When I first got sober, it felt as though my story was a bit different from many of the alcoholics and addicts I knew. For a while I felt as though it meant my alcoholism and addiction wasn’t as serious or my story wasn’t worth sharing. I didn’t have a particularly intense “war story” that so many seem to share so was I truly an alcoholic? Was I really a drug addict?
This second-guessing led to a relapse. Many of those things that hadn’t happened yet happened. If I had been more willing to share my story, or if more people shared their “high bottom” story, I may not have relapsed. We need the high bottom stories as much as we need the war stories. Lives are saved when people share their experience without reservation.
Alcoholism and addiction are not a competition. There is no First Prize for being the “hardest alcoholic” or the “toughest addict.” If you have a problem with drinking or using, you are welcome in recovery. It doesn’t matter how little you lost, whether or not you went to jail, if you didn’t have to go to treatment, or how much you drank or used. If you feel you belong in sobriety, you belong.
I am here to share my story so that another alcoholic or addict doesn’t feel they need to go out and add to their collection of existing scars. You can put the bottle down now. Stop looking at other people and their alcoholism or addiction. Look at your own drinking and using and decide for yourself if you have had enough.
The Start of My Drinking – An Alcoholic From the Beginning
I, like hundreds of other alcoholics I know, swore I would never drink. I saw what drinking did to my family, how it affected my father, and swore I would never be like him. Drugs were not a prevalent part of my upbringing. This, in combination with how sheltered I was as a kid, kept me sober throughout high school.
After not picking up a drink for the first two months of college, I finally caved at the end of October. I was on the lacrosse team and we partied hard; it was only a matter of time before my I said yes.
It started simple. My friends kept me under control the first night. It was almost a game to finally get me drunk as I had resisted for so long. We played a few rounds of beer pong and I drank like one of the team.
As I tipped back beers, the edges of the room softened. A smile crept across my face. My body tingled. I finally understood why people drank. My anxieties about not fitting in melted away. I was finally a part of. My dad’s alcoholism was the farthest thing from my mind. Eventual addiction was not possible for me.
After that first night, once I had no one to control my intake, it was on. I had arrived. I pulled directly from glass bottles, long and deep. I knew the burn of vodka on my throat would bring that welcome oblivion in a few moments’ time.
Binge drinking became the norm in my life. I pushed away the thoughts of becoming like my father farther away with every drink I took. I didn’t see it as alcoholism because everyone around me did it. I was in college; most people drank like I did. It was normal. Right?
When My Alcoholism Consumed Me
After a particularly difficult summer following freshman year, the drug use started at the beginning of sophomore year. My mom found out I was gay and the backlash was immense; I wanted to escape in any way possible.
I had smoked weed a few times during my freshman year. The paranoia surrounding the nonexistent drug test I believed I would have to take kept my use at bay, though. After the depression that came with being outed took hold, I stopped caring. I gave into alcoholism, allowed my addiction to consume me.
I quit playing lacrosse once smoking weed became a daily occurrence and the drinking bouts became more frequent and intense. Drinking and smoking was more important to me than the NCAA Division 3 opportunity I had at my fingertips. Still, the idea that I could be an alcoholic never crossed my mind. My friends always told me addiction to marijuana was impossible.
I was unable to see the thousands of other students who didn’t rely on the bottle to get through their week, though. My alcoholism and addiction blinded me to those who could attend a party with a few drinks in them rather than hard liquor straight to the gut.
I began drinking during the weekdays, alone in my room. There were days I swore I wouldn’t drink but within hours I was pulling the frozen vodka bottle from the icebox. I realized I couldn’t stop but still wasn’t ready to call it alcoholism. After all, everyone around me drank during the week, too. It wasn’t a bad thing. I hung out with the stoners and we passed bongs and joints on a nightly basis. It was normal for me.
The realization that I should do something about potential alcoholism and addiction came at the end of my senior year. I drank and used my way out of two relationships, into failing grades in my classes, and away from most of my friends.
I existed on a diet of cheap red wine, snorted Adderall, coffee, and cigarettes. I failed two of my finals because I took them drunk. I wasn’t going to finish school on time if I didn’t finish my months-overdue homework for the last class of my college career. But I wasn’t an alcoholic. Snorting Adderall didn’t make me an addict. It’s a study drug, after all, and I needed to study.
