What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Benny Emerling.

Photo by: Stephan Valentin 

Can you make it 24 hours without taking a drink or doing a drug? For many twentysomethings, that is doable. However, for alcoholics or drug addicts in their twenties, not using a substance for that time period is impossible. Sobriety is a gift and if an addict can go a day without using, it is a miracle. 

I struggled with addiction throughout my teenage years. I started drinking and smoking pot at the age of 13 and by the time I was 19 I was a full blown addict. I abused every drug I could get my hands on and abused enough alcohol on weekends to black out and pass out. I lied, I stole, I manipulated, and I cheated my way through life. I was a miserable and spiritually bankrupt individual. Only a true alcoholic or addict can relate to the pain and misery caused by addiction. 

Before I was 20 years old, I was hospitalized for my substance abuse. I attended drug and alcohol rehab six times before that, relapsing each time. I felt beaten down by my disease and finally decided to do something about it when it almost took my life. I promised myself that would be the last time. I committed to a luxury California rehabilitation center for the seventh time. After that, I immersed myself in an Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program. I abused substances for the last time on April 21, 2010 and every day that I am sober is a blessing. 

I have grown up in sobriety. My twenties thus far have gone without a drink or a drug. I turned 21 and I have committed to staying sober. I’ve been to more weddings than I can count, and I haven’t taken a sip of alcohol in six years. That might seem hard to imagine when we live in a culture that drinks to celebrate, to mourn, to have a good time at sporting events, and to take the edge off after a long day at work, for example. It’s hard to convince people sometimes that I am a normal 25-year-old. One of the only differences between myself and other people my age is that I do not drink or use drugs. 

How did I do it? It wasn’t easy. In our early twenties, we are surrounded by temptation in the form of substance abuse, but I learned a few tips along the way that others might benefit from. 

Things to Consider Before Taking a Drink 

Do not drink or use drugs no matter what. Understanding that a drink or drug will never make the situation better is one of the most important aspects to staying sober. If you are an alcoholic or drug addict, one drink or one drug is never enough, and the substance only temporarily relieves you. 

Find a Support Group. I personally chose to go to AA meetings. However, it is not the only one that works. Having a peer group within your community is the key to your recovery success. These people are going through the same problems you are.
Take care of yourself. This means keeping your mind, body and spirit aligned. Eating healthy, exercising regularly and finding something to believe in helps. 

Get rid of the all of the toxic people in your life. You are changing for the better. Anyone who isn’t fully supportive of your new lifestyle has no business being a part of your life. 

Find a hobby that is fun without the use of drugs or alcohol. Playing basketball at my church gym once a week was a good outlet for me.
Create a “mocktail.” Many people are finding ways to enjoy socializing while sipping on their favorite cocktails free of alcohol. 

Don’t Give Your 20’s Away to Alcohol 

Maintaining my sobriety is the most important thing in my life today. I know that as long as I stay on the recovery path, things will continue to get better. The obsessive behavior and the mind control that addiction had over me is gone. I am happy, joyous and free today with help from friends, family, and several different people in my recovery community. 

Through sobriety you will learn to care about others more than yourself. People will start to rely on you again. Being addicted to drugs and alcohol will prevent you from achieving your goals. I never thought I would have the opportunities I have now. You might enjoy a journey of a lifetime, such as I did when I lived overseas for five months in Tel Aviv, Israel to complete a job internship. 

Our twenties are the defining decade of adulthood. That’s what psychology says. You don’t want to look back on your life and ask yourself, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?” By living your life exactly as it is, consumed by drugs or alcohol, where will you be in five years? If you don’t like your answer, now is the time to make a change.