“All of those bad things that happened have come around and turned into great things. I like to say it’s like a tapestry. I used to think there were these big gaping holes, but God has made it into something beautiful.”
I’m Sarah. I’m a recovering alcoholic. My sobriety date is April 1, 2010. I was born in a small town in Virginia. My dad was in his residency. He’s a doctor, so we moved around a bit. When I was around two we came to Nashville. Shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with a tumor in my pituitary gland. I don’t have an anti-diuretic hormone and a growth hormone. Both things are going to become very relevant.
Growing up I was raised in an upper class household with two parents. It was a happy childhood, but since I was the sick child I had this attention always on me, like, “Yay, Sarah’s alive! Yay, she’s the center of attention!” I think that kind of spoiled me. I think I was an alcoholic before that. I think that I was one from birth, but that didn’t help it any that everybody always thought that, “Sarah’s here. Sarah’s the center of attention.”
When I started school I thought that was going to get me attention from everyone else, so I started telling people all of these things that normal people wouldn’t say at the beginning when they first meet someone. Since I didn’t have a growth hormone, I completely stopped growing when I was four and a half. In around third grade I started taking growth hormone, but I started growing in really weird ways, and that was the beginning of me being bullied in school. The big thing about that was this male attention. I never got that when I was going through those years when it’s “such an important thing.” It got really bad. I was seriously growing in all these different ways and I was a weird-looking twelve-year-old. Most twelve-year-olds are a little weird. I was an extreme.
Around fifth grade my parents got a divorce. My dad was cheating on my mom. That rocked the boat. I was already being bullied, but them splitting up was really hard. I wasn’t getting that attention anymore, and I really needed it from my parents at that point. So I started acting out, not seriously. I wasn’t doing drugs or drinking yet, but when I was in seventh grade I tried to kill myself. I do believe that that was an act of [seeking] attention. When that happened I got kicked out of the school that I was in, which was good because they weren’t doing anything about the bullying problem. I moved to a different school and was held back, and at the new school everything kind of changed for a little bit. I had a great group of friends and things were happy for a little bit.
Around seventh or eighth grade is when I heard of people having parties and having alcohol. I didn’t want to go to these parties because my friends were not into that, but deep down I was like, “Oh my gosh, that is so cool. They are drinking. That sounds amazing.” I kind of went through the first few years of my school experience thinking that way.
Then I was sixteen and I started dating this guy. It was first boyfriend, first love. “Oh my gosh, this is so amazing.” That’s when my codependency started. After we broke up my mom thought that it would be a good idea for me to get over him by going and visiting my sister at Auburn University. We went down there and she stayed at a hotel and I stayed with my sister. We went to a party at a fraternity, but before the party we did this thing that was awesome. It was called pre-gaming. The first thing that I ever drank was a screaming orgasm shot, and it was amazing, and then I had a can of beer while I put on my makeup and I thought I was so cool. Then while I was going to the party, while we were walking to the party, my sister stood behind me and yelled, “Jail bait!” and I was like, “What does jail bait mean?” Apparently, all these guys around were thinking I was cute and were looking at me, so it was that male attention that I never got because I was always so awkward. Alcohol had given me that. It was just the most amazing feeling.
Then there was the fact that when I drank that alcohol all of those thoughts, all of those, “You are a monster, you are not worth any of this,” all of that went away, and I could be jailbait. That night was the first night that I woke up the next morning and looked at the pictures, and there was a picture that I didn’t remember being taken and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I was like, “I have made it. I’ve made it.”
Once I came home I always just romanticized about going back to Auburn. I remember in high school there were these Fridays when I would drive down to see my sister after school and all during school I was drinking as much water as I could so that I wouldn’t get too drunk, but I really wanted to get wasted.
I was saying about the tumor, the two hormones that I lost. We already saw where the growth hormone kind of implicated my life. The other one was the anti-diuretic hormone. The anti-diuretic hormone is the hormone that alcohol blocks that makes you go to the bathroom a lot. This was the problem with me drinking. Again, I’m not saying that I’m an alcoholic because I didn’t have this hormone. It sped up my alcoholism so that I hit my bottom way before I probably would have. I’m very grateful for that.
