There and Back Again: Why I Gave up Alcohol at 22

Two years ago today, when I was 22, I decided to stop drinking. Considering my history, the decision happened after a rather insignificant night.

It did not happen the morning I woke up in the hospital with hypothermia and alcohol poisoning.

It did not happen when I spent 30 days in rehab after getting into a drunken fight with my parents and chugging a bottle of mouthwash and a handful of prescription pills.

It did not happen after a 50-something-year-old bartender told me I needed to kiss him to get my ID back, which somehow led to me bringing him back to my dorm and upon realizing I regretted the decision pretending to be passed out as he pressed his naked body against mine and repeatedly whispered “Don’t fall asleep on me, babe.”

It did not happen after I had to run away from a homeless man who led me to a park and exposed himself to me after I asked him for directions in Providence.

It did not happen after I almost left a New Delhi Men’s Fashion week party with a man who said he was a model but was actually a pimp and hours later texted me trying to sell me an hour in a limo with a boy or girl for $400.

It happened after what was, for me, a rather routine, if not tame, night: I went out drinking with my friends, blacked out and had to be brought home.

When I woke up in the morning, I felt like I was reaching the surface of water just as I was about to use my last breath of oxygen. I had been so consumed by self-created chaos that I had not had clarity of mind for years.

“What if my friends hadn’t been there?” I asked myself. “What if they hadn’t brought me home?”

Of course, I already knew the answer, but for the first time I allowed myself to let it sink in: If I didn’t stop drinking I was going to wind up killing myself, either intentionally or accidentally.

And it was going to happen soon.

I had been drinking regularly since I was 15. Yet the issue with high school and college drinking is the blurry line between typical – if dangerous – experimentation and blatant drinking problems. It wasn’t that bizarre that I hid a bottle of vodka beneath the floorboards in my parent’s attic, but I crossed beyond standard teenage rebellion when I’d pour vodka in my mug full of Sprite as a I did my homework.

As a gay teenager in an inner city high school, alcohol took on an extra significance. Drinking is the great equalizer; anyone can do it. Though I loved my close friends, I always felt different, apart. I used alcohol as a means to bond with classmates with whom I otherwise had nothing in common.

In retrospect, the truth was glaring and obvious. By the time I graduated from high school, I had been hospitalized three times for alcohol poisoning, completed a month-long stint in rehab and spent a night in a psychiatric center after a drug-induced breakdown.

After going to rehab – in my sophomore year of high school – I stayed sober for a few months while I completed an outpatient program, but my heart was not in it. I was convinced that I did not have a problem. After each hospitalization I would have a window of time where I essentially “grounded” myself from alcohol, but within a few weeks I would lie to my parents and find my way back out.

I made myself a victim. When people tried to talk to me about my behavior, whether it be adults or friends, I would lie and if they kept pushing then cry.

My biggest blessing and curse in high school was that I was able to achieve despite all of my struggles. I was the valedictorian of my class and was accepted at Brown University.

I left for college with high hopes. I wanted to study International Relations and become a human rights lawyer. But without the structure of high school, I quickly fell apart; I drank almost every night. Where I had been admired for my work ethic in high school, in college I schemed to do the bare minimum.  Though my grades were lower than high school, they were strong enough that I was able to maintain a façade of being okay. I ignored the changes happening to me. I no longer took any joy out of learning, or any joy out of much anything at all, besides partying.

I hid my past from my friends at Brown, but as time went on my troubling relationship with substances came to the surface. By the time I graduated, I had been hospitalized an additional time after an alcohol and cocaine binge and suffered from a Xanax addiction. I’d black out a few times a week. I was aggressive and reckless. I constantly started fights I couldn’t remember, both with friends and strangers.

When I wasn’t drunk, I was hungover. My anxiety was through the roof. I had trouble sleeping, and would take whatever I could get, whether it be NyQuil, Ambien or Vicodin, just to get through the night.

After college, I moved to New York without a job.  My low point: After drunkenly breaking up with my ex-boyfriend at a party, I tried to run into heavy New York traffic while two friends walked me home. They pulled me back. I was in a complete blackout. They tell me I sobbed for an hour and passed out. I awoke the next day at 2 pm, completely disoriented, and barely remembered anything from the night before. I stopped drinking for a few weeks, and sulked that I had to. Within the month, I decided I was going to try drinking again with strict rules in place. I would drink only during the weekend and would have no more than three drinks spread out throughout the night.

Needless to say, I was soon drinking during the week and blacking out routinely on weekends. And so on the Sunday morning of the second weekend, I woke up and decided that the only way I might ever be happy is if I never drank again.

If you’re a heavy drinker, that decision can seem impossible. I always ran with a hard-partying crowd. For someone young, the thought of losing access to the social situation they’ve always known is terrifying. Whenever I would try to become sober – which happened at least ten times before it actually worked – the voice inside my head would incessantly shout: What if I’m less funny when I’m sober? What am I even going to talk to this person about if I’m not drunk? I can’t dance until I’ve taken a few shots! Sleeping with someone without alcohol?!

I told myself that drinking is what made my world feel magical. My first couple of drinks gave me manic energy and a sweeping sense of happiness, and I would spend the rest of the night trying to not only maintain that feeling, but to make it grow. I remember sitting at my kitchen table during senior week at Brown. It was around noon and I was incredibly hungover. I felt completely flat and empty but as soon as I chugged a beer I came back to life. My depression temporarily subsided and I was bubbly and talkative and vivacious. I gleefully proclaimed, “Wow! I love drinking!” I was convinced I’d lose my true self if I gave up alcohol, because at that point it was rare that I felt happy when I wasn’t drunk.

