When I asked for help at 18 during my freshman year at college, I had no interest in recovery. I had no desire to be sober, to uncover my true potential, to discover the life that would unfold for me. Instead, I just wanted the Merry-Go-Round to stop. I was in a constant cycle of trying to escape the consequences of my drinking/use, only to create a new disaster every time I put a substance into my system.
It’s hard to pinpoint what drove me to begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs at 12. I was navigating the sudden death of a close friend, battling adolescent self-consciousness, and hoping I’d fit into my own skin. As my use progressed, my parents were baffled by what was happening to me and, in full transparency, I was too. Because I wouldn’t/couldn’t be honest about my drinking and substance use, we were constantly “addressing” potential issues: depression, anxiety, anger management, OCD, bullying, codependency.
In college, my substance use had gone to new extremes. My life had become unmanageable. I made a call to my brother. He told me, “Sure Alyssa, I’ll help you stop.” At those words, I panicked, “What do you mean, STOP?”
Clarity has a few definitions, but the simplest is, “the quality of being easy to see or hear; to be certain or definite.” A few weeks after my first call, I called my brother again. The date was November 1, 2009. Despite a slew of chemicals in my system, I had the gift of clarity. It was time to not only stop the Merry-Go-Round, but it was also time to completely stop putting substances in my body.
My brother had agreed to help. He also told my parents on me! Imagine that, my brother the 19-year old tattletale. My mom and dad were stunned by the news. They tried to calmly navigate the onslaught of emotions and suggested I go to a 12-Step meeting. Substance use wasn’t part of their lives or their childhoods, so their only point of reference was a friend’s sister who got sober a few years back.
What I found in recovery was a world of people ready to accept me with open arms, but willing to tell me the truth about myself. I was a Know-It-All, immediately banned from using the phrases “I know” or “but…” when women in my network gave me suggestions.
In recovery, I discovered that what I suffer from is quite simple: when I start using, I can’t stop. When I do stop, I am so disturbed and agitated in my own skin that my only solution is to pick up again. The Merry-Go-Round starts again.
The world of Collegiate Recovery added a dimension to my recovery that gave me hope–that I could have a true college experience without drugs or alcohol. When I was surrounded by other young people in recovery, I began to imagine that one day, my addiction would be the least interesting thing about me.
As I formed a sober history, my war stories became less central to my identity. The world opened up to me. I studied abroad in Tanzania, where I rode a motorcycle to Swahili-speaking 12 Step meetings. I graduated from college. I became employable!
I took a ski trip to Vermont and met my husband there. I moved. I learned how to change a lightbulb (yes, my Dad always did that for me). I buried friends. I survived a horrific, life-shattering attack. I went to therapy. I quit therapy and went back again. I bought a house. I landed great jobs and a few terrible ones.
When my husband talked about building a program that would offer young adults the opportunity to be active, create an identity, and become truly self-sufficient. I felt my journey had come full circle. In 2016, we opened Surfside, a long-term action/adventure-based life development program for men in early recovery. I’ve been heartened to observe hundreds of young people discover their own unique path to recovery. I’ve spent hours with families just like my own, who are exhausted but hanging on to hope.
Recovery has allowed me to live. Though life is filled with a range of emotions (some that are quite heavy), at the core is joy. On the other side of everything I was afraid of, I found true freedom.