Trigger Warning: This story contains details of sexual assault and addiction that may be triggering to some.
“Before the age of 17, I always was determined to never drink. I knew, based on my family’s history, drinking for me would only lead me down a bad path. I feared if I drank, I would be a bad person. I saw many people close to me suffer from addiction and the destruction it caused in their lives. I went so far as to become the president of Students Against Destructive Decisions at my high school, outwardly voicing my stance against alcohol and drugs. I did not understand addiction, especially why people who were addicted couldn’t stop. But somehow, I picked up that first drink when I was 17 during the summer before I was going to start college at Boston University, where I was headed to begin a 6-year combined Bachelor of Health Studies and Doctor of Physical Therapy Program.
I was persuaded by a boyfriend at the time, who told me if I didn’t try it with a safe person, then I might be taken advantage of when I went to college. His fear tactics worked, and then he took advantage of me. From that point on, I know for certain I never drank normally. My stance on alcohol completely changed once I tried it. What I knew from that first drink was alcohol seemed to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself. I went from a shy, anxious girl to feeling confident and outgoing. Men seemed to like me more. I seemed to be able to make friends easier. I started getting invited to parties. As someone who constantly felt like I was overlooked and in the shadows, both at home and in school, alcohol seemed to make me feel seen and heard. It helped me cope with emotions I never was taught the coping skills for. But almost every time I drank, I blacked out. I remember from the first time I drank, once I had my first drink, all I could think about was how to get the next drink.
Early on in my drinking career, I don’t think anyone suspected a problem. During my undergraduate degree at Boston University, my drinking was constrained to the weekends and the times when I could access alcohol, considering I was underage. Mostly, it looked like problematic binge drinking. From 17 to 21, I was highly successful in school, and outwardly most people saw I was extremely happy. I was a D1 cheerleader at Boston University. My cheerleading team was competitive nationally. I also started competing first locally, then nationally, in powerlifting. I ended up winning USA Powerlifting Junior Nationals in 2014 and was on the USA World Powerlifting team in 2015. I continued to compete in powerlifting and won USA Powerlifting Collegiate Nationals in 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors in Health Studies with a 3.7 GPA. I also turned 21. When I turned 21, things got dark, really fast.
In the spring of 2016, I began to drink by myself more heavily. I found excuses to drink before practically any event. I joined dating apps and started to go on numbers of dates with anyone who wanted to take me out. In June of 2016, I planned to go on a date with a man who was significantly older than me. Looking back, the red flags were there. We never exchanged phone numbers or last names before meeting. He asked me to wear a dress on the first date. He took me to a part of town I didn’t know. He never told me where he worked, besides ‘in finance.’ I blindly went on this date, having two glasses of wine beforehand. I met this man downtown, and 30 minutes into the date, I remember my whole world spinning. At first, I thought I could be having a stroke but quickly knew he had drugged me. I had never felt like this before. 3 hours later, I woke up face-down in a park, left to die downtown without underwear on and the taste of blood in my mouth.
My hands were cut up, there were bruises on my body in the shape of his hands, and my front tooth had shattered. I woke up fearing for my life. I ran, out of terror, to a church where I was able to get help. I went to the emergency room, where I had a rape kit taken. I decided, for many reasons, not to press charges. I couldn’t recall anything from this event, besides a dark memory of feeling like I was going to die. The man was untraceable. I was already traumatized by having the rape kit taken at the ER. Pictures of my whole body, undressed, were taken. I was put on Plan B and multiple antibiotics, and PEP to make sure I did not get any STDs or HIV from this man. The toxicology results were positive for GHB, but I still did not feel like I had a case, considering my complete lapse in memory, and what I found out to be a false identity he had given me. Shortly after this, I was traveling to begin my first clinical rotation in Utah for physical therapy school.
This not only didn’t feel like enough time for me to press charges, but it also didn’t give me enough time to cope or recover. I turned to alcohol even more after this event. The numb absence it reliably gave me every time felt like the perfect medicine. It allowed me to shove any feelings deeper and deeper. From this point on, I drank almost daily until I was 25. The hardest part of these times was I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone I wasn’t okay. Life felt like it was going to move on without me either way. I told myself I would deal with my issues when clinical ended, or when I graduated PT school. Both of those days came. I am shocked to this day how I got my Doctorate in Physical Therapy, with a 3.8 GPA, while drinking nearly daily. I was completely exhausted, but what was more exhausting was upholding my perfectionistic image while I was living a completely secret life behind closed doors. I felt myself spiraling down hard, but despite thinking of myself as a bright individual, had no clue how to ask for help. I would go to therapy and would not disclose my drinking issue. I was suffering alone.
