‘My therapist said, ‘With the amount you’re drinking, your likelihood of dying by 40 is much higher than you realize.’: Young woman shares candid journey to sobriety

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Untreated ADHD

“As I assume is the case with most people, my troublesome relationship with alcohol didn’t actually begin with alcohol. It began with my untreated ADHD.

From a young age, I never felt like I fit in with those around me, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why. I would always overwhelm those around me with my intense emotions, loud demeanor, and undying energy. To make matters worse, I really struggled academically, and my parents always expressed their concerns and put pressure on me to ‘try harder.’ What I didn’t realize at the time was many of my struggles both socially and academically could be attributed to my ADHD.

young girl sitting with hands resting on face
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

Without being aware of my diagnosis until much later on in my adolescence, I blamed everything I struggled with on myself. When I isolated friends, I thought it was because I was weird or not enough. When I struggled in school, I attributed it to me being stupid, and simply not having the know-how to succeed in life. It wasn’t until my second year in high school I learned I had ADD and I just never was treated for it, or even told about it.

In addition to the overwhelming challenges associated with ADD, I now faced an insurmountable fear of rejection and complete lack of self worth. I isolated myself from people my age in fear of the same rejection I had faced my entire life. I didn’t think there was any way around it, and I just assumed I would remain an outsider forever. Until the summer after I graduated high school when I really began drinking in social settings. I remember a summer party so vividly when all of a sudden I was able to have conversations with these kids who were way too popular for me to ever even think about talking to. But I was able to do it! With help from my friend alcohol, of course.

teenager with hands up making funny face
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

My Friend Alcohol

The voice inside my head felt subdued when I had just the right amount. I no longer felt incessant fear of being rejected by my peers.

My troublesome relationship with alcohol only started there. When I went off to college, I felt invincible. Having gone to a big party school, drinking five days a week, blacking out, being wasted, was actually celebrated. I felt like I had the confidence and know-how to reinvent myself. I can so clearly remember people commenting on how confident I was, how bold I was, because with help from my friend alcohol, I was…or at least it appeared that way.

The vicious cycle only began there. I would drink way too much, end up doing something I regretted, and then I would fall into a shame spiral because I had done stuff I didn’t want to do. Whenever shame came up, I just drank it away until I couldn’t feel it. I started to get introduced to harder drugs, and I felt OK with giving them a shot because it was college and you only do college once. More than anything I just wanted to be accepted, so if the people around me were doing drugs, then I would do drugs. But I didn’t have a problem of course…everyone around me was doing it!

college girl looking up to camera with hand up
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

Rock Bottom

It was after college, when I moved back in with my parents, that the trouble really began. Most of my friends were heading to jobs which aligned with their passions, and I was living at home, working at the same abusive job I had worked throughout college. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I felt stuck and alone. I felt the same insufficiency that started from a young age. So what did I do? I drank!

It even got so bad at one point I got back into the drugs I was doing in college to help sustain my drinking. Since none of my friends lived in the area, I wanted any opportunity to make friends, so what did I do? I made friends with the very people who were selling me the drugs.

At that point, I was starting to reach my ‘rock bottom.’ I was going out 5 nights a week, often drinking a bottle of wine a night if I was alone, staying up until 10 a.m. doing coke, and waking up the next afternoon in bed, without a single recollection of how I got myself home.

My parents grew more and more concerned, until at one point they came to me with the most memorable look of fear in their eyes and begged me to get help. But in the moment, all I did was push them away; I blamed them for a lot of the things I felt and I let them know this is how it’s going to stay. I know now my behavior at the time was entirely a reflection of the love I had for myself, which at the time was none. I didn’t think I deserved the things I said I wanted. I didn’t think I was worthy of good relationships or good friends. Which explains why I ended up dating one of those drug dealers who verbally and sexually abused me.

woman on new years eve drinking out of red solo cup
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

A New Cycle

To this day, I can’t even recall what the tipping point was, between the abusive job, the abusive boyfriend, and the complete lack of clarity, I was just done with it all. So I signed up for therapy and my therapist helped me get back on track. Without having anything lined up, I quit my job and prayed to God in the time I was applying to a bunch of jobs I would hear back from the one that would change my life. As my final day working at the job came and went, I found myself without any money to support myself, since all of the money I had made in that job was flushed down the drain with booze and drugs. I don’t know how, but I was able to kick my addiction to hard drugs simply because I did not have the money to sustain it.

