I’m Erika and I’m and alcoholic.
Those are six words that I never would have imagined myself saying.
How can I be an alcoholic? I always get good grades, I have never been arrested or gotten a DUI, and for a 21 year old, I thought I was doing pretty well.
Even though I was deep in my denial, everyone around me knew I had a problem. Despite all of the life threatening situations I got myself into, the terrible hangovers that lasted for days, and the mornings of waking up in strange places, I could not admit to myself that I was an alcoholic.
Just before entering my junior year in college, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This diagnosis explained my deep depressions, my self-destructive behaviors, and my rapid mood swings. My disease began to progress rapidly last October, just a couple days before Halloween. I had just started taking a new mood stabilizer and an anti-depressant at very high doses. Within three days, I sunk into a psychosis that I had never experienced before. When I think back to that night, I do not even recognize the girl who was rocking back and forth in fetal position on the bathroom floor. The only words I could muster up were, “I’m so tired. I can’t do this.” It’s painful to relive what I felt like that night, but it allows me to see how far I’ve come since then.
Eventually, the thoughts that were racing through my mind terrified me to the point that I had my roommate drive me to the UCLA emergency room where I was evaluated by a psychiatrist. The doctor suggested that I take a week off of school in order for me to regain my sanity and to balance out my medication. I was reluctant to take a whole week of school off because I felt that I would fall so far behind that I would not pass my classes at the end of the semester. I felt that by taking a week off, I was giving up and that I was letting everyone down. I felt like a failure. Why was it that there were girls I knew that had more on their plates than I did, and they could do it all without having a mental breakdown?
My mental breakdown and my visit to the hospital were the beginning of the end for me because it’s what ignited my obsession to drink. The week that I was supposed to be detoxifying my body from the heavy medication and getting balanced on a new set of prescriptions, I started self-medicating with alcohol. I was in the manic phase of my bipolar disorder and didn’t once think about the dangerous cocktail of prescription drugs and hard liquor that I was consuming.
After this week, my days of “drinking for fun” were over. I was now only drinking to numb the pain and loneliness that I was experiencing and to silence the disturbing thoughts that were racing through my mind 24/7.
I had many humiliating nights and even worse mornings between that night in October and April of this year. It was finally sinking in that I had a problem. I wanted to quit drinking so desperately. In an attempt to “drink like a ‘normal’ person” I would tell myself that I would only drink on weekends, only drink beer, never drink alone, etc. But it just kept getting worse. I remember one conversation with my friend where I was telling her how much I actually hated everything about drinking but I still couldn’t stop. She couldn’t comprehend why I couldn’t just quit if I was so miserable, but to anyone with an addiction problem, that desperation and lack of self-control is all too familiar.
On April 25th 2015, I got another huge wake up call. What started out as a night of dancing ended up with me having alcohol poisoning and being transported via ambulance to the hospital. I did not know how I got there nor did I remember any of the events that occurred that night. After I began regaining consciousness, the doctor told me that with the amount of alcohol I had in my system, I was lucky to be alive.
After this harsh but crucial wake up call, I was forced to face the facts.
Because of my actions, I had my dorm privileges taken away from me and I had no choice but to live on my friend’s couch for the remaining two weeks of school. I was told that I had been placed on disciplinary probation for my remaining time at the university and if I did not follow the guidelines that were set out for me, I risked not only losing my on campus housing, but I risked my chance of graduating with the rest of my class next spring. At this point I was desperate. Every ounce of denial had left me and I was willing to take a good look in the mirror. I finally realized that I was an alcoholic and I needed help.
Anyone who has any knowledge of alcoholism knows that an alcoholic cannot just “stop drinking”. Every time I attempted to stop drinking on my own prior to that night in April, I failed miserably.
I’m proud to say that I haven’t had a drink since April, but it hasn’t been easy. Getting and staying sober has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It’s a daily struggle of reminding myself that for me to drink again, is for me to die.
One of the most comforting thoughts, however, is that I do not have to do it alone. When I returned home for summer break, I found a group of other alcoholics who had similar experiences as mine and they shared what worked for them and how they have been able to stay sober. Starting a Twelve Step program has given me a life that I never imagined myself having. The men and women that I have met in this program have showed me a way of living where not only can I be sober, but I can also be happy.
During these last few months, I have gotten to know myself through the Twelve Steps so much better than I ever did during years of drinking. I have been able to recognize that my alcoholism is a symptom of my inability to cope with life in a healthy way. Through the steps, I have been able to forgive others, forgive myself, learn acceptance, and live life on life’s terms. It’s interesting how much better your life gets when you stop trying to control everything all the time. Because of these steps and the friends that I have made in the program and by relying on my higher power, I am sober 100 days today.
Now that my summer is coming to an end, I am preparing to go back to school. When I begin to think about all of the commitments and responsibilities I will have, my brain goes to its natural default setting which is panic. But I quickly remind myself that I am not the same person I was even a few short months ago. I have the tools and support system to rely on when things get rough. I know that if I am feeling as if I am going to drink, I can call another sober alcoholic, read the book on which the program is based, work the steps, go to a meeting, and pray or meditate, and reach out to a sober friend or my University’s counseling center. I know that no matter how terrible I may find any given situation, drinking will not solve my problems.
Living in a constant state of panic and drunkenness no longer serves me. I can now say that I am prepared to live a life of sobriety and happiness. I’m nowhere near perfect, and I have a long way to go, but I am a whole lot better than I was before. I am more aware of my triggers and have plans in place to deal with them in a healthy way.
When I look at how far I’ve come in just a few months, I can’t help but be ecstatic to see where life takes me. Already, doors have opened up to me that I never thought would be possible. I was hired for an internship position at a clinic in downtown LA that provides healthcare and human services to the people who are living below the poverty line, I was hired for not one, but two jobs this summer, both of which have prepared me for the future in different, but valuable ways, and I will be applying for master’s in Social Work programs in the fall. But most of all, I am so grateful to be sober, and I am filled with hope.
I just need to remind myself that even the worst days are only 24 hours long and there’s nothing I can’t handle as long as I am sober and remaining diligent in my recovery.
Erika is a senior at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, California where she is majoring in psychology with an emphasis in research. She plans to pursue graduate school in 2016 where she will study for her master’s degree in clinical social work. Her dream is to become a licensed clinical social worker and aim towards reducing the disparities that are experienced amongst oppressed and marginalized populations in the Los Angeles area. She hopes to one day earn her Ph.D. in psychology and conduct research at a world renowned university.