3 Experiences I Had in Early Sobriety and What They Taught Me

By Beth Leipholtz 11/30/16

I wanted to be a normal 20-year-old college student, not a 20-year-old who had to very carefully examine her relationship with alcohol.

Young woman sitting and thinking.
Remembering the early days.

Early sobriety is a tumultuous time for pretty much anyone going through it. It is a time when life as you knew it is likely being uprooted, when relationships are changing, your body is changing, even your sense of self is changing. This can bring about uneasy feelings, as so much change at once can be overwhelming. But the experiences that early sobriety provides are unrivaled. Though in the moment these experiences may be uncomfortable and frustrating, they are valuable in the long run.

When I look back to my first few months of sobriety, a few experiences stand out as pivotal ones. At the time they were experiences that I despised having to go through. I wanted to be a normal 20-year-old college student, not a 20-year-old who had to very carefully examine her relationship with alcohol. But what I wanted was outweighed by what I needed, and over time I began to appreciate the experiences that early sobriety provided me with. Here are three of those experiences that ultimately shaped my life today.

1. My First AA Meeting. This is a hard one for anyone, I’m sure. But as a 20-year-old female, I was more terrified than most to attend my first meeting. My counselor at treatment had pushed the idea, and I had been very resistant to it. But I knew it was something I had to do sooner or later, as I would not be in outpatient treatment forever and would have to learn how to stay sober in the outside world. Before the meeting, I had it in my head that I would walk into a room full of very old men drinking pots of coffee and talking about how sad their lives were. In a way I was right, as my first AA meeting was full of older men. But these men weren’t talking about their sad lives. Instead they were talking about how grateful they were to be leading sober lives, and the blessings that sobriety had brought into their worlds. Though I am sure they were caught off guard when a female college student showed up at their meeting, they welcomed me with open arms and presented me with my 30-day chip. It was on this day that I overcame my fear of AA meetings. It was also on this day that I realized addiction does not discriminate. It did not matter that I was a 20-year-old female in a room filled with men over 60. When it came to addiction, we all had common ground.

2. My First Time Being Around Alcohol. I remember this so clearly still. I was a little over two months sober, having just finished my outpatient treatment. My family was heading to Ohio for a family reunion, and I knew there would be drinking as my mom’s side of the family has many younger members who like to let loose. I felt prepared, but when people started ordering beer with dinner, it hit me hard that my life had changed. Though I likely wouldn’t have been drinking anyway, since I wasn’t yet 21, it still really irritated me that these people could all order a drink so freely without fear of what it would do to them. I ended up leaving dinner and going to an AA meeting with my uncle, who had stopped drinking a few years back. Prior to this experience, I barely knew this uncle. But when he found out what I was going through, he made it his mission to let me know I was loved and supported, even if that meant dropping everything on his vacation to take me to an AA meeting in a dingy old church. Though the evening began with me having a pity party for myself, it ended with a newly forged connection, a relationship that would go on to grow over the coming years. My uncle is now one of my biggest supporters, and if not for this experience, it probably would have taken a lot longer to connect with him.

3. My Relationship Hurdles. It is a well-known fact that sobriety changes relationships. I knew this, but I never expected my strongest relationships to be the ones to take hits. However, in the first few months of sobriety, the relationship I struggled with the most was the one with my mother. My mom has always been one of my best friends. She had me at a somewhat young age, and I am the oldest of five children, so we have always had a relationship that was more like a friendship than a mother-daughter one. But when I ended up hospitalized after drinking too much, she quickly flipped that role and I resented her for it. She put her foot down and became, in my eyes, a controlling parent who I wanted nothing to do with. I know now she was doing what she had to do when presenting me with ultimatums and forcing me to seek treatment, but at the time I thought she was overreacting. I began to pull away from her as I blamed her for all the hard things going on in my life at that time. I turned to my dad for comfort instead of my mom, roles which typically were reversed. When my mom got emotional about what was going on with me, I became furious. In my mind, this was my battle and she had no right to insert herself. I now know how skewed that thinking was. She is my mother; of course she hurts when I hurt. It took a few months for our relationship to begin to return to normal, and to this day I regret how I treated her. What I was going through was my doing, not hers. She was just trying to do the best she could in a situation that was completely new to her. Even today, three and a half years sober, it is still hard for me to talk to my parents about sobriety sometimes. I think I fear that I’ll revert to the scared, resentful person I was in early sobriety. But the truth is that I am a different person now, and I have experiences like this to thank for that.

Of course, sobriety has afforded me with many more learning experiences than just these three, and I suspect it will continue to do so as the years pass. For those in early sobriety today, the only advice I can offer is to hold on. Ride it out. Let yourself feel. Begin to grow. If you open yourself up to it, sobriety will reward you with more than you ever could have imagined. 

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