“When I turned 27, I was terrified of dying. I was convinced that would be the year that my body wouldn’t be able to handle the amount of alcohol I was consuming. The amount of straight vodka I was ingesting every single day and night. I knew at that point, it was ruining me, it was slowly killing me, I was not capable of ‘cutting back’ or ‘moderating’ my consumption. I had no idea how I could actually quit, and I really, really, did not want to quit. And then little by little, each day, my drinking progressed beyond what I expected, and then somewhere along the line, I sort of became okay with dying.
But I didn’t die during my 27th year. I somehow survived – but then I came incredibly close in my 28th year. How did I get here? How did it come to this?
It progressed from the moment I took my first drink at 16 years old. From being an innocent weekend warrior in high school, to pressuring everyone into shots on weekdays in college, to day-long Sunday hangovers post-graduation. I was in it for the drink. Give me the drink and I can do anything. Give me the drink and I’ll feel better. Depressed? Celebrating? Having dinner? Having lunch? Let’s cheers to that.
I moved to Philly for a change of scenery, to pursue my dreams of being a musician, to be a free spirit and find my destiny… but all I really cared about was drinking with brunch. Blacking out at concerts. Pre-gaming for everything and anything. One day, I realized I was drinking every single night and had been for a while.
In the beginning, parties weren’t parties without alcohol, but eventually life didn’t feel like life without alcohol. I had to drink in order to function, or feel like I was functioning. And for a while it put this pep in my step that made everything feel possible. It made everything feel effortless, profound, or beautiful. Until one day it just didn’t. One day it stopped working. And I’d like to say that was when I quit, but I simply could not. I had laid out the path and kept filling in the blanks with more and more and more. And the more and more I tried to fill in the blanks, the more blanks appeared. The more empty my life became, but the more I was disillusioned and couldn’t see why. Everything was foggy. Everything was consumed by the fire. I couldn’t breathe.
I felt awful all the time. I had hangovers every day. The nausea seemed permanent. Food didn’t taste good. I was barely eating. One day, I realized I hadn’t gone a single day without vomiting in months… maybe a year. Maybe more? Had I been throwing up every day for over a year? Yes. In the morning. In the middle of the day at work. When I got home. I quickly realized I was suffering from constant withdrawal. Alcohol was the only thing that helped me feel ‘better.’ I needed to drink to not feel sick, and then eventually I needed to drink a lot to not feel sick.
Then, one morning, drinking before work, I had a seizure.
It was unlike what I knew seizures to typically be. I didn’t drop to the ground or convulse. Instead, my hands cramped up. I couldn’t open them, or extend my arms. My mouth felt wired shut. I couldn’t speak. It took extreme effort to try to open it, and words would not form. At the time I didn’t know what was happening – I thought it was ‘just a normal fainting episode’ because that had become basically normal at that point. I went to the hospital, but I didn’t dare tell the doctors about my alcohol consumption. To be honest, they didn’t seem phased by the entire situation, didn’t even realize I had a seizure. They gave me potassium pills and knocked the whole thing as a vitamin deficiency. I was terrified of being locked away if I was honest with anyone about my drinking.
My life had become a string of lies and blackouts in the years leading up to this. I was constantly hiding from my roommates how much vodka I really had at home, hiding my consumption, hiding my constant vomiting. Or at least trying to. At one point, it was all I thought about. I was so obsessed with anyone finding out how much I was actually drinking, it scared me more than dying.
After my seizure, I tried to keep drinking. But, my roommate/best friend confronted me.
‘If you don’t get help or move out, then I’m going to move out,’ she basically told me.
I never expected it to end this way for me, but this was the turning point. Her giving me an ultimatum/soft intervention, felt like someone had finally caught me. And if I was caught, things had to change. The curtain came unveiled. The weight was lifted. The truth was out. I could not die this way.
That week, I checked myself into a detox near me and for five days I was monitored around the clock as I went through the most violent, horrible withdrawal I never imagined possible. I had heard things, and I knew how poorly I felt for an hour without a drink, but nothing could prepare me for this. They explained me to me that I had suffered from an alcohol induced seizure. They told me my brain was swollen. They told me my hormones were totally wonked. They told me my liver was probably in extremely bad shape. They fed me and clothed me like I was a child. They saved my life, and so I decided I would never drink again.
At first, I believed removing alcohol would fix everything. And honestly, it did fix a lot. Everything that was bad, got better. Literally everything. But, removing alcohol which had become my ‘solution’ to all of my problems over the years, meant I had to find other solutions. I had to find ways to cope with anxiety, stress and trauma. I had to truthfully learn how to live life again.
Getting a few days, weeks and then months sober helped me to see straight for the first time in years. It gave me the clarity to see the road ahead and notice how once I surrendered, the blanks began to fill themselves. The emptiness dissolved and was replaced by experiences that gave new meaning to my life. The things I never thought to want, became beacons of hope and a ground to walk on. Life kept moving and it didn’t need alcohol, actually it never needed alcohol, to fall into place.
For so long having alcohol in my life felt natural, fun, necessary, normal. Now, I have experienced a life free from the grasp of my double shot of vodka, neat, and after enough time separated, I can really embrace how good life can be, just on its own.
Today, I am intentionally trying to create a life for myself that means something. I recognize what I do in a day becomes what I’ve done in a week, becomes what I’ve done in a month, becomes my whole entire life. I’m forging something new now. I’ve started my own full-time dog walking and pet sitting business. I’m learning a lot! I’m writing new music. I have my own one-bedroom apartment. I read books again. I write. I go hiking in Wissahickon Park. I see friends and family often.
That being said… I’ve still had painful days. I was surprised to still feel depressed and overwhelmed and still experience suicidal ideation at five months sober. But it was different this time. I felt comfortable talking to others. I read about what I was going through and I learned a lot about what I was experiencing. I was able to fully feel, and not mask my emotions with alcohol. I was equipped with the tools to survive, and thrive, and I had people walking me through it. I learned how to be vulnerable, and real. Really real.
I have over one year free from alcohol. The real gift of sobriety is that I can function as a member of society again, I can look people in the eyes again, without obsessing about if they know how much I’m drinking. I don’t have to count any bottles in my house. I don’t have to drink before I shop, go to the movies, see my parents, or watch my favorite show. I don’t have to drink before I do my job. And wow, the friendships I’ve found in the sober and recovery communities are unlike anything I could have ever dreamed of. I have identified with others who experienced my pain, sorrow, self-hatred, guilt, and also freedom, bliss, growth, joy. The real gift is being alive to witness all the hope this world has to offer. The real joy is to experience life to the fullest.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Uhlman, 29, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories of people facing their addictions:
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