When I got home my dad kind of explained what this hormone does with alcohol and everything like that, so I would black out instantly if I didn’t have my medicine, and if I did then I would just stay awake and drink all night. [At] the end of high school I kind of dabbled a little bit in drinking. I would drink on the weekends, and it would be all fun and games. I would get the male attention that I wanted. It was fun. It was fun then. I got in trouble a few times. I ended up having a GPS on my phone by the time high school stopped and that is a direct result of my dad kind of showing up because I was a little stupid about everything. I totaled my car in a mall parking lot. Not many people can say that.
I graduated and, of course, where else do I go but where I had my first drink? I got into Auburn. That summer before I went to Auburn I was pretty bad. I wasn’t horrible. It was going to get a lot worse, but I was still having fun with it. Then once I got to Auburn I pledged a sorority, not for the philanthropy or anything else, not for any of those reasons. I was there to party. We had these wonderful things called ‘pledge swaps’ where you would hook up with the pledge brothers of a fraternity and you would do some activity and then we had the after-party. This was the greatest thing ever in my mind. There was drinking and there were a lot of guys. It was a combo that was amazing.
Once you were eighteen you could get into the bars on Wednesday nights. We would always go to the bar in downtown Auburn which was huge, and there was this one night where I was with a bunch of my sorority sisters and they left and told me that they were leaving and were like, “Sarah, come on.” I wasn’t wasted enough yet. I was like, “No, I’ll just take…” We had a druggie buggy, or no, it was drunk bus. It was an on-campus transit after hours for drunk people. I was like, “I’ll just take the drunk bus when I want to leave.” I was talking to this guy and he was like visiting from another school. We never exchanged numbers or anything, but at the end of the night he was like, “Well, I’ll walk you across campus back to your dorm.” I don’t remember walking. I just remember coming to in the bushes outside of the math building with his face on top of me. That was that. I came to again in my dorm with one flip-flop on. I knew what had happened, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. That episode made my drinking worse.
Then football season started, which… that just made it awful. I didn’t make it to my first home game in Auburn because I got drunk at the tailgate. I don’t know what else I can say for that freshman year in Auburn. I was there during the summer taking two classes, and they were French classes, which I’ve taken French since I was five years old. They were basically excuses to get drunk but make A’s. I was staying in my sister’s apartment in Auburn while she was doing study abroad. I basically had parties over there. I drank all of her booze. It was just a mess. Me and my sister have never had the same relationship that we had before that.
The last semester that I was at Auburn I was in an apartment, and I wasn’t going to class at that point. I would show up every now and then, but drunk. My friends that were going to Georgia came to Auburn for the Auburn-Georgia game, and I had bought this big box of wine for them and, of course, none of them even drank. It was an excuse. People were coming over, so it was an excuse for me to stock up. I got so drunk that they left early. They made up an excuse to leave early. That hurt a lot, but about an hour after they left I was like, “Okay. It’s time to get drunk.” I started in on the box and I was like, “If I drink all of this I will die of alcohol intoxication.” I invited a guy that lived two floors down from me up to help me drink the wine. We put on a movie and he filled up my wine glass and I don’t remember anything until the next morning, and I woke up and there was a condom on the bedside table. I talked to one of my roommates and she said, “Sarah, you were shouting and I didn’t know what to do so I didn’t do anything.” We called the police that night and they wouldn’t take my story because I was drunk. That hurt a lot.
That weekend I came home and I was talking to one of my friends and that’s when I decided I needed to move back home. I applied to Belmont and I have no clue how they accepted me. I had a very low GPA from Auburn. It was a miracle. I was on academic probation, but it was a miracle. Once I got home there aren’t very many stories because I didn’t do anything. I was imprisoned in my mind. I didn’t go out anywhere. I didn’t have friends. I would sit at home and I would drink. That was it. That was basically 2009, just going and buying three bottles of wine and drinking them before the morning.
