‘I may not be what you pictured an alcoholic to look like, but I am. And accepting it is the best thing that happened to me.’: Young woman shares alcohol addiction, sobriety journey

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“My name is Mackenzie and I am an alcoholic. This is a sentence I never imagined I’d be writing. But here I am now, two years sober. I never thought my drinking was a problem, it was one of my favorite things to do—go out with friends and have a good time. In the back of my mind, I kind of knew maybe it was a problem, but I had no idea how to stop. All of my friends drank and I felt like if I stopped I would be left out. On January 31, 2020, my life changed forever. I knew something had to change and I couldn’t continue living the way I was. I want to share what happened – how I got sober, and what my life is like now.

My story starts as a young teenager, which is when my drinking started. I was a freshman in high school and went to a senior party where there was a lot of drinking. All the cool kids were doing it. They offered me a drink and I was off. I was having so much fun and the next thing I knew, my mom had to come to pick me up because I was throwing up. I was so embarrassed. But somehow, the next time I was at a party and someone offered me a drink, I took it, forgetting how embarrassed I was the first time. During my drinking years of high school, I was the life of the party and I always saw drinking as a good time. It seemed like everyone liked being around me and I was very happy.

Young woman holds two drinks in a club while wearing a low-cut black tank top
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

The first real struggle I encountered was when I was 17 and my parents told me they were getting a divorce. I knew for a long time they probably needed to separate, so I was kind of relieved when it happened. I love both of my parents very much, and I just wanted to see both of them happy. I don’t think I ever really processed my feelings and how this impacted me, but I had a lot of resentments. I didn’t know how to deal with the anger I felt inside. I just kind of bottled it up and would let it out through drinking.

Looking back on it now, drinking slowly became my number one priority. At the moment, I never even considered I had a drinking problem. It was normal for me and my friends. But what did start happening was negative consequences. I started having blackouts, started losing money, and I was living paycheck to paycheck. The worst part was waking up in the morning and looking at my bank account. I would look at the bill and wonder why I bought half the bar shots. I frequently would be hungover at work, and sometimes I would even have to call off.

Woman battling alcoholism holds two beers while sticking her tongue out, waiting for a concert to start at a packed venue
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

I officially thought I hit rock bottom when I woke up one morning and couldn’t find my bulldog, Gus. I went to the Cubs game, got really drunk, got into an argument, and went home. When I got home, I passed out with my front door open. I woke up the next morning and Gus was gone, and there was a note from my neighbor to be sure to keep my door closed. Gus was my dream dog, which I always wanted my whole life. We spent every day together.

I was in a total panic and went from neighbor to neighbor asking if they had seen Gus. No one saw him. I called the Humane Society, and I started to make posters and hang them around my neighborhood until I got a phone call from a veterinary office saying someone had found him. I rushed to go pick him up and promised the entire way there I would never drink again if he was OK. He was in good shape, and within a week I forgot all the promises I had made.

Woman shares a missing dog sign after accidentally leaving her front door open after a night of drinking
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

I continued to drink, and the next major negative consequence was ‘Stacy.’ Who is Stacy? She was me. She was my alter ego. My behavior when drinking was so different and out of control, I named the person I became as if it was someone else. Stacy made a lot of bad decisions and lost a lot of good relationships. My alter ego was not pleasant to be around. I noticed it would come out after a couple of drinks. Once my alter ego was out, there was no putting her back.

I felt like my alter ego was my escape. I thought it was a lot easier to cope with my past traumas and resentments. I had a lot of rage and would take it out on anyone in sight. It started to become a routine of waking up every morning after drinking and figuring out who I had to apologize to. When I would hear stories of things I did or said to my friends or significant others, I was mortified. Without alcohol, I am a kind, caring, loyal, person. I couldn’t believe I had so much anger bottled up inside.

When I met my husband, Peter, we chatted for several weeks on Bumble. I liked him because he also had a love for bulldogs. Before our first date, Peter told me he was in recovery from alcohol abuse. I still suggested we meet at a bar down the street. He said he did not mind, and I did not know how to feel comfortable on a first date without a few drinks. I had never gone out with someone in recovery and part of me was curious. I thought if I started going out with someone sober, it would help motivate me to not drink. But as we started dating, I chose to drink on each of our dates. It came to a head when we were just hanging out at home and I drank an entire bottle of wine. Peter said it was difficult to be around smelling it. So I said I would stop.

