Fresh out of inpatient addiction treatment with only a few months under my belt and at the ripe old age of 22, I had an old-timer take the time out of his day to tell me, “Son, I spilled more than you ever drank, what are you doing here”?
Most young kids would feel uncomfortable, even rethink their desire to remain sober based on an older fella uttering such raving idiocy. Not me, I knew that I belonged in the sober community. I had enough and now that I finally managed to get out from under alcohol’s thumb, there was no way I was going back. “If you hadn’t spilled so much you’d have sobered up a lot sooner, ya old fart”, I retorted, “they call that alcohol abuse where I come from”. He never spoke cross to me again. In fact, he actually never spoke to me again come to think of it, but that’s a good thing… (Honest to God, this actually happened to me – it is not some made up BS story for artistic flourish that so many employ today to make their story that much more awesome).
He had an interesting point though. I sobered up during a boom of young alcoholics who, for one reason or another, were compelled at an early age to put a plug in the jug. This was mainly brought on by the police no longer letting drunk drivers go unscathed. Call it a crack-down. In addition, judicial activism played a role as well. Judges started sentencing habitual drinkers (and now first time offenders) to treatment centers (outpatient and inpatient), AA meetings and probation – if I had to guess, to keep the jail population down. This has its pluses and minuses as well, but I won’t be delving into that subject for this post, hopefully we can just agree that it happens. I have no feelings either way on the matter, though it is safe to say that this activism saved my bacon and for that I’m grateful.
Getting sober young, as I did, does have its difficulties. First of all, the sober community is mainly older folks (or it was just before I sobered up). Being 22 in that community, without the proper attitude, is not simple. As I loosely illustrated in the opening paragraphs, I had the right attitude – I didn’t care who thought what about my being wet behind the ears, I needed for the anguish caused by an insidious disease to stop, and I wasn’t about to wait until some old fart decided I was old enough to quit. This is one key reason behind why I made it, by the way. Moving along, one of the greatest things Twelve Step programs offer is fellowship. People with a common problem sharing their experience, strength and hope in order that they might help another with the affliction recover – but this goes for more than just “meetings”… I surround myself with sober people. I run with them and spend most of my free time with them. If you happen upon a group of older recovering folks, finding people who you want to hang out with can be a scary proposition. Ask, and ye shall receive (Matthew 7:7) they say. Ask those old folks where you can meet sober folks your age. If they’ve been around long enough, they’ll know where to direct you (or a good contact who does) and will be more than happy to let you know which is the good crowd to hang with… As in life, there are winners and losers in sobriety – start off with the winners. Some people may complain that it is unfair to label people like this. There are a bunch of ridiculous notions tied to helping those who have no desire to be helped or who constantly put themselves in a position to fail. Save yourself first, then worry about others once you have something tangible to offer.
Another difficulty, and a real problem, in getting sober young is that many of us feel we shouldn’t be having the problems associated with old farts so young. This line of thought, left unchecked, is the undoing of many young alcoholics early in their recovery – some of whom will wind up dead well before their natural time because of it. There is no easy way around this, a young person in recovery simply must make bones with it – either you want a life or you want to live the rest of your time in misery. Hey, you never know – maybe you can be the first ever to figure out the one thing, the one ingredient that nobody else (in the history of alcohol) has ever added to the mix, to have a decent life as a drunk. If you can’t banish that kind of thinking from your melon, you’re sunk. You can’t figure it out, you won’t figure it out, you will be miserable, one way or another, if you continue to drink – or you’ll be dead…that’s the only way I know. All thoughts of hopeful drinking must be dealt with swiftly – they must be discarded, negated in the mind, before they have a chance to fester. Period.
Finally, there are a slew of questions and misunderstandings that have to do with our future if we decide to quit drinking. There are many ways to handle these. It is important that they are kept in check: “What will I do for fun”? “Will I be able to meet someone”? “Life is going to suck if I can’t go to parties anymore”. “I’m going to be old and boring before my time”. I could go on forever. There are rational ways to counter these irrationalities as they pop up:
Remember that the thoughts are irrational. How much fun can you have in a cell? You’ll get a chance to meet Bubba, eventually if you keep it up, and maybe you’ll even get the chance to spoon him in your cell… You get the idea. The point is it is far more irrational to believe that you can drink successfully than to believe you can’t.
We get to the good stuff, the pros of choosing a sober lifestyle young. There are far too many to list, I could probably write a whole book on that subject alone and never get to a point where I could feel it was complete – there are that many benefits to a young, sober life. Think about it, just for a second – if you’ve read this far, you know damned good and well that drinking holds a drunk back – what can a kid do with a life free from the terrible decisions related to being a drunk? What can a kid do with all of the money that won’t be spent on alcohol (and the ensuing problems that come with it)? How good can life get when you’re not being held back by addiction? Think of it this way: It’s the difference between running a triathlon freely, or with a 50 pound weight shackled to your neck. The bike and run would certainly be uncomfortable but you could train to get used to it, but you’d never see the bike… You’d drown on the swim. I have a favorite response to the question, “How are you doing”? “Keeping busy and staying out of trouble”. Often people respond, “well that’s no fun” (to the “staying out of trouble” part), and I always assure them that yes, indeed, it is fun. When you’ve seen enough trouble for one lifetime before you’ve even been old enough to drink for just more than one year in the first place, trouble looses its luster.
In addition, if you choose to follow a 12 Step program of recovery at a young age, if you take part in a fellowship of recovering/recovered people, you’ll have an advantage over a vast majority of the population. You will have hundreds of mentors at your disposal who want nothing more than for you to have the best, most enjoyable life possible. If you work toward this, if you show initiative and a desire to work through the issues that once confounded you, they will freely give you the most sacred of secrets: How they did it. You’ll have your whole life ahead of you to use their experience, strength and hope to your betterment. Of course, far be it from me to point out that somebody will want to raise your taxes because you turned a disadvantage to an advantage without their help, but whatever – it’s worth that demonization.
To wrap this post up, going back to the verbal back and forth that I detailed in the first two paragraphs, the reason that the old fart gave me a hard time about sobering up young is simple; He was jealous. He wasted most of his adult life digging his hole. By the time he stopped digging, he had a long way to climb to get out and a short time to enjoy the fresh air. I stopped digging miles before he did. I was just as desperate to get out of the whole I’d dug, but unlike the old fart, once I emerged I had most of my life left to live, free.
That last “pro” cancels out all of the “cons” put together and tied up with a nice pretty bow.