Finding My Way Out
A friend who I had drank with before approached me one day, beaming and bright-eyed. She was bad an alcoholic and addict as I was but here she was, her radiant glow shining forth. She explained that she had found Alcoholics Anonymous and was sober. All I knew about AA was that you said, “Hi, I’m _____ and I’m an alcoholic.”
At this point, I carried around vodka in a water bottle and crushed up Adderall in a jar in my backpack. I snorted and drank in a bathroom stall whenever I had a free moment. I couldn’t stop. I was willing to try anything, even to say, “My name is Elliott and I’m an alcoholic.”
I got sober without detox, white-knuckled my way through the first few weeks. I finished school with the assistance of an understanding teacher who was also, by chance, 10 years sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. I walked the stage at graduation and came back to live with my parents.
The thing I noticed most about AA and the alcoholics and addicts I found myself with was the unbelievable things some had experienced. I was a privileged kid who graduated college; some people I met hadn’t even finished high school. Did I belong here? Was I a fake?
I stayed sober for just over a year and relapsed on my 14 month anniversary. I blamed it on being a “college phase.” I didn’t have alcoholism. Addiction wasn’t a part of my life. I wasn’t as bad as these people. I had a degree. I was smart. I knew things. They didn’t.
Within the course of eight months, I found myself drinking a fifth of vodka on top of a few bowls every night. The police came to my house for domestic disturbance six different times. I went to the hospital for alcohol poisoning twice. On the first visit, the overseeing doctor placed me on an involuntary 72-hour hold in the psychiatric ward. The relapse finally ended in a second suicide attempt that took 17 staples to close up.
I am an alcoholic. I have alcoholism. I am an addict. I have an addiction.
Although the consequences didn’t have to happen for me to stay sober, they have become a part of my story. I like to share both halves of my of my sober experience, as I started as an alcoholic with a high bottom and then ended at a low bottom. There are people who I can help with both parts.
My Alcoholism Today – My Story is For You
They say staying sober requires rigorous honesty. I finally got wholly honest this time, coming out as transgender with two months of sobriety. After the backlash when people found out I was gay, I feared going through the process all over again. There is a reason the LGBTQ community experiences such a high rate of alcoholism and addiction (20-30% as opposed to the national 9%).
However, fear has no place in my life today if I want to be a confident, sober, transgender alcoholic and addict. Since coming out and working through the 12 Steps, I gained a strength I never knew I had in me. I realize I am worth something, that my opinion matters.
Not everyone will agree with me and that is okay. Just as I am entitled to live out my truth, you are entitled to live out your own. If you don’t agree with me that is okay. I will love help you anyways because that is what I am called to do.
I now have 10 months sober. Again. My sobriety date is April 19th, 2016. I intend to keep it this time. I have a story to share that can help people, one that I don’t need to compare with others. I needed the hospital stays and suicide attempts to realize I was an alcoholic.
However, I went through those things so that hopefully you don’t have to. If sharing my story helps get or keep you sober then those experiences were worth it. You can stop digging yourself into a deeper hole of alcoholism and addiction. You can “put the shovel down” as they say.
If there is one piece of advice I can share with you, it is to not let anyone tell you that you are not an alcoholic. Only you can decide whether your excessive drinking is alcoholism or your drug use is addiction; that is up to no one else to decide. If you feel you need to seek help for your drinking, do it. Don’t let yourself go to the lengths that I did. If that’s what you need to realize you have a problem, though, I won’t stop you.
You are never alone in your recovery. Over 15 million people in the United States struggle with a drinking problem. I never went through treatment to get sober but it is there for those who need it. Detox, inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient therapy, it is all there for you. I do see a counselor to help me work through the mental struggles of being transgender in a more conservative area and that has helped. Using counseling in combination with AA has helped me grow into the man I am today.
Find a solution that works for you and stick to it. You are worth recovery and you can get sober. Addiction and alcoholism doesn’t have to be the end of your life. I’ve seen people go through unbelievable things, experienced much more than I have, who are sober today. There is no pit too deep to climb out of. Start building your ladder and you’ll realize you can make it out of the hole you dug, one day at a time.