A month passed, and I finally heard back from a job I really wanted. The job was for a team manager on the top real estate team nearby. I knew nothing of real estate but I knew this was my next opportunity to leave this life behind. A rush of motivation and excitement for this next chapter came over me. I no longer was drinking a bottle of wine a night and I wasn’t even touching any hard drugs. I finally felt like a new leaf was turning.

Unfortunately, when I started to create more friendships around my new job, the cycle began again, just this time a bit sneakier than before. Just as in college, my binge drinking was celebrated in the crazy world of real estate. But I would still not admit what I know today, which is my relationship with alcohol was extremely toxic and life-threatening. But this of course, was masked by my new life. I had proven to be really good at what I was doing, and I had made new friendships that were so much stronger than I was ever used to.

I never even thought about quitting alcohol because why would I?! Everything was going great! In fact, I had even been introduced to spirituality, I started meditating, I started exploring this new perspective. I truly felt like I was reinventing myself.

woman in front of real estate sign
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

I certainly wasn’t drinking as much as I had three years earlier, but I was still relying on alcohol heavily to get me through the daily trials and tribulations of life. Whenever I got mad or got stressed with work, all I wanted to say was screw it—I’m going out drinking. And I found people who supported that lifestyle. I was maybe going out 2 to 3 times a week which wasn’t nearly as much as my past experiences, so I felt safe. Plus the people in my world were drinking way more than me, so I didn’t think I had any issue.

Change For The Better

It wasn’t until around 2020 after lockdown I hit a wall. I was slowly transitioning into my new role after having been promoted, and I just felt all this resentment, dissatisfaction, frustration with where my life was at. Having had this newfound spirituality, I was committed to going about it differently than I had in the past. I made the decision to find a therapist and get the help I needed before I spiraled out of control like I have in the past. What I did not know then was my therapist was a drug and alcohol abuse specialist.

What I didn’t know was in one of those first sessions my life would change for the better.

In my second session, I was venting to my therapist about how I felt depressed and dissatisfied, and how I knew there was more for me but I just didn’t know how to push through the pain. One of the first things she asked me about was my drinking habits, and I can still remember the rush of defensiveness and shock that came over me. She asked me how much I drink during the week, she asked me how much I drink in one sitting, and she asked me if anyone in my family was an alcoholic.

woman blowing out birthday candle
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

When she told me she was concerned about my drinking, I remember being the most confused I have ever been. I said to her, ‘Oh no, I don’t have a problem now! I’m actually doing great now with alcohol! Back in 2017, that’s when I had the problem…when I was doing the hard drugs, when I was drinking a bottle of wine every night, etc.’

She continued to challenge me though, which made me feel like the foundation on which I had built my life was crumbling. I remember one thing she said to me that hit me the deepest. She said because you’re a woman, alcoholism runs in your family, and based on the amount you’re currently drinking now, your likelihood of dying by age 40 due to liver failure is much higher than you realize. I was stunned. I took some time to think about it that night, and it was like an internal argument broke out within me unlike anything else. I am so grateful to have had my spiritual journey before this moment, because if I hadn’t there probably wouldn’t be a voice of reason telling me I should really hear her out and I should really reflect on the choices I am making today.

The next session I would go on to tell my therapist I was ready to give it a shot! For the next four months I abstained from alcohol entirely. Physically, I felt better than ever…emotionally, I still felt lost. I wasn’t sure if this was the right move for me. I wondered if I would ever be able to drink again, and I think I told myself this is only temporary.  One morning I went to a family brunch. My cousin was serving mimosas, and at that moment I felt so weak. Even my dad (who judged my drinking habits) was having a mimosa, so I thought, ‘Why can’t I have one?’ I hadn’t told my parents at that point yet I don’t drink anymore, so I figured I could get away with it if I really wanted to.

girl hugging mother
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

It was that day I relapsed for the first and what I hope will be the last time. That feeling after I had that mimosa was just awful. I felt such an immense amount of guilt and shame that I had failed. But I figured, ‘Well, if I relapsed already, I might as well enjoy the day before I have to get back on the horse.’ So I made plans with friends to go out drinking later that day. What I didn’t know is the relapse ended up bringing me even further than I thought I could ever come on this journey. Since I had abstained from alcohol for so long, even the slightest amount of booze made me feel off. I felt out of control, and for the first time ever I did not like how I felt drunk.

The next session when I went to my therapist I came to her like a dog with his tail between his legs, and I told her the bad news. Even with all my shame, I told her I was excited about this relapse because it gave me a different association with alcohol than I had ever known. I no longer liked the feeling of being drunk, and I was so ready to take that experience and use it to propel myself further than I had ever been in my recovery journey.