In 2009, my dad walked in on me drinking. I didn’t know this until the next morning because I was blacked out already. He stayed over at the house and the next morning he came into my room with the four empty bottles of wine that I had drank the night before, and he said, “You need to go to treatment or I’m going to kick you out of this house.” I went to treatment. I didn’t believe that I was an alcoholic. I didn’t think getting sober was going to be good because I was like, “I am twenty-one years old. This is going to be awful if I can’t drink for the rest of my life.” Like, oh my God, it was the worst thing ever.
I did outpatient at a treatment center here and I started going to meetings. I kind of had a sponsor but I didn’t really use her. I wasn’t really sure about all of this. While I was in IOP I had a treatment boyfriend, of course, and he was a chronic relapser. He had been trying to do it for years and had never gotten past nine months, which of course, I was like, “Whoa, you did it for nine months? That’s so crazy.” Now I look back at when I had nine months and I’m like, “Oh my God. I was insane.” I was insane at nine months. I ended up relapsing because I was drinking at him. I drank that time and then there was one more time when I drank. It was the last time I drank. It was March 31, 2010.
I had a roommate that was moving into my house because her former roommate had just relapsed and she didn’t feel safe. I thought it was a great idea to clean out the freezer so that she could put stuff in there. Very innocent. Who knew that there was going to be anything in my house? I was cleaning out the freezer and I come across this jar of moonshine that my dad’s former patient had given to him like three years earlier. It was really old moonshine, but the jar just looked marvelous. It just looked so good. What did I do? I didn’t pour it out. I kept it in there. I put it back behind something else and hid it and went to a meeting because I thought it would be okay if I went to a meeting. The whole time I was at the meeting I had that obsession of that moonshine and what it would taste like and is it okay if I just have a sip?
My roommate who was going to move in said, “We’re all going out to dinner after the meeting.” I was like, “Oh, I think I’m going to go home. I’m getting kind of tired.” I go back to the house and I get on my pajamas, brush my teeth, and I get in bed and that obsession, that obsession that every drinker has, every alcoholic has, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had even taken a Unisom so that I wouldn’t drink, but nope. That wasn’t HP’s will for me. I opened the freezer door. I take out the moonshine. I put it on the counter and I’m looking at it and I’m like, “One drink. One drink. One little sip won’t hurt me.” I take a gulp and I brush my teeth. I get back in bed and I’m like, “Oh, that gulp didn’t do anything. Nothing. I don’t even feel it. Better take another.” I think it was three gulps and I don’t remember anything else. My roommate came home and she said that she found me on my bed crying about how nobody would ever love me except for my dog, and she found my book and read a chapter out of it.
I had a sponsor. I had gone to one young person’s meeting because of my former sponsor, and I had met this girl who was my age. She was in school. We had a lot of similarities, but she looked like she had something going on. I was like, “Okay, let’s try this a little bit more.” The morning after that moonshine was the morning that we had planned on doing my first step. She texts me at 9:30. She’s like, “Hey. I’m going to go get Starbucks and then I’ll come over and we’ll do your first step. Are you ready?” The literature talks about pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. That was my pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization because I had to text her back and say, “I am really hung over. I can hardly think straight and I don’t know what to do.” Luckily she was like, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll bring you something from Starbucks that will help the hangover. We’ll go ahead and do your first step.” For the next few months I wasn’t convinced still. I still thought I was too young. I still thought I didn’t drink enough. I still thought I didn’t hit a bottom. I went through the steps kind of half measures.
It was probably the beginning of August and my sponsor took me to a meeting that wasn’t just a normal meeting. It was a business meeting and it was for our Tennessee Conference of Young People. She was on the advisory council so she had to make sure that they were doing this bid for the conference right for the advisory council to pick them. She took me with her, and I had no clue what it was about. I was just sitting there and she goes, “Okay, what positions do you all have open?” They were like, “Oh, we have a bid book chair.” She was like, “Okay, Sarah, you’re bid book chair.” I was like, “I, what? I’m what? Wait, what?” I had no clue what I was doing, so that was my first service position.” Even though I had that service position I was still on the fence.
