Sarah Jamil Writes

"Whatever you do, always give 100%. Unless you're donating blood." – Bill Murray

Sobriety In Your Twenties

Originally posted on Drake Mag (May 1, 2023).

People toasting a bunch of drinks.
Photo by Andra C Taylor Jr on Unsplash

*This story includes one name change, Lexie Bennett, and the exclusion of two last names to keep the identity of the sources private, as requested by said sources.

Sweat drips off your body as you weave through the crowd, trying to breathe against the flooded space and hot air. It’s been a month, maybe two, since you’ve really hit the dance floor with your friends but you decided—just because you’re sober, doesn’t mean you can’t have a taste of those 2000s hits in your soul. You let loose, void of any substance in your system, but the people around you question otherwise because you’re moving wild. That’s just you, you think. That’s just your personality, and you feel utterly content.

It hadn’t always been that way. The world sets expectations that we carry like bricks in our pockets. We seek remedies to not feel small against the weight of party culture and peer pressure at college, of familial expectations and a costly education. You fill your bloodstream with all sorts of toxins—benzodiazepines, alcohol, weed—because when you were high, for a moment or two you didn’t have to face reality. It was the only way you knew how to live; to live as someone you were not.

Realization sets in; a step towards change

Angus was in his first year at Denver University, fresh and entranced by the freedom he was gifted at college, when substance abuse had soon stripped that away. On Nov. 8, 2021, he’d decided to stop taking Xanax and soon plunged headfirst into the first of three rehabilitation programs. He hadn’t stopped weed or other substances just yet, but he knew he couldn’t keep living his life like this.

His world was flooded with high standards of education and success set in his family, which he found a daunting task to fulfill as someone with ADHD and learning disabilities. But it was the passing of his uncle that drowned him. A man he admired for the values they shared; the reason he hadn’t had the heart to step into the classroom.

“I was just in a dark parking lot with a blindfold over my eyes. Hands tied around my back. Shoelaces tied together, with my shoes on the wrong feet that are way too big for me,” Angus said. “I spin around in a circle like 100 times, and then I’m being told to step over a curb.”

Lexie Bennett is a junior at the University of Alabama, and it was two-years ago when her relationship with alcohol started to run downhill. She was one for the parties and dancing on tables as an active participant of Greek life. But, when she’d experienced being roofied once, the party space began to feel unsafe.

“Nobody believed me…everybody kept telling me, ‘you just drink too much.’ It was very invalidating,” Bennett said. “After that, I think being in a party setting made me feel very anxious…all of sudden, I would keep drinking to get rid of that anxiety until I was blacked out.”

She’d always had a drink in her hand before as an avid fan of the taste of liquor. But what started as casual fun, became a crutch to cope. It was when she started experiencing these chronic pains in her stomach that she’d tried to stop drinking–and realized that she couldn’t.

Aiden is a third-year law student at the University of Denver and for him, sobriety came out of a place of responsibility owed to his professional life. He’s originally from Dallas, Texas, and got his undergraduate degree at The University of Texas in Austin. And that’s a town with a much heavier party culture than a more quiet Denver setting.

He’d gone back to Texas last May to celebrate both his birthday and his cousin’s graduation from UT Austin–and it all piled up into one large drinking fest. When he’d returned to Denver with a new job in line, he remembered feeling terrible.

“I was just getting to that age [where] if I had more than like four drinks, I would just feel awful for two days. So I decided that I was not going to drink the entire month of June. I had also stopped smoking weed, which was something I did on a more normal basis,” Aiden said. “It’s been a really good opportunity to kind of reevaluate my relationship with substances.”

Relearning a new world and building new identities

To come to that realization though, is merely the first step, because to be in college—an environment that is romanticized through drinking and drug-filled nights out—and sober, is a lonely place to be.

“I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody that I had a problem because I’m 20-years-old…I was afraid people would look at me and judge me for it,” Bennett said. “People would tell me very early on, they’re like ‘hey, why don’t you drink’ and ‘you’re a lot more fun when you drink.’”

For the first time, Bennett had to sit with herself. Loneliness became a shadow when she had to remove herself from Greek life, and the friends that came along with it. All while navigating the constant ringing to pick up a drink, so much so that she can taste it on her tongue.

She began her 100 day journey, and to celebrate the end of it she had a glass of wine at a banquet. But one glass of wine eventually turned into seven, and the relapse was the first time she’d admitted out loud to people that she’d had a drinking problem. And she’s been sober for four months now, ever since.

“Almost nobody reacted poorly. Everyone was pretty supportive, which was mind blowing,” Bennett said.

