This is the first part of a series exploring alcoholism in Michigan written by Carly Keyes, a recovering alcoholic who is on a mission to improve awareness about the disease and ensure others find the help they need.
I was 15 when I had my first sip of alcohol. As I pulled the glass of Jägermeister away from my lips, I knew I didn’t like the smell, I despised the taste, but I loved the way it made me feel. And that was all that mattered. I wanted more. From that point on, I always wanted more.
Why? Because I’m an alcoholic.
While it’s quite normal for teenagers to experiment with alcohol and other drugs, I was different. Most teenagers don’t drink alcohol alone in the closet or drive drunk regularly. Most don’t black out, swear it’ll never happen again, and then as soon as the hangover wears off go right back to seeking oblivion. Most teenagers don’t wind up so broken and beaten by a substance that rehab becomes not only a reality, but a requirement for survival. At just 20 years old, and fresh off a DUI, I checked into a treatment center where the therapists informed me that I’m an alcoholic and that I needed to stay sober for the rest of my life.
I didn’t believe that achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety at a young age was possible, let alone an existence worth enduring. My world, and the people, places and things within it, revolved around drinking. Go through college without alcohol? I’d pass, thanks.
I also wasn’t entirely convinced that I actually was an alcoholic, so I was determined to prove that this “disease” was a phase that that I’d outgrow. After all, despite my growing dependency on alcohol in high school, I aced academics and dominated in athletics. I was recruited to play Division I soccer at the University of Pennsylvania while attending the Wharton School of Business. Does that sound like an alcoholic to you?
When I put my mind to something, I achieve it. But I found that this is not the case when it came to cutting down on my drinking.
A second DUI (complete with years of probation, weeks of jail-time, thousands of dollars in legal fees and the loss of my driving privileges), a second trip to rehab and two miserable years of incomprehensible demoralization on a daily basis gave me the proof that I desperately needed. And on November 3, 2010 I decided that enough was enough. I finally accepted the fact that since that first sip at age 15, I’ve had a disease called alcoholism, and the only way around it was get sober … or die.
I am here today because of that decision to quit drinking. I stay sober one day at time and feel blessed that I can participate in my life free from the enslavement of active alcoholism. Support comes in many forms, but it starts with knowing that, even as a 25-year old battling alcoholism while living on a college-campus, I am not alone. Nearly 18 percent of high school students in Michigan reported binge drinking and in 2012, there were over 61,000 Michiganders who entered a treatment facility for help. So there is help, there is hope and I am proof that there is happiness in the life of recovery.
About Carly: Carly Keyes is originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and currently studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she has a double concentration in Screen Arts & Cultures and Psychology and a minor in Writing. Carly is a filmmaker, a singer-songwriter, and a film journalist and health and fitness columnist for the Michigan Daily newspaper. Find her on Facebook at facebook.com/carlykeyes, follow her on twitter @CarlyKeyes, and discover her talents and learn more about her journey at www.carlykeyes.com.