk, I think of them, so I want them to know they’re on my mind. Yet I rarely hear back or when I do, they take advantage of me because I’m already an easier target. I go home with random guys—their place or mine—-and I usually don’t remember what happens. When I thankfully wake up unscathed, I feel all the terrible feelings and play detective, trying to piece together my night.
I drink all day on my way to NYC, little airplane bottles on the bus, excited for the concert at Madison Square Garden. But I don’t remember much of anything that day. I wake up in a hospital the next morning and wonder what the fuck is happening to my life. Somehow I make it home safely to Washington DC the next day and I shakily realize I need help.
I start my recovery journey (I don’t call it that yet) on July 14, 2007.
How and when did life become fun again?
Laura at 24 years old and beyond | July 2007 – present day
The first month is rocky—I don’t know if I’m learning how to become a moderate drinker or if I’m off the sauce for good. All I know is that I like waking up clear headed—not wrecked in body, mind, soul. I graduate from a five-week intensive outpatient program and actually feel proud of myself for staying sober. I go to 12 step meetings; first, because I have to, then because I want to. I see a psychiatrist and a therapist and I start taking an antidepressant so I don’t have daily panic attacks anymore. I talk about my mental illness that I hid for so long. I have anxiety; I have OCD; I have panic disorder. God, that feels so good to get off my chest. It doesn’t erase my problems, but the awareness and recognition allow me to move forward.
I can’t go to bars for the first six months, but why should I be going to bars anyway? I spend a lot of time with my family and my friends who’ve stood by me even when I am grossly embarrassing keep me company.
Years pass and I go in and out of different phases of recovery. Sometimes 12 step (years three and four), sometimes holistic in approach (years one and two; five and beyond). Therapy, yoga, nature walks, time with family, music, lots and lots of self-care. But I learn that I can have fun without alcohol and more importantly, life is better when I can fully appreciate the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes unhindered by substances. I go to parties and BBQs and plays and trips to Las Vegas, the Dominican Republic, New Orleans—sober. And I love being clear-headed.
I seek community online around year eight—I build a website for creatives like me, in recovery from substance use disorder and/or mental illness—and my world expands even further. I’ve lived three lives now—pre-drinking, drinking, and post-drinking. I can safely say I like this third life most. There is so much fun to be had sober.
Laura Silverman is the founder of The Sobriety Collective. She’s over 10 years sober, which is pretty far out for someone who once wondered if she’d ever have fun sans booze.