22 Year Old Alcoholic That Has Become One Of The Many Youths Enjoying Sobriety
I was born in Johannesburg in 1992. I am the middle child and was born into a well off family. I went to a nice school in Johannesburg, but my only memories were of me crying and being deeply sad at school. We eventually moved to a peaceful coastal town where I went to a new school. I immediately felt better and was more comfortable at school. Two things that made life difficult for me were this continuing anxiety as well as being very argumentative. I believe these came from a deep rooted insecurity.
Because this coastal town was very free, as kids we were left a lot to our own devices. When I was 12 I got drunk for the first time with friends. It was absolutely amazing as I felt no anxiety or fear when I drank. I also got an amazing confidence that made my insecurity seem non-existent. The first time I also drank until I got sick and blacked out. This happened to most of us that night so it didn’t seem abnormal. It also didn’t matter because I had found liquid gold! I also tried marijuana that year and loved it. I reacted differently to my friends, where I acted stranger than them.
For high school I went to a prestigious boarding school. I was abused at school where as punishment it was not peculiar to be lashed with a cricket bat by older boys. I hated my first year of high school. Slowly I began to find my unique place in the school. I excelled in academics as well as other activities. While at boarding school I never drank or smoked during term time, but every holiday I would go back to my home town and drink as well as smoke tobacco and marijuana occasionally. During high school I experience two bouts of depression. My family was not very emotional and I was hyper sensitive, which often made me feel like the black sheep of the family. I was the centre of most fights between my brothers and parents and always believed it was due to their faults.
I accomplished great things by the time I matriculated and went to university in Cape Town the next year. I stayed in residence and loved the ability to be able to drink without rules or restrictions that came with boarding school. In my first year of university I became known for being able to party hard and drink a lot. It was the first time I felt truly popular. I also excelled at university and was able to cope with my academics with ease. At this point my way of dealing with a hangover was to go for a run the next morning. Anxiety was still there, but drinking gave me a relief. Drinking at this point was still manageable and still a glorious amount of fun.
In my second year at university I accomplished even more than the first. I got an incredible scholarship and was selected to represent on many committees and societies. I still remained very popular, but I still felt that something was always missing. This feeling brought on anxiety and my third bout of depression, which is when I started seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist on a regular basis. I had this belief that the psychologist and medication would sort out my problem. I found out at this point that I was bipolar as well as truly starting to come to terms with the fact that I was bisexual. I still hid it and it created a great amount of anxiety as I felt ashamed of it.
My third year of university started off great. I came out to all of my friends and family and managed to get an amazing boyfriend. Halfway through is where my life really started to crumble around me. Academics became a great deal more challenging and it was starting to get difficult to cope,especially with the amount of partying and drinking that I did. I was still drinking and partying to a similar extent of my first year at university, while my friends had begun to calm down. Blackouts were frequent and this was often followed by finding out I did embarrassing things the night before. I got arrested for drunken driving during that year as well as drove drunk on occasions. With all the drinking I did (as well as the marijuana), there was no chance my medication was going to be effective. I began to feel very alone and extremely depressed to the point of harming myself. Occasionally I began to huff deodorant, which caused moments of extreme paranoia.
My friendships started to get tested and some fell apart completely. I stopped looking after myself. I stopped exercising. I stopped showering or brushing my teeth every day. My room was constantly a mess and this is where I began drinking by myself as well as in the mornings to get rid of my hangovers. I used up all my savings and had to constantly ask my Dad for more money as I couldn’t manage my finances. Probably 80 percent of all my money was spent on booze. My academics started to slip. I didn’t fail anything, but got an examination deferred because of ‘medical reasons’. I was having an utter breakdown, but it was entirely due to my own actions. I manipulated all those around me using my mental breakdown as an excuse.
In November of 2013 I went with one of my best friend’s Mom (a recovering alcoholic) to an AA meeting. My friend said she had gone and she thought it was a great experience that everyone should do. I thought that I was being insightful and super spiritual for going. Those two were so clever because the seed of the solution was planted in my thoughts.
My relationship with my family also began to deteriorate. My parents began to realise I had a drinking problem and probably didn’t sleep properly the entire year. I began lying to them. When I was at home I hid bottles around the house and even stole money from my mom twice. I was miserable and aggressive and fighting with the whole family constantly.
The summer of 2013 was where the hardcore drilling began of my rock bottom. My family began to lock the booze room at night in order to prevent me from drinking after everyone had gone to bed. I said they didn’t trust me; rightly so. I left home and co-incidentally to stay with that same best friend and her Mom (still in recovery). I missed Christmas that year and later found that my family were miserable, because of my absence and behaviour.
A few weeks later my family begged for me to come home and they promised to not lock the booze room. That was my one condition; how ridiculous that I missed the most special holiday with my family just because of limiting my access to alcohol. Everyone avoided conflict with me because they realised that it was futile and would only lead to me shouting or doing something stupid.