Alcohol felt like my lifeline, and it was only on rare occasions – during common morning panic attacks – that I might even briefly acknowledge that it was actually destroying my life.

One minute I would be drinking and dancing with my friends at the bar and then my next moment of worldly awareness would be when I woke up completely disoriented, panicked, unsure of where I was. Whether I found myself in my dorm basement in my underwear, naked in someone’s bed or on a beach in Costa Rica missing my shoes and a wallet, I was never really that shocked.

More times than I would care to admit, I woke up in a pool of my own urine or with vomit splattered against the walls as my phone repeatedly rang or a concerned friend pounded on my door. I often didn’t ask questions about what happened the night before, because I didn’t want to know the answers.

For me to admit that I did not remember the insults I hurled, or that I did not mean what I had said, would have meant acknowledging that I was out of control.

For me to admit that the sexual situations I found myself in were scary or shameful would have meant reevaluating my own habits and addictions.

Alcoholism has taught me that you really can convince yourself of anything. Instead of recognizing that I needed help, I convinced myself that my outlandish behavior was what made me interesting. Deflection was my weapon of choice. If I woke up frightened, I would tell the story for a laugh. Though people would occasionally confront me, most acted as if I were entertaining. Besides, I quickly realized, if my “partying” pushed a friend away, there were always five more people who wouldn’t notice, or frankly care, how many drinks I had or how drunk I got so long as they didn’t have to physically carry me home.

It was only two years ago that I was finally able to admit to those I loved – but most important to myself – that drinking wasn’t worth it if I would one day wake up seriously hurt.

If I woke up, at all.

Learning to live a sober life, in many ways, has been like trying to walk when you’re used to crawling. I still remember how easy it was to drink and how much more effort it has taken for me to reach an emotional place where I’m strong enough to choose against it. Besides, whatever problems or feelings I would drink to escape came back, tenfold, the morning after.

For me, the hardest part of sobriety has been learning to be comfortable with myself all of the time. Every day, it gets a little easier. I’ve had to teach myself how to communicate thoughtfully without poisoning my speech with the fury of alcohol. I have had to learn how to flirt and pursue romance without being a histrionic drunk, lacking both grace and inhibitions.

I understand I have a long way to travel before I achieve self-acceptance or real serenity. But what I do have, finally, is the peace of mind of knowing that I can wake up every morning remembering all that I did the night before – for better or worse – and knowing, in the end, I will be okay.


33 thoughts on “There and Back Again: Why I Gave up Alcohol at 22

  1. A powerful confession. Please stay sober. That is where beauty and peace will be found. Your increasingly powerful voice will feed itself on physical, emotional, and spiritual clarity. Your willingness to share so openly such a raw struggle is humbling. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The hardest struggles are the most important one. I’m so proud to have been able to teach you and see that you have grown so much. Not many people are so strong at such a young age. Godspeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seamus-that you could write this and tell the world all of this….means that you are braver than you think and stronger than you know. (paraphrasing Winnie the Pooh) And you are, whether you realize it or not, surrounded by people who love you. By people who may not know you well, but have only good wishes for you, who care for you. You ARE a good, caring AND funny person.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Seamus — I don’t know you, but thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope many people will read this and will learn from your wisdom and courage. Both of my parents are clean and sober (for 30 years!) after long struggles with addiction, and I am thankful every day for their continued health and happiness. Their sobriety has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, as I’m sure your sobriety is a gift to all those who know and love you. Stay strong, and know the fight (while never easy) is also the greatest way you can give love to those around you, and yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have always thought you extraordinary. Our trip to NOLA is a remarkable and favorite memory of my teaching career. I did not know you struggled. My high school and post high school experience mirrors yours so closely, reading this elicits a visceral response. I am so glad to have seen you just a few days ago. I have been proud to know you before reading your piece. I know find a deeper appreciation for the man you have become from the extraordinary boy I had the pleasure of knowing early on.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, as difficult as it must have been to put down in words for the world to see. You have tremendous strength to overcome your addiction. May you continue your journey of recovery. Welcome each day as a new opportunity and be thankful each night for the Blessing of another successful day. You are Blessed. You are loved.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I give you credit for writing this and admitting this. Also for giving up alcohol. I didnt’ ever go to rehab or the hospital but the blacking out whether I had 2 drinks or 20 is familiar. The last time I got drunk was Christmas Eve a few years ago and realized, like you, that the waking up and not knowing what I said or did was not worth it. 20 years ago, this was daily. The past 10 years this was only a few times a year but almost every time, I black out. I also have chosen to never get drunk. I will have a glass of wine but that is it and I often do not finish it.
    I hope that someone reads this and it helps them make a change for the better as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What strength indeed. I have nothing to add to what has already been posted by those before me beyond saying “thank you”. May the journey that continues be one that fills you with love and peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank God you got help in time, Seamus. Your life will continue to get immeasurably better and when that peace and serenity envelops you, it is beyond description. One day at a time!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love you, Seamus. I always knew you were awesome, but now I know you are extraordinary. I’m so proud of you. Keep fighting those demons . . . You are so much stronger than they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Consider it a blessing coming to the realization at an early age that alcohol robs you of your life. It gradually enters early and insidiously invades your fiber supported by a society that promotes it collaterally in every human activity. Good luck moving forward in a good orderly direction.


  12. Seamus-I can only imagine what you went through and how amazing it is that you are here and able to share your story. Our entire community is proud of you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s