Road to recovery: UB student regains identity after overcoming drinking problem
Lex could not control her body from shaking as she finally stepped into the room with several other recovering alcoholics sitting in a circle. This was the moment where she was finally going to turn her life around.
She had stepped into her first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.
Lex, a junior English major, is one of the many teens struggling with an alcohol addiction. She asked The Spectrum to not publish her full name due to the possible interference with future employers. Around 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol related incidents, such as car crashes, alcohol poisonings and even suicides, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
After a few wake up calls and a glance into her future, she knew she had to turn her life around. But with the memories from her past and easy access to alcohol, it hasn’t been an easy process.
Lex felt her first buzz from a wine cooler when she was 14 years old. Since then, she turned to stronger alcohol.
Lex said there have been many times she hit rock bottom from drinking. It was not until she found herself in the middle of the road on Elmwood Avenue waiting for a car to strike her dead that she wanted to start her journey to sobriety. Luckily, she made a phone call to an ex-girlfriend who came to her aid.
“I remember vaguely standing in the middle of the road at 3 a.m. just praying for a car to come hit me,” Lex said. “My ex-girlfriend showed up and I woke up the next day in her bed. I knew that enough was enough because I was starting to bring other people into it and I didn’t want to hurt anyone anymore.”
About 190,000 young adults under the age of 21 visited the emergency room with alcohol-related injuries in 2008, according to NIAAA. And 50 percent of 15-year-olds will have had at least one drink in their life. At least 90 percent of young adult’s alcohol is consumed through binge drinking.
Lex took a step back and thought about what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She planned on joining the police academy and working her way up to becoming a detective. In order to do so, she knew she had to make some changes.
Three months ago, Lex entered the Wesleyan Church of Hamburg to join an AA meeting. They spent an hour discussing her experiences, one of them being the reason she ever started drinking in the first place.
“My whole entire life feels like a roller coaster,” Lex said. “My parents split when I was in the seventh grade and I was around 13. That took a toll on me.”
Lex used other methods to release her stress over her parents’ divorce. But alcohol felt like it was working better than everything else.
“I let it out in other ways, but it wasn’t until my grandma died that my drinking really took off,” Lex said. “I felt it and it made all of those other coping mechanisms go away. I didn’t feel that need to use them anymore because I found what worked for me.”
Lex’s drinking worsened this past fall semester when she spent her time at a Disney internship in Orlando, Florida. She went out with people who did not bother her about her condition.
“My roommates would get up for work and I would still be at the kitchen table drinking,” Lex said.
Lex knew that her drinking was more than just a little way to unwind every now and then. It was becoming more of a dependency.
After some discussions with her friends, she had an open mind about visiting an AA meeting. This is where she met her sponsor, Katy Koster, who became a major figure in her life while she became sober.
As her sponsor, Koster is there ready to answer her calls at any hour of the day whenever Lex feels she needs some guidance against drinking.
“Helping others has been a big part of my sobriety,” Koster said in an email.
Koster has been sober since Oct. 1, 2013 and a sponsor to others for nine months. People like Lex are what help build her strength to continue her path of sobriety.
“With this role, it has changed my life in many different ways,” Koster said. “It helps me stay sober just as much as it helps Lex or the other women I sponsor. It is a wonderful gift and I'm truly grateful.”
Koster advises anyone with questions or seeking advice to go to an AA meeting. The group meetings help guide anyone battling alcoholism to follow the steps toward sobriety while not feeling alone on their journey.
“It's not so much overcoming, it's recovering,” Koster said. “By going through the steps we can recover from this illness. My role is to take [Lex] through the steps and that's how we recover.”
Every journey towards recovery is different, according to Koster. There are different reasons why people grow dependent on alcohol and different experiences that drive a person to seek out recovery.
“I feel like we all have our journeys in life and I had to go through mine as Lex had to before we had enough pain to not live the way we were living anymore,” Koster said.
Lex had another wake up call during an encounter with a bartender a week before the car incident.
“It wasn’t until a week before I stopped drinking when I went to Fridays and the bartender came to refill my drink and said, ‘It looks like we found the alcoholic of the group.’ I looked at him and said how could you say that to me?” Lex said.
UB psychology professor and researcher on young adult drinking Jennifer Read said alcohol is not a bad drug unless abused, something Lex has experienced while taking advantage of the buzz that comes with drinking.
Read said alcohol has a great effect on people’s mood and can help them feel more relaxed. That’s why it’s used by so many cultures around the world. At the same time, alcohol is still a highly toxic drug.
Although alcohol is not completely dangerous, it can cause damage to the body, such as liver damage, according to Read. If there is constant intake, it normally exceeds the safe blood alcohol level. The body can usually manage the effects of alcohol, but the damage most likely will come after long periods of time.
“It often takes a while for those effects to catch up,” Read said. “On average, bodies can be pretty resilient.”
Read advises students to pace themselves when they drink, such as having only one drink an hour. Students should make good judgments about their social setting, whom they hang out with and if that could factor into how much they are drinking, she said.
Turning to others for help can also make a difference in recovery – the Psychological Services Center at UB in Park Hall offers counseling services.
“It doesn’t have to be a professional,” Read said. “It can also be a friend that you enlist to help you.”
Lex’s decision to seek help from an AA group guided her away from a dangerous lifestyle of alcohol dependency, one that was overtaking her identity.
One of Lex’s biggest regrets is letting time slip away from her.
“I spent so much time not remembering things because I was completely blacked out,” Lex said. “I’ve missed such important moments in the past three years. I regret not being able to tell what happened.”
Lex has altered her life in other ways outside of AA, such as making schoolwork her main priority as well as getting a new job to avoid people she felt encouraged her drinking.
In order to move forward with her sobriety, Lex has gained new friends and lost the ones who only wanted to be around her when she was drunk, she said. She’s focused on helping other people and learning how to listen and be a good friend, daughter and sister again.
“This program is saving my life every day,” Lex said. “I feel like I’m getting to know myself every day. I feel hope that I can eventually be happy again.”
Marissa Fielding is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org