A few weeks later I had a friend who was a male in recovery and he had about two years sober and he relapsed. I met him at a local recovery coffee house and he was like, “I don’t go to work until three a.m.” I was like, “Okay, so we’ve got to keep you sober until then.” He was like, “I can do it. I’ll be okay.” A few hours later, it was like one a.m., he calls me and he’s like, “Sarah, I can’t do this. I need to come hang out at your house.” I invited him over and we were just watching TV. That’s all. All of the sudden we weren’t and he was on top of me. That destroyed any want to be in recovery at all. I didn’t want to do this. If something like that could have happened when I was sober I did not see the merit of staying in this program.
Luckily my sponsor came to the rescue. She said that there was this International Conference of Young People happening in New York in Times Square. She sat right beside me while I bought a ticket to New York. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m getting into.” She set it up so that I was in a room with these three people who I had no clue who they were. They were from Chattanooga. I was like, “What is this?” I get on the plane and I’m like, “I don’t know if I want to do this.” I walk into the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, and it all changed. There were 5,500 sober young people like me who didn’t care how cool they were. They didn’t care what they looked like. They were just having fun, and there was this dance. There was this moment at a dance where I stood up on the stage and I saw everybody dancing their hearts out to “Don’t Stop Believing,” and I was like, “These are my people. This is what I’m here to do.” I am still involved in the International Conference. I have been to four of them. I love these people.
I now have friends. I now have friends all over the country, all over the world even. In sobriety I have studied abroad for a month in France. I went to French-speaking meetings. I have friends now. That was something I didn’t have. That last year of drinking I was in this dark prison of my thoughts, and now I have a multitude of people that I can call at any time and I know they will be there for me. They’re not fair-weather friends.
I’m in school. I’m in graduate school right now, and never thought that would happen. My plan, when I was in high school was to be married at twenty, to have a child at twenty-one and to have two children by twenty-four. God laughed really hard. None of that has happened. I have a puppy. I have a purpose. I have all of these things that I hadn’t even considered, and my life is wonderful today.
My life, it’s so cool. These little things that happened because of all this stuff that happened in my past. I talked about some sexual assault things that happened to me. I’ve been able to help so many people because I had those experiences. I did a talk with my university for their Title 9, sharing my story, and I got to hear some students who have been afraid to come forward.
The most amazing part of my sobriety story happened about a year ago now. I was working at a treatment center here in town, and the guy who had assaulted me when I was sober was working there, too. Of course, I called my therapist immediately and she got me in with an EMDR specialist, which helped. I wasn’t freaking out visually whenever I saw him, but I was still freaking out inside. Then I got a job at the same treatment center, but in a different position, where I would actually have to work with him.
It was difficult. There were two days that I was working there with him and I didn’t say anything, and I was freaking out. My heart was racing. My thoughts were racing. Everything. It was horrible. Then one day, we were working and I said, “We need to talk about this. I can’t do this every day.” He said, “Talk about what?” He had been drunk that night. I didn’t realize he had drank before he came over, and he didn’t remember any of it. He didn’t remember anything that happened that night. I told him. I told him what had happened. Him being in recovery, he was about two and a half years sober again. He made an on-the-spot amends to me.
When that happened, it erased all of that pain that I had had from all three times I was assaulted. It was this amazing light that came into my heart, and I would have not been able to accept those amends if I had not been working my own program. I was able to finally forgive and I had never really known what forgiveness was before that moment.
Then, two days later, I was at a meeting and I was still flying high from what had happened that Sunday. This guy came up to me and he was like, “Sarah, do you remember me?” I turned around, and it was this face that I had seen in my mind for the past fifteen years. I had thought about the time when I would see this guy, and how mad I would be and how I would hit him. It was the guy who had bullied me so bad in middle school about everything that was going on at that point. He made amends to me. I was able to forgive him. I was able to forgive him, and I have chaired a meeting with him since then. I have his number in my phone, and he called while I was with my mother one time and my mom was like, “Is that…?” and I was like, “Yes, it is that person. I have his number in my phone.”
All of those bad things that happened have come around and turned into great things. I like to say it’s like a tapestry. I used to think there were these big gaping holes, but God has made it into something beautiful. I’m so grateful for this life. I’m so grateful for the life I lead today. I’m just excited to see where it goes. I’m excited to be alive today. I didn’t used to be, but now I am.
Photographs taken at Sarah’s home in Nashville, Tennessee.