Underaged Alcoholism

It’s not easy to realize you’re an alcoholic before you’ve even reached the legal drinking age. But getting clean becomes a whole lot easier when you’re f*cked up enough to cope using humor. I mean, imagine recovering from substance abuse and not even being able to make jokes at your own expense.

By the time my 21st birthday rolled around, I was already ten months and five days sober. I had cried six times the day before. I was in the shower when midnight hit and my fake ID could finally retire with no pressing need to be replaced with a horizontal license. It felt like the kind of symbolism your shitty high school English teacher would obsess over if she found it in a book. I washed away the drunk version of myself and replaced her with someone who could wake up without needing to contact every person she interacted with the night before to apologize.

In my defense, I was a pretty functional alcoholic. Not functional in the sense that you wouldn’t know I was drunk, because trust me, you would. I was functional in the way that I could balance blacking out three times a week with receiving straight A’s in all nineteen of my credit hours, working a part-time job as a research assistant, writing for the magazine I’m now editor-in-chief of, and being the youngest member of my school’s student-run communications agency. And they say God is dead.

I had a unique talent where I could turn anything into a reason for drinking. Bachelor Monday, birthday parties, finishing a test, not getting invited to your roommate's birthday party (who you hated anyway), Election Day, whatever you want. I was more stressed about finding a way to get alcohol before Thursday night than I was about anything school-related. Not sure if that’s more of a testament to my incredible academic abilities or my pressing need to drink.

It’s amazing how many of my college weekends I simply don’t remember. Sure, I’d face judgment day every Friday and Saturday morning when we’d gather on the floor of the room of whoever was too hungover to move to recap the weekend. My friends would tell me everything I did the night before, which would either end with me laughing or with debilitating hangxiety for the next five days. Sometimes it would end in both, like the time I passed out at a pregame and had to locate myself on Snap Maps in the morning (funny) before coming home and learning that I had screamed at my friends the entire night (not funny). I could latch on to the humorous stories, but what about all the gaps from times I’d disappear, conversations with people I don’t remember, and Snapchats that were long gone by the time I woke up?

I had known I needed help for a really long time. I started to go to therapy in February of 2020, and funnily enough, alcohol didn’t really come up, even though I had been blacking out on a regular basis since Halloween (the night of the infamous Snap Maps incident). Then we got shipped home to battle a pandemic, and since all structure had pretty much disappeared, I no longer needed to wait until “going out nights” to start drinking. Being hungover isn’t so bad when you can take the class from bed.

I would spend my quarantine nights sipping away at stolen alcohol (thanks, mom and dad). Knowing my parents would notice if I replenished their supply with water, I would carefully craft cocktails using the smallest amount from each of their handles. I told myself drinking alone wasn’t an issue because drinking just made things like watching my shows and listening to music more fun. The problem with addiction is that you can easily believe the blatant lies you feed yourself. Looking back on it, I should have realized that drinking the nauseating combination of lemon Spindrift, orange juice, gin, tequila, vodka, and triple sec was a clear cry for help. Anyone who hasn’t experienced addiction can clearly see just how problematic my patterns were, but to me alcohol was just a way to enhance the day-to-day.

It wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to get better either. Eventually, I brought up alcohol in therapy. My therapist and I worked on trying to reframe my mindset around drinking. I was still drinking to get drunk, but my beloved Mark reminded me in our sessions that there’s a point during drinking when things go from fun to shitty. He told me to find how many drinks it took to get to the Good Drunk and to measure out my pours before heading to the function. We hoped that would help, but weekend after weekend the blackouts kept coming. I continued on with my fragmented memories until April 6, 2021, when I reached such a low point I decided I needed to give up alcohol cold turkey.

I played sober Santa, gifting my leftover alcohol to my friends. The first few weeks were scary. I refused to let sobriety impact my social life, so I continued to hit the frat and bar scenes. I wasn’t going to let this change my life in any way but for the better.

Confirmation that people didn’t notice I wasn’t drinking fueled me. I had used alcohol as a social crutch for years, so I loved being told I was still fun (if not more) when slamming back La Croix instead of my signature vodka and raspberry Emergen-C packet combo. When I was with the right people, under the seizure-inducing lights of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, it felt like it was okay to be navigating these moments sober, though the alcohol blanket was sorely missed when it was time to walk home in my crop top.

At a year and a day sober, I’m different than I thought I would be. I don’t know if I have a relatable story. I thought quitting would be torture but, honest to God, it was the easiest decision ever. My superiority complex refuses to let me relapse. There’s nothing wrong with a relapse, but the thought of having to log that in my sobriety app drives me not to drink. The Google Calendar student in me refuses to mess up out of fear of not having a flawless success story.

Every day I wake up sober, knowing that anything I hate myself for that stems from something I remember doing, is a blessing. My anxiety and depression left with my blackouts, and I went from considering medication to realizing my brain chemistry wasn’t the issue. Isn’t it f*cked up that the things they tell you to do for your mental health actually work? Bullshit.