There is no single tragic requirement for being young and in recovery.
I wrote these words in an Instagram post a few days ago, and I have been thinking about them ever since.
I turned 22 recently, and I always struggle around my birthday. I watch my friends celebrate their birthdays with alcohol and somewhere in my mind I decide that’s what I should be doing; I convince myself the only way a person in their early 20s can have fun on their birthday is by getting drunk. These thoughts then grow and turn into something darker. I start thinking not only is alcohol the only way to celebrate something when you’re young, but no young person can stay sober. I start feeling like I am waiting for the inevitable day where I decide to pick up a drink again. My thoughts morph into: “I won’t drink today, but I know I will again. It’s what happens to young people in recovery, and who am I to stop it?”
Last year, on my 21st birthday, I was gifted a bottle of alcohol from someone who didn’t understand my sobriety. Being young, a lot of people assume I’m just on a break from alcohol, so this wasn’t anything new for me. I told everyone I threw the bottle away, like it was some funny story, but no one knew I had actually hid the bottle in my room. My thoughts were in a bad place, and I was again waiting for the inevitable moment I would decide to drink again, so why not be prepared with the actual drink? I held on to this bottle for about a month. I even moved with this bottle, hiding it under clothes in a box, locking my door as I unpacked it to hide it in my new house. But this act of hiding and locking doors, it gave me a rush; I loved it and that scared the shit out of me. I took the bottle to my next therapy session (with some other small bottles I had been hanging on to) and poured them out in a sink with my therapist.
When my birthday comes around, reminding me of my age, I start thinking about all of these implied requirements we have made for young people. Society has taught young people we are supposed to be out partying; we are supposed to be engaging with this thing that is alcohol. We even have an entire birthday year dedicated to young people’s “induction” into the world of legal drinking. But this normalization of party culture for young people is hurting us. It is setting us up to believe the only way to be “normal” while you are young is by drinking. Which is why today, even though I am not hiding a bottle of alcohol in my room this year, I am still struggling with these thoughts:
I should be drinking.
I will relapse before the age of 23.
My friends find my sobriety annoying.
No one my age stays sober.
Being sober at 22 is weird.
These are my years to party and I’m wasting them.
Everyone my age gets drunk, my drinking was normal.
But these thoughts, as much as they feel like they are, are not my own. They are an internalized version of what society has taught me to think. They are not real requirements, and I have to remind myself of my own thoughts:
I will not relapse just because I am young.
I am rebelling against an industry that is trying to numb me with alcohol.
Other young people are fighting the same fight I am fighting.
Being sober at 22 is saving my life.
These are the years I am allowing myself to learn and grow.
Getting drunk, no matter your age, does not have to be normal.
I am able to sit with all of these thoughts at the same time. I am able to want to drink again while knowing I won’t. I am able to think sobriety is impossible for a young person while being sober. I am able to believe there are these tragic requirements for being young and in recovery while knowing they are lies. I am able to struggle in my recovery while still recovering.
And none of this means I am doing recovery wrong, or need to be doing it different. When you’re young, people like to tell you what you should/shouldn’t be doing, whether it’s people telling you you’re supposed to be out partying and “enjoying” your early 20s, or it’s people telling you your recovery process needs to look different. But being young does not permit people to have a say in what your life looks like. You’re allowed to be and feel however you need to be or feel in any given moment, even when society is telling you you’re doing it wrong. Questioning alcohol at a young age is hard fucking work, and there is no one right way to do it. I will not always love my sobriety, but being able to sit through these moments and wait for them to pass is something to be proud of.
It takes time to unlearn the things society has taught us to be doing; I am still unlearning, I will probably be unlearning for a long time, and that is absolutely okay.
I love you.