If I’m being completely honest with myself, I really shouldn’t be here. I’m not exaggerating. Last November, I laid on an ER table at 4 in the morning, tubes and IVs hanging out of me, being told by a nice nurse that I would’ve died if I hadn’t been brought in.
Just six short months ago, it was a realistic possibility that I wouldn’t be able to come back to Castleton to continue my education. It was at this time that I slowly started to accept I was struggling with something much bigger than myself.
Unfortunately, I am not unique.
Addiction is a serious issue in the United States. Twenty-one million Americans suffer from it, according to a 2015 study. Of these, about 15 million struggles with alcoholism. Even with the country’s growing opiate issue, alcohol remains to be the most common reason of treatment in rehab centers.
Mental health suffers.
The human body takes a beating.
Families get torn apart.
Addiction doesn’t only affect the one going through it.
This is going to be the hardest piece I will ever have to write. Besides my close friend group and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I shy away from telling anyone about my, um, condition.
By some standards, I was a late bloomer. My first drink was when I was 16, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a 25-ounce Bud Ice – the kind you could pick up for a dollar and change down at our local convenient store. The chance to drink and hang out by the fire with my cousin, her boyfriend Adam and all their 20-something-year-old friends was too good to pass up.
I think my stomach started hurting before I got halfway through the beer that night. The taste was tolerable – at best. I ended up slipping off to bed earlier than I wanted to that night, wondering if the stomachache was all being “drunk” was.
‘This is not for me’ I thought to myself lying in bed that night, biting off chunks of bread per Adam’s advice in order to “soak up all the alcohol.”
Little did I know that just a few short years later, I would be putting off eating all day just so I could drink to get drunk quicker.
A Love Affair Is Born
My sporadic drinking a few beers here and there with Adam would continue until I was 18. I never got out much, and my tolerance was still limited to a two or three.
Funny thing was … I began to like the feeling and atmosphere.
The numbness creeping over my body.
The conversations that just came easier.
The laughs that were very frequent as people stumbled and slurred words.
Most of all though – I felt accepted. Cool, even.
The slaps on the back and the hooting and hollering after I ran through the fire on multiple occasions may have been for all the wrong reasons, but I didn’t see it at the time.
Now, if only the beer tasted a little better.
It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school when I had my first mixed drink. The classic Jack and Coke. A bit strong and very different at first. But the more I sipped it down, the more it became clear to me.
Alcohol tastes good.
And you could get the liquor in flavors like blue raspberry!? Mango!? Strawberry!? That sounded almost too good to be true.
My first college party came two weekends in. I had been roomed with an exchange student from Denmark, and when he came into our room that Friday with a 30-rack of Bud Light and a bottle of cheap vodka, I couldn’t say no.
Twenty minutes later, I learned that Danish drinking games weren’t for the faint of heart.
The off-campus party later that night was loud.
Overcrowded? For sure.
It was just a mess of alcohol, weed smoke and people banging into each other trying to dance in the middle of someone’s living room.
But I fell in love with two things that night – the out-of-my-league, older girl I saw across the pong table – and liquor. Unfortunately for me, the latter would be the only one that would stick.
Love Grows Cold
‘Ok Dylan, breathe, breathe – Don’t freak out!’
The numbness continues to creep up my hands and feet.
‘Dammit I’m gonna die out here!‘
My whole-body shakes as I sink into the snow, hopeless.
I honestly was just going out back of the house to just go to the bathroom. And next thing I knew, I was rolling down the snowy embankment, into a stream.
And now I can’t get back up. On my hands and knees, trying my best to crawl up. No socks, no shoes – I think they might’ve fallen off in the river.
I literally cannot feel my hands or feet.
Too drunk and shocked to even try and anymore…
This was on this past St. Patrick’s Day, and eventually I did end up being carried up the hill and driven back to campus by some random stranger.
It was three days before I finally had the feeling back in my hands and feet.
This was also about two weeks before I learned a way out of the mess I had gotten myself into.
To say things weren’t going well for me two years into my college career would be a major understatement. Drinking daily with the intent of blacking out became a regular occurrence. School and classes – which were so important to me in high school – took a backseat to the bottle. I was two months removed from winning an appeal to stay at college for one more semester, and if I didn’t get the grades this time, I was out for good.
But my habits didn’t change. Even after finally coming clean to my family about my drinking and how it was affecting my academics – basically being given a clean slate – my work ethic became worse.
Class attendance became infrequent, until it stopped altogether.
I couldn’t go in to a shower without drinking.
My cure for the hangover was just to start drinking in the morning.
By the end of the month, I was offered the opportunity that ended up saving my life.
Take a medical leave, go into rehab and then come back this semester.
Wow, rehab? Me? I would’ve never thought it would come to this…
WHERE I BELONG?
“What are you, like fifteen?”
Major laughs fill the small, dark room.
“N-No I’m 20.”
The laughs get louder at that, for some odd reason.
It’s May 1– my first day in rehab.
I was put on a wing with 20 other guys. Only one of them was my age. Some were alcoholics, others were drug addicts, while a few were cross addicted.
No one planned me for what I would experience over the next four weeks. Cellphones were taken from us the day we checked in. The days were planned out from eight in the morning to eight at night. Going from group to group, we learned about addiction and ways to fight it. One hour of recreational outside time a day. We had to clear the halls when the women would be escorted from their separate wing to the lunchroom.
Eventually I settled in to the daily routine, and even became peer mentor for my wing. And after 28 days, I finally stepped back out into the “real world” clean and sober.
Jasmine Powell knows what it’s like to go down the sober living path. Even before starting to drink freshman year of high school, she was displaying addictive traits such as self-harm. Alcohol and ecstasy were her drugs of choice until the summer before her junior year of high school, when her parents sent her to WinGate Wilderness Therapy in Utah.
“I have a very vivid memory of being in the Vegas airport and realizing I could get away and disappear forever or stay and get sober and get my life together,” Powell said in a Twitter interview.
She ended up staying, going through the 12-week program there and has been clean ever since July of 2012.
“I’m happy and healthy. I still struggle, but my worst days sober are better than my best days drinking,” says Powell, the recent Saint Michael’s graduate. “I’ve gone through some of the hardest things while I’ve been sober and still wouldn’t change anything.”
JOURNEY JUST BEGINNING
If I said my days were easy, I would be lying to you.
The thoughts and urges to drink? Of course they’ve been there.
Most of my friends still drink.
It’s not easy for me to sit home on the weekends knowing what’s going on.
Drinking and college, unfortunately, seem to go hand in hand.
“I find that a lot of it is the comradery that comes out of drinking,” said Lisa Johnson, a counselor in Castleton’s Wellness Center. “Sometimes the drinking will bring people together at parties so it becomes a social thing. And a lot of them are adults now, living on their own for the first time.”
But since I returned, I haven’t picked up a drink.
I go to AA meetings, working the 12 steps. For once in my college career, I focus on schoolwork rather than partying. I actually feel the feelings I often masked with alcohol.
There have been bumps in the road. There have been tears, anxiety attacks, and days where I just feel like throwing in the towel and drinking again.
I don’t have a complete handle on things. But as I write this, I am going on seven months sober. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than it was.
There’s a quote from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that I found read while in rehab that spoke to me.
“It’s not how much you drink, it’s what drinking does to you.”
Drinking took away my ability to feel any real feelings.
Drinking took away any and all motivation.
Drinking made me lie to some of the people I love the most.
There’s a long road ahead of me that I have only just started on. But I’m ready to do it – sober.