7 Things I Learned Getting Sober At 20


1. The Flashbacks Won’t Last Forever

If you were anything like me, when you drank or used, even if you spent the entire time alone in your room you’ll have racked up countless embarrassing memories, traumatizing scars, and a lot of shameful mental baggage. In the first month, this was the one part of being clean and sober that almost pushed me to pick up again. The horrible flashbacks to awful things you’ve said, done, and slept with. However, as you begin to work the steps of AA or NA, you begin to find a whole new way to manage these moments and eventually, like dust, they disappear.

2. Speaking of AA and NA, They Are A MUST!

When I was first introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to be perfectly honest, I thought they were cults. The first time I attended an AA meeting I left telling myself I would never be one to drink Bill Wilson’s Kool-Aid, yet here I am. Two-and-a-bit months clean and sober and holding a service position at one of my three regular NA meetings. Although the meetings may seem intimidating at first (especially for someone in their early 20s), you’ll come to find the people with whom you share the rooms with are the kindest, most genuine people and ultimately your biggest supporters.

3. AA and NA are NOT Religious Programs!

As I mentioned above, when I first entered the rooms I was convinced they were evil cults out to convert every poor lost soul in the room to Christianity. It wasn’t until I was out of rehab and had pulled my head out of my ass that I realized the true spiritual nature of the programs. Don’t be deterred by the word “God” in the steps or the literature. Your Higher Power is your decision. It can be a god, or a goddess, the universe, anything! Hell, when I was in rehab I decided my Higher Power was a toaster, and you know what? That was fine! Because it’s entirely your decision and generally you will find that your conception of a Higher Power will change over time and as you get further through the program and work the steps.

4. You Can’t Keep Everything And Everyone From Your Old Life

When you finally make the decision to go all in and get clean and sober once and for all, you need to be able to accept that your life from that point on will never be as it was. When you’re in active addiction you surround yourself with playgrounds, playthings, and playmates that are toxic. A part of getting clean and sober is learning to say goodbye to your old life. This isn’t always easy. Some of the things you’ll have to give up you won’t even know were doing you damage. Some people you’ll have to leave behind won’t know why. Sometimes doing what’s best for yourself might not seem that way to begin with. Sometimes you need to be selfish.

5. Some People Aren’t Capable of Forgiveness

Perhaps truly the hardest part of early recovery is trying to make amends for your past wrongs. When you’ve spent years lying, cheating, and stealing, it’s understandably difficult for those closest to us to accept that we’re actually trying to change. We’re trying to become trustworthy, honest people. People with dignity and integrity.

You can be making exceptional progress within yourself and doing all the right things, but often people will be cautious to congratulate you or begin to see this change as permanent. While this is hard to hear and kind of soul-crushing, it must be looked at from their perspective. How can they really believe you’ve changed so much in such a little time? What if they do begin to trust you and let your guard down and you relapse? Recovery is a tricky thing. The only thing we can do to prove ourselves is to stay clean and sober one day at a time and trust that the longer we stay healthy, the more those around us will come to trust us again.

6. You Really Start to Live!

Being almost constantly intoxicated is no way to live a life; spending all your money on alcohol or pills, always worrying about getting more. There’s so much more to life than that! Life can be beautiful and magical if you only start to look at it through clean and uninfluenced eyes. Since getting sober I’ve learned to enjoy the stupid little stuff. To sit on the lounge, eat ice cream and watch The Bachelor, to accept the things I cannot change, to really take in every moment, to appreciate every morning and every night. To be excited for the next day, not to be dreading the seemingly never-ending cycle of chasing oblivion.

7. No, You Can’t Just Have One

Every addict or alcoholic at some time in their lives has toyed with the idea that they were able to control their drinking and using. Even when proven wrong time and time again, the idea is still firmly planted in their mind: They are in control. I have tried countless times to prove to myself and those who were concerned that I was fine. That I would just have one or that I didn’t have a problem because I could still get up and go to work or university.

Well, if you’re anything like me, you know this is total bullshit. I am absolutely physically incapable of “just having one.” I’d prefer to never be able to touch a drop of alcohol again than to be able to drink every night but only to have one. Once I have one of anything—one drink, one pill, whatever—something in my head just switches and I’ll do anything I have to do to get more. I’ll beg, lie, steal, anything. That’s not control. That’s sickness.

Once you realize you were never in control, that’s when you’re truly ready to start healing.