A Summer of Sobering Up

Illustration by Janet Ali

Illustration by Janet Ali

This summer was the first summer in four years that I spent mostly drug and alcohol free, and it truly changed me for the better. For a little bit of context, I have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse since my freshman year of high school. These last two years I’ve definitely been a pothead.

This is something that is neither new nor terribly shocking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “by 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol and about half of 9th through 12th grade students reported ever using marijuana.” But this summer was when I decided to stop using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, my only coping mechanism. 

This helped open up the world to me because for the first time in a very long time I wasn’t numb, or  just existing, or being generally emotionless and sedentary. I came to the realization that for as long as I can remember all I have ever wanted to do and have done was to try to fit in. I used drugs and alcohol as props to accomplish this. Which means that I haven’t been living my own life. 

With all of this floating around in my head, my mental health definitely got worse before it got better. Which opened a whole can of worms. Despite the transparency, availability, and willingness of society to help, those two words, mental health, are still so heavy to me. It still feels weird to discuss them. Especially as a man, I have been taught, whether by society or peers, to suck it up, show no emotion, feel no emotion, to make the hard decisions and keep my cool. Even when not everything’s alright or even when nothing is right. And yes, I know that times have changed. And thankfully my perception has changed. 

With summer coming to a close recently, here are some lessons I learned from my first sober summer. Mental health and learning healthier ways to control emotions such as anxiety is a lot more important than I thought. Constantly using drugs and alcohol really limits your abilities and motivations to move forward in life. True friends will always be there to support you and always want the best for you. The world is a whole lot better when you can feel, whether it’s an adrenaline rush from talking to your crush or sadness from seeing your friend having a tough time. It means you are alive. 

Oh, and if you like getting high, and if  you may always want to get high, the key is to find more constructive ways to fill the void, whether it’s an internship or simply eating a candy bar. I hope that in writing this I can show some of you, even if it’s just one of you, that you are not alone and can get through this and that things really are better on the other side.