By Seamus Kirst
When I stopped drinking at the age of 22, I had this idea that my life would just fall into place.
I needed to think that way; my life was falling apart. I’d just had a horrible breakup while drunk, and then I’d tried to run into New York City traffic, again while drunk. Many of my friends were having trouble being around me: It was rare that I wasn’t crying, and they often had to take me home when I blacked out. During the day, I sat home, depressed, not working, and drinking.
I thought that once the alcohol was gone my problems would be, as well. I thought I would be instantly happy, and totally empowered.
Four years into sobriety, I am still figuring my shit out.
And that’s okay.
Without alcohol, my life is so much better. Drinking made me stuck in a loop; I was constantly having breakdowns or lashing out while drunk, and then I spent my sober (hung over) time, trying to sort out the messes I’d created, only to get drunk and do it all again.
This pattern kept me from progressing as a human. I was focused on the immediate turbulence of my life, that I lost sight of my long-term goals. I was so dysfunctional and depressed, that getting through each day felt like an accomplishment.
After eight years of binge drinking, four hospitalizations for alcohol poisoning, multiple drunken suicide attempts, a month of inpatient rehab and months of outpatient rehab, I finally realized I had to stop drinking. Though my realization that I was going to eventually go too far, and either die from alcohol poisoning, a drug overdose, an intoxicated accident or a drunken suicide, another largely motivating factor was my recognition that I was no longer living, and I hadn’t been for a while.
I was sick; I was so very sick.
I worked with an addiction therapist, who helped me work out a plan to give up alcohol.
He doubted that I was actually ready to give up drinking, as he knew I had said I would so many times before.
But, this time, something was different.
I recognized that alcohol was making me miserable; that my alcoholism was ruining my life.
So, I stopped.
Everyday, I woke up, and decided that again, that day, I wasn’t going to drink.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.
I began to recognize which of my problems came from alcoholism, and which were always with me. Where I’d thought my depression would disappear with the alcohol, it didn’t.
The difference was that I was now able to deal with my depression, instead of “dealing” with my depression by drinking. I went on antidepressants, something I’d tried many times before, though mixing them with alcohol had only made my depression worse. Without alcohol, my antidepressants actually worked. Years later, they are still working.
Like many addicts, I had not realized how after almost a decade of misuse, alcohol had become my primary means of coping with every situation. I drank when I was sad; I drank when I was anxious; I drank when I was stressed; I drank when I was excited. In sobriety, I had to learn how to not only deal with these emotions, but to experience them. I’d spent so many years blunting them with a sheet of alcohol.
It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been worth it. I lost friendships along the way, but the ones I’ve made are actually meaningful; they are actually real. As I’d been an alcoholic since the onset of my sexuality, all of my dating and sex experience had been intertwined with my alcoholism. As a 22-year-old, I had to reteach myself how to flirt, how to date and how to have sex without the crutch of alcohol. I had to be responsible for my words and actions, like I had never been before. I could no longer do whatever I wanted and justify it by waking up the next morning and saying “sorry I was drunk last night.”
Discovering myself in sobriety, was not a singular moment, like I had foolishly thought when I made the decision, it is a rather a process, and always will be. Unlike the years I spent drinking, I am constantly growing now, and I am ever evolving as a person. I am learning new things, and just not getting stuck in a self-destructive cycle because I am scared of growing up; because I am scared of the world; because I am scared of myself.