The first time I went to a recovery meeting I had just turned 16 years old. I was already drinking and doing drugs regularly and could see that it was becoming a problem. At the time, I did not actually want to stop or change what I was doing. I went because I had a boyfriend who was sober and he insisted I come with him. I went to the meetings and identified as an alcoholic. Recovery appealed to me, I liked the fellowship, sharing about how I felt, and not feeling horrible every day. However, I hated not being about to drink or do drugs. I did not feel ready to let go of using yet. After a few months of going to meetings, I stopped and my use was back to how it had been before. The only difference, was that now I was pretty sure that I was addicted and would one day need to stop.
As my drinking and drug use got worse my parents and friends became more and more concerned for me. Eventually I ended up causing so much harm that it was clear everyone around me that I needed help. On my eighteenth birthday I checked myself into rehab. That was five years ago now and in that time there have been both difficulties and benefits that have come from getting sober when I was so young.
There have been things about being young in sobriety that are difficult. At first I felt like I was missing out on everything my old friends were doing. I would look at them on Facebook and see the parties they were at and I wish I could be there with them. Part of me wanted to be sober but still go to parties, bars, and clubs like I did while I was using. For my first year, I still did go to a lot of those same places with sober friends looking to still have fun in the same old ways. After a while of doing this I realized I was not really having a good time but holding on to something and wishing it did not have to change. I started realizing how much fun recovery could be when I started looking for new ways to do things.
It was also hard to be young in recovery especially because I did not know how to respond to my old friends when they asked me when I was coming home or if I would come hang out with them. I remember being in inpatient rehab and my friend telling me that as a birthday present she had gotten me a bunch of drugs. She asked when I would be back to do them with her. I was not at a place in my recovery where I was confident enough to tell her I did not want to use anymore and that I was scared to even go home. It was hard in the beginning to tell stand up for myself and resist temptation like this.
Another part of getting sober young that was difficult was having to build an entirely new life. Many older people have a family, job, or home to return to. I had none of these things. I knew I could not go back and live with my family. I was enrolled in college but I was not sure that I still wanted to go there because I was scared I was not ready to be in that environment. For the first year and a half I felt like I was flailing. I worked little jobs that I did not really like and tried to figure out what I wanted to do. Much of my recovery at that time was just devoted to trying new things and seeing what I liked enough to make a life out of.
Although there are parts of getting young sober that are hard there are also many ways that it is beneficial and entirely worth it. I remember a few people saying to me in recovery meetings, “it must be so hard to be young in recovery.” Like I said, at times it really was. However, I also felt like I was lucky to get sober young. For people who start their journey in recovery when they are older they have to undo many more years of conditioning. When you have been drinking and using for twenty or thirty years you have to recondition yourself and relearn how to life without using. When you are like me and only drank for about five years it is easier to remember what it was like to live without using.
Another benefit of getting sober young is that you often have not lost as much as other people have. I know many people who got sober in their fifties or sixties who lost good jobs, homes, and families. Although many of us are able to cause plenty of harm and lose a lot in a few short years there is so much more to lose as time goes on. I feel grateful that the harm I caused was relatively reparable. It took a lot of time to make things right with many of my family and friends but I did not have to face bankruptcy or divorce. I appreciate myself for getting into recovery when I did because I am sure I would have faced even more loss as my use continued.
Finally, it can be beneficial to get sober young because you have so many possibilities ahead of you. As I said before it can be difficult or daunting to face these possibilities but it also means that so much is wide open. Before I got sober I had enrolled in business school. I hated math and was pretty sure that was not what I actually wanted to do. If I had actually spent four years doing that and gotten my degree in something that I hated it would have been much harder to change my direction. Luckily, I had two years in recovery before I started school to experiment and decide what direction I wanted to take my life in. When I did decide it came from a place of clarity. I now have my whole life ahead of my to truly follow my passion.
There are undoubtedly difficulties that come with getting sober young. I have had people ask me how I could possibly know I was an addict at 18. I have had people tell me that I was probably just young and would be ok if I drank now. However, as my recovery has progressed I have experienced the benefits of being sober young. I have built a new life for myself that was born out of love and not obligation or fear. I have found supportive people who do understand what it is like and have built a loving and caring community. I have never once regretted getting sober when I did.