Part of Peter’s routine at the time was going to an AA meeting every Friday night. He kept inviting me, and I finally went one night. I listened, found it interesting, and could relate to people’s stories. But I did not want to believe it was me. While we were there, my friends kept texting me asking me to go out. After the meeting, I went home. The next thing you know, I was at the bar doing shots. Peter saw photos on social media, called me out, and wanted to break up. This was rock bottom for me. I loved him at this point and couldn’t believe I had ruined this relationship over alcohol.

I knew at this point I had to make some changes. Peter told me if I was really going to get sober, I had to do it for myself and not for anyone else. I enrolled in an outpatient treatment program and admitted I really was an alcoholic. I always thought an alcoholic was someone living under a bridge who had lost everything. I still had my job, I just won employee of the year, and my bills were paid; this was not the picture of an alcoholic to me. But the truth was alcohol was causing a lot of issues in my life.

When I thought about getting married one day or going to social events down the road, it would really freak me out that I would not be able to drink. I learned to take life one day at a time. It was much easier to focus on not drinking at the moment than trying to plan how I would get out of drinking in the future. My whole world really flipped around not too long after I stopped drinking. The people I thought were my friends basically disowned me because I told them I wasn’t going to drink anymore. And then, the pandemic started. I got laid off from my job, which was in the hospitality industry. Peter and I moved in together. Everything was so different than it used to be.

Woman recovering from alcoholism wears a "sober is cool" sweatshirt while enjoying the sunset in the snow
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

What does my life look like without alcohol now? I am married to Peter, and we have two beautiful bulldogs. I am in the best shape I have ever been in, and we just settled in a new home in Bozeman, Montana. My relationships with my family are as good as they have ever been, and I have made a new network of friends who don’t care whether I drink or not.

Newlyweds bend down to give their bulldogs some love while in their wedding attire
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski
Newlyweds dance down the aisle to celebrate their love while their bulldogs chase after them
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

I want to share things that have helped me along the way. Things I was scared to try, but you don’t have to be afraid of. I have found AA meetings to be really helpful. Being around other people who have been through what I have, and oftentimes worse, and who are there for me when I need them. I have been in therapy regularly, and I just finished my 800th Peloton ride. Being in a regular exercise routine, and feeling good about the way I look, has been a huge part of my recovery. I also sleep so well now. I used to be a night owl, and now I’m usually asleep by 8 p.m. and up before the sun comes up.

Woman on sobriety journey celebrates her 800th Peloton ride with gold balloons
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

Another huge step for me was to have the courage to talk about what I’ve been through on social media. I started sharing my story and my journey, and I would have never imagined the positive feedback I received. I had people who I had grown up with, family members, and strangers who saw my story and reached out because they could relate and wanted help on how to get sober. There is a lot of negativity and hate on social media, but there is also a lot of good. Since we now live in a world that is so much online, it is helpful to find good places online. For me, two very important resources are a community online called @sobermotivation and an app I use daily called Sober Buddy.

The way I got sober was not to focus on the alcohol but to focus on why I drank instead. Which for me was things like trauma, insecurity, not feeling good enough, focusing on resentments, etc. and this is where my story could connect to yours. Maybe your issue is not alcohol, but it can be work, gambling, sex, drugs, perfectionism, etc. It is my belief through my own journey that the underlying causes can be the same, but the way we act out on them can be different. If you’re sober curious or on your sober journey, you’re not alone. I am rooting for you!

Woman celebrates two years sober with a "2" golden balloon and a photoshoot in an all-white winter outfit in the snow
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

I want to leave you with a quote from the AA Big Book my husband reworded in his own book, ‘Unfunc Your Gut,’ which has helped me. ‘And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation–some fact of my life–unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.’

‘Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my disease, I could not be healthy; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.’

My life goes so much better when I don’t try to fight things, and just take life as it comes to me. I may not be what you pictured an alcoholic to look like, but I am. And I can say accepting it is the best thing that happened to me.”

Woman celebrates her sobriety journey with a sign that reads "I got 99 problems but being hungover ain't one"
Courtesy of Mackenzie Kozlowski

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by Mackenzie Kozlowski of Bozeman, MT. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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