My Recovery Journey

This relapse and the constant support and accountability from my therapist were pivotal in me reaching a year free of alcohol. Even more so than were the people in my life—the people I needed to start surrounding myself with, and the people who needed to be cut out. My therapist taught me early on when you go through recovery, your relationships will take on different forms—some will strengthen despite needing to adjust, some will have new boundaries and limitations, and some will end all together. I learned very quickly without the right people, recovery was not possible.

woman with pinwheel in her hands smiling with sunglasses on
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

I was so very grateful at the start of my recovery to have had two close friends (neither of whom are in recovery) who were so willing to remain by my side and support this massive decision. They even made themselves available in the beginning stages to take my calls and talk me through any temptation I felt. I was also very lucky to have a partner whose values (and experience with alcohol) aligned so closely with mine, he actually joined me on this recovery journey. As valuable as those people were, I realized there weren’t many of them in my world, and I really needed to reevaluate my circle if I was going to succeed on this new path. Many people in my world actually held me back.

I used to be angry at those people, but I’ve learned and I continue to learn. I have nothing to say to those people but THANK YOU. Those people actually helped me exercise my newfound self-love by not supporting me on this journey. Those were the people who called me crazy for doing this, who begged me to keep drinking because ‘you were more fun when you drank,’ and there were those who just didn’t want to be dragged down by my depression.

Believe it or not, those people turned out to be some of the most influential people in my journey. What they refused to provide me with- love, support, care—in many ways I had to learn to give myself, or find the right people who would step up. Had they been the friends I needed, I would not have felt a need to make a massive change in my life and start only accepting what I believe I deserve. I was truly fueled with a new sense of purpose and motivation once I had connected with the recovery community.

Building a Community

Even though I’m making good progress, I still struggle day to day as anyone would on this journey. I still feel like I don’t know how to socialize with people anymore and in some cases I may self isolate to avoid the possible pain of rejection. It was when I was at a work conference in Florida in February of this year when everything changed for me in my recovery—when I truly understood the value of the recovery community to help propel you forward.

As with most conferences, one of the reasons why people loved this conference so much was because of all of the drinking and partying that accompanied the work. And it was at that moment my loneliness and feelings of not being enough returned. There were several times when I was out with my agent friends when I had to separate just because I couldn’t hold the tears from streaming down. In a moment of solitude I thought to myself, ‘I’m at one of the biggest real estate companies in the world. A real estate company that celebrates you for who you are and genuinely cares about the story you have to tell. If I can’t find a single agent at this company who is sober like me, it just means I’m not looking hard enough!’

woman in front of sign
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

My inner intuition was telling me I needed to do something about this and fill this apparent need. I needed to try to find my community within my company. My inner intuition told me I needed to start the first sober support group within my company for other agents like me. Every fiber in my being told me I couldn’t do it, that I had been doing this for too short of time to be able to pull something like this off. But my inner intuition pushed me forward to take action. So I sent out emails to every team leader in my company across the U.S. sharing my story about my recovery journey, and introducing them to this new initiative would give people in recovery, people who are thinking about recovery and people with loved ones in recovery a safe place.

A common ground to work through recovery together while we also brave the crazy real estate world. The response I got told me I had done the right thing. Over the course of those few weeks I not only received new members (we are at 170 members!), but I received so much love and support from people who I did not know, some in recovery and some not. More importantly, I met so many amazing people who are not only top producing agents in their markets, but who are also long time recoverers—some are 10, 20, even 30+ years into their recovery! Connecting with these people gave me a new perspective, a new motivation to keep charging forward. If they could do it, so can I!

Whether you choose to share your story openly or not is entirely up to you. There is an incredible value in having a form of accountability other than yourself. Why? I believe we are much more willing to let ourselves down than we are other people, so involving others in your recovery journey holds you accountable to what you set out to accomplish.

Now even though it may seem I was on this great new path, I still face the same struggles I faced in the beginning of my journey. My imposter syndrome continues to creep up on me today telling me, ‘Who do you think you are for trying to pull this off? You aren’t even far into your recovery. There are people who have been doing it far longer than you and for you to think you can do all this is hilarious.’

The only difference now was I no longer have alcohol to numb and bury this negative self-talk. The only difference is now I have the community and the new mindset to charge forward. I now know it’s on me to work through these feelings, heal from past pains, and learn to truly love myself as I am right now. It’s on me to allow myself to be vulnerable and ask for help when I feel weak. I now know even with my fears and doubts, the power to change starts with ME taking action toward a better future. And I will continue to do that day after day.”

woman in black shirt and glasses smiling
Courtesy of Shelly Seidemann

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shelly Seidemann of Stamford, CT. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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