Growing up, I always felt like something was off. Despite having an amazing family – two wonderful parents and an older brother — I struggled to fit in. I was constantly teased and bullied. I was the nerdy girl in middle and high school, not entirely socially awkward but I struggled with low self-esteem and insecurity, and my hyper-sensitivity made me a perfect target.
I battled with anxiety, OCD, and panic attacks throughout my childhood and teenage years, and when I got to college, I wanted to shed that old identity and become a more “fun” version of myself. Whatever that meant. So naturally, underage drinking appealed to me–and I fell into a crowd of kids that liked to have a good time. At the time, I didn’t think their–or my behavior was dangerous. Youth have a way of feeling immortal and we were all a little frivolous. I became the life of the party. I certainly didn’t know I was self-medicating at the time, but I knew that I felt alive, and I wanted to sustain that feeling.
Soon though, fun for me often turned into fun with problems. Losing phones, drunk dialing (before I lost those phones), hazy memory. Then just problems. Going home with random guys, blacking out entirely, injuring myself (the infamous broken foot incident), embarrassing myself and my friends, over-sharing personal secrets, becoming “that” girl that had to be babysat, and waking up with dreaded hangovers cocooned by feelings of shame, guilt, and terror.
Things got worse after I graduated from college. That was when I made my first ambulance-driven, paramedic-carried, shame fest of a hospital visit. And after that, I vowed never to drink again. I went through several dry periods but couldn’t commit to taking the leap to sobriety. None of my friends were going through this—I couldn’t fathom not going to bars and parties. I was only 22.
Before I knew it, I picked right back up where I left off. And that’s when the night of July 13th happened.
I was in New York City for the first time with a previous coworker. We drank little airplanes bottles of liquor on the bus from Washington, D.C., drank some more at his friend’s place, and drank some more at Madison Square Garden. My sole sustenance for the day was a bagel.
Cue browning out: I was running around in the lobby, one flip flop dangling, the other foot bare, without my purse, crying and begging for help. But the language that was coming out wasn’t English. It was drunk-babble. And no one could help me. Fortunately (I’ve been saved by many good samaritans in my time), the Madison Square Garden police officers called an ambulance and they whisked me away to a busy NYC hospital. When I came to, seven hours later, I was still drunk. But I had no way to track down my cousin, whom I was supposed to stay with post-concert.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was passed out on the hospital bed, someone had found my purse and turned it into security. One of the guards called a recent number–either my mom or my cousin–and told whomever he spoke with that he had my belongings but I couldn’t be found. The family phone tree lit up and I can’t even imagine the sheer panic and terror that I put my family through as they listened to that man tell them they couldn’t find me.
To make a long story only slightly less so, I ended up reuniting with my cousin. That evening, while out with her friends at dinner, she told me I could drink but not to give a repeat performance of the previous night’s horror show. As I said many times before, this time I fully meant it: I never want to drink again.
The next day took the bus back to D.C. (my bus ticket, along with everything else, was miraculously still in my purse that was returned to me) feeling like I had escaped from my body and mind.
The only thing I could think to do was take a few days off work with a bad excuse because I needed space to breathe. I called my health insurance company’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health division and asked for help. I met with a counselor who had me take the standard “Are you an Alcoholic” test, and I naturally answered “yes” to most of the questions but still couldn’t admit to a problem. I was only 24 and didn’t live the alcoholic stereotype – under a bridge with paper bag-covered bottles of booze. I never drove drunk. So how could I be an alcoholic? Still though, I took that lovely woman’s suggestion and gave the group counseling sessions she led a try, and that was the beginning of my journey. Five weeks, three days a week, for two hours a day, coupled with 15 separate times I had to sheepishly get my paper signed at AA meetings. All of us were breathalyzed at the beginning of every counseling session–it was intense. We would always recite our sobriety dates at the beginning of “class,” and while mine continued to stay the same, many from my cohort changed each week. Somehow, mine miraculously didn’t change. I started to like not having alcohol as a crutch, but I still couldn’t think in terms of “forever.” It’s only when I read Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood that I felt an internal click–something was churning inside of me.
Soon my recovery started to become a source of pride for me. I would celebrate each month, and then each year. I started therapy and got on an antidepressant for my anxiety. I exercised more. I spent more time with my family and didn’t just apologize for what I put them through – I demonstrated over the course of many years that I was now more responsible and accountable for my actions – that I was the daughter, sister, cousin, and niece that I always thought I was but couldn’t fully materialize.
We live in a time now where it’s celebrated to have a holistic recovery. Practice yoga. See a therapist. Go to meetings (or not). Run races or climb mountains. Eat healthy but indulge from time to time. Radical self-care. Listen to podcasts and read books. Connect with others. Have a sponsor or mentor. Become a part of the recovery friendly web. Around year eight of my recovery, I did just that. I sought community and wanted to prove to myself and anyone else listening that my recovery was my own no matter how I took care of myself. I wanted to share my story on a more public stage. I wanted to be a trailblazer. Turns out, there’s already a massive trail and I’m honored to be one of many recovery pathfinders, blazing a trail together. We are the advocates, writers, bloggers, podcasters, yogis, spiritual leaders. We are the new faces of recovery.
Today? I still have OCD. I still experience panic attacks. I still have regular problems that regular people have. But I face them all head on, and with the right people by my side, I know I can face anything in sobriety.
Author Laura Silverman is the founder of The Sobriety Collective, a digital community for creatives in recovery from addiction and mental illness. She is proud to be a sober woman and will celebrating 10 years of continuous sobriety and long-term recovery on July 14, 2007,