I’ve heard this a thousand times, and you probably have too: emotional growth stops when addiction starts. As soon as you start burying your problems beneath a daily barrage of alcohol, pot smoke, or whatever other substance you’ve chosen, you stop growing as a person. If you get addicted at seventeen and get sober at twenty-five, you’ll still be closer to a seventeen-year-old emotionally than someone else your age. At least, that’s what they say. I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news first: it’s completely true. Getting sober means growing up and learning the appropriate way to deal with life, in a very public way. Now, the good news: I’ve done it and so can you.
From an early age, I never had the greatest life skills. I was never the best in school—smart enough, but disorganized, unmotivated and never getting outstanding grades. I was sensitive and emotional, always overreacting to criticism and what people though of me. I was impulsive and made bad choices, getting into trouble. I often felt like a social outcast. Some of these things are what led me down the road of addiction in the first place, although the reasons why aren’t so important now. What’s important is that while most people were slowly growing out of these problems and learning to deal with their issues in a constructive way, I chose a different path. Drugs and alcohol meant I didn’t have to deal with my problems or the way I felt. I could just escape into that sweet, blissful relief.
Unfortunately, reality set in, just like it always does. While drugs and alcohol made my feelings go away, it was only temporary. Every time, my problems returned the next day, only worse, as the consequences started to pile up. Eventually, things got bad enough and I knew they needed to change. I made the decision to get sober.
Getting sober was hard enough, but it was only the beginning of a long and difficult process. It was almost like waking up and realizing I was suddenly years behind all my friends. While they were going to school or working and learning to behave like adults, I was getting as intoxicated as possible every single day. It was time to catch up.
I was fortunate enough to attend inpatient treatment, followed by a stint in a sober living home. These experiences were invaluable to me. I learned to live with other people in a normal way, and counseling gave me the skills I needed to deal with my emotions without picking up drugs or a drink. This may sound ridiculous, but there were a lot of very basic life skills I didn’t have. The treatment process taught me to make my bed every morning, showed me how to cook for myself, how to clean my personal space, and how to do laundry.
After treatment, I went back to the real world, and it wasn’t easy. I went back to school and got a job. I learned how to show up on time and how to behave in relationships with other people. I really didn’t want to, but once I made myself do it, it got a lot easier. Things didn’t change overnight, but day by day it got better. Today, I’m proud to say I act my age.