I Was a Sober Teen and Now I’m a Sober Adult
In August I celebrated six years sober, at 33-years-old. I didn’t start drinking until 18 when I got to college, which is pretty late compared to most of my friends. As a kid, I was afraid to try alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. I wanted to avoid ending up like my dad.
I grew up in a house where there were always whispers about my dad being an alcoholic. I remember coming across an AA “Big Book” in his dresser drawer once when my brother and I were snooping through his stuff. He would drink for periods of time, then sometimes he would abstain, which was worse. My mother and siblings and I were on constant eggshells.
Is dad in a Fun Drunk mood? Or is he dry and angry?
The summer before high school, I made a pact with my best friend that we would never drink or use drugs. I took it so seriously that when she admitted to having smoked cigarettes, I cut her out of my life completely.
By my sophomore year, I’d built up a reputation as a rebellious skater with dyed hair, ripped jeans, and a passion for punk rock. I was funny, so I fell in with a crew of popular jocks who invited me to big parties they threw in the woods. I wanted to be accepted, but I also wanted to keep my commitment to sobriety. So I became their designated driver, chauffeuring them to keggers with a bucket in my trunk in case someone puked on the drive home.
I didn’t need alcohol to have a good time and I secretly judged those who did. I was the life of the party without drinking.
I grew self-righteous about being a non-drinker. I didn’t need alcohol to have a good time and I secretly judged those who did. I was the life of the party without drinking. I caused scenes by rapping along to entire Beastie Boys albums. I stripped off my clothes and jumped over campfires. I loved when people would say: “and he doesn’t even drink!” My nickname became “Sober Hollins.” I was proud of it and relished the attention.
Senior year, some friends became obsessed with getting me to drink. At one party, everyone put money into a hat to get me to do a shot of Jeremiah Weed rye whiskey. Within minutes, there was a $20 pot with my name on it and everyone was chanting my name. At first I balked, but then the cheering got louder and drowned out my misgivings. I swiped the shot off the bar and knocked it back. Immediately after, I ran up the stairs, jumped in my car, and drove home. I was shaking and full of shame. What have I done? I thought. I felt that I’d betrayed myself.
I didn’t drink again until my freshman semester at college. My high school friends (the same ones who had convinced me to drink the whiskey) visited me on campus and persuaded me to drink a can of Coors Original. I was far away from home and everyone else on campus drank. Why not? I thought. I let my guard down and got drunk for the first time in my life. It only took three cans.
When the buzz kicked in, it was a revelation. I felt at ease and funnier than usual. Suddenly it made sense why people drank, why my dad was a drunk. I felt like I was at the beginning of a great adventure. That night ended with my first college hookup.
After that, I was “off to the races” as they say in AA. Typical college partying progressed into almost daily binges by my mid-twenties. I obsessed over drinking the same way I had once obsessed over not drinking. No longer known as the “fun sober guy,” my new identity was wrapped up in boozing. Eventually, things spiraled. My drinking jeopardized my relationships and my work and my life became unmanageable. I would reflect back on how I had never wanted to be a drinker in the first place. I would remember “Sober Hollins.” Sometimes, drunk and emotional at a party, I would tearfully tell people stories about my young, sober self.
Sometimes, drunk and emotional at a party, I would tearfully tell people stories about my young, sober self.
When I was 27, I had my last drink. At the suggestion of my therapist, I joined AA. Sobriety was a little rocky at first. But six years in, I’m re-connecting with the fun sober guy I used to be. Since quitting booze, I’ve played drums in punk bands, bought a motorcycle, and become a stand-up comedian. But perhaps the biggest thrill of all is showing up for friends, family and my romantic partner.
Maybe I needed those nine years of drinking to find out that “Sober Hollins” is just an all-around better, and happier, guy.
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