Passed out on a park bench at 11 p.m. wasn’t where I thought I would be at 21 years old, but there I was.
It wasn’t the first time I had drunk myself into a bad situation. I started drinking at age 15. Sneaking glasses of my mom’s wine and cracking open a can of my dad’s beer felt like a thrill.
The thrill I got from sneaking around made me feel like I was living an exciting double life. My new drunk persona became addicting to bring out, but at 15 you don’t realize how demanding a second life can be. Dinner wine soon became Tito’s Vodka, a small drink turned into blacking out.
Months after the habit formed, I made the choice to drink on my high school campus. After shotgunning 24 ounces of beer at 9 a.m. in the school bathroom, I was suspended.
I cried when I was caught, begging my teachers not to tell my parents. When my mom picked me up she was expectedly angry, but her reaction wasn’t what stuck out to me. My little sister sitting in the back seat, confused but understanding that whatever I did was disappointing, asked me why I would do that at school. I still haven’t answered.
As time went on, school became less of a priority, and attending under the influence became a norm. My friends and I took turns bringing water bottles full of liquor to classes. Even now, my freshman year is a complete blur. Trying to piece together my memories from what should’ve been my introduction to my teen years has become a puzzle that will never fit quite right.
At 18, I hid bottles of whatever I could get my hands on under my bed. Drinking had become not only a habit, but a tool that made me appear confident, socially comfortable and feel something that mimicked happiness. All of those surface-layer positive feelings would come to a crash once the alcohol settled.
The emotions I was trying to hide by drinking always ended up coming out. Most of my drunk nights ended with me curling into a ball in bed, holding myself in my most vulnerable moments, when all I truly felt was loneliness. I never felt full, filling a void with liquid that kept leaking out.
I was 19 when my doctor diagnosed me with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. My new blood pressure medication began to give me side effects when I drank, sweating and nausea being the most apparent. At 20, I was painfully aware that I couldn’t maintain a social life or relax without alcohol in a way that a 20-year-old should. This lead to constantly drinking alone.
When I turned 21, I drank every day for a month straight. My mom reminded me that alcoholism runs on both sides of my family. With her warning in mind, I pushed through my withdrawal symptoms from the previous binge-drinking month and managed to cut down my alcohol intake. I limited my alcohol use to dinners and social events, but I still have moments of weakness.
Feeling the need to drown my feelings once again, I walked to the beach alone with six Pink Whitney shots and a strawberry Buzzball clinking in my bag. Finishing the shots before I even reached the beach, I skipped the good part and went straight to the part where you feel like everything you just drank could come back up.
I decided I would turn around, but I felt too sick to walk. Wandering into a park, I found comfort on a cement park bench and used my empty bag as a pillow. I ignored the glances of strangers who were on late-night walks and texted my then boyfriend my location. Opening my eyes felt like the world was spinning. I closed them and drifted off on the cement bench.
When my boyfriend finally found me, I stumbled to his car with teary eyes and guilt that lasted longer than my hangover.
Admitting that I had a problem came with an immense amount of shame. The thought that I would have to work and talk through my emotions instead of avoiding them in the first place felt unimaginable.
Then I thought of my boyfriend’s face when he found me in that state, it mirrored my family members’ faces each time they realized I was under the influence. I finally realized that I hadn’t been only hurting myself – I was hurting everyone else around me with each sip I took.
I am one week sober, choosing to work through what I have been avoiding for years and finding love within myself rather than in a bottle. With the help of my loved ones and therapist, I am learning how to catch myself when I fall and feel more than ready to navigate my life as a sober young adult.