The thought of getting sober is a scary thought for any addict, at any age. For many, the lifestyle of addiction is the only one that seems normal. The idea of a massive lifestyle change can be especially scary when someone has the common false belief that by giving up drugs and alcohol, they are missing out on experiencing their early 20’s. Many believe they are too young to get sober, or that their circumstances are not bad enough. It can be extremely hard to commit to a lifestyle that is contrary to what society supports and it is not uncommon for people in their early 20’s to think of drinking and using drugs as normal, and many do it with impunity. However, there are many positives of experiencing this period with drugs and alcohol removed, and allowing internal growth to take place.
Personally, as an individual that got sober young, I relate to this fear and thought process. However, through my experience in recovery, a change in perception has been the most significant gift. The first time I felt the effects of alcohol, I remember thinking to myself “alcohol gives me the personality that I have always wanted.” I instantly felt more comfortable in my skin, more outgoing, and more likable. It was a life-changing moment for me, and I chased this idea to the depths of alcoholism. However, I did not realize the truth until I got sober; alcohol did not give me a personality that I always wanted. It merely numbed the internal fears, and insecurities that I had and allowed me to experience my first moments of relief from these irrational thoughts. This simple shift in perception changed my entire life. Living life sober in my early 20s has been the greatest gift that I didn’t know I wanted. I have been given a gift of clarity, and most importantly emotional growth that would not have been possible if I was drinking and using. The only thing I was missing out on was discovering who I truly am.
I was mistaken by placing negative expectations on my social life and friendships before getting sober. I feared that I would never be able to have fun or connect with other individuals my age. This has shown to be the farthest thing from the truth. My social life has expanded tremendously by developing a community of like-minded sober individuals. I have been able to develop true friendships in recovery that I cherish deeply. These friendships are very different than before I got sober. My previous relationships were completely self-centered and based off what I could get out of the relationship, rather than what I can give. Today, my relationships contain mutual respect and are based on accountability in which we push each other to be the best members of society that we can be.
In addition to the physical freedom from drugs and alcohol, comes the internal freedom component of recovery. The ability to gain an understanding of one’s self and become content with what they find gives a sense of genuine confidence that cannot be confused with the synthetic confidence that comes with a drink or a drug. This experience cannot be mimicked and only comes through self-discovery and experience in sobriety. Through the presence of mind, the thought of happiness no longer lies in the destination, rather it is found in the daily journey of life. Personally, the 12-step process of recovery has given me the same internal relief that I searched for by using drugs and alcohol.
In my experience, the change didn’t only occur in myself. My family was able to recover too. The constant state of fear that a family undergoes while having a loved one in active addiction is damaging and exhausting. Addiction causes mental and physical agony for those closest to the addict. The process of recovery is a powerful experience that allows family dynamics to heal and become healthy once again. My recovery has been the greatest gift to my family and friends. Through my experience, they have been able to gain peace of mind and an understanding of me on a much deeper level.
There are many other practical advantages to living a sober lifestyle at an early age such as improved mental capacities, financial awareness, more energy, rational problem solving, and better physical and mental health.
In active addiction, navigating through life seems overwhelming and unachievable at times. The improvement of memory and awareness allows an individual to have a new outlook on life and live in gratitude on a daily basis. Interpersonal relationships can strengthen through genuine emotional connection, and thus closeness can be achieved.
Addiction has a progressive nature; it only gets worse. In the last 17 years, drug overdose has increased an astonishing 200%. From 2000 to 2017 nearly half a million people in the United States alone have died from drug overdoses. In 2016, there were roughly one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes. The continued use of drugs and alcohol through one’s 20’s only leads to more negative consequences. Due to the nature of addiction, the future for active addicts and alcoholics include jails, hospitalizations, institutions, and ultimately death.
In conclusion, recovering from a seemingly hopeless state of mind at an early age has transformed my life entirely. I have been able to build a foundation in recovery that I can build the future of my life on. The idea that scared me the most has given me an internal security that I am incredibly grateful for. I do not have to live the rest of my 20’s settling for a mediocre life at best. Sobriety has succeeded all of my original expectations, and I can live a normal life as a 24-year-old without having to mask my emotions and fears with drugs and alcohol.