After I graduated from PT school, I told myself if I landed my dream residency and finished it, then maybe I would be happy. I ended up getting my dream residency to specialize in neurology. I spent 16 months in residency, where my life was dedicated to learning, studying, and practicing neurologic physical therapy. I bought a dog. I bought a house. Outwardly, I think everyone again thought I was doing great. But I had bottles of alcohol all around my house. I wanted desperately to stop. I would wake up in the morning with the full resolve to never drink again, and then would find myself with a bottle in my hand by the evening. Despite my problem, I was able to graduate from my residency program and was hired at my dream job, full-time. I had all of the external things I thought I could want or desire, but nothing could take away the internal dread I had whenever I sat with myself. I felt completely unsafe in my own body or listening to my own thoughts. I would do anything, including black out nightly, in order to escape those feelings.
In January of 2020, it ended up getting even worse. I would have withdrawal symptoms by 6 a.m. I would wake up with night sweats, trembling. My anxiety was intolerable and I was having extreme nightmares, night terrors, and flashbacks. I remember cold, dark days. My skin was gray, my body was bloated, and I was constantly shaking, desperately searching for the next drink, hoping somehow drenching myself in alcohol would bring some color back in my life. Every time I drank, I woke up feeling like part of me was taken. And then I would drink more, hoping I could somehow regain it back. I remember lies to cover lies, falls down the stairs, bruises, late-night phone calls, forgetting to eat, bottles hidden everywhere, switching liquor stores so the cashier wouldn’t recognize me, and constantly planning the next drink. Living in a shattered reality that was too sharp to look at or share with anyone. Trying to round the edges out with more drinking only to shatter the pieces more.
Breaking my own self with my own actions. Never knowing if I was going to stop drinking, not caring if I somehow died. I did all of the things I swore I never would do. I recklessly drove impaired multiple times. Drank in the morning. Drank all day. Drank and blacked out at important events. By the end of my drinking career, my only answer or choice was to drink. Even when I didn’t want to drink, I needed to drink. My mother thankfully intervened, finally. I told her, in the midst of my withdrawal, my choices felt like to drink or to die. If I didn’t get a drink immediately, I would need to go to the emergency room. I was shaking and vomiting with a blood pressure of 160/110 when I was admitted to the emergency room. I remember begging the receptionist to get me in faster because I thought I was going to have a seizure. My whole body was violently shaking, aching for the substance that did this to me. Thankfully, I was admitted quickly and I was given the appropriate medication to assist with the withdrawal more comfortably.
The next morning, I was granted the gift of choice. The choice not to drink and still live. I then had to make a series of choices. I chose to leave my dream job so I could attend a 45-day intensive inpatient treatment program to address my PTSD and my addiction. I left my house and my career and flew out to an unfamiliar state because I knew I would do anything to never feel active withdrawal again, or to feel like my life revolved around seeking a substance. Early on, every morning I woke up missing alcohol like you would an ex after a bad breakup. I grieved the loss of what felt like a best friend and an enemy at the same time. My program helped address severe trauma that had been buried for years with all the drinking. I learned how a sexual assault as a 7-year-old affected me, how the sexual assault when I was 17 affected me, and how the date-rape at 21 really was my breaking point. My body had been violated so many times. It’s no wonder I felt unsafe in it.
This program saved my life. I finished and agreed to stay for further outpatient treatment and sober living. I have applied every suggestion to my daily life in order to stay sober and process my trauma, not bury it. I pray daily, meditate twice a day, get acupuncture twice a week, do individual therapy, trauma therapy, trauma-informed yoga, and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily. The biggest key to my sobriety has been learning I am not unique, or alone, in my addiction. One of my first online AA meetings had over 200 people in it. I can only think if I knew other people who had the same issue, maybe I would have gotten help sooner. I, unfortunately, didn’t and I hid my problem for so many years. I know am certain I will dedicate some portion of my lifestyle to making sure I am as vocal and transparent about my addiction as possible.
I am now almost 4 months sober. Slowly, in recovery, I have gained many more choices besides just the choice not to drink. I gained the choice to feel my emotions and to accept myself. The choice to choose presence over absence. The choice to accept and not deny. My body, healing from trauma all along, so desperately needed to have these choices. I realize now if I drink, I am inviting back a stale coping mechanism for me. After that first drink, I lose all of my choices. That loss is not something I am willing to bargain with anymore. My new sober life, although nothing like I would have pictured, made my journey with addiction worth it. I have been granted far more from sobriety than active addiction ever gave me. I am positive I can deal with whatever emotion or feeling comes up in my body. I am confident in my ability to ask for help. I am able to sit with myself and check-in with myself, multiple times a day. I am no longer running from myself. I have found a home in my own body and I know my inherent worth and value. I value my body and my life so much currently, the desire to drink has started to disappear. I can only hope others with similar experiences know they are not alone, or unique, in their struggles. Telling my story and owning it has allowed me to heal and accept myself, and I hope slowly I can help others to tell their story, too.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Will of Scottsdale, Arizona. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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