Here I am, 21 years old, and 21 months sober. The last 21 months have been filled with love, hate, passion, shame, triumph, regret, wholesomeness, loneliness, hard work, lazy work, self-love, self-hate, and so, so much more. It has been the hardest, most rewarding work of my life.
I got sober on March 4th, 2017. At 19, it didn’t feel like I had much of a choice in the matter. I had my parents telling me I had to quit drinking and get help, they paid for my car and phone bill, so the choice seemed made. The first few weeks of my sobriety were hell. I had moved home, dropped out of school, and was being shuffled around from mental health professional to mental health professional. I was being told I was an alcoholic who needed in-patient rehab, while simultaneously being told I was too young to have a drinking problem. I had all of these adults telling me what my problems were and how to fix them, yet it felt like no one was asking me what I thought. It seemed everyone thought I was a young and dumb teenager who couldn’t be honest with herself even if she tried. But I was being honest with myself. I knew I had to quit drinking, I knew I wasn’t sure how, but I also knew AA wasn’t it. I knew a place full of older people, straight people and spiritual people wasn’t for me. I was young, super gay and had no idea whether I believed in God or not (still all those things), so AA sounded like hell to me. I had no clue where else to turn, so I decided to do it on my own.
About a month into my sobriety I opened up to the idea of help and found a therapist who actually listened to me. We talked about my issues and set a plan: don’t drink until 21, and if I wanted to change my mind I had to wait 2 full weeks before I picked up a bottle. I think this plan ultimately saved me. I wasn’t ready to hear, “you can never drink again”, that thought was too scary and too life-sentencing for me at the time. Although this therapist helped me, by just listening to and believing me, we didn’t connect. He referred me out to a colleague. That colleague wasn’t taking on new clients, so I gave up, telling myself therapy just wasn’t for me. I then continued my journey alone for a long time.
Around my one year sober mark things changed. I had come to terms with the fact that my original plan (to not drink until 21) wasn’t going to work anymore. I knew I had to continue to stay sober, but I just couldn’t do it alone anymore. I started googling things like, “young people in recovery” and “how to conquer your 21stbirthday soberly”, but found very little. At this point my mother and I decided I needed to try therapy again. I was terrified. My experience with therapy had been a bad one. I was ignored, not taken seriously, and once I found someone who actually listened, I was told they couldn’t help me in the way I needed. I was beaten down, and afraid of the process. But, after hours and hours of my mom reading therapist’s Psychology Today bios to me, and me rejecting every single one, she read one that made me pause. It didn’t sound too bad. In that 30 seconds of quite, that 30 second pause, before I could decide my now-therapist’s bio was stupid, my mom had written her number down. I am eternally grateful for those 30 seconds of my life. I am eternally grateful for my mother taking full advantage of those 30 seconds. I am eternally grateful, because I have now been in therapy with the same bad-ass therapist for 8 months, and this process has saved me. I finally didn’t, and don’t, have to do it alone anymore.
Releasing the weight of my sobriety on another human, who could not only sympathize, but give me tools on how to deal with it, was lifesaving. I don’t think I would have lasted much longer in my sobriety if I had not made the decision to seek outside help. However, as helpful and amazing as therapy was/is, it has made me start asking bigger questions. It has left me wanting/needing more. With this, my therapist encouraged me to reach out to others in the sober community, and I did, yet I was still feeling a hole somewhere. Something was still missing. I now had a safe space to work through the struggle that is life, I now had a sober community, but what I didn’t have were “my people.” I didn’t have any connections with other young people in recovery, and I desperately needed it. I went back to Google, hoping there was something new that had surfaced since my last attempt to find anything on young and sober people, but, sadly, I still came up empty handed. This led me to where I am today.
Today, I am now actively looking for other young people in recovery. I am using my voice and screaming from the rooftops. I am literally and figuratively screaming, “LOOK OVER HERE, I’M HERE, I’M YOUNG, I’M SOBER, PLEASE SHOW ME YOU’RE HERE TOO.” And the response has already been overwhelming. With just a few months of searching and asking, I have already made a few connections with young people from all over. But I know there are so many more young people struggling out there, and I want to reach them too. I want us to know we are valid in our sobriety no matter our age. I want us to know that it IS possible to get sober at a young age. I want us to know our struggles are just as important as someone’s who is older. I want us to have a space to talk and share our experiences. I want us to all be able to come together—I want us to find our people.
There is an entire age group out there struggling, with next to nothing catering towards their unique needs and experiences. Imagine if there was a space, a program, anything, that catered towards young people in recovery. I want to make this happen. And I may not know how to make this happen, but I damn well know I can talk about it. So, that’s what I will continue doing. And I promise to never shut up, to never stop talking about it, to never stop reaching out, to never stop putting myself out there, even when it’s terrifying, because I owe it to all of the young people out there suffering, and, maybe even more importantly, I owe it to myself. I owe it to the 19 year old girl who stood up and made the most terrifying decision of her life, I owe it to the girl who walked this road alone for so long, I owe it to the girl who finally reached out for help, and I owe it to the girl I am right now, in this moment, writing this thing, with an aching heart, wanting to make a change.
I will continue to fight this fight, and one day, I desperately hope there will be a space and program for young people in recovery. And I promise to continue to scream about it until it becomes a reality, or until my lungs give out.