Building new activities cast a light overhead–she started going to therapy, and began powerlifting at the gym. A month into her sobriety, she returned to the party scene. Bennett realized that there were no consequences to partying sober, and that was freeing.

But it takes time and for some, a few trials to reach a space of content. Angus found his place at Caron Renaissance, an addiction treatment center in Boca Raton, Florida. That came only after ‘causing ruckus to escape a wilderness program, and getting kicked out of another treatment center prior to Florida.

“I was able to amend a lot of the underlying issues that contributed to my substance abuse, and develop a vast toolkit and understanding of my thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions, urges and what I need to do to take care of that,” Angus said.

It was a group experience, and he found home amongst people that truly cared and were honest with him and his actions. A “reverse house arrest” prompted him to take steps towards socializing with the people, and they’d grilled him for little things such as wearing the same, sweated out shirt from yesterday.  

Little things that built new, healthier habits later on. He’d learned to take care of his own needs, through doing chores like grocery shopping on a budget, cooking for himself and making his bed. He’d learned how to communicate effectively within his group; became vulnerable and expressed that he too, cared.

But of course, at first the task was arduous and till now, some days are much harder than others.

Before Aiden had taken a step into sobriety, he isolated himself slightly from hanging out with his friends to shoulder the weight of a rigorous law school course load. He realized after, that if he stopped drinking altogether, he could still partake in those night outs–rid of the hangovers and long days feeling useless.

With drinking, he hadn’t had much urges to return to it as he hadn’t been a chronic drinker after enrolling in law school. With smoking weed however, he definitely had. He’d become sober before going back to Texas where purchasing weed isn’t the easiest, in comparison to Colorado–which took it out of the equation.

For Aiden though, the urges hadn’t lasted for more than three to four days. He had, however, encountered a withdrawal process that interrupted his sleep cycle. For about two months, he’d been experiencing the most vivid dreams. Though he hadn’t thought it to be too bad, he recognized a change was happening. 

“You don’t notice the benefits of being sober immediately at all,” Aiden said. “I think that’s one thing that makes early recovery or early sobriety really difficult for people because…people that have had kind of a negative relationship with substances are so used to immediate gratification.”

Reality allows a little light to seep in…then more and more. 

Aiden has been sober for a little less than nine months now. He currently works in a small firm where many of their clients are attorneys. Attorneys who are getting disciplined for violating the ethical rules in their licenses. There’s a strong drinking culture within the legal realm–lawyers drinking and driving after professional events, or abusing substances as a coping mechanism in a high stress job.

“I understand that my relationship with substances is not always a healthy one, and I’m just glad that I made the steps to become conscious of that,” Aiden said. “You have someone’s livelihood in your hands and your ability to protect that is your ability to think clearly.”

Now that he is sober from weed and alcohol, Aiden says he has much more energy, and he’s able to function on a much clearer mind. He realized that drinking and smoking hadn’t served him in any way, and doing so has allowed him to build a solid foundation as he dives deeper into the legal world.

When Angus had first returned to college after completing his program at Caron Renaissance, he felt anxious and lonely. He felt that there wasn’t quite an outlet for him to make friends. To find people within the same situation. Angus currently lives in the sober dorms at the University of Denver.

“I have to be cognizant of, there are substances here and if I do substances, I lose my housing, I would probably have to leave college,” Angus said. “ My parents would be extremely sad and heartbroken and scared about that. I would lose a lot of things in my life that contribute to why it’s so great.” 

Despite the fact life can be less than favorable at times, Angus expresses the fact that he enjoys living it now more than he dislikes it–and that’s a feeling he couldn’t quite grasp before. He’s built a morning and night routine to kick start and close each day. And, his journey through sobriety and therapy has allowed him to take off his blindfold.

And he’s been fully sober since Dec. 2, 2021.

When Bennett stopped joining in on those Friday nights out, she had to learn how to be her own friend for the very first time. Some days, the taste of liquor is the only thing present in her mind. On other days, it doesn’t even come across. But she’s learned how to take care of herself, and knows what remedies to seek when the days of being sober are harder.

She’s able to lean on her therapist, going to the gym for a good breaking of sweat, and started doing Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where she’d bonded with a community of women who understood her position. She feels less anxiety, carries on without the depression spells that used to frequent her days, and feels less regret when she rises in the morning.

“I feel like I’m taking control of my life again. I just learned how to love myself in a new way, and to learn that I am fun without alcohol,” Bennett said.

And to be healthy and to love yourself again, is what makes this entire journey worth it.

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