I went back to Cape Town to study for my deferred examination. My anxiety was paralyzing. My depression was crippling and my mental state began to deteriorate at an accelerating rate. My relationship with my boyfriend was the last one standing and even that began to go downhill. For the 4 weeks of December/January I could not stop drinking for even a day. I smoked marijuana quite frequently during this period and was out of mind for the entire time. I could not get even close to study. My hyper-sensitivity was at the extreme. I could feel anxiety, fear, depression, anger and deeply alone. These feelings would be so intense that I thought that they could kill me. I also felt like this would last forever. I didn’t see a way out because I blamed the state of my life on my bipolar disorder. I had lost the ability to find joy in my life. I had lost all connection with any form of spirituality. I was a liar. I was a thief. I was inconsiderate. I was so selfish that it had left a wake of destruction for all those around me. I was wallowing in self-pity and thought that my life was worse than everyone else’s. I was unwilling to do anything about it and expected everyone around me to fix everything. I thought that I was the centre of my small twisted Universe.
Two days before my examination I was sitting on the stoep of my digs in Cape Town and realised that I had to ask for help, but not like I used to. I had to ask for help and be willing to help myself. I knew that I wasn’t a typical alcoholic that was old and had lost his job and family. I was an alcoholic that could end up like that very quickly. I was privileged to see that if I did nothing I would end up with nothing. No job. No family. No friends. That seed that was planted the few months ago received its first bit of willingness to help it grow. I called my mom and asked her if I could go into rehab. She was relieved and the next day I was on a flight and went into Houghton House on the 18th of January 2014 at the age of 21. I have been sober from alcohol and all mind or mood altering substances since.
I was posed with two options. I can either pick up a drink or do whatever it takes not to pick up a drink. I have decided to do whatever it takes to not pick up a drink.
I went to my counsellor and told her I am ready to do whatever it takes, but I don’t know how to do it. She said: “HOW is the right question. Be Honest, Open-minded and Willing. If you start with that you cannot go wrong” (paraphrased slightly). Because I was so spiritually bankrupt I needed some place to start getting better. I was depressed and anxious for the first week of rehab, but after that I began to feel better; my medication began to work as I wasn’t poisoning myself with booze anymore. I realized that I have an allergy to alcohol; when I have one drink my freewill to stop me from having the next, disappears. One is too many and a thousand is never enough is the first thing that comes to mind when I feel like a drink. I also realised that alcohol is not my problem. I am the problem and I needed to change to get better.
One of my greatest experiences was sharing all my secrets with my counsellor. It lifted a great amount of shame and guilt. I also began relating to those around me and I began to find out that I wasn’t alone. I also began to realise that I am not special and different from other addicts or alcoholics. We all have the same disease and we also have the same treatment; recovery, which stems from the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I absolutely love Alcoholics Anonymous! It has saved my life and will save countless others in the future. There is only one condition, you have to get honest. Everything else are suggestions. I followed the suggested things and I reaped the rewards.
After 4 weeks I went back to Cape Town and joined an outpatient treatment programme. I did 120 meetings in 120 days, while completing my studies. It was stressful and there was a great amount of time-constraints, but it was only because of my programme that life became manageable. I got a sponsor and worked the rest of the steps with her. I did service at meetings and got a home group. I managed to graduate at the end of that year with a first-class pass.
I found a higher power, not through any religion, but of my own understanding. I see my higher power in the beauty of music, art and nature. This faith has changed my life. At first my faith was miniscule and I was sceptical, but the more my life changes and the more I grow I have to realise that some miracle has happened and will continue to happen if I work for it.
My relationship with my friends has improved dramatically. My relationship with my family is healing more each day that I work my programme. Although I am no longer with my boyfriend, we had an amicable break-up and are friends today. I can now manage my finances properly and am currently working and studying towards a master’s degree. The world around me has not changed, but I have changed so that I can be more comfortable with the world around me.
I used to believe that my anxiety was due to my mental illness and that counsellors and psychiatrists had to do all the work to fix it. I realise that I have to do the majority of the work, and medication and therapy has to do only a little. I began to exercise again. Eat properly. Look after myself. If I hand my will and my life over to the care of my higher power then my anxiety (aka. Fearfulness) improves dramatically. I also stopped smoking and this has also helped dramatically.
There are 12 promises that are often mentioned in the rooms of AA. Every single one of them has become true in my life. I have changed dramatically and the lens in which I see life through has changed with it. I finally feel freedom from my anxiety. I sometimes have not so nice days, but even my worst days now are better than my best days at my rock bottom. Do you know what the most amazing thing is? It is about progress and I will forever grow and become a better person so that I can live humbly and be a positive contributor to society. I was told by an old-timer in Houghton House that if I work my programme and stay in recovery, then things beyond my wildest dreams will come true. This will only happen if I work for it. Recovery has not only saved my life, but made it better than it ever was before.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Our Youth in Recovery selected this image of the Northern Lights because this beauty is a prime example that